Last of the True Believers
Little Deaths

Standing on the Turtle's Back

Standing stones

There is a world in which the earth is created and carried on the back of a turtle. That might be your world, or mine, or the Lenape and Iroquois tribes; it might be entirely its own, but it isn't an alternate world. If that were true we would each live in a world of our own making. That feels like truth and sounds sort of like blasphemy. After all, isn't it God creating the world? That's a theological rabbit hole, so I'll leave it alone. 

Assuming we all live in our own separate universes, we've either found a way to communicate or we've all got a ton of imaginary friends. I like to think we're not alone although there's a great deal of truth in perception versus defined reality. We act, speak, choose from our own unique perceptions of truth. If not, we'd have no light or dark, no love, no hate, no passion, and no despair. We would, in fact cease to exist, at least in any way we currently experience existence. Without going too far off topic, there are a great number of people walking alone in the world and I wonder if the reasons all come down to the same thing. 

Back to the turtle, or more specifically the number of stones I can count on that large dome sticking up out of the water. I only count four, but I expect to see seven. I count the shapes reflected in the water but they tell another story. I really want seven which is a mystical number we've carried for maybe ever. Call what you will, a holy number, a complete number, the mystic and astrological number, or maybe the number of data points we can keep in our head at any one time. Phone numbers in the United States are seven digits if we can disregard the area code. Science suggests that seven digits is the cap on short term memory. Maybe, maybe not but in the examination of the number, there is a greater lesson available. 

Mac told me a story about friend who designed a circuit board which involved seven adjustments, each affecting the other. Those seven adjustments capped out the thinking brain's tolerance and to move forward he had to rely on 'gut intuition'. Gut intuition isn't something any of us want to hear in the world of science which is meant to be black and white, unrelenting, unchangeable, and most importantly thoroughly documentable. This is what our heads want to believe. We hear about gut intuition and think, 'squishy' and uncontrollable, open to interpretation and therefore mostly dismissed. 

Oh, but science, science begins as magic which we capture and measure, define and disseminate. If the 'truth' of a thing is suddenly altered (because more input or another point of view arrives), then those scientists, doctors, engineers don't know what the hell they're talking about (reference COVID, the CDC and the use of masks). That sort of response to what we accept as an absolute truth comes out of fear. If something is new then it is uncontrollable, uncountonable, and scary as shit. That's the lizard brain shrieking at the top of its little reptile lungs. We should listen to the lizard brain, very carefully, but that information is very, very old, so consider other possibilities before you throw your mask in the gutter. 

Mac's story brought to mind my fiddle (OK, Elizabeth's violin); more accurately, my relationship with the fiddle which is pretty new. If you don't have experience with a violin or fiddle, don't worry. They're just numbers and notes, logic versus a bigger truth. I intentionally chose to learn to play by ear. That doesn't mean I don't know what notes I'm fingering, or should be fingering; it just means I'm playing from memory or a duplication of a melodic phrase I've heard or am hearing. There are two phrases I'm working on right now and I've got to pull them together. The first phrase is learned but it lives in my head. I can't go any further without sheet music; at least not if I'm using my head. 

Capital letters are the open strings, of which there are four; lower case letters indicate notes produced with the fingers of the left hand. The open strings are played with the bow and nothing else, but the fingered notes are dependent on the open note. For example, to play b, my bow plays either G or A. The chart below is going to be entirely unhelpful but I've done it anyway. I play the notes in blue first; there are seven and they are hammered into my brain. I actually think them as I play. The notes in red have to come from the gut. Some notes, e, A and g, are played twice in the same phrase.

Brain and gut

First phrase:

D e D e g A b

My bow has to move from D to A immediately following g played on D. I don't have much trouble with that although it still sounds pretty god awful most of the time. 

The second part is only four notes but confounds me if I don't stop thinking about it.

A g e g

I have to move the bow from A to D in order to reach g and e. No problem, right? I've already done it except I haven't. There are two things happening. The first is technical. In the first (blue) phrase, when I move the bow from D to A I play that open note without any fingers involved. I took my finger OFF the g and moved the bow. At the second phrase (red), I play open A but when I move to the D string, my finger has already got to be hovering over g. 

That just reads like a mess, doesn't it? That's OK. The relevance is this:

I can only keep those first seven notes in my head, after that, if I don't have sheet music to keep myself on track I have to rely on my gut. What sounds do I want to hear and where are they? I have to already know where they are, my hands have to know. I have to get out of my head and let my body give me the tune that's already there. I'm not very good at this yet; I've probably been successful just a handful of times, but those handful of times have been damn near transcendental. 

In any event, this is why I listened to and sang Mairi's Wedding non stop until I heard it in my sleep before I picked up the bow and gave it a try.


My point? Everything happening in my brain right now, all those remappings, every single one of them, is happening in a place beyond what I think of as logic and order. I don't have to understand, but I do have to allow. It's scary as shit sometimes, but I do have to allow. Think about this, one day you play basketball like a pro (at least in your kid's eyes) and the next day you keep dropping the ball. At the same time, you've suddenly taken up painting and find you're going from very, very terrible to kinda ok. Let's face it, if we listen too closely to the lizard, we're terrified. Well, shit, some really bad things could be happening over there on the left side of the brain while the right side of the brain is expanding like a peony in late May. You're focused on the loss and maybe missing the gain because lost is lost, right?

But what does your gut say? Personally, I'm a firm believer in that squishy gut stuff over what is concrete today. 

*note: I'm in the process of repairing neurological damage that involves the lizard brain having way too much control. I would hardly expect your prowess with a basketball to temporarily vanish when you pick up that paintbrush. From my perspective, the plasticity of the brain is both terrifying and downright miraculous, AND with every new thing we learn, our brain gets stronger.