Thursday, January 1, 2015

The World in a Glass Hat

The word holiday in some cultures means a day of rest-- a day with family, maybe religious services-- prayer, feast, fasting…. but once an 's' is added--- it brings a little angst-- the burdensome part of family-- shopping, clothes, parties you must give or attend, gifts you can't afford, gifts you don't want--people you can't face… the face you cannot fake.  So New Year's Day, in a sense, is a bit of relief.  Of course when I was young, it was a terrible reminder that school was about to begin again, that all the great Christmas anticipation was funneling into the dread of grey-white winter days and afternoon sunsets.  The only bright spot ahead was a snow day or two.

Because I am a musician, and my 'work' is often other people's partying, I have begun to crave solitude.  I love my work, but some nights I admit I fantasize about coming home.  These days, with kids grown, relationships settling into a flattish line, I find myself adjusting to 'the rest of my life' with a tranquility that surprises me.  My ongoing resolution is demanding more of myself and less of others.  I am trying hard to minimize my disappointment with others' failure to honor their own commitments.  But I will never fail to observe this failure, and I will sadly continue to communicate my distress in the interest of truth.

Today I went for a late-afternoon run around the reservoir at sunset.  I had spoken to no one since 5 AM; even my voicemail had a day 'off'.  The winter light at sunset, the incomparable silhouette of my city skyline across the water, like a great circle of architectural dreams, never fails to take my breath away, to remind me I am alive in this magical home of enormous challenges and inspiration.  I went up to Harlem to pick up my modest week's worth of groceries, absorbing the passing soundtrack-- Katy Perry blasting from the skating rink sounded almost symphonic, like the ice-dancers version of the Messiah-- and hockey pucks whacking out their own rhythm; a man leading a bike tour, yelling all kinds of misinformation as he pointed out the sights.  I resisted the temptation to knock him off.

Up in Harlem people chilling-- a girl punching her boyfriend, a couple shouting it out in front of the liquor store where the cashier is encased in a bulletproof booth, a huge man on his flip-phone yelling and gesturing madly 'you ain't LISTENING, bro-- that's your PREDICAMENT'… over and over, like a play.  In south Harlem I am still an outsider--- I am usually the only white person in the grocery store, but they no longer ask for ID when I check out my few items.  People in my neighborhood are impatient; the supermarkets are overcrowded and the shoppers are impatient and angry.  Everything is a delivery.  Up here, people buy less carefully; they wait patiently in line, and they walk slowly.  Occasionally women my age and older argue about pricing and sales, but for the most part, people don't question things.  Handicapped people are everywhere; medical issues mean disability; life with a cane or a wheelchair doesn't seem to frighten them.  Their ambitions have either been thwarted or flattened; they seem to accept what is.  They will never own a condo in the new 200 story monstrosity with a google-worthy view of Manhattan, but they will get foodstamps and a decent project apartment for life. Some of them even have park views… so who is the winner here?

On the way back, passing the monstrous dark loom of Mt. Sinai (the ugly Jewish hospital, according to the central park tour-guide), thinking about the patients inside who marked the New Year from a bed… the first city births, and the first city deaths… those that could not quite drag themselves across the timeline... it occurred to me… if everyone simply told the truth, most of our more complex problems would recede.   If the doctors told them.. you have something we can't cure--- we can give you some poison that will maybe make your tumor suffer just a tiny bit more than the rest of you, but we really haven't a clue…  maybe they would have a choice.   I mean, there are certain drugs that work--- like aspirin-- but the biotech culture will continue to roll us into the trillion dollar irony of health-care.

If people went into a store and realized they really don't need these shoes that are $400…in fact, they really only need the ones they have… and if they went to pay for something, and owned that they really don't have enough money, because isn't that what a credit card is saying?  If the cable television executives and the huge entertainment companies just came out and said.. well, all of this crap we're promoting… it's pretty terrible; you don't need to watch it, and we don't need to make it anymore…
If the Academy one year decided to abolish awards because they really don't have many actors of the standard for which these awards were intended.  In fact-- what is competition and awards?  We either have the drive to be the best we can, or we don't.

And Jay-Zee and Beyonce, the so-called NYC 'royalty'… they would be dethroned because really all they have is a shitload of money, and a smart team of 'branding' experts.  And what is branding?  It used to be the cruel mark cattle ranchers burned into animals who are then 'property' and can be marketed, bred, tortured, killed, eaten-- whatever, for profit.  We live in a branded world-- of copyrights and lawsuits and copycats because so little seems original in the way that Mozart and Bach were original-- or Caravaggio or Leonardo.  Branding simply enables the exponential financial growth of mediocrity n this world where so-called experts 'authenticate' a work of art which is not original in the first place.  And if there was no lying, we would not need any of these people.

In fact, this middle-aged couple sitting next to me in Starbucks who obviously met online-- she is an aging Russian beauty with now-dyed hair, and a touch too much make-up, she is looking into his eyes with this desperate glow, like the new LED Christmas decorations on Madison Ave. which look happy but really lack the soul and 'life' of the old ones.  And he is telling her about his child support payments, and she is trying so hard because she needs a husband, even though he is a bit old, and he is lying to her, it is quite obvious he is a fool and a fake, and she is lying to him, too, because she hasn't paid her rent for months, even though she has an expensive haircut and a shopping bag.

Downtown so-called poets are reading Bukowski in an annual festival.  People who imitate and celebrate Bukowski, as though by reading these words, they will become poets, even though Bukowski himself would have told them, this is not poetry, and what was good about him was that he simply tried to tell the truth.  Isn't that what art used to be and when artists made art about lying, well, were they not honest about that?  And somewhere we all know about truth-- children don't lie, at least not until they learn that this is a very useful tool for getting something that they need.  If we consume artificial food we become sick and die… our flesh and blood know this-- but we don't seem to 'get' that we are a bit starved for art and music, some of us-- and for love, real love-- not the invented kind, and maybe even for a sense of God, a real sense of our soul, and we overcompensate with this competitive greed-culture… we stuff and stuff ourselves with crap…. and here we are on the streets, beating people for their iPhones, and paying masters-of-lying surgeons money we do not have to make us look like people we think have better lives than we have.

In Shanghai people stampeded at a New Year's celebration; one theory was that this was triggered by a paper shower of fake $100 bills thrown from a balcony.  The irony of the story was so poignant, so revolting, and so tragically 'real'.  Here we are, the untrammeled of us-- we have the gift of life, and we grow up knowing we must clothe our naked bodies, this is 'civilization', maybe the first 'lie'… but it is also protection, and has a meaning.  Still, we have our eyes, and our ears, and our mouths, and we have invented learning and books, and we can create… we can learn, we can discover…we can look back at our old year and see where we have failed to see, where we have been misled and fooled.

The blessing of the New Year is the illusion that we are turning a page, that we can start clean, we can start over.  Of course, as any addict knows-- it is not this easy, but we believe-- -and for that midnight moment-- the one that walks across the global timeline, hour by hour, country by country… we are all given this chance, together-- this annual chance, or the illusion of it, because it of course belongs to all of us, at every moment.  And we are human, and we will continue to fail to understand this, because we are too busy toasting our own selves, our false happiness or our refusal to be sad or lonely or truthful, and acknowledge that our enormous success or our abysmal failure… there is really little difference, it is part of our process, our life, which tragically, like the Shanghai victims, where we reach for something which glitters and it is death… the truth may feel like failure, but if we are truly honest, we will never fail ourselves.  As Sylvia Plath said in a privileged moment of clarity, and I remember this poem so well from my girlhood… 'we have only come to look'.

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