Siege Diaries 1/2/2021

Today’s Daily Stoic writing prompt:  What am I learning and studying for?

The associated meditation elaborates:  “Knowledge–especially self-knowledge–is freedom.”  I’d go one step further.  Knowledge is a gateway to wisdom, a foundation.   Knowledge for knowledge’s sake is usually seen as an admirable thing, but it’s really only when knowledge leads to critical thinking and understanding that it becomes truly worthwhile.  I mean, I know all kinds of fun facts about the number 5, but they’re trivia.  Where they go beyond that is where, for instance, my knowledge that 5 is a Fibonacci sequence number points me towards understanding how the series is tied into the Golden Ratio, and how that appears in nature.  (It doesn’t fully explain why, but that can be a mystery to contemplate).

Yesterday I posted that I had recently come to understand that I define myself as agender.  The knowledge of that came because of multiple friends and acquaintances over the past years coming to understandings about their own gender identities.   Many of them have discovered they are trans, but I knew that that did not quite ring true for me.  For awhile I thought it might be a question of sexual orientation–perhaps I was some variant of demisexual or even asexual?  Nope, that didn’t do it, really, either.  I then looked into possibilities such as genderfluid, bigender, and androgyne–we were getting closer, but not quite. And then, agender just clicked.  It explains quite a lot about me that I already actually knew.  I resisted for a bit–because I so often find labels do not quite explain me.  For me, for instance, personality is situational; it’s not a black-and-white, A or B thing;  it’s very definitely a spectrum.  I identify as an ambivert–because I draw energy from being alone–but I like being among people!

The end goal for all of this, is, of course, self-knowledge.  Having a way to describe myself is helpful; it makes me realize that there are others with the same identity, and there is a certain amount of external validation involved in being able to have some definitions.

I have started working my way through the Shostakovich symphony cycle again–yes, on the very day I was doing my binge-listen, the complete Michael Sanderling – Dresdener Philharmonie set showed up, but I kept with my originally-planned recordings.  I bought the set on the strength of Sanderling’s interpretation of the 4th, which is rather wonderful.   Yesterday I did the first three symphonies and today I did what I termed “the license plate”–that is, #s 4 and 5, opp. 43 and 47.   The 5th has been the first that I’ve been underwhelmed by–it just come across as a bit dry and robotic.   On the other hand, Sanderling’s treatment of the 2nd and 3rd:  WOW.

I think for most Shostakovich fans, the 2nd and 3rd symphonies consistently rate towards the bottom of the pile when folks are asked to rank them. Too much agitprop, the fact that the poetry Shostakovich was given wasn’t very good, and the fact that he himself didn’t think much of these two works later in life (as opposed to his 1st–he celebrated the anniversary day of its premiere his entire life)–all of those are often cited as reasons for not giving much time to these two works. I had lately been starting to appreciate the 2nd a little bit more, especially the part pre-chorus, but the 3rd had largely escaped me.

That’s over now. I’ve fallen quite in love with these works. Not necessarily enough to change their “ranking,” (I mean, no one’s ever going to assert that the 2nd is a greater work than the 4th or 5th or 8th or 10th) but certainly enough to appreciate them for their own merits. Specifically, what did it? Sanderling’s recordings have an impressive amount depth and clarity, first of all. The Second’s opening and a massive fugue in the middle section can turn into formless mud in some renditions. Between the excellent engineering and Sanderling’s use of dynamics and shaping of phrases, a narrative emerges. And when the choir comes in, once again, shaping through phrasing and dynamics is transformative. What absolutely sells it? The factory horn. Having a real factory horn absolutely makes the Second. And Sanderling doesn’t just use it to herald the choral section–it shows up again later, just before the coda (I’m not sure it’s written that way–I’d only understood it was used the one time; but this is the first version I’ve heard with the actual horn). I want to listen to this recording over and over now.

And the Third, if understood cinematically, is also transformed, and Sanderling’s treatment–again, phrasing and dynamic shaping–bring out the narrative in the music. Compared with the other music Shostakovich was writing around this time, it makes complete sense. There are even, to my ears, hints of harmonies we’re going to hear in Lady Macbeth in a couple of years.

The holiday break is drawing to a close.  And we’re up over 3000 cases per day in Ontario–and not really reflecting the holiday period yet.  Long sigh.   It’ll be interesting whether once people are bereft of “it’s the holidays!” as an excuse for gathering there’s a lot less tolerance for irresponsible behaviour.   Members of provincial government are getting nailed right now for going on vacations.  “It was pre-planned!” Ontario’s finance minister said, trying to excuse himself.  He was forced out of cabinet–Doug Ford really didn’t have any other option this time, given it was clear he knew about the violation.   I also noticed that acquaintances who apparently went out of country on vacation in early December have been extremely tight-lipped about it since returning and posting a couple of photos–given the circles I know them from, I am betting they got rather slammed by mutual acquaintances.

I also notice how different the attitude is in the US.  The list of friends who have had the virus is getting longer (luckily, all mild cases so far)–and these are not reckless people.  But I have completely sensible friends who are travelling or going South for the winter.  Sports are going forward–Ohio State won a berth (by decisively beating Clemson) in the national championship football game yesterday, despite having played only six games before yesterday’s game.  People are throwing up their hands and hoping that the vaccine Hail Mary arrives in time.  And I worry that attitude is as infectious as the virus itself.

Nothing much I can do about that, so it’s heads down, going out only for groceries, and focusing on embroidery, a C&I project or two, reading (making progress on War and Peace), music,  some gaming, Toastmasters, and, in a couple of days, back into the work routine.