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Circles, by Emerson
A few weeks ago, I was asked ‘Why do we write?’ It was a simple enough question for me. I limited my response to just a few motives; we write to record information, to advocate our thoughts and reasoning to a selected audience, to express ourselves, and to create as art. The class shared my thoughts, regurgitating them with painfully similar words and paraphrases. I was not a fan of the activity. But this activity did provoke my thoughts.
When I was younger, I always wondered what the point of art was. To me, it was a stupid thing to do, to create. You would slop down paint onto a canvas, and you’d create a photorealistic interpretation of a scene in front of you. Why not just take a picture? Or when I might watch old videos of Angus Young and Eddie Van Halen dancing and screaming with their guitars, I would always think they looked funny. I didn’t find any special beauty in the notes; to me it was pointless and I thought that being a musician was just a profession like any other.
A few years ago, I started listening to music. As I recall, I was listening to a rather eccentric musician by the name of Happy Rhodes. She played funny noises on the keyboard that I learned to love and sang with a vocal range of an incredible 4 octaves. Her voice jumped like when you hit a bouncy ball really hard in the living room but then your parents tell you to stop because it could break something. And I thought, “Wow, that’s pretty cool.” Other musical artists began to appeal to me over time, ranging anywhere from raging thrash metal to classical symphonies.
What was missing from all this music is that it never inspired me to do anything with my experiences. Maybe I’d have it as background noise as I was working on homework, or occasionally I would sneak a headphone through my sleeve and pretend to be intrigued by my Algebra 1 teacher, because I would rather listen to wild melody than a Polish teacher who pronounced “factorials” as “f***torials.” Ha-ha, yes, very funny my fellow tweens, she said a bad word.
A year or so after I first began listening to music regularly, I went to my first concert in Sacramento. I was up in the grand veranda watching Billie Joe Armstrong hurling toilet paper into the audience and throwing a 10-year-old to the ground. I was with a fellow nerd by the name of Cody. We were jumping up and down and started a 2-man mosh pit in the stands. Then Mike Dirnt came towards the edge of the stage, a mere 20 feet away, pointed at us, flung out his one-handed devil horns, and rocked on over in the opposite direction. Coy and I looked at each other and rejoiced with the happiness equivalent to that of a fly that had landed on a freshly lobbed turd.
When we returned to our regular havens, I remembered everything about the experience. In my mind I had formed a sort of unspoken acceptance between Mike Dirnt and I. I’ve never met the dude, but I’m positive that we are now closer than two twins in the womb.
So, there was my inspiration. I wanted to be a musician, and I decided that that was what I was going to be. There was an old guitar case in my step-dad’s office, and it had some serious mojo. It was beat up, the red leather was torn, and I was astonished to see that the brass locks still prevailed through whatever alchemic experiments my step-dad had performed on it. The guitar itself looked like a God, and I later found that it was a fairly decent first guitar to own, appraised at a luxurious $35. And so, I began to practice.
After learning some random riffs and chords, I’ve started noticing patterns in the songs I was playing, and thought, ‘well, I could do that.’ To my grave disappointment, it was not all that easy. I could play patterns and improvise some riffs, but they always sounded awful. Why did they sound awful?
While my parents were out on their ‘Margarita Decompression Night,’ I decided to plug in my guitar and put on my renowned Bose headphones and began to play. I came up with a simple bridge that was just so overwhelmingly awesome that I took off for a few hours making up little fills and riffs to go along with it. I felt great, and that was an understatement. I was playing unusually well and I loved what I was playing. I wrote down the bridge I was using and crashed on my futon. Ouch, it was 1:40 AM.
When I woke up the next morning, the first thing I did was kick over my blanket and pick up my guitar to play the bridge I played the night before. But something was off… was it my timing? Quite possibly, I am notorious for having an awful sense of rhythm. But it wasn’t my timing. Was it the notes I was playing? I checked my notes, and it wasn’t. Why did I not possess the same muse I did the night before? Why did I sound awful today?
This was my first experience of many. Being myself, I try to find an idealistic explanation for everything. My own philosophies on creativity formed themselves in my head against my will as I lay in bed at night. I would avoid all those cheesy reasons I hear all the time from propagandists or preachers--I didn’t care if your God was telling me what to play, I didn’t care if I was playing what was in my heart, and I didn’t care if something was speaking to me through my music. Maybe the people who tell me these things are right, and I am just being stubborn. Or maybe we are all right, but everyone has their own conceited ideas for credit and the only difference was the words they forced upon me. But none of them satisfied my sense of understanding, and I still search for my own illumination.
I feel I can explain all of my confusion so clearly, but a month ago, the map of my brain was just jumbled words that made sense only to me. Maybe what I write still only makes sense to me, but only you would know.
A month ago, I was working at my grandmother’s Bed and Breakfast in Cortez, Colorado. I was doing everyday things like mudding an Anasazi pueblo, maintaining a forever imperfect irrigation system, and recommending tourist points at Mesa Verde National Park. She recommended me an essay by Oscar Wilde, a gay socialist, and just about anything by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Who Emerson was? I had no idea, I didn’t care, and I still don’t really care. I picked a random essay entitled “Circles.”
It began with a beautiful metaphor. “The eye is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the second; and throughout nature this primary figure is repeated without end.” This is Emerson’s idea about, well, everything. Everything in nature comes back to a point in the circle at which it started. There is no end; just a bunch of patterns in everything of anything. I can’t explain it any better, but if you want to understand, you will have to read his essay for yourself.
Reading this essay required me to sit back after every few sentences and process the superior metaphors and figurative philosophy he subtly thrust upon me. This usually led to more daydreaming. After about an hour, I came across a paragraph.
“Our moods do not believe in each other. To-day I am full of thoughts and can write what I please. I see no reason why I should not have the same thought, the same power of expression, to-morrow. What I write, whilst I write it, seems the most natural thing in the world: but yesterday I saw a dreary vacuity in this direction in which now I see so much; and a month hence, I doubt not, I shall wonder who he was that wrote so many continuous pages. Alas for this infirm faith, this will not strenuous, this vast ebb of a vast flow! I am God in nature; I am a weed by the wall.”
It is very rare for me to come across writing that explains what I have to say. It seems a little more often for others—usually a good quote or poem provided by our trusty professor would do. But this paragraph made my confusion a little easier to express. It’s funny how excited I am to find a link between my confusion and the outside world.
I don’t trust when people tell me to “find my own meaning.” An author writes with purpose, and I wouldn’t want my metaphors being butchered to a completely irrelevant tale, symbolizing whatever blasphemous story you wrote from whatever flawed imagination you choose to use. If one writes with purpose, then it is theirs, not yours. If you wish to express yourself, do so through your own writing, not through somebody else’s. With that logic, it’s easy to see why this paragraph had stuck out to me so much.
I haven’t any clarity on an answer to my thoughts, but it is somehow reassuring to see that my dilemma has been shared with another entity.