Tuesday, November 19, 2013

An Ineluctable Modality: Chapter 19

An Ineluctable Modality is a novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo's 2013 Challenge where the goal was to write 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November. This year, I wrote a novel-in-blog-posts: you can read the previous chapter, here.

= = = = = = =

It was mid-afternoon when I thought I'd go for a walk, see if I could hike the mile up to the observation deck on Mount Agamemnon and look out over the valley – there is the sea in one direction, New Hampshire's White Mountains in another. The sky has been changing back and forth from overcast with a thick gray covering to a mottled mosaic of sky and muscular clouds. After the weekend's fog and yesterday's dispiriting rain, I needed to get out of the house and blow the fog out of my brain, get the blood pumping again.

When I first moved here, that observation deck had been a favorite goal for morning walks – but lately, I've been slacking off with the colder weather, just walking a little around town when I'd drive in to the store or the library (not very much of a walk, at that), or occasionally up the road a bit. Only recently had I started to get myself back in to the habit of walking: "bodies at rest tend to stay at rest."

If nothing else, I would walk as far as the turn-off that leads to the top, then turn around: that would still be better than what I've been doing lately. The last quarter mile is pretty steep: I was thinking maybe I should drive up to the old lodge and walk around one of the well-marked trails, there. Pretty late in the day for that, though.

Besides, these past few days, everything had been so pent up, I needed the exercise. Stephen had laughed when I told him last summer I was thinking of buying a treadmill. "With all those mountain roads to walk on?" He thought it was a wasted investment. I was thinking about being cooped up for the winter. This way, I could go for walks without worrying about the cold or running into people.

It had also been a bad night of dreams, nothing I could blame on dinner – microwaved salmon and formerly frozen vegetables with rice, hardly indigestion inducing – nor probably on Sybil's phone call. It didn't seem to have much bearing on news of Old Nestor, still nothing conclusive. It was just time, I guess: it had been a while since I'd had bad dreams – years, since the last nightmare I could remember; and the worst ones, not long after the heart attack.

This wasn't something I needed to get off my chest, but walking it off, even this late in the day, would not hurt. Even without being able to recall what happened – or didn't happen – it was still the unnerving quality of the atmosphere it created, the residue. I remember my mother putting in an appearance, but I can't recall what her role in all this was.

Often, I would wake up in the middle of the night, unable to get back to sleep and find myself in a whirlpool of anxiety – health issues, living alone, growing old, falling down the steps and not being found for days, maybe weeks.

When was the last time a visitor stopped by? Other than Sybil who might not feel the need to drop by unannounced now that she's found a new boyfriend.

There were times, especially when I was composing, I didn't mind getting up an hour before sunrise, scuffling about with my coffee and oatmeal before settling in by the piano. These could be very productive hours – used to be, waking up before Madeleine, before Stephen would be getting ready for school, before the neighbors would be a bother. Here, no one would notice me if I started writing at 5 o'clock, but I stretched out on the old day bed (my pose of inspiration, waiting) without any thoughts coming to mind. Even the dream I'd had refused to knock for admittance but that was probably just as well. And so I started to read – there was a biography of Schumann on top of the pile but reading about his impending insanity was not very helpful and so I put it aside: at least, at this point in my life, I had already outlived him by nineteen years.

Eventually, wandering downstairs for another cup of coffee as the light began to break through the clouds, I went on-line, avoiding things like e-mail and Facebook. Too early to start writing in my blog – what was the point? – but it intrigued me, thinking about someone like Schumann who, at the suggestion of his friends Florestan and Eusebius, might have taken an on-line test to determine whether he was right-brained or left-brained.

It had been a few years since I'd taken one of these, whether they're bogus or not, as a friend of mine used to say, so I thought I would seek one out and see how I'd fare this time. In the past, I was slightly more right-brained than left and that seemed to be borne out in my music: trying to find a balance between the heart and the mind even if most of my friends thought it was too "brainy" for them.

This one seemed more thorough than some of the ones from the past, more questions, many of which seemed oddly irrelevant. I'm not sure this made it better but the fact that it repeated several questions with different wordings gave it an appearance of professionalism.

To my great surprise, my final score was 74% right-brained (more spontaneous) to 26% left-brained (more logical). I took it again and the score was only slightly different, adding only a couple points to the left side.

What had changed since the last time I'd taken this, when I was more evenly balanced? That had been, probably, not long after I'd moved to Maine, one of the most right-brained actions in my life, so far. I had become more relaxed, certainly, less reliant on schedule though I still kept to a vague sense of schedule. When I found myself retired – not exactly forced into it but close enough that I had not gone willingly – I figured the pendulum might swing away from the center, the modality of the obvious, but this wasn't the case, didn't seem to be.

