I m far away. Far from home. Far from work. I’m on vacation, musing about where this compulsive blogging fits in.
Everything in a blog is necessarily about the person writing. Sure, the topic may be foreign cars or foreign affairs or just plain affairs.
But when we write about what we drive (cars), when we write about international relations (foreign affairs), when we write about relationships (affairs), we’re in there.
We’re talking about a car, and it’s about the styling –how it makes me look—the handling –how it makes me feel—or the failure to make me look and feel good.
We’re talking about foreign affairs, and it’s still domestic. I may be talking about the way this country treats its workers or that country treats its women, I am really commenting on how I feel in my own country.
As for relationships? Perhaps that’s the most honest because you can hear the baying hound most clearly.
Reviewers seem to stand beside their reviews as much as painters stand beside their paintings. The writer ostends not just a position & a viewpoint, but a persona and a presence. I alluded to this in one of my diatribes awhile ago, that writing is as much about the one speaking as what’s being said. I am never sure which is in the ascendency –writer or writings—but you can’t have the one without the other. To pretend otherwise is, well, a pretense.
Have I ever mentioned how much I love dogs? You’ll sometimes hear people say “are you a cat person or a dog person”, but it’s not either-or. The last pets I had in my home were cats because they were much easier to handle, namely a couple of feral cats who more or less presented themselves, because their feral mom had kitties right on the doorstep, and then tragically vanished before we could bring her inside too. The rest of the litter were given a good home, but two were welcomed. I wrote early in the life of this blog about the adventurous departure of one of the two, who likely took off through an open door when her quiet home was suddenly invaded by loud people visiting. And the second died not by choice but by the inevitability of veterinary termination. Dogs are more work, a huge commitment comparable to a child, and speaking of which, I suppose I wish I had one of those too; but then again, I wish I were young again. I loved running with my dog, I loved the way he challenged me to be faster. I loved hugging him beside me on the last day we had together, when I knew something was up, the day before we went to the vet, and he had to be put down.
I’ll have a dog again, but I am not ready yet.
When someone asks you whether you’re a dog person or a cat person, they’re really asking about you, in the same way that someone may say “what’s your sign”. Sure, it’s a conversational gambit, but it can also be a flat-out attempt to figure out who you are. It’s a relatively polite question because it tells you so little, really. The funniest such question –one I sometimes hear, that never ceases to amaze me—is “do you like music?” I am amazed by the question, I suppose, even if every answer is totally unique. People will inevitably say yes. Does anyone not like music? I have never heard a divergent answer, not once.
Ah, but what do people follow that with. Eminem or Modeste Mussourgsky? The funny thing is, this pointless question is not the end. It is very good precisely because it begins a conversation, a gentle and open-ended exchange of information. If you’re seeking a common ground, then you look for the ones you have in common. Oh you like Patsy Cline. Oh you admire Bill Evans. Joni Mitchell moves you, but you can’t listen to more than five songs at a time, anymore than you can stand to have more than five chocolates at a time. But they’d be exquisite chocolates, right?
I am recalling a song I encountered in the late 1970s, Mitchell’s Coyote. It tells a story. There are at least a couple of versions of the song because, in addition to the studio version on Hejira. it was performed live as part of the concert captured in Scorsese’s The Last Waltz. I recall the song wistfully, because, just as the song describes a brief intense relationship between two people, the song in some ways is my keepsake from a relationship I had at the time. I don’t know where she’s gone or what she’s up to –or if she’s still alive—but hearing the song reminds me of her almost every time. And of me, and the gulf that one finds between people. We’re all different aren’t we?
The song is one I am thinking of now because of that one line near the end, about ego. I am sure if you don’t know the song you can find it for yourself.
Mitchell manages to bring into focus how an encounter between two people can be an encounter with self, a mirror to who we really are. I find this is true for any art, ultimately, but that the most lucid will elicit a conversation, not just about the things observed or felt, but also about the observer, who provides the context.
There’s a great moment near the end of the song when we’re played with. There’s a cadence coming –and this is obvious even if it weren’t the last of several verses, where we should by rights know the pattern by now—but it gets delayed. She uses that tension, of the expected resolution—to play with us a bit, refusing to resolve, as she speaks to the tensions of the situation. Again, if you want to investigate, go look. Otherwise, don’t worry, it’s not mandatory. There’s no exam.
I think Mozart did something similar. “Non so piu” is an aria i’ve always connected to, since the first time i accompanied a singer (and i wonder too where she is now), not just because it speaks to both male and female, young and old. I can see eternity in those moments near the end of the aria, when Cherubino says
E se non ho chi m'oda, And if there's no one to hear me, Parlo d'amor con me! I speak of love to myself!
…But lets get back to canines. I think I am a dog person because ultimately, when I look at dogs vs cats, I admire dog behaviour more. When you speak to a cat, they ignore you, running away or just staring at you as if you’re nuts. Talk to a dog and you get a response, anything from their attention to hysterical slobbering devotion. An animal mirrors you the same way a work of art mirrors. No, we must never forget that the mirror is a living creature upon whom we project our feelings, and that the narcissistic impulse never gives us the right to treat our mirror as an object. A cat is an ideal pet when you don’t have time for the serious messy relationship a dog offers. A dog is for life –which means as long as they live—and so must not be entertained without the intention of following through. Cats are wonderfully independent, perhaps never letting you too close, whereas dogs get closer.
I wonder how much Mitchell meant to talk about herself in “Coyote”. Sure, all artists talk about themselves implicitly in their art. But this one is really about self and ego. I am thinking about this today, as I think back on the song and about the wrestling with ego thing. It’s on my mind as I begin a long vacation, trying to reconcile myself to the blog. Is it a coincidence that “blog” rhymes with “dog”? “Coyote” is a canine name, a creation who may or may not be based on a real person, a place for Mitchell to talk about herself and her relationship with the outside world. When I typed the headline “Yapping dog ” I had no idea where it was going to go, only that I was thinking of ego & dogs. I like dogs, even when they bark or yap or whine or howl. Some people will turn with a snarl of their own, when they hear a loud dog. I usually want to know the dog under the snarl or the bark, perhaps because I see myself as a dog whisperer, trying to quiet my own snarling. No i don’t propose to whisper to feral Dobermans, and maybe it’s all a fantasy anyway, a dream of my own competence.
Nirvana? I think it is a quiet place. When peace is given its chance inside the self, the world reveals itself in all its splendour. Dogs and cats lie down, cuddly and soft & licking each other. It feels like a luxury to be on vacation because I don’t usually allow it. I take a few days here and there, usually crowding the time with shows or projects at home. But I think—as I again contemplate recreation and healing—it’s a good thing.
The ego? one I am trying to understand. I’d like to get closer to this snarling dog inside me. The blog has been a project to get comfortable with the egoist, to boldly look around and speak to the various mirrors (and the mirror can actually be the intimate pet of another artist, serving as my mirror when I go see it in a theatre or gallery) and look them all in the eye. There’s never a better time when the dog is lying quietly by the hearth, exposing his tummy submissively.