A Tale About a Feminist, a Rabbi, and my Mother


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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 IĀ  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.



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14 thoughts on “A Tale About a Feminist, a Rabbi, and my Mother

  1. Add me to the wishy-washy member list too. I have a wide-range of musical tastes and listen to what fits my mood at a particular time. My only dislikes are hip-hop & rap which are sort of like torture devices to me. My reading tends to be more genre-driven, perhaps because I don’t have as much reading time as I have in years past, and there’s so much in certain genres I want to read.

    1. You’re on the list! I get what you’re saying about not having enough time to explore reading other genres, but lately I’ve done a fair amount of stepping outside what I normally read and for the most part have been pleasantly surprised and rejuvenated by it.

  2. I love the sentence: “I love music the way I love words.” Perfectly put. And I would listen to Come Sail Away and pretend Tommy Shaw invited me aboard their star ship and we lived happily ever after.

    1. Damn. I did it again. Chris Cross sang “sailing” and Styx sang “come sail away”. One day I’ll get all the names straight. Or I won’t. But I appreciate the subtle reminder of the right artist. Music and words are two of my favorite things in life. I also like sailing and the at times, the idea of sailing away with the likes of Mr. Shaw. šŸ™‚

  3. Sara, you left us knowing that there is much more to this story, as in, to be continued…

    Okay, listen up. You are not wishy-washy because you have an appreciation of many types of music. The asinine Sophomore in the car many years ago DID AFFECT YOU. You still seem to be carrying her message that your refusal to define your taste in music made you a flake as a music appreciator, and even in some other areas of your life. (How she tied that into feminism and the whole “women are weaker concept”, I’ll never know. Hey, she didn’t know either.)

    She was clearly a very insecure (and young) person who NEEDED lots of hooks to define herself. You, obviously, were secure in yourself and were happy to 1) keep your private self to yourself, and 2) enjoy whatever the heck type music you wanted to enjoy when you wanted to and how you wanted to. Actually, she should have been told to go suck an egg, but you were too young and sweet and inexperienced to do so back then.

    If you want to love many genres of literature *raising hand in commiseration* and you enjoy various types of music *as do I and billions of other people* and if you remember all the words from the Jewish liturgy because they are special, or because you learned them freely and innocently as a child, *doesn’t matter which* then so be it.

    Interesting point: My daughter was a child who opened her mouth in a Kindergarten play and set the world on fire. Though she chose not to follow singing as a career, she, at one time was considered a prodigy. I used to say she could sing the paint right off the walls. Along with her awesome gift, she could memorize lyrics in moments. She sang and performed all through her elementary, middle school and high school years and could have gone on to whatever heights she desired. Amazingly, and to our great disappointment and to that of her fans, she lost interest in performing.

    At the time she quit, she knew the lyrics, bridges, harmonies, melodies, and every other musical nuance to more than 1,000 songs. All kinds. For example, she could sing all the parts to Phantom of the Opera. Yet, she could have easily performed a traveling Patsy Cline show with her unique flare to imitate voices while retaining her incredible style.

    Here’s the part I want you to remember: with her singing gift, came the gift of memorizing lyrics. My point? When we are given gifts, we get the whole package with them to make it work. As a writer, I don’t need to memorize lyrics. In fact, I have a hard time doing it. Yet, I can write novels. That’s my gift! We get the tools we need to use our talents as they are supposed to be used. I truly believe that.

    To conclude: “Wishy-washy” and diversified interests are two separate things. If we are to be songsters, we can memorize lyrics with ease. If we are to be writers, we are drawn to the written word, stories, books, research, grammar, etc. It’s just the way things are.

    Sara, you are unique and gifted. Period.

    1. *Let’s out a breath*. Thanks Jodi for your very thoughtful response. I do carry with me many of the comments from my past that disturbed me in some way or other and occasionally do let them seep into my psyche and mess me up a little bit. I truly do believe that we each have our gifts and should make the most of them without concerning ourselves too much with what we think we should have or wish we had. And I don’t mean to sound apologetic about how I feel about music because I do love it in all it’s beauty and feel lucky that I should be so blessed to appreciate it the way I do. šŸ™‚

  4. You brought me back to one of my earliest songs “I think I Love You”, by David Cassidy. I played that song over and over again. I sang it for my family, for my friends, for the neighborhood. I probably tortured people with it. I am reminded that for me, music is about the rhythm for the most part. Yes, I love words, but it is the rhythm/beat that draws me in first and my love for movement and dance just takes over. I love all rhythms – and they all portray and create a different mood/feel.

    I love words and the power they have. I can be very moved by the words in a song, but it has to be a song with a slower tempo – one that allows me to take in the words (actually hear them and understand them!) without a fast tempo beat that drowns them out.

    The utmost joy for me is doing liturgical dance (you touched on this a bit Sara) because there is nothing more powerful than combining the word of God and music!! Two incredibly powerful avenues blended together and it touches the soul like no other.

    I happen to be reading another one of Sue Monk Kidd’s books at the moment, (love, love, love, her), and she talks about the power of honest, personal, and revelatory writing – humans need these words, stories, like they need oxygen! Words, stories, music, universal languages that create a “soulful being together”.

    In fact, as I picked up this new book the other day Sara, (Firstlight), it reminded me of
    you and your writing style. I love Sue because she has a way of going straight to the heart,
    engaging, challenging, motivating…….addressing the deep and most important issues of the heart. A kind of communion between reader and author. You got that “all goin on” Sara!!!!!!

    1. I’m blushing. Sue Monk Kidd is a lovely writer although I’ve only read her fiction. I think I’ll give Firstlight a look. Music is powerful beyond language. I remember singing that same song probably because I was a Partridge Family fan back in the day. So glad you came by and shared your love of music. šŸ™‚

  5. I sometimes wonder this about myself because I have so many interests. Or, rather, I can be interested in just about anything because I’m an information junkie. That means it’s been difficult to categorize my blog for the purpose of “branding,” “platform building,” blah blah. I’ve always considered myself a jack of all trades. However, I would like to feel master of at least one.

    1. I’ve had similar issues although I’m feeling like you can be a jack of all trades but have areas that keep coming up again and again in your work. For me, that is art and music and personal relationships. Not sure how to use that in a branding way but I’m closer than I was a few months ago.

  6. Sara, I hope you never again feel like you need to apologize or rationalize what you enjoy and love. I couldn’t agree more with Jodi’s response. You are absolutely NOT wishy-washy or indecisive. I, too, enjoy a wide variety of music (and books and foods and movies and….). I’ll never understand why some people insist on doing what that girl did to you. Insecurity? Maybe. But that doesn’t excuse it. Sorry you went through that. I hope all of the rallying cries around your diverse tastes here serves to greatly lessen the impact of that one girl.

    1. That was a long time ago and while that type of behavior tends to get stuck in my craw (is that the right term?), I think I am way past being bothered by it. Clearly I haven’t forgotten it though. Thanks for sticking up for me though. Wish you’d been in the car with me all those years ago. šŸ™‚

  7. I love the word wishy-washy, too. Used it in my last blog post. Interesting story you shared. Seems you’ve come a long way in sharing your personal side. Kudos, good story making. Keep ’em coming.

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