The Other End of Sunset

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Just another in a long series

Well, it seems like I should blog some more about Mexico. It’s been pretty cool – both metaphorically and atmospherically. Like as in, I'm wearing pants and covered in a blanket right now. I'm back on that patio, in the dark, listening to the waves crash on the shore.

Can’t really say that this is a bad life, yes?

The other night, I left some fruit out on the patio. Those raccoons came and helped themselves to it. I don’t mind sharing, in general, but they were messy! Left pits and juice and fruit bits all over the floor. I was a little annoyed about that.

And besides, I'm not a great sharer, actually. But don’t tell anyone. It’s a secret.

I came back from dinner just as the last guy was getting his pound of flesh – pear flesh, that is (and carefully leaving the juice behind, as the story requires). He was probably more shocked to see me than I was to see him – he didn’t seem too taken with me at first. But then, after a moment, he decided I was harmless, bent back down to grab the fruit, and calmly sauntered off, stage left.

Yeah, right, sure I'm intimidating -- I'm so scary that raccoons don’t even take me seriously. I am Walter Mitty. Or Francis Macomber. But, unfortunately, I am not Thomas Becket.

Anyway, the next night, I was hanging out on the patio, having some wine, listening to the surf (can you sense a trend here? Yes, indeed, you ARE the smart one!) That oh-so-brave raccoon walked back into view – from stage right this time – and walked up to the edge of the patio.

Dude, are you kidding me? I'm a big human, you are a rodent – you should be afraid.

Then I remembered Arkansas. Lots of discussion of weird animals in Arkansas… and that doesn’t count talking about the neighbors with the odd extra digits. Nope, I remembered the whole “animals that aren’t afraid may have rabies” thing that they taught us, seemingly nonstop. Tornado drills and rabid rodentia made up a large portion of my youth. But that’s irrelevant at the moment.

In this case, I decided it was possible the little guy had rabies, and was dangerous. So I jumped up and made a noise. He just looked at me.

In fact, I could have sworn I heard him say, with a little drawl, “Go ahead, make my day! You feeling lucky, pink?”

Hmm, now what?

I had a lighter, for the cigar I was having (yes, yes, bad Douglas, whatever). I threw the lighter onto the floor. It bounced off the floor – making a huge noise – and flew directly at the little bandit. He caught it.

Well, he doesn’t have opposable thumbs so he couldn’t really “catch” it, but he batted it down with his front paw as expertly as any Major League ballplayer.

Ok, I had to admit it. At that point I had been truly outclassed. Beaten like a drum. Recognizing his victory, he calmly left the field, with a slight swagger in his walk. The kind of swagger that the football captain has after a really good date with the head cheerleader.

Basically, he won. He might have been dangerous, or harmless, I don’t know. But man, oh man, was he lovely. Great to look at, with his sleek fur and little black bandit mask over his eyes. Clean and well coiffed. Lovely.

In my experience, most of the very dangerous things in life are lovely. And most of the lovely things are dangerous, in one way or another.

A life lesson worth remembering.

The coolest thing about this trip has been the huge variance of life forms. The flora is fairly predictable – palm trees, mostly – but the fauna is fascinating. There are at least three different kinds of crabs that you see on the beach at sunset. Hermit crabs – each carrying its house on its back, Sisyphean in their efforts to find food. Little midget crabs that are almost clear, but resemble ticks recreated by a warped god who didn’t know which document side to put face down on the copy machine. And my favorite – the sand crabs. They are about the size of crawdads (crayfish, to you city folk). Those guys can MOVE, scurrying sideways so fast that it’s hard to get a photo of them. They are hawk-targets – the birds swoop down to grab them with little warning. But the little guys don’t seem to care; they just scurry along the waterline hanging out, getting some sun. I'm pretty sure they are whistling little Rasta songs as they skitter around – it’s the only way they could be so cool under the circumstances.

And crabs aren’t the only cool fauna. There are birds too. Those same birds that hunt my little crab-buddies also circle on the updrafts near the sea and rocks. I have never been so close to a wild hawk as here – maybe 10 feet, as it took wing from the sand to soar, to fly and find its meal, or mate, or meaning.

Did you ever wonder what it feels like to fly? Not in a plane, a passenger being hurtled through space by Pratt and Whitney, but rather an active participant. You have individual wingtip feathers, each able to move independently from the others, capturing the slightest little eddy, and a view of the world that is somehow more abstracted and smooth, and less detailed and… well.. real.

In the evening, wherever I looked on the beach, I could see crabs moving. It’s a little crab playground. They leave trails that like bicycle tires tracks around the beach. In fact, at first, I thought some moron was riding a bike around there, at night. I was wrong – no bikes. Just beasts with bearing. Where are they all going? What leads them in one path or another? Do they know when they have “arrived”?

