March 30, 2012 § Leave a comment
I have thought my entire life that my happiness was dependent on my making things. That somehow if I could make the right thing, I could be forgiven. That if I could make the right thing I could be loved. That if I could make the right thing I could feel content. That if I could make the right thing I could let out a long and satisfied sigh and hug the ones I wanted to love me and enjoy for once the quiet of an inartistic afternoon.
And I have made many things. I cannot help it. I make things; it is what I do. Not all good things, some okay things, but made things, still. But the more things I make the more I realize that this right thing I keep trying to make, this redeeming thing, will never, could never exist. Or if it did, it would be but for a brief moment, then forgotten, and I would be left to try and make a better thing. And then soon it’s turtles all the way down, at least until the stones in the pockets or the head in the oven or the noose on the porch or the poison apple. And I have been thinking that perhaps the reason I am so unhappy in this way of going about things is because it is such a selfish way to look for happiness. And I have been thinking that perhaps instead of making I should try more giving. Maybe that sounds trite and precious and like something out of a magazine you might find in the checkout line at Whole Foods. But there it is.
I used to think there was something noble in being an artist, that you were giving something to the world that it needed, that art making was better than any other thing because you were healing people’s souls or even just giving them a reprieve from the horrors of daily life or some such elitist bohemian bullshit. I could not feel more the opposite now. Art is worthless, terrible, narcissistic, the activity of the self-deluded and over-privileged. Art is not a need. The only people who think they need art are artists, and they would do well, probably better, without. Art doesn’t help anyone. Not really. The most that can be said of it is that it passes the time, which is just as easily and more productively done fishing or farming or fucking or by a myriad of more worthy pursuits.
I cannot help but feel bit George Maciunas in this, not a character I particularly want to be aligned with, but there it is.
People think that art is this age-old thing that has been integral to the human race since civilization began. But it is not so. Art in the way we think of it, pour l’art, is only about 200 years old. Beethoven invented the idea, really, when he wrote music for no purpose outside of itself. All of the “art” from antiquity was purpose-serving, making it very much not-art, in the Kantian sense of things, in the way we think about art these days sense of things. Statues and pots and frescos embodied ways of life, systems of beliefs, orders for going about things. Sometimes I think that if we looked about the world today a bit more like the Greeks did, perhaps the Hubble Telescope or the MRI or Fermilab might be closer in meaning and value to the statue of Athena in the Parthenon than the works of Damien Hirst. And I think that might not be such an awful thing.
I wish I would have never chosen to make things, or I at least wish I had never thought it important. I would not wish such a burden or a fucked-up way of thinking on anyone.
March 29, 2012 § Leave a comment
Today I am sad about Adrienne Rich and Earl Scruggs and death in general and the fact that it is so overcast outside that I cannot see the mountain, which has been my only solace these lonely days.
We make so much more of the deaths of great artists, and yet they die so much less, when they die. Their deaths so much less final than death tends to be for most of us. Ars longa, vita brevis et et et et…
You want to think it must be quite a thing, quite a nice thing, to die knowing that you made such an impression, that you affected so much, that you left some meaningful oeuvre behind, be it beautiful feminist poetry or genre-defining Jesus people bluegrass. You want to think that there would be a certain ‘dying happy,’ in that. But of course that isn’t true. Of course there isn’t such a thing as ‘dying happy.’ Death is not an event. It is not the type of thing one can have a feeling in or about or during because it is the very antithesis of feeling. It is a nothingness. And it makes no sense to say you can die one way or another. At least not of the person doing the dying.
And that’s the real crux of the issue here. I want to figure out a way of being happy-ish. But I first have to figure out a way to make things matter, which is somehow so much larger a quandary.
And as I sit here, dreaming when I should be writing the last report of the day, I try to figure out whether the impermanence of life and the permanence of art is the source of a great joy or a great sorrow or some other thing that doesn’t have a name.
Praise the lord I saw the light.
No more darkness, no more night.
Now I’m so happy, no sorrow in sight.
Praise the lord, I saw the light.
If this were a map,
She thinks, a map laid down to memorize
Because she might be walking it, it shows
Ridge upon ridge fading into hazed desert
Here and there a sign of aquifers
And one possible watering-hole.
March 28, 2012 § Leave a comment
I have not owned nor watched a television since I was sixteen years old. Sure, I’ve watched a few shows on Netflix that have been recommended to me, but I haven’t had the opportunity to flip, to surf, which is really the sine qua non of “watching television,” for more than a decade.
