13 September 2011

What I've Been Doing Instead of Blogging or Dying

I feel a pang of guilt as I look how infrequently I have posted to this blog in the last month or so.  I think a third or even half of all posts were dedicated to DC Comics's "New 52" relaunch.  Partly that's because I'm a comic book nerd, but largely it's because I only had to copy and paste most of those posts and didn't have to write new content myself.  That lengthy post about "100 Things I Love About Comics" literally took me the entire summer to compose.  I started it in late May.  The main reason for my inactivity of late has been my vitamin D deficiency is out of hand again and it's hard for me to concentrate and my memory is faulty.  I've been trying to read Idiot America, lent to me by a friend, for months now.  I can absorb a few pages at a time and then I have no idea what I've been reading.  It's not the content, or Charles Pierce's writing style; it's my noggin that prevents me finishing the book.  So far all I can recall are the Creation Museum, a guy with an Atlantis obsession and the decline of quality AM radio deejays.  Oh, and Terri Sciavo.

I've also been fighting two never-ending battles with Crohn's and depression.  I've managed to go a whole month (shh!) without taking Prednisone regularly...but I can tell that's coming to an end.  My guts have been increasingly painful in the last few days and I don't think I can afford any longer reprieve from the steroids that have ravaged my back and hips.  I used to take comfort knowing that, even as my body conspires against me, I still had my intellect (such as it is).  The longer I go with this vitamin D deficiency, though, the less solace I have that there's anything useful left to me.  I keep trying to tell myself this is temporary and that I will at least regain my ability to concentrate and remember things, but maybe I won't.  Maybe the concentration returns, but my memory loss is permanent.  I don't know.  What I do know is that I feel a shell of my former self...and I wasn't particularly satisfied with my former self in the first place.

To make sure I understand how worthless I am as a human being and how much of a burden I am to society, the most recent GOP debate included the following moment, as described by Amy Bingham in her report for ABC News:
CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer’s hypothetical question about whether an uninsured 30-year old working man in coma should be treated prompted one of the most boisterous moments of audience participation in the CNN/Tea Party Express.
“What he should do is whatever he wants to do and assume responsibility for himself,” Paul responded, adding, “That’s what freedom is all about, taking your own risk. This whole idea that you have to compare and take care of everybody…”
The audience erupted into cheers, cutting off the Congressman’s sentence.
After a pause, Blitzer followed up by asking “Congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?” to which a small number of audience members shouted “Yeah!”
"If they would rather die, they had better do it
and decrease the surplus population!"
Apparently, developing a chronic digestive disease that makes a conventional daily life impractical--if not outright impossible--was a risk I was free to take (by virtue of being alive, apparently).  I've already admitted that I am selfishly destroying America, but apparently nothing less than my death will satisfy those who haven't been handed an unexpected diagnosis.  I feel like I'm in an alternate universe where Charles Dickens held up Scrooge as the hero of A Christmas Carol and the Cratchits as the villains.  If I was still just a fetus, they'd be fighting for me but now that I'm an actual person, I'm expected to become a success in a vacuum or quietly go away and die and make room for the self-made successes.  Message received.

Over the weekend I broke down and purged from my book library.  Part of me feels like it's incumbent upon me to cultivate an interesting library but then it occurs to me that I'm the only person in the entire world who even knows or cares what books I have.  My wife and I have different taste and while she periodically insists she wants to try reading what I read to expand her horizons, the truth is that she just don't have time for recreational reading and even when she does, she's just not going to actually read what I've read.  There's only one bibliophile in any branch in either of our families, and she has likely already read whatever of mine may interest her.  Since I am extremely unlikely to re-read a book, it just makes little sense for me to keep books I've read.

It was particularly bittersweet to part with some of my works of non-fiction, like President John F. Kennedy's Profiles in Courage.  I felt like a fraud holding onto such books, as though by keeping them on my shelf I was somehow still going to ever accomplish anything in the field of history.  I'm not, and no matter what books I own I'm still going to be the guy whose body has thwarted his pursuit of a career in history.  Besides, now maybe someone who is actually healthy and can make good on their ambitions can find my old books at Half Price Books on the cheap and find something of value to them.

My participation in the monthly DVD Talk challenges has been affected, too; it's just hard for me to pay attention to movies.  This month's theme is the Criterion Collection and I was originally looking forward to it but now that it's here and nearly halfway over, I've barely participated at all.  It's hard enough concentrating on thin material; most of the Criterion Collection is comprised of complex works of cinema (how's that for alliteration?).
Marcello Mastroianni in Federico Fellin's 8 1/2.
Great movie, but taxing on a brain that can't concentrate.
It's not all doom and gloom, however.  I was recently able to resurrect my wife's record player and I've been spinning some vinyl lately.  I resumed participation with the Lost Highway street team (which is now run by Fancorps) and have recently received the new Robert Earl Keen album, Ready for Confetti on vinyl and CD (reviewed here) as well as the Lost Highway 10th Anniversary Edition clear vinyl release of Lucinda Williams's 2007 album, West (which features one of my favorite recordings of the last several years: the album opener, "Are You Alright?").

