27 March 2020 – Life Lessons for Carina

(In 2015, not long after Jessica, my niece gave birth, I made a mixed tape of music for the baby, named Carina. These are the liner notes. Keep in mind, I’m writing to a 2-month-old baby.)

Dear Carina,

Here we are a couple of months after your birth and I present to you a birth day mix. Now, personally, I believe that the official Birth Day Mix, the one that is referenced with upper case first letters, is the responsibility of an uncle. I’ve tried to suggest this to Nick but I’m not sure if ground is being made in this department. If by the time you’ve got this back and forth communication thing down and he still hasn’t provided you with one, you might want to bring it up with him. If you find that difficult, know I’ve got your back. I can talk to him.

I’ve called this particular birth day mix “Life Lessons.” I know, I know, it might be a bit presumptuous on my part to think I have anything of value to share with you, especially considering the quality of your parents. So you are free to take this title with a grain of salt. If it helps you feel better about it, call it “Presumptuous Life Lessons,” “Stuff My Mom’s Paternal Uncle Thinks is Important,” or just “Things to Ignore.”

On that note, I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of prudence lately, having been reading a book called “The Virtue Driven Life.” In it, the author, Father Benedict J. Groeschel, makes a distinction between what he calls natural and supernatural forms of prudence. Natural prudence, to paraphrase him, has to do with doing the sensible thing. It’s naturally prudent to look both ways before crossing the street, for example.

Ask your mom.

Supernatural prudence has to do with doing the right or moral thing. Sometimes these things are in opposition. For instance, it wasn’t sensible, or naturally prudent, for German citizens to hide Jews during the Nazi regime because doing so could cost you your life. Still, it was the right thing, the moral thing, to do. Of course, few did it, the fear of one’s own safety being so great. Those that did do it, sheltered Jews, acted with supernatural prudence.

I’m not sure exactly where the life lesson for you is in all of that. I mean, sure, that looking both ways before you cross the street is good stuff. But you’re just a kid and will be for a long time. You’re probably not going to have to make a decision about whether to act with supernatural prudence, at least not for a while. In the meantime, though, you might want to study up on peer pressure.

Back to the mix. There are 23 songs, each chosen for at least one reason. In many cases, the reason is intended to be a life lesson or, as you know, something you might want to ignore. Your call on that. Rather than leave the lesson to chance, I’ve decided to explain it, which is what follows. If you decide to publish these explanations, either for the Humor or Self-Help sections of the new Amazon brick & mortar bookstore in Seattle (what’s up with that, really?), please split the royalties with a charity of your choice. If you’re struggling to find a charity, you might want to consider The Critter Connection. They rescue and rehabilitate abandoned or neglected guinea pigs.


—A (12/12/15)

1) Yellow Submarine – The Beatles
Follow the logic. A carina is a keel. A keel is the basic foundation of a ship. A submarine is a kind of ship. So the mix begins in honor of your name. I thought about using Lyle Lovett’s “If I Had a Boat,” which really is an inspired choice to begin any mix. But there is a reference in that song to having a pony and I didn’t want to suggest to you that you should expect to have a pony, at least not any time soon. Regarding a lesson here, if you want a pony, go to the racetrack.

2) Time Enough For Rocking When We’re Old – The Magnetic Fields
The lesson in this song is pretty much in the title. But if you need it spelled out, get off your duff and go dancing. Your iPod or iPad or whatever iDevice you’ll be using to alleviate boredom when you’re a teen can wait.

3) Fall On Me – R.E.M.
By the time you’re old enough to be thinking about the environment, I want you to know that people my age were thinking about it, despite the evidence you might have to the contrary. I mean, the country of Estonia got pretty much everyone to stop what they were doing for a day to pick up garbage, for Pete’s sake. I’m not sure if they sorted it into compost, recyclable, and stuff for the landfill, but they were doing something.

4) The Other Side Of Summer – Elvis Costello
See, here’s another one. Don’t let those Beach Boys harmonies fool you, though. By the time old El had written this song, the pessimism was mounting that humans didn’t have the wherewithal to care about the environment. That’s your problem to fix, Carina. Disposables or cloth? Figure it out.

5) Chances Are – Johnny Mathis
This song is on the mix for one reason and you get to decide if it’s a lesson. Right after you were born, there were some photos being passed around of you and your parents. You were pretty much just a little blob in a blanket. I mean you couldn’t even hold your head up yet. Get a life! But in every one of those pictures, your dad has a silly grin on his face. Chances are, he still does when he looks at you.

6) Dancin’ On Daddy’s Shoes – Leon Redbone
Here’s another one about your dad. In case you haven’t noticed, he’s really tall. You’re going to find this really useful at different times. For instance, you’re going to be hoisted onto his shoulders and get a clear view of some future San Francisco Giants pitcher striking out some future Seattle Mariners slugger in the bottom of the 9th of Game 7 to clinch the World Series.

