August 2009


Emotional Wallowing

Of late, in my leisure time I’ve been wallowing in depressing things.

The soundtrack for Rent has been played through multiple times, I’ve started reading materials related to Heart Mountain, and, if that wasn’t enough, I’ve been reviewing materials related to Matthew Shepard.

I can’t really explain the Rent thing—there haven’t been any changes in my life that have prompted the decadence of wallowing in the melancholy moods that the musical prompts.

If I had to speculate, I would guess that most people get Seasons of Love stuck in their heads:

525,600 minutes
How do you measure
measure a year?

I know: I’ve been there. It’s a brilliant song that brings, at least for me, into sharp focus the thing that is most important: Love.

The second most likely lyrics come from Tango: Maureen, in which Maureen’s current partner and her ex- discuss Maureen and her behavior: “Did she moon over other boys?”

Nov 2001 trip to London

Nov 2001 trip to London

Unfortunately I have a different set of lyrics stuck in my head right now: Life Support.

  • How do you feel today?
  • Okay
  • Is that all?
  • Best I felt all year
  • Then why choose fear?
  • I’m a New Yorker, fear’s my life

I watched the movie version of Rent over the weekend, and then the documentary on the second DVD this week—it’s riveting stuff and I end up in a weepy mood not just because of the musical but because of the life and untimely death of Jonathan Larson.

Meanwhile my visit a couple of months ago to Buchenwald (plus a return visit to hike the railroad bed into the concentration camp), made me start thinking about Japanese-American internment in the United States during World War II.

Report for Relocation.

Report for Relocation.

It was about the time that I visited Buchenwald that I noticed some articles in the Casper Star Tribune about the Wyoming based camp. Thinking about families uprooted from their homes and shipped to isolated camps purely because of Japanese ancestry depresses me. I spend random moments imagining would be like to live in sunny, warm Los Angeles, then be forced to sell all your possessions, stuffed into an uncomfortable train, and then offloaded at a stark, isolated, and cold location, like rural Heart Mountain, Wyoming.

Although the intent of America’s Japanese Internment Camps was not the same as Nazi Concentration Camps, there are some uncomfortable parallels. It is truly one of the low points in American history.

Although much of the history has been erased by time, happily there is the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, an organization dedicated to preserving the history of Heart Mountain. The group made the news because they received a grant to assist building an interpretive learning center.

Finally, Matthew Shepard walked into my life again because of Heart Mountain—after I started contemplating Heart Mountain, I started thinking about visiting Wyoming instead of Alberta or Costa Rica. It’s been years since I last visited the state and there are a number of places that I’ve not visited but want to, like Yellowstone National Park.

I also want to stop by the Matthew Shepard Memorial in Casper.

And I want to visit the University of Wyoming to see what’s changed and what remains the same.

It’s a bit unfair to the university and the state that I seem to, for the moment, be focusing on the low points. I spent last night looking at some of UW’s Matthew Shepard site, and a couple of books related to him have suddenly moved up the list, and this weekend I’m planning on a repeat viewing of HBO’s Laramie Project.

I have so many wonderful memories of my time in Laramie that I have this internal split: it’s insanely silly to spend so much time fixated on something that happened after I left when I could, instead, focus on things that happened while I was there: my Range Management classes, the class I took in the history department prompted a conversation between me and my favorite professor where he related a story about using nuclear bombs to get natural gas out of the ground in Colorado, that I then related in the history class which prompted the professor to recall that it was attempted in Wyoming as well, and presto: Master’s degree.

Ultimately all of these memories have to reside within me. It’s not paradoxical to spend time mulling Matthew Shepard, only to turn around and think about the field trip to see rangeland reclamation at an enormous area mine.

These things just are: Weimar spends a great deal of time celebrating its most famous citizen: Wolfgang von Goethe. It also spends a time reflecting on the horrific crime against humanity committed on the edge of town at Buchenwald.

4 comments to Emotional Wallowing

  • If we really stop and think about it, there have been more and more low points since 1940, than in the preceding 200 years in American history. Nor do I see any reason to hope things will improve in the next few decades.

  • disenchanted

    Maybe there’s something in the air. I’ve been reading and watching a lot of stuff that’s just downright sad. (Either that, or I’ve caught some teen angst from my students.)

  • Jul

    I get Life Support stuck in my head, too. But usually One Song Glory. Sometimes La Vie Boheme or Will I? Damn there are a lot of catchy tunes in there that can inspire melancholy.

  • @starman1695 – I suspect that a close reading of history would find that the US has lots of low points even before 1940. The whole slavery thing comes to mind… Then again few countries are really perfect, the true measure of a country is how it treats its history and how it treats minority perspectives. In that respect the US does pretty well–we at least respect and acknowledge a lot of the minority perspectives and when the majority has done wrong. This is, of course, more common amongst Democrats than Republicans…

    @Disenchanted – I hope its not a disease because if it is, I’ve caused a lot of problems this week to all my friends!

    @Jul: One Song Glory another one that flows through my head with alarming regularity….