Sisyphus paused, his feet braced, his left arm extended against the boulder, holding off the inevitable. With his right hand he fished his smartphone out of his pocket and took a selfie.
The first selfie had been a challenge. His muscles were strong but sore. It was hard for him to hold the boulder in its place with just one hand. His friends mocked him. What was the purpose of the selfie? Why bother interrupt his routine?
But through practice, he became better at it. The selfies went from showing weary anguish to having a certain artistic flair, catching the angle of the setting sun just right. Once, he even managed to capture an image of an eagle flying away with Prometheus’ liver. Some of his friends started taking selfies as well and selfies became part of the routine. Push the boulder up the hill. Take a selfie. Watch the boulder roll back down.
Yet there was still something missing, that sense of repetition. So today, Sisyphus tried something different. He captured a brief video of the boulder careening down the crevasse.
The endless loop soon went viral.
The light snow was enough to turn the the minimal Martin Luther King Day evening commute into a traffic jam, so I sat in the car listening to reports of inauguration day. At lunch time, I watched President Obama's speech with coworkers who spend a lot of time focused on effective communications. It seemed like the pundits had heard a different speech, but perhaps that reflects the different frameworks we heard it from.
On the news, people talked about the speech in terms of the political conflicts of the day. Did President Obama extend enough of an olive branch to get us past the next debt ceiling deliberation or fiscal cliff folly? Will he be able to make headway on the legislative agenda implied in his speech? It all seemed so transactional, so petty, so caught in the moment.
I listened to it from a broader perspective, where did it fit on the arc of history, from the Gettysburg Address and Emancipation Proclamation to Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech? I've often bewailed the lack of great speeches in modern day politics. Perhaps it is because of the focus on the soundbite and the immediate win. This speech did not have those flaws, or, as it seems some modern day pundits believe, those essential elements.
It fit well with the inauguration poem; 'One Today'. The poem, like the inaugural address was not part of some transactional moment, but instead took its appropriate place on the arc of history. As I watched Richard Blanco and thought of Chief Justice Roberts, I thought that Blanco had the loftier seat. Inauguration poems are something to remember, to savor, much more than so many of the Supreme Court decisions.
I remember the inauguration of a college president I attended. The inaugural poet was Denise Levertov, and her words have stuck with me for decades. I remember reading a story about about a farmwife heading to the county fair, and only seeing the quilts. For me, I'll remember the wordcraft. Later, I shall spend time reading Blanco's poems. Bu now, bedtime approaches. I'm tired, but still I must pause to practice putting words together and praise those who have do so, so eloquently.
For Allen Ginsberg and Aaron Swartz
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness.
The angry fix they sought was far different from that of Ginsberg's friends.
These hipsters were typing something other than 'starry dynamo' into the search engines.
They were Google mapping the seats of power at midday, not the negro streets at dawn.
They were fighting a in new revolution, a revolution that would take their life and liberty.
A junkie with a knife can be scary. He'll take the cash in your pockets and rush off for his fix,
leaving you shaken as you walk home. But a hacker with a mission, now that is dangerous.
He will shake the very means of production and distribution, the economy you depend upon
to get that cash into your pockets.
It's all well and good when they take down an Arab dictator.
It's tolerable when they change the news media and political process, as long as it can be co-opted by the press and politicians.
But when they start threatening the profitability of the legal and academic presses in the greatest democracy of the world, they must be hounded, driven underground, labeled hacker and felon, until they kill themselves.
After college, I moved into an old cinnamon factory with a bunch of aspiring artists in New York City to be a writer. I was most interested in writing poems and short stories. I also had dreams of writing a great novel, but end up writing mostly computer programs.
Fast forward three decades, and I'm sitting in a nice house in suburbia writing blog posts on a laptop computer; a writing implement and genre that didn't exist back in the spice factory days. My online writing style continues to evolve. There have been times that I've written daily, sometimes, not very eloquently, in an effort to hone my craft. Other times, I've just been too busy to write regularly.
I'm starting off 2013 with a good string of blog post, but I've got a busy week ahead. I have to get non-blog writing done for other projects as well.
I'm also spending time trying to find things to inspire me and stimulate my creativity. Yesterday, I ended up on Sarah Kay's Ted talk, If I should have a daughter …
It got me thinking. Should I start hitting some of the poetry open mics? Should I start writing some more poetic blog posts to be read allowed, and then make a video of me reading them which I could share on YouTube? NPR has been doing an interesting series of having poets visit their news room and write poems about the experience and the day's news. Could I do a spoken word poetic news recap, perhaps drawing from other experiments in creative news, from the Daily Show to Autotune the news?
For politics, could I, a former, and perhaps future, political candidate, deliver spoken word poetic stump speeches?
I hope to give some of this a shot, perhaps even today, Epiphany, if I get the time.
Each new year brings renewed anticipation.
Will this be the year?
For some, the anticipation may take the form of dread
as they fear an apocalypse or some personal catastrophe.
For others,it may be the hope of transcendence and transformation.
I am seeking the later.
The evening sky,
passing on the last light of day,
like a painting
from the British romantic landscape painters,
or perhaps the Hudson River School,
hung over the interstate
on my drive home.
Will this be the year?
Yet day after day,
the drive regains its old familiarity
and too easily sinks into monotony or tedium.
Can I keep the image of the nineteenth century romantics in my thoughts as I worry about work, family, and finances? And how do I hold onto perseverance when the cherished event, whatever it might be, continues to be delayed?
Hope deferred makes the soul sick.
Yesterday, I watched Elizabeth Gilbert's TED Talk, "Your elusive creative genius".
She talked about just keeping at it, even when inspiration, her elusive creative genius, did not help carry the load. Yet in the daily grind, the just keeping at it, the repetition, there remains the opportunity for the transcendence, for the transformation to come. My mind wanders to the beginning of Samuel Beckett's Endgame:
Finished, it's finished, nearly finished, it must be nearly finished.
Grain upon grain, one by one, and one day, suddenly, there's a heap, a little heap, the impossible heap.
When does the pile of grains become a heap? When does one achieve the creative tipping point? When do the blog posts amount to something, some magnum opus?
So, I continue to write my blog posts, to explore ideas, to share, in hopes that the repetition will lead to the impossible heap, the transcendent transformation.