Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Moot? or Mute?

What a wonderful word is "moot"... I imagine a map like Tolkien's, of Middle Earth, with a land named Moot, to which all irrelevant comparisons and questions are banished; or perhaps they simply choose to live in Moot, like some people choose to live in Idaho. There they would live, exchanging non sequiturs, while the rest of us pursue our linear, logical ways.

Someone came up to me the other day after a Brahms g minor Piano Quartet performance and wondered why Brahms insisted on putting the mutes on the strings in the second movement. A perfectly reasonable question, I suppose (wouldn't the strings be able to play louder without them? wouldn't they have a greater emotional/dynamic range?) but to me it was moot. And I struggled against its mootness: my face, I am afraid, assumed that strained expression it gets when I am attempting to appear to consider something reasonably... something which I am aching to rudely dismiss. But something about this question was familiar, echoed within me, and I vaguely remembered moments from my many rehearsals of this piece, listening to string players discuss who should be muted, for how long, and why.

Hard experience has taught me often to put on my own mutes when matters of "string playing" are being discussed in rehearsal. Unless earnestly implored, I will never offer my thoughts, for instance, on bowings or fingerings or slides. I learned this a) from being yelled at, and b) from my own irritation, for example, when a string player (who also plays piano) will suggest some pedaling or fingering to me. This latter is especially irritating if the fingering or pedaling is good, and I must think up some extravagant, false reason to disprove their insights. Just kidding, sort of.

So, I tend to "zone out" when this mute question is discussed. I look benignly at the ceiling, or I think abstractly about how I will play some phrase later on in the movement, and when I feel the string players' eyes rest on me some minutes later, I smile my best smile and agree with whatever they have decided, even though I have very very strong feelings on the matter. For me, the whole movement must be inward, not too fast particularly, and never going out of a certain emotional frame... something recalled, something seen from a distance, slightly blurred, slightly worn down by experience, time, melancholy, or thought. The muting of the strings perfectly expresses this quality, and if occasionally I tend to play a chord too loud in the movement, it is never without severely reproaching myself afterwards. The mutes are synonymous with the movement then, the exact sonic equivalent of its emotional intent, and so to ask "why mute the strings?" ... well, to me it is like asking "why is blue blue"?

I am reminded of past witnessed mootnesses: my friend M. from grad school complaining that they were too cruel to Falstaff after a performance of the eponymous Verdi opera; and, a fellow faculty member at Indiana University wondering why Beethoven had to write that "ugly" pedaling in the last movement of the "Waldstein" Sonata. She/he was referring to the long, magnificent pedal markings in the main theme of the rondo, which indicate a blurring of the tonic and dominant. In both cases, what is questioned is what seems to me the essence, the most beautiful thing, the quality which makes the theme/work transcendent, unique, its reason-for-being.

And so these questions are not so much "moot" as strangely central; they challenge the root, the core. To be fair, then, to the very intelligent person who asked this moot mute question that I am unfairly dissecting, it is the most important question one can ask.

And anyway the post-concert schmooze is an absolute Invasion of the Moot. Everything seems moot after you have just played away for forty-five minutes at a giant romantic epic... or after any performance, when you descend or ascend into the green room and people mill about and pick up on little moments from your performance or your outfit or whatever tangent they can find. And sometimes I wish I could write down all the moot things people say, and make a compilation; it would be hilarious, or tragic, or both.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Residential Evening

Wing carcasses were everywhere, and red, crumpled remains of napkins. As I brought the final wing to my mouth, and spread it with extra spicy sauce, I had the first pangs of end-of-summer sadness. As Proust might point out, I knew they were the "first pangs" precisely because I had had them before: because they resonated with past end-of-summer experiences, and this made them merge past and present in a powerful way, which took me by surprise and reminded me that although experience repeats itself, it can do so while feeling absolutely new.

