25 Songs, Day 5: The Dreaded Earworm

(Part five of my exploration of the 25 songs in 25 slightly-more days blogging challenge — a way to bank and pre-schedule a few posts for JALC while I’m off a-travelling.)

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Day Song 5: A song that is often stuck in your head

Ah yes, the dreaded earworm. The song that infects the aural passages and the bloodstream, often causing physical pain and existential crisis akin to that once faced by Anton Chekhov a long time ago in a future inhabited by Ricardo Montalban:

ear_worms_ear_budsI have a strangely high tolerance for earworms. For me, they impact the same part of my brain where my affection for guilty pleasures and things delightfully kitschy resides, so even if the pleasure of said ear worm is of a different flavor than, say, my love for the Gayatri Mantra, I do often find a sincere sort of pleasure in hearing the “ear worm song.”

So I was incredibly puzzled as to what song to write about tonight. Old classics from my formative years, like It’s a Small World or Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?

Entries from my young adulthood like Macarena, Mambo No. 5, or Lambada? Why are all of these Latinate one-hit wonders? Only Gaia knows… Also, is there anyone else out there who immediately spotted the Kaoma sample when JLo came out with her Pitbull collab, On the Floor? Just me, then.

Perhaps I should feature recent ear worms that are imprinted on my mind’s eye as much as anywhere else — I think of the Olympic swim team and Call Me Maybe, Lara Spencer dancing Gangnam Style on the set of GMA, or that wacky moment where I was just slightly ahead of the coolness curve when Ylvis’ The Fox went supernova-viral

But ultimately, I cast back into the early 80′s for this ditty from my early teen years: Toto’s Africa.

There’s a few reasons this bubbled to the top of the pile. First, is its innate infectiousness. Second, is the fact that we sang an arrangement of it in high school chorus, meaning I will never ever ever get those “Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo”s out of my head.

Third is the way it has spawned other infectious ditties, such as Straight No Chaser’s arrangement of 12 Days of Christmas:

Fourth and finally, is this brilliant deconstruction of the song, by author Steve Almond:

Rather than expose us to the hard-won truth of individual experience, the song immerses us in the Karo syrup of an entire culture’s mass delusion. It is the love child of imperialism and muzak.

Almond’s spoken essay makes me both hate the song and love it all the more. And hate myself a little for loving it. Which is the quintessential definition of a guilty pleasure, if not of an ear worm.

———-

Image credit: http://mcphee.com/shop/ear-worms-ear-buds.html

 

25 Songs, Day 4: In Praise of the Divine

(Part four of my exploration of the 25 songs in 25 slightly-more days blogging challenge — a way to bank and pre-schedule a few posts for JALC while I’m off a-travelling.)

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Day Song 4: A song that calms you down

I am not really much of a meditator. You might think, what with all the ways I talk about my consciousness work and my striving for spiritual awakening, that I’d be exactly the kind of person who had a regular meditation/mindfulness practice — but that’s not the case.

Well, that’s partly the case. If there is a type of person to have a meditation practice, I daresay I would be that type. I understand the value of such a practice, and I sometimes give thought to the question of how best to establish a regular sitting practice. But right now, for better or for worse, my regular reflective practice is my morning journal-writing

Even though it’s not a regular practice for me right now, I have had a sitting practice for short stretches of time during the last 6 or 7 years. During those times, I was much better able to focus my attention using mantra meditation and chanting than with silent meditation. Which brings me to today’s song: the Gayatri Mantra as sung by Deva Premal.

essence_180I believe I came across Premal’s work early in my attempt to learn more about Eastern religions, about meditation and about chant. I’d started with Krishna Das and the Ravi Shankar/George Harrison collaboration Chants of India. Wonderful, uplifting, heart-centered works, all of them, but as I listened, I was aware of a deep longing to hear a female voice to model my own baby-bird chant-croakings after.

So I bought Premal’s album, The Essence. And when I put it into ye olde CD player and started the first track, her singing of the Gayatri Mantra entered my heart and soul.

Om bhur bhuvaha svaha
Tat savitur varenyam
Bhargo devasya dhimahi
Dhiyo yonah prachodayat

Praise to the source of all things.
It is due to you that we attain true happiness on the planes of earth, astral, causal.
It is due to your transcendent nature that you are worthy of being worshiped and adored.
Ignite us with your all pervading light.

