Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Abstract, a.k.a. the left cross

Q-Tip has the coolest voice in hip hop. I've maintained that statement since first hearing "A Tribe Called Quest" years ago. Tip also goes by the handle "The Abstract Poet." When I think about his lyrics, his flow, his songs, abstract doesn't seem to be the right word. His narratives paint pictures with more detail.

But then I think about the fact that he produced Tribe's earliest albums. And I think about how those albums affect me: that if I disregard the words and just roll with the beat, the jazz, the music, then I am tapped into the abstract.

Mark Rothko said, "We favor the simple expression of the complex thought." Rothko went after "the elimination of all obstacles between the painter and the idea and between the idea and the observer." That led him to large canvases with swaths of color. The canvas as a portal for the viewer to look into, look through. The abstract.

Abstract hits me differently. Maybe it's the left cross you don't see coming. A landscape painting or a ballad relies on story, and per Rothko, the the idea is buried in the story. You've got to excavate. It's not naked before you. Maybe unearthed is another word for abstract.

The abstract is the likely reason I dig jazz. Miles, Monk, Mingus. With little in the way of lyrics, the bass, the horn, the keys emote directly to the soul. For me, Mingus may be the master of the unseen left cross. Mingus has one-punch knockout power, raining down  a river to float your soul down a Nile of the abstract.

Mingus, Rothko, Q-Tip. They've all attended some sort of boxing/archaeology school. That school that teaches you how to unearth an idea, dust it off and straight knock someone out with it.

Funny, my response is the Obi-wan Kenobi stance: let my guard down and take it. I don't expect to become more powerful. But there is something to being hit with the left cross. Hit with the abstract.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Swirling toilet bowl vortex

Occasionally, the toilet gives us a useful image. Time and toilets have a lot in common. Picture the swirling vortex of the toilet flushing. Looks a little like a galaxy.

That swirling toilet bowl vortex has inside it all those things you want to get done in a day, a week, a month, a year. And those things are constantly disappearing, going away down the drain. It's inevitable. Most of them go that route.

Seems of late, I have been focusing on what we choose to pluck from that vortex and actually accomplish. Knowing that most of those things I want to do are going to get away, what are the ones I REALLY want to make happen? Let me make sure I save them from the toilet of Time (capital  "T" Time). Our lives are all about the choices we make and what we prevent from being flushed. That is what we're left with.

I'm not necessarily sold on milestone birthdays. We seem to be fixated on multiples of 10. Why is 39 or 41 any less a big deal than 40? But I'm not immune to reflection and an age like 40 gives a good reason to look back and look forward, and thereby also look at the now.

In my 20s, I sidekicked myself into shape, rediscovering running, lifting weights, making the time to play any sport I could play. Then Anna came along. Fitness slipped until I amped the running up to marathons and beyond and trail running. I spent most of my 30s in great running shape.

Last year's ankle injury brought with it general lethargy and loss of fitness rhythm. And 2012 finds me 20 pounds heavier than my fighting weight. So I will pluck my fitness from the swirling toilet bowl vortex. Forty ounces to 40, comes in under six weeks now, so I am in the process of taking back the gym, taking back the roads, trails, playing fields, etc.

It's a funny thing, fitness. When I've had it, other things follow suit. I'm more productive, more creative, have more energy, am more fun, happier, you get the idea.

Looking for suitable toilet bowl galaxy illustrations is also a funny thing. It drives home the fact that Mario, of Super Mario fame and a favorite of our daughters on Wii, is a plumber. Given our toilet of Time metaphor, maybe Mario is that existential hero our time needs. Combating the swirling toilet bowl vortex as it tries to flush down those things we want to do with our lives. Thanks, Mario. We needed that.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Along comes Ava

Anna wasn't three for two weeks when we had to call my sister to come spend the night with her. We had to take Robin to the hospital because Ava decided there was too much to do in the world to stay in mom's belly. Plus she probably wanted to meet her buddy Claire who was born two days before.

That's how little sisters roll. They make your parents drop you off in the middle of the night and when they come back everything has changed. I know. I've got a little sister.

So Anna and I have the bond of being the older sibling. And truth be told, she carries probably more of my quirks and idiosyncrasies than her sister does. But Ava and I have a bond that goes easily as deep. Not to compare her to Zuckerman's famous pig, but she is radiant.

When two parents "get together" and have a child two times and two girls come into the world, you might be tempted to think they'd be a lot alike. Nope. They are two completely separate individuals when it comes to personality. And that's the cool part.

Ava and Anna play different sports, they are different students in school, they are pulled to different toys, they bust different jokes, they notice different things. One of my favorite parts about dadhood is watching the two girls grow into two different people.

Which isn't to say they aren't similar, connected in pretty big ways. But each one holds my heart for their own reasons, in their own fashion.

On Feb. 12, 2005, Ava joined the Valliant family. Today she turns seven. That's seven years of piggy-backs down the stairs; seven years of sparkling blue eyes; seven years of bubble-blowing; seven years of Ava.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Cosmos tastes like Old Bay

I glow when I drive eastbound across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. At least that's how it feels. Now, no one is staring or pointing at me as I go by, so I may not be actually glowing.

Hitting the Bay Bridge is like a trigger experience--it evokes a certain feeling. It's an aesthetic high. When your head, heart and soul are all elevated together, lifted up above whatever plane they were previously on. And in that experience are changed, for the better.

Wordsworth and the Romantics (not a band, that I am aware of) would use the word "sublime,"  to describe this experience, which I dig as well. For Wordsworth, the sublime could be approached by the mind, but the mind would come up short. The mind can walk up to it, but can't grasp it, so the spirit takes over and can bridge it, can touch the sublime, but only temporarily.

We step into the sublime at an intense sunrise. Maybe on the beach, listening to the surf, before anyone is around. Above treeline in the mountains. Surrounded by redwoods in California. Grand Canyon. This experience of the sublime happens in nature and through art, and I am going to say throughout our lives, though maybe we've never named it or thought about it that way.

I've been thinking about this, the eastbound across the Chesapeake Bay/sublime feeling and what it is, what triggers it and why. And then yesterday I was reading Albert Goldbarth, who said, "We're the few but beautiful / units of the first day of the cosmos / densed up over time;"

Maybe Goldbarth has unearthed something here (that is generally the case when I read him, he is an aesthetic archaeologist, uncovering something new daily). Maybe in the sublime, we are reaching back, touching or experiencing something akin to that first aesthetic experience: Creation (please note the capital "C").

If we mix some Carl Jung into our Goldbarth-and-the-sublime sandwich, maybe the sublime is our soul, tapped into the collective unconscious, re-experiencing, recognizing Creation, tapping our fleeting consciousness into the Cosmos.

Dude. No. Duuuuuude. So when I'm driving eastbound over the Chesapeake, when my heart races, when my eyes and soul light up, when my brain tickles, I'm getting a hearty helping of the Cosmos, served through the Chesapeake.


Tastes like... Old Bay.