And: the smallest thing can trigger the biggest sensations. I will mock myself: I found myself, against all odds, cleaning my room and the sight of a dry cleaning tag made me tear up, slightly. It was a dry cleaning receipt from the day before. It was a last-minute, desperate, pathetic attempt to get my white tux jacket recovered from its sea of wrinkles. So my thoughts ran: never, never again would I (probably) go back to that same dry cleaners, with that same person, and feel the same way. The summer is over! Now, that white tux jacket will go into the closet, be unused, dusty, till the next summer... I felt pity for the poor jacket, alone like us all ... And so on, yadda yadda. I was disgusted with myself, I laughed, even as I let the dry-cleaning nostalgia wash over me. (What other blog would discuss dry cleaning nostalgia? Tell me!) It reminded me suddenly of the moment in the hilariously horrible movie The Day After Tomorrow when the father and son were reunited at last after much idiotic tribulation in the frozen library, and I looked over at my friend C., and she was crying a little, she couldn't help herself, and she saw me seeing this, and saw a slightly mournful expression on my face as well, and burst into laughter with her tears; I laughed with her, helplessly.

The chicken wing was, by the way, purely incidental to my sadness; it was no madeleine. Probably it was the breeze, a smell in the breeze, a way the sunshine hit me in the little courtyard where we were eating, and the kind of sudden realization that that night was the last concert (which calls to mind the seemingly infinitely far away starting point)--no matter how well you know something, you must at some point know it "for real." These knowings are completely irrational and have their own timings.

I'm trying to connect a thread here. Really. Let me hit one more moment. An Oberlin night, fifteen years ago ... walking along one of its tree-lined, perfectly quiet streets ... I looked up from my careless dorm-bound footsteps, into the glow of the living room of a house, where several students were gathered, as if to celebrate simply the light of their own selves. On one boy's face--at that precise moment--I saw the birth of a smile, the turn of his head and the softening of his features in recognition of some affinity, some accord; his hand reached out beyond the window's frame.

Wanting to be the one in the window is a futile, inchoate longing, and a literary/artistic cliche, a "trope": the man (the wanderer, die Winterreise, "das ist ein Floten und Geigen" from Dichterliebe) stuck outside, looking in, seeing the conviviality of others, which brings home all the more forcefully the loneliness of the observer. The observer=the artist, of course... or just anyone, who, by the act of observing, and by nature of being separate, becomes (temporarily) an artist.

OK, lost the thread again! I keep wandering down the little avenues the thoughts suggest, rather than lumping them all together. (The taut thread of my summer is loose, and my brain is amok.) I am looking through the window in Oberlin... and this is a spatial metaphor for the sense I have of the brightness of the past, the idealization of memory. The past appears to be complete, enclosed, lit, separate, unreachable, "not your destination" ... like the living room in my story. But we all know exactly how boring it can be to actually walk into the living room we have seen from the street. So, whatever I saw that night actually does not belong to they who were gathered there (living those perfect, idealized, students-gathering lives); whatever "actually went on" was surely not what I saw through the window; what I saw, and wanted, belongs entirely to me. And so too the essence of those past moments for which a dry cleaning tag may seem like a no-trespassing sign. Knock again, and something will open.

Tonight I walked home along streets of Portland, Maine eerily similar to those in Oberlin (hence this stream of consciousness); no windows beckoned but the atmosphere of the street at night was very striking... almost tense in its tranquility! Tomorrow, a plane carries me back to New York and a total chaos of familiar faces and activities, concerts, etc. In Manhattan there are so many glowing windows that you cannot abandon yourself to the longing for any one...

Wednesday, August 24, 2005


Those who, like I, go to a more than a few different festivals during the summer (there is a more indelicate term for this) know the phenomenon of a "host family." Like viruses, we musicians invade the homes of our hosts (ostensibly for the purpose of "playing concerts"), raid their provisions, make use of their facilities, and then flee for the next fully-stocked home. I imagine like viruses we occasionally leave our hosts feeling a bit dazed, not exactly tip-top, and it may take 7-10 days for them to recover from our "visits." Advice for these hosts: no need for the doctor; simply bed rest and lots of fluids, and try to stay away from musicians for the time being.

