Tag Archives: music

scaramouch


scaramouch noun, a boastful but cowardly person

scaramouch

“I see a little silhouetto of a man
Scaramouch, scaramouch will you do the fandango
Thunderbolt and lightning very very frightening me”

– Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen

Today I opened up the old OED the way I used to when I started this silly blog and flipped around looking for a word. I landed on scaramouch and am pretty happy with it. I have heard, like everyone else in the world, the song Bohemian Rhapsody a few hundred times throughout my life, I am sure. I always glazed over this word and didn’t think much about it. I wasn’t even really sure it was a word until I found it today. I thought maybe Freddy Mercury just made it up. Naturally I went to Google and looked up the lyrics because now I was intrigued. I may be wrong but I took the singer, the subject of the song, to be the scaramouch and I ended up reading the lyrics as if they were poetry…and my mind opened up for me this beautiful morning.

I am not a huge Queen fan. I enjoy Queen here and there but am not an aficionado in any way. They are part of a large collection of music I enjoy. Until today I did not appreciate this song for what it was, which is a mini opera in 6 minutes. It is a work of genius. I have always known that it was because everyone told me it was. Forgive my naiveté. I am not musical in a way that musicians are and I have never studied music. I am merely someone who enjoys listening. I have never approached music the way I would a book or a poem but now I see that I should have. I suppose it’s harder for me to do that with music because the enjoyment is two fold. The lyrics may be amazing, but if the music or voice is not quite right, well then I have no patience. With a book, if it is written well and the story is compelling, I will happily read along. With music, I have no patience if it doesn’t hit my sweet spot.

I also find that I am more willing to forgive a song if it is catchy. I’ve listened to “Call Me Maybe” a few thousand times and it’s a horrible, gibberish song…but it makes me energetic and empty brained for a few minutes, and sometimes that just feels good. The problem that I am seeing now is that because I don’t have the patience sometimes to give some music a chance to develop or to listen more closely to the lyrics and forgive the less than perfect instrumental, I am contributing to the rise of Justin Beiber and his ilk. It scares me to think that my children will be listening to the music that I have listened to my whole life and not their own generation of musicians . Or even worse, listening to Justin Beiber and Selena Gomes vocally gyrating and thinking it’s good music.

I’ve watched David Bowie and Prince die so far this year. Along with many other things declining in the world right now, I feel like music is also in a bad state. The radio is dismal and filled with manufactured pop stars. One really has to dig deep into Google Play or Spotify to find something inspiring. I don’t mean good, or catchy or enjoyable. There are plenty of songs like that. I mean something different. Music that can change your life, mix genres and blur the lines between instrumental and art. There are only a few people like that born every hundred years or so. I just hope we find out who they are soon so as to take the sting out of watching the ones we know and love die without replacement.

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birthday


birthday, n. the annual anniversary of the day on which a person was born, typically treated as an occasion for celebration and present-giving.

???????????????????April 8th is never a good day for me. It’s my late father’s birthday and for some reason, every year, the day is tainted with sadness. No matter how hard I try to make it better, the day is just miserable for one reason or another. One would think that the anniversary of his death would be the worst day…or even the anniversary of his diagnosis…that I would remember how awful those particular days were and dwell on them. But I hardly remember those roughest of days. I think about them randomly from time to time, but they don’t haunt me the way April 8th does. I think this is because the father I remember was not the one that had a brain cancer for 2 years and slowly faded. Don’t get me wrong, there were many wonderful moments during that period despite his illness. But the father that I want to remember forever is the one that didn’t have cancer. The one that participated wholly in life and the world, was imperfect and not always the best but was always the rock I could depend on. I prefer the living version of my father instead of the dying one.

It makes sense to me that the birthday is the thing that hurts the most. It is, after all, a reminder that he is not here. Rather than a day to be celebrated, it is a marker of another year that has passed without him. Another season of holidays, weddings and births that he is absent from and there is nothing that can be done to revise the course of history to bring him back. It makes me think about the fact that my son and husband will never know him outside of my memories. That my mother is alone. That each year the memories of him fade a little and I wonder how much I have already forgotten. The forgetting is what bothers me the most. This April 8th was not the worst day. In fact, it was actually quite fine if I look at the actual day instead of my thoughts. I fear that I am already too deep into the forgetting.

