10.27.01
5:06 am

I woke up at 1:43 am this morning to what felt like a small earthquake.

And thank god, that's exactly what it was.

How strange that an earthquake seems sort of friendly and familiar (I did grow up in LA), but, hey, compared with another terrorist attack, I'm just fine with a small earthquake.

What must it be like in Kabul? Three children died in last night's US bombing, according to The Guardian, which has become my source for news lately. They (we, that is) completely destroyed the International Red Cross buildings and storehouses of relief supplies in Kabul. I guess we want to make sure that the Afghans develop a real taste for peanut butter and jam. Have you read Arundhati Roy's coruscating commentaries? Please do.

Well, I got home from Prague Sunday, wrote a piece for Taimur and Margaret for this coming Tuesday's concert, (it’s fierce and difficult, and I am so grateful they are willing to wham so hard to have it ready) and then I spent the rest of the week in a sort of half-collapsed state. Yesterday I gave up pretending to be productive and went to bed and read, in parallel, a history of Armenia, and a history of Islam. Century by century.

The thing with these histories is that they talk about the times of change and awfulness, and only glance over the intervening years of relative calm and peace. Calm and peace is inessential to the narrative, I guess. So you end up with this overview of over fifteen hundred years of invasions, murders, warfare, feuds, and seemingly trivial theological disputes (over which thousands upon thousands die of course).

Reading the history of Armenia, one would never in a million years be able to understand how a distinctive culture developed, let alone that it has survived with at least some attenuated sense of identity for 1700 years. (I say attenuated because if you search for books on Armenian art, culture, music, you will see that most of them are out of print, that finding information about these things is going to be a real research job. I say attenuated because there are more diaspora Armenians than there are people living in Armenia, and if I am any indication of the relation of diaspora Armenians to Armenian history and culture, I'd have to call that SEVERELY attenuated!)

I am beginning to see the life I have had so far as nearly uniquely easy. At practically no other time in history, and at very few other places around the globe even now, could I have chosen the life I have, and been free to live it so heedless of my incredible luck.

An artist, an intellectual, a woman, a sexual deviant, an unaffiliated person, either to religion, to the academy, or to any particular ideology, who gets up in the morning with surprisingly little certainty about how I will spend the day, who can lie in bed all afternoon reading history if I feel like it, or get up at five am and ruminate about my condition and post it on the web that afternoon for you to read...

What a strange feeling to look at my own life in this context. So un-tethered, I suppose, and yet so directly related to the fruits of Enron and Exxon and all the rest. The reason I can lie in bed and read history is because Simon and Schuster can pay me enough to subsidize my reading, because foundations exist (which operate with a tiny percent of the fruits of capitalism) that every now and again give me money to write music, which allows me to justify reading books and ruminating about history as part of my work.

My life could not exist in the form it does without the gross wealth of American life. Yes, of course, I need the constitution and its amendments, I need the "good" part of American values in order to continue to exist, but all the first amendment freedom in the world is almost meaningless without the time to formulate what one wants to say, and that time costs money. If I had to make Nike's (or work at the Food Emporium) at $6 an hour to pay the rent, I wouldn't have much time to think of anything to say, would I?

And certainly my wonderful education, for which I am very grateful, gave me the tools both to figure out a way to live the way I want to, and to think up interesting things to do with the freedom I have.

But is it not also the case that my unaffiliated state, my lack of connection to any institutions or organizations, while giving me freedom and flexibility, also marginalizes me? Is the price of my freedom a certain invisibility? I mean, come on, who am I, who really cares what I think, what I make, what I do with my life of freedom?

At a theater conference in Pilsen last week, I told a story the composer Harry Partch told on himself. He had invented a 31-string kithara, and mentioned to his interlocutors that when a musician-poet in ancient Greece had invented a 9-string kithara to improve on the conventional 7-string kithara, he was severely punished for his innovation, as it was too radical and revolutionary. Harry Partch continued ruefully, "This is America. I'm free to invent a 31-string kithara if I want, and nobody pays the slightest attention."

Are these the only choices? That we create societies where the slightest infractions of the norm are punished, but that every choice matters, or that we live in free societies where hardly anything matters?