When I am stressed, basic decision making ability goes completely out the window. Even something simple like picking out a flavor of ice cream or deciding what brand of toilet paper to buy becomes difficult. My response is a quiet, 'I don't know' because honestly....I don't want to decide, I don't want to be in charge. I just want someone else to tell me what to do.
There are certain, stressful situations in which I don't mind being in charge. There are times when my survival mechanism kicks in and I can easily remain calm and take care of the very serious things that need to be addressed. But later, when faced with the reality of the new normal, the stress possesses me and I am unable to function at my regular pace.
Earlier this week, I was out with friends and someone decided to put some money in the jukebox. "Come on, Nellie, help me pick out some songs," he said. We stood in front of the touch screen, as he scrolled through an alphabetized selection, waiting on me to choose something I liked. I felt completely frozen. I couldn't choose a single song I wanted to hear. Finally, after several minutes of choosing nothing, I dragged over a friend with a very sophisticated level of musical knowledge to help him. And I scurried away, tail between my legs.
Its times like this, when I am feeling underwhelmed, self-conscious and embarrassed that I am quite pleased to retreat inward and become an introvert. I want to grasp tightly to my thoughts without letting a single one escape as part of the conversation. I don't want to hide out at home, alone....I still want to to be among friends, but I do not want to be the center of attention. I just want to listen. To exist on the outskirts of the conversation, asking questions, soaking in the answers, but not revealing my own opinions.
Later that night, I was sitting around with a group of friends who were discussing the White Stripes. The three of them went on an on about their favorite album, favorite songs, least favorite songs, and side projects of Jack White. It was as if they were speaking a different language. Sure, I have listened to the White Stripes, and I can generally identify a song of theirs when I hear it. However, I lack any an all ability to name any albums or song titles.
This is true of most music for me. I love to listen to music....usually, I adopt a favorite CD and play it on repeat for a long time, as if no other music even exists. It becomes a sound track for a particular season and when I hear it again, later, I recall that time of my life and the music conjures up special memories. I would never claim to have any real knowledge of any bands or musicians.
In fact, I don't have a favorite band....and I don't actively seek out concerts. If I am writing, or working at school, I rarely turn on music....It isn't a necessity for me to function. Sometimes I revel in the stillness and quiet of my classroom and my home.
Suddenly, the group realized that I hadn't contributed anything to this conversation. They apologized for leaving me out and someone quickly asked me who my favorite artist is....
I completely froze.
I went from fondly listening to a foreign language, and appreciating the experts discussing their opinions to being thrust in the spotlight of a question that I wasn't prepared to answer.
"Um...I dunno....I like a lot of different ones...I don't really want to talk about work." Yeah, I actually said that. It was the most awkward transition, and one I've later thought about what I would've said if asked again....I was outwardly uncomfortable and inwardly writhing....a total....'ahem, I carried a watermelon' moment.
A few friends of them threw out their favorites, some artists I had never heard of....putting me even more into a silent, frozen uncomfortable position. I should have said that music and art are seasonal for me....I go through periods of time when I am completely obsessed with one particular genre, usually because I am studying it for the benefit of my students.
I don't HAVE a FAVORITE artist....I can appreciate all art to some extent. If I walk into a gallery and see a Anselm Kiefer, I get really excited but I would never say that he is a favorite, that would just be....weird....I can appreciate his work, but I would never hang it in my home. Just as I might get excited about a Hopper, or an O'keeffe, I would never say that any single work is my favorite painting ever. Who is your favorite artist? That is such a loaded question...especially for an art teacher who happens to love every single thing.
Art is more of an experience for me. When I think about my time in Venice, for example, I will never forget the juxtaposition of the historical architecture with the modern, voluptuous sculptures of Fernando Botero. Now, whenever I see a Botero I am transported back to the shiny, smooth sculptures, poised as a Renaissance era classical Greek bronze in the streets and alleys of the Floating City. I actually have a Botero print hanging in my house...but his work isn't one of my favorites, really....I just appreciate it for that experience.
At that particular moment, none of these ideas about art bubbled up to the surface....I just sat there, dumbfounded by my own embarrassing display of knowledge about nothing....I knew nothing...I said nothing...and I was humiliated by my own behavior.
I guess with this post, I am trying to rectify the situation. I'm thinking of all those 'could've' 'should've' 'would've' things I wish I had said. I'm also trying to find blame in the fact that I have been under a lot of stress lately, and that is why I froze...not because I'm uninteresting with no knowledge of art or opinions about music whatsoever.
I will never be an expert on music, or art....I will have my interval, in which I study everything about Ancient Chinese art and culture...or in which I listen to that Shakira CD on repeat a thousand times....but a few weeks later, both of those things will fade into the file of that season, melded with that time in my life, like the familiar smell of my mom's perfume, conjured much later as part of the vernal spirit of my youth.