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Cricket and Ellie’s Extraordinary Playlist

My favorite television show this Spring was Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, where Zoey, a computer programmer in her twenties, discovers that she can hear people’s innermost thoughts and feelings in song and dance numbers (after an accident in an MRI during an earthquake). I’m a sucker for a musical to begin with, but this show made the connection between music and emotional honesty even more explicit. And I loved it!

            And watching the show made me wonder what I might be singing, out walking the dogs, or on Zooms, or at the supermarket, if someone could hear my “heart songs” (this is what Zoey’s friend called the song and dance numbers only Zoey could see and hear on the show). Would my heart songs express the feelings I already feel safe sharing? Or the things I consciously choose to keep to myself? Or feelings I don’t even know I have?

“Ooh, a mystery!”

            I’m a little bit afraid of this question; on the one hand, I don’t think my emotions are much of a mystery. I may not sing them at the top of my lungs to every stranger on the street, but I imagine that most of my feelings are kind of obvious. Except, what if there were surprises? What if the emotions I haven’t yet wrestled into compliance just started to let themselves out? That worries me. I think I’d rather be Zoey than be heard by Zoey.

            Some of the “heart songs” Zoey heard on the show didn’t express people’s deepest secrets, but rather things that Zoey, when she wasn’t hearing the songs, wasn’t able to figure out for herself. Before the accident in the MRI gave her this special power, Zoey was kind of dense about her own emotions, and anyone else’s, and it was keeping her stuck and lonely. The heart songs were her awakening to the world around her and the world inside of her.

            I can imagine some of the songs I’d hear other people singing, though: like my rabbi singing Sondheim on every occasion (which he kind of does already); or long litanies of anger and complaint from my fellow shoppers in line at the supermarket (some singer/songwriter laments, but mostly in the Headbanger genre). My synagogue school students often did break into song at random moments, to let me know how bored they were by my chosen lesson plans. My preference would be to listen to a playlist of ballads about people’s secret longings and disappointments, but I’m not sure I’d be that lucky.


            And, what if in my version of the disorder, all of the singing and dancing people would be tone deaf and have two left feet? I’d be cringing all the time, and dodging falling bodies. I don’t do well with cacophony, and long stretches of listening to off key music might actually kill me. But at least I wouldn’t have to spend as much time guessing at what people are thinking, reading body language and tone of voice and worrying that I’m guessing wrong. Instead, I could feel confident that I really did know what people were thinking, and then I could move on to feeling guilty about all of the ways I would inevitably fail to help them.

            Given that, I still love the idea of my day being filled with music. And I love the idea of all of my thoughts and feelings being intertwined with music, instead of just standing there, like stick figures, marching through my brain.

“There’s music in my head? Can you get it out?”

            But I do worry that if I could hear and see these musical numbers as vividly as Zoey does, then I’d become so overwhelmed with external noise that I wouldn’t have any room left to hear my own thoughts. I’d have to hide away in my room just to get any writing done – which, come to think of it, describes my regular life pretty well.

            The only people I know who wouldn’t be overwhelmed by a sudden outpouring of song and dance numbers, expressing our most secret feelings, would be dogs. For Cricket and Ellie, and all of their compatriots, humans are vividly expressing their deepest secrets, through tone of voice, and body language, and especially smell, all the time. Dogs know everything! And yet they still love us. It’s pretty much the dream of every human being, that even at our most vulnerable and imperfect, with all of our embarrassing smells and shameful secrets hanging out, we could still be deeply loved. And yet to dogs, that’s a given. And, more often than not, we do this for our dogs in return (those lovely creatures who lick themselves in public, and breathe stinky breath in our faces, and expect us to pick up their poop while they bark their heads off at all of our neighbors). It’s other humans we struggle to accept as they are, and other humans who we think will reject us if they knew everything.

Pets, even dogs as judgmental and harrumph-y as Cricket, love us just the way we are. No wonder we love them so much in return.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

60 responses »

  1. As usual, thought-provoking and well reasoned. I do find it bizarre, given the human capacity for language and logic, how ignorant we can be of the basic stuff that most animals just know innately. We’re a bit like computer programs with very poor interfaces. I guess there’s a huge focus on the cerebral and a loss of instinct.

    • I wonder if that’s what Cricket is thinking when she gives me sideway: maybe if I slap her upside the head she’ll reboot. That does seem like a thought she has on the regular.

      • Lol. Your Cricket sounds like quite a character! 😂 A bit like our cat. People say cats don’t have much variation in facial expression but ours sure does. From dreamy to lethal in 0.1 of a second. 😊

  2. I so enjoyed this Rachel, you bring a smile and many things to think about . I had to smile big because my dog 🐶 sleeps in his bed just like that, half hanging out.

  3. I loved that show so much! But I definitely wouldn’t want to be living it!

  4. Such a great show! An amazing cast and the storyline with her father was a tearjerker in all the best ways. I hope it comes back.

