Sunday, November 25, 2012

Inertia: The Enemy Within

Sorry for the over-serious, sci-fi title to this entry!

Inertia is something that annoys me about myself. And I'm sure I'm not alone. It's that sense of wanting to do something, learn something, change something about myself...knowing that if I do it I'll be really happy, even if I just take the first step - and yet...not getting off my butt and actually doing anything.

The most obvious example in my life is physical fitness. When I'm into something like martial arts or cycling or lifting I'm dedicated to it and I love it. Once I fall out of the habit, I feel like I need a stick of dynamite up my ass to get moving again! I'm just now getting back into lifting on a regular basis after working some horrendous hours, but I'm still forcing myself to go each morning. Other things in life are like that as well: practicing piano, drawing, meditation. Right now, everything feels that way. Inertia rules me at the moment. Unlike.  

Inertia is insidious; I always have a good excuse for being in my rut. Right now, the excuse is work. "I work so many hours, and I'm so tired when I get home that I don't want to do anything but decompress in front of the TV. Blah blah blah..." It's a legitimate excuse sure, but that's why it's so insidious. The fact is that I know when I lift or draw or practice piano or do martial arts or meditate or do anything I value that I'm much happier afterwards. It even helps me not mind the nasty thing that I'm using as an excuse as much. I just feel better about myself and my life.

So why don't I get up and just do something? Anything! Especially when I know it will make me happy? Inertia, that's why. Inertia is my resistance to that little effort required to stop being a slug. It blocks my way like a pile of dead walrus carcasses. And it self-perpetuates. Inertia creates a 'sameness' to each day in life. For example, I've been going to work and working hard and coming home and relaxing and then sleeping. That's pretty much been my day for the last several months: an unpleasantly predictable existence. That sameness breeds passivity, and this makes it harder to kill the inertia by introducing an element of change.

What shocks me out of this is destroying the sameness. That's why time off is so important or going out with friends. It breaks the monotony, even if only a little. That gets me focusing on other things or other people or some new experience or input. That can be enough to get things rolling and let me cut through the inertia. It's like when I hit a plateau in lifting weights. To get past it, I have to change my routine to shock my body into continuing to adapt. If I don't, my body gets used to the routine and I stagnate. Life is the same way.

Got a whole lot of time off let's see if I can shake this rut off. Die inertia die!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Louis-Ferdinand Celine - Journey to the End of the Night

I haven't posted much lately, but I have been reading. Just had a very challenging book on my plate. I'm fascinated by Paris in the early 20th Century: the explosion of philosophy, the unprecedented freedom of expression, the manifestos, the radicalism, all of it. It seems to be such an exciting time for a creative person to have been alive, as if the air was electric with change and genius. (I clearly romanticize the period a bit!).

Much of the literature is absurdist, existentialist, even nihilistic as writers shattered standards, social norms, and revolutionized self-expression. As a result, much of the literature is rather black in outlook. For some reason, though, I have always found this literature stimulating, even when it is downbeat, because of the questions being asked and dealt with. My latest read from the period is the infamous Journey to the End of the Night by the equally infamous Louis-Ferdinand Celine.

Celine published Journey to the End of the Night  in 1934, and I believe it was his first novel. It was a success but also shocked the critics of the time. The shock value may have faded a bit by now, but what remains shocking about Celine's writing is the unmitigated revulsion and social cruelty bleeding from every sentence of his prose.

In one sense, Journey to the End of the Night builds off the realism of Zola. It takes a detailed, semi-autobiographical approach to the 'story'. However, there is no plot, no true conflict, and no character development. What we do get is a very clear view of the narrator's reflections on his life and the people around him. The narrator - named Ferdinand Bardamu - is a directionless failure, battered by life, and moving from one negative environment to the next, always feeling alienated and alone (and even hated). Add to this a strong nihilistic streak and Celine's prose, which is very casual and colloquial, and you have something thoroughly 'modern' in purpose and style.

Celine writes with utter candor, his brutal observations and acidic black humor adding a layer of omnipresent loathing to the bleak potpourri of the novel. That said, Celine has a wonderful command of language and is able to deliver stunning turns of phrase to perfectly capture the thoughts he wants to get across. This can be thought-provoking as well as appalling. A few choice lines/images:
- "My soul was as obscene as an open fly."
- "He had always been afraid of life, and now he attached his fear to something different, to death, to his blood pressure, just as for forty years he had attached it to the peril of not being able to finish paying for the house."
- "Youth may be nothing more than a hurry to grow old."
- "The morning papers hang yellow and limp, an enormous artichoke of news going bad."
- "Good work is tolerated only when hammed up."

