Thursday, July 8, 2010

FACING THE BLUES

Dinah WashingtonMrs. Washington, I woke up this morning thinking about your compilation album the "Ultimate Dinah Washington". The album was part of a series Verve Records released some years ago. Verve commissioned vocalist Abbey Lincoln to select 16 songs she loved hearing you perform. There a handful of blues songs she included. I enjoyed listening to vocalists sing the blues because they're convincing. Until this year, I never had the blues. This has been a trying year so far. You may wonder why I’m bothering you. I read your life story. You faced the blues many times, so maybe you could assure the blues is fleeting. A few months ago, a reader criticized my writing style.

The reader called me a weirdo because I write to deceased jazz musicians. What I do is no different from someone visiting a gravesite to talk to a deceased relative or spouse. Essentially, what they're doing is talking to grass and a concrete headstone. That's okay in my book because it give them comfort, knowing they can still communicate with the departed on some level regardless of how strange it may appear. Myself expressions are no different from people praying to an invisible God. Anyway, Mrs. Washington, I'll stop there, and share why I am blue.

In January, I lost my job. I’ve been struggling to stay afloat. This is the first time in my adult life creditors have hounded me. They're out for blood, and I am fresh out. Mrs. Washington, I know there are people in worst shape. Many are homeless. I try to remind myself things could be worst. However, I'm having a tough time adjusting. The hardest thing is trying to be upbeat and hopeful my ordeal will eventually end. Mrs. Washington, I believe God is mad at me, and I wonder why. I'm 43, and I've always lived a clean life. I've never intentionally hurt anyone. I've never asked God for anything. I appreciate his blessings. Until recently, I never questioned his motives. Now I'm feel as though he's picking on me.

For a decade, I’ve done consulting work for the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT). In October 2009, the project a MDOT engineer assigned me ended, and I was laid off, which is common when a project ends, or when the construction season is over. The engineer I worked for praised my performance, and I expected to return in January. That never happened, so I sought an explanation. Two co-workers told me a rumor circulated I had messed up my last assignment. I was shocked the engineer who acknowledged I had done a good job allowed someone to badmouth me.

I asked more questions. I discovered this supervisor, who I will not name, but who's a notorious troublemaker, had badmouthed me. I never liked him. We argued once. I refused to allow him to bully me. Criticizing the quality of my work, I guess was his way of settling an old score. Anyway, another supervisor, who I worked for off and on for years, overheard him ranting and raving about what I supposedly crappy job I did.

I’ve had a steady job since high school. I was always proud I could take care of myself without help from friends and family. That has changed and I've been up and down emotionally. I owe my mom and my sister money. They understood my ordeal, and they loaned me money anyway. I have hawked half of my jazz CD collection. It was heart wrenching selling by Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy, Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins box sets. I sold the box sets for peanuts, but I needed the cash. I had a nest egg, but I spent it on the mortgage, the car note, the property taxes and other household stuff.

Mrs. Washington, I used to be the one my family counted on. I inherited that responsibility a decade ago when my grandmother, Inez Hall passed away. I dream about her occasionally, when I'm about to do something stupid. The dreams are short. In them, she's chastising me. I mentioned my emotional state. I'm not suicidal, but my attitude has been scary. On the surface, I've been cavalier. That concerned me.

I decided to see a therapist. Admitting, I needed help sorting things out was hard. Mrs. Washington, I'm not nuts, but I sought help because I’m afraid I might lose it. I told my mother. She disapproved of me seeing a shrink. I never asked why. She has experienced adversity worst than mine, so maybe she thought I was overreacting. I told her I'm being preventive. I'm convinced therapy was the right move. Mrs. Washington, for now, I plan to continue therapy. Honestly, I felt better after my first session.

Early on, I said I wasn't going to discuss the "Ultimate Dinah Washington" album, but I must renege. Listening to you, sing "Cry Me a River," "Back Water Blues," "Cold, Cold Heart" and "I Won't Cry Anymore" was comforting. Your voice was clear and pure as spring water. I remember reading writer James Baldwin’s account of migrating to Europe. Baldwin had a tough time initially. Playing blues singer Betsy Smith records help him keep it together. Playing the "Ultimate Dinah Washington" over and over for the past week has helped me.
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