On a scale of 1 to 10

austris-augusts-140145
Standard

“What do you rate that on a scale of 1 to 10?”
“How annoying is it to be asked to rate something on a scale of 1 to 10?”

This is a question I have never asked, and will never ask. But it is asked frequently enough that I am used to it and respond to it.

An American friend recently told me that his Swedish ex-girlfriend constantly berated him for wanting everything to fit into this 1-to-10 rating scale. He felt fairly sure that this was a cultural difference – maybe non-Americans did not care for this stick-to-simple-numbers scale. I interrupted, “It’s not a Swedish thing; it’s a man thing.” Not that I know very many Swedish – or non-American – men who go straight to the 1-to-10 scale, but almost every American man I know uses this meaningless shorthand. He argued with me, “But women do take part – they always answer.” Again, I put a stop to it. “Yes,” I said, “They answer. They are conditioned to participate. It’s polite. The answer is something they know you will understand and expect. But think back: has a woman ever once asked you this question? Has a woman ever asked you to give anything a rating on a scale of 1 to 10?” No.

I have never asked the question; I have never met another woman who has or would ask this question. I know this is a sweeping generalization; I have no hard, scientific data backing up this claim, but women generally need more information, more detail, more nuance and more shading when they receive a value-oriented evaluation of something. Men always initiate this question, and even if women will humor them and participate by providing an answer, they don’t usually (in my experience) pose the question.

Take note.

Safe in Sweden: Intent versus content

sebastian-davenport-handley-146346
Standard

Nothing at all has happened in Sweden – nothing out of the ordinary.

Various disciplines focus on the form versus content debate. I’m not going to get into the philosophical or artistic underpinnings of this discussion.

I will only make two points/observations.

First, we live in a time when the content of news does not matter because, according to the current US president, it’s all fake (at least, that is, if he doesn’t like it). Form still matters because of course the loudest, widest platform is going to carry the “fake news” (the facts) out to broader audiences – as well as the fairground funhouse that is the Trump administration and its lies. This past weekend, Trump invented an incident in Sweden – bloviating as usual – decrying how Sweden has basically gone to hell in a hand basket due to its welcoming refugees into the country. The ‘incident’ he cites, of course, never happened. All of Sweden is wondering what the hell he is talking about. (But then, who doesn’t wonder what he is talking about most of the time?)

My second thought, by extension, is about intent. Maybe the content (or the veracity of it) does not matter; maybe even the form is secondary. But what about intent? Trump may well know that nothing happened in Sweden – but his intent with virtually everything he says and does is to obfuscate fact, plant seeds of doubt and confuse people (there are apparently people out there who take the things he says at face value, believe them, pass them on; some even believe that some event did occur in Sweden, and that the entire world, Sweden included, is conspiring to cover it up?!). We will all busy ourselves making fun of this blunder to the degree that we will (continue to) be distracted from whatever shady and nefarious dealings are actually happening right under our noses.

I had a discussion with someone the other day about conversations and letters we exchanged early in our acquaintance. He asked me what I feel about them now that many years have passed. I laughed and said, “I can’t believe how full of shit they are.” He was pretty offended, even hurt (misinterpreting what I said, taking it personally). He explained that he had remembered the flow, the feeling and sense of possibility – and moreover, the intent – much more than he remembered the actual content. It made a lot of sense – he has always been more of a feeling and intent person. I, on the other hand, always hang onto the content itself (another dear friend said the other day, and I loved this: “as a person who values words so very very much, how when I am misled by words it’s not the words themselves but the complete lack of value that the speaker puts in them”. As always she hit the nail on the head; another great example of her eloquence and wisdom). It was perhaps the first time I really thought somewhat academically about content versus intent (even though I write all the time about people’s words versus actions, which is essentially the same debate). We cannot always know intent but as a part of analysis and “reading” people and moderating our own expectations, inferring/predicting intent may be our saving grace. Or at least save us a whole lot of trouble.

On the other hand, acting on what you imagine someone’s intent may be is dangerous. It’s like arresting someone before they commit a crime or, like Trump, deciding that every Muslim or every refugee is some kind of terrorist sleeper agent. He “infers intent” – but based on nothing. That is the difference. You don’t assume someone’s intent without taking in the content and context in which it lives.