I still listen to this mantra now and again. At work or at home, as a centering background in the midst of some stressful task or another. Every so often, to sing and chant along with Premal. Sometimes I listen just because it’s beautiful and I love it so.

———-

It wasn’t until I went to the CD booklet to type the lyrics and translation into this post that I was reminded that the Gayatri Mantra has a deep, personal connection for Premal as well. This page paraphrases the story told there:

My father has been on the spiritual path since the 50′s. . . . He taught himself Sanskrit and began chanting mantras. When my mother was pregnant with me, their welcome was to sing the Gayatri Mantra throughout the pregnancy. . . . As I grew up we continued to chant the Gayatri Mantra together regularly before sleep. I didn’t really know what I was singing… and why. I just did it because I was told to. It wasn’t until much later that I came to appreciate these precious times. . . .

One day I heard the Gayatri Mantra being sung by a friend in England. It was a different version to the one I had grown up with, and knowing the text so well, I was touched and excited by what I heard. I felt re-connected. This time I could feel the power of the mantra as never before, the strong effect it had on me, and the sacredness of it.

We began featuring it in our concerts. At last I had found my song! I had found something that felt like ‘mine.’ I felt at home with it, and I watched as it touched people night after night. I began searching out more mantras and before I knew it, I soon had enough for my first album! We recorded it in my mother’s flat–the same one I was born in, where the Gayatri Mantra had been sung to me all those years before.

The page ends with a shot postscript describing the death of Premal’s father in 2005:

I feel so grateful that I could be there until the moment of his death. We were singing the Gayatri Mantra to him until the end and so the circle is complete: He accompanied the beginning of my life with it and I the ending of his. I am also very touched by my family…how they were all joining Miten and I with the singing for him and how we are totally in tune with each other about how to deal with everything now…

I am deeply moved to discover the depth of authentic feeling Premal has for this mantra. I am sure that authenticity has imbued the recording, and that it is part of why this recording of the song has come to be so precious to me.

Not only does it calm my restless spirit: it opens my heart.

———-

Image credit: http://www.devapremalmiten.com/deva-premal-and-miten-information/articles/my-journey-with-the-gayatri-mantra

 

 

 

25 Songs, Day 3: In Praise of Denim

(Part three of my exploration of the 25 songs in 25 slightly-more days blogging challenge — a way to bank and pre-schedule a few posts for JALC while I’m off a-travelling.)

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Day Song 3: A song that reminds you of one or both of your parents

Obviously, both of my parents were part of the story back for Song #1 when I was discussing ABBA. But let’s be real: even though ABBA was on the list of music we all could tolerate, between my two parents, my mom was much more of an ABBA fan than my dad was.

Dad was a Neil Diamond fan. And his favorite of all of Neil’s songs was Forever in Blue Jeans:

Money talks
But it don’t sing and dance
And it don’t walk
And long as I can have you
Here with me, I’d much rather be
Forever in blue jeans

Honey’s sweet
But it ain’t nothin’ next to baby’s treat
And if you pardon me
I’d like to say
We’ll do okay
Forever in blue jeans

(AZLyrics)

There’s lots of ways Dad was the example of that old Horatio Alger ideal. He grew up in a Pennsylvania steel town; both his parents died before he was out of high school, so he went into the Air Force and then used his GI Bill benefits to get the college degree that helped him start the business career that would (pretty quickly) allow Mom, my sister and me to live in the comfort and middle-class privilege that I remember from my childhood.

jeans-iconThere was one time when I was a little girl that he first shared a compliment with me — with all of us? I can’t quite recall. A co-worker or a boss had said something to him about how he “was as comfortable with a Big Mac as a filet mignon.” That praise meant a lot to Dad. I think it told him he’d managed to “better himself”* without becoming a snob.

And even though I’ve taking things in a much more intellectual and politicized direction, I wonder about the ways that my desire for social justice, and my ongoing practice in unpacking and understanding my privilege is a different flavor of that ideal. From a spiritual perspective, I wonder about the links between Dad’s (admittedly imperfect) egalitarianism and my desire to find compassion within myself  for people and my (hugely imperfect) practice towards the sort of acceptance that would allow me to open-heartedly “meet folks where they are.”

Maybe those are stretched connections. Maybe not.

What I know for sure: I still smile and think of Dad whenever I hear a Neil Diamond song.** And since this summer trip is an itinerary he wanted to bring the family on — we just didn’t have the chance to do it before he died — I might just be thinking of Dad a lot during this stretch of days.

