Final Rest

It took me roughly a year to decide to get a tattoo. It took something like 5—7 minutes to actually get the tattoo. Here it is.

IMG_0599.jpgI am amazed, as I look back at this simple process, to think that I imagined that just getting it on my foot would be the end of it. But now that it is there, I find my mind wandering about and finding one context after another. Here are some of the contexts. Let the eye-rolling begin.

All I had in mind when I began to think about getting it was how funny it would be to me to have a note on my foot. As anyone knows who reads what I write, I am alternatively celebrated and derogated for my use (overuse?) of footnotes. My love letters to Bette were adorned with footnotes and I learned only later that she would read the footnotes first because they were funny and only then go back and read the actual text.

So I have always been a footnote guy, that is, a guy who uses footnotes, and how I am also a footnote guy, that is a guy with a note on his foot.

And that is all there was to it at the beginning. But when I dry that foot off in the morning when I get out of the shower, my mind begins to run off in other directions. It began to occur to me, for instance, that this is an eighth note. I designed it as an eighth note because a quarter note is just a staff and a filled in oval and I was afraid it wouldn’t look enough like a note for people to get the pun at sight.

What kind of note is it?

It’s an eighth note, which means that it takes one half of one beat in 4/4 time. That’s not much time. But as soon as I began thinking of how short it was, it began to occur to me the claim that when I was younger, it was a sixteenth note. I used to be a lot faster, in other words. (See chart for details) And then I began to thing that as I continued to slow down, the most truthful tattoo would be a quarter note. Imagine for instance that I planned to return to Adam Craven at Oddball Studios to ask him to un-tattoo the flag on my eighth note. [1] Taking the flag off would make it a quarter note and would signal that I was slowing down.

tattoo 7Adam’s next service would be to remove the solid inner core of the note and signal that I had slowed down from one beat to two. This would make my tattoo a half note. And after that, he would take off the stem and the tattoo would be a whole note, lasting the entire four beats of the measure.

When I first got this idea and began to chuckle about it, claiming that the note had once been a faster note—and by implication, that I had myself been faster—the notes are all I had in mind. But as you see, notes are not all there is. There are also rests.

What if it wasn’t a note?

But when you get that deep into the question, you get to wonder why they are called rests. They are “not-playings” certainly. They are silences. They are quiets. When you think what else they may be, it is kind of cool that they are called “rests” as if all that playing is tiring and a rest would always be welcome. Actually, I have seen some music by Mozart that strongly suggests that.

And then I began to wonder why, apart from the essential pun itself—it has to be a note if it is going to suggest a footnote—I had chosen a note at all. There is no reason I could not have chosen a rest. I could have had a little ottoman tattooed on my foot and have called it a footrest.

But given that that rests are available to me as well as notes, it tattoo 3is immediately obvious that I could begin in the same direction by interspersing notes and rests as any composer, not just composers of puns, does. I could, for instance, have shown some measures that had only notes in them and then begin to introduce very short rests. I would probably call them naps because that is what I have called short rests all my life. [2]

Then I would show measures that had longer rests. You have the chart, so you can add the big deal rests as you like. Where Bette and I live, in a Continuing Care Retirement Center (CCRC) there is a fine balance between playing (notes) and resting (rests). A friend of mind gets up and dresses and comes down to the lobby for coffee. She puts the cup on her walker, sits in a good chair, and goes back to sleep. Those have to be at least quarter rests and there are a lot of them.

Final Rest

And since we are going that way, we could show measures with more and more rests compared to the number of notes. And eventually the logic would produce a measure with only a whole rest in it. So we are not talking about naps anymore; we are talking about death.

And now we get to go back and harvest the crop we planted by wondering why the “not playings” were called rests at all. When you get to the whole rests [3] you are in the area of “requiem.” A requiem is a kind of music, to which we will attend shortly, but the word itself is the accusative singular form of requies, which means “rest” (after labor) or “repose.”

And why is the accusative form used. Users of English who are unfamiliar with Latin might hesitate to put a word like “accusative” that close to “final rest,” because English doesn’t use the accusative case; we have to make do with only the objective case. The point of the accusative can be seen in the whole Latin phrase, “Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine,” (Give him eternal rest, O Lord). Grammatically, there is a giving (dona eis) by God (O Lord) and so what is given should be in the accusative case—it shows what it is that is being given. It is a rest that is being given.

I like very much the idea of being “given” a rest. Rest can be opposed to active labor, certainly, but it can also be opposed to anxious waiting. We can survey our own lives to establish what a rest is not, just as we established what a note is not.

And I like, too, that it is the rest that is given. I have done some very demanding physical jobs in my life where you had to earn a rest by the amount of work you had completed. I think that is fine if you are pitching pea vines in the hot sun, [4] but in the larger setting of living a life, I believe that the work God gives us to do is the best way to spend our time and after that the rest God gives us to enjoy is the best way to recover from those labors.

tattoo 6That same opposition of “profitable labor” to “sound sleep” shows up in the laments of Henry V (Act 4, scene 1) where he wishes he could have both of those, as “the wretched slave” has, knowing that being the king, he can have neither. But I, not have earned them, but having accepted them, can have both.

We have come a long way from the original pun, have we not? A long journey and now I’m tired and I think I’ll take a rest.

[1] They do that with Q-switches lasers, according to Wikipedia. This a good deal better that earlier methods, one of which required wine, lime, or pigeon excrement. Check it out.
[2] I used to work at my dad’s lumber yard in the summers. The yard was two or three blocks from home, depending on the route taken, and we had an hour to walk home, eat lunch, take a nap, and walk back to the yard. It was a very short rest indeed.
[3] “Whole life” is a kind of insurance. That’s a whole different thing.
[4] Many thanks to the DelMonte canning company for that experience

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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