Tag Archives: Dire Straits

Desert Island Discs: Narrating Your Life Through Music

peter paul and mary
peter paul and mary

There’s a popular, long-running radio show in the U.K. where I live called Desert Island Discs. The premise behind the show is quite simple: a guest is invited by the host choose the eight records they would take with them to a desert island. But it’s really a vehicle for getting famous people – whether that’s Bill Gates or David Beckham or Zaha Hadid – to narrate their lives through music.

So what most guests do is to select songs that speak to different parts of their lives: a piece that conjures up their childhood or family…something to capture the time they met their spouse…a tune that speaks to the most creative point in their career or the death of a beloved relative. You get the picture.

Needless to say, in one of my occurring fantasies I am a guest being interviewed on this program about my book project on swimming and adulthood, narrating how I built my illustrious career as a full-time writer over the course of a lifetime. (Hey, we all gotta dream…)

Which of course only begs the question: which songs would I choose to tell my story?

Early Childhood

Early childhood is an easy one for me. I would select Puff The Magic Dragon by Peter, Paul and Mary. Yes, I know, a cheesy selection by certain measures. Yet, for me, that’s a song that makes me weep every time I hear it as it is about the inevitability of loss as we age: the loss of playfulness, the loss of our childhood friends, and the painful but necessary separation we must all undertake from our families of origin.

Adolescence

Adolescence is also an easy one for me. I listened to a lot of Billy Joel as a teenager, a songwriter who so clearly evokes a particular moment in the late 1970s-early 1980s – just after the Disco era ended and a particular place – most of his songs are about the New Jersey-New York metropolitan area and the longing to get out and make more of ourselves. I could pick any of his hits, but these five Billy Joel tunes probably speak to me most, still.

College

College has got to be either The Grateful Dead singing Ripple or Dire Straits doing Romeo and Juliet – the only two bands I ever went to see perform more than once. These songs readily call to mind the most carefree time of my life, a time when I didn’t worry about anything other than going to classes and hanging out with my friends (not always in that order!) and didn’t think at all about the future. It was perhaps the only time in my life that I was fully “present,” before any concerns about rent and jobs and graduate school kicked in.

Courtship

I had never listened to jazz before I met my husband, but he introduced me to this great musical tradition and to this artist – Gene Harris – in particular. During the early months of our courtship, we used to listen to Like a Lover first thing when we woke up in the morning. Bliss.

Using Music to Better Understand Yourself

Much like writing your own obituary – something I wrote about on these pages recently – thinking about how your narrate your life through music is an intersting exercise. Music reconnects you to your past. It gets you to think in concrete terms about what different phases of your life meant to you and why. And in doing that, you get a better handle on your present self – what you like about yourself, what you might wish to flee, what you miss about yourself, what you’d like to see more of in the years ahead.

So go ahead, try it. What are some of your “desert island discs”?

 

Image: Peter, Paul and Mary 1970 via Wikimedia Commons

Coping With Exes In Adulthood

Breaking up is hard to do. So said Neil Sedaka in that 1962 Billboard classic.

It was as true then as it is now, whether you’re in your teens or in your forties. So how do you actually move on after a broken heart?

Sometimes, time really does heal all wounds, and you’re capable – over time – of becoming friends with a former lover. I’m still close with one of my exes. So is my husband with one of his. These are people we exchange holiday cards with, make a point of visiting when we’re back in the States and even count their spouses as friends. In both cases, these exes form part of a larger social circle that helped to reinforce the transition to “friend.”

In another case, an old boyfriend contacted me out of the blue last year to give him some marital advice. Miraculously, it worked. He now credits me with playing a key role in keeping his marriage together. Somehow the act of helping him out in an impartial way enabled us – many years after the fact – to reunite as friends.

Of course, it’s not always that easy to make the jump to being friends. One friend of mine has solved this problem by continuing to sleep with his ex-girlfriend of 20 years ago well into his forties. In keeping with that old college adage that “It doesn’t count if it’s an ex” (Oh, to be 21 again!), he simply hasn’t moved on. For what it’s worth, this is also the strategy employed by business partners/sometime lovers Mikhael Blomkvist and Erika Berger of Dragon Tattoo fame. In the Stieg Larsson trilogy, Berger’s husband knows all about it and doesn’t mind either. (It is Sweden, after all.)

