Starting point: Fugazi, "Bad Mouth", 13 Songs (1989)
Casual regret: Why didn't Fugazi appeal to me back in college? The DIY approach. The round, colorful, driving bass guitar. The message. I don't know—really seems like it would have been the time for it for me. Like ships in the night, I guess. There was a ska phase in there, and then Ween, and then indie rock. I think I would have really gotten into it. But if it took into the late 2010s for us to find each other—so be it.
"Bad Mouth" isn't my favorite Fugazi song, but it's the one getting on-repeat play at the moment. For several months it was "Waiting Room" on repeat, but I don't feel much like a patient boy anymore, no matter how much I wait, I wait, I wait, I wait, no matter how much my time is water down the drain. I'm really thinking about second acts now—not quite redemptions necessarily but course corrections. On the conveyor belt to Age Forty, the personal pasts aren't being reassessed as much as they are just starting to smell in all of the places where I hid them. (Descendents: "Shove all your problems under the rug / Then you wonder where the smell came from.") It's not bad, necessarily. Some of those pasts ferment into something new, something interesting, something better. Some of them don't. Most of them die unknown deaths.
You can't be what you were / So you better start being just what you are / You can't be what you were / The time is now / It's running out / It's running out / It's running, running, running out
Concentrate on the daily whatever with that drilling a hole in your mind—ain't gonna happen.
I recently introduced my wife to the movie Groundhog Day. I haven't seen it myself in this millennium, although I did visit the park in Woodstock, Illinois, where much of it was filmed in 2003 for a wedding. (Strangely, many details are missing from that visit—weird, etc.)
I felt like she needed to see it because it's a metaphor for Every Single Day in 2020. I can't possibly be the only person having this experience. Mind you, I don't set an alarm anymore, but when I wake up every day with the sun, it feels like I'm having "I Got You Babe" piped into my consciousness as I build the resolve to get out of bed.
Honestly, I remember the movie being much more depressing than it is. I remember most of all the mornings that Phil wakes up, dead-eyed, numb at the prospect of facing the same day again. I remember the failed romance scenes. I remember the suicide scenes. I remember the frustration at being stuck, repeatedly, day in and day out, in a loop without end.
(You can't be what you were)
Watching it this time was different. The moral aspect seemed more pronounced, and the arc of growth was more obvious—think: Ebenezer Scrooge after three ghosts.
(So you better start being just what you are)
The truth is that I enjoyed the more negative version of the movie that I remembered. (And it seems like it was supposed to be darker.) I suppose that's the passive aggressive desire for justice for the jerks who walk among us. So Phil has to live the same miserable day being his miserable self? That's a shame.
(You can't be what you were)
The final arc is mighty saccharine, but it doesn't bother me much because it comes after Bill Murray has been whipped thoroughly for his sins. By the time the final transition comes, it doesn't feel like a cheap It's a Wonderful Life turn of fate. It's one day. But it's many one days. And there's some work involved. And there is the dip—after almost succeeding at getting what he wants, he has to fall back into the abyss before climbing out again. And when he climbs out he is different—an improved man or a psychologically damaged man, or both.
(The time is now / It's running out)
Time doesn't really run out in Groundhog Day. Imagine a dark version of the movie that never ends. Imagine a more stubborn version of Bill Murray or—pans camera to self—myself. How long would you keep messing around with what doesn't work? Wake up ("I got you babe"), do this, do that, reap marginal results. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. But—the rest of us wake up one day older. One day older. One day older. One day older. One day older. One day older. One day older. One day older. One day older.
(I deleted a lot of attempted lines here that refer to Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. "A small man can be just as exhausted as a great man." Had to delete it all. The abyss gazes back at you.)
(It's running out / It's running, running, running out)
Second act... what is the second act? Is this the second act? Was that long break from 2010 to 2012 the intermission, followed by the second act? I think I can believe that. That long strange interstitial period between jobs was also an exercise in isolation just as 2020 is. If I really put my mind to it I could reconstruct those 16 months. (Stare into the abyss.) There was no point to that time, but there was... depth. There was no purpose, but there was... discovery. And there was the abyss.
I think the underlying thought I'm trying to hold onto is that there was no meaning that emerged from that time in that physical and mental wilderness—there was only aggregated experience. There were mountains and valleys—literal and metaphorical. Some of that experience was directed, and some was not. What's the point in expecting something different now? It doesn't make any sense. Have some direction, sure, but know when to let the reins go slack, when to put the map away and follow the terrain, when to stop and just allow yourself to feel the wind as it goes by—when to know that the destination was the journey. You'll know when the Second Act is over and the Third Act has begun. Prepare and prepare and act and act—it's all just rehearsal until it isn't.