Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Diary: The Year of the Magnet Castles



1. Doris Henson, When You Go
2. Funkadelic, Cosmic Slop
3. Smashing Pumpkins, Starz
4. Smashing Pumpkins, Bring the Light
5. M.C. Breed, No Frontin' Allowed
6. Eminem, Evil Deeds
7. Ladytron, Cease 2 Exist
8. Mazzy Star, Unreflected
9. Elisabeth Blair, Secret
10. Unkle, War Stories
11. J.T., Murder Mitten
12. Nova Moturba, Burning Rain
13. Sufjan Stevens, Chicago
14. Tori Amos, Black Swan
15. Radiohead, House of Cards
16. James Brown, There Was a Time
17. Joy Division, Love Will Tear Us Apart Again
18. Miles Davis, All Blues
19. Bjork, Mouth's Cradle
20. Bjork, One Day
21. Tori Amos, Girl Disappearing
22. The Velvet Underground, Heroin
23. Kansas, Carry on Wayward Son
24. R.E.M., Hollowman
25. Ladytron, Discotraxx
26. Radiohead, Iron Lung

Navel Gazing:

What a weird year... I always listen to the music and then make up my mind about what the year should be called, but it's never premeditated, and if I have an inkling beforehand the result usually isn't what I expect. As a result, the name may be more intuitive than allegorical.

I don't know exactly what a magnet castle is.

I do know that the last year felt sort of like an add one extension to my MFA eduction... I felt that I was learning and in a very structured and deliberative way. However, whoever was deliberating wasn't me, because most of the plans I made this year didn't quite pan out as expected. A little spooky. The year itself was vivisected between two cities, cut up with numerous weddings and funerals, I broke a lease so I wasn't living where I expected, and I didn't get the job I expected. In fact, I've worked three different jobs in the last twelve months, and soon I will be working the fourth. I spent the hottest summer and fall of my life in New York only to arrive in Chicago just in time for the coldest winter and spring since 1995-1996. My very capable wife is finishing up her career education, and I am in the role of breadwinner for the first time ever. The permutations on the Gothic Funk enterprise have been... interesting. And my big literary achievements this year have been a few successful readings, more way-pre-dinosaur time travel stories, an adaptation of Beowulf more violent than a Frank Miller comic, and the publication of a naughty poem. Still no word on Hungry Rats. I've been with such a fog that I haven't gone to church or posted here in months. Kind of strange: I have gotten a lot of reading and writing and exploring done.

One thought, though, does strike regarding the name: "Magnet Castles." Could they be cities? After all, cities, and specifically city centers are concentration fabricated metal things that could be more conveniently magnetized than an arbitrary patch of countryside. Or perhaps more meaningfully, cities are metaphorical social magnets, siphoning resources and human beings and repelling each other, with tension in both directions. In the second instance, this has certainly been the case for me this year. One of the last substantive posts I published here was a 21 point comparison of New York and Chicago. I still buy most of the arguments I made there, but in another way they seem frivolous, silly, kind of missing the point.

Of course, maybe it's frivolous and silly to compare cities so obsessively from any angle. But I can't escape the impression that moving back to Chicago transformed New York for me, and utterly changed Chicago itself. When I first moved to New York, I disliked the city. I was going there because a good, solid MFA program had accepted me, but I wasn't thrilled about New York itself. When I left last November, I had come to accept a grudging affection for that city. Now, in June, there's nothing grudging about it: I can be almost as full-throated in my praise of New York as I am of Chicago. This is in spite of the fact that the same things that bugged me about New York before (the crowdedness, the speed and impatience, the pretension, the Yankees) still bug me. Chicago does seem smaller than it did before, but I do not know that this is significant either. The most enduring impression I've ever had of Chicago is that it is a fundamentally lonely place, and maybe that's part of my affinity for it. I feel that maybe I am a fundamentally lonely person, which doesn't mean that I'm always feeling lonely or sad, nor does it mean that I revel in the melodrama of isolation. But solitude motivates me, stimulates me, and brings things into clarity. I've always felt that I do my best reading and writing alone in diners, when I am at a booth and all of the other booths are crowded and noisy, or when I'm up alone at five in the morning when the rest of the neighborhood is quiet and dark. That is one thing I've always loved about Chicago. The Red Line is lonely, the skyscrapers are lonely, as is the lake fading into nothing far away, empty and blue, and gray in cracking ice through the winter. Anyone who has seen the Loop at night (giant quarter-mile high shadows fall across empty alleys and streets) knows how lonely it can be, and it is a far cry from Midtown Manhattan. Blue and still and peaceful. The Blues radiated from here, after all.

On to the final point on magnets and castles and cities and things. If one accepts the notion of a human soul (and I do) and accepts a definition of city preferring institutional and social interaction at one place as opposed to the physical shape of the place itself, it is quite reasonable to say that a city has a soul. This is true in almost as literal a sense as can be said of a human. Comparing one city to another is a lot like gossiping about our friends and enemies: we may make honest and worthwhile observations, but we can never quite touch on the substance of what they are in such a conversation. Maybe that is why I am so touchy and invested in Flint, although I have not lived there for a substantial time since 2003: it is a soul that I've felt that I've known. Maybe I've been a bit of a hypocrite when it came to Chicago and New York.


A long and short year... an chopped and trunchated year... all sorts of meanderings. I do feel like I've grown a lot, but can't really pinpoint how or when.

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