Monday, October 26, 2009

When I say I don't know if many people share my way of thinking, one of the things I mean is that I seem to find a particularly strong consolation from art, where normal men find befuddlement (and sometimes insincerity). As much as I would like to call that "being artistic", I'm definitely without the talent the phrase implies; so something better is needed. (Weird is always a good choice, but too flippant.) Whatever the appropriate word, I wonder (as is my wont) why this is so - why do I seem unusually entranced by the artistic realm? Honestly, I don't know if I use art as a tool to self-awareness, or just as a crutch; probably both, as it goes with most things, but in what proportions? One creeping fear is that I compensate for personal deficiencies through excessive adulation of the distillation of (other people's) experiences. It might be true to some extent. But I still like to think that precisely because it tries to capture the essence of things, art is one of the keys to unlocking the mystery of it all. Rest assured though, having given out the advice of not letting art come before life, I am on my guard to make sure I don't fall into the same trap. Appreciating art for speaking truths is one thing, but sometimes it only has meaning if the truth is then enacted in our own lives.
I know that suggesting that these things should be taken humourously is asking for a lot, but it's true in this case (I think?). If you like, though, consider it another of those mind-projections, relieving the consciousness of the strain of having to process such thoughts continually.

I open my eyes in the morning -
I see,
She has quit my life;
So I ask:
Should I follow suit?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Lines from Keats & Yeats, Bukowski & Berryman (do the two pairs share any analogies?) are floating in my head. It is the sort of day where I feel like taking a leaf out of one of their books; namely, shutting the blinds and reading from all of their books, committing to memory everything that possesses that intangible beauty that is synonymous with the form. What makes these brief arrangements of words (rhyming or not) so addictive, I'll never know. I would like to say it help me understands life, but one can never be sure. I can certainly say it makes the journey far more bearable - it is almost as if the mere act of reading a powerful line gives one access to a secret incantation, known only to a few, one which can be used in times of duress to keep at bay the ever-present madness that beckons, and to guide our feet away from the void that surrounds.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

As I was plodding through the contents of the last post, the phrase "artistic suffering" popped into my head and seemed a natural fit in the context of things. Thinking about this a bit more has prompted the following question. Given the choice, would I forsake this streak of mine, the aspiration to create art out of experience (suffering and joy alike), if it meant actually getting what I want? That is, would I be satisfied with being happy and content if it meant being normal? (I should clarify that writing long pieces about a moment in a time probably crosses most people's definitions of the normalcy line.) Is this artiness the real me, and more darkly, even if it is would I give it up anyway?

A wish is nothing new in the context of human experience, but it is quite sobering to reflect what one would sacrifice for it. At the moment, my answer to the question would have to be no. I don't question the depth of feeling one can have without it, but whatever this spirit of the cosmos that has invaded me is, engaging it has not been without pleasure. This might be an overly defensive stance, I admit, but my personal measure of the value of life cannot exist without some effort to comprehend the universe. The (personally) gilded phrases and sentiments that sometimes arise from my otherwise cloudy writing are entwined with that search. That is not meant to be a slight against normality, but only an explanation of where the strength resides in this one soul trapped on the other side. Without it, I would be nothing. Therefore, having experienced it, I cannot imagine sacrificing it even if it meant satisfying the very things I often lament and wish for.

My answer is far from iron-clad, you understand, but at least it clarifies some of my oddities.

Friday, October 09, 2009

It feels like there's something important here; an idea, or feeling, that I've touched upon before but which seems to be central to the moment described here. Primarily, though? I don't know what the hell is going on. And I can't say that's a place I've been in very often, actually.

And that if memory recur, the sun's
Under eclipse and the day blotted out.

Yeats' words, the conclusion to a stanza that was emblazoned in my mind from the first time I read it. I always liked the beginning of the stanza, because it was so direct in asking one of those fundamental questions of life, one that was locked somewhere within my mind yet was awoken the moment I read the poem. As with music, poetry needs to be revisited to be fully understood, I think. These last lines were certainly powerful when I first read them, but I never fully appreciated how True they were until recently. They now seem less a poignant, poetic turn of phrase than one of those amazing encapsulations of a moment, of a memory, of a feeling. This discovery is one positive to take out of the experience that follows. There are more, so there is a happy outcome after all, you might say. But we will have to encounter sadness along the way.

I was sitting on the grass, generally bored but otherwise content with myself, which in hindsight was the perfect setting for an epiphany; as attested by the great literary tradition, life finds the most unexpected moments to catch up with you. I made an innocuous glance at the horizon and caught a glimpse of her face for a second, maybe less. That moment was a sensation I have rarely experienced: it was a flood of memory, desire, possibility and destiny. (I think; I cannot deny the possibility that it was the worst possible combination of all, sadness & madness, both of which I seem to be prone to!) I have been trying to analyze each of these aspects ever since, because the point of most of my writing (as I see it) is to capture and understand moments. Sometimes I am successful, and mostly I manage to at least convince myself of the meaning of the moment, if it doesn't come across in what I write. This time, though, I'm not even close to figuring out the first thing about it. But let me at least try to analyze the following natural queries: what happened next? And what does it all mean?

