Saturday, November 23, 2013

Learned to Surf

These are secrets the world sung to me truer than the truth…
It was music that gave the shove
And resolved in music we shall breathe

I went to an awful lot of rock shows in college. I loved feeling the energy in the sweaty club and my ears filled with pummeling sound. Though it was exhilarating, I was never much for moving around, or "dancing" as it were.

About two weeks after my diagnosis, I went to an Animal Collective show and it was an epiphany. It was a time when I was really grappling with what P would mean for my future. In every possible way. For a while, everything I did became a moment to reflect on whether a day would come when I couldn't do that thing anymore. I clearly remember having such thoughts in that period when I was swimming at the beach with my kids. I had a similar thought at the concert. Putting aside the fact that I am 40 and old enough to be many of the attendees' dad, I wondered how many more of these I would be able to do.

Then the music started.

If any of you have ever seen Animal Collective (it was a first for me), you have an idea what it was like. The atmosphere and sound was one of the most joyful and life-affirming things I've ever experienced. And I realized: I am here now. So I danced.


I can't hold my breath anymore
I stopped sinking and learned to surf…
Heavy like the rocks we carry
I stopped swimming and learned to surf

It's something of a cliche for people to say "<insert music> [changed | saved] my life". It may be a cliche but it's true for me so many times I have lost track. I've mentioned the post title song in at least one past post, but I never really explained why it's so monumentally significant to me.

I first encountered the song "Learned to Surf" by Superchunk at a time of intense self doubt. I was already overwhelmed by building a lab, repeated grant rejections, and whether I had risen to the level of my own incompetence, and these were beginning to collide with new doubts about the future of my health. Sometimes a piece of art really touches something off in me that just crystallizes things that were floating around in my head and pushes me to see a new perspective. I listened to this song many times because something about those few lines was totally compelling to me. I struggle to articulate why, but it is no exaggeration to say that I believe those lyrics capture one of the great secrets to life. They also delineate the nucleus of the primary message I hope everyone can take away from my blog.

To me that message is that life is awfully hard when you struggle against the current to make your life  into what you think it ought to be instead of making the most of what it actually is. To many people this probably sounds like dopey positive thinking BS. To others it may sound like giving up. All I can say is to my mind it is neither of those. It's about letting go of the rocks.

Self defeating thoughts, worries about the future, bitterness, fear. We sometimes cling to these tenaciously despite the fact that they are dragging us down. Maybe I don't have what it takes to make it in science. Maybe the clowns on my study section that triage my grants are right. Or maybe I will establish myself and my career will end someday because of P. Maybe I'll be hit by a bus tomorrow.

I could worry about this stuff. Likewise, I could mope about what I may be robbed of by P. But you know what?

I. am. here. now. I'm letting go of the rocks and I'm gonna dance.

Time and transition is a wave that will put you overboard
Where the darkness is a bed and you can sleep
'Til someone tells you that they know you and they do

Thank you for "knowing me", Mac. Thank you for more than you will ever know.


  1. Best. post. ever.

    These lyrics remind me of Ani DiFranco's Swan Dive.

    1. Thanks - I'm glad you liked it :)

      I wasn't familiar with that song before but I like it.

  2. This post quotes lyrics from, in order: "Creation Story" by Lungfish and "Learned to Surf" and "My Gap Feels Weird" both by Superchunk. Mac McCaughan is the lead singer-guitarist for Superchunk.

  3. This was awesome thanks I'm going to have to check out that song now.