I'd push where I needed to pull

This week, we continue the Doors series with this beautiful story from Erin Watson. Erin is a Southern person living in Chicago and on the internet at www.torridly.org. Sometimes she writes some poems. She helps girls and women make art happen as part of Ag47 Collective, a wonderful organization we support with each Uncommon membership.

Seven doors separated my desk and the bathroom in the office where I used to work. They were tall and heavy and I constantly forgot which way to handle the handles, because they looked identical from either side. So I'd push where I needed to pull, putting my whole body against the door, like trying to knock through an immovable wall. Some days this seemed like a metaphor for how stuck I felt, after seven years working in the same place.

Every hour or so I filled a tall blue cup with cold water and drank it at my desk, so every hour or so I got up to walk to the bathroom, and every time it seemed absurd to have to open seven heavy doors on the seventeenth floor of a giant rectangular prism of glass and concrete plopped on a corner of downtown Chicago, just so I could walk back in the same circle and do it again. Every day I tried to compose a poem with seven doors in it: grey door, grey door, white door, purple door, grey door, brown door, white door. Every poem-attempt blended into an incoherent rhythm. I wasn't saying anything terribly true or useful in them. They were poems that said I was bored. Also tired, also cynical. It really was OK there. I'd just been around too long to see that.

I did write a couple angry office poems. Once, when I read them aloud, I announced that they were about how having a job in postindustrial capitalism is a Gothic horror. In retrospect, this wasn't my best work.

In September, I quit the job with seven doors. I get to write for a living now. My new workplace provides supportive housing to women who have experienced homelessness. Above my new office are women’s apartments. On the day I was hired, I walked through the upstairs hall on a tour with our CEO, hearing TV or cooking coming faintly from behind the closed apartment doors, greeting people who came out to see who was in the hallway.

I am still learning so much about what this work means and how hard it can be. But I notice that what looked like a barrier a few months ago now looks like part of a home– like a safe place. A door of your own means you get to choose what’s inside and what’s outside. You get to put together the room of your life. You choose how it will look. And when you tell the story of what it’s like there, it’s a story of warmth and compassion, free from boredom. — Erin

A milestone

For the first time, anyone can become a member of Uncommon! We've been building our online home for some time and after much help from our founding members, we just added a deceptively small word to the homepage: Join. More on this milestone in a future dispatch, but if you love this community and want it to thrive (and are feeling a bit adventurous), it would be an honor to welcome you to the front porch.


The latest dispatch asked, Do you have a favorite story about mistaken lyrics?

Nanya wrote:

One night when I was 20, I snuck out of the house (my parents' house) in the middle of the night. My friends were waiting in a car outside my building, listening to Radiohead's Fake Plastic Trees, arguing in that way only teenagers can about whether the song's lyrics were about breasts or not. "Let's ask her", they said pointing to me as I stepped in to the car, the only objective (and female) authority at that point. (It was.) We drove off to my new boyfriend's house, where I kissed him for the very first time and spent the night staring up at the ceiling, listening to dreamy music. I drove back five hours later at top speed, parked my friend's car in his driveway two doors down, and snuck back in to my house at dawn, ready to leave for work in a few hours. Nobody ever found out.
I found the Radiohead album with Fake Plastic Trees in it in Vienna a year later. I mailed it to my friend with the note "We were right. The song was about boobies."

Christine wrote:

My dad was figuring out how to download songs from iTunes one day, and he called me into the study to help him. I had to laugh out loud—he was trying to buy a Beyoncé album. I helped him out, and soon it was downloading. A few hours later, I went back to the study. He was singing and doing a funny dance to make me smile. "I'm a single lady, I'm a single lady," he sang. We both burst out laughing, and I had to correct his lyrics. But I'll forever remember his version when I hear that song now!

BJ wrote:

Oh yes .. my favorite story of mistaken lyrics is from when I was a child. I would sit, sizzling, in the  Texas-sun-hot vinyl passenger seat of my mom's Chevy Malibu passionately belting out my favorite song " FEEEEEELLIX .. whoooaaa whoa whoa FEEEEELLIX " Of course I was singing about the Felix the Cat one of my favorite TV babysitters.
My mom just used to laugh and laugh (and laugh!) at my rendition of the Andy Williams classic, Feelings.  To this day, I genuinely believe that Andy and I are the only ones that cany truly understand that Cat's emotional journey.

Carie wrote:

Sadly, I think there are more songs that I misunderstand than understand. I just don't have a good ear for picking out the correct words. For instance, I thought "No Rain" by Blind Melon said, "You know I have to keep my cheating strategied" and only fairly recently found out he's saying "keep my cheeks dry today." (Though really, if you were cheating, wouldn't you want a strategy?) And there are so many more. I remember driving around with my cousin Kelley back when we were teenagers, singing along to "Roam" by the B52s at the top of our lungs and then both of us stopping and saying, "What did you just say?" It turns out we were both making up words to that song, and our versions didn't match. I STILL don't know the real lyrics to Roam. I've looked them up before, but they never stick. I guess I'll just keep singing my version. (And no, I won't tell you what it is.)

