It's been a year since I wrote the conclusion. I find myself needing to end with something that more accurately depicted the emotional strain that writing this book exerted on me than the song, “Its Times Like These.” The problem with ending with “learning to love again,” as the Foo Fighters’ song suggests, is that “love” is an emotion that I haven’t mastered. Through therapy (that I finally re-started once I had written the conclusion), it is my first real go at the process of learning what it actually means to feel, generally, and to feel love, specifically. Thus, telling myself to “learn to love again” was not really helping me improve since I am still trying “to learn what love is.” I know how love feels to me but what I feel is quite different from what others feel. These paradoxical situations I refer to as my “emotional conundrums.”
One of my goals for therapy is to try to learn to feel in the moment. As I’ve described several times in this book, there is a “taped-delay” with regard to my ability to access emotions. The emotions get sent to what had been a nearly impenetrable emotional vault. What I perceive myself as wanting to do in therapy is to slowly open the door to the vault so that I can: (i) feel the emotion in real time or close to real time; and (ii) release the emotional pressure that has built up for over 50 years. My current state of mind is akin to that of a young turtle that ventures out of its shell only to return after encountering, or simply sensing, something dangerous. I feel an unpleasant emotion, the door to the vault shuts, the little bit of progress I made is lost, and the emotional pressure begins to build again.
I was so frustrated I started listening to Metallica and Rage Against the Machine for weeks on end. Ending a book about hope and gratitude with a description of how I found myself clinging to “anger” and “rage” would not be a very poetic ending, but it’s the truth.
Metallica has been with me since 1984 when I was a Junior in High School. That is an awfully long time (30+ years), and they recently released what I would categorize as a killer album in the form of Hardwired to Self-Destruct. It was only as I wrote this book and simultaneously underwent therapy that it became clear how important Metallica was to my whole process. As I have begun to open the vault of pent up emotions that my brain created, the emotions that have come to the forefront demanding attention are anger and frustration. One reason for this is the fact that “writing this story of my life in a fun way” ended up being NOT so fun after all. Por que? Then there’s the frustration of having to navigate emotions in my emotional vault that I can’t associate with my past directly. Why is it that I get this unique opportunity? In the book, I’ve delved into the “why’s” but it is still no less frustrating even if I do understand the “why’s” more than when I started writing.
On the topic of anger, I could relate to Metallica because of the long-standing relationship I had with them. Even though I highlight The Black Album in the chapter on music that “hits you like a ton of bricks,” it’s actually, St. Anger, that is my favorite and that packs the bigger punch. So, why the subterfuge? Well, this was a book I wrote for my kids so I didn’t want them to think St. Anger might define me in some way. As it turns out, St. Anger actually defines me better than any other album I reference in this entire book. If you know the subject matter and intensity of the songs on this album, then this is kind of an embarrassing thing to admit. Certainly, this is something you don’t want to admit to your kids.
Before getting into the songs on St. Anger, I’ll share a quick excerpt from one of the televisions series I’ve been watching for a while, Vikings. The main character for the first four seasons was Ragnar Lothbrok. What a great name and what a great character! If my son, Joseph, had not yet been born, then he might have been named Ragnar Lothbrok Alvarez. At least, the idea would have been floated. One of Ragnar’s sons was named Ivar, and he is quite hot blooded. Ragnar is still alive in the series at the time I am writing this. In Episode 5 of the 2nd part of Season 4, Ivar tells Ragnar that he wished he wasn’t so angry all of the time. It might have been the first time I sympathized with the character. Ragnar essentially tells Ivar to be true to himself and not deny his feelings but to try to channel them. He tells Ivar that without his anger he would be nothing. As I continue to talk about my anger, please know that what’s important is not to deny it but to understand and harness it so that we can do good and not harm in this life.
Just like for the songs from the bands U2 and Rush, all of the songs I have selected as my favorites for Metallica were recorded long after I decided to follow this rock group. Two of the songs are from the album, Load (1996), and three are from the album, St. Anger (2003). For those who wrote me off as someone who only likes the Metallica albums of my youth, then here’s mud in your eye.
Five Favorites from Metallica (on Spotify as part of "Metallic Rage - Raging Metal" play list)
“Bleeding Me” (Load-1996)
“The Outlaw Torn” (Load-1996)
“St. Anger” (St. Anger-2003)
“The Unnamed Feeling” (St. Anger-2003)
“All Within My Hands” (St. Anger-2003)
This is an unlikely list. None of these songs receive air play and never will since they are all longer than seven minutes in length. Combined, the five songs are about 45 minutes worth of music. Even if I didn’t want to disclose that St. Anger was my favorite Metallica album, then I most certainly could disclose this list…right? I could have except for the very last song on this list which also happens to be the very last song on the album, St. Anger. It is a song that conveys that what we need to overcome our personal demons is “within our hands.” However, in describing the unsavory things we want to “kill” within ourselves, it also outlines how difficult it is for us to actually exorcize those demons. The song ends with Hetfield, Metallica’s singer, repeating and ultimately yelling the word “kill” upwards of 36 times. To me, this is where the danger lies with this song, why I didn’t want to mention this song, and why I wanted to avoid the album, St. Anger, altogether. That is how intense this song is. Since one of the tenets of rock ‘n roll that I uncovered is “to not be fake,” I had to come clean.