The first, possibly disappointing, answer: the followup to my epiphany was fairly predictable. Quite simply, after the second or so spent in shock, I couldn't bear to look any longer, and looked away to try to pretend I didn't care. Whether I was worried that my inner thoughts would be visible to the outside world, I don't know. (Anyway, I needn't have bothered, because I seem to have the gift of infinite suppression, so no one batted an eyelid.) I ended up playing with the grass and waiting for the moment to pass. Which of course it did, blessedly, but if only that were the end of it all. Indeed, should it need explicating, unlike the swathe of people before me, what I related above is all there is to the tale: there is no dash to talk to her, no courtship, and certainly no resolution. But let's hold that thought for the moment, there is more.

To answer why the moment was important, let me first sweep away the naive reading, namely that I was immediately smitten or something of the sort. Ok, maybe a little, but more fundamentally, no. This was deeper. A memory was at the heart of it, and seeing her face was like seeing the past rise up and stare at me accusingly. (I'm reminded of the opening page of Norwegian Wood, where Toru lunges forward in his seat, breathless, unable to deal with the titular song that is playing because of the memory associated.) As I hinted above, though, the moment was double-edged; I said memory and desire, with the latter being fused both with the past and present. Put simply, whatever pain the past (unresolved) desire provoked was equally matched by the wild hope that standing before me was my second chance. One chance itself is something to marvel at; a second, well, that's enough to question whether one is living a dream. I'll admit it, desire is a strong force, especially when it is forged from an epiphany: stronger than hypersensitivity, maybe. So while I might have done nothing at the inception of the moment, when this apparition stood before me, now that time has passed there is a temptation to explore the matter further. What exactly that entails, I don't know, but good lord, do you know how many times this has happened? Twice, maybe, being optimistic. (I told you, this is big!) It's why I wonder if I've lost my mind.

But let's not get carried away. If things don't fall in place, I plan to do nothing. Because, really, what is the argument to pursue such possibly callow feelings as desire? To validate a memory? To explore a road I once turned back on in the past? Such is my condition that it is questions that I ponder, rather than take any action. So in sum, it is just one party (two, if you count the ghost from the past) gliding through life as normal, and the other trying to figure out what one intersecting moment between the two means (if anything). Writing it like that makes it sound sadder than I intend. Clearly it's no cause for celebration, but still there is a certain quiet beauty to the event, is there not? I don't know if it's a strength, but I can internalize such losses and view them at a level of abstraction. You don't have to tell me that life isn't art, of course; but it seems that when the cards are against you, one may as well appreciate whatever is possible. You might think it's masochism to live like this. Sure. At the very least, though, things are not unpleasant for those who I have every reason to believe are fine people. Jilted and unrequited lovers might share similar passions to me, but one must admit that they sometimes hurt the object of their affection. I internalize all that. I don't know where this will leave me, but like the narrator of "Walk Away Renee", I'm not questioning the defeat - I understand, and hold no ill will.

That's hardly an appropriate way to end such a confused piece of writing, I know. I really don't want to give the impression that I'm once again hard-pressed by the world at large - that's so 2004. Whether my problems are imagined or not, self-created or not, I can only hope to draw positives from them. I agree that when expressed in writing, my internalizations might seem absurd, but understand that these are exercises in understanding myself; the absurdity is plain to me too. I assure the concerned reader that I don't value artistic suffering more than life itself. The moment addressed above still has not left me, and there are decisions left to be made, sure. Being the eternal pessimist, I do fear that pain is the likely lingering outcome from the entire episode. But I hope for brighter days, because I believe in them. And who would deny a man hope?

While the last choice isn't as direct in its relation to Soul as the others, it should be obvious how the connection comes in anyway.

1) John Prine, "Picture Show". In the direction of the last post, who knows why such songs are resonant. This initially seemed a bit perfunctory, and my first assessment of The Missing Years followed suit; thank goodness for the law of multiple listens. The key line, as I see it, is the one about the Mocca man, even if it is relatively out of the blue; as it goes with great lines, it has the right mixture of humour, pathos and magic.

2) Van Morrison, "Caravan". I can't think of a mystic masseur in popular song I trust more than The Man; definitely not when going through side A of Moondance, anyway. This album, and most songs contained within, also never really struck me until recently. But now I find his belief in Soul, whether his own or that of the radio, hugely inspiring; with the latter, I imagine what he's really getting at is us discovering the soul within, and preparing for a journey into the mystic.

3) Cleftones, "Heart and Soul". If pressed, maybe I could think of other instances of covers that do the unthinkable with the original, but why bother? One can only hope to experience a love strong enough for such a song to be the natural outcome. Purposeful and honest, at the moment it seems like one of those tight, perfect songs that were apparently all the rage back in the day.

4) Gram Parsons, "Brass Buttons". If ever melody and lyric came together as perfectly as on "Warm evenings, pale mornings and bottled blues", I don't want to know; nor do I wish to ever experience yearning with the same sadness I sense behind the song. Parson's talents might not have extended to creating a singular album masterpiece, but perhaps his three major contributions to country-rock (I exclude Burrito Deluxe, you understand) are best considered as one long album: in which case, this would still be contender for the best song.