7) Start Wearing Purple – Gogol Bordello
Really, you can’t start wearing purple too early. This lesson should be pretty obvious. Ask your great-grandmother (your mom’s dad’s mom).

8) Beastly Beauty – Peppina & hitRECord
This is supposed to be one of life’s most obvious lessons but no one really pays attention to it, at least not Hollywood producers, TV show casting directors, and Victoria’s Secret. The lesson is that true beauty comes from the inside out. And when this lesson can be complemented with a French chorus, it’s all the better.

9) Je Ne Sais Pas Choisir – Emily Loizeau
Speaking of French, this lesson comes completely in that beautiful language. I’m tempted not to explain it to you with the idea that it might inspire you to learn French. Really, the best time to start learning another language is when you’re super young. You can ask, Chloe, my daughter, your mom’s cousin (I think that means you’re related to her, too). She studied this in college. Oh, regarding the lesson, it’s something about the paradox of choice. Look it up.

10) I’m Sorry – The Lisps
Here’s the deal. It’s important to apologize when you’ve messed up something. But it goes further than just apologizing. You need to make things right again. Not sure how to do that? Ask the person who was wronged.

11) Asking For Flowers – Kathleen Edwards
Let’s just get this out there, state the obvious, identify the elephant in the room. Men can be pretty dense sometimes. This song explains it really well and is the first in a series of songs I’ve chosen to help make the point. Assuming you find yourself attracted to men, make sure you give your attention to guys that know how to give you the respect you deserve. And make sure you’ve studied up on consent, okay?

12) The Quiz – Hello Saferide
If you need some guidance on how to know if a particular guy is worthy of your time, you might want to create a little quiz for him to take. For instance, it’s just not okay to talk in the middle of Seinfeld. It just isn’t.

13) All I Wanna Do is Play Cards – Corb Lund
Or watch football, or drink beer, or hang out with his pals instead of you. Buyer beware!

14) Change is Hard – She & Him
And if you do choose badly at some point, or come to your senses after being swayed by a motorcycle, leather jacket, or whatever iDevice you’ll be using when you’re a teen, have the gumption to dump his sorry ass. Yeah, change may be hard and he may immediately start dating someone else, but it’s not your fault he’s a jerk. Don’t blame yourself like this chick.

15) The Part Where You Let Go – Hem
Love songs are really hard to write. Actually, maybe that’s not true. As some Beatle said, the world is full of silly love songs. Most are drivel, superficial. GOOD love songs are hard to write and we rarely hear them from the perspective of a woman. This one meets my criteria for being good. “Is this the part where you find out I’m there for you?” Is the guy finally going to get over his ego?

16) All Because – Ari Hest
And some guys can be super sweet and genuine. They’ve got their priorities clear and their heads screwed on straight. Again, I don’t want to assume that you’re going to be attracted to men. Hell, I don’t want to assume that you’re going to identify as female. I just want you to spend your time with people who respect you.

17) White Privilege – Macklemore
Here’s another lesson that might take some time to fully appreciate. Face it, you’ve got it good. You won the parent lottery. You got a house, regular food, access to the best education. And you’re white, which affords you all kinds of privilege. Your job is to understand that privilege and learn to be an ally for those who don’t have it. Get busy. The world is counting on you.

18) Soldier’s Things – Tom Waits
Crawl inside this simple song to understand the plight of a woman whose husband, a soldier, has died and she’s trying to sell his stuff to make ends meet. “This one is for bravery…”

19) Snails – The Format
The lesson here can be found in the first line, “Take it slow.” Let things unfold, don’t try to rush them. Everything has its own pace and when we try to force our agenda on that pace we tend to mess things up. Learn from snails who see the benefits in every inch.

20) Knots – Jeremy Messersmith
It takes some effort to actually understand the lyrics of this song but it’s worth expending the energy. In short, the song is about this girl who is a bad-ass drummer. She doesn’t take flack from anyone. We can all learn from her.

21) Prettier Than Me – The Muffs
It really doesn’t get simpler than the lesson in this song that comes from Kim Shattuck, leader and songwriter for the Power Punk band The Muffs. When you do something, do it for yourself. As a woman, do you put on makeup for someone else, or for yourself? The right answer is for yourself.

22) Baby Song – Super XX Man
Carina, you’re a baby. I said it. Call me crass, but it’s true. At the time of this writing, you’re a baby, two months old. Baby, baby, baby. And while you’re only 2 months old, your parents and family have been thinking about and imagining you for many months more than that. This song kind of gets at that, all the thought that goes into the excitement of there being a baby about to be born. The singer/songwriter is an acquaintance of mine named Scott Garred. He once dedicated one of his songs to Melinda and me at a Seattle concert.

23) I Did it All – Tracy Chapman
Tracy Chapman is one of the great songwriters of the last 30 years. You can’t go wrong when you want to listen to any of her albums, and her first from 1988 was a major wake-up call to social justice issues. To wrap up your birth mix I provide this song, chosen to encourage you to live your life so that when you look back at it you can say, “I did it all!”

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