Monday, October 20, 2008

Chinese Guitar

I've got a certain fascination with the apocalyptic. Urban decay, destruction of populations, reclamation by nature... Anything that suggests it has a hold on me. Neighborhoods in Detroit, where trees grow through abandoned houses, gardens gone feral... I tell my ficus, have always told it, stories about other ficus trees that grew so big and so strong that they pushed down walls and broke open rooves, stories about forests eating cities and birds nesting in office buildings. I tell it to help it grow.

This isn't necessarily healthy, but it's calming, in its way. When we're all gone, or much reduced, it'll all get on without us.

Is it horrible to be so soothed by these images? To take so much comfort in the quiet of them?

Models I've seen even say we couldn't actually reverse the path our planet is on--that we've passed tipping points, or that we'll at best be beyond all hope of return within a handful of years. The best we can hope for is to slow it down, soften the blow a little, but our hope as a species is fairly marginal, certainly here, certainly in the long term. I try not to get too alarmist about it, and I try to raise false hope, because being nihilist tends to put a damper on potentially-helpful action (models have been wrong before), but with every disaster, I feel like the planet has just had enough and is trying to shake us off. Wonder if maybe we should stop trying and let it. We overcame the carrying capacity, so now we have severe overpopulation, where hordes of people are just starving more slowly, starving longer, rather than perishing outright. Plagues knocked us back, and we came up with vaccines, or at least preventative care. All of our innovation "revolutions" that have saved so many individuals--none of whom I could have picked out to give back to the earth, none of whom I could deny this chance at living--have pushed us further and further beyond the point of hope as a species. Now we have wasting, slow, incurable things, stronger things, demons of easy momentum that have crept up so gently that we pretend we couldn't have known.

It's very strange to think about.

It's been coming up a lot, lately. Minor disasters (like the collapse of the American or World economy) have been a frequent topic around the homestead--what will we feed the cats on? Will we be able to stake out a piece of earth sufficient to feed us? How much rainwater could we collect, if irrigation fails, how much capacity do we need to be able to get through summer? Seeds?--but the larger ones, too, the looming unfathomable.

Strangely enough, getting to talk about it at the conference was very bracing. Most people don't want to think about it, so we don't get much chance, and maybe it just served to focus the attention. I'm not sure.

Everything else seems a little trivial, comparatively, I have to say. Saddling up and working, or even going to choir tonight, seem like strangely over-normal activities, so they're hard to comprehend just now. (Maybe it's a good sign that I'm at least keeping up with the more mindless activities, like doing memes.) But maybe I'm just tired.

I don't want it to happen. Of course I don't. But I feel... pretty good. Calm, and as prepared as I might be to give it a good try, and if I fail, then I made that good try.

I try to trick myself into thinking Chris and I have got a better chance than we might--we have some previous skill with growing food without petroleum, with making clothing, with salvaging old and ruined things into useful things, with living with very little, and I just have to work on making fire without Implements to get the basics covered. I even fancy myself having a better immune system, from not beating it back with antibiotics, not overwashing, courting minor illness for the sake of antibodies. But I know things are a lot more random than that. And what we have helps after the fall, not during.

Maybe other people make it and I don't. Maybe I make it, and others I love don't. Maybe everyone but the already disadvantaged do, as is often the case in disasters. Maybe no one makes it at all.

But at that point, I don't suppose anyone will much mind.


I'm preempting Chris here and posting one of our songs from the most recent set we put together. It was too big to load on our soundclick page, because it's some six and a half minutes, but I got a file sharing account. It can be downloaded here: Paper Cats, "Chinese Guitar." It's for one of these kinds of images, and it's very sweet and gentle. Chris wrote the guitar part, and I started humming an old kind of melody over it. He asked for the image, and I wrote him the lyrics for it, with a little input. That's my flute in the beginning, trying to sound much older than it actually is (...come to think, it's actually 16 or 17 years old, but that's still not much). And it's his Chinese-made Ibanez arch-top, Rosebud, playing the lead.

Here are the lyrics.

I've still got this old Chinese guitar
from the days long, long before
the breakers all gave, and swept all away
the ways of long before

Oh, a chinese guitar
my old chinese guitar.

I sat alone on a cliff 'bove the waves
'til the day that you found me
I was play'n' something old, something sweet, something low,
looking down over the sea

past my chinese guitar
my old chinese guitar.

You had this banged up old flute in your hand
And said, "Who could ask for more?
She's tired but she's fine, and the sound's pretty full
though she sticks at six and four

Maybe she'd sing with your guitar
with your old chinese guitar."

"Old man," I said, "you sure come a long way,
'cause I ha'n't seen you before.
Been watching for years, but what else would I do?
Been waiting by this shore,

with my chinese guitar.
Playing chinese guitar."

So I took you down where the town used to be
and we found an old lawnchair
Put it up next to mine 'neath that sweet twisting tree
with shade for us to share


Now we play up here, to the sea, to the birds,
but I don't think they much listen
But maybe there's someone else out there somewhere
with a nine-string mandolin

who'll hear my old guitar
my old chinese guitar.

See, I've still got this old Chinese guitar
From the days long before
The wood's cherry red, there's a dent in the side,
but the sound carries pretty far...


(Pretty picture of a tree growing through the rotted paper of an abandoned book depository.)


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