Synthesizers, Sentiment and Salt In Old Wounds

I missed the memo about synthesizers, sentiment and salt in old wounds.

Recently, I’ve had the interesting and enjoyable experience of hearing a few new songs, and since I’m kind of stunted and dull when it comes to music, I find it totally extraordinary when I actually clue in to the particular beauty of a new (at least new to me) song.  I suppose what I’ve found really remarkable is that I’ve had a chance to experience different versions of the same songs, and it’s been interesting to reflect on the artistic and emotional punch each version packed.

Here, lemme esplain…

A few weeks ago, I was listening to KCRW, ’cause I’m cool like that, and I heard this Gotye song:

This guy’s voice snapped me out of my commuter coma because when he belted out the chorus, he sounded a bit like Peter Gabriel and I thought was cool.  Coincidentally, that very night, a friend posted a link to this video, Walk Off The Earth‘s  cover of the same song:

A very cool visual gimmick, sure.  But when I compared the two versions of the song, I found that I liked the stripped down acoustic version better.  It just seemed a bit more raw, whereas the version with the electronica, while still really good in my opinion, just doesn’t convey the same emotional intensity.

But consider the following…here’s Bruno Mars‘ impossibly sweet smash hit, Just The Way You Are (not to be confused with the Billy Joel song of the same name, which is also great, but in a different way).

Now take a listen to the Boyce Avenue cover of the same song:

Lovely, but in this instance, I think it’s the beat and the swells of synthesizers that make Bruno’s version better.  The acoustic version just doesn’t have the same energy, and when a guy is just busting at the seams to tell a girl how wonderful she is, I think the song he’d sing  would be kind of peppy.

And one more…check out these three adorable Swedish women making beautiful music with just their voices and empty cottage cheese containers:

And now Robyn’s version…

I like Robyn; she’s fun and energetic and anybody who is that blonde is probably just all kinds of awesome.  But her version of Call Your Girlfriend  leaves me a bit cold, whereas the Erato version, with its simplicity and beautifully apologetic tone, had me holding back an ugly cry.  It had me instantly remembering when I was the girlfriend who got a version of that call a long time ago.

In my case, the conversation came a little too late, as the young man in question had already fallen very hard for another girl, but couldn’t quite summon the courage, or didn’t have the compassion, to let me go.  We languished in limbo for a while and it just got kind of embarrassing.  It sucked being forsaken for another, but there was ultimately a comfort in understanding that the young man who broke my heart had done it for a good reason.  He had found his true love, his soul mate, his life partner. Last I heard, they’ve been married nearly twenty years and have a gazillion babies. This is all water which has long since flowed under the bridge, but I  appreciated the bit of painful nostalgia that this song evoked.  I considered it a bit of emotional scar revision, which can be a good thing.

So there you go.  Sometimes keyboards and a fun beat can elevate a simple song into an anthem, but sometimes the electronic bells and whistles are just distracting.  In any case, I’m glad I got the memo on all these songs…I think I’ll be humming my own versions for some time to come.  Memo received.

Being Quiet

I missed the memo about being quiet.

I’ve got a son in pre-school, which means I get about a gazillion colds a year.  And with almost every minor sniffle, comes a bout of laryngitis.  For the first five minutes or so, it’s kinda cute.  I get that deep, raspy voice that comes with lots of whiskey and cigarettes and we all know how sexy that is.  But then the rasp segues to a horrible croak, then fades to a pitiful squeak, and then…nothing.  If I have any hope of recovery, I can only whisper.

The beginning stage of laryngitis would be really hot if it weren't for all the snot and coughing.

Anyone who has ever heard me attempt to sing knows that my laryngitis is no great tragedy.  But struggling to be heard and not being able to talk always makes me a little disenfranchised from my own life.  It’s hard not being able to chime in effortlessly in a conversation.  If my husband and I are more than a couple of feet apart and if he is not looking directly at me, I have to throw something at him to get his attention.  And my son is special challenge…I can say with all honesty that I don’t yell at him much, at least not in anger.  (I am, however, perfecting that scary-mad-talking-quietly-through-your-teeth-thing that all moms seem to have in their discipline arsenal.)  But I do need my voice to manage my son’s safety and behavior.  In the last few days, he responds to my whispers and croaks with, “Whadyousay?”  It’s getting tiresome for both of us.

