Friday, February 1, 2019

True to Life

If you regularly read this blog or know me personally you might remember that I don't care for the month of February. I complain about it every year, which is convenient if you are writing a blog that publishes three times a week because when February comes around you know exactly what to do: kvetch about the cold and the snow and the darkness and the long, grinding winter in the Midwestern United States.

I don't pretend this is entertaining. Nonetheless, it can be. A few years ago I wrote a blog about a phenomenon called Groundhog Day, which is on the 2nd day of February each year. I still think it is one of my more amusing blogs. Now that I've moved to within an hour or so of Puxatawny, PA I've even considered driving out there to hear Phil's Goundhoggese for myself.

If you'd prefer not to have the full, gruesome experience, there is one of my favorite movies, in which weatherman Phil Conners, played by Bill Murray, gets condemned to live the strange holiday over and over. "Goundhog Day" the movie will no doubt air on a few TV stations over the weekend, and some of you won't mind watching it over and over as well.

I've often wondered why there was no sequel to "Groundhog Day," though I am glad they left it alone. It was a one-of-a-kind movie with a unique concept. It's just that, whenever there is a successful offering, Hollywood doesn't know well enough to let it just be. (Murray is starring in another sequel to the Ghostbusters franchise for 2020 and while I applaud their restraint in waiting so long to make it I wonder whether it will be a good story or just a way to make money of nostalgia.)

It isn't that such a film could not in theory be interesting. There is plenty about life on February 3rd that might provide Phil with a lot to do. Readjusting to a life in which days are not endlessly repeated until you get them just right could be disorienting after a hundred reboots, and none of them would have the mythic status that the Puxatawny festival would have acquired in his life. It's just that a movie based on the 3rd of February would violate two rather big rules. It would not be likely to have a happy ending, and we wouldn't be able to see it coming.

It is easy to see, after a handful of times that Phil wakes up on the same day in the same bed and has to do it over that, no matter how he rebels, whines, finds inventive ways to kill himself, tries random experiments in cruelty, and gradually, more and more in kindness, that the Power That Is just isn't going to let this go until he learns a very important lesson and reforms himself. Like many successful works of art, the recipient can see the Goal which must be achieved almost from the beginning. The outlines are clear.

My wife and I read "The Chimes'' over the holidays. It is the book Charles Dickens wrote for Christmas (actually New Year's Day) the year after he published "A Christmas Carol," another story in which the redemption of the protagonist drives the narrative. Unfortunately, "The Chimes" is a mess. In an attempt to shock the reader with major plot twists, it is not easy to tell whether the main character is in need of redemption (he is), whether he is in the past, present, or future, or if he is even alive for a large part of the story. Neither of us felt like we had a very firm grasp of what was really going on, never mind where we were supposed to be headed.

These sorts of experiments can doom a work of art. They are, it would seem, too much like reality, in which we sometimes wander from day to day without a certain direction in major segments of our lives. We generally prefer to have a sense of direction, and we would like our art to mirror that ideal version of our lives.

February can be a wasteland. Although, as I hinted last year, some of the Februaries in my life have been successfully negotiated because of important events which provide clear goals (and stress) to make them seem shorter and more meaningful.

It is interesting how we humans manage time. Music is fundamentally about time management and if it is experienced as a striving toward a goal (a major thrust in Western Music) it is often the composer's task to clarify what that goal is. Would that February, with all of its inertail hibernatory temptings, could take us to that Epiphanic Val Halla more often.

Or, to clarify, may we know where we are going, and enjoy getting there.

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