Sunday, December 30, 2012

Welcome to the Cruel World

I never took to gospel when I was young, mainly because I had a heart for slow mournful hymns, those pained slow waltzes people might associate with Southern Funerals, that are closer to Irish ballads than they are to Southern Soul music.  It's just something in my make-up that shaped my ear, my taste, in the core of me.  It just so happens that Ben Harper would be the one to nail down the ideal sad song for me as well as I could ever hope, for these modern times.  This song, on the album bearing its name, is, to my heart and soul, a masterpiece.  The album was a mixed bag for me as far as the feel of all the songs when taken collectively.  I was coming straight from a diet of strictly hip hop, and a good share of grungy alternative stuff back in 97'-98'. The country and folky leanings of some of these songs was just beyond me, but not Welcome to the Cruel World.  That hit me like Amazing Grace at the time.

It was in that school year that I would discover "singer songwriters" and immerse myself in the kinds of music that would redirect my entire existence from that point forward.  Ben Harper was an artist who bridged the divide between the best of the past and the best of the then present, in said genre.  He connected with the contemporary agony of existence that had settled into my generation, who were spending their late teens and early twenties watching our cultural trailblazers die or be killed every few months, while our friends self-destructed or wasted away trying to either find, or lose themselves in response to the alienation that seemed to come part and parcel with our existence.

Now we're in our late 30s, and our surviving heroes from that time are in their mid to late 40s in most cases.  Things have changed, and contrary to what they tell you, the world hasn't become a better place, just a different one.  There are less of some things, and far too many of others.  The things that captured my imagination or corrupted my character 15 years ago seemed like rarities, strange synchronicity at work, and now they are as common as a payphone used to be.  The darkness that loomed overhead has descended and lingers like a perpetual fog now, muting our senses.  Altruism and idealism are a hazy muddy muck.  We've been played for fools and worked and handled to the point where there isn't any legitimate fortuitous left in us that isn't supported by some manufactured mold meant to fashion us into a product for consumption.

The world is an organism, a machine, that mangles what it can not use.  It's proven over aeons that those it can not use it will end.  The memory that remains will be massaged to fit the purposes over the production line.  People are ok with that.  All the alternatives have been co-opted.  We quibble over the petty, shudder in the face of the substantial, and are silent when the inevitable stares us down coldly, silently, emptily.  We have embraced escalation and destruction and will be our own undoing, violence need not be a part of it.  Our fatalism has rooted itself so deep that we have all become nihilists in action, but in denial of it in our thoughts.  We live in a world that has built itself on a schism.  Life is a gift, but we destroy it in the world we have made, perpetuate, and take part in.  And yet we are told to celebrate the share of it we get.  In reality, you show how valuable a thing is by cherishing it consistently in its every incarnation. Instead we are taught to selectively covet the things we relate to above all else.  It's an implicit part of enculturalization.

When I drive down a paved road, embracing the convenience of it, I think about how nature tries to reclaim itself, and how we literally mow it down.  I think of these mazes of roads we've laid out, how they scar the world, the same way I have scars, unfortunate reminders and harm I've been done from whatever might have torn my flesh asunder.  Should something ever remove humanity as we know it from this world, the plants won't stop growing, they seemingly grow in spite of us now.  The animals will continue to mate, live their lives, again, possibly flourishing in our absence, as there will be so much more habitat to occupy, less resources hoarded.  People get worked up over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but don't often recognize that it's a microcosm of the greater struggle for existence taking place on this planet, where we see creatures facing extinction due to human material expansion, with no regard for the consequences because we simple do not relate to that form of life or put as high a value on it as we do our own.  It's no great leap to understand why we have no problem killing each other over valuables and perceived needs and wants.

