Nothing: Part 13

Sometimes I think of the guy who taught me how to drive when I first came to the US twenty one years ago. He was a fine teacher and was very patient with me when I made the car lurch or when I stood frozen at the “Yield” sign unable to pick the right moment to make my left turns or when I appeared too eager to hit the brakes or misjudged the degree of the steering wheel turn needed to flawlessly execute a turn.

It didn’t take more than 2 weeks to learn how to drive (except for parallel parking -I doubt I’ve learnt that even now and avoid it as best as I can). I remember him well because after I passed my driving test, he presented me with a delightful mix tape of his reggae music, to which he’d seen me tap my feet while waiting for the light to change, and because he said something very simple to me, he said that driving was just like walking.

He asked me to imagine walking on the streets of a city. It would be natural to give people enough space, to not stop short, to go around obstacles or people who were slower and to not bump into people who were in front of me. It would also be natural to signal my intent and to maintain a broader, panoramic vision than just staring at the hydrant that was 2 steps away. Driving came so much easier after that.

These days it isn’t something that requires too much thought. Sometimes I don’t have any recollection of the seventeen elapsed minutes of thought during the drive that gets me back home from my bus stop. And yet, the fact that I find myself safe, turning the key to my front door night after night, proves that I did everything right, sans anxiety. Processed every sensory input on the road: the other cars, the slow drivers, the swervers, the cell phone talkers, changing lights, everything at unimaginable mental processing speeds, without really “thinking” about it.

I am waiting to reach that point when it comes to playing the violin. I am obsessed with reaching that realm of unthinking effortlessness, where everything happens at a deeper mental level, rendering the act of playing seamless.

I am at the stage where I am aware of the right playing posture, the angle that the instrument, resting between my shoulder and my chin, needs to make to the vertical plane dividing my body in equal halves, I know how to hold the bow correctly and how to place my fingers on the fingerboard. All this knowledge coalesces into a meaningful whole on many days and nights. I have felt the joy of a well-intoned practice session. But on many nights knowing all the right things just doesn’t seem enough. Sometimes my bowing arm shakes, sometimes there is a scratchiness during switching strings that seems unshakeable and sometimes the rhythm is persistently off despite my best intentions and despite knowing what it would take to fix these problems. Some sessions are pure mortification for me and torture for my poor teacher.

She has stared at me in wide-eyed amazement because there are days when I fail miserably at playing a passage where I might have done her proud the week before. I fail to understand what goes wrong and why.

Going back to walking, something I’ve been doing for the last 41 years, it usually comes easily enough except for the times when I could be at my highest level of confidence, walking briskly on the sidewalks of NYC, marvelling at the shimmery bits of mica that make them sparkle at night, observing the lights on Broadway, generally feeling good and I suddenly land on my ankle bone.


However, did that happen? What caused it? I look around and can find no answers, no bumps, no cracks, but a smarting ankle bone all the same.

What goes wrong?

My sensory neurons should work so much better with the motor neurons, synapses firing prestissimo or allegro appassionato at the very least. More neurological collaboration, please! What is with the lackadaisical attitude up there?

I doubt I’ll ever understand.

This post was going to appear on this blog yesterday. It was wordier, meatier and made a better point than I’ve been able to make in today’s attempt. In fact today I have failed to make a point. But I was on a roll yesterday. And then I lost it all! I lost some 500 words in an inexplicable instant. My hands were nowhere near the delete keys.

I was angry and frustrated. It’s so hard to revive a train of thought. Especially when there’s a paucity of thoughtful thoughts!

So again I ask – what goes wrong?

Something breaks, somewhere.

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