A couple of weeks ago, as I was doing chores around the house, I decided to turn on the television. While I wasn’t sitting down to watch a program, I did want something on the TV “in the background” that I would enjoy tuning into now and then, and there wasn’t anything in the regularly scheduled line-up that was appealing to me. I scanned the selection of previously-aired shows that my cable provider makes available on-demand and free-of-extra-charge, and chose an episode of Glee. The title of the episode, I noticed, was “Guilty Pleasures” — entirely appropriate, I thought, feeling a bit sheepish (and anxious!) all of a sudden that I had picked this particular show.
In this episode, Mr. Schue is out with the flu; in his absence, Blaine and Sam come up with an assignment for the glee club – to sing songs that are “guilty pleasures.” “We all have some musical shame,” Blaine contends, as he works to sell the idea to others in the group, “You know, that secret love we dare not speak, but when it comes on the radio, we can’t help but turn up the volume and sing along!” With “Wake Me Up before You Go-Go” playing in the background, then, I folded laundry on the coffee table, and found myself musing, once again, over the notion for a blog post that I had been entertaining for a while, but had not yet been able to bring myself to write. I had a song that I wanted to use to illustrate an idea about the kind of relationships and conversations that make a difference for us when we’re feeling stuck, but wasn’t sure how to do so without admitting to a “guilty pleasure” of precisely the kind that Blaine had just defined in Glee. Me, the guy who can’t get from my front door to the mailbox in icy winter weather without limbs-flailing incidents of losing my footing every two steps – that’s just how coordinated I am (The Wild and Precious Present, 2013) – has long loved grooving to the beat of electronic dance music. One of my favorite songs in this genre is the 1999 debut single, “Blue,” from Europop, the first album by the Italian Eurodance group, Eiffel 65.
In “Blue,” we hear that an unnamed “little guy” — whom I will also call Blue — “lives in a blue world”; everything that he sees around him, all the time (“all day and all night”), is blue – his house (“blue … with a blue little window”), his car, the street, the trees. Even his girlfriend and “the people … that walk around” are blue. That Blue perceives, or interprets, the world as blue seems to explain his experience and the description of it as such – “everything is blue for him” (emphasis added), the narrator tell us. In addition, this monochromatic view of the world seems related to how Blue sees/experiences himself, as “everything he sees is just blue, like him” (emphasis added).
While there is a sense of correlation, then, between Blue’s view or interpretation of the world, and how he sees or experiences himself, the narrator goes one step further, I think, as he contextualizes Blue’s plaint, and offers us a kind of cautionary tale in the process (“Yo, listen up, here’s a story … “). He suggests that Blue’s current relationships, and the kinds of conversations they presently engender and support, do nothing to expand (and so, effectively, sustain) the “blue little window” through which Blue sees/interprets/experiences “his self” and “everybody around.” After all, even with a girlfriend and others in his midst, Blue “ain’t got nobody to listen (to listen, to listen).” The echo of the words “to listen” in this portion of the song creates just enough ambiguity — “to listen” almost becomes ”to listen to” – to suggest to me that Blue may not only need somebody “to listen” (to him, and to his story), but also somebody to whom he can listen (“listen to”), for his experience to be any different, any less hue-restricted and mood-restrictive.
How could having someone “to listen” and “to listen to” make a difference for Blue? While various characters in the “Guilty Pleasures” episode of Glee voice the view that relief comes from opening up to others about what we have kept to ourselves (As Blaine says to Sam about being a fan of Barry Manilow, “Once you stop hiding it, you’ll feel so much better!”), I’m going to propose that change comes more specifically from the experience of a certain kind of relationship and conversation in our lives. In this kind of relationship and conversation, we have someone “to listen” to us, and so, the chance to feel heard, to experience a sense of empathy and validation, and we have the opportunity “to listen to” how someone else processes our experience, to entertain other ways of seeing/interpreting, talking about, and responding to it that may be helpful to us. The word “conversation” comes from the Latin, “turning about with,” a phrase that describes my own sense of what happens in certain kinds of relationships and conversations – a “turning about [of an experience] with [another]” that helps us see the experience differently, often in terms of other parts or dimensions, or – we could say – colors. Some relationships and conversations help us see things in a polychromatic versus monochromatic fashion, and this shift in perspective and interpretation opens up a wider range of possible emotional and behavioral responses for us. We feel less stuck!
In Glee, Blaine’s ultimate “guilty pleasure” – that one thing that Blaine is so ashamed of liking that he refuses to admit it for a long while – is not Wham! but his “bestie,” Sam. Blaine feels so anxious about how Sam might respond to learning about his crush, so worried about freaking Sam out or jeopardizing their friendship, that he can’t bring himself to talk to Sam about what he’s feeling, despite invitation after invitation by Sam to do so. When Blaine does allow himself to be vulnerable, he discovers that Sam is not weirded out at all by his feelings; Sam says that he is flattered by the attention, and would feel a bit put out, in fact, if Blaine did not like him! In this conversation, Sam shares perspectives – that Blaine’s crush on him is no big deal, not a threat to their friendship, etc. – that Blaine was just not able to imagine before. His own fear, his sense of shame, colored his perspective on his feelings in a limiting way. Sam introduced Blaine to different meanings for those feelings.
The kind of relationship and conversation with Sam that made a difference for Blaine, that could make a difference for Blue and for us, when we’re feeling stuck (whether “blue,” or anxious), is not an experience that we can have only with others – we can also have it with ourselves. How does the relationship that you have with yourself support you? How do the conversations that you have with yourself in your own head limit or expand your sense of possibilities?
For more ideas about anxious thinking and responses to help us foster a greater sense of calm and confidence for ourselves, feel free to see other Thought Tonic posts by Scott Burns Kahler, MA, LMFT, ELI-MP, at thoughttonic.com; you can follow Scott Burns Kahler and this blog via e-mail, Google+, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, or RSS feed. Thank you for reading!