Mingus, the Corrosion of Seasons, and Playfulness

So, I am sitting around as morning corrodes into afternoon on one of the quintessential grey snow/rain days that are rather familiar to early December in Waawiiyaatanong. And Mingus is on the office record playing, a controlled measure of chaos and anger and melody, and the thought hits me to turn back to this old blog. A return that has hardly seemed possible with the work of putting out three books in one year and rediscovering my personal footing after an horrendous experience with racism and a now former employer. Yet while listening to the album, I found the key to what has always made me love Charles Mingus and his work. He bring playfulness in melody amidst the layers of rage and chaos that fill his improvisations. It is difficult to live without playfulness.

We are definitely dwelling in a convoluted time in our collective history. Uncertainty is the ruling force. At least regionally here, there has been so little movement, that a trip to nearby Pelee Island in the fall of 2020 became an essay about movement, migration, and healing. And that sensation of being shackled to one’s home has brought a growing anger at the world outside. From self-serving anti-vaccine buffoonry to an attempted coupe in Washington, D.C. to the rising swells of anti-Black, anti-Chinese, and anti-Indigenous racism and violence the world around us has most definitely been hit by the spasms of anger, the free flow of chaos, the looming threats of what will and could happen. I won’t talk about Climate Change here. Because that will and is happening to all of us. And it’s perhaps too much to speak to as the other trying parts of our time. But for the most part, the world around us has played out like a poorly written Netflix series. The only thing we can do is binge witness the whole thing, swim in its riptides, find ways to keep ourselves from drowning.

When I speak of the corrosion of seasons, I do so because our transitions between times feel stalled. Holidays are a bland representations of what they once were. Sure, it’s snow/raining right now. But it could almost be any moment between October and April in this part of Creation. Time is a strange factor in our lives right now. It has been years since we have seen the majority of relations and friends. Space has become more real even as time and seasons have collapsed to more abstract parts of our lives. We know borders and rivers and mountains and prairies divide us from loved ones. And we sense that time is moving around us. And that those people can sense it too and are themselves being drawn along and further away from each other. Locked away from each other, we have become a mix between memories of that living person and the caricatures we see in Zoom or Facetime sessions. We are uncertain in what time we are living in.

Playfulness, the type you hear in this Charles Mingus record, has to happen in our bubbles. And it has. I have taken to playing guitar, a lot Junior Kimborough and Dead songs. And MMO video games have filled a very necessary playful. And those are the quiet personal activities outside of family/household time. Yet that playfulness is also what makes us better. It is what makes one return to Mingus and his work. The sweetness that lies in the raging storms of pandemics, catastrophic global climate change, racist violence is what we hold on to. And it’s here. Even in bone ache damp coldness of our every time in this corroded grey season. The certain melody that pokes through all the tangle of otherness, a cardinal song in the aftermath of an Midwestern storm. Yet it is us that creates that. We are endowed with the ability to create; Possibly, the single most important gift of Creator to us, the very aspect that makes life so enjoyable. We must play even in the thick of the worst of it all. Because play is what makes all the other crap bearable.

We are returning to some order of what we can recognize as common life after what has been nearly two full years. But it will not be the same. The chaos, the anger, the isolation have changed us. It has changed Creation around us. And while things like time and global chaos are far outside of control, we must never forget how we can control our own melodies. And finding the right playful melody might be the only foothold we can hope for, potentially saving us from the chasm of anger and chaos that threatens us from every possible angle.

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