‘Where were you hiding?’

I’m almost out of words. I hope it’s a temporary condition. I’ve been fighting some sort of infection for the past few weeks that seems to be mirroring the infection that is affecting all of us right now. It ebbs, somewhat – and we catch our collective breath and get back to watching award shows and football games – and then the flow of hatred and insidious lies returns in force, set upon the deconstruction of advances that we, as humanity, have made – at great cost, in almost all cases. Progressive change isn’t easy, is it? History (and CSNY) tells us that freedom comes at the cost of sacrifice. I feel like there are too many people out there right now who don’t seem aware of that demonstrable fact.

My persistent illness – like the one plaguing us all – is making it difficult to be constructive (definition: serving a useful purpose, tending to build up). Not that any analysis of the things that are happening at the behest of the IMPOTUS and his cadre of ill-educated and self-serving cronies is likely to fall into the category of constructive criticism. That would require finding something of salvageable value in the acts which they have undertaken in the past 10 days. There is none. None.

I have been trying to put together my own next steps. Words – ever my usual go-to, the vehicle of my voice (such as it is) – aren’t cutting it.

In response to the act of terror that happened yesterday in one of my favourite cities (an act that came on the heels of a Presidential act of terror that impacted our southern neighbours – like us, an immigrant-built nation), the Mayor of New York (with best intentions) reiterated that post-9/11 mantra: ‘If you see something, say something.’

There’s too much to see and I’m all out of things to say right now.

That might be the fever talking. And I’m sure the anxiety attacks that accompany the constant coughing and shortness of breath are being fueled, at least in part, by the fact that I haven’t had a solid night’s sleep since some time back in November.

I am feeling like a broken record, though. Emphasis on the ‘broken’. Especially when I see posts by apologists – or those trying to justify and salve the feelings of those who leap to defend their choice of candidate. Even now.

I’m part of a Facebook group that does a fair bit of talking about women supporting women. Most of the time it does a pretty good job. It has certainly opened my eyes to some of the realities out there that differ, drastically, from my own. It’s been a good tool – helping to take me out of my ‘bubble’ – you know, the one we all create around ourselves that supports our every utterance and sense of personally-held rightness.

But there’s a hesitancy to call out those in the group who voted for the IMPOTUS – ‘everyone is entitled to their opinion’ and all that rot. Nope. You don’t get to justify having voted for that guy based on one of any number of fallacies. There is no justification. If your education and experience failed you so greatly that you truly believe he was the only option? If your individual self-interest overrides the rights and freedoms of entire populations and the betterment of society as a whole? We have nothing to talk about.

I’m a teacher, by nature and by training, but I’m all-too-well aware that you can’t fix stupid when it runs that deep.

I also have a number of American friends and acquaintances – to whom I’ve expressed my empathy and solidarity. But I’ve also stated that if they want to hang out with me anytime soon, they’ll have to head north to do so. I won’t be spending any money south of that border for the foreseeable future.

One person I know commented that avoiding the US allows ‘him’ to win. I disagree. It is one way among many that I can manifest the choice that I have made to oppose this man and his mouthpieces in all that they seek to accomplish. I refuse to normalize anything about his policies, decisions, words or actions. Visiting the US as if nothing was out of the ordinary? Not happening.

Besides. It’s our 150th Birthday. Lots to do around these parts this year as we both celebrate and reflect on what that century-and-a-half has brought – to those of us lucky enough to live here, and to the world as a whole. We’ve got our own work to do, if we want repair the inequities of our shared past and to prevent a similar uprising of nativistic and racist hatred that is incongruous with the Canadian values I know and love.

I’m no good to anyone at the moment – not feeling as lousy as I do. Once this bug is out of my system, though… I’ll get back to work. The immediate and total reclamation of facts and truths and history are the necessary bulwarks of the moral courage that is required to re-balance the world. Sometimes old tools are the best. Soundbites (as we’ve seen) are overrated (and often misspelled. Looking at you, Twitler-in-Chief). Time to get serious and force the dialogue forward.

