One compulsion leads to another

I wrote recently about this superpower I possess called synesthesia. How I see letters and words in full color. And how I am going to defeat fear once I manage to harness my power properly.

It occurred to me this morning that my superpower might be the cause of quirky compulsions I also possess like the one that prevents me from listening to the Beach Boys in December, or drives me to listen to Van Morrison when the leaves start to change color and fall from the trees (even if I’m not living in the country in which they do.)

The connection between music and emotion is a studied one that’s not unique to me, but actually quite documented in human beings. But what about music and season? For me, the music must fit the weather outside. And there are singers or albums that are just completely inappropriate in winter, or off limits when I’m driving with the top down in July.

I looked into it a little. And guess what?

There’s a connection…and suddenly my strange compulsions don’t seem so compulsive anymore.

Studies show that music is connected to color and color is connected to emotion — particularly for people with synesthesia. From there, the connection is easy.  Emotion as it relates to season is a no-brainer. Lots of babies are born in August, nine months after couples snuggle up together inside supposedly to warm up from winter’s cold. I think it’s more than shelter from the cold they seek; but love and interpersonal connection that is often sacrificed in the isolation that winter brings.

Ask the average Joe or Jane which emotion is aroused when they envision summer. Most will say joy. Freedom. Fun. Ask the same person to describe the accompanying emotions to winter, Most will say introspection, introversion or sadness.

What about you? What do you say?

Having superpowers can make a girl feel lonely sometimes. Like I’m the only one whose heart hurts as fall moves towards winter. But when I get like that I cry it out to Randy Newman … whose voice and lyrics match perfectly the melancholy and nostalgia that crop up for me in fall.

Or I listen to this video — a performance of his “I Want You to Hurt Like I Do” in Berlin– and I laugh. Knowing I’m not really as alone as I think.

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What’s a little closure between friends?

I sat alone in a movie theater in Haifa last night.

There were other people around me — strangers.

An American guy and a Russian girl out on a date.

Two elderly couples.

A grandmother, a mom, and her teenage daughter.

There were people in the theater, but I might as well have been alone.

It was that kind of movie experience.

The expression on my face moved in rhythm with the fictional couple’s tension and release.

I smiled.

I laughed.

My eyebrows furrowed.

My heart swelled and sunk.

Like the couple on the screen, I remembered 1994.

Except I wasn’t in Vienna with them when we first met. I was in Washington, D.C., sitting in a dark hall next to a good friend watching a free showing on campus of Before Sunrise, starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.

Courtesy wikipedia

Courtesy wikipedia

I left that movie theater in Washington, DC in love.

In love with an idea.

In love with this fictional romance.

This couple.

It’s pretty easy for me to pinpoint what I was so smitten with — the Ethan Hawke character was certainly the kind of guy I was into at the time. Intellectual, but funny. Confident enough, but still obviously insecure.  Boyishly handsome.

But most of all, I loved that their romance –Jesse’s and Celine’s — was centered around conversation, connection, and culture.

This type of romance — not the kind featuring princes and princesses —  was, to me, the stuff of fairy tales.

But how often do we get to see how the fairy tale turns out once the prince starts going gray and the wife’s eyes are underlined by heavy bags?

We don’t.

And it’s this reason why our image of romance is so royally fucked up.

Before Midnight is exactly the kind of film experience — and happy ending — we need more of.

“Happy ending?”, asks anyone who has seen Before Midnight, the 3rd installment of the trilogy, which finds Jesse and Celine married, approaching middle age, and discontent.

Yes, happy.

Real life, up-and-down, work-hard-at-it, happy.

Watching Before Midnight, we ride for two hours along with the couple through highs and lows during their family vacation in Greece — highs and lows not atypical of a middle class couple with young children.

As I observed Celine and Jesse, I could tell they are still clearly in love — or, at the very least, in “like.” They enjoy being with each other; they support each other. At times, I even found myself envying their verbal repartee, the ease with which they bounce off each other clever, but relatively harmless jabs.

They seem good.

Solid.

Until they don’t.

Midway through the movie we also come to understand exactly how very detached they are from the magic that first enchanted them.

And yet they long for that magic. You can tell.

There exists a struggle in each of them between wistfulness and resign.

