double-take

Holy shit, he trips up onto the source of his anger so effortlessly. It’s like when I realized why I became so instantly furious when ever someone starts whining about their mom calling or texting or being, you know, cognizant and alive. In retrospect it’s as obvious to me now as it is to Ames here. But it’s such a parochial kind of fury, the kind that belongs in character backstories and not in life, that you don’t always expect it. I am more sensible than that, you think.

But you aren’t.

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In a similar vein as the “I’m not a Christian but–” Gilead posts, the old holiday songs are just amazing.

I have always loved them. Especially the loud choral pieces that almost seem to threaten you with glory. Like O Holy Night, for example, at the “fall on your knees” part. It’s not a suggestion — it’s a command. Fall on your goddamned knees. I have always loved that. They’re trying to tell you something good, but it should bowl you over. I respect that, and can see it in so many places beyond just a religious context. When the old man in Home Alone cries seeing his daughter sing it on the fuzzy TV, I was sold forever on this song.

(…If I were someone else, in some other time, I could have been such a fierce believer, both because I set so much stock in the power of story (and less so in the facts of history, malleable as they are), and because I am unfailingly loyal, unfashionably so, past all sense says to abandon a person or cause. But…the same mechanisms that cause me to revile academia operate in organized religion, and have always done so. And in a world where you can receive knowledge and the constant questioning of it in other venues, without those superfluous and damaging trappings of hierarchy and status, I cannot do it. I cannot pretend to ignore all the crap they dump on top, between you and what matters.)

And spirals! Where one section is going up and another is going down and they pass each other along the way. Like Angels We Have Heard On High. I sang that once in a choir, because my friend was devout and in a choir and when she left my school I didn’t want to lose her, and man. That song. Singing it as part of a huge group. Our music director was a skeevy guy; his children were alternately skeevy like him and nakedly desperate for his affection; he was everything that was wrong with that church wrapped up in one thick-necked package. But being part of that tide of voices rolling out over an audience, like Gandalf’s river horses in Fellowship of the Ring. It’s magnificent. It feels magnificent, to be a part of.

I know, I know, it’s designed to be that way. What did Sam Sykes tweet the other day? That most of art history is fanart; it’s just that for a long time Jesus was the only fandom? If you were brilliant with your voice or your brush, for most of history you were probably using those tools to praise one god or another. I get that.

(But I also recognize that I’m that annoying person who goes around listening to movie soundtracks half the time. Because they’re epic! But also because, maybe, it makes you a little epic, listening to them? For however long they last, anyway. The fastest mile I’ve run in the past decade was while listening to First Class from the X-Men soundtrack. I don’t even like the X-Men. I mean, at all. But that song. Or, right after it, on the same playlist, Audiomachine. They came into existence to score trailers, and that’s exactly what it sounds like, and I don’t care. I’ve never run faster. Maybe it’s a narcissistic millennial thing. That instead of letting someone else’s words form the backdrop to my efforts, I choose wordless orchestral pieces, as though it were a training montage, something people shot and edited with purpose. But I only mention this to point out that I’m intimately aware of the allure of art, not even earnest art but mass-produced marketing art, telling you you’re important, and how easy it is to overlook or ignore all that’s attached to that movie or song in exchange for the momentary sense that that theme is for you. Even when it’s not and never will be.)

I mean, listen to Julie Andrews sing Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. When she tells you to join the triumph of the skies, it is a party you definitely want in on. And O Come All Ye Faithful? Who doesn’t want to be joyful and triumphant? Pre-nazi Germany sure as hell did…oh. Right.

And maybe that’s another reason for my distrust of that kind of group-based joy. It’s too easily harnessed and manipulated. The best I can manage is a kind of mental cosplay of grandeur and fellowship, listening to these songs, before I remember that after that swell of voices dies down, everyone in the choir will go home and vote and say terrible things to their kids, and cause those kids to grow up and go out into the world and carry that poison with them.

That’s, I guess, what I keep expecting to hit in Gilead. But so far his humility has managed to keep him from seeming manipulative. Not just his humility but his bending what remains of himself toward small moments of beauty — hoping his son sees such moments to be beautiful — rather than toward harsh lines drawn in the sand past which one must not cross. Even if some people need strict rules to live by, like those bars that keep people from falling out of beds in hospitals, still, for your primary source of identity to come from the enforcement of those rules, rather than from helping people see what matters in the world that crafted them…you’re kind of a charlatan, at that point. You may go on about angels singing yes but you’re here to say no, over and over. And that’s shallow. People deserve better.

If you don’t believe that, you shouldn’t be shepherding them across a street, let alone through the dark chasms of their lives.

well hell

Seriously? Does dementia have to be in this too? Can I not enjoy one damn thing out of its shadow?

If you have ever wanted to tell me to shut up about it, and I never do, this is why. It’s everygoddamnwhere.

Fuck.

*nodnod*

I swear half this book leaves my head dizzy from nodding agreement, and the rest twists my heart in recognition.

How many parents have fucked this up? (Spoiler: lots. The answer is lots.)