Last night I was baking cookies and listening to On The Air on WNYC. It was a story about Kurt Cobain. April 8th is the anniversary of his suicide and I never realized that until last night. His death definitely had an effect on me when I was a plaid clad teen in high school. I used to spend rainy weekends at my friend’s house listening to Nirvana and writing down the lyrics, reading them like poetry and searching for meaning. My father thought Nirvana was crap and I wonder if I could have ever persuaded him to like their music if I had had more time.

One of my favorite Nirvana covers is “Jesus Don’t Want Me For a Sunbeam.” It reminds me of my father. He never considered himself extraordinary, special or worthy of any particular praise. He was pretty selfless and tenaciously stubborn. I turn 36 in a month or so and the stigma of April 8th needs to go. I’ll have to remember to listen to this song and celebrate my father’s spirit instead of mourning the memories we didn’t get to make. My father may never have been persuaded that Kurt Cobain’s music was worthy of admiration, but I think he would have agreed that Jesus probably wouldn’t want him for a sunbeam either.

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jibe


jibe v. to be compatible with or similar to

Realistic

There’s a song that they sing when they take to the highway,
a song that they sing when they take to the sea,
a song that they sing of their home in the sky, maybe you can believe it if it helps you to sleep,
but singing works just fine for me.

-James Taylor, Sweet Baby James

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve heard this word a number of times in my life and not exactly known what it meant…well not enough to explain it with words. I sort of knew, but I think I thought it was “jive” and didn’t realize it was a B instead of a V. It always reminded me of dancing or catching some musical vibe. In a way, jibe is a combination of jive and vibe and I consider it a pretty musical word.

I listen to music a lot. With my depressive personality, it’s pretty much a form of self-medication. I love wine and I love music, and I love them together, but I would give up wine before music. I don’t think I could ever do without music…ever. I think I’d rather die. There are a few things in life that serve as fuel for my melancholy soul – music, exercise and books are three of them and in order to “jibe” with me, you need to agree with at least one of them. If it’s music, you’d be considered a close friend.

When I was a teenager, I didn’t have an abundance of friends. My parents didn’t have to time to drive me back and forth to school, so I walked a lot. It wasn’t a short walk either. My first “Walkman” was not a Sony, but a Radio Shack Realistic brand that was about the size and weight of a VHS tape. It had a cassette player and AM/FM receiver and it came with a pair of cheap foam covered, tinny sounding headphones that didn’t fold up and broke in a week. The kind with the metal adjustment sliders that caught your hair in them and hurt like a bitch. Nonetheless, I’d tape my favorite songs off of Z100  or HOT97 and keep that cassette in it or I would sometimes buy a single cassette from time to time to change things up. Sometimes I’d listen to the radio, but for the most part it was pretty homogenous and there wasn’t a lot to listen to. Whatever it was I was listening to created the soundtrack in my head as I walked. When I first started this practice, I listened to a lot of Belinda Carlisle and the GoGos. Later, I was really into hip hop and rap. Whatever the genre,  I would walk a daydream set to my soundtrack the entire way home. It relaxed and balanced me for all that I had to face. I still walk this way to and from work every day. Those foam headphones have been replaced by purple Beats and it’s my Iphone playing a curated playlist or shuffle instead of that old brick of a Realistic. I’m a seasoned practitioner now, but my tunes still get me through whatever the day holds.

My memories are also cataloged according to music and some days when I feel like the world is just being a bitch, I can pull them out like shelved records and play one to feel better. Just the other day someone was describing how Billy Joel no longer sings “Uptown Girl” because he divorced Christy Brinkley. I really didn’t want to hear this conversation so I just took that single down from the shelf in my brain. In my mind I was transported to my living room, to around 7 years old, listening to that song and getting ready for school, dancing around in my plaid uniform and knee socks. I remember having seen the video on television with Christy Brinkley in a sleeveless black dress dancing cheesily around with Billy Joel.  I wanted to be the uptown girl. Sometimes I still do.

