In just over one week, the election will be over. And I'm terrified.
No, not so much about whether my guy will win or not—although the possibilities of voter caging, false accusations of voter fraud, and all the other sorts of voter suppression tactics of the Right do make me anxious, the prospects of a McCain/Palin administration are the makings of a truly frightful haunted house this Halloween, not to mention that the fact that so many people in this country voted for George W. Bush twice just freaks me out. All that stuff is certainly scary, but that's not why I'm terrified.
I'm terrified of November 5. I'm terrified of living without this election. November 4 may be one hell of a final bender—ecstatic, climactic, or otherwise—but to suddenly kick this election cold turkey. I'm not sure if I can do it.
It’s hard to imagine what it will be like on November 5—what the world will be like—what I’ll be like—what you’ll be like. And that’s what is so terrifying. What will we talk about? What will we do? Will you still like me? We've been talking about this election for almost two years now. I was still in college when Barack Obama announced his candidacy. This election cycle has been one of few constants in my life. It has allowed me to keep anchor, while casting my first lines into the world beyond the campus, into the world at large.
It has allowed me to feel relevant. Sociability has been as easy as being informed. Any awkward silences can be filled easily with a “Did you hear about?” or “Can you believe that?” Just this week, a woman made the news by tapping into the undercurrent of racial fears when she made up a story about a black man assaulting and mutilating her in a fit of pro-Obama rage. Did you hear about that? Can you believe that? Let’s talk about that. Isn’t that interesting? Aren’t I interesting? This is too easy.
After November 4, we won’t even have any of those congressional races to talk about. No more Michele Bachman’s craziness. No more Nikki Tinker’s race-baiting her Jewish Democratic primary opponent. I’m already feeling emptier.
I suppose it's sort of a Saturday Night Live complex. The election catapulted SNL's 34th season into a realm of cultural significance it had long lost. It made SNL relevant again. Even producer Lorne Michaels has admitted that the whole Sarah Palin thing was a bit of a gift. But can it keep on giving? How does the show retain its refound audience once the election cycle is over? How does it keep from slipping back to that cultural backburner until the next election cycle (and that's hoping the next cycle will be as crazy as this one)? It’ll try to stay current, talk about other important things, current things, but it probably won’t work. After all, jokes about the economy are about as funny as—well—the economy.
To ease my terror, I suppose I would do well to remember that friendships are deeper than politics. And that they rely on more than just the current news cycle. On November 5, many of us will have to start looking for new hobbies, so to speak. Let us remember that while we put away this crutch of an election and stretch our legs once more, we still have our friends to lean on should we fall. We may not have as much current affairs stuff to talk about, but we have our memories of this election, the importance and nostalgia of which will probably last longer than the next president’s term(s). We’ve been through a lot together over the past two years and I know we move forward in whatever directions together. So perhaps, instead of fearing the end of this election, I should spend some of my time this week thinking of some new group activities. I’m open to suggestions.
Monday, October 27, 2008
In just over one week, the election will be over. And I'm terrified.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
The leaves have been turning slowly here in San Francisco. The edges of all the seasons are a little dull in California. Beautiful, here, but homogeneous. Well, last week, I traveled to the far and spare southwest coast of the city to celebrate the Jewish new year and to cast my sins into the Pacific Ocean. I stood in the icy water while small crabs burrowed in and out of the sand around my toes, some dudes wiped out on the waves in front of me and a few birds scattered across the wet shore, eyeing the old bread by my backpack in an erratic dance. I lingered there for a while thinking truly of nothing, something I'm usually not very good at. And then I splashed my way out of the tide's reach, back to the warm sand, feeling calmed and emptied.
I'm told that these days - autumn - are ripe with renewal, maturity, growth or, at least, pause. This blog has been sparse, but its slow pace has proven an asset. Each of the posts here has been an occasion, an event, and, because of their welcome surprise, I read my friends' words with added attention and joy.
Speaking for no one but myself here, the beginnings of New Flags emerged from the hope to create an artifact of our community, to merge disparate desires, experiences and ideas under our own banner of creative conviviality, flapping high and triumphantly in a strong breeze. And I think these are the same ambitions that have been the foundations of so many of the projects each of us has undertaken or collaborated on in the past few years. New Flags has surfaced as a modest venture, but its roots cling to deeper truths.
