Monday, May 12, 2014

No. 24 – Digging in the Dirt

Performer: Peter Gabriel
Songwriter: Peter Gabriel
Original Release: Us
Year: 1992
Definitive Version: Secret World Live, 1994.

If you haven’t seen the video for Digging in the Dirt, you should check it out. I like it better than the groundbreaking Sledgehammer video, but then, that probably has more to do with the fact that I like the song so much better.

The live performance from Secret World Live also shouldn’t be missed. Digging in the Dirt was the highlight of the two shows I saw in 1993, between the funky self-cam hat to the video at the end of Peter aging with a shot of the Watcher of the Skies Genesis period.

Digging in the Dirt is another song that could’ve been written entirely for my benefit, and, like Ordinary World (good ol’ No. 26), it hit me at exactly the right time—the same time, in fact. However, unlike that Duran Duran song, this song provided even more solace a decade later.

So, let’s reset the scene: After an intense period of self-examination at 3 in the morning one night in August 2003 and reflection the next day, I realized once and for all that I wasn’t gay (good ol’ No. 81). I couldn’t blame incorrect sexual identity for my social problems or my general unhappiness, so what could I blame it on?

I turned, naturally, to my favorite target—myself. I’ve never been in a fight—a real one, that is—but no one, and I mean no one, could beat me up more than I beat myself up. Pretty much from seventh grade to present day, my self-analysis consisted of an unending string of imperfections and recriminations.

It’s bad enough when you’re a perfectionist when it comes to work; it’s worse when it comes to life. There’s an endless fount of material: I didn’t become a baseball player or a rock guitarist, because I didn’t practice enough when I was a kid. I never really dated the women I wanted to date, because I was a wimp. I couldn’t keep the ones I did date for an endless variety of reasons. There was a reason I lived alone and broke in Cleveland, and it was me. Biff! Bam! Pow!

Why did I do this? I couldn’t figure it out, but one thing’s for sure: I wasn’t going to blame my parents. That works for only so long. At some point, you have to take responsibility for your own life. (Such a conservative philosophy from such an unabashed liberal, amirite? More indication that words don’t always mean what other people think they mean.)

I did that. I owned my failure, but … what is life but a series of failures? Everyone fails at some point—OK, well, maybe not Elle Macpherson, but then rules don’t apply to Goddesses, do they? The question is not whether you fail. It’s what you do after.

I failed with Debbie and The Dispatch, but … look where I am now. Yes, I’m living a Spartan existence in a leaky and mostly empty apartment building, but I don’t owe anyone anything, my time is my own and I’m spending my days doing precisely what I want—researching baseball, working on stats, writing for my blog. In some ways, this was better than where I was when I had a regular paycheck, a mortgage and a fiancée. It’s all perspective, and I started applying it to various other people in my life.

Debbie: Look, you tried to do the right thing by staying with her, through thick and thin, like you promised, even though it wasn’t really what you wanted. You even bought a house. She just found someone who appreciated her more. Yes, it was my fault that happened, but it worked out OK for everyone.

Beth: All right, you didn’t treat her as well as you should have, but you also didn’t treat her badly. Besides, what experience did you have before her? None. It was what it was—a first time thing. It’s almost SUPPOSED to fail.

Jenna: It didn’t work out, because you tried to be a good guy. It really was that simple. I acted like a gentleman and tried to give her space when what she might really have wanted was just the opposite. You shouldn’t apologize for trying to do the right thing.

Shannon: You did nothing wrong there, so stop beating yourself up that it didn’t work out. Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do.

Melanie: … Yeah, OK, let’s go there, one more time. You pushed her away—pushed away the love of your life. You blew it, but … why? Think of this. Why did it fall apart with Melanie? Because you wanted more than she did. That’s all. You pushed her away, because you wanted to be with her. You didn’t push her away out of spite or anger. You didn’t cheat on her. You didn’t hurt her. Your sin was one of commission. Lay off, will ya?

It wasn’t rationalization; it was better. It was forgiveness—forgiveness of myself for not being perfect, for my failures, one at a time. That night, well, morning now, because the sun was coming up, I made up my mind to be better to myself, to not hate my imperfections. I would apologize for any short coming when it comes up and then … let … it … go.

I felt supercharged that day at the library and had one of the best sleeps I’d had in a long time. I had a lot of work to do on my book, and I was eager to get to it. I then, contentedly put my nose to the grindstone, focused like I hadn’t been the first five months of my sabbatical in Cleveland. I’d done it. I’d won the war with myself.

Dig … Help … Heal …

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