A Difference of Opinion

“I heard the rain impinge upon the earth, the fine incessant needles of water playing in the sodden beds.”                                                     –from “Araby,” Dubliners. James Joyce

 

Rainy days are unpopular in many circles. I hesitate to tell people that I exult in them. A close IMG_1897friend once told me I was “just trying to be different,” and so, by the tiniest of degrees, I turned further inward. The rainy day is freighted with a stigma, like introversion, as in, the loudest among us see it as undesirable. The only time a rainy day is undesirable to me is when I am caught without an umbrella, but a lack of preparation is not the fault of the rain, out there puddling the sidewalk, pattering the leaf litter, dispersing its crystalline sheets in the gray dusk.

 

I suppose rainy days do magnify the melancholy. But, oh! How they magnify the melancholy! A land beset by weather brims with readymade stories—everybody knows this. And not only stories but imaginings. I cannot be the sole dreamer who looks out at the soggy air, the soil rendered as clay, the rain-blackened bark of the sugar maple, and has visions of monsters or shady dealings or doomed romances—hints, even, of the supernatural—all with the creeping fog as backdrop, the mist as backlit scrim. In rain, there is a somber mood (believe me) that delights, ripe with that feature whose signifier has become trite with overuse: ambience.

 

If “ambience” is overused, then “atmosphere” is vague. Maybe it is better to speak of rain in terms of space, in that it creates its own space. It narrows the field of vision, brings it close. Is not the horizon more intimate when sunlight has been muted? Whether by weather or by setting. I mean “close” as in snug, accessible. Depth perception askew, we guess things closer than they are—a coyote’s bark, a scream that we tell ourselves is a mountain lion, sticks that crack under a moving body’s weight, tires sloughing “softly on wet macadam.”[1]Darkness gathers the horizon at night; rain can do it by day, often dimming the transition from sunlight to moonlight.

 

Rainy days provide space for the imagination. Everybody knows this.

 

 

[1] In Provinces of Night, William Gay describes the sound of a patrol car rolling up behind one of his characters on a rainy night. Macadam is broken stone used to pave roads. “Slough” is a beautiful verb.

Goodbye, Nashville…Sort Of

The sun sets on the Belcourt.
The sun sets on the Belcourt.

The sun sets on the Belcourt.  Three arched awnings slant-shade the ticket window.  I sit inside what has always been my ideal coffee shop, Fido, and watch interesting people walk up and down the bricked path alongside 21st Avenue.  In this neighborhood, Hillsboro Village, dusk embodies one of the best things about Nashville:  an independent, artistic spirit that flies beyond the city’s rhinestoned and cornponed stereotypes.  It’s never been about country music for me.  Even when I gave it what I felt was a fair shot, it never quite fit.  Too much of rock’s rebel fire flows in these veins.  As a teenager, I was told that, one day, I would like country music.  Perhaps that’s a foregone conclusion for some in my hometown in rural west Tennessee.  But here I am, pushing thirty-nine, and I would take a fuzzed out, power-chord burst of disjointed indie rock any day.

 

This piece is not about music, however.  Rock writing is excessive enough without my stubborn opinions.  No, it’s about saying goodbye to the city I’ve called home since my mid-twenties.  Goodbye to my coming-of-age, where I learned about the onstage rush that follows a good crowd response at a gig, only to feel the emptiness of realizing that most people have never heard of me or our band.  It’s where I learned how to endure personal hardship, and about the value of friends and family.  (Wow, this is beginning to sound a little too much like a country song.)  Nashville is where I learned that the world is big in a way that statistics and demographics cannot teach.  It’s where I learned that people are generally good, or at least good-hearted, barring the selfishness that afflicts us all.  And here comes the cliche:  it’s where I figured out who I am.  I know it sounds sentimental, but there’s no better way to put it.  When you find yourself alone in a city that is sixty times larger than the town in which you grew up, you tend to learn some hard lessons.  You really learn them.  Internalize them, move forward from them, grow with them.  Nashville symbolizes all of this.

