By Ryan Hilligoss, 11.22.20
- Quarantine Fog. I don’t think I am alone in this, but I have been meaning to write a few posts for a while but between politics and Covid and just being lazy, tired and/or old or any combination thereof, I’ve really been struggling being able to concentrate long enough to even contemplate writing something. Now that the sun goes down so early, I don’t want to do much of anything besides sit in my comfortable recliner, put my feet up and grab the remote or a book and veg out until I fall asleep. One day bleeds into the next in the same manner and even weekends don’t hold the luster they used to when your day to day routine stays pretty much the same. And yet here I am writing because of two things: my friend Dave, who helped set up my blog many moons ago and an ever faithful reader, made a deal with me that if I wrote something, he would do the same since we’re riding in the same existential canoe. And secondly, because of the columns of Chicago Tribune writer Mary Schmich. I have been reading a collection of her columns for some time now, Even The Terrible Things Seem Beautiful To Me Now, one column per day so I can stretch it out and enjoy the words that seem so effortless but I know they are anything but. When a professional makes it seem so easy, that’s when you know they are working hard behind the scene to improve their craft. In a column from March 21, 2003 entitled “How Not To Write” she gives 16 tips on how not to do it, and two stood out to me.
“Do not wait for inspiration. You don’t need inspiration to write, you need a deadline. If you write only when you’re inspired, you’ll have dust free floors, a gleaming toilet, mounds of clean underwear- and a blank computer screen.”
“Do not wait for “perfect” writing conditions. By the time you’ve perfected your environment, it will be happy hour. On the other hand, if you need a short vodoo dance before you write- making another cup of coffee, mating your socks, clipping your toenails- indulge in your warm up jig. getting ready to write is part of writing. But remember, as some famous author once said, that the secret of writing is staying in the chair.”
Isn’t that the truth when it comes to most thing in life; work, parenting, relationships, cleaning the house, reading, etc. It’s work: stay in the chair and get it done.
2. Karass: As indicated above, so much of life is difficult. The day to day living is what wears you out. But it’s the friends and family you have in life as well as outsiders who inspire you whether writers, painters, and musicians to try, to look at the world differently, to write, to make that phone call, to get up off the couch and do something with your day. Just knowing someone cares and wants to hear what you have to say or just hello is enough.
From Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich writing on Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle and the idea of a Karass: “A karass, to me, meant a group of people to which you belonged not by a fluke of common blood or nationality but because you shared some spirit, some purpose, some sensibility toward life. You didn’t know who the members of your karass were until, unpredictably, you met them, but when you met them, you knew.”
For the members of my karass whether through blood or friend, thank you for being a part of mine and allowing me to be a part of yours.
3. Early Christmas. I’ve seen a lot of debate about decorating for Christmas early this year and what’s appropriate, what goes against norms a protocols and what is civilized. Who cares??? We are in the middle of a world wide pandemic, people are stuck inside their houses for the majority of the time, people are bored out of their minds and down hearted. If you want to put up your Christmas lights or tree and decorate early: just do it. It’s none of their business. What is it hurting for someone who needs their spirit lifted to bring them some joy? The spirit of Christmas should live all year round, not just for a few weeks around the holidays.
4. David Sedaris, The Best of Me. Like most of his fans, I first heard of David Sedaris while listening to NPR’s This American Life and the smooth voice of host Ira Glass. It’s where I heard David do his impression of Billy Holiday singing the theme to Oscar Meyer bologna, describe wild family, his mother, father and siblings, and most famously, read his Santa Land Diary story which made him a literary sensation. I’ve seen David do live readings and I love the sound of his voice and watching him make notes with a pencil as he recites each story, making edits on the fly and knowing what works or not. The Best of Me is an anthology of his favorite pieces stretching over a thirty year career. If you have never read any of his material, this would be a good place to start.
