Smushy mushy heart
springs back like Silly Putty
even when it’s broke.
Smushy mushy heart
Smushy mushy heart
and yadda yadda, an aliyah blog
by Jen Maidenberg
Smushy mushy heart
springs back like Silly Putty
even when it’s broke.
“There’s a clean shirt in your backpack!”
<Door slams! Bam!>
to sign up for parent-teacher meetings.
Showed up on time —
early pick up, after all.
Pushed the migraine aside
in order to be present
for preschool Chanukah party, songs, dance, and black light.
Grater?!? Where’s the grater?
And it’s clean.
Ready to make latkes. Here you go.
Take it. Take the potato, too. Wait don’t forget it’s late already past over there under the couch no upstairs in your room under the laundry basket i don’t know maybe okay fine call me at work later and let me know you’re home so I don’t worry I’m always worried what did you eat today tomorrow I promise tomorrow i know I’m sorry on Monday.
I’ll make it to the party on time.
Clean shirt in his backpack. Clean shirt. He’s got a clean shirt.
If I had nothing else to do in my life right now — no full-time job, no school, no household chores, no parenting, no community commitments — I might decide to drop everything and pursue a journalistic investigation of music and memory.
Truth is, I am doing this already on a very personal level. For those of you who follow the blog, you might have already sensed my budding fascination in some of my recent posts (Check out “Both Sides,” Don’t You Remember You Told Me You Loved Me,” and “Seeking the Language of Music“). These snippets appear in large part due to a long form piece I am in the early stages of writing that explores how music shapes a person, and how a person, often unknowingly, shapes her Self under the spell of music. It’s about how embedded music is in our memory, how memory sticks because of its attachment to music, and how, we can or do use music to maintain memories we deem integral to our sense of Self.
But what about the memories that don’t stick? The ones we let sink down into the darkened depths of forgetfulness? Either on purpose, because they are too painful? Or accidentally, because we think we no longer have use for them?
I am finding that all it takes is a journey … an intentional journey of remembering … for those memories to ascend on their own from the deep. We have a drawer, I’m realizing, we didn’t know we had access to. It’s our subconscious — And we can open it and take out what we need if and when we need it. Of course, there are times a memory surfaces before we realize its usefulness. And then it’s up to us to make the connection.
One such memory levitated to the surface of my consciousness yesterday, seemingly from nowhere (though I am starting to understand that nothing surfaces from nowhere.) It happened like this:
<A few haunting notes tap tap tap on my brain>
<Paying closer attention now>
Are those train horns?
<Even closer attention>
It’s certainly familiar…
Wait, is it this?
No… no, not quite that. Something similar, though.
Wait a minute.
Oh my God.
<Startled look on my face>
<Heart skips a beat>
<Can’t catch my breath>
I haven’t thought about that in years.
And it all comes flooding back.
The memory — the very visceral experience, actually — that I hadn’t recalled in oh so many years was that of listening over and over again on my Walkman freshman year of college to a love song. In particular, “Love Song for a Vampire,” performed by Annie Lennox off the soundtrack of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (a film I have never even seen …surprisingly.)
The introduction of the song, indeed, sounds like train horns. And maybe that’s all it took yesterday, as I rode the train from Binyamina to Tel Aviv, for a memory to stir, to shoot up like a bubble waiting to be uncorked. All it took was the sound a horn makes.
I searched for the song on my smartphone, but couldn’t get to it due to a bad connection. So I obsessed a little all day long until I could return to the computer. In the meantime, because I had time to kill on the train, I pondered.
Why? I thought. What purpose does this memory serve now? Why do I need it? How does it apply?
I still don’t know the answer. It’s on the tip of my tongue, just like the song was yesterday, and while I don’t see the purpose yet, I know this memory will be a valuable one in my writing. This piece (this book, this short story, whatever it becomes) — it’s not just about music and memory. It’s not a clinical piece. It’s about me. About my own passage into middle age. About coming to peace with my past in the face of my present and in the prospect of my future. It’s about accepting myself for who I was and who I am now — acknowledging and embracing the differences.
It’s about forgiving — yourself, others, the cruel linear aspect of time.
And I think, in there, lies the key to “Love Song for a Vampire.”
In the meantime, I’m listening…
This morning, my hair dryer caught on fire.
Which is a lot better than my hair catching on fire — which actually happened once, the first time I visited Israel in 1992 and forgot to use a converter before I set my curling iron to my bangs.
I lost half my bangs that day … which was probably a good thing, in hindsight.
I sensed something was wrong this morning when I started to smell smoke. I smart girl.
By the time smoke started pouring out of the thing, my hand was already on its way to the outlet. So when fire sparks started shooting out from the plug, I pulled it out from the wall immediately.
