Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

25 July, 2005


Right now I've got the song "Take a Pebble" by Emerson, Lake and Palmer playing on repeat along with a version of "Sheep" by Mostly Autumn. They're two completely different pieces of music. I've been listening to "Take a Pebble" a lot at work lately as well but tonight it just seems appropriate. As part of ELP's oeuvre, it's kind of unique. There's no synthesizers or manic organ runs. There's no electric guitar and there's no attempts to fit 40 drum fills in every bar. And it's very jazzy. Some great piano work alongside very melodic bass and understated drums. Carl Palmer uses brushes for much of it. The jazzy sections bookend an acoustic guitar solo in the middle which starts off most delicately but then speeds up to become a bouncy little tune that always gives me visions of sitting around a campfire. There's just something about the way the song starts off with some pizzicato work on the piano and slowly moves ahead over twelve and a half minutes. Unlike much of their later music, there are no ripping jams – things just sort of float along.

I've been sitting here futzing on the 'puter and occasionally playing air piano like that character on Sesame Street that would always mess up the song and bang his head against the piano's keyboard. In addition, I'm trying to figure out how to respond to a letter that a friend of mine sent me and which I received today. She's several years younger than me, lives in Ohio and we've never met. Still, I tend to think of her as a little sister. In her letter she ponders relationships, love, and marriage. "Maybe that's why I am afraid of marriage. I'm afraid of being bored and stagnant." She also asks me some very difficult questions: "Do you think that there are people that are married who actually are happier because of it? Do we just talk ourselves into commitment because of social and religious pressures?" Never having walked the Primrose Path, it is difficult for me to respond to her queries. Still, I suspect that there are many married people who are happy because they walked down the Path while there are others for whom wedlock has proven to be the antidote to bliss. And I suppose that some people talk themselves into commitment for reasons other than love. My friend is ever sentimental and I think she tends to see relationships as strictly falling into one of two categories: either they are the acme of passion & romance or they find one partner to be 0 and the other 10 equaling nothing at all. Of course, very little in life is so clear-cut, so black & white. Life is mostly an ever-changing gray, a hue in constant flux that shifts with the vagaries of life. I feel bad sometimes when she asks such questions and I have no definitive answers to offer her in return. Instead I give your-mileage-may-vary responses and do my best to explain why, to explain the infinite number of variables involved. This is especially frustrating when she asks me about a man she's dating as I've never met her, let alone met any of them. How shall I pass judgment upon such men? How could I ever reach fair and valid conclusions?

Her letters are also frustrating, at times. She claims to know the "real" and "true" me. While she has made astute observations about me and I've been open and honest with her, I don't think she knows all. For me, one cannot really, truly "know" someone unless you've have met the person mano a mano. To be sure, one can know a lot about another person that one has never met but genuine knowledge of a person requires spending lots of time with him or her - by hearing their voice, seeing facial expressions - feeling their presence as well as being able to communicate spontaneously. Erasmus observed several centuries ago that we all wear masks. ( Now what else is the whole life of mortals but a sort of comedy, in which the various actors, disguised by various costumes and masks, walk on and each play their part, until the manager waves them off the stage?) On some people, the mask is rather thin and translucent while others have a thicker, more opaque façade. In each case, though, one must have face-to-face contact in order to see behind the mask. For the former, such contact allows the details to be seen through the diaphanous veil while the latter case requires more work, more contact. Either way, though, getting through the guise to what lies underneath takes time and contact in the flesh.

There was a time in my life when penetrating those veils and peeking behind people's masks was very important to me and something I actively sought. I think I came to view people as palimpsests with layers upon layers behind each mask with a bit of the previous faintly visible behind each one. Eliot's hollow men make for good metaphor but we are all stuffed. While I'm not positive, I think this disposition left me in the middle of a relationship I had with a woman whom I dated for two and a half years or so. I'm not sure why but my best theory is that it made our relationship easier. Of all the people to try to get to know really and truly, a significant other is a prime candidate, no? She resisted and, as our relationship fell apart, I fell under the notion that it was best to disengage from her in order to ameliorate the situation. Trying to see behind the mask is difficult enough but, when there's active resistance, it becomes a Sisyphean task. And I don't think I've ever really tried since.

"Sheep" is wonderful too. I've always admired how Pink Floyd threw in a little punk here – made some of the stuff on Animals a bit harder-edged. It's not punk by any means, though. The song is nearly 10 minutes long and has slower, more moody sections contrasting with the faster bits that have the pounding drums and slashing chords. Compared to this, most of their next album, The Wall, seems positively anemic. The gloominess and aggression of the song also appeals to me this night.

There were several times when The Dulcinea and I were having sex that she told me that I was thrusting too hard. There was also one time which, she later revealed, that she actually felt a bit scared of me as I towered over her mindlessly fucking. She said that we should talk about that night but we never got around to doing so. To my recollection it was just me getting caught up in a moment, lost in a routine of harder-faster but, to her, it was something quite different and frightening. Looking back on the incident, I am reminded of "Digging in the Dirt" by Peter Gabriel – "Something in me, dark and sticky". Something I feel in my sex. The thing is, I don't recall ever having felt anger at The Dulcinea.

Of course my manic thrusting could have been due to something wholly unrelated to her. But what? Perhaps I am too distanced from the events to ever figure it out. Or perhaps for time and thought is required for me to be wise after the event. Only time will tell but I still ponder whether there is really, truly is something dark and sticky inside of me that manifested itself that night.

This comes to mind because someone asked me about what happened between The Dulcinea and me. There was no prying – it was just a general question: "What happened?" And I gave a general answer. Unfortunately, it set my mind off on various tangents that I'd rather it hadn't. There is a saying that goes, "Divorce is a mere continuation of marriage by other means". While our relationship certainly was not on par with marriage, the afterimage remains. When I combined the aforementioned conversation with the email I received from her last week in the blender of my cranium, I began pondering what it was that she wanted to communicate to me. While I'm reasonably certain about some things, others remain pure speculation. I know that she longs to tell me what a cold bastard I am, for instance. It's a familiar refrain and is now the je ne sais quoi of the end my relationships with women. It makes me wonder if that was a mask I wore specifically for her or whether that's what is behind the mask. It seems impossible to have a lasting relationship with such a disposition. If I don't drive the woman away, then of what worth could a woman be if she were willing to accept it indefinitely? Another hallmark of the end my relationships with women is that I never seem to say what I really want to say. This is probably why I replied to The Dulcinea's email. It was my way of saying to her, "I held my peace but feel free say your piece". It's enormously frustrating being this way and I never seem to get used to it. While I'm not sure what I would have said (hindsight is not perfect), I wish I had said something. Maybe if I'd have extemporized then I would know more about that dark and sticky something inside or whether it was all a mask or not.

As you can see, my friend is turning to the wrong person when inquiring about life and how to live it. I have no words of wisdom for her, and judging by many of her reactions, very few words indeed which can be of much consolation. Yet asks she does.
|| Palmer, 6:24 PM


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