And:

And:

I wonder if people grow tired of the random odes to benign things that strike him as beautiful. If that is a criticism leveled at the book. Are we supposed to be tired of this? Because I’m not. Even when they lead us smack-dab into a sermon-y bit, I don’t mind. I can’t imagine this needs reiteration, but I am no Christian. But you don’t need to give two figs about a dead guy in a toga to recognize the fleeting nature of things and thus the necessity of your awe. You don’t need any religion to see that.

According to all the blurbs all over this book though, it was very well-received. Where are people who did so? Where is the world that praised this? What happened to it?

it seemed to me to be half sadness and half fury

I bought this book while shopping with other people, but though I’d finished another book and could have started it then, I didn’t, laying it aside. I’d picked it up and read the first few pages and wanted it immediately (and I didn’t even love Housekeeping, which I bought years ago for its American paperback cover, which I still wish I could find in a print form and hang on my wall), but I wanted to wait until I was completely alone to read it. Where no one could stop me and ask why I was pausing or looking thoughtful or whatever. Your choice then is either to demurr, which can be off-putting, or give up your thoughts half-formed, and in doing that you mangle them. Good luck sorting it out later, once you’ve already exported your muddled musings as something finite and solid. It’s like concrete; once you’ve poured it there’s no re-forming it, barring a jackhammer.

But now I’m alone and can read this. I know there is always some resentment about the Iowa school (vs New York) and I don’t care. I am only interested in what this books says to me…what this old man advises me, as his son, to whom he writes this letter. Because in life people don’t do this. I tried to get my grandfather to do it before I was old enough to realize how rude it was to ask. And my mother too, though it wasn’t rude then, because she asked if there was anything I wanted from her before she lost her mind, and I said if she could write to any unborn children I might have, I would be grateful, because I loved her and they’d never get to know her.

I don’t think she managed it, and that’s okay. Even if she had, my father threw away so many of her things in a fury over her illness that I don’t think it would have survived anyway.

But I will take the imagined advice of a fictional old man invented by a real woman hailing from the broader world of academia for which I hold little love, because I will take such kind words where I can. It’s not that I don’t think people mean to tell their loved ones these things, usually. They do. But they wait too long, or become too shy, or convince themselves that what is unsaid is understood. Never assume that. When I do something or doubt something and wonder what my mom would think or do, I know the answer because she talked to me. Not just about her hopes that panned out but those that didn’t, and her fears. If you don’t say anything, your ghost will be frail and silent in your absence. And whatever you think of yourself — maybe you think that’s for the best — the people you leave will miss you all the more, for having so little to cling to.

Anyway. Gilead. Given how much better The Finishing School was than all Gail Godwin’s endless minister books, I had laid aside Reverend So-and-So Talks About Life-type books for a long time (~20 years). I don’t know why I’m drawn so immediately to this one. Maybe because he’s dying. Or because he hasn’t yet turned his regrets into a sermon. Or because he’s stuck at an observational distance from everyone around him — “they want you to be a little apart” — and, like with Amergin in Morgan Llywellyn’s Bard, I’m embarrassingly attracted to that, because the description of that kind of a life reads to me as a kind of forgiveness. Even if I somewhat obviously am neither of those things.

like the road to solitude (but much, much warmer)

Today, in honor of Skyrim’s switch release, I walked 13 miles to the sea, laid down my pack for a pillow, and slept.

Along the way I assuredly literally and not remotely poetically got trapped in the angels’ gated community, and I was so frustrated at being stuck that I stomped back across the ridge that had dumped me there and turned south toward the sea.

I figured it was a very Skyrim thing to do. An even more Skyrim thing to do would have been to grab a mead at the end of the trail, but a.) although I enjoy mead, they don’t here, and b.) in an effort not to be constantly checking the location of my wallet in the backcountry, I left all my IDs at home. Alas.

I did bring appropriate music, though. I suppose it is in poor taste to repost a commercial, but never has a commercial’s music choice more adequately expressed what I seek to gain out of their product:

random music fridays : gather your pub

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Last week Geek and Sundry’s Gather Your Party show did a Gather Your Pub edition. They drank and played public domain Irish drinking songs, and Erika Ishii rocked the everloving fuck out of the fiddle.

I was wrapped in blankets in front of an open window, alternately roasting and freezing to death, in the grip of a terrible head cold. I couldn’t see much of the stream because my eye kept watering. But I heard it.

When I lived in Japan, I used to put the Sims on across the room, just to hear people going about their lives. It didn’t matter, obviously, whether I heard what they were saying, since Sims speak gibberish. I just wanted to hear people.

This would be that, except it’s so much more, because it was startling and delightful as fuck-all to see people taking real joy in a thing I’d only pursued as an exclusively solitary activity for pretty much ever. Who, after all, likes Irish fiddle music? Not a soul I know. I don’t even have friends who like mixed drinks. And yet here was this raucous group of people, many of whom hadn’t known each other before this segment, having a damn good time singing and drinking and playing music together. It was the best, best thing to listen to when lonely and sick. Or when healthy for that matter. It was fucking great.

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