On envy and solidarity

An uneasy feeling creeps among musicians these days: to do well, in these times, is to be envied – and it is a terrible thing to be envied by your friends and colleagues. It is to have one’s place in a foundering boat challenged: don’t you belong in that bigger boat just ahead? The one swamping ours?
This strikes me particularly hard when I think of my brothers and sisters in the United States; from that vantage point I share another, larger boat with my Austrian colleagues. While we go demonstrating because our country (I say “our” as a convenience, being neither fish nor fowl myself) has forgotten those of us who make art, I read the news daily from a country much further down the road toward to perdition than we, a country where the very idea of government support for the arts – and for more basic needs – is utopian (which, lest us not forget, means: no such place).

I attended a demonstration to appeal for help for the arts community on May 1st. Listening to the speakers, it struck me that there were marches and demonstrations happening all over the city (somewhere I read that 15 were registered in total) for the same things. Nothing more than was promised at the outset, really: “no one to be left behind, cost what it may”. Some of the speeches I heard had something of an exceptionalist tone to them – as if we artists were somehow special, as if our concerns and problems were in some way essentially different from those of others. Even dismissing my basic distaste for the idea, I thought from a practical standpoint, surely setting ourselves apart can benefit no one. I had to ask myself: we all need the same things; how is it that we are not all demonstrating together? So too with the divisions between the slightly more and less fortunate, at whatever level. Are we to feel ashamed? To hide our meager advantage as best we can, so as not to suffer the envy of others or the pangs of own own conscience?
To return to my own tiny corner of the world: I do what little I can. I buy (not stream) the things that my friends produce; I speak to others, I write a little now and then – because if I am a little lucky right now, that luck is founded on nothing at all. But much more than that: what affects any one of us directly affects all of us indirectly.


The summer of shove

It’s been . . . interesting. I’m always struck by the universal small-talk question: so, where are you going on vacation? At the barber’s, when you see a casual acquaintance, whenever conversation lags for a moment. It’s kind of like the (to my mind endearing) Austrian practice – mostly confined to offices – of wishing everyone you see “Mahlzeit” (=bon appetit) between about 10:30am and 2:30pm. After which, I assume, they immediately start wishing one another “Prost!” or a pleasant weekend, even if it’s only Tuesday. I don’t spend a whole lot of time in offices.

In any case, I was kind of thrown by that this summer, seeing as it’s been something of a slog. A lot of work, both external and internal. What do you say to someone who’s so obviously and completely in another frame of reference? I had no refuge but the truth, softened only slightly by ironic delivery. Some were interested, most were a little thrown. It speaks to the state of societal grace in which a lot of people still live here. Tu felix Austria, at least for now.

So what did happen? Heat waves, some surprisingly long. I learned a trade, again: I am now a reasonably competent waiter – there’s a Google review to prove it. Besides that: got around to some practicing after a slow start. Went to Hungary…ah, Hungary: traffic like you remember from summer road trips when you were a kid. Hot, endless. 85º in the car, even with the air conditioning on. There’s something relaxing about it, if you can kind of settle into it. A concert in the (highly picturesque) middle of nowhere. Arriving and asking where the equipment was, and having everyone kind of look at each other in slowly mounting panic (priceless). I’m told one of the stage hands thought I smelled good. A pretty epic hang after the concert. More traffic.

What else? Got some practicing done, off and on. Some very late nights; a good party or two. A visit to Cabaret Fledermaus – highly life-enriching. I recommend it: like a David Lynch film playing out in real life. I went in the water once, and had one ice cream cone. I know, that seems wrong. Like I say, it’s been a weird summer.


On trolling

Most of us who are not ‘bots or people who write nasty, misleading, divisive or otherwise questionable material on open forums (because they’re being paid to do so or because they simply prefer sharing their opinions in a nasty, misleading, or divisive manner) are horrified on a regular basis by the things that people are willing to communicate to other people when they don’t have to confront them in person.

A lot of hand-wringing is being done about this and how it can be reined in, but I don’t see any way of stemming the tide: they are too many, too diverse in their means and their purposes, and we often don’t agree on who they are in the first place. Trolls seek to upset, to confuse, to provoke – and they will always win, for the simple reason that you and I care, and they do not.

So what to do? One thing, at least, suggests itself: there are trolls in real life, but they are fewer by far, and their behavior generally disqualifies them in a way that it never can in cyberspace. Thus, the time we spend reading and agonizing over other people’s opinions (condensed into, at most, a couple hundred words) would surely be better used by meeting people, donating our time, money, energy – whatever we can spare – to helping fix the things we feel are wrong. In essence, to do that which trolls by definition cannot.

When we sit before our screens for long enough we feel weak, ineffectual, as if the world is closing in on us . . . and as long as we remain in our places, those things are true – and regrettably, many of those who shape our lives these days are happy to have it just so. However, when we do something – participate in the world, in however small a way – those feelings immediately lose their validity. We may never win a battle, we may never achieve our goal, but when we can say that we did what we could, it’s enough.