Congo

Standard

Africa is a training ground for the character, but also a graveyard for illusions.” -Vladimir Drachoussoff, Russo-Belgian agricultural engineer and diarist (reflecting on his time in Congo, including some remarkably prophetic writings on Congo’s future after colonialism)

(Congolese Lament – Liwa Wechi – Miriam Makeba)

It has taken me years to finish Congo: The Epic History of a People by David van Reybrouck. It even took me years to buy the book after seeing it in a bookstore. Once I had it in hand, it was like so many other books – I picked it up and put it down, reading the introduction more than once, but only now have I finished the entire near-600 page volume. Despite its length there are things I would love to learned about in greater depth (but perhaps can find more information on these points elsewhere). In the meantime, though, I still learned a lot of things. I could ramble on and on about it. No point.

Some notable bits (entirely leaving out discussions on the post-independence madness of an inexperienced, revolving-door government and assassinations, the ruthless power-grab of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and his rule, followed by post-Mobutu DRC and internecine civil war):

Slavery: “Traditionally, slavery in Central Africa was seen principally as a matter not of robbing you of your freedom, but of uprooting you from your social setting. It was gruesome, to be sure, but for reasons other than commonly assumed. In a society so characterized by social feeling, “the autonomy of the individual” did not equal liberty at all, as Europeans had been proclaiming since the Renaissance, but loneliness and desperation. You are who you know; if no one knows you, you are nothing. Slavery was not being subjugated, it was being separated, from home.”

Congo in WWII: “The fact that Congolese paramedics cared for Burmese civilians and British soldiers in the Asian jungle is a completely unknown chapter in colonial history and one that will soon vanish altogether.”

Post WWII: “The whites’ authority was being challenged, albeit subtly. Something had changed in the balance of power. Many Congolese were very well aware that the colony had proved stronger than the metropolis. Belgium had been crushed: Congo had remained on its feet and achieved military triumphs.”

On independence: “The chronology of events brought to light a paradox that could be noted at best, but not resolved: the decolonization had begun much too late, independence came much too early. Disguised as a revel, the breakneck emancipation of Congo was a tragedy that could only end in disaster.”

Random Gum: Spring into Action 2017

img_0657
Standard

I never intended for this springtime playlist to grow to such massive proportions. It’s just that I was exposed to so much music – so much sound – so much joy – so much pain in the last few months, and this is the result. My experience and memory filtered into an auditory blueprint. Effortlessly. It’s long – so long – but I did not feel like censoring or making choices because I do that all the rest of the time in my life. You don’t have to listen or like this compilation of 110 bloody songs (although on the burned discs I’ve mailed by post, it looks like maybe only 109 of them actually worked – sorry)… but I am sharing all of it anyway because it’s just what I do.

I never imagine that very much happens or changes in my life, but then when I have an opportunity to reflect, I realize that major things have happened almost weekly over the course of the last six months…. I won’t go into the minutiae of that. I will only say that, as ever, nothing is settled. I am spending a lot of time thinking, reading and writing… and it’s all I feel like doing. It makes for a bit of an insular life that yields very little to tell/share (other than ‘insights’ or takeaways from the things I read and listen to…).

The postal versions (to those for whom I have postal addresses) are going out in the mail this week.

To move on you must move through… Love to all of you.

Random Gum: Moving on Again – How to live with a phantom: Spring into action 2017
(Almost) complete playlist on Spotify.

01. Ed Harcourt – Born in the 70s
Thanks to MP & chats on generational issues. “But can you count on me?/I might let you down/In a world that is so sensational/No you can count on me/I’m living for the now/Up against the older generation’s wall”

02. The Shacks – This Strange Effect …and I like the way you kiss me, don’t know if I should/but this feeling is love and I know that’s why I feel good…

03. The Associates – Love Hangover …I don’t need no cure…
Thanks to William

04. Psychic Twin – Hopeless …And I remain hopelessly alone in the heart/Like I’ve always been from the start…

05. Bubblegum Lemonade – As Dead as Disco …I’m San Francisco; you are New York…
Thanks to some random Glaswegian Twitter guy

06. Girl Ray – Trouble …I don’t want to win anymore, Cause honey, winning it just make me feel sore…
Trouble always finds me. Slight 70s sound; good lead-in tone and theme wise to “The Lonely Man”

07. The Incredible Hulk TV theme song – The Lonely Man
For SD

08. Howard Jones – Things Can Only Get Better
Planned to include this (thinking 2017 could only be better after 2016 – wrong so far!) and then realized dear Bethany also put it on a recent mix she sent – and even gave the mix this title.