Maybe I’ll load a Neil Diamond playlist on the iPod before I go.

* I know, I know: that’s an incredibly loaded and problematic way to put it. But I do think it kinda captured his perspective on the distinction between his childhood experiences and the middle-class life he was able to build for us.

** Except when I’m tearing up. Even five years later, grief can be a tricky tricky thing.

———-

Image credit: http://fashiontribes.typepad.com/main/2007/06/forever_in_blue.html

 

25 Songs, Day 2: The Boulevard of Ex-Boyfriends

(Part two of my exploration of the 25 songs in 25 slightly-more days blogging challenge — a way to bank and pre-schedule a few posts for JALC while I’m off a-travelling.)

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Day Song 2: A song that reminds you of your most recent ex

Okay, here’s where I think that I am perhaps not really in the planned demographic for this challenge? Mr. Mezzo and I coming up on our fourth wedding anniversary, and we’ve been together for more than a decade. And then, to make things even more interesting hopelessly banal, I might as well cop to the fact that I’d taken myself “off the market” for about 4-5 years prior to meeting my Mr. (Long story not worth the telling: basically I realized around the age of 30 that I really needed to get right with myself before trying the relationship thing again. So, you see? Sometimes that old saying is true: love does come along when you least expect it!)

Anyhow, whichever way you slice it, it’s kind of been a long time since I had any sort of ex, so memorializing some fairly-insignificant romance with a song here just feels kind of — odd.

Word Cloud Boulevard of broken dreams

Instead, a brief recollection. When I was in grad school at UPenn, there were two main geographic areas where I and all my social circle lived. There were those of us who had chosen to use the Schuylkill River as symbolic boundary between work life and home and lived in a vaguely Center City/Rittenhouse Square(ish) locale. And then there was everyone living out west of campus and past 44th street.

So, one evening, some few years after I’d left school and started my non-profit career, I was driving up Pine Street, en route to hang out with a friend of mine at her apartment. And this song came on the radio:

Green Day, Boulevard of Broken Dreams. It hit me like a thunderbolt. I was at that precise moment driving along a two-block stretch that had housed the apartments of not one, not two, but three grad school ex-boyfriends. I’d lost touch with all of them by that point, so had no way of knowing if any or all of them had moved on to different addresses (towns? countries?). Didn’t really matter. The energetic signature of that song, playing at that moment, at that specific location, was just richer than rich.

I walk a lonely road
The only one that I have ever known
Don’t know where it goes
But it’s home to me and I walk alone

I walk this empty street
On the Boulevard of broken dreams
Where the city sleeps
And I’m the only one and I walk alone

(Metrolyrics)

For the entire rest of my time in Philadelphia, I thought of that little stretch of west Philadelphia as the “boulevard of ex-boyfriends.”

———-

Image credit: http://cchcamilo.blogspot.com/2010/05/boulevard-of-broken-dreams.html

25 Songs, Day 1: Music to Wash Dishes By

(Part one of my exploration of the 25 songs in 25 slightly-more days blogging challenge — a way to bank and pre-schedule a few posts for JALC while I’m off a-travelling.)

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Day 1: A song from your childhood

I guess I’m like lots of folks in that I have tons of music memories from my childhood. Sesame Street 8-tracks in the car on long car trips, immersing myself in my mom’s copy of Sgt. Pepper at around the age of 8, watching my parents and their friends try to learn the Hustle in our Sao Paolo living room. But the song I’m choosing today is Dancing Queen, by ABBA.

I’m sure they’re especially front-of-mind right now because we have tickets to go see the ABBA Museum when we’re in Stockholm. But it’s also true that we listened to them a bunch during my childhood and tween years.

abbapicOne of the traditions we had up at the lake house during the summer was that whoever was washing the dinner dishes got to choose the music the house would listen to during that chore. On a nice night, most everyone would be out on the screened porch while the “KP crew” washed and dried and put away, but the cottage is small enough that any music being played loudly enough to reach the kitchen is also going to reach that porch and its occupants.

Clearly, the most liberal interpretation of this tradition hypothetically allowed the KP crew to “inflict” music that the rest of the family hated upon them, but there was also nothing that barred the inflict-ee from complaining vociferously about a particularly-hated music selection. So, during my tween years, I recall some small music wars, broken along generational lines, of course. My sister and me in one camp, our parents in another.

