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Keeping time

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I was a banjo widow at a fiddler's convention once. My partner at the time had a heart like a hurricane lamp and a laugh that could blow a big man down. She played a mean claw hammer banjo and no sooner had we set up camp than she was outta my sight for most of the weekend.

I made the circuit of the grounds where musicians gathered under tarps, tents or tree limbs. It was a mind-bender for me in two ways. Generally socially adept, I was for once in my adult life, clearly on the outside looking in. And for the first time, I glimpsed music as more than passive entertainment.

Then as now, my working life revolved around building three-dimensional objects like houses or four-dimensional creations like gardens. I realized that these musicians were building too, but in that fourth dimension--time.

A bass player lays down the foundation while guitar, banjo and mandolin players flesh out the rooms. Fiddle players carve the ornamental trim around the doors and windows. The song builds to a climax like an old-fashioned roof raisin' and all at once, it's over. There is a moment of quiet and then, at the first breath, the house disappears.

I came away from that weekend knowing I would find my way into that circle if I ever found the time and patience to learn something totally new. Eleven years later, I've picked up a mandolin. Even at my novice stage, I occasionally strike a resonant note, and something inside me says, "I've been wanting to say that for a long time."

I wondered recently why I'm ready to learn an instrument now. Don't laugh, but I think it's because I killed my television. Well, not really, but when I left a household with a TV two years ago, I didn't buy a new one. Now, though my life has as many demands as ever, I feel, as a recent TV-free letter-writer stated, "I don't live in the same frenetic, fast-paced world that almost everyone else seems to inhabit." I feel I've regained control of that slippery dimension: time.

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