Wednesday, April 04, 2007

knots, locks, and puzzles

You know when there's a tight knot in a cord or rope, so tight you can barely tell it was ever unknotted? And you pick and pull and poke at the thing, for a long time it seems, without getting it to loosen the slightest bit. In fact, all that prodding just seems to make the knot tighter, smaller, more resistant. Then all of a sudden, something slides, a tiny bit of slack appears, and the whole thing comes undone in an instant.

That's how I feel lately, as though some deep, tight knot in me has just been released - and within this knot were lots of other tight, small knots, all of which I have been struggling with just as much. Now that the big knot has unravelled, though, all those smaller ones start to seem simple, easy, as though they've been anxiously waiting to slip apart as well.

Maybe I'm a bit of a relentless and compulsive personality - I don't know if another person would spend as much time on an unresponsive knot! Back in my undergrad days at New England Conservatory, where I studied with Don Palma, there was a wooden closet in the corner of his studio. It had a combination lock on it, but no one could remember the combination - Don told us there were a couple old bass bridges in there, maybe a coffee cup, and he wasn't sure what else. And he told us anyone who could figure out the combination could keep all the junk in there.

I'm sure I wasn't that desirous of some bridges and a smelly coffee cup, but I started working on the lock. At first I would just flip it around a little bit once in a while, usually to unwind after I had finishing practicing and was ready to go home. Then I began really examining it, trying to feel all the clicks and grooves, the ways it wanted to move and the places it seemed to get stuck. I started trying all the permutations of those places and - eureka - the thing unlatched.

Now, Don was a little bewildered when he saw what I had done. He probably wondered why I couldn't put all that energy and concentration into my Findeisen etudes! I was a bit surprised too - it was one of those moments where you realize your own strengths, a thing you can excel at, even if it's a silly pointless thing! I felt somewhat similar after I ran my first marathon - somehow the thing that made it worthwhile was just the knowledge that I could do it! And all the other impossible challenges, the irresolvable knots in your life, seem miraculously solvable.


Anonymous said...

What, if I may ask, were the contents of the cabinet after all?

Matt Heller said...

Unfortunately, all I can remember are the bridges and the coffee cup! There must have been some more stuff - I have vague recollections of strange souvenirs from foreign places I had never heard of - but my memory fails at the specifics!