Today, I plugged new headphones into my iPod and entered nirvana.
That may seem somewhat dramatic, but trust me, it’s not. I had been limping along in headphone purgatory for months. One side worked, the other didn’t. I could hear the music, and most of the melody and generally all of the lyrics, so they functioned. Yes, I missed the fullness of the sound, the nuances, the depth, heck, anything on the left channel; my profound apologies to all those sound engineers who strive so meticulously for the best, most evocative mix, that I dismissed with a shrug.
I don’t live connected to my iPod, I’ve never gotten comfortable with listening to it in public or in the car; I just feel too isolated. But it plays an inherently important place in my work around the house, especially – and I can’t stress this enough – when washing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen. For some reason, even though I don’t mind those tasks and enjoy having a clean kitchen, the work just goes so much more smoothly – almost enjoyably – when I’m plugged into my iPod with it set to shuffle, not knowing what I’ll be hearing next, enjoying the familiar, reveling in the old favorites that surface, delighting in the newest stuff that hasn’t slipped to the familiar yet.
I don’t really know why I waited so long to get new headphones, or earbuds, I guess I should call them. I was still using the original set that came with the device, and they were really nice quality for my non-professional sensibilities. Yes, there was the voice in the back of my head that told me that I didn’t deserve new ones because they would cost money we didn’t have, I could limp along on the old ones until the right channel dropped out, too, that in the grand scheme of things they just weren’t all that important, especially given how many dizzying choices there were and so many different sets of criteria to entertain. (But then, I did think a new set would run me around $35, when in fact, the ones I got – the ones that were on the first display I came to, sans comparison – only cost $12.) And yes, part of me is reticent to start shopping for “fun” things, as if purchasing something “frivolous” would open the floodgates to unchecked splurge spending, as if I didn’t have any willpower at all (well, I honestly don’t have much, hence my various lines in the sand, but c’mon!).
Yet sometimes, if it is possible, you have to push the trumpets of doom aside and ditch the hardcore practical for the sake of enjoyment, of fullness, of clarity. It’s not so much a question as “can you get along without it?” as much as it is “will you get enough out of it to justify the cost?”
So anyway, I plugged in my new earbuds to clean the kitchen this morning, and I sat there stunned for Brandi Carlile’s moving rendition of “The Story”, in absolute awe of what I had been missing. For the next hour, my eyes watched what my hands were doing, but my mind was wrapped up in the music.
Somewhere along the line, Dessa’s “Seamstress” came up on the shuffle. Dessa is one of my favorite artists, a local rapper (how many of you did I just lose there?) whose music, both on her own and with her collective, Doomtree, is not only musically adept, lyrically fluid, and reflective of an unchecked pulse, but also very, very intelligent. Keenly intelligent.
I kept an angel
In a box beneath my bed
Little beast had broke her jaw
And I tried to fix her head
They said I had to put her back
That I had to put her back exactly where I found her
But I know, I saw
That she was doing good until the cat got her
I’ve wanted to do a post on Dessa before; I find her lyrics to be deft, so full of sharp-eyed imagery that she could easily be the focus of numerous essays. But I’ve found that merely reposting her lyrics don’t do her works justice. Coming from a spoken word background, the performance is equally important to her work as the words and the music. Not the spectacle – for there is little – but in the inflection, the pauses, the occasional trills, the working the microphone, the working the phrasing, the background beat. Mesmerizing.
I came to write a letter
But my pen was full of hymns
I came to drown a sorrow
It seems they’ve learned to swim
Mouth full of pins, heart pumping gasoline,
It’s late, I’m still at the sewing machine
Stitching up strays fifteen years,
But this one’s mean
I’d like to buy all of you a ticket to go see Dessa next time she tours near you, even though I can’t. I’d like to urge you all to go see her, even though I know you won’t. I can add the link to a video of her performing this song live for a Seattle radio station, but I can’t get you to click it. Heck, I don’t even know if anyone has read this far. But listening to Dessa with my new headphones, with my new earbuds, made my soul tremble. The clarity cut me to the core.
When I ran out of thread I couldn’t let go
But that’s not sewing that’s
That’s just poking holes
And it’s a strange breed
A different kind of creature looks for love
Through the eye of a needle
But the creed of the seamstress is
That you’re pretty in pieces
It made me think of a recent spoken word performance that had been posted by numerous friends on Facebook. It was during a poetry slam in Madison, Wisconsin, done by a man named Neil Hilborn, and the poem was entitled “OCD“. I had resisted clicking on it, just out of sheer cussedness; I find that I need to audit how much I take in, to keep those bits that really sink in to sink in deeply, rather than just acquiesce to the catch and release which seems to take so much of our collective time these days. But finally I did watch it, and it brought me to tears. Not just the poem that was being slammed, but the performance. The performance. That’s what brought everything else into sharp focus. The human, in the moment, from the heart, gut wrenching performance. The impact ceases to be nebulous, the effect becomes crystal clear so much so that it cuts in a way where we don’t even realize we’ve be laid wide open to the bone. But we have been.
We all seek clarity. We strive to understand and to be understood, to enjoy fully, to lose ourselves in that which is bigger than ourselves and yet is so very uniquely personal to our own precious perspective. We deserve to be transported, each one of us, to get the chance, to take the opportunity, to live beyond ourselves and dream that we can be more than the sum of all the factory parts which we have been dealt.
At the very least, it’s worth $12 for a pair of earbuds that can bring the crack of that clarity in from both channels, right, into both ears? Uh huh, I thought so. And throw in a clean kitchen, for good measure. Win/win, baby. Win/win.
~ Sharon Browning