5. Music. During the last eight months of the pandemic, I’ve turned to music to get me through the days whether on long walks on dusty roads, siting at my desk working or driving. Whether it’s Willie Nelson, Otis Redding, Leon Bridges, Kacey Musgraves, John Prine or any others, their artistry, words, music, arrangements and spirit lift me up for a brief time and give me strength to keep moving. New albums recently include Chris Stapleton’s Starting Over, The Maverick’s En Espanol and Bruce Springsteen’s Letter To You. As Willie Nelson, one of America’s last hard core troubadours, says above, music is the one universal language we all understand regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or politics, it reminds us of our humanity. Below is a release of John Prine’s last recording before he passed earlier this year from complications due to Covid, I Remember Everything which went to number one on the country charts. Right up until the end, of the greatest song writers of the last 50 years was at the top of his game. His passing broke my heart and he took a small piece of me with him when he left, but I still listen and makes me see the world in a different way with each replay.
6. Carl Hiaasen’s Squeeze Me. Despite his prolific career, I did not pick up a Hiaasen novel until a few years ago while browsing through the fiction section of my local library and though I would give his Razor Girl a try. Set in Florida with witty, funny dialogue and unforgettable characters, his novels are funny, insightful and works by a master craftsman. Often featuring strong, defiant female lead characters and a wide variety of Florida land grifters, developers, back water characters, imbicilic felons and low level miscreants, each novel tells disparate stories that are entangled and entwined together and come to a roaring cataclysmic ending. His latest is a timely, satiric take down of The President, code named The Mastadon by his dutiful secret service agents who escort him from one act of debauchery to another, whether he’s getting his daily 13 minute tan in specially designed tanning booth sized appropriately for a narwhal, drinking 23 cans of Dr.Pepper a day and eating 8 McDonalds’s egg McMuffins or boning his “nutritionist” while the first lady has an affair with her own special secret service agent. Frequent characters like the former Floridian governor Clint Tyree, known as the Captain, and his care taker, former Florida State Trooper Jim Tile come to life as The Captain wreaks havoc with 20 feet pythons being unleashed in the wrong places at the wrong times, causing the President problems along the way. If you’re looking for something fun and light hearted to read, check it out.
7. Bruce Springsteen’s Letter To You. Springsteen released his 20th studio album recently along with an accompanying documentary featuring footage of the recording of his album along with the E Street Band at his home studio in Colts neck, NJ. The film, directed by long time Springsteen collaborator Thom Zimny, is fantastic and a great film for anyone to watch whether you like his music or not, just to see brothers in arms of decades work together live in the studio, collaborating and working their way through the arrangements and changes on the fly, master craftsmen at their finest. The album is the first one recorded live in studio with the band in decades and in my opinion is one of the finest of his career. I would rank it up in my top 5-7 of all his albums after having listened to it frequently for a month. Standout tracks for me include A Song For Orphans and If I Were The Priest, originally written and recorded as demos back in the early 70s but now finding a home with full band arrangements, and seamlessly fitting into the narrative arc of the album, despite the years in between when the songs were written. My favorite song by far is I’ll See You In My Dreams, the closing track of the album and one written for his missing E Street Band mates Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici, members of his first band the Castilles including founding member George Theiss who passed away in 2018 and inspired the album, as well as the friends and family he has lost along the way. As usual, Springsteen writes from his own life experiences, but he sings for all of us who have lost loved ones along the way and remember and think of them often. Thank you Boss Man.
“The road is long and seeming without end
The days go on, I remember you my friend
And though you’re gone
And my heart’s been emptied it seems
I’ll see you in my dreams
I’ll see you in my dreams
When all the summers have come to an end
I’ll see you in my dreams
We’ll meet and live and love again
I’ll see you in my dreams
Yeah, up around the river bend
For death is not the end
And I’ll see you in my dreams”
What can I say? The last few years have been exhausting. I am down hearted and dispirited not knowing until now how many truly ugly souled, mean spirited, narrow minded and self interested people walk among us on a daily basis. It has made me question my faith in my fellow citizens and our ability to remain bound by common interests and our humanity. However, we are still here, for now, and I see touching displays of kindness and decency every day whether in the aisles of the local grocery store, on TV, and in newspapers. Our country and the well being of all of us is not a contact sport, there are no winners and losers, we rise and fall together. Despite the ugliness and hatred on daily display, America remains a beacon of hope for people all over the world who still travel to our shores and become citizens, looking for a better way of life for themselves and their loved ones. Let us once again be the light that shines down the path of justice and mercy and safety regardless of nationality, race, ethnicity, religion or political affiliation. Peace and love are the way, not hatred and bigotry and self serving agendas.
Thanks for reading.