Thursday, December 16, 2010

Legitimum Non Carborundum.

[ Last night—which, honestly, I remember scant little of, having been awake for 30+ hours writing term papers—I apparently took a break by writing this. Huh. 

Best of luck from me to you, collegiate fizz-brains. This too shall pass. ]

I've spoken here before about my mother's penchant for instructing me in three-word tidbits of Latin wisdom, &, like last time, today's phrase is born of her education—though now it's the institution, not the subject matter. Indeed, illegitimum non carborundum, so I've long been told, is the chorus of the unofficial Harvard fight song—which she (& I, honestly) find delightful, because, in contrast to its austere linguistic appearance, what it means is, "don't let the bastards get you down."

It's a useful phrase to have handy—when, say, a professor unjustly cuts you off, or a troupe of drunken frat boys feel the need to share their slobberous jibes. In such instances, having taken (or, been forced down) the path of least resistance, I can walk away with head held high, imagining it sung by a full-on "Ode to Joy"-style chorus, with surging orchestration & grandiose chest-puffing: illegitimum non carborundum!, on into the sunset. 

However, there are certain downtrodden occasions for which the phrase isn't quite fit—when what's getting you down is, in fact, the most legitimum of them all.

For example, as a (very, very) amateur guitarist, it is perilously easy to look at this video & say, "My fucking Christ! What is her hand even doing? I will never, ever be able to play like that. Oh well, it's cool, I needed some kindling anyhow," & proceed to perform some punk-as-fuck instrument smashing. 

Indeed, it's tempting to enact a similar process (re: the rending / burning / dragging to the "Trash" icon of documents) after re-reading even the opening paragraph of Lolita:
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita. Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, an initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns.

… or watching Holly Brewer sing …

… or, really, witnessing anyone who is truly, painfully, uniquely talented do what they do best. Of course, no one can expect to be this good at everything (or, thanks to genetics' reproductive Russian Roulette, to be nearly this good at anything), but still, it's sometimes disheartening to watch your heroes & know, point blank, that you will never measure up—difficult not to just pack up & head home.

Still, there's a way out of the inert pit, I've decided—one equally as useful (though perhaps not so snappy) as its Latin counterpart—& that is to take a step back from the specifics & recognize the passion with which each one of these mavens imbues their work. In fact, it seems silly to call it "work" at all: as is characteristic of the best artists (messianic Ginsberg, Tarantino in his homaging glee), every talent I envy is the kind that, in each act of skillful dispensation, loudly broadcasts the joy that person finds in their chosen medium. Even as I write it, I know it's true: while I appreciate, say, Pynchon in all his intricacies, his cold cleverness, I've never experienced those hopeless pangs reading V. that I do with even a sentence-long dip into Nabokov's ecstatic prose.

Viewed this way, the challenge becomes not to match your predecessors in technique (because, seriously, what is her hand doing?!), but rather in exultation—in taking & perpetuating pleasure in what you do; even as I celebrate a tenuous mastery of the bar chord, I might still call myself a peer of the impossibly talented Gabriela, if only because the way she looks in that video—head bent, rapt, body swaying uncontrolled—is the way I feel plucking out even the most simplistic of Smiths covers. 

This, then, is the yardstick by which we ought to measure: love for the simple act of creation, so strong it shakes you down to your fingertips. Because, sure, the play's the thing—but the play would be nothing without the passion of the pen behind it.

Today's Headphone Fodder:

(AKA, the song in the above video.)

I could pretend otherwise, but I've really been listening to almost nothing else these past few days; though I've long known about Rodrigo y Gabriela, I only recently sat down & explored their breathtaking repertoire. More than anything, I can't help but be awestruck by the fact that all of this sound—rich & full, percussive, explosive—is coming from two people with two guitars, one of whom doesn't even use a pick. Really & truly incredible.


  1. That was so beautifully said, Ms. Bananz! I'm soooo totally with you — i'm a sucker for passion radiating palpably from any sort of aesthetic performance, be it literary, cinematic, musical, or what have you! It's just so great when really brilliant creators & performers are so obviously having a hoot while blowing your mind. :)

  2. like you, i've been watching this video for the past few days, & i have to just say that from pure perfection it just launches into pure ecstasy for me at 2:28. i wish me whole life were made of the seconds from there to the end! :)

  3. the talking like a pirate at the end there was a mistake. :)