When I Used to Listen to Tom Petty

Warning: navel-gazing ahead.

When I was younger, I made a few choices that got me into life places I didn’t want to be. In part, life just got me into those places. They weren’t horrible; I have no stories that you could build into any kind of salable young adult novel. But I would pick a path, usually because I didn’t see any other paths available, and I would go down it. I would find a destination, and I would build a piece of my world there, and at some point, I would look around at that world, and I would say…No. 

And I would chuck it all, shift gears, and pick a different path.

I was young, and part of what I was doing was what we all do when we’re young, or what we should do: try something on, test it, figure out whether it fits, and–if it doesn’t–put it back on the rack and try something else.

But, along with that rhythm, I added a layer of self-judgment (also something lots of us do when we’re young, but would be happier without). I had made a big mistake. I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t have a dream to follow (not one that would pay the bills, anyway). I couldn’t make myself happy. All the judgment added up, obviously, to a big feeling of defeat.

But somewhere in the defeat was also, thankfully, a thread of anger. Some of it, unfortunately, was directed at myself, but a chunk of it was also, always, directed at The World. The Universe that wasn’t giving me what I wanted (whatever that was). The anger also, on a smaller scale, pointed to specific pieces of that world–the job I had, the place I was living, the people I was surrounded by. No, the anger wasn’t fair, and it probably wasn’t healthy. But maybe it was what I needed to kick away at that much worse feeling of defeat.

And in those times, I would find myself listening to music that fed the anger. Music with a driving percussion beat, some hard guitar chords, and uncomplicated lyrics that spoke to me about not accepting defeat. About taking risks and breaking away. About Melissa Etheridge. Tracy Chapman. Pat Benatar.

And Tom Petty.

Like Free Fallin.

So yesterday, especially on top of the horrible news from Las Vegas, hearing about Tom Petty hit hard. I listened to him all the way home from work, and I listened to him on the way in this morning. And I felt his music stirring that feeling of anger again.
When I was young, there was nothing wrong with getting angry at my life and chucking things. I’m not a wild person; I always had a plan and a process and a safety net. And all the changes I made added up to where I am now, which is–in so many ways–the place I want to be.

But here’s the rub. There are a few things in my life that are not making me happy, that are part of a pathway I’d rather not be on. (I know, whose life doesn’t have these things in it, but, hey, I warned you about the navel close-up.) There are some things I would like to chuck away and leave behind. Some of these things are based in the current political climate. Some are closer to home and pretty much matter only to me. They are all things that have been making me feel defeated.

But chucking is not the same option it used to be. I am very lucky to have a husband and a son (and a cat!) who I love and want to be with. I have a home where I feel happy and where I can be true to myself.  I have friends who are very important to me. I’m not going to pack my bags, pay the last month’s rent, and move on. This is not that kind of midlife story.

My challenge, I think, is to figure out what kind of midlife story it is. And how I can use that music and the anger it stirs in a new way. How I can fight the feeling of defeat while I think about what changes I want to make, in the context of this world I actually want to hold on to.

I don’t know how to do that yet. But I think it will include listening to Melissa and Tracy and Pat. And Tom. 

Because he apparently still has some things to teach me.

RIP, Tom, and thank you. 

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