Until three weeks ago.
I’m living in a dorm room in a very rural part of Oregon for a while, and the university outfitted the room I’m in with a flat screen television. Now, it isn’t that I’m really opposed to television on ideological grounds. God knows I’ve wasted my time and mind away on lesser things. And a lot of TV shows I’ve seen have been really quite awesome. I just haven’t really felt compelled to own one because I’ve convinced myself I have so many other better, more important things to do, like staring aimlessly out of windows feeling sorry for myself. But now I’ve stumbled into one. And feeling pretty bored, lonely, and in the middle of the high desert in the middle of winter without a friend to my name, I have admittedly embraced this curious machine.
It having been some time since I had access to regular channel surfing, I have noticed the following things about television programming:
1. For some reason, there is movie with Vin Diesel in it, on some channel, at all hours of the day. I didn’t think he was in that many movies, honestly. Maybe this is something about licensing. It’s very strange. Bill Murray is almost always on television at all times, but Mr. Diesel actually is. This is too bad, really.
2. There is, on some channel, always an episode of this show 30 Rock, which is actually a pretty funny show. That it is always on on some channel is an odd sort of comfort, which is a little discomforting.
3. Crime shows and reality shows about people and their jobs are everywhere all the time. Half of television seems to be programs about forensic something or other or programs about people who buy storage lockers at auctions or exterminate vermin or make guns or chop down trees. Slightly romanticized death and work – I guess that makes sense, in a way. Next season I expect to see: John Anderson, CPA.
4. Television news is like watching anime on acid but it’s all actually very serious and real. It makes me almost seize. I much prefer to read about genocide and death and privilege in plain black ink on white paper, because it’s much more palatable that way. I flip passed MSNBC and feel I need a benzo.
5. It is so very addictive. How does anyone read with this thing looming in the background? It’s like a giant piece of pie. You know it’s not very good for you, you know should eat some kale instead, but there it is, beckoning, whispering to you to just pick up the remote, just for 15 minutes, just to see what’s on…
6. The people on the TV won’t respond to you when you invite them out for a beer after the show.
7. Commercials are terrifying. They make me feel either horribly inadequate, terribly in need, or on the verge of certain death.
8. Some television makes me feel like I’m not doing so bad. The other day I saw a show about a girl who was addicted to drinking gasoline. Some television shows make me feel like I’m failing miserably, like that show with the 27 year old friends that live in a 3,000 sq ft Manhattan apartment and drink scotch all night and take cabs everywhere.
9. TV has such potential, but instead of broadcasting the future-defining healthcare bill proceedings, we get some show where people have singing battles and everyone is taking it very seriously. Who am I kidding, though; I’d watch that over the supreme court any day.
10. What happened to live surgeries on TV? I miss that.
March 23, 2012 § Leave a comment
We all had beards and we were all drinking beers and the lights were just low enough and I thought to myself that death wasn’t such a big deal.
Or somewhere in Montana when I had promised a God I didn’t believe in that I would be happy if only for a dry road, and when it came I was.
Or the night he visited me in the cabin after so many weeks alone and we drank mid-shelf scotch until the sky lightened to the color of jazz, the way it does before a Midwestern sunrise, and I was not afraid to sleep.
Or that goat that was decked out in punk rock, with the studded collar and the pink Mohawk, wandering down the alleyway behind the Magic House, because sometimes a goat in an alley is enough.
And I have said to myself, “this is what it means to experience the sense contentedness.” And if I don’t realize it and remind myself, then I don’t feel it. I wish sometimes it were more like a drug. I wish it took you along with it. Sometimes when you’re on drugs you have to remind yourself you’re on them, but you don’t have to remind yourself you’re on drugs to be on drugs.
It’s like when you love a piece of music and the music makes you feel deeply and so you wonder why that is. And you tear it apart and you analyze it and you find that Neapolitan or that odd but perfect voicing and you love the music in a new way because you understand its genius. But you don’t love it like you did before. Because somehow your “understanding” of it, if that’s what you want to call it, took away your feeling from it. It isn’t that one is better, exactly. But in a way it is.
I get tired of explaining myself to myself. Of making a night at the bar or a day on the mountain some sort of exercise in ekphrasis.
