Desire and Forgetting, a Birthday Blog

Birthdays are usually days where I insist on indulging myself to the fullest, to the point of making myself very unhappy. Case in point: my 21st birthday, where, extrapolating from my love of coffee, I declared that I would drink as much coffee as possible (based on theorem more=better) resulting in an irritable, cranky, wired mess. Today life seems to be indulging me however, and I am content to let it. For example, this morning at 9 the TV provided me with not just “any” episode of Charmed, but the very first episode, so that I could see exactly how the three witch sisters first came to be aware of their awesome powers, and I could wonder how the show ever survived its pilot. A highlight: when Piper’s boyfriend, “Jeremy,” turns out to be a horrible, murderous demon–much as I was on my 21st birthday after three thermoses (thermi?) of Kenya AA.

Then, I received a delightful email from my friend regarding a lonely, speechless, piano player found wandering a windswept road on the Isle of Sheppey. Though the article is meant to be somewhat touching and melancholy, I laughed and laughed. The “windswept road” is my favorite touch; the article author is given over to literary pretensions, to be sure, a la Thomas Hardy, perhaps, of The Mayor of Casterbridge? Are we sure these are not the shenanigans (the brilliant maneuvers) of some out-of-control publicist? Perhaps this “mystery piano player” will soon be touring the world, appearing in Carnegie Hall to sold-out crowds, etc. Please be assured, this is not me! I have never been to the Isle of Sheppey.

Finally, though, on my “indulgent” birthday, I had to make a choice, between a carton of butter cookies and some delightful leftover chocolate sauce (Belgian chocolate with cream):


or oatmeal with honey, strawberries, and banana:


Basically, a choice between virtue and vice. I am happy to tell you I chose virtue. But what does the Bible (or any other religious document, for that matter) have to say about choosing virtue in order to feel less bad about subsequent vice? For indeed I chose oatmeal as a sort of counter to expected and likely overindulgence in food and drink with friends this evening, in the Village. It would seem just to be a roundabout way of choosing vice, of ameliorating vice. I turned not to the Bible, but to the Tao Te Ching, trans. by Stephen Mitchell:

Stop thinking, and end your problems.
What difference between yes and no?
Must you value what others value,
avoid what others avoid?
How ridiculous!

Hmmm, not too helpful. Seems to free me to do just about anything! How about:

Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the oatmeal and/or chocolate sauce.

(I have slightly edited this translation for current circumstances.) This is better; perhaps I should not get caught up in desire for either oatmeal OR chocolate sauce, or margaritas, or that delightful dish I can’t wait to have this evening with the stuffed poblano peppers with the pomegranate seeds. Oops. Turning back to timeless wisdom:

… the Master
acts without doing anything
and teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and she lets them come,
as for example pilots of Charmed,
and emails about piano players,
When her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever.

Actually I REALLY LOVE those last two lines, the business about forgetting! They gave me another delicious birthday pleasure, which was a connection to another quote I love, which is my true birthday blog indulgence, just for me… some more Roland Barthes:

“Yet reading does not consist in stopping the chain of systems, in establishing a truth, a legality of the text … it consists in coupling these systems, not according to their finite quantity, but according to their plurality (which is a being, not a discounting): I pass, I intersect, I articulate, I release, I do not count. Forgetting meanings is not a matter for excuses, an unfortunate defect in performance; it is an affirmative value, a way of asserting the irresponsibility of the text, the pluralism of systems: it is precisely because I forget that I read.” –S/Z

And I will now (finally) take the advice of the Tao:

Express yourself completely,
then keep quiet.

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  1. Erin
    Posted May 16, 2005 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Happy birthday!

  2. Lynn S
    Posted May 16, 2005 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    Happy Birthday. Great post!

    My own birthday was just a couple of weeks ago. I read somewhere that you should stop expecting friends and family to make a big deal out of your birthday after age 12. I was thinking, on my birthday, that it might be nice if we could get over wanting our birthdays to be a big deal. At my age especially, it might be nice if we could think of birthdays as just another day. Might. I still can’t get over wanting my own special day. And by the way, I would have chosen the vice.

  3. Heather
    Posted May 17, 2005 at 12:29 am | Permalink

    I can’t resist a comment, especially since in the past five days I’ve celebrated with two conductors and a composer, all dear work friends! Too many May birthdays. Friday is my own, and if faced with the vice or virtue decision I will definitely decorate the oatmeal with a zigzag of chocolate. Definitely. Thanks for all the great posts. Your writing is enchanting.

  4. Sophist
    Posted May 17, 2005 at 3:47 am | Permalink

    1) I’m enjoying your blog!
    2) I think Gia-fu Feng and Jane English’s translation of the Tao Te Ching is more true to the spareness of the original text.
    3) While I do wish the best for this mysterious wet t-shirt contest “piano man”, I can’t help but wonder if this is some publicity stunt of wicked construction!

    I see it now:

    A based-on-a-true-story movie featuring Piano Man: a frail, mysterious, brooding, quivering-lipped, Schubert-in-his-last-days-of-syphilis figure of unspeakable melancholy, who emerges from the cold, dark Sea of Sheppey (only in the movie it will be called “Innisfree”) in a tailcoat and white tie, clutching his only possession in the world, a tattered and lovingly annotated score of “Memories.”

    The story will have redemption, of course. I propose that the mute and amnesiac Piano Man solo in a concert – a concert devised by a lonely widower patroness, Clara, who hears of Piano Man’s story and believes that this young man carries the spirit of her late husband, the great Scottish composer Maestro MacDowil (whose fate was suicide or murder? That is a mystery!). You see, Clara believes that her beloved Maestro is trying to communicate to her from beyond the grave using young Piano Man as a conduit, so she has the asylum arrange a concert in which Piano Man performs the late Maestro’s unfortunately over-arpeggiated Piano Concerto in d minor.

    All does not go according to the Clara’s plan, however. In the middle of the concerto’s slow movement, Piano Man spies his secret love in the audience – the ravishingly beautiful Sonja, a St. Petersberg prostitute with a heart of gold, whom he is forbidden by his cruel and manipulative parents (the wealthy Capulitzers) to love. Abruptly, his aphasia lifts, his memory returns, and whereas before, he was only able to express his love to Sonja through music, he finally gathers the courage to proclaim his heart to her in words (recall John Nash in the movie version of “A Beautiful Mind,” whose Nobel symposium consists of an Oscar-acceptance-style speech in which John tells the King of Sweden that really, he owes his seminal contributions in the field of game theory – and his miraculous escape from schizophrenic psychoses – to Love, the greatest thing of all). The score swells to a climactic medley of Andrew Lloyd Webber favorites.

    The release of the movie will be immediately followed by “Shine Tour Part the Second” in which David Helfgott and Piano Man play duets that have been especially composed for the occasion by Elton John.

  5. Claire
    Posted February 13, 2006 at 1:26 am | Permalink

    yay for the tao te ching! we read a diff translation in my philo class, but my teacher has mentioned that he loves the stephen mitchell translation 🙂

  6. dave
    Posted July 13, 2006 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Music keeps the first place in my life. I enjoyed the site (seriuosly) and i understand that perhaps at this moment self promotion is bad and may seem superficial, but nevertheless i cannot resist the temptation of inviting you over to my blog to take a look at one thingie and to say what you think. thanks in advance 🙂

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