Recently, as a result of the shooting in Connecticut, I was required to attend a very scary and surreal training about how to react if an “active shooter” showed up a place where I sometimes work. During the meeting, we were walked through locked back hallways, shown hiding places, and pondered the moral quandaries of when to lock out a colleague during the homicidal maniac’s rampage.
It was, needless to say, very alarming.
Walking home, I started thinking about how many times I’ve attended an explanation of something horrible, and the various attempts made to feel safe again. It turns out, there’s been MANY. Here’s a sampling of the “teachable moments” of human depravity I’ve endured, and the lessons I gained from them.
OPERATION DESERT STORM (1991)
My first grade class
COPING METHOD: Talking about what “war" means with our teacher, all through my classmate Billy’s uncle, who was a soldier. It was confusing because it’s hard for a 6 year old to really capture what "US Overseas Interests" are. I did not know what oil was. I did not know where Iraq was. I did not understand why Billy’s uncle might die there, but then again, I didn’t even really know what it meant to die. Billy had quite a few t-shirts with caricatures of Saddam Hussein on them, so we knew he was The Bad Guy, but other than that, we didn’t get it.
The soldier sent us pictures and some basic letters. I don’t remember much about this, except we had to write him letters and send him drawings. I remember writing much more in the fall than in the spring, which gives me an uncomfortable feeling now.
RESULT: Hopefully we made that man feel loved. Hopefully it made Billy’s mom feel better, and made my teacher feel empowered.
I didn’t really understand a damned thing. In many ways, I still don’t.
AIDS AWARENESS (1995)
I cannot go to a theater, for instance, lacking the means. But I can and do go to many of the many, many museums, exhibits, collections and arboreta that are open to me for nothing in this great city. (…) But apart from these, which are after all but reports of and commentaries upon the other, comes the beauty of life itself. I know it to be a shifting, lovely, changeful thing ever, and to it, the spectacle of it as a whole, in my hours of confusion and uncertainty I invariably return, and find such marvels of charm in color, tone, movement, arrangement, which, had I the genius to report, would fil the museums and libraries of the world to overflowing with its masterpieces. These cost me nothing, and I weary of them never."
— Theodore Dreiser, “On Being Poor.” New York City, 1923.
At age 21, I was reading a lot of radical feminist literature and decided to write myself a Manifesta. As the years pass, I reconsider it and find it to be a pretty good set of goals. As with anything, I sometimes do not meet my own expectations, but it’s important to consider how it is one lives a life that responds to one’s own values. This is more than a New Year’s Resolution, this is meant to be a triptych of a life lived by one’s own considered values.
Like the US Constitution, this is a living breathing document that is reconsidered and amended as time and development requires. This previously had been published only in my private journal, but why not make it public? Maybe we can give birth to a movement.
— A Study of the Poems of D.H. Lawrence by M.J. Lockwood
Where our love for kale causes distress
me: i just got so hungry looking for a kale recipe that i ended up steaming some
oh i have an idea of how we split veggies
Pitchfork reviewed the Babies album today, one that I have been obsessively listening to for the past six months. The thing about it is, I feel like much of this album’s purpose has been lost in the writeup. Of course the critic has already dismissed me by implying that I probably like the band because of who is in it, not due to their music’s credit. Maybe. But I listen to the album way too much on my own to really believe it’s for such an external reason. I really believe in this album. Here are my reasons why you should give it a chance.
The Babies album possesses an earnest depth in it’s messiness that has been completely lacking from most recent indie rock. Personally, I’ve grown so tired of the irony and detachment that’s overwhelmed the sub-genre. The Babies provide an antidote to that tiring trend with their forthright vulnerability.
The Babies aren’t singing about boyfriends, girlfriends, parties or twee desire, they are, on a deeper listen, singing about existential crisis. Through the album, I feel as if I’m following the Babies two vocalists as I would follow Orpheus, leading me down through the afterlife while they try not to look over their shoulder. The uncertain vocals that Pitchfork complains of are, in my mind, completely purposeful… in the same way that the best French New Wave directors hired plaintive, simple speaking actors who did not seem to be acting to convey the lost purpose in modern life, the Babies, through their sometimes wavering voices, demonstrate to us the uncertainty at the heart of coping with powerlessness.
”The Babies” possesses cohesion, with each song connecting back to a stage of mourning. We begin by exploring a determination to rediscover the thrills that begin to escape us as we age (Somebody Else, Meet me in the City,) the fearful anticipation of the inevitability of death (All Things Come to Pass, Sick Kid in the Distance, The War) and the impossibility of ever really coping as our friends are taken from us (Wild I and II, Breaking the Law).
