There were never any good old days; they are today, they are tomorrow.
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…going soundlessly smash…
Nineteen years ago this weekend, my heart was captured. Three years ago this weekend, my heart was broken. I am not over this. I can't imagine being over this.
But I can make bitter, angry playlists to wallow in.
The calendar is not my friend.
Since my divorce, that familiar landscape of numbered months and days has been littered with emotional minefields. Some of these are conspicuously marked while others sneak up on me, not that it makes much difference; I have to march through all of them regardless.
Right up ahead is one of the biggest hazards: 6/28, the date of our wedding. It would have been our fifteenth anniversary, crystal, the point at which tradition ceases to view a single year together as being worth notice and begins bestowing its blessings only on quinquennia.
The other major obstacle lies at the opposite end of the year. It's not quite as precisely defined, but for simplicity's sake, let's call it Martin Luther King Day weekend, over which we became a couple some eighteen years ago, and the point when, 2½ years ago, it became clear that we no longer were one.
Scattered between these two poles are a host of other dates presenting varying degrees of danger: New Year's Eve (for sixteen of which we made sure we kissed at the stroke of midnight); Valentine's Day (dismissing it as a hollow, commercial event was a lot easier when I was in a relationship—as a divorcé, it smacks of sour grapes); Mother's and Father's Day (which can be doubly awkward depending on how the visitations fall); and any other holiday involving significant family gatherings (notably Thanksgiving and Christmas).
There are also less important dates that are still capable of tripping me up: an in-law's birthday, kept on the calendar for the children's sake, or that of a once-mutual friend who wound up in her column during the division of social assets. And then there are the ones that come completely out of the blue: distant acquaintances' and total strangers' weddings/anniversaries/birth announcements popping unexpected from my Twitter stream.
All of these dates are reminders of previous days spent together, as a couple, as a family, days now consigned to a past that increasingly feels like it belongs to someone else's life. They remind me that I once belonged to something bigger than myself, something that exists now only as wreckage: a failed marriage, a broken family, the shrapnel of ‘irreconcilable differences’.
Thus far, I have said almost nothing publicly about the reasons for our divorce, and I have no intention of elaborating on them now. What passed between us can remain between us. I have thought enough about ‘who's to blame’ to realize it is a futile and toxic line of thought. Sixteen years is plenty of time to amass grievances and accumulate regrets, to make second-guessable decisions and suffer from bad luck. On one level, I understand the many factors that contributed to the end of our marriage. Have I ‘accepted’ that ending? Have I ‘forgiven’ either of us for not being able to stave off that ending? No, and to be honest, it is still hard to imagine ever achieving that kind of equanimity. I try, however, to have faith in its possibility, and to work toward it.
In the meantime, I continue to tread as lightly as I can through the past's volatile debris and try to complete another circuit of the calendar more or less intact.
Anatomy of a derail
Here's a how you lose the better part of a day:
You're about to settle down to work, but you glance at Twitter and see someone has approvingly retweeted a link to something called On Being a Happy Person. Being of a certain mental disposition, you are are naturally curious to find out the secret to happiness. So you click on the link and read a short post that begins:
No irony. No satire. No subterfuge or illusion.
And you immediately bristle. Because this is sounding like the same kind of ‘inspirational’ nonsense that the yoga instructor reads during shavasana, which always sets your teeth on edge (and is maybe one of the reasons why you've been finding excuses to skip class for the last couple of months). It's not so much that you disagree with the message in principle (you've read a little bit about Buddhism and you sort of get the bit about ‘grasping’ and ‘attachment’); it's that in a world that is so demonstrably and monstrously unjust, in a culture in which there are large groups of people dedicated to demeaning and and dehumanizing other large groups of people, advocating a philosophy of ‘acceptance’ seems at best naïve and at worst complicit.
(Just to be clear, I am tracing a thought process—my thought process—here, not critiquing that particular blog post, which also says some things that I fully endorse.
Love as much as possibleis a good, if surprisingly challenging, edict. Anyway, back to the derail.)
The bit about
No subterfugetickles a memory: something you read, something about, maybe, "guile" being a defense or a weapon? You do a little googling, but it's not turning up anything. You pull out your well-thumbed Harper Perennial Library edition of The Crying of Lot 49, because you think you remember a bit about the Tristero that might fit the bill, and in any case, whenever you're trying to place a half-remembered quote about resistance and alienation, there's a better than even chance it'll be something of Pynchon's. Eventually, after the inevitable lingering over various other beloved but irrelevant passages, you stumble on something on page 174:
Their [the Tristero's] entire emphasis now toward silence, impersonation, opposition masquerading as allegiance.
Almost right. The phrase
silence, impersonation, oppositioncaptures some of the sentiment you were thinking of, but you can tell it's not the passage you were trying to remember. So you go back to Google using the Pynchon phrase as your starting point, and that leads you to, of all places, the Google Books edition of The Selected Essays of Gore Vidal, specifically the essay American Plastic, in the midst of which, Vidal quotes the Pynchon passage and off-handedly remarks,
Well, Joyce, also chose exile, cunning, silence, but eschewed allegiance's mask.
The Joyce reference rings a bell, but you can't recall the exact context, so you do a new search, using the terms
exile, cunning, silence. That scores you multiple hits citing this passage from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:
I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it call itself my home, my fatherland, or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use — silence, exile and cunning.
( Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man )
Aha! That's what you were looking for. A statement in favor of resistance rather than acceptance, and an acknowledgement that sometimes the only tools of resistance available are refusal (silence), retreat (exile), and subterfuge (cunning). You congratulate yourself on your (hypothetical) rebuttal of a straw man argument you extrapolated from a blog post by someone you don't even know.
