Posts Tagged ‘Life Work’

What a confounding time this is. I’ve been running and lifting weights to prepare for the war with Canada. Fox News claims it will be “a mere matter of marching.” Trump promised me I’d be making love to Celine Dion at 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa by Labour Day.

But instead of decimating Canadians with my fabulous hair and sense of irony, the invasion is on hold while the total resources of the United States are focused on locking kids in wire cages. If we don’t want to import kids, waiting until they cross the border before locking them in wire cages is a waste of time. Why can’t we keep them out before they ever get here by slapping tariffs on them? Works with everything else.

While I try desperately to hold onto what’s left of my soul as a U.S. citizen, I want to remark on the passing of the poet Donald Hall, who was 89. Hall wrote one of my favorite books, Life Work, which he published in 1993. The 2003 edition has a new introduction. This is only partly a book about being a writer. It’s mostly about work. Working. Work to do.

The first half of the book is all about Hall’s best imaginable day – spent at his desk, working, of course. (He also walked his dog in the woods and that evening watched two baseball games on TV while dictating letters.) From this I learned that you can’t just have a best day. You have to earn it, grow into it, survive long enough to grab it. “Contentment is work so engrossing that you do not know that you are working,” he writes. “You are only content when you have no notion of contentment.” He quotes the artist Auguste Rodin: “To work is to live without dying.”

Hall’s career might not be possible today. In 1993, he could pay for a typist for a year by selling one extra essay or book review to what he called a “periodical.” He sometimes employed several typists simultaneously, each working about four hours a week. Essays and book reviews must’ve been lucrative in 1993!

Hall provided his own epitaph in the last line of the book: “There is only one long-term project.”

I’m looking forward to my retirement, when I can stop slinging words for The Man and do nothing but my own work. Until then….at the rate we’re going, I might not get to Celine before Boxing Day.

Random Pick of the Day
My Bloody Valentine, Loveless (1991)
MBV was yet another British band that was going to be the next Beatles. On Loveless, they lather on distorted guitars and distorted keyboards and distorted road graders until you get an out-of-focus Smashing Pumpkins or an experience not unlike listening to David Bowie through soup.

They occasionally spawn a mesmerizing melody, and the boy-girl singers are excellent at sighing and singing drawn-out, disconnected syllables, but most of this record sucks. Why is it a Pick? Because if Loveless had been a four-song EP instead of the 11-song equivalent of Shackleton’s struggle to survive the South Pole, this review would be a rave rather than a rant. If you were listening to alt radio in the 1990s, those four songs would be a chunk of your life’s soundtrack: “Come in Alone,” “I Only Said,” “Only Shallow,” and “Soon.”

They’re not good at song titles, either.

Critics noticed that MBV performed while staring down at their shoes and dubbed them “shoegazers.” This was a band that was never going to lose the ball in the lights.

Random Pan of the Day
MC Hammer, Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ’Em (1990)
I found this at a yard sale. It’s as monotonous as I remembered. However, this time around I realized that any spot in any song where Hammer is quiet immediately improves. Also, his cover of “Have You Seen Her” (a hit for The Chi-Lites in 1971) completely gets away from him. By the halfway point of “Have You Seen Her,” Hammer is trying to squeeze himself past his backup singers, who don’t notice that he’s there. With no one else to talk to, he asks himself if he’s seen her. Turns out he hasn’t. He gives up in the final 15 seconds, and the song takes off, with a surprising and effective ending.

I was saddened to learn that Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ’Em is the biggest-selling rap album in the history of everything. Hammer hurt us.