Until then, a little bit of The Alarm – as prescient as they were in 1984 (they were talking about Margaret Thatcher, of course. Somehow, even the Iron Lady seems a walk in the park, comparatively). Mike Peters et al knew a thing or two about writing songs of freedom and protest. Let them stand, for the moment, as a placeholder for more to come.

After all time building up
Comes inevitable knocking down (one by one)
Comes receivers, liars, gamblers,
Pickpocket entourage (two by two)
Selling out is a cardinal sin
Sinning with a safety net
They say all things come in threes (three by three)
Here comes the third degree

Where were you hiding?
When the storm broke
When the rain began to fall
When the thunder and the lightning struck
And the rain and the four winds did howl

All cards are marked
All fates will collide
The truth is the truth
Or the truth is surely a lie
Get back in your shelter
If you can’t come down off the fence
And one more question
Where were you?

Where were you hiding?
When the storm broke
When the rain began to fall
When the thunder and the lightning struck
And the rain and the four winds did howl

There aren’t many places left to hide. As my mind screams for those unable to join family, or find the refuge from war and persecution that they’ve sought for months or years, my heart cries for the friends and families of the members of my Canadian family who lost loved ones as they joined together in community and peace last night.

Artificially constructed lines and designations and systems of belief cannot override our humanity any longer. Motivated self-interest and selfishness, touted as the birthright of a mythical American Dream, cannot be the legacy we leave those who come after us.

So for those who yet support the IMPOTUS, some advice (speaking into the void, though I am. Can’t say I didn’t try…): Best rethink the solidity and reliability of demagoguery as a facade behind which to hide. People who seek to lead for reasons of self-interest, who rely upon the twin ideological pillars of fear and discontent, are not, historically, the most stalwart of defenders.

 

 

False Narratives

I don’t like liars.

I’m not talking about those little white untruths, the glossing over of things that most of us do from time-to-time in order to save feelings or avoid engaging in discussions that we know will circle endlessly around on themselves.

I’m talking about deception for deception’s sake- that primary tool in the arsenals of the majority of those who are seeking leadership roles. The false narratives being created to drive soundbites and ad campaigns are repugnant to a shameful degree.

I voted last week- one of more than 3.6 million Canadians who took advantage of the advance polls over the long weekend. Some of us- 71% more of us than voted in advance polling for the 2011 federal election- were likely weary of this never-ending campaign- running, as it did, throughout the summer- but I know that I did so in order to legitimately be able to tune out the fabrications and falsehoods that seemed to increase with each passing day.

Done with that. My die is cast. I can only hope that others see past the prevaricating and patronizingly paternal posturing of the past few months (and past decade, for that matter) and chose progressive change.

Thinking about the false narratives our leaders insist on feeding us gave rise to some personal reflection, and I realized, that while I’m not running for public office, and therefore not beholden to a reasonable degree of personal scrutiny, I’m not sure I have the moral high ground to be calling out kettles of any particular hue.

I’m sort of a fraud, myself.

Since I was off work this past week- taking some time to ‘catch up’ on stuff that too often falls by the wayside in the regular day-to-day of it all- I’ve been trying to focus on getting some writing done. Working on narratives that haven’t seen much action, of late, and feeling a little like a neglectful parent as I’ve done so.

We all have stories, and we all choose to communicate those stories in different ways. I’ve always had an inclination for the written word, so the stories that fill my head most often take the form of fictional narratives.

Around these parts, I tend toward the ‘essay’ or ‘opinion piece’, and I logged my fair share of hours researching and writing non-fiction, in the form of academic papers and that one big book that languishes on the shelf behind me, but my main hankering is for making up stuff- people and places and things that happen.

