I have been reading Other Minds recently, a book about octopuses (so the book says) or octopodes (as I say), cuttlefish and squid. It is written by a chap who deals in the philosophy of science, so it takes a broad and fascinating view of the lives of these creatures and, by extension, our own lives.
Our common ancestor goes back so far that we have effectively evolved along two entirely separate lines, with different nervous systems, brains, functions, societies and methods of communication. Apart from imparting intriguing fact after intriguing fact about these creatures, the book also offers much to learn about our own existence, such as the trivial matter of why we die.
One of the questions faced in the book is why these animals invest so much energy and effort, like us, into the nourishing and running of large and complicated brains, are inquisitive and inventive, and yet die after only two years of life. One can not only sense the writer’s sadness at the brevity of their lives, but read about it too, for it is there on the page.
We humans tend to fear growing old, at least after childhood when all we wanted to do was be a grown up, but I have enjoyed the process for some time, especially all that wisdom that younger people seem to think that I now possess. The truth is that I am largely making it all up as I go along, but that I have learned to look like I know what I am doing and act with sufficient authority to get away with it.
There is some wisdom in my compositional head, though, the knowledge that however bad an idea looks when first on the page, it may actually be a great idea in a very heavy disguise. Like the octopodes in Other Minds, who live at a site populated by their ancestors, so does the composer in me use the shelter of those who have gone before, and when I see the number of sketches Beethoven required in order to turn base metals into pure gold, I know that I just need to stick at it and not give up.