Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Evening at the Band Shell

My work day yesterday was stressful, to say the least, and by the time I walked home from the bus stop at 6:30,  the tension had crystalized in a painful burn in the junction between my neck and shoulders.

Wisely, my wife suggested that we make nice salads and go to the Lake Harriet bandshell to have a picnic dinner. 

About 60 minutes into the 90 minute concert, which featured a simple but skillful trio of bass player, violinist and guitarist playing old pop favorites, I felt the tension in my neck finally begin to loosen up.  Too tired to think, I blissfully stopped thinking. 

An odd, oblique and apparently random recognition came to me then, unbidden. Here is what occurred to me while listening to a pleasant rendition of "Norwegian Wood":

No music is ever created without the destruction of silence. 

This was a new expression of an ongoing intuition I have; namely, that almost everything about the way the world works can be explained as an expression of the ongoing dance between two strains of energy, one positive, the other negative.  Simultaneously, these energies are conflicting, opposing, and complementary.  They fight with one another, but also cannot exist without the other. 

Culturally, we describe these energies in different ways. Some people like to talk about the underlying male and female energies of the universe. Others might think in terms of creation vs. destruction, and for still others the dualism is between good and evil. My father in law insists you can divide the world into Chevy people and Ford people. My own father divides the world into Republicans and Democrats.

All these paradigms are different ways of describing the same basic truth, though, which is that there are opposite energies that exist in a constant dance with one another. 

The truth of this was clear to me last night, in my exhausted, thoughtless state. It was inherently obvious everywhere I turned my head. Up front near the stage, small children danced to an Irish jig, the very fact of their existence speaking to the creative power of the universe. Directly across from me, though, was a 65-year old man dressed in a muscle shirt that exposed a midriff that would be best kept covered. Relatively hale and hearty, but a lifetime of exposure to sun and simple life showed in his wrinkles, sagging skin, round belly. And this was the other half of the universal truth: creation always comes at the price of destruction. The fact of birth dictates the fact of aging and decay. A building cannot be constructed unless trees or clay are sacrificed for the building materials. A song cannot be born except at the sacrifice of silence. 

If we were not mortal, no children would ever joyfully dance a jig. 

My hunch is that a lot of human misery occurs because we can't quite get our heads around this truth. Often, I think, we would like to seize upon positive energy as belonging to us, and would like to banish negative energy altogether. Unfortunately, it can't be done. We suffer because with disagree with the inevitable—we disagree with what IS.  Upon getting sick, for example, we may react with bitter disagreement with this fact, and as a result we suffer unbearably. Or, we can perhaps accept decay and the truth of negative energy, and thereby eliminate a lot of suffering. 

It occurs to me that a fair definition of "art" might be that it is any human effort to articulate and communicate this universal drama between energies. In any case, when I think about works of literature or painting or sculpture that have moved me powerfully, they share this in common: creation and destruction are always dancing inside them.

In any case, for those few moments last night,  I gave up struggling against my black mood, and mused upon it as perhaps just a natural manifestation of negative energy seeking expression. Like the atmosphere needing to periodically discharge static energy through a lightning storm, perhaps our occasional moments of sorrow and woe really are nothing very serious at all. 

It's a place to start.

1 comment:

Jerri said...

Speaking from personal experience, it's a lot easier to accept decay theoretically than actually.

Theories get a bit lots when my knees lock up.