Siege Diaries 3/1/2021


Today’s Daily Stoic writing prompt: How often do I question the things others take for granted?

What this is talking about is not external things–both basic ones, such as food and housing security, and things that might be considered luxuries, such as the ability to travel.  Instead, the focus is on “emotions, beliefs, and even language.”   That makes this a more intriguing question–for me, in particular, the language part.  I have had friends and relatives who have had strokes and developed aphasia, and I’ve seen the struggle to even put together a coherent sentence even though it’s obvious their intelligence is not impacted.  A friend I made on one of the Reddit subs alerted me to the tragic story of the composer Ravel, who in his later years lost the ability to write, speak, perform complex movements and compose, even while his brain function apparently was unimpacted;  no one knows quite what it was, but it was some kind of degenerative neurological disease.  Some posit that the repetitiveness in Bolero was a sign of the disease.   So…yeah.  Imagine being a writer and seeing your words starting to slip away (and not just forgetting the odd phrase or precise term, which I think happens to everyone) even though in some way your brain knows what it wants to say.  Imagine being a composer and continuing to hear the music in your head, but being unable to write it down.  

We often assume that others will understand what we mean to say or what is in our heart, particularly those who are closest to us.  The same goes for beliefs–it is easy to see others standing beside you in a church, or at a cultural event, or in a political rally are united with you in what you believe–and then to be disappointed when that turns out not to be the case.   So we look for traces and signs in outward behaviour.  If the person is an artist or a writer, perhaps they have extra tools to show others what is in their heart, but they can just as easily strive for more abstract concepts with less easily-recognizable meanings.  And human beings are rarely able to be distilled down to one emotion.  “It’s complicated,” as the Facebook status reads.   

This is where it’s hardest for someone who is an observer to make those connections to others.  We don’t want to pry.  We’re great listeners, but sometimes we need a legend to decode the meanings or the subsumed emotions.  Grief can look like anger.  Love can look like some other kind of love–not the kind you were thinking…you know, awkward.  Or perhaps we’ll read subtexts that friends are trying to hide, and we’ve been slapped down in the past for going too deep or being too nosy.  

There’s a Rush song–“Entre Nous”–about this.

We are secrets to each other
Each one’s life a novel
No-one else has read
Even joined in bonds of love
We’re linked to one another
By such slender threads

We are planets to each other
Drifting in our orbits
To a brief eclipse
Each of us a world apart
Alone and yet together
Like two passing ships

Just between us
I think it’s time for us to recognize
The differences we sometimes fear to show
Just between us
I think it’s time for us to realize
The spaces in between
Leave room for you and I to grow

We are strangers to each other
Full of sliding panels
An illusion show
Acting well-rehearsed routines
Or playing from the heart?
It’s hard for one to know

We are islands to each other
Building hopeful bridges
On a troubled sea
Some are burned or swept away
Some we would not choose
But we’re not always free


After posting early yesterday, many things happened. My Pathfinder game was cancelled, leading to ample time to finish up Rocket Cat and to do the sketch for the next embroidery project (Shostakovich #6). I also had a bit of a fangirl moment when Ben Heppner’s CBC Radio program, which was on musical dynasties this week, featured a performance of Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto no. 2, conducted by his son and played (blisteringly fast!) by his grandson. Had to order a copy of that. It was recorded by the rather quirky Montreal chamber group I Musici, which I’d heard of years ago and turns out is still around.

But more unexpectedly, I went on a hell of a research ride responding to a Reddit question. I’ve provided the link below. It involved tracking down a reference mentioned in a podcast through a recent popular history work supposedly to women being blamed for the plague because their clothes were so short that their nether regions showed and they could not even kneel to pray. The poster was wondering whether what sounded like medieval miniskirts should make him reconsider medieval standards of modesty. I recognized that this was very likely a description of male clothing, not female, and traced this through first finding the book, looking up the footnote, then finding the compilation of translated sources about the Plague it was taken from (and noticing at that step that it definitely was talking about men) and then, finally, the passage from a fairly obscure English chronicle. The post has absolutely exploded on the AskHistorians subreddit, with over 4000 upvotes last I checked, including a note from the author of the book wanting to correct his statement for subsequent printings. I’ve never had a post get more than about 50 upvotes–I usually write on fairly obscure questions about theology or book arts or less popular clothing topics besides potential medieval miniskirts.

It did, however, mean I couldn’t turn off my brain when I went to bed last night, and slept horribly. I even got up to reply to some of the comments at 4:40 am. Going viral–or as viral as I’m likely to go–is hard work.