Then there’s the Barbara Streisand, Barry Gibb “What Kind of Fool” memory of what I believe was my brother’s christening party at my Grandmother’s house in Bergenfield. It was in the basement – which was awesomely disco. It must have been around 1981.  I remember hearing this duet while watching the purple, plastic, beaded curtain sway amongst cocktail carrying relatives wearing fabulously large polyester collars. I can still see the red velvet wallpapered walls and burgundy sombreros that my aunt used as decoration. (She loved Acapulco.) I was playing with one of those plastic slot machine toys that squirted water in your face when you hit the jackpot and remember faintly of someone trying to explain to me what the party was all about. I apparently had a brother…or whatever that meant. Years later I heard this song in my head while we packed up that old basement and I carried away crates of old records that are now a personal prized possession. I feel authentically 70’s when I reminisce on this one.

But my most treasured, catalogued song is by James Taylor, whom my husband hates. It doesn’t bother me that he hates him and doesn’t enjoy this particular song, though. This song belongs to my father and I and I’m not interested in sharing it with anyone, so it’s fine that we don’t particularly jibe on this tune. When I listen to it, I feel like he’s with me the way he used to be, driving along in our beat up old Isuzu Trooper singing along on the way to who knows where. The sound and the sentiment embody who my dad was and listening to it feels more like a hug than a collection of harmonically pleasant notes.

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karaoke


karaoke n. a form of entertainment, offered typically by bars and clubs, in which people take turns singing popular songs into a microphone over prerecorded backing tracks.

Origin: 1970’s – from Japanese, literally “empty orchestra”

The Lith Club

I’ve been derelict and it’s been over a month since I have graced the WordPress pages with my prose. But, alas, I have been thinking for quite some time about this post. It has been a long time coming and because I shared this idea with my loving husband after dinner I had no choice but to rip myself from the persistent grip of trash television, come upstairs to my desk and write about the magic that karaoke has brought to my life. If you’re a smart karaok- er, you will steal some of these legendary tunes and make them your own. They are karaoke GOLD.

When I sat down and thought about it (on the NJ Transit train home from work) I realized that karaoke has been a marker throughout my life for a very long time. As a now working mom who has spent the past month getting through coronaviruses and ear tube surgery, I really need a source of joy and happiness sometimes…a little infusion of goofy, giddiness…and my memories of the songs and moments of my karaoke life provide that…let me take you on my dork journey.

It all started with a little place called the Lith Club…or the Lithuanian Club of Providence, RI to be exact. I think the first place that I really started getting “into” karaoke was back in the day when we lived in Lil Rhody. To be honest, my husband really frequented this place and I went there a few times and complained about the smoke. This was (and maybe still is) one of the last places that you could smoke in a bar – because it was a social club and not an actual bar – and once a week they would fire up the 1985 Panasonic big screen TV (the kind that was huge and had a bad, grainy picture) to scroll the words to various songs for karaoke night. Various overweight, ethnically diverse individuals would gather together as a motley crew to belt out Mariah Carey and Boys to Men tunes while downing pitchers of cheap beer and chain smoking. It was sort of a little bit wonderful…and this was one of the songs that I remember well as the centerpiece of those evenings…a great karaoke duet if ever there was one and a tribute to my Teaneck, NJ roots…

In those early years of karaoke childhood, we were blessed to have a friend named Matt who had a strange ritual of choosing Dennis Leary’s “Asshole” for his personal karaoke tune. Every bar we went to, whether it be Muldowney’s or Lith Club, it was Matt’s ritual to own this song for a few minutes of the night…and he always brought it…people really loved it and it was mostly because he knew it by heart and he sang it with a sincerity that is rare in a sub 70 year old.  Looking back, I feel awful for making him choose “Jenny From the Block” one evening – in which he channeled some strange Storage Wars auctioneer voice to sing. His talents were clearly meant for “Asshole”, although I hear he pulled off quite the rendition of “Good Ship Lollipop” at my husband’s bachelor party…anyway, this one’s for Matt Bechtel…a karaoke pioneer and a man who knew that the secret to good karaoke is owning the hell out of your chosen song.