He is also able to deliver images to illustrate his view of life. The image that has stuck with me most is from the following passage. This sums up Journey to the End of the Night quite well and also neatly encapsulates Celine's view of life and humanity:

"The crowd was outside a butcher shop. You had to squeeze into the circle to see what was going on. It was a pig, an enormous pig. He was groaning in the middle of the circle, like a man who's being pestered, but louder. The people were tormenting him, they never stopped. They'd twist his ears just to hear him squeal. He'd tug at his rope and try to escape and squirm and wriggle his feet in the air. Other people would poke him and prod him, and he'd bellow even louder with the pain. Everyone was laughing more and more.

"The pig couldn't manage to hide...He couldn't escape from those people, and he knew it. He kept urinating the whole time, but that didn't help him either...No hope. Everybody was laughing. The butcher back in his shop was exchanging signs and jokes with his customers and gesticulating with a big knife."

No lack of clarity there. Journey to the End of the Night represents - without doubt - the bleakest view of humanity and life I have ever encountered in a serious novel. The characters careen through events and experiences which suggest that - to Celine - life (the journey to the end of the night of the title) is a meaningless gauntlet of torment to endure before we die. As a result, the vices and crimes of characters are rarely described with the dramatic flair or outrage one might encounter in the novels of Camus or Zola. The vice is natural, the crimes irrelevant. His people are too jaded to find drama in anything and too petty and/or aware of the hopelessness of life to be outraged.

As I said, I find the literature of this period stimulating despite it's sometimes black tone. However, this book was almost too much even for me. The fidelity of Celine to his pessimism and disgust for life is artistically impressive, but it makes for a very tough read. I will also say that Celine sometimes loses control of his material, with sections of the novel lacking purpose. The book could have been condensed by perhaps 50-100. At the same time, the drudgery of the book is part of the point.

As always, I like to visit these dark corners of the human psyche, so I'm glad I've read Celine. If nothing else, I've expanded my education. Will I read another book by him? I'll give an answer I think Celine would approve of: What the hell for?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

New to the Rotation

I love exploring music, having new sounds to listen to, and (sometimes) finding things off the beaten track. Here's some of the stuff I've picked up over the last six months or so.

Mirage of Deep - The Garden of Gaia
The Lemongrassmusic label has captured my imagination over the last year or two, and this release by Spanish duo Mirage of Deep is a no exception. These guys have created a beautiful piece of ambient music on this effort. It's a fairly brief listen (24 minutes), but the mixture of ambient sensibilities, natural sounds, rhythm, and production flourishes is one of the best I've heard in a long time. Great set of tracks to listen to when relaxing or to get lost in by listening with attention. Beautiful.

Aimee Mann - Charmer
I'm not much into the indie genre as a rule. For me, the gestalt of indie-rock is college-slacker-geek mentality with wimpy instrumentation and whiny vocals. Unlike. However, I've found myself perusing some of it lately (still haven't bought much though). Aimee Mann is an artist I was introduced to back in the 80s via her fantastic band Til Tuesday. The better the band got, the worse their records sold. I'd lost track of Mann during the 90s as she drifted into the indie rock arena, but this album rekindles some of her pop brilliance. Plus the tone of her mumbling, resigned vocals have always appealed to me. Good to check back in with her.

Willie Nelson - Heroes
When people say they like all kinds of music, the footnote to the comment is usually: "except country and rap". I think people dislike the genres because 95% of the music created in them is derivative crap by poseurs out to make a buck. But both genres came from people who were not represented in the dominant music of the time (e.g., poor, rural whites and poor, urban non-whites). So there are good artists out there in the morass of each genre's overpopularity. Nelson is of course a major talent, survivor, and free spirit. His voice is not what it used to be, but the clarity of the recording on Heroes and the sincerity of the performances makes up for it. Straightforward country. Plus, Nelson's duet with Snoop Dogg on an ode to pot called "Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die" is one of the funnest musical moment of the year.

Another indie band. I heard about this UK duo in the pages of The Advocate (or Out, can't recall but they seem to be largely the same magazine). They were also Vogue's Band of the Week at one point. So, okay, they have some pretentious pubs touting them, but I have to say that their hypnotic, ominous sound appeals to me on a gut level. The best way to describe it is if you imagine the sound of the Byrds updated to the 21st Century and then given a make-over by goth chicks. Just digging into this CD, but it's my go-to disk on dark, stormy days.