Even in the non-fiction, though, my voice comes through clearly, I think. When I started this blog, as a newbie- looking for a way to write about things that move me (myths, religion, music, social justice- you know, all that stuff you’ll find if you pop around the past posts)- I was a little daunted by the public nature of the forum. Since I’m a generation (or two) older than those who were born with iPhones clutched in tiny hands, I was suspicious of the potential exposure that might come with putting it all out there.

I was, at the time (and currently- but that’s another story), looking for a new career- having left the academic world following a whole lot of soul searching and self-evaluation. I read all kinds of horror stories about people who were black-listed for opinions or photos shared, a moment’s lapse, the ‘publish’ button accidentally tapped… You know- lives changed in an instant by the judgmental, under-educated trolling types that thrive on the Interweb.

Also, I had concerns about compromising any potential future academic roles (no use burning even hypothetical bridges) by spouting off about the state of post-secondary education, as I see the situation, and so I erred (if erring it was) on the side of anonymous caution.

I made the decision to write pseudonymously. I thought that doing so would afford a measure of security, and offer the opportunity to write in a different voice. Cole Davidson is the name of the narrator of a fictional piece of something I’ve been working on for a very long time.

Interestingly, although I never confirmed or denied one way or another, most of my return readers- many who have become friends over the years- assumed that I’m male, which, given the name, is, I guess, not surprising. Reading some of the earliest posts (and some of them make me cringe, so if you’re feeling curious, please tread lightly) I, at least, can see the struggle between first- and third- person, vying for the post of narrator. Telling my own stories, but doing so as if I’ve told them to someone else who is now recounting them… yeah. That got old fast. Though perhaps not fast enough.

I quickly discovered that this blog had the potential to be an on-going conversation– and the discussions that I’ve had here never cease to amaze me. In order to fully engage in this dialectic, I let go of all traces- save the pseudonym- of the literary conceit that even possibly prevented me from speaking authentically as myself.

A little while ago, one of my former students sent me a PM commenting on one of my posts (since they are linked to my Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter pages- I also have a Tumblr, but I’m rarely over that way, these days- posts are connected to my not-so-secret identity, as well), talking about what I’d written and asking why I assumed a male voice in communicating my ideas. Having listened to me over the course of a year of lectures and study groups, she was quite convinced that the voice was mine- and a little confused as to why I’d assume a male persona while writing about the stuff I used to teach about.

She wasn’t critical- just curious. She is a great writer, and has adopted different voices herself, so was looking to chat about my experience doing so.

I’ve been writing as Cole for long enough now, that I sometimes forget that’s it’s not ‘really’ me putting ‘myself’ out there. If he ever had his own voice (and I hope he still does- in the novel, at least), then he’s been over-shouted by mine, hereabouts.

The fact that I don’t use my real name is the only fictive part of my existence here at colemining. It’s all me- so very much so that I long ago left behind all hopes of sorting out the character whose name I assumed, with all good intentions, in this particular outlet.

Which means, that if the real Cole Davidson is to see the light of day (and I think he deserves to do so- especially since some usurper stole his identity more than two years ago), it will have to be in a different place- the one he was ‘born’, if you will, to inhabit. So I’m working on the fiction again. Stealing time (and who has enough of that, these days?) away from my peeps in this WordPress world, in order to spend some in one that I have created in its entirety (insofar as anyone ever creates anything whole-cloth. That world is recognizably similar to our own, after all).

Divided loyalties, of a sort. But no one ever said that paying attention to all the voices in my head was supposed to be easy.

Those of you who visit regularly, might have noticed that I posted a photo a few months back – and ‘outed’ myself, to a degree, at least. That I didn’t hesitate to do so is an indication that the dividing line between me and Cole has disappeared, assuming there ever was one. Going back over some older posts, I noticed that when I refer to myself it is often in an e e cummings-esque lower case sort of manner – although even that little editorial nuance isn’t terribly consistent. Cole fighting cole, for ascendancy or something Regardless, cole is not really Cole. And never has been.

