Siege Diaries 2/27/2021

Today’s Daily Stoic writing prompt: How can I cultivate indifference to unimportant things?

This one is fairly straightforward:  Don’t give unimportant things your time or energy.  The harder thing is how to determine whether a thing is important or not.  There are small things which are very important and big things that aren’t at all important, and everything in between.    And it’s something I need to be quite vigilant about–as I’ve mentioned before, I have a tendency to get comfortable or complacent with tasks I’ve done many times before without incident.  I start cutting corners.  Sometimes, cutting corners is just getting good enough at something that you do all of the “right” things without thinking about them, but sometimes it’s getting sloppy.

The meditation for today provides some better food for thought:  The key is to enjoy the things you have today, without craving more or fearing what might happen if you lost them.  And that’s a pandemic lesson:  What would happen if I suddenly couldn’t do a lot of the things I’d gotten accustomed to?  And I know the answer–I’d find other things to do–perhaps new versions of the same activities, perhaps doing more of those activities not impacted by not being able to travel or gather in groups.


More progress on Rocket Cat.  Very good chance I’ll be able to finish him up tomorrow.  Meanwhile, late last night the idea came to me for the next Shostakovich embroidery, including the starting point.  My birthday is in six days. I decided to do a piece from when Shostakovich was (more or less) precisely my age, as I haven’t done anything from that era yet.  Then I figured out that that would be…1960.  That’s a hugely pivotal year, I think, between middle period Shostakovich and late period.  It’s the year he acquiesced, probably under considerable pressure, to joining the Communist Party.  It’s the year he wrote the autobiographical Eighth Quartet.  While I don’t buy the idea that it was “a suicide note,” it was definitely the work of someone who was working through some serious shit.  So it wasn’t a huge surprise to me to find that the sources I have didn’t have a lot of good portraits that date from this period.  However, a little bit of Googling did reveal two good candidates, and I think I’ve decided on one based on what he’s doing with his hand.  It’s a bit of a characteristic pose, and it’s familiar to just about anyone who is in some sense uncomfortable with even the thought that people might be looking at them.  (Like me.)   But looking closer, I noticed something else:  What on earth is going on with his pinky finger?  Is that even physically possible?  Sure as hell isn’t for me!


While we’re on the topic of Shostakovich (is there any other topic?  Inquiring minds want to know!), I just finished watching a livestream of a performance of the  Cello Concerto no. 1 presented by a fairly local regional orchestra, Kindred Spirits.  This orchestra does quite a lot of Shostakovich;  I was supposed to see them perform the 15th Symphony back in June, and have a ticket for the 14th Symphony in May.  You never know quite what you’re going to get with a a regional orchestra–but I was impressed with their performance, despite having video production quality that was clearly not quite as professional (and in fact, I’m waiting to hear if the live stream comes back as it abruptly cut out while they were interviewing the cellist.)  There are a lot of exposed horn parts in this concerto, and exposed horn parts just seem to be a minefield for Shostakovich works–but other than one tiny bobble, the horn players were up to the task this time.  There were also a few synchronization errors that I highly suspect were more the product of the way the mics were placed.  But the big kudos go to the soloist, Amahl Arulanandam, whose performance was expressive and of an extremely high calibre–and, as it turned out, he was a fairly last-minute replacement who had never played the entire concerto with an orchestra;  in fact, he’d really only learned the first movement for an audition.    Holy cats wow!  He had some quotable comments, too, remarking in his interview about the “raw humanity” of the work, and then about his appreciation for Shostakovich as a heavy metal fan, “there’s a lot of very metal moments in Shostakovich’s work.”    Unfortunately, the stream cut out at that point so I’m still waiting to see if I get to hear the second work on the program, a Scriabin symphony (I know very little Scriabin, being more familiar with his personality as a slightly wacko mystic than his actual work).

I guess it’s fitting that today is the anniversary of the last Shostakovich work (the 9th Quartet) I heard live and in person.   It’s not the last concert, period–last year was a complete flurry of concert activity, with a wonderful Tafelmusik concert and finally, pianist James Rhodes’ concert on my birthday.  It’ll definitely be different this year.  But I have confidence it will be good.  I will be starting two meaningful projects that day, I’ll have a day off from work, and there will be some of my favourite takeout food (August 8) to enjoy.  And for me, it’ll be my first pandemic birthday–I’m aware that I’m one of the last people who can say that.