The “asshole” experience frequently happened at Muldowney’s in Providence, but so many other great moments happened there as well. If you stop by Empire street in Providence these days, Muldowneys is all spiffed up and pretty. They still have karaoke there but in my opinion it was better when it was dark, stinky, and sketchy. It added a certain mystery to the whole, tawdry ritual.  One of the best moments in karaoke history occurred there when I witnessed a man named Forbes, whom I had met only once (a husband’s friend of a friend), with an amazing ?uestlove afro (complete with afro pick) , sang the hell out of this song – and had every female in the place in his back pocket. I think only of this man when I hear this song. It sends chills down my spine…this man was a legend. Runner up to Forbes’ rendition of this song is “Rebel Yell” by Billy Idol which I saw someone else perform that very magical evening and would choose as my signature song if I was way cooler and way more confident than I actually am.

One of the most terrifying and life altering experiences of my early twenties came when I  got the “Big Deal” job and had to travel to China for 2 weeks as a Product Manager. I was still living in Rhode Island at this point and traveled to Hong Kong/China just 5 days into this new gig. I was on a full 2 days of no sleep, completely shell shocked because nothing I read or heard was in the English language and my food was still alive (sometimes)…and then I stepped into the lobby of the Hong Kong Marriott Renaissance Hotel, Kowloon – and heard this song being butchered by Cambodian professional karaoke singers…imagine all of the L’s being sung as R’s…strangely comforting and soothing don’t you think? I listen to it in the morning on my walk into work a lot…

Providence provided us with karaoke heaven for awhile until we up and moved to Brooklyn, NY and didn’t really find a real niche until discovering Ceol in Cobble Hill. Once we found out there was karaoke, we felt the strange and exotic pull of this Irish pub serving Guinness and belt out your lungs pleasure on Saturday nights. One evening I witnessed a very small white girl bring down the house with an amazing rendition of “Gangster’s Paradise”. People were silent in awe of this girl. I wanted to be that girl. If you’re a small, white girl and have had enough to drink – choose this song. It was an amazing moment in karaoke history. That same evening, my brother in-law gained an enormous bar tab and legitimate Kevin Reed fan base by owning “Poker Face” by Lady Gaga. I sang it as a duet with him, but clearly he was the star. I’d like to think this launched his career as a successful artist and famed bartender in Bed Stuy…But alas, the moment that makes me the most proud was finding karaoke synergy with my husband / soulmate in the form of a duet by June & Johnny…a pair of dorky lovebirds celebrating their 10 year wedding anniversary this weekend, I still love singing this song with him…

The Japanese of the 1970’s may have thought this word meant “empty orchestra,” but I severely beg to differ.  It is anything but empty. Perhaps it is because karaoke is such a minor, creative moment – a simple enjoyment – we really surrender ourselves to it and thus it becomes more special and profound than we could have dreamed. When you stand up there with the microphone and belt your heart out, you’re vulnerable – but completely free…and if someone out there in the audience things it’s amazing, then all of a sudden you are a rock star for that 3 minutes…and it feels wonderful, giddy and amazing. Karaoke is not empty. In a way, it’s one of the purest forms of happiness. That 3 minutes of fame where all is right with the world even though you are at your most dorky, vulnerable state.

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fly


fly vmove through the air under control

flywheel

My son is 18 months old and in a lot of ways I am not very much older. When he was born my whole life changed, not just in the theoretical sense but in the actual sense. I gave up my full time job to take care of him, moved from Brooklyn to the suburbs, and went from having a very defined path to a dirt road with no blaze. I don’t mean this in some macabre manner, but when I found out I was pregnant the old me started packing her bags because she knew she was on her way out. So the past 2 years or so has been a kind of painful rebirth. As he’s cutting teeth, I’m learning how to make mommy friends (sometimes more painful.) While he’s trying new foods, I am trying to learn to eat less of them. And as he has taken his first steps, I have found my own wings. But just like he didn’t get up and start walking like a pro from the start, neither have I. I stumble…a lot. But I have found one thing in the past 2 years that makes all the difference in my life. Exercise. Specifically, indoor cycling or spinning.