Sara wrote:

I love mondegreens! And the fact that there is a name for misheard lyrics like this.
My most recent story of misheard lyrics had to do with a friend who thought "cross I bear" in "You Oughta Know" by Alanis Morissette was "cross-eyed bear" until we were all singing along in a car ride together. Then we proceeded to make up stories about this sad stuffed animal, unfairly denied in the wake of this awful breakup.

Adam wrote:

I'm way more of a sound person than a lyrics person when it comes to music. The sound, the feel, the vibe is of primary concern to me - so the lyrics are typically of secondary importance. Which means I quite often don't know the lyrics to the songs I listen to the most. My wife is often dumbfounded at how wrong I get lyrics to songs that I know and love so much. It's sort of a fun little thing for me to sing with total abandon in the car, while my wife shakes her head with a silent chuckle at how far off I am from the real words. I like to think it's a rather endearing quality I have.

Anna wrote:

My older brothers will never let me live this one down! I was a pretty sheltered 13-year-old, and there was a new song playing on the radio I felt I knew. I sang along: "First you plant the seed... then you go get a dragon!"
NOPE. It was the song Try Again by Aaliyah, and the lyrics were "If at first you don't succeed, pick yourself up and try again." (facepalm)

Amanda wrote:

When I was a kid, the song Lucille by Kenny Rogers was popular in country music, which was my father's favorite. I used to think the lyric was, "You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille / Four hundred children and a cop in the field."
Clearly I was a rather confused child. It's four HUNGRY children and a CROP in the field.

Ryan wrote:

Because, in the age of iPods and iPhones, I don’t pay that much attention to the titles of songs, I have always misheard the lyrics of “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey”, thinking that the last word of this line was “money”. I imagined the sentence to be a subtle reference to the privileges of wealth, but after someone corrected me on Facebook recently, I have no idea what the song means. It’s right there in the title, though.

Vivian wrote:

I work a 3rd shift in a printing facility. As a female on a shift that makes you adapt your life from a fun-sunshiny day person to an evening vampire, this could be daunting, but I have always been a night person. I have the ability to do my best work at night, ever since I was about 10 years old. A grand discovery for me!
Music and visual arts has always been a great outlet and therapy for me. I can be considered a little geeky more so than nerdy in that I love to create things that have to do with science fiction or history meets sci-fi. I never knew that in the evening hours, many people who love those two things are evening owls, too. That was also a great discovery!
Presently, I am enjoying the benefits of a new job (after not having one for over 3 years) that opened my world to a new industry and challenges me to think differently from what a conventional individual would think.
At my job, I met an interesting fellow who shares many of my views on various things (arts, sports, culture, geek, nerd, pop culture, etc...) as well as disagrees with other views, but enjoys the art of music very much.  He became my co-worker and we have discovered that we have very similar takes on music; e.g. genre, tones, speeds, decades and ultimately lyrics.
Subsequently to working with him, he became my "Significant Other", which has to be kept under the table, as it is not condoned in this environment. But we have our little moments, here and there. One evening as we were beginning our day (i.e. our shift), I started playing a new playlist from the 80's. So many wonderful songs came from that decade that help you relive the memories attached to them. In the same way, you gain a better ear to listen to what was being sung.
The song starts playing and I hum and sing the tail end of the chorus. “honest, I see you". And I repeat it again and again, all girly and 80's like. Then he turns around and asks “What did you just sing?" I respond "Honest, I see you".
He cracks a grin with an awesome dimple that pops up when there is a deep truth to what he hears and he says to me "Babe, I think those are not the correct words to the song."
Perplexed, I responded, “Really?"
"Yes," he chuckles. "I think it's the title of the song." I view the icon of the app on my phone, open it up and see the cover of the song in question, and sure enough it was the title of the song!  To my surprise, I was completely off. The title of the song was "Our Lips are Sealed" by the Go-Go’s. Ahh, the 80's!

Uncommon reads

Why broken sleep is a golden time for creativity by Karen Emslie:

It is this dreamy flow that seems to characterise creative work undertaken in the middle of the night. Between sleeps, there is the stillness, the lack of distraction and perhaps a stronger connection to our dreams.

In Defense of Technology by Andrew O'Hagan:

People become addicted to the weights and measures of their own experience: We value our own story and what it entails. But we can’t become hostages to the romantic notion that the past is always a better country.

Words without meaning & the reality of networked communication by Om Malik:

And when I do it, I pat myself on the back, for having spread the social lubricant of nicety. It is a gutless and meaningless action that should serve as a reminder that most of us are too busy to remember anything and given our state of constant communication we are slowly stripping out meaning from words and using them to just get-the-job-done.

Network without networks by Paul Ford:

He was just a kind ear when I needed as many kind ears as I could find. I don’t remember what I said; I just remember being heard. That’s the secret to building a network. People want to be heard.

A conversation with Jonathan Ive:

This was the beginning of this realisation that what we make completely testifies to who we are.
I really, truly believe that people can sense care. In the same way that they can sense carelessness. I think this is about respect that we have for each other. If you expect me to buy something where all I can sense is carelessness, actually I think that is personally offensive. It's offensive culturally, because it shows a disregard for our fellow human.

Your turn

What are your favorite organizations that do the hard work of making things better?