There are places where all the tracks come together. Sometimes ten different tracks all cross the same point. Did they all meet and have a little powwow? A vote maybe? The Ms. Crab Beach contest? Or is that spot some chaotic strange attractor? I don’t know, but I wonder. Who knows what evil lurks in the minds of crabs? The shadow knows.

I sat there, on my little shaded patio, watching this drama for hours – this pointless drama captivated me. I'm not fond of pointless drama, generally – other than my delirious joy at each new Bush “investigation” of our current Administration’s corruption or failure. That pointless drama compels me. But other than that, I like plot.

I also like lyrics – how do people listen to music that has no words? What do you do with your brain during that time? I'm missing that part of musical understanding.

Why are you so petrified of silence?
Here, can you handle this?
[pause]
Did you think about your bills, your ex, your deadlines
Or when you think you’re gonna die?
Or did you long for the next distraction
--Alanis Morissette


In my first post from Mexico, I lamented my iPod-less-ness. It turned out that SL had her little blue engraved one. Ah, the bliss! I practically danced a jig – I guess I could have done so, nobody would have noticed, the place was a ghost town. Well, actually, I couldn’t have, because I have less physical talent than anyone you have ever known – when I dance, people bring out Epi-Pens to treat whatever allergy is causing me to have seizures. But that’s beside the point, I was talking about rhythmic rapture, and the iPod.

Want to hear something funny? I never turned it on. I checked my email a few times each day – which was a bad idea, actually – but I got into a pattern that didn’t include wearing a watch, or really knowing what day it was. My watch is one of those that winds itself based on the movement of your hands. You know the kind I mean? It ran out of juice and I had to reset it.

What a great problem to have.

It never occurred to me that such decadence could be enjoyable. It feels totally decadent not to carry a cell phone, nor get up for work, nor generally react to someone else’s time frame. Whatever happened next, happened next, and it didn’t matter. There was nothing to fill the hours. The hours passed -- full or empty, they passed nonetheless.

I loved it. What should I learn about myself thereby?

I have an advisor who is trying to teach me “mindfulness”. I think you can do a web search for materials on it, if you are interested. I haven’t. The general idea is for me to … well… relax.

Sounds pathetic, actually, now that I write it down. Lord I'm a loser. Who needs help relaxing? Anyway, apparently I do.

One of the things my coach tells me is to spend time in silence, paying attention to my body and how I feel. It seems silly – who cares what the feeling of wind on my face is? Or the pattern of pressure of the chair on my legs? Nobody dies as a result of these things, why waste time thinking about them?

I got the opportunity to practice this mindfulness a lot in Mexico. I usually wake far earlier than everyone around me. With no books or stuff to distract me, I would just sit on the patio, covered in blankets, watching the light filter into our little cove, the whitecaps turning the color of really deep powder snow – you know, that blue-ish color – as the light first comes over the hills. Then, the resort workers began their morning chores – setting up the chairs that remained empty all day long, cleaning the abandoned pool, trimming the grass, and the like. This little phase was the local rush hour, to be followed by more… nothing. The transitions were quick and sure and fun for me to observe.

But mostly I sat there alone and quiet. Breathing the air, hearing the birds, saying hello to my crab friends. Being. Not being anything, just being.

Enjoy the silence
--Depeche Mode


I'm on the plane now, heading back. I'm not really sure I want to arrive. I already miss that feeling of… freedom.

But I am mindful of the airplane seat, and the air on my curls, and my love and my loss. That’s another step.

And one step at a time.

3 Comments:

  • On a side note here, I sometimes feel like the lone ranger posting to your blog, though I gather others do post, just not publicly (?). Why is that?

    Have you heard of, or have read the Course in Miracles? I’ve only recently been introduced to this work. It’s a little weird and intense. The author’s esoteric tenet, “Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists. Herein lies the peace of God” is challenging in and of itself (at least for me). Though I’m not religious, and I’m neither endorsing nor not endorsing these lessons, you could say my attraction stems from the abstruseness, & I suppose curious if indeed the lessons are mind-altering, which is something I am very interested in.

    Anyway, it’s great your tone is more upbeat and even with a hint of frivolity (at least where raccoons are concerned).

    By Blogger Lena, at 12:36 PM  

  • My freshman college roommate and I bonded over music, among other things. Tool, in particular, and A Perfect Circle. To be fair, you could skip to the chase and say we bonded over Maynard James Keenan.

    We appreciated both bands deeply, but we quickly noticed that we appreciated fundamentally different things. He was inspired by Maynard's lyrics; they're poetic, disturbing, and wryly amusing all at once. I marvelled at the drummer's unsettling, byantine rhythyms, and at the bassist's delicate balance between harmony and noise. A Perfect Circle was very different, but we bonded over its constituent parts in the same way.

