Today is the last class of Winter 2017. To celebrate, I thought I'd share the playlist that's been keeping me company over the last few weeks. It takes its title from Leif Vollebekk’s "Into The Ether." I’ve had his Twin Solitude on repeat. Think of this playlist as a companion piece to Vollebekk’s album. Imagine the playlist as roots music on land and under the water. Hope you enjoy it!
My “Year In Music” doesn’t say anything about what was important in 2016. If it did, then Beyoncé would be #1, followed closely by several other powerful hip-hop records: A Tribe Called Quest, Chance the Rapper, Common, Solange, and Blood Orange. But this list isn’t about important things; it’s a record of what I was listening to in 2016. This year, I didn't seek importance from music; I sought solace. I understand why people turn to music when the world is in upheaval, when they sense a darkness descending upon us. In fact, I'm often one of those people, but for some reason, this year, I didn’t. Perhaps it was because of my necessary turn toward the domestic with the birth of my first child. Whatever the reasons, I only emotionally connected with music that would return me to myself and settle my spirit even if only for a moment. So here's my list of the albums that made my year in music:
I hope you enjoyed The Golden West and that you’ve been thinking about your 2016 in music. The year-end list is a true tradition for me. There's a process, a proper way of doing things. So before I put together my year-end list, I think about what I missed when I made last year’s list. I stand by my 2015 list; I still listen to everything on there. Yet, if I knew then what I know now, it would have looked a little different. This post is an appreciation of what I learned about 2015 in 2016.
As Thanksgiving approaches, I start preparing for one of my favorite traditions: the year-end list. I love reading these lists because I inevitably learn about some book, movie, or music that I’d totally missed. It’s like a Christmas gift.
I don’t mind my age, and on the whole, I embrace it. This is not a complaint about getting older; it’s about the feeling that has accompanied the shift into my late thirties.
“I don’t think I’ve read more than a few pages of anything in months.” This confession to a student of mine sums things up pretty well. I expected some of this. Having a kid changes things. The first months turn sleep into the most precious commodity. Of course. But what I was not ready for was the great blanking of my mind. I’ve found it hard to turn information into complete thoughts, let alone compelling conversation.
In December, I posted “What I’m Reading.” I want it to be a regular thing, but I also think that limiting these to what I’m reading is too constraining. So I’m rechristening this series “Reading, Looking, and Listening” to cover all the bases.
I don't blog as often I'd like to, so I thought I'd bridge the time between posts by putting together a list of some of the interesting things I've been reading recently. The first installment has politics, biology, literature, and, of course, music.
I’m half French. Paris remains my mother’s home though she hasn't lived there in forty years. She is utterly transformed when she returns to Paris. It’s a beautiful thing to witness. I nearly feel at home there. I spent as much time as I could there—all told, several months spread over a decade plus—and if my felicity with the language matched how I feel when walking Parisian streets, then it would be home for me too. The terror attacks in Paris yesterday are incomprehensible. Really, that’s what terror is—it’s the extreme fear that sets in when reason fails and words end.
I just signed up for Stoic Week 2015, which will run from November 2nd-8th. I think you should too. It will take a little commitment, but it won't be overly burdensome. It'll include some short daily readings and light meditative practices. I call them “light” because you don’t have to be a yogi to do them. They’re really just about taking a few minutes to quietly reflect. It is—as Michel de Montaigne puts it—"nothing but the bringing of my emotions and thoughts back to myself."
I haven't blogged in the last month because I've been reworking my paper, "The Responsibility to Save Bodies: Camus and Global Activism" for a conference in October. I'm happy with the revision though I think the paper needs one more round of serious editing before I'm willing to let it go out to journals for review.
Josh Ritter is one of my favorite songwriters. In his songs, he weaves wonderful narratives, develops arresting images, and in his live performances, he radiates joy. His new single, “Getting Ready to Get Down,” has been on loop for the last month, while I wait for his new album, Sermon on the Rocks, to come out in October.
I recently picked up Charles Wright’s Caribou when I was at Powell’s in Portland (gosh, I love a good bookstore), and it’s been my traveling companion for the last few weeks. I’m definitely still finding my way in Wright’s verse, and “Crystal Declension” is my first foothold in Caribou. I appreciate Wright’s natural imagery and the way he connects our lifecycles with nature. Caribou is more than simply about birth and death; it’s about the perspective this recognition opens up. This is where “Crystal Declension” fits.
I’ve been reading Camus for many years now. My appreciation for his writing continues to deepen. Recently, his lyrical essays have opened up to me. I had kept them at arm’s length because I fear that I already tend toward poetical romanticism, and they didn’t really fit what I wanted from Camus, the activist. Then something changed, or so it seems. I’ve been rereading “Return to Tipasa”* over the last year and enjoying its unfolding.
I’ve recently been thinking about JL Austin’s donkey. It’s a philosophical scenario that reveals the distinction between an action done by mistake and one done by accident. All too often, we’re careless in our speech. It’s easy to conflate mistakes and accidents especially in those anxious and fearful moments when responsibility is falling upon you, and you need to say something to avoid the responsibility or at the very least to mitigate the blame associated with that responsibility. When our emotional walls rise in a panic, we tend to opt for the kitchen sink approach. Our torrent of words subordinate meaning to immediate psychic relief, and we lose control of language and surrender the only real possible path to peace—communication. The link between responsibility and communication has kept me meditating on the useful distinction between mistakes and accidents.
This is a gift from the universe to all of us. Noah Gundersen and David Ramirez singing a Dylan song, made famous as a duet with Johnny Cash, in an old church with such beautiful natural light.
In the last several years I’ve fallen in love with Seamus Heaney’s verse. As with all poets, only some of his poems connect with me. However, as I spend more time with Heaney, more of his poems make that connection. The one I’m working on or through these days is “The Settle Bed.”