I was driving in the car this morning, actually I was driving home after I dropped the older kids off at school, and a series of songs came on that really put me in the mood to write. The first two songs were sort of mournful and called me back to an extremely difficult time, and I thought about turning them off, because sometimes I do that, but I decided to just let them play. I think I used to be afraid to let myself feel sad, afraid of where it would lead, or whether I could control it, but now I think it can be a good thing. I trust myself to be able to handle difficult emotions, and I have also realized that it’s important to remember the good and the bad, even if it means feeling a little bit of the good and the bad in the process.
These particular memories were related to one particular bad experience, or I suppose one set of experiences with one person. I was thinking back to that time and noting how far away it feels now, wondering why these set of songs, on this day, called me back to that time, when the song changed again (I love the shuffle feature), and “Closer to Fine” came on.* I laughed to myself, because the previous couple of songs called me back to a time when I did not feel strong, and a time that when I look back now, I don’t think I was very strong, but I really tried to be, and “Closer to Fine” was sort of my, “but I am strong though!” protest song in those days.
But actually I first discovered that song in college, during my hippie, vegan, Amnesty International days. That song made me feel strong later, because in my mind it was tied to a time that was about discovering myself and exploring the world with a sense of optimism and hope. I still believed I could save the world. I really did.
I started thinking about how much emotion can be wrapped up in a song or a smell or a photograph or a letter, and how often music has influenced how and what I write.
When I was in law school a friend introduced me to Ryan Adams. I had heard him once before, covering an Oasis song, and hated it, because, it’s Oasis, and why would anyone mess with something so perfect? When I heard some of his own music, I loved it. I’m not sure I own every album he has ever made, because there are a lot, but it has to be pretty close. I lived alone my second year and his music was almost constantly playing in my apartment, and in my car, and in my headphones while I studied, and wherever else I went. I read yesterday that in three days he will release his cover of Taylor Swift’s entire 1989 album, which is pretty amazing. I have a feeling I’ll appreciate this cover more than whatever he was trying to do to “Wonderwall.” That announcement, in some ways, probably triggered this entire line of thought, because it was an opportunity to think about how his music was a big part of my twenties.
There was a period of a couple of years when I stopped listening to most music, especially anything good, because it’s something that was, while not technically prohibited, definitely frowned upon. I also stopped writing, and stopped communicating with most of my friends. Looking back, it really was not a good scene. Again, these activities were not prohibited, and I can’t say for sure what would have happened if I had continued to do them, but it would have created definite conflict.***
I started listening again about the time I started to try to find myself. That sounds horrifically cheesy, even for me. Let me try again. I started listening to music regularly again about the time I started to realize I was lost and unhappy and needed to figure out what to do with my life. I started to see a therapist regularly, I listened to music in the car (and not just “The Wheels on the Bus”), and I started to keep a journal. Sometimes, if I couldn’t think of anything to write, I would just sit down and write about how a song made me feel. It was a great way to start writing again.
When I was driving this morning, listening to music, I felt like I could sit down and write pages of words worth reading. By the time I got home and took care of everything that needed taking care of and had some quiet time to sit down to write, that feeling was gone. I could only write about how that feeling felt, so I did. It’s better than nothing.
*I know that for most people, songs have a specific meaning, often tied to memories, and it’s not always very interesting to read about what a song means to someone else, but I am going somewhere with all of this.
**One line in particular, “The best thing you’ve ever done for me/Is to help me take my life less seriously, it’s only life after all” always stands out, especially as it relates to that memory. Last year a “thank you” post went around, and was all over Facebook. It was a young mother, writing to thank the father of her child for treating her and her son like garbage. That’s not fair. It was a young mother, writing to thank this man for giving her a child, even though she was not ready or prepared to have a child, and thanking him for being so terrible, because it gave her the opportunity to discover that she was strong enough to do it on her own. I didn’t like the letter. I thought it had to be one of two things, either passive aggressive, or enabling. Either it was meant to be sarcastic (and I don’t think it was), sort of like, “Yeah, thanks a lot for ruining my life,” or a free pass for someone who made a series of extremely bad choices. I don’t think it ever makes sense to thank someone for treating me poorly, no matter what I learn from that experience, or how I grow. It’s a way of excusing behavior, and maybe, making myself small. There has to be some safe ground between giving a free pass for bad behavior and being bitter, and this felt too close to the former, which I think is just as dangerous as the latter. I do think, though, that it’s possible to look back at a bad situation, and understand that not everything that happened in that situation, or in that relationship overall was bad. Very few people are all bad all the time (I can only think of two or three – even Darth Vader turns it around at the end, but I’ll get into that another time). It can be dangerous to do that, to look back at a bad relationship and identify the good, because it can tend to color the actual bad things a little rosier than they were, so it has to be kept in perspective, but it can be, I think, beneficial too, even if only to be able to say, “Well, it wasn’t a total waste.”
***To further complicate things, the person I’m talking about in this paragraph is not the person mentioned other places in this post, but one definitely opened the door for the other.