archipelagos and icons: time cartography

This post is part confession and part sharing what I have learned this summer. The lesson is one that I think everyone learns, so I hope the reading isn’t too dull.

Until not very long ago, without really realizing it for what it was, I think I took pride in how I kept myself busy. Being busy means that I am working, learning, and pushing myself. While, in a balanced life, these are all good things, busyness can evolve into a virtue that I think we I subconsciously pursue for its own sake. At its worst, busyness becomes exhibitionist and masochistic, which in turn can lead to a a perverse sense of pride: “I’m doing all of this and I’m still standing. Aren’t I wonderful?” I realize that in writing about it I risk playing this game, but I write with the desire to respectfully return my ticket to play.

Part of busyness is, of course, scheduling. I came into this summer with a full time job through my school, an internship with a literary journal, an agreement to index the new book of a professor, and the desire to plan a campus-wide discussion for next year. All of them are, in and of themselves, good things, good experiences, with good people. All of them have taught me skills that I will need later in life.

What exhausts me is not necessarily my inability to keep track of all of these things. I don’t wander blindly through these time commitments—my Google Calendar guides me. In the same way that a map helps in navigating a foreign city or highway system, a calendar helps in navigating  time: it is an exercise in time cartography. I can open up the Google Calendar and see the archipelago of obligation I’ve constructed for myself: green rectangular islands on an expanse of white with an overlay of measured lines. The islands, separated by little inlets and rivers I use for quick navigation, tend to cluster on the weekdays, but they frequently spill over onto Saturday and Sabbath.

calendar

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im abendrot

In orchestra recently we have been working on Strauss’ Four Last Songs, for soprano and orchestra. The words sung by the soprano are poems. Herman Hesse, a German-Swiss poet who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1946, supplied the first three. The final song, “Im Abendrot” is a poem from an earlier German romantic writer named Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff (1788-1857). While all of the songs have a grandeur to them, “Im Abendrot” in particular draws my imagination out to explore.

I don’t speak or understand German, so my initial impression of the song was based purely on the melody of the soprano line and the orchestral accompaniment. Actually, my initial impression came from our orchestra’s first rehearsal of the song, without the soprano at all. After several weeks of playing it in orchestra, “Im Abendrot” had furrowed into my brain. I finally looked it up on Youtube to find recordings of it by many sopranos, including Renee Fleming, Kiri Te Kanawa, and Jessye Norman. After listening to a couple of recordings I looked up the lyrics.

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#29 (with you)

bend oh bend my child
hear my will and bow
beneath the clouds of Seattle
for I am with you now

remember who I made you
remember your birth mark
the stamp of love I gave you
the flick’ring crimson spark

find rest in me my child
I’ll hold you in the night
beneath the clouds of Seattle
and watch your dreams alight