Out From Under: On Britney & Bottoming Out

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Every meltdown needs a soundtrack. Every extra shitty life moment needs a theme song. Most of the time, we don’t get to pick these songs or the albums. They pick us simply by being played while everything comes crashing down. For me, the album that will forever be associated with my own person shit storm in 2008 is Circus by Britney Spears.

Call it prophetic timing. Chalk it up to gayness. Or simply write it off to the magical powers of pop divas. But the sixth album by Britney Spears came out right as things were about to get really fucking real for me. Remembered 9 years later primarily for the hit single “Womanizer” and it’s wig swapping video, Circus falls firmly in the Comeback Era of our Lord and Savior Britney Spears. Having had her own terrible times in 2007, Britney was experiencing a renaissance. Less crazy, more energetic and presumably on a better combination of psych meds, Britney was doing all of the morning shows that fall. The word on the street was “It’s Britney, bitch and she’s back!” Couple this with the ushering in of the Obama era, things looked like they were turning around in America. Well, for everybody but me.

While Britney was cracking whips and wearing sexy ringmaster outfits on Good Morning America, yours truly was having cocaine induced panic attacks in the hallway of the apartment that he was days away from getting evicted from. It’s hard not to notice the juxtaposition of Britney’s upbeat, pop confection of a record, which I was listening to non-stop while my own life events were closer to the kind of circus with sad, drunk clowns and abused animals. Now, anyone who knows me knows that music is a huge part of my life and I’m not some top 40 devotee who slurps up all populist crap. The opposite actually.

As a former record store employee and DJ, I’m a music snob and a half. Go ahead and  mansplain me on the topics of sports and home improvement but I will unequivocally smoke your ass when it comes to knowledge of music and pop culture. This is a fact. I proudly turn my nose up at overrated sensitive dude singers, pride myself on loving bands before anyone else did and enjoy seeking out weird old shit. That said, I have a soft spot for brain-rotting cotton candy pop. Britney is certainly a master of this category. Of the 90’s teen pop divas, her trailer trash roots, auto-tuned voice and undeniable club bangers have made me a fan. Not in a crying, “Leave Britney alone!” way but a fan in the same way that I’m a fan of the Filet O’ Fish from McDonald’s. Maybe it isn’t great but damn is it tasty! Plus, she’s got a lot of really great songs to work the imaginary runway in your bathroom to and a few truly legendary music videos. 

Before I go any further, let’s look at a timeline of this awful era so we might have a little more clarity as to what was really going on:

  • Circus came out on November 28th, 2008.
  • My birthday is November 30th.
  • Britney’s birthday is December 2nd.
  • My sobriety date in January 2nd, 2009.

Coincidence, bad timing and the aforementioned diva sorcery, the album and the artist who made it are now forever wedged in a timeframe of my life that was undeniably horrible. Today in 2017, I think this is hilarious. I’m sure Britney and the gang didn’t sit down and say, “Let’s make an album you can bottom out from drugs and alcohol to but you can also dance to!” Sexy booty shaking anthems like the title track, “Kill the Lights,” “Leather and Lace” and “If You Seek Amy” are so light and fluffy they might as well be made out of marshmallows. “Leather and Lace” literally opens with the lines, “French fingertips. Red lips. Bitch is dangerous. Cotton candy kiss.
Can’t wait for my sugar rush” for crying out loud. It wasn’t like I was suicidal and listening to PJ Harvey on repeat (not this time, anyway). I was EXTREMELY delusional in those final days of 2008, however. Convinced that maybe things weren’t so bad and maybe an 11th hour financial miracle and a mystical answer from the gods would soon arrive, perhaps the sugary snacks of La Spears were just what I needed in that timeframe. Maybe it was all I could handle.