This sinful covetousness is a part of the machinery, part of the overarching contemporary human identity.  To be born into a world of ravenous consumption, devouring itself, there is something very dark and sad about that.  It's a blessing to be alive, but a curse to be born into this life somewhere it will be a struggle from the moment you take your first breath until you take your last to remain so. This truly is a cruel world in that regard.  It's precisely the world humanity has shaped it to be.  That is tragedy of it.  It is because of this that I can say with conviction, that it will take a miracle to right humanity from its path, something greater than and beyond what we now are, because we are so far gone collectively.  The only hope most of us find for peace in this world, rests on our capacity to transcend aspects of it mentally or spiritually.  To find peace in the midst of embracing all that the world is now, all that humanity embodies, denies fundamental morality, and I can not deny what I am. I am emotional, and I perceive good and evil, innocence and corruption.  I cling to the hope of being Humane, and not simply Human.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Free Will

Do something or nothing.  Either way Free Will exists whether you choose to believe it or not.
It's called making choices.  Even if you think you are avoiding making them, that in itself is a choice. Free Will is inherent in Consciousness.  Simple as that.  It is one of the essential and most powerful intellectual aspects of our humanity.  It's also why we can be our own worst enemies.  The denial of Free Will's existence is a perfect example of that very problem.

Giving Up

Since the 90s I've seen a lot of people put on the hats, the leather coats, take a seat at the piano, but they haven't captured the pained and mournful emotion that Donny Hathaway conjured up.  It's not their faults for wanting to be inspired amidst mediocre times.  The dark shadow that hovers over Donny Hathaway's legacy might be why he wasn't someone who's name I heard a lot of as a child.  There's a stereotype of the emotionally unstable artist, that's self-destructive.  Most people acknowledge it when they have to, but dealing with it as an active reality when someone they are fond of is unraveling seems to be a taboo.  Looking back on it in retrospect never helps. Maybe that's what happened with Donny Hathaway?  Is it not unlike the way I feel about so many of the artists from my youth in the 90s who died young as a result of reckless or self-destructive behavior?  Nevertheless my generation found our way back to Donny Hathaway through samples, and staples the same way they rediscovered Roberta Flack through the Fugees.  Maybe the latter beget the prior in this case?

The song itself, starts off like a eulogy, but takes this epic turn, that turns that ominous vibe around and though still pained, gives it a vitality fitting of the subject matter, a love that just won't seem to die, an attachment that can't be let go.  Romantically I've been there, but I am so far from that place now, that I don't relate to the song on that level.  Instead I find myself taking the song to an existential place, as strange as that may seem.

In growing closer to the lover who is no longer with me, I grew further apart from the other people in my life, the other passions and dreams I had that were in conflict with pursuing my relationship with her.  When I came through the darkness of the break-up so much time and experience had come and gone that all the things I let go of to embrace the relationship didn't matter as much as I thought they might now that I was free to focus on them.  My attachment to them was irrevocably altered.  Moving on from the past was a wholesale purchase.  Giving up on  my life configured around a future with my ex really meant giving up on my life because I let my relationship become the crux of my existence, my frame of reference.

The result of being open to moving forward meant reconfiguring my life so that it wasn't constantly full of reminders of a past I had so many regrets about, was an embracing of my current moment.  What became the constant in the absence of the push & pull was my occupation, and the social relationships I'd neglected or under-appreciated there.  There was ample means to find a purpose in living, the beauty of life there that I didn't feel the need to actively adopt a surrogate relationship to replace what I'd lost.  It didn't hurt that what I'd lost turned out to be of much less worth than what I'd ascribed it and committed to over the years.

People have a way of broadcasting how little value they place on their own actions when their own desires for gratification are unmet. One of the ways the do this is by giving up on people, things.  Sometimes all you can do to move on is meet them half way and accept it and give up as well.  This can sometimes complicate matters if the person is feigning those feelings as a means towards having a need to be pursued met.  Part of my maturation has been recognizing I gave up on those kind of mind games a long time ago.  If your way of getting me to take an interest in you is by acting disinterested in me, I can not abide.  I am doing my best to express exactly how I feel, no more coy ambiguities.  If someone doesn't react, I may wonder if they're just trying to draw me out, see what I'm going to do next, or they're just not interested.  I go with the latter more often than not, because I just don't have the patience or wherewithal to get all mixed up in the crazy making that is modern courtship.  It really has gone down the tubes.

