I feel you.
Sometimes life is syrup slipping over a stone, and other times it’s free climbing a vertical rock face without proper training nor a sense of up or down.
While the approach may differ, the central player — that of the static earth — remains the same. There is always a grounding force, whether or not you need it. Or find it.
So lately I have been struggling. The grounding force is there; at least, I think it is. I’m assuming it is because there is gravity and sometimes I can feel the sand between my toes. But often I feel as if I’m floating through one day and into the next and there is no end nor beginning and dreams infuse the waking hours and my waking history serves only to create painful and demented nocturnal journeys through which even the most talented somnambulist would stumble.
A friend posed this question the other day: If you could time travel to any concert, who would be the performer? Of course, my gut was Prince. Because the Tiny Purple Lady is the truest love of my life! And all our lives.
But then I reconsidered, as I did have the opportunity to see him perform live a few times (thankfully!) — so I settled instead on Thelonious Monk.
Chief among the reasons is that I love how unexpected his compositions are, how peculiar. He improvised all the time, so seeing him perform would be utterly new each time it happened. He is the second most recorded jazz musician (after Duke Ellington) which is impressive given his comparatively small number of compositions. While some likened him to elephants molesting pianos (which is an amazing compliment in and of itself) during his lifetime, that his work is so often performed is a testament to his art, his perspective.
He struggled with undiagnosed mental illness for most of his life, making it difficult for him to be around other people and to connect with them. He was even monosyllabic at certain points because it was difficult for him to express himself in the context of others.
Yet in his music, that motherfucker was buckwild.
The time signatures alone speak to his unique conception of chronology and space. I remember listening to a live recording of his years ago while smoking pot and sitting on an old paramour’s broken down armchair. His house was located next to an airfield, and as Thelonious fervently pounded the keys to what seems like a 9/13 signature, the planes flew in low overhead, rumbling and crushing and shaking the tar paper walls.
As we listened to the song, I started counting off the crazy beat in my head (and by crazy I simply mean irregular and not often executed in popular music) and after a grip, there was a long pause — at the end of which I perfectly punctuated the snare snap and my paramour exclaimed with surprised delight. How did you know that was when he’d come back in? What was the count? How did you know? How?
I couldn’t explain it then and I cannot now, except to say that I just felt it. Viscerally. That it just felt right, at that moment, that’s when he was going to come back again.
In that moment, Thelonious left, went around the room and said his hellos; he stepped outside for a smoke, hell, maybe he even strolled around the block, then he returned and slammed the door. There was a sense of peace to it, of resolution amongst the seeming chaos that silence can sometimes bring. The cacophony had a perfectly satisfying epiphany/conclusion, and I felt a warm relief in it.
Thelonious had free climbed his own personal rock face and, in that moment, poured syrup all over it.
When I think of struggles in terms of myself and Thelonious Monk (because who doesn’t?) I can reframe the pain, the disconnection, the horror of everyday life that tells us our experiences aren’t valid, nor should they be trusted, honored, or respected, by recognizing that while in creation we may not find peace for ourselves, we may offer it to someone else.
So, I feel you.