  5. Lady Quixote/Linda Lee

    I enjoyed this post and then I enjoyed the comments. A slap upside the head to reboot. Right! That’s how our dog Baby looks at me sometimes.

    “It’s pretty much the dream of every human being, that even at our most vulnerable and imperfect, with all of our embarrassing smells and shameful secrets hanging out, we could still be deeply loved.” True! And yes, dogs can do that.

  6. Yes, our dogs do love us as we are, thank goodness. I don’t have a dog just now, but I’ve had them (and they’ve had me), and I have some dog friends to enjoy.

    Living inside a musical. I don’t know. The clumsy version would me too much; I’d lose my sense of humor. But I might like to hear your rabbi singing Sondheim, if he’d do some dancing, too. I don’t need to hear his thoughts. I wonder if there might be any control over when the song and dance breaks in. Maybe in extreme times, when things are nerve-wracking, anyway.

    If someone else’s emotions, in a song-and-dance fantasy (it’s a fantasy in the show?), help you understand how and what you’re feeling, that might not be so bad. Maybe you could join in and everyone will understand everyone and everything better.

    • That’s the hope; that all of the singing and dancing will bring understanding and allow people to treat each other’s feelings with more respect. Unfortunately, my rabbi has taken a hard line against dancing, at least for himself. Though he’s a big fan of Ellie’s dancing participation in our Zoom services.

  7. There’s a constant musical playing in my head – and you can be grateful it’s only in my head because I cannot carry a tune. This doesn’t stop me from singing loudly in the car, you understand. “Livin on a Prayer” causes me to rock out like I’m 21 again. I digressed must then. I read a ton of books about dogs – they truly are amazing, their sense of smell alone is close to miraculous. (I can give you some titles if you’re interested) Now I just want to teach Maverick to dance and we’ll be having our own party.

  8. As always I loved your post and reasoning but what if like me you’re not keen on musicals?

  9. I don’t think I’d like to live in a musical. Your post was great. My dog, Annie, is a true empath. My life is better for her being in it.

  10. I adore musical, but can’t imagine living a musical. Years ahead of her time, a friend of mine researched how music affects our moods.

  11. Music is the one constant in my world that has a way of bringing me ‘into the moment’ when I listen to it. I feel both the tune and the lyrics personally, and my brain and body react accordingly. Like you, I think I’d like being able to know what people are thinking sometimes – though I’m always guessing by watching their body language as well. And yes, I’m probably getting it wrong! And oh, how I relate to moving right into the feeling guilty stage that I’m failing someone!

  12. I have never even heard of the TV show, but I am with you 100% about the dogs. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

  13. You sure hit this all right on the head, Rachel. Unconditional love, just like G-d has for us. P.S. I looked for this show on Neflix-nope. Then found it on Amazon, but it is $20 for the season (even with Amazon Prime) so I guess I won’t be watching it.

  14. Rachel, it looks like a neat show, although I have only seen promos. My wife and I will go all day humming or singing some song, maybe it came from a commercial, and then we will ask the other “are you singing that song because of such-n-such commercial?

    You also reminded me of a documentary on the Broadway musical writer Stephen Sondheim. Per the documentary, he would lift a piece of dialogue before the song and use it in the song. He did not want his performers singing about something only tangentially related. Which is how we common folks would sing if we stumbled on a phrase that mirrored a song we know.

    We will need to check out the show. Keith

  15. My dog always comes to thank me when he has finished his meal. It never ceases to melt my heart. I remind myself constantly to thank him for teaching me how to be a more gracious being myself.

  16. It is marvelous fun to contemplate other’s experience as music in the head. But, forget any future MRI!

  17. Intense and delightful as well! Shavua tov, Rachel! 🙂

  18. Great post Rachel. Everyone has a song that is special to them, but the thought of actually being one is an interesting concept! Keep safe.

  19. Pingback: Internal Playlist | sparksfromacombustiblemind

  20. I love musicals, too. 🙂

  21. The pictures of the dogs are adorable! I hope they are keeping well and having fun recently 🙂

    Feel free to read some of my blog posts 🙂

  22. No heart songs here – only ear worms.🙁

  23. My heart song for you would be a thanks for so diligently reading my 18 road trip blogs this summer.

  24. This is a valid argument.Being in a musical does sound ground, especially if everyone somehow can fall into line with choreography. It would help enormously when people aren’t communicating effectively, which people never do. But I agree that CONSTANTLY hearing noise would drive me crazy. On another note, my younger dog is prone to your dog’s position in “Oy” mode, head hanging off her bed. Not a day goes by that she does that. Not. A. Day. Goes. By.

  25. Entertaining, deep thinking…and a perfect summary of our dogs and their unconditional love for us – and us for them. Thank you for sharing this.

  26. Watched a series called Eli Stone that is somewhat similar. Loved it.
    I also love dogs and probably spend too much time trying to read people.

    Lovely thoughts. Wouldn’t it be nice if people could just be who they are, and it all just leaked out of us in artistic ways like song?


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