Listen, this is a true story. I woke up this morning already half-humming something, the way you do when it feels like fadeout from a dream—something that’s already slipping away. But I listened harder—that Marcelian effort to make the madeleine give again and give more. I pulled up the anchor and pushed past the phrase, to find—of all things—the first two lines from the chorus of “I’m all out of love,” by Air Supply. (And no. I have not been listening to any Air Supply.)
After that, I sit down to write like I’m trying to write these days, these mornings—whatever comes and however it comes, as long as it’s a whole half-hour of it, before I step into my iron maiden of editing for the day. (And no. It’s not that bad.)
This morning I find myself writing around questions. Shades of Audre Lorde for sure. But closer to the surface, it’s Rilke. A friend wrote this week, confessing that in these six or seven or however-many months that she has given herself, a self-imposed sabbatical in which she had meant to write, she has not been writing. And so this morning, in thinking about her, I write around the question that Rilke gives, like a death-mask of a gift, to the young Kappus:
No one can advise or help you—no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart...
This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of the night: must I write?
I stop here, because the sand in my half-houred hourglass is almost out. And because for now anyway, some ideas feel untangled, like pieces of string whose length I can measure at last. I take a breath in my body and in some other places too. Find as I often do, that I don’t want to stop carving the blue letters into the bright paper. I count how many pages are left in this notebook (seven). A different kind of humming happens, a kind of folding away of thoughts.
And then suddenly, I think of a poem by Akhmatova. Or rather, I think of the way a poem by Akhmatova once made me feel, three Octobers ago—I’m standing in the space where the poem would be, if I remembered it. I grope for the title, keep coming up short. That feeling again, of something embedded like an anchor, at a great depth...
And so, like a new spell to break an old spell, I’m ready to stop writing. Because now all I want is to find and re-read that poem. But the link in my post from three Octobers ago is broken, and it takes me ages. All I can remember is that the title of the poem was a date—the nineteenth or the twenty-fifth of some day in May, perhaps? She is outside somewhere in a city—a square, perhaps?—at night. There are stars, perhaps. And she is speaking from the space beyond a belief in love.
I keep Googling the line “and I am sick,” because it feels to me like a line that was in the poem. And it seems like maybe Google thinks so too, because the autocomplete feature finishes it out for me straight away: “and I am sick at heart and terrified.” This sounds right to me, but in a moment I find out why. Because it’s from that scene in Doctor Zhivago. The one I meant to read to my father in that last week, and didn’t.
When you go to have a tooth out you’re frightened, it’ll hurt, you prepare yourself... But this isn’t a tooth... it’s the whole of you, your whole life... being pulled out... And what does it mean? Nobody knows... And I am sick at heart and terrified.
Finally I find the Akhmatova poem. And I find that I had the date in the title all wrong. It isn’t May. Or at any rate, she doesn’t mention the month. And it’s not the nineteenth or the twenty-fifth.
Twenty-first night. Monday.
Silhouette of the capital in darkness.
Some good-for-nothing—who knows why—
made up the tale that love exists on earth.
People believe it, maybe from laziness
or boredom, and live accordingly:
they wait eagerly for meetings,
fear parting, and when they sing,
they sing about love...
But the secret reveals itself to some
and on them, the silence settles down.
I found this out by accident
and now it seems I’m sick all the time.
[Santo Spirito, Firenze]
[lunedì 21 ottobre 2019 ore 16:11:02] [¶]
Today I write to a friend who’s elderly husband is going deaf (but refuses to admit it). I want to send her a link to an article I had read last week, that made me worry, about how deafness in the elderly can lead to loneliness—and more. In looking for the piece, I come across an NPR interview with a documentary film-maker and her mother and her son, about a film she’s just made, called Moonlight Sonata:
“Moonlight Sonata” is a film that explores the power of sound, silence and the closeness of generations, told in three movements, inspired by the piece of music that Beethoven wrote just as he began to go deaf. “Moonlight Sonata” premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and is now in theaters. It opens with Jonas Brodsky at the age of 11, the son of Irene Taylor Brodsky, the filmmaker. Jonas is deaf, like his grandparents Paul and Sally Taylor, and about to have a cochlear implant, as his grandparents did a few years before. And Jonas is learning how to play Beethoven's “Moonlight Sonata.”