But you are not done yet because all this talk of exile and resistance to authority gets you thinking of Pynchon again. This time, it doesn't take long to find the passage; it's one that you come back to over and over (and which even shows up sometimes as a tagline on your blog), Oedipa musing on the invisible, WASTE-connected network of undergrounds and outcasts she finds (or imagines) during her nighttime wandering of San Francisco:
It was not an act of treason, nor possibly even of defiance. But it was a calculated withdrawal, from the life of the Republic, from its machinery. Whatever else was being denied them out of hate, indifference to the power of their vote, loopholes, simple ignorance, this withdrawal was their own, unpublicized, private.
( Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 )
By now you've soaked up enough literary alienation to embitter even the happiest of mortals, so there's nothing left to do but vomit it all back into the world in a series of elliptical tweets, and then to spend the rest of your evening composing a meandering blog post about the whole experience.
Congratulations, you've squandered yet another irreplaceable day of your finite existence!
This will only take a minute
Yesterday, the immortal WPRB DJ Jon Solomon asked his Twitter followers for their favorite songs under 60 seconds, his own nominee being the Angry Samoans' Lights Out. That's a fine candidate, but for me, the indisputable champions of the sub-60 form were the (aptly named) Minutemen, the only question in my mind being which of their dozens of qualifying songs to declare as my favorite. It took some deliberation, but I finally went with Ain't Talkin' Bout Love, their 42-second distillation of the Van Halen ‘classic’ (specifically, the live version included on their 1984 Tour Spiel 7-inch, which loomed large in the musical landscape of my freshman year of college).
By that time, though, I had ultra-short songs on the brain. And sure enough, I found myself combing my library for good sub-60-second songs to turn into a playlist. In keeping with the spirit of the genre, this was slapped together quickly with little regard for the subtleties of sequencing. A few arguably deserving tracks had to be left off in order to comply with 8tracks' rule of having no more than two songs from any one band or album—the only one that caused me real pain was omitting Minutemen's Futurism Restated (it was narrowly edged out by Ack Ack Ack). I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of the mix. Although it is predictably dominated by punk scorchers, hiphop, jazz, and even klezmer all manage to be represented as well.
So, with no further introduction, I present my Gone in 60 Seconds mix. in all its 24-songs-in-19-minutes glory:
File under: Music .
Favorite Albums of 2011
Maybe it is fitting that it has taken me until April Fool's Day to finally finish writing this. It certainly feels foolish to be going on about last year's albums a quarter of the way through the current one. But I am stubborn enough to post it anyway. I'd pretty much settled on my favorites back in February, but I needed to get that piece about what star ratings mean to me out of my system first (only partly to create some padding between this post and last year's favorite albums post), and then life intervened a little, and, well, here we are.
All the usual caveats apply. These are the albums from 2011 that most impressed me out of the couple dozen I actually purchased and listened to. There are obviously many records, including some critically acclaimed ones, that I never got around to buying, whether out of prejudice, ignorance, or simply lack of time. Maybe three years from now I'll finally ‘discover’ that Bon Iver album and wonder how the hell I managed to ignore it, but that's how things go.
Even more than last year, I feel uncomfortable presenting these as a ranking. There was no one album that blew all the others away. Instead, there were several very strong albums, and distinguishing among them involved some pretty fine hair-splitting. It probably doesn't help that a number of them came out (or I only found) very late in the year, so it took some extra time to process them. Anyway, here's what I liked, divided into some rough clusters.
Try as I might, I couldn't settle on a single top album for the year. There were two excellent candidates, and I decided to just go ahead and call it a tie:
In the running
These three albums come in just slightly behind my top finishers. All three are extremely solid, just maybe not quite as densely packed as those two. They are each pretty different in flavor, so may not appeal equally to all tastes.
Though I am putting this next group behind the preceding ones, none of these records are slouches. Any of them could have cracked the top 5 with one more ‘loved’ track. Like I said, it was a deep field this year.
Whew. We've finally reached the end. Once again, I've made an 8tracks playlist that includes most of the ‘Top Tracks’ mentioned above, plus some additional songs I liked from albums that didn't make the cut for this already ridiculously verbose list (including The Baseball Project, Das Racist, PJ Harvey, Kidstreet, Me & Stupid [a Bettie Serveert side-project], The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Tapes 'n Tapes, Tom Waits, and wavves). Enjoy!
(Hey, lookit! 8tracks has gotten onboard with HTML5. It's still ‘beta’, but I guess I'll be going through my old playlist posts and swapping out the Flash widgets for the new code.)
Silly love songs
Well, another Valentine's Day has passed. For reasons I needn't repeat, it is not my favorite holiday on the calendar, but it is a good excuse for making up playlists. Lots of material to choose from.
This year's mix, posted to 8tracks in the waning hours of V-Day, is titled Inamorati Anonymous, in honor of the fictional society of love-spurners from my favorite book. (
If those songs are too bleak for you, last year's Girlfriends & Boyfriends mix espouses (somewhat) cheerier views on the subject of love.
And while we're on the subject of love songs, this seems like the perfect opportunity to bust out a Nick Hornby passage I've been dying to use since, I believe, the days when I first contemplated starting this blog.
What came first—the music or the misery? Did I listen to music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to music? Do all those records turn you into a melancholy person?
( Hornby, High Fidelity (1995) )
I'm not sure how seriously Hornby means us to takes his character's speculations, but there are days when I can certainly sympathize with the sentiment. On the off chance there's something to it, consider this your warning: listen to my musical recommendations—especially the love songs—at your own risk.
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