Thursday, March 1, 2012

Essential Rhythms: Dancing with the Stars

  the great big old clock o' the universe with jazz hands

There is a rhythm to the affairs of the universe. It has a beat. You can't really dance to it because it is very, very slow. One beat takes two lifetimes. This is why the closest anyone has gotten to the sound of the universe is 'om.' They could only register one lifetime's worth before they shuffled off this mortal coil, and one lifetime's worth is only half a beat. The sound of one complete beat, which takes two lifetimes, sounds more like 'boom'. Imagine!
All the other rhythms—the ones you can dance to—syncopate to this fundamental rhythm in wondrous, poetic ways. If you get out of step with these non-essential rhythms, you can assume that you are also out of step with the universe. It's important to hear the beats all around you, and dance to the ones that have meaning in your life.
There is a rhythm to writing. I'm feeling it right now. You should feel the same beat when you read what I have written. It is the rhythm that connects us—your senses, your heart, to mine. The better I am at keeping the narrative beat with my choice and arrangement of words, the more compelling what I say becomes for you as you read. This connection, this dance, is lifeblood pumping in time with the universe.
There is a rhythm to cooking as well. The cook who knows how to dance in the kitchen orchestrates all the various dishes of a meal to come together at the same time—each at the peak of its flavor, its warmth, its nose, and its visual appeal. This is the time to sit down and eat because this is the time when everything the cook has striven for is perfect. Anyone who is not ready to sit down when dinner is ready does not understand cooking, is not in tune with the universe, and doesn't deserve to get any supper.
No one in my family is ever ready to eat when dinner is ready to be eaten. I know this because I do most of the cooking. Even if they were all ready a few short moments before, by the time I lay the food out and announce dinner they will have found a million other, more pressing, things to do. There are sudden text messages that need to be sent off into the ether, e-mails that need to be answered, TV schedules that need to be checked, sunsets that need to be admired, and dogs that need to be walked. More frequently than you would guess, one of the things requiring attention is taking pictures of the food I have made—evidence at least that I have got the visual appeal part of the rhythm of cooking down.
There is a proper rhythm to TV and the movies as well. A 30 minute TV sitcom runs about 22 minutes of show time, and is punctuated by commercial messages. The writers know this when they script the show. The director paces the narrative accordingly. Strange as it may seem, without the commercials some of the intended rhythm is out of kilter.
My wife hates commercials. She records everything we watch so we can watch it later and speed through the commercials. When I watch the ad images speeding by in kinetic disarray, and images of Victoria's Secret lingerie models shoot past my consciousness like so many meteorites in flaming free-fall, I know we have upset the balance of nature. The collaborative art that is television suffers for the misstep.
When we have arrived at the climax of an on-demand movie, the instant when multiple plot threads are about to resolve themselves, my wife will suddenly pause the show to look up the complete filmography of one of the actors because we have an iPad now so we no longer have to wonder about such things. The cantilevered give and take of the dance with the stars that is a movie is undone. The quickstep of heart and mind comes crashing to the floor in a kaleidescope of limbs, sequins, and taffeta. Please pack up your pumps and go. You've been eliminated.

Bean works on his timing.
Animals have to step to the rhythm too. Fish have the tides. Wolves have the moon. Problems crop up though when the seasons of the beasts collide with the seasons of their masters.
Our dogs, for example, are finely attuned to the rhythms of our lives. The effect is the same as though they were not. They have aligned their downbeats to coincide with ours, but the lyrics don't match up, and harmony is largely absent. So, when we sit down to dinner, the dogs need to go out. The timing is bang on, but the requirements are completely different.
When I've got a burst of creative juice at the computer and words are flowing, Bean will think it's an excellent time to play catch. He will convey this happy thought to me by poking my elbow with his cold, wet nose, and barking. My flow is stopped dead in its tracks to accommodate his. Our rhythms are in sync, but I'm doing a box step and Bean's doing the tango. Somebody's going to trip. I'll bet it's me.
All these are just minor catches in the give and take of timing. We all experience them. The trick is not to let them throw you completely off the beat.
It's the larger currents of our affairs that are more problematic and, should one lose the beat, harder to recover. For instance I tend to buy stocks at their historical highs and give up on them just before they finally bottom out. I lost my job the week before Lehman Brothers hit the fan, confirming what all the major players already knew, and sending the economy into a tailspin from which it is still trying to recover. I decided to become a writer just at the moment when the Internet removed all barriers to entry into that noble fraternity, including it seems, any requirement to understand spelling, punctuation, grammar or even the subject about which one decides to write.
All these things have had a disastrous impact on life as I used to know it, but I am far from being the most ridiculously out-of-step wonk on the planet. I use to think that distinction belonged to Friedrich Riesfeldt of Paderborn, Germany, the zookeeper who gave an elephant an olive oil enema and was subsequently suffocated beneath several hundred pounds of its poop. Riesfeldt's story is wildly entertaining and clearly illustrates the most dire consequences possible for ill-timed choices, but it turns out to also be a fabrication. (You can read the complete original account as well as the facts that prove it to be false at Snopes.)
With Riesfeldt off the table, I'm left with several replacement candidates (pun fully intended):
  • Republican presidential candidate, Rick Perry, in a nationally televised debate, decides to list the federal agencies that he would eliminate if elected. He can't remember them.
  • Republican presidential candidate, Herman Cain, decides to suspend his campaign, all the while maintaining that he had not had any inappropriate sexual liaisons, when the number of women coming forward to dispute this claim looked as if it were going to surpass Tiger Wood's record.
  • Republican presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich, blasts Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for corruption and says any politician who deals with them should go to jail...just as it comes out that Fannie/Freddie paid him $1.6 million for providing them consulting services as a 'historian'.
  • Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, claims America's new focus on income inequality is all about 'envy', interrupts his Florida Primary victory celebration to tell CNN's Soledad O'Brien that he's 'not concerned with the very poor [because] we have a safety net there', then releases his last two years tax returns showing $45 million in income and an effective tax rate of just 13.9%. Turns out he's got significant assets tucked in Swiss and Cayman Island accounts where, presumably, all us envious haters won't be able to see it. And the very poor? He probably thinks they can use their safety net to buy themselves a couple of Cadillacs to drive around like his wife.
By now you've probably noticed a recurring theme in my list of candidates for poster boy of failed timing. That's right—they're all middle aged men whose neckties have cut off circulation to their brains. It's fitting that the Republican mascot is an elephant because never has any one group of like-minded yahoos been so out of step with reality, nor so deserved to be buried under a steaming pile of pachyderm dung.

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