Improv #14: Sing the Moment

*Knock knock*

“Who’s there?”

“The Perfect Moment”

….

….

“The Perfect Moment who?”

“It’s too late. You already missed it.”

I could use this post to say something vaguely motivational like “feel the fear and do it away” or that it’s possible to “seize the day,” even with chronic physical or mental health challenges. I could use this post to talk about FOMO or the crash that occurs when the future calls in a lien on the present in payment for spoons borrowed against it. I could do any of those things, but I won’t. I may be the only guru I trust, but I only (mostly?) trust myself because I don’t attempt to say the kinds of motivational stuff even I can’t listen to without rolling my eyes. I still prefer snark over spirituality.

Also, I know that I couldn’t back those topics up if I tried. I mean, how could I plausibly talk about seizing a moment when I have no idea what a moment even feels like?

Did I ever mention that researchers out there have amassed evidence that, at heart, ADHD is a neurologic deficit in time perception? Our sense of time is non-neurotypical, to say the least, and totally gone at worst.

Be incredibly skeptical if I tell you that something happened “a few weeks ago.” Unless I am looking directly at my trusty reality journal while I proclaim this, that moment could have occurred anywhere from two days to two months (or more!) ago. If you ask me to estimate what time it is, well, just don’t bother. I’m guessing “plus or minus three hours” won’t be very helpful?  Time pretty much all feels the same to me. Times are either the “now” or the “not now.” Since I also dissociate, that “now” might also “really” just be linked emotionally related memories or I might have teleported through even more time than just a person with ADHD can typically accomplish. I’m happy if I stay within +/- three hours.  Then, I’m only showing the time blindness of ADHD, with no additional traumatic amnesia on top. Even at the best of times, though, Father Time and I are acquaintances at best. We’re never besties.

That sucks for attempting to dance, play musical instruments, or sing. I don’t quite perceive the beat. If I try to start a rhyme on cue, I’m usually off. My indie group does not have a musical director. We’re not that high up in the performing world. I always figured if I ever worked up the nerve to audition for a mainstage show and, by some miracle, got in, I’d be Colin Mochrie to Wayne Brady. The musical director would underscore my scenes with sound effects, but I’d be sitting on the stool describing the hits on the musical compilation CD that someone else sang. I did not ever figure that the theater’s musical director and I would be more than passing acquaintances, either.

However, I am still a student alongside an indie performer. My current level is a crash course prepping students for a variety of capstone formats and helping would-be performers determine what they’d ultimately like their performance specialty to be. Our last class covered musical improv.

My rhythm sucks as much in the present moment, it seems, as it did when my elementary-school strings teacher dropped me as her student and told me to never bother pursuing music with anyone else either. Between “double-jointed” (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome) fingers that would never hold a bow correctly and a disjointed brain that would never time anything correctly, I should quit while I was behind. I’ll refrain from belaboring her point about my rhythm since (a) I posted just last week about how my art teacher also told me I sucked and I am not quite ready to introduce a recurring, “$h17 Lavender’s Elementary School Teachers Told Her She Sucked At” series yet. (It might simultaneously take over my blog and still be too raw decades later.) And also (b) I’m supposed to be learning how to tell past from present moments via ADHD-friendly tools like planners and C-PTSD friendly tools like reality journals.

There’s also that (c) too: the musical director who acted as a guest instructor for my present-day class didn’t tell me that I sucked.

I can rhyme. I can come up with one-liners. I can free verse couplets for other performers that they can say on the beat. I just can’t do any of this on beat myself. A short-form game like “I Like my Lovers” has a predictable rhythm: “Oh, I like my lovers like I like my <audience suggestion> *beat* <zinger.>” I’m usually pretty good at this game in spoken form. I have the sense of humor of a twelve-year-old boy. I’ve also heard this game performed musically so many times that you’d think I’d be able to sing it my sleep. But, I definitely would not like my lovers like I like my own musical improv (aka, a half-step out of sync with my partner…)

I figured I’d be mostly left alone on musical improv day. Everyone has different strengths and all that, but the musical director (who determines who “earns a song” in a scene) kept putting me on the spot. I sang free-verse songs about alien invasions and waxed (or, I guess, rapped?) poetically about sailors loving the sea. I also, however, got increasingly more directed eye contact and heavy cued beats. The MD did not leave anything to chance about cueing my entrances. And, when I missed them anyway, he was pretty good about doing a little musical flourish and hammering home “ok, try again now.”

Because I am nothing if not a glutton for punishment enjoyed the rhyme games and free-verse elements of musical improv (they play to my love of bad puns so much more than structured long form), I talked to the musical director after class about whether there would be any point to my taking a musical improv class. He said he’s worked with other mainstage performers who have my rhythm deficits and patiently started to explain how “some people have neurological differences that prevent them from perceiving the beat.” I just looked at him, shrugged my shoulders, and said, “Yeah, I already know I’m neurodiverse,” prepared for disappointment.

Instead, he fist-bumped me for “using the affirming lingo” and said “Ok, so since you already you know you’re neurodiverse, here’s the thing to know. It’s my job to work around you as your musical accompaniest Did you notice how I hit beats harder and subtly nodded my head when I wanted you to begin? That’s what a good MD does. They listen to the pace you are setting in free-verse songs and adapt the music around it since they do have rhythm. If the game has an established rhythm, I’d work with you in rehearsal to train you on alternate cueing for the main beats. No one in the audience will ever notice the interim ones.”

He wasn’t a jerk. It’s kind of rare to be told that rhythm isn’t totally required for something musical. He’d already told us that actual singing ability isn’t required for musical improv. (If you’ve ever watched any of the performers other than Wayne Brady sing on Whose Line is it Anyway you probably already know that!) Musical improv only requires commitment. If you happen to also have any one of the following four in addition to commitment, you are, “Pretty much a rock star: ability to carry a tune, rhythm, rhyming skills, or choreography. And, the last four really are just bonuses. If you sell it, confidence alone will get you there.”

I can commit wholeheartedly to my bad puns (ask my Partner), so I guess that gives me a leg up? The MD gave me some exercises to train neural awareness of the beat should I want to try to improve mine, but he also encouraged me to consider musical improv even if those exercises remain virtually impossible for my time-blind brain.

His final advice was, “You projected confidence even when you missed a beat and you looked like you were having fun out there. Trust your team to guide you to your moment.” I don’t do motivational aphorisms, but, apparently, he does. (Maybe he should be an elementary school teacher?!)

If you commit to your performance and surround yourself with the right support systems, you make your moments; the moments don’t make you. I can live with that as a girl permanently out of step with time. After all, I do like my moments like I like my lovers… letting me set the pace. 😉

Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out the Glossary of Terms.

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3 thoughts on “Improv #14: Sing the Moment

  1. I love your natural stims. Just reading about them trigger some of my favorites: communicating only with sung lyrics from songs of the ’80s (until all my bones turn to jelly from laughing so hard,) for example. Or conversing just in quotes from movies or novels. I bet we could communicate using only jingles from commercials for hours. 😂 💜

    Liked by 1 person

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