Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Power of Song

Dead Head

“Not by might and not by power
but by spirit a-lone, ("ruach")
shall we all live in peace”

(Debbie Friedman)

The Power of Song

The prompt for this week is “Power” which brings to mind a song. It is a song based on a biblical phrase but I am not going to be making a religious statement in this Sunday Scribble. In fact, what comes to my mind at present is the power of music. How many blog posts have I titled with the lyrics of a song because one popped into my head? Songs package words and memories in a way that the words alone cannot do. The biologist in me understands that song will be stored in different parts of the brain than words heard or read. Even in a foreign language, it is easier to learn words that are encoded as a song. Do you know the words to Frere Jacques? Most of us probably learned it as school children and retain at least some of the words whether or not we later learned to speak French. There may be a Spanish song or two you learned that way as well.
Songs attach to memories like smells did in Proust’s Swan’s Way. (I must admit here that I never did manage to wade through even one volume of Proust). While I write this, I think of the lyric (not inspiring by itself): “All right now, baby it’s all right now.” It immediately takes me back to four years of Stanford football games. The band played this every time a goal was scored. Even thinking of it makes me feel “all right now.”
I’m sure we all wish the songs we remember are the ones we especially admire and want to remember. Sometimes the ones that stick are pretty annoying in fact. “I’d like to teach the world to sing. . . . “ Yada yada. “You, you’re the one, you are the only reason. . . .” “Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce. . . .” Commercial jingles seem to have the most, and worst, staying power. There’s that power word again.
How about annoying songs from your teen years, the top 10 that played in the car while you commuted to school? At the risk of dating myself, do you remember the Paul McCartney song, “Silly Love Songs?” The one with the lyric, “I love you” repeated four times? Or that delightful tune, “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?”
Then there’s the Carly Simon song that made me want to cry: “That’s the way I always heard it should be.”

Their children hate them for the things they're not;
They hate themselves for what they are-
And yet they drink, they laugh,
Close the wound, hide the scar.

Not exactly an advertisement for getting married.

Go back further into my childhood and songs of despair. Think of the Stones’:

“And if you take more of those / you will get an overdose / No more running for the shelter / of a mother's little helper”

Wikipedia tells me that the drug of abuse in this song is Nembutal. Makes me glad barbiturates are not a commonly prescribed drug nowadays.

Other sad songs I remember from my youth include: The Beatles’ “All the lonely people.” Check out the lyrics here
and see if they have the power to make you sad; also listen to Simon and Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence:

"People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share"

Or their version of Scarborough Fair:

"Tell her to reap it in a sickle of leather
(War bellows, blazing in scarlet battalions)
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
(Generals order their soldiers to kill)
And to gather it all in a bunch of heather
(And to fight for a cause they've long ago forgotten)
Then she'll be a true love of mine."

Songs of love, loss, wounds, war and betrayal. All the powerful themes of the 60’s and 70’s as well as those of the new millennium. The other day I heard some young people listening to a new song I didn’t recognize. What caught my attention was the use of the word “suicide” repeatedly in the lyrics.
As a mental health professional, I periodically am asked by parents if they should be concerned about their teen’s listening preferences. The songs are too dark, they say, or too violent. Do we really believe that music has the power to enslave the adolescent mind? To turn the thoughts to death, murder, hate or despair? Did Marilyn Manson’s music provide a spark for Columbine?
Read some music lyrics yourself and tell me what you think. Check out the lyrics of Hood Figga by rap artist Gorilla Zoe here. I can’t print them here, too nasty.
Lest you think I believe all rap is bad, here are a few lines from another rapper, Eminem:

“You got some issues Stan, I think you need some counseling
to help your ass from bouncing off the walls when you get down some.”

