Sirens & Sirens

Digital illo: The Siren's DeceptionInteresting, isn’t it, that the same word we use in English to describe those mythical creatures who are said to entice and draw us inexorably to our doom with their alluring song is the name we give to the sound warning us of danger. A Siren’s song is meant to lull me into unsuspecting complacency and reckless desire, yet the alarming noise made to wake me out of complacency and make me alert, focused, and cautious is also a siren. Methinks some wordsmiths enjoy causing such bits of merry mayhem in the pursuit of misdirection and disinformation.

For behold! What’s this? I am suddenly thinking of the vast fields of fact and fancy where the same words that mean truth and beauty to one are terms of terror and falsehood to another. Much depends upon intent; much, too, upon interpretation.

The most skilled and experienced among diplomats, politicians, and philosophers, linguists and liars—not to mention among advertisers and marketing directors, who can of course be at the top of any or all of these fields—know this and use it to advantage. The rallying cry of one group of people warns off another. Invitation from one insults and assaults the next. Even the terrible sound of war’s sirens, the blaring horns shouting at me to take shelter from a bombing raid, a fusillade, or a marauding invasion, these might be a compelling or inviting Siren call to those who invade and attack, the assurance that their glorious reward lies just ahead of them, yes, right where I am hiding in fear. But is it equally true that I rejoice in others’ defeat and destruction when it makes me feel safer, or even merely richer? That I hear hymns of happiness in the dirges of others?

I hope that the island of rock toward which I paddle and swim for its sense of safety from the tormenting skies, the rough seas, and their swarming contingents of deadly monsters isn’t the very promontory on which I will meet my doom, drawn there by the false promises of Sirens. I know from experience that some of their art lies in convincing me to sing their songs in my own voice, even in my own head, making it easier for me to find the stories palatable and believable, and teaching me to hear other people’s voices automatically as contrastingly suspicious sounds. I hope that I am old and wise enough to recognize that different tunes are sometimes only music that I haven’t yet learned. I hope I’ll never willingly (or even unwittingly) sink the hopes and dreams of others simply because the song of my life, of my truth, differs from theirs.

Is that sound we hear a chorus of idyllic oracles inviting us to ultimate sanctuary, or is it only the illusory music of rolling, sounding waves meant to draw us inexorably toward hidden rocks that will shatter us, will jettison the jetsam into a bottomless vortex of ignorance and ignominy? Only those around for the grand finale will know which song comes last.

Everything Old is Still Old Even When It’s New Again

Tonight I saw a humorous ‘fashion show’ of the choir dresses from a long part of the Swedish Radio Choir’s 90-year history. I’d share photos of them, but you’re undoubtedly going to get better views of them if you look in the choir’s archives. Having a good laugh over them in person, despite the uneven lighting and mosh-pit activity at the reception, was tremendous fun. Reflecting on what I myself wore in the eras when these sorts of dresses were fashionable is either hilarious or horrifying, depending upon my mood and whether you ask me or someone who had to look at me in said clothing.

It’s a good reminder that what is merely Old Stuff has a world of possible interpretations when revisited, either because it becomes popular once again after a time of absence or it is unearthed as it was in this little bit of choir jollity. Is it vintage, or passé? Sexy or silly? Trendy or timeless? So much depends upon the moment and the company. Point of view determines value, more often than not.

After seeing those dresses of yesteryear, I was reminded that what I’m currently sorting for our household downsizing will inevitably raise the same question, whether I am the one later coming across objects I opted to keep or somebody else is discovering my discards. I have no excuses. I’ve seen what happens many, many times. But we never tire of the New, do we? Good thing we like combing through the Old, too. Hope most of the people I hang around with will find me closer to vintage than just junk as I keep aging.Photomontage: Old Stuff

Point of Origin

Photomontage: Kid StuffSapient Sources

What Mother said carried no weight—

Dad said the same? Then it was great!

What Dad pronounced we’d all reject—

Then Mother said it? Yay! Correct!

It’s funny, no? But true, of course—

Belief depends more on the source

Than on the facts and evidence—

If only trust were based on sense

In my own heart and in my head

I’d just accept what Mother said—

Except, of course, when in the frame

Of asking if Dad said the same—

I Zig, Life Zags

We rarely go the same direction, Reality and I. And when the day is long and complicated and my brain can’t quite keep up with it, I wander ever further from the appointed path of sanity and logic. It is decidedly my nature to diverge from what’s natural.

And I’m okay with that. You may as well be, too, because I’ve gone all abstract on you and must needs go to bed. I may or may not be wiser and clearer tomorrow, but I suspect I’ll still be very much myself and enjoy it. Cheerio!Digital illo: Life Goes Its Own Way

Powerless

There are so many ways that we crave and try to wield power, we mortal beings. We think we’re in charge of our own lives, if nothing else. We are wrong.

Our short trip to Portland from Thursday through this morning provided me with a fine refresher course in this form of necessary humility. While our house is in utter disarray during our move to an apartment and our lives in mild chaos during a busy fall season of school, concerts, travel, and conferences, I am about as far from in control of my own little existence as I am from running the world. I did my very worst job of packing, for Portland, that I think I’ve done since somewhere around the age of four. If my parents were dumb enough to let me help pack my luggage then.

So I arrived in Oregon without several of my simplest toiletries, one pair of socks short of the full trip’s worth, and sans laptop power cord. Hence, my first series of several days without daily blog posts in nearly four and a half years. And I must tell you that I was plenty irritated with myself, and mightily disappointed to break the string of consecutive posts so unwittingly, if not witlessly. But you know, the earth did not cease to rotate on its axis. The rain and sun still did their little minuets, people still talked to me as if they genuinely liked doing so, and music still sounded magnificent and more than a little miraculous.