I’m starting to think, despite our seeming estrangement, we have become a little co-dependent.

I did hang out with him a bit this week. I feel like we’re on the road to re-acquaintance, but it will take some more quality time to really renew a sense of one another and figure out what has changed since we last chatted. It’s been a long time. I think he’s changed – become more like me than I thought possible- but some of that will remain to be seen as we continue our discussions. Despite what some superstition-loving-deniers may think, we humans continue to evolve. And so, too, should our creations.

From one way of looking at things, it shouldn’t matter who I am. If something I’ve said resonates, then groovy. Let’s chat about it. But, as I’ve said before, context matters. A lot. And identity is part of context.

That doesn’t mean I’m unmasking completely. There are even more horror stories out there than when I started this thing. Atheist bloggers are targeted and murdered in parts of this world (not Toronto, admittedly, but still), and writers who speak against established norms lose livelihoods and freedoms under elites who seek to cling to power.

I currently live in a country in which, I’m ashamed to say, scientists are muzzled and unfunded for speaking truths against the government’s agenda and policy-making machine. I’m not confident that civil disobedience and speaking out against social injustice won’t end up getting my name on a CSIS watch list.

I’m hopeful that these things don’t come to full fruition- that the citizens of this nation will vote against politics of fear and division so we can regain our status in the eyes of the world- and, most importantly, live with ourselves.

We’ll find out tomorrow. In between innings of the baseball game. I’ve set my current priorities, and the Jays are top of that heap at the moment. I’m loving the story they’re creating, this Blue October. I’ll re-engage with the political reality once it is actually realized.

Demonstrating, once again, that we seem to share a brain, my lovely Glaswegian friend, Anne-Marie, posted about her decision to, once again, sign up for NaNoWriMo- that interesting social media phenomenon that is supposed to help writers get it together and crank up their word counts.

I did that a couple of years ago. I think it was a good exercise, but here we are now, and the novel of that November is no closer to being finished. Not really. So rather than signing up, I think I’ll just commit to spending more time with that other Cole- and all his friends- as a way of focusing my writing for the next while.

After I finish up an entry to the CBC Canada Writes short story contest, that is. While keeping things short isn’t really my forte (note the word count of this post, for example), if I’m going to diversify as a way of focusing, I might as well go all out.

So I might be around even less, for a little bit (I know, I’ve hardly been here, lately, as it is). My drive to survive- and thrive- through the telling of some stories will be changing direction.

I’ve gotten all fan-girl over Umberto Eco a number of times. He is an inspiration in so many ways. But as I looked for a pithy little saying/graphic to top this latest piece of something, I was torn by the number of quotes out there for the picking. Writers I admire, writers I just plain love. All those creators of stories that make the world a little better.

There’s a difference between narratives that are fictional and those that are intentionally false. The latter are designed to influence the credulous and further the agendas of their creators, orators and those who are complicit in the perpetuation of the lies (no names mentioned certain Canadian media outlets…).

The former, written with best intentions, add insights and truth to our on-going human dialogue.

I’ve set the record straight, at least a little, regarding my own participation in this here narrative space. I go back to work tomorrow. I’m hoping that through the self-evaluation of this mini-break I’ve figured out a way to spend the day fulfilling my work responsibilities, while still retaining enough creative impetus to come home and spend time with Cole et al- for at least a space of time each evening.

The elections results tomorrow will be a distraction (as will the debrief following the whole, sad business), and those Jays have a couple of weeks of baseball left to play (first two games in KC notwithstanding, As I keep reminding myself, there’s no crying in baseball, and we’ve come back from this type of deficit before), but, moving forward, I need to work at drowning out the irrelevant hindrances that serve to do no more than raise my blood pressure and existential ire.

Whatever masks we might wear, as writers or as people, I really believe that our best stories come from places of sincerity and honesty. In them, we can find our best reasons for engaging with the world and our fellow humans. If we cut out all the white noise.

