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The Madonna Timeline: Song #67 – ‘X-Static Process’ – Spring 2003

{Note: The Madonna Timeline is an ongoing feature, where I put the iPod on shuffle, and write a little anecdote on whatever was going on in my life when that Madonna song was released and/or came to prominence in my mind.}

I’m not myself when you’re around
I’m not myself standing in a crowd
I’m not myself and I don’t know how
I’m not myself, myself right now…

If you’re afraid of loneliness, don’t marry. ~ Chekhov

The quiet plucking of a guitar begins this folk-like piece from Madonna’s over-maligned American Life album, and ‘X-Static Process’ is an ambivalent love song, under-laid with tones of melancholy and resignation, hints of despair and slivers of hope. It came at a time when she was supposedly-happily-married to Guy Ritchie, yet it stings of a disconcerting lack of fulfillment, and questions of self-identity. A whisper of a song, it is imbued with ambiguity, concerns of love and dependence, and the notion of self versus couple.

When I first heard it, I thought back to the beginning of every relationship I’ve ever been in ~ the first few days and weeks of hazy make-believe, when you pretend to be everything you think the other person wants, sacrificing a bit of yourself before making all the less-than-desirable parts apparent. It’s almost a trick of those fabled Victorian girls on the hunt for a husband, when all is the illusion of perfection, the notion of compliance ~ the perfumed entrapment of an insect-enticing flower before the wilting of disenchantment. And it’s always slightly deceptive, both to the suitors, and to oneself.

Jesus Christ will you look at me
Don’t know who I’m supposed to be
Don’t really know if I should give a damn
When you’re around, I don’t know who I am…

Back in the Spring of 2003, Andy and I were one year into our current home. Settled, but still new, it was a Spring of happiness and hope. Madonna sang this lullaby, harmonizing sweetly into the nights, as Andy slid into the bed beside me and we slumbered until the morning. That was back when he came to bed at a decent hour, back when we fell asleep together, back before his back fell apart again. It seems so long ago.

I’m not myself when you go quiet
I’m not myself all alone at night
I’m not myself, don’t know who to call
I’m not myself at all…

Nine years later – has it been that long? – I go to sleep alone. He says good-night, and then goes off into his own time. Partly due to back pain, partly due to I don’t know what else. If I awaken at two or three in the morning, I will roll over, reach for him, and find cold empty blankets. At first, and for a long time, I couldn’t get to sleep for hours without him. It’s like the parent who’s waiting for their college-age kid, home for the summer, to come in for the night. It’s different when they’re away, but if they’re there, you wait. It’s a subconscious anxiety that’s both less and more, and for me it often doubled up on itself, knotting the nights into worry and fret, inducing restlessness and fucking up any idea of a normal schedule.

Jesus Christ will you look at me
Don’t know who I’m supposed to be
Don’t really know if I should give a damn
When you’re around, I don’t know who I am…

Some nights I would try to wait up for him. If I didn’t have work the next day, I’d stay up for a bit, watching television, hoping he’d tire sooner rather than later, but after too long of this it wore me down, and I would succumb to exhaustion or sickness. I’ll still do that on weekends, trying to join in the game like a lonely puppy, trying to keep up with the adults even when I can’t.

I always wished that I could find someone as beautiful as you
But in the process I forgot that I was special too…

It is lonely sleeping alone. Even if he joins me later, I’m still the one who goes to sleep on my own every night. It would seem the anti-thesis of a marriage, of a relationship. It used to bother me more, and part of me wonders if it’s bad that it’s slowly starting not to. How far is it from not sleeping in the same room, or the same city? This is the conundrum of marriage – together always, forever apart.

I can make the most beautiful bedroom in the world – paint it in soothing colors, choose the linens and pillows for ample comfort, find the perfectly-tufted head-board, and put on the softest silk pajamas – but it is only for myself. I go to bed alone. Whether here or in Boston – always alone. And if I think about it, that’s the way it’s always been. Back and forth the mind wrestles, a push and pull of mental fatigue, and still the clock ticks ~ 2 AM, 3 AM, 4 AM… How long until madness?

I’m not myself when you’re around
I’m not myself when you go quiet
I’m not myself all alone at night
I’m not myself standing in a crowd
I’m not myself and I don’t know how
I’m not myself, myself right now
Don’t know what I believe…

And then I think back to when we first met, and the way I’d stop in late at night and find him sitting quietly on his couch, in the dim glow of a candle or two, meditating and grounding himself. In a way, maybe this is who he is – a night owl – and my “normal” hours are against his natural rhythm. Maybe he’s simply returning to who he was before he met me. Maybe I’ve been wrong all along.

Jesus Christ will you look at me
Don’t know who I’m supposed to be
Don’t really know if I should give a damn
When you’re around, I don’t know who I am
I always wished that I could find someone as beautiful as you
But in the process I forgot that I was special too

I wonder if other marriages have these doubts. I wonder if I’m a bad husband. I wonder if this is not a big deal at all. I wonder if I’m just the fool who talks about it. But that’s what this sort of song is for. It posits the question, it provokes the thought, it settles nothing. That’s what makes it good, that’s what makes it last. Like a marriage ~ bending, accommodating, giving ~ it yields, it goes back and forth, and it returns, if we’re lucky, to love, to ourselves, to the only people we know how to be. It is, at its best, an ecstatic process after all ~ one without an end or a definitive happily-ever-after, and all the more joyous because of it.

I always wished that I could find someone as talented as you
But in the process I forgot that I was just as good as you

Song #67 – ‘X-Static Process’ – Spring 2003

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