I have never been good at riding bicycles. I can remember the first time I went to Block Island with my husband crying hysterically because I simply sucked at it and we had no car so I had no choice if I wanted to see the island. I fell off the bike several times, in front of large groups of people, near shorelines, etc. Days after our little excursion, my ass hurt so bad I could barely move and I did not have the urge to do it again for awhile. Many years  later when we moved to Brooklyn, I purchased my husband a bike and he would ride to various neighborhoods, watering holes, even over the Brooklyn Bridge. I desperately wanted to join him…but I was just terrified and completely awful at it. We even spiffed up my old Schwinn ten speed with a gel seat and I got a new, red helmet, but after several riding sessions filled with tears and screaming, we just gave up. My shiny red Schwinn has a place of honor hanging on my workshop wall waiting for me to someday be able to ride it in all of it’s glory…and perhaps someday I will. However, these days my saving grace has been a bike that goes nowhere.

It starts when I schedule my class online. Free time is hard to come by, but I can squeeze in 45 minutes at some point, even if it has to be at 6 am. I put on my spandex and pull back my hair and head to the studio for sometimes what will be the most relaxing part of my day. When I get there, I grab a towel, a bottle of water and put on my velcro shoes with the pedal clips. Then I go to my favorite bike, number 36, and get her set up. My seat is a 5 and pushed all the way forward and my handlebars are usually at a 6. I borrow one of the gel seat covers to avoid soreness and make sure it’s securely positioned for my ride. I hang my towel over the handlebar and wedge 2 bottles of water into
the holder meant for one, snap in my shoes and start to pedal. I check my positions – saddle, second and third – and then take in my surroundings, sizing up the competition and avoiding my reflection in the mirror.

My favorite instructor is a singer and dancer on her bike (I have no idea in real life what else she does) and when she turns down the lights and raises the bass, I forget all about the dishes in the sink and the baby with the fever. It’s me and my bike for the next 45 minutes. My favorite part is at the beginning when we “fly” by turning the torque all the way down and bringing the RPMs all the way to 100 for a full minute or more. The adrenaline pumping and the music blasting makes me actually feel like I am flying. When we’re done with the sprint,  we start the climb. Usually we’ll start in the saddle and my legs feel like I am cycling through quicksand, raising the torque to make it harder and harder along the way. At some point she’ll let up and let us rise to third and use our full thigh strength to be able to pedal quicker. It makes me feel so strong and powerful. Sometimes it’s Journey “Don’t Stop Believing” or “Sweet Child of Mine.” Other times it’s Usher or Jay Z that get me over the hill. Regardless, I feel more like a warrior than a mom.

The leader board in the studio lets us all see who’s winning and I rarely put myself on it. Still, I can tell where I rank amongst those that
do. Most of the time, I come in third or fourth place. Other times I win the class. It’s in my nature to be competitive and I’ve learned that it can be a very powerful force when it comes to getting fit. Throughout the class, we rise and fall like a tide of riders going nowhere. I like to imagine what it looks like to the instructor as she watches an ocean of people pretending to ride bikes. I think it must either be humorous or moving…or maybe both. Either way, it feels good to move so fast and not have to worry about getting hurt…like driving a sports at the fastest possible speed without a worry that you could crash crash.

The class ends the way it started – with one last glorious fly – one last chance to make it count. Then I stretch, I hydrate and I head home a winner. I may not get a shower for a few hours and I might have to wrestle with a diaper genie while my son runs naked in the same room, but for 45 minutes I wasn’t a mom, housewife or trying to be anything than on that bike and feeling the beat. For 45 minutes I flew.

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gratuity


gratuity n. a tip given to a waiter, taxi cab driver, etc.

