November 18th 2016

Thirty-two years ago today I got married. I was three weeks away from turning 35. My husband likes to joke that I had the date chosen when I proposed a few months earlier but that’s not quite the case. Here’s the way it played out:

We met in 1982, and I confess to having had that ‘this is the one’ feeling from the start. Old loves always keep a place in your heart—just play the song(s) you listened to when you were a teenager in love, or in your twenties and in love, and you know what I mean. But this love had something about it that spelled Let’s Stay Together.

So, a few months shy of the two-year marker in relationship I kind of suggest maybe it’s time we do something. He says, “you mean like get married?” I nod. Then I go into the bathroom and throw up. No joke. That would have been June. No hurry to set a date but I did want to get married in 1984. Do something life-affirming in a year forever marked as an ominous one. November (wedding) in New York had a nice ring to it.

A month and half ago my daughter proposeengagement-bells-fbs to her boyfriend, who puts the heartfelt and humorous touch to it all on Facebook.

Fortunately, instead of experiencing her mother’s OMG I-did-it anxiety, she gets a very special pair of shoes. He gets himself a wedding band from Tiffany. The engagement ring was a given, and I get the pleasure of delivering it when we’re all together for Thanksgiving. There’s a spirit to stones, and this one started out as a pendant my mother wore, then gave to me at a time when I was suffering. Now it gets to sparkle on my daughter’s hand in a time of joy. My mother is long gone, but I can feel her kvelling.

‘Sparkle’ is not a word that readily comes to mind these day. ‘Struggle’ would be more like it. To hear those two words juxtaposed against each other puts me in a poetic mindset.

When I find myself in times of trouble Mother Mary comes to me . . .

Actually it’s Pema Chodron I look to but we’re talking metaphor here. And if I can’t let it be, the least I can do is be with my struggles.

I struggle with even looking at news headlines. All those polls I’ve neurotically counted on during past election cycles! How could they get it so wrong this time around? Who needs explanations in hindsight? Why bother listening to the chatter of projections re: what to expect from the new administration? It’s the wise Buddhists who remind us there is only the moment, here and now. Things change, times change, often in the most unexpected ways. So why the delusion of thinking there’s reassurance in knowing what’s ahead?

I struggle with a sense of purpose gone awry when political/global anxieties fuel personal ones. So I hole myself up in the room I call my treehouse, watching Justin Timberlake in concert. Can’t say I’m a big fan, but he makes me smile, and he is a standout from those early boy groups my daughter and her friends were enthralled with, and this wonderful big TV has me going for the sight and sound spectacle it was meant for. Can I do this for the next four years?jt-on-tv

I struggle with groundlessness When Things Fall Apart, and look to the spirit of Pema Chodron’s guiding words re: being Comfortable with Uncertainty.

I struggle with what failure means, both on the personal front and the systemic one.

My reputation for being optimistic is not serving me well, even as I’m reminded this is no time to hide my head in the sand. Poetry is apparently going viral in the wake of deep disillusionment/shock/anger. Joshua Rothman tells readers How to Restore Your Faith in Democracy. Michael Moore gives us a Morning After To-Do List, Rebecca Solnit writes about How to Survive a Disaster, the Huffington Post offers up 18 Compassionate Poems to Help you Weather Uncertain Times, and the story that grips me most?

Death Valley Is Alive

I go back to Andrienne Rich, What Is Found There: “The impulse to enter, with other humans, through language, into the order and disorder of the world, is poetic at its root as surely as it is political at its root.” adrienne-rich

When do I stop moaning and groaning? Watching Samantha Bee helps a lot. Even Bill Maher, whom I avoided in the aftermath of the election, elicits a cynical smile. Then there’s SNL rising to the occasion, Kate McKinnon at the piano with a resonant Hallelujah to remind us of all that we lost last week, and Dave Chapelle to remind us of how much we’ve missed him.

Besides, don’t I have a wedding to plan? The wedding date is yet to be set, the venue not yet finalized but my daughter thinks the first dance with her husband might be to Hallelujah. Of course, I best her.

Go for Dance Me to the End of Love.