As I try to rest my voice, it’s been interesting how I’ve prioritized what I need to say.  A nice side effect of my laryngitis is that I have no vocal energy for petty criticisms.  It literally hurts to speak in a harsh tone, so I don’t.  This brings new significance to the old adage, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Another thing about being quiet is that it’s only a peaceful experience when it’s self-imposed.  There are religious orders who take vows of silence, and I suppose for them, being quiet is a form of meditation.  But when silence is forced upon you, it’s a whole different ball game.  In my humble estimation, “shut up” is one of the most hurtful and dismissive thing you can ever say to anyone.   In my case, I’ve been forced to shut up because of a minor medical condition and I’ve suffered just a bit inconvenience, but it’s troubling to see how people who are speaking out as part of the various protest movements going on around the country are being silenced by rough treatment by police.  Talk is cheap, but it’s clearly not free.  Apparently the price of protest at UC Davis is a dose of pepper spray in the face.

I really can't get my head around these images. I mean seriously. WTF?

If I have one, I suppose my point is this:  Our ability to speak is a gift, and last I checked, the freedom to speak is also a right.  I’ll probably lose my voice a bunch more times before this rodeo is over, but I’ll be damned if anyone is going to take it away, know what I mean?    Whispering loudly and memo received.


I missed the memo about disasters.

So, what a week, right?  Between the earthquakes in Colorado and Virgina and Hurricane Irene, it’s been pretty much non-stop disaster action.  Even for folks like me who weren’t in line of fire, it was pretty exciting stuff.

I’ve lived in California for over ten years now and in that time, I’ve felt an earthquake or two.  Nothing like Northridge, but enough shake a picture off the wall.  Being 17 stories up when a quake strikes is a little weird, that’s for sure.  And though the recent quake in Virginia resulted in mercifully little damage, you won’t hear me mocking the folks who were fairly overcome with anxiety.  Even if the building doesn’t come down around your ears, when a building shakes, it is deeply disorienting and pretty terrifying.  I may live in California the rest of my of life and I don’t think I’ll ever be “used” to earthquakes. 

Before moving to California, I spent my formative years in Navy towns, and living on the coast in both Texas and Virginia, I’ve seen hurricane or two in my day.  Hurricanes are pretty messed up, but theoretically, you have plenty of time to get out of their way.  (That’s what made the loss of life from Katrina so freakin’ shameful; if the preparation and response machine had been firing on all cylinders, no way so many people would have died.) 

My most memorable hurricane experience was Hurricane Allen, which struck the gulf coast of Texas in 1980.  We lived on the Navy Base in Corpus Christi and when the Navy says there’s an evacuation order, it’s pretty much non-negotiable.  We were herded into the base’s movie theatre, and it was all fun and games until the power went out.  And there we stayed.  With no electricity.  For three days.  I remember eating a lot of warm dill pickles and drinking a lot of canned pineapple juice, and to this day, neither is particularly appealing.  Once power was restored to the chow hall, they bussed us refugees over for a hot meal. When I took that first bite of warm buttered toast, it was like manna from heaven.  Usually, a hurricane won’t kill you, but it can strip you of your civilization pretty quickly and completely.  And you really don’t realize how cozy life usually is, until it isn’t. 

The one natural disaster that I haven’t experienced and hope I never do is a tornado.  With an earthquake, you get no warning.  With a hurricane, you get days to prepare.  But with a tornado, you get maybe a couple of minutes. Psychologically, that’s rough.  You see the sky turn yellow and gray, maybe you hear a siren, or emergency announcement on the radio or TV and you have to make some decisions.  Fast.   If you panic or dilly-dally, you could die.  I don’t know how I’d cope with that kind of pressure. 

So now that the worst seems to be over, at least for now, I’m reflecting on the lessons that emerge from all these natural disasters…

1.  A roomful of Ph.Ds in meteorology and geology could talk ’til they were blue in the face and yet there would still be people who would be unpersuaded that the coincidence of earthquakes and a major hurricane in the same week is nothing more than coincidence.  Seriously, if God is behind this, then God is really, really bored these days. 

2.  The gallows humor that springs forth in the wake of natural disasters is pretty awesome, as coping mechanisms go.  Under this kind of stress, I suppose we have to crack up or crack up, know what I mean?

3.  “Better safe than sorry” is as annoying as it is true.  I’m guessing many a New Yorker is feeling pretty put out by the suspension of subway service, but I shudder to think what would have happened if Irene had gotten really bitchy and folks got trapped in the subway.  I’m no engineer, but to me, flash flood + subway tunnels = the most nightmarish scenario, ever. 

