June 29th, 2002

abstract butterfly

on conformity

A trace of Saturday morning insomnia now has moved from pattern to tradition for me this year. I decided to stop worrying about it, and just accept it as part of who I am now.

I think a fair bit lately about that Bruce Springsteen song,
"Growing Up". This part of the lyric runs through my mind:
"I stood in the clouded wrath of the crowd
but when they said sit down I stood up".

The song has an image attached to it in my mind. When I was 20 or so, I stood in a crowded pub and watched a band called Clive Gregson and Any Trouble do a spirited cover of this song, as fresh as day, almost mod, a million miles away from the Greetings from Asbury Park version but really reaching me. The whole little space was probably not forty feet square and it was jam packed (I believe Melody Maker had run a puff piece on the band lately--years later, Gregson became a sort of minor folk icon) and my friend Jim and I watched this incredible show while the interesting very-bright-yet-rather-angry woman acquaintance who came with us picked up one of the blonde-with-a-big-smile strangers in the bar and proceeded "home" with him to make her tourism experience a bit more personally satisfying than ours. Somehow, standing in a crowded room of strangers listening to a little band for a little moment doing a song only a few people really knew connected me to the part of the song about "coming out with my soul untouched".

Small southern towns like the ones in which I grew up actually can tolerate a fair bit of eccentricity. In that way (and I am tempted to say in that way only), Faulkner and Harper Lee and Welty and Ellen Gilchrist still ring true with their deeply "southern imagery. Nonetheless, conformity is a touchstone in such places. The "in kids" in school, and the "people who matter" in town, still tend to be cut from a fairly rigid mold a surprising amount of the time. The net effect is that one can easily be a "drop out" from small town society, and still get a friendly smile and a wave, but always that feeling that one is not quite "in the mix" of things.

I wish I could say I was the fiery rebel of the Springsteen song, but the truth is more prosaic. I was a kid who followed the rules, by and large, not the kind of kid who "fits in" by being the "cool outsider". For that matter, I read books and dreamed dreams, but I never had the charm or red hair to even pass as Anne of Green Gables, much less the moxy to be James Dean.

Still, I feel as though the "clouded wrath of the crowd" is something I've largely been able to endure without surrender, and that somehow standing during the sitting times has now become second nature for me.

Isn't it funny how all the people we really admire in history, literature, life or anything are people who don't really "fit", and yet while we pursue our own goals and dreams we constantly live a little worried about being the apaloosa in a herd of black mustangs?
Even worse, don't we sometimes turn our differences into yet another "cool", another way to disdain and exclude the very people
whose disdain we would hate to emulate, and then do?

It's perhaps natural--people are social animals, too--but
finding one's own voice and one's own path, oblivious to others' ways, seems so important to me. That elusive "I live in this moment alone" can be a blessing, the only true conquest of K-1, but for me (and I'm sure for others) it sometimes seems like such a chore, even a lonely feeling (and I am not by nature a lonely person).

Some people want to live in the bright sun of social approval and material success. Some people want to dash headlong into that sun, fighting it in every way, hoping for victory or some glorious flame-out. But I love the people in the penumbra of that sun, turning pirouettes in the shadows, hearing music nobody else hears, telling stories nobody else tells.

Heaven save me from "fitting in"--or being "cool".
  • Current Music
    Any Trouble, "Growing Up"
abstract butterfly

I love people who pursue small niches

Something in marstokyo's journal reminded me of the sunlight in California when I lived there--a rich Mediterranean sun, quite bright, but not blazing down like our Texas sun. This led me to remember the California "plein air" art movement. This group of California nature artists, many of whom painted before 1940, were eager to take the ideas of the French Impressionists about light and apply them to the curious light ambiance of California. At its best, this work can be really evocative stuff, essential to an understanding of California culture. At its worst, it can be post-Impressionist cookie cutter holiday inn wall stuff (although, frankly, I usually like holiday inn wall art, and I love chocolate chip cookies). After I thought about it, I got on google because I wanted to see some of it again. I found two interesting sites--The Plein Air Scene website and the website for the Plein Art Painters of America. Both have links to loads of this type of work in various galleries. I was surprised to note that lots of modern folks still consider themselves "plein air artists". This poses the same question that other "narrow genres" of art, such as western art, pose--is there a point when following a somewhat derivative form stops being art, and becomes a mere hobby or affectation? My own vote is no, but I am not a profound thinker on this (or any art matter) I just know, art or hobby or waste of time, I like good plein art, as well as, for that matter, good plain art.
  • Current Music
    Darshan Ambient, "Darshan Ambient"
abstract butterfly

this land was made for you and me

We had a wonderful meal at Two Rows restaurant--tasty crawdad bisque and cherry cobbler--and then went to Allen Station Park. They had a big pre-holiday-weekend Independence Day event going on. The parking lots near the park were full of cars--and lots of pickup trucks. As we walked to the bridge into this medium size ballfields-type city park, a huge speaker on a stand blared out lesser John Phillips Sousa works. I love Sousa, but I prefer it "main line".

The place was alive with children, bouncing in huge inflatable houses, playing a form of hockey in huge inflatable hockey fields, and playing miniature golf with plastic mallets on portable mini-golf holes set up in boxes. We strolled to Allen's one historic landmark, the old railroad dam which was built when Allen was founded by the railway.

A local orchestra and choir sang songs we didn't always recognize, but among them were patriotic tunes like the Olympic soundtrack music and "Deep in the Heart of Texas". Thankfully, they did not play "Dixie", although in my childhood this Confederate hymn of the War of the Great Misguided Racist Revolution (which is actually a pretty nice tune) would be played with patriotic fervour. They also did not play "This Land is Your Land" or "We Shall Overcome", which are patriotic songs I can sink my particular teeth into singing. I was sorry I only heard the bagpipes from afar. I wished a brass band had played "Stars and Stripes Forever" and made the shapes of sunflowers and marching Lone Stars on a field. The event was mercifully free of jingoism and misplaced rhetoric, if it was also free of anything that truly warmed my heart. I did like the passerby with the green hair, as well as the huge black labrador retriever glad handing the crowd. I was pleased by the diversity of the crowd, as I remember the times when Allen was something of a "white flight" area. Now it is just a "techie flight" area, and in techies there is no East or West, no shade or hue, no faith or frenzy. There's only tech.

We tired long before the fireworks, which is too bad, because I love fireworks. Then we came home, to tepid television. I played with simple webpage software, creating a little text webpage. I had not done that in years. As I was finishing, the far-off sound of the by-passed fireworks exploded, and I felt somehow a roman candle short of independence.
  • Current Music
    "and everywhere are skies as blue as mine", to "Finlandia"