Jim Trainer

Is That All There Is?

In Uncategorized on July 22, 2021 at 10:07 am

by D.Lori


I made a recent pilgrimage to my hometown library whereat 14, 15, 16, I sat and read much of Helter Skelter and all of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test to escape a crazy home life. 

Where I was graciously un-regarded by librarians and families even in all my visible angst and ire.  It was a good and quiet place that lives in my memory as a haven.  The annual fair happened to be in full swing so I got to walk around that hot hay-covered field and visit my child and teenage ghosts. The smell of the field and the fried food baking in the summer sun gut-punched me into nostalgia.  

I tooled around visiting my three public schools and the strip mall that once contained a Kmart where I used to buy cassettes.  Past the woods I slipped into to smoke cigarettes.  I drove by my childhood home sold years ago and made to look like a place people would actually want to live.  They put up a goddamn white picket fence.  I wonder what it took to get the smell of cigarettes and alcoholism out of the wood paneling.

You know that song made famous by Peggy Lee: Is That All There Is?  That eerie tune about what looms large in the imagination but in reality lays flat like those blow-up Christmas characters that get unplugged on suburban lawns during the day?  Is that all there is to the places I roamed during a torturous youth?  To the home I was kicked out of by a crazy mother?  

If that’s all there is my friends then let’s keep dancing 

In the Saturday morning sunshine it all appears so beige.  Not harmless but distant.  

Let’s break out the booze and have a ball

If that’s all there is   

Irvin Yalom, the brilliant existential therapist, said, “Sometimes I simply remind patients that sooner or later they will have to relinquish the goal of having a better past.”  We can’t magical thinking our way into having been loved and supported properly, and clinging to some notion of it is poison.  A visit to the hometown was not to see something there that made it all ok.  It was to pay last respects.  To go and look around and think is that all there is?  To know that the holding of trauma and depression has been an inside job.    

I am recently unmoored after taking a pause from a career I spent nearly twenty years on because I just couldn’t see how it made sense anymore.  I was a therapist.  Am I a therapist? My biggest piece of wisdom from those two decades is that you’re probably fine.  You’re on a heated-up planet being cooked by zealots and idiots through economic/environmental crisis and allegiance to blowhards and ancient ideals.  You are  confronting funhouse mirrors through the internet where trolls wait to steal your sunshine by assuring you that your body is wrong, your thoughts are wrong and you should just die.  You are not the originator of your dis-ease. Engaging the world is like being in a mosh pit getting slammed into by opinions, critiques, and hot takes.  The intensity, reposts, and popularity read as legitimacy.  But that’s just the feeling that comes from being worn down by repetition. 

Now I am looking for the fucking ground.  Literally throwing myself out into the climate-changed swelter in an East Coast summer to walk around and look at the city up close.  Even if I’m walking in a circle, movement feels like something.  

“You can’t let the critic win,” Jim Trainer says to me on the phone. 

It’s weeks after that hometown trip and I’m walking through the city and the pressure of July humidity. It’s preferable to the burden of judgment.  I was talking to him about the culture of the dissenting opinion and how tired I am of it.  I’d love to believe that comments fired off in the dark or from the mouths of pundits do not accurately represent people but I’m not that naïve.  They are out there—the self-appointed gatekeepers making rules about who can cry, who can complain, who can just be as they are.  And I can’t help but want to understand.  The basis of my career as a therapist has been empathy.  And I’ve found it for people who dressed me down, for people who murdered, for people so deep in delusion that they think my esotropia is the work of the devil.  It’s a strong muscle and my default. 

But having empathy for the wide swath of fascists, trolls and misanthropes only weighs on me. You can’t let the critic win.  You can’t surrender your energy and serenity. So the fight from my side looks like this:

Typing away to do some writing that means something to me.  

Sharing my music after composing in private for three decades.  

Cultivating inner spontaneous joy for my own being and crafting a shield forged from Fuck Yous. I’m probably fine.  I’m just living in a world that’s hard to recognize.   Not harmless but distant. 

D. Lori is writing through a personal interregnum at Gurus Should Find Honest Work, a collection of essays inspired by the peculiarity of the American workplace and way of life.   

  1. I’m a little confused about who wrote this essay. It’s terrific, though.

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