Unlucky Days Again

Dec 31, 2018

TAA 0052 – C. Travis Webb, Seph Rodney, and Steven Fullwood return to the topic of cyclical time. Every year in the Mesoamerican calendar there were five unlucky days between the end of the ritual calendar and the start of a new solar calendar. Are the days between Christmas and New Year a similar experience for twenty-first century Westerners?

C.T. WEBB 00:19 [music] Good afternoon, good morning, or good evening and welcome to the American Age Podcast. This is C Travis Webb, editor of the American Age, and I am speaking to you from Orange County, California. Steven and Seph are joining me today. So it’s our one-year anniversary podcast.
S. RODNEY 00:34 Whoo-hoo. Yeah.
C.T. WEBB 00:34 How are you guys doing?
S. FULLWOOD 00:35 Whoo-hoo, wow.
S. RODNEY 00:36 Pretty good [laughter]. Party on. This is Seph Rodney. I am a once upon a time poet and a once upon a time photographer and now a writer, and I’m speaking to you from the Bronx, New York. And it’s a great day, and I hope that this conversation cheers me up [laughter].
S. FULLWOOD 00:58 Well, let’s see, I’m Steven G Fullwood, and I am a archives consultant. And I used to be a wannabe musician and I want to be graphic illustrator and I want to be full-time employed person and a number of things [laughter]. I can go on. Seph started it. I wished I wouldn’t have– but yeah, I can get started. So I’m coming to you from Harlem not too very far– not very far from where Seph is, in the Bronx and so it is grey here. And we’re about to get a lot of rain, 70% chance today.
C.T. WEBB 01:30 All right. So just to remind our listeners that we practice a form of intellectual intimacy where we give each other the space to be heard and to say what it is that we want to say and be understood by one another or do our best to do so. So today’s podcast is a return to our very first podcast which was called unlucky days. And it was a pretty ungainly production, and I take full responsibility for that. I would open up– Seph, if you remember this, but I would open with a quotation.
S. RODNEY 02:04 Yes.
C.T. WEBB 02:04 I was very halting about it.
S. RODNEY 02:06 I know. It’s just that the quotation took forever. It was like, “Damn [laughter].”
C.T. WEBB 02:10 That’s right. That’s right. That’s right.
S. RODNEY 02:11 This was a long way around that far.
C.T. WEBB 02:16 I was sick as a dog the first day that we recorded, but it was really important to me that we get started before the close of 2017 because the podcast was kind of an integral part of the American Age, the larger project, which is still a very large thing to get moving but has started to move the wheels. We’re starting to turn a bit. We’re in a high school. I don’t know if you guys know this, but we’re in the John Glen High School in Norwalk, California where we provide free tutoring to kids that come in. And we’ve kind of struck upon a model that we think can work for helping out in high schools and middle schools with kids, trying to help schools facilitate community building within the school. And that’s a big part of the American Age project. It’s kind of the boots on the ground what are we doing actively to do to help people, people that may not ever give a shit to listen to us on the podcast or read any of the content that we produce. So it was really important to me to get started, and something that doesn’t often come out in the podcast is I have these little nodes of superstition. And there are these places where even though my rational brain will say, “Okay, that’s nonsense, or it doesn’t really matter. I still will be performative in whatever it happens to be.”
C.T. WEBB 03:42 And starting in 2017 was really important to me because I said I was going to start in 2017, and I wanted to keep my word to the universe, right? Not to the people, right? There’s people they don’t give a shit. They’re busy. They’re doing all this other kind of stuff, but I had said, “I had vocalized. I had written this down that I was going to start this thing then.” So it was important to me to feel like I had kept my word, whatever that ended up looking like. So I wanted to return to that because I think for me– one of the things I’d like to try and revive or to provoke or inspire in our last podcast – we’re talking about people that inspired us – is placing what we do in the 21st century and in 2018 going on 2019 and the longer sweep of human history, at what other human beings have done sitting around tables. There’s that song Sad Captains and I’m forgetting who it’s by now, but there’s a line that other people have beat their empty cups upon these tables, right, and so other people have been where we are. Maybe not in front of Skype screens or with microphones and stuff like that, but other people, other men and women have puzzled about what we’re doing– have been puzzled about what we’re doing here. And I think that that is something we’re really bad at right now in the United States. We very much believe that we are brand new. We believe our problems are new. We believe we’re going somewhere I don’t necessarily think we’re going which is to say the bright, shiny future. I think we kind of muddle through.