I've become lukewarm as a result, and that does upset me.  Muting my reactions to people was something I actively did, as a matter of saving face, playing the game, but I don't really have to do that  most times.  I just don't really have many things I react to in a positive way, outside of acceptance or acquiescence.  All this coolness of emotion is a little disheartening by nature, but every so often I get a surprise burst of emotion.  Finding someone attractive is an intellectual experience more than an emotional one, like sizing up a leap.  Yeah, she's pretty, yeah, if he and I approached the same woman, I'd be out of luck etc.  Being attracted to someone, that's visceral, it's all feeling, and sometimes it's a one-way feeling, which is a horrible predicament to be in.  When it's mutual and fully realized, it's an otherworldly force drawing you closer to someone and tearing you to pieces all at once.  It should be a rare occurrence honestly.  The thing is, the way things are nowadays, you never really know how people process their emotions, their relationships, their sense of connection to others.  For some people attraction is an expected response to how they carry themselves, just a sign that their "working it" is working, and nothing comes from it.  For others it's just a pretext for casual intimacies and nothing more, like being hungry and actually in the mood for a particular thing.

When our bodies and personalities become a means to and end, in this case some sort of relational or physical gratification of a interpersonal sort, emotionally and/or physically honesty and sincerity can get in the way of results.  To truly be honest and sincere you have to be considerate, which requires reflection and forethought.  The absence of those mental processes before a person acts on an impulse is a sign that they lack commitment to their choices.  For those of us looking for love, that should be a Red Flag if we are in the market for something we want to hold on to.  The way I have lived, I want things that will last a lifetime, that I feel my efforts to take care of and maintain will not be in vain.  I don't want to put my heart and soul into something I'm going to be forced to let go of because it has a will of its own, that will leave me longing.  That's too much like torture, and I wouldn't wish that upon most people when I'm in a good emotional place.

Before my last relationship I remember fielding my Father & Stepfather's questions about having a woman in my life, knowing how my mother and stepmother could give them the blues, and I said, "I can do bad by myself!" and I was doing bad at the time to be truthful.  Now is a different story, a different time, and all I know is when you don't care for so long, when you find yourself wanting to care, it's confusing.  When you recognize what is attractive, but don't feel a strong attraction to anyone, having someone literally making you jump inside, by nearly brushing arms, is a little much.  To say I didn't know I had it in me is one thing, but to experience butterflies in that moment after all this time is supremely profound.  The experience changes the scales by which all the previous estimations of my emotional capacity are measured.  It was like a burst of Technicolor in Pleasantville, which I still haven't seen.  It brings a whole new meaning to shades of gray, none of the 50 popular ones, I have a more refined personal palette.  That moment was so striking because it came to pass in the midst of a pedestrian occurrence that happens everyday.  That's also a good sign that my reaction was an internal miscue, a deep longing creeping out independent of the other person who was the object of my internalized affection.

Where I am now in my life, this place of acceptance, which also becomes a place of complacency, can not afford to be disturbed by delusional fantasies, miscommunication, and fools errands brought on by flight of fancy and fits of passion.  What's requisite is reciprocity.  If I, or whoever the she may be, fail to create an environment where that emerges, it's probably best to leave things be, let those thoughts and feelings go.  It's much healthier to embrace those that embrace you than seek warmth from the cool, peace from the chaos.  Those are compromises that don't reconcile themselves.  I've had enough unrequited love, enough unsolicited drama, so why entertain or foster it at this point in my life?  We all have better things to do with ourselves, and maybe at some point, with others who are eager to join us.  The trick is, sometimes people aren't honest, or just not sure about what they think or feel.  Other times they just don't communicate it in a way you understand.  Of course, people tend to only understand communication they Want to hear, and omit or augment what they don't want to hear so they can allow themselves to continue on thinking and feeling the way they are inclined.  I don't want to, can't allow myself to be that person.  It's a balancing act to know when to care enough to embrace hope in the face of an opportunity, or give up on illusions you've grown attached to.