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The holy or the broken

It’s taken me a long time but I think I’ve figured it out: my mom’s affinity for musicians who are good songwriters and poets but TERRIBLE singers has something to do with her being a writer. Let’s be real for a second … when you think of a “good” singer you think of someone like Etta James or Justin Timberlake, not Leonard Cohen or Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan.

If you read our blog (reasonably) regularly, you’ve also probably been able to tell that I grew up in a very musical household. You can only imagine what it must have been like hearing these very jarring voices (okay really just talking about Leonard Cohen here) that could be considered the stuff of nightmares to some children. I think because I grew up in a creative household, I was sometimes able to see past it and see the poetry behind it all BUT to say that I always tried and often succeeded in dominating the car stereo on drives is a huge understatement.

After stumbling upon an excerpt in an old Rolling Stone Magazine, I picked up a copy of The Holy or the Broken by Alan Light. You have one guess as to what it’s about. More than one friend seriously made fun of me for reading a book about the cultural significance of one song, but after reading it, I can say that it was one of the most compelling journalistic books I’ve ever read (and one of the more interesting books I’ve recently read during a summer in which I somehow survived The Casual Vacancy and Wicked). I’ve always known the song to be culturally significant, but reading about how it actually came to fruition and publication and then decades later, popularity, got me thinking about my own experience with the song. What’s so unique about it is that it’s almost like a Shakespearean play – beautiful poetry that can be performed and interpreted in so many ways. There have even been different recordings that include or don’t include different verses, giving the song new meaning each time.

Obviously as I read, I had to listen to as many recordings as possible (I’m glad that it’s a common understanding by Bono and those of us unfortunate enough to hear his cover that he blasphemized the song with “trip hop”), only to realize that I can’t honestly remember ever hearing Leonard Cohen’s version.

I’m sure I did, right Mom? The truth is that it’s so underplayed and has taken on such different shape since it’s original recording that each reinvention really feels like an entirely new song. Apparently it became widely popularized because of the movie Shrek (fun fact: John Cale’s version appears in the movie, but the soundtrack has Rufus Wainwright’s recording). If I’m being honest, though, it’s Jeff Buckley’s version from the Season 1 finale of The O.C. that sticks out most in my mind in pop culture (and subsequently at the end of Season 3, Imogen Heap’s chilling cover when Marissa dies). It’s become SO synonymous with TV and film as well as in tributes to disasters (natural and humanly inflicted). There’s no denying that it’s never not effective, but what’s so fascinating is that, like any poem or piece of art, we all find something different in it.

Famous ukulele player Jake Shimabakuru does a beautiful cover that doesn’t convey any sort of sadness, almost just a spiritual reflection.

 

In one of my favorite “versions,” Adam Sandler wrote a parody to the tune of “Hallelujah” for the 12.12.12 concert with the refrain “Hallelujah / Sandy Screw ya’/ we’ll get through ya,’/ ‘cause we’re New Yorkers.”

What I think is so cool about the song is that you rarely hear of anyone hating it. Maybe people get sick of the song being overplayed in pop culture, but there are enough covers of it that almost anyone can identify with it in a way. There are countless lists that rank the different versions and there are very, very few songs that could be covered in so many different ways and beloved in so many different ways. While I may have desperately tried to change my mom’s cassettes back in the day to Spice Girls or Green Day, there were times where I was forced to listen to the harsh sounds of Leonard Cohen.

Did I know that she was trying to inject me with a spirituality other than what’s learned via religion? Of course not. I wanted Green Day. But if you think about, isn’t music 100 percent spiritual, in a way? We listen to it to the point where we know it by heart. The only thing missing from the movie Inside Out is the part of our brains that is somehow eternally filled with lyrics to songs we don’t need to remember. We sing them back to our favorite musicians at their concerts, where we just want to be one with them in that moment. We silently reflect on music in our cars, or in our living rooms, or while making dinner. We develop our own connotations with different melodies and lyrics. These songs that might not be liked across the board, or sometimes, with a song like “Hallelujah” that might be unanimously appreciated — we find a connection to them by being in a certain space at the time at which they come to us.

. . . And that’s how I felt when I first heard “Dammit” by Blink-182. My poor, poor parents.

*Photograph © Abe Frajndlich