Sometimes, like in certain species of tree frog (I am entirely making this up), the host and hosted develop a symbiotic relationship in which the virus appears to be viewed benignly by the host. I am not kidding. Thus the other day I was practicing Bach partitas in one of the most beautiful, vast, serene rooms imaginable... wood everywhere, curving, graceful staircases, enormous, magisterial fireplace, subtly Asian furnishings, windows looking out over hills to distant water... and, as I say, I was invading this space with Bach. On his way to the shower, my host apparently paused. I noticed him, then, wandering around (extremely aimlessly) in a towel, with a camera, up and down the central staircase of the main hall, then off into the distance, then up close--so close that he was soon filming me from behind, right behind my left shoulder, at which point I became vaguely self-conscious, and began missing quite a few notes in the gigue of the 5th Partita. Then came the magnificent moment, the perfect response to my blooper: in a saucy voice, still filming, he said: "close."

"... but no cigar" would have been superfluous. A host who knows when you are missing notes in a complex work of Bach is rare, and a host who is willing to say so, point-blank, in a towel: rarer still. Then, he began bearing gifts: at some point he came in with an espresso; would I prefer a cappuccino?; an impromptu extraordinary lesson in foaming milk ensued (which began "when I was trying to stop using coke back in the 70s..."); at a later point he asked me if I wanted some pasta (his wife, in another room, separating herself gracefully from this delightful folly); I declined; minutes passed; he then emerged, grinning, with a beautiful steaming bowl of noodles emanating the summery scent of fresh pesto; I did not decline but eagerly dined. I expected him at some point to bring out frankincense and myrrh. I was a pampered practicer, and, somehow, I managed to play through all the Partitas, and the diversions served merely to focus my inner lens. Each new movement seemed a miracle, even the ones I knew to tedium, and his delight in the "mathematics of the staircase, and the house, and the music, like playing out the house" was contagious. Like a virus, contagious delight: lubricant of the universe.

They are gone now, leaving us the house to ourselves--often the privacy can feel like a blessing, but in this case (?) a loss. I sit here, foaming milk in that special newly-learned way, and ponder symbiosis, and the sad fact that I must get off my butt and do some serious practicing.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Espresso Brevity

Over my third espresso this morning, I noticed that the penultimate paragraph of last eve's blog entry could be characterized as nostalgia about nostalgia, in other words, "God I miss the good old days when I used to miss the good old days." I'm trying to think of other examples of such meta-nostalgia... musical or otherwise. Blog-readers? Observe: I am now blogging about my own blogging.

You'll notice that I chose Strauss in those early Oberlin days; that was before I graduated to the turbocharged, "Extra Strength" nostalgia of Mahler--now with 30% more personal vulnerability and despair! Currently, Brahms Op. 116 #4 will do nicely, thanks.

Caffeinated, I looked back at my first blog entry and envied its brevity. Do other readers feel the same? (Ominous silence.) I just got off the phone with a friend who apparently went so far as to PLAY THROUGH some of the musical examples in my Mozart blog at the piano, but this effort, or my prose, exhausted her, and--as she put it--she got "caught up" in Dirty Dancing and stopped reading halfway. Then, inexplicably, she moved from Dirty Dancing to poems of Neruda. Which suggests the following, ascending order of artistic interest:

My blog
Dirty Dancing
Pablo Neruda

Am I as far below Dirty Dancing as Neruda lies above? Sad, but perhaps not as sad as this picture of an RV camp moved into the environs of Mahler's famous hut where he composed the Third Symphony. Thank you, Alex Ross, for that final reminder of the destruction of all that is sacred. At least the hut makes me feel less bad about the size of my own apartment.

Friday, August 19, 2005

The Exile's Letter

I'm having a weird sensation tonight. My last day in Vermont, I felt as though I had a million kazillion things to write about, material for an infinity of blogs, and I felt this immense desire to write it all down (no way to get it down fast enough). Now I have had four days to "recover" in the city, and I feel that the valves that were open are now closed, closing, vanishing. My body is awake, sniffing around like a dog on the hunt, restless, aggressive, but my mind has no clue, is a neglectful, lazy master. So that my prey--the ideas I had, their realizations--have had the luxury of running far away, since the dogs do not follow closely; they scurry and find their impregnable hiding places.

But, I am posting anyway.

