When I was in college a billion years ago, I went on a weekend training retreat for a campus suicide hotline service with fifteen or so other people. In the car with me were several others, including a sophomore to my freshman, who felt compelled to share bizarre details of her life with me. For example, when we first met, she asked me where my dorm room was and when I answered, she stage whispered to me with a serious look of connection in her eye that she lost her virginity in that room. In my bed. Yuck. In MY bed?
As you might imagine, this sophomore made me a little jumpy, uncomfortable. I’m a pretty private person (well I was before I had a blog) and details like the one above dropped out of her mouth every few minutes from the moment we met. Within the first half hour of the car ride, I’d decided that I would do whatever it took to keep out of her way during the training. This was going to be intense enough without this woman’s need to expose her inner self to me at every turn.
So when she started tuning the radio (pre-ipod/pre-CD) dial in the car and asked me if I liked the song, I said sure and turned away. She didn’t like my disinterest and tuned into a new station. “How about this, Sara?” There were four other people in the car but all her attention was turned on me. “It’s fine,” I said. “Yeah, but do you LIKE it? Is it your kind of music?” she asked. “It’s great,” I said. “Just leave it there.” Again, this wasn’t good enough for her. I don’t know if it was my lack of interest in engaging with her or that she simply felt that I wasn’t what she thought I was or something altogether different but at that moment, she began to mock me and then to start pushing me to tell her exactly what kind of music I liked and specific artists followed by the history of my musical taste. I’m sure I would have reacted differently now, but I was 19 and I felt compelled to answer her. I was baffled as to what to say so I simply spouted out a bunch of nonsense and tried not to listen as she scolded me for being wishy washy about music and therefore, wishy-washy about everything, which ultimately meant I was buying into the anti-feminist doctrine of women as the weaker sex.
One day I may write more about how I really feel about women (like ‘em, think they’re smart/interesting/blah-blah-blah) but what started rolling around in my mind during and after her diatribe did not have to do with feminism but with music. It was true then, and is mostly true now, that I love music but I have a hard time putting myself in a listener category (rocker chick, country girl, indie enthusiast). What I like depends upon my mood, but I cannot think of any music that I dislike (not Philip Glass, not Raffi, not Eminem, not Britney Spears, not Lawrence Welk). Sometimes, I find a song or a style to be repetitive or lyrics to be pointless or a particular instrument to be played in a jarring way, but under the right circumstances, I can enjoy pretty much anything I listen to for what it is.
I guess some people would say that does make me wishy-washy (I love that word. It makes me think of Charlie Brown and of a book I used to read to my kids called Mrs. Wishy-Washy, but I digress). The dictionary definition of wishy-washy is an adjective that means 1. lacking in decisiveness; without strength or character; irresolute. I would fight you on the without strength or character part of the definition regarding me, but when it comes to music, I am lacking in decisiveness. I definitely don’t have a favorite type of music. At any moment in time, I may want to hear one type of music over another, I may even like one type better than another, but in complete honesty, the favored song of the moment is of the moment. It could and probably will change sometime very soon.
And, unless it is a song I have heard over and over and over again (ask my parents or siblings about the time I won a 45 record of the song “Come Sail Away” and played it constantly until every person within five miles of my bedroom could sing the song word for word), I don’t remember lyrics. And for me, except in an embarrassed-because-everybody-else-seems-to-know-the-words way, it really doesn’t matter to me if I know the words. The words aren’t what a song is about for me. Imagine that. And I’m a writer. I know how hard it is to get the words down so they convey what you want to say.
I had an epiphany this past Saturday morning, at our dear friends’ daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. Like many in the congregation, I was at the service to see Madeline become a Bat Mitzvah. My attention was on her from the moment she came into the sanctuary. I was silently rooting for her, hoping that she remembered what she’d practiced, that she would feel really good about what she was accomplishing. Meanwhile the service was going on. I opened the prayer book to the page I was told, I rose from my seat with the congregation and I sat down with them when asked to do so. It was during the singing of one of the prayers that I had my epiphany. It came about when I realized that, without any thought about it, I was humming along with the prayers and the songs, and in many cases, I was singing all of the words (in Hebrew) without barely any awareness that I was doing so.
Unlike many in the service, I grew up going to Jewish services. When I was a kid, for a fairly long period of time, my mother took us to the weekly Shabbat services at our synagogue as well as the services on the the High Holy days. In the Jewish religion, just as it is in many other religions, the Sabbath service is similar from week to week, especially in regard to the songs that are sung. So, in the same way that I know all of the words to Styx’ “Come Sail Away” because I listened to it at least a zillion times, I know most of the words of the songs from the Jewish liturgy. What is fascinating to me is that while I do know some Hebrew and if I had to translate many of the prayers, I probably could get a good 50% of the words right, when I am singing the songs during the service, I have no idea of the definition of the words. I know in a big picture way what they mean (most boil down to praising God), but I’m not translating or thinking as I sing. I’m simply singing. And perhaps feeling, but even there, I’m not sure what.
The epiphany was this: My formative music loving experiences took place during those Shabbat services when I was a young girl. I learned music the way I learned words. I learned it by feel, by instinct, by having it put in front of me and repeated over and over. This is what it boils down to: I love music the way I love words.
As a reader and as a writer, I have a hard time putting myself in a genre (literary, fantasy, children’s lit) and what I like depends upon how I’m feeling that day or week. I like fiction and non-fiction, short form and long. I’m interested in serious research and in base humor. I don’t always agree with what I read, I’m often disturbed by the twisting and spinning of words in self-interest, and I find usage of some words unnecessary in most situations, but I can appreciate pretty much anything I read for what it is.
Does this make me wishy-washy? And if it does, is wishy-washy such a bad thing? I don’t think so. Actually, I think I am pretty lucky. My toy bin is the size of a Toys R Us warehouse. I can wander around and find the song or the book that suits me in the moment. And later, I can go to the other side of the store and curl up with something completely different and still find joy.