Soundtrack to My Childhood

I’ve finally purchased my own copy of the album that most shaped my childhood.

Rubber Soul was released in December of 1965, meaning that I have been hearing this music since the very first Christmas of my life.

There’s an interesting thing in the iTunes music store – each song on an album has a little popularity bar. I suppose it tracks how many times each song has been downloaded. The most popular song from Rubber Soul is In My Life, a song I have always found to be inexpressibly depressing. From the time I was a child, it said to me “You’ll never be the most important thing in my life. Everything I had before I met you is more important to me than you are.” Considering that I was the third of my parents’ children, it told me that they would always be more important to me than I was. This much later on, I don’t know that I’ve changed my mind about that.

The song Run For Your Life made me do exactly that. I have very clear memories of running in circles around the perimeter of our living room, which included a couch, a chair, at least one end table and a bean bag. Nobody ever told me to stop running, which means that I was a tiny person, not in danger of hurting the furniture by running on it. I would run along the furniture, shaking my mop of cornsilk hair as though trying to outrun the words “You’d better run for your life if you can, little girl.”

I also remember all the words to I’m Looking Through You, another less-popular number. “I thought I knew you. What did I know?” That single thought has fueled every interaction I’ve ever had with anyone in my entire life. It’s why the most stinging feeling I ever have in life is the knowledge that I misjudged a relationship. It hasn’t happened often to me, but it has happened.

The song that confused me was Wait. To be fair, a child of less than five has no context in which to put a song about lovers separated for a long time. “Wait ’til I come back to your side. We’ll forget the tears we cried.” I thought about that song so much in the years that followed our move from Connecticut to Arizona, a move we made without our father, who continued for years to send us pictures of him doing fun things in New England, smiling and having fun without us. It made me keenly aware that in this case, the “we” that was crying was only me, and maybe it’s petty of me, but I’ve never forgotten those tears.

It sounds like I’m a bitter person, still feeding off the pain of a bitter childhood, but that’s not true. I’ve built a life for myself that got me beyond the things that hurt me. Instead of spending a lot of time looking back at things that made life hard, I look forward to things I’m creating for myself. Rubber Soul isn’t just about my past. It’s also about all the aspirations I’ve had for myself since I was that tiny tow-headed kid. “The future still looks good. Have you got time to rectify all the things that you should?

I do. I am. I will.

Between the Covers

First of all, I was gone for a couple of days (and trust me, I’ve been BUSY in that couple of days), and you all abandoned me. I feel like you and I were at a party, having a lovely conversation, really getting to know one another, then I excused myself to go to the bathroom and when I came out, you were standing with that loudmouthed guy who was telling that story about his truck and the deer and the bean dip and you waved to me, and turned back to loudmouth just when he got to the part about hitting the possum with his golf cart. And I didn’t blame you. I can’t even begin to compete with that. I’ll be honest, though. It hurt.

Anyway, back to the whole blog post thing. Books. I’m talking about books. A big part of grad school has been the enormous amount of reading I get to do. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve finished V for Vendetta, Rashōmon, Dracula, Quiet (The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking), The Woman in White, The Windup Girl, and I’ve just started Status Anxiety.

The thing that I love about “annotations,” as opposed to book reports, reviews or anything else I could write about the books I read, is that they’re personal. They’re influenced by the other stuff I’ve read, the events in my own life, the mood I’m in. When I’m doing annotations, I feel like I am at liberty to bring in every connection I think of while reading a book. I can talk about my connection to Buddhism and depression when I write about Rashōmon, or about Occupy Wall Street when I talk about V for Vendetta, or about my own dark thoughts about our world’s future when I read The Windup Girl.

When I write annotations, I end up looking at the whole thing as a kind of therapy. I can certainly look at how Hemingway created stories out of nouns and verbs and admire that, but I can also think about how racist, sexist, generally asshole he was, and how that informed the kinds of people he wrote about, and how I wonder whether that narrow worldview contributed to his depression. Sometimes, I get myself so wound up about the kind of person I should be that I can’t stand the kind of person I am. Is that what it was like to live in Hemingway’s ultra-macho world?

I think that we all look for ourselves between the covers of every book we read. We want to be the hero; we want to be the super-cool villain who has money, power and good looks; we want to be the mom everyone loves, the son everyone’s proud of, the kid who’s quiet and unassuming until she saves the world. That’s great when it’s fiction and somebody gets to win in the end (even if that somebody is the bad guy). But when the subject is human’s desire for love, as is the case in Alain de Botton’s nonfiction book Status Anxiety, I’m just as apt to put myself in the shoes of the unspoken subject of the book, the person who worries about other people’s opinion of them and how that opinion is influenced by how much money a person has, how good-looking they are, what kind of job they have.

