Tag Archives: Conversations

SONG THOUGHTS: Sara Bareilles’ “Chasing the Sun” on MORTALITY!

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BY RACHEL

For the past few weeks I have seriously wanted to do a quick post on the new Sara Bareilles album – specifically the song “Chasing the Sun.” First order of business: I think you need to listen to the song as you read this post. So. Go ahead.

You are listening , right?
Good.

I may be over reading this song, but I don’t think so. In the tradition of Homer’s Iliad, Sara Bareilles joyfully reminds us that both that human excellence and human community are based on the knowledge that we will die.

I actually started talking to someone about… well not exactly this song, but bear with me. He said something to the effect of “Western tradition of literature is built on the shoulders of Achilles.” As UD English major, I was thrilled to agree (provided that we also acknowledge that we need an Odysseus… and possibly an Aeneas) and will now probably start saying this to my students ad nauseam. Nonetheless, because agreeing immediately is rarely entertainment enough for either literature teachers or UD grads, we then embarked on a long debate about what exactly Achilles does that grounds a Western Tradition concerned with excellence, free will, philosophy, poetry, and eventually Christianity.

He held that Achilles is crucial because of his mēnis – his god-like wrath – that takes him to a plane of thought, even philosophy, previously unknown. (My father, the UD classics and literature professor, interjects that we could just have easily be founded for this principle on Odysseus’ “mind like Zeus”.) Achilles, not only in his physical and martial excellence but in his god-like thought – thanks to the Shield made for him by Hephaestos – is able to see the on a plane unhampered by death and its sorrows. My counterpart in the conversation emphasized not the wrath, but the godliness of it. His claim (so far as I understood it) was that in order to really have a tradition concerned with universals (ala Plato), we needed a hero who ascended to a god-like state, seeing the cyclical nature of mortal reality. Yes, men die; but they are replaced by much the same sort of men. Which is to say, that when Achilles looks at the shield of Book XVIII, he is founding Western Thought. (Apologies if I am oversimplifying a very long debate. I am trying to be as accurate to his argument as possible, but any abridgment will have its bias. Mine is that I think I am right.)

I could and can acknowledge the necessity of moving beyond grief and the limitations of a human life in order to achieve excellence of thought. Those who are focused on the day to day of life to the exclusion of the larger patterns in which they participate are probably much less likely to think philosophical thoughts. (By the way, I’m pretty sure that this is not a bad thing. It is just a thing.)
Our argument arose from my conviction that the real foundation for Western thought is not located ONLY in Achilles eccentric movement into mēnis, but also in his return to his mortality, when he is finally able to eat, sleep, and mourn for Patroklos alongside Priam who mourns for Hektor in Book XXIV. I think that the uniquely western emphasis not only on free will and excellence, but also a community not withstanding those virtues requires a hero who is excellent because of his mortality.

A god’s eye view that sees primarily the cyclical nature of life and death does allow for philosophical thoughts concerning the universals that are true and beautiful and important all humans; yet, we are also a tradition that revels in individual achievement (be it artistic, athletic, philosophical etc.) and a god-like vision, I would argue, does not result in the pressure to be excellent, but the pressure to be at one with everything else. That is not particularly western.

If death and life don’t really mean anythingeither through  in their suffering or their grandeur, then a real community and communion of excellent individuals becomes at least irrelevant and and possibly non-existent.

To achieve excellence and participate in the community of the excellent dead that have gone before, we must first embrace the fact that we die. Then the achievements of the past become more than history, but rather a call that lends urgency and weight to our individual actions.  Homer, in Achilles but also in every single foot soldier we see die in the Iliad, founds our notion that the manner of our death (and really, we could describe our entire life as as slow death) gives us identity, memory, and meaning. Even athletic achievement in Homer’s universe is located in the funeral games. The message becomes: because we die, you must strive to excel.

All of which brings me back to this song. I’m not saying that Sara Bareilles is talking about the Iliad, but I think that her bouncy song about “a Cemetary in the center of Queens” perfectly falls into a Western Tradition of striving for excellence (Chasing the Sun, if you will) because of death.

Those of you who have heard me talk about poems, my Junior poet, or my Senior Novel know that I am a little pronoun obsessed. Bear with me.

I love what Bareilles does with pronouns in this song! The refrain – “We should always be chasing the sun” – has the communal “we.” She emphasizes the common bonds of the 3 million dead in the cemetery; yet, she also emphasizes from the first verse the singularity of each – a different story, a different name, different dates, etc.  Further more, the introduction of the refrain – “You said, remember that life is not meant to be wasted.” Each of these individuals enters into an “I-Thou” relationship with Bareilles, and by extension with us, the listeners. Because we (the dead and the living) die, each individual you can relate to, chastise, and encourage.

I would say that Bareilles particularly understands this community of the dead and its call to excellence by the two artistic forms she discusses: the city of Manhattan itself and her own song.

Manhattan: Basically, my favorite line in the whole song sums it up: “the Skyscrapers’ little tombstone brothers.” The Skyscrapers exist because of the eventuality of the tombstones, and the tombstones are little skyscrapers in and of themselves: little imperative reminders that life is finite and not meant to be wasted.

Music: This awareness of her community of mortality demands a participation. Bareilles’ needs to do it through her music and  must figure out how to rise to the challenge. We see this in her series of questions? How do we really participate in mortality?

So how do you do it?
With just words and just music, capture the feeling
That my earth is somebody’s ceiling?
Can I deliver in sound, the weight of the ground
Of a cemetery in the center of Queens?

We strive to be excellent. 


