GAMBLE: Thank you for listening

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I read somewhere that Johnny Cash, disappointed in his daughter Rosanne’s lack of appreciation for country music, spent a day making a list of one hundred essential country songs on a legal pad.

“This is your education,” he said, handing her the list.

I’ve always been jealous of that story, wishing someone old and wise would scribble out cut-and-dry indexes of things I haven’t figured out yet. Top one hundred comebacks. Fifty cures for insomnia. Ways to stop missing a person. Et cetera, et cetera.

I guess if I have received an alternative education, it’s taken a different shape than a legal pad.

Since starting college, my idea of luxury has changed drastically. Having enough quarters for two loads of laundry now qualifies as a week-maker. Hitching a ride places, and therefore avoiding public transit, is just pure indulgence.

I’m all about community and sharing train seats with strangers, but there’s something sweeter about haphazardly loading meager groceries and garbage bags of clothes in the back of someone’s car, sitting in the passenger seat, and playing with the radio knobs.

There are no better conversations than those had in cars. I’m sure of this. Topics aren’t forced or rushed, like they often are via telephone, but emerge instead as a stream of consciousness: thoughts provoked by song lyrics, questions kindled by DJs.

Last weekend, my dad drove me back to school, setting the scenery to the soundtrack of his smorgasbord of mix CDs. “Impossible Germany” by Wilco came on near the halfway point to Milwaukee.

“This has gotta be my favorite song of theirs,” he said, “even though I have no idea what it means.”

He’s right — the words are a bit of a jumble. But one line translates:

“Nothing more important than to know someone’s listening.”

Before I was hired to write this column, my priorities weren’t much like Jeff Tweedy’s. I valued nothing more than privacy. I kept journals with rubber bands around the edges like an overgrown Harriet the Spy because I loved writing, but only the part that secluded me from reality.

For over a year, I’ve mixed the dirt from my life with the ink on this paper, creating a new reality, page by page, with your help. Some columns required soul searches, others took no more than two hours and a pot of coffee, but regardless of what I’ve put in, you listened.

I’m not saying I deserved it. I’m just saying thank you.

Success in college is based on how well we’re able to listen to people’s life stories and lectures. It’s stifling. It’s exhausting. So if you’ve ever opened up this paper and listened to me gurgle secondhand news and vent about trifles, thank you for your hard-earned attention.

If you haven’t noticed, I’m not a perfect writer. Definitely not the deepest thinker. I don’t have many answers to many questions. I can’t grip a grapefruit, let alone the place we live. I’m a privileged, white college student, in other words, who really can’t offer any more wisdom than the next one.

What I do know is that I’ve learned from listening to people like me and nothing like me, to mix CDs and songs scrawled on paper. As much time as I’ve spent watering my roots in this community, having conversations with strangers and taking notes, I know I could do more. Drop me a line whenever you feel like being heard. I owe you.

In the meantime, enjoy the comfort of the passenger seat. Count the luxuries in your pockets. Treasure your privacy. Treasure your community, too. Listen to the songs people recommend, and remember that they’ll mean more if you set them to your own scenery.


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