Blur Circle

Steve Yost's weblog

September 25, 2002
A typical distraction leading to Deep Thoughts

Here's a typical brief distraction from work that ends with a bloggable find. I'm listening to the station I've carefully constructed and "World Love" from the Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs comes on. It's a tune I've dismissed before, but this time found it witty enough to listen to. So I searched to find the lyrics and found instead this discussion of the album's merits, centered on whether Merritt's wit precludes emotional authenticity and prevents any emotional impact on the listener. An eloquent writer named Nitsuh says this:

Suffice it to say that I feel like there's a whole complex underlying [Stephen Merritt's] aims, specific fallacies that he's valuable for refuting, and chief among them is this idea that it's more authentic or more emotional to watch people do than it is to watch them think -- a concept that's largely alien to me, because my primary joy in art and words comes from the fact that they alone can serve as a conduit of people's thoughts.
This gets back to my "insufficiency of language" problem in the face of an entire gestalt that comes with physical presence, a "scene". Great art evokes much more than itself. Let's talk about Sonic Youth, Rothko, the Mona Lisa. Better stop here -- this is becoming more than a distraction. But please carry on: Discuss

September 24, 2002
Improvisation key

This is a little meditation that's surely been written in variations hundreds of times, but it just occurred to me from direct experience.

I've finally finished learning Book 1 of Bartok's wonderful Mikrokosmos piano teaching pieces, and as I dive into Book 2, I stop to think: I could go on like this, happily learning these written pieces for a long time, even forgetting that I really want to learn to play by ear, compose, and improvise.

My first instrument was the clarinet, started when I was 9 or so. I remember the rebellious joy I found when, bored with my practice, I started playing around on a scale one day. Years later, I was surprised when talking to a serious music student that he couldn't begin to improvise. I thought his education must be incomplete.

We carry this kind of balance through life, choosing when to play the written score, when to carefully compose (to the extent of our abilities), when to improvise within the chord changes, and when to just blow wildly. I need to remember that as a parent too -- improvisation is freedom, but it can be taught.


September 23, 2002
Halley perigee

So much in Halley's blog that rings true with me today and yesterday.
First I was thinking of encouraging her to do another exercise post as I notice my own exercise decline the past couple of weeks, wanting to resist the slide to winter inactivity. She beat me to it. (My friend Jeff -- Mr. Ponton -- in Rochester competes with a fictional Steve as he does his morning jog even though I've told him he's a much more consistent exerciser than I).
Second, a dream last night of my father, one of only a few I've had (remembered, anyway) about him since he died not long ago. In the dream we were running around a campus, leaping over railings and stuff, and though he was in a weak condition, he was right there with me. I felt remorse that I was putting him through this strain, but knew he would rather do this than be inactive. My dad was truly like this with his illness -- resisting it uncomplainingly except for the wistfulness of not being able to do what he'd done before.
And third, the effect of a hymn -- an effect that rained fully on my wife Marielle and me last week when we went to church last week. It was an old hymn, one of the kinds my father loved, and we found ourselves suddenly and simultaneously in tears, there at the start of the service.

September 17, 2002
Passing time seriously

Clocks with serif-fonted numerals are too severe for a Sunday. The stern serifs remind us of the inexorable passing of time, the tasks not done. Clocks for a Sunday should have collarless Swiss sans-serif fonts or be entirely numeral-free. Of course the ideal Sunday is spent without clocks at all.

Fragment of an unknown epic

Just woke from a long dream that ended with the singing of an unknown song, some of the words of which I recall (as well as the guitar-accompanied melody):

For nothing remains precious
besides the sea
and the windswept mechanisms
And we in our temple
give ___ to the ___
Joe was singing preceding lines first. There's a vague sense that he was more familiar with it. I sang the above lines, then couldn't remember further words; nor could Joe, who filled in by verbally sketching the next plot-continuing stanza. An audience was casually gathered and the scene was loosely didactic. The setting was an underground club or small cavern with the ambience of a comfortable ruin. A guy in the audience then raised a critique-like question and Joe referred to the simple chord changes of a familiar ancient pop epic.

The accompanying emotion was of the pleasure of recollection and learned rediscovery, like the act of pulling back half-remembered poetry or the archaeologist sharing his work.

September 13, 2002
The insufficiency of language

In an earlier entry I said

Is this why the Gospels sometimes seem to have a surprisingly matter-of- fact tone? Some states can't be extracted to dessicated words. The full state of the body, the mind, the whole can't be encoded in the ciphers we see with our eyes, trying to reconstitute the original. Only the greatest poets, writers, and artists come close, and they require audiences with their antennae all finely tuned.
Today I read in Borges' Selected Non-Fictions an essay called John Wilkins' Analytical Language, which Borges closes with this luminous quote from G.K. Chesterton:
Man knows that there are in the soul tints more bewildering, more numberless, and more nameless than the colors of an autumn forest.... Yet he seriously believes that these things can every one of them, in all their tones and semi-tones, in all their blends and unions, be accurately represented by an arbitrary system of grunts and squeals. He believes that an ordinary civilized stockbroker can really produce out of his own inside noises which denote all the mysteries of memory and all the agonies of desire.
Last night we watched the movie Iris, which is about Iris Murdoch, the strength of her mind, her personality, and her command of language, and the loss of these as she succumbs to Alzheimer's, lovingly accompanied by her husband John Bayley. In a late scene she's sitting on the sand at the beach, tearing pages from her notebook and paperweighting them with stones, and in a moment of frustrated lucidity she lifts all the stones and lets the paper fly, saying what words cannot say for her. At another point I wanted to say, placing myself in the scene, that words aren't necessary. There really are just these existential pleasures of company. One of the hardest things about Alzheimer's may be seeing the transience of thought -- seeing it disperse like steam instead of bubbling noisily, persistently, and containedly in the pot. And realizing that all our thoughts are like this, in the long run. Unless we write them down for others.

September 12, 2002
Our loss of rights

Via Santeros, via Locusteater, via Newsday, by the Associated Press: a simple and powerful listing of the rights we've lost.

Also worth repeating from Santeros: US threatens world peace, says Mandela.

But just go read Santeros. He has lots of good to say.

Press the Return key

Steve Himmer's thoughtful ping via email reminds me that I really should get back to writing here. I'd put up a self-imposed hurdle in wanting to have a worthy follow-on post after my father's death.

Also, I've been really busy. It's a dive-back-into-life busyness, mostly driven by economics. One part of me is questioning that necessity -- it's a part that wants to heard more, and I'm listening carefully.

I'll end this post here, though there's a lot to say, and see what happens next.