And, hey, wasn’t it  just a couple of months ago that there were a ridiculously unfair number of tornadoes that devastated communities in Missouri and Alabama?  I don’t think it would be at all unreasonable if we asked Mother Nature to just chill the F out for a while so we can all catch our breath and buy more batteries. 

Flashlight at the ready and memo received.

Vanity, Vulcans & Verbicide

I missed the memo about vanity, vulcans, and verbicide.

Let’s just cut to the chase here…I got some bad Botox, folks.  I’m not an habitual Botox-er, but I have a Botox “connection” and with my birthday coming up, I thought I’d indulge in a little facial freshening.  I’d had Botox once before with great results, so I thought, “What could go wrong?”


Because of my freakishly blonde eyebrows, the effect is kind of hard to photograph, but trust me, I look wickety wack.
A day after my Botox treatment, I noticed that I was taking on a vaguely Vulcan appearance.  My eyebrows, once basically horizontally oriented on my face, are now more diagonal.  The expression is one of unpleasant surprise, which is appropriate, as this is how I feel.
I called up my Botox-er and inquired  about my predicament and she told me that what I am experiencing is called…wait for it…”Spocking”.  No lie…there’s a name for this and that name is awesomely descriptive.  Apparently, I have ridiculously strong forehead muscles which have not completely surrendered to the neurotoxins to which I have subjected them.  They may relent in a day or two, but if not, the “cure” is, you guessed it, more Botox. 
When I was researching this phenomenon, which is kind of common apparently, e.g., Nicole Kidman, a lot of the people posting on Botox message boards prefaced their comments by saying:
 “I can’t believe I did this to myself.”    
Yup.  While I do think I look a little ridiculous,  I’m keeping the hysteria in check by telling myself that this is both temporary and not that big of a deal.  But I am feeling pretty foolish.   I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to look good,  but I’m going to have to think a bit longer and harder about the price of my vanity.   Confronted with the prospect of “just another drop or two” of Botox to correct my extraterrestrial eyebrows, I’m now really conflicted.  If my brows do stay this way, part of me thinks I should just live with them for the next couple of months as a penance for my folly. Oh well, at least my frown lines are gone.
And incidentally, when I Googled “spocking”  I got a fantastically filthy surprise from (I was comforted by knowing I was exhibiting an appropriate facial expression while reading this, however.)  Seriously, for any word you can think of,  someone has thought up a truly disgusting and/or hilarious meaning for it.  
So there you go.  I’ve learned a lesson in aging gracefully and lots of new dirty words.  Memo received.

Little Boys

I missed the memo about little boys.

This is not my little boy, but my son is also blonde and has a similar appreciation for feminine hygiene products.

When I was pregnant, my husband and I absolutely agreed that we didn’t want to know the baby’s gender before the birth.  But I’ll let you in on a little secret…I really wanted a boy.  Yeah, yeah…healthy baby, blah, blah, blah…I wanted a boy. 

So finally, the midwife got a peek at the goods and cheerfully announced, “It’s a boy!”  And I was tickled, and relieved.   Having been a good, but difficult, daughter to my own mom, I figured a boy had to be easier than a girl, right? Well, kinda. I’ll speculate that the emotional connection between my son and me will be a little less complicated than a mother-daughter relationship. But keeping him alive is a lot harder than I ever expected.

My son’s survival is threatened not only by the crazy, death-defying stuff he’s already doing, but he’s also at risk of being murdered by me on a nearly daily basis.  Well, “murder” is a strong word…I suppose the correct legal term would be “manslaughter” since if I ever kill my son it will unintentional, but in the heat of battle.  You see, my son has no regard for either his own or my cranial or abdominal integrity and thus he has battered me mercilessly in recent months.  He’s not an angry kid, but heavens, he’s rough.  He gleefully performs moves that the WWF would find impressive, just for the sheer joy of feeling his body fly through space and undoubtedly for the amusement of hearing me howl and shriek.  Life with my boy is one long isometric work out as I am always cringing and flinching in anticipation of the next flying elbow drop. 

Envision this leap being taken from atop a brown sofa and you get the idea.

Of course I  coddle, counsel, and scold my son to be more gentle with me.  And there are ridiculously tender moments when he strokes my hair and gives me sweet hugs and sloppy kisses.  After all, this kid loves his mama.  But gentle is really not in his DNA.  He may have the thrill seeking gene, and watching “Jackass” gives me a chilling preview of what’s to come. 