In this spirit of renewal and reflection, come celebrate one year of our sparse blogging at what used to be one of my favorite rock venues and then turned into one of my favorite bars.
New Flags- One Year Anniversary
Hi-Fi (Ave A btwn 10th and 11th)
Saturday, October 11 - 9PM.
kindred local thoughts
Monday, October 6, 2008
We're approaching our first birthday here at NewFlags, and though not all our kin have made posts since our inception (seriously, dudes: it's been a year), it's cause for celebration. For the first time in a while, we'll all be in the same city this weekend, and when kin get together to have a joyous time, you get excited. You also get to thinking, and I'm not trying to be morbid: the flow of seconds into hours and months and years leads to a mortal inevitability that I'm not all that excited about. I have to work some things out....
So I was thinking that everyone should get to hear their own eulogy before they die, no? What if we added fifty-two days to our calendars – tacking one on at the end of every week – to host pseudo-memorials for the living? Close-ones would take the occasion to get closer, meeting at houses of worship – temple sanctuaries, living room shrines, IKEA showrooms – to belabor why one sacred head has owned their hearts for so many moons. It seems only fair to me. If memorials really are the celebrations they purport to be, what, then, would be so morbid about a memorial service for the standing and breathing? Death is not charming, and if that’s true, then there’s no reason we have to wait until then to finally get all vocal and sentimental about our peoples. There're things that you and I still do that over and over trigger the endorphin rushes in our friends’ skull-holes and keep them coming back for more. There’s the “I love you” toast at a party, and then there’s the expository speech with multiple paragraphs in front of 60 folks about “why I love you,” during which everyone gushes like an exploding piñata of compliments about your loyalty in times of crisis and your care and concern in times of despair. To quote a group of resident 21st Century geniuses: "Love is the province of the brave - ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh...."
This I’ve believed for a long time. But why? Seems like a strange thing to have been thinking about since you were 13, but every so often I’m sitting on the Houston St. steps thinking about my eulogy. I wonder if it comes from a place of profound vanity, that really I just want to hear all about me: about my endless generosity, what with all the change I’ve given to the homeless over the years, and about my dedication to social justice that has seen me time and again confronting with an awkward pugnacity those who refer to “Africa” when really they just mean Kenya….
I think it’s more likely, though, that it stems from a deep, if not pathological, sentimentality, one that’s made me sometimes severely empathetic and once led me to write the lyrics to what I imagined would be a spare, unironic piano ballad that I’d use to close a musical set I would play at an intimate, wintry holiday-season show after a fat dinner in the low-light living room of one of my friends’ many cozy abodes. Here they come:
All my friends
I love them so much
They are almost all here
And that is so much more
Than I could ever ask for
I think I’ll just listen
To all of them breathing
Sometimes it gets so that is all I want to hear
Sometimes it gets so that is all I want to hear
So I’ll just listen
My crafty plan was to put the words in a song so I could tickle all my friends’ hearts without feeling all bashful and blushy about it. But that also defeats the purpose, no? It’d be something more if I had something to lose – like if there were strangers in the audience – because, (unfortunately) the way I see it is there aren’t rewards for the kind of niceness that’s in a eulogy. Or in a piano ballad. Or in a lot of things. There’s got to be some effort to match however much it takes to remain a good person in the face of utter shit. But then I start thinking about the people who don’t deserve a good word. What do you do with a dead body that never brought you any joy in the first place? I guess you just don’t go to their memorial. But also, what about people who aren’t necessarily “bad,” but who you aren’t exactly close to and you know won’t have many people at their memorial? You take pity and show up and look like a fool at how effusive you are?
Aarrrgh...this is where my theory starts to unravel….
Recently I tried to revise this whole idea. It’s simpler to say that everyone should get at least one glossy black-and-white photo taken of themselves in their lifetime. It memorializes in an instantaneous, wordless way, and its inherent aesthetic beauty lends itself to your image so severely that the implicit caption of almost any black-and-white photograph should read “Damn! Doesn't this person deserve to be looked at?!” (SEE BELOW) Seems simple enough. This came to me one morning after I saw a delicate photo of a man in a magazine that someone on the subway was reading. The man in the photo was looking down, contemplative, and his head was wrapped in a bandana. Who’s to say he didn’t live a good life? At least at that moment, he seemed to be doing no wrong. I had all this sympathy for him from this one photograph. Suddenly this seemed like the way to go...who needs eulogies?