09. Bill Ryder-Jones – You Can’t Hide a Light with the Dark …The way you fall apart/I still adore it…
“The light’s on in your backroom/Are you with him/Are you with him/The lights off and it’s darkness/You’re so heartless”

10. Maud Lübeck – Mon amourenboîte
Thanks to Laurent

11. Palehound – Cinnamon …Mellow, cringing ugly fellows/Mixing water into gin/And chasing it with cinnamon…

12. Minor Victories – Breaking My Light …Will these shadows lift/They’ve been breaking my light…
Thanks and love to MP, who once or twice helped lift some shadows

13. Rabbit is Rich – Kick Your Ass
More thanks to the incomparable William, king of Christmas cards and cool music mixes

14. Andrew Bird – Tin Foil …What is moving will be still/What has gathered will disperse…
“Evil Knievel shot up from dead grass/And I loved him better each time that he crashed”

15. Maria Andersson – The Girl Who Loved Islands
Probably just because I am nothing if not an island girl at heart

16. Bill Pritchard – Mother Tongue …They lived in separate countries, as we watched their future unfurl…
“What’s that you mean?/I don’t think I caught your tone/Say that again in your mother tongue”

17. Max Shrager – Thoughts of You …to hold onto my thoughts of you…

18. The War on Drugs – Red Eyes
Always a driving song… don’t drive as much as I used to but still need songs for the road

19. Boy & Bear – Southern Sun …You see I’m not gonna wait till the end of me/’Cause I got the burning fire in bed of my soul…

20. Crystal Stilts – The Dazzled …It can’t be saved. It’s already lost, it thrives on my resistance/We are bound and marching to an ever static distance…

21. Vetiver – Can’t You Tell …Look ahead where our future hides/But the world waits wide-eyed…

22. Trailer Trash Tracys – You Wish You Were Red …Oh my darling, you’re a dying red star…

23. Steve Mason – The Letter …could it be that you don’t know me any more?…
Was supposed to see this dude twice within a week (Gothenburg and Oslo). Canceled. It was not how I had imagined anyway, so just as well that none of it happened.

24. Cass McCombs – There Can Be Only One
“Like a master’s baptism of fire/I know you have your ways/And two masters at once, no man can acquire/You set my heart ablaze”

25. Japanese Breakfast – The Woman that Loves You …You should try to do as little harm as you can to the woman that loves you…

26. Neko Case, kd lang, Laura Veirs – Down I-5 …Driving down I-5/I don’t ever want to die/Cause I’d no more get to see/All this beauty passing by me…
How many fruitless trips down I-5 have I taken? “You know you’re living if you’ve sinned”

27. Thelma – If You Let It …lines are crossed of will and fear/it is ringing loud and clear…
“Feel the limits you put/on yourself and those around you/you deserve more, you deserve more”. Here’s to seizing more.

28. Chelsea Wolfe – Appalachia …like black diamonds, ash and light/like the mines and anthracite…

29. Timber Timbre – Velvet Gloves & Spit

30. Totally Mild – Christa …It doesn’t matter what you do/It only matters who you do it with…

31. Childish Gambino – Me and Your Mama
For Naomi, who did not realize Donald Glover was Childish Gambino.

32. Houndstooth – Canary Island …it’s never been quite right/always taking things to dark inside/a restless mind is hard please/most of the time…
“Oh to be the dust that covers/everything”