I sure the hell couldn’t handle reality. A mere month after Britney gifted Circus to the world, I would be evicted from my apartment. A few days after that I would come clean and ask for help. My own circus of daily drinking and regular cocaine use came crashing down. After starting drinking and using at age 14, at age 36 I finally got sober. Circus, the record soon fell off my playlist too. Too upbeat, too reminiscent of those last insane days, Britney’s solid B+ of a record was shifted out rotation for darker, holy-shit-my-life-is-fucked albums. In fact, I hadn’t even listened to the whole record since then until yesterday.

In celebration of her own 36 birthday(ANOTHER BRITNEY PARALLEL! Chills and goosebumps, people.), I honored St. Britney by listening to Circus as I was making curry and baking. Still hard not to bust a move to, the record has great dance tracks and some Grade A guilty pleasures. Remarkably, I remembered all of the lyrics to every track which is impressive given my chemical intake at that time. Not triggering or PTSD inducing, I had a really good time revisiting the soundtrack of my bottoming out. Britney and her general Barbie as pop star persona has always been really enjoyable to me and Circus falls very much inline with all of that. It’s always weird/hard/intense things time of year for me and oddly enough hearing Circus again brought some unexpected closure. I know. A spiritual moment courtesy of Britney Spears (Spearitual?) sounds ridiculous. But as I hung out in my kitchen with Brit-Brit, I gained some compassion and perspective for that guy who was literally dying.

It did strike me that one song, “Out From Under” sort of sums up that year and those final days perfectly. A dreamy-sounding break up song, it could be personally applicable for ending my relationship with drugs and alcohol or the actual romantic relationship I was in at the time. Produced by the underrated genius Guy Sigsworth, the song was probably played in dramatic moments on CW shows in 2008. But it was these lyrics that struck me yesterday:

I don’t wanna feel the pain
What good would it do me now
I’ll get it all figured out
When I’m out from under.

Under. That’s very much where I was and not where I am today. While we don’t get to pick our soundtracks for our bottoming out, I can honestly say I’m glad Circus is mine. It’s very “on brand” for my tongue in cheek journey of getting sober. Depression and despair that you can dance to! Perfect. Nice work, God & Britney. Plus, it forever bonds me to my Sagittarius sister Britney for life. But never forget that I did shaved head and crazy first, bitch.

 

 

love’s labor day lost?

 

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Work. Werk. Waherk. However you say it, we all do it. It’s the one thing we all have in common. We are all simultaneously either looking for it, loving it, tolerating it or having it rob our soul while seeking for more tolerable versions of it. It’s the classic conversational cop-out we use when we don’t know what to talk about. It’s ultimately not that important but important in the whole gotta eat and keep the lights on kind of way. It’s the thing that Americans are accused of by others of doing too much of while being the thing we give one another a hard time about doing not enough of. So fittingly we’d have a holiday centered around the thing we do the most.

This thing called Labor Day started in the late 1800’s and according to our government is,”is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” Impressive, right? Who knew I wasn’t just working to buy sparkling water and greek yogurt but actually contributing to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country? I guess I’m really doing my part by working on Labor Day. You’re welcome, America. Yeah as the chips fall, your buddy Sean won’t be doing whatever the hell it is people do to celebrate Labor Day. Sidebar: is it okay to say “Happy Labor Day!”? I never know with these things. Probably not so much with Memorial Day and don’t even go there with Christmas. But Labor Day? Seems innocuous enough. Unless you have to work, like I do, wherein you may be met with a big “Fuck you!” in response to your Labor Day tidings. But don’t worry. I will gladly accept your Labor Day well wishes. Suffice to say, I don’t experience FOMO when it comes to these types of Federal Monday holiday off events.

