Monday, September 16, 2002

Ashley, the Cat that Came Back Home

A mere year later everything was supposed to have changed. We weren't going to sweat the small stuff and trivial as much. Culture and everyday life was to be less harsh and meaningless. Community service and dedication was going to take on importance and we were all going to try and pull through this together. Has any of that happened? The lure of the pursuit of wealth, power, and instant/constant personal gratification remains. The saturating overkill of the one year anniversary of September 11 was to be expected. The way we guiltily honor, celebrate, and commemorate things is the essence of being American. Everything is a show, every emotion usually hidden in day to day interactions is worn proudly on our sleeves from time to showy time.

I tried to avoid any of the anniversary stuff as best I could. To me it wasn't about remembering on a particular day who lost their lives in a violent and senseless attack; to do that seemed an insult to the survivors affected with a loss. I would presume for them every day of this past year has been about remembering as much as trying to overcome the reminder of the devastation. Anniversaries are convenient and reassuring but when something so overwhelmingly significant occurs it is supposed to change things day to day in some way and for some it did. For the rest of us it may be cathartic to recognize one year has passed but it may mean even more to realize what and what hasn't changed about who we are and what we tell ourselves we believe.

I'm almost ashamed to admit I've personally gone on in much the same way as I did before the attack. But at the same time what is without isn't what is within. Something has changed. I've spent a lot of the past year avoiding attachment to the usual, to the past and rather instead tried to find something more spiritually significant. I was reading a rather interesting essay the other day comparing the use of art in Existentialism versus Christianity. The essayist's theory was that the difference between the two philosophies was that Christianity views the world as inherently good and it is the sins of humans that makes stuff difficult and bad. Existentialism meanwhile assumes the world is pointless and it is human perception that can make it a little more bearable and that is why art exists in such a realm.

The day before the anniversary I did my now annual community service of serving as an election judge. Having worked in that particular area since 2000 I have come to realize a rather scary thing or two. We base our theory of democracy and the belief that our elections are fair and accurate. And yet as our friends south of us in Florida have at least twice demonstrated we should wonder about that. Elections are only as good as the people running them. And what I personally saw last Tuesday I became afraid, VERY afraid. My job was to run between precincts in a ward of St. Paul and to help out where I could and evaluate what was going on in the voting stations of some of the city's finest churches, schools, and retirement homes. 140 miles later let me just summarize my observations of the day by saying I have less confidence in the system than ever before.

My belief in anything and all things political was slightly restored the following day after I attended the governor led ceremony of 9/11 on the Capitol steps. Yup I saw Mr. Ventura choke up. And afterwards I was walking back to my workplace having picked up a needed cup of coffee at the DOT building. I saw our next governor, Tim Penny coming toward me. We made eye contact and he greeted me with a way too friendly "HI!" I'm sure that is enough to get my vote.

Later I had the increasingly ultra-rare free evening so I headed over to the Lagoon Theater in Uptown for one of the final showings of the documentary, I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, chronicling the making of the latest CD from the critically adored but publicly ignored band Wilco.

The band is one that those who somehow know me probably think I like a lot more than I do. Yup they got down that folk/rock/country mixture thing that is my musical lexicon; yup they got the morose lyrics and melodies that some have associated with my musical taste. But other than their second CD, the brilliant Being There, I really haven't liked much or their work. And call me a potential future record executive weasel but when I first heard their last CD, Yankee Foxtrot Hotel, I really thought it was way too much a downer, a self indulgent self examination to ever justify anything.

I must admit after having seen the movie, seeing the powerful images of the group creating and performing I confess something connected and I have since taken the time and effort to re-examine my perceptions of what has come before. Sadly the past year music has meant less to me than I've ever known. Absorbing the struggle Wilco has gone through (being dropped by their label and firing a band member) and still managing to come up with some eternal and admirably internal music was somehow inspiring. Yup, art can save us even if the dust may never ever settle upon any of us in quite the same way again.

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