33. Hefner – Half a Life …Life without my sweetheart is only half a life…

34. Stereolab – Ping Pong
Socialism in song… hitting the musical ball back and forth with MP

35. Beachbuggy – Japanese Radio Ad
More Japanese noise and more love to MP
36. AdriAnne Lenker – Jonathan …listen up, I’m a wreck I’m a mess, this is not the effect/Of a loss or a vex, this is you…
“Let me be the honest home where you can rest/Your tired mind”

37. Tinariwen – Cler Achel
A very Al Jazeera documentary-loving, Henry-Rollins-style travels kind of music

38. Chelsea Wolfe – Flatlands …I want flatlands/will you go there with me…
“When it’s said in the dark and you know it’s always there/when it’s dead in our heart but your mind is unafraid/when it’s said in the dark and you know it’s never coming back/when it’s there in your heart in your mind you set it free”

39. Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker – I Never Learned French
Where have all my French connections gone?
40. Cats on Fire – It’s Clear Your Former Lover
Funnish Finns. “Now, it’s possible he may have been the one who loved you the most/I don’t want to compete and I don’t like the smell of his ghost”

41. The Horrors – Still Life (Connan Mockasin remix) …Slow down/give it time…
Preferred this remix to the original; sitting in a shopping mall parking lot waiting for a friend, listening and absorbing the message: “Don’t hurry, give it time. Things are the way they have to be.”

42. Baxter Dury – Other Men’s Girls

43.Morgan Delt – Some Sunsick Day …After the blast levels our town/We can relax and watch it come down…
“After we start over again/We’ll start to feel safe in our skin/Maybe we’ll be wrinkled and grey/Or maybe we’ll get new plastic faces/We’ll finally find what we need”

44. Vashti Bunyan – Love Song
Thanks to, love for MP

45. Space Needle – Before I Lose My Style …I tried to be it all/when I left you behind…

46. Galaxie 500 – Snowstorm
Thoughts of MP and an almost-snowless winter

47. Itasca – No Consequence
With love for Annette – plenty of consequences.

48. The Limiñanas – Down Underground

49. Jenny Hval – Conceptual Romance …I want to give up but I can tell/My heartbreak is too sentimental for you…
This song is everything. ”A sexual holding pattern/Stuck in erotic self-oscillation/This landmine of a heart/The only one I’ve ever had/I’ve ever had”; “So I lose my gaze to keep you/Creating a curve for the eyes/A rejected body/And losing it is constant, but such a lonely place/What can I say?/I don’t know who I am, but/I’m working on it…”

50. Psychic Ills – Mind Daze …I’m doing fine/when I’m out of my mind…

51. Suuns – 2020

52. Minor Victories – Give Up the Ghost …When you act like I’m nothing to you/Make me feel like I’ve been replaced/I could tear you apart/Leave a brand-new scar…
53. Amber Arcades – Constant’s Dream …It’s not different we’re just getting used to it/But we’ve always known what to expect…
“Our bodies are full and nobody is trying/It’s not like we don’t want to, we’re just not desiring”

54. Still Parade – Walk in the Park
Poetry, Wanstead Park and Denise Levertov’s ark-of-the-ache-of-it connection: “Wanstead drew me over and over into its basic poetry”. For MP

55. Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker – Something Familiar

56. Twin Limb – Don’t Even Think

57. Nice as Fuck – Door …All the shit that we talk is a smokescreen/It’s a waste of your time/A waste of my being…

58. Family Friends – Look the Other Way …I think there’s some things you forgot from when we used to talk a lot…

59. Chastity Belt – Seattle Party …Your life is so raw/You’ve been through so much…

60. Pixie Geldof – Wild Things Grow
Not anything I ever anticipated including despite lifelong weird obsession with Bob Geldof; thanks to Travis, this finds its way here
61. Lee Hazlewood – Hey Cowboy
Love to Naomi

62. Matt Duncan – 1000 Boys …This record’s skipping on a sigh… (but not an Eliot sigh…)
“That I’m smitten with my worries and my doubts/No lovelorn prince would ever dare to sing about”
63. Shintaro Sakamoto – In a Phantom Mood
Japan time!

