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Looking For My Song

 

I used to write songs. This was a long time ago. I bought a Casio keyboard with my leaf-raking money when I was eleven or twelve, and tried to remember my years of piano lessons to pick out a melody. But I never felt like I could catch the song I was looking for.

I feel like being a musician, for me, is as impossible as being a dog. I don’t have the right internal organs to get there, no matter how much I might want to. I don’t have the right brain, the right ears, and the right fingers. I’m just not that person and I feel the loss acutely. Cricket and Butterfly have their own unique songs. They have particular patterns and rhythms and pitches that really get their message across, but I feel muted. I can write and speak my story, but I can’t sing it, and that leaves something essential unexpressed.

Cricket likes the sound of her own voice and uses it very specifically to express different emotions and needs. She rasps and squeaks, and cries and screams, she barks from her gut and shrills through her nose. She is a diva. She sings variations of the same song, using the same instrument, all day long.

Cricket, mid-Aria.

Cricket, mid-Aria.

Butterfly listens very closely when we’re outside. She collects sounds: like an airplane flying overhead, leaves rustling, a garbage truck rolling down the hill, geese chattering to each other, birds whooshing through the trees. I wonder if she’s looking for her song too, and sampling all of these sounds to see what resonates for her.

Butterfly, listening.

Butterfly, listening.

In college, in one of my early attempts at jumping around the curriculum, I took a class in music composition. I’d taken voice lessons and piano and felt like there was a whole segment of the musical world that I was missing, huge parts of the language that I could not understand. I did well in the class, because it was basically math with musical notes, but I felt like I was being starved for the real stuff, the “aha” stuff, because I couldn’t connect the math to the music. Maybe if I’d tried to stick it out and become a music major I’d have eventually found what I was missing, but most schools require proficiency in a musical instrument and a willingness to perform and I didn’t have either one.

I have a cousin who plays the cello professionally. She plays a regular cello and a baroque cello (don’t ask me what makes them different). She has spent her whole life becoming the cello and limiting the space between her body and the music until the music really does come through her and the cello at once. She inspired me, and I spent a year and a half trying to teach myself how to play the guitar, but I couldn’t make my fingers tolerate the work. My knuckles kept clicking and jamming, because, as one doctor told me forever ago, my ligaments are too loose to hold my bones together. And you would not believe how painful it is to press your soft fingertips against heavy guitar strings.

The most electric experience I’ve ever had with music is when ice skaters have been able to skate as if the music is coming through their bodies, Michelle Kwan could do this, and Kurt Browning and Torvill and Dean. I remember watching Julie Kent at American Ballet Theater, just watching her arms as if the music was living in her body and she was setting it free.

Julie Kent

Julie Kent

Michelle Kwan

Michelle Kwan

Music just seems so forlorn and naked without visual accompaniment. I feel lost, like I’m swimming in too-deep water, when I listen to music sometimes, as if the ground has fallen out from under me. I feel like I will be trapped in an emotional state I can’t identify, can’t tolerate, and can’t get out of. How is the music doing this?

Music is one of the most powerful things I know, and I feel this great need to create it, and control it, and I can’t do either one. I can just sample it, like Butterfly, and pick a sound from here and there to add to my collection. I think this might be enough, for now.

The girls are thinking about it.

The girls are thinking about it.

The Pee and Poop Songs

Baby Cricket

Baby Cricket

 

 

I think it all started as lullabies when Cricket first came home in the car. She was two pounds of fluff on my lap in the back seat and I sang to her to help her calm down during the long drive from New Jersey to Long Island. I don’t remember what I sang, probably whatever was stuck in my head from the radio, or some Hebrew songs from school, and a lullaby or two. I was reduced to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Row Row Row Your Boat by the end.

But it worked. It helped Cricket relax onto my lap. And I tried it again whenever she seemed to get overwhelmed, in the crate, by noises in the house, or when she woke up at three AM to pee, or when she was trying to master the stairs.

So it was natural for me to sing to her when she was learning to pee outside. I would clap for her when she peed and I’d repeat the word “pee” so she’d pair the word with the action. And then I’d repeat myself, and add a melody to the whole thing. I never knew why certain songs jumped into my head and became pee and poop songs, though.

When I went to sleep-away camp as a kid they used to take popular songs and jingles and change the words. So I automatically started rewriting songs I knew, to fit Cricket’s needs.

There was a resurgence of pee and poop songs when Butterfly came home in November and needed encouragement to learn to pee outside instead of in the kitchen.

"What do I do now?"

“What do I do now?”

One of my favorites is the “I’m a Little Teapot” song, which transformed itself into: “I’m a little puppy, short and stout. Tip me over and poop comes out.”

“We’ve got the beat,” became, “We’ve got the poop.”

“Baby it’s cold outside,” is a perennial favorite of mine, because it is a duet and I can imagine Cricket singing her part the way she cries and cuddles against me.

“I really must pee.” That’s her line.

“But baby it’s cold outside.” That’s mine.

“I’ve got to go pee!” More insistent this time.

“But baby it’s cold outside.” Me, still deluding myself that I have a choice.

We have this conversation daily and it’s nice to be able to put it to music, given that Cricket will inevitably win the argument and I will have to go outside and freeze my face off. I don’t even remember the original words anymore because the pee lyrics have become so prominent in my mind. I just see Cricket’s puppy dog eyes filled to the brim with unshed pee and the song pops into my head.

"Pee" sometimes just means "outside"

“Pee” sometimes just means “outside”

I’ve started dancing to the pee songs lately, to encourage Butterfly, especially after ten o’clock at night when the wind is howling and I need her to hurry up  so I can go back inside and not worry that she’s going to wake me up at four AM with desperate whimpers. I started out by walking in circles on the lawn, to mimic her pre-pee activities, but she’d get distracted by a noise down the block or by Cricket chewing her stick and she’d forget to pee or stop pooping in the middle. And then I started dancing, partly because it was so freakin’ cold out, but then I noticed that dancing got Butterfly’s attention better than just singing by itself.

The girls inspire each other

The girls inspire each other

The fact is, the songs work. At the very least, they make me feel like I can help my dogs live happier, healthier lives. And it’s fun for me. What more could I ask for?