This is a sad, scary song but can be read as having a positive message. At least, that is how I chose to hear it.
So what do I tell the parents? To take away their kid’s I-Pod? To censor their listening? Generally not. Some music is inappropriate for young children just as some movies, TV and video games are. Music with overt references to drugs, sex and violence is not appropriate for an eight year old. Use some judgment, guys. I have to confess that I heard the soundtrack to “Hair” many a time when I was a preteen; it was one of my mother’s favorite albums. These are the cleanest lyrics from one song:

"Join the holy orgy
Kama Sutra

I had no clue what I was singing (honest, officer). Did Hair change my life or moral outlook? Highly doubtful.
No, I tell the parents to listen to the music their kids prefer. Go on-line and read the lyrics. Discuss them with the kids. Tell them you don’t like how this song demeans women, glorifies drugs, or speaks about self destruction. Ask them why they like it. Parents miss an opportunity if they simply ban music.
Music does have power, good, bad or indifferent. To sell a product, to disseminate an idea, to change a mood. But its powers are not magical. Obviously we are more than the sum of what we listen to. Otherwise I would be a sex-addicted, Burger-King-loving, love-stricken-yet-unmarried, drug-abuser. What songs had power over you as a youth? Which ones stuck in your head, for better or for worse? Tell me a few of your musical memories.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Wordless Wednesday--Color to the Max

Above the swings

Seen from the Ferris Wheel, Navy Pier, Chicago, Illinois

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Photo Friday--The Beach

The Beach

I took this picture in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It was our last day of vacation and we were staying at a hotel near the airport. I didn't think much of the photo at the time. It seemed too "Miami Beach." I like my beaches undeveloped. But it is now growing on me. I like the pastel colors under the gray skies and the people swimming despite the glowering weather. This is the closest I'll get to the ocean for a few months at least. Lake Michigan is wonderful, but it isn't the ocean.

Monday, September 24, 2007


Foundry in Gray
Seen in Chicago. Better viewed larger.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


Buckingham Fountain after Dark

Buckingham Fountain after dark on a warm summer night.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Thursday Challenge--Purple

Purple Church

OK the shot is not exactly a work of art but I did think it was a curious paint job for a church. Actually I'm not sure what object would look good in that particular color. Note the color-coordinated car in front. Seen on the west side of Chicago.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Wordless Wednesday

Goldfinch and kids

I only had a moment to catch this through my window before the birds flew away. They attracted my attention by making quite a racket. I think these are two juveniles begging for food from a parent. Any expert birders feel free to contradict me.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Writers Read Here


Check out this new writing site, Writer's Island, it replaces in part Poetry Thursday which appears to be defunct. The prompt for tomorrow is: The Gift. Since my writing brain seems to have turned on, at least for today, I have posted my offering below.

The Gift

“She often saw things which other people missed—a fact which rather bemused her; that is why I have found my calling, she said to herself; I am called to help other people because I am lucky enough to be able to notice things.” (From The Good Husband of Zebra Drive, by Alexander McCall Smith).

I just finished reading the above book, the latest in a mystery series set in Botswana. It is an unusual series in that the mysteries themselves are largely irrelevant. What is important in each book is character and culture. What strikes one about the heroine, Mma Ramotswe, a detective, and the author, McCall Smith, is that both have an exceptional ability to notice the small things.
I think that I too have a gift like this. Although there are plenty of times I can be cheerfully oblivious to matters around me, there are other times when I can focus on the small details in a way that is very useful. Of course, I am not a detective, unless you consider me a detective of the small details that may move a person from sickness to health, from distrust to trust, or from aloneness to feeling understood.
My grandfather used to say I had “eagle eyes”. He didn’t so much refer to the quality of my vision but to my ability to find coins and other small treasures on the sidewalk or road as we walked together. Grandpa had a heart attack when he was in early 50’s and his physician told him to walk a mile a day. When I visited with him, I would often walk with him and he took great pride in occasionally finding money or an item of jewelry on the ground. He encouraged this ability in me and I suspect I have done him proud. The most likely reason I often walk with my eyes to the ground is that then I don’t have to make eye contact with strangers but whatever the cause I am still good at finding things on the ground.
This is not the same focus that lets me read people. Superstitions about psychiatrists to the contrary, I do not read minds. I do read body language. I try to read the things that are not said but are felt. I guess I am good at that but I imagine I will spend the rest of my life refining my ability to respond appropriately to what I see. Because, in fact, it is not so much what you notice that matters but what you do with the information and this distinction is very important in a healer.
Unfortunately, this “gift” is not always helpful. I noted in a post a few days ago, that I have been known to watch and judge other people when it is none of my business. I find that the capacity to observe is hard to turn off. It is a kind of hypervigilance to the human environment that is not always healthy for me. I might see that someone around me looks like they are up to no good and wonder what I should do about it. I might misread someone’s reaction to me and think they are bored or dislike me. I enjoy being alone, especially outside in nature where I don’t have to try to tune out all that unwanted information.
It is interesting that blessing and curse, gift or unfortunate trait are determined by circumstance and the use I put it to. Perhaps like in the fairy tale, the good fairies gifted me with their best wishes but one wicked and jealous fairy placed a curse as well. In the metaphoric sense, isn’t that true for us all?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sunday Scribbling--Collecting

