Muddling through

As of this morning there are 13 drafts of incomplete posts in my WordPress dashboard’s storehouse of thoughts.  This is unusual since I’m generally pretty good with the follow-through and finishing stuff.  It may sometimes take a while- I have been known to procrastinate now and again when no established deadline is looming- but things do get done (this is, of course, excluding the novel(s) I’ve been working on for countless years).

I haven’t felt much like writing since my weekend rant about politics and politicos in this city.  My frustration quotient- on a number of fronts- has reached critical levels, and I’m finding that my thoughts have been running in too many directions at once to actually get anything of substance down on the (virtual) page.  Or sleep for more than a few hours at a time.

Need some quiet.  And real rest.  And not likely to have either in the near future.

So, in an attempt to make the brain shut the hell up for a time, and make it possible for me to drag myself out of bed in the morning, I spent part of last evening watching some of the new shows that are being offered for our consumption and potential edification.

James Spader is awesome.  He will always be Alan Shore to me, but I do have high hopes for The Blacklist.

The season premiere of HIMYM was good- and makes this, the last season, look promising.

There are a couple other new shows that are intriguing- namely David E. Kelley’s new one with Robin Williams and Sarah-Michelle-Gellar-the-Vampire-Slayer.  Boston Legal remains one of my favourite shows (Alan Shore and Denny Crane rule) and Kelley seems to know when to let his actors run with the characters and do what feels right.  I’m sure the directors have their hands full keeping Robin Williams under some semblance of control, but the result should be worth a look regardless.

It’s great to see him back on the small screen (I, unlike many younger viewers, well remember his original turn as Mork- on Happy Days).  And I have a definite soft spot for Buffy (which remains one of the best-written shows out there.  Joss Whedon does dialogue like no on else).  Given her past ability at handling Whedon’s scripts, I’m sure she will more than hold her own against the manic zaniness that is Robin Williams.

As mentioned, I’m cautiously interested in Sleepy Hollow– mainly because they’ve linked Washington Irving’s story (which was based on Germanic  folktales of ‘the Wild Huntsman’) with biblical apocalyptic mythology.  Neat twist- we’ll see how it plays out.

I look very forward to the return of Elementary.  I know I know.  The naysayers all say that Cumberbatch’s contemporary Holmes is the one worth watching, but I love Jonny Lee Miller.  Ever since he was Sick Boy, really, but he was really great in another underrated television role a few years ago.  With its modern take on prophecy and prophets, Eli Stone might well need its own post.  Anyway- I do like his take on Sherlock, and the supporting cast of Lucy Liu and Aidan Quinn has really come together.  This season Rhys Ifans will be showing up as Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft.  Lots of good acting chops in that mix.

Lest you think that my couch is about to swallow this potato whole, I have actually cracked a book in the past few days.  I’m rereading High Fidelity, Nick Hornby’s first novel that was made into the movie starring John Cusack.  The film was pretty good- Jack Black was pretty amusing, and Cusack is generally quite endearing- but the original story’s British-ness is somehow more resonant.

I get Rob Fleming’s association of life- and life events- with specific music.  The concept of the ‘mix tape’ as central to the romantic lives of people of a certain age is one that seems to be recurring in my general environment lately.  In addition to Jian Ghomeshi’s 1982, that was my cottage reading a couple of weeks back, I read Love is a Mix Tape- Rolling Stone Editor Rob Sheffield’s sad tale of the life- and sudden death- of his wife, the night the lights went out back in July.

Those books, and Sheffield’s Talking to Girls About Duran Duran, all play with the thought, sincerity and hard work that used to go into the making of a mix tape for someone special.

There is nothing comparable these days.  Making a playlist can be done in a matter of minutes- as one draws from 1000s of songs pulled out of iTunes or the like.  Sure, The Shuffle Daemon has thrown me for a loop a few times with its accurate matching of the music to the mood/ weather, but there is something incomparably innocent, nostalgic and loving about the process of choosing just the right songs and getting them all to both work well together and fit on the tape- without getting cut off part way through.

(I have sooooo many mix tapes with cut off songs.  Tapes I listened to so often that sometimes, when I hear those songs now, I expect them to just end at very specific places.  I remain surprised when the song plays all the way through.)

Anyway, all this thinking about song lists and the perfect mix tape inspired me to make one of my own.  Figuratively, anyway.  I still have lots and lots of cassette tapes in storage.  Unfortunately, I currently have nothing on which to play them.

So I made myself a playlist.  Not of songs of love or lost love or unrequited love, but songs that are upbeat and happy and determined (if songs can be determined- and I think they can) to drag me out of bed to face the day.

The implied rejection of the past while has, seemingly, become overt, and although I’m attempting to do my best to muddle through (‘to continue despite confusion and difficulties’) some days it’s harder than others.

So these are songs to help with the muddling.

Vampire Weekend.  There are few of their songs that don’t make me think of summertime and friends, but A-Punk is just so upbeat and catchy.  Can’t stay confused and difficult in the face of this.

I wrote about this James song before, but this is a different version- although just as uplifting.  And reassuring in its assertion that we all get thrown a little off kilter now and again.

The The.  This has to be one of my very favourite songs ever.  Matt Johnson is cooler than cool.  And he might be right.  This might be ‘the day when things fall into place.’

The Gaslight Anthem is another band that is just fun.  And high energy.  And lyrically sophisticated.  And did I mention fun?  They put on an awesome live show, too.