C.T. WEBB 05:35 Unlucky days, so the days to look to– it’s a long intro to get to what inspired this. So on the Mesoamerican calendar, there are a series of unlucky days. I think they’re like 13 or something like that. So there’s two calendars. There’re 365 days solar calendar. There’s a 260-day ritual calendar. And these calendars interact in these very complicated ways, but they overlap at certain junctures, and there is a gap between the end of the ritual calendar and the beginning of a new solar year. And these 13 days were considered inauspicious. They were considered days that it was not– people wouldn’t get their hair cut, and these were not days to begin new activities which is one of the reasons why I wanted to begin the activity at that time. And I think that there is an analogous situation even for us, even in the 21st century, even in the West in America which is that time between Christmas and New Year’s, which when you’re listening to this podcast will be at that time. There’s this just kind of aporia in the middle of the year where time doesn’t flow in the same way, the days don’t go by in the same way. For me they seem to sort of stretch on almost interminably, and I lose track of the dating. And we live in a cyclical calendar, right?
C.T. WEBB 07:12 So even though we count years, we come back to January every year. We come back to Monday every week. We came back to noon every day, and we believe this story in the West about ascendancy. It plays into a certain kind of a theory of whiteness and in progress and the White man’s burden. And I think right there at this– I think this notion of progress is right there at the center of it, and while I don’t want to abandon things like– I’m glad for modern medicine, and I’m glad for all these great things, but in reality we still construct time cyclically. And so one of the things I wanted to talk about is sort of just your own experiences with that period of time. Maybe you don’t feel that way about those days between Christmas and New Year’s. It’s this sort of a fiction that I have sort of invented for myself, or what you guys think about your own experiences of time in this culture, in your own life?
S. RODNEY 08:18 So if I may jump in, Steven?
S. FULLWOOD 08:21 Absolutely.
S. RODNEY 08:22 I think the question makes more– no. It’s not that it makes most– yes. Yes, I can say it that way. The question makes more sense to me as I get older because my experience of time as I get older is that it almost always equals getting something done. It equals like something I’m putting into something else. So it’s not like I’m falling into this sort of vast container that is time. It’s more like I am parceling out bits of time to things to activities. So literally when I sit down to write something for Hyperallergic, I will think, “Okay. How much time can I give this? Do I have an hour to give this? Do I have an hour and a half? Do I have two hours?” When I do sit down to write– rather edit something, you sit down to talk with you guys over the podcast, even when I go to social events now, I think how much time do I have to give this, right? Because then I got to factor in coming home and either eating or cooking or both. I have to factor in sleep. I have to factor in the next day when I need to get up and what I need to do on– so time for me has become super, super, super instrumentalized. And so when I think about those days when I won’t need to do that, I am so deeply grateful. God, I’ve struggled to tell you how immensely grateful I am for those days, next week when I won’t be super on the clock in that way. I really will allow myself– I really will allow myself some downtime, literally, just kind of get out of bed at noon like wonder about the–
C.T. WEBB 10:31 That sounds wonderful.
S. RODNEY 10:32 Yeah, like wonder around the apartment and kind of just spent some time. When I had my radio show in London, we did an episode with someone who was– and I forget the gentleman’s name. He’s really sweet guest, very knowledgeable and articulate, and not at all full of himself, talking about a slow movement. And he says that one of the things that he’d like to do was what he’d called sky looking, where he would just spend some time during the day just looking out of the window, and I want to do that next week. I want to get out of bed, putter around the house, and find some breakfast and then I want to just look up at the sky for a little while and just let myself be in that space.
S. FULLWOOD 11:24 Oh, it’s freaking awesome [laughter].
S. RODNEY 11:28 Thank you. I’m looking forward to it.
S. FULLWOOD 11:33 So thank you for what you both said about time because it forced me to to think about it in relationship to my current life. On my wall I had this forever. It’s called time is an illusion, and what it does for me, it allows me to move past what you were talking about, Seph, about how much time do I have to give this, how much time do I get that, where I can be somewhere and go somewhere in my imagination to feel timeless. And I try to think of a way to think about it, and what I mean is I’m not so concerned about time, but I’m really in someone’s eyes. I’m really in the conversation. I’m tasting the food. I’m just not gobbling it down and when do you get into the next thing, but it helps me, remind myself that we constructed this. We constructed this, and so what I wanted to say in earlier is that the– one my favorite comedians Maria Bamford doesn’t [speak?] where– people walk up to her and say, “So what are you doing? What’s going on? What is your next schedule? What’s happening? What’s going on?” And she goes, “Oh, I’m done [laughter]. I’m just living in this boat of delicious gravy.” And I love those idea, so they’re a bit– I’ve stopped asking people what are they doing when I don’t see them. I did it yesterday in front of my– it’s like, “Oh, have you been– what are you doing?” I said, “I don’t care what you’re doing. How are you?” Do you know?
