—From the Fool—
They’re doing the Election. My mom always used to decide which were the biggest crooks and vote for them—she said they’re the ones who know what’s what. But I thought, well, there are dumb crooks too, so you can’t depend on that.
President wasn’t hard to decide. The guy that twisted up his face, I just didn’t want to look at that face for four years. But the rest of the ballot, all the stuff they sent out, they had like five guys running for Fire Protection District, and I couldn’t tell which ones were pro-fire or anti-fire or who could put one out.
And then the propositions, with a Yes or No. There seemed like some good and some bad in all of them but you couldn’t vote two-thirds Yes and one-third No—you had to go whole-hog this way or that. It’s like crossing the street with one eye shut.
I wanted to get some advice, but I didn’t ask my friends. Some of them are pretty dumb, and with the smart ones I don’t want them to think I’m dumb, which people do if you ask them a question. So I took my cat for a walk.
Nobody walks a cat. But strangers start up talking if you’ve got a dog, and I thought I might slip in some question about Proposition 53. So I put the leash on her collar and ventured out. It took a lot of patience and untangling. I didn’t drag her over anything rough.
But the only feedback I got was from a lady who yelled, “You’re abusing that cat!” I tried to ask her about the ban on plastic bags, but she just upped the ante with, “People like you should be in jail!” That seemed to be the prevailing sentiment of the Election. You just had to decide who you wanted in jail.
I decided finally to vote for the death penalty. But only for cats. And giving them the option of community service.
We were unexpectedly gifted with a pair of tickets for the Santa Rosa Symphony (thank you, Joe!), and went to the concert last Saturday. As orchestras go, this is a really good one, and it was a fine performance. They offered Liszt’s Les Preludes, Bartok’s Second Piano Concerto, and Schumann’s Symphony No. 2, and from the moment the tall slim First Violinist strode out in her floor-length black gown to play the “A” that starts the tuning, it was all skill, beauty, and control.
Except for the small person in the upper balcony, who completely lost it when Les Preludes started. Suddenly shaking with sobs, hand over face to muffle the sound, I was just about drowned by a wave of emotion. I was once again at the closing concert at the end of a summer at Interlochen National Music Camp in the mid-fifties. Nearly sixty years ago, that memory, and it still can bring me to my knees.
The NMC high school orchestra wasn’t quite as good as the Santa Rosa Symphony, but it was pretty fine. Every summer, faculty and counselors and kids massed into the outdoor amphitheatre for the final concert, and the last item on the program was always Les Preludes. The stage had a low roof, pitched in a very shallow inverted V, and in the final minutes of Liszt’s passionate music dancers would appear on the roof. Their gauzy floating grace was the signal that in a few minutes our magical summer would have come to an end.
Over 2,000 students spanning the ages from third grade through high school came to study music, theatre, and dance with an excellent faculty—eight weeks of total immersion—and then it was time to go home. Everybody had fallen in love with someone and something in this Northern Michigan version of Shangri-La, and I was no exception.
Coming from a rural elementary school and jock high school in Northwest Indiana, I was stunned to discover that I was not doomed to be an outcast nerd forever, and that first summer was when I learned to laugh among my tribe. I begged and pleaded to go back again the next summer, and did.
Smiling and weeping and hugging summer friends and nearly drowning in love makes for strong memories, and the trigger for all that, for those of us who were there, is Les Preludes. Thanks to the Santa Rosa Symphony for firing away.
Morning, the usual round of gym, coffee, and writing, then walking home. Wrestling with a difficult chapter in the 8th draft of our Galahad novel, where the plague hits the army, the scurvy little priest has a moment of enlightenment, the quest ends, and the old puppeteer who’s writing it all questions the whole point—it’s starting to clarify. Then a quick glance through the plagues and atrocities of the day, courtesy of Google News—enough there to confirm the hypothesis that evolution has reversed itself.
On the walk home, I plugged myself into the iPod to listen to Stravinsky’s Symphony of the Psalms. Was it the harmony with the beautiful weather or the contrast with the stench rising up from the news—as from the rotting corpse of a vast dead god (to steal a phrase from the novel)—that made that music seem the most beautiful I’d ever heard? A symphony without violins or violas; instead, the human choral voices like massed strings come alive.
What richness, this inherited wealth, accessible even to those in poverty. (Speaking here of poverty American-style, not the poverty of famine, plague and war.) Yet there are millions, hundreds of millions who don’t realize they’ve won the Lottery, that they have only to claim it. As politics is reduced to a sports contest—cricket at best, Pro Rassling at worst—our cultural richness has become a kind of tribal T-shirt that simply identifies what team we’re on. If we listen to classical music, we’re the Jets; if we tune into country-western, we’re the Packers; if we crank up a 100-decibel wall of noise that shatters your ribs, we’ve transcended the paradigm.
Not speaking only of arts as cultural wealth: we can find enjoyment, even joy, in the miraculous understandings of science, technology, the study of history, the workings of the body, on and on. Religion even, when it serves to expand the soul, not shrink it to the dimensions of a slug. And joy, even tiny blurts of joy, will get us through some very long slogs in the swamp.
I may be projecting an elitist perspective in giving higher value to Stravinsky than to being hunched over the iPod for two hours blasting crooks or aliens: let me not demean others’ addictions. I only grieve that so many people live with shrunken horizons. My mother loved to go dancing and she loved taking trips and she loved seeing her grandkids—worthy things all, but that was just about it. When those weren’t available, she was home doing housework and staring at the TV hoping someone would sing a song she knew from her youth. To step into my world, or even the worlds of other working-class fandom, would have been like venturing into the Congo. I remember, growing up, when she would plant a row of four-o’clocks along our driveway. Early evening the small trumpet flowers would open, and giant hummingbird moths would come to dine. Planting those flowers was of great importance to her, but I can’t recall ever seeing her look at them.
What is it that constricts our hearing and our vision?
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© Bishop & Fuller 2016