Jazz and Jackhammers

There's going to be construction every day this whole summer vacation right outside my front door. The city is tearing up the street to replace water pipes; a necessity for long term viability. This was not good news for my plans of a peaceful, non-teaching, domestic retreat. I read the form letter with stony frustration and a sense of squeezing around the heart. My beautiful, serene summer, now doomed by jackhammers, mind-numbing motors, back-up beeps, dust, dirt, and chaos! 

A quieter chaos lurks inside my house. It vibrates on a frequency those who grew up in militant, old-world tidiness can expertly detect. My husband and daughter breeze past bursting closets, jumbled drawers, dirty carpets, spiderwebs, mildewed bathroom tiles, and weedy front yard jungles without a care. They look at me with pained, pitying expressions when I mention, suggest, manipulate, demand, or plead for corrective action.  

“Ok, mama,” on a good day, or, “Pick one thing and put it on a list,” if I’m lucky. Where is the outrage? The disgust and indignation at the shabby state of affairs? Perspective is a powerful thing.  

There was a time when I listened to jazz and could only hear disconnected barrages of scales and rhythm patterns that followed no clear order or structure. Many friends and I shared conspiratorial giggles about the pretentiousness of those who claimed to enjoy it. Yet, in certain quiet moments, driving home along the Sacramento river after teaching an evening ESL class, I found myself tuning into community radio jazz. Only now, those so-called barrages and patterns I complained about accompanied and even comforted me on my lonely journey.  

Most music I listened to focused heavily on a finely crafted message supported, enhanced, and made complete with instrumentation. Lyrics understood and spoke truths I needed to tell. The structure, repetition, and clear progressions were the cradling and cooing that calmed my worried mind.  

Apparently, jazz didn’t need me to understand what it was saying or playing. It didn’t require my permission or approval. I could either take it or leave it. No hard feelings, no questions asked. The wordless story it was telling was more expansive and universal, less linear. Feelings and ideas had more room to stretch out and wander. Maybe a melody would return at the end of the song, maybe not. Not knowing was part of the charm. Enjoying it demanded a letting go I had not previously been capable of except when watching clouds, waves, or children madly chasing each other around a play structure.  

At this moment, 8:30 AM, there is a lull in the construction cacophony. Birdsong and distant traffic sounds prevail mixing with a light rustling of bamboo leaves off the back deck. Dappled sunlight gently rests on notebook lines creating a musical score of shadow notes where I write. Just inside the house, I perceive a discordant, low hum, but I’m hearing it differently.  

For long-term viability and happiness, allow a more expansive and universal story with no need for permission or approval. Today, mildew and weeds creep, developing their own melodic themes. Next week, the rhythm of scrubbing and clipping. Jackhammers this afternoon, and jazz this evening. 

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