On being … the lyrics of your life?

By Ingrid Sapona

The late Dick Clark is credited with coining the saying “music is the soundtrack of our lives”. That has always – if you’ll pardon the pun – resonated with me. Like a contestant on Name That Tune, as soon as I hear the opening notes of certain songs, I can tell you where I was and what was happening in my life at the time. Few other things can do that for me. (Actually, the only other sensory trigger I can think of is the smell of Coppertone – it takes me to the beach immediately, but there’s no timeframe associated with it like there is for me with music.)

But beyond their magic carpet-like ability to transport me to some other time in my life, I’ve known for a long time that certain lyrics have imprinted on my soul in a way I thought was unusual – but that I recently realized might happen to others too. This revelation came to me recently in a comment Jane Pauley made (in her new book) about how she explains her career trajectory. She said that in struggling to explain her tremendous good fortune, she often thinks of the lyric Maria sings in the Sound of Music – somewhere in her childhood, “she must have done something good”.

Actually, that particular lyric happens to be one that made an impression on me long ago too – but not in quite the same way it did for Ms. Pauley. Truth is, sometimes, when things aren’t going well, I think of that lyric and worry. For those of you who don’t remember the song that well, before Maria revels in the fact that she must have done something good, she admits that: “Perhaps I had a wicked childhood, perhaps I had a miserable youth.” Yes, with a healthy dose of Christian guilt (perhaps courtesy of all the nuns in the movie, which I saw at the tender age of five), the fear that I never had that moment of truth haunts me.

Some lyrics taught me lessons that I subconsciously adopted. Smile (the song by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons, to a melody composed by Charlie Chaplin) is the perfect example. You know: “Smile though your heart is aching, smile, even though it’s breaking… Light up your face with gladness, hide every trace of sadness … Smile, what's the use of crying, you'll find that life is still worthwhile if you just smile.”

Long before I ever experienced heartache, those lyrics made their way into my head. I think the fact that the song doesn’t identify a particular type of hurt is what helped me relate to it. And at some point fairly early in my life I realized that a smile can be a wonderful mask – I’m sure I got the idea from the song. And then there’s the coping mechanism aspect of the song that I have also relied on for years – the notion that smiling actually helps turn my mood around. (You
know, I’ve always wondered whether T.V.’s Dr. Phil had the lyrics of Smile in mind when he came up with his “fake it till you make it” mantra.)

Then there are some lyrics that have percolated into my subconscious that, when they bubble up, suddenly fill me with gratitude. There’s a refrain from a James Taylor song that hits me every time I walk into my front hall after a trip or a particularly long day: “
Isn’t it nice to be home a-gain…” The simple truth of that lyric reminds me of how lucky I am to have a home I love coming back to. And I have Irving Berlin to thank for another lyric that happily springs to mind often after chatting with, or visiting, one of my sisters: “there were never such devoted sisters”.

There are even some lyrics that miraculously pop into my head to calm me when I’m distracted or worried by “what ifs”. No, I’m not talking about Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t worry, be happy” (though that lyric would clearly help at such times). The lyric that hits me is a bit more obscure: “Perpetual anticipation is good for the soul but it’s bad for the heart” (it’s from Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music). Odd, I know, but it does help remind me to focus on the present.

Anyway, you get the picture. But my reason for writing this isn’t to share anecdotes about the impact of lyrics on my life. It’s because I’m wondering whether – like me and Jane Pauley – there are lyrics that have imprinted on your soul or psyche…

© 2014 Ingrid Sapona


On being … a paradigm shift?

By Ingrid Sapona

Before I begin, let me say that the decision to write about today’s topic came to me as I was watching the morning news, so I’m sure there are angles I’ve not considered (hence the question mark). But the theme – the issue, really – has been on my mind for quite some time, so I thought I’d put it forward for your consideration.

Many years ago I remember being incensed – INCENSED – when I heard that a titan of technology told an audience at some tech conference that we have no privacy and we should all “just get over it”. (To give you an idea of how long ago that was, I just Googled it and it was Scott McNealy, chief executive officer of Sun Microsystems, who said that in 1999.) I was irritated by his cavalier attitude about privacy and bothered by the idea that folks in the tech sector think they know better than the rest of us.

McNealy’s comments ignited a minor firestorm at the time – a flurry of outrage that, I thought, died down too quickly. But, though the spotlight faded from McNealy, over time the topic of privacy started making its way into the mainstream news. And of course, last year Edward Snowden, who publicized lots of information that some would argue was private, has (ironically) become the bellwether of privacy.

Though most people seem to focus on matters of government surveillance and the impact of that on our right to privacy, not as many seem troubled about the information private companies and organizations openly and surreptitiously collect about us (and often sell to others). Though I’m used to it, it still surprises me – and creeps me out a bit – when ads pop up on my computer screen with offers from hotels I’ve recently stayed at or for goods or services I recently searched for. But, what can you do? Or, you may think, what harm can come of it? Ahhh… that’s the more interesting question, isn’t it?
And then there’s today’s news story about the missing Malaysian jet. As the story’s unfolding we’re hearing about all the different avenues investigators are pursuing. We’re all relieved to know that it’s not just a function of people in helicopters or on ships scanning the ocean’s surface for clues. It’s way more sophisticated than that, so we’re learning. For example, though we’ve all heard of the flight data recorder – the black box – I’ll bet few people realized that modern jets are equipped with devices that send signals back to the manufacturer. Hmm… sounds a bit like the GPS system insurance companies would like to see in cars to track drivers’ whereabouts and behaviour – an idea many oppose as an intrusion into their privacy.

In the old days – I mean the early days of the internet – folks believed they could protect their privacy by taking the proper steps. So, as long as you were careful and paid attention to the public and private settings on things like YouTube and Facebook, your privacy was protected. Now, that seems as naïve a belief as the notion that if you delete an e-mail, the information is gone. Of course, I wonder how many readers who may have just chuckled at those examples weren’t quite so amused when they heard just how smart their smart phone is and how much it can tell others about them.

© 2014 Ingrid Sapona