So, a new beginning for me. Perhaps by moderating my propensity to preach to various choirs- both here and in my current day job- I can figure out a way to tell the stories I’ve been wanting to tell for as long as I can remember. Which requires tapping into the voice of my namesake for a time, and seeing what he might have to say about it all if I give him (back) his narrative lead.

There’s a quote (attributed to Charles Darwin but stemming, in all real likelihood from a synopsis of On the Origin of Species presented by some guy named Leon C. Megginson. Ah, misattribution. Hurts my historian-sensibilities) that goes something like this: It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.

I think a change would do me good.

‘The Calliope Crashed to the Ground…’


One of my very best BFFs seemed to be reflecting upon a park in New Jersey last evening, and posted a line from a particular little ditty as her status on the facebook. It got the song running through my head, of course- the super-rhyme-scheme is catchy as all get-out, but the version that popped in there was Manfred Mann’s cover of the tune, rather than Bruce’s original.

Which, while not surprising perhaps, got me thinking some interesting things about creativity and muses and suchlike.

Before she became a brightly-coloured musical instrument (usually associated with circuses) Kalliope/Calliope was the Muse in charge of cool things like epic poetry and eloquence. Capital-M Muses were the Greek goddess-types who provided the inspiration for all those things I like best- art, literature, music, history- you know, those things that we create that connect us as humans.

Shrines to the Muses- museums– are pretty much the closest I tend to get to entering places of worship on anything like a regular basis, and as anything other than a tourist. I like museums. A lot. They are places of reverence, to me. And they feel like home. The Muses are definitely ladies after my own heart- even if I have seen neither hide nor hair of their influence lately.

The Romans picked up on the idea of the daughters of Zeus (the Big Boss) and Mnemosyne (Memory- in goddess form) and assigned them particular roles. Historian that I am, I’ve always been a wee bit partial to Clio (with her scrolls and all), but all props need go to Kalliope for inspiring the epic-ness of Mr. Springsteen’s well-rhymed song.

Kalliope is generally pictured with a writing tablet- reflective of her importance to those who wax poetic- and was called, by peeps as important as Ovid, the Chief of all the Muses. She was mother to Orpheus, and the inspiration and whispering Voice in the night that drove Homer to write a couple of well-known ditties, about a guy named Odysseus and about a conflict in a town called Troy, of his own.

My beloved Dante spoke well of her: But, since I am yours, O sacred Muses, here let dead Poetry rise again, and here let Calliope sound, a moment, accompanying my words with that mode, of which the Pierides felt the power, so that they despaired of pardon…’ (Dante references the first Battle of the Bands- won, natch, by the Muses, who then turned the upstart Thessalonian daughters of King Pieros into magpies for their extraordinary presumption in challenging them to a sing-off. Think Glee/Pitch Perfect, but for keeps).

Kalliope is usually described as the eldest of the sisters- something I know a little something about. She’s also considered the wisest… but I’ll leave that one alone, lest my sibs take offense (Happy Middle Child Day to the mid-sis, BTW. Who knew there was such a thing? I guess I missed the notice while I was busy celebrating International Cat Day on the weekend. We humans are ridiculous sometimes…).

I’ve been more than a little short on the inspiration and harmony lately. I mentioned all that a couple of weeks ago (has it been weeks, already? Time does fly when you’re out of creative juice…), but I have been trying to pay closer attention to the things going around me since then, so I suppose some progress is being made.