In one of my very favorite poems, Pound (as "translator") alternates visions of joyful meetings and hopeless farewells. There seems to be no structure, except this chain, this gobbledygook of "we met, then we left, then we met, then we left..." ad infinitum. And each time it seems like the last farewell, and then somehow they manage to meet again, and the meeting is wonderful again, but different--each time different/same (Barthes' "let us begin again"). The chain calls to mind for me the first movement of Mahler's Ninth Symphony, which alternates what seem to be happy, if loaded, memories (nostalgic lyrical passages) with premonitions of death. They were written very close to the same time, if you don't count that Pound was working (loosely, rhapsodically) from Chinese verse well over a thousand years old. We can well understand preoccupation with farewell and death in the period just before and during World War I, but how do we understand this episodic structure? In the Mahler, I find it difficult to settle on the "most important" memory, the "most catastrophic" premonition; the tale is too long for an abstract, for an outline, too unmanageable to graph or compare... it is a series of events, cycles, uncategorizable in some ways like life. Writing out "life" skirts tedium, and it is a miracle that I don't find either work tedious, though I feel and love their loosenesses intensely, like a stretched-out, worn out piece of clothing that you wear into the ground. So that when they meet the first time--

By the south side of the bridge at Ten-Shin.


... were drunk for month on month, forgetting the kings and princes.
Intelligent men came drifting in from the sea and from the west border,
And with them, and with you especially
there was nothing at cross purpose,
And they made nothing of sea-crossing or of mountain-crossing,
If only they could be of that fellowship...

--I am not at all spoiled for the later times, when

In the storied houses of San-Ko they gave us more Sennin music,
Many instruments, like the sound of young phoenix broods.
The foreman of Kan Chu, drunk, danced
because his sleeves wouldn't keep still.

--and the still later time:

Pleasure lasting, with courtezans, going and coming without hindrance,
With the willow flakes falling like snow,
Adn the vermilioned girls getting drunk about sunset,
Adn the water, a hundred feet deep, reflecting green eyebrows...

--for each time Pound's brutal ending to the festivities is as beautiful as brutal can be--

With that music playing ...
And I, wrapped in brocade, went to sleep with my head on his lap,
And my spirit so high it was all over the heavens,
And before the end of the day we were scattered like stars, or rain.


... then I was sent off to South Wei,
smothered in laurel groves,
And you to the north of Raku-hoku,
Till we had nothing but thoughts and memories in common.


And the wind lifting the song, and interrupting it,
Tossing it up under the clouds.
And all this comes to an end.
And is not again to be met with.

This (the Exile's Letter from Pound's collection of translations entitled Cathay) is the power of alternation; each phrase (to perpetrate musical semantics on a poem) concludes with a "deceptive cadence," a denial (party's over), the opposite direction, a reversal; but Pound's language is most assured, most vivid at these moments. The awful recurrences of reality, necessity, the need to part, the impossibility of being together, coincide with the most beautiful, clear, lyrical nodes in the verse. Including this final, unbelievable passage:

And if you ask how I regret that parting:
It is like the flowers falling at Spring's end
Confused, whirled in a tangle.
What is the use of talking, and there is no end of talking,
There is no end of things in the heart.

Now, at 35, I can see something peculiar in the fact that as an Oberlin student, from the tender age of 16, I would indulge in the last days of each school year in a nostalgic free-for-all: I had a tape of Strauss' Four Last Songs which I would blast again and again out my dorm windows, and it had also the trio from Rosenkavalier, and there was some late Brahms piano music also, I think, and oh I forget what else. And my then off-again-on-again significant other Polly would come into my room and make herself useless while I packed, interjecting snide comments, and I would babble at her about memories and the year gone by and where has it gone. Time flew and "all this comes to an end and is no longer to be met with." Nowadays I am a little less prone to this sort of thing, though it takes me unawares. I have been listening today to CDs of my Marlboro performances (Mozart Wind Quintet), presumably to educate myself, but partly of course to enjoy myself. Oh God you're thinking, he's having an attack of Marlboro nostalgia. No. I found myself listening and thinking "this is what I have said, this is what I have done, this is what I am aiming for..." (musically) and though I like some of it, most of me thinks, "There is no end of things in the heart," and a small corner of me wonders: "What is the use of talking"? Cause there is always more in the phrase to say, and it's exhausting. The Mozart phrase I was talking about yesterday on the blog: I listened to myself play it with a certain conviction, and was immediately convinced of an absolutely opposite way of playing/thinking about it.

