TWO VIEWS OF A SECRET by DAWN S. DAVIES
FOR ME, THERE are really only two kinds of anything in this world: those who believe in God and those who don’t. Those who eat animal flesh and those who don’t. Those who breathe air and those who breathe water. Those who burn the midnight oil and those who get up with the sun. Those who fantasize about space and time travel, and those who don’t read Sci-Fi. Those who enjoy consciousness thanks to carbon-based biochemistries and inorganic things made out of other stuff. Those who pick their scabs and those who don’t, or as Tom Robbins said, “Those who believe there are two kinds of people in this world and those who are smart enough to know better.” Because I live with a scattered mind, because my prefrontal cortex could probably use a hoarder intervention, it helps me to think this way. I envy clean thinkers who can follow a logical map in their mind to a thought they have stored there, who can make sense of the volumes of information that are thrown at them every day, those who are not daunted by caretaking their memories and knowledge. But that’s not how I roll.
When I discovered taxonomy and Carl Linnaeus in high school biology class, I felt like I had found a therapeutic intervention of thought, like I had walked into a home of a professional organizer, or someone who has a maid. Everything had a cat- egory. Everything made sense. I went home, cleaned my closet and started to alphabetize my record collection. I have a history of organizational failure, and when pressed to attempt it, find myself inclined instead to eat candy, watch old recordings of rock concerts on YouTube, or indulge in fantasies of time travel, so this was a hopeful change for me, though it didn’t last long.
Before developing a brilliant, if nitpicky, classification of every live thing known to man, Linnaeus, an eighteenth century botanist and the father of modern taxonomy, began with a simple two: those who rely on photosynthesis for fuel, and those who make salads out of those who rely on photosynthesis for fuel. For me, he could have almost stopped there, except for the fact that I am a very serious, intense lover of music, and music has a lot of categories, and classifying them has always been a problem for me. The more categories I listen to, the more the classification lines blur. Categorizing them in straight, alphabetical, music-store order makes no sense—this is blues, this is jazz, this is classical, this is pop—because music connects to emotion, memories, and for me, even colors. Ordering it is impossible, though I would like to do it.
I imagine visiting Dr. Linnaeus during his office hours. I would hand him my music collection, daring him to use his classically-trained thought process to put it into some kind of order, to place it into increasingly specific, funnel-like categories that wouldn’t need to make sense to me initially, because I would be so grateful. In exchange for this, I would let him listen to my iPod, putting on a little Jaco Pastorius and Weather Report to blow his mind, cuing up “Teen Town,” watching the expression on his face change while he worked. He would likely begin the way a music store does—categorizing by classical, blues, jazz, pop, rock, and so on, and then possibly chronologically within each category, which is probably where I would say, “I need more than that from you, sir. I didn’t come all this way for something a store clerk could do. I need an expert.”
He would say, “Fine. Talk to me,” and I would say, “I think we need to classify this based on when I first heard them. No wait—how about individual artists within each band, or how about by color. If you put Tony Levin here with King Crimson, this gives me a maroon, splattered bloody color, but if you put him with David Byrne, there are a lot of pock marks and silver and gold, and it just doesn’t match. These aren’t Lapland mosses we’re talking about, these are feelings.”
“This is impossible,” he would say, and here, possibly because I am tired from all the time travel, my emotions would get the best of me. I would leap up and strike the monocle off of his face, and he would call me a stupid little fool and I would call him a Swedish bastard, and I would stand up to leave and he would say, with his ice-cold logic, “If you leave like this you’re never coming back,” and I would say, “Fine, you don’t understand the complexities of the modern world anyway,” and he would say, “Ut, idiot,” and I would be sucked back to the 21st century, carrying a grudge against Linnaeus, talking smack about him, spreading rumors, patting my empty pockets for my iPod, stuck, ultimately, where I was when I started—placing things in my classification of two, with a mess of music in my head.
Classifying things into sets of two is not sophisticated. I do it all the time, in fact, my life is structured around things of two: two piles on my desk—things to do right away so I don’t lose my job or house, and things that can wait. Two orders of kids—the ones on auto-pilot who have left home, and the ones I still have to remember to feed. My old marriage and my current one. The sheets that are on the bed, and the set that is hanging on the line out back. I am willing to consider that my simplistic view might be a sign of inferior processing, as I recognize that I am unable to categorize things logically without blending in unscientific pieces of information, such as feelings and memories.
Philosophically, for me, despite the various musical families and species and orders and classes, there really are only two kinds of music: music with words, and music without. After growing up in the shadow of my grandparents’ weekly choir practice, where I tried to capture the nearly visual echoes of the Latin praise songs that ricocheted out into the cavernous Lutheran church sanctuary, and spending hours alone in my room with my portable white plastic record player, memorizing the songs of Steve Miller, The Beatles, Elton John, and someone’s discarded fifties do-wop collection, I was given the gift of wordless music when I picked up a clarinet at age eleven.
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