On the way home from work, I passed a building called “Little Hands Preschool” – and I immediately thought, of course, of our baby’s tiny hands.
He’s able to grab things, now – and he reaches for stuff. He can hold his little bumblebee maraca & shake it, though not to any real rhythm. His thumbs still tend to fold in, but he’ll sometimes grab with his hand wide open.
I wonder what he’ll do once he learns to use his hands. Will he play the piano? Will he learn to type? How will he hold a pencil? What kinds of things will he write?
Someday, I’ll teach him to use a hammer, or how to hold a game controller. We’ll hold hands throughout the years, and his little fist that I can barely grasp a single finger will one day be as big as mine.
What a strange little fellow. I can’t wait to see what the future has in store.
Ok. So, my friend Perlick had a post where he was asking people to suggest things to write about. So I suggested that he write something about something that evoked a strong emotional reaction in him. Most of his posts are pretty analytical, and I wanted to hear him write about something that tore his guts out and made him *feel* something.
And so, I figured if I’m gonna suggest something like that, I should perhaps do the same. And so here’s a sixth-grader, singing a Lady Gaga tune.
When I heard this, I wept.
And yeah, I’m a little embarrassed to admit it. So You Think You Can Dance moves me to tears, probably half a dozen times every season. Clay Aiken singing Elton John on American Idol made me cry. And the first time I heard Radiohead’s “Exit Music… for a Film”, I couldn’t sleep for the better part of the night.
So, let’s start with the tears. There are a handful of things that are basically push-buttons that’ll get me to cry. Stories about boys & their fathers. Stories about kids and their dogs. But the thing that I’ve found recently that is a little weirder to me is that whenever I see a really good physical performance – singing, dancing, public speaking, sports… whatever – literally, it can almost have no intended emotional content, other than the sheer devotion and dedication of the performer, and you’ll find that if you ask me a question immediately afterwards, I probably won’t be able to answer without my voice cracking.
So yes, I can be moved to tears watching someone snowboard. It feels stupid to say.
But I actually don’t mind much, because I know what it is. It’s that watching someone who sticks it all out there – who’s worked intensely, who’s taken the risk of putting themselves out into the public where they can fail, where they can be ridiculed, mocked, torn down… and then giving it everything – it moves me. Am I embarrassed about that? Absolutely not.
And I think part of it is that I can’t do it. There’s some self-censorship at work that prevents me from laying it all out there, and not giving a damn what people think. There’s something that can’t overcome the fear of mockery, the fear of failure, the fear of derision & humiliation. Maybe it’s from being a dork growing up, being made fun of, whatever – maybe it’s from a sense that nothing was ever good enough for my parents & a crushing lack of self confidence. Some of that’s getting better, now, but there’s some residual governor inside me that will not let me just lay it all out there, and that’s almost certainly why seeing someone else who can do it – who can give 100%, seemingly without fear – moves me the way it does.
So. Exit Music. One night, in college, I was sitting at my desk. I’d just picked up Radiohead’s OK Computer, and was listening to it for the first time. Exit Music came on as I climbed up to my bed, and when it played… well, it’s hard to describe. I think maybe you have to hear it.
If you’ve listened, it starts out slow, very sedate, melancholy. It builds (“Breathe, keep breathing… don’t lose your nerve…”), until about halfway through, it becomes something entirely different (“…and now… we are one, in everlasting peace…”). That turn felt so naked, so exposed, that when I first heard it, I couldn’t get it out of my head. Thom Yorke’s always been an extraordinary singer, but this is one of my favorites.
And so, now we go to karaoke.
I couldn’t ever get into karaoke. Why? I’m a terrible singer with no confidence whatsoever. Which is good, because if you’re terrible, the worst thing you can do is have confidence that you’re good. But what would end up happening is that I’d *want* to sing. I’d want to sing well to a song that I loved, but it never clicked. I could never go from “trying to hit the note” to “trying to hit the emotion”, and I’d mumble quietly in more or less the right tone, get to the end of the song, and apologize for having done a terrible job.
And then in Cupertino, we ended up at a place that had “Exit Music…” I thought, what the hell – if I’m going to butcher something, I might as well butcher something that’s mumbly and morose right up until the middle. But as I sang it, it felt right – I could hit the note, it was kind of in my range, and I knew the song like the back of my hand. As it built up, I followed along, and at the turn, I belted it out.
Did I hit the notes? I don’t really know. Was it any good? Probably not. But for a few seconds, I *felt* it. Singing, in that moment, wasn’t just the act of making a noise with my voice that approximated music – it was the feeling that resonated in my fingertips, through my core, and out into the world. It was as though the vibrations in the note carried through to something more – that it resonated not just with the music, but with some primal need to communicate in a way that wasn’t bound simply by words, or formal convention, but by a desire to have someone *feel* what you feel.
And then it was over.
So I got it. I understood why people *loved* singing, in a way that I’d never understood before. And no, I can’t evoke that feeling on command – the barrier’s still there – the only thing I know is that sometimes, I can let it go. I can try to do something and not care if it’ll go wrong, just that I gave it everything that I could.
And when I see someone else able to do that, however they’re able to do it, it resonates in me in a way that’s simply uncontrollable.