64. Allo Darlin’ – Kiss Your Lips …Then I kissed your lips and for a moment it was heavenly/Because you found me, baby/Baby I found you…

65. Weyes Blood – Seven Words …I want you mostly in the morning/when my soul is weak from dreaming…

66. Julia Jacklin – Pool Party …Said you’re sorry you were drinking through the day then/Only stopped to let your lungs take the hit/Said I won’t blame you now but you lost my love somehow/Then you jumped right in…
I sort of misjudged this song when I first heard it – kinda fitting when I really listened

67. The Innocence Mission – Bright as Yellow …And I do not want to be a rose/I do not wish to be pale pink/But flower scarlet, flower gold/And have no thorns to distance me…

68. I Break Horses – Winter Beats …When your heart in winter beats/Don’t let that cold blood freeze/Cause frozen love will bleed…
Represent the home team (Sweden!) and other people’s Spotify playlists

69. Kim Jung Mi – Haenim
I read about “Korean folk” music, which is like 60s folk rock and nothing to do with traditional Korean music. And you can hear that when you listen to this interesting, if odd, song.

70. Vivian Girls – Where Do You Run To …It’s alright just leave the light on, I will never ask you why/Once you’ve gone remains the question baby/Where do you go? Where do you go? Why do you leave me all alone?…

71. Sam Patch – St. Sebastian
Another one of those whose sound I like…

72. Amber Arcades – Right Now …But we could go right now/We could have another life…
“I made my mind up long ago/The road is long and slow/So many things to leave behind/But everyone can live their lie/I’m not even sure that I don’t like mine”

73. “J’ai perdu mon Eurydice” – from Orphee et Eurydice, Gluck, Donald Runnicles & Orchestra of San Francisco; Dawn Upshaw, Alison Hagley, Jennifer Larmore

74. Wasuremono – Cuddling
As the dear Scots say, to mean ‘cuddling’, “coorie in”
75. Spain – Nobody Has to Know …Girl we’ve fallen so in love/It was just a year ago/And you’ve kept it to yourself…

76. Blake Mills – Don’t Tell Our Friends About Me …I was wrong to turn honesty against you/And sure, some of them could use a good talk…
Seems like a timely kind of song, with thoughts of trying to keep secrets about people “fucking up”

77. King Creosote – And the Racket They Made …And your words chased round and round in my head/Last night…
To the peaceful days that started the year and the endless discography of King Creosote, which droned on all morning and throughout our entire absence when wandering through the cold countryside. “And the tide shrinks back into its womb/And I hope the empty shells and bones of your stories/Will litter and clutter the shores/And I hope that when I find them/I’ll remember how they danced/And the racket they made/When they were alive”

78. William Onyeabor – Ride on Baby …You don’t know why you love me so much, baby…
RIP William, king of Nigerian funk… reminds me of a weird time in my professional career working with insufferable hipsters who spent much of their lives in downward facing dog pose (since they had to be posing somehow…)

79. Glen Campbell – Guess I’m Dumb …The way I act don’t seem like me/I’m not on top like I used to be…
Acknowledging when you’re not on your A-game…

80. Nick Garrie – Can I Stay With You
Calm in the eye of the storm; love for MP

81. Cigarettes After Sex – K. …I remember when I first noticed that you liked me back/We were sitting down in a restaurant waiting for the check/We had made love earlier that day with no strings attached/But I could tell that something had changed how you looked at me then…
What a beautiful song… its combination of beauty and hope kinda makes me feel melancholy.

82. Bubblegum Lemonade – This is the New Normal
Hoping that the world we live in right now is not the new normal…

83. Tenniscoats – Hikoki
Thinking of back when my mom expanded her vocabulary to include the Japanese neko and hikooki

84. Spinning Coin – Albany …When the weather comes/It comes in measures/When the pain comes/Instead of pleasure…
“I don’t know I thought I knew you but I was wrong/I was impressed by your love for complexity”

85. Wolf Alice – Bros …Are you wild like me/Raised by wolves and other beasts…

86. The Duke Spirit – Serenade …slow you remind me/how to be silent/and your story leaves me wanting/and the way I feel is changing…

87. Desperate Journalist – Distance …oh your heart/a hurricane…
How much I want to create distance. “I’ve lost you” – yes, you have.
88. Surface to Air Missive – Time Being …I don’t know where you are now/but it’s someone else for all I know…
The guilt of unanswered/unreciprocated missives. Bigger than surface

