There have been times — especially in recent days — when the impulse to write has been as demanding and unruly as the impulse to play music. This is not the first time in my life when the two impulses have competed, and they do often threaten to fight to the death. At times I do feel like a helpless victim caught in the crossfire. Other times I find the courage to play the diplomat between them — I have written entire university essays in my head while practicing my scales or sonatas; the essays earned top grades, but not my technique. I haven’t yet discovered the means to the reverse — most of my musical creations have been born while out for a walk. In the two most recent years especially, I have found fairly consistent means to put half-blinders on as I work on my classical technique, but I sense that the battles between what I am going to call (for now) my two mortal yawpers, will not come to truces any time soon.
As I sit here writing, less than 30 feet away from a piano that I would normally be spending precious moments with before her tuner arrives, I have also consciously chosen to accept that loss of musical time and to find a way to make it up later. It’s painful, and it truly is like saying goodbye to a lover. There is no shortage of ways that I could expand on that theme, and I can’t resist mentioning one of them: the tenants downstairs have not always been thrilled with the hours of ‘grunt work’ between my lover and I — the tenants don’t get to hear the whispers, although sometimes we do let them in on the music of the afterglow. Ok, so yeah, the analogue breaks down for obvious reasons, but whenever the tenants say to me “it was awfully quiet up there today”, I don’t think they understand the agony of when the reason is that the piano and I can’t get our alone time, or the fact that often when they don’t hear a peep, it’s because we’re whispering the love notes to each other. In between trips outside for coffee and a smoke between sessions.
So now that I’m writing about other things competing for my attention: Why have I referred to the impulses as ‘mortal’? Art is long, but not immortal. The soul of art may live forever, and there may be poems or songs that continue to be copied or transcribed into new media for generations. I do believe that my impulses to play music and to write are based on immortally universal longings of humanity. But I also believe that humanity is just a stage this part of the universe is going through. And the particular output of the urges — the songs, the notes on the piano, the essays that I write — may as well be the drawings in the sand by Picasso is a short story by Ray Bradbury. In the case of that story, Picasso didn’t care whether anyone else saw them before they were washed away by the lapping waves. He was on a public beach, so wasn’t aiming for privacy, but also wasn’t advertising his sand-drawings.
In my case, I am actively posting my passing thoughts on social media. Some friends and advisors would rightfully caution or implore me to just write my thoughts down in a diary, or save them to my desktop, either to be edited later or to be deleted as irrelevant. (I almost wrote ‘irreverant’, which many have already witnessed). There are probably about 40 years worth of my private journals, correspondences, and formal essays residing in landfills or having gone up in flames. There are some that live in friends’ basements, sharing their secrets with many other of my belongings that I have left behind in basements and garages extending from Vancouver to St. John’s to New Orleans. I have a desktop and several usb chips lying around containing the content of my thoughts from about 1995, when I first started sending my ideas in emails. As for the ones that I can access from my own desktop or have already been posted to facebook, let’s be real: when I’m not writing, I’m going to be searching for a piano to get back to. Editing is just not my thing. (Although I also failed at true ‘stream of consciousness’ writing, because I still want to at least pause long enough for some sense of structure in the moment).
So my yawps are mortal. The greater context of my borrowing from Whitman is the idea of the ‘self’. I may as well have borrowed from Popeye in grunting my shanty about who I think I am. (to Yam or not to Yam?). Some of the only reading I’ve been able to accomplish lately has been a collection of the Upanishads. I don’t think Whitman was off-base at all when he sang of the self in the lower case. I also know that the lower case self is just another picture in the sand — one grain of which may contain the entire universe, but still vulnerable to the lapping of the waves of whatever is beyond the universe. Another piece of Hindu wisdom that I haven’t actually read the full context of is the conversation between Krishna and Arjuna. Detach from the results of your actions, but engage in those actions nonetheless, with the full passion of someone who yawps immortally even if the echoes only reverberate a few times before being lost to time and space, or to other louder or more eloquent yawps.
So I will write, and I will make loud noisy love to the piano whenever I can. I could look into some corkboard to lay on the floor, or I could just buy earplugs for the downstairs tenants. When I write, I do post on social media for all passersby, but I am still confident my yawps are relatively quiet. I have been known at rare times to vociferate loudly and endlessly in person, and it’s not usually because of being drunk –rather just too many pent-up frustrations. For those who think I should stop writing so much, be thankful: when I write, I don’t need to shout. My scales and other musical grunts may be more irritating, but we’ll deal with that another time.