Wednesday, February 27, 2013

February Made Me Shiver

February is, generally speaking, a rough month for me. I mean, it's a rough month for most people, especially those living in a northern climate where it's a time associated with frozen snot, fasting and those particularly blightful chunks of snow turned to ice turned to mud repository that cling stubbornly to life far longer than anyone wants them to. It's a time of introspection and self-assessment that goes part-in-parcel with the long nights, broken resolutions and guilty Lenten vows, which is rough enough. On top of that, February is, personally-speaking, a lull in my work year that makes liquid assets depressingly scarce.

And here I am again, another year, still chugging away, in a place not to dissimilar to where I was twelve months ago - is it unfair to feel a bit depressed?

Well, fair or not, that has been my mindset recently. Whereas other months make it easy to take comfort in the little things, late winter tests you and makes all the tedious, unpleasant, seemingly unimportant things that comprise such a large part of, well, life seem so particularly soul-crushing. Any of a cocktail of unfulfilled plans, promises and goals both professional and (inter)personal will, at various points in my day cough loudly, reminding of all that I haven't done or seen or tried or figured out. It's the type of thing that can send you tumbling forever under the icy waves of shallow self-pity and despair if you don't have the right life-preserver.

My life preserver came in the form of a blog post from my friend, Gregor on his his blog Captain's Dead. Gregor, it must be said, is a friend of the kind you can only have from afar, through the exchange of words and ideas in ink or pixels in a way that's at once incredibly close and almost anonymous. It's the kind of connection that thrives in our Twittering present in a way that I sometimes find atomizing and empty but this time took great comfort in.

Anyway, Gregor turned me on to a song from Public Enemy's most recent album, "Everything." It was from the The Evil Empire Of Everything, an album I'd managed to miss last year, a fact which I found unconscionable. It actually ended up being quite fitting, my missing the album in my flurry of list-making and writing as I chased some measure of recognition (and money!) as a writer. I'm sure Chuck D. had, at some point, been where I was, struggling to just get his head above water. Now, having conquered the world and lived to tell the tale, he was back to let me know that it can be OK to let go. "Everything" is relaxed R&B number focused on accepting life, whatever it does (or just as often, doesn't) give you. It hit me like a beam of sunlight on a cloudy day.
During this same period, I've also been listening to a lot of Fela Kuti. Even more so than Chuck D. or Public Enemy, Fela was a man of principle and struggle. If I needed some perspective, looking at his life, fighting corruption and colonialism under a brutally repressive regime that beat him to within an inch of his life certainly puts my own whining in harsh relief. Of course we're all prisoners in our own realities and, as helpful as that kind of perspective is, knowing that others have suffered more rarely provides ultimate solace. What I love about hearing Fela is his brilliant doggedness. He released over 50 albums in the course of 25 years, each filled with 8, 10, 20 minutes songs of unrelenting personal conviction and musical joie de vivre that's hard to process. Hearing him play minute after minute, year after year, always in service of a seemingly-unattainable goal is inspiring and instructive. 
Bill Keller recently published a column about former Vietnam War POW and failed Senate candidate John Borling. The thrust of the column was that Borling was a brave and determined man who spent his life struggling for his principles, in endevours that, in one way or another, ultimately failed. The piece ends with a quote where Borling sees himself through the lens of Sisyphus, saying “my view is that our job is to get the rock up and over the hill and once you do, the rock rolls down the other side, and what do you see? You see another hill. The essence of life is really just pushing rocks.” I found the sentiment oddly comforting - focusing on results is, ultimately misguided, we can only control our effort and process in trying succeed in life.

Of course the idea that success is not only not guaranteed  but is likely to be unrealized or at least incomplete isn't exactly the most comforting one. That's where Carrie Rodriguez comes in. I recently wrote about a song stuck in the middle of her wonderful new album that has helped me hold onto a little optimism. "Get Back In Love" is an wonderful wisp of a song where Rodriguez reminds us that it only takes a little nudge, 
be it a slow dance, a soft smile or, fittingly "an old country song," to rekindle our passion and remind us of what makes all the effort of everyday life actually worth the frustration.

And speaking of falling back in love, I'm pretty sure the White Sox are playing baseball today. They're basking in warm sunshine on green grass under clear blue skies. And while Chicago is being coated with a healthy dollop of slushy heart attack snow, I know that ballgame in Arizona is a vision of my future and I love it. 

Everything - Public Enemy  Buy Evil Empire of Everything
Mr. Follow Follow - Fela Kuti  Buy Best of the Black President 2
Get Back In Love - Carrie Rodriguez  Buy Give Me What You Got

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