I get a fever that’s so hard to bear

18 09 2013

Do colds ever not suck? I do not think so.

But this one is really chapping my lips because it’s interfering with my attempts to instil new habits.

I’ve been in the (bad) habit of announcing changes ahead of my, ah, actually making those changes. I’m going to get out more! (No) Devote time to my new novel! (No) Wash the dishes every day! (No) Big or small, I say I’mma do things I’mma don’t do.

So I thought I’d try something else: Start with the doing rather than the saying. I wanted to bump up my running, so I added both timed-runs at the gym and mileage runs in the mornings before I teach.

I wanted to try, for the fourth time, to learn to play the guitar, so I unsheathed the guitar from its case, dug out the guitar stand, tuned that puppy up, and started, yet again, from the beginning of good ol’ Mel Bay. I want to see if I can take this far enough that I could, plausibly, tell people I play guitar; if I enjoyed it, I’d keep going, if not, I’d sell the guitar.

And the commitment with Gotham Rock Choir—that too.

Enough fuckin’ around, in other words. Until the fever fucked with those plans.

No running yesterday (which I probably could have managed, as the cold was still in its prelude stages), no GRC or guitar practice yesterday, no running today, although I did manage an abbreviated weight work-out at home. I doubt I’ll be running tomorrow morning, although I’m still on for (what will likely be)  a (very slow)  gym run on Friday.

So, okay, no tragedy, no reason to think I won’t be able to get back into that (still-shallow) groove I’ve been trying to create.

I just wanted to bitch for a bit. Colds suck, doncha know.

~~~

And Peggy Lee? Fab-u-lous. You really must listen.

Yes, you must.

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As they try to change their worlds, pt I

25 08 2013

I may have been a bit brusque in stating “nobody cares about you”.

I did add the qualifier that “nobody” means “those who don’t know you”, but even with that dilution, it was too strong a statement: there are people who do genuinely care about strangers, and that there may exist a widespread (if minimal) sympathy amongst the members of our species suggests that, yes, many of us do care—however minimally—about one another.

The real problem with that statement, however, was that it bundled together too many dynamics, not all of which go together. So, to haul out that nifty word-tool of my grad school years, let’s unpack those bundled dynamics, shall we?

1. Changes are not conspiracies. I’d guessed that “the fear of incipient repression could be found among any group which sees its superior status threatened”—that is, that changes in society which are meant to benefit an out-group can be seen by some in the in-group as primarily an attack on the in-group. Thus, those in favor of queer rights and same-sex marriage are seen as less interested in preserving themselves than in destroying others.

I read the blogs at The American Conservative (Rod Dreher regularly and others semi-regularly) and pop over to Christianity Today a couple of times a week, and it is common for some bloggers and commenters alike to see legal and cultural changes as either harbingers of complete societal collapse and/or portents of a future in which all “true” Christians are targeted for oppression; some see the extension of anti-discrimination laws (e.g., no business may refuse to serve a same-sex couple simply because they are gay) or the enforcement of laws of general applicability (e.g., secular businesses run by religious people are not exempt from the contraception provisions of the Affordable Care Act) as evidence of anti-Christian oppression today.

Someone like me sees changes in the structure of the law and shifts in cultural perceptions of minorities (of whatever sort) as part of a by-no-means-straightforward amalgam of overt and organized political action, artistic presentations, elite intellectual debates, media representations, everyday experiences, and, of course, material conditions and economic forces. As such, while changes can have intensely personal meanings, they are not personal per se, but are instead changes in the rules which affect everyone.

Consider the 1965 Supreme Court ruling, Griswold v. Connecticut, which overturned a state law prohibiting contraceptive use for married couple. State attacks on contraception went back decades, although by the time the pill was developed (in the 1950s), contraception was not only legal but embraced in many states. Griswold (and later, Eisenstadt v. Baird), simply toppled an opposition which had long since dwindled. Contraceptive use became the norm.

Were Griswold and Eisenstadt an attack on Catholicism? Anti-Catholic sentiment, however much it had dwindled since the 19th century, was still prevalent in this country, and that the Catholic Church was officially against contraception was known; to strike down bans on contraception could be seen as evidence of contempt for Catholicism—as, indeed some have seen and continue to see it today.

The Court rulings, however, depended upon a (still-contested) finding of a right to privacy in the Constitution. There was nothing which required the Church to change its own doctrine; these cases simply took away a series of state-sponsored supports* for that doctrine. The Church would be free to inveigh against barrier and chemical  methods of birth control, but they could no longer rely on state law to help them to enforce their opposition.

(*That a state happened to have anti-contraception laws didn’t mean that they passed them to support Catholicism; regardless of intent, however, they had the effect of doing so.)

Due to these rulings as well as to other cultural changes, the Church clearly lost, not only authority but also status. Catholics were not prevented from believing that artificial birth control was bad nor were they required to use it, but their anti-contraceptive position was taken to apply only to Catholics themselves (and not all of them accepted the official position) and was otherwise accorded no greater weight than any other position on the matter. The ground shifted, and in a way which put Catholics authorities on the same level as any other authority: they no longer had special status.

To those who lose such status, the loss is almost certainly personally felt, but that one feels it personally does not mean it was meant personally. The ground underneath everyone’s feet shifted, not just those officials and members of the Catholic Church. and that the Church was unhappy with the quake does not mean the quake was directed at them.