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This is harder than it looks

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Well, here we are. Rachel Jane and I have finally bitten the bullet and started a blog. We’ve been talking about it for ages. Actually, we’ve been talking about it for about ten months — but that seems like ages in post-grad years.

We first came up with the idea in a place where Rachel and I come up with many ideas: a table at Joe’s Coffee Shop in Irving.

it’s very inspiring

If you haven’t gone there and live in Irving… well, you’re probably not reading this blog. Never mind. Anyway, that’s where we came up with the idea. We had probably had too much coffee, so we were very enthusiastic.

Originally, we were going to start two blogs, but when they didn’t happen and didn’t happen, we finally decided that the best way would be to get together and tag-team. So here we are! To start off, here’s a short list of reasons we each wanted to blog (as much to remind ourselves as to tell you), and please remember: this is harder than it looks.

Rules and Reasons:

1. I (Teresa) wanted to blog for several reasons. One of those reasons is I love stories. Who doesn’t. But I mean, I really love stories. So does Rachel. I think the first time I started loving the story of my own life, or even looking at my own life as a story, was during a semester studying abroad in Rome, through the University of Dallas Rome program.

The semester was really hyped up at UD. Some might say unjustly so. I mean, Rome is cool and all, but as my Mom always says (get used to reading that she’s a freaking genius): wherever you go, there you are. And Rome doesn’t change that. That being said, I expected it to — change me, I mean. And so I entered the semester looking everywhere around me for that Thing, that Rome Thing that everyone talks about, that changes you.

This attitude was compounded by some advice given to us by our literature teacher there, Dr. Greg Roper, who told us on the first day of class, “An inconvenience rightly considered is an adventure,” or something like that. He was quoting G.K. Chesterton, and his point was (I think) to make us realize that even though yes we were going to be rained on and lost and in danger and hungry and lost, that was all part of the experience.

I fell for it hook, line, and sinker. Everything around me became The Rome Thing. I mean, I really did embrace the rain and hunger and missed trains (for the most part), and they became part of my very own exciting Rome Story.

Sorry, I’m not sure if I’m getting my point across here, but what I’m trying to say is that in the end… the hype was true. Rome does change everything. When you are studying in Rome

(or maybe just on the Due Santi campus, because there really is something magical about it)

 you are the very same person, yes, but you begin to look at that person differently and the normal, everyday inconveniences that you might face in the States become colorful Italian adventures.

If you’re lucky, like Rachel and I were, when you come back, that stays the same. Your life has been transformed into a story and your inconveniences into adventures, and you can’t forget it. Except you can. When you graduate. And suddenly the inconveniences are things like not knowing what to do with your life and being lonely and not understanding politics and all sorts of adult worries that aren’t very adventurous at all (you really could go for those missed Italian (or British) trains after a while). Then it’s hard to remember. So you blog.

Or we do. Anyway that’s why I want to blog — to remember that my life, your life, our lives are all stories that are a thousand times better than the stories you read in books or see on the screen or hear, because they’re written by the First Storyteller, and they’ve never been told before.

Okay Rachel’s turn:

2. Alright, can I just say “What she said” and leave it at that? Probably not. Oh dear. Here goes: I do actually mean “what she said” … (Teresa says, “Not to be confused with ‘That’s what she said'”).Anyways, that is part of the joy of the shared experience and experiences of Rome. And college. And High School. 9 times out of 10, after we talk, I feel like we have just spent an hour or 4 agreeing with each other. Which isn’t exactly true. That is what I love about our conversations and conversations in general.

So I guess if Reesa’s theme is stories, mine is conversations. (Which is strange, because most of my posts here are probably going to be about books, or movies… maybe songs. Mostly movies.) However, that is because only in discussing these stories do I end up finding or remembering that perspective that was granted us in Rome. Sometimes on weighty and important stuff. Like God. Other times not so much… a conversation on the rival merits of top 40 artists springs to mind. What am I actually trying to say?

Mostly, I am trying to say that I hope that this blog serves as that kind of conversation. For me and for Teresa, and hopefully for whichever brave souls end up deciding to read this. (I am sorry in advance for my very long sentences. I am working on it. See?). SO COMMENT! PLEASE!  But bear in mind that most of these are not finished thoughts. Believe me when I say, we know that. That is eve one of the reasons we chose this layout – because it didn’t look too polished and finished. Also because it was pretty.

OK. Enough. New number.

3.  (Teresa now. We need to use different fonts? Or something?) Actually I think in general we’ll have different posts entirely. Which brings me to my next point. ALTHOUGH we have suggested in the previous two number bullets that our purposes and experiences are, in fact, related and that this is why we have chosen to blog together, this is not always going to be the case. Again: we’re blogging together because we’re lazy.

(We didn’t even mean to match here. Truth.)

If and when a common theme appears between our blogs, consider it a happy accident. We reserve the right to always and forever write on totally different things in totally different ways and for all intents and purposes ignore the fact that this is a joint blog. Got it? Good!

4. (Still Teresa. Is this throwing you off? See the “About Me” section, in which I mention that Rachel doesn’t like introductions — a charming quirk!) Another reason I wanted to start a blog was I wanted a place where I could write — simple as that. I’d like to eventually make money doing it, and guess what to do that you have to be good. And the only way to get good is to do it. So there you are.

This is a very long post now. Consider it an introduction. That’s the beauty of starting your own blog. Your thoughts. Your rules. No arguing. Okay there can be arguing, but please no arguing. I don’t like conflict. Rachel does. You can argue with her.

If you made it through this whole post (or even part of it), thank you. I’m happy to have finally started writing, and I hope we continue for a long, long time.

xo

Reesa & Rachel