Odd thoughts from a relativist

I have to keep reminding myself that the world looks very different to different people—that we each bring who we are to what we observe, hear, taste, smell. We recreate the world in our own image (so to speak). It’s a scary thought because that means there really are people who live in worlds where Obama isn’t a U.S. citizen, where the U.S. is socialist, where Sarah Palin is capable of assuming the presidency.

 

Many years ago in San Francisco I took Evie, who knew almost nothing about classical music, to a concert where the incredible Igor Stravinsky was conducting some of his own works. She struggled to stay awake for most of the two-hour performance. I didn’t want to nudge her but I knew the event was way too important to sleep through and I was embarrassed for her. But she worked, attended college, and partied hard. She was tired.

 

Afterwards, I asked her opinion of it all. “I just felt so sorry for him,” she said.

 

“Why?” I asked, trying to imagine what she could mean after a concert by one of the twentieth century’s most significant and most successful composers. “Just the way he looks,” she said. “I’ll bet he really suffered in school. Kids laughing at him. You know—his head is so oddly shaped, he’s bald, he’s little and bent.” Of course, Stravinsky must have been 70 years old; Evie was 19.

Ursula Boese, Hamburg after the 1963 premiere of Oedipus Rex. And only a few years after the concert with Evie. Courtesy of Ursula Boese, Hamburg

I’ve never forgotten Evie’s opinion of Stravinsky who, as I understand it, had a reputation as a philanderer and enjoyed the devotion of two wives during his lifetime. But she didn’t see that man any more than she saw a great composer.
There are many mysteries like that in our lives. We’re all so different. Sometimes, it seems as if we’re not sharing the same planet. My mother, for example,  thought poetry was a long way of saying something that could as easily have been blurted out. And should have been if it needed saying at all.

 

The world I make when I hear Stravinsky or read poetry is one I wouldn’t trade for anything.

 

I’ve been listening lately to an Ashkenazy performance of Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 1 just to hear what it should sound like since I’ve been trying to play it for several years now. It’s an utter miracle when he plays it, and by all rights I should give up. But I’m not going to. Because in the world I’m creating, in my world, I may play it someday—not like him, but better than I do today, and it’s so incredibly beautiful I can lose myself even in my own rendition.

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