(Note – I wrote this several weeks ago and didn’t get around to finishing it until now. I’m leaving it in the present tense.)
According to clocks and calendars, time marches along at steady, metronomic tempo. That’s not how it feels to us. Time stretches and shrinks, depending of what kind of time we’re having.
Just yesterday afternoon my time accelerated to super-sonic speed. We arrived at Yosemite an hour before dusk, at which point we needed to be at a particular spot to witness the rare phenomenon of fire fall. So we crammed the whole of the park into that single hour. El Capitan! Angel Falls! Half Dome! Upper and Lower Falls! I felt the minutes slipping like sand through my fingers as I bugged my eyes trying to take in every ounce of these momentary glimpses of monuments, any one of which could take half a day to explore.
This morning we headed out of the valley to see a relative up north in Grass Valley. The moment we got back in cell phone range a call came in, telling me I had an MRI scheduled at Stanford in 4 hours. We turned and raced west.
The hours to Stanford Medical were not flying time, but biding time. I was getting used to it. Our vacation had been interrupted already by four trips to the hospital, most of which consisted of sitting in waiting rooms. I bided my time best as I could, with my iPad and this computer. As I write it’s afternoon. I’m waiting at the Eye Clinic, writing, even though my eyes are blurred with drops.
So, I’ve done flying time, racing time, and biding time.
This morning I did MRI time. That’s another kind of time -hard time. Certainly there is far harder. I’ve watched friends go through chemo. Pass kidney stones. Literally rock hard time.
The original “hard time” is prison time. I’ve spent a couple of nights in jail, and man the time really crawled. I can’t imagine prison.
In the TV series The Wire, Avon Barksdale explains to fellow dealer Stringer Bell how he manages a long prison sentence, “I only do two days – the day I go in and the day I come out.” I interpret that as advice to “be here now,” not to obsess about how many years remain in the sentence, but to experience this day, this hour, this moment.
I tried to carry that advice with me as they strapped me onto a board and rolled me into a tube tighter than a coffin. I knew what to expect, because I’d had one before.
Forty-five minutes of…well the technician said it best, taking the words right out of my mouth. “This will be like the worst music you’ve ever heard.”
I did my best to imitate Avon Barksdale in prison.
Surrender. Surrender to the moment. Breath deep from the abdomen. Relax the muscles. Don’t fight the sound, or the tight enclosure. Become one with the tightness, the sound.
Good practice for the MRI, and good practice for life. It was working.
But a couple of minutes in I got distracted from this practice. Distracted by my own internal noise machine, which clanks on minute by minute, pumping out thoughts. Dylan spoke for me, when he sang, “I’ve got a headful of ideas that are driving me insane.” Sometimes they howl loud as an MRI. And the only technician that’s ever going to turn them off is that dude with the scythe.
My noise machine was saying, “Worst music you’ve ever heard? Is that true?”
I remembered my job as producer at a recording studio, working with some terrible “artists,” enduring endless takes of singers who couldn’t hit a pitch if their life depended on it. Searching for talent in heavy metal clubs, coming away disgusted, with my ears bleeding. Perhaps worst of all, squirming through concerts of “contemporary classical music.”
It was true. This was the worst. Everything before was Mozart compared with this MRI. The technician’s voice on speaker, from behind a thick glass window was practically indecipherable as he announced the length of each coming sequence. Did he say 2 minutes? “CLANK CLANK CLANK CLANK….” Or was it two hours?
So, how about reviewing this, as if it were a piece of music?
They do get two things right. A lot of rhythmic variety, all steady as a drum machine. And each sound is quite different from the last – whether its chugging, honking or squealing. And they cover an impressively wide range of frequencies, from bass you can feel rattling every bone in your body, to whining that feels like a drill into the center of your brain.
The only other music it remotely resembles is Nine Inch Nails. Though I don’t choose to listen to him, I have great respect for Trent Reznor’s sonic imagination, as he explores the emotional range from existential dread to screaming horror.
The MRI sounds like Trent after aliens in a very pissy mood after abducted him, sucked his brains out, then hosed the void full of silly putty, leaving only his uniquely abrasive sonic sensibility.
I was done with my review. O stars out of 5, category of “R&B” – that being Bang-Bang-Bang rhythm that can really give you the blues.
I need to digress for just a moment to talk about my mother. She was the cheapest person I’ve ever known. Even when she lived in a fancy house, with food money an issue she would never face, she insisted on buying margarine instead of butter, even when my sisters told her it caused cancer. She said, “It’s a few pennies cheaper.”
I couldn’t help but pick up some of her belief in “waste not, want not.” I hate wasting stuff. Including that headful of ideas.
It bothered me for years. Then I found the solution.
Which is exactly how I spent most of my hard time in the MRI. Writing this post.
All I’m doing now is taking dictation from memory, which faithfully recorded every word.
So it was hard time, very slow time. But not wasted time.