Faced with that, and all that is fleeting in life with friends, family, culture, and time, giving up on things doesn't seem so bad after all when you've got other things to hold on to that never seem to fail.  Inspirations like those, the ones you can put some faith in, will get you through.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Body Wins

Seldom has the title of an album evoked more thought than this one, at least in my case.  When that title track turns out to be a curve ball production-wise, but in a good way, I am compelled to opine.  I've been waiting to write about the notion of The Body Wins since the pre-release info of the album hipped me to the title.

Sarah Jaffe is gifted.  She has a beautiful voice, and writes evocative songs that communicate a certain kind of blue that I feel at home in.  She also embraces expansion, and with The Body Wins she embraced this by changing her sound and her look to the point where a fan who hasn't kept up with her since her earliest releases, would scarcely recognize the artist.  But the change seems natural, an evolution of her artistic expression.  She's grown, aged, it's what we do.  We can't fight that happening, time marches forward, the Body Wins.

The song itself seems to wrestle with desire's pull in relationships that seem to compromise or complicate our lives.  That's my take on it at least.  It feels like a frustrated resignation, an ode to vice trumping virtue in some manner; or matter over mind.  That's my read on the content, but that's not where I took the phrase when I read it and pondered it.  I took it further down the existential path than is probably intended.  I internalized the concept of the flesh dictating my circumstances, because that very subject has been an issue of mine since I was very young.

The Body Wins, for me, evoked Mortality first and foremost.  As I age, I can't help but feel that I'm on the losing end of a race against time.  Our bodies are beholden to time, and their reactions to its passage get the best of us, like it or not.  It harkens back to Fake Plastic Tries when Thom Yorke sings "He used to do surgery on the girls in the 80s, but gravity always wins." But there are more things to consider other than the ravages of time when it comes to our bodies dictating the terms of our existence.  Some things happen to the young and old alike, getting the best of us.

As a child, it's fair to say I was traumatized by certain experiences, and made to feel hyper-aware and self conscious about my body, its vulnerabilities, its limitations.  Through my development and growth, my body dictated so much of my social experiences as a child, being significantly taller, stuck in ill fitting shoes that would contribute to podriatic problems that bother me to this day.  Suddenly developing gynecomastia near the end of grade school seemed like a karmic punishment, and living with that condition further eroded any comfort I had with my body.  My physical development had taken on a life of its own, contrary to my own hopes and desires.  My vision deteriorated enough that I needed glasses, and I kept growing.  I was tall for my age, but not yet abnormally tall.  The gynecomastia didn't go away as I'd been told it might.  My hopes of playing football were sidelined by concerns that I might have Marfan's Syndome.  After the surreal and disturbing experience of having an Echocardiograph  and hearing my heart truly work, realizing it could, and will eventually cease to, I was cleared of the diagnosis.  I remember the football coach struggling to find cleats I could fit, and me trying on an ill fitting pair and ultimately balking on playing Football after it taking so long to even get cleared to play. 

Mandatory swimming in gym class for a grade was about the worst thing that could have happened to me socially at that point.  I did not, under any conditions take off my shirt in public, or private, given my condition.  It was the epitome of mortifying.  Beyond that, I'd nearly drowned once.  I am not buoyant.  I sink like a stone.  It took a life jacket and a hip preserver for me to be able to so much as tread water.  My exits from the pool consisted of waiting until everyone else left the pool area, rolling out onto my stomach from the side of  pool, and then going for my towel as quickly as possible to drape it over my shoulders.  The production that went into this effort to conceal myself only worked for a little while before it called attention to me.  At that point I refused to swim, and took an F for that quarter of gym class rather than be exposed and ridiculed for something that happened to me that I had no control over, contrary to the piss poor uninformed advice I got from some people.  The only medical option would have been surgery, and financially that wasn't an option.  Surgery also came with risks and complications I was not and am not comfortable with.  It was easier to accept my body as it was, and keep it to myself as best I could without making waves. 

