Sunday, May 30, 2021
Thursday, May 27, 2021
Throughout the pandemic, in warm and cold weather, I often sit on my front porch. We’ve set up a table and chairs, curtains and heaters. I can be outside and work on my writing despite the weather. Or in celebration of it.
It’s very pleasant—fresh air, bird song, many trees.
Across the street, I frequently hear my neighbour, the artist John Miecznikowski, practising cornet. I understand that his son was an accomplished trumpeter and he gave the instrument to his father to learn. (They also share a love of motorcycles, and John has told me some great stories about his riding exploits in the 60s and 70s.)
Because John is “learning,” he often plays what sounds like hymns, or at least, simple tunes, but on cornet they have a English brass band sound to them.
Recently as I was working on a new novel, I listened to the sound of the trumpet entangled with the sound of the wind and the birds. I had been working on a cello piece for my old high school friend George. I decided instead to write something for John, something that evoked that entwining of trumpet and bird song.
I made a electronic track using field recordings that I made of bird song, hiking in the local Hamilton woods along with repeating alto flute, bass clarinet and piano. Then I wrote a solo line. I’ve given the recording and the music for the solo to John and he tells me he’s working on it. He also told me, mysteriously—and from behind the tall hedge which hides his garden—that he has something for me. Maybe a poem, I think he said. Hmm.
Here is a recording of me playing bass clarinet (playing the trumpet part) along with the birds. I think the whole thing sounds a bit like Morton Feldman taking a walk in a forest and hearing birds. If he would even do such a thing.
It’s a great regret that I arrived at the graduate music composition program at SUNY at Buffalo just after he died. I’d have so loved to have met him and to have studied with him. Still, his influence appears in some of my work and in my musical thinking. His music is still a favourite thing of mine to listen to, often late at night in my bed. Constellations as mobiles permutating quietly somewhere far yet near.
Saturday, May 22, 2021
There are all these accounts of old men and women explaining how they still feel like a boy or a girl, that they feel just the way they did when they were 16. And sure, I feel like the same person that I was at 16. It’s the same eye sockets that I’m looking through when I regard the world. The same grey hair. Ok, obviously, at 57 my body is substantially different than my scrawnier 16-year-old self. Also back hair. But though it is true that I do feel much in common with that youth—romantic, sad, often ecstatic, open to darkness, absurdity, sentimentality, mystery and immaturity—clearly there’s been change. I’ve three adult children, a wife of 33 years, grandparents, relatives, friends who’ve died of illness, accident, by their own hand, or age. I’ve seen trouble all my days. History unfolding. And also happiness. And, something I couldn’t even begin to conceptualize previously: contentment.
I remember telling my mom, when I was around 16, I rather be right than be happy. I’d rather seek “truth” than happiness. Sure, I thought, some people stand on the driveway raising and lowering their garage doors with a remote and feeling happiness, I wanted to seek deeper truths. I wouldn’t settle for some kind of suburban petit-capitalist compromise. I’d rage, rage and accept no dying light. Or automatic light which turns on as you carry your two plastic garbage bags from the garage to the curb.
Also, I do want to tell that story about the neighbours and how their garage door went up and down everytime a plane flew overhead. Something about the wavelength of the remote. And that time the garage door came down and my mom got her fingers stuck between the panels and had to wait until someone else returned home to rescue her, free climber trapped by her fingers on the suburban wall.
I realized today that I didn’t feel like I was 16, but that I think I might feel how I imagined my 16-year-old self might want to feel. Or that might think he feels. Certainly, he’d appreciate the reduction in panic, anxiety, insecurity and fear of the contingency of life. I’m not “wise” or “confident,” or steadily content, though much more so that when I was 16. And I have the advantage of being able to look back and consider the various ways of seeing, the insights that I might have stumbled on, that I might have worked towards throughout the last 40 years. Much of the world might not seem as new or fresh (which doesn't mean that it doesn't seem like a surprise or wonder) but I can remember when it did.
For example, the moon. Last night in a cottage we’ve rented with our kids and two of their girlfriends, I looked up at the half moon. I could see through the sedimentary levels of awareness and feeling many way I might have thought about the moon over all these decades. I understood that my perception of the moon has a long trail—beginning with the feelings and context that I have now, all the echoes and resonances, memories and stories. And the trail goes back to those first impassioned times looking at the moon as if it were new—it was certainly new for me to look at it and feel these new things as a child, as a teen, as a young man. And O when I realized the capital letter O was the moon O. That parentheses were moon slivers )
I could imagine reversing this looking back. The new moon in all its newness with a long tail, the tail of all its memories and associations reaching behind it into the future. My future now. I live forwards but remember backwards. O ) ) ) ) ) )) A crenelating ripple through time, a wrinkling of the brain. The topography of memory. I do have a garage door now. But it’s not automatic. My wife pierced a hole in its blue surface when she backed a kayak into when parking the car. Did I have the homeowner’s frustration about damage to property or did I delight in the delicious image of a hole, a kayak, a car?