Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Orbital Mechanics

Last night I stayed up way too late. I'm claiming that it's training for when the baby comes, a claim I'll make under oath if necessary. I made the mistake of downloading Bach's Art of the Fugue just before going to bed. I've wanted this piece, pieces really, for a while now. I have a small book of the sheet music for it that I've been looking at for almost a year and it was time to see if it sounded like I imagined it did.

I ended up staying up until 3am listening as I read along. These pieces are scored with four separate melody parts but there's debate as to what instruments should play each part, Bach never said apparently. I bought one of the more common arrangements for string quartet. I found that reading one of the inner voices as it played, either the second violin or the viola, gave me a whole new way of hearing this kind of music.

Contrapuntal music is pretty busy stuff by and large, and fugues can be very complicated indeed. When three or four melodies are playing at once I find that my ear bounces from one instrument to the next depending on how prominent it is in the mix and how active the part is. By listening to just one of the inner voices I found myself being able to hear the piece as whole. The bass and 1st violin parts being the lowest and highest stand out naturally so this makes sense.

I could hear, at least most of the time, all three of these parts at once, as separate melodies even while they were being played at the same time. This is something I've been trying to do since I read in music school that it was probable that people in medieval times heard music this way. Some scholars think that they didn't hear the harmony, the way notes sound when played at the same time, as dominantly as we do today. Or at least it wasn't important to them. Bach the senior's contrapuntal music is the most sophisticated expression of this even though he used the harmony rules that we still use today.

It was one of those moments when suddenly something that had been difficult became easy. I've been having a lot of those moments lately.

It's not much of a secret that I never really wanted children. I tried a number of arguments with the LUC: financial, environmental and so on to discourage the idea. None of it flew. Possibly because the real reason I didn't want to father a child wasn't really any of these. No, the real reason was that the very idea scared the living crap out of me. I'm a worrier who possesses an active imagination that was only too happy to provided me with no end of parental disasters.

That changed with Owen's death and the LUC's pregnancy. You'd think that such a tragedy at such a time would make me worse. After all, there's nothing like seeing fears come true to encourage the chronically pessimistic. But as I said before, even a short life well lived is worth it. This is one of those points were I wish I was a great writer. I wish I could craft a phrase that conveyed just how a profound a change this is for me. A simple phrase that would leave you the reader feeling as at peace as I do with the fact that my child will someday die. Ah well, there's nothing to do but blither away.

My father died when I was in my early teens. I was the one who recognized that Dad wasn't asleep on the couch, that he wasn't breathing. Death is not an abstract thing to me. It was a very real terror for many, many years. The nihilism of the of the 80's punk culture found fertile ground in me, despite never completely buying into all the rules and uniforms that went along with it. A "What's the point? We're all going to die no matter what we do." attitude informed most of my actions.

It ran deep enough that when the Soviet Union collapsed and it became clear that a nuclear war wasn't likely to happen in my lifetime, well, I was pissed off. Pissed off enough to write a song about it. "I thought they'd burn us all with a piece of the sun, now I know it'll happen one by one. I miss the end of the world." was how the chorus went. I meant it. I was comforted by the thought that when I went out, everyone else would be coming with me.

As life went on (And on, and on, and on. Honestly. How the hell did become 40?) I began to get a handle on my depression. Well, mostly anyway, I still lose the occasional battle for all that I seem to be winning the war. For the most part my nihilism faded into the background, not gone entirely, but not informing so much of my world view as it once did.

That was pretty much the state of things for the last few years.

[Hmmm, reading over this I realize I haven't strained a metaphor yet. We can't have that. I mean, if they don't get strained they're going to go all flabby and there's nothing worse than a pudgy metaphor.]

The arc my life made through the heavens had been changing every so slowly over the years. It had been curving its solitary path away from the dark empty and towards... well, what exactly I couldn't see. I met the LUC and the arc doubled and tightened, the destination was still unclear but the velocity increased. Suddenly out of nowhere came the twin planets of Owen's death and the LUC's pregnancy. These two massive bodies with gravity inexorable have grabbed and flung me on a new course. For the first time in my life I can see where I'm going. Fatherhood. Family. Life. Life, wow, life. It's there, stretching ahead of me, all the way to death. Mine, the LUC's and even our unnamed babe's and that is more than OK, it's perfect. You see, that end is just one tiny point on the journey. Of course you see, the thing that's filling me with wonder to point of bursting is that now I see it too.

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