S. RODNEY 13:08 Right.
S. FULLWOOD 13:08 Because I wanted something– I’m trying to get at something else. And so I left my job in 2017 or for 19 years plus. I had to be somewhere every morning, doing something, going to meetings, processing collections, and everything that’s related to being an archivist and a curator. And after I left, I was like, “Okay. I have all this time.” And what I didn’t account for was the pressure to get things done because I was working 9:00 to 5:00 essentially. So I had to be at the gym at a certain time. I needed to be somewhere because I needed to be– I was at work, and so after work I had to construct my time to get the most out of it. And now that time is more fluid and there’s more– I have to be my own boss to get things done, and that is a different kind of relationship with time and personal management. And I come from masculinity. My masculinity is usually based on what I’m accomplishing. So I’m like, “Okay. Well, I need to finish this manuscript or this essay or this film or this.” That way I feel good about myself, and I am trying to chip away at that, at that iceberg. And it is hard because my father was a worker. And the men that I “respect” are workers, but even before I left Ohio in 1995, one could not be judged by what they do in terms of working because sometimes there weren’t jobs for so many people. And so it’s been melting, but it’s a hard thing for me to– now I’ve got to dismantle this and really work on being happy with what it is that I am and not what it is that I do.
S. RODNEY 14:59 God, that is profound.
S. FULLWOOD 15:01 So that’s it. In lieu of that, no gluten or [laughter], “Now this.” “Oh, really? What about the soda? I want to drink in the–” “No.” Yeah, and so–
S. RODNEY 15:16 Yeah. How about yourself?
S. FULLWOOD 15:16 –[that’s?] about it.
C.T. WEBB 15:17 Yeah, yeah. When I used to have– when I had nine-to-five type jobs when I was younger, working during those days between Christmas and New Year’s, I’m talking about sort of the way that work anchors you. It was always particularly difficult for me. Partly, I didn’t necessarily identify with the work that I was doing, right? It was just a job to survive or whatever, but that it is this juncture of work and identity and self-worth and all the rest of it. It’s a tough one to crack because we know that men without jobs or men without viable paths to success feel awful about themselves and do awful things as a result, right?
S. RODNEY 16:17 Yes. All the time.
C.T. WEBB 16:17 But practically I get that. Intimately, I have almost never felt that way about my own life. I feel that way more now certainly that I have a family, and I feel a sense of responsibility to my intimates. And so that puts that kind of spring in my step when it comes to that kind of thing, but actually identifying with work and feeling. I usually felt bad about the jobs that I had [laughter] even though I had a job–
S. RODNEY 16:54 Me too.
C.T. WEBB 16:55 –I usually did not feel good about it.
S. RODNEY 16:56 Yeah. Me too.
C.T. WEBB 16:57 I was like, “Oh, this is like a waste of my time. Why am I doing this?” And what an indulgence that was, right? I mean to really feel that way as a kind of indulgence, I think so.
S. RODNEY 17:07 Yeah. But I think–
S. FULLWOOD 17:10 I like this–
S. RODNEY 17:11 Go ahead, Steven. No, I’m sorry.
S. FULLWOOD 17:13 I apologize. I just was thinking about this work as an anchor that you mentioned, Travis. Could you talk a little bit more about that briefly?
C.T. WEBB 17:20 Well, yes. Let me try and keep it in context of the topic, so. One of the things that I feel, I think there’s some real value in this idea of unlucky days. It reminds us of the kind of the cyclical times that we have constructed for ourselves, ways of tracking time, and I feel like the kind of work that happens in a capitalist society. And that is not a loaded term for me, right? So I know we’ve talked about that in the podcast. I’m just talking about a society that is driven by capital acquisition and uses that capital to propel itself. That kind of calendrical connections to our days gets lost a little bit. I feel like it gets rubbed away, and so you don’t really have this time to reflect and look out the window, right? It’s like you got to get back to work for most– most of my working life prior to going into academia later in life, right, was I had to be at work. I guess I could use a vacation, but I wanted to use a vacation for other things at other times. And so I feel like this is one of the downsides that kind of focused on economy and work and jobs. For identity is one of the downsides, is it doesn’t put us in contact with what I think are probably fairly natural rhythms for the kind of creatures that we are, and I think that there– or I think there are psychic consequences for that–
S. FULLWOOD 18:54 I agree.
C.T. WEBB 18:55 –psychological consequences for that, so.
