When I was in college, I took a class on the history of Jazz. I thought it would help me become the kind of person I wanted to be—brilliant and esoteric and effortlessly cool. I wanted to pepper my conversations with casual references to Thelonious Monk and Jack Kerouac, to speak in Shakespearean quotes without even realizing it and spend my nights at places like the White Horse Tavern drinking whiskey with boys who spent their weekends staying up through the night to talk about important things. Boys who were on their way to becoming men.
Also, I really, really liked listening to Miles Davis.
On the first day of the first lecture, our instructor played the Benny Goodman Trio’s Body and Soul, asking us to clap along to the beat. It was an easy one, played in common time, Krupa’s drumming clearly articulated. Some of us closed our eyes. We all moved our hands in unison. Almost. A half a beat later, there was a soft echo.
It was me.
I tried tapping my foot instead, to no avail. A friend of mine was in the class, too, and at this point, she politely suggested that maybe I should just sit still and listen since my sense of timing wasn’t quite right. Then again, she was usually late to our lectures, so it’s safe to say that her relationship with time was fairly flawed, too.
We all have our own rhythms. Once again, mine seems to be out of sync. Maybe it’s the unremitting gray of the late winter. Each day a slog to the finish, even the easy things made fraught with the ice. Everything a little slower, moving at its own pace. The past few weeks filled with a sense of time lost: A chance meeting that happened a year too late—or a few drinks too early depending on perspective. An unexpected apology for an transgression long forgotten. The disclosure of help sought, making me wonder if, perhaps, I had simply been too early.
I played clarinet in junior high school. Only it was clear early on that I would never sound like this. My sister, of course, was a natural on the flute. So each week, I suffered through private lessons. The logic, I think, was that the teacher was was already coming to our house. Listening to me practice was so painful that my parents asked me to do it in our unfinished basement, so I stopped. This would help me keep up in school.
Week after week, I would rush through the songs, hoping it would make the lesson go faster. The teacher would reach out to stop me, using a little too much force. You’re not thinking, he’d say as the mouthpiece hit against my front teeth, the odd sensation of the wooden reed on the enamel making me lose all concentration. Then he would turn the sheet music back to the beginning of the song so I could start again over and over until I got it right.
Last Sunday, I walked across town in a blizzard. The snow swirled around me, making it impossible to see. I made it home only to take a massive spill right in front of my building. I was walking too quickly and hit a patch of ice. Someone stopped, asking it I was okay. I was already on my feet, heading inside.
Yes, I said. I just have to learn to slow down.