If you ever decide to listen to this song (and this might be the only song that I would advise you NOT to listen to of all of the songs I list in my rock ‘n roll journal), then just remember this song represents a command to the self to kill the destructive thoughts or feelings that surface when the right triggers are pulled. The song is about destroying that which is destructive within us. But when the “kill-kill-kill” mantra kicks in, it’s so intense that you forget what the song is about. It’s so easy to feel like the song is asking you to kill something that is tangible and not something that is inside your head. As I have described at different points in this book, there are times where I use intense songs such as this to send a message to my brain to stop making me feel things I don’t want to feel. When my emotional vault flings open, then I want to “kill” whatever comes out of there. The “kill-kill-kill” mantra, as delivered by Hetfield, is spot-on how it would feel when I would have an emotional “overload.”
Visually, the “kill-kill-kill” mantra looks like what is displayed on the cover of Metallica’s album, Hardwired to Self-Destruct. The song, “All Within My Hands,” and the album Hardwired to Self-Destruct are 13 years apart, but somehow the “kill-kill-kill” mantra from the song and the image from album cover are forever married in my mind.
I reiterate that “All Within My Hands” is about controlling the thoughts and inclinations that we have and not focusing on external factors that we may want to blame for the way that we think and feel. It IS within our power to assume control! As the tone of the song suggests, it is a process that is difficult and challenging, but the end result brings more peace and joy to your life than you could have ever imagined.
As I have mentioned in previous chapters, I tend to listen to songs in groupings. In this grouping of Metallica and Rage Against the Machine, the songs by Rage Against the Machine are the therapeutic ones. Almost every song from Rage contains words of wisdom. It is these words of wisdom that I cling to and not so much the unnerving aspects of reality that they shine a light upon. But before getting to those songs, I will share the lyric that actually led to the writing of this afterward. This lyric is one that occupied my mind for over a month. Like the “kill-kill-kill” mantra, it is a mantra that I could not stop repeating. The lyric/song from Rage Against the Machine to which I kept returning was “Born of a broken man but not a broken man.”
I referenced this song in Chapter 9, but the usage here is quite different. Here I don’t cling to the message in the song (which is generally anti-organized religion) but only the meaning of this specific sentence. It is a song of defiance, and, as you have gleaned by now, I tend to gravitate toward this kind of song. But this mantra by Rage Against the Machine morphed into something different for me in the process of learning to feel emotion. For me, this mantra became “feel like a broken man…not from a broken man.” I most certainly felt broken. And when something breaks, it takes time and effort to fix it, which can be unpleasant.
I am trying to fix something without understanding why a fix is necessary at all. As if the emotions I am trying to process are not difficult enough to contend with, I have to contend with the anger and frustration of reaching dead ends. To continue my analogy of a scared young turtle, because of the colossal nature of the dangers/risks I was encountering (i.e., my conundrums), the young turtle still seems unable or unwilling to come out of its shell.
Conundrum #1 – The statement, “You can’t love others if you don’t first love yourself,” is a familiar one to most of us. I’ve never really thought much about this particular saying until I started my therapy on learning how to feel emotion. I saw a young character on a Disney show that my kids watch use that line: “And you know… you can’t love others, if you don’t first love yourself.” I can’t remember the context of the situation, but there was a laugh track and I remember chuckling (because the line was coming from a 10-year old) and nodding in agreement. When I caught myself nodding in agreement, I began to think to myself “good thing that I know that I love myself.”
But then I began an immediate search for the feeling (i.e., that I love myself), and it wasn’t there. The feeling of love is there when I think of my immediate family, but there’s no remnant of that feeling for anything else, not even for myself. The conclusion I was afraid I had uncovered was that maybe I didn’t love myself. The door to my emotional vault, which I was slowly opening through therapy, then immediately slammed all the way shut again. If I dug around in my emotional vault and found no love for myself, that was an issue that would have no easy resolution. I chose not to search at all. This would be more emotional baggage that I would be adding to the 50-years worth of emotional pressure that is hidden away. It would seem that the little bit of pressure that gets released gets replaced by issues that appear much more difficult to resolve than the ones that have been released. Damn!