But here’s the thing…though all the rough housing is not exactly my cup of tea and one particularly vicious headbutt was good for two trips to the dentist, I don’t want to discipline the boy-ness out of my boy.  It seems like little girls are celebrated in our culture while little boys get demonized a bit.  I think that typical little girl behavior is just more convenient than typical little boy behavior, and as a consequence there seems to be a tendency to pathologize boy behavior a little too much.  Boys will be boys is kind of trite, but kind of true.  I hope I can let my boy just be a boy.

In guiding my son, I’m hoping  to keep him out of the emergency room and/or jail while ensuring he doesn’t lose the energetic zeal he seems to have for life.   So, Mrs. Knoxville, if you have any advice, please call me.  Fingers crossed and memo received. 

The Paralysis of Perfectionism

 I missed the memo about the paralysis of perfectionism.

Hello, my name is Jamie and I’m a Zumbaholic.   A few weeks ago, I attempted my first Zumba class and it was love at first shimmy.  In case you’re not familiar, Zumba is a group exercise phenomenon which combines elements of Latin dances, Swing, Hip-Hop, and just about every other kind of high energy dancing you can think of.  When I was a teenager, I seriously considered ditching my college plans to go be a Fly Girl, so this is my kind of exercise. 

Even though I have a blast doing all the crazy Zumba moves, I can’t do them all perfectly.  Today especially, I was having a lot of trouble getting my feet to do what I wanted them to do.   For a few seconds, I was getting pretty frustrated and there was a tiny part of my brain that just wanted to quit.  I mean, if I couldn’t get the steps right, then what was the point?

Well, perfect isn’t always the point, is it? Ever hear the expression “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”?  That’s something to ponder.  If I were doing rocket surgery, maybe there would be no room for even tiny mistakes. But in most aspects of my life, there are no meaningful returns on the investment it takes to get from pretty good to perfect.

Pretty good is usually good enough, especially when the fear of not being perfect would keep me from even trying. 

If you’ve never seen it, you absolutely have to see Kissing Jessica Stein.  Lots of memos in that movie.  One of my favorites was this scene between Jessica and her mom…

Tovah Feldshuh and Jennifer Westfeldt crying very believable tears…don’t worry, there are also lots of laughs.

Judy: Sweetheart, I will never forget when you were in the fifth grade and you were so excited when you got the lead in the play…  Do you remember that? “Really Rosie”?

Jessica: “Really Rosie”, yeah. I remember.

Judy: And you came home after the first day of rehearsal and you turned to me and you said, “Mommy, I’m not gonna do it. I quit.” Just like that.   I turned to you and I said, “Jessie. Jessie, my love, why?” And you said, “Because my co-star isn’t good enough. And if my co-star isn’t good enough, then the play won’t be good enough. And I don’t wanna be part of any play that isn’t good enough.” And I thought to myself… “Oy. This child will suffer. How this child will suffer.” And then they gave it to the “mieskeit” with the glasses.

Jessica: Tess Greenblatt.

Judy: Right.

Jessica: God, she was terrible.

Judy: Right. And you would have been great!  And you didn’t get to do it. You had to sit there and watch terrible Tess do it… with that guy you thought wasn’t good enough, who was actually quite excellent, wasn’t he?

Jessica: He was. He was very good.

Judy: And you know? I always think that you would have been so much happier doing that play, even if it was just okay. Even if it was great, just not the best ever. And maybe, just maybe, it would have been the best ever. You never know.

Wow, right?  If my perfectionism keeps me from even attempting something, and then I get stuck just doing nothing, that’s kind of weird and pathetic, isn’t it?  Perfect nothing is not better than imperfect something.  So let me go practice my cha cha cha.  Memo received.

Unrequited Love

I missed the memo about unrequited love.

OK, I’ll admit it… I watched the royal wedding. I didn’t do anything daffy like throwing a tea and crumpets party in the middle of the night, but later that day, I watched a couple hours’ worth of  footage.  And unless Kate and Wills are fantastically good at fake smiling, they seemed genuinely happy.  Time will tell if theirs really is a fairy tale marriage, but I’d like to think it really is true love for them.  I think it’s interesting that we call happy, mutual love “true love” but what’s the opposite of true love?  Is there such a thing as “false love”?  I think unrequited love comes close.

While I have been happily attached for a long time, before I met my prince, I kissed some frogs.  And sometimes I wanted to kiss the frog, but he didn’t want to kiss me.  Making out with amphibians is an extremely hard way  to learn about love,  but since I learned well, I think, I’ll presume to impart some insight.