Some music tries to get away from alternation and dualism, overblown oppositional rhetoric, to the endless gradual process (say, Steve Reich), so that the changes are "unnoticeable" which is all very cool. But perhaps unlifelike? Piano-Phase feels like music to me, while Mahler's Ninth feels like life. Changes are very noticeable, I'd say. "Something else" always happens. Again and again. (And we begin again). Yet another premonition, yet another memory. Last week in Vermont was something, and this week in New York is other, to be sure; I can't for the life of me decide which one to be nostalgic for.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Curtains for Mozart

Last post's concerns: words containing layers of metaphors and connections... words as fossil poems, poems which can be dug up again, reconsidered. At least one reader, Erin, seems to enjoy this line of thought, and that's enough encouragement for me.

I was intending to write about the opening of the Mozart Wind Quintet, which I played at Marlboro... and I got stopped by a metaphor. "Opening" means "beginning;" in this case I am using a synonym (constant, careless expedient of writing) to refer to the piece's slow, magnificent introduction. But: "opening" like the opening/raising of the curtain at the beginning of an opera, of an entertainment? I posit this equivalence of spatial (curtain going up) and temporal (first moments of anything) without any hesitation; it is an accepted currency exchange. But how is this moment of the piece like other openings--like, say, the lifting of the lid of a box to see what lies inside; or, the opening of a flower; or, to use a metaphor given me by Anner Bylsma post-concert, the cracking open of a walnut? In each case, something is revealed, which was initially concealed; we have to "get at" the main thing, which is behind the opening (opening as looking for a thing, opening as action, opening as layer/obstruction which must be pulled aside). Again, these are spatial constructions, seemingly separate from music, where tones dance in their so-called abstract space: how can one moment in music be "behind" another, in the way that the opera's set lies behind the curtain? It would seem that every moment in music comes "after" the previous (not behind)... in a row, in order... if we were to be literal. But I think every listener feels at some point that some moment in a piece is a core, a kernel, a revealed, lurking truth (it's out of order, from another place). And I am speaking not just of goals or climaxes, which are the obvious cores and kernels, but also the secret, random, quiet moments, parenthetical turns of phrase from which other things radiate (another spatial, physical metaphor).

Schenkerian analysis seems to address this spatial possibility of music by proposing levels: background, middleground, foreground. Music has deeper and more surface levels, like a cave! But the background in the Schenker view is almost always the same, the deepest level is the unfolding of a triad, of a single chord. It is true that very often phrases seem to reveal harmonic frameworks; I will concede that this may be, in fact, the purest, least metaphorical way of expressing what phrases reveal (as they open, unfold, show). But I cannot resign myself to that; for me this prioritization is too meticulous, systematic. Sometimes, I think, phrases reveal quirks, they reveal not the central thing but the detail; I have a more "literary" view of these levels. Each phrase of music pulls back, opens, to reveal its own rounding, its own completion... (or lack thereof) ... which may happen with a flourish, or merely "by the way," or any number of ways. A single word may outweigh the grammar of the whole.

The Mozart Quintet begins with the "usual" suspects--strong chords outlining our main characters--

Tonic, dominant, tonic. I, V, I. I resolve, therefore I am. But these three pillars, announcing the bold opening curtain, seem to exist to reveal this quiet, intense, compressed phrase in the piano, this little powerful truth--

--which one feels barely has time to express itself before the demands of the next phrase weigh in. "I am opening" the first chords say, and the piano says what is behind the curtain, the intensities hidden in the tonal world.

The focus of this little phrase is a seventh chord. (Avid readers may notice a similarity to the seventh chord at the center of the passage in E major I cited a ways back as being played in a rather amazing manner by Mitsuko Uchida.) A digression on seventh chords: consider this linchpin of Western tonality:

The dominant seventh chord (seen above, bar 2 of the Mozart Quintet, opening curtains). As posed in this example it is poised to resolve to F major, perfectly, with no loose ends. But if you take the third of this chord, and shift it down a half-step, you have something quite different:

Now there are loose ends, there is no one-step resolution... (there is no simple solution)... the chord is more free-floating. So, too, if you raise the seventh of the chord a half-step:

