A balm for late-winter despair: "The Gymnast High Above the Ground"
When I’m about to do something normal that seems impossible, like talking to someone who cares about LinkedIn, or convincing myself that my ability to delight an audience translates beyond the Tinder profiles I compose for friends and family (ask! I work cheap!), I have a ritual. In preparation for these moments, I will often do a drop back or some similarly ridiculous feat of strength or flexibility. When I can’t access that strength, I know that a force larger than myself grips me: late-winter despair. Late-winter despair doesn’t like to do yoga, not even to show off. Late-winter despair thinks pull-ups just expose my weakness. Late-winter despair can only go at two speeds: Chopped on the treadmill, or naptime.
Even San Diego cannot shelter me from late-winter despair. February unwinds and my life sinks into an uncanny valley where almost familiar faces move at the wrong clip, and the daily sunshine only casts shadows.
I am so grateful to the indie rock fan I was fifteen years ago, who bought Her Majesty the Decemberists in 2003 and insisted that it was a super-good album while all her music nerd friends sniffed that their fussy twee bullshit signaled that Kill Rock Stars had lost its way.
“The Gymnast High Above the Ground” might be The Decemebery-ists shit that The Decemberists ever isted. It starts with a gentle hint of strings (viola?), then drum and piano, until it opens into the full Decemberist treatment, the viola and the cello, possibly a glockenspiel? The refrain is bad, a nonsense pun, “April marches on . . .” which relates to the barely non-nonsense lyrics that almost tell a story about someone, up high, doing hard things, but it also has something to do with old-timey boating stuff (“the bosun calls upon the quay”)?
But of course, I am the gymnast falling, I’m the sailor lost at night, and when I listen to this song over and over again I remember that falling and getting lost are things I can do, too. How can I succumb to despair when April marches on?