The interview lasts less than ten minutes. It’s not especially good for telling you much about the film. There’s a Washington Post review that does that slightly better, with a lovely line about the how it explores the question of whether deafness — rather than a disability — is a kind of superpower. For example, for Brodsky’s grandfather, who was born deaf, the ability to remove his implants and return to soundlessness whenever, for instance, he is disturbed by a screaming infant, is a gift. (And here I think to myself: Dear Mr Brodsky, if you ever plan to visit the Via di Santo Spirito in Florence, know that the gift will come in very handy...)
But there’s a moment in the NPR interview. It’s just after little Jonas, too, has also admitted that he sometimes takes his implants off, because it’s definitely a way for me to have a little bit of peace and quiet, especially around my brothers. And because you can kind of just let your mind, like, focus on other things but, like, not on sound. This is where the host, Scott Simon, asks him about another situation in which he likes to take his implants off:
SIMON: You sometimes play the piano without your implants, don’t you?
SIMON: What do you enjoy about that?
JONAS: Like, you really can’t hear anything, so you can really just focus on the piano and focus on your emotions and what you’re putting into your piece.
I think of Salinger in his bunker. Van Gogh in his field. Dickinson in her garret. Pessoa in all his secret selves. It’s a little different, I know. Not quite as close to not hearing the sounds you are making, in the world and for the world.
I think too, a little tangentially, of the pianist Hélène Grimaud, and her remarkable ability to prepare without actually playing:
Mat Hennek, her current partner, remembers that one day, when he and Grimaud were first dating, they went shopping in Philadelphia and then to a Starbucks. At one point, he recalls, “I said to Hélène, ‘Hélène, you have a concert coming. Did you practice?’ And she said, ‘I played the piece two times in my head.’ ”
I think of Jeannie’s painter friend who cannot bear to part with her paintings. Who has spent her whole life working other jobs so that she will not have to sell them for money with which to buy her food and pay her rent.
I think again like I have before, but this time a little differently, of Jennifer Clement asking, “What would you write, if you knew that it would never be read?”
Like, you really can’t hear anything, so you can really just focus on the piano and focus on your emotions and what you’re putting into your piece.
I think of Keats and what it would mean, to really write words in water. What would happen if you wrote with an inkless pen? If you wrote words you couldn’t see? Just to have written them, and then they’re gone because they were never really there, not even for you. Like a piece of music you play for the first and only time in your head, and then it’s gone with the last note, except not even. Like putting paint on a canvas, except you’re not looking and will never see, and so it’s only and entirely about the feel of the movements you make with your arm, the lean of your body, the sweep of your hand.
Everything, but everything, is in the making.
[Santo Spirito, Firenze]
[domenica 13 ottobre 2019 ore 12:19:00] [¶]
Thich Nhat Hanh turns ninety-three years old today. I am not a particular fan of Thich Nhat Hanh, in the same way that I am not a fan of most people, institutions, or movements that claim to have all the answers or all the solutions. Especially when those people, institutions, or movements tend to suggest that those answers or solutions are, as Popova puts it in her typically effusive way, “simple by virtue of being true and sincere.” (I know, I know. Trust me to find a kind of arrogance, even in Buddhism.)
But still, under the category maybe of babies, bathwater, et cetera. There are some things he has said that I think are wells of meaning. Like this thing about loving and wounding.
Almost exactly a year ago today, I woke up in that way that I was waking up a lot last year—already mid-sentence among all the things I was already and always, always thinking—and I wrote this in my journal:
When someone you love is telling you how she would like to be treated. Is telling you what she needs you to do to make her feel loved, and what she needs you to stop doing, because it makes her feel unloved, and unimportant. Understand that this is a gift. (Understand that it may not be given again.) Think about how much easier it would be for this person, not to tell you these things. Not to try to explain them. And instead, to continue to let you keep hurting her.
This is someone who’s saying, “Here is this key that I have made for you. This is the key to a relationship with me that is as meaningful for me, as it can be.”
Do you want this key?
And almost exactly a year before that? Well.
[Santo Spirito, Firenze]
[venerdì 11 ottobre 2019 ore 12:10:17] [¶]