Day 21: Feeling Gravity’s Pull #3
This backpage piece is from Paste, Issue #3, Q1 2003. We had yet to put all of the print content online (that’s why I’m putting these archival pieces here rather than linking).
It’s tempting for me to critique my writing and contextualize my thinking. I think I’ll just leave this here, except to say that I obviously have some go-to artists, songs and lines that haven’t changed in over 13 years. Not sure what that says.
Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief
All kill their inspiration and sing about their grief
—U2, “The Fly”
I still have my Achtung Baby T-shirt with that quote on it. I should frame it and put it where I will see it every day. I’m no poet, but I can relate. My journal entries consist of either the “Went to the grocery store…saw a movie” variety or overwrought lamentations—here, a crisis of confidence; there, yet another existential crisis.
But that’s not my life. Not the whole of it anyway. I know inspiration. I know joy. I have a sense of humor, dammit. Maybe I need better literary and artistic role models.
Real art is without irony.
Irony distances the author from his material….
Irony is a cheap shot.
If artistic cannibalism is [a] problem of modern art and entertainment, it’s nicely balanced by a pathological irony. Ironic distance is a disease of our age. Maybe it’s been that way since we assassinated our dreamers. “Can’t we all just get along” is as close as we can come to “I have a dream.” And we all cackle at the other King.
We’re mired in all kinds of darkness. The kind that results in overwrought adolescent angst. The kind that drives us to chemicals, over the counter and off the street, to make it through our middle-class existences. The kind that watches a continent die from a lack of medicine that we take for granted. The kind that straps a bomb to a chest in the name of God.
The darkness is overwhelming, and so we shut down. And ironic distance provides the cover. Don’t take a risk and show your inner turmoil. Others might laugh, so laugh at theirs first. Don’t put yourself out by offering solutions. You might be accused of being naïve and over-earnest. So hide-out in your own smug condescension.
I need a dream, I need a bigger dream
Tell me if you know what I mean
—Joseph Arthur, “Evidence”
For my part, I am tired of my own mood swings between malaise and cynicism, stopping off at ennui for a rest. Melancholy sells. Whining comes naturally. The darkness is easy to capture. But what about the rest?
The problems are there. To deny them is silly and dangerous. We don’t live in a ’50s sitcom, and the past has never been as idyllic as nostalgia would have us believe. But to ignore the beauty, to strangle the hope, to neglect to nurture all that is life-giving is more dangerous than all the Pollyannas. The lack of what is good will destroy us well before the evil has a chance. “Grace finds goodness in everything.” We spend our time in Karma.
I can’t wait any longer
I can’t wait ’til I’m stronger
Can’t wait any longer
To see what you see
—U2, “When I Look at the World”
For all their flaws, there is a reason that so many were drawn to Life is Beautiful and American Beauty. The artists behind those two films provided a much-needed salve. And they took bigger risks than those who only mine the dark depths.
Thoreau wrote that the poem of creation is uninterrupted, but few are the ears that hear it. I want to be one with the ears to hear. And I want to scream with Lucina, “You got no right to take my joy. I want it back.”
I love the pounding of hooves
I love engines that roar
I love the wild music of waves on the shore
And the spiral of perfection of a hawk when it soars
Love my sweet woman down to the core
—Bruce Cockburn, “Child of the Wind”
“Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted,” Huxley said. God, don’t let that be me. I want to think on the lovely things.
The changing leaves of the North Georgia mountains. The power and vastness you feel standing at the edge of the Pacific Ocean. The pulse of the East Village. Even the low hum and rhythmic thumping of driving over a suspension bridge in Brunswick with that lingering smell of paper factories.
I want to revel in the passion of Pablo Neruda, the humor and humanity of Anne Lamott, the solitude of Merton, the insight of Buechner. I need to hear Michelle Shocked sing “That’s So Amazing.” I need Victoria Williams to remind me why it takes a child. I need to hear the healthy envy of Karen Peris at the ones who enter rooms with great joy shouts.
I need to be recharged by the voice of Karin Bergquist and the artistry of Mark Heard, Bob Dylan, and Jay Farrar. I need the brutal honesty of Bill Mallonee, the sonic adventures of Tom Waits, and the melodies of Lennon/McCartney. All are signs of life in a world full of signs of decay.
I want to remember the elation of finding just the right word. Of creating something where once was nothing. Of watching Octavio Paz’s ink stain “lift off the page and take flight.” Of witnessing the mental gymnastics of our best scientists and thinkers. Of coming home to wagging tails.
Of watching a plastic grocery bag dance in the wind.
“It’s a beautiful day. Don’t let it get away.”