~~~

There’s more than this, of course, but let’s take it slow: haste did me in, last time.





Listen to the music: Keep on keepin’ on

8 01 2013

I lost my groove.

I mentioned in a previous post that I am no longer a completist, that is, I no longer need to own every cd by every singer or band that I like. Five U2 cds? Enough. Six REM? Plenty. It’s not that I won’t buy any more cds of those for whom I already own multiple discs, but, y’know, the urgency has faded.

Given my former completist sensibilities, however, I do own many cds by one band/singer which, frankly, has been a problem on my quest to listen to every cd I own: I burn out on a group.

My current (cheapo) stereo allows me to load 3 discs at a time, which is just right: Enough for a solid listening section, without me wanting to cut it short. But when you’re working through your collection alphabetically, that means the Beatles are followed by the Beatles followed by the Beatles.

I like the Beatles. But, unlike in the past where I would overdose on a single group, I no longer have the patience to listen to three or six hours of the Beatles or Beck or, really, anyone. Hell, the 72-minute long Mary J. Blige cd was too long for me.

Like I said, the groove was gone.

Once it became apparent that I was avoiding listening to my cds because I didn’t want multiple all-Beck nights, I decided to switch things up. I considered just plucking cds out randomly, but I figured that the pick wouldn’t really be random and that I’d just pick cds I often listen to. No, better to continue with the alpha-step, but tweak it.

Now, when I have more than one cd by the same performer(s), I choose the first one, then pick a cd from the following groups. So I chose Beck’s Mellow Gold, then Daniel Belanger, then Belle and Sebastien’s “Tigermilk”. The next night, Beck’s Sea Change, Belle & Sebastien’s Storytelling, and Belly’s star.

Works like a charm.

A few other things. One, I really do like Belly. I like Tanya Donelly’s wordplay (On every track/I fractured every back/Thinking the point was step on every crack), and how her voice cracks on “Super-Connected”—one of the things that distinguishes pop singing from, say, operatic singing is that the flaws are an integral part of the force of the song. (Think of Merry Clayton’s break in the Stones’s “Gimme Shelter”: she’s been hauling Jagger through that wail, and when she finally breaks near the end, you know what she’s been through and what she’s put you through.)

Two, I am a puddle in the face of a good leftist rallying song. Goddamn if I didn’t tear up listening to Black 47’s “James Connelly” (Oh Lily, I don’t want to die, we’ve got so much to live for/And I know we’re all goin’ out to get slaughtered, but I just can’t take any more). I am a pinko all the way through my bitter little heart.

Three, I think this whole quest is starting to take shape. Early on I was treating this as a kind of duty; even as I claimed I wanted to see if I could recapture my connection to the music, it felt more like a test—and who likes taking tests? But I’ve gotten off my ass enough times to shimmy around the wood floor, or paused just to take in the words and the sounds that now, now it feels more like a chance.

