Creo, Creare, Creavi
I don't have a child; presently, it's fair to be skeptical that I will. Not because that's how I intended it to work out, but because we're most credible when we view the world as it is. But tonight, I found myself wondering what wisdom I would have to impart. I would not be young for a father now -- not old perhaps, but not young -- older, for example, by seven years than my father was when I was born. When my father was the age I am now, I was seven. The mind reels; I digress.
The occasion of my wondering was my attendance at a lovely performance at the Hard Rock Cafe (of all places) by young pianist Jonathan Biss, alongside PSO Artistic Adviser Sir Andrew Davis -- a cesspool of commodified music misery, with the usual menagerie of outstated rock and roll onesies, guitars, platinum records, and the like, punctured to its core by a Steinway baby grand and musicians worthy of better environs. I learned of the performance only this afternoon near quitting time, and despite my other plans and the event's fund-raiser-esque pricetag, despite my lack of suitable clothing, despite my recent penuriousness and my lack of interest in Biss's weekend program of Schumann with the greater PSO, despite my lack of companion (and whom would I ask these days, really), something about the event called to me. I negotiated the best of my business casual and bike attire, lingered at the office past six, and finally unreined my steed and headed over the Smithfield Street Bridge into the stinking brownfield of Station Square.
I was not surprised to find the event relatively uncrowded, and I was only vaguely unsettled when Sir Andrew and Biss walked in like any other attendees, Biss in shirt tails and corduroy and funky hipster sneakers, Davis in tweed and dungarees, and began to mingle with the distinguished guests. I sat at the bar and minded my beer, my rough and tumble bag stowed out of sight along the bar's footrail. Around me was a smattering of older symphony patrons, who speak as though knowledgeable but I wonder (my own ignorance of the classical canon, admittedly, makes me a poor ombudsman, but my suspicions remain), and younger musicians self-possessed and silent. My $40 bought me a ticket good for some specialty drink involving pomegranate that I refused on principle to accept, preferring to pay cash for a good beer, and granted me access to a buffet of cheese cubes and mustard and fruit. These were the refreshments I was promised in the promotional materials. I spoke to no one, straining to find hidden meaning in the thin literature handed me at the door concerning public radio and TV, and listing the program for the evening, which was as follows:
Sonata in c minor, Op. 13, "Pathetique," first movement, Beethoven;
Kreisleriana, Op. 16, second movement, Schumann; and
The Dolly Suite, first and second movement, Faure.
Finally, a WQED DJ explaining that some delay was in order given a disparity between the number of tickets sold and the number of attendees in the house, I wandered to the front row, where an unoccupied seat beckoned. I tucked my bag beneath it, silenced my phone, and waited.
Biss finally emerged, casually, and with little fanfare turned to his labor. His Pathetique seemed sloppy, but in a most forgivable way. If I'm hearing missed notes, and more than a few, surely you're missing, but Biss's touch was light and vigorous and his pacing was merciless. The performance was riveting, Biss so close to my seat I could contemplate the peculiar irregularities in his breathing and the sound of his left foot thrusting to and fro beneath him in rhythm with the music. If anything, the errors merely served to emphasize the singular intimacy of the performance, the humanness of the performer, the wisdom in my decision to attend. By contrast, I am now listening to the same movement as recorded by Richard Goode, whose entire cycle of Beethoven's thirty-two sonatas I am in the process of moving from CD into iTunes, and it has an almost clinical polish to it that is at once admirable and alienating.
Kreisleriana I found less compelling, perhaps for the same reason I was unmoved by the prospect of the Schumann-heavy program associated with Biss's weekend visit to the PSO. I appreciated the discussion about Schumann's torment that the DJ and Biss engaged in before Biss took up the piece, and so educated I appreciated some of what Biss said about the movement's nascent passion, but overall I found myself nonplused.
For Dolly's Suite, Davis joined Biss at the lower register of the piano, and the two engaged in a playful and delightfully well coordinated bit of play, in engaging this piece for children, the second movement of which, I learned, is aptly entitled on some scores, "Meow."
But this isn't about the music, or at least isn't about the particular performance detailed.
I do this sometimes, wander off to things by myself, and I've written about it here before, though I'm too lazy to hunt down an example. For serious art, really, solitude seems necessary to unfettered appreciation. One can't very well immerse oneself in magnificence while chatting with an idle companion, who more often than not is more or less interested than one is in the work presently at issue. Better to disappear into it, into art, leaving everything behind, trusting in one's return but at the same time indifferent. Should I find myself forever imprisoned in any number of Picasso's blue period pieces, would I grieve? Perhaps -- but I'd look good doing so, hanging on a wall at MoMA or the Louvre, eyed hungrily by a multi-ethnic smorgasbord of jealous onlookers: this is me here, and you there -- have fun getting through customs, coaxing your children to eat strained peas, balancing your checkbooks.