On “All Things Come to Pass,” it seems like Cassie’s trying to convince herself, and us, that she’s over death— she’s not afraid. But there is a sharp edge of despair to it. Cassie and Kevin are not our typical indie rock protagonists telling a simple story. This story is rife with doubt and denial. “Don’t be sad when it’s over and done, days go on like a loaded gun.” Her voice takes on a demanding quality— she’s not telling us this because she is over it, but precisely because she CAN’T get over it. Every day brings the possibility of the irreproachable final bullet. The next song on the album is our evidence. She murmurs— “Yesterday someone I used to know. And now they’re gone and they’re gone for good.” Kevin tells us “this heart is broken and this heart is torn.” As if to flee this unfurling despair, the Babies hit us over the head with “Meet me in the City.” It’s a manic escape— compensation for the sorrow, confusion and pain. The following tune increases it’s panicked mania with even more fervor and despair. Then, suddenly, nostalgia in “Breaking the Law”… remembering the safety we once found alongside each other before we knew the risks, that we can’t seem to find anymore.
I’ve never heard an album that so opens it’s heart and reveals the personal complications that surround loss without any sense of melodrama. The exhaustion of pain, the despair that accompanies our drive to lose ourselves in thrill seeking, the satisfying break that comes when we finally acknowledge our inescapable agony (Wild II.)
I love the Babies not because, as Pitchfork implies, I am charmed by the members, but because I have experienced the obsessive despair that the album outlines. The mania and fear that surrounds us after we lose someone. The fearful awareness that we, ourselves, are also hurled towards eventually devastating those we love. The push and pull, the un-spooling thoughts that draw us into obsessing about our own inevitable departure as we mourn someone, while denying the depth of our despair. The optimism when we finally re-approach life, having come through the turmoil of death’s foretaste.
The Babies speak to the reality of my early adulthood more than any other album in my life right now. I have pushed against my responsibilities, fled from my feelings, and now, near twenty-seven, am beginning to accept the darkness that surrounds us as we age and let go of one another, and hopefully learn to embrace what we can, and cannot, control.
For the past four months, I’ve had a new “New Year’s Resolution” nearly every day. And yes I realize it’s February, and yes, i DO intend to imply that I’ve been making them since Thanksgiving. When is it too late to stop? When does my “New Year’s Resolution” have to become something else? In yoga my teacher keeps referring to “daily intentions,” which I like the sound of but seem to carry no weight. And boy, do I like some weight on my shoulders. A neck without an albatross is nearly nude in my eyes.
I wonder if I should establish a protocol for the titling of my resolutions. Perhaps the ones do I actually intend to keep versus the ones that I am saying to make myself feel better between beers? But acknowledging the difference would be defeat my self-delusion.
Today’s resolution is to “write everyday.” So here I am.
Yesterday’s was to “take responsibility for my privilege.” This, my latest self-flagellation, is connected in equal parts to my middle class family, my blue-veined whiteness, my artsy degree from a liberal private college, and last but not least— my Anglican upbringing with an Irish Catholic last name. Oh, and probably some feminist baggage mixed in there too. Lately I find myself strangled in a daily wrestling match between my desire to identify with the oppressed and my knowledge of unending contemporary privilege.
It’s gotten to the point where, at least twice a week, some beloved friend will casually refer to my “weird guilt thing.”
The best perk from my brooding is that it generally ends with an exhausted collapse into a satisfyingly indecisive halt. What could be more comforting to someone who suffers from unending shame than to get nothing accomplished?
But today’s resolution comes in turn from yesterday’s. So this is at least progress. Upon announcing yesterday’s “responsibility” clause to my now impossibly burdened 2011, my friend J. looked thoughtfully aside, then smiled. “Yes, yes, now you’ve got it!” he declared. “What you’re doing now is perfect. Your turning your guilt against yourself— by saying that you have to live up to all you’ve been given, which you already hate yourself for, you might actually have a shot at getting something done and making something out of your great potential.” I blushed at that insinuation, and he added, “because ultimately, Emily, it doesn’t matter if you’re a genius, or talented, or not. All that matters is if you can navigate your life in an effective way and take advantage of the opportunity, regardless of whether or not it’s warranted.” *
It seems my effective route to self-actualization will be ridden with reflexive blackmail, bribery and manipulation.
Now, how do I fold that into a snappy sounding resolution?
*I paraphrased. Sorry J.
This evening at work we had a meeting about how to tap into imagination and “somatic experience” to communicate and connect with historic people, events and ideas. “History is a different country,” she said, “and you have to convince people to take the trip with their imagination.”
Somatic experience is the memory that our bodies possess without language— the physical acts and awareness that communicate ideas we can never verbalize. We had to practice imagining and describing our own secret, sacred spaces to one another in detail. When I closed my eyes to revisit my familiar space, I was walking down the creaking stairs to my parents basement. I felt the exhilaration of the dark stairway when the lightbulb was out, the coarse indoor-outdoor carpeting, the cool musty odor, the light blue paint on the walls. But then that emotional experience kicked in— and I remembered a buried feeling of anticipation, rounding the corner to see if my friend, my visitor, was asleep on the futon— or awake.