Image

I have known a life tipping and being tipped. It started back when I was 16 and was working at my first job and spanned all the way through college. I was a waitress at a locally famous ice cream shop when I was in high school. I still marvel at the fact that I was even able to hold down a job with high school classes, track practice and homework – and no car. I used to report for work at about 5 or 5:30pm, tie on an apron and not sit down until close – which was around 11 pm. I scooped ice cream and made sundaes, egg creams, and cream cheese walnut sandwiches (for the seniors that frequented the place.) I received an actual paycheck every two weeks, but the tips were the entire reason why I thought the job was worth it. Now, I understand that I was no waitress tour d’force. I was 16 and barely getting any sleep, but I was always courteous and made really good sandwiches and sundaes. However, the managers that employed me had a system of pooling all of the tips earned for the night into one big bowl and then splitting it up amongst the soda jerks, waitresses and managers. This was pure bullshit. If I worked my ass off and earned a big tip, it should have been mine outright…and let’s face it, the guys behind the counter had it way easier – far fewer customers and they didn’t have the job of scraping down the grille at night. So, needless to say, I was dishonest…and of course I kept those really big tips.  I was morally against giving them up. I had earned it! After working there for about 6 months or so, I was let go. Not because they found me out, but because I was calling in sick too much…I think. I always wonder if they were on to me.

Now that I am a stay at home mom, I tip people all day. At the Dunkin Donuts drive through in Newark, there is a little cup with a quote from Gandhi attached with masking tape waiting for me as I reach for my coffee: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I wonder if the girls that I see in the morning get the double entendre. Unfortunately, I don’t always tip them. I have a system…they get a dollar every few days because they aren’t really serving people like a waitress would. However, I have my favorite Dunkin girl who calls me honey and sweetheart and asks me how I am doing. She always gets $1, no matter what. I suppose somehow I think this is okay even though I am applying rules to my gratuity giving…and as I mentioned above, I have big issues with that.

It seems I have developed a system over time of how much to tip and to whom. If the service was good at a restaurant, I always tip well – over the required amount. Bartenders always do well by me too. The guys at the car wash also get a nice tip as long as they don’t dog the vacuuming too much and it gets at least 80% clean (I have a dog and baby.) Tips are a random sign of gratitude and kindness. When you give a tip, you don’t usually write it down or record it so you can claim it as charity later. Of course, when traveling for work you do, but in daily life tipping is an act of gratitude…unsullied by trying to take credit for something. I like to think that when someone is asking me for a tip, it’s their silent way of asking for kindness; a token of gratitude for a small good deed done. It’s an invisible exchange of well wishing between 2 people who don’t know each other and may never meet again. If you think about it in this respect, tipping is a pretty amazing act of random unblemished kindness. There are those who would say that we should always be nice to each other and serve each other well without having to be rewarded. I wish we lived in a perfect world too, but we don’t. Gratuity is a way of inserting civility into the daily chaotic, sometimes mean, place we live.

All of this thinking about tipping brings back a favorite memory of mine involving gratuity. My husband and I used to frequent the best bar (in my opinion) that ever existed in Providence, Rhode Island. It was called the Custom House Tavern and was tucked in the basement under an old historical limestone building on Weybosset street. The sign still hangs there if you walk by, but the bar has since been boarded up and the upper floors turned to condos. It had a wonderful hammered copper bar and huge glass antique windows that looked out onto a cobblestone street. It was dirty. The furniture was old and rickety, only there to serve the purpose of seating its occupant, not to look nice. This was before smoking was outlawed in bars and I can remember many a night that I had to step outside to get a breath. As much as I didn’t like breathing in the smoke, it created an ambience that doesn’t exist in bars anymore. There was a small bathroom right next to the bar whose window glowed green when someone occupied it and you had to squeeze around people sitting to get to it. Above the bar were old antique tavern puzzles hanging. I always wanted to play with them, but never did. It was a place where you could find psychotic poets scribbling in tiny notebooks or even homeless people wondering in for a cold Newcastle. But every Saturday night it sparked to life with the “Lullaby of Birdland” being played by a small, lovely, jazz band. There was a saxophone and a bass – sometimes a trumpet or drums depending on who could make it. The leader and vocalist was named Buzz and if you sat close to the bassist you could hear him singing out the chords quietly to himself to keep time. The could play the hell out of Ellington’s Caravan.