Conundrum #2 – As I observe the impact humans have on each other and on other living things (including the planet), I’ve come to feel like we’re a scourge upon the earth. It is not a new idea that I’ve pondered, but now that I am trying to feel emotion I‘ve begun to feel utter contempt for humanity. Every time I see a homeless person on the corner asking for change or food in this country of such wealth, I think to myself, “How could we possibly allow people to go without shelter and food?” The thought, “We suck,” comes to mind. I’d never had that sentiment before, but I also had never felt it in my gut in this way before either. These things that I am now feeling (or trying to let myself feel) are more intense than I’d bargained for.
A similar sentiment came to mind a few years ago when we drove from Austin to Albuquerque for a few days during the holidays. I saw so many dead animals on the road. What did they die for? How many living things die because of human beings? I’ve condemned the human race in my head because of our lack of concern for other living things, including our fellow men and women. The problem with condemning the human race is that I am part of it. If I condemn the human race, I also condemn myself. And no matter how enlightened and committed to making things better I may think I am, I feel responsible for the sins of humanity. It is an extreme sentiment, but those are the only kind of feelings that I tend to experience.
Conundrum #3 – One of the exercises I undertook as part of my therapy for a very brief period was to write down the emotions I was experiencing on a daily basis. Very quickly I discovered that the emotions I felt were routinely unpleasant ones. Keep in mind, I am not conscious of these feelings in real time. The emotions go straight to my emotional vault. When I reflected on the emotions I was feeling in the morning or at lunch time, then my brain goes to the vault to retrieve that information. What my brain was reporting back to me was: fear, anxiety, stress, frustration, and relief (when a meeting, project, or day was over). Wow! Who wants to feel that way? It is a bizarre realization when you consider that I have a job that I am happy and thankful to have. I attribute these emotional reactions to the fact that I am a non-Type A person working in a position where people expect to see a Type-A personality. So, I am posing as something that I am not. This Type-A persona was created when I first decided to run for political office, but it has now become the persona others perceive me to be.
Regardless of what is leading me to routinely feel fear, anxiety, stress, and frustration, the result of this brief exercise is that the door of my emotional vault is now shut tight once again. Ay, Dios mio! So, what is needed is for me to find comfort. Eventually, I will get there via continued therapy, once the uncomfortable discoveries have ended and the conundrums have been dealt with. For now, I have to find comfort in the ways I have found comfort in the past: in music, culture, community organizing, and knowledge seeking. And this, at long last, brings us back to Rage Against the Machine!
To categorize the message and impact of Rage Against the Machine as negative is something I’d never contemplate. The “rage” of Rage Against the Machine is not a rage against oneself but a rage directed at the “the machine,” which I would define as anything that makes it hard for human beings to realize their true and full potential. In three powerful, unprecedented, and unparalleled rock albums, Rage outlined in great detail the true source of our anger and frustration and the key concepts by which to survive the madness. There isn’t one solution, but we can choose to act in ways that restore our personal control over our own lives, our free will. We, collectively and individually, can’t tackle the machine if we can’t assume control of our own lives.
Below are excerpts from a few Rage Against the Machine songs to which I kept returning. They are not the only Rage Against the Machine songs I clung to (i.e., the variety of songs about “evil doers getting what they deserve” were also important in this process), but these songs resonated greatly with me and were helpful in trying to resolve the feelings I was experiencing:
Five Favorites from Rage Against the Machine (on Spotify as part of "Metallic Rage - Raging Metal" play list)
Why stand on a silent platform. Fight the war, “F” the norm! --“Township Rebellion”
Everything can change…on a New Year’s day! --"War Within a Breath”
‘Cuz their lies and my life will never settle! --"Roll Right”
How long? Not long. ‘Cuz what you reap is what you sow! –"Wake Up”
It has to start somewhere. It has to start somehow. What better place than this. What better time than now! –"Guerrilla Radio”
The other source of comfort for me during this time was the work of poet, Raul Salinas (RIP). I shared one of his poems in Chapter 7 to exemplify linguistic and cultural code switching in artistic expression. He subscribes as much or more to the “fight the power” philosophy as Rage Against the Machine except that his artistic works spanned seven decades. Salinas also tells us to “flex our cerebellum,” but for a very specific reason: because knowledge, and its expansion in us and others, is what is truly real and what truly matters. This is one of the main messages of his poem, “Feel Good Song.” The poem echoes the research that I referenced in Chapter 6 that suggests that the ultimate purpose of the universe is the evolution of consciousness. As will become apparent, this is an instance where we have virtual agreement from the music world, the literary arts, and theoretical sciences. I guess I did have my poetic ending after all!
Feel Good Song (raul r salinas)
Knowledge is beginning
Knowledge has no end
Knowledge is forever
Knowledge is living
Live and learn
Live and teach
Live to know
Live to give
Knowledge is beginningWalk and you will know
Walk and be
Walk in harmony
Walk in to spirit worlds
Knowledge has no endStay busy
Knowledge is forever
Talk to comfort
Talk to honor
Talk of injustice
Talk for healing
Knowledge is living
Knowledge is living
Knowledge is forever
Knowledge has no end
Knowledge is beginning