And that’s all right.

~~~
28. Be Good Tanyas, Chinatown
29. Be Good Tanyas, hello love
30. Beach Boys, Endless Summer
31. Beatles, Revolver
32. Beatles, Abbey Road
33. Beatles, Please Please Me
34. Beatles, White Album
35. Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
36. Beck, Odelay
37. Beck, Midnight Vultures
38. Beck, Mutations
39. Beck, Mellow Gold
40. Daniel Belange, Rever Mieux
41. Belle and Sebastien, “Tigermilk”
42. Beck, Sea Change
43. Belle and Sebastien, Storytelling
44. Beck, Guero
45. Belly, star
46. Belly, King
47. Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos, Chant
48. Beta Band, Hot Shots II
49. Bettie Serveet, lamprey
50. Jordy Birch, Funmachine
51. Bjork, Post
52. Black 47 [eponymous ep-cd]
53. Mary J. Blige, No More Dramas





We are all going down

2 07 2012

True story: C. and I find a bar, are unimpressed. Re-find bar, are impressed, say, Hey, we should make this our bar!

Bartender says: This bar probably won’t last. . . Barclay’s Center. . . gentrification. . . .

C. and I nod, drink, nod, agree to come back as many times as we can before it goes away.

Friday. C: Let’s meet at O’Connor’s! Me: Yeah, let’s meet at O’Connor’s!

Off the train, down the street, hang a right. . . wait, hm. To the left? Really? To the left, down a few blocks. No, no, back up.

Then I notice: plywood with a white door where the dark door had been, white railings with plexiglass where the eave had been, sandy stone where the wood painted name had been.

I text C.: I think our bar is gone.

C. arrives. We look at the plywood and the roof patio and agree, yes, our bar is gone. We gesture toward the hulking arena, mutter curses, look for new bar.

Me: Let’s try this one (Gestures to kitty-cornerish to the old one).

C: And there’s a divey-looking bar around the corner.

Me: If this one’s no good [trans: if it’s too upscale], we’ll try that one.

We check the menu, the sandwich board; there’s a sign about a special for a can of beer and a shot.

Me: They sell cans here; that’s a good sign.

We peer in. Narrow, dart board in back, basic Irish pub regalia, sparsely hung about.

Friendly bartender. Hard cider on tap for C., beer for me. Yankees low on one t.v., Mets low on another.

C., the bartender and I banter-bitch about Barclays, tourists, gentrification.

Bartender: This neighborhood has already been gentrified.

C. sips, nods. Nothing stays the same in New York.

More sips, nods. Discourse on the movement from the Village to Brooklyn, to Williamsburg. Bartender mentions photos of Williamsburg from not so long ago, from when it was scary, not hip. Discourse on neighborhoods which are block-by-block: okay here, not okay there.

Me: It’s never a good sign when you’re all alone on a city street.

Later, after more drinks and discourse and nods, C. whispers that the glasses aren’t as big as we’re used to. We shrug and nod and drink some more.

Later still, out on the sidewalk, C. and the bartender smoking, a construction worker with a beautiful face and beautiful arms and beautiful shoulders flirts with C. and me., calling us beautiful. I’m not beautiful (C. is), but I don’t argue, because it’s nice to be called beautiful.

C. and I watch the construction worker saunter back to work on the arena; we comment on the view.

As we leave, C. shares one last smoke with the bartender. A former Chicago schoolteacher with arm tattoos that intrigue C. joins us in our discourse about drinking and work and whatever else one says during the final scene of the evening.

We laugh and say goodnight and promise we’ll be back.

Our bar is lost; long live our bar.





Wishing like a mountain and thinking like the sea

6 10 2011

I have no hope.

The reasons for this are entirely personal, and entirely related to events in and leading to a couple of stays in a psych ward way back yonder. It was a relief to shed all hope, and gave me some much needed breathing room, and I can’t say that I miss it.

Still, that hope is gone for me has created some awkward moments: I hesitate to use the term hope in even the most banal of circumstances (hope you feel better!) and I don’t always know how to respond to people who do hope. I don’t think they’re wrong to hope—that hopeless-ness is better than hopeful-ness—but I what does someone for whom hope was a burden say to those for whom it’s a blessing?

It’s also an impediment to political action. Most political action is a bother, requires enormous effort for incremental payoffs, and often takes place in inconvenient or uncomfortable locations, so if you’re going to get off your ass to do anything, it helps to have hope that you can, indeed, make a difference. I have rallied and knocked and doors and waved signs since I ditched hope, but more out of a sense of grim absurdity (why the hell not?) than anything else.