And ultimately, after a few small skirmishes, we all fell into a more nuanced expression of this tradition. For the most part we tried to choose things that maybe one side of the generation gap liked better than the other, but it would be music that we all enjoyed at least to some degree.

And that’s where ABBA came in. One of us would start the tape recording of Arrival while the other began to run the water and fill the dish basin with soap suds. By the time When I Kissed the Teacher was over, we’d be ready to wash. That evening’s DJ would crank up the volume, shimmy over to the kitchen as the opening piano glissando and ah-ah-ahs of Dancing Queen rang out into the air. And away we’d go, singing along as the dishes were done.

I enjoy a lot of ABBA’s songs, and know a surprising number of them by heart. (Even the minor hits and obscurities like When I Kissed the Teacher.) Since my fondness for the oeuvre is so wide-ranging, I almost chose Mamma Mia as my example song. After all, it and its original video have become so darn iconic, so fully representative of the Abba phenomenon:

That’s the song that became the title for the Broadway and movie musicals, and that’s the song that (to my awareness), has has been recreated in any number of endearing fashions, including this twofer from Down Under:

(Yes, Muriel’s Wedding used a different song, but those costumes! The camera angels! Those head turns! That’s a Waterloo/Mamma Mia cross-pollinated homage if I ever saw one! And Priscilla‘s just plain fun.)

But when I think back to my tween and teen years on the KP crew, it’s Dancing Queen that first rings in my head. (Now that our ABBA listening is the iTunes playlist derived from ABBA Gold, that sense of Dancing Queen as the lead-off track has only been intensified.)

Back during those fractious, difficult years, I remember our ABBA dishwashing nights as a small reminder that we all did have some threads of connection and commonality in our family: sister to sister, child to parent. I think that emotional resonance is one of the reasons I still have such fondness for ABBA’s Scandinavian disco fabulousness, and one of the reasons I’m very much looking forward to my ABBA pilgrimage in Stockholm.

———-

Image credit: http://cnsnews.com/news/article/barbara-boland/abba-went-badly-dressed-get-tax-deduction

Peace Out

peace_out_by_wirdoudesigns-d62lrkoSo today’s proposal went in and things got locked down at work, the suitcases are pretty much packed, the house-sitter is keyed up, and the boarding passes are printed. Guess it’s almost time for vacation.

Of course, all of this is being done in my usual human & imperfect fashion. The house is WAY messier than I would have preferred the house-sitter to see, but I ran out of time. There’s a couple tasks at work I wanted to get done before I “handed the baton,” but I ran out of time. (Sense a theme here?) I didn’t get as many posts in the bank as I wanted to, but — sing it with me! — I ran out of time.

Oh well, I do the best I can. And sometimes my best includes packing rather too many clothes so that I have lots of options and therefore (with any luck) can stave off some of the waves of physical and existential insecurity that happen when I’m with my extended family. The luggage scale confirms that I am within airline limit, so I’ll just count my blessings on that score and let my ego-selves have this little piece of comfort. If having the extra clothes options helps me stay in my body, enjoy all the new sights and sounds, and maybe even get deeper insight into my lineal and family patterns? That’s a trade I’m willing to make.

———-

For all the “cut corners” and imperfect execution around different pieces of the pre-trip preparations, there’s one piece of preparation I’m giving its due measure to: taking the time to set an intention for this journey.

I’m not using the term in the way it so often gets public airplay in a manifestation/law of attraction kind of context. Phillip Moffitt, in Yoga Journal, does a good job of defining intention-setting from a Buddhist perspective, a definition much more in harmony with my use of the process:

Setting intention, at least according to Buddhist teachings, is quite different than goal making. It is not oriented toward a future outcome. Instead, it is a path or practice that is focused on how you are “being” in the present moment. Your attention is on the ever-present “now” in the constantly changing flow of life. You set your intentions based on understanding what matters most to you and make a commitment to align your worldly actions with your inner values.

The extra layer in my practice is to use the process as another way of seeking Spirit’s guidance — usually through drawing a card and using the card’s message as a springboard to help shape the intention I create. (See here for a description of someone doing a similar practice as a way to kick into a new year.)

Drawing a card allows me to get out of my own way and get more of a true read on whatever it is I’m going to be studying/transmuting in a particular experience. Instead of fooling myself into thinking I know what I’m going to be studying, in a very assumptive, ego-driven, self-fulfilling prophecy kind of way.

