Thursday, February 9, 2017

Drip, Drip, Drip

A leaky tap allows an occasional drop of water to appear. The drop gathers mass when more water trickles forth. When the drop gains sufficient size, it has reached a condition  known as escape velocity, whereupon it moves into the custody of the law of gravity.

Mass has propelled the drop out of the faucet, into a free fall of whim, its immediate destiny to make contact with some landing surface, be it a kitchen or bathroom sink, a patch or garden grass, or some random pool of water. If the drop lands in a situation convenient to the transmission of sound, there will be some significant result.

You can only estimate the number of time when you, on the verge of sinking into sleep,had your own fall arrested by the sound of that drip or splat. With no deliberate decision in the matter, you were waiting for the next sound of an airborne drip, making contact with its destiny or a drip or splat.

After two or three repetitions of the process, you were no longer asleep; you were every bit the slave of the process as the individual drops were the property of gravity. At such times, you had at least two options. 

You could get up, identify the spigot whence the drip came, then tighten its handle. You could also use the cadence of the drips as a device to return your tired brain to a place where it was again vulnerable for the switch in brainwave patterns associated with the state of sleep.

In later years, you developed the habit of associating the drips with words, trying to compose sentences of them as they came forth from their source. Your goal was to become so focused on constructing sentences that you were no longer held captive by the incessant, predictable sound of the drip or splat. The more you attempted to construct a parallel cadence of your own against the drip, the greater your likelihood of finding the sleep you sought.

Later yet, you were able to equate the drips of water with the cadences of beats or actions within a story, aware how a sudden lengthening of cadence sent you even more awake that you were, seemingly nudged into that delicious dramatic state known as suspense, or its first cousin, tension.

At the most basic level, story can be reduced to a series of beats, shifting in cadence from slow and persistent enough to arouse the would-be sleeper or napper from reverie, to rapid tattoo, where the beholder's pulse can't help but increase.

In mischievous possibility, story may be seen as a varying pattern of drips or beats, set against a counterpoint of an individual trying to achieve the goal of sleep. Thus story begins. Of course the individual becomes more frustrated as the drips or beats continue.

Your longtime faculty mate, the comedian Shelley Berman, had a remarkable performance piece, a dramatic monologue, in which a character was settling in for a refreshing night of sleep, only to become aware of those drip-sounding beats of awareness that amplified to the point of making sleep impossible.

Berman's sketch, which he performed every year, in literal and figurative senses, found its way into a visual demonstration you might have need years to arrive at otherwise. You've been away from that teaching position for years. Berman has walked on into symptoms of Alzheimer's and then to the accelerated cadence of death.

Most nights, you thinks about faucet drips actual and imagined, about waiting for the next drip, about cadence, about the vast subtextual dynamic of story. More often than not, your thoughts do lull you to the desired state. But on occasion, the progression of beats begins, shifts, increases, appears to take on some agenda that is not readily available to you, and you are up, alert to discover its story.

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