These two, more complicated, seventh chords are part of a larger group, a species... Allow me a little oversimplification, musician friends, starting now! I feel like they (these kinds of seventh chords) live most naturally, freely, decadently (like Gauguin in Tahiti, say) in French music of the late 19th century, for some reason, though of course they appear very often in Mozart, Bach, whatever. But French music tends to savor these seventh chords, or let them savor themselves, as sound. They lounge nude in the flora of romantic French excess. In this classical German music they live a less easy existence; they need to be "resolved," intellectually dealt with... against the three enlightened, classical, clarity-obsessed chords of the opening of the Wind Quintet the seventh chord in the piano is a dangerous blurring, a sensual transgression. I have observed this many times... which is why I feel justified rambling on at length about it here!

[To cite another instance: at the opening of Beethoven Op. 111 (brutal, intellectual, obsessive first movement), we have a couple of shocking diminished seventh chords which, despite their radical appearance, resolve relatively easily (dim 7th, V, I)... but the third time the phrase departs, and the pivotal moment of this departure is one of these seventh chords--E-flat, G-flat, B-flat, D-flat--neither here nor there, not resolvable with ease, promising a long untanglement, which indeed is what happens.]

All this just to answer a child's question: Why, oh why, is the opening of the Mozart Wind Quintet so incredible? And the recurring refrain for me, some inevitable part of the answer, has to do with these seventh chords, the ascending sequences based on seventh chords... pouring over, one after the other--notice the dynamic contrasts in this passage for the piano, the seventh chords coming like thunderbolts, like flashes of inspiration:


And, to take it further: these seventh chords are a metaphor for the extraordinary, supernatural, the sensual, the unresolvable--that which later would become the foundation of the romantic. There is a wonderful audacity in Mozart's way of including the sensual in the language, and mastering it intellectually, allowing it to be both celebrated and absorbed--a dangerous element which is summoned, and against which the music must break itself (break itself open, like a walnut). So that every time it happens, every time you hear that same old Mozart masterpiece which belongs in a dusty museum somewhere, and you hear the predictable unpredictable event--the shock keeps shocking, its electricity keeps flowing. It's just a seventh chord, a common chord, nothing to write home about, the stuff of music theory books. And how do you make these common, workaday chords do such heavy lifting? How also do you get really common words to do beautiful things, Hugh Kenner wonders in "The Pound Era"... and he cites T.S. Eliot's

Because I do not hope to turn again

and Yeats's

The fire that stirs about her, when she stirs

and Pound's

So slow is the rose to open

Interesting: the opening flower. And he sums up: "Such power, as experience suggests, is latent (though rarely released) in the simplest words..." Which brings us full circle.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

New York, New York

With something like ecstasy I am plunging into my second cup of Starbucks coffee, and to be truly New Yorkish, home again, I am insisting on eating a bagel while composing this post, which means I shall have to stop and occasionally wipe poppy seeds and dollops of lox spread off of my trackpad. Some lone poppy seed will probably make its way into the bowels of my laptop, and lounge there indefinitely.

It seems I have a tradition, now, forged secretly and now confirmed, today of all days. After a summer's committments, the race from concert to concert, and then the inevitable Odysseus-like (though not so heroic) return... the journey through festivals being something like a guided, regimented trip through the underworld ... the lures of various Sirens being ignored of scheduling necessity ... there is that day (or set of days, a month, sometimes a whole year) when I must reorient myself, get my "real life" legs back. A million dancing deadlines appear in my head, born paradoxically of my sudden, total lack of schedule. (Projects, projects, dreams, desires, total organization fantasies, lives yet unlived!) And at that moment, when I am paralyzed by things to do when I have nothing obvious to do... I always seem to resort to the same process, the same expedient, an act like a dog's peeing on a hydrant or a pole, declaring territory-time: I go to Starbucks with an old, favorite book, I drink a lot of coffee and I read. I almost force myself to do this, slowly, patiently, "wasting" my newfound time. As I waited in line today for my Grande Drip, I remembered many beautiful occasions when I had done this before: on a stoop of my friend Evelyne's house in Bloomington, while she dashed around trying to organize the piano department at the beginning of an IU September semester, I read Proust lazily in the sunshine, smelling newcut grass and feeling alive, and she grumbled at me about my freedom; on a boat with my then-friend Zach (these things happen) in the Adirondacks, also reading lovely, irrelevant (?) Proust while Zach prepared frantically for his upcoming lectures; sitting in Cafe Lalo reading something I can't quite remember several Augusts ago while my friend Carmelle brought me steamed, herbed eggs... reading Susan Sontag guiltily in Starbucks, as I had just satirized her at Marlboro, and being caught by Scott Nickrenz "in the act"... all these memories came to me in a rush. Amazing. Always that same end-of-summer bubble, a million variations of a life theme.