S. FULLWOOD 18:57 Thank you.
S. RODNEY 18:57 So I had this conversation with a fellow writer in the arts. Wait, I’m going to remember his name in a second. Ben Davis. Ben Davis who I think writes for Artsy or artnet, and Ben tends to write about– if I remember correctly– does he write about the intersection of arts in the marketplace? I think so. He also writes sort of arts criticism generally, but whatever. Ben and I happen to be on the same junket to Sao Paulo to see the biennial earlier this year. So we met up at the hotel in Sao Paulo. I think we were on the same flight, and we had met I think the year before at my former colleague’s birthday party. Our former colleague is Ben Sutton, and Ben and Ben know each other from long ago. I think they used to work together. So anyway, Ben Davis and I met up in Sao Paulo, and he and I were talking about dividing life and wanting to go on a retreat and having the time to like get into some other projects and not do this sort of day-to-day thing. And he said yeah, he was able to do that at some point, a couple years ago or a year ago, and he said that what he found was that his natural rhythm was to get up around noon, putter around, go for a walk, and start working the afternoon and work into the evening and maybe into the night. But afternoon, evening, sort of he fell into when he was at– when he was at this. I think he even noticed, formalized, retreated. I think he had access to someone’s house. They let him stay at a place for a weak or so, and he got food and whatever.
S. RODNEY 21:03 And I love that because I love hearing that from him. Because it kind of reminded me of my own process which is I’m really, really good at writing at night. I’m really good at that. And I think part of the reason for– I mean, I can write in the mid-afternoon. I can also write in the morning. Morning is not my favorite time, but I think what I feel in my bones is that I am a better worker. Let’s call me that worker [laughter]. When the mind net is down, when they’re fewer people around me sort of creating that sort of like buzz of consciousness, everybody is working and moving and scrambling and chewing and throwing and acquiring capital and shitting it back out. I need to have the mind net to be like a little bit down to feel my best. That’s how I work.
S. FULLWOOD 22:01 Nice. Nice. The mind net. So earlier we were talking about unlucky days, and something I wanted to address was that, roughly for about 12 years and my family, my sister and my brother and my mother who are all now deceased, December 1st was my oldest sister’s birthday, Cynthia. My brother was born on Christmas Day, and my mother was born on the 28th. So it was a series of celebrations. It was the delight of December, and as a kid you’re also getting out of school for that break. And so those days were just filled with– you didn’t have to go to school. There was a cake on the table, until my mother decided it’d be a better idea for Daryl’s birthday to be celebrated on my birthday in January because we’re roughly about the same age, and that it wasn’t fair that his birthday was on Christmas because he was only getting, “Oh, here’s your birthday present and your–” she wanted him to have a special day or with mine.
C.T. WEBB 23:02 I was going to say, why’d she take yours?
S. FULLWOOD 23:04 I know, right [laughter]? I’m still getting over that. I’m going to therapy for that.
S. RODNEY 23:07 I know that’s some gangster shit, right? Come on now [laughter].
S. FULLWOOD 23:11 “Your birthday is his.” “Got it, got it.” “Good.”
C.T. WEBB 23:12 Why did you [inaudible]?
S. FULLWOOD 23:13 No. There was no discussion or anything.
C.T. WEBB 23:15 They’re like 363 other days that you give them [laughter].
S. FULLWOOD 23:21 No. “How about you? What? You kind of look like us which is [hand it?] over there.” But those unlucky days were like magical days because it was Christmas. It was New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. And there were days I really never gave a lot of thought to other than I just wanted to have them because they were with family and we were there and there was a Christmas tree and all that. As an adult, raising my kid, those days were good too because then most of us had the day off or some days off either from school or work. And so those unlucky days were always filled with celebrations, interestingly enough, and they were downtime. Then we look for forward to those like summer break, “Oh, we won’t have to be in school. Thank goodness.” Or in school as a college student, we were just pretty much working all the time.
C.T. WEBB 24:12 Yeah. But think about in those trips, think about the people that have to take care of all those returns on the 26 in the stores. What are those days like for them? So we all have kind of ended up in places where that can be a time of reflection, and we can sort of kind of operate in a different kind of space, or maybe not– I mean, Steven, I see the celebration as a kind of twinning with these unlucky days, right? Either you mark– I mean, it’s still marked by a kind of non-productive inactivity, right?