Perhaps being tied down to an academic viewpoint had smothered my real voice, but I kept writing much in the same style, despite some friends (those who bothered to comment on the works I showed them) who saw it becoming more linear than harmonically oriented. To me, it was a logical outgrowth, nothing to do with having retired or having more time to compose. It certainly had nothing to do with coming to terms with a life-threatening, near-death experience or dealing with the loss of Madeleine a few years before that.

At the time, I found myself dwelling on things I hadn't done – not things like traveling which didn't particularly interest me (or Madeleine, either, really) – but taking certain risks about my music, writing things that might have been impractical even if I was having trouble getting the more pragmatic works I'd done performed. I wanted to write an opera – always had – but why, at this stage of my life, and who would perform it?

"Live all you can," I heard echoing in my mind, all the way from Gloriani's garden, "it's a mistake not to." Good advice too late for someone like me, I thought, as if I hadn't done so much in particular, if in fact I'd had my life.

Was the life I had not the life I could have had? If I had done something different somewhere, found a point where I might have taken another path, not made what Strether called "my mistake," where would I be now? Would I have met Madeleine or married someone else and been any happier? Would I have had a son who would still be Stephen and a daughter who might have survived her childhood?

But where would that put me, if I'd taken the advice from an older composer I'd met in New York that summer named Michael Henchard or something – I was 23, then, and he seemed quite the character, sounding like some washed-out hippie, a drug-addled old man who'd gone off to "find yourself." I couldn't say it helped him much, but wasn't that the point? If he hadn't done that, what then?

Advice – something offered, something listened to, examined and, usually, ignored, only meant to give you another viewpoint, suggestions, an idea of other possibilities. Was it any different from the advice Old Nestor offered those who came to him?

Did Nestor, perhaps despondent over the failure of his advice to help anyone, throw himself into the sea? Was suicide still the only question that mattered against the meaninglessness of life? Ctrl, Alt, Delete – done.

The air is crisp, not too cool but today I'm properly dressed for it, for this walk. No sweat. Like all things personal, with this particular odyssey, the road in springtime drifts over with mud which, in time, in summer, wears down into ruts which before long, in winter, fill up with leaves like fallen hopes, clogged with ice and difficult to walk upon. If I remember my Spengler, this also works for cultures, too, for what we call civilization, but I digress.

We are in the Faustian winter of the world, the decline (this untergang) of Western Man who tragically strives to create, knowing (like Achilles chasing his tortoise) that the goal can never be reached. Is the ship in sight, off-shore? Is it ready to sail? Three-master, I close my eyes to see.

On the road to a dream less traveled, who should be my guide – experience? fantasy? – overcoming long exhausted images from the past, nearly forgotten, carefully edited and amended, out of which I renew myself. Constantly renewing, maturing, re-inventing, coming to terms and at the same time afraid to loosen my grip. "Don't be afraid," I tell myself.

But I think however I may have misjudged myself today, too late to start, too long beneath the trees, behind, beyond, before I even see the summit of my goal.

It is a journey long becalmed, sails unfurled but useless, waiting. There have been some roadblocks on this journey that, not struggling to climb around them (without Madeleine), I follow some other path of less resistance toward what hopes to be the same inevitable goal. The speed bumps on the way have been less problematic, distracting all the same (Sybil), a bumpy ride and jarring. Hurry.

Moving to Maine had been one such unexpected singularity, away from the familiar to find escape in the unknown. A risk? A detour in my journey, certainly. I look out from the village at the great sea beyond, the limitless diaphane unknowable; invisible from behind my woods, here, the sea unseeable. That does not stop the arrival of the ship – my ship, perhaps: the same, Pater Hemon?

It is where the proof of burden lies, among the reasonable doubts five fathoms down – Charybdis knows the place. How often have I come here before, beyond Scylla's rock along the path? But the sun is setting, quickly now – that time of year. Hurry.

I can neither stay nor stagnate here, the one long crepuscular fabric of night's onset which I'm sure others from the village see – do they see it as I see it?

It is the modality of the audible, sound through my ears, signature of all things I have come to sing. "Shut your ears and hear" – I see myself nebeneinander falling over the cliff, ineluctably.

The path through these woods (familiar) is getting darker, sunset despite clear skies. I must get home, downhill, down the lane to the gate. Hurry.

It is the sound of time (tick tock) washing over me in apocalyptic tetrameter: horsemen pass – the wind, I hear the limit of the diaphane.

The light at the end of the lane, the house, a gate – a door refuses to open, a pain in my chest – Blue Peter. Hurry!

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

...to be continued...

Dick Strawser

No comments:

Post a Comment