The following summer, after having some discomfort with my feet, the Dr. treating me strongly persuaded my parents to approve corrective surgery for my podriatic issues.  The experience was an exercise in mutilation and futility.  The scars, fused joints, and "gross deformity" as one doctor put it upon her initial examination of my toes, were the results of the procedure, which was meant to be the first of three.  The other two surgeries never came, and my academic and athletic prospects took a severe hit since the procedure basically upended the entire 1st semester of my Sophomore year of High School.  Meanwhile I kept growing, now to the point when I could scarcely find clothes that fit in the regular stores.  I'd already had that problem with shoes since I was 12 years old wearing a size 13.  To have that become an issue with Shirts, Pants, and Jackets was just annoying.  Being socially accepted for being fashionable was out the window.

As I went through the process of healing from having 8 broken toes, two that had whole sections of bone removed, and pins inserted, my cousin Martez was killed, then not long after that my classmate Brian and most of his family died of carbon monoxide poisoning.  My niece Andreana was in and out of the hospital with heart issues.  I embraced an outsider mentality, and rejected the pursuit of social acceptance for the most part. It was self-serving, because there was no way I was going to fit in at that point.  By age 16 I stood a legit 6' 7" or so, and had stopped growing as far as I could tell.  As fate would have it, that's when my complexion started giving me major problems, such that I spent the better part of the next 5 years on Erythromycin using varying topical chemicals to try and keep painful acne at bay.  I'd hoped by my mid 20s it would just stop. But then my beard started coming in, and along with it, ingrown hairs.  So if it wasn't one thing, it was another.  I watched the hair advance from my chin across my jaw, onto my cheeks, but then it kept going, not simply stopping uniformly in a tame beard but creeping above my cheeks as if trying to reach my nose.  My first experience with shaving resulted in so much inflammation due to an adverse reaction to the razor, that I had to get an anti-inflammatory ointment to put over the whole of my face.  I apparently had/ have very sensitive skin.

 I neglected to acknowledge my extreme misfortune of contracting chicken pox at least twice, as a 3rd grader, and again as a high school senior, and my bouts with severe bronchitis that were so disruptive that I was removed from classes by teachers due to the severity of my coughing fits.  Or that I could never take the codine based medicines my doctor prescribed because of the severe stomach pains they caused.  This is especially important given that I would later develop what one doctor referred to as Seasonal Asthma, which was his way of saying Chronic Sinusitis and Bronchitis.  I would eventually make the connection between my sinus problems and a lack of climate control in the places where I resided, or appropriate attire for the weather.  Well-fitting, well-made weather appropriate attire was not easy to come by for dependent children or the "college poor" in the pre-internet age.  It was only through the advancements of the digital age, and belligerent pursuit that I would acquire clothing and housing that allowed for me to maintain some measure of physical comfort to minimize the occurrence of said conditions.

The significance of all of this, without broaching the subject of my parents and family members medical conditions, some I share, others I do not, is that my body has been a hindrance to my personal ambitions, social desires, and self-esteem in the past, and it took a lot of emotional wood shedding to get to the point where I accepted myself physically.  Before I accepted myself, and after, what I  literally am physically has dictated many things in my life.  Much of my time without transportation was in large part due to no one having transportation what would accommodate my large stature.  Something as simple as my height took a great toll on my ability to advance in life in that simple way alone.  I have limitations on what I can do that I can't overcome sans some dramatic modification, if possible, and seldom is it affordable, or worth it.  My Body Always Wins, which has taught me to be as detached from aspects as I am attached to being alive.  It's a mixed blessing that I have learned to humbly accept, because it's spared me as much as it's spurned me.  My body is my vessel.  I have struggled to see it as a temple, and the consequences for failing to treat it as such without fail boomerang back at me and humble me to no end.  The Body Wins.  The Body Always Wins.  In this life at least.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Wake Me When It's Over

