On my evening walk tonight I thought a lot about rhythm. When I allow my mind to exist in its natural state it erupts into a chaos of thought that might seem, at first, to be completely without sense or order. It repeats old thoughts, things I’ve said repeatedly like a sacred litany, things that I may have long since come to know to be untrue but the echo of the old conversations and thoughts still exist and my mind spits them forward and if I let it, it develops themes from them. It then picks threads of evidence, pieces of inspiration, information, images, colors, memories, and it sorts through them, deciding which are relevant, which are not. It evaluates the old thoughts and throws them against a wall of new thoughts, like wild paint.
Tonight my head threw out my ten year old voice saying “I don’t have any rhythm”, maybe because I made my summer camp tap instructor cry from the useless efforts she exerted to drum a sense of rhythm into my putty feet. Not considering the fact that unlike the rest of the girls (and boy) who had real tap shoes, ones that fit them, mine were unearthed in the Goodwill bins and weren’t the right size. They weren’t even real tap shoes, they were some flattened patent leather shoe with an awkwardly low square heel made for prim spinsters to pull out during egregiously creaky weddings and funerals that took place in the uncool sector of 1969. Or maybe I made this statement long ago because my piano teacher, who could see I had the passion, could also hear that I couldn’t consistently keep 3/4 time even if she tattooed it on my forehead. Or maybe it’s because I couldn’t ever manage the square dance steps we were forced to count out in the dreary gym with reluctant boys. Boys who were reluctant with me but who would have happily counted out stones in hell with Erin Fry.
It doesn’t matter what the origin of that old voiced comment is and in some ways it doesn’t even matter if it’s true. (It’s true). My mind threw it out while I walked two dogs against the sultry evening air tonight, catching errant thin wisps of cooler air slipping through me like weak thread. I was listening to Pavarotti sing “Panis Angelicus” with Sting which was the perfect music, the perfect serenade to the setting light; the yellow rimmed orchestral clouds. I heard that old voice, that old thought.
I have no rhythm.
Riches of thought about it flooded my mind. This may sound unrestful, and to people who have a baseline for restful that verges on meditational I think my mind would create a maelstrom of instinctual fear and panic. For me, this flooding of thought, of thoughts that aren’t more than texture, taste, and everything in the past week that caught my eye, my ear, and my mind, everything in my memory that resonates with this theme my mind has, for mysterious reasons of its own, settled on, are sorted and re-tasted, and it’s restful.
What emerged tonight is that there are so many different ways to think about rhythm. It’s so easy to think of it as an ability to tap your foot in a particular pattern of intervals. It’s easy to think of it as an innate ability to move your body to the influence of external notes in a way that others recognize as symmetrical or even purposely (and artistically) asymmetrical. To be able to sustain a pattern. When I peel away my conventional ideas about what constitutes rhythm something much more complex emerges. I am able to hear irregular rhythms and still feel where the repeat is.
I was feeling elated. Outside-myself-elated. I often feel this way at twilight. I often feel this way when I walk super fast with music in my ears and my eyes alive to everything around me. I imagined coming home and writing about how amazing I felt, hoping I could share it eloquently enough that you’d feel it too, if you don’t already feel it on your own account. Immediately I reminded myself that I often sound like a madwoman when I start spewing about my shimmering moments and how I inevitably crash soon after feeling that good. My immediate thought was: I wish I wasn’t the way I am. I wish being as happy as I am tonight didn’t mean that I will almost certainly feel equally low within a day or two.
But then I saw it as my natural rhythm. Yes, it is tangled up in my mental illness and if I wasn’t mentally ill my moods would be less dramatic and experiencing elation wouldn’t automatically predict a corresponding crash in mood. I admit I felt shame for a minute. “I must not share this crazy happy moment of my life because it isn’t real. It’s a fabrication of my mood disorder and when I wake up and read what I’ve shared I’ll want to die because I’ll know it was nothing more than this imbalance of mine.” While those things are true, that when I experience elation it’s often much more dramatic than others experience it, what I saw tonight is that it’s a part of my own rhythm. Perhaps those who aren’t like me might dismiss my highs and if they dismiss my highs they will almost certainly dismiss my lows as well. I am a person of extremes. Of strong contrast. Of immediate contradictions.
But if my shining moments aren’t worth sharing, then no one’s are. Just because there is greater disparity between my happiness and my despair doesn’t make it less real.
Whatever else I am, I am not artificial. My moods are genuine. They might seem sudden and unpredictable to some but if I’m listening I can hear the tune clearly, I can predict the next fall, the next rise. Life influences the rhythm just the way an instrument and a conductor may both wield a strong influence on a musician’s rhythm. Although I dislike Stravinsky I think my rhythm is wild in the same way his is. Discordant and jarring, but fresh and unfettered. It gave me pleasure to think on this. To accept that I will plummet as surely as I will rise. Everyone does. I just do it more loudly.
I think the world is stinking rich with unique and uncharted rhythms that people orchestrate, that nature itself writes all around us, that we don’t recognize as rhythm because we don’t take the time to hear the patterns repeat. The only thing humans know for sure that doesn’t repeat is Pi. I think even Pi must have some kind of rhythm. I think we just haven’t found it yet.