The light in the dark

The news has been insidiously getting to me recently, or at least since late 2016. Rules designed to protect the environment and the use of science in regulations are being rolled back, all in light of irrefutable evidence that global warming is happening and will continue. The income gap continues to grow, housing in most urban centers in this country is becoming unaffordable unless you are wealthy, and wages aren’t going up. Racism, islamophobia and xenophobia are becoming relatively accepted in many circles and no one seems to care that our president lies on a regular basis, is quietly dismantling our system of government, is actively trying to impede an investigation into his conduct or that he probably paid a porn actress to keep quiet about an affair. In the past I’ve been upset about policy decisions, but this time around it’s more than being just being upset. I often wonder if this society can save itself, or if it’s already irreparably damaged. I have tried to hold on to the hope that we as a society will come out this stronger, but I doubt it more than I believe it. Because of all this worry and despair, I think it has become harder for me to feel much of anything, so when something does move me emotionally, I take note.
I ran across a story in the NY Times about a series of rediscovered pictures taken during the summer of 1978 in NYC .

Apparently there was a newspaper strike that summer, and some staff photographers spent part of the summer taking photos in the city parks. I was 3 years old in 1978, and first visited New York in the mid 90s, so I don’t have a strong emotional connection to New York but something about the photos really moved me. Perhaps it’s related to my 70s influenced melancholy or an imagined nostalgia for that time period, but move me they did. Technically, the photos were stunning, but it’s the life captured in the photos that impacted me the most. The vitality, and expressions of the people were so beautifully rendered, and perhaps looking back from Trump’s America, the sense that certain things were simpler. People aren’t absorbed in their phones, they are looking at their surroundings and interacting with each other. The photographer Joel Meyerowitz has stated that cell phones have killed the sexiness of the street. Cell phones are here to stay, but it’s sad to walk around these days and see people completely absorbed in their phones, often ignoring the people around them.

NYC in the 70s and 80s was tough, and even in the captions they mention the city being in financial ruin and everything being “busted”. I know many people were in crushing poverty and didn’t feel safe in their city, but it was moving to see that life went on, people still managed to enjoy themselves and the photographers managed to capture the beauty in that moment in time.

Along with photography, music has traditionally been a medium of inspiration for me, the banner image of this website is me listening to music through headphones! I’ve actually been in a long patch where nothing has really made a big impact on me. It isn’t that I haven’t enjoyed music, but the songs or artists that really moved me were far and few between. I was afraid I was beginning to turn into Stan Marsh from Southpark, where

all music starts sounding like shit

the diagnosis? turning into a cynical asshole

Last summer I accidentally discovered The Smith Street Band. The acoustics at the venue weren’t the best, so it was the energy that really drew me in, but on repeated listens I have been amazed by the lyrics. In general, I tend not to pay as much attention to lyrics and focus more on the music, but with this band everything comes together magically. For me it’s the beauty and the accessibility of the lyrics, and how each song creates a vivid world that I can relate to in an immediate way. Even though I never went through a heavy drinking phase and living in squats, I’ve had the hard breakups and gone through periods of depression

lyrics here. I can relate to the pain of a bad breakup and feeling disconnected and experiencing depression, and it’s somewhat heartening that the lead singer and writer, Wil Wagner, has been able to take his painful experiences and create something I find so beautiful out of them.

It’s also heartening to see that he too runs across the moments of strength gained from his friends and loved ones, and seems to keep a sense of optimism throughout it all.

lyrics here

I’ve often run across the sentiment that often great beauty comes from darkness. The pictures from New York, during the infamous late 70s and show that there is still beauty and light to be found when the world seems dark, and The Smith Street band show me that pain and suffering can lead to eventual release and beauty. Given the direction that this country and much of the world is going, I hope that I can hold on to the beauty around me: my wife, kids, family and friends. I hope that I can savor a beautiful sunset, the certain way the late afternoon light hits different objects in our home, or a deep and genuinely felt laugh or moment of connection. I want to appreciate what I already have and being open to discovering and sharing new sources of beauty and inspiration. And I want to create and move people the way I have been moved. A lot of things are shitty in this world right now, and it’s painful to watch what is going on. I can’t change the world as a whole, and I’m in no way perfect, but I can change how the people close to me, especially my family, experience life with me.

As Wil Wagner writes in “Shine”

And the sun will rise
In the same place every day
It would be arrogant to think
That we could change anything
Except maybe block its rays
But who would wanna do that anyway?
And I will rise
In a different place almost every day
It would be arrogant to think
That we could change anything
But if you’re here to block my rays
You’re gonna have to get the fuck outta my way

‘Cause I will shine on you
Like it was the only thing I ever wanted to do
I will shine on you
Like it was the only thing that ever mattered
And all I was put on this earth to do
I will shine on you