During the intermission and at the end of the evening, Buzz would pass around one of those clear plastic barrels that usually housed Utz pretzels, but whose chief employment now was to collect tips. “Ladies and Gentlemen, thank your bartender, thank your servers and the band. And always remember to spey and neuter your pets,” Buzz would say as the barrel made it’s way around the small room and bar.

The largest tips I ever gave were on those Saturday nights – and it was money well spent. A tip seems such a very small amount to pay for such music and company…and the sweet memory of those nights.

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joy


joy n. a feeling of great pleasure and happiness

ravi-shankar-horizontal-gallery

The word joy is inevitably being said more these days as it is the holiday season. “Joy to the world” yadda yadda yadda. I was thinking about joy today while eating lunch. I must have heard it on some Target commercial or perhaps on a sign somewhere. In my mind, joy has a more profound meaning than just “great pleasure.” I feel like I often feel happiness or, more often contentment, but joy seems somehow more pure and untainted. I think we all have moments of happiness in our lives, but our moments of joy are far, far fewer and yet more crystalized in our memories.

I think the OED may have fallen short in defining this word so broadly. I associate joy with childhood. It is happiness that knows no cynicism – pleasure in its purest form. When we are children, we find joy in simple things – like climbing trees or being tickled. The idyllic childhood has you feeling this happiness in an unfettered, unspoiled way. The longer your span of enjoying this joy – or untainted happiness – the happier your childhood. When we are young, we haven’t experienced a lot of evil yet – hopefully. We are naive. We aren’t looking around the corner for the catch or the ghost that spoils it all. It’s a lot like the way a child runs – with complete abandon – because they don’t know to expect fatigue or pain yet. The moment is singular and completely in the present.

When we grow older, we collect the moments when our joy was abbreviated, either by the course of nature or by other people. We become cynical, hardened, expecting our happiness to be short lived or false. We are far likelier to experience contentment – joy’s smug, adult counterpart. Contentment is what we settle for when we are adults because joy is so fleeting and hard to attain intentionally. In this day and age childhood has been expanded far into the twenties, but I don’t think that childhood joy endures. It morphs into a strange hipster irony – almost a reflection of joy – that mocks its existence because it’s easier to be cool and impress people than to get to the unattainable joy.

There are moments in my adulthood when I have experienced joy like I used to as a child. It was not on the day my son was born. Watching him fly out of my body into the arms of my doctor while my husband held my left leg and stared in horror is not what I would describe as joyous. It was a wonderful moment in some ways, but there was too much fear and surprise involved to call it joy. I most often find joy in music…and I’m not talking Beethoven or a Puccini opera…although those would work. I find joy in just listening to all sorts of music and just being there, in the moment…or sometimes singing in the car while Graham bops around. It could be Katy Perry or Metallica, there’s just something about music that brings on a moment of joy for me.

Today marks the passing of a great musician, Ravi Shankar, who I became familiar with when I was 19 years old. My father was very sick from radiation treatment for his brain tumor and I had a job working in a factory soldering circuit boards. I was supposed to be a freshman at Providence College but had to stay back a semester because my father’s health was so precarious, as was our financial situation. I used to go to the public library after work and check out CDs from the basement music department. I had heard sitar and raag in the Beatles music I sometimes listened to so one day I checked out a Ravi Shankar CD. I brought it home and listened to it over and over. There was something very relaxing and quietly joyful in the strings, something I really, really needed during that difficult time.

My father’s tumor was in the occipital lobe of his brain and he had lost a great deal of his eye sight when they removed the tumor and could no longer read books – which was one of the ways I am convinced that my father found joy. I remember sitting in our small living room listening to my CD on a set of headphones when my father asked to hear what I was listening to. So I played him the Ravi Shankar music that I was so fond of. I like to think that that moment was one of joy for my father – just existing in the music the way he used to escape in his books. We played it many times after that and it became our habit to listen to music in the same way we used to share books. There was something about the sound of the sitar that healed both of our pain. It was like listening to audible peace. The memory brings me joy whenever I hear those strings.

R.I.P Ravi Shankar

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