Current Distractions: First (few weeks) of October

Six months ago, it was almost entirely impossible to imagine that I'd be welcoming my birthday month still stuck at home. But here we are, in the middle of October, uncertain still about what lies ahead. Angrier, more anxious than ever.

Not surprisingly, as another way of coping, I've found myself sliding back into a (very, very) old habit. After some herculean house cleaning (my mom's initiative, obviously), I managed to dig up our old Wii and decided to install it in my grandmother's house, particularly in the room I used to stay in for bar review. Needless to say, I was re-hooked, like the sixteen-year-old that I was when we first got the thing in 2007. In less than two weeks, I managed to purchase (secondhand) games, buy a new remote, and set up a whole AV system in that room.



I dove head first into Rock Band the moment the Wii's power button turned green. I cannot genuinely use the idiom "It's like riding a bike," because I never learned how, but I guess I'd have no problem saying "It's like playing fake plastic instruments," because man, I didn't forget.

Muscles having memories has always been interesting to me. It is widely believed that once you learn how to do something physical, over time, it becomes easier and easier to do it without thinking. It feels like your body remembers how to do it. Biologists and neuroscientists propose that it can mean at least two slightly different things: (1) that when you stress your muscles to the point of hypertrophy, your muscles grow new cells which stick around and allow you to continuously perform certain functions, or (2) the parts of your brain responsible for movement develop stronger connections between neurons that function to engage that motion. 

Either way, it being a function of muscle cells or brain cells, muscle memory happens. It exists, and it's fascinating. While our brain may not consciously remember certain things, some way, somehow, parts of us do.

The first song I tried playing again was "Everlong" by Foo Fighters. The drums come in at exactly the eleventh second. The snare and the bass come crashing and the entire song just explodes within the first thirty seconds. The instruments and the harmony fuse together so quickly and effortlessly just before the completion of the song's opening minute; no build up, no fancy lead-ins. It so quickly and immediately assembles a spectacle of a song, like a fully-formed Athena coming out of Zeus' skull. It's joyous and infectious and fantastic. All four minutes of it.

So much of instrument-playing requires feeling instead of thinking. While the first few steps of learning is cerebral, once you master the how's, it's the other elements that step in and allow you to continue playing well. I play the piano; I know how to hit the keys at the right time, to look at visual cues and hold a note, to ease the pressure when the piece requires it. But eventually the actual skill will translate into something less analytical, something more reliant on sensations and impulses. 

It's a skill that I didn't realize would translate even with fake plastic instruments. But there I was, leaning into the song's rhythm so effortlessly, as if I've been playing the thing for years. (Granted, I was just on Medium.) The feeling of just knowing when to strike — it's consistent, apparently. Tapping into our internal metronome, once unlocked, turns out to be a prowess which never fully departs your muscles. 

I didn't forget.

"Everlong" is simple and candid in its message too. It doesn't work its way into a delicately ensconced narrative. It just straight up tells the beloved, Hello, I've waited here for you. No idioms, no analogies, no figures of speech. No thinking necessary. 

Music, motion, memory — a lot of these things don't require much contemplation when we get down to it. Purely instincts. That sense of recognition is automatic. Once it is made familiar — embedded in the fiber of our muscles and the maps of our cells — it never quite leaves. 

I went through all the other songs in my Rock Band CDs in sentimental haste. As I struck the rubber drum pads one by one, all the memories of playing these songs came rushing back. It was such a glorious, carefree time in my life, jamming it out with my friends on pseudo-instruments. All of a sudden, it felt like a virtual time machine to different points in the past: each track made me relive past heartbreaks, old parties, great entanglements, recollections of a percussionist's hands touching mine, tapping along to the beat.

But more than that, the additional weight of knowing that you aren't only singing along — the visceral, intuitive nature of actually feeling like you were one with the song because your hands, your feet, your muscles remember — it was exhilarating.

I sometimes get lost in the sadness of forgetting. I have a tendency to lose things in my mind — I keep forgetting to lock my car, or where I place my glasses, or what friends gave to me for past birthdays, or the things people dear to me last said. And once they're gone, they're forever lost in the ether. But there is so much comfort in knowing now that something within me isn't consigned to oblivion. My hands, my feet — my body — it remembers. It manages to sway along to a familiar beat. When it recognizes something it has done before, it knows.

Grohl asks, "And I wonder, if anything could ever feel this real forever?"

To this, muscle memory attests. It is quiet and surprising in remembering, potent in its affirmation. And isn't the heart a muscle too?

2 comments

  1. Hi Karlaaaa! In the process of me unfurling my own past (lol wow, I just checked my old blogspot is all), I checked out if you still blogged. And wow, you still do. It's so comfortable going back to this space. :) Kinda did a bit of backreading (hope you dont mind) and wow, congrats for all your acceptances!! So proud of you! Galing!! I can empathize in the conflict of choosing self vs family vs country in this crazy crazy pandemic situation. Hope you can pursue it soon though (in choosing the self, I'm sure the family and country will also follow), and I'm glad you found your niche in law.

    Huhu anyway, I miss yaaa! Link ex pls? Hahaha.

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    1. OMGGGGGGG Caaaatheee

      I literally squealed when I saw your comment!! Haha. Surprisingly yeah, there's still great comfort for me writing about things here. And thank you!!! It really was a crazy year of wanting to take big leaps but deciding to take the u-turn because things are a bit too chaotic. But hopefully it will all settle soon.

      I miss you toooo! How fitting that you're the first one to comment here!!!?? Maybe this is us coming full circle? Link ex and sign my guestbook please! :P

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