But today's exactitude pressed in. I chose to read a chapter from "The Pound Era," by Hugh Kenner, which was an excellent choice, very inspiring: all about the interconnectedness of languages, etymologies, the web of Language (above and beyond any single language), the nodes of meaning in single words or phrases ... But meanwhile, as I read snippets of Provencal-esque poetry set in idyllic landscapes--

Wind over the olive trees, ranunculae ordered
By the clear edge of the rocks
The water runs, and the wind scented with pine
And with hay-fields under sun-swath

--I gazed across 93rd street to the gray, looming wall of the opposite building, and my fellow Starbucks denizens seemed to conspire to remind me of the gridded city: a nice, friendly Jewish boy talking on the phone to his girlfriend (perhaps?) about the frog in his throat, saying "what are your problems?," sharing at length stories of disease, colds, fevers, complaints; then, a very unpleasant woman stranded on the far end of a visit to New York, deeply eager to get out, kvetching endlessly at her poor uncomplaining husband about everything ("this place is so dingy," she said, nailing it on the head, finding the precise, poetic, even onomatopoeic word); and two men with their iPods and Blackberries discussing business deals, acquisitions, real estate (grrr, more "problems" which require "solutions"); and finally, touchingly, the two elderly men, respectful, shaking with Parkinson's, who come in day in and day out to play chess. I was thinking, I love this place, but want also to be separate, untouched by it, uncontaminated by the negativity which seemed to radiate here and there, inflamed by coffee and cloudy weather, and presently I came to the following passage in "The Pound Era":

Nicea moved before me
And the cold grey air troubled her not
For all her naked beauty, bit not the tropic skin...

My "tropic skin," returned from Vermont/Seattle/North Carolina/etc., slightly in shock from cold grey New York air... I am still lingering in the surreal ending day or two of Marlboro (rainswept, dark, half-built, not civilized) ... people leaving the place in all their varied, bizarre ways, at their own times, beginning or ending relationships, packing up impossibly messy cars, flailing at all the recurring farewells of summer camp, and I am still feeling my body as arranged for country life, toned by lots of swimming and hiking up and down the hills, accustomed to sweating in my cot-bed, now finding itself underused, pampered by luxury in my not exactly luxurious apartment... It feels like (as it always, always does at this time of year) my mind is bubbling, and I want to stay in, let the bubble float off for a bit, keep it from hitting anything hard and bursting:

And if I see her not,
no sight is worth the beauty of my thought.
(Si no'us vei, Domna don plus mi cal,
Negus vezer mon bel pensar no val.)

Does any of this make any sense? Staying in my own mind? If that passage is applicable to me, what is my "her"? Unanswerable, today. And so I have turned to the bubble of my blog... Here I can be in the abstract space of my browser window, listening to the airconditioner hum. Let the dogs howl: Bach to practice, bios to send out, recordings to find, schedules to fix, friends to catch up with, groceries to buy, students to teach, people to call, toilet paper to obtain, mice to trap humanely, pianos to tune, suitcases to unpack, failures to apologize for, insurance to arrange, emails to write en masse, and in general things to straighten out, priorities to choose. But I choose none, today, or if I choose one or another, it will be a whim and not a plan, winding and not straight... I want my acts today to be both practical and metaphorical.

Which reminds me of this most wonderful passage from "The Pound Era":

The great thing to remember is that all poetry was once in the language itself, and still underlies the dry bones of even our dictionaries. Every word, a metaphor, perhaps several degrees deep, still has the power to flash meaning back and forth between apparently divergent and intractable planes of being.

So: my apologies for not blogging for a few weeks. I should be blogging more now, as I attempt to flash meaning back and forth between my Marlboro and "normal" planes... wish me luck!