For a while now, I’ve been obsessed with watching YouTube videos of people hearing particular songs for the first time. I like seeing them react to songs I remember from my teenage years: Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” Jim Croce’s “Operator.” The listeners’ reactions—usually ones of amazement and delight—remind me of all I’ve loved about these artists and their songs for some time. Even though I’m watching people I don’t know on a screen, I feel a bond with them. Perhaps, especially when we’re engaged in the production and/or the appreciation of art, we’re always looking for our community.
Is that because we spent too much time when we were younger feeling like we were alone? Were we the kids who whiled away hours with our noses in books or our ears tuned to pop music on the radio? Were we eager to meet the characters who found themselves in situations similar to our own, or the songs that spoke to our own desires? Especially in those early teenage years we were feeling so many different emotions. How comforting it was to find the authors and the musicians who were expressing those same emotions.
Maybe this is why I keep watching those YouTube videos. Not only do I delight in the evidence that strangers appreciate the same songs I do, I’m also heartened to know those same strangers feel the same emotions I do.
Nine years ago on this day, I went to a city park to read. I sat at a picnic table in an open shelter house, and soon a teenage boy sat at the table next to mine, and he, too, began to read. A hot summer’s day, the sounds of splashing from the nearby pool, a warm breeze that lifted the pages of my book, and this young boy reading. At first, I was annoyed that he’d sat so close to me when there were so many other places he could have sat, but as the minutes went on, I came to accept his company. Children shouted and screamed and laughed at the pool, two lunkish boys jogged past, a mother pushed her small daughter on a swing. The world went about its business, as eventually so did I. But now I’m thinking about how those few minutes in the company of that boy won’t let go of me. At one time, I, too, was a boy who could while away a summer afternoon, lost in a book. How glad I am that this boy came to remind me of the boy I once was, an only child who was often alone, but who loved to live inside the worlds that writers built from words.
So, this is a post about connection, and it’s a post about finding people with whom you can feel at home. Tomorrow, I’m off to Vermont to teach for the fifteenth year in the Vermont College of Fine Arts Postgraduate Writers’ Conference. I’ll spend the week with people of likeminded interests and never once will we feel outside the mainstream. Never once will we feel alone.