Sometimes, It’s Just Bliss. Sometimes, It’s the Whole Point.

[Video: Lindsey Stirling and The Piano Guys, “Theme from Mission Impossible.”
See the note at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river:

Sometimes, When the Light

Sometimes, when the light strikes at odd angles
and pulls you back into childhood

and you are passing a crumbling mansion
completely hidden behind old willows

or an empty convent guarded by hemlocks
and giant firs standing hip to hip,

you know again that behind that wall,
under the uncut hair of the willows

something secret is going on,
so marvelous and dangerous

that if you crawled through and saw,
you would die, or be happy forever.

(Lisel Mueller [source])


It was like the second when you come home late at night and see the yellow envelope of the telegram sticking out from under your door and you lean and pick it up, but don’t open it yet, not for a second. While you stand there in the hall, with the envelope in your hand, you feel there’s an eye on you, a great big eye looking straight at you from miles and dark and through walls and houses and through your coat and vest and hide and sees you huddled up way inside, in the dark which is you, inside yourself, like a clammy, sad little foetus you carry around inside yourself. The eye knows what’s in the envelope, and it is watching you to see you when you open it and know, too. But the clammy, sad little foetus which is you way down in the dark which is you too lifts up its sad little face and its eyes are blind, and it shivers cold inside you for it doesn’t want to know what is in that envelope. It wants to lie in the dark and not know, and be warm in its not knowing. The end of man is knowledge, but there is one thing he can’t know. He can’t know whether knowledge will save him or kill him. He will be killed, all right, but he can’t know whether he is killed because of the knowledge which he has got or because of the knowledge which he hasn’t got and which if he had it, would save him. There’s the cold in your stomach, but you open the envelope, you have to open the envelope, for the end of man is to know.

(Robert Penn Warren [source])


I believe that it is bracing and vital to live in a world in which we do not know all the answers. I believe that we are inspired and goaded on by what we don’t understand. And I hope that there will always be an edge between the known and the unknown, beyond which lies strangeness and unpredictability and life.

(Alan Lightman [source])

Not from whiskey river:

Not Knowing Why

Adolescent white pelicans squawk, rustle, flap their wings,
lift off in a ragged spiral at imaginary danger.
What danger on this island in the middle
of Marble Lake? They’re off to feel
the lift of wind under their iridescent wings,
because they were born to fly,
because they have nothing else to do,
because wind and water are their elements,
their Bach, their Homer, Shakespeare,
and Spielberg. They wheel over the lake,
the little farms, the tourist village with their camera eyes.

In autumn something urges
them toward Texas marshes. They follow
their appetites and instincts, unlike the small beetles
creeping along geometric roads, going toward small boxes,
toward lives as narrow or as wide as the pond,
as glistening or as gray as the sky.
They do not know why. They fly, they fly.

(Ann Struthers [source])

What, then, is a travelling mind-set? Receptivity might be said to be its chief characteristic. Receptive, we approach new places with humility. We carry with us no rigid ideas about what is or is not interesting. We irritate locals because we stand in traffic islands and narrow streets and admire what they take to be unremarkable small details. We risk getting run over because we are intrigued by the roof of a government building or an inscription on a wall. We find a supermarket or a hairdresser’s shop unusually fascinating. We dwell at length on the layout of a menu or the clothes of the presenters on the evening news. We are alive to the layers of history beneath the present and take notes and photographs.

(Alain de Botton [source])


For the Anniversary of My Death

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveler
Like the beam of a lightless star

Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what

(W. S. Merwin [source])


About the video: Lindsey Stirling was a new name to me at the start of this week, until someone just sort of off-handedly included this video in a Facebook comment. (The Piano Guys I knew of, from the video featured in this post.) After viewing this a couple of times and wondering how to classify what she does — the style reminds me of Celtic Woman’s Máiréad Nesbitt (I’m apparently not alone in this) — I turned to Wikipedia:

…an American violinist, dancer, performance artist, and composer. She presents choreographed violin performances, both live and in music videos found on her YouTube channel, Lindseystomp, which she introduced in 2007. In 2010, Stirling was a quarter-finalist on America’s Got Talent season five, where she was known as the hip-hop violinist.

She performs a variety of music styles, from classical to pop and hip-hop to electronic dance music… Stirling is also a YouTube sensation… Her YouTube channel had, as of June 2014, more than five million subscribers and 675 million total views.

I watched a few more videos at that YouTube channel. I started to wonder what critics made of her. AllMusic summarizes her as “the colorful and uncommonly spirited classical, hip-hop, rock, country, modern dance, and Legend of Zelda/Elder Scrolls-loving violinist.” In a review of a recent live concert, The Hollywood Reporter says:

The N.Y. Times even sat its pop and classical critics down together to try to figure out who or what Stirling is. The pop reviewer was “puzzled” in “wondering who it was for” and the classical guy was “mystified,” but both pundits could agree that they didn’t care for it, finally settling in on the idea that it might be “study music for nerdy teenage girls.”

I doubt that Stirling takes seriously such awkward, condescending criticism. (I hope she doesn’t take it seriously.)

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  1. By the way, if you’re wondering what the video has to do with this week’s Friday post…

    As I was assembling the post, I got thinking about a foible of mine — no, “foible” isn’t quite right… call it a predilection: I practically crave the little knife-edge moment (often an extended moment) between not knowing something, and knowing it. The Internet is a powerful drug with which to feed such a predilection; it’s filled with so many people, such variegated backgrounds, so much fact and information, that I pretty much cannot get through a day without encountering several things I didn’t know before. Not all of them send me off on obsessive quests, but some of them do…

    And while I was thinking this, it occurred to me that if I had a good example of what I meant, I could include it in the post. When had one of those quests bedeviled me recently…?

    Oh, I thought. Of course.

    And here we are.

  2. I’m a bit sad to have missed Stirling in concert when she came to town, but this has been a music-heavy year, so I cannot complain. I’ve enjoyed her music thus far, and her collaborations with other musicians. (It seems like it’s just a matter of time before she teams up with 2Cellos.)

    Your Alain de Botton quote is what resonates with me this week. Young children and out-of-town visitors are adept at pointing out what is wonderful about our everyday settings.

  3. That was a fun video. And ugh, the critics. When in their element, they can be sharp and insightful. Well, like many of us, no doubt. But given something new and they so often become unmoored and silly.

    • That’s a good point — “when in their element.” It reminds me how often I say things to The Missus like “The critics seem to think it’s great” or “The critics think it sucks,” and you can never tell whether that’s a plus or a minus unless you also know what I think of the book/movie/song/album in question. :)

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