Why it’s “Not This Song”

Today is the one-year anniversary of Not This Song‘s creation. The day I made my first post, I had many thoughts and hopes about what this site would be, and many have been achieved. Though there’s far to go in terms of taking these essays to a larger audience–something I both desire and fear–my hopes, and more, have come to life.

Most wonderful among these is that the site still exists and I’m still writing regularly. If you’ve ever known what it’s like to begin and abandon many projects, you know that starting anything for which you have hopes is always accompanied by a faint metallic taste of possible regret; a fear that this new thing will join your pile of might-have-beens. I had that feeling when I began, and the fact that, one post at a time, my writing has continued fills me with joy.

Receiving comments on things I wrote has also filled me with pleasure and gratitude. To hear that my words struck a chord in someone’s heart; made them feel less alone, or made them feel understood…well, that’s what it’s about for me. To learn that my facility with words, one of the gifts I have that my episodes can’t keep me from using, sometimes helps others lets me be more at peace with myself and my limitations. I thank you all for taking my words into your consciousness, even for a moment, and giving me that precious gift.

Anyway, in honor of the site’s birthday, I am going to tell you the story of the name I chose for the site. Why Not This Song? Why not something more obviously descriptive of the site’s material? The short answer is that the name pleased me, resonated with me because of its associations, and the call of it was too strong to ignore. Here is the tale of these associations:

It’s no secret that I have experienced times of deep despair, and had thoughts of ending my life. These took many forms, and could be exacerbated by drugs or by symptoms of my bipolar disorder. It was important to me that I try hard to live, and I got creative about postponing suicide. Not talking myself out of it, if times were really bad–just coming up with a reason to put it off; convince the self-destructive part of me that tomorrow would do just as well. Or next week.

I’ve put off suicide because The Return of the King was coming out in theaters soon. I’ve put off suicide waiting for George R. R. Martin’s latest book. I’ve put it off for an old friend coming to town, for a loved one’s birthday, or because I didn’t want to ruin everyone’s holidays. The reason wasn’t important, as long as I could find or create a reason. The time it bought would get me through long enough to stabilize a bit and be ready to go on.

One day, I encountered what is, to me, the most powerful example of this technique I have ever met. It was in a semi-documentary film called Touching the Void, based on the true story of a climber who fell into an ice crevasse and was (understandably) left for dead by his companions. With multiple injuries including a shattered leg, and battling hypothermia, he makes his way through a tunnel and out onto the mountain, trying to reach the base camp before the party leaves and takes his only hope of survival with them.

He fights through indescribable pain, becoming delirious, and he knows that he’s taken too long. They are almost certainly gone. He picks one goal at a time, a rock or a patch of dark ground, and drags himself to it to choose the next. But this only keeps him going for so long. It’s time to rest, to lay down his head and let death take him. He no longer fears it; it’s got to be better than this.

Now comes the unlikely occurrence that ends up saving his life. As he crawls, delirious, over the ground, a song begins to play in his head as songs sometimes do. It plays louder–it blares, the same chorus over and over; it’s a song he never liked. Over and over, it plays–and, years later, when he’s being interviewed about his ordeal, what do you think he says about how he kept going?

He doesn’t say that his belief in a God sustained him. He doesn’t talk about hope or faith. He doesn’t talk about his loved ones, or quote inspirational literature. He says:

“I didn’t want to die with that song in my head.”

That was it. The perfect metaphor for the reasons I waited and still wait. No lofty speeches, just a simple fact that spoke to me and stuck around in my head. Years later, when I wondered what I would title a book if I ever wrote one, this phrase is what I decided on.

There are so many “songs,” literal or figurative, we can sing or hear in the course of our lives. Even when I am not sure if I can go on living, I am in touch with a part of me that cares how I die. It matters to me what song is going to be the last song playing in my head. Matters enough that I might be willing to hang on long enough for the song to change. To say:

Not right now.
Not this way.
Not This Song.
Not today.

4 responses to “Why it’s “Not This Song”

  1. Love this post. I’m following you.

  2. That is fantastic. Compelling. Simple and smart. I did not guess this. Well done!

  3. Both beautiful and heart-warming. You elicited an audible chuckle from me this morning. Thank you.

  4. This made me smile. Thanks for writing this.

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