I love this song.  Have since the first time I heard it on Longwave's The Strangest Things.  It just taps into a mood and vibe that is where I usually am, and I'm comfortable there.  It's a pretty dense slab of sonic vibe. The simple sentiment the phrase evoked in the title speaks volumes to my perspective on so much of what life has been like in the difficult times.  It harkens back to the reality that I have been, and will remain an escape artist.  Right now I'm escaping from writing two posts that require a little more focus and commitment than I currently fell apt to volunteer. I'm more inclined to just be, and in that I am escaping into myself, away from the world at large, other than the one of my own making, within these wall, within this flesh, within my mind.  The truth is, I am my own fortress of solitude, a jagged crystal castle of instructive recollections from imposing figures.

All that said, if you always feel like you're at a crossroads, that's just life telling you that you're indecisive, at least that's my take on it.  That's why I'm posed with choices that aren't really choices, situations where acceptance and acquiescence are the best tools for making peace with your circumstances.  It's easy to get lazy, to get frustrated, to get overwhelmed.  Putting vice over virtue, BS over betterment. This spring, yeah, I think it was spring, I found inspiration in the pursuit of the unattainable, if only for a moment, almost guaranteeing I'd resent something or someone when I failed to follow through, or prosper for my passion.  But as it goes with someone like me, passion is fleeting, and honor is the thing that carries you over the long haul.  Sans honor, all things we value will collapse, because there will be no merit in maintaining them.  In nature entropy wins.  I'm not of the sort that can watch things fall apart, impermanence invoked, mortality invoked.  In time I've grown to feel the same way about the hollowness of ceremony and celebration marking one day of greater significance than another, simply because we want it to be, whereas we try and tell each other to value each day because we aren't promised the next.  So, for the sake of cognitive continuity, I feel happier sleeping through all the festivities so all my days play the same, and what I find worth remembering and treasuring comes out of the part of my life that seems the most real to me.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Rowing - an Om in the Ohms

If I should ever meet any member of Soundgarden, dinner and drinks are on me. The solidarity has gotten me through some rough patches:

Music: Shepherd & Cornell 
Lyrics: Cornell

Don't know where I'm going
I just keep on rowing
I just keep on pulling
Gotta row

Moving is Breathing and breathing is life
stopping is dying, you'll be alright
life is a hammer waiting to drop
adrift in the shallows and the rowing won't stop

Don't know where I'm going
I just keep on rowing
I just keep on pulling
Gotta row

Can't see the sky, nothing on the horizon
can't feel my hands and the water keeps rising
can't fall asleep, cause i'll wake up dead
I just keep on pulling, I just keep on rowing, Don't know where I'm going

Don't know where I'm going
I just keep on rowing
I just keep on pulling
Gotta row

Rowing is living and living is hard
but living beats losing all that we are
and all that we know of, and all that we feel
and all we remember, imagined or real
I heard an echo, but the answer had changed
from the word I remember, that I started out saying
living is cheating if you're not pulling oars
but the current is leaving, I'll get mine, you'll get yours

Don't know where I'm going
I just keep on rowing
I just keep on pulling
Gotta row

Rowing is bleeding and bleeding is breathing
breathing is feeling, burning or freezing
keep getting dirty, but I started out clean
keep on pulling, I keep on pulling, I keep on rolling, I keep on rolling

Don't know where I'm going
I just keep on rowing
I just keep on pulling
Gotta row

copyright 2012 You Make Me Sick I Make Music/ NO YES INNEROUTTER