Because it’s not my power cord that connects me to the universe, and it’s most certainly not my power that connects the rest of the universe together. I can’t fix what’s wrong in the world, not by a million miles, but I am not the source of any of its strengths or its life force, let alone its myriad joys. I’m just the lucky participant and recipient, who (when the power is plugged in) gets to report on my view of it all. I’m happy to be back online, but I am reminded that the very best of what I enjoy in my remarkably blessed existence is not born of my own merit or power, and not even remotely connected to whether I’m plugged in or not, figuratively or literally. I’m just plain glad to be here.

Photo: Out of Gas

Yep, I ran out of gas. But I reminded myself, however inadvertently, that it takes letting go of my driven need for power, sometimes, to refuel my spirit.

Let Me be So Attuned

For those of you who would like to Tune In suitably, the concert that was being prepared when I wrote today’s post will be performed tonight by the University of North Texas A Cappella Choir, conducted by my esteemed spouse Richard Sparks. Click on this link, and it’ll take you to the live-streamed concert at 8 pm Central Standard Time. Or, if you can, come on over to UNT’s Murchison Performing Arts Center and enjoy the concert (with me and a host of other fans) in the lovely Winspear hall.

Digital illo from a photo: A Cappella HarmonyI am listening to a superb vocal sextet as the singers demonstrate the purity of tone and the achingly clear, clean dissonances and harmonies that their conductor has just been coaching the listening university choir to attempt. When they two sets of singers all join forces and achieve this without putting undue stress on their breathing and without letting anyone’s vibrato widen far enough to fall off its assigned note, the whole room, no matter how large or small, dry or reverberant, empty or crowded, becomes electric. The power of even the faintest pianissimo, when perfectly tuned to the chord of the moment, scintillates in such perfect proportion, one note to another, that involuntary shivers of pleasure run up and down my spine.

The conductor admonishes the singers to embrace the more tender expressive qualities of the passage they’re singing; instead of attack-and-cutoff beginnings and endings to notes and phrases, they attempt to let the notes open and close naturally with the breath. Attack becomes the almost imperceptible awakening sensation of even, steady onset, and cutoff loses its hard artifice in favor of the easeful grace of release. I think that this, too, makes a fine representation of what it should be to live in tune with my fellow beings, to breathe in consonance with them whether we are making pretty and perhaps predictably agreeable chords or exact and shivering dissonances.

This is the gorgeous, staggeringly intense experience of listening to genuinely sensitive music-making, of powerfully accurate tuning. A wonderfully skilled musician will no doubt say that the experience is even deeper for the singers themselves, as the physical sensation can only be intensified when one is physically part of the sounding instrument in this fundamental way. But I have been in those rooms, at times, where the perfectly timed phrasing of notes and passages and the confluence of vibrations are so perfectly aligned that I feel I am no longer a solid object, distinct from all other things, but have become an integrated element of the glittering cosmos. This, I think, is what it means to gain true harmony.Digital illo from a photo: Score

Please Don’t Misapprehend My Apprehension

Photo: ApprehensionOne of my greatest worries is, and always has been, the fear of being misunderstood. Not in the sense of “poor me, I’m an unappreciated genius,” but as in dreading that anyone would think I was saying a bad or mean or insensitive thing when I think I’m doing quite the opposite. This is not an unfounded or inexperienced kind of fear, either. For all that I am so verbal-cum-verbose and try hard to craft my thoughts into words fittingly, I find that the things that matter most to me, especially in moments of intense feeling, become far more difficult to express exactly as I’d wish, and I grow either dumb with the weight of my fine intentions or simply scrambled in what I blurt out in the moment.

Even when I believe I’m at my most cogent and persuasive, I often find I’ve stepped firmly on the tender feelings of those whom I would least wish to offend, and while I am heartily sorry for that and try to be honestly mild and penitent in my responses if they tell me I’ve put my foot wrong, I can’t always undo the hard feelings I’ve inadvertently engendered. Sometimes it’s because I’m left in the dark: even those with whom we’re close can be too wounded or unsure of how to respond and will never tell us we’ve struck a nerve; they might go off silently, nursing their hurt without letting us make amends. Some, too, will bite back at what they consider an affront, but then disappear in a dust-cloud of hasty retreat before I can rephrase to say what I had really meant, apologize, or, in the rare cases when we cannot see eye to eye no matter what, say with due respect that I don’t harbor any ill-will but beg to differ. That, at least, assumes neither of us is a villain or an ignoramus but that our sincere efforts have led us to quite different conclusions. Silence cannot explain, clarify, forgive, or ask for forgiveness, and it certainly cannot open the ears that have been stopped up by anyone’s fixed assumption of my guilt.

And most of all, it can’t allow me to learn from my mistakes, when I fail to convey what I’ve tried so hard to convey. That’s what keeps me awake too late and too long, fussing over the wording of what should, perhaps, have been an easily stated idea or even a passing thought, because I convinced myself, whether through experience or through overwrought and paranoid worrying, it was going to give somebody—anybody—the wrong idea about me.

And there is where I finally spot the heart of the real problem: it’s not all about me, much as I josh about being the center of the universe or pretend that I’m so important. Every other person in the world will never be on the same wavelength I am, not in the things we believe, in the ways we think about them, or perhaps especially, in the ways we express them—or try to do it. And every other person in the world is not going to agree that what I think respectful or complimentary seems that way to them. To expect that kind of universal acceptance is folly; to wish for it is vain; to stay up past my bedtime trying to achieve it is merely asking for trouble.

Surrendering to the plain fact that my imperfection is bound to meet up with others’ occasional misapprehension of my meaning is not total capitulation. But as it might mean I get a better night’s sleep, I do think it worth a try.Photo: Misapprehension