RIP Conair Ion Shine. RIP smooth middle aged hair with no fly-aways.
It was startling, for sure, the fireworks display. It’s a fear of mine — electrical appliances spawning disasters. A friend of mine lost her house to a forgotten curling iron once when I was 10.
But the incident today was also strength-building.
As a lifelong anxiety sufferer, I’ve become really good at imagining the worst. My mind is programmed for disaster and tragedy; not so much survival and rescue. So that when I do save the day — when I manage to get myself out of a hairy situation or when, for instance, my child manages to narrowly escape harm all on his own — the grey matter in my mind has a new paradigm from which to think.
See, I can tell myself. You made it.
You are okay.
Not that I am inviting harm to myself or my children.
But I do firmly believe that a good, solid, quite startling, near tragedy is a muscle strengthener for those of us with anxiety. (As long as the outcome is a happy ending.)
It shows us that the worst isn’t always as bad as we think.
Perhaps one day, in the not-so-far away future, the smarty pants tech inventors I work with will come up with a virtual reality stimulator whose anxiety treatment is designed to fully scare the crap out of us.
So that we will see, once and for all, how strong, indeed, we are.
On my drive home from work, I play a game sometimes.
I choose a song to listen to on YouTube. When it finishes and when I get to a stop sign, I look through the suggested songs at the bottom and choose one. That’s the game.
I typically get through three or four songs this way. (I have a 25 minute drive but not so many stops along the winding mountain roads.)
I play this game, as opposed to creating a playlist or listening to a CD, because I am lazy and because Pandora doesn’t work in Israel and because I have this notion that there is a certain magic to the way songs appear in the recommended song section, as opposed to this thing called an “algorithm” I hear so much about but have no idea what it really, truly means. And anyway, I’d rather believe in magic, in an elf DJ who lives inside my smartphone.
It was in this way that I came upon a live version of Both Sides Now sung in 2000 by Joni Mitchell.
I was first introduced to this song in 1988 by my friend Suzanne. I remember because anything folksy or hippiesh I pretty much learned from Suzanne, whose parents were once, apparently, hippie-like, or at least more hippie-like than any of my other friend’s parents in that they owned a guitar and watched Woody Allen movies and collected Bob Dylan records and other stuff I am not at liberty to reveal because you can only embarrass your own parents on your blog, not somebody else’s.
I say this only to let you know that I’ve been listening to Both Sides Now for a long time. I know all the words. I know Joni’s voice and pitch in the song by heart. It made many a mixed tape because I loved it so.
So when I heard Joni from 2000 sing Both Sides Now on my smartphone today, I almost didn’t recognize her. Her voice had changed so. It’s deeper, raspier, more…broken. In a way middle aged women are broken. In a way moons and Junes and Ferris wheels one day become broken after years of working hard on automatic.
I, like I’m sure many who’ve heard this later version of Joni sing this poignant song, thought, “how very perfect.” She is singing this from the other side, and the change in her voice — now alto and smoky with maturity — matches perfectly the impression of being there, then, in the days when clouds only block the sun. One listens to this version and really feels as if Joni has been through it all. One listens to this version and can sense beneath the vocals an oh so subtle laughter, as if…
She sounds resigned, Joni, and yet, satisfied. Good with the turns her life took. Or at least accepting of them, even those which were unexpected.
I listened to her and thought about the girl I once was; the girl who once listened to this song mournfully, as if I was already on the other side. As if…
I sang out loud and wondered, “what would you hear in my voice now?” You who knew me when I was young. You who knew me before the years… Before the years carried me over into the other side?
I’ve been finding letters.
Long lost letters.
Long saved letters.
Long ago, written-by-hand letters.
As and Es and Is strung together to form laughter and love and pain.
Through my veins runs remorse
as I read the letters aloud.
Straight uppercase caps
Bubbled Oooos and lowercase bees
All of them stamps of time and postmarks of personality
Who knew then that you were a poet, dear Friend?
Who knew that you could dance with your words, dear Lover?
Who knew, Mother, that you missed me with an ache you hid away so I would never know
until I, too, was a mother?
Who knew then
what I know now?
And I simply
Did you know I would read your words aloud
and fall in love with a version of you I never knew?
I had a dream last night.
An epic, Joseph Campbell/ CG Jung type dream.
The part I want to share with you involved a snake.
Back off, Freud wanna-be. Before you go analyzing me, let’s take a journey together.
It wasn’t really a snake — more like a supernatural serpent demon type thing — the body of a serpent but the head of a monster — that most everyone else around me was mistaking for an interesting, but somewhat harmless boa constrictor.
