I’ve been thinking a lot about where I am in my life these days. Where I’ve been, where I’m going, what I’m currently doing. I’m 42 now, and I’m feeling urgent about getting things done in my life, but I often find I’ll need the extra push, an inspiration when needed, to get me to stop dwelling on past mistakes and create something. Art from past traumas, so to speak.
Inspiration sometimes comes to me from the most unusual sources. Like from a podcast, from example. Marc Maron, the stand-up comedian whose podcast “WTF” has become the gold standard for podcasts these days – mostly because of Maron’s need to overshare a lot about his life (and, why not, right? I mean, aren’t we living in an age where it’s almost obligatory to overshare?) and his uncanny ability to turn an interview with his guests into a frank and open discussion.
There was something Maron was talking about during the January 2nd podcast, about wanting to do something specific in his life, chiefly releasing “something that’s stuck there,” inside his heart, and release that in an explosion of “exciting grief and and liquid from my eyes.”
In his words, “a swell of exciting music and a release of bats.”
“Release the bats.”
Something about those words have stuck with me. I can envision that release taking place, in a burst of frenetic tension and drama, an unloading of things that I’ve harbored inside of me for too long that I’ve allowed to fester and take up too much residence. Metaphorically, the bats living inside of me have to be released from their cave, this emotional and psychological cave called manic depression I’ve built for them, one they’ve gotten too cozy in the dark here. But eventually bats have to find another cave to live in. So it’s time for me to release the bats.
For 2014, and my life going forward, “release the bats” has become my personal mantra.
There’s a particular poignancy to this mantra, especially during the month of February. It’s my least favorite month, made worse by two events having taken place that have shape a lot of what became a mental breakdown for me. Five years ago this month, my mother passed away. Five years later, I still haven’t properly grieved her death, and her passing, I’ll admit it, has left me out of balance. It’s almost like there’s a part of me that still doesn’t believe she’s dead, but she is. And I don’t know what to make of it, still.
Two years ago, what could kindly be described as a “mid-life crisis” blew up into a full-scale existentialist crisis, culminating in me nearly destroying my marriage through infidelity and wanting to destroy everyone and everything around me. And all that started two years ago this February.
There’s a lot I’m still working through, a lot of these nocturnal creatures still haunting me inside, fluttering like crazy, and I’m fighting like mad to get them to get out.
I finally spoke with my therapist about “releasing the bats,” and while she was pleased with how I was taking this mantra to heart, she warned me that what I was aiming for was a short-term fix that may not solve much. She called what I was gunning for “catharsis.”
Catharsis. Sure, it’s nice to blow off a lot of mental steam, but the valves are still broken, pal.
What she recommended instead was so simple, it shocked me: domesticate those bats. Those bats represent something about me, good and bad. Simply letting go via catharsis doesn’t help me understand how to live with these bats. It’s perfectly fine to let these bats out of their cave, and I have to let them out, or otherwise they’ll either get bored and complacent or itchy and temperamental. The trick is to give these bats a home to live in, but also establish guidelines. If they act up, then they’ll have to know their place, immediately.
I told her I wasn’t sure I wanted to domesticate my bats. On the contrary, I feel they’ve been too domesticated. If anything, they need something massive to shake them free and make them fly away. I’m fine with catharsis. I’m fine with shaking things loose just to see what’s underneath the surface.
So I thought more about what I wanted this “release the bats” thing to really mean for me. Is it merely catharsis, or is it something deeper? I realized it is something deeper. The “bats” are all those things I need to let go off. Guilt, anger, resentment, shame, low self-esteem, trauma, silencing my inner critic. This isn’t going to be a quiet task that will involve reflection and introspect. Oh, no, I know me: this will likely involve lots of teeth gnashing, some screaming, and heavy internal wrestling, but I will get these damned bats out of here, in a cathartic frenzy of tears and laughter and rage. One damned way or another.
I’ll also take Marc Maron’s advice: if you’re going to release the bats, play a “swell of exciting music.” I’ll take this monster head-crushing gem, courtesy of Black Sabbath. Play this one loud. And I mean fucking loud, like loud enough to frighten your neighbors and have the National Guard called on your ass. Go on…DO IT!