It is an honor for me to be writing for the Best American Poetry blog. When Stacey asked me last week if I would write this blog in spite of everything else that is going on in my life – I said – absolutely! Yet I felt overwhelmed –there is so much I wish to write about, how will I know what to choose, what to concentrate on, what may interest the readers of the BAP? I live the life of a touring musician, constantly changing countries, cities, rushing from a rehearsal to a concert. A few weeks ago, my apartment in New York, which has been my only sense of home in an already groundless life, had an electrical fire and burned down, destroying in the flames the remains of the past, letters, manuscripts, photographs and a very large library from Russia which was started by my grandparents, ruining beyond repair my beloved concert grand Steinway and crumbling any sense of security.
The week of this blog I will travel from Toronto, where I was for the world premiere of my new ballet with Aszure Barton and the National Ballet of Canada, to New York for chamber music rehearsals, to Boston for a concert of my music. Not the best surroundings to collect one's thoughts. Yet one can never depend on the best surroundings and there are always plenty of excuses not to write, so I will simply address this week some of the thoughts and subjects that move me most, share some of my passions and obsessions as well as random moments – the frozen moments in Time which create the material of our memories. I thought to call my blog residency this week The Trouble Clef - Notes of a Wandering Musician, as I think it summarizes well the disjointed voices of my hours.
Listen: Postlude [by Lera Auerbach]
"My life is a dialogue with Time," I wrote in 1991 in one of the poems. This line became the title of my book of poetry, published in Russia in 1993. Later it became the title of an orchestral work. My fascination, even obsession with Time, dates back as long as I remember myself.
Time is not a river, and it certainly does not ﬂow in one direction. According to the laws of any well-structured composition, be it a short story, a symphony, a building, or a human life, the beginning apriori encompasses the end, and the end already contains the beginning.
Time has many faces. One face is the clock. Since childhood, I've been terrified by the lines of the clock. In my child's imagination I pictured time as a monster that eats up our lives; every second is one more bite, every second brings death closer. The other face of time is Time with a capital "T"; the word that means so many different things to each person; the word, together with a few other words such as Love, God, Fate, that is unable to really express what it means, and yet there is no other or better way to open a door to its meaning.
When did Time start? We may guess when the counting of time started in human history, but we do not know when Time itself started. Perhaps, Time was born when the Universe was created. But still – what was before? If Time and the Universe were born it means they are living creatures as any one of us, and therefore are also finite. And if Time was always there and always will be there, then it is of a very different nature than we may imagine. And, at last, perhaps Time (and Space) only exist in our Universe; and outside of it, in other forms of reality, neither Time nor Space exist at all.
Time is what allows our past and future to intersect in the present moment and, thus, creates every single point of our existence. Perhaps Time exists. Perhaps it doesn't. In any case, it affects us. It makes us aware of Death. Death makes us aware of Life. Time makes us alive.
In my constant search for answers, I once asked an old Rabbi, “What is Time? How does one create Time? (Oh, the same segment of a minute can be so short or so long, depending on circumstances — haven't you noticed)?” The Rabbi thought for a while. Then he answered, "Time is action. The way to create Time is to fill it with action. It is like the relationship between a metronome and music: the same beat can fit one note or many. The more you do, the more time you create." I think the Rabbi was right, but I also think that sometimes staying still and observing or contemplating in silence may be the greatest action.
Time reminds us of Death, of a finite point in Life when you no longer are. When I was very young, my nanny used to take me to the cemetery ‘to have some fresh air’. Daily, we would come to the city's cemetery to visit and to take care of her own grave. Yes, she had had her grave ever since the death of her husband, where, next to his stone plate, was hers with her name inscribed. She would take care of both gravestones and of the flowers and trees that grew around them. It wasn't a somber or sad activity. It was part of life, it was peaceful, and for me, it was my playground. Russian cemeteries are so beautiful — very green and full of trees, flowers, birds, stones, statues, poetic verses, memories, history… This is perhaps why my first song, which I wrote at the age of four, was about Death and Time.
...In the darkness, in childhood, lying at night with eyes wide open and listening to the ticking of the clock on the wall. Second followed by second – and I knew for certain that those seconds would never return – they sank into oblivion.
Later this terror intensified and at age twelve I would stop the pendulum on the wall clock, I would remove it, I'd banish the clock from the room, but all the same at night rang out: tick-tock, tick-tock – that was my heart beating. And I had neither the strength nor the will to tear it from my breast.
From early childhood, from the age of six, the fear of Time passing. Not just passing, but slipping away. Almost physically, visibly seeping through my fingers. This terrifying and inevitable feeling poisoned all my childhood and youth. And every day was a challenge to my invisible and indifferent rival. A successful day is like recaptured territory, a respite, a truce until the following day. And the despair and terror during the lost day. Life is an attempt to swim out of the sucking whirlpool, where Time bears our days. Because of this all my poems written as a child are variations on the theme of the passing day and interminable epitaphs on Time.
In my early infancy, before the age of six, this was not the case. The "Apple of Knowledge" had not yet been plucked (by whom and when?). The days were as long as eternity, and the clock was an empty knick-knack on the wall.
Interminable illnesses that were transformed into dreams, and dreams that flowed into days, and days into illnesses.
The world was wise and clear. It became overgrown, like seaweed, with fantasies and dream visions, but nevertheless it preserved some part of its original harmonious foundations. And the boundary between existence and nonexistence was fragile. The latter was too recent and close, the former too amorphous.
My Teachers, (Oh, I had marvelous invincible Teachers; in infancy while I hid in the wardrobe that smelled of mothballs, I would talk to them at length and there was nothing more fascinating than those conversations), my Teachers would tell me about how the world was organized. And these stories were as far away from that which I later learned by rote from textbooks and found in books, as that blessed time is far from me now.
Stars, leaves and music, the smells and sensations of past lives and all their accumulated experience found a place in their stories; they cast a spell over me and turned into dreams, and dreams into illnesses and again that fine thread separating me from my recent nonexistence quavered and broke. With age these conversations with my Teachers (with an ever-increasing and obvious switch in favor of existence) became more and more rare... It was a peculiar loss of ability to comprehend their voices. Or rather not even their voices, but feelings, since we communicated without the aid of words (words do not help, words separate, and any act of speech is nothing more than a translation from the original). But they are some place close by, my guardian angels. I know that. And Time, awful Time, nonexistent Time will not overpower us!
Brain-teaser [Day 1]: Can you draw a line through each one of these dots, without lifting your pencil, and by drawing only 4 lines? (This means that you can make only 3 turns.) You also can only go once through each dot...