Sep. 4th, 2011 04:46 pm
leahbobet: (bat signal)
Over the past few weeks I've been thinking about inspiration.

(No, this is not a writing post. It is a post about the things we do with our hands.)

Jack Layton -- for the international readers, the leader of the (social democrat) New Democratic Party and the current federal official opposition -- died abruptly of cancer two weeks ago. The response was solid national mourning: my very political Twitter friends posted their personal Jack stories; publishing people linked articles and eulogies; my very apolitical suburban upper-middle-class relatives talked about him in an almost puzzled, off-balance way at a family funeral last weekend, like people who'd lost a tooth and kept worrying at the gum. People who didn't like this mostly demonstrated enough sense and class to keep their mouths shut and respect everyone else's mourning.

There was a state funeral, and a lying-in-state at both the Parliament buildings in Ottawa and City Hall here, where he served for many years as a very active and visible city councillor. I went to the visitation with friends, and waited an hour and a half in line to pay my respects at that flag-draped coffin. [ profile] commodorified, who was in town though I did not know it, inadvertently started a tribute they'll be talking about in the history books. We left chalk. It was almost the definition of a community experience: the vast iceberg of a whole city and country groaning and shifting together. Everyone drawing a little closer.

He left a letter. It was his last public act. It's called A Letter to Canadians, and was released shortly after his family announced that he had passed away.

You should read it, but here's the important bit:

...consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

I am not politically partisan, both by personal inclination and professional obligation, but I believe in those words. They took me in the chest and made me cry at my desk for the loss of a person I'd never met. They are good words, and I say that in the way Beowulf keeps repeating þæt wæs god cyning. Yes, they confirm my worldview to a certain extent, and one must always be a little careful of that. But they are good words. They are right.

I want them so very badly to be right.

It's been a week. Things go back to normal. They do, and they don't.

But this is a post about inspiration.

I don't know why it's faintly embarrassing to say that paragraph inspired me, especially when it came from someone who was often cited as being close in the vicinity of inspiration: down the block or right next door. I want to twist to avoid the word. I want synonyms, waterings-down, elisions.

Possibly it's terrifying.

It's the same root as respire and spirit; Latin spirare. It means "to breathe". It means to have something put its lips to yours and fill your lungs or soul like a sail.

There is, I think, a particular courage inherent in being willing to be inspired: being willing to take someone else's words into you, breathe them into your lungs, and let them animate your arms and legs and heart. To hear someone else's words and change your life is a ceding of a certain kind of control, and it's frightening, and brave: it puts you on roads you didn't plan to walk to places you've never been, and some of them can be trying and terrible and dark.

They demand willingness to devote yourself passionately to something bigger than you, and nebulous, and chancy, and like all passions, bearing a terrible risk of heartbreak. And many of us, in pursuit of ways to never fail, are perfectly willing to make a very bad tradeoff, and never try.

It does not mean agreeing with everything the speaker ever said or did. That's role model, not inspire, and I remain very against role model on the grounds that it's sloppy critical thinking. But it means picking your stars, and orienting yourself by them, and then throwing yourself into space by their light.

(Yes. Throwing yourself into space.)

It's been six months since my grandmother died. She left a letter for each of us too. Mine was not polished in the way political rhetoric is: either because of the times, or possibly my great-grandfather's views on women and education, my grandmother never got halfway through high school. But it was honest, like the one I linked above. It was good words, and true.

She told me that she would be there for me, and that good things would happen; questions would be answered in their own ways. She told me to always smile.

I take that as one of my stars too. I carry it in my lungs.

This can be read, I suppose, as an argument for activism. It's definitely an argument for living an engaged and deliberate life. It could also be an enormous arrogance and intrusion: to have someone else speak, and expect you to twist and alter your life and all your careful plans.

What I think I'm asking here is for you to take courage: to not shrink from that word (that task, that challenge) or minimize it. To reject the cynical, slowly or altogether, raise sail, and fix, one by one, your stars.

It's terrifying, yeah. Space is cold. Jumping is the kind of thing that always tends to make my knees lock.

But it's the most natural thing in the world, too. It's nothing but breathing.

Breathe in.
May 13, 2011 Progress Notes:

"On Roadstead Farm"

Words today: 350.
Words total: 1300.
Reason for stopping: Decent round number, and it's late.

Darling du Jour: He was full-grown if not long to it: a man of twenty-four or five, and strong in the forearms and legs. He wasn't going to take no from a girl too field-browned to be pretty and too small, even after a full season of weeding, to throw him bodily off the kitchen porch.

Mean Things: Trying very hard to keep things together, and not quite making it, and knowing it.
Research Roundup: Malting techniques; cultivation of barley. It disturbs me that most of the top hits I found on this were for some online farming game. We're so screwed for the apocalypse, kids.
Books in progress: Alissa York, Effigy.
The glamour: Dayjob, dinner with a friend, and then a walk home through the kind of warm, fat evening rain that makes you not mind so much that you're walking in the rain and getting damp.

A second song has attached itself to this story. Funnily, I never really liked the original Rankin Family release of this; I found it kind of fatuous and melodramatic. This version is sung by two friends-of-a-friend, recorded in PEI somewhere. One of them is dead. He killed himself last fall, aged 31, which is why the track was posted and how I know about it. He has a beautiful baritone voice. My friend mentioned he was about 18 when this was recorded.

I never even close to knew this guy, but the song isn't fatuous anymore.

Have a listen, even if you don't like folk. It's a little piece of someone's immortality.

November 2016

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