I’ve looked at life from both sides now

6 11 2017

Night is falling early, so time for this:

Perfect every time.

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Well, something’s lost, but something’s gained

26 11 2015

I went to the Neue Galerie yesterday to see the Berlin Metropolis 1918-1933 exhibit—but, alas, the exhibit was closed.

On a Wednesday! (I thought Mondays were when museums snoozed.)

Anyway, the upside to that downer was that it was early enough to stroll through the park.

I haven’t been through Central Park in, oh, a year, maybe? My favorite part is the very north, but angling down from East 85th to 72nd and Central Park West was still lovely.

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Once I hit the street again I kept walking west until I hit the train station. There were a lot of people out, but I’ve learned how to look around while dodging oncoming pedestrians; all I could think, as I gazed at the sculpted ironwork and stately facades, the cheeky cornices and inscrutable reliefs, was Oh, this really is a beautiful city.

I bitch a lot about my life—I’m middle-aged and living like a graduate student, I’ve tanked my own career—but I’m living in a city that I’ve loved since I was young, and teaching students from around the world at a city university which is open to them all.

I really don’t know life at all—maybe I never will—but I’m all right. I’m all right.

May you live a beautiful life in a beautiful city, however strange it all may be.





Autumnsongs: Joni Mitchell

12 10 2014

Young Joni Mitchell is late spring, early summer.

That high, high voice streaming up clear like water from a bubbler, so pure your heart stills as your breath is pulled out of you. If you’re not given to tears you close your eyes to keep them in, but that voice, that high, high voice steals them from you anyway, the song carrying them away.

It took Prince to make me appreciate Joni Mitchell. I was a horrible music snob when younger, and by horrible I mean: I missed so much good music because the artist did not fit into what seemed to me ought to matter. I wasn’t quite sure about Prince, either, but when that small, strange genius said that Blue was one of his favorite albums, I thought, Well.

And oh, is Blue a genius album. I generally favor low voices, but Joni was one of the exceptions.

Was is the operative word, here: time and cigarettes have sunk her soprano into the sand, and instead of singing the clear blue sky she sounds like forests and falling leaves and a retiring sun.

She sounds like October.

I was reminded of this as I listed to a Tierney Sutton rendition of “Woodstock”—which is lovely, but I wanted to find a late edition Joni, to hear her sing herself back to a song that was wistful even in her youth.

If you are no longer so interested in keeping the tears in, this version of “Both Sides Now,” from 2000, is for you.

I’m still in my summer, perhaps my late-summer, years. And all this regret and wisdom and that voice, that incredible charcoal voice, makes me yearn for all I didn’t learn in my spring, and all that autumn will bring.





And they were turning into butterflies

11 06 2013

1. Politics is anti-utopian; utopia is anti-politics.

We spent this evening’s class going over Bernard Crick’s “A defence of politics against technology” and talking about scientism and technocracy and George Packer’s May 27th New Yorker piece on Silicon Valley and the dream of the frictionless and I, as ever, joined Crick in defending politics against against the plans of the smooth and predictable, against that frictionless dream of techno-utopia.

What would we do, a student asked? I noted we should be so lucky to have such problems as utopia, then shrugged and quoted David Byrne that Heaven is a place. . . where nothing ever happens and let it hang as we packed to leave.

I am political, not utopian.

2. Dreams of utopia are lovely and heartbreaking in ways dreams of politics never will be.

Once home I listened to Jian Ghomeshi’s wonderfully strange and spiky interview with the wonderfully strange and spiky Joni Mitchell as I played spider solitaire on my computer. In the intro to the segment on Mitchell’s recollection of missing Woodstuck, Ghomeshi played her slow, thoughtful lament on what might have been.

And sitting here alone I paused in my solitaire as my throat closed and eyes teared as she sidled her way through the opening lyrics.

What was that? Why did this happen? How could that song do that to me?

Mitchell noted that had she actually gone to Woodstock she couldn’t have written the song, that the bullshit and backbiting of what really was would have torn up an undreamt garden.

I am anti-utopian because utopias are not possible; if I thought they were possible, would I be utopian? Could we really have a dreamt-of garden?

. . . and thus the lovely heartbreak.