March 22, 2012 § Leave a comment
Some of my saxophonist friends and I have what we call our ‘always spots.’ These are little kinks of tangled muscles in our upper backs that developed over hours and hours and years and years of dangling a heavy metal thing around our necks. Mine is in my upper right back, just under my shoulder blade. We call them our always spots because they always hurt, and probably always will. You aren’t always acutely aware of it, but it’s always there. And whenever you think about it, you feel it. And certain things remind you of it – the memory of getting your first good horn or the memory of the first time you held a girl’s hand because it happened on a band bus or the memory of getting bass-cased. The taste of wood. The sound of jazz. These things make that spot in your back remind you it’s there. We also call them our always spots because they will always be there, now that they are. It’s kind of like a war wound. In some ways, it is.
My back isn’t the only place I have an always spot though. I have lots of them. Dark spots in my consciousness. Warped and tangled memories from when I hurt someone I loved. Or when I was hurt by someone who I thought loved me, or even did love me. Things I didn’t do and things I did do. These have triggers too. Seeing a certain bus line. Songs that feature vibraslaps. The poems of Catullus. Blue Moon. Mexico. A certain brand of mustard. The smell of a blood orange that’s sat just a little too long in the sun. Jackie McLean, which is a double whammy, hitting the soul and the shoulder.
You can’t forget but you aren’t always remembering. And everything is fine until you pass that bus or hear that bass line or see a crow eating garbage which makes you think of birds which makes you think of birds of paradise which was the flower that… And suddenly everything is awash in a darkness, the spot reminds you that it is still there.
You wonder sometimes, “how long will it take for this to go away?” And the answer is never. It will always be there. It is an always spot. Until you die, it will be there, because it is you, because you are made of these. Because loss is forever and regret is a scar.
March 20, 2012 § Leave a comment
It’s the first day of spring, but you’d never know it here in the Klamath Basin. It snowed quite a bit this morning. Beyond the mere aesthetic value of a snow dusting in the desert bringing the landscape into relief, snowy deserts appeal to me because they seem somehow unlikely. And they remind me that unlikely beauty is in fact quite likely.
More importantly, though, when it snows in the desert I remember that if it were always snowy in the desert, it wouldn’t be beautiful anymore.
March 19, 2012 § Leave a comment
I opened a book today, a book I had not opened in years, a literary anthology, given to me many years ago by a dear friend and lover.
The inscription reads, in part, “Next summer maybe we’ll be smarter, more adventurous. My professor once said, ‘The cruelest times to live is indeed in the wake of great possibility. The better is somehow irretrievably lost.’ Not for us, though, not for us.”
And reading this nearly brought me to tears, not completely for its sentiment, but because all memory seems to me somehow sad. Because the very act of recall somehow makes me melancholy. My good memories make me sad, my bad ones sadder still. I long for the past no matter what the past – even for the terrible times. Perhaps because times seem terrible still, and I long for a time, any time, that was earlier, because I might have done something other than what I did do, and then I might find myself in a situation at least more calm.
This book was given to me at a time when I was relatively miserable, confused, wretched, a time you’d think I’d be quite content to be beyond. I was working in a cupcake joint in the West Village and living in a hovel in Harlem and was just discovering what it was to be wont to vice and what that can do to your ability to be kind. I was in love with a girl who wore glasses and listened to indie bands and read Wallace and Burroughs. And we would drive late at night to Coney Island or to a Friendly’s in the burbs to get fries and we would smoke cigarettes out the car windows and talk about history. And she was so unbelievably cool, inestimably cooler than I, and perhaps for that, though I was in love, I couldn’t just let myself love her. It was romantic and also sad, though I suppose there must be some color of sadness in everything that is romantic.
There were cockroaches all over my bathroom then. My apartment was decorated with appendages of mannequins I’d pulled out of dumpsters outside fashion boutiques downtown. I was broke and I was broken. In my confusion and selfishness I mistreated a genuine and earnest girl that in the end I didn’t deserve. At least at the time. I’d like to think I’ve learned something since then. That I am better now. I’d like to think that. I have to think that. Because I have such a fucked-up sort of nostalgia that if I didn’t believe I had learned something about being a person since then, since any time now in memory, I would die from the longing I feel for these unhappy pasts.
“The cruelest times to live is indeed in the wake of great possibility. The better is somehow irretrievably lost.” Not for us, though, not for us. But maybe so. Maybe I had not lived through enough great possibility to realize how little is indeed possible and how freeing the narrowing of choice and the closing of time can be. Maybe all of my memory makes me sad because I see just how cruel possibility can be and how it haunts the places it once lived years after its time has passed.
And yet, maybe next summer I will be smarter, more adventurous. I hope so.