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03/15/2004 Archived Entry: "Freedom and that "getting it" moment"

THAT “GETTING IT” MOMENT. I learned to do a triplet yesterday. No, that's not some kinky sex practice; it's an extra-fast beat on the bodhran, the Irish drum I'm attempting to play. Other bodhran beats are made with the bottom end of the tipper (the drumstick). A triplet is made with the top of the stick and requires an extra wrist-twist in between regular strokes.

Until now, triplets had defeated me. I could make the motion. But it would be like .... UH ... trip-let ... DUH ... downstroke – producing something like an extra whole note, rather than the super-speedy 1/16th note that was the object.

1/16th note. I couldn't imagine. I considered giving up and becoming the world's slowest bodhran player. I hadn't even attempted triplets in days, and when I tried, I was as horrible as when I first made the attempt. Day after day of DUH. It was like that yesterday. I was horrible, fumbling, inept, hopeless, not improving one tiny bit ... and then suddenly, I was playing triplets.

Not playing them well, mind you. But playing them.

I still don't have the vaguest idea of what I did differently between the last hopelessly bad stroke and the first good triplet. From one moment to the next, I could just do it.

This “getting it” moment is what artists (and mathemeticians and scientists, too, from what I hear) live for. You beat your head and beat your head and beat your head on a problem. Nothing works. Every highway turns into a rutted dead-end. Every bright light turns out to be the proverbial train at the other end of the tunnel. Then, just when you're considering giving up ... wham! Something hits you -- and it's not that train.

My ability to play a triplet on the bodhran hardly ranks up there with Watson's insight that the structure of DNA is like a spiral staircase or Newton's observation of a falling apple. But between the big boys and me lies a whole continuum on which creative people from caves to highrises have lived and thrived. The WHAM! moment, the “getting it” moment, is what keeps sensitive arty types from killing themselves from frustration and is certainly one of the things that helps the human race find its way as it lurches unsteadily into the future.

Someone once gave me that analogy (I don't know who originated it) that human progress is like a huge staircase, whose steps are higher than a human head. When people

are on one step, most of them aren't even aware that the next step exists. Human history is a tale of how a very few find a way up to the next level, then pull the rest of humanity up with them.

But first the rarest few have to get the insight that the next level is there. And then the boldest do-ers have to figure out how to make the climb – a process that is also (to paraphrase Edison), 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. (There's a wonderful 1952 SF story by James Blish called “Surface Tension” that describes this same process in very different terms.)

Without the 1% inspiration, the 99% of sheer effort wouldn't lead anywhere.

I've often thought of freedom lovers – who seem so fundamentally different than the contented, unquestioning folks around them – as the ones going up to the next step, then turning around and offering a hand to the folks below. But as with so much other human progress, most of the folks on the lower step don't want to come up.

Where freedom lovers see adventure and hope and new levels of prosperity and understanding on that next level, the folks on the lower step see only danger. “But who'll take care of the poor?” “But you'll have whorehouses next to schoolyards!” “But 10 year olds will be smoking dope and toting machine guns!”

And you can't drag masses of people into freedom unwillingly. Each individual first has to see the value of freedom. And that, too, is a process that might come of 99% sheer frustration and 1% “AHA!” Some might see it in a flash, the moment they think, “Hey, wait a minute. Who owns my life?” or “Hey, why should I have to take a government number before they let me get a job?” Others might come to it much more slowly, struggling all the way (“Well, okay, I see how you might call the income tax slavery, but we need it for government to function ...” “Well, yes, they could legalize marijuana, but surely you can't seriously think heroin or crack should be for sale at any drug store ...?”)

They're like me, not being able to play those triplets, no matter how much I tried. (And I'll bet you'd concluded that whole triplet business had nothing to do with the rest of this rant, hadn't you?)

But our struggle and frustration is worthwhile if we and others come to that “getting it” moment. If we can be patient – with ourselves and with others who seem totally resistant to the vision we see so clearly – we can work toward more and more “getting it” moments.

It's easier said than done, I know. But if struggle and frustration are the parents of the “getting it” moment, at least the government is helping us along by making more and more people want to find a way out – even if they have no insight – yet! -- into what that way might be.

Posted by Claire @ 09:28 AM CST

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