April 17, 2020

Soundtrack diary by amylynn

If I never hear the phrases “these challenging times,” or “sheltering in place/social distancing,” again it may be too soon. That being said, let’s talk about these challenging times having to shelter in place and social distance, because we need solutions. Creative solutions. Hey, that’s my specialty, so here goes. As I walk through “this” what I am seeing is people trying to put on a brave face (one of my all-time favorite coping responses, by the way, also known as “acting as if.”) I see acts of selflessness and service that truly are inspiring. I see Maslow’s Pyramid in more posts than I care to admit and some really, really funny points of reference, including one sent to me by a client that said: “You think the world won’t re-open? Jurassic Park reopened five times and people were eaten alive. FIVE TIMES. EATEN ALIVE.”  I’ve had several moments with people this week, clients and strangers alike, where I’ve brought in music or some other genuine emotional conjugate, and their demeanor has melted to reveal what’s really happening.

I see my own visceral somatic reactions in response to circumstances that my Amygdala recognizes as threatening. Lack of appetite, loss of motivation, and a strong desire to hide in the music. Growing up in a chaotic household (that’s putting it in much prettier terms than it actually was), I retreated to a room in the house called the “Library.” It was full of books that my Father had left behind, and it had a record player and empty space. I had sort of turned it into a play room, except that all I really needed was my imagination. That, and the right recording seemed to transport me to a place where I felt safe. I spent hours standing in that room, listening to the same records over and over and over again, telling the story I both needed to tell, and envisioning the one that would be better someday. I’m about to date myself here, but my favorite record at that time was Oliva Newton-John’s “If You Love Me, Let Me Know.” It came out the year I was born, 1972, so it wasn’t exactly topping the charts in the early 80’s, but somehow I found it, and it told my story. I was too young to understand what the lyrics were referring to, “The river’s too wide now for crossing, the waters rush too loud for talking, we never build bridges for walking, ‘cause the river’s too wide.” I thought it was about an actual bridge malfunction and the need for more infrastructure.  In later years I found a friend on my high school choir tour bus across Michigan who also LOVED that album and wrote a parody with me of The River’s Too Wide entitled “My Thighs Are Too Wide.” We laughed our way from Petosky to the Upper Peninsula. Thinking back on both connections gives me comfort on a day where I’m having trouble finding any anywhere else.

So that got me thinking, about offering this tool to my community. It can be hard to name what we are feeling right now. That same client who sent me the JP quote said to me last night that she isn’t sure what day it is anymore and has felt furious, scared, suicidal, re-born, inspired, completely done and open to new beginnings— and that’s just in the last hour. Ok, maybe I embellished a little, but you get the idea. What could be better than letting music do the naming? I often put my IPOD Shuffle (dating myself again!) on random and just let it speak to me.

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of walking with IPOD, you may be familiar with this technique of late. Lots of overly morose tunes have resonated, but one that I seemed to like from a few years back really took me to an important place. It wasn’t that the song itself has anything new to say. It talks about “Holding my own in this great big storm,” which is obviously ap pra po right about now, but it was more the sincerity of the narrative the male singer offers about his process that called to me, not just because of what he says, but because of what I was experiencing at that time. He talks about hating himself, about not being sure he’ll wake up the next day, about hanging in there, the world falling down around him, losing faith in everything from chemicals to friends and so on. What I remembered when it came on was another client (see, you guys are always with me). He was a fellow dealing with a Bi-Polar diagnosis who was just having a difficult time functioning. Smart, interesting, coupled with a wonderful partner, but lost to the demons within himself. He didn’t choose this song (I think he would have hated this song actually, and thought it to be corny and below him) but I was listening to it during the time he was in treatment and it always reminds me of his struggle.

As I write this I’m watching the video on You Tube. Nate Ruess** is dancing in the street while it’s raining, a high school band playing behind him, and suddenly the cast of what looks like RENT rejects is slamming “air hands” down to emphasize strong beats. I’ll never understand videos despite being a child of the MTV age, because if you listen to a song, whatever you are looking at can become the music video. Try that some time while you’re driving (if you ever go anywhere again). My point, and I do have one, is that the story that goes with the song can change. I listened to the song the other day while doing lunges in the back parking lot at the studio, feeling the loss of my expected plans to open, my usual routines, exterior motivations I depend on, coming back to music and the how it  helps me to feel heard. It’s the struggle. The struggle of wanting to “hold my own,” and let it all go, in the same hour. This song embodies that concept in another way (you can find it digitally online easily). It has these really “cheesy” moments (musically, but especially lyrically), surrounded by a few really piercing, vulnerable disclosures. I can’t decide if it’s deep or laughable. Perhaps THAT sums up how I’m feeling right now.

We discussed this in my support group recently. The stop and go of now. The not knowing is killing self-described control freaks like myself. And, yet, it is what is happening. So, what now? I recommend naming your soundtrack. You can do this in a few different ways:

  1. Type your feeling words into the search field with “song” added and see what music comes up.
  2. Shuffle your play lists and see what seems to resonate, pull you, speak for you, or simply how you are feeling about what you hear, it will tell you a lot about what’s really happening within you.
  3. Create the ongoing Covid-19/2020 playlist. Document your experience using music, because someday you’re going to want to remember what this felt like.
  4. Ask someone you care about, or someone who just needs it, to name how they are using a song. Be with them in what is true for them in this moment.

I challenge you to post a song title or link on our HOPE FB page that speaks to your experience right now. One thing we CAN share is music, and by God, I think we should. You never know who you might help, who needs to hear that, now.

** Great Big Storm, by Nate Ruess, 2015.