I’m finding every Christoph Niemann one-screen-at-a-time pieces for the Times makes me some kind of happy. This time he is learning to playing the piano while stuck at home, and it is difficult for him. I took three piano lessons from a Groupon once and enjoyed myself but had no piano at home. Later we bought a house that contained a piano but there was not really room for the piano. My wife has a piano at her parents’ house, awaiting her someday when we have time for a piano. I look forward to retirement or the return of the experience-coupon era, whichever comes first.
A long time ago in this blog, I posted some of my favorite lines from The Geometry of Pasta. I still take the book off the shelf from time to time to learn what a pasta name means… or just to find a shape that pushes my brain in a different way. So, I loved The Strategist’s recent “Fancy Pasta Shapes, Ranked.”
“Springy Sicilian pasta coils that dangle like your grandma’s old landline cord.”
“In addition to knots, they look like little spaceships, or a Frenchwoman’s advanced scarf-tying technique, and trap sauce with wild abandon.”
“Not gnocchi as you know it, but puffy Pac-Man-like shells….”
One of the more moving musical performances for me during the pandemic has been John Fogerty singing and playing with his kids, with his wife apparently behind the camera, in our Tiny Desk Home Concerts series. He sounds great, and the kids play well. And they are all stuck at home, and his best wishes to the rest of us are most sincere. When he plays Centerfield, you’ve heard the song a million times, but you’ve never experience its yearning quite so much.
Years ago, when I read Dave Marsh’s biographies of Springsteen, one of my favorite parts was Bruce talking about bringing himself out a solitary period in his life, the Nebraska era, and coming down from the mountain, back to the people, pursuing pop music and crowds again.
So, in finally reading Bruce’s autobiography, Born to Run, I find great pleasure in the entire book being a proverbial coming down from the mountain. It’s a steady unpacking of what makes him himself, what makes the person behind the music succeed or fail, at both music and at life. The honesty about family and solitary moments is what drives the book to success. Music gets some description, but only some, as an inspiration or an outcome. But the music is not the person. You are not your job; your job is not responsible for your happiness; and so on.
For instance, his take on the Nebraska period, being up on the figurative mountain and wondering how to get down. He and a friend are driving across the country, and they stop in a Texas town.
In the blue light of dusk, there is a river. By the river, there is a fair. At the fair, there is music, a small stage, filled by a local band playing for their neighbors on a balmy night. I watch men and women lazily dancing in each other’s arms, and I scan the crowd for the pretty local girls. I’m anonymous and then… I’m gone. From nowhere, a despair overcomes me; I feel an envy of these men and women and their late-summer ritual, the small pleasures that bind them and this town together. Now, for all I know, these folks may hate this one-dog dump and each other’s guts and be screwing one another’s husbands and wives like rabbits. Why wouldn’t they? But right now, all I can think of is that I want to be amongst them, of them, and I know I can’t. I can only watch. That’s what I do. I watch… and I record. I do not engage, and if and when I do, my terms are so stringent, they suck the lifeblood and possibility out of any good thing, any real thing, I might have. It’s here, in this little river town, that my life as an observer, an actor staying cautiously and safely out of the emotional fray, away from the consequences, the normal messiness of living and loving, reveals its cost to me.
For what it’s worth, here’s a recording made (most likely) in following months, a song that never made a proper album. The last verses, ones as the music is dying down, always hit me hard. Turns out they were coming from someplace hard?
“Now it’s gettin’ late before we head back to town / We let the fortune wheel spin around / Come on mister, tell me what’s waitin’ out there / On my way out I steal a kiss in the dark / Hope I can remember where our car’s parked / Baby at the county fair.
“Now off down the highway there’s the last stream of cars / We sit a while in my front yard / With the radio playin’ soft and low / I pull Carol close to my heart / And I lean back and stare up at the stars / Oh I wish never had to let this moment go.”
I also found the link to the Post story on the first Nats game we attended last year – a Trea Turner walk-off home run, giving us our first win of the eventually magical year. Turner would soon break his finger, and the bullpen that struggled through the opening series of the season (the names! the memories!) would not get much better for a long time. I still have trouble believing it.
“We all know that sensation of life slowing down, of being suspended in time, of being outside the rhythm of ordinary life, but underwater, that is the way things really are.” -author Akiko Busch, as quoted in this New York Times review of two books about silence, a year and change ago.
I bookmarked the page back then because I found even the review itself gave me a moment of quiet and thus peace. Now, yearning for interaction, hoping one day soon my toddler can play with other children and wishing to feel work as more than a simulation (a feeling increasing each week), I would welcome noise.
About the two books, the reviewer closes, “Silence and invisibility, they insist, are part of our everyday lives — the place our mind wanders when we’re in the shower or out jogging, the feeling we get looking out the window of an airplane, the pleasure of becoming a stranger on a bustling city street.”
(To be on a bustling city street! To fly in an airplane! To jog without avoidance! Or, if you’re me, not jogging, to not feel sad mannered joggers are fleeing into the street.)
And then: “We take these pauses, these moments of exhalation, for granted, but we should clutch them close. They are our armor against the onslaught.”
(To exhale publicly! To clutch anyone close. To wear less armor.)
Mavis Staples: “Isolated and afraid / Open up this is a raid / I wanna get it through to you / You’re not alone.”
Pandemic interview with Pope Francis: “It’s not easy to be confined to your house. What comes to my mind is a verse from the Aeneid in the midst of defeat: the counsel is not to give up, but save yourself for better times, for in those times remembering what has happened will help us. Take care of yourselves for a future that will come. And remembering in that future what has happened will do you good.”
Letter from Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington: “Rather than triumph, resurrection brings quiet amazement that life can indeed be lived after something precious is lost. The grace and mercy of Christ meet us in the crucible of real life, where real things happen, not all of them easy. These are the times that resurrection faith is for.”
Chris Martin, covering Shelter from the Storm at home:
An essay from T.M. Shine, writer and grocery worker: ” I can’t fathom what each person might be going through — a roofless home, a sister with respiratory problems hibernating in the basement. So, we make our exchange in goods, and then we reinforce each other to keep going. There is something quietly precious about that and I believe all the mutual appreciation and admiration is certainly part of the cure.”
A homily from Thomas Baker, publisher of Commonweal: “But maybe even in solitude, separated from so much that we are used to, we can be given new life. We can ask God to help us experience the constant promise that love works, and to remind us that even in our pain, we have already been redeemed, and nothing can destroy us.”
Our friend Carrie and our neighbor down the block, last week playing a distanced The Swan by Camille Saint-Saëns:
Years ago, I blogged about the great 1980s singing USA Today ads. Recently a reader noted one of the YouTube links had broken, so I found a replacement… and went down the rabbit hole of MORE 1980s USA Today ads. They’re great as kitsch but also as a capture of how different a newspaper it wanted to be.
Paul Ford is great on the nature of digital management. Did I blog this already? I can’t remember. Maybe I’m just reverting to digital comfort food. But still! You dance as fast and as best as you can, and hopefully you’re a decent dancer.
Sometimes the right thing to do is keep going and figure it out later and sometimes the right thing to do is just chill out and wait for the next steps to come into focus, because anything you do will be wasted work. And it’s a coin flip, really. Pure instinct. Meanwhile, we’re in a project-based environment, where leadership means delivering work on time. As a result, my instincts, liberally shared, are basically guaranteed to drive everyone who works with me bananacakes. But my instincts are also pretty good.