Go ahead. Listen to it. Listening to this section of Beethoven’s 15th string quartet isn’t necessary to an understanding of this post, but why pass up listening to some of this wonderful music while reading?
But in many ways, I do wish that listening to this music would help a reader understand me. I even uploaded this video years ago, but I don’t think my bad montage of images matched to sounds is particularly meaningful or expressive of me. No, this video was uploaded when I was firmly entrenched in my fondest delusion, which I am just barely growing out of now. We all have an erroneous belief that we cling to, knowing that one beloved lie can mean more to us than a dozen truths. In writing this blog post, I’m halfway hoping that someone will chime in with proof that my delusion is, in fact, one of life’s attainable miracles.
So here’s my security blanket: by sharing my favorite music and books, I can help other people know me. If I can find someone to listen or read, then they will understand me and justify my years of loneliness and waiting by being a true friend. Not being a religious person, this connection to others through art and ideas is the closest I come to spirituality. It’s a human bond that I desperately want but haven’t ever experienced. But the fallacy is that I expect my music and books to say too much to the other person. I expect a listener–who is, after all, a friend that I’ve known for at least a few months–to feel the same way I do about it so that they understand my emotional attachment to a specific crunchy chord.
I think this is a belief system that teenagers trust implicitly in. A band’s picture on a t-shirt can be enough to start a conversation, and by sharing a CD or a book people are sharing something that holds a guaranteed emotional reaction for the them. The anticipation that builds up whenever I share a cherished album or novel with someone who has the potential to be more than an acquaintance is gnashing; these shared artworks are an integral part of my development and, as such, I’ve often got a wealth of significant memories attached to that work. I don’t insist on sharing those memories with others, largely because if the person likes this Beethoven string quartet, for example, then my story about how I played this exact performance for my mother when my dad was first diagnosed with kidney cancer just draws attention away from the music. The attention becomes overbearing and they are past the point of caring about the music–I don’t want pity, even though I’ll inevitably share how I told my mother about this piece being Beethoven’s “Holy Song of Thanksgiving” for surviving a life-threatening stomach ailment. To set the scene, I’ll also have to describe how we were driving the 75 miles back home from Tucson after leaving my father in a hospital ward, the night’s thick, horizon-level moon staring at us.The fact that my dad died in less than a month due to inoperable blood clots is beside the point. Yes, sharing this music helps me to tell painful stories. That’s how I started introducing this piece. And isn’t that just a tad obsessive and off-putting?
And isn’t it mad that I sorta expect someone to listen to the Beethoven and know exactly how I felt when I learned he had cancer–a mix of numb and dumb grief which only spouts platitudes and my own sense of weak, superstitious hope reinforcing itself?
I can’t help it. I am afraid of scaring off anyone who is willing to listen to me, but I always kindly assume that the other person is just as happy to talk to me as I am to talk to them. I tend to reveal far too many secrets and emotional moments during first meetings. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not all doom and gloom. I joke at first, clear-headed enough to just enjoy the other person’s company. But after 4-5 hours, when we’ve all laughed together, I start to talk about family disappointments and deaths. I try to be concise. And I’m not trying to be the center of attention, scout’s honor–I’m hoping other people will share with me as well. I want them to know that I’m capable of emotional discussion. And by sharing music and books, which are encased emotions and thoughts, I hope that these conversations will be easier. The art will reveal myself to others and make bonding a less directly emotional task. It won’t be me who has to explain all of my feelings in detail–the music will hoist the main load and be a far more eloquent communicator than me.
There’s a reason for this. I spent much of my teen years being solitary, finding understanding in books, music, and occasionally film. I would trust what I found and, for lack of a less sappy concept, the artworks would be my friends. It’s incredibly hard to explain oneself intelligibly. I feel that way whenever I sit down to write, even for a blog post. With a book, the dialogue all takes place in my mind. I can instantly accept or refute a phrase without argument. I only have to worry about understanding my own reactions, and frequently a well-written book will introduce me to ideas that I had barely formulated, or music will help me delve into and connect with emotions that I hadn’t been aware of before. But I have to remember that understanding people in books isn’t a substitute for understanding real people. Now that I’m done with college, I’ve found myself in a similar situation to my friendless teenage self. It’s back to relying on books and ideas for me. And that’s why I expect these printed interlocutors to act as emissaries. But I have to remind myself that that simply doesn’t work.
And yes, I realize this all sounds terribly needy. I am high-strung, over-analytical, and needy. Geez, is that a singles ad or what? But that’s only a part of me, just as those are aspects of all of us. And I’m thankful that, as far as I can tell, those aspects aren’t the first impressions I give. I do “confess” myself to near strangers after a few hours, but I also wait months to share with some people. We all judge how much we feel comfortable telling a friend depending on their personality, the circumstances, and the length of time we’ve spent together. Grant me the tact to deal with these issues accordingly in a friendship, even if I’ve soberly spilled my life out to nice people like a drunkard. Believe me, those moments of sharing and feeling understood are intoxicating. But I never feel more lucid, so well-balanced in intellect and emotion, than when I try to tell others who I am. And then I listen. But it’s worst when I’m answered by shocked, pitying silence. Most people just try to comfort me with lowered, quivering voices. But I don’t want comfort for my dead dad. I want a pact of understanding between friends. So the worst silence of all is when I never learn about the other person’s inner self, their fears and their tears.
I don’t need to hear them instantly. I’ve grown past the teenage concept of love in which I can please and possess others, just as surely as I’d have given myself over to be loved and possessed by them. I want to understand and be understood. But after months of not hearing about their life beyond the surface, I can’t help but feel rejected. Even if they’re not as willing to share as me, shouldn’t people realize that I would be willing to listen?
And that is perhaps my favorite delusion: I want to believe that, when I love and care for someone, I am entitled to a glimpse of their secret self, a being of garbled emotions and problems whom most people never get a chance to meet. I don’t want the word “entitled” to sound demanding, but then again I am describing love here. Love is the most demanding thing out there and it is capable of terrorist tactics. We all just try to control those impulses, but there’s no doubt about it. Any relationship, platonic, familial, or romantic, involves secret sharing. I was that kid who, at 13, asked my parents to tell me their problems. I wanted to know, I wanted to help even if those problems would have been beyond my means to fix. That aspect is part of what makes confessions so attractive to a 13 year old; they make the listener somewhat noble and grandiose, at least helpful.
So I played Beethoven. Hearing the rising moments of the music in which musicologists have fancied Beethoven was depicting his own resurgence of energy, I told my mom that we could hope for a full recovery. This movement became a symbol, and symbols are dangerous tools on our emotions. I didn’t believe in god at that point, so this was my way of comforting my mom. She didn’t know I was an atheist yet, so we didn’t have to fight over prayers. We could bond and it had to be with music and words. Those are much more tangible and reliable than religion anyway.
At any rate, I live for these moments of pure emotion and understanding. Consequences aren’t thought of. The only thing clear in the forefront of my mind in such moments is a whole-hearted belief in the other person, a faith in their capabilities and their endurance. The one potential delusion that I will never dare question is whether or not the other person feels the same way about these moments as I do, because those moments are when I most need someone to believe in me.
PS – In case you’ve stayed with me and want to listen to the whole Beethoven slow movement, here’s the rest: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vRBH4xt4k9A