Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Snooping Around On Someone Else’s iPod

It’s amazing how music taps into a part of your emotional memory that few other things can. I’m staying at Christine’s place while I pack up my stuff and visit friends before moving to NYC. This morning I saw her iPod and decided to poke around her music collection. She has a massive selection of cheesy 80s music! I love it! Remember that song “I’ll Be There” by Escape Club?

Don’t be afraid,
Oh my love,
I’ll be watching you from above,
I’d give all the world tonight to be with you,
Cause I’m on your side,
I still care,
I may have died but I’ve gone nowhere.
Just think of me,
And I’ll be there.

What a tear-jerker. It conjures up all the feelings of loss that I’ve ever had in recent and not-so-recent memory, the losses in life that are permanent and irreversible. Not necessarily people who’ve died, but people, places and ways of life that only exist in my memory. Like childhood – the comfort and predictability of going to school, being taken care of by my parents, my biggest worries whether I’d pass chemistry or miss the bus or be ready for my piano recital.

I think I’m feeling an impending sense of loss from leaving San Francisco, on Friday, for the third time in my life, and this makes the song particularly relevant. I’ve just arrived in the one place that always feels like home, and now I’m leaving it for New York City, a town that I think I outgrew in my early 20s. It’s too fast, too loud, too intense, too crowded, too stinky, too dirty. And I’m too old.

[Rewind a little.] What really opens the floodgates about this song is the idea that loss is never complete. “Just think of me, and I’ll be there.” There’s comfort in being told that this person, this place, this part of your life, will always be a part of you even if there’s no evidence of it anymore. Human memory gives life to things when nothing in our physical world can.

There’s something both hopeful and tragic about this to me. Memories are powerful. They make you who you are, and who other people are to you. They give emotional significance to what you know. That’s why I’m an expert at manipulating my own memories to make certain things less painful. But when things change in our lives, when people move in and out of it, when we leave or return to places, our memories – not photos, letters, or other artifacts – are what preserve the things that physical loss can’t take away from us. And memories live more strongly when other people share them with us. But if a memory fades, the loss becomes complete.

And then I found “YMCA” on Christine’s iPod, and I thought of the time I was in an internet café in Kenya. Charles, another Peace Corps volunteer, and I were killing time waiting for a bus to Eldoret. I was pre-occupied with an email when this song came on the radio, but as the chorus came up Charles poked his head over his monitor and said, “Are you ready?” Without missing a beat, and still in our chairs, we both started singing and spelling with our arms in time to the music.

“It’s fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A!”

“It’s fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A!”

The guy working there didn’t even crack a smile or stare. That’s when you know you’ve really crossed a line in the host culture, when you’ve done something so shocking that a Kenyan completely suppresses any reaction so as not to appear distraught by you.

Young man, there's no need to feel down.
I said, young man, pick yourself off the ground.
I said, young man, 'cause you're in a new town
There's no need to be unhappy.

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