Please Don’t Stop the Music (Carless Part 2)

DrivingToday, I’m going to tell you a story about a suburbs girl who moved to the big city and gleefully ditched her car – and the valuable lesson she thought she’d never have to learn.

Once upon a time, a brunette named E bought her very first car.  It was an incredibly exciting and enormous purchase, so of course she spent a long time researching.  Finally, she fell in love with a beautiful red Subaru that was (barely) in her price range.  Her dear dad investigated the car, which was near her hometown, and said that it looked to be a good car and a fair price, so, taking a deep breath, E plunked down her savings and became the proud owner of Lucy.

Unfortunately, Lucy had some hidden problems.  E spent the next two years pumping more money into her car than gasoline, with faulty gaskets and leaking oil just a couple of her headaches.  When it came time to move back home (to get married!), E and future husband M broke down no less than three times on the road trip back.  Understandably, neither was very sad when Lucy sighed her last breath suddenly in a parking lot two days later.  For they were moving to New York, the Big City, where public transit was a welcome blessing for both their responsibility level and their checkbook.

Zip forward three years.  E and M, along with friends S and M (Rihanna pun not intended), are headed to a friend’s wedding a couple states away, and so they all rented a car together for the trip.  Everyone piled into the jaunty little car, and off they went.

Well, actually, they ended up sitting in parking-lot-style traffic for three hours, just trying to get out of their neighborhood, since they didn’t factor in Memorial Day weekend.  E turned into a whining 5-year-old in the front seat, not helped by the fact that she was planning on getting food about ten minutes into the journey, which was no longer an option.  And E began to remember why she hated being in a car driven by someone else.

But then, as they inched forward mile by mile, the traffic gradually loosened until they finally reached highway speed.  And at some point, food was found.  Hurray!  

Not long after, E decided to relieve M of driving responsibility.  (We’re still not sure whether that was M’s choice or E’s.)  She popped some music in the dashboard, turned onto the freeway, and floored it.  Quite literally, actually, since they were running seriously late and had a deadline on the other end.

In that moment, E had an epiphany:  she had let music fall out of her life – simply because she didn’t own a car.

Seriously, guys, when I careened (safely) down that freeway, singing at the top of my lungs, I realized how much of myself I had left behind in the suburbs.  Or rather, in the driveway.

Growing up, I spent hours of every day in a car.  And the music was always, always on. Sometimes it was the radio (classical stations, eclectic AM radio stations, or Top 40 stations) and sometimes it was a CD (Sarah McLachlin when I was depressed, Joni Mitchell when I wanted to cry, Sara Bareilles when I wanted to rock out, and Barbra Streisand for any reason whatsoever), but I inhaled hours of music every day.  And you’d better believe that as a singer, I gave it my all in that car.  Some days, it was my practice room or my safe space to try to sing like Barbra (ha). Other days, it fueled my intense sessions of introspection.

But I didn’t realize until that road trip that New York City had taken the wind out of me.

I can’t sing along while listening to my iPhone on the bus, or even walking down the street in the city.  (In fact, I HATE when other – admittedly, usually homeless – people do that.  It’s the height of selfishness to inflict your personal indulgence on everyone else.)  I can’t really sing along when music comes on in a restaurant.  And I can’t sing along listening to music at work.

Then, anywhere I do sing in the city, I’m acutely aware of other people listening to me.  It has taken me months to allow myself to use my full voice as a singer, because in my apartment, in my studio rental, in my office where I used to practice while working full time (54th floor of 30 Rock, operatic arias – total blast), someone is always listening.  And you’re either bothering them or not living up to their expectations.

I had also stopped listening to my music at full blast, because you wouldn’t believe how rude it is when someone forces the entire subway car to listen to their angry rap song through their headphones.  Eventually, I just stopped listening to music altogether.  The stimulation of the city was so intense that I found it easiest just to sit and read emails on my phone.  And as the months went by, I slowly died inside.

To realize all of this within the first 30 seconds of a Rihanna song was somewhat overwhelming. But it was also incredibly comforting.  Suddenly, I had a reason for why I was creatively empty and why I felt emotionally stilted.  It all made sense!

A few weeks later, a friend invited me to hear the New York Philharmonic play a concert in Central Park.  Their program included a favorite Tchaikovsky piece I’d played in high school, his Symphony #5 (which, if you haven’t listened to the whole thing, you should – it’s epic and gorgeous and wonderful!).  I sat, singing along with every note under my breath, once again realizing how much I loved music.  And how much I’d let it fall out of my life.  I’m pretty sure it’s a large part of why I started playing my flute again.

Not long after, I dragged myself to iTunes and made some new playlists, the result of which I chronicled in this blog post and this one.  And I’m proud to report that I have kept several good playlists on my iPhone – and in my ears.  As a musician, as an actor, and as a human, I will never again allow myself to lose music in my life.  It’s far too valuable.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/beatkueng/2853424370/”>’PixelPlacebo'</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a>

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