Thursday, February 13, 2014

Memory's Radio Dial

Another snow day here. The kids went out and played in it early, before the snow began to fall heavily. Now the flakes seem to be howling in every direction, criss-crossing and drifting into high corners around our 20's Cape-style house. Despite how so totally over the snow I am this season, it's still beautiful, peaceful and quiet on our little street.

Well, it's kind of quiet. My house is occasionally rattling with the boys' floor hockey games, wrestling, epic Xbox battles, hula hoop contests, chocolate milk messes and hilarious Facetime chats with friends. Wet boots, snow pants, hats and gloves drape every radiator on the first floor of the house, and the dogs are playing musical chairs as they rearrange sleeping positions on the couch in between chewing bones and tracking in snow. I'm not complaining. I love it. These days are fleeting, and before I know it I will be a 49 year old empty nester lonesome for these moments with my witty, handsome sidekicks.

Still, I have to carve out my own little headspace here somehow on these long, crowded, housebound days. I can--and do--escape to my room or the study/sewing room/guest room/yoga room to do a little yoga, meditate, get crafty, read or just exhale. Sometimes, like today, I write. I am also the queen of the 30+ minute shower. Maybe that's the Pisces in me. But oftentimes all it takes is some music and mundane chores to get me out of my head and into some kind of winter-defying catharsis. Give me a sponge, a counter and some music, and I'm good to go.

But what I choose to listen to these days depends upon not only the mood I'm in--or want to be in--but also what memories I'm feeling brave enough to conjure up. After more than 40 blessed years of this amazing, wacky life, there are very few songs on my personal rotation that aren't tethered to some kind of memory. I guess that's what happens when you're raised by teenage wolves and wean yourself on punk rock.

Some of my earliest memories involve music. Being the daughter of a teenage mom who was the oldest of her siblings, I grew up in a loud, political and well-read Irish-Catholic household that always--always--had some kind of music playing. One of my very first memories is from when I was about three, and my Uncle Danny was about 18. It was 1976. I sat on his tapestry-covered bed and pleaded with him to play Bowie's Diamond Dogs. I would squeal and scream, terrified and thrilled, every time Bowie's howl began. As soon as it ended, I would cry, "Again!" As always, Danny obliged. Upstairs, in the room my mother shared with one of her sisters, I would dance with my mom to Sonny and Cher's "I Got You, Babe". My mom would hold me in her arms, smelling of sand, salt and Ban de Soleil suntan lotion, and we would spin around the room singing, laughing, smiling. When I was five, I would hang my head off the bottom of my mother's bed and stare at the ceiling, picking apart all of the instruments on Springteen's "Thunder Road". Next to me, my mom's sister brushed her beautiful long, dark hair, stubbed out a Marlboro into a Wedgewood ashtray and spritzed herself with Chanel No. 5 before running off to bartend at the beach club. Then, alone in the room, I would pick up the needle and set it down again at the beginning of the song, resume my spot on the bed, and listen to piano. Saxophone. Guitar. Bass. Drums. Piano. Piano.

The Rolling Stones and Beatles were obvious staples of my youth, along with CCR, CSNY, Zeppelin, the Who, the Faces and a lot of other "classic" rock. As I aged, my tastes never changed as much as they compounded. I added punk, hardcore, rap and some new wave and pop to my repertoire. From U2 to Minor Threat, Pavement to Fugazi, Liz Phair to Public Enemy, the Clash to Norah Jones, and everything in between, there is a lot of music in the back pocket of my heart. Each of these artists and more represent moments and, more acutely, relationships in my life. No longer 20 with it all ahead of me, I'm now 40 with it all ahead of me and a whole lot behind me. Family discord, divorce, financial struggle, poor choices, loss, unrequited love and heartbreak are all reflected somewhere in a stack of records or in files on my iPod. But that's not all. My children, good friendships, good career moves and integrity in motherhood, work and self are all reflected in there, too. The problem is, some days I can handle songs from my past. I love them. I sing them at the top my lungs. Other days, not so much.

Other days, no lie, I sometimes feel a wave of anxiety course through me when I hear a long-forgotten or avoided song, depending on my association with it. But while a year or two ago I might have immediately skipped the track or turned the dial upon hearing it, in recent months I've given over to letting a dreaded song and any related feelings toward it wash over me. Music and the moments connected to it is part of me, like it or not. To deny it is to deny myself, my full story. That said, some songs truly suck, and I won't listen to them anymore no matter what the association--this goes mainly for some mid-80's pop songs that are as horrendous as my middle school memories linked to them. But there are certain songs that I've buried for years, unable to listen to them because I couldn't accept something about the memory attached to them. Now, for whatever reason, I'm more accepting of the past as just that: over. No more do I hang to hope that some old, broken relationships will bear new fruit. From family to friendships, some losses just have to be cut and dealt with.

What is is about a relationship that we hang on to, anyway? Isn't it about how we felt about ourselves when we were in it? When I was five, my mother's family was large and full of messy, noisy love. I felt good as a little McGuire kid. As years went on and patriarchs and matriarchs passed on, the family became smaller, and full of messy, noisy resentment and even downright cruelty. At times I lamented this shift, and I wondered why it couldn't be like it used to be. But sometime in more recent years I woke up. I realized that the family had always been the same, but that I no longer saw it through the lens of childhood. Yet that didn't mean I couldn't hold on to those feelings of messy, noisy love within myself. I could still feel good as a McGuire, even if the McGuire's aren't much of anything anymore.

The same goes for other relationships. What we miss is not always the person--although sometimes that pain is undeniable. Often what we miss is how good we felt about ourselves while in that relationship. That doesn't have to end when someone leaves, or dies, or when we walk away from something that no longer serves us. It also doesn't mean that a relationships was healthy just because it evoked positive sense of self for us. It can simply mean that, even for a brief moment in time, someone crossed our path--even if only with shadows--to help us see our own light. Memories are just feelings we have about ourselves in moments that are frozen in time.

I didn't particularly like "Thunder Road" for a while. And there are some songs or even entire albums that I don't ever need to hear again, simply because they don't stand the test of time. But there are songs I loved that I have avoided because of the hurt I associated with them. Not anymore. What's done is done. I have given up on the past, and that is one thing I have to give up on if I want to have hope for now and for the future. But the sunshiney, warm, summery love I have for myself in spite of the past lives on, baby. It's all I came with into this world, and it's the only thing I'll be able to take with me. So I might as well sing along to its soundtrack while I'm here.


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