Justin Skolnick lives and works in Portland.

Feel it all over

Originally posted to blockquote.org on in Chicago, Illinois

Right as I opened a book at a coffee shop, a Stevie Wonder song happened, and it made me close the book. It was a book for school, for a final exam I’ve still got to complete. The song made me stop and groove. I was grooving along to Stevie Wonder in a coffee shop.

When I put down the thick book, I thought about the song. The first thing I thought was, what a powerful song to command my attention!

After that I thought about the future time when I wouldn’t have to read books I didn’t like simply to demonstrate my mastery of the writer’s vocabulary (books, like blogs, are language games) and my submission to the professor (classes are another kind of game). It occurred to me that in the future, the book I put down to listen to the song could have less power over my class identity, or professional designation, or consequently the value of my thoughts relative to the rank and order of society. The book could even be a work of fiction, like a novel or ancient history or systematic theology. Whatever it was, I could close it and put it down because the book would have no power over me. I could cede my attention to the song without the threat of penalty.

Then I began thinking about having the song, and ran through a mental catalog of venues that might have the song. These included a library, a record store, iTunes, friends. I soon assigned each venue a number of qualities according to a system that on immediate reflection appeared quite robust and silly, at which point I laughed and gave up the idea.

I didn’t need to have the song. The reason I didn’t need the song was that I already had it, right then as I was listening to it, in the coffee shop. All that thinking had forced me from the experience of enjoying it. The groove became thin because I wanted to possess it. And that is how I almost lost the song.

What I did then was to listen and let it do what it meant to do to me. The thing that it did was to make me dance this morning, two days later, in my kitchen where none of you can see me, as the chorus played back in my head. I could have it on my computer, and on the iPod that I really use for internet and games and not for music, but then it wouldn’t exactly be in my head, as a thing learned is in my head.

The Stevie Wonder song is just that: a thing learned. It plays back seemingly of its own accord. Sometime its melody will emit from my pursed lips as I walk down the street. People may hear that, and look, and wonder what’s on my mind, and hypothesize about what I’ve got churning up there, and what sort of person I am by implication. That’s something people do. It won’t stop the whistling, and it won’t stop the dancing. Whatever that says about me is fine.