Listen to the left hand and dance
Rain pounded on the deck and gurgled in the scuppers. The boat surged against the dock lines and shook with the windblasts. Outside the harbor, waves overtopped the 10 meter high seawall, protecting Neah Bay, Washington . Winter came early, that year to the Pacific Northwest Coast . Weather was deteriorating and weather windows were narrowing rapidly. We had been hard at it, for a week, trying to get around Cape Flattery . We still had 650 nautical miles to go, south, to San Francisco . Along that whole coast all the harbors have bars, that are passable only in good weather. If you are caught out by bad weather, you are stuck outside, off a dangerous coast. There are no places to safely seek refuge. We needed 72 hours; travel time, between refuges while the cold fronts and gales were now only 48 hours apart. We were becoming trapped by the deteriorating weather. I did not trust the boat and I did not trust the owner/skipper. The boat had a maintenance deficit so I had spent days making repairs instead of resting and preparing for the passage. The owner/skipper showed lapses in judgment that meant I would have to tacitly and discreetly monitor every decision without causing conflict. This was not a trip I would like to make under the best of circumstances. If it were an easy trip, I would not have been hired. The tension had been building for a week or more.
For the moment, I am alone on board, sitting in the salon, anxious and depressed. I can see ahead, only danger and discomfort at best, disaster at worst. In all my years of living with depression, I have never used music to elevate mood. If there was ever a time to try this was it. I flipped through stacks of CDs, looking for something to pull me out of this hole. I could not do it alone. There, at last, at the bottom of the last stack was Christopher Parkening, playing Bach.
I listened to the familiar music, intently, hearing and anticipating every note. I was completely absorbed in the technical brilliance of the music and musician. I dug deeper and deeper into the music, discovering new patterns, superimposed patterns, creating new and endlessly more complex patterns. It was a completely absorbing and wonderfully rewarding intellectual exercise.
A part of me stands above and outside myself, observing the strange disconnect between mind, body and emotion. Advice given, but not understood, months before, at an Artist’s Way, creativity workshop, popped into my head. That was: “Listen to the left hand.”
I had no idea what that meant but this was the time to try it. I dismissed the right hand parts, the melody line, and listened carefully to beat. To concentrate better, I started to move my head in time to the music. I was only a slight nod, barely perceptible, at first. Then my head began to move on its own, more and more. After a bit, my neck, shoulders were moving.
My breathing changed. Soon, my shoulders, chest and whole body were swaying. I was dancing. Even though I was sitting firmly on the cabin sole I was none the less, dancing.
Then it happened. Suddenly I burst into tears, with great gasping wracking sobs. It was totally surprising, an emotional dam burst. I was swept upward and carried away by the music. I had never before been transported so. This was uncharted territory. I didn’t know where this was leading. I was at once joyous and frightened, being off the chart in unexplored seas. Where was I going? Would I become lost? How would this end? I retreated, shaken and then tried again and again. Could I control this? It didn’t matter. I didn’t have to control it, only ride it like a great wave. The rest of the afternoon I spent indulging, exploring, soaring, plunging, allowing myself to be washed over and riding great waves of music.
I have no idea how long that went on. Eventually the rain stopped long enough to go ashore and buy a bus ticket home. With a bus ticket in hand, I was able to calmly and precisely spell out what conditions would have to be met, for me to stay onboard and continue with the voyage. With the required repairs completed and spares on board we continued, down the coast, slowly and carefully, without any regard for schedule or time. We used a whole month to complete a blessedly uneventful passage from Seattle to San Francisco , thanks in large part to Johan Sebastian Bach.