By Annie Mesaros
I knew that it was queer to sing in front of someone, but greater than my discomfort was the hope that he might recognize what I thought of as my great talent, the one musical trick I was able to pull off. I started in on an a capella version of the latest Oscar Meyer commercial, hoping he might join in once the spirit moved him. It looked bad, I knew, but in order to sustain the proper mood, I needed to disregard his company and sing the way I did at home alone in my bedroom, my eyes shut tight and my hands dangling like pointless, empty gloves.
Twelve-year-old David Sedaris identifies himself as a rising star--the next great jingle-singer of his generation: “Mainly commercials, but not for any banks for car dealerships, because those are usually choral arrangements.” His heart brims, eager with hope.
He lays his dreams before Mr. Mancini, his guitar teacher, the one adult he’s identified as a potential ally in realizing his desire to perform product jingles in the voice of Billie Holiday.
I reached the end of my tune thinking he might take this opportunity to applaud or even apologize for underestimating me. Mild amusement would have been an acceptable response. But instead, he held up his hands, as if to stop an advancing car. “Hey, guy,” he said. “You can hold it right there. I’m not into that scene.”
It’s not just about jingles, of course. (It never is.)
David carries another hidden gem within himself and it feels inextricable from his musical aspirations. You see, David’s been realizing lately that he’d never noticed Joan’s breasts. In fact, he’s “never noticed anyone’s breasts.” He names his guitar Oliver, to the great shock of Mr. Mancini--”What the hell kind of a name is that? If you’re going to devote yourself to the guitar, you need to name it after a girl, not a guy.”
It’s about being seen and hoping against hope that when your heart is revealed, it will be so, so loved.
No, it’s not about the jingles. It’s about realizing there’s something different about him and hoping that will be an OK thing. It feels big and important--because it is.
I knew then why I’d never sung in front of anyone, and why I shouldn’t have done it in front of Mister Mancini. He’d used the word screwball, but I knew what he really meant. He meant I should have named my guitar Doug or Brian, or better yet, taken up the flute. He meant that if we’re defined by our desires, I was in for a lifetime of trouble.
Is it true--are we defined by our desires? And if so, is an OK thing? It feels big and important--because it is.
As for me, I grew up with the idea that feeling desire is a good indication that something is against God’s will. If I long for something, it’s probably “of this world,” which is the natural opposite of “of God.” And Jesus confirms this, leading us to pray: your will, Lord, be done. Not mine. The first step in following God is to deny myself.
Desire is human and therefore not divine. It is synonymous with temptation, and temptation leads directly away from God. Actually, if I continue along this line of thinking, temptation leads to idolatry, and idols must be smashed. Desire comes from the deep recesses of my heart. God must want me to destroy my heart.
Today I have some standards for theologies I’ll adopt. Now I ask, does this theology deepen and nurture my understanding of God’s love for me and my neighbor? Does it edify and bless me and encourage me to bless others? As I theologize I am articulating who I believe God is and who I believe God made me to be. I hold that God is a God of love, compassion, and faithfulness. Shaming desire in myself and others can have no place in this understanding of a God who loves with abandon.
“‘Hey, guy,’ [Mister Mancini] said. ‘You can hold it right there. I’m not into that scene.’” What you want is stupid. You want what you don’t deserve. You don’t deserve to want at all. “I mean, come on now. For God’s sake, kid, pull yourself together.” That kind of thinking and saying and being and doing can really mess with someone in a way that’s unkind, unloving, ungodly.
If God is good, and God makes us in God’s image, then maybe the question is whether desires can be bad. It’s detrimental to think of all desire in terms of binaries or dualities. It’s not human or divine, because to be human means to be of the divine. Our humanity is not in opposition to God, but rather an extension of God’s own heart.
Stand eyes shut tight, hands dangling at your sides, singing your little heart out, with the knowledge of the grace and peace of a God who makes beauty and desire out of chaos; who both knows and loves you.
Quotes are from David Sedaris’s “Giant Dreams, Midget Abilities,” in Me Talk Pretty One Day.