Complete aside, but somewhat indicative of my re-engagement with things that matter… we’re in the throes of the longest election campaign in our history (thanks current, but soon-to-be-former, Prime Minister for that ill-use of our taxpayer dollars) and I had the opportunity to challenge my MP- who never did answer my letter (written after receiving the inadequate response I talked about here), inquiring about just what the Hell he was thinking in backing the current, but soon-to-be-former, Prime Minister’s ill-begotten, fear-mongering, Bill C-51- when he knocked on my door a couple of nights ago. More fool him. After the first 10 minutes I’m quite sure he was reallyreally wishing he’d just left the little card without venturing a knock… He has less than 10 weeks to convince me that his party deserves my vote- our convo certainly left me doubtful he’ll be able to do so. We’ll see how that turns out…

I’ve given some thought to sources of inspiration and creativity- and, funnily enough (that interconnection thing again), I flippantly referred to a friend as my (small-m) muse, since he was more than a little responsible for my last post. I used a winky-faced emoticon when I said it, but some emoticons hide truth, sometimes, methinks.

Bruce wrote Blinded by the Light because his record company insisted that Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J, his debut album, needed something a little more single-y, more hit-esque, than the songs he’d already come up with. He wrote the lyrics first- unusual for him- using a rhyming dictionary. The result is pretty damn clever, indeed- especially for someone like me who loves playing around with words and who can recognize mastery of the craft. The language-play is full of images and stories that leap at the listener as the song unfolds, reminiscent of some of Dylan’s coolest poetry-set-to-music.

For all Bruce’s undeniable prowess, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band’s version is better-known -and contains one of the most frequently misheard lyrics of all time. Interesting how certain things translate well, while others can become indecipherable when the origins are messed with. The piano line(s)- and the interlude of Chopsticks– are instantly recognizable.

The steam piano that, with unpleasing sneezing and wheezing, crashed to the ground, is noted for its volume. Powered by steam or compressed air, calliopes were primarily used on riverboats and circus carousels and the music carried for miles, suggesting that listeners should come closer. Check it out. But, since pitch is affected by the steam, they are almost always out-of-tune on the higher register.

So. Loud and off-pitch. And associated with circuses and all the, uh let’s say down-homey, atmosphere that they can conjure. Sort of totally the opposite of that other Kalliope- what with all her wise, grand, poetic harmony… Yet the instrument entices, and encourages, and draws us in, as it rasps across great distances.

My fave lyric from the original doesn’t appear in the single version- or the cover- of the tune:

‘Yes and Scotland Yard was trying hard, they sent a dude with a calling card who said, “Do what you like, but don’t do it here”
Well, I jumped up, turned around, spit in the air, fell on the ground
Asked him which was the way back home
He said, “Take a right at the light, keep goin’ straight until night, and then, boys, you’re on your own”‘

The play on light and darkness, and the implied aversion to creative expression in the person of the police officer, evoke so many cool things that resonate with the paths down which my thoughts have been traveling.

Inspiration can come from any number of sources. I tend to find mine, most often, in other people. With our contemporary state of communication being what it is, social media can be, for all its faults, a sometimes-useful tool to catch up with the important peeps and tap into those things that are driving them forward. Or just keeping them going.

Our muses can be myriad- if we take the time to pay attention. I’ve been bad at that lately. But I’m working on it, and listening to those Voices I love. Even if the things they say are off-hand, or ‘thrown-away’, or representative of nothing more than a current playlist- it’s a pretty fruitful place to start.

As is memory- that Mother of all Muses- perhaps especially when the memories seem to be placeholders of regret. The ‘way back home’ does, at times, require treading in the darkness of night, but we shouldn’t be hanging out there, eschewing the light, for too long.

‘Mama always told me not to look into the sights of the sun
Whoa, but mama that’s where the fun is’

What sights does our sun see when it looks down upon its third planet, after all, but the wonder that is us, and all our human potential? Whether it involves cutting loose or revving up (though not, hopefully, ‘wrapping up like a douche.’ Never that…) it’s time to listen to those shooting stars, sitting in sidecars, humming their lunar tunes, and realize that I will, with help, make it all right. And, perhaps, make things all right. Even when those boulders on my shoulder get me feeling older.