89. Billy Bragg – Upfield
“I’ve got a socialism of the heart.” Nothing describes me better at this stage in life

90. Los Campesinos! – You! Me! Dancing!
Thanks to MP and his mad, made-up music ‘game’/DJing a Friday night from afar, as ever

91. Slowdive – Star Roving
To made-up middle-of-night games pitting songs against each other and admissions of never cottoning to Slowdive back in the old days

92. Minor Victories – Scattered Ashes (Song for Richard)

93. Cat’s Eyes – Drag …Oh you’ve been dragging me down…

94. Grouper – Headache …why does love keep letting me down?…

95. Antonio Carlos & Jocafi – Você Abusou
Something from the Cerys on 6 BBC Sunday radio, listened at someone’s suggestion

96. Dirty Projectors – Up in Hudson
Love and thanks to Andreas. The sound here is not mine, but the lyrics… dear, dear heavens

97. Tasseomancy – Dead Can Dance & Neil Young …fade into folk song…
Enjoyed getting lost in the sound…

98. Valerie June – Astral Plane
Thanks to Travis

99. Princess Chelsea – The Cigarette Duet
Thanks to dear Gabe and of course love for New Zealand

100. Super Furry Animals – Hermann Loves Pauline
Gute Nacht, mein Liebling, Roscoe

101. The Proper Ornaments – Memories …memories will go/slowly float away/but I can see your face/from here…

102. The Saxophones – New Tradition
“But I haven’t shown you my best part; it’s too hard, and I’m quick to judge”

103. Sibelius – In the Stream of Life (Rautavaara)
104. Robyn Hitchcock – Goodnight Oslo

105. Spell – Stone is Very Very Cold …my hand may tremble now and then/but my heart can never break again…

106. Julie Byrne – Follow My Voice …To me, this city’s hell/But I know you call it home/I was made for the green/Made to be alone…
“I’ve been called heartbreaker/For doing justice to my own/I, too, been a fault-finder/But that life is broke/How I love you/You’re the one my heart chose/And so I will be here”

107. Ultra Vivid Scene with Kim Deal – Special One
Watching the video on a hotel room bed in Oslo, nearing the end of the five-day bubble, memories of high school for me, an intro to something new for him

108. Sheryl Crow – The Book …I didn’t know by giving my hand/that I would be written down, sliced around, passed down, among strangers’ hands…
A mainstream thing you won’t know, a lot like Friends, but still has its place in pop culture. And this song has always struck me – writers as “voyeur, the worst kind of thief” of such personal details; always be on the defensive. “I read your book/and I find it strange/that I know that girl, I know her world/a little too well”

109. Steve Mason – Hardly Go Through …I’ve never cried over someone I hardly know/But I can feel it/Can you feel it?…
“In my head I hear a voice, they say/You made the wrong choice/And you don’t need me, you’ll never need me”

110. Blondie – Fade Away and Radiate …Electric faces seem to merge/Hidden voices mock your words…
The musical definition of my earliest childhood, still resonating as I burnish in middle age. Isn’t that what memory, intellect, age and living do? Haha. One can hope. “Ooh baby I hear you spend night time/Wrapped like candy in a blue, blue neon glow”

Contact melt: Habits and confidence

Standard

“I’m sad, sad… and I see you”

Yesterday it was bright, sunny and warm and the snow and ice that had covered everything completely melted. It promptly refroze around the time I was driving home in the evening. Once more I encountered the salt truck along the road, flinging salt pellets onto the glistening road surface and onto the car.

Otherwise it was a day of unexpected contact – hearing from people I don’t normally speak much with or write to. Some got in touch to comment on this blog; some got in touch to ask for a confidence boost; one even got in touch to subject himself to inspection (as though he were a race horse for purchase or I were a flight surgeon assessing his fitness for flight).

I was surprised about hearing from people regarding my blogging. Not because I think no one reads it but because I have no idea who is reading it. When you write a blog, you are mostly doing it for yourself. At least I am. If you are like me, it’s kind of an extension of your interactions with dead platforms like LiveJournal. Except that a standalone blog is not really part of a community and, being a disconnected ‘thing’ as it is, I am not hoping for or writing for an audience. Nevertheless I have had so much feedback from people about whom I had no inkling that they were “following along”.