Alternatively, you can go the route of writing a letter to your ex. By expressing – longhand – all the things you still feel towards him or her, you can sometimes expunge any last traces of desire or remorse still swirling around inside your belly. This was the tactic adopted by my Politics Daily colleague Andrew Cohen, in a much-trafficked love letter to his ex earlier this week entitled “On Her Wedding Day: Saying Things Left Unsaid.” Whether you should go public with such a letter – or, as my colleague Suzi Parker suggests, “put it in a box and set it afire in the bathtub” – is ultimately your call. (If you want a quick primer on why you might want to think twice before publishing said missive, click here, here and here in that order, and then run for cover.)

You can also cyber-stalk your ex by “friending” them on Facebook to keep tabs on them from a safe distance.  My colleague Sarah Wildman has a terrific piece on why that’s quite possibly not the best idea either, despite the appeal on some emotional level. It’s not just because casual On-line relationships can easily lead to the real thing. Rather, it’s because, as Sarah concludes, “some doors, however easily unlocked, are meant to remain closed.”

So where does that leave us?

I’ve often found that music works well if you want to “go there” without really “going there,” if you get my drift. At different points in my life, I’ve listened to Simple Minds’ Don’t You Forget About Me, The Grateful Dead’s Looks Like Rain and Silvio Rodriguez’ Mi Unicornio Azul when I wanted to cry into my beer.

At the end of the day, as I’ve written before, acknowledging the road not taken is just one of those bitter truths of adulthood. Sometimes you end up loving the wrong person. Or maybe – to quote that curl-up-in-a-fetal-position Dire Straits classic, Romeo and Juliet –  “it was just that the time was wrong.”

Either way, life goes on.

How have you coped with a love that wasn’t meant to be?

Image: Love Letter by Wolfsoul via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Worry Dolls: Why Grown Ups Need Them Too

Judith Warner has an interesting article in this weekend’s New York Times. It’s called “The Why Worry Generation” and it’s all about Gen-Y: the so-called “millennials” born between 1982 and 2002.

The thrust of the article is that even though these young people ought to be completely stressed out by the economic downturn, joblessness and high levels of debt they are confronting as they enter adulthood, they aren’t. They believe in themselves to the point that they are actually willing to wait for the right job to come along – one that’s fulfilling, not just pays the bills. And they believe that they are good enough to get it. In short: they just…don’t worry.

Warner bases her argument on a small group of  college grads with whom she conducted interviews. But her findings are borne out by a much larger study carried out by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press earlier this year. Pew also found the millennials to be remarkably hopeful and self-assured.

I read both articles and felt…anxious. Maybe it’s generational and maybe it’s just me. But I worry about everything. All the time.

I worry about money. I worry about my career. I worry about whether we’ll ever move back to the United States…or should. I worry about my kids: that they’ll be happy and well-adjusted and have lots of friends and never feel sad or lonely or excluded. I worry about my siblings. I worry about missing yoga. I worry about going to yoga. Sometimes I feel that even my worries have worries.

I have a lot of strategies for dealing with my worries. Sometimes I write them down in a little notebook. Sometimes I talk about them with my husband or my close friends or my life coach. Sometimes (she said, with a post-modern twist) I blog about them.

But by far the best remedy against my worries is a little tradition my daughter and I have started of late. As we were moving, I came upon a box of Guatemalan worry dolls that I’ve had for ages, dating back to when I lived in Central America many moons ago. If you haven’t seen worry dolls before, they are these tiny little dolls that come in a small, yellow wooden box. In the folk traditions of Guatemala, children are meant to tell a worry to each doll before they go to bed. In the morning – so the story goes – the children wake up and their worries are gone because the dolls have removed them.

Anyway, my daughter and I have built the worry dolls into our nighttime routine. Every night – just before she goes to sleep – we run through our joint worries, taking turns as we make our way through the dolls. What’s interesting  is how repetitive our worries are. My daughter always worries that she’ll “have a bad day” and “won’t like her lunch.” I always worry that I’ll “be stressed out” and “not get enough done.” Then we put the dolls in the box and close it with the lid.

It doesn’t always work. But there’s something deeply soothing about naming your worries out loud and then putting them in a box. It’s like a friend of mine who once cut out a picture of her ex-boyfriend and then stuck it in a bottle. The physical act of putting the proverbial “lid on it” really does help.

Added bonus? The whole process has reminded me of that great Dire Straits song “Why Worry.” Have a listen.

Happy Memorial Day.

Image: Worry Dolls by vintagecat via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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