In search of story


Ears, part 2

It started when I was very young. Both my parents were musicians. When Mom went to choir practice, Dad played records for my brother and me. The “Largo al factotum” was very big on the dad playlist, and we were good at the Figaros. “Peter and the Wolf” was regularly featured. Listening was the game. My ears had a sharp growth spurt.

In kindergarten, I started piano lessons. In sixth grade, organ. Listening stretched from two hands on eighty-eight keys to both feet, manuals, stops, foot pedals. My ears grew muscular.

Piano study continued for about sixteen years, and my ears became Olympian in stature.

One day I discovered I was alone with Mom’s cancer and Dad’s dementia. And I also discovered that most other people did not have ears. They could not — or would not — hear about caregiving.

Meanwhile, I heard: the sounds of caregiving built up within me. They were relentless, soulless sounds, from all the rookeries where razor-beaked anxieties bred: hospitals, doctors’ offices, midnight vigils. I was the trapped, the carrion. I couldn’t get away from it. Suffering, dying, fear and sound. Endless sound. Televisions, loudspeakers, tapes, videos, medical machines, floorboards, plumbing in eternal crescendo.

Do you think I exaggerate? Then you don’t know about caregiving.

I didn’t realize until after the deaths how deep the damage. Sound, especially music, suffocated me. I’d have to get away from it, get out so I could breathe. Or I would focus all my energy on not running, unable to concentrate on anything else.

Caregiving had made sound intolerable, and I couldn’t not listen.

I’m better now but not all right. Ears remember.


Ears, part 1

Music. As personal a preference as fragrance, color, chili recipes. You like this; I like that. It’s so simple. Except in how the preference is lived. If we could just honor each other’s preferences, how much calmer life would be.

If I have to listen to your music, I become agitated, depressed, paranoid, homicidal. MAKE IT STOP, sobs my brain. No, that’s wrong: it’s my spirit sobbing. Music speaks to our spirits. That’s why you love your music and I love mine. And sometimes the twain cannot meet.

I do not insist that you listen to my music, so why do you insist that I listen to yours? Well, no, dear reader, not you, of course, but the world in general.

I love various kinds of music, none of which includes popular singing, which causes my entire brain to writhe in empathetic agony. To me, most performers sound racked, strangled, not because of pathos in the music but because of the strain in their voices. They sound like my smoke alarms. Yet these contorted voices are enjoyed by others. I don’t understand that but I don’t have to. As long as I don’t have to listen to them, I am magnanimously enthusiastic about the pleasure they afford others.

We react to music. Not just with toe-tapping or head-banging, but with something deep inside. Music reaches into us while something inside us reaches out to it. That is not insignificant.

So what’s your point, Maureen? My point is we should respect each other’s ears because in so doing we respect each other’s spirits.


The hurly-BURLy

It is with abject horror that I approach this season. My ears quail in anticipation; my brain quivers: it’s time for Christmas Shopping Music. By all the gods and fates and muses, even the culture that spawned reality stars doesn’t deserve this!

At all times of the year, most retail businesses have their “music” turned up to unhealthy decibel levels. But at Christmas time, they go one worse: Burl Ives. Should be Burl Hives because I can feel the brain histamine rush as the holly-jollies fill the air and my neurons swell and itch.

I have voted that goatee’d jingle the most like torture, the national anthem of the overwhelmingly unmusical cacophony of it all. Sound that wraps us in a kinetic swaddle of twaddle: rhythm and volume and mindlessness. Is it supposed to make us spend? It makes me run. I am a danger to others when Burl Ives comes through those ceiling speakers.

Did Burl know that he would come to be this obnoxious? And how about Bing? Did he know that his mele-kaliki-whatever would weary us in footsore lines? Did Gene Autry, whose voice conjures memories of 78s and a distant childhood, know that he would be sucked into this sameness? I’d rather hear Champion. Which, of course, brings us to The Chipmunks. My knees buckle.

Tune it out, you say? At this decibel level? It would be like trying to tune out a jackhammer. Besides, I am not one of the lucky ones who can shut out sound. Even were it all quietly played, I’d still hear it. The monotony of a billion parumpapumpums is — for me — inescapable.

The obvious solution to this problem is to shop only at the library until January. I’ll let you know how that goes.