So, my card has been drawn and I will shortly go to do a little writing meditation on the card’s message. Then, if my usual system holds true, I’ll let my unconscious work on the question while I’m sleeping, and I’ll formally put pen to paper to scribe my intention tomorrow morning. Maybe even while I’m at the airport.

Stay safe, y’all. Catch you on the flip side.

———-

Image credit: http://wirdoudesigns.deviantart.com/art/Peace-Out-367171800

On Modulations and Tone

(Quick hit: another proposal due tomorrow, and also much in the way of packing/preparing for the house-sitter. Still, since these grounds will be semi-fallow for a stretch of time, I am compelled to put something up, even if it’s more quotes from others’ writing than words of my own.)

tone_police_sheriffAs I’ve been expressing my outrage over various current issues during the last several weeks, I’ve been aware of a delicate push-pull within my system around the issue of tone: how to speak strongly without “going overboard.” In short, being just a little tiny bit invested in tone policing myself.

Obviously, that investment has only been a few pences’ worth — I know what bullshit tone policing is:

The tone argument is a form of derailment, or a red herring, because the tone of a statement is independent of the content of the statement in question, and calling attention to it distracts from the issue at hand. Drawing attention to the tone rather than content of a statement can allow other parties to avoid engaging with sound arguments presented in that statement, thus undermining the original party’s attempt to communicate and effectively shutting them down.

And, therefore, I don’t do a whole lot of policing myself. But I do a little.

For example, I know I’ve said the phrase “morally repugnant” a few times in the last week as I’ve been responding to SCOTUS’ shenanigans. Plenty strong of a description, I suppose. But a step or two shy of the word I hear in my head to label these decisions and the misogynist world-view they embody: evil. (Yeah, I went there.)

I’ve been lucky thus far not to have anyone outside of myself pull the tone policing card on my writing. If that had occurred, I’d probably have responded with an explanation of the ways that anger is justifiable, appropriate, and even inevitable in situations that reveal the many injustices of the kyriarchy. To quote Do or Die:

Living in a world that reminds you daily of your lesser worth as a human being can make a person very tired and emotional. When someone says something oppressive . . . it feels like being slapped in the face, to the person on the receiving end. The automatic response is emotion and pain. It’s quite exhausting and difficult to restrain the resulting anger. And, frankly, it’s cruel and ridiculous to expect a person to be calm and polite in response to an act of oppression. Marginalized people often do not have the luxury of emotionally distancing themselves from discussions on their rights and experiences. 

[. . .] Now, I’m not saying it’s okay to be abusive, or oppressive in response to a person who fucks up. But anger is valid. Anger is valid, anger is important, anger brings social change, anger makes people listen, anger is threatening, and anger is passion. Anger is NOT counterproductive; being “nice” is counterproductive. Nobody was ever given rights by politely asking for them. Politeness is nothing but a set of behavioral expectations that is enforced upon marginalized people.

And this is all true to my understanding of the world and of human psychology, and of activism and social justice work.

But a day or two ago, I happened across something that puts even another lens on the occasional necessity of outrage and outraged speech.

If you speak about injustice and privileged people get offended, people will condescendingly explain to you that things are easier to hear if you are nice, and that you are more likely to convince people if you speak to them respectfully.

This is true, and often important to keep in mind – but people who say that to you in a conversation about injustice are usually missing the point.

They’re ignoring something fundamentally important about addressing injustice: Sometimes, the goal is not to convince privileged people to treat others better. Sometimes, the goal is to convince marginalized people that the way they are being treated is unjust and that it’s possible to resist.

Now, I’ll admit to the smallest bit of discomfort about the phraseology around “convincing marginalized people . . . that it’s possible to resist.” Something about it rings a bit too close to “white savior” territory for my liking.

Nonetheless, there’s a piece of this that’s really opening my perspective. What are the ways my writing is for the public (it is in a public forum after all), and what are the ways I am the primary beneficiary of my words? How does my writing help me overcome the habits of self-silencing?  Are there times I’m hoping to change minds and hearts, and other times where I have no expectation to “convert” disbelievers but simply need to sound a rallying cry for myself, my friends, my allies? Or sometimes a paradoxical mixture of both those strands?

What my purpose for writing isn’t an either/or but instead is a plurality, a yes/and?

———-

Image credit: http://thetonepolice.tumblr.com