Talking Heads.  Not only were they one of the most avant-garde bands ever, but they remain fun as hell.  The world is moving and I’m trying to stay right there with it.

Sweet.  Glitter rock.  Ballroom blitzes.  This is self-explanatory.

And finally, a little Aztec Camera.  Because Roddy Frame and that guitar riff can make anyone feel better.

I’m in love with everything that breaks the grip of caution
On our getting up and leaving for a bigger day, still some say
That all you need is money to be free from what is poor
Well that’s the lie of looking up from somewhere down

Because the sun will show to testify that all the
Time between belongs to you and I, to be still on fire
And when the strongest words have all been used
And all the new ones sound confused, to be still on fire

Somewhere in the middle we could see through all the people
And be playing second fiddle and be feeling sore
Shown the door

To chase out all the child in you
Is throwing out the baby for the chance to make it easy to be more

Solid advice.

Muddling through.

‘Oh Life…’

I’ve written about loss before.  The sudden death of a loved one, and the slow, painful withdrawal of the personality that was the beloved long before the inevitable loss of life.

You’d think it would get easier with years and experience.  It doesn’t.  Losing someone rips a hole in the fabric of the universe that never completely closes.

The clichés and platitudes notwithstanding (man, am I ever against the platitudes this week), it doesn’t always get easier, and letting go can feel like betrayal and lead to guilt that is even harder to shake.

Loss. Decisions.  The human condition.  These are the foundations of all the religions of the world.  Once upon a long ago time, with the development of self-awareness, and given our nature as social animals, when those we love left us, we humans created hope that we will meet them again- or that they are, at least, in place where the suffering has ceased and there is peace and happiness.

People often make the hard decisions- CAN make the hard decisions- with this as an underlying hope or belief.

But what happens when one of the things that gets lost is the religion that we create in an effort to moderate our sadness and help justify the pain and its eventual lessening?  And lessoning?

The song is 22 years old. Where has the time gone?

(More losses- of both the time that has passed and the place with which I most associate the tune)

Losing my Religion’ is really a Southern US colloquialism for losing one’s temper, flying off the handle, behaving in a manner that is less than civilized (gotta love the Southern equation of ‘religion’ and ‘civilized behaviour’.  Ack!).

Subject-wise, the song is more about unrequited love and obsession (Michael Stipe has actually compared its theme to Every Breath You Take– that exemplar of obsessive songs about stalking restraining orders love from the Police’s 1983 wonder of an album, Synchronicity) than about the loss of religious faith.

But it’s a good song.  And it fits my mood and the paths down which my slightly disordered and sleep-deprived mind is traveling right now, faced as I am with another potential loss.

I was, nominally, raised in a religious tradition.  Attended services, participated in the community, was taught the mythology.

Frustration with the blatant abuse of power in the Institution and, especially, my absolute lack of comprehension about how, in any way, the theodicy behind the myth system can be justified, marked the finality of the decision to ‘lose’ it.

Millennia ago a man wrote a treatise that encompassed all kinds of aspects of the realities of life.  It became part of the collected wisdom tradition of the people behind one of the most influential mythological systems in history and spoke to the realities of life and the nature of the godhead.  The questions he expressed- alongside a recounting of his own experiences- were answered by the theodicy of the day- ‘because the god wants it that way.’

It could have been written yesterday.  Plus ça change

Abuse of power: Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun.  Look, the tears of the oppressed- with no one to comfort them!  On the side of their oppressors there was power- with no one to comfort them.  And I thought the dead, who have already died, more fortunate than the living, who are still alive, but better than both is the one who has not yet been, and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun. (4.1-3).

The ever-repetitious cycle of life: “A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.  The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hurries to the place where it rises.  The wind blows to the south, and goes around to the north; round and round goes the wind and on its circuits the wind returns. (1.4-6)

Death: ‘For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals, for all is vanity.  All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again.” (3.19-20).  (N.B. the lack of anything approaching the idea of heaven/hell in that little statement.  He finished that thought: ‘Who knows whether the human spirit goes upward and the spirit of of animals goes downward to the earth?’ 3.21)

That Qohelet guy found the faith in the plan of his deity to make the terror, the repetition, the inequity, the futility and the rest of the realities of morality manageable.  He, like Job and the Prophets and the authors of the Psalms, trusted the justice of the god in spite of infinite examples of injustice and pain in the world.

Me?  Can’t do it.

My faith is based in this world and in my fellow humans.  Which means that I have to do my best to act against those inequities that can be changed and roll with the punches dealt by those that can’t.  Including the deaths of cherished loved ones.

It’s a different kind of faith, and one that offers no easy answers or comforting visions of angelic choirs and waiting La-Z-Boys at the right hand of an Elder of Days.  It requires reliance on others who share our lot in this here world, and the strength to endure and to ask for help from those others when our own reserves run low.  The cultural and social realities of today, combined with our collective experiential learning, have rendered the created, absent, inscrutable, unjust godhead obsolete.

My religion may be long lost, but my civility is intact and as ready as it can be to face coming inevitabilities.

But I can still find comfort in Qohelet’s musings +/- 2500 years after they were first written down.  Not for his conviction about his god, but because of the beauty and humanity of his questioning and honest examination of the world as it was still is.

‘For in much wisdom is much vexation, and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow.’  (1.18)

Truer words…