When it comes to communication, there are no tricks. You have to connect with another person somehow, and for someone who spends his time on obscure scholarship and aesthetics, it is easy to be out of touch. Well, I am and I am not. People tend to infer that I have certain views that I do not have... they have knee-jerk reactions, if you will. I have a very different life from most people. I don't drive a car or use many modern luxury items, and I steadfastly put ethics above personal gain. It is easy to merely boast of the latter, of course, and maybe that is true of me, but I try very hard. I certainly turn down money, something some people have never done. Anyway, I have an image in mind regarding initially trying to communicate with people, or communicating on a completely different topic.... It involves standing far away from them, almost out of sight, lobbing ideas in their direction, attempting to make a connection. I might overshoot slightly, and when the idea is "heard to fall," they may think I am in an entirely opposite direction, in one of the much closer categories they tend to think people occupy. This seems to happen often. I am actually fairly good at connecting with people after I get to know them, but the diversity of views with which I am familiar tends to work against casual chatting outside of a specific context.
So I often talk about myself. Why? Some people find it aggravating, but on the other hand, I know the subject. I do not like to presume to know what other people think, at least not as individuals. Sometimes I realize that when I talk about how I do something or approach problems, people take it as an implication that I think they should do the same. The funny part is that this notion rarely enters my mind. So few people approach things the way I do, that the idea that they would want to do so does not really occur to me, at least not spontaneously. I do feel compelled to mention my approach to various issues, however, when it seems another person only wants to argue with views unrelated to me. Well, if people want to argue with someone else about them, that is fine, but I do not like to hear other people tell me what I think, especially when they are completely wrong. Few experiences are more grating.
I am also constantly evaluating everything I do, and of course much of that comes from a desire to communicate. As described, I often fail utterly to communicate, and that can be very frustrating. My wife says I am too concerned with what other people think. It is a funny combination, because I also persistently do unconventional things, and one usually thinks of people who care about what other people think as trying to follow the mainstream. I feel a very intense sense of duty, I guess. Anyway, I was very excited to finally start this series, because it was something I had been wanting to do, and I spent much of last year developing some other ideas in preparation. I felt that the writing started fairly well, but totally fell apart midway through in the wake of personal distractions that week. I always tell myself to let outside issues inspire me, rather than distract, and usually I am at least mostly successful, but this one kept eating at me, and still does to some extent. Maybe I will write some more about that later.
So I was very unhappy with that earlier article. Trying to combine a stream-of-consciousness style with a strict format and timed appearance is appealing intellectually (at least to me), but if I lose my train of thought, it can easily go awry. Last week, though, I read the article again, and decided it was not as bad as I thought. I am sometimes amazed by my own writing when I read it months later, something which is surely narcissistic in the extreme. I reread because I want to either reuse some material or remind myself of what I already said, to avoid repetition. I consider making my mind go blank a great skill, but it also means that I forget what I said previously. Looking back does not always yield a positive impression, however: Sometimes I think I discussed an issue, but I really have not. I have only talked around it. At some level, I always decide this, which is why I continue to write.
The frustrations sketched in this discussion involve complicated ideas and broader social issues, thoughts which are necessarily difficult to communicate. My reaction to basic factual questions is often curious, even to me, because they can produce an almost equal sense of irritation. It is certainly true that naïve questions about medieval music and related subjects should be welcome. They indicate an interest, and I always want to answer them. However, especially in public, and in this I include things like magazine or newspaper articles, the questions often bring ignorant or wrong-headed responses in turn. The whole complex of frequently redundant responses, and the way certain wrong-headed notions do not fade away also frustrates me. It means that I (and others) are not communicating very well, at least not to the general public, and of course that is one reason I started this web site. Now, you might think I mean matters of opinion. I do not. I mean naïve or preliminary ideas, perhaps suggested 20 years ago or more, which have since been shown to be entirely false. These wrong ideas never seem to go away, whether they involve tuning, ornament, ficta, tempo, etc. They are repeated almost on cue. Beyond the frustration, one must ask: Why do they persist? That is another topic.
Most people have frustrations; perhaps everyone does. Frustration comes only from attempt, however, and those who do not attempt cannot be frustrated. One of the more typical goals of Eastern philosophies is to eschew attempt, and one can certainly function in that way, and have a quiet life. Indeed, this is the reciprocal notion to the "may you live in interesting times" curse, which might be more familiar. In that sense, I am resigned to frustration, because I want to participate in life, perhaps due simply to arrogance. As Lao Tsu says, "Do you think you can improve the world? I do not believe it can be done." Is the statement optimistic or pessimistic? It makes a nice turn on the "half full" aphorism. So I believe one must always ask "Why do anything at all?" It is not a question with an easy answer.
To be continued....
To TMM Editorial index.Todd M. McComb