They say Jonah, he was swallowed by a whale,
But I say, there's no truth to that tale.
I know Jonah, he was swallowed by a song.
-- Paul Simon, "Jonah"
I was going to save that quote for an entry in the Quotations group, but it and the music that accompanies it really captured me this morning ... or “swallowed” me, as Paul put it.
I really admire that – being so consumed with a skill, talent, or desire that it utterly occupies your life, as perhaps songwriting has done with people like Paul Simon or Billy Joel or any of a thousand other people for whom music making is as much obsession as it is vocation. It’s likely a bumpy ride in places, too, trying to find the perfect words to match a melody or a musical line to compliment an inspired lyric. Worse, going through writer’s block, when it doesn’t come at all, and you have to force yourself to keep the creative gears turning, lest they freeze entirely. And there’s the rush when it all comes together, when the author or composer feels like the work is finished and ready … only to worry whether this new creation will be met with praise or derision by the admiring bog. A bumpy ride, indeed.
The closest I ever got to anything quite so certain was probably troubleshooting. From the time I was a kid, I seemingly always had a talent for taking things apart and putting them back together again, and in that process, learn how they worked. It was a rough-edged skill that needed refinement and polishing for the real world, especially since an unspoken yet critical requirement of those who fix things is that they have to get it RIGHT – 100 percent of the time – because that’s what the customer expects of them. Otherwise, they don’t keep their job long. Took a while for me, but there did come a point where that confidence grew in me, where I felt as though, if I could learn a device or a machine or a system properly, my skills and experience would allow me to ferret out any malfunction it might have and return it to working condition. What do I get out of it? In a word, satisfaction. I beat that problem; I found that bug, that pernicious failure mode, that hidden glitch. Sometimes it was even … well … “frictionless,” as though I were able to look into the system and intuit the problem, almost without effort. Does that feel as good as penning a chart-busting song? No idea, but that sense of accomplishment still means a lot to me.
Which brings me to wonder: how many of us would want to be overwhelmed by a singular purpose like that? To find such a focus for our lives that it takes away ambiguity and leaves only a single-minded direction to follow. Could it be that this is what the religious believers want: to be swallowed by their god and their belief, to the point where any question or vagary is eliminated in favor of something utterly undeniable? Free will vs. predestination aside, that’s a pretty tall wish, and I’m sure you know the one about: “Be careful what you wish for; you might get it.”
Such are the ruminations of a Tuesday morning, submitted for your approval.