Driving in the car not long ago, I discovered a clutch radio station, 96.5, KOIT. Passing mile marker after mile marker on a long drive, or sitting in traffic following an airport run for a member of my community, I find solace in KOIT and in their ‘non-stop workday’ playlist — Better music for a better workday. The long stream of tunes they have on air between commercials is all familiar; like, really familiar – I know practically every song by heart.
So I do what anyone else would do when I hear the familiar downbeat – I sing. Loudly. Confidently. Enthusiastically.
My novice classmates called me Jukebox for a brief spell because of my penchant for song lyrics. I’ve never really had a nickname in my life; they never seem to stick. But it seemed to them that I could intone any song, any time, any where. It seems that way to me, too – I’m a pretty sick karaoke artist.
It’s not only when I’m listening to the radio, but even in passing or casual conversation because it only takes a single reference or word to spark a song in me, and the connections are, at times, not apparent to the untrained (read: not me) mind.
“Wow! Not a cloud in the sky!” one of my friends might say and it launches me into a rendition of U2’s “Beautiful Day”.
On primary night a few weeks ago, I couldn’t stop singing “Oklahoma!” anytime the news anchor mentioned the state, much to the chagrin of the men trying to watch election returns with me.
An invitation from a friend to grab a salad for lunch led me to a random line in a virtually unknown song from a lackluster musical, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” – And I owe it all to roughage! Rough- rough- rough- rough- roughage! – Yes. A real song. It was the ‘40s.
Where others have given over some of their mental RAM to statistics, facts, figures, lines from Shakespeare or famed poets, I have – willingly or unwillingly – made space for song lyrics. Lots of them. I fear these songs lyrics take up a disproportionate amount of space in my brain, and in my life.
When I was a kid, my mother would ask me: ‘how do you know these songs, from the 60s and 70s? This is my era!’ I never had an answer for her. Songs just have a way of seeping into my brain, somehow absorbed and locked away somewhere deep in my memory, surfacing in strange, sometimes unwanted, ways.
Driving in the car not long ago, singing along to some trashy pop tune, I turned to my passenger and asked: I wonder who I would be if I didn’t have all these lyrics in my head? They’re helpful for my amateur karaoke career, but not much else.
I keep returning to the question. Who would I be?
If song lyrics didn’t take up such a large amount of space in my noggin, I wonder: would I be a scientist with a cure for cancer? Or a lawyer with a brilliant argument in defense of something important? Maybe I’d be an inventor with an idea that could stand to benefit humanity or I’d become some sort of mystic with a new insight into the faith or spirituality that I hold dear.
But I’m none of those things. I’m just a graduate student and karaoke enthusiast, which isn’t much. And the reality of this depresses me a bit. Who would I be if I could just be rid of these things that, in the end, are so unimportant?
I pressed shuffle on my iTunes while I was cleaning my room last weekend and Frank Sinatra came on singing a love song written long before my time. “What’ll I Do?”, he crooned.
His sung question was different than what I had been asking – who would I be?
As I finished dusting and remaking my bed, listening to Frank and singing along (because, of course, I know all the words) I realized that I had been asking the wrong question. I wasn’t thinking about who I could be, really, but rather what could I do if I was free of my perceived limitation, those pesky song lyrics. But those same lyrics had led me to remember something I had pushed aside or drowned out: being and doing are not the same.
At the end of a car ride or election night, I am who I am: deeply flawed, limited, finite, distracted, a pretty fabulous karaoke artist – you name it. But Frank’s question helped me realize that ‘what I make of myself’ is not as valuable as ‘how I am made.’
That my worth is based more in my imperfect yet loved creation, rather than anything I might create? That’s something worth singing about.
What’ll I do? What will you?
That’s a question for people who know who they are.
The cover photo, from Flickr user David Sorich, can be found here.