This is a weekly newsletter where I send out a new “nice sounding” track, some writing, and a picture of something I saw. It’s also one way I let people know what I’m up to otherwise. Thank you for reading. You can hear every single My Big Break track in one playlist right here.
Good morning ~
I have another radio-type piece for you this week, where I’ve read (better this time, I think) what I wrote below over the music. Thinking about being inert, having no energy, and how you can never step into the same stream twice. And that’s all okay.
Can I ask you something? Do you like this project? Does it help? Some weeks it feels valuable and a good use of our collective time, other times not so much. Wondering how to do it better, you know?
In a hilarious coda to the work I’ve prepared for you this week I absolutely devastated my ankle while playing about five minutes of basketball this week and now not only am I not that interested in running, I can’t run and in fact I have trouble walking down the hallway. I’m fine, though! Nothing broken as far as I can tell. I’m very fortunate to be in the home of someone who is admirably rising to the challenge of (actually) fetching me from my prone position on the blacktop basketball court. And I’ll be fine in a couple of days. But it’s funny that I talked about running and God and the Devil and then I got struck down, no?
And appropriately we passed this beautiful stained glass window the other night, I snapped a quick pic.
If you want to hear an instrumental of this week’s music, it’s here.
I have a great thing to plug today ~ ~ ~ My buddies and I have organized a huge Whatever’s Clever streaming festival for you tomorrow. That’s Friday, May 1st, with sets from the entire label’s roster on the hour every hour from 1pm to 10pm Eastern. I’ll be rounding out the slate in that last set, hopefully playing some grand piano in an empty recital hall at this fancy college where I’m staying. Lots of great folks playing, including my personal fave Scree and Adeline Hotel (whose beautiful new album comes out next week!) Strongly encourage you to join us!!! We’ll be live on the label’s Twitch channel: https://www.twitch.tv/whateverscleverclub
See you in the chat :)
And you know what? Here’s a flyer (designed by Benedict from Field Guides):
It would be easy to say that I have gotten fat under quarantine. And that would be correct, to a certain degree. I have put on weight. The number of steps I take each day has steadily dwindled and my interest in running has faded completely. I eat often, taking an animal, survivalist comfort in the 100 frozen dumplings I purchased the last time I was in lower Manhattan or the occasional indulgent takeout meal. This is not a unique experience, per se - many folks are seeing their bodies change while they remain indoors. I’m not ashamed of this fact, and I hope you aren’t, either.
But the real truth is that this is part of a long upward trend - I’ve been slowly but surely putting weight back on since summer of 2019, when I was my slimmest, uh, ever. Like ever, by a wide margin. Personal tragedy struck in July of that year and at first I responded by running even more, by dancing later and longer and eating less. My friends grew concerned, my wrists were weak and bony, and then my knee started shooting pain, so I slowed down. I stopped looking at my spreadsheet where previously I had kept detailed notes on every single workout. I even ran a 5k - my first ever race - that fall, but the weight kept coming. Slowly at first, then more steadily, as if I was bulking up for the winter. July - January felt like one long exhalation, one long expulsion of all the mourning and all the motivation and all the fear that kept me working out six days a week for nearly two years. I wanted so badly to get back to where I was, that slim sleek sleeveless version of myself, and despite my best efforts to get back into the habit it never really clicked again, not in the same way, and then my office shut down, then my two gyms. At first I ran outside, then I got scared to be outside. So I bought an exercise bike and assembled it in my living room, even brought it with me to Ohio when I fled, but I don’t ride it nearly as often as you’d think I would.
When I was at my most obsessed with running - when I was logging slogs of miles on treadmills during episodes of Jeopardy! and only very occasionally experiencing the divine light of a runner’s high - I would sometimes feel the hot breath of the devil on the back of my neck. Whether some sweat induced hallucination or a daydream brought on by fatigue, I felt his lips curl in a snarl, the weight of his hoofs bowing the machine - I could smell the sulfur rising from his skin. And he would tell me that I could stop running, that I could skip the last couple of miles I promised myself I would complete that night. He would tell me to relax. And, every time, I would listen to what he had to say. I would think about it, but I’d keep going anyway. You can’t run from anything on a treadmill - you’re locked in place, caught in a dream, crackling fire just behind your periphery - but you can keep going.
Growing up I was told that the devil is wily, that he hides in plain sight, drawing you out from God’s light and assuming stewardship of your damned, eternal soul before you realized you had signed it away. The devil was in music, the devil was in dancing, the devil was in the Simpsons and in premarital sex - the things that we enjoy most ably are the ones most at risk of veiling Satan’s true form. But I was also told that God - in His infinite wisdom - might test your love, wish for you to proof your faith. That He might create a fossil record for foolhardy scientists to tout as evidence of His absence, that He might kill our families and cover us with boils to win a debate with a fallen angel. So salvation was full of tricks, too. One had to remain ever vigilant, ever faithful.
In a very real, top-level sense I don’t believe in the devil. Or an afterlife, or that a man once walked on water. I do not await a paradise beyond this one. But in a deeper way, in the way of premonitions and shadows, the devil appeared to me repeatedly, trickless. He spoke as plain as day in attempts to draw me from what I felt at the time to be holy. The sweating, the good work of running. The blessed shedding. And I think it was because I was so close to actually touching the light. He was desperate, his deceptions kept falling flat and, if I got just a little bit faster, I might have actually grabbed the hem of the garment. I might have taken hold.
It’s not the same - nothing is the same these days - but on the exercise bike I do sometimes feel a little flicker of the blessed shedding. This morning I wept - loudly enough to wake my sleeping sweetie, I fear - along to blog techno on the last mile of my simulated ride. So great was my despair at having not (and having no promise of doing so in the future) sweat with strangers in a dark and pounding room. But the devil does not come to me, and I wonder if this means that he has won. But really I think it’s this: I have finally accepted that the life we knew before is no longer. And that’s always true. The life we know now we can never come back to. We might be granted something worse. All we can ever have, now, right now, if we’re lucky, is something equal, something reminiscent and, if we’re ever faithful, something better.
What about you? Is there a hot breath on your neck? Have you been rendered immobile lately? Do you think we’re over the hump?