Sunday, January 29, 2012

Nerves Shot

I am a highly excitable person. And I am proud to be the genetic descendant of a long line of highly excitable people. Half my family is highly excitable, and the other half near-comatose. Whether this is a mere coincidence or a Darwinian-honed survival skill, I will not venture to guess. But I have my theories.

I am psychologist who has endured countless years of graduate study related to human behavior, as well as innumerable seminars purporting to train mental health professionals to use "coping skills" meant to keep such excitability at bay. However, one of the reasons I was able to get a doctoral degree and spend subsequent years preparing for grueling licensing examinations (while birthing and rearing babies--at times while simultaneously participating in the aforementioned professional activities) is because I am hard-wired to resist the "mindfulness" and "guided relaxation" practices that my academic predecessors espouse. Those that can, do; those that can't, spend years in graduate school in order to have a prayer of someday being employable.

So it is not surprising that for me both nature and nurture collided and I produced at least one child predisposed to the irrepressibility of spirit that has marked many generations of my bloodline. Take a hair-trigger startle reflex, add a hefty dose of killer competitiveness, and mix in a "the world sucks" mentality, and you get a sense of half the DNA my poor children have inherited. And not from their father.

One of the best ways to witness one's personality quirks in vivo is to go out in public. Preferably in a highly charged environment like a sporting event in which one's child is a participant. Seriously, what's the deal with those parents calmly sitting on the sidelines, quietly returning to the Atlantic article they were reading when their child is not on the court? And the parental dyads with a single offspring who are thoughtfully discussing how junior's Kenpo training helps him better execute a zone defense? These alien creatures add to the stress of watching boys of startling variability in height, athletic prowess and attentional skills attempt to win a basketball game. Hello??? Sports, like politics, are a BFD, and are no place for calm and reason.

Recently, I was seated next to a quiet couple whose son apparently was on the same team with my child. I have no idea which boy belonged to them, because they watched the game with no reaction whatsoever. They most likely had no idea which child was mine either, because I was bellowing "DEE-FENSE!!!!!," "shoot... Shoot..... SHOOT!!!!!" to any 10 year old wearing white on the court in front of me. Perhaps it became evident which boy was my offspring when four of the five boys responded to my directives with a blank stare, while one appeared agitated by every play and each call by the referee. Trust me, nothing rattles the nerves of we high-strungers more than the piercing shriek of a whistle in the midst of bouncing balls, waving arms, and pungent odor.

The nice parents next to me politely nodded as I shared with them our family philosophy of how basketball is just a game, and the important thing is to have fun and support your team. I may not have had a chance to fully explain our Zen approach to sports because at that moment my son appeared distressed at a call by the ref, prompting me to calmly excuse myself from the conversation with these lovely people to provide my son emotional guidance: "JESUS CHRIST! CALM THE HELL DOWN!"

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Freewheelin' Eminem

I am lucky. 

My commute to work is about as short as it can be while still requiring shoes to be worn. This is particularly good for someone like me who has no patience whatsoever, and is temperamentally wired for road rage, even when there is no pavement in sight.

Although I am a total news junkie, I admit to having virtually no interest in my local news. I am woefully ignorant of anything going on within a 50-mile radius of my home, unless it shows up on my Yahoo news home page, the Rachel Maddow Show, or MLB-TV's Intentional Talk. Which, interestingly, happens with a surprising degree of regularity. The 10-minute drive to and from work is the one time I get stuck hearing about corruption in local government (as opposed to my nightly updates on MSNBC about corruption in national government), thwarted Amber alerts, and union strikes. 

The radio is set to the local CBS affiliate for my quickie jaunt to and from work. Why this particular station? I don't think I have watched a show on CBS-TV since the mid 1970s (loved The Jeffersons!). But when I bought my car in 2002, this station was apparently already programmed in the factory-installed radio settings. I was mostly listening to baby-oriented CDs in the car anyway. Why complicate life?

Well, this all changed after a recent visit with my brother. We both have kids who are now old enough to listen to music beyond Dan Zanes and Laurie Berkner. Well, he has a toddler too, but that kid has a rock n' roll brother, so I am guessing that kid is not listening to Music for Aardvarks. Although my brother was once the unfortunate recipient of a Spandau Ballet-themed birthday present (Cassette! Calendar! Pictures!) from yours truly, he has managed to cultivate pretty decent taste in music. 

We were talking about recent iTunes downloads, and thrown in with Adele, White Stripes, Jay-Z, was Eminem. Huh? And maybe some Vanilla Ice too? No, just an Eminem song that is pretty violent, but not gang-violent, more domestic violent. Sounded like a winner. But I was desperate for some new tunes, so download I did. 

Who knew how awesome Eminem is? OK, I know I am about a decade behind. But for those of us who only listen to music for the words, MM is a barrage of lyrical denseness--but in a good way. Yes, I was reared on classical music and piano lessons but the former was torture for a fidgety kids and the latter was fun only because each piano piece was a puzzle to master and then forget. I have never been one for instrumental interludes. Sure, Freebird rocks because the extended guitar solo provided not only a respite from the awkwardness of 10th grade dances, but an awesome opportunity to show off air-guitar skills perfected in front of the bathroom mirror. Stairway to Heaven was better because it let us do a gut-wrenching Robert Plant into our hand/mike, while a BFF did a Jimmy Page air-guitar riff. Parallel play for tweens. 

But even for a lyric-focused gal like myself, words alone don't cut it. I abhor poetry. I spent years pretending to be enthralled by Allen Ginsberg, Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. But all the howling, loafing and not stopping for death bored me to tears. Any verse of Shakespeare's sonnets makes me want to hurl myself off a Verona balcony. Yes, I was an English major, but not that kind of English major. 

The interplay of music and lyrics, however, is infinitely more engaging. Music is a pattern. Often a mind-numbing, synthesized or percussive pattern, while lyrics are a puzzle. Puzzles alone are not as challenging as when they are superimposed on the structure of a pattern. The beat, intonation, message of the words needs to be worked and reworked until it meets the specifications of the parameters of the music. Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen are masters. Carole King and James Taylor get it. Counting Crows and Matchbox 20 even have their moments. Even Taylor Swift. Joni Mitchell, too, but better when others cover her songs. 

And I will add Eminem to this mix. At least the two songs I downloaded that didn't blare incoherently at me during my 30-second iTunes preview. Both songs that made the my-frazzled-nerves-can-only-handle-so-much download cut are syncopated insights into complex human situations. Every line is filled with deliberately chosen words that are so jammed into the beat that it takes dozens of listens before you figure out where to take a breath when chanting along. My poor children are getting freaked out at my shrieking: "DON'T YOU HEAR SINCERITY IN MY VOICE WHEN I TALK?" at them, a line from "Love the Way You  Lie." The songs are only slightly marred by faux-British pronounciations of words to make a rhyme work, but isn't Eminem from Detroit like Madonna, so maybe Michigan residents have a Continental intonation? And by the inclusion of "guest" singers, like Rihanna, to add a repetitive riff. Rappers: No need to be so insecure that you need to "feature" others on your songs. 

Luckily, my two token downloads of Eminem brilliance are each short enough to get multiple plays on the way home before picking up the kids from school. I now know absolutely nothing about what is going on in my city but, frankly, if it doesn't make it to Rachel in the evening, it probably wasn't that important anyway. But, I must admit, I am becoming a pretty darn good white old lady rapper.