Dancing through life

If you want to view the world in a new light, try this simple trick: grab your iPod and your favorite pair of walking shoes, suit up for the cold if necessary, and hit the streets or head to the nearest park. Walk, don’t run. Once you get to someplace where you can walk freely, without holding others up or running them down, put that iPod on shuffle and stand still for a moment. Listen. Wait to hear the pulse of the music.

Then walk to the beat.

Don’t let yourself move more quickly or more slowly than the music plays. Keep tempo exactly, putting one foot in front of the other with each new beat. If the music is much too slow, walk in double time—and if it’s much too fast, do the opposite. And as you do so, lift your eyes and look around you. Force yourself to dwell on things, notice things. Even if you’re walking in a place you come to every day, you will see things you’ve never seen before.

The music gives your steps a direction, a drive. It is as though everything around you opens up and waits for your arrival. As you reach each turn, each intersection, each statue or dog or bench or tree, it is as though you were meant to get there at exactly that moment. Everything takes on a new significance, a new meaning. You are walking with purpose.

This must be what dancing feels like.

I have friends who can dance beautifully—and I’m not talking about the kind of dancing that happens at college parties, either. I’m talking about real form, elegance, and poise; their movements are liquid art, passion, and music, all at the same time. As with most things I have no idea how to do, I admire this incredibly.

One of my dancing friends extraordinaire tells me that anyone can do it; I find a quiet satisfaction in continuing to prove her wrong. I say I lack coordination; she says I lack confidence. In truth it’s probably a combination of the two, but at the very least we can both agree that Dancing with the Stars is probably not in my immediate future.

I can, however, walk in a straight line—at least, most days—and because Cambridge and Boston are very walkable cities, that’s usually how I get around. The walk from my apartment to campus is about a mile, so that’s at least two miles a day, and most days involve at least one additional destination. My favorite walk is the one I take on Tuesday nights, when I walk from Boston Common to Copley Square and back in order to get and from a choir rehearsal. This is where the iPod really comes in handy.

The walk consists of three main sections: Boston Common, Boston Public Garden, and Comm(onwealth) Ave(nue). Each is beautiful and full of things to look at. First comes the Common, which is surrounded by city but breathes a quiet natural life of its own in the midst of all the bustle. The Common transitions gently into the Garden, where rotating displays of flowers are carefully planned to evoke the season and complement the nearby willow-flanked lagoon. Even in the winter, the Garden is a sight to see; when the pale lights along the pathway shine down upon freshly fallen snow and the frozen lagoon, the mood is positively Dickensian. Finally, there’s Comm Ave, which in the winter is lit by seeming miles of small white lights on every tree and in the spring is showered with pink petals from the same canopy, created by the trees that line both sides of the path. Beyond the trees are the rowhouses, each with its own distinctive windows and façade and (no doubt) storied past.

With the music playing in the background and my feet moving to the beat, everything has the potential to surprise and delight. Did that flock of birds know to take wing on cue with the crescendo in the violin sonata? Did that traffic light change along with the key? It begins to seem like everything happens for a reason, that everything is synchronized—that everything and everyone is listening to the music.

And in my own way, I’m dancing.

I’ve often thought that life ought to have a soundtrack. Maybe you’ve thought so, too. It sounds somewhat silly to say it out loud, and you may think I’ve listened to a little too much music, but there’s something about walking in the way I’ve described that frees my mind and allows me to achieve clarity in my thoughts. The distractions fall away, and the important issues rise to the top. It’s the same feeling I get when riding in an airplane that bursts through the clouds and into the sunlight after taking off in the rain below.

Life has a beat of its own, and sometimes I think that listening to music while walking simply allows me to tap into it. Music doesn’t change anything; it just changes how we see everything. And especially on days when I’m looking for a little meaning, I can always find some in the music.

I see the well-kept rowhouses and hear James Taylor sing “Up on the Roof” and think I can’t wait to have a house of my own. I see the tunnel of wintry white tree lights shining in the dark of night and hear Beirut sing “Scenic World” and think I have so much of the world to see and yet am so content to be right here right now. I see an older couple walking hand in hand and hear Tony Bennett sing “It Had to Be You” and think Of course I should have told her. I look up at the moon and hear Harry Nilsson sing “Remember” and think Life goes on…

And it does, you know?

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Dancing through life

  1. Rich

    James,

    Wow, I am amazed at your consistency. Every day for 23 days! Without a single day off? If you don’t mind me asking, just how long do you plan on keeping your streak alive? Even the most dedicated of journalists take a day off here and there. Do you have posts stockpiled for in case you get the sniffles? And isn’t law school keeping you busy enough? Is is such a cakewalk that you can devote the amount of time that is surly necessary to put out such a polished, lengthy piece of entertaining work? You are an ironhorse, Jame; the Cal Ripken of blogging. I have been quite impressed that you just found enough material to talk about, let alone give those 21 topics their own detailed, well-explored 1,000 words. I mean, as a fellow writer (if I could be brash enough to give myself such a title) I would be in awe if you could churn out each of these posts in any time less than an hour. I mean to marshal your thoughts in a cogent form, and then to write out sentence by sentence, and then to edit for clarity and fluidity, and then to try to actually make it a fun read, not too dry, yet not too silly, then to give it enough space to have some objectivity in the larger sense. To do all that, and to do it fast enough not to have it take a substantial chunk of your time every single day… I mean just for me to map that out here has taken five minutes and fifteen lines! Christ All Mighty, James! Seriously, I want to know your process. I want to know when you cull ideas, when you outline thoughts, when you put them on paper, and when you post them. Maybe you could cheat and make that its own post, describing an average day, or the process of creativity as it pertains to yourself in particular. But please tell me, quiet specifically, how you do it.

    I’ve read all 23, and that, merely reading 23 posts in 23 days, has taken a sacrifice of time. I’m looking forward to see what else you can convince me is worth illumination (I wouldn’t have thought I would have been interested in, let’s say, a public library).

    It sounds way over simplified, but “Keep up the good work, James.”

    Rich

  2. Petri

    I am equally curious, James. I enjoyed this entry the most so far.

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