Rachmaninoff and Me

I haven’t written because I have too much to say, but question the validity of saying any of it. Recently on Facebook I have been adding “friends” who are poets and authors, and I don’t know who they are – well, some names are slightly familiar – and they all have books, and write beautifully, which adds to my writer’s block; but I just came from seeing the play “Preludes” at Lincoln Center about the composer’s block of Sergei Rachmaninoff after a disastrous – and I do mean disastrous – debut of a new symphony. The conductor was drunk and the orchestra not prepared, and Sergei got skewered by the critics. If seeing that play doesn’t unblock my backlog, I think nothing could except drunkenness, which isn’t my style. It didn’t work for the conductor, it wouldn’t work for me.

Afterwards I sat under the trees in front of the theater in this blessed balmy air that is the same temperature as your skin surface, which is, of course, heaven, and the guy who played Rachmaninoff walked by. He was talking to an obvious friend who left and then as he walked back, I said “Thank you,” and he came over and I told him about the Rachmaninoff wars between my 7-year-old grandson who adores Rachmaninoff, though at first he thought it was Mozart he adores but it is Rachmaninoff, and my 5-year-old granddaughter who thinks music isn’t music unless it has words and a singable melody, while Ben doesn’t like music with words. He is gifted in math so it makes sense. Rachmaninoff was mathematical also.

So the writer’s block has been both about that I cannot keep up with the magnificent writers who are suddenly all over my FB thread even though they don’t know me, but probably did a quick check, saw I looked harmless, and were willing to accept me as a “friend.” And it is also because I have lost my sense of having a profile, any i.d. Nothing makes sense anymore regarding who I am. And if you don’t know who you are, your literary impulses, which depends on what you think and feel, can get pretty confused.

Wendell Berry – one of my new literati friends posted this magnificent poem by him – described this well. Well, my dislocation takes it a bit further than he does, but he really described not knowing. See?

It may be that when we no longer know what to do,
we have come to our real work
and when we no longer know which way to go,
we have begun our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.”

Now, it seems the impeded stream may not be singing – more like gurgling eddies – but he sums up the bafflement and makes it all good somehow, as having the purpose of no purpose might actually get you somewhere.

I haven’t been fighting losing my identify. I invited it and have yielded to it even as I now question it. Several years ago I decided to strip myself of definition and it has been working. I mean, people think I am serenity, except for my closest friends who still think I am serenity and rely upon my being serenity for their own serenity even when some get occasional glimpses of churning waters underneath.

Joan Didion wrote that as she got older she couldn’t write as she once did, words eager to rush onto the page, internal rhythms known even before the words arrived. Now she just tries to use the right words, the accurate ones, the authentic ones. Each word done with such care. I tell myself to do the same but I am not Joan Didion, and to include a reference to myself in a paragraph about her is narcissistic blasphemy, but . . . yikes.

Plus, there is a residue inside me that is rococo. I would love to be able to use words like verisimilitude, laconic, obfuscation, lexicography, and lassitude as nimbly as I use words like harvest, fever, raspy, and earth.

It is imperative to use the right words, but it is work. It is a meditation, it is knowing what is. And knowing what is is, generally, beyond words. See the problem?

Other problems include that I’m just plain lonely in this transition to non-description. This is, by the way, an essential struggle of most elderly. Have you any idea how many people who were my friends or acquaintances a couple months ago are no longer here?

My second ex-husband sent the word out, through a convoluted route that found me across the U.S. and after 35 years, that he has dementia and Parkinson’s Disease. It wasn’t his lungs, after all, that got him. It was Lewy’s body disease, the second most common form of dementia, the top of the list of all those kinds of dementia that are not Alzheimer’s. Do you think I’m losing use of my vocabulary not because of seeking rockbottom truth but because words are disappearing? I am afraid of that. In any case, no-frill words tend to be truer. Something may be “transcending” but it is more accurately “rising, delicate and vaporous.”

Rachmaninoff really suffered. Brilliance hiding is not a pleasant thing, especially when you need to bring in rent money. Brilliance molding? What is a sorry state for others is a horror for a genius. I am not a genius. My suffering has been real but it is not a case of having a gift that could blow the minds of others into the stratosphere and that the world will forever ache over from its loss. Mine is more closely aligned to the loneliness felt in the gap of not hearing one’s self express one’s own understandings, of not taking something to the next level, of stupefied energy.

This is not outwardly visible. I look pretty good, and my health is good. I had it checked out of fear that the gloom eyeing me along the edges of my campfire was partially physical. My health is fine, my loneliness isn’t really.

Did I tell you my past is littered with bad husbands? Men who failed me on the simplest of terms. Fidelity, safety, things like that. It is a cluttered landscape behind me. Debris beside the road, but it is okay. I am blessed, and I saw this play today “Preludes” on the composer’s block of Rachmaninoff. He was 28, I’m 72. He got over it. I will too . . . or not.

It is not important to be able to use words such as pulchritude, dipsomaniac, vermiculite, or phrases such as “it hit him the way formaldehyde hits a lizard, “ or “she circumambulated the offering, an oracle tied to the thread of a vision” No, it is enough to be able to say, “She loves with her entire body. She loves so much she does not know her body from her mind. She loves more than fits conventional wisdom. She loves beyond calling. She loves with the clarity of a baby’s drool. She loves. She loves mindlessly. She loves so much she trusts losing herself even though she has no choice in the matter.”

Rachmaninoff went on to write his “Prelude in C# Minor.” I wrote this.


4 thoughts on “Rachmaninoff and Me

  1. Thanks for writing “she loves.” I’m more the “she needs to be loved.”
    Your essay came at a good time for me this evening. Your words are choices and I appreciate you chose to write them, you and Rachmaninoff overcoming and continuing to write, you, words, him, music.
    I’m choosing to cry!

  2. Oh, but “rising, delicate and vaporous” are far more invoking then “transcending”. I love what you write and have to say. You have your own style, that is true to you and quite lovely to read. Sounds like you are undergoing a metamorphosis. My beautiful expressive friend, who has so much more to say than language allows! When the time is right, I believe that words will find you! xx

  3. I see a “diaphanous you” rising free from the stultifying boundaries of your ‘before now’ life. You will need new, not-yet-here words to express your lightness of being as you move forward more deeply into your life. These words won’t be felt as a rush through your body, dying to escape you and find form on paper or blog page. These will simply evolve out of the ethers and be present when you need, as many as you need, when you need and then they will be gone as though never to be there. That is the way of diaphanous beings.

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