Monday, July 28, 2008

The Sea of Heartbreak
Godfrey Reggio and Phillip Glass have known for more than 20 years now that the human world is swallowing itself whole. The Third World, a giant boa constrictor striped in orange and red and green, is abandoning its young to the machine world where industry can be had for its own sake, minds can be numbed and molded into the mechanized global drumbeat of steel wheels and mathematical calisthenics. That’s what the film Powaqqatsi is about. The rare moments when the old is swallowed by the new and strange and we see the world shifting trying to obscure the emotive side of people who still go seriously about ritual practice. There is not so much joy as pure concentration in the eyes of people (what Hegel thought of as the surface of the soul) who still do their dances and their prayers in the midst of natural poverty. The concentration is against the lure of technology, the conquest of space and things by time: there is no more efficient way to dance, and sing or meditate than that which we have been taught by our fathers and grandfathers. Worship is anti-efficiency. And though these stories may be false to think of as natural (as Derrida has told us), the narration of it is nevertheless as honest as the eyes of a Bolivian school boy who knows only what he has seen and heard. These things take time and the space proper to the text which surrounds them (context). Our world depends on our mediation of it, and the media which we comprehend is saturating and ubiquitous: there is no alternative to modernity.
Reggio who spent 14 years of his life in silence as a young Catholic knows this it seems. We are being subsumed despite our best intentions and concentrations. When I sat on the green folding chairs in Prospect Park listening to the aging Philip Glass combine the tribal with the technic and the religious with the profane and the particular with the universal, I was mesmerized by the sounds and sights of human industry, of handiwork, of ecological systems we build with our hands into immense matrices of exchange and how in the midst of what become monstrous machine worlds of ill-conceived plans we still live carving out little niches from which we carry on the things we must carry. It’s quite a world out there.
I was stuck also by the way the film ended with the call to prayer of Sheikh Ahmed Dewidar. The thousands in the park fell into mute silence under his spell as he sang over and over again “Allah Akbar – God is Great.” It was hard not to tingle a little bit and wonder with immense sadness at how we have revolted against this confession. Gene and Amy were here with us enjoying the concerts of the city (they also joined us a bit in appreciating the way Johnny Cash made a way for the soul to sing in a desert place) and the next night when we made our way past the ground zero of the so-called war on terror Jennifer told me that she feels sad not just for all of our neighbors who died here 7 years ago – but the way we have turned the world into hell for so many children and fathers and mothers as a result. The weight of it is immense. Johnny Cash died not wanting it and I want it never again.

Monday, July 21, 2008


Nice quiet weekend alone in the city with no rushing around trying to do too much. We started out with the joyful noises of Deerhoof in Prospect Park on Friday night. We drank tons of iced coffee, told each other ridiculous stories from work, and laughed at the little Japanese girl in her own little world singing her own funny songs on the stage while her band mates jammed their hearts out into our ears. The lyrics didn’t stick too well but the mood of it – going passionately about your work without taking it too seriously – seemed like exactly what we needed to hear. Hopefully that will stay with us over the next stretch of time. We need to stay focused on our work without being stressed like over-tightened unraveling strings like the ones on my guitar which we finally resurrected this week and strummed into some easy playing folksongs. The ritual of it feels nice and I hope that continues a while longer too.

Flat tires, sprained feet, displaced wrist bones, fake poison ivy, broken printers, canceled classes, none of that can stop us from doing what has to happen for us to flow with the images we have projected for ourselves. We like those slightly out-of-tune people too much to just let them fade away into rust and depression.

Next weekend we think will be one of the highlights of the summer. Philip Glass will be in Prospect Park performing the soundtrack to POWAQQATSI while the film plays behind him on New York’s largest movie screen outside in the park with silvery airplanes sliding silently into La Guardia overhead. I always love seeing something I’ve internalized and made into the rhythm with which I can conduct life performed in time-space which is real to me. We also might have Gene and Amy here for some museum hopping.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The 309

Things are chugging along on the Byler home front. Summer is zooming by faster than Hans’ red Mustang rental car on the New Jersey turnpike. Bethanie wuz here and her mere presence makes me newly aghast at every drop of water I send down the drain and every penny I spend on anything non-bare-necessity-ish. We are enjoying her company and are trying to keep the furtive dishwashing maneuvers, etc to a minimum.

Darren and I are feeling our age (please don’t laugh) which makes us feel compelled to prioritize our areas of interest and leaves us with smalls pangs of guilt whenever we realize that I haven’t made any music to speak of for years now and Darren’s camera sits around collecting dust. I miss nothing about being a teenager except maybe the feeling of endless possibility – that if I work really hard to cultivate my skills, great strides could be made on the world saving front. Such sentiments are long gone and, at this point, it would seem an unimaginable feat to make a very small dent in the human rights situation in Northwest China, pay off our college loans, keep ourselves clothed & housed, provide a home for a few little munchkins and cook dinner at the end of the day.

Spending so much of my time in the presence of actual old people has been such a handbook for living. It has taught me that it is probably a good idea to be nice to your children. And that funding your mother’s 24 hour “care” by some migrant worker is no substitute for spending a few years with her yourself (unless they happen to be Philippino in which case you don’t have a chance of measuring up to them). I have learned that people still very much want to live even in unimaginable circumstances – ex: living in a cramped apartment where a dozen family members lie around in various stages of drug-induced stupor while you fight end stage cancer – your best friend being the bucket beside your bed that faithfully collects your bile and doesn’t complain when it’s not emptied for weeks. I leave some of these places thinking “Um, could you remind me again why you don’t plaster that Do Not Resuscitate order all over your walls” and “Please remind me not to complain about my hangnail.” It has taught me that a pleasant disposition in an elderly person is such an admirable and beautiful thing (miraculous, spectacular. . . I’ll spare you all the adjectives that come to mind).

In the midst of all this, there is cause for happiness. Darren has not yet turned into a ware wolf after three years of marriage. We are half way through paying off nearly six figures of college debt. Olivia and Marilyn have birthed two comely baby girls each that they allow us to associate with. We are officially rodent free. And then the stuff of our dreams - we will soon be footloose and fancy free on our way out of east coasting.