    As a long time classical pianist, I can happily, if needlessly, reassure you. The non-lyrical part of music still has substance. On the contrary, I think most instrumental music has far more substance than the music part of lyrical music. (Gershwin, and jazz in general, may be an exception. Maybe opera, too, but I avoid that like the plague, so I wouldn't know.)

    Music also has at least a few different orthogonal dimensions, just like lyrics. You pay attention to the meaning of the words in lyrics, but also their rhythym and aesthetics, right? Same with music. I love lots of pieces for themselves - Debussy's La Mer, Barber's Agnus Dei, Imogen Heap's Hide and Seek - but I also love listening to the arrangement, the interpretation, the performance.

    OK, bringing it back to lyrics. You've heard the so-called Phish remix of Dr. Dre's Gin and Juice, right? Or Jonathan Coulton's cover of Sir Mix-a-Lot's Baby Got Back? Same words as the originals, but man, vive le difference, huh? That's some quality orthogonal dimensions right there.

    Anyway. You knew all that. You were asking, what do you do when you listen to music without words? Personally, I do the same thing that you probably do when you listen to music with words. Absorb it. Turn it over in your head. Compare it to other pieces by the same composer. Compare it to other pieces, other composers. Listen for individual layers, voices, instruments. Try to trace the music back to events in the composer's life, or the performance to the orchestra's.

    At least, that's the idea. I'm usually lucky if I get past the "turn it over in my head" stage. Still, I just heard Mozart and Sibelius at the symphony, so you can probably chalk all this up to nostalgia, because I love Sibelius, especially live, and because it's past the halfway point of the season.

    ...and because I miss the piano. I have low-grade RSI, and playing piano is even worse on hands than typing. The RSI isn't bad, but still, I'm working hard to keep it that way, so I can't really play. I have to go with the whole bread-winning thing.

    Instead, I listen to music I used to play. I listen to music I hoped to play one day. I go to the symphony. And I sit here and log a few thousand unnecessary keystrokes on my hands' odometers. Perverse, huh?

    By Blogger Ryan, at 1:22 AM  

  • My freshman college roommate and I bonded over music, among other things. Tool, in particular, and A Perfect Circle. To be fair, you could skip to the chase and say we bonded over Maynard James Keenan.

    We appreciated both bands deeply, but we quickly noticed that we appreciated fundamentally different things. He was inspired by Maynard's lyrics; they're poetic, disturbing, and wryly amusing all at once. I marvelled at the drummer's unsettling, byantine rhythyms, and at the bassist's delicate balance between harmony and noise. A Perfect Circle was very different, but we bonded over its constituent parts in the same way.

    As a long time classical pianist, I can happily, if needlessly, reassure you. The non-lyrical part of music still has substance. On the contrary, I think most instrumental music has far more substance than the music part of lyrical music. (Gershwin, and jazz in general, may be an exception. Maybe opera, too, but I avoid that like the plague, so I wouldn't know.)

    Music also has at least a few different orthogonal dimensions, just like lyrics. You pay attention to the meaning of the words in lyrics, but also their rhythym and aesthetics, right? Same with music. I love lots of pieces for themselves - Debussy's La Mer, Barber's Agnus Dei, Imogen Heap's Hide and Seek - but I also love listening to the arrangement, the interpretation, the performance.

    OK, bringing it back to lyrics. You've heard the so-called Phish remix of Dr. Dre's Gin and Juice, right? Or Jonathan Coulton's cover of Sir Mix-a-Lot's Baby Got Back? Same words as the originals, but man, vive le difference, huh? That's some quality orthogonal dimensions right there.

    Anyway. You knew all that. You were asking, what do you do when you listen to music without words? Personally, I do the same thing that you probably do when you listen to music with words. Absorb it. Turn it over in your head. Compare it to other pieces by the same composer. Compare it to other pieces, other composers. Listen for individual layers, voices, instruments. Try to trace the music back to events in the composer's life, or the performance to the orchestra's.

    At least, that's the idea. I'm usually lucky if I get past the "turn it over in my head" stage. Still, I just heard Mozart and Sibelius at the symphony, so you can probably chalk all this up to nostalgia, because I love Sibelius, especially live, and because it's past the halfway point of the season.

    ...and because I miss the piano. I have low-grade RSI, and playing piano is even worse on hands than typing. The RSI isn't bad, but still, I'm working hard to keep it that way, so I can't really play. I have to go with the whole bread-winning thing.

    Instead, I listen to music I used to play. I listen to music I hoped to play one day. I go to the symphony. And I sit here and log a few thousand unnecessary keystrokes on my hands' odometers. Perverse, huh?

    By Blogger Ryan, at 1:22 AM  

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