Incidentally, when I got to work 20 minutes later, the same photo of the man was sitting on my co-worker’s desk staring out at me. I read the caption, realizing that it was David Foster Wallace. I went on to read the flattering article underneath, and I learned that this man was in fact dead. I’d never actually read Wallace before. I knew his Kenyon commencement speech, and I remembered a line that always stuck: “There happen to be whole large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine, and petty frustration.” I looked up again at the photo and wondered how someone who seemed so aware and in control of the banalities of day-to-day living could have reached a despair so deep.
Later, I did some trolling on the internet for more about Wallace and ended up reading some of his interviews. I kept reading a snippet of one long one in which he was trying to ascertain "why we're so desperate for an anesthetic against loneliness,” which to me read as “why haven’t we found an anesthetic yet?!” My impression of the man in the photograph was mutating into something far less romantic now. The delicacy and nuance of the greys in the photo suddenly started to look horribly foreboding.
When I subsequently watched an interview with Wallace on the Charlie Rose Show, his suddenly ruddy moving image disturbed me. On the one hand, he was alive, in the flesh. But on the other hand, and maybe this is hindsight speaking, he seemed terribly, terribly unhappy. He rarely looked at Charlie. What might’ve been a moment of reflection in the photo turned out to be a reality of posture, his back hunched and his gaze fixed on the nothing of the table and the emptiness of the black set. Each of his painstaking responses to Charlie’s probes carried with them a sense that Wallace was annoyed. Though Charlie is an aggravating interviewer, I got the sense that Wallace was more undone by how severely he believed in what he said. And every passing second brought with it another thought that was tragic enough on its own, but each held even more gravity when he realized, or at least believed, that no one else but himself might understand.
In that magazine photograph, at least, Wallace is frozen and unthinking, and it’s easier to try to remember him at a moment when he wasn’t straining under the weight of thought. When I think about it more, though, the photograph idea doesn’t totally work either because no one is actually connecting with Wallace: he has no idea how people around him feel about him, and why would he be flattered if one person he didn’t know came to his house for an hour one day to stand behind a camera and every once in a while ask him to move to the left a little and to “act natural?”
Moreover, what the hell could David Foster Wallace have wanted people to say at his funeral? If he got to hear his eulogy, would the adulations of his loved ones have kept him buoyant enough to live another day? Sadly, my guess is no. I can’t say what circumstances were compounding on Wallace, but I get the sense a gushing and early eulogy was not what he needed....
Eulogies as we know them are starting to sound futile to me. Why do we do it? They seem to have more to do with the people delivering them than they do with the dead. Are we just trying to absolve ourselves of any lingering guilt we feel toward the departed? Maybe our paeans to the lost are nothing more than good PR for our imperfect relationships. And now there’s no one around to prove us wrong...I don't want to believe we're so ego-oriented, but I wonder....
My experience of death has always been a solipsistic one, as in “whoa, this means I’m mortal,” and “I hope I do a good job consoling everyone.” Paradoxically, the lesson death has imparted me is that life goes on, and so my reaction to death has always involved me in some way. In that sense, when I say everyone should get to hear their eulogy before they die, I am speaking out of self-interest.
But it’s not out of vanity. I think it goes deeper than that. I think we’ve always wanted to feel that we’ve touched someone, someone who’d want to be in front of an audience, surmounting their phobia of public speaking, to make sure others understand the deep and far-reaching impact of your life, one so profound that it's managed to bring people together even when your physical faculties are kaput. So maybe my system of year-round eulogies for the living is imperfect, but couldn’t we devise something like it? Imagine what it feels like to know before you die that when you die, you didn't live an empty life. Imagine what it feels like to know that the life you are living is not in vain and has already meant something. Is it enough for you to keep going? I really hope so.
Love (a lot),
TV On the Radio - Province (Live at Amoeba Records).mp3
David Foster Wallace Interview w/Charlie Rose