Tabs Open #2: The Only Way Out is Through

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Welcome to Tabs Open! I originally posted things like this over on Tumblr under the heading “7 Things I’m Into This Week,” but I haven’t done that regularly in almost two years, and besides, that’s a pretty unwieldy title. So here’s the brand new edition of the same old idea: a collection of things that made me laugh, think, cry, or otherwise feel this week. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

1. Lately I’ve been feeding the crows that go to work a few blocks from where I do. I’ve started carrying bags of peanuts in my car and leaving piles of them in the same 4 spots each day, making sure at least one crow is in sight when I do so. Last week my efforts started paying off: from a few blocks away I could hear them start to call to each other, and two flew close overhead as though making sure I was walking my usual route to the car. Sure enough, by the time I hit my usual spots they were spread out and waiting on the lowest branches of the trees above, and as soon as I walked away they pounced on the nuts. 

This is all to say that animal cognition is something that fascinates me, and while crows take the top spot in my heart, there are all sorts of other wonders to be found, even among other common animals: take this Sierra Club piece, which asks “Does a Bear Think in the Woods?” The story and the research contained within are fascinating. (For some bonus crow cognition content, be sure to check out Dr. Kaeli Swift’s Twitter and Instagram accounts. They’re daily joys for me.)

2. That our memories are imperfect, and that the stories we tell about people who have died are often warped and distorted in ways we might not even be conscious of, are not novel ideas. But rarely have I read so moving and so interesting a reflection on them than what we have in this piece from Longreadsan essay by Colin Dickey about, among other things, the death of a friend and the persistence of the linden tree in his yard. Dickey writes:

“The overgrown yard usually signifies some kind of neglect, of a homeowner having given up on appearances. It’s odd that we’re trained to not see it as it really is: the bursting of life, the overflowing of living things whose vitality can’t be stopped.”

I like this reframing, especially given all we now know about the massive ecological toll brought by the culture of the manicured suburban lawn. That idea stuck with me, but the essay’s real kicker comes buried a few paragraphs later:

“True, also, of the linden tree itself, which has come to bear all manner of symbolism implanted on it, while itself remaining ignorant to each and every last one of these uses.”

I take comfort in this notion: that the things we cannot own, things that we nonetheless make ours through art and feeling and memory, are not separate from us. The linden tree, as Dickey points out, knows nothing of our human renderings of it in literature and myth and medicine. But it has almost certainly been allowed to flourish as a result. The interconnectedness of things, like the cognition of animals, is something I find endlessly fascinating in all its permutations. Life, death, whether we can truly own anything, even our own memories--these are not questions one should raise late at night, but that’s often when they come. Read this one on your own terms. 

3. It had never occurred to me that in certain times and in certain places mountains could have been considered ugly, even horrifying. But this history of them from Hazlitt makes a compelling case that not everyone has always shared my awestruck appreciation for these high mysterious places. (The read felt particularly appropriate on the day I came across it, when The Brothers were as clear and breathtaking out across the Puget Sound as I’ve ever seen them.)

Something I really appreciated within Katy Kelleher’s piece is the idea that some of this fear and revulsion makes a degree of sense, if we consider the asymmetry and impossible geometries of the mountains against the neat and unblemished things that humans normally find beautiful. It also touches on (though not explicitly) the idea that this revulsion was a strictly European phenomenon--I can’t help but compare this frankly weenie attitude to the aboriginal Northwest traditions, in which mountains were often formed as a consequence of great battles between titan-esque warriors and were therefore places of reverence and awe. Add to this the fact that northwestern mountains are often volcanic and were liable to erupt at any time, unlike the bulk of those in Europe (with apologies to Italians and Icelanders, who may be forgiven), and it’s not hard to pick which legacy demonstrates more courage. 

4. Something happened to me this week that scarcely seems possible in this day and age: I saw a quote somewhere, I can’t remember where, and searching for it on the internet turns up no exact matches or sources, at least in the definitive sense. The phrase: “The only way out is through.” (Alternatively: “There is no way out but through.” I go back and forth on which one I saw originally.)

Google suggests that it’s ultimately a bastardization of a Robert Frost line from “A Servant to Servants”: 

Len says one steady pull more ought to do it.
He says the best way out is always through.
And I agree to that, or in so far
As that I can see no way out but through—

I know that’s not where I first saw it, and I think the version I’ve remembered has a better ring to it, mea culpa to Mr. Frost. To his credit, though, the poem is a good one despite its length and density. I particularly enjoyed one of the closing sections: 

Bless you, of course, you’re keeping me from work,
But the thing of it is, I need to be kept.
There’s work enough to do—there’s always that;
But behind’s behind. The worst that you can do
Is set me back a little more behind.
I sha’n’t catch up in this world, anyway.

5.  Last Monday I was on spring break (which isn’t really a break if you’re a teacher, but hey), so I went with some friends to a Vince Staples concert at Seattle’s Showbox. It’s kind of silly, but I was blown away by just how much like himself Vince sounded--nothing was lost of his flow or his lyrical precision in the live performance. He just got up there and rapped, and it brought the house down. He also opted out of an encore, instead putting up the entirety of Mac Miller’s Tiny Desk Concert on the display screen in tribute to his late friend. I was never much of a Mac Miller fan; my little brother listened to him a lot when we were in college, and I wrote him off as unserious, limited to rapping about weed and breakfast food. It took his passing and the resulting proliferation of that same Tiny Desk show video for me to realize how wrong I was. It’s beautiful, and in hindsight, haunting. Don’t skip “2009,” the last song of the set. 

6. Maybe it’s because I’m soon to be an uncle, but of late I’ve been getting really interested in a few children’s book illustrators. Jon Klassen (of This is Not My Hat) is my favorite of the bunch, I think. I also appreciate that he’s constantly sharing the work of other artists he likes and takes inspiration from, which is something more people should do.

7. Have you watched Us yet? I saw it recently with a few friends and I feel confident saying it’s a can’t-miss. There’s plenty I’d spoil by talking at all about it, so all I’ll say is that Lupita Nyong’o is an absolutely singular actor and she should star in a lot more stuff, please. 

Thanks for following along this week! If you’re enjoying Tabs Open, feel free to tell your friends where to find the newsletter.

-Chuck