Wednesday, July 6, 2011

"That which does not kill us makes us stronger." ~Friedrich Nietzsche

In the summer of 1960, Dmitri Shostakovich went to Dresden to write the score for the film Five Days, Five Nights, in which five Soviet soldiers are tasked with tracking down art treasures stolen by Joseph Goebbels and the Nazis. The director, Lev Arnshtam, told the New York Times that the film focuses on a German painter "who feels that art should depict suffering and therefore a measure of life."

Instead, Shostakovich, inspired by the scenes of devastation and war in Dresden, composed his Quartet No. 8 in C Minor (op. 110). The score is officially dedicated to "the memory of the victims of fascism and war," but personal correspondence indicates the quartet was written almost as more of a suicide note. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra program notes describe the last movement of the piece with the following:
"...slow and desolate yet filled with intimate asides...too numb even for recollection...just the hollow sound of inconsolable sorrow."
In short, the perfect piece for four Johnson County high school-aged suburbanite musicians to perform, right? Not to trivialize the tribulations of a high school student, but when your painful experiences are limited mostly to the death of a pet, getting a B when you thought you put up an A effort, and not getting asked to Homecoming, chances are good you're not approaching this piece with the emotional depth it demands, no matter how technically skilled you might be. Those things all suck, but they're hardly the stuff of "inconsolable sorrow."

Unfortunately for me, now that I have a better idea of what might actually be meant by "inconsolable sorrow," I don't have the violin chops of my 15 year old self. To try to play anything now would be an exercise in reverse frustration, like coming home with the gas to fill an empty tank only to discover the car is no longer there. Writing, something else I was decent at 15 years ago, is equally frustrating sometimes - I still have the words but I no longer have the time or the patience required to get the thoughts out properly. If it comes to expressing myself poorly or not expressing myself at all, it seems that more and more, I've been defaulting towards the latter. (Evidence: Every single journal I've started over the years or novel idea I've written down, only to go unfinished, abandoned, forgotten. I am where ideas go to die.) I'm a mediocre, derivative visual artist who likes making messes with canvases and oil paints and watercolors but rarely does more than that, and I will occasionally get lucky with a camera...but only occasionally.

So what do you do if all of your creative outlets are shut off and you're not cruel enough to torture cats, fry ants with a magnifying glass, or waterboard terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay? The same thing any normal person does when they see a crushing clusterfuck bearing down on them - RUN AWAY. Literally, in my case. I'm not proud to admit that the first few times I hit the streets it was to escape the pain that was threatening to make me crazy. Running was one of the only times - and still is - that all the little voices in my head stop whispering their horrible what-ifs. The discovery that the wind blows between my ears in a peaceful white-noise sort of way when I run was a blessing, and still is.

And that, gentle readers, is how I became a runner. The same way gunshot victims wind up hooked on methadone. The only difference is that the monkey on MY back wears a kickass Garmin.

All over the world, millions of runners have managed to turn destructively running FROM their pain into constructively running FOR it. The 2010 New York City Marathon alone rose in excess of $30 million for 190 charities. In its two years of existence, the NYC Team Run2Remember has raised over half a million dollars for the Alzheimer's Association, funding 5 full time positions at the NYC Chapter and allocating $115,000 towards NYC-based research projects.

In short, I've been given a great opportunity to make a huge difference in the fight against Alzheimer's and make sure no one else has to go through what my family and loved ones have gone through in slowly losing such a wonderful and beautiful person. And with a canned optimistic horseshit answer like that, I could be chosen as the next Miss America. If they found a cure for dementia tomorrow, no one would be more thrilled than I am...but truth of the matter is, a cure won't deliver all the memories it's stolen from my mother, apologetically gift-wrapped and tied with ribbons. Never having to encounter the disease again won't make up for what it's stolen from all of us. And I'm not 100% sure I'll ever get over that and not, deep down, wonder why the fuck the cure couldn't have come even 6 years sooner when Mom still knew enough to sing Beatles songs and dance and put her own clothes on and eat her own food without choking and still have an absentminded recollection of who we all are and why we love her. Sometimes a cure for dementia flat out feels like someone ELSE's goddamn cause, because ours is already lost.

After writing paragraphs like that, the ones where I'm wiping away tears as fast as I'm typing words, I feel the way Ben Franklin must have felt watching a lightning storm. There's power in this situation, a kind of horrible dangerous power. I need to learn how to use it and not let it use ME. If I can do this, I don't think I'll be writing any world-class pieces of music, painting things that make people cry, writing the Great American Novel, or winning the Tour de France, but maybe in spite of everything I might - just might - finish the New York City Marathon, then figure out how to get by and maybe actually do some good in the process.

Or, to put it a different way, "If we could somehow...harness...this it...into the flux capacitor, it just might work."

Easier said than done, but sometimes I think I'm getting there.

No comments:

Post a Comment