Sadly, I’m a writer, so I have no power whatsoever. I’m not good-looking, although because I’m just words on a page to you, you can imagine whatever you want. The same goes for my finances. In short, I’m worried about what you think of me. But I guess I don’t need to worry anymore. Given the fact that you’ve chosen the guy with the truck and the dead possum and the bean dip over me, it’s pretty clear where I stand.

Fault Lines

When you encounter a problem, how important is it to you to establish fault?

For instance, if you are walking down the street and you see a piece of trash on the sidewalk, do you ask of anyone nearby whether it’s theirs? How about if you’re at home and someone leaves a piece of trash on the floor? Do you act differently in one place versus another? Why?

If you are at work and a problem arises, do you first establish who’s to blame, or do you first fix the problem?

There are good reasons for establishing who’s at fault when things go wrong.

  1. If the same person makes the same mistake repeatedly, they should either be educated (if they don’t realize they’re doing the wrong thing) or fired (if they do, but they don’t care).
  2. If many people are making the same mistake, your policies should either be more widely known or changed.
  3. If the mistake is something that only a single person can undo, such as an incorrectly sent email.

There is one very good reason to avoid establishing fault. It’s no use if the only reason you’re establishing fault is to cover your own ass. Sadly, though, this seems to me to be the number one reason that anyone bothers to get to the bottom of any problem.

All of this is really just me thinking hard about a current situation where something has gone wrong, and I’m searching for the person responsible. I’m trying to drill down and question my own motives because I don’t want this to turn into something negative, when I know that it doesn’t have to be. If handled properly, this could be a great learning experience for everyone involved.

Let’s see if I’m that good.

Love’s Aftermath

Last night, the Pirate and I went to the San Jose opera to see the opening performance of La voix humaine and Pagliacci. The playbill describes La voix humaine like this:

La voix humaine, Poulenc’s French monodrama, follows a young woman’s emotional phone conversation with an unseen former lover. His is discarding her to marry another woman, and she is desperately trying to win back his love. Set in 1940s Paris, this one-act opera paints an emotional portait of an abandoned woman teetering on the edge during an affecting and engaging monologue.

The action took place over three or four phone calls. Apparently, the phone service in 1940s Paris was horrible, as every few minutes the two parties were either cut off in mid-phone call or just thought they were. First, the man calls the woman. Strange, for a man who has apparently thrown this woman over, but I am willing to suspend disbelief. In the first phone call, her essential message is “I’m okay. I’ve been out having a good time. I’m much stronger than I thought I was. No, really, I’m okay.” They’re cut off, and after she fixes herself a drink and lights a cigarette, he calls back, whereupon her message changes. Now it’s “I’m not really that okay. I’ve been struggling. I really miss you. I still love you. You’re always right, I’m always wrong. ” They’re cut off again and she tries to call him back at home, only to find out that he’s not at home. Whoops. He calls back, and the message changes to “I’ve lied. I’m horrible, I’m not coping at all. My friend has had to come and sit with me for days because I wanted to die. If you were to, say, lie to me about not being at home, not that I’m saying you lied, mind you, but if you were to lie, it would just make me love you more because I’d know you were trying to spare my feelings.” And then, after he hangs up, she throws herself out the window. My disbelief jumps out after her, its tenuous link to my enjoyment of the evening having snapped.

Eleven years ago, I myself had a rather rough breakup with my third husband. I was the breaker, rather than the breakee, and I understand the person on the phone’s desire to let the other person down lightly. After every breakup I’ve ever had, I’ve always felt guilty for leaving, no matter how badly things went in the relationship. Thinking about it now, I realize how incredibly egotistical that is. Who do I think I am that merely denying my presence to someone would be enough to plunge them into despair? And yet, I was always worried about “letting them down easy.”

The problem with acting like I’m the guilty party is that the guys I have broken up with are more than happy to go along with my act. Yes, they say. I was in the wrong. I should never have left them. They’re exemplary specimens, and I’ll be sorry one day, and everything is my fault. This wouldn’t be a problem, if it weren’t for the fact that I have children with a couple of these guys. For the past couple of months, I’ve been in a sticky custody situation with one of them, and it’s really been getting on my nerves. After every email, phone call or face-to-face meeting, I invariably end up wishing that things had gone differently. There’s something a bit unfair about the way that, after you break up with someone, they continue to attempt thinking for themselves in a way that leads them to entirely different conclusions about the problems that face the both of you.

It was only after considering this for a while that I realized the truth about La voix humaine. The man, after magnanimously telephoning his ex-girlfriend to make sure she’s okay, after gently breaking it to her that he’s sending his servant around to pick up some things he left behind, hangs up to go back to his “other woman,” and his discarded girlfriend does the only decent thing she can do – throws herself to her death. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the fantasy that most of us have about the end of our relationships. The world would be a better place if, once we have discarded someone, they would have the decency to vanish from the face of the earth, right? Right?

Well, I’m sure that’s what my ex-husband is wishing for, right about now.