Verified Rule #14: Study what you love.

To preface, I want to say that I read Sophie’s post about school on her blog, and I totally agree in many ways. But in many ways I feel like I’ve grown over that hump and moved onto the idea that I can teach myself anything I want to learn. Yes, the education system sucks. I can’t do anything about it except to subvert it by learning elsewhere.

What I have appreciated over the years is great teachers. Really great teachers. Some I’ve been literally enthralled with to the point of dreaming about them, others I have been inspired by, and yet others have given me that little bit of artistic liberty that I was so craving that made every other bullshit thing I was “learning” worthwhile. So what I want to do is post one of my favourite essays from uni. You don’t have to read it, but I am damn fucking proud of it. I want to write more like it.

I wrote it, though, as a “personal context” essay. In first year. FIRST YEAR. Who thought that I would ever be proud of an essay I wrote in my first (okay, second, but first at york) year of uni?! Not me. I thought my magnum opuses would come near the end. Unfortunately, with my increasing schedule of mindful procrastination, my genius has slowly leaked out in the midst of all nighters and coffee binges and caused my schoolwork to suffer unknown degrees of unreadable horror. So, this is what I have.

It is about Modest Mouse and me having the “travel bug”. I’m still almost insane with travel sickness. I still read travel blogs and all sorts of travel-lifestyle sites. I still creep Matador and Couchsurfing all the time. But a lot of things have changed since the essay too.

Regardless, read it. Listen to the song. Let me know what you think.

What I have learned? If you’re learning what you love, it’ll never feel like work and it’ll turn out better for you in the long run. If your work is what you love, you will never work a day in your life. Here’s hoping.

 I like songs about drifters – books about the same.
They both seem to make me feel a little less insane.

-The World at Large, Modest Mouse

Dramamine is an antihistamine used to cure motion sickness.  It is also the name of a song about overdosing on said drug by the members of the indie band Modest Mouse.  The name of the band comes from a short story written by Virginia Woolf called “The Mark on the Wall,” a part of which ended up sticking with Isaac Brock, the lead singer.  The band began writing and practicing their music in a shed near Brock’s mother’s trailer in 1993 and are still producing music 17 years later.  Most members are now in their mid-thirties and yet their relevancy in the youth music scene has not subsided in the least, especially on the West Coast of the US as well as suburban towns all over the developed world.

Modest Mouse’s songs are known for “tuneful gallows humour and sonic self-loathing”, traits that lead many to appreciate their epigrams about relevant modern topics, like the album entitled “Good News for People Who Love Bad News”.  The band became socially relevant on a grander scale when they decided to sign to Sony’s Epic Records in 2001 and got more exposure while “maintain[ing] their indie cred” (Bilton). Their albums remained strong and declarative perspectives that you couldn’t get out of your head for weeks at a time.  Modest Mouse is not a popular band by any means, but they have a devoted following of mice and other vermin that enjoy thinking and living to their music.

Dramamine is not one of their most popular songs, but it is the one I ended up having dreams about for months.   I couldn’t get this scene out of my mind, because I knew it would be perfect in the imaginary movie of my pseudo-life.  The song is longer than most popular ballads (close to 6 minutes) and mellow in melody.  Only several instruments are used in the opening sequence after which the sound slowly builds to the perseverant lulling rhythm of the rest of the song, when Isaac pipes in with his contrasting, scratchy vocals.  The musical interludes are lengthy but are perfect background noise for daydreaming.

Picture San Francisco: golden-tinged from the setting sun and alive with bicycles and cars and whistles and clicks and laughter from the outdoor cafes and stores.  You’re standing at the top of a hill looking north and the sun is shining on your face, warm like butter and vivid like it is only in the summer.  You feel restless astride your bike; your eyes jump to the traffic lights so you know when to get ready.  Green.  And when you push off, your hair flies back and you’ve never felt so goddamn alive.  The laughter coming off the sidewalk grows in pitch as you stream past pedestrians but all you have is this song in your head that makes you feel like everything is right.

The cinch in music at the very end, the continual repeating of the same bar or so, is like a reminder that it all (the song, or life) goes on reoccurring.  That there are millions of moments in dreams just like the one I described that are looking for someone to live them and cherish them for what they are: drinking beer with friends in a park; playing guitar in an alcove; listening to poetry spoken raw on a stage.  I listened to this song for ages before I moved on to any of their other songs.  My attraction to stability (and repetition) is a marker and repercussion of my nomadic history: 6 moves in 6 years.  This song makes me feel the duality of being displaced and craving a home.  I don’t feel like I belong in Canada, necessarily, but it is where I live.  I also don’t feel as though I belong in Russia, because I don’t know much about it apart from my childhood memories.  This song lets me feel that it’s okay to belong nowhere.

Dramamine the drug is used to treat motion sickness, and for months at a time I used to get sick of travelling and the constant change that mode of life brought with it.  I was motion-sick.  I begged my parents to stay in one place, and when they finally did (we’ve lived in Markham for a good 9 years now), I got restless and wanted to leave.  I want to leave, to see if the sun is as warm everywhere else as it is in my mind.  As a result, my wanting for stability serves as my Dramamine: Markham is my antihistamine to cure my motion sickness.  But as all writers know (mostly the dead and stuck-up ones), there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.  Sometimes.  Markham, in all of its stability and homeliness, has grown to be constricting and frustrating instead of grounding.  Staying in one place is an overdose of motion sickness medication, namely Dramamine.  Staying in Markham has been making me paranoid, restless and frustrated because I don’t seem to want to be here.  I have wanderlust in me now that I feel needs to be fulfilled soon, and there is no cure for that except reckless hedonistic satisfaction.

Overdosing on Dramamine is what this song is supposed to be about, and Isaac describes confusion, paranoia and false bravado in the song’s lyrics and explains the absurdity by spitting out this line: “we kiss on the mouth but still cough down our sleeves.”  This line also holds some relevance to this displacement that I’ve been talking of so much, because as much as my restlessness relates to places, it relates to people as well.  It was always a challenge to make friends at every new place we moved, and because of that I later found myself stuck on a cycle of new friends replacing old ones, without having moved away.  Like a circadian rhythm that just wouldn’t go away, I kept changing people I knew and loved for different ones because of petty reasons.  I still feel that I had (and have) partially legitimate reasons for adopting the “out with the old, in with the new” philosophy, because I think that you need people to suit your lifestyle and not the reverse.  People should never change to fit their surroundings, if their heart is not the same as their surroundings.  I was never a kid that fit in with normal kids at school, and while that’s a struggle for anyone, anywhere, I never planned on changing that, even despite its unpleasantness.  I had a general sense of mistrust regarding other people and their perspectives on life, and I still hold true to that idea.  Isaac Brock’s lyrics ended up speaking to me and reassuring me that I was not alone in the way I feel.  His music gave me a place of understanding where I could go in my mind: a place where things made sense and I didn’t have to leave.  His music grounded me.

It’s ironic that it’s medically proven that certain portions of the inner ear are crucial in the development of motion sickness.  The appendage that is used for listening, and in my case, feeling grounded, is the same one that develops feelings of motion sickness.  Dramamine the drug calms the sensory overload that happens in the inner ear and prevents all the symptoms of motion sickness.  Dramamine the song calms me by listening to the music and lyrics and finding a connection to something greater than myself there, something solid.

Dramamine (or Gravol, in Canada, which is a lot less romantic) is a drug that I am happy I don’t (metaphorically) take anymore, because I don’t need to stop my motion sickness.  It is not motion sickness anymore because now, it’s motion lust.  Bring on the world.

-A

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