Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Shifting Sands


Like Kennedy’s assassination, all San Franciscans can tell you where they were during the ’89 earthquake. What I remember the most was the sense of being betrayed by the very earth I stood on. What I always assumed was solid ground, dependable and unchangeable, suddently wasn’t. It was a disconcerting feeling and it took some 6 months before I settled back into the (illusory) surety of a dependable ground under my feet.

As I repeatedly say (in a variety of ways) in my classes, the brain needs two things to thrive— repetition and variation. The former to mylenate the synapses, lock the learning in and make knowledge dependable and retrievable, the latter to grow new connections and feel alive with new learning that is fresh and exciting. It’s the continuous conversation between the known and the unknown, the solid and predictable and the fluid and the surprising, the routine and the novel, that makes life interesting. Part of the art of living is finding the proper balance between the two. I believe that both our brain and our life lean toward repetition. I hypothesize a three to one ratio like the old songs—“Where oh where is little Dougie? Where oh where is little Dougie?  Where oh where is little Dougie?”… and the satisfying punch line, “Way down yonder in the Paw Paw Patch.”

So here I am in the Carmel Valley in day two of the Orff training course and where I used to pick up paper copies of homework, mark them with a red pen and return them to their authors, now I’m trying to learn about DropBox and how to correct PDF music scores on the computer screen. It could be intriguing and fun, like some new gizmos and procedures on machines can be. But mostly it’s exhausting. The old way worked fine for me and I don’t relish the idea of more screen time while others are jumping in the pool and that maddening sense of being a few steps removed from the simple act of writing a comment on a piece of paper.

The rate of change as technology shifts is simply far beyond anything humans have ever known and while exciting and novel, it also creates a climate of shifting sands that keep us perpetually off-balance. My computer is some five years old now and every day I’m finding new things I can’t do because it’s “obsolete.” Thank goodness for a few thousand year old meditation practice, a 250 year old tradition of piano mastery, a 60-year old practice of dynamic music for children.

And a few hundred thousand year habit of walking up the hills and down the valleys of this good earth, solid ground beneath my feet. Well, not really in California. But I hope for a long while to come. Now to correct some papers. With red pen in hand.

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