I'm a sucker for those rags to riches stories about regular people with big talents who get discovered and burn bright. Maybe it's because I love to sing and my 1988 kid self always wanted to get discovered and become the next Tiffany (good thing that didn't happen, though, 'cause she didn't last long), or maybe it's just the intoxication of a well-built crescendo as you fall in love with a character and watch the world fall for them, too.
Either way, that song "Shallow" from A Star is Born has been running endlessly through my head lately, so I decided to rewatch the film. I figured I'd stop the movie before Bradley Cooper's self-destruction, that I'd watch just enough to revel in the unfolding romance and Lady Gaga's character coming of age. The story was predictable (they've made the movie a few times before) but beautifully executed in its excessive Hollywood way, and it left me with all kinds of sad feelings I didn't expect, even though I stopped the movie before the total devastation.
I lay in bed afterwards trying to sort out the source of the heartache and realized it's a larger, more prevalent grief—grief for the parts of being fully alive that this pandemic and parenting a toddler have taken away. Performing in front of a crowd, for example, or wearing something fancy; seeing live music, being in community, making unexpected connections with new people—going out anywhere after 7 pm. Things I don't let myself think about because I'm so busy compartmentalizing and getting through another seemingly endless 24 hours while trying to be grateful I still have work and food and a home.
So many folks are struggling so hard right now to meet the most basic of needs in a country with a lousy social safety net and a raging pandemic; I don't want to take anything for granted.
But I want to honor these other losses as real. The juicy and exciting parts of our lives matter. They give many of us the resilience we need to get through the grind, to feel connected to something larger than ourselves. Sometimes we need a little power or a little magic to keep our souls lit.
When I was young and adventuring I used to be such a fan of that Jack Kerouac quote about the roman candles: "The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…"
I thought that was the essence of being alive and those were the friendships to pursue. But as I've aged I've realized how much was missing from his proclamations. Jack Kerouac never learned much about longevity—he drank himself to death and passed away at 47. Same with the tortured singer in A Star is Born. Roman candles burn out, and burn other people.
I've been thinking a lot about burnout lately.
Like so many of us, I'm pretty depleted right now. My stamina is achingly low for work I used to love. These months of pandemic parenting, global disaster and being the family breadwinner have been utterly exhausting and turned up the volume on my longstanding mental health woes. I started a new med recently to take the edge off, which I write about casually, but it hasn't felt like a very casual decision. It's been pretty gut-wrenching, along with some other hard calls and unsexy truths, like acknowledging just how limited my capacity really is. Most days, I am plum out of patience and spoons before the toddler's even in bed. My thoughts are not dazzling explosions across the sky. I'm trying to figure out how to get more rest, eat more nourishing food, reduce my workload and find the space to stare out a window and take care of no one. Often, my spiritual task these days feels like it's about compassion, acceptance, and humility. Finding the glimmers in the daily.
I long for a time when I can be generous again in what I offer the world, beyond the offering of parenting the next generation and paying a mortgage. I long for all of us to be connected to what makes us feel radiantly alive and profoundly creative. I long for wholeness rather than holding on and hanging in there. I long for surprising beauty, like the plant I used to have with crooked arms and a thousand spikes which would suddenly, in November, bloom pink stars at every joint. I want us all to bloom like that.
Necessary Magic is a semi-regular column wherein writer and artist Jacks McNamara explores queer issues, liberatory politics, magical creatures and other relevant topics.