Thursday, May 2, 2013

I'm Not Finished (!): Alanis Morissette, "Incomplete"

I'll say  now that this little song analysis series of mine will end up including a lot  of Alanis. She's in my Fab 5+1 (five female singers I need to see before I die, plus Rufus Wainwright- who, ironically, is the only one on the list I've been able to tick off). A lot of  her songs are very dear to me and close to home. I had anticipated another one would come up sooner, but I have to go with  my gut and what's most topical. 

So there's this one, off of her not quite most recent album



So there's the literal relation: I'm taking my first ever and only Incomplete this semester. Things just got so hectic for me personally, what with my family falling apart on another coast, my health deteriorating in myriad ways; and school, my responsibilities with the lecture series became so overwhelmingly emotionally taxing, and all of the demands being made on me by the social norms (see the last song)... I was barely able to squeak by in the two real classes I was in, and so I let the third, a directed reading with my chair, fall by the wayside. It wasn't entirely my doing, as a number of the times I had scheduled meetings with her, she unfortunately had to cancel because of her University obligations- and I don't blame her, per se, either. And really, I could (and should) have been more proactive in rescheduling- I know what she's like, and I know I need to send that follow-up email, or knock on her door and make  her open her calendar. I just passively let it slide so I could then not have to meet and thus not have to do anything. 

I feel terrible for  it. I've never not finished anything, ever. I feel like a failure, even though she and I have a game-plan for getting shit done before the summer is over. I especially felt bad when she told me that she had pleaded my case rather vociferously with other faculty about how I'm making rapid progress and will have a crapton of publications and be done with my prospectus by the spring, and I'm the only person  in my cohort that's going to finish classes normally and look at all the things she's doing  for the department,too- she said, quote, "You see the predicament I'm in, right? I don't want to sound like I was talking out of my ass, now, Gab."

I think am certain that part of why I'm afraid to leave is letting her down. Connecting with her is one of the few things that has helped me cope here. She's not quite a mom, not quite a therapist, not quite a friend. I care for her in a very weird, perhaps slightly messed up, Stokholm Syndrome sort of wayI dunno, she's like my own, academic Jillian Michaels

(Well, okay, she's a lot gentler than that, but she's pretty damn blunt, realistic, and a hard shell with a soft, gushy inside.)

So, directly speaking, I have an Incomplete, and I'm freaking out over it and it's getting in the way of me finishing my last paper that's due tonight before midnight. (So I thought  I'd gush here to get it off my chest then will hopefully feel decent enough to put my nose back to the grindstone and finish the bloody thing.) 

But enough of that. Time to be a little more abstract, or at least less literal. 


One day I'll find relief
I'll be arrived
And I'll be friend to my friends who know how to be friends
One day I'll be at peace
I'll be enlightened and I'll be married with children and maybe  adopt
One  day I will be healed
I will gather my wounds and forge the end of tragic comedy

I have been running so sweaty my whole life
Urgent for a finish line
And I have been missing the rapture this  whole time
Of being forever incomplete

One day my mind will retreat
And I'll know God
And I'll be constantly one with her night dusk and day
One day I'll be secure 
Like the women I see on their thirtieth anniversaries

I have been running so sweaty my whole life
Urgent for a finish line
And I have been missing the rapture this whole time
Of being incomplete

Ever expanding
Ever adventurous
And torturous
And never done

One day I will speak freely
I'll be less afraid
And measured outside of my poems  and lyrics and  art
One  day I will be faith-filled
I'll be trusting and spacious authentic and grounded and home

I have been running so sweaty my whole life
Urgent for a finish line
And I have been missing the rapture the whole time
Of being incomplete*

On the deeper level, this song describes me  a lot. I'm anxious for finally finishing my life and "getting there," even though "there" is kind of ambiguous and undefined, and "finishing" doesn't mean, you know, croaking, but rather what I just said, the  "getting  there" part reaching these semi-ambiguous goals would  be reaching my finish line, and then I can revel in the victory until I do, hopefully a long time later, meet my maker. 

Specifically, a few absolutes that mirror what I know I want out of life: To settle down with a family, to have friends nearby I can have over for cocktails or a pot roast, to not feel so restless, to be happy in my own skin, confident that I'm doing what I want to do and it's right; to feel at ease and comfortable with life and where I'm at. 

The first verse is pretty poignant: 

One day I'll find relief
I'll be arrived
And I'll be friend to my friends who know how to be friends
One day I'll be at peace
I'll be enlightened and I'll be married with children and maybe  adopt
One  day I will be healed
I will gather my wounds and forge the end of tragic comedy

I've been burned a lot in my life, so the thing about the friends is pretty close to home- I hope to grow old with people that actually care about me and don't walk all over me, take advantage of my kindness and such. Also, with that, I want to feel healed. I've got a lot of scars, and I want to be able to say, 'FUCK YOU!' to anyone that has hurt me in the past (and I guess the universe, too) by sort of flaunting my happiness. I know that's kind of messed up, but hey. And come on, "tragic comedy." What's the name of this blog? I realize there are buttloads of funny things in my life, and they can sometimes be happening at the very same moment as something deeply sad or dark. 

