I imagine that aliens learning about human behavior on planet Earth these days would have an extremely difficult time resolving the conflicting displays of religion. In the US recently we had a head-spinningly strange confluence of religious events between the visit of Pope Francis, with his message of love, peace, tolerance and even respect for the planet, and the gay-hating shenanigans of that near-martyred Christian Clerk from Kentucky.
Thanks to Spotify, the music here at WMCW plays non-stop, even if yours truly happens to be the only one who tunes in to this particular frequency on my own radio station of the mind. Since I began my premium subscription at the start of 2015, I have found no shortage of music to listen to, and I have encountered few bands or albums that Spotify doesn’t have. This would be, on the surface at least, any music lover’s dream. Indeed, I’ve been wishing for this state of unfettered access since the internet has hinted it might be possible. But after more than half a year as a Spotify subscriber, the streaming service has made me more intensely aware of a disconcerting change that has been taking place in my relationship to music for some time.
Uncertainty is anathema to human nature. Evolution programs us to assess our environments as quickly as possible in order to distinguish foe from friend, danger from safety. However, modern life has become far more complicated than just matters of food, shelter, safety and survival of the species. We are offered choice to the point of noise, and this only compounds the uncertainty and the feelings of anxiety it conjures. Any period of transition, such as I’m currently experiencing with the preparations for my next “career” move, is bound to be fraught with conflicting impulses that exacerbate uncertainty. That’s to be expected when shifting one’s context, the point between losing the frame of reference of what came before and when future possibilities appear limitless and, thus, simultaneously enervating and paralyzing. Ultimately, we must all come to grips with the fact that life offers very little solace in the way of certainty and resist the temptation to manufacture certainty where it doesn’t exist.
Even though we now realized the end of my grandmother’s life was near, we also knew that could mean anything. Here was a woman who throughout my life never seemed to age a day, and it was strange to ponder that I had become as old as she was when I was born. She had certainly shown her age a bit more in the last several years with the progression of her Parkinson’s and her increasing immobility, but even then she survived her condition far longer than we ever thought possible, particularly given her prayers for God to take her from this life. However, when things took a turn for the worst, they turned fast.
Just over a month ago, on May 13, my beloved grandmother, Beulah Mae Mitchell (BuMae to most, Beauty Mae to certain close friends), passed away. Her passing has affected me more deeply than I would ever have imagined, given how long I had to prepare for it. Though I had been acting as her primary caretaker in the 16 years since I moved back to Hickory with my family, her passing makes it feel as though a pillar of support and identity has been taken from me. Her death is also the reason I have been absent from this blog and makes writing even now feel tentative and feeble in its attempt to express how I feel about the impact that her life had on me. Nevertheless, it seems only fitting that I post this on July 8, the day she would have turned 96.
I listen to a lot of music that a lot of people would consider vile. For that matter, I read and watch a lot of vile things, too. If what they say is true that we are what we consume, does this make me a vile person, or, as I believe to be the case, someone with a fascination for the darker aspects of life? If I were to write down a fraction of the darker thoughts and images that pass through my mind, or worse yet, sublimate these thoughts and images into a work of fiction or extended exercise of the imagination, would that make me in any way guilty of a crime? What if that work happened to inspire someone else to commit a crime that I would be incapable of committing myself? This is actually an extremely troubling development that is happening in the hip hop community, where certain rappers are being charged with murder on the basis of lyrics depicting the gang violence that comes part and parcel with the War on Drugs and life in the inner city. It’s one thing to commit a crime and then recount that incident in explicit detail in lyrics written for a song, which amounts to a confession, but quite another to depict realistically the various aspects of crime and violence that are an everyday fact of life on the streets in our inner cities. It’s not enough that our institutional racism and increasing income inequality in America tends to perpetuate and worsen these conditions, but convicting rappers for their lyrics is the equivalent of killing the messenger, which does nothing to solve the underlying problem. Such convictions demonstrate how scarily prescient sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick was when he envisioned a future where a person could be arrested for merely thinking of a crime before actually committing it.
I have come to praise a fine piece of legislation that’s recently emanated from the General Assembly, courtesy of Catawba County’s own Senator Andy Wells. The bill, Senate Bill 480, would prohibit public school employees and charter school board members from engaging in any political or partisan campaigning, or the use of any school equipment and/or supplies for such, during work hours. Before Senator Wells gets a wild hair and decides to spread the fun by preventing the rest of us from speaking out against current laws and the legislators who pass them like so many bad farts, I need to remind folks that if there’s one group that does not get enough due praise and credit for all the hard work they do for the great state of North Carolina, it is the members of the General Assembly. It takes not only a lot of concerted effort to steer our state through the worst economic downturn we’ve experienced since the Great Depression, but also Balls of Steel to bring about improvement by taking the state straight to the bottom (do not pass Go, do not collect $200) so that the only way it can go is up.