In fact, I tried to scan my brain for some witty/heartwarming/amazing story from the cranial archive about Labor Day and I came up with nada. I’m sure there’s a story somewhere in there that involves day drinking, cocaine snorting and generally celebrating my contribution to the well-being of our country but for now it’s buried, like the secrets in Al Capone’s vault. Which is fine as most of those stories, be it Labor Day, New Year’s Day, a Tuesday at 11am in April, are all interchangeable. The older I get and the more sobriety I have, I realize I don’t have to celebrate everything. Not only was Prince correct in saying that life is just a party that isn’t meant to last but sometime’s the party that life is celebrating is one you don’t even feel like you need to show up to. I’m okay with working today. Moreover, my ideas about work and what it means have morphed beyond the realm of celebrating with hot dogs and beer.

Now, I in no way, have found some inner peace with work and love every task put in front of me. Quite the contrary. Honestly, I’m still holding out for someone to pay me six figures to tweet and hang out with my cats. But until then, I’m okay with working. This idea of “work” has changed for me. It’s not all hardships and pains in the ass nor is it always a fulfilling and spiritual experience. Most of the time, it’s just work. Usually, its other sorts of work (read: largely unpaid) that are the most satisfying. When I wrote my first play, I was on an insane deadline which is what happens when you pitch an idea and are then expected to execute said idea (who knew?!). The bulk of the show came together between the hours of 11pm-3am. It was a play about Craigslist romances so I guess those hours were appropriate. Anyway, during that time after several late night sessions in a row I remember my husband saying,”Wow. I’m proud of you.You’re really working hard on this.” Other than people coming to see the show or laughing at the jokes, this was the best compliment I’d received. I was doing something I love and it was paying off, even if it didn’t make me rich. More recently, I’ve been doing “work” of the recovery nature and the benefits of that have been felt too. After a long personal inventory and the subsequent spilling of the guts, I exhaled. I mean really exhaled. Like a huge weight had been lifted and I was about 10 pounds lighter. I was also raw, sore and exhausted, like you would be after anything you’d consider hard work. I’m also, slowly but surely, moving away from this idea that work is something that has to be hard.

Take writing, for example. Whether it’s my own projects, writing for clients or sometimes even a damn email, the idea of writing always sounds torturous. I mean isn’t having clever ideas enough? Do I really have to put them on the page, too? Ugh. I guess that’s not very writerly of me to say. I guess I’m supposed to perpetuate some myth that every time I sit down at the computer it’s all genius and magic and that you too should try writing because it’s a ton of fun! And yeah those things can be true but a lot of time it’s just hard. Especially if my attitude sucks. If I sit down with “a gloom and doom, forget this” outlook, the output will be much the same. When thinking about a project it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed if I think how long it will take and how much work it will require. And this is how I’ve landed on my current remedy for that problem: don’t think about it at all. Like, of course, I have some ideas and I’m always scribbling down notes but I’m more productive if I just sit down and cut loose. If I give myself a break and tell perfectionism to kindly go screw itself, something real and honest might just have a chance to peek its way out. This blog was sort of birthed from that idea, as a matter of fact. Use it as a channel for the stream of consciousness and a place to spew out ideas while talking to myself and not trip about the rest. Hence why sometimes these posts read as though I hired Koko the gorilla as my ghostwriter. It’s also why some of these posts are published at an ungodly hour of the morning. I’ve found that my guard is down and I’m less critical when it’s early in the morning. Without over thinking it, I’m able to really have fun and say whatever is on my mind. There’s something more authentic hanging out here,despite weird grammar or missing words or crazy ideas.It feels truthful to get it all out. Besides, Koko will clean it up later.

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The biggest thing I’ve figured out about work, be it spiritual, writing or the kind that gives me rock star insurance, is that I need it. I’m one of those people if I’m making stuff or working on stuff, I am more pleasant to be around. It’s very Sagittarius of me. If I have things to do and projects to look forward to, I’m less likely to wreak havoc on the human race. Despite my aspirations to become a human mushroom who hangs out in the dark and survives on Netflix alone, I’m grateful I have work that keeps me busy and sane. So think of me as you have your hot dog or do whatever it is you people do on Labor Day and know I’m right where I should be: at work.