I've been on leave for the past few months. Time off work, this could have been spent blogging endlessly, working out ideas. Expanding my craft. I did post many witty and persuasive political updates to facebook (perhaps you saw?): but no blog posts.
I did read a lot. I did also explore the musical possibilities of my iPad ( new album coming, The Larkin Project).
Mostly, it turns out that what I wanted to do was practice piano. The pleasure of regaining some fingers seemed fair for the irritation I went through with drainage pipes in my chest. I banged my way through chunks of Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time.
[Open request: all I want for my 40th birthday is to read through the Messiaen. If you play any combination of violin, cello and clarinet, and would be interested in a reading session, let me know.
Full disclosure: my 40th birthday was not this year.]
Anyway. I otherwise occupied myself by drinking blueberry tea, walking the dogs, and reading absolutely everything ever published on the Internet.
Towards the end of my leave, I had the chance to speak with the Space Arts seminar at Carnegie Mellon University. It was a free form discussion: we talked about space, art, "space" and "the arts", art in space, space art. I played some music, including the first of The Scratch Pieces. At the end of the session, when asked for final comments, one of the students came up with something that I'm really glad to have been able to think about. He asked why I would keep doing this when nobody cares. I'm only paraphrasing a bit, and while I admit that the aesthetics behind The Scratch Pieces is unrelenting, pushing towards unbearable, the thought is worth broader consideration. Let's suppose he meant to ask why write? Why write at all?
Here's what I said.
The greatest gift we can be given is to be given a Question. Not a question about whether anyone is listening. A Question that precipitates from the unknown, an accretion of meaning. A Question that becomes a companion.
Questions, really good ones, dont have an answer. But an Assignment does. Around the Question is an Intimation. Intimations become Problems. Problems beget Assignments. Assignments do have an answer that usually requires the honing of a Craft.
Maybe it all starts with a feeling. What is Love, Given and Received? Why do things last so little? Can you sing the blues? An intimation of the human form outside of the physical. I think most of what I write is trying to understand what the hell that was, when what "that" was is something less substantial than a sensation recalled. There are lots of Assignments that come just from this, plenty enough to keep engaged. Can I erase sound? What are the aesthetics of adumbration? Is there a sonic representation outside of time?
Comes with this an immense pleasure, practically tactile, engagement with the mind. Awareness that the mind extends out beyond this cubicle, these classroom walls. It really does, this: extend out with intoxicating demands and Byzantine rewards. We would all be fools not to try.
That is what I said, then, in response to the question in Lowry's seminar.
(There are also good questions that are best addressed early and then not fretted over. Am I a cat person or a dog? Rent or buy? Should I have finished that PhD? Struggle with these until age 37, then assume that you're doing exactly what you want.)