I watch a music video and think about the time I could’ve been a rock star. Nostalgic reminders of rehearsals, broken guitar strings, callused fingers, my voice box feeling like its gut’s been made full and exhausted – they mix with the smell of a lover’s sweat and cologne, and I can feel the tension between Sheryl and Eric, the past that’s led them to this moment of performance, the strange, convoluted, pretentious, loaded questions forcing themselves to front lobes as two talented people make their way through a song…
There was a great high that first time I took my place in front of the band and sang my words to a room full of strangers. My voice ricocheted back to me after bouncing off metal rafters, and even though I knew it well; even though I had, in fact, heard it poetically pontificating at slams and open mics, performing the words of playwrights on celebrated stages, singing in school productions, it was somehow different. Fuller. Better. Backed up by a man I loved and the band he’d put together, it was absolute energy, synergy, and ordered chaos. It was the way I’d always imagined life should be: the same way it was portrayed in movies and on TV. All of a sudden, I was Princess Ariel after my crab friend had coaxed fellow sea creatures to serenade me; I was simultaneously the stars of Fame, Grease, Flashdance and every other feel-good musical about making good in love and on your dreams. I was the writer of my destiny and the star of the show. I felt invincible, not just because of my own budding hubris, but because moments like those are too perfect to actually exist: their awesomeness is enough to turn atheists into believers.
Years later, while teaching in the Lower East Side, the moment happened again on a lazy Saturday morning, as a classroom of talented teenagers hesitantly started to sing this song and suddenly burst out in a fit of spontaneous magic. It had happened so benignly, with just the suggestion of background music and lyrics, and had become an explosion of amazing vocals and dancing, the sight and sound of which were worthy of any Broadway production.
And it had been real. No staging. No rehearsing. Just people, being the best versions of themselves. Letting it all hang out. Not caring about other peoples’ opinions. Soaking up positivity and exuding just as much positivity.
I remember clinging onto the sidelines of that moment, unsure of whether I wanted to dive in. I was too busy noticing the way that people of different nationalities, social classes, backgrounds, races, sexual identities, fashion styles, were smiling, laughing, creating harmonies that were too beautiful not to etch into my memory. And then I was singing along, deep in the moment, letting it wash over me, seep into me, fill me up with all that is good in the world.
Those memories are a lifetime ago,but if I played long enough with the tip of nostalgia, I could slip and cut myself on the edge of what was. I could tap a vein into greatness. I could get high off of the past and live there indefinitely.
I chased the high, and if I’m honest, I can say that that’s how I live: chasing that high, that moment of pure perfection, when life seems to come together like some brilliant jigsaw puzzle. I seek out those glimpses of the big picture, those split-seconds when everything makes sense. I look for patterns, try to discern truth from fiction, try to understand the un-understandable, try to be a better version of myself so that I can create/know/experience a better reality.
And every day, I feel my life becoming a storybook, a feel-good musical, a Disney movie, an art film. Every day, I feel like the lines of my body are being replaced by musical notes. Paint. Plaster. Canvas. Film. Color. Sound. Art.
Every day, I feel the urge to pinch myself because there’s no way that my life has become this good.