A few weeks ago a friend recognized the slightest reference to her and wrote to me at length to explain and help me understand her better. A few days ago a friend commented, something about how much she related to what I had written. Yesterday, two friends (a longtime pen pal and an acquaintance from the LiveJournal days) wrote encouraging words about how they were helped by or even inspired by what they were reading. Well, one guy said it made him a bit jealous because I made it look easy but he knows from experience that it isn’t. I responded with something about just starting to do it – forcing yourself to do it. Ultimately it is about forming a habit. I have made this be a habit for me – arguing with myself about how I need to write something every single day, even if there is not something to write about – to keep the habit going. There are days that it won’t happen, but approaching with sincere intent is the point. I did not write a word after the mid-November death of my uncle. It was almost six weeks before I wrote again (sure, there was too much going on in the silent interim; also though, I felt tired and the loss depleted my ability to share). But even those long lulls/breaks have to be temporary – and I think we all know that this same thinking applies to anything that can be hard to stick to – writing, exercise, healthy eating, or any other promises we make to ourselves.

About forming habits, though, I come to another conversation I had yesterday. Someone I have known for more than half my life called me to get a boost of confidence before he went on a date. It’s been a long time since he dated, and he had all kinds of nerves and anxiety buzzing around in his head. His turning to me in his personal crises is a habit he formed as far back as 1990. Once we had covered his dating anxiety and how bad he is with small talk, he asked me something about my personal life and predicted that if I don’t have a relationship with someone who is obsessed with TV, it will end. Yes, scientific data. I argued that maybe there are other things to do than watch TV; he countered: “But what about when you are old? Like 60, 70, and like most older couples you will just want to sit and turn on the TV.” Perplexed, I said, “Well, maybe a couple could… take a walk? Or read?” He was incredulous, “Do you really think you will read when you are 60?!

WHAAAAAAAAAAT? Do people just stop reading, suddenly, when they hit a certain age? Why wouldn’t I read? Yet once again it’s about habits formed. Most people in my life are stubborn, lifelong readers. My grandmother was obsessed with reading until she lost her sight completely (by then she was well into her 80s) and even then others read for her. Not a single person I know (other than people who never formed reading habits) will ever sacrifice reading. I’ve always been a binge reader, inhaling a book every day for several weeks and then dropping reading for months, or in the case of recent times – even years. This year I am trying to be more methodical and balanced, folding the habit into my daily life consistently. (Especially because I did cut out my obsessive TV viewing and am only watching a couple of shows that are actually interesting to me now. I don’t miss the meaningless noise.)

As for habits, good and bad, another contact got in touch to get my opinion on whether I thought he could handle a social engagement that would be, at best, challenging. The guy is fairly freshly sober but for the first time in all his attempts at sobriety seems to take it seriously, understanding it as a life-or-death matter. A group of his old friends contacted him asking him to meet up at a pub. He has lamented for years that he has lost touch with this group of friends. He felt 100% sure he could handle this – the pub environment, the being surrounded by friends drinking excessively, the potential, “Come on, mate, one beer won’t hurt” pressures – and that he could control the situation/set boundaries, i.e. take a limited amount of money, visualize drinking Diet Coke, plan to attend an AA meeting that evening (meaning he would only stay with these friends for about an hour) and inform his contact at the meeting that he planned to attend, and then come home immediately after the meeting to call me on Skype so I could hear and see him (the aforementioned “inspection”) to prove that he had not succumbed to drinking. I expressed my doubts and reservations; he decided to go anyway. I felt particular doubt because he claimed he did not want these friends to know his business so did not want to tell them that he is an alcoholic.

In the end, he did meet the friends, and telling them about his struggles turned out to be a moot point. He had forgotten that he had run into one of the group over a year ago and had told that friend about his troubles with alcohol, and that friend had told the rest of the group, so there were no surprises, and they were all supportive. He stuck to the game plan and “presented himself for inspection” that evening after his meeting. Sober. Not that I think he should be “tempting fate” in this way, but he was rather elated that he did not feel any temptation and could interact with friends without feeling he had to drink.

