Tabula Rasa

Arvo Pärt at 36,000 ft.
The voices of the strings weave
Through the air, rise and fall, play
Against each other.

Outside, the clouds
Mingle and separate, fall away
Beneath us, behind us.

Just as time
And music fade
Into silence.

To live without expectation,
The future as a blank slate,
To engage with what comes
As it comes
In its own time.

Trying to imagine that.
Knowing that we expect the future
To resemble the past.

The batter looking for a fastball
Doesn’t recognize the change up, and swings through it, surprised.

The point where the patterns intersect,
The point where the patterns disperse,
Here the mind is free to play.

Fullness and emptiness have the same rules.

Your plans cannot escape these rules, or contain them.
This is the first rule.

It doesn’t matter that you don’t acknowledge the rules.
This is the second rule.

I never expect the face in the mirror.
Recognize it, of course. Know it’s mine.
But it surprises me every time
Like a note played off key
Or an off-speed pitch.

The difference between knowledge and expectation:
We all know we will die. And yet death arrives unexpected.

The number of times I watched my father’s head
Move through shades of red and purple
As he coughed at the dinner table, then lit a cigarette.

And yet it was years later, and something else entirely.
I watched him slip quietly into Silentium, all the machines switched off.
I was utterly unprepared.


©  Mark Milner, 2017

Lend me your ears…

Nietzsche once wrote that “without music, life would be a mistake.” Some people likely think that was an example of hyperbole (which Nietzsche was prone to). I am not one of those people.

Since I was a baby, there has been music. My father loved jazz, gospel, calypso, country and western, and bagpipe music. An eclectic mix, to say the least. On long drives to visit family on Vancouver Island, I recall hearing Louis Armstrong, Harry Belafonte, and Johnny Cash coming from the 8-track deck mounted under the dash. Every Christmas, he played Mahalia Jackson’s renditions of “O, Holy Night” and “Go Tell It On the Mountain.”

One of the things I’ve inherited from my father is a varied taste in music, and a near obsessive need to have my hours filled with it. Jazz, Classical, Folk, Rock, Blues, Ska, Funk. The genre almost doesn’t matter. (Although, I mostly don’t like radio songs or club music, or anything that seems to lack originality.)

Even within a genre like “Rock”, there is a wide variety styles I like. Classic Rock, old Heavy Metal, Progressive Rock, New Wave, Punk, et cetera. I expect most of my playlists would leave others confused.

There are favourites, of course. Music I listen to more frequently, more repeatedly, and this tends to change over time. I used to listen to Beethoven obsessively, but now, when I listen to classical music, it is more likely be Bach or Arvo Part. In jazz, I have become more attuned to Coletrane and Sonny Rollins of late, though I still listen to a lot of Miles. In rock, there’s no one I listen to more than Rush these days, especially the remixed Vapour Trails. Although, Peter Gabriel is a close second, and my appreciation of the Rolling Stones has been increasing.

I can’t imagine not being able to listen to music for any length of time. When I was a child, I would sing to myself if I didn’t have a radio or record player handy. I still do this when I’m riding my motorcycle. (It’s a good thing others don’t have to hear what goes on inside my helmet!)

For this reason, I think hearing is the sense I’d have the hardest time living without. Although, I can hear whole symphonies in my head, in the way others can picture a beach. So maybe it wouldn’t be the end of the world to be without hearing, since I’d still have music. If that were to go, though, I think Nietzsche is right: life would be a mistake.