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Fascinating Rhythm

 “Fascinating Rhythm” is an old, old George and Ira Gershwin song first introduced by Fred and Adele Astaire in the Broadway musical Lady Be Good in 1926. It has what Ira Gershwin described as “tricky polyrhythms,” which made it hard for him to write the lyrics, but easy for Fred Astaire’s frenetic singing and dancing: “Fascinating rhythm, You’ve got me on the go!” 

      It is also the kind of tune that is hard to get rid of once it gets into your head, and it has been stuck in mine lately. Perhaps that is more than just an odd coincidence, since I have been unusually preoccupied with the rhythms of my own life lately. Now that Covid has apparently abated (somewhat), I see that I’m expected to easily accommodate the “new normal.” Already I’m getting sideways glances for continuing to wear my face mask or surprised responses when I decline to attend a local meeting. So in addition to everything else I have to worry about, I now have a new, post-Covid adaptive anxiety! “Fascinating rhythm, You’ve got me on the go!”

     My “old normal” way back pre-Covid was every bit as frenetic as the Gershwin song. I was a whirling dervish of activity with organizations and functions and domestic projects and, of course, a steady schedule of international and domestic travel. Even though we are retired, my husband and I kept up the active lifestyle and social interactions that had characterized our pre-retirement professional lives, albeit in different ways. And then, almost two years ago to this day, all that stopped, completely. We were, in fact, packing to leave for Australia when Covid hit and suddenly the trip was cancelled and everything changed. Now I realize we weren’t alone in this abrupt to our lives, but for me, a real Type A hyperactive person, this was more than just a little interruption in the way that I lived my life, even my retirement life; this was cause to hit the reset button.

     It took me a while, as it did almost everyone, to recognize the fact that Covid was not just a temporary thing that was going to go away anytime soon, and it took me more than a little while to find a rhythm for this new reality. Once I had busied myself with cancelling travel plans, recouping costs, and commiserating with my friends, I settled into a reluctant acceptance of a long haul of restrictions and isolation. As did so many who found themselves at home 24/7, I threw myself into household projects and my creative life. Luckily, I write and I do art quilts, and those endeavors not only saved my sanity, but actually brought new satisfactions and improved my skills. I acclimated to the slower rhythm of my days, still setting modest goals and striving to accomplishing them, yes, but at a steadier and calmer pace. As year one of Covid turned into year two, I continued to create and communicate with my friends, albeit from afar, and I actually found this new way of life less hectic and more focused. I adjusted surprisingly well to a hermetic existence and, without outside pressures and expectations, I relaxed. Sometimes it takes a “time out,” even a forced time out, to recognize how fortunate we are and to be grateful for what we have.

     But now here I am coming into year three of a malingering pandemic. Having adapted comfortably to the sameness of endless days and having adjusted nicely to a slower pace, I am abruptly expected to get back in gear and get with the “new normal.” A part of me wants to, really  — I want to see my friends and go out to dinner and travel and have some fun and not be wary of everyone around me, but my rhythms have not yet recalibrated, nor am I entirely sure they ought to. 

     Oddly enough, today is the vernal equinox, a day when the hours of daylight and dark are equal. Centuries ago, it was considered the mark of a new astrological year, when people would perform rituals to clean out old energy both in themselves and in their homes. (Hence, the spring cleaning routines so many of us observe today.) On a deeper level, the equinox  is thought to represent a period of struggle between light and dark, of life and death, and so it highlights a need for finding balance. These spiritual interpretations of the equinox actually originated in ancient times, but seem especially relevant today when our world is so starkly divided between light and darkness and when balance and reason are in short supply. 

     Again, is it more than just a coincidence that the Senate just passed a law this week to make Daylight Savings Time the one official time of the Country beginning in 2023. With little discussion and even less fanfare, the law is nevertheless already controversial, because there are not not just two sides of argument on this issue, but three. It’s all about circadian rhythms, you see. Those against the law, including most scientists and sleep study experts, argue that this is the wrong time to adopt overall because Daylight time leaves the mornings darker and, thus, is more disruptive to sleep cycles and human circadian rhythms. A third group argues that we ought to leave things as they are because … well, that’s the way it’s been for ages. Who knows? But I will admit that I am finding my own wake/sleep cycle interrupted these first few days into Daylight Savings time. I can’t seem to make myself get up and do my morning walk in the dark, and I hate feeling sleepy while the sun is still high at 8 o’clock in the evening.  I guess I will adjust eventually — I do every year— but experiencing jet lag without the benefit of an overseas vacation is a real bummer.  

     So, here we are — the whole Country needs a reset. I’m going to have to get over my anxiety about interacting with others and gradually accept careful interactions; I’m going to have to brave the risks of limited travel (domestic, at least) in order to see friends and restore some social connections with those who are most important to me; I’m going to have to expand my days to include some activity with local groups and organizations; and I’m going to have to adjust the rhythms of my days going forward to achieve a reasonable balance between racing and meandering, 

     None of this is easy; rhythms are personal and habit-forming. Tonight’s super moon happens to coincide with this year’s equinox, and that won’t happen again until 2030. As I look out on that brilliant orb in the sky, maybe I’ll be inspired to dance in the moonlight. Fascinating rhythm. Can you get me on the go?

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