Off the Top of My Head
May 31. This has been the longest month on record. Not just because of all the virus, but because the weather has been uniformly bleah–cloudy skies and temperatures below normal, but my usual markers for the progression of time are not functioning–the one or two weekly appointments I had that are gone. It's odd to see on my calendar, under
Next Event, something occurring on June 13.
On the plus side, I have heard that u-pick-em strawberry fields in the area have extended their season because of the weather changes. Not that I'll be going or anything, but it's nice to know.
I was going back through old newsletters in my inbox, hoping to reduce the clutter there. Of course, I had to check the contents, which led to following some of the enclosed links. One from Big Think had a teaser about a meditation inspired by
the vastness of space. There was the obligatory picture taken from the Hubble space observatory accompanying it.
(Spoiler alert: thinking ahead ahead.) That got me thinking. It seems anything vaguely related to thinking, meditating, or deep breathing has a picture that features something that's as far away from people, crowds, and urban life as possible. Deep space is good, forests are good, mountains are good, crashing surf is good, sunrises and sunsets are good, and other pretty, natural things are good. If there's a picture of a city, it's usually an aerial scene from a distance, with no evidence of people.
So if it's good for brain and soul calming, shouldn't we be trying to put more of that sort of thing into our everyday life? I could see a couple of minutes (to start) set aside to calming pictures on the evening news. Or take the endless repetition in home repair shows (to review, you purchased the house for $65,000, renovations costs $23,000, it was built in 1913, and has 1,900 square feet) that follows every commercial break. Or replacing the
repeating the last three minutes from before the commercial break in case the 'weak link' watcher forgot segment with pictures taken from the Hubble. It's OK, guys, it's only been five minutes. We remember.
Blast from the past: At one point in my life, I had an aquarium to fulfill this exact purpose. Of an evening, I would turn on the aquarium light, turn on some soothing music, turn off the other lights, and lie back and watch. That didn't last long, as the primary activity seemed to be the fifty-cent fish chasing the five-dollar fish around the tank. Not calming for me or the fish. top
Part of the problem with a drawn-out formal education is the little bits and pieces that get stuck in your head (or wherever they reside) and randomly appear to mess up your day. Mostly, it comes when you
know a phrase but have no idea where it came from.
So it was this morning, when I had
They also serve who only stand and wait stuck in my head. I thought this would be a great line to use in praise of those who have hunkered down, sheltered in place, self-isolated or self-quarantined, whatever we're calling it, and I was surprised that nobody had been using it. Off to DuckDuckGo I go (a duck-duck-go-go).
Turns out it was from John Milton's
Sonnet 19, which I have
kindly reproduced below (wait: why is kindly in quotation marks? Ah. Yes. In this case,
kindly is a synonym for
share my pain.). I can only speculate why the line is not quoted more, but I'll bet the answer is ilikely: 1) Our educational system has abandoned the teaching of John Milton's sonnets. 2) Nobody could navigate the first 13 lines to get to the money line. 3) nobody included it in a song about how wonderful we are for standing up to COVID-19 and so it's not in mainstream consciousness; 4) all the above.
(Aside: I recently wrote a poem [not yet out in the wild] in which I made a passing [and somewhat disparaging] comment about Milton. Turns out it was a good call.) That drawn-out education mentioned above was mostly spent in English lit classrooms, so I should be able to perform a public service and translate it, right? Yeah, right. It's Monday morning–pain time. So best (and probably incorrect) guess: "I'm going blind but still a young stud. If I'm blind, how can I write poetry, which is my sweet spot? When it's my time to 'fess, I'm going to tell God why I fell down–I didn't have the tools, but He's going to say,
Did I have you on the clock? You don't have to be doing all the time. Live with the pain, dude. Just hang–that's all I want."
Sonnet 19: When I consider how my light is spent
When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, "God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er Land and Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”
A couple of weeks ago, I listed some conditions for when I knew it was safe to go outside again. I am pleased to announce that two have been met: the first fifteen minutes of last night's news were devoted to something other than the pandemic; and my grocery store has had toilet paper in stock for the last two visits. So maybe, but I'm thinking that I still may not want to–the library reopening hasn't happened yet, and that's sort of the key to pushing me outside. top
Speaking of language from the past, there's a whole subcategory of words and phrases that we still use even though the technology that inspired them has changed radically, if not disappeared. So we still dial phones, even though dial phones disappeared in 1985; ditto hanging up; from radios we turn the dial, and crank the volume; and there are no records to spin, or to listen to, unless you're an audiophile with a turntable.
Totally unrelated, but brain models also follow technology. Starting about 1800, with the growth of the Industrial Revolution, the brain was described in mechanical terms (wheels turning and gears meshing), followed by an electrical model (ideas were like electrical currents flowing along wires), and now computer (a binary model, with the brain being in two potential states). Of course, the brain is none of these things. It's just a convenient way to break it down so we can understand. A myth for our times. top
Sacre du Printemps
On Friday's The Writer's Almanac, Garrison Keillor mentioned that during the riot that took place during the premiere of Stravinsky's
The Rite of Spring, audience members
threw vegetables at the stage.
So why did people bring vegetables into a very respectable Paris theater? This wasn't some outdoor market, where they could grab some produce to fling. It indicates a) they were expecting trouble and a bad performance; b) it was an intermission snack that was repurposed; or c) it was a requirement for admission (Usher:
may I see your rutabaga, sir? Oh, tomatoes! An excellent choice, sir).
To say feelings ran high is an understatement. Eleven years after that performance, an anonymous author posted this bit of doggerel in the Boston Herald:
Who wrote this fiendish Rite of Spring
What right had he to write the thing,
Against our helpless ears to fling
Its crash, clash, cling, clang, bing, bang, bing?
And then to call it Rite of Spring,
the season when on joyous wing
The birds melodious carols sing
And harmony's in everything!
He who could write the Rite of Spring,
If I be right, by right should swing!
With a message like that, and the threat at the end, a man for our times!< top
On the Radio.
On Friday morning, my clock radio went off to some innocuous music on the local classical station WHRO. At its conclusion, Dwight Davis came on to announce that it was an unfinished symphony by Edward Elgar, and then said without missing a beat,
I guess it will remain unfinished, without leaving even a second for that to sink in or let us laugh.
Classy. Professional. Funny. top