On Defending Joy, Winter, Staying in Edmonton, Obsession, and On Learning from Springsteen
Let’s start with joy. Always, joy.
A poem by Mario Benedetti, an Uruguayan writer.
In Defence of Joy
by Mario Benedetti
Defend joy as a trench
defend it from scandal and routine
from misery and miserable
from temporary absences
and from definitive ones
Defend joy as a principle
defend it from wonder and nightmares
from neutrals and neutrons
from sweet infamies
and serious diagnoses
Defend joy as a flag
defend it from lightning and melancholy
from naives and rogues
from rhetoric and cardiac attacks
from endemics and academics
Defend joy as a destiny
defend it from fire and firefighters
from suicidal and homicidal
from vacations and burden
from the obligation of being happy
Defend joy as a certainty
defend it from oxide and dirt
from the famous patina of time
from dew and opportunism
from pimps of laughter
Defend joy as a Right
defend it from God and winter
from capital letters and death
from surnames and sorrows
and from joy itself.
So in spite of the EXTREME weather in Edmonton this past week, I still want to say how wonderful winter is and how it brings people together. Also, it’s beautiful and austere and very real. It can be long, and harsh, and way too dark, but I find it feeds my soul, too. I wouldn’t know how to live without a good proper winter.
I’m often quoting this next bit from Rumi:
The mystery does not get clearer by repeating the question,
nor is it bought with going to amazing places.
Until you’ve kept your eyes
and your wanting still for fifty years,
you don’t begin to cross over from confusion.
People leave, and leaving is always sexier then staying. I get that. Both Rob and I know that staying is not seen as cool. Edmonton is known as the city you escape from and most of our friends left ages ago. There is little artist cred gained from staying in this winter city. But it’s mostly in the mind anyway. There’s the part in Springsteen on Broadway, where he makes fun of the fact that Mr. Born to Run ends up in spitting distance of the place he ran from. Well, we didn’t even run. But we’re both still making art, writing, painting. That HAS to mean SOMETHING.
The thing is we’ve each spent our lives following whatever obsessed us, Rob and I. Springsteen, too, amiright? And there’s a lesson there. Currently I’m unapologetically obsessed with Springsteen, as regular readers of this blog know. About six months ago, I took the CD from the player in my car that’s been there since Leonard Cohen left us – You Want it Darker. And in went Springsteen’s Greatest Hits, which admittedly helped my mood, though it’s Leonard Cohen forever for me. His photograph is front and centre on my fridge door so he’s there for me whenever I put milk in my coffee.
My iTunes library is getting stuffed full of Springsteen. I make no acceptable apologies for my late arrival. Nebraska, Working on a Dream, Tunnel of Love, The Ghost of Tom Joad, Magic, High Hopes, The Rising. I’ve made it through these one by one, and just made it to Devils and Dust. Which is pretty much giving me the shivers, as Owen Meany would have said.
And then, I come across this video about his process of writing the title song:
And you can listen to the song:
What you learn from listening to or reading probably anyone’s oeuvre to date, whether they’re a poet or a novelist or a singer-songwriter, is that it’s possible to try all sorts of different things, to dive deeply into ideas or processes, and to relentlessly and ceaselessly and joyfully pursue themes both desperately dark and blessedly bright, and in the end, in the end, it all makes some kind of sense. Because the thing that ties all these various strands together is your own sensibility. And if you go at it with an integrity and a real curiosity, which is what Karen at Chookooloonks posted about yesterday, then it will all make sense and come together in rather magical ways. Trust in that. Have a little faith. Engage in a little swagger.
And also, just feel whatever it is you’re writing. Don’t overthink it until maybe later at your kitchen table.
Also. Be obsessed. Be influenced. Love what you love and embrace the hell out of it. Find some joy in what you do, and in where you happen to be.
Stay where you are, leave, come back. It doesn’t really matter. Just take a run for it, and slide into the mystery. Or lean back. Work on your dreams, and they will carry you. Work, work, work!
I’m sure I’m a broken record, quoting from Master Hongren, 7th Century again, but let’s end with this one: