Thursday, June 5, 2008

Music to my ears

When I moved back to Buffalo after grad school, it had been 13 years since residing here. I visited quite often during that time, but I also explored the western side of the country and lived the kind of crazy that comes with life in your 20s. Deciding to bite the bullet and move back "to the Buff," as I like to call it, rather than throw my seedling CV into the national job search hurricane stemmed from several reasons (many of which, I'm sure will be the subject of future posts). One of the top entries on my Pros and Cons of Moving Home list was the environment and look and sound and feel of this part of the country. Another was that I was simply sick of moving and feeling up in the air, and I wanted to go home and stay there. Come hell or high water. (note: in Buffalo, the weather could actually bring both of these things....ha ha).

This morning I've been sitting on my back patio drinking coffee and getting ready to write. It's early. Being in writing mode always gets me out of bed quickly. I've been home almost a year to the day and in my house 10 months. On 64 occasions since last June, give or take, my little voice has said, "What the hell have you done?" My current theory is that moving back home as a relocation scheme is 64 times harder than plopping down in a new locale. Familiarity is good but it comes with expectations. After 13 years, lots of changes occurred around here. Some good, some bad. My expectations for myself of how easy, fun, refreshing, etc. it would be to come home and how quickly I'd feel home have been put through the wringer, too. So many times throughout the year I've said to myself and to many other people, "Ya know, I finally feel like I'm home." Well, sometimes I've full of shit, even when talking to myself. It's been very very very very difficult and very very very very rewarding. Often simultaneously. But today, June 5, 2008, in front of God and whoever else, I actually do feel at home.

My backyard right now sounds like a tropical jungle of some sort. I live in a suburb of Buffalo, and it's the one I grew up in. I don't live far from my parents, and I have traveled paths through these streets a bazillion times (oh! I have a great Pres. Bush joke about "bazillion," if you are interested). My town is lush in many areas....creeks, old trees, lots of green spaces bursting with springtime among the cul de sacs and subdivisions. It has character. A wildness to it.

Anways, it's just after sunrise, a little hazy with the promise of sun and heat later, and the birds are singing as if they know it will be their best day ever. And they are in my backyard. Presumably, they are in my neighbors' yards as well, but I'm being overly dramatic until the caffeine kicks in and works its magic.....anyway, I'm realizing that I feel no reason to believe that these birds will suddenly stop their outlandish singing or not be in my backyard as long as I own this house. I'm not going to use crazy chemicals or fertilizer or cut down my trees or any such behavior to antagonize these creatures, so therefore I can determine that I will have many many many more moments like this one now that I am home. And damn, that feels good.

Composer/philosopher John Cage challenged the popular/easy/contrived definition that "music is organized sound." This definition permeates so many different circles that I've heard it (and maybe even said it) by all walks of life. It's a good definition to start with, but it is LOADED with potential land mines. Cage found many of them. I am not a Cage scholar, by any means, and I know one particular grad student friend of mine at Harvard who is a "Cage-ian." Good for him because what many people know about Cage has been boiled down to the same trite phrase as "music is organized sound." Cage's most infamous work is 4' 33". The gist is that Cage (or someone) sits at a piano/on stage for that length of time--four minutes and thirty-three second--"doing nothing." The ensuing "music" derives from the sound of the audience, the outdoors, whatever as it occurs naturally--coughing, planes flying, sneezing, a-hem-ming, and presumably, birds singing. Birdsong is already organized to them and to people who study birds and want to know their songs. They are songs. For them. On my patio, I can discern patterns and call-response behavior, and I can certainly tell when the blue jays are being threatened by the crows (or vice versa. Those blue jays are tough!).

But I'm not interested in patterns and songs right now. I'm in the middle of performing Cage's piece, aren't I??? Right here in my own backyard.

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