Why Words and Music

As a toddler, I flipped out over the indecipherable chirality of my two hands. As far back as I can remember, spatial relationships and mathematics have addled, disoriented, and tormented me. To the extent that some people, including a couple of teachers, taunted me as “stupid” or asked, “If you’re supposed to be so smart, why are you so stupid?” I don’t know how I ever managed to get a degree in molecular biology. Really.

But in the context of music, spatiality and math have always suddenly and mysteriously become clear. Hands–even my gnarled hands–on the keyboard, voice moving up and down and around the staff, whether it is notated on paper or simply in my larynx. I can deal with that. I love to deal with that.

In words I have also felt that sudden place of lucid safety, the relief from overweening, maddening convolutions I can only untangle at the slowest pace, if at all. Even in prepositions.

Yet words and music are not simply double negatives for me, valuable only for what they relieve. They are a hospitable home for me, whose double sides are closer than the two halves of a duplex. A home I have carried everywhere I have ever lived, even during a nomadic childhood with its long spells of despair that it could ever really be my permanent address (permanent as far as a single human lifetime goes, anyway).

Despair that revisits me sometimes, especially when I wonder how good a poet and musician I would have been by now–how lived in words and music would be by now– if I had continuously recognized and remembered that address much earlier in life. Would I feel any less lost than I do at the moment? Would I be more capable of offering work in a healing spirit of selflessness?


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