A problem with days.

Last spring, I taught a Tuesday evening seminar that was one of the best experiences of my career. The students were wonderful; the discussions were wonderful; people had good-natured arguments; I went home every week exhausted but happy. This semester's seminar is still in its formative stages, and we've just come off of an extraordinarily grueling novel--one of the hardest novels to read, in my experience, much less to teach and study. But right now, the seminar's biggest problem, for me, is that it makes me think Monday nights are actually Tuesday nights.

Every week of the semester so far--and hard to believe, we've had four meetings--I've left the seminar, headed home, and then thought to myself around 11:30, "Oh! I should check iTunes and see what's new this week! And oh, rats! I need to put out my garbage." Generally, though, I swear a lot more when I talk to myself.

It usually takes about a half-hour for me to figure out that, in fact, it's not Tuesday. By which point, of course, it is Tuesday--just early Tuesday, not late Tuesday as I've been thinking.

This continuing problem probably has a lot to do with my weeks' feeling so long. But then again, so does waiting for Saturday evenings to get here.

Meanwhile, as is always the case at about this semester, I feel (as I told a student today) as though I'm shedding time like old skin. It just keeps falling away, being cast off, getting wriggled out of and left at the side of the road. My student, astute thing that he is, wrote back, "This reminds me that the future always feels closer to us than the present." He is of a philosophical turn of mind.

Tonight, I'm trying to balance on the knife's edge between time's speeding away from me and its stretching out before me in mocking slowness. On my way home, I made the impulsive decision to drive to the grocery store, even though it was 8 p.m. Hating my grocery store is a topic for another time. But tonight, it wasn't too awful because, well, it was 8 p.m. on a Tuesday (not a Wednesday). Nevertheless, I saw an eleven-year-old girl who was on a phone when she entered the store and was still on the phone when I saw her again in the
milk aisle. Sometimes I think that vigilante parenting is an underrated concept. Maybe childless people like me are childless precisely so that we can catch those kinds of things when parents are harried, or buying avocados: "Excuse me, little-though-you-don't-think-you-are girl, you're damaging your cognitive abilities by walking around in this Godforsaken store with that thing glued to your ear. There cannot be a single thing you actually need to be talking about right now, particularly since you're barely saying anything at all and look as though a zombie sucked your soul out your nostrils."

The two things that are helping me with the time management (of a different sort) tonight are a lovely pinot noir I picked out at the Kroger (pronounce it krojhay and you'll like it more) and my new Hem album, released today and courteously delivered by Amazon to me at the village post office this afternoon.

Hem is well-nigh unclassifiable, and it's not a band I would have lit onto myself. It's Brooklyn-based (yeah, 718/347--I don't just shout out to the fashionable area codes [comma] yo), but at least one of its members is someone who was working on a musicology Ph.D. with friends of mine at Cornell when I was there. And when Rabbit Songs came out in 2001, people started loving it pretty quickly. A Canadian friend of mine gave me a copy for my birthday in 2002, telling me that it was one of her favorite albums of the past year; this was during something of a blackout period in my musical awareness and consumption, a time when I just kept listening to minidiscs of songs I already knew and loved, rather than seeking out anything new, and so I was grateful. For a long time, I stopped short at the third song or so, though I thought the first few tracks were great. It wasn't really until I got my iPod and started making playlists (another topic for another post) that I started to appreciate the simple grace of Hem's music. And when "Half an Acre" came on during a mysterious iPod shuffling expedition that a particular soon-to-be-relocated-to-the-south friend and I were on on the road from Ithaca to Rochester one March day, I fully realized what I'd been missing by not getting past those early songs. To this day, "Half an Acre" occupies second place on my iTunes's "most played" list. And you can bet I'll be sporting a Hem t-shirt this summer, when I'm not wearing Vendetta.

And so, when I discovered last spring (on a Tuesday night after my seminar, in fact) that they had another album out, Eveningland (2004), I not only got myself a copy but also sent a copy winging its way to my beloved Brooklynite, whose instant response was, "To know Hem is to love Hem." Eveningland is more polished and melodic than Rabbit Songs, which made one of my excellent Gambier friends decide that she liked Rabbit Songs better. You see how I'm a proselyte for this band.

Today marked the release of No Word From Tom, an album of outtakes, rarities, demos, and covers from 2000-2005. I can't quite tell you how beautiful it is. The bit coming through my computer speakers as I type is a sequence of two people's humming in harmony that concludes the album.

If I had to describe Hem's music (in order, for instance, to get you interested in following my links and getting some albums for yourselves), I'd call it slightly citified, bluegrassy folk--beautiful from start to finish, even when the songs are about longing and pain and loss. But this description isn't really not doing them any justice, and it's revealing my weakness when it comes to taxonomizing musical forms. The best thing you can do, if you're intrigued, is to visit them and listen to some of their streams. Any band that namechecks Terre Haute can't be all bad, in my book.

I have hopes of catching Hem in concert eventually--especially now that their album of live recordings has shown me just how terrific they also are in person--but it looks as though every pass they make anywhere near where I live happens in mid-week during the semester--with the exception, maybe, of their Indianapolis show, which happens on a Saturday night and might thus be doable in a quietly crazed kind of way.

It'd be my luck that I'd show up the day before the concert, anyhow, if we weren't out of term yet.

source for today's images: all Hem, all the time (the non-Amazon way to get your fix).