But the fact they struggle at all is, in my opinion,  a good sign.

Any couple who still wants the magic is a couple who can most likely make it.

If they work at it.

Before Midnight illustrates the work that is behind long-lasting love. It lays out in ugly truth how hard marriage can be. And how easy it can be, when you are willing to put in the effort and accept your partner … even when the person who once enchanted you is buried beneath years of diapers, laundry, or uninspiring monotony.

The couple’s dilemma and resolution at the conclusion of the film was better than any “happily ever after.”  As the credits rolled, I felt my shoulders release and was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude. Grateful for the gritty, yet satisfying, conclusion at the end of Before Midnight. And grateful that the idea I fell in love with in 1994 was one that could last. That could make it…somehow.

I sat alone in a movie theater in Haifa, and breathed in deep the longing I sometimes find lodged in my throat. But I breathed out wisdom and understanding.

And closure.

We’re all gonna die!

What do you think causes the majority of our existential angst?

A. Knowing we’re going to die (and not wanting to)

B. Not knowing exactly when we will die

C. Not knowing exactly how we will die

D. All of the above?

I struggle with all of the above.

But today I was having a conversation with myself that went like this:

Let’s say we are somehow able to accept we will die.

Not just understand it intellectually, but actually accept it.

And let’s say, by some magical twist, we are able to learn exactly when and how we will die…

Would we really live our life any differently than we do today?

And, what would World Order look like then?

(I don’t really talk to myself in the third person, by the way.)

There is a phrase:

live_each_day_

But the essential problem with that advice is that gleefully dancing as if nobody’s watching is not really an option if the machine is to keep running.

Quite the contrary, living each day as if it’s not our last is what allows us to pack the school lunches and separate the laundry and spend an hour with the accountant without feeling as if our life is completely pathetic.

We count on tomorrow being better.

= = = =

Most of us live –because we must — as if we have an endless supply of days.

And, yet, we’re terrified each and every day because we know that we don’t.

That is quite a quandary.

No one wants to be a machine.

Yet no one feels comfortable abandoning everything and everyone so they may live their last day every day.

This is the majority of our existential angst:

Finding the absolute perfect balance between living your last day and living as if you have an endless supply.

I’m happy and I know it … clap your hands

I giggle.

I work hard to make others giggle.

I dream…and enjoy analyzing my dreams.

I engage on social media.

I innovate (at work)

I create (at home)

I write.

I share my writing with others.

I bake cookies.

I surprise the people I love with small treats or notes.

I want to be around people.

I want to know them.

I want to learn more about them.

I want to discover what we have in common and how we can help each other.

I sing.

I kiss my husband.

I take beautiful pictures.

Or silly ones.

Mr. Sunglasses Face

This isn’t a list of the things that make me happy.

It’s a list of ways I know that I am happy.

That life is working for me.

These are ways I know I am doing what is required to care for myself so that my life is one I enjoy … or, at least, feel reasonably satisfied by.

Often times, we think  — if we think at all — about the things that make us happy.

Ice cream.

Sex.

Vacation.

Money.

Baseball.

Air conditioning.

We make mental or actual lists of all the things we need in our life in order to be happy. Or we delineate end goals or possessions we are convinced will make us happier if only we reach them or one day have them.

Better job.

Better wife.

A baby.

Older kids.

A degree.

More sleep.

More quiet.

Less stress.

And while some of us are good at being grateful for what we have– and even acknowledging the good in our life — I don’t often hear from my inner voice listing off the ways I know I am happy now.

Right now.

Or what happy looked like back when it colored my life.

What does happy look like?

Who are you when you’re happy?

If we don’t know what happy looks like, how will we ever get there?

I’ve noticed over the past few weeks that my happy evidence is somewhat missing from the scene.

This was a red alert for me to DO SOMETHING.

So I started thinking about my list.

The list of things that act as evidence that I am happy.

And I started doing those things.

Even though I wasn’t yet happy.

And today, I’m happier.

(I didn’t say HAPPY.)

But

I’m writing.

I’m baking.

I’m spending time with real live human beings.

And engaging a little with the imaginary real live human beings on my screen.

What does happy look like for you?

How will you …

How do you…

recognize it?