On Mishearing Songs

My current favorite song in the entire universe is “Counting Stars” by One Republic (if you haven’t heard it yet, listen here). One of the beauties of hearing a song on the radio before watching a lyrics-included version on YouTube is that I have to decide for myself what the slightly slurred words are, which can sometimes lead to me thinking the song says something it doesn’t say. For example, when I heard “Counting Stars” for the first time (and quite a few times after that) I thought one of the parts says, “And I don’t think the world is sold on just doing what we’re told.” That’s a pretty incredible sentiment there, belief that the world can be more than merely blind followers of a system that is all too frequently not interested in making the world a better place. Those lines say, “No, the world is not going to stand by and let WorldSuck keep increasing, instead we’re going to fight to increase Awesome!” Those lines say, “There is hope for a better world!”

Those lines aren’t exactly in the song.

What the song actually says is, “And I don’t think the world is sold / I’m just doing what we’re told.”

And that is an entirely different message. Those lines say, “I blindly follow directions even though no one likes what I’m doing.” That one little word completely changes the meaning of the entire line!

What I find most interesting about the whole thing, however, is that before I realized I misheard the line, I believed the song was about hope for a better world, which led me to actually have more hope in humanity.  What I heard and how I understood the song made me want to fight for a better world.  Those lines weren’t intended to do that, but they still had the same result. Which leads me to an interesting question: If a song is misheard and its misunderstood meaning results in desires or actions, can one say that the song is about the misheard thing as well as the intended thing? Because while I believed I heard the song correctly, I very much believed the song was about improving the world and reducing WorldSuck. 

John Green once said, “Books belong to their readers.” My non-rhetorical question of the day is this: Do songs belong to their hearers as well?

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The Indescribable Within

John Green, arguably the best young adult author of our time, wrote in his most recent novel, The Fault in Our Stars, “My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations.” There are days when I read this quote and think, “Man, what a wonderful way with words John Green has! What incredible command of metaphor!” And then there are days like today.

Days where my thoughts weigh upon my mind but refuse to come together with form or substance. Days where I am overwhelmed with both the inherent brokenness of our world and everyone in it as well as the intense beauty life and the power of the smallest actions to affect a person’s life (and therefore the world). Days where life doesn’t go as planned, but which result in unexpected blessings. Days where both the fear of the future and the hope and expectancy of life to come war against each other. Days where the inner philosopher unsuccessfully attempts to wrest control of my thought processes.

Days where my thoughts, no matter how beautiful or insightful on their own, refuse to coalesce into something more.

This is why reading is important. It allows us to use the words of others to give voice to the indescribable things within us.

The Daily Coffee Routine

People are always surprised when I tell them I’m not a morning person.  My answer? “I’m not a morning person, but coffee lets me pretend I am.” I developed this routine of morning coffee a little over a year ago when I started student teaching; let me just say, morning comes early for teachers.  A year later, my morning coffee remains, but the routine has changed.

I arrive at work 10 minutes early just so I can make sure and have enough pre-work coffee time. The pot is already done brewing, having been put on by my oh-so-excellent coffee brewer coworker.  Creamer, sweetener, and coffee all dance together in my air-tight coffee cup – coffee is, after all, better shaken, not stirred.  This is the part where most people start actually drinking their coffee, but not me.  This is the best part: I hold my coffee cup.  I cradle it between my hands, letting the coffee’s warmth seep through the cup, into my hands, through my body, and into my heart.  Eventually I do get around to sipping through my coffee, but holding the cup gives me just as much of a morning wake up as the caffeine does.

Guerrillas of Grace

I don’t usually post the writings of others (because I’m self-centered like that), but this poem/prayer has been on my mind a lot lately.  Can prayer be more than  words?

“How shall I pray?
Are tears prayers, Lord?
Are screams prayers,
or groans
or sighs
or curses?
Can trembling hands be lifted to you,
or clenched fists
or the cold sweat that trickles down my back
or the cramps that knot my stomach?

Will you accept my prayers, Lord,
my real prayers,
rooted in the muck and mud and rock of my life,
and not just my pretty, cut-flower, gracefully arranged
bouquet of words?

Will you accept me, Lord,
as I really am,
messed up mixture of glory and grime?”

(exert from “How Shall I Pray” by Ted Loder, Guerrillas of Grace, 1981)

On School, Adulthood, and the Giant Squid of Anger

Staring at the empty page of my computer screen, I come to the disheartening realization that I have no clue whatsoever what I am supposed to do.

I now understand why everyone says grad school is so hard.  It has nothing to do with the difficulty of the courses or the amount of work to be done.  Well, maybe not nothing; the work is somewhat more challenging than undergrad course work, but this makes up only a small facet of the strenuosity of grad school.

Why, then, is grad school so hard?  Because your state of life has changed.  When you are an undergraduate, you are still in the process of becoming an adult.  No matter how much you think you are an adult as a freshman or sophomore, if you’re jobless, living in the dorms, and your biggest concern in life is making sure you get papers turned in on time, you’re not fully an adult yet.  Your life is centered around classes, friends, assignments, having fun, dorm life, and the experience – which is much the same as high school.  Somewhere between walking across the stage and walking into your first grad class, however, a shift occurs.  It’s hard to pin down exactly when it happens, but it does.  You get a job, move into an apartment, buy some furniture, stock your pantry, and realize that there is a whole world out there entirely independent of and separate from school.  You wake up one morning and realize (while staring into your closet full of professional attire, perhaps?) that you are undeniably and irrevocably an adult.  You’re not quite sure when it happened, but you know it is true and you know you cannot go back.

Your focus in life shifts school to everything else.  And that everything else is pretty great.  Your time belongs to you, fully and truly, for the first time.

Then grad school starts.

And your life falls into chaos.

You have to learn how to fit time for all the crazy amounts of reading and writing and everything else into your already full life.  No, you can’t go see that new movie this weekend; no, you can’t leave town for the weekend to see family; no, you can’t redecorate your apartment; no, you can’t deep clean your apartment; no, you can’t read the pile of books you just bought.  Why? Because you have homework.  Have a significant other?  I hope you don’t like spending time with him/her, because you won’t be able to.

Grad school is hard because it strips away everything you love about your life and leaves you as a stressed-out giant squid of anger.