Birthday Thoughts

This is what I’ve been listening to over the past few days. I’m actually listening to it now, as I write. I’ve always thought classical music had a secret code and language; something that cannot be taken apart and explained via composition, rhythm, or notes alone. It’s like a protective, self-enclosed membrane that moves it through history, unaltered. Our tastes and music genres may change, but it seemingly floats to us from a time we no longer recognise, with its integrity and structure intact. One of the things I’ve always wanted to be able to do is express what listening to a piece such as Debussy’s La Cathédrale Engloutie makes me feel, in words. And right now, all I can think of is water and membrane.

In Gail Jones’ Dreams of Speaking, Mr Sakamoto writes Alice an email:

Think of this: we are mostly water; we are two-thirds ocean. Because of our high water content the body can be exposed to a strong magnetic field and the molecules of our hydrogen atoms respond. When submitted to radio waves, the energy content of the nuclei changes and a resonance wave is emitted when the nuclei return to their previous state. Do you understand? Is this not the simplest of principles? Small differences in the oscillation of nuclei can be detected, so a three-dimensional image of the interior body can be built. The image shows the structure of the tissue, and reveals any pathology. Water, waves, magnetism, image: it is like a kind of poetry. A physical haiku. Entering an MRI is like entering a radio coil; the radio waves cause the nuclei of the body to quiver and respond. We are all thus collectors of waves, we are all creatures of hidden oceans. (pp. 166-7)

I’ve read Dreams of Speaking many times, but today, this is what I take from it: the feeling I have that responds so instinctively to classical music is to do with that symphony of hidden oceans and collections of waves. It makes my insides literally swim; it brings wetness to my eyes that’s neither sadness nor happiness, but simply an awareness of the body as a poem. I’ve heard people describe love as their heart ‘swelling’, expanding in their chest like a physical ache, pushing against the boundaries of the body. I’ve felt that with people. I also feel it when listening to this music. Maybe this is love too – a love of your own self and body as it reacts to something. It’s like the separating membranes of our bodies are in sensory conflict with the waves within. You can’t call this a sensation of pleasure or pain; it’s a sensation of being.

It’ll be my birthday on Tuesday. I’ll be twenty-nine years old. There’ll only be a single year left in my twenties, and I feel everyone around me pointing to the boundaries of my life, to the things that need to be done in order to succeed as an adult: children, marriage, a ‘stable’ job and career. I don’t deny these life experiences, but I resent having them thrust upon me as identity-defining expectations. I need to accommodate the less defined ocean within that cares very little about the protective membrane of adulthood. I can only think of one way of accommodating the waves, and that is by writing. Happy birthday to me, with all my oscillating interiors.