There are two forms of unrequited love:

“Thanks, but no thanks”



“Thanks, but no thanks” unrequited love is that situation where you’re falling for someone, but there’s a lot of ambiguity. You agonize, wondering if you should make a move.  I personally think there’s something really delicious about the uncertainty and anticipation in this situation, but this is coming from an old married woman who has probably forgotten the acute torture of playing the “he loves me, he loves me not” game.  

I think I also missed a memo about being coy and playing hard to get, as when I found myself in one of these situations, I was pretty quick to just lay my cards on the table.  Perhaps it wasn’t particularly ladylike, but I felt brave and honest, and that felt good.  And when I got a “thanks, but no thanks” response, it actually wasn’t that bad.   I think the object of my affection was genuinely flattered that I was trying to put the moves on him, and I just had to trust and appreciate that he knew himself better than I knew him, and he knew that we weren’t a good match.  I didn’t get the guy, but I was still pretty pleased with myself because I had the huevos to just ask him; I totally respected that he had the huevos to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Believe me folks, you’d much rather get a “thanks, but no thanks” response than to find yourself in a “nevermind” situation.   A “nevermind” situation results from really unfortunate asymmetry in the depth of feeling between two people.  In my case, I once fell inexplicably hard for a guy, and though he was fond of me, he did not love me.  However, since I was reasonably cute and willing to afford him all the benefits of boyfriendhood without actually requiring him to be my boyfriend, he understandably hung around.  That is, until he fell inexplicably hard for someone else.  Everything that he had ever said or done that made me hope he might really love me too?  Oh, nevermind.

Sometimes when two people are together, one of them is in love, and the other’s just killin’ time. 

Avenue Q…so good…It’s like Sesame Street with sex and curse words.

So let’s sum up:  If someone makes you feel kinda funny, like when you used to climb the rope in gym class, just tell ’em.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Just don’t get too pissed or bummed out if  the response is “thanks, but no thanks.”  They’re doing you a favor and sparing you the heartache of a “nevermind”.  Memo received.

Fear, Choice & Good Dental Health

I missed the memo about fear, choice and good dental health.

As per usual, the other day I was listening to NPR and heard this extraordinary story of the rescue of survivors of a plane crash in New Guinea back in 1945.  When recounting how she felt as they prepared for the complicated, daring, and dangerous rescue attempt, survivor Cpl. Margaret Hastings said something that stopped me in my tracks: 

“When you have no choice, you have no fear. “

Whoah.  This just really got to me for some reason.  I suppose it makes intuitive sense…in desperate situations, people tend not to over think or equivocate; they just do what they need to do to.  

Mercifully, I’ve never been in a plane crash.  While furiously knocking on wood, I’ll tell you that I’ve lived a quiet life that’s been relatively free of genuine peril. Given this good fortune, I think one of the closest things to a “no choice, no fear” situation that I’ve experienced may have occurred this week. 

Last Saturday, I started experiencing a bit of discomfort around one of my lower incisors.   I began swishing fervently with hydrogen peroxide and doing some extra flossing in the vain hope that I could cure my little issue and avoid an extra trip to the dentist.  Alas, as you might expect, my self-care efforts were pure folly.   As the week progressed, the discomfort escalated from just a bit of sensitivity to explosions of pain radiating through the entire right side of my lower jaw.  As pain goes, it seriously rivaled labor and childbirth, so I knew I was in real trouble. 

When it comes to going to the dentist, I’d say I have an average level of anxiety.  But since I had missed a few check-ups, the anxiety started to intensify as I imagined the horrible state of affairs in my mouth and I nearly had a panic attack at the prospect of how much all the dental rehabilitation was going to cost me. 

But when you feel like a baby is about to be born out of your face, you’ve really got no choice but to go to the dentist.  Seriously, I might have been willing to let Sir Laurence Olivier have a go at me with a drill and rusty pair of pliers…it was that bad.

So to the dentist I went.  And because I was pretty desperate for relief, I really had no fear.   My only other option would have been to cut my head off, so really, no choice, no fear. 

And it wasn’t that bad.  I did need a root canal, but I was otherwise in good shape.  I had a pretty gnarly infection, but with a week’s worth of antibiotics and 800 mg of Motrin, I’m already feeling a whole lot better. 

Having no fear is great, but having no choice is really no picnic.  When given the choice, I want choice, even if that means dealing with a bit of anxiety.   And from here on out, I promise I’ll get my check-ups every six months.  Memo received.