Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang

[Albrecht Durer: St. Jerome in his Study]

It's incredible how well-built we are to adapt. In less than two weeks in NY, things have become comfortable (relatively!) for me to remember my constant craving for true conversation, for the meeting of true minds.
I'm always reading, and in a sense, in a large sense, reading is a conversation between reader and author. But there are so many other factors in a conversation of that sort, and a lot of miscommunication, I imagine. Anyway, a book-to-reader conversation is always enhanced for me if I keep a side-dialogue of questions, musings, and essence, a reading journal. But even that loses its luster after a while, I can always view a learning curve like that as cyclical, falsely optimistic, and essentially sterile.


[Raphael: School of Athens ]

So conversation is necessary. I have been fortunate enough to find a job at a law firm where there are many people who are at least very sharp, if not quite so given to philosophic ramblings as I am. I am also fortunate in that there is an active alumni chapter from the college where I did my graduate work. I attended an alumni seminar tonight, on three of Shakespeare's sonnets, and it quenched a thirst that had been growing quite steadily. It felt so wonderful to fall back into a place where my actions felt natural, where I had a chosen purpose, a desired purpose, and could express that desire in a welcome forum.

Vocation is a funny word, and one that I am not going to even begin to dissect or analyse. But I would like to apply it to how I feel about engaged, thoughtful conversation. Is that strange? To feel and know that your vocation is to engage in a discovery of conversation? I can justify this as a vocation i suppose; I've been reading, in various places, the thoughts of people and literary characters on the importance of communication, grammar, language, etc on our lives. The most interesting view I've come across is the explanation of grammar as the language we have to use to describe the workings of our brain.

After spending some time looking at short, concise, and structured poems, I can see that as necessary as conversation and its grammatical toolbox are, the true understanding of any work of art comes as a subtle air, flooding in like light dancing among the motes of ambitious human phrases. There is something SOMEthing that occurs when the poem clicks, when the piece of music falls into rhythm, when the painting transports. We have a phrase: "It moved me" which is far more powerful than its utilitarian context suggests. Art has the power to move a settled human being, a person who has (however optimistically) constructed habits and customs and turns of mind and phrase which are formative and often limiting.

But an interaction with a work of art can also depend on the mind encountering it. I may be incapable of engaging with a work of art, I may be distracted while reading and miss a passage which would have spoken truly to me, I may walk faster through portrait galleries, off-handedly dismissing that sort of art as basically uninteresting to me, I may deaden my ears to the strains of a symphony, believeing I wouldn't catch the intricacies. Conversation with other minds helps to open new channels, to encourage the mind to seek its path down different avenues, and amidst greater challenges.

We miss so much when we raise our voices to be heard, or when we plug ourselves in to listen to someone not human. Conversation teaches patience and acceptance, valuable lessons for those sorts of minds that have no qualms about challenge, activity, and honesty. Conversation also cements community, a word not much in vogue anymore, and rarely seen for what it means.