S. RODNEY 24:48 Yeah. Precisely, precisely.
C.T. WEBB 24:49 A celebration is just a celebration, and it’s value is itself, right, as opposed to like work. The value of the work is the thing that’s produced at the end of it or kind of whatever project like Seph was saying, “Finish this, finish this.” So celebrating inauspicious, they’re kind of their twins. They’re sort of Janus phase in that way, but for many and most of the people that we live with in this country, that is not what those weeks are like for them, right?
S. FULLWOOD 25:18 No. On two people.
C.T. WEBB 25:21 Yeah. I mean, they’re somewhere working. And again, I would say, they’re not able to inhabit those same kind of rhythms, or it impedes. Maybe not. I don’t want to make presumptions about what their experiences, but.
S. FULLWOOD 25:37 But I was going to say unlucky days in the real sense of the word because we’re all looking at each other and looking at what we think is a better life or imagining what that is. And so for someone who is a domestic or someone who is constantly working or someone who is homeless or someone who is virtually homeless because they’re living with other people. They’ve got a different psychic thing going on with that. Absolutely, absolutely.
C.T. WEBB 26:06 And I thought the mind net because definitely I feel that. So because the American Age is part of a non-profit and so I have to make that non-profit run to do any of this stuff, and that is a business. It’s a non-profit but is a business. I have to make bottom-line decisions. I have to brainstorm. “Well, how can we make more money out of this so we can put it into that? So we can keep doing this free program? And so that buzz that you’re talking about is a palpable thing for me. In order to write, it’s not my preference but I have to get up early, or I have to drink. And both of those things–
S. FULLWOOD 26:48 Understood.
C.T. WEBB 26:49 Yeah. Both of those things will kind of close my ears enough, or it’ll be quiet enough. Yeah, I guess close my ears for the drinking and quiet enough if I get up early. The night thing is that that is my preference as well, but now I have a six-year old, so I can’t do that any more. So I mean, obviously, Steven, I’m sure you had similar– you were accosted by similar childhood rhythms when you had your son, but.
S. FULLWOOD 27:17 Yes, yes, yes. And also with just like nieces and nephews or people who you were babysitting or when there’s another humanoid in the house [laughter] that isn’t an adult. It really is every day a new thing. They’re not looking at, “Oh, it’s Monday, so we do this.” No. They’re like, “So what’s going on now?” And you’re like, “Okay. We need to get you in some clothes. Okay. We need to get you a food. Okay. We need to wake you up.” Because he and Carla– I love them to death, but they thought their morning was a cruel trick of nature, every single morning as long as we lived together. And now both of them get up early, and I was like, “What was that at? Where was that at?” I’m in the car idling and angry [laughter]. Fine.
S. RODNEY 28:05 Dude, I went through that too. When I was a kid, I hated mornings. I just didn’t have it. It just didn’t work for me, but now as I’m getting older I do find myself just, yeah, getting up at like 7:30 in the morning just because my body’s like, “Ah, it’s time. Let’s go. That’s it. Let’s get to it.”
C.T. WEBB 28:27 You might just be happier what you’re doing. I mean, you might just– and be more energized and engaged with what you’re doing.
S. RODNEY 28:34 No, no. Clearly, no. Clearly, I am. I mean–
C.T. WEBB 28:36 Shit, wasn’t that great when you were a kid. It does. It wasn’t for me.
S. FULLWOOD 28:38 Stay in bed [laughter].
C.T. WEBB 28:40 [inaudible] It wasn’t for me either, so.
S. RODNEY 28:42 No. And I do think they’re part of what we are also saying with this discussion of unlucky days is that they are in some ways really profoundly lucky for us because we are in our lives in a way that we are occupying spaces we actually carved out for ourselves. We really are. For each of us I think, for Steven, your life is Steven-shaped. It is precisely the life you need to be living, and, Travis, the same thing for you. Your life really fits your intellect and your skills and your ambitions. And for me, it just that is true now. My life looks like, if I were to be able to step out of it and look at it in and put it on a table and diagram it, I would say, “Oh yeah. That’s the life for me. That’s the one that I want.” So these are profoundly lucky days for us in some ways because we get to do that thing where we step back and we say, “Oh. Yeah, okay. Yeah, that feels good. Yeah, and I can put that on tomorrow and wear that in and go out and feel good about being on this planet at this moment in time. Yeah.
C.T. WEBB 30:01 Yeah. So for those of you who listen, I hope you can take the day and do nothing with it and enjoy some space whatever that looks like for you to just kind of reflect on what you have and where you’re going, so. Gentlemen, as always, thanks very much for the conversation and Happy New Year.
S. RODNEY 30:23 Happy New Year.
S. FULLWOOD 30:23 Happy New Year. [music]


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