Thursday, April 30, 2009

The best laid schemes o' mice an' men

When I returned home to my apartment on Monday night, after an utterly failed attempt at studying for Wednesday's final exam (the final exam that marked the end of my second year of medical school), I made myself uncomfortable on my notoriously uncomfortable couch, the bane of my existence, but my perpetual best friend and reliable scapegoat. As it turned out, my scapegoat proved to be not the only wildlife in the room: from the corner of my eye, a flash of motion. A quick turn of the neck, and my eyes followed to behold a mouse in its unsure, timid flight across the carpet, stopping and going without apparent purpose. I rose to my feet, the intention to kill apparent in my ascension, and the mouse fled, but met a dead-end (oh, if only it had truly been a dead end!) in an already-worn--but I hesitate to say dirty--pair of boxers left on the floor days before. On the boxers was a repeating pattern consisting of the onomatopoeia "Pow!" printed inside a small cartoon explosion, underneath which the mouse was momentarily trapped, trying this way and that way to escape its sudden imprisonment. The stage was perfectly set. A boot-laden foot raised then lowered with gusto on top of the tiny animal was the only action required to find the equilibrium of the moment. The blood of the mouse adding a livelier shade of red to the cartoon explosion as it slowly made itself visible between the fibers of the "Pow!" was all that was needed to complete the scene. The mouse's eyes would close, followed shortly by my own as I went to bed, like two curtains ushering in the conclusion of darkness.

But the boot-laden foot was not raised nor lowered, and the mouse escaped, proving my foresight to be in vain. The delay! I delayed! Why? Well, the boxers had been predominantly white, save for the pattern, and how could I possibly wear previously-bloodied boxers?

So for now, disequilibrium, as I wait for the mouse trap to announce the end with a different onomatopoeia: "Snap!"

Monday, April 13, 2009

Going home

In light of the conclusion to another tax season, which, in a family where both parents are tax professionals, has historically served as an unofficial family holiday, I'm heading home to the farm in Missouri this weekend. I confess that I enjoy songs that in some way express the tension between home and adventure, stasis and growth, the roots and the branches. In an attempt to add flesh to that personal enjoyment, a couple brief examples:

My Daddy told me, lookin' back
The best friend you'll have is a railroad track
So when I was 13, I said I'm rollin' my own
And I'm leaving Missouri and I'm never coming home

- Tom Waits, "Bottom of the World"

Because this veil, it has been lifted
Yes, my eyes are wet with clarity
I've been a witness of such wonders
Oh, I've searched for them all across this country
But I think I'll be returning now to the town where I was born
And I understand you must keep moving, friend, but I'm heading home

- Bright Eyes, "The Big Picture"

Since I recently turned 25, I was able to rent a car for the purpose of my travel for the low, low price of $11/day. I'm reaping the benefits of my old age by not having to include a "young driver surcharge" in my Priceline bids. As I've always loved driving, not having a car of my own around Chicago is occasionally a bit of a drag. I used to love having the freedom to just drive--granted, it isn't as much of a "freedom" in a large city, and it doesn't give the same kind of pleasure. But the open roads between Chicago and home will be just right, and, as our good friend Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes sings on his solo album, "Washed under the black tar, gone beneath my wheels, there's nothing that the road cannot heal."

Sunday, April 12, 2009

On art and the artist: embracing the everyday excerpt from...
"Tonio Kroger"
by Thomas Mann

Tonio Kroger sat in the north writing to his friend Lisaveta Ivanovna, as he had promised he would do.

"My dear Lisaveta down there in Arcadia," he wrote, "to which I hope soon to return: here is a letter of sorts, but I am afraid it may disappoint you, for I propose to write in rather general terms. Not that I have nothing to tell you, or have not, after my fashion, undergone one or two experiences. At home, in my native town, I was even nearly arrested...but of that you shall hear by word of mouth. I sometimes now have days on which I prefer to attempt a well-formulated general statement rather than narrate particular events.

"I wonder if you still remember, Lisaveta, once calling me a bourgeois manque? You called me that on an occasion on which I had allowed myself to be enticed by various indiscreet confessions I had already let slip into avowing to you my love for what I call 'life'; and I wonder if you realized how very right you were, and how truly my bourgeois nature and my love for 'life' are one and the same. My journey here has made me think about this point...

"My father, as you know, was of a northern temperament: contemplative, thorough, puritanically correct, and inclined to melancholy. My mother was of a vaguely exotic extraction, beautiful, sensuous, naive, both reckless and passionate, and given to impulsive, rather disreputable behavior. There is no doubt that this mixed heredity contained extraordinary possibilities--and extraordinary dangers. Its result was a bourgeois who went astray into art, a bohemian homesick for his decent background, an artist with a bad conscience. For after all it is my bourgeois conscience that makes me see the whole business of being an artist, of being any kind of exception or genius, as something profoundly equivocal, profoundly dubious, profoundly suspect; and it too has made me fall so foolishly in love with simplicity and naivete, with the delightfully normal, the respectable and mediocre.

"I stand between two worlds, I am at home in neither, and this makes things a little difficult for me. You artists call me a bourgeois, and the bourgeois feel they ought to arrest me...I don't know which of the two hurts me more bitterly. The bourgeois are fools; but you worshipers of beauty, you who say I am phlegmatic and have no longing in my soul, you should remember that there is a kind of artist so profoundly, so primordially fated to be an artist that no longing seems sweeter and more precious to him than his longing for the bliss of the commonplace.

"I admire those proud, cold spirits who venture out along the paths of grandiose, demonic beauty and despise 'humanity'--but I do not envy them. For if there is anything that can turn a litterateur into a true writer, then it is this bourgeois love of mine for the human and the living and the ordinary. It is the source of all warmth, of all kindheartedness and of all humor, and I am almost persuaded it is that very love without which, as we are told, one may speak with the tongues of men and of angels and yet be a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal.

"What I have achieved so far is nothing, not much, as good as nothing. I shall improve on it, Lisaveta--this I promise you. As I write this, I can hear below me the roar of the sea, and I close my eyes. I gaze into an unborn, unembodied world that demands to be ordered and shaped, I see before me a host of shadowy human figures whose gestures implore me to cast upon them the spell that shall be their deliverance: tragic and comic figures, and some that are both at once--and to these I am strongly drawn. But my deepest and most secret love belongs to the fair-haired and the blue-eyed, the bright children of life, the happy, the charming and the ordinary.

"Do not disparage this love, Lisaveta; it is good and fruitful. In it there is longing, and sad envy, and just a touch of contempt, and a whole world of innocent delight."