Disruptive Juxtaposition

Thursday, January 26, 2006

I just blew out a candle, and a cinder jumped into my face

I'm rather tired tonight. No long or even halfway-substantive things to say, or rather, I'm probably not going to be able to say them.


Recently acquired:

o The Clientele, Strange Geometry

o Sarah Blasko, The Overture and the Underscore

o The Mars Volta, Scab Dates

o Kelley Stoltz, Below the Branches

o Longwave, There's A Fire

o Tim Eriksen, Every Sound Below

o Architecture In Helsinki, In Case We Die

o Tremolo, Love Is the Greatest Revenge

o Beck, Guerolito

o Donald Fagen, Morph the Cat

o Wimme Saari, Instinct - Solo Jolk

o Broken Social Scene, Broken Social Scene

o 6 pints of Guinness

As of press time, I can only vouch for the Broken Social Scene, the Architecture, and the Guinness. Surely there's a gem in this batch, though, right?


Good night.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Keeping on keeping on

The closer we get to the day when I'll be heading upstate, the more spontaneous crying jags I go on. Yesterday staring at a spot on the subway floor, this morning in the shower. And the more spontaneous crying jags I go on, the better I feel. The feeling, not only after but during these crying jags, is one of relief. As in, "Thank God I'm crying; I haven't in a while and I was beginning to worry about that." It's sort of a truism that crying is an emotional catharsis, and that healing only happens when you've gone "through the process." But to actually experience the simultaneity of the crying and the relief, with their components of pain and healing happening together as a joint occurrence is something like seeing a famous painting you've seen elsewhere in reproductions in person for the first time, and the painting strikes you, you get the painting, you understand it, the epic human sense it makes is revealed to you.


Talking to my mother this morning has drudged up the good question about moderation in grief. I've written about this issue before; there's a post somewhere below this one in which I argue for a direct confrontation with the source of the trauma, and as a result for the return home, where this confrontation can take place. And in a related way the two poles my questioning this morning must slalom through are these: should one carry out that confrontation, or should one "get on with things", "get back to work," et cetera. I'm not disavowing my previous argument, but rather I'm trying to deepen it and contextualize it.

I watched some "Sex and the City" the other night, and uptight success story Miranda Hobbs, who's recently had a baby, is at her law firm fending off accusations that her dedication's flagged or that she's not up to the workload. Having defended herself ably and gotten rightfully indignant, she leaves the "We're worried about you" meeting with the following send-off: "And may I remind you that when my mother died, I was back in the office on Monday." I had a strong reaction against that idea; fictional character or not, Miranda seemed to be so dead wrong that she got me shaking my head.

But then at the same time we hear these strictures and tenets about "keeping busy", how you've got to "keep on keeping on" (which I'll be the first to admit is one of the catchier substitutes for "Life goes on" that I've ever heard).

I hate to say it but it's becoming clear to me how cliche the solution really is, and it only remains for me to say it: the solution involves moderation. You've got to keep on keeping on, yes. You've got to return to work; you've got to fend off accusations that you're not up to the work you know you're up to. But you've got to confront the troubles that have developed in you as well; part of what you've got to keep on keeping on with is the psychic distillation, packaging, and exporting of the stuff in your head and heart. I'm using the 2nd person a lot here but we all know whom we're talking about. My mother said something about being a homebody, which I've always been myself no surprise there, and yet at the same time her need to get out of the house at least once a day. She's been working a rather demanding schedule as Kay Jewelers' A-#1 salesperson and her success has impressed me in the extreme. (She reads this site and this is nothing I don't share with her in person myself.) Neither is there any surprise in the idea that good psychic health requires changes of scenery and social interaction and the other hallmarks of civilized, connected modern life. But being there in that house, especially at dinner time, is, she reports, difficult. As is would and should be. Hearing about that difficulty makes me want to experience it. Another friend of mine lost her brother-in-law to suicide some years ago; she'd been living in New York City and moved home to help her sister out. I heard this story on the downtown D two nights ago. "It's important," my friend said, which didn't really resonate with me until she continued and said, "It's priceless," and something in my face made her continue further to elaborate on what was priceless, namely "The time you spend together in that first year or two afterwards... that time you can all just be in the same place with people who are on the same page as you." It wasn't until I heard my friend say these things and echo, in her own words, the thoughts I'd had about the virtues of heading home, that I became well and finally convinced about those virtues.

