How Can I Keep From Singing?

I once read that Michele Obama insisted Medicare require doctors to ask their patients if they are depressed. Whether that’s true or not, my doctor recently asked me the question in three different ways.

“Are you depressed?”

“No.” I wasn’t at that moment.

“Are you sleeping?”

“No.” 

“Are you socializing?”

“No.”

Socializing is not a word I use. I join friends for choir practice, writing classes and lunch, but I rarely go out at night except to public meetings and author talks, not exactly social. And I’d always rather be in bed.

Ok. I socialize. I just don’t want to socialize since I am, well, depressed. There’s a web dangling overhead that periodically ensnares me. I have to shake its silky mess from my psyche before the new normal sticks me with its venom.

I asked the doctor if a lot of people are depressed.

“Everyone I see. Everyone my colleagues see,” she answered. “Careful you don’t look to yourself for a reason for your depression,“ she said. “The reason is trumpism.”

 Oh. That.

Choir director Jonathan Miller never utters a word about politics. But I can tell he’s picked up the scent of this national stink by the songs he picks for our choir. Our song index for the spring concert includes Waitin’ for the Light to Shine, What a Wonderful World, The Storm Is Passing Over, Bridge Over Troubled Water and How Can I Keep from Singing?

Roger Miller of Dang Me fame (and a depressive himself) wrote the score for the Broadway play, Big River, an adaptation of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Huck Finn walks around in the dark singing Waitin’ for the Light to Shine lamenting his thcircumstances and wishing he could find meaning to his life. When he returns home, his father, a violent drunk, drags him off to the woods and tries to kill him. The poor kid escapes down the Big River, never to return.

This is my fear. I’m afraid a deranged president is attempting to psychologically murder me and there’s no escape. The fear is mutating and causing havoc like the coronavirus. It shape shifts itself into depressed, suspicious, angry, aggressive people. And they’re multiplying. They’re on the bus, at the checkout counter, on the condo board and sitting next to me at the movies. All of America needs to find the escape hatch and flee downriver with Huck Finn.

“How do you feel when you get up in the morning?” The doctor asked.

Hopeless. I need about fifteen minutes of constant prayer to catch the hope I need to get out of bed. It eventually floats through my thoughts in song.Untitled

You may think the song How Can I Keep From Singing doesn’t exactly fit into the buck-up category represented in my choir’s repertoire since the lyrics contain words like lamentation, tumult and strife. But Jonathan Miller added his own lyrics describing a choir as a healing balm. My hope is whenever trumpism churns my stomach, I remember to take the cure. 

How can I not keep singing?

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Sing Along with President Jeb Bartlett: How Can I Keep From Singing

 

When James Carville Tried to Save Me

 

James Carville called in early March 1992.

“This is not your fault,” he said in that red-hot Cajun voice of his, ”I take full responsibility.”

I knew right then that the campaign advisors on the road with Bill Clinton were blaming me.

A few days earlier, Carville, chief strategist for the campaign, had directed me to schedule Clinton at a correctional facility in Georgia reasoning that a picture of Clinton strolling with black inmates and Georgia’s all-white male politicians would cinch Clinton’s appeal to the state’s voters.

It did.th

Clinton won the Georgia primary, but not without a price. The national press and the other candidates excoriated Clinton for his racial insensitivity. Jerry Brown said Clinton and the other politicians looked “like colonial masters” trying to tell white voters “Don’t worry, we’ll keep them in their place.”

And that was all my fault.

Five months earlier I’d been asked to give up my job in Chicago and relocate to Little Rock to be Clinton’s Director of Scheduling and Advance.  “You already know this, Regan,” Campaign Manager David Wilhelm reminded me, “the scheduler in any campaign has the worst job.”

It’s true. The person who plans the candidate’s calendar has an enviable yet risky position. An unplanned photo with an unscrupulous politician? Protesters blocking the entrance to an event? A rained out rally? It’s all the scheduler’s fault.

Campaign operations temporarily moved from Little Rock to the Palmer House in Chicago just before the Illinois-Michigan primaries in 1992. The extensive Chicago staff in Little Rock wanted to celebrate Clinton’s St. Patrick’s Day victories that would clinch

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March 17, 1992 Palmer House Chicago

the nomination.

An old friend of mine, a Chicago policeman, volunteered to be Clinton’s driver. He called me around 2:00 am the morning before the Primary.

“Regan, that Greek guy, George, and Bruce someone were in the car telling Clinton you have to go.”

“What?”

“Yep. But Clinton said he wants to be sure you have another high-level job in the campaign.”

“Really?”

“Yeah! Dees guys are strategists? Der talkin’ ‘bout firin’ you in your hometown — and your buddy drivin’?”

We howled at the strategic error.

I was offered a job that was already filled. Wilhelm shrugged when I asked if I was fired. The New York Times reported I’d been replaced by Bruce’s wife.

I took a trip to the Bahamas, became achingly lonely and came home early. Herb and Vivienne Sirott got me into a rental apartment across the hall from them.  Cook County Clerk David Orr hired me as Deputy Director of Elections. We worked hard that year to pass the National Motor Voter Act. A young community organizer, Barack Obama, walked into my office to plan a large-scale voter registration project.

Things looked good from the outside, but inside ego-busting despair maintained constant watch over my soul. Depression, sick leave, isolation, shame, all led to suicidal thoughts. Vivienne brought a psychiatrist to my apartment. That’s when I started Prozac, my first legal anti-depressant.