Bruce knew what he was talking about. It starts with sticking together and being sources of inspiration and creativity to one another. All runners in the night- chasing our Kalliopes, and calliopes, wherever they may lead.

‘And it starts sometime around midnight’

 

At times my mind takes me curious places. Ever since I was a small child I’ve had this inclination to make connections between things- however disparate they may seem to be on the surface. It’s my particular way of making sense of the world- and it reinforces my deeply-held belief that we are all connected and essentially alike- by virtue of our shared humanity.

I’ve always been an observer- taking note of and carefully storing away experiences and memories and information- and the fact that I have a well-developed ability to retain information and images sometimes leads to a fair bit more introspection than may be completely healthy. Those ‘curious places’ can be more than a little dark and dangerous, at times. Remembering often leads to regretting. And that’s a slippery slope, for me.

Venturing into some of the darker realms means that I’ve been absent lately. From life in general, and certainly from around these parts. The drafts folder is full-to-overflowing with false starts that will likely never see the light of day.

I have mixed feelings about that. This forum, here in WordPress World, has become, over the past couple of years, one of my favourite places. I’ve had some really interesting conversations, read a whole lot of eye-opening and thought-provoking essays, and made a number of good friends – I’ve even had the opportunity to meet some of them IRL (looking at you, A-M. You know it’s feeling like 40 degrees Celsius with full sun and a breeze from the lake here today, right? If you’re thinking of heading out of Glasgow- although you know how your hometown stole my heart- may I suggest Toronto as an option? We’ve definitely had a summer the past few weeks!).

But something is off. I explained my lack of recent posts to one of my oldest-and-dearests last night, mentioning that, lately, I look at the drafts- or start working on something that catches my fancy- only to feel an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. The windmills are forever and always the same- and the tilting isn’t getting me anywhere other than frustrated and feeling completely ineffective and  ineffectual.

Not good. The act of writing has become counter-productive. It frustrates, rather than frees. Which sucks. Bigtime. I’m a writer. I write. Not writing is not good for cole’s soul (using the term irreligiously, of course).

Ironically, this means that more introspection is required if I’m to get to the heart of ‘what’s up with that’? (Cue visual of Kenan Thompson as Diondre Cole telling Bill Hader’s Lindsey Buckinghan that they are, once again, out of time, and he won’t be interviewed this week. The SNL sketch is oddly apt, actually…)

Over the past few months I’ve attempted to re-focus my energies- spending time with fiction, rather than struggling to articulate essays/commentary about those things that reallyreally bug me. The ultimate themes and messages- such as they are- are echoed, regardless of form. I am who I am, after all. The way I think- and the things about which I think- stay pretty much the same whether I’m writing a blog post or a novel. I write as a way to suss out answers. To get my thoughts straight on a given topic, and to provide those thoughts something like coherence and exposure to the world outside of my brain.

None of that is happening right now. I’m scattered and disengaged- pretty much all around. I’m in a holding pattern of lackadaisical ennui (how’s that for some purple prose?) that is both out-of-character and concerning.

But I’m working on it.

Per usual (for me), that involves a lot of reading, and listening to music, and paying attention to what smart, talented people have to say about things that interest and/or concern me.

While working on a presentation for the day job, I came across this TEDTalk (I DO love the TEDTalks):

Tattoos? I have none. Regrets? I’ve had a few. And, unlike Mr. Sinatra, I can’t call mine ‘too few to mention’.

Kathryn Schulz’ talk was personally interesting in many ways. I tend to move beyond the denial stage fairly quickly. I generally get that I’ve made an irrevocable, regrettable, decision pretty much right off the bat. The alienation and self-punishment? Those things sound more like me. And they last.

Perseveration? Oh yeah. That one is a biggie. The soundtrack of error runs round and round and round in my head. Ad nauseam. The memory of the action that caused the regret gets set on endless repeat. It becomes a one-song iPod that I can’t turn off.