Gimme money

I’m what you call a “pack rat”. It’s not bad enough to be an illness but it does not endear me to my “neat freak” spouse. To say that we have an uneasy compromise going is to understate the actual tension of the condition.
I have a long memory and I think that I equate things with the memories attached to them. My theory is that I moved so much as a child that I became attached to portable things and not the home itself. In my case, home was not where you hang your hat but the hat itself.
As a kid I collected rocks, shells and stamps. The rocks and shells were souvenirs of my travels and the stamps were a hobby funded and encouraged by my father who collected stamps when he was a kid. In fact he gave me his collection to start my own so I wound up with some very old U.S. stamps. My grandfather (my mother’s father) also collected stamps so I have the collecting urge from both sides of my family. I’m not sure what happened to his collection. Perhaps it was sold or perhaps it is still in a bank vault somewhere.
I tried to get my kids hooked on stamps or coins, which their (paternal) grandfather collected, but they became caught up in the trading card games. Like myself as a child, my older boy would spend hours cataloging his cards and looking for ways to score better and rarer ones. Unlike stamps, though, the cards also came with games you could play with them. The use of the cards decreased their putative value but increased their fun. The kids have changed their allegiances from Pokemon to Yugioh to, most recently, Magic cards but the fascination remains.

Yugioh Cards

I think I am more patient with their collections and more willing to aid and abet because I have the collector genes in my blood. My first E-Bay purchase was a Pokemon card for my son. Sometimes I cringe at what the cards have cost me but I enjoy my children’s intense interest and the social life they build around the card play. I think that the card games can be educational in their own way just as stamps or baseball cards were to earlier generations.
Unlike myself, my grandfather was a pack rat of note. We always attributed it to his living through the Great Depression. He accumulated a garage full of odd or useful items. Some things made sense, if you were planning to survive a flood, such as cases of canned goods, toilet paper, and other items, bought on sale, of course. I guess it is lucky for my long-suffering grandmother that Costco and Walmart hadn’t been invented yet. We have always joked that there is an old curse that applies to the older generation of our family: “May you go broke on bargains.”
The garage was also full of junk. In all honesty, I have no idea what else he kept in there. I would have been too afraid of encountering spiders to look closely. In California, black widow spiders were a very real possibility in places like my grandfather’s garage. I do know that the two car garage only had space for two slim walkways through it. When my grandfather died, my poor mother had to take charge of cleaning out the garage. I think she hired someone to do it.
As I said, we had a psychological explanation for my grandfather’s hoarding but as I work with individuals with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, who also hoard, I have come to believe that much of the instinct to hoard is genetically and biologically hard wired into the individual. Hoarding is hard to treat, sometimes because the individual has little desire to change. It is often the family (and occasionally the board of health) that wants the behavior to stop. Sometimes the issue is the expense, sometimes the clutter and at times the danger created by the mess. At its worst, hoarders may keep things that create disease risk, attract bugs and rodents, or cause a fire hazard.
Fortunately neither my grandfather nor I ever got that bad. My home is cluttered but manageable. Sometimes I envy those who are naturally neat and tidy but the things I accumulate also reflect who I am and where I’ve been. So I can tell you that last night I served honey out of a spoon that I picked up at a flea market in Lucca, Italy. I also slept on a vintage pillow case picked up in a shop in the same city. They don’t make linens like they used to. On my mantel, I have a vase I got in Costa Rica and an odd sculpture made by my son. I don’t acquire things because they are rare, trendy or expensive. I get them for their meaning and the meaning endures. Today, I also enjoy my new, virtual hobbies, blogging and photography which, fortunately for me and my spouse, clutter only my computer, which I don’t share.

