5 things


1)  Every morning for the last several weeks, I have woken up with Beethoven's third piano concerto running through my head.  I've been learning it casually (still focusing on the Goldberg Variations and a handful of other projects), and its themes are certainly what one would affectionately call "ear worms".

It's not just Beethoven, though.  I seem always to spring awake with tasks and ideas, as though my mind hasn't slept at all, but there is always music in this head anyway.  I can't help it.  My mother asked me not long ago why I never listen to music when I'm working or doing other things, and it's because it's simply too engaging.  I like to believe that there are (at least) two parts to my thinking: that one which actively thinks, writes, engages; and the one in the background which constantly processes music.  Right now, it's doing the Glenn Gould cadenza to the first movement of Beethoven's first piano concerto.  Sometimes it's other tunes, or just scale patterns and exercises.  Sometimes it'll go on and on, and when I try to think about it (say, actively thinking about a solo part while the accompaniment goes on underneath), the two minds will come out of synchronization.  I'll have to concentrate to silence both of them and begin again from the top. 

There's a common belief that music is simply something for the background, because that's what stores and radios and listening devices tell us: that music exists to block out the sounds of walking down the street, or to alleviate the seeming monotony of quiet.  How sad that is to me, first that music might serve only such a utilitarian purpose in a life, and second that quiet should be so intolerable. 


2)  I've watched several documentaries over the last few days.  (I know that Netflix destroys my productivity in the evenings after work, but how can I turn down the opportunity to learn?)  Last night it was Mission Blue, the delightful and incredible story of Dr. Sylvia Earle and her groundbreaking exploration of our oceans.  Did you know that 70% of the world's oxygen is generated by our oceans?  That fact is astonishing to me.  Truly... just unfathomable. 

I've long had sort of an existential fear of the oceans, partly because I have an unfounded fear of drowning.  (I've never almost drowned, though I never took swim lessons either.  I just lack confidence in the water.)  Additionally, though, there seems to me something so unbelievable about the sheer magnitude of marine lives and their complete foreignness to me.  There is something quite astounding and unnerving about the size of whales, the impossibility of bioluminescent deep-water creatures, all these sea animals both actual and mythical. 

Dr. Earle was asked decades ago whether her vehement crusade to save Earth's oceans made her "radical."  She said, "If I seem radical, it is because I have seen things that others have not."  I know that feeling -- to try and make a case for support among people who find it inconvenient to care about something.  I do it every day.  I proudly call myself an artist, environmentalist, philanthropist, atheist, vegan; and to care enough to give yourself a label must be to care enough to defend it. 


3)  Another documentary I watched was The Unbelievers -- a sort of "day in the life" of Lawrence Krauss and Richard Dawkins as they continue the good work of promoting science and reason over religion and myth.  I've called myself an atheist for many years.  It took me a very long time indeed to find that label and understand it, but only a moment for me to realize that it fit my life.  There were two particular articles of Natalie Angier's, another scientist, that turned me.  I say "turned", but atheism is not always like an evangelical movement.  It's just that at some point, things start to make sense, and there's usually a moment when it "clicks".  I say atheism is "not always" like an evangelical movement, because sometimes, with some people, it is. 

I am an anti-theist.  I not only reject the notion of gods, but I actively oppose them.  It's not simply that there is no evidence of divine intervention; it's that what stories of divine intervention there are have no place in a civil society.  Perhaps if anyone in the course of human history had posited a god that did not encourage killing, revenge, jealousy, abuse, martyrdom, violence, or any of those quirks from all the "holy books", I would change my tune.  But there is no such god, and beyond that, we have no need for one. 


4)  Christopher Hitchens said that given the choice, he would not abolish all religions, even if he had the power to do so.  He preferred the lively debates.  And he was good at them.  A master of oration if there ever was one. 

Richard Dawkins says that we must reject politeness, particularly regarding religion, and engage in discussions that challenge.  Most of us are too afraid for this; most of us don't believe strongly enough in our values or ourselves to take on the ignorant and strong-headed.  I have always been averse to conflict, though I would hardly call myself a pacifist.  It's just that I have seen so many conflicts that serve no purpose, or make no resolution. 

I am less uncomfortable with that now.  Inflammation is a purpose.  Challenging ignorance is a purpose, even if it doesn't lead to changing minds.  Asking questions is a purpose, and I would not hesitate to say that I ask most of my questions with no intention of formulating, and even less of receiving, answers.  The question itself is valuable enough.


5)  Last week, as a Facebook meme went around, I was prompted by a friend to list 12 life-changing books.  After another friend asked me to email her my list, I took some extra time finding a quotation from each book to send along with my recommendation.  My honorable mentions, since I inevitably forgot a few on Facebook, included Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet.  That I didn't include this on the "official" list is a crime.  There is no question that this slim volume is one for the canon.  I was completely shocked that my friend had not read it, and indeed that any literate person has not! 

Regardless, I included this quotation: "I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other." 

This is also the book from which the famous lines come:

I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language.  Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them.  And the point is, to live everything.  Live the questions now.  Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.