The chorus and bridge mostly sum it up, when taken together:

I have been running  so sweaty my whole life
Urgent for a finish line
And I have been missing the rapture this  whole time 
Of being forever incomplete
Ever unfolding
Ever expanding
Ever adventurous
And  torturous
And never done

I'm always pushing myself, have done it my entire life. And I feel like I'm just on a treadmill, one that's rickety and doesn't have a fan or TV screen, and my stupid mp3 player is broken, and there's nothing but Glenn Beck on TV, and the meter telling me how far I've gone either isn't changing or doing so at such a glacial pace, I may as well not even be on that stupid treadmill in the first place. 

But the reality is, life, or at least a life  worth living, doesn't have a "finish line"- a good life means constant unfolding, expanding, having adventures, and that's never done. Sure, it can be kind of torturous- there's also no life worth living without at least a little pain. But surviving and  growing are what make it worth it. Having new experiences, meeting new people, gaining new worldviews or perspectives- those are all part of the human condition, and our ability to be conscious of this and contemplate it, the fact that we see these things and can ask Big Questions about them and the sociopolitical ramifications of our actions; that we can taste saffron for the first time, smell our baby's skin after giving them their first bath, make love to the person we've chosen to spend our life with-  and appreciate these things as soul-shaping and heart-expanding- that's unique and special. 

I'm being  speceist, but I sort of am a speceist. Sure, dogs are people too, but I do think humans are pretty fucking snazzy. Now, do I think humans are the only sentient, emotional, moral, etc. beings in the universe




No, of course not. But I'll be blunt and say that until someone discovers some previously unknown species here that can also measure the moral, ethical, etc. questions  of a given situation on a regular  basis, I'll keep saying that  humans are the most complex biological creatures on Earth, and I'll say it with confidence. 

Anyhoo, where was I?

Oh yeah, so growth. It's important. I have this deep-rooted disdain for stagnation,  both in institutions and in people. I'm sort of snobby/elitist in that when I see people that refuse to change, that are willfully ignorant and closed-minded, that have no interest in trying new things, I always have this insatiable urge to fight making a face like something smells, and I know I'm not always able to fight said urge when those people are actually near me (although if it's on the Internet, I don't hide it at all, and often add some sort of audio commentary). 


I imagine this is the precisely what
that face I make  looks  like

And I fucking hate it  when I can't get a straight answer for why some procedure is the way  it is, because we all know that really means things are the way they are because that's how they've always been. Bureaucracy, we hate it.

The last two verses are mostly about finding inner peace and being okay with things. I dig, and I think it's pretty reasonable to want  that, right? I'm more spiritual than I let on with people, but I think this actually is more akin to my feelings on, well, feelings- I equate heart and spirit a lot. I have a big heart, so I have a big spirit. And I want it/them to be content.

But the aforementioned desire to expand and grow myself isn't necessarily entirely contra with having  those goals. They're things I take as signals of growth, but the thing is, I need to remember that that won't be the end of the journey. Instead of thinking of meeting those goals as reaching the finish line, I need to think of it as finishing a chapter. Or the first leg of the marathon. And I'm trying.

Because Lord knows, I've contemplated what would happen if I did get the family, house, neighborhood, job, and was still restless. I've tried preparing myself for the outcome of that not totally "satisfying" me. And I tell myself that that's fine- I should never be entirely satisfied, because that would mean I wouldn't have any room for growth. And that would mean I'd become stagnant, which yes, I loathe. 

So I've got to work more on the revelry of growth. Instead of seeing things as blocking me from the finish line, I need to think (more so than I already have) of them as steps on the path, learning experiences I can take with me into the horizon. 

I'll never be  complete, and that's okay. I do like  it that way, in theory. It's just a matter  of convincing my heart to think  that way.** 

*Source: A-Z Lyrics Universe
**And remember, that doesn't mean it's all about lovey-dovey things; I'm a very emotional person that thinks more with their heart than mind, so my heart needs to think that way about, like, everything in my life.

7 comments:

  1. As someone who has taken an incomplete before, let me tell you not to worry about it. It's really stressful when you first take it, but in a month or so you'll be all "Whatevs." Also, it's so much easier to get things done once the semester ends.

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  2. ^ that was meant to be reassuring, not patronizing. Sometimes, coming from me, they sound the same, what with these human feelings being a mystery to me.

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  3. To be fair, I haven't finished reading your post (appropriate, I think), but don't people take incompletes ALL THE TIME? I didn't realize it was upsetting you at all, because I thought it was a totally normal thing to do!! I understand you being upset about it in terms of personal things (i.e. first unfinished thing), but I don't think you should feel bad about it because it is an inherently bad thing, dear :)

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  4. Dearest, Congratulations on getting your paper done. Second, I also took my first incomplate this semester. I was able to make the decision when I realized that taking the incomplete gave me more time to put care into a project I'm passionate about with a professor I respect. That may or may not be your situation. Whatever else your situation is it is not a failure. Incompletes exist because somewhere along the way someone realized that we can professionally overcommit, exciting and time-sensitive opportunities come up, and your personal life happens. I have a ream of things to say about your situation with your advisor but for now I will leave it at this: as the senior professional in a mentoring role in this situation she is responsible. In any other profession it would be her ass on the line for not doing her job by facilitating your progress. There is no need for you to apologize for not doing her job as well as your own. And I say that with a big hug because I do that ALL the time. It's part of why I'm taking an incomplete. I have an idea for the summer that I'd love to be a part of and I can't wait to celebrunch with you.

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  5. I'm seriously crying now. Thanks.

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  6. (And that's an earnest, not sarcastic, thanks)

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