Biss is a third generation world-class musician, son to two violinists, grandson to a noted cellist, inheritor of lifetimes' musical wisdom. With that pedigree, that he is an alumni of the prestigious Curtis Institute (Lang Lang among his handful of classmates) seems almost an afterthought.
I have been reading prodigiously of late, prodigiously for me, prodigiously for law school and post-law school me, as though in preparation for something. Fiction, all fiction all the time, until a recent left turn into non-fiction for purposes of research, but even so still in fiction, immersing myself in others' creations, worlds and psyches alien and familiar, constantly leaning into the buffeting caused by demanding an exit, however temporary, from all of this. The trend goes back further, but since Thanksgiving alone, my reading list includes (but is not exhausted by) the following:
Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea
Ernest Hemingway, The Garden of Eden
Mary McCarthy, Birds of America
Ian McEwan, Atonement
Paul Auster, Oracle Night
Paul Theroux, My Secret History
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
John Banville, The Sea
In addition, I am currently reading, if reading is the word, Mark Danielewski's Only Revolutions.
This is not to pat myself on the back. I could have read far more in that span, and probably should have. Rather, it is in service of a larger point that I enumerate. I haven't just been reading these books, but scrutinizing them, immersing myself at once in their narratives and their manifestations of craft. I didn't consciously choose to do this; it just happened. My readings, thus oriented, may sound in discussion like those of a critic, an academic, and that is my training. But I am reading differently now. I am all technician these days, never affected by a passage that I don't ask, Why? It's a thrilling way to read, an engagement that makes everything else pale by comparison, but it's instrumental as well.
This development coincides with, or arises from, my growing sense that I ought to be writing. Not writing, in the elementary sense -- I do that every day -- but composing, creating, writing with a real sense of purpose, writing like graffiti, writing like those handful of words you'll never forget, whether you found them in a film, a book, a seminar, or crossing a lover's lips in the darkest hour of night. It's thrilling, this sort of reading, ennervating, terrifying.
Which brings me back to where I began. I don't feel terribly wise, or even as knowledgeable as I'd like. Indeed, I spend a great deal of time feeling inadequate to whatever task presents itself, confident in my competence but entirely unconvinced of my excellence, and unsatisfied with anything less. Nothing is more tragic than a lazy perfectionist.
But I know one thing I would say to my child as often as I might, no matter his age or inclination or peculiar ability, my one grasp at wordly wisdom, my sole excuse for myself. I would say, "Create." Make something new. Create. Create.
If there is a God, a Heaven, a meting out of judgment, surely creation will be valued most high and destruction villified. There's nothing new in this thought, which is surely derivative of any number of sources I might name were I not so weak of memory, but in that, at least, they were right. To create is everything.
And by this I think in larger terms. Snob though I may be, I would not intend that my child should take me to mean that he must create something that would assume a place in this or that canon, only that he create rather than obey, for obedience is not creation, it's survival. I would have my child be proud, and defiant, and undaunted by the thought of the billions who have preceded him, each trying to add something to the human mosaic in one way or another, courageous before the inevitable fear that there is nothing new to add, unwilling to accept mediocrity even if it is -- or precisely because it is -- the rule.
(And then my child, being a child, would sigh and turn on his heel to storm from the room as though I'd insisted that he eat brussels sprouts, but the memory would linger.)
I have been an absentee blogger, and for those who drop by with any sort of regularity I apologize -- not so much for the silence as for the lack of explanation. My dedicated readership may be passing small, but I know you're there, and for all your patience with my erratic maundering you deserve more than implacable silence.
But this is not to announce my return. Rather, this is the explanation I have owed. I have liked a few things I have written here, more than a few perhaps, but the medium does not lend itself to the discipline necessary to the sort of thing I would like to create, at least not in my hands. I lack the patience for revision, here, and it frees me from the complication of sustaining my confidence in the face of creative adversity, which in turn impoverishes the work itself.
I can, in short, do better. And it's about goddamned time.
So I'm retreating to meatspace for the time being, turning my undivided energy to a larger project I hesitate to call a novel but (for want of a better word) might as well, something I've been playing with in my head for quite a while, and toward which I've been researching of late. I don't assume I can do this, that I'm technically adequate to the task or tenacious enough to stay with it for as long as it takes to find out, but I'm so very sick of wondering, of fancying myself something I take for granted but refuse to vindicate in deed.
I won't officially wrap this up, because I'm not convinced it won't serve some purpose as a sort of overflow valve when I've been writing long enough on my own to create some momentum. And those of you who really care for my brand of blather might come back every month or so for a while to see if there's anything new. But this is, if nothing else, a substantial hiatus I'm announcing.
Thank you for reading. Perhaps I'll have something more substantial for you in the distant future. But that's the question when it comes to writing anything with literary pretensions, isn't it -- for how long can one delay gratification before tearing oneself apart, like Van Gogh, like Schumann?
Let's find out, shall we?