And so it was when I joined the Occupy Wall Street rally-and-march today. I no longer have the heart for direct political action, but my head is able to direct me toward action: given my political beliefs, does it not make sense act as if things could change? Shorter version: quitcherbitchin’ and get moving!

It was a big—tens of thousands, I’d guess—and included a nice cross-section of New York City. I marched under the banner of the PSC (the CUNY union) and fell in with a math professor from another campus. We talked of our reluctance to be there, and why we came anyway. We talked about what these protests meant, and what they could mean. We talked about marches in other cities, in other states, and why this movement, that of the 99 percent, contains possibilities not found in the Tea Party.

Possibility, yes, I still hold to that. I may have no hope that anything may change, but the possibility, well, that’s still there.





Walking in your footsteps

26 04 2009

REM’s It’s the end of the world as we know it or Lou Reed’s Fly into the sun (opening lyric: I would not run from the holocaust/I would not run from the bomb) are the more obvious titles to a meditation on the apocalypse, but what the hell, we here at AbsurdBeats like to mix it up once in awhile.

Where was I? Ah yes, little blue-green planet goes boom, death, devastation, et cetera, et cetera. It’s a great theme for books, and I have a particular weakness for B-grade movies about an imminently-imperiled or just-toasted Earth. I’ve also had my share of nuclear nightmares, and the movie 28 Days Later added zombies into the nighttime bad-dream rotation.

As a general matter, however, I don’t much worry about the end of the world. Oh, I’m not really joking when I tell my students that I’m glad I’ll likely be dead before the environment collapses, and I won’t be suprised (though I will of course be shocked) if a dirty bomb is lobbed into some urban center. And yes, I keep my eyes open to the damage microbes can do (thank you, Laurie Garrett, for that), and am not uninterested in reports of a nasty strain of swine flu flying around.

Still. If the world ends, it ends. It’s sad to think that we as a species would have blown our chance (and the chances of our fellow creatures) to have figured out how to join the universe, and that in ending ourselves we probably will have destroyed the evidence—the art, architecture, music, literature—that we were more than just violent and greedy idiots.

But this is a detached sadness: if we’re gone, there’ll be no one around to mourn or regret. Death is sad for survivors, not the dead themselves.

C. recently posted on her ‘go’ bag, a pack to which she’s been adding what she’d need to survive if she had to get the hell out of the city. It’s not a bad idea, and given my predilection for preparedness, I should probably put a pack together as well.

But, as I noted in a comment to her post, I have no desire to survive a truly world-ending event. To tramp down ash-laden roads, as do the father and son in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, in search of some place beyond the fire? Forget it. Or to wait around a few days or weeks or even months for my skin to fall off? Pass. Maybe one shouldn’t go gently into that good night, but when the world ends, so do the good nights.

What of disasters which simply alter, but don’t end, the world? Rod Dreher at Crunchy Con isn’t exactly waving a ‘The end is near!’ sign, but he’s mighty interested in those who do. Sharon Astyk (at Casaubon’s Book) similarly waives any claim to apocalyptic thinking, but she’s preparing, nonetheless. Gather ye rosebuds (and corn and whatnot) while ye may, because the times they are a-changin’.

I dunno. I tend to skim those pieces on how This Time! we’re gonna be thrown back to the farm, what with this modern way of life collapsing under its own decadent, alienated ways and all. Neither Dreher nor Astyk is a particular fan of modernity, and each seeks a return to a less individualistic, more communal way of life. It’s not that I’m accusing either of actively wishing for The Big One, but they do sense opportunity in a series of little earthquakes.

I’m more po-mo than pre-mo, and have had my own arguments with modern theorists and my own criticisms of modern life. But it’s also the milieu of my life, and that of my friends and family, and we have been shaped by this modern world. Yes, I think there’s got to be a better way to live—but until I come up with that better way, for all of the inhabitants of this little blue-green orb, I’m not about to cheer the end of this fucked-up, violent, compromised, weird old world.

And if things change drastically? Well, that happens, periodically. Unless we do manage to blow ourselves to smithereens, we’ll manage with what comes next.

That’s what we do.