So I suppose these examples - my mother, my friend on the D - demonstrate the effective balance it's possible to strike between getting on in a "life goes on" sort of way as well as a "I've got some serious grief to experience" sort of way. It's hard to make headway on the latter, especially in New York, because the city goes on, the city is largely deathless it can sometimes seem, the city functions at a constant energy level and requires your couple of volts if you're to be in it. I suggest however that the body and the mind aren't infinitely charged, and there's a certain necessity to husband your fund of voltage and power for the more important activities - I think here of "Apollo 13" in which the Odyssey command module has only so much remaining battery power and may not be able to return home, which would have been a tragedy indeed, but they did make it home, which was a relief.

Monday, January 23, 2006

What's happening, as related by a selected Billy Joel lyric

Honesty / Is such a lonely word / Why are people so untrue?

The other day I was in the bookshop, working on maintaining what I like to think of as my record collection. When this pretty savvy young fellow, I dunno, maybe 19 years of age, came up to me. Think Freddie Prinze Jr. - if you remember him - as a bookish type, and as less of a tool. We'd spoken before, hadn't we, he asked. Sure, I said. You were the guy who wanted that Of Montreal disc. Right, he said. Well I just wanted to tell you about this band called The M__________, and you can see their site on MySpace, and listen to one of their songs. Then this kid makes to leave. Thanks, I said, writing it down.

Whereupon I was struck with the feeling that I'd just been viral-marketed to.

Viral marketing, for those who might not have heard of it, is basically a marketing strategy that avoids typical media and techniques: 30 second spots on radio and TV stations, for instance, or billboards. Viral marketing might be, oh, the Blair Witch Project website which treated the fictional characters in that movie as real people who'd really gone missing in the woods of Maryland; the film garnered a lot of initial interest around the question regarding the real / unreal nature of the film, which might not have been horror but rather a documentary.

Another form of viral marketing is word-of-mouth. Read about it at the New York Times this morning - nytimes.com. I'd link to it myself but I'm on a Mac, and certain Blogger functions seem to be disabled. Word-of-mouth advertising, these days, is no longer the "if you like it tell your friends" variety that you might expect. Word-of-mouth advertising now strives to find people who are already dedicated fans of a product, service, or group, and seeks to gives them the opportunity to convey their enthusiasm, which again is an original, honest enthusiasm, to others. Companies who know what's good for them are striving to harness the ground-level excitement their product might inspire and use it to advertise further.

I'm giving a very basic overview of how this works, w/o examples or much in the way of evidence, mainly because I'm under time constraints this morning. I realize that if one of my students had written one of the sentences I've written here this morning, I'd've written all kinds of "EVIDENCE??" and "VAGUE - be specific" and "I'm NOT convinced yet!" statements in the margins. But I wanted to phrase this question here on the site because it seems bound up with the very issues of honesty and cynicism, sincerity and falsehood, which I often find myself returning to. One important point here however is that the way in which advertisers influence this process, the point at which they step into the equation, is via language; they share via email or text message or press kit the certain phrases and which, and I'm not quoting anything directly here, sort of "help you find the right way to express your excitement" for whatever it is you're excited about.

Is there anything wrong morally from the company's point-of-view when they find a way to tap into these veins of consumer excitement? I don't think so. The reason why not is that said excitement is already there. No one's drumming up *false* excitement or *coercing* enthusiasm somehow.

But from a more personal standpoint, it's disheartening if not alarming that it occurs to me, knowing what we know now about how advertising and marketing works, that the possibility must be considered whenever a person conveys a jones for X new band or Y new brand of sausage that that person might not be considered a fully independent agent.

And there's the rub. Because *isn't* the person being honest? Isn't the person independent? The person isn't being paid, isn't being obligated to go to bat at all. Isn't the person merely conveying the enthusiasm for X or Y which that person already had? I go to bat all the time, on this site and elsewhere, for those bands and bars and et cetera I believe in and love. Every person alive does this to some degree. But now, with this new possibility of band- or bar- or sausage-related conversation having its roots not in a completely autonomous process - even though the ORIGINAL enthusiasm is self-derived and truly honest - one must weigh from whence this excitement comes.

Or maybe one mustn't. Maybe one needs to give friends old and new the same benefit of the doubt that I got when I was in line at Penn Station the morning after the Event and I needed to get to the head of the line that instant if I was to make my northbound train. Maybe this issue and that issue are related in that we can't afford to be, or maybe just should try not to be, so skeptical of others.


This weekend I relocate upstate, where I'll sock away some money, re-establish a routine of running and writing, and eat Quaker oats. It's the right thing to do.