So, illumination! Making peace with regret? You can do that?! As a fellow-perfectionist, I share her struggle. I rarely balk at forgiving others their trespasses against me (unless they are especially banal and/or heinous) but I have an inordinate amount of trouble cutting myself any slack at all. At. All.

‘Learning to love the flawed, imperfect things we create? Forgiving ourselves for creating them? Regret doesn’t remind us that we did badly- it reminds us that we know we can do better.’

I like that. I like all of that.

It’s a far more human approach to looking at ourselves- our lives, our actions, our fallibility- than a lot of the ‘mindfulness-speak’ that is out there in the ether of ‘holistic health’ and the push for ‘positive culture’ that dominates our social media soundbites these days.

Funnily enough (although I tend to see it as another one of those connectivity things), the whole regret-thing (and the absolution of said regret-things) has been circumstantially at the forefront of my mind these past few weeks.

Been thinking about choices a lot as I try to figure out next steps. For example: What, exactly, do I want to be when I grow up? How do I define happiness? Has that definition changed? If my goals/wants/needs have changed, what do I need to do make those things manifest?

I have a birthday coming up next month (all being well- shouldn’t count chickens/tempt fate and all that)- it’s not a biggie- no zero at the end or anything. But it’s been a while since I last really thought about those questions.  It was around the time of my last zero-at-the-end birthday (funny how those markers tend to make us take stock)- which puts it few years ago. Five long years, to be specific. So it’s past time to revisit the questions- and see where I’m at- existentially speaking. Especially since that last round of questioning led to some decisions that ended up being rather regretful, in retrospect.

Adulting and First World Problems. Ick. It’s whiny and ridiculous- in so many ways. I get it. I’m a good feminist- aware of all my intersections. The choices are myriad- a reality that is a product of my privilege. Everyone should be so lucky to have to the choices I have had- that I continue to have. I get that too. But the sources of that privilege- my family, my friends, my opportunities- keep hitting me with the insistent realization that I need to keep on striving to do better.

Which I can’t do if I’m locked into the perseveration of regrets.

There are these songs (I know- there are always some songs- as I said, I am who I am)… two of them. They speak of regret- in very different, yet complimentary, ways.

The first is a cover version of an older song, performed by a guy that I love so very much. I’ve talked about Midge before. A few times, actually. And he more than deserves all the positive print I can offer up. This song most definitely helped me through some rough times over the years.

It’s over. It’s done. It’s for the best. No looking back.

Healthy, right? Yet melancholy-as-Hell in tone, and speaking to the truth that even that which is the right thing doesn’t necessarily come regret-free.

I had the opportunity to see Midge live (again! Twice in less than a year!), playing a pared-down and fabulous acoustic show- just him and his guitar- back in March, and took the opportunity to meet him after the show and express my thanks for all the years of music and lessons and wonder that he has brought into my life.

(And made my bud, the incomparable Len, take my picture with him. That is an example of whatever the absolute opposite of regret might be).

Z

This other song, though…

It’s the one that keeps on running through my head. That whole self-punishment and ‘what the hell did I do’ sort of thinking that Kathryn spoke about. That’s much more my style.

And this song makes my heart hurt with the physical weight of such regrets…

Regardless of how often I listen to it, Airborne Toxic Event’s (I’ve talked about them before, toorage against the regret of the loss of love sends my stomach all butterfly-ish. Every time. That’s power– sourced in the fact that our human-ness means that we’ve experienced that depth of self-excoriation about decisions made or roads not traveled- and react to the memory of the regret.

It’s a big deal, regret. A big, messy, complicated deal.

So. Starting last night (interestingly it actually was sometime around midnight), inspired by a great, if much-delayed, conversation with a too-long-absent but ever-important person in my life, I’m working on annotating and embracing my regrets. Perhaps that evaluation will lead me out of my current stasis and back into some positive directions. Even if those directions end up being transitional- or transformational- and even if some of them are regrettable.

I can do better.

Past time.