Making Me Understand: “Do Your Thing,” by The Clean

Making Me Understand is an occasional blog feature where I analyze, in brief or at length, what a particular work of art or artist means to me at this given moment.

When it was time to leave for our drive back north this morning (much later than we’d planned, owing to late night/hangover concerns), I was all set to do the first half of the drive. The way this usually works is, I drive us through Maryland and Delaware, and by the time we’ve crossed the Delaware Memorial Bridge, before we get on the New Jersey Turnpike, it is lunchtime, and we leave the highway and eat lunch at an improbably good Chinese restaurant in the middle of nowhere, which we found exactly a year ago, on our drive home from Thanksgiving, and have been stopping at ever since.

The drive. In my heart of hearts, I really didn’t want to do it today, my half, but J gets so agonizingly achy when he has to do the whole thing (car ergonomics were never considered for the likes of us tall folks), and I didn’t have any medical reason to exempt myself.

I knew I needed a good song to kick off the drive, but I didn’t realize choosing this one would permeate me with such conflicted feelings that I’d cry my way out of my parents’ apartment complex and all through the merge onto the highway.

In my family, I’m the one who doesn’t live close by. I lived close by for quite a while – going to college in state, moving back in with my parents while I went to grad school at same place, being in a front row seat as their parents declined in health and mental faculties and passed away. It was hard, really hard, after four years mostly away from home. And there was the need for my parents to learn to think of me as an adult. And my need to learn to act like one. It was an intense time. But – I think – we managed.

After those two years, I left. And even though one of my brothers never left, and one did for a long time but returned… I didn’t come back.

I’d been wanting to live in New York for a very long time, at least since I’d gotten hooked on it through early Electric Company episodes, where they weren’t exactly making the city look like a verdant paradise. Heyyyy youuuuu guuuyyyyyys! was my destiny. In seventh grade, I saw Rear Window, and that sealed the deal (even though it dealt again in the type of city most normal people would not like to inhabit, wall-to-wall paranoia and your neighbor turning out to be an actual murderer). I had never, and probably have not since, been so sure of anything in my life, as my need to live in New York.

And I live in New York. And I’ve built a life there, with my two hands and J’s two hands and our boys’ four hands and all of the helping hands along the way. I’ve even built a life there as a cancer patient, and my dad acknowledged recently while we talked on the phone that on balance, it was a very good thing for my treatment indeed that I live where I do.

That doesn’t mean it is easy to leave, when we’ve been to visit. I saw a lot of dear, dear people this weekend. We spent a longer time visiting than usual. My parents. Cousins and aunts and uncles and friends on Thanksgiving. My brothers and their spouses and kids and dogs. A day trip to splendid Shenandoah National Park. And to cap it off, last night, an unprecedented gathering of whoever was around, and well enough and not previously committed and, frankly, brave enough, to come out to the shabbiest bar imaginable, which I seem to cleave to as a vestige of the lost Rockville, Maryland of my youth. I truly enjoyed myself. I adored seeing everyone. I drank with abandon. I did something usually unthinkable for me, and ate a diner meal at midnight with J and some friends from junior high.

And then I woke up today and needed this song to get me driving. I didn’t count on how sad it would make me, but it felt like permission to separate from home and go back to my handmade, hard-won life back… home. I couldn’t do that if my parents hadn’t let me “do my thing” all those years ago.

There’s a lesson in this for me, as a child and as a parent. I’m still on the steroids, dropping my dose tomorrow, so being in this enclosed space of the car with the increasingly-bored kids has been a challenge. For this second part of the drive, I decided at some point (or maybe J decided it for me) that I’d need to just tune them out. So I did. I’ve been writing this instead. We’ve still got an hour left – the last 18 miles takes a whole hour on a day like this – but I’m definitely feeling more serene.

Do Your Thing, by The Clean

Do your thing
Do your thing

Always someone to put you down
Always someone to drag you out

Stuck in your head with lies
Stuck on your life

Just do your thing
Do your thing

You’re so PC you’re a hypocrite
You’re just as real as the ideas you feel

Career crawling with no heart
When it removed this old part

Do your thing
Do your thing
Do your thing

You’re not too young
You’re not too old
You’re not too weak
You’re not too bold
Just do your thing

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