I don't own much vinyl myself, but I do have my mom's old 45s.  I've gone through them and found a few surprises, such as a George Jones single from 1965 I'd never heard of--"Least of All," which peaked at #15 and is backed with "Brown to Blue."  There were five Kenny Rogers 45s in the lot, but most of her 45s were pop/rock songs including five of The Beatles (for some reason, she has two copies of "Hey Jude"/"Revolution").  I'm familiar with quite a lot of the songs--the A-sides, at least--though I could never in a million years have identified the recording artist of most of them.  There are quite a few I wish I had in my digital library, and I'll likely scour Half Price Books for compilation CDs throughout the rest of the year.  The nice thing about pop/rock songs of the 50s-70s is that they're generally brief and simple enough that even my poor attention span can stay engaged.

Hell, it's taken me nearly three hours just to type this.  It's hard to blog when you forget where you were going with something and have to stop every few minutes to look back at what you've already said.

6 comments:

  1. Derek Armstrong9/18/2011 3:09 AM

    Travis,

    Man, I'm bummed it's been such a rough run for you. Here's to things looking up.

    Your perspective on the value of your book collection is interesting. It's funny, I could almost say the same thing for a DVD collection. It's true, you're more likely to re-watch a film than re-read a book, but most of the films we own we'll still probably only watch two or three more times -- five at best. Their value clearly exists more in what they say about you, when people come over and look on your DVD shelf. The old days, when people used to display CDs on shelves, it was really the best of all worlds -- not only did the art say something about you, it was worth owning because there was a good chance you'd interface with it numerous more times.

    Glad you are re-discovering vinyl. I'm not going to tell you I'm a vinyl guy, though I do own a record player that I've never used (found in my dad's basement). However, I dearly love the IDEA of vinyl and I think it sounds like it has soul-curing properties. :-)

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  2. I'd say we only paid about $5.00 for about half of the DVDs we own. I figure if I watch 'em once and then go through all the bonus content that alone is worth $5.00. It'd be more than that just to have seen the movies at a theater, only at home I have the power to pause as needed (important when your health is like mine!), and I'm a bonus features junkie. I go through "phases and stages," so it's nice to revisit movies and play the commentary track or finally watch the making-ofs and deleted/blooper/outtake content.

    Plus, a lot of stuff is pretty much exclusively my wife's, so I don't feel any obligation to dwell on its significance. ;-)

    One of the really interesting things about vinyl is that you get a feel for sequencing that you don't find with CDs. Albums play differently when you have to actually flip over from Side 1 to Side 2. You discover each side has its own personality in a lot of cases. Take the same exact album, put it on CD and let it play all the way through and while I think you're still aware that the tone changes from the opening of the album, I think more often there's a sense that the album started off one way, but lost its direction. On vinyl, however, it's a lot more obvious that the second half has its own personality, rather than that the album as a whole lost its way.

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  3. Derek Armstrong9/18/2011 4:06 AM

    And you can take that one step further in the mp3 era, when albums often don't even have the ability to assert themselves to the listener as such because the listener is just cherry-picking individual songs off itunes. I wonder how long it will be before bands become disincentivized to even conceptualize their music as albums with distinct throughlines.

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  4. We forget, but the single--rather than the album--was the original dominant, standard form of delivery for recorded music. In 2008, I wrote a 2-part blog post about all this that's probably a little dense by my current standards and thin by scholarly standards but I think is a pretty thorough overview of the dynamics.

    http://travismcclain.blogspot.com/2008/10/survival-of-music-industry-introduction.html

    (There's a link to Part II at the bottom of Part I.)

    I meant to write a third part and never got around to it, but the gist of it would have been that I think, ultimately, it's perfectly fine if artists don't create albums anymore. At least, insofar as let's face it: a lot of albums exist as glorified EPs, padding with filler. If consumers aren't interested in owning that filler, then there's no incentive to producing it in the first place. Artists should be comfortable to say, "I've got these few songs here, and that's all I've got right now. So here they are." Most fans just want what they buy to be satisfying and they'd rather an artist release a series of singles or EPs than to stockpile that content and add a lot of filler just so they can present an album.

    That said, there are lots of artists who really are skilled at crafting albums, and the industry should always be patient with those artists. When Springsteen releases an album, his fans know he's meticulously thought out every line in every song, the relationship between each of the songs and the sequencing is specific to his intention. Same with Norah Jones, or any number of prolific artists in various genres; I think Lady Gaga is an album artist, despite having a penchant for crafting singles-ready songs. Those kinds of artists will always favor the album format.

    So, really, I think if singles artists are free of the pressure to present albums and album artists are free to still hone their fuller works of art, everyone wins. What are we really accomplishing by expecting every new release to be a full fledged album, anyway?

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  5. Becky Connell9/23/2011 8:00 AM

    Travis, you mentioned prednisone ravished your hips and back, i feel the same for myself, I have been experiencing new severe ever increasing degrees of major joint pain. hips and shoulder and low back. Have you had this doctor confirmed, or do you know by how you feel. As sick as we become at times doctors get old quickly..........
    Becky Connell, you can reply to my facebook or facebook email...........I would appreciate it.......

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  6. Oh, I feel it! There have been days where just standing up has been painful. I supplement with calcium and such, but obviously with a vitamin D deficiency, my bones are already behind the 8 ball. I'm not a fan!

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