In letting go of old, bad habits and adopting new, positive ones, we also build confidence – which in turn strengthens our resolve to deepen and stick with the new habits.

Thoughts on Une si longue lettre: Tout ou rien

Standard

How long have I had this novella, Une si longue lettre, on my shelf, picking at it, reading a page or two and setting it down again and again? It’s difficult to carve out the time and concentration space to focus on reading books in languages that are not my own. I have until this year packed my life with so much (meaningless) work and ‘stuff’ that I have rarely read books faithfully in my own language, let alone in other languages, except when required.

I have demanded of myself, though, that things change this year. If not dramatically, at least incrementally – and intellectually. It is not that demanding or time consuming to read a book that is just 130 pages long, in French or otherwise. In a relatively brief and personal story, Mariama Ba provides a glimpse at feminism and equality through the lens of being both an African and a Muslim woman. Many evaluations of this book will describe it as something akin to “Africa’s first feminist novel”, a “portrait of the struggle between modernity and tradition” (the story concerns polygamy and its effects on women and society as a whole).

And the bits that spoke to me most loudly:

The book, written as a long letter, takes place after the protagonist’s husband dies, and she is forced to mourn alongside his second wife. She writes to her friend, who has done what she did not have the strength to do – the friend leaves her husband when he takes a second wife. On the endurance of friendship: “L’amitié a des grandeurs inconnues de l’amour. Elle se fortifier dans les difficultés, alors que les contraintes massacrent l’amour. Elle résiste au temps qui lasse et désunit les couples. Elle a des élévations inconnues de l’amour.”

After the narrator/protagonist’s husband dies and her former suitor returns and offers to marry her, she considers seriously and declines, asking instead for his friendship. He responds, “Tout ou rien. Adieu.”

Insouciance

Standard

Back home – back to reading. Finished reading Slogans by Mark Burgess, am going to finish Une si longue lettre by Mariama Ba (Senegal) – finally – and then finally, finally finish the book on Congo. I have just finished putting together/writing the track listing for yet another of my increasingly frequent random-gum music mixes/life’s soundtrack (and addressed all the envelopes. Tedium). It’s been a rich and intense time for music listening. I can’t seem to help myself and just want to keep sharing.

I’ve got the latest season of Chef’s Table going in the background. Not being a foodie of any kind, I did not expect to care for this show, but a lovely former colleague recommended it to me, and I have been consistently entertained and surprised. In the first episode of the third season, the ‘chef’ is actually a Korean Zen Buddhist monk who does not at all consider herself a chef. In the second episode, they’re covering the relatively well-known White Rabbit restaurant in Moscow (even I had heard of it and I am not that interested in the world’s popular or best-regarded culinary marvels). The best part is listening to all the spoken Russian; the worst, seeing lovely live moose who were killed and eventually turned into the moose-lip dumplings the chef had long been dreaming of. Most of the series is all quite beautiful and exquisite in any case. And the back stories almost all fascinating. (The third episode on Nancy Silverton: “I think you need to be obsessed with bread… to be a baker.” Starting off on the right foot.)

Not many words to say about it, but my decision to ‘fake it til I make it’ in terms of forcing myself to pretend to be in a better mood worked – when I decided on the 14th that it would be my last day of moping and sulking, it was. I was not at my greatest or at the pinnacle of personal enlightenment on the morning of the 15th, but I gave it some thought, realized what I had been doing and from that moment on, everything has actually (I’ve not just been ‘acting’) been great – relief, release, mini adventure, deep thinking without thinking about anything in particular. Very freeing.

Revolutionary Letter #1
Diane di Prima
I have just realized that the stakes are myself
I have no other
ransom money, nothing to break or barter but my life
my spirit measured out, in bits, spread over
the roulette table, I recoup what I can
nothing else to shove under the nose of the maitre de jeu
nothing to thrust out the window, no white flag
this flesh all I have to offer, to make the play with
this immediate head, what it comes up with, my move
as we slither over this go board, stepping always
(we hope) between the lines