In the dream, I was safe inside an enclosed car. The serpent thing couldn’t really hurt me. I knew this, but I also knew he was a threat. My boss was in the car, too. He noticed the evil behind us and suggested we high tail it out of the forest we were in. Smart thinking.
As I looked back, however, I saw the serpent make its way towards another car — an open-topped convertible– in which a young child sat alone strapped into a car seat. I screamed as I watched the serpent begin to devour the child.
I turned away then.
I urged with my eyes my boss to look too, but he refused. He knew what was back there and knew there was nothing we could do to save the child. We drove away.
As we often do in dreams, I suddenly appeared in a different setting with different people, but the serpent still loomed. This time, I wasn’t shielded by the metal frame of the car. I was in an old kibbutz building. The roof and windows were open. I knew it was only time before I would be in grave danger again.
Obviously disturbing, I soon forgot the dream when I woke up this morning. But I recalled it just now as I also recalled the incident that happened to me in real life yesterday that likely inspired the dream.
On my way to work yesterday morning, minutes before arriving at my destination, I had slowed behind another vehicle as we were both approaching a traffic light.
Suddenly, I saw the driver, clearly a grown man, reach across to the passenger seat and strike violently at the person sitting there.
I couldn’t tell if the passenger was a child or a small woman. All I knew is that the person was small enough that his or her head didn’t reach above the head rest, and that what the driver was doing was very, very wrong.
My mouth gaped open in shock. It was that jarring.
Immediately, the person in the passenger seat reached out in a defensive swipe back at the offender and the driver returned to the road.
Moments later, as the light turned green and we inched toward it, the driver did it again. Struck at the passenger violently with his right hand, while his left remained on the wheel.
This time, horrified, I honked my horn. The driver looked up into his rear view mirror.
He understood I was honking at him. That I had seen him.
But my seeing him did not stop him. Not for long.
As we drove through the green light, his car swerved a little from side to side as he again struck out at the passenger.
Beside myself, I started to feel my heart in my throat. But my left turn into the industrial park where my office is located was approaching. I quickly memorized his licensed plate number before making the turn.
And then he was gone.
Evil. There in front of me.
Me. An observer. Powerless.
Now, of course, I don’t know what was taking place in that car. I don’t know the words exchanged or the history between the passenger and the driver.
But I do know one thing. In the back seat, sat a young child …strapped into a car seat …witnessing the entire ordeal.
So, no matter what was taking place in the front seat, the child in the back seat, like I, was exposed to something horrific. The child, in a sense, had been devoured, while I watched in horror.
I didn’t do anything with the license plate number. I didn’t report the incident. In fact, I did everything I could to forget about it as soon as I parked my car and walked the steps up to my office.
But clearly, I couldn’t forget about it. The experience haunted me in my dreams. It haunts me still.
What is my role when faced with evil in the world?
When can I be an active force — not a hero, per say, but a force — against evil?
And when am I compelled by time or by space or by powerlessness to remain a spectator? Left behind with only my heart in my throat and a deep sense of regret that there is some evil in the world in which we must simply turn away from.
Acknowledging it exists. And hoping that in the acknowledgement, we have done something small to stop it in its tracks.
“As an immigrant, I feel both frustrated and grateful. Frustrated because I can’t communicate how and when I want to. Yet grateful for that fragile window of time in which I must pause. I have no other choice.”
Read the full piece about how I really, truly am…
I have a tendency to hold on.
This tendency is so strong, I’m confident I will end up a haunting ghost in someone’s house when I go.
I hold on to photographs, to letters, to my child’s sketches. I refuse to part with shoes I want to love but can’t because they give me blisters; nor can I say goodbye to the beat up stuffed animal I’ve had since sixth grade. The t-shirt I received as a party favor at a forgotten friend’s bat mitzvah sits at the bottom of a box with fifteen others waiting to be turned into a quilt I’ll never make.
I hold tight to first impressions, grudges, undeserved adulation.
And then sometimes, I let go.
No, not just that.
I prepare a huge yard sale and lay all my attachments on the grass for everyone to peruse. Everyone I know and don’t know descends on my beloved belongings.
“Please take them from me!” my eyes say. And they do. For a penny, for a song.
And my load becomes lighter.
If I were to die then and there, I could float up to Heaven like a feather on the wind.
One of the major down sides of social media for me is access to second degree sadness.
I just don’t need it.
Sorry if that sounds cruel, harsh.
But it’s true.
I’m a sensitive girl already.
I feel people’s eyes. Their frantic glances, their furrowed brows.
I’m pained by the way they walk with their head down low.
I’m frightened when their steps get heavy behind me.
