Half-deserted streets…

“A tedious argument of insidious intent…”

I recently saw this phrase used as a social media tagline — and it wasn’t a T.S. Eliot account. It struck me as a pleasing expression; i didn’t immediately recognize its origins.

I should have. I studied Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” in college, though that was admittedly more than a few years ago.

Looking up phrases online, mine and others, is something i make a habit of in order to properly attribute them or to make sure one i’m about to use is original.

Rather than assume its social media user had concocted this one herself, the online search for this snippet rewarded me with a reminder of Eliot’s stunning craft. 

Located in its original context, latticed with evocative imagery, the locution is even more striking, of course:

Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,

The muttering retreats

Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels

And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:

Streets that follow like a tedious argument

Of insidious intent

To lead you to an overwhelming question…

I find it surprising and dismaying that this beauty had become buried beyond recall. 

It’s got me thinking about the imprinting of our experiences taking place as our lives unfold, how memories get stored away and what prompts their later recollection. 

A common observation holds that because of modern computing developments we now farm out our mental storage to the cloud. But this may simply represent an acceleration of a much longer-term trend. 

Whether reacting to a digital snapshot onscreen or to a sepia-tinged print in an old photo album, the sensation is still, “Oh yes, *now* i remember that!”

(The flip-side occurrence is when we thought we remembered something that turns out not to be so. “I could’ve sworn…”)

The observation may be more apt with respect to ordinary pieces of information. We less regularly memorize phone numbers, for example, because our gadgets store them and no longer require us to tap out frequently used numbers manually. 

Memorization as an everyday skill becomes instead an art that must be deliberately fostered.

The same technology that can diminish memorization, however, made possible the ten-second research that led me back to Eliot this morning. 

Without the internet, would i have made my way back to these certain half-deserted streets today?
Not terribly likely — though it’s possible i’d have reunited with them sometime by reaching for a poetry anthology from my bookshelf.

Such reacquaintances — whether mined from my own mind, sought in the pages of treasured books, or happened upon via the web — swirl up further memories and generate gratitude.

As Cicero perceived:  “Memory is the treasury and guardian of all things.”

To argue with that would be tedious.

***

P.S.  One of my favorite pop songs from the 1990s references Eliot, borrowing language from this poem for the title, and juxtaposing jolly music with melancholy lyrics about illness and aging. 
I plan to update this post later with a link to it.
(Bonus points for any of you who identify it before that.)

Update: Here’s that song.

Best Laid Plans…

dance

Is it true that your life is primarily made up of what happens to you?

Or is your life rather more composed of how you respond to the conditions and events you are confronted with?

A few years ago i wrote this song about the interplay between the two.

Though i’ve been meaning to post this for some time, being ready to do so this morning happens to fall on a significant anniversary. Today marks five years to the day since cancer surgery. Five years and counting of “NED” status — no evidence of disease.

(See below for the lyrics.)

Thanks for reading and listening.

Always lookin’ for a reason

A rhythm to go with my rhyme

But every answer brings more questions

They’ve got me steppin’ out of time…

Cuzz my best laid plans

They’re not quite in my hands

The best that i can do is be ready…

My best laid plans

They’re not quite in my hands

The best that i can do is be ready

To make it… a dance

Oh they were good plans in their season

Full of reasons they should come through

But life takes its turn, then you take your step

In that minuet something rings true

Cuzz your best laid plans

They’re not quite in your hands

The best that you can do is be ready…

Your best laid plans

They’re not quite in your hands

The best that you can do is be ready

To make it… a dance

…Step lightly, and make it a dance

“Hero” by David Crosby…

david-crosby

This song from 1993 wasn’t exactly one of the biggest hits of the time — only made it to 44 on Billboard’s Top 100 that year. But it definitely had more of a personal impact on me than any of the other 99. (Other than “Whoomp! (There It Is)” — just kidding!!).

“Hero” will always be one of those songs that hooks into a very specific era of my life. It was a time of disruption and transition, and the song instantly taps into the emotions associated with having to profoundly reorient my thinking in the context of uncharted life territory.

It not only takes me back there, but the lyrics have held up ever since for expressing a sentiment somewhat emblematic of my life — one of disillusionment and then acceptance. “I wish it were that simple…”  It’s a deceptively plain story/melody, with some dissonance to be resolved along the way. Said another way (with a nod to William Blake), it’s about the passage from innocence to experience.

Continue reading