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Monday, August 25, 2008

More from "The Fallen Bassoonist"

“. . . the great universe of the blank page”

[1] Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Reverie: Childhood, Language, and the Cosmos, trans. Daniel Russell (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971), page 6.

During Spring break, I decided to take up meditation in an attempt to de-stress and jumpstart my creativity. There were too many nasty insects buzzing around my head. I felt crowded with a mountain of cacophonic thoughts, feelings, and images, and couldn’t focus. Every time I tried to focus, the trying felt forced and the results were, at best, mediocre. Frequently, I would put my computer on standby mode and wheel myself to one of three nearby upscale food markets. There, I would buy prepared French delicacies that reminded me of home. I would then proceed to the wine store to purchase a bottle to accompany the food. After that, I would return to my apartment, eat like three pigs and the wine would make me sleepy. I would give up on my work “for the day.” I was getting fat and increasingly irritated with myself.

I didn’t know where I was going creativity-wise or any which-wise or why I’d ever even wanted to write a libretto in the first place. Yes, I’m a fair music critic, but I’m hardly what one would call a gifted creative writer. It had been suggested that someone else write it, based on my plotline. But I couldn’t plot the opera. The characters kept on distracting me and diverting what little, intermittent focus I possessed. They kept changing their names and histories and they all had such lousy memories. And there were just too many coincidences. The events seemed too contrived and melodramatic. I had wanted to write a modern opera, not a neo-romantic farce.

So I took up meditation. I forced myself to get up at 6:00 every morning – a habit I would retain when school re-commenced—simply to cogitate without cogitating for 45 minutes. Once a week, I went to a meditation center for guidance. Of course, I couldn’t empty my head completely, but I started to feel calmer, much more receptive to my inner rhythms, the movements of my body, mind, heart. Much more capable of stilling myself so I could tap into flow. There was nothing “mystical” about the “practice” – I didn’t become a follower of any belief system.

The meditation helped me make quick progress on my rather jazzy trio for bassoon, clarinet, and bass. I also wrote three amusing (I hope) poems, naturally, far from brilliant like Goethe’s, but apt for the piece. The first, accompanying the first movement, would be sung by a tenor, the second by a bass, and the third by a second alto. I called the trio: Three Love Poems to Flowers. As follows: ..................


But I was still at a loss to continue with the libretto and started to see Violette nearly everywhere I went.

(Apparitions and Suspicions)

One day, Didier’s obsession with Violette returns with a vengeance, like one of de Kooning’s goddesses. The first sighting occurs at La Grenouille, just as he’s about to breach a cheese soufflé. “How strange,” he tells Henri, and new American friend, Ann, “I just saw a woman passing by the window. . . I used to . . . no, impossible . . . oh, my imagination . . .”

“Come now, tell all,” Henri pokes Didier. “I can tell the story’s replete with intrigue and romance.”

“No, simply lust and an uncanny attraction deeper than lust, so I guess not so simple a tale, yet barely that.”

Ann presses Didier. “Oh, I love intrigue! Come out with it! You’re being totally obscure, you know!”

Didier grows quiet, finally says: “It’s nothing. It was nothing, nothing but insanity. Let’s return to the cuisine. One must never let a cheese soufflé grow cold!” He grins shyly at Ann, adds, “And how are the frogs’ legs, the specialité of the house? I had them once, soon after I’d arrived in New York. Drenched in garlic . . . perfection!" .................................

The second sighting occurs when Didier is at a market considering what fish to buy for dinner. Above the fish counter is a mirror that provides shoppers with a vision of double the amount of fish for sale. Didier is favoring scallops when Violette, her double, or an apparition of Violette floats over the surface of the mirror. He turns swiftly around, but she’s nowhere to be seen. He maneuvers his chair about the narrow aisles with difficulty. No sign of Violette. He hurries outside and looks up and down the street, searches for her to no avail. He thinks he’s going mad again, forgets to return for the fish.

The sightings are increasing. One night, he sees her after a concert he attended with Henri. “Oh, no, there she is again – the ghost, my death” he blurts out, on their way out of the concert hall.

“Who?” asks Henri.

“The woman I thought I saw that time when we were at La Grenouille. Remember? I keep seeing her, or thinking that I’m seeing her, but I’ve been unable to catch up to her, and it is fortunate I think,” Didier confides with a noticeable ache in his voice.

“But who is this woman? And why are you so disturbed, Didier?”

“This is ridiculous. She’s no one I ever met, at least literally, would you believe?”

“Bizarre, yet not totally uncommon. But what is her name?”

“I hesitate to make the so-called unreal real by stating it. But perhaps you have heard of her, the charismatic mezzo-soprano Violette Choisy.”

Henri pales considerably, nearly loses his balance. Didier is too occupied with the odd mood into which the vision has hurled him to notice his friend’s dramatic reaction. Recovering himself, Henri responds, “No, I’ve never heard of the singer. But you must tell me all about your strange fascination with her . . . over drinks. My treat.”


In time, Didier grew accustomed to the illusion of seeing Violette, or rather, the apparition or hallucination of the object of his obsession. Ultimately, he concluded that she represented suppressed currents of desire, hypnagogic phenomena floating in his unconscious – his longing for the “erotic muse,” co-conspirator of death, the half-brother of sleep. Didier thought of William Blake’s lines: “In a wife I would desire/ What in whores is always found/The lineaments of Gratified desire.” The poet (and theologian) had wanted to add a concubine to his marital bed, much to his wife’s sorrow.

Didier re-evaluated his now infrequent experiences of “dread,” which always occurred on the border of sleep and wakefulness, and questioned whether he was ever truly “awake.” He read articles about hypnagogia and related topics, and was gratified to discover that hallucinations were not the sole province of schizophrenics, narcoleptics, and imbibers of opiates.

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