“Vershinin: Yes. But how many flowers you have here! And what wonderful quarters. I envy you! All my life I moved from one small apartment to the next, with two chairs, one sofa, and a stove that always smoked. What my life lacks are flowers just like these…” – The Three Sisters, Act I, by Anton Chekhov
Spent Thanksgiving on the shore of Long Lake near Olympia, WA, where a friend of one of my housemates lives. We enjoyed an apparently rare view of Mount Rainer (usually obscured by clouds), got a lot of quality time with a quality dog, and I even went out for a short kayak paddle. Since I left home for college, no two thanksgivings have been the same. It has been a weird holiday, a reminder of the weirdness inherant in being a young adult. Now thinking about it, my six west coast thanksgivings have all been entirely unique, no two shared with the same people. Some have been great, some have been amazing, all have been at least a little awkward. This one was a good one. It was especially nice getting out of town.
On my paddle I was reminded of home. I grew up right off a lake called Long Pond, a very similar (and similarly named) body of water to Long Lake, where I was yesterday. God knows the last time I was in a kayak, but as I pushed off from the dock it all came back to me; the lowness of the vessel, the balance, the stroke. When I would go kayaking as a kid there would inevitably be some point during the paddle, however short, where I would grow tired, and hate kayaking. Hate everything about it, and feel stupid, and weak, and feel indignant that my family couldn’t have a motor boat like all the other normal families, and I would just want to be done and not have to paddle anymore, and just be home, now! The pleasure of the journey was not completely lost, but certainly taken for granted.
I think it’s interesting how the things we do to relax, the activities we cherish as ways to recharge ourselves, change and morph over time. On the one hand we can grow weary of even our favorite things. We can blow thru seemingly everything worth watching on netflix, or binge-watch until we hate ourselves. But on the other hand, things that used to be chores can become cherished activities, things we can’t get enough of. This alchemical process is fickle, and you certainly can’t force it, but when it happens in my life I am perpetually surprised and delighted.
I’ve never enjoyed listening to music outloud, but recently I have been delighted to find within myself a near-unsatiable appetite for Bob Dylan, who I listen to in my room. I never liked listening to music outloud because it felt somehow too personal and too embarrassing. It wasn’t exactly that I believed the people around me would judge me fore my choices, exactly. But maybe deep down an ever-so-subtle belief that even if they might not be judging me, they should be judging me for my ill informed taste. And since I couldn’t relax with music others might hear on, I never listened to music out loud. And that was just that.
So over the last few years, I have gradually tried to coax myself into listening to more music, and listening in different ways. I have treated it like a chores, something that’ll be good for me in the long run. I am eating my musical vegitables. The radio was a godsend. That’s a funny thing to say in 2015, but where I grew up there were maybe four audible commercial radio stations, and they all kind of sucked. Portland has, like, a dozen, and over the last year as I’ve driven a lot, I have listened to all kinds of music I would have never heard otherwise. And over the last year I have taken baby steps towards socially enjoying music. It started when I knew I was home alone, I would put music on. And listen. And frantically turn it down when the mailman came. And then laugh at how ridiculous that was, then turn it up again. And then I would prepare a playlist of unembarrassing songs, and listen quietly while doing chores or the like. And now, I am just devouring Bob Dylan.
I love Blood on the Tracks. What a fucking album. As a comedian I always struggled to find jokes that would make a good “opener,” that first joke of the set that requires no context, introduces what you’re about, and is immediately funny. Well, with an album you need that opener too, and “Tangled Up in Blue,” can’t start much stronger than that. And the whole album. I just love it. I’m now going into his earlier stuff, which has more of the Dylan I’m familiar with. But Blood on the Tracks. Oh man. I’ve probably listened to that album six times this week. All the way thru. Out loud.
I forget where I got this, but I read somewhere about politics, how the thing that marks a real fundamental change in the national political discourse isn’t when your side “wins.” It’s when the other guys acquiesce. The example given was Regan and tax cuts/the ideology of small government. The writer argued that the conservatives won definitavely not with any of their victories, but when Bill Clinton, in his ’96 State of the Union address (after the dems were crushed in a midterm) said, “The era of big government is over.”
So to, I think, with the things we like. Chores of all sorts can be enjoyable. But the real magic happens when an activity becomes something you use to get thru your day. Take cofee, for example. For a long time, I regarded coffee as a chore, something I was offered occasionally, which I would labor to turn down without seeming impolite. Then one morning I was cold, and groggy, and a professor offered me coffee, and I didn’t turn it down. And I liked it. But not in a profound way. Not yet. The next stage was a boring platonic relationship with coffee. I liked it, sort of, but I dared not use it, dared not enjoy it and trust it to always give me kick. Now, I love coffee. I love love love love coffee. I wanna marry coffee. I use it to wake up, to warm my body and mind, to stay awoken. Where I used to labor to turn down coffee politely, now I labor to not love coffee quite so much. To keep the love righteous in the eyes of God and man. And in this effort, I find new things to love. Tea. A good night’s sleep. I cheat on coffee and seek other things I can use to get thru my days.
How wild to think that we all have such different tools. That the book you labored thru in college is the book someone else turns to when they’re feeling down and out. That your favorite music, to someone else, is just noise. I think we should always be on the lookout for new tools. New things help us get thru our days. We should study each other more rigorously, and take notes as to the clever ways different people have devised to squeeze joy out of life.
Yesterday out on the water my arms started to tire. I put the paddle down, pulled out my phone, and listened to Bob Dylan on Long Lake. It was divine.