Amorphous Androgynous - the Peppermint Tree & the Seeds of Superconsciousness
Amorphous Androgynous - Alice in Ultraland
In an earlier post, I mentioned how I had rediscovered my love for the Future Sound of London and learned to appreciate their 2003 disk The Isness. Amorphous Androgynous is a FSOL side project (or maybe FSOL is the side project at this point?).  I picked up these two CDs to catch-up with the band's output. Both are recordings made using the same neo-psychedelic, hippie art rock ethos that drove The Isness. Good for getting into when I want something acoustic/organic and creative in a somewhat twee sense. Again, I have yet to deeply delve into these two recordings as yet but the first listen was enjoyable.

Daughn Gibson - All Hell
Learned about this indie artist in the pages of BOMB magazine. The sound is so unique that I just had to have it. Definitely an album to stretch your ears. I can't figure out where to classify this on my iPod. It's acoustic core and vaguely country feel made me place it under my Roots category, but the production and overall sound leans much closer to trip-hop. Gibson's vocals add a whole other layer of genre-shattering to the mix. His phrasing can suggest Nebraska-era Springsteen, but his delivery also tends to evoke the gloom of brands like Depeche Mode. Knowing he's a dark-haired, manly hunk of man makes listening to his deep voice especially niiiiiiice. Thirty minute length is perfect for something this odd to my ears.

Vanessa Daou - Love Among the Shadowed Things
This thirty minute recording is a bit like a spoken word, prose poem, sound-effects collage, rather than a piece of music. Vanessa Daou's sultry voice always creates an intellectual exotica that you won't hear anywhere else. I've listened to the four tracks several times, but because this is a digital download there is no access to lyrics. I really need to go online and pick them up as Daou's work is as much about the lyrics as about the music. I'm sure I'll get more out of it with a better feel for the prose poem at the core of this work. Side note: I'm really liking some of these short releases. You can listen to the whole thing over and over without a huge commitment of time. The CD introduced longer play time for releases, but for a smaller price I'd forego the extra music in exchange for sharper focus.

Bengt Eklund's Baroque Ensemble - Courtly Trumpet Music
Continuing to scratch my unending itch for old music. This recording of trumpet processional music brings to mind kings and queens riding horses, surrounded by knights, as they make their way to their castle through an old European city with crowds of common people watching. However, the mood and tone of these pieces has a good variety. Some are triumphant and courtly, while others have a minor tone to them that makes them almost wistful. For me, it also doesn't hurt that four of the pieces are composed by Diabelli.

Queerboi Playlist Additions
I created a category on my iPod call Queerboi that contains all songs fitting a guilty musical pleasure of mine: silly, frothy dance music about sex. You know, stuff like "Rocket to Uranus' by the Vengaboys, "Best Friend' by Toy-Box, or "Boys" by Smile. It's not deep. It's not challenging. At best, the lyrics are doggerel, with rhymes straight out of Dr. Seuss. It's silly and fun (and it's about sex). It's also really good to work out to! There's a very specific sound and feel I'm looking for in songs I buy for the Queerboi playlist. Some recent adds:
- "Addiction" - Medina
- "Freak" - The True Star
- "Gimme More" - Bodybangers f/ Victoria Kern
Check some of this out!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Election 2012

It's over!

Despite all the drama, what I will remember most about this election were the lines of people waiting to vote in states like Ohio and, especially, Florida. People waiting in line for as much as seven hours to exercise their right as citizens in a democracy. Too often we see evidence of people - most often, unfortunately, politicians - abusing or undermining our system of government. It's images like this that helps me believe maybe things aren't totally going to hell in a hand basket.

I suppose cynics will say that it really doesn't matter who you vote for in elections in terms of who's 'running things' in this country, but I disagree. Not only did people step up the plate when it would have been a lot easier to go home and watch Glee on TiVo, but we also found that money may but a lot in America but it can't guarantee you an election win. There were so many races where candidates were outspent by out of state donors by obscene ratios. And yet in so many of those races, the big money lost. That says something to me.

Not saying I support all the underdog candidates who won, but it's good to know people are making choices and an effort to take part in the process. As long as that's happening, I say: "Way to go, USA!"