When you’re singing “The Blues,” credibility isessential. You can talk the talk, but if you didn’t walk the walk, people can tell. Janiva Magness has been singing the blues professionally for decades, but don’t think for a minute that she didn’t get to where she is now without having a struggle with hard times. And where she is now, it’s a very good place: a highly regarded , award-winning singer and musician with an international following and a cache of critically well-received albums—the newest of which, Change In The Weather, will be released in September via Blue Elan Records.. She’s also a beloved social worker who specializes in orking with at-risk youth. Weeds Like Us examines her early years, and from the excerpt below, one can tell that where she is now was by no means a guarantee—if even imaginable. You may purchase the book here.:
I always believed in God, but until I was in my 30s, I was pretty sure the son of a bitch had it in for me. Why else would He have put me in that fucked-up family of mine if he wasn’t out to get me? If He really gave a shit about my life, why wasn’t I born into a normal, loving household? One with parents equipped to deal with life’s ups and downs. Parents who could be there for their children and help them figure out and navigate life. It was black and white in my mind. I was born into a sick, screwed-up family who didn’t seem to give a shit about me; it had to be because God didn’t care whether I lived or died. What other explanation could there be? Kind of self-centered, I know. Today, I realize life does not work that way, but it was the way I saw things then. At least until I survived that insulin overdose. Until alternative possibilities started seeping into my brain. I respected and loved Carrie too much to dismiss what she said. Didn’t I owe it to her to at least consider that she might be right?
As the insulin fog lifted, my brain began working overtime. Now it was preoccupied with something other than planning to die. What would happen if I tried suicide again? There had always been a next time. After each failed suicide attempt, I would eventually plot another try. Would I have to get a gun next time and stick it in my mouth? With my luck, I’d blow off half my face and live because there was some stupid plan God had that I wasn’t privy to or was too blind to see. That scared the hell out of me. But so did the idea of having to give up the notion of suicide as a safe escape. If that was off the table, it meant I would now have to find a way to live and function in the world. That seemed impossible. Carrie was in my corner, but there were no parents or other family members to help me figure this shit out. It was on me.
The idea of suicide had always been my ally. An old friend. A reliable trap door I knew I could open and escape through when life became too much. Just as important, it was something I could do by myself. I didn’t need anyone’s help to end my life the way I needed help to live it. The idea made me feel in control – something I never otherwise felt. Once again, the writer William Styron articulated this all-encompassing mindset better than I ever could.
“As I went about stolidly preparing for extinction,” he wrote, “I couldn’t shake off a sense of melodrama— a melodrama in which I, the victim-to-be of self-murder, was both the solitary actor and lone member of the audience.” Yeah, what William said.
Now things were upside down. Everything was changed. I had to do something different because, above everything else, one fact was perfectly clear: My old ways were getting me nowhere. They were not allowing me to live, and they would not allow me to die. Something else was called for. Could Carrie be right? Was there was some reason other than dumb luck that I was still in this world? Could there possibly be a plan for me? Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. How could there be a plan for a miserable little druggie from Detroit who no one save for Carrie seemed to give a damn about? It made no sense whatsoever. As hard as I tried, I could not shake her idea from my brain. I tried talking myself out of it, but Carrie’s words rang in me like a bell. You are alive for a reason. God made sure you didn’t die. He wanted you around for something important. Go figure out what that is and get on with your life.
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