See It Sunday--Money

Old, new and not, money

I went about the house collecting coins, both old and new, from our travels and otherwise. It is amazing what I could come up with. I threw in a couple of other things for good measure. Treat it like an I Spy--you'll be amazed at what is there. This photo is definitely best viewed large.

Friday, September 14, 2007


Dash looks out

Sometimes I can be a little judgmental. I watch people I don't know and criticize them in my head. So two nights ago, I am in synagogue and I see an older woman pull out a compact during prayers. I sit in judgment that she would be so vain as to check her makeup during a moment that ought to be spiritual. Then she moves to polish the reflective surface and I realize she's checking for messages on her cell phone. At least impiety has caught up with the times!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Wordless Wednesday--strange flower

Seen at Chinook Pass, Washington. I have yet to identify the flower. Shouldn't be hard to do, it is pretty distinctive, isn't it?

Furry Flower

A Gripe and a Wish


I'll start with the gripe. Last Friday my purse was stolen. Out of a synagogue no less! So much for thinking it might be safe there. Who knows what opportunistic creep decided to stroll through a largely vacant building? They got quite a load of good stuff. What I can remember being in the purse included: driver's license, 2 credit cards (work and personal), two debit cards (same), a copy of my medical license, a smallish amount of cash, some hard candy, my cool little pocket sized, waterproof, Olympus camera (only 6 months old), a check book and who knows what else? They also scored some medication from a prescription that I had just filled. Can't get that refilled for a month. At least I have insurance! Oh they took that card too.
I had less in the purse than I sometimes carry (being a pack rat) because I had cleaned it out a bit prior to traveling. But now I have to piece together a new set of papers and cancel out all the old ones. I sure hope no one uses my stuff to steal my identity. But what can you do? It is painful to go the better part of a week without credit or debit cards. I know I'll get new ones in the mail shortly but in the meantime I have to ask my husband for cash (makes me relate better to my 15 year old). I'm not used to asking for money and it irks me. No impulse buying for me this week either.
I did get a new purse out of the deal. I actually like the one I found. It felt strange to go shopping with my one piece of ID in a cloth bag and a bunch of cash. Maybe I should have gotten my hair dyed blonde to complete the new identity.
Today I went and replaced my driver's license. Normally I don't sing the praises of government offices (don't get me going on my last trip to the passport office!) but this was a delightful experience. 15 minutes and $5 later I had an exact replica of the old license. It sure isn't our parent's DMV! I also got a new library card today but that's another story.
The purse will hopefully remind me not to get too attached to things. All in all, I'll recover just fine. Maybe a little more cynical, but there you have it.
On a happier note, today is the beginning of the Jewish New Year. Whatever your faith and background, may you have a good and sweet New Year. For those who are not in the know, one tradition this holiday is to dip apples in honey. You should try it!

L'Shanah Tovah Tikateyvu--may you be inscribed for a good new year.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Moody Monday--Ugly

Ugly in a pretty kind of way. Or is it pretty in an ugly kind of way. In either case, it is a cicada.

The eyes have it

Tuesday Challenge--Rock

Granite Rocks!

Granite Rocks

I enjoy looking at rocks up close. This rock was seen in the Grand Tetons. The granite there seemed to be especially interesting with veins of white, black and gray. I wonder how it would do for a countertop. Of course, I'd rather leave it in situ and visit again next year.

Sunday, September 09, 2007



One thing I noticed on my recent road trip was that the amount of cautionary signs intended to save us from ourselves has increased. Signs that say things such as: large wild animals are dangerous, geysers are hot, it is not good to fall off a cliff, don't step here, don't light off firecrackers in dry brush and so on. I know these signs are intended for the public good and that certain idiots (you know who you are) need to be told these things but the overall effect is at times similar to to my response to the warnings that my cup of coffee may be hot, i.e. "Duh!"

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Moody Monday--Posh

Louis Vuitton Window, Milan

Louis Vuitton in Milan, Italy

Photo Friday--Insignificant

Swarm of gnats

Gnats at a summer picnic.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Antique Porta-Potty?

Antique Porta-Potty

Seen near Mazama, Washington.

Monday, September 03, 2007