I’m deathly afraid of a silence that emanates from thousands of miles away. Because it must mean that something is very wrong.
I absorb another’s anger as if it’s mine
And I jump high at a cough from another room or from a firecracker from across the street or from a chair falling backwards with the wind.
As much as I love how connected we all are through the technology webs, I am also overwhelmed sometimes by
Death, sickness, loss, hunger, pollution, destruction.
Hurricanes, typhoons, murder, suicide, bullying, anorexia, drug overdose, car accident.
Cancer, anaphylaxis, SIDS, amputation, chemical warfare.
The photographs, the videos, even the messages of love and care sent from strangers to other strangers.
They all hurt my heart.
My heart can’t hold the sadness, though it’s soft with compassion,
it’s too too thin for the empathy.
And while sometimes my heart can hold it all,
Other times it feels filled up.
Like right now.
Tragedy, one-degree removed,
is life at 40.
Until it’s tragedy, no degree removed.
It was like this, I imagine, for my mother and her mother.
At 40, you start to know sick people, and people caring for sick people, and people who have lost people.
And you start to be afraid you are soon going to be one of those people. Or more than one. All three.
I am afraid.
And while I know that my fear is not a new one, not one invented by me or my generation, there’s something so much more vivid about this knowledge when it’s brought to you in full-color, in a row of announcements on the monitor in front of you via social media
every day, every few hours, every touch of a button
I need a newsfeed of life.
Call me naive, call me ungrateful, call me callous, call me whatever you like, but this is what I need.
A newsfeed of life.
The first song I can remember singing in the shower started like this:
“When I was young, I’d listen to the radio,
waiting for my favorite songs
When they’d play I’d sing along.
It’d make me smile.”
Do you know this song?
Do you hear the tune in your head?
Are you singing along with me?
If yes, you’re already in on the joke.
If not, play along for a few minutes. Humor me.
The song continues:
“Lookin’ back on how it was in years gone by
And the good times that I had
Makes today seem rather sad, so much has changed.
It was songs of love that I would sing to then
And I’d memorize each word
Those old melodies still sound so good to me
As they melt the years away…”
I was five then. I know only because I remember the blue paint on the walls of my parents bathroom and my reflection in the mirror that spanned the length of the vanity. I was beveled, like the glass of the shower door.
I was Karen Carpenter in that mirror. Singing my little heart out. Singing about the kind of pain I wouldn’t know until many years later — the simple heartache that is a result of nothing too tragic, just the passing of time.
Soon after those singing in the shower days, I’d lose the freedom to belt out Karen Carpenter to social pressure. The Carpenters, after all, were played only in the tape deck of my mom’s car and on the easy listening channel. The Carpenters were weak … and for losers.
This changed quite suddenly when I was a senior in college. A compilation CD was released called “If I Were A Carpenter” in which alternative rock bands got together to cover the songs of the brother-sister duo. The result was stunning. Mind-blowing. Just listen to Sonic Youth’s rendition of Superstar. It’s an entirely different song. Reinterpreted, and yet, carrying the same powerful message.
“Don’t you remember you told me you loved baby?
You said you’d be coming back this way again baby…”
It’s dreamy, this version, creepy even. Not sweet and innocent. Nothing a five year old girl would sing in the shower. It’s so not Karen Carpenter, and yet, her legacy remains between the lines.
Funny, I thought, this morning. At 5, I could hear a faint bit of optimism in Karen’s vibrato, as if maybe the superstar would one day return. At 39, listening to Sonic Youth, all I hear is drawn out hopelessness and the certainty that the superstar will never “be back this way again.”
Who was right?
“Yesterday Once More,” the song I used to sing in the shower was covered on the album by a band I never heard of (and still haven’t) called Redd Kross. Their version introduced electric guitars and transforms a wistful reflection into an anthem.
Consider what happened to Karen Carpenter when her songs were covered by alt rock bands. She became relatable to an entirely different audience.
Someone whose ears would have been closed shut to her poetry, to her message when she sang it … suddenly might have opened up when her words and music were expressed by someone else. In their accent.
This made me think of my listening of others. And others’ listening of me.
How quick we are to stop listening when the voice is unfamiliar, when the song isn’t one we want to sing along to. Or when we’ve already decided the person speaking is weak, or a loser.
We’ve already shut our ears … before they even have a chance to speak. Or sing.
And what happens when someone else steps in and offers the same message, but with a different tune.
(This haiku was inspired by “R.I.P. Blockbuster, You Frustratingly Magical Franchise, You” by Kevin Fallon in the Daily Beast)
RIP Blockbuster Video
By Jen Maidenberg
Neighborhood stop for
high school dates rated PG.
Press play. Then make out.