The past helped me to improve my future. I am the historian of the zodiac, Capricorn, gripped by where I’ve come from, preoccupied with everything that I can remember, and I can remember almost everything, and then, captivated by the events of the world that occurred when I was no more than an electrical pulse flashing about the atmospheric heat of Earth looking for a home. I am more intensely persuaded by the past than I am impelled by the future. I seem always to be looking behind me, studying, feeling, learning, in my effort to rightly understand who I am today and what this world is today. This becomes the Capricornian paradox, since the Goat is the sure-footed climber and MUST look forward at the same time to achieve the success that will inevitably be his.
In October of 2008 I was listening to NPR when I heard a Studs Terkel piece from 1974, re-broadcast on This American Life. Studs was interviewing folks who had survived the Great Depression. My vitality and my intellect are stirred by all stories of mankind that have suffered under injustice and endured. These are the people who understand the meaning of life. I often struggle to experience the essence of existence in this cushy world of consumerism, where I am never in need, never in fear of hunger, cold, danger. “Okay,” you say, “well, isn’t that a good thing?” And I say, “Yes, but when I look around me I feel like I am surrounded by the walking stupid; human beings whose brains cannot consider anything that does not exist in that very moment and within their own arm’s reach.” And to me, that is not life, because, remember? I keenly bear all the transgressions of history in my heart-lode. These zombies never palpate with the rooting sensation of true hunger.
And this is how Studs Terkel and the Great Depression helped me to improve my future. I was so seduced by the words of the subjects he interviewed that I declared I would live a mere 31 days in as close a Depression state as I could think to do in this modern world. 31 days is lousy compared to the near decade of the actual Depression. But I know myself so well, I made my declaration in an attempt to quit smoking and I knew that I could rise to the challenge and that I only needed one month.
I proclaimed the first month of 2009 “Depression Era January”; a month without all non-essentials. No fancy groceries, no wine, no dining out, no movies, no cigarettes. No cigarettes. The one item that had me in its clutches – the cigarette had begun to romance me long before I was old enough to smoke and when I cam of age I fully kissed that square between my lips in a loyal response to its allure. I did smoke my cigarettes for 16 years then; longer than any other relationship I’ve ever been in. No amount of will power, nicotine gum and patches, no drug or logical rationalization concerning my health could loosen the bind I had with tobacco until I determined to respect the wisdom achieved unwittingly by those that lived through the perversity of destitution. Let me become nothing so that I can become something. Release myself from all of the modern concepts that repulse me. I cried and moaned as I rebuked myself for weakness; here is the addict breaking herself. I looked with hope towards February 1st, when I knew I could choose to smoke again, if I wanted to, which I knew I wouldn’t. A self-inflicted mind trick only works when you know who you are dealing with.
I would like to thank Studs Terkel, This American Life and the survivors of the Great Depression for helping me to “Dip down, God dammit, dip down“, because that is where the meat of the matter always is.