 

It’s true that we’re not moving very far–the opposite end of an adjacent county–but we are, in fact, moving.  For the first time in a really long time, I will not have Davidson County tags on my license plate.  A trip downtown will require a bit more planning.  I will miss the easy access to places like Fido and the Red Door, or to the rock clubs on Elliston Place, or Centennial Park in the fall, when the TACA craft fair sets up its rows of tents.  It’s not that I’ve been going to these places of late, but I’ve grown accustomed to knowing that they are there.  That they are part of the city I’ve proudly called home for so many tumultuous and glorious years.

 

Anyway, a new chapter begins, and I’m actually warming to the notion of a quieter existence in a smaller setting, my growing family around me.  Chances are, however, that when someone from another part of the country asks where I’m from, I’ll say Nashville.  It’s close enough, right?

 

Rewind.  Earlier I said that dusk embodies this so-called independent, artistic spirit, but I did not explain how.  It’s not complicated.  Dusk is magic, wherever you are–city, ocean, mountains, woods.  Dusk is when, thirteen years ago, I recognized the genie-soul* of Hillsboro Village, and that essence extended to include all of Nashville in some way or other.  I felt it then as I feel it now, watching the sun disappear behind Sam’s Sports Bar and Grill.

The sun disappears behind Sam's.
The sun disappears behind Sam’s.

 

*”Genie-soul” is a Walker Percy-ism.  He uses the term to indicate the general feeling of a place:  “every place has [it] or else is not a place.”  You really should read The Moviegoer.

Alan’s Practical Guide to Daily Existence, Western Edition

We see these memes come across our Facebook feeds from time to time–snappy-fonted lists of ways to live.  The most famous one I recall begins with “dance like nobody’s watching.”  I guess that’s a nice sentiment, but I know myself well enough to admit that I’m never going to do that.  It seems like advice for a certain personality type.  The anxiety that would accompany such an effort outweighs any potential reward. It’s just not worth it, i.e., it’s not practical (for me, anyway, and probably not for about 49% of the population).  The rest of the aforementioned meme rings equally impractical:  we’ve all been hurt by someone we love and will likely be hurt again; someone is always listening, unless you’re alone in a far wilderness; and life on earth, though sometimes grand, cannot honestly be called “heaven.”

 

So I made a list.  It’s too long to fit into a snappy-fonted meme, but each point felt necessary.  It was designed with all people in mind, regardless of creed.  I understand that some of these suggestions may not resonate with less individualistic cultures, but my intention was to root it solely in the modern human experience, as I have come to know it in first-world, western civilization.  Please comment.

 

Alan’s Practical Guide to Daily Existence, Western Edition

 

1.  Know that there will always be something out of reach.

2.  As often as needed, figure out who you are.  Operate from that place.  This may require courage.

3.  Moments of insecurity will come.  Instead of trying to overcome them, learn to weather them with dignity and grace.

4.  Everybody feels pain and loss.  Weather these also with dignity and grace.

5.  Learn to see the world with imagination.

6.  Search for the explanation; accept that you may never find a satisfactory one.

7.  Enjoy all of your senses.

8.  Realize that the majority of people mean you no harm; they’re trying to get through the day, too.

9.  Give.

10.  If you create things, share them.  Even when it feels like few are interested.  An audience of one is still an audience.

11.  If you do not create things, then nourish a love for the things created by others.

12.  Accept that the thing you’re good at may not appeal to very many people.  Then again, it may.  Either way, your personal satisfaction in doing it should not diminish.

13.  Remember that people who give advice are, like you, trying to figure things out.  Suspect anyone who claims to have all of life’s answers.

14.  Embrace the virtues of the social class* into which you were born.  Social-climbing is soulless.

15.  Let a landscape (or seascape, or cityscape) imprint itself on your psyche.

16.  If you demand space to make up your mind, allow others the same courtesy.  You cannot dictate another’s thoughts.

17.  Travel, as far and as frequently as your circumstances will allow.

18.  Try silence.

19.  Be sure that your words are your own.

20.  Remember that occasional loneliness is the price of individuality.

 

*explicit lyrics Dance Like...