Category Archives: Words

Captive on the Carousel

Joni Mitchell’s Circle Game… For some reason this song was stuck in my head the other day.  I kept singing what I could remember of the chorus over and over and over until I could hardly stand it.  So I pulled it up on YouTube to listen to the entire thing – hoping someone had done a version with the lyrics.  I didn’t find one like that, so I just sat and listened carefully. 

There should be a warning label that reads ATTENTION MOTHERS OF SONS: this song will cause feelings of sadness and melancoly.  Mothers of 16-year-olds are particularly cautioned.

It starts out okay – cute and sweet with memories of little kids and how everything is big to them.

Yesterday a child came out to wonder
Caught a dragonfly inside a jar
Fearful when the sky was full of thunder
And tearful at the falling of a star

 

 

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game

Then, just like time itself, the song sneaks up on you with a quick move through ten years.  Ten whole years! 

Then the child moved ten times round the seasons
Skated over ten clear frozen streams
Words like ‘when you’re older’ must appease him
And promises of someday make his dreams

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game

In just 4 lines, she paints such a perfect picture of what it means to hit double digits for the first time, when all you want is to grow up.  And if you are the mother of a son (or at least if you are me) you can see him at that age, with clothes that never quite fit because he is growing so fast, and a sweet smile much of the time, and dirty tennis shoes and grass stains on the knees of his jeans.  So, okay, you adjust to that.  

Then she hits you with this:

Sixteen springs and sixteen summers gone now
Cartwheels turn to car wheels thru the town
And they tell him take your time it won’t be long now
Till you drag your feet to slow the circles down

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game

And (again if you are me), it hits you that hey, this is where he is now… He is still totally looking forward.  I’m the only one looking back in this family. But the verse ends with that little dig about how close the time is when he’ll start wishing he could slow things down.  In my head it’s such a clear picture: he’s heading full force into the future with all his dreams ahead of him, and there is no way, NO WAY, that he can see how very precious this time is, and how fast it will be gone.  And then, Ms. Mitchell covers that too:

So the years spin by and now the boy is twenty
Though his dreams have lost some grandeur coming true
There’ll be new dreams maybe better dreams and plenty
Before the last revolving year is through

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game

And now I’m reminded where he’s headed. That bright future which I hope will hold uncountable joys for him, but which I know will also hold challenges, and disappointments, and even pain.  So I think it’s good that he doesn’t know, that he can’t know what lies ahead. And I think that it’s a blessing that teenagers in general have such a strong forward focus.  I don’t mean to paint too rosy of a picture – I know life isn’t easy when you’re a teenager.  But it does seem to offer a promise of a future full of dreams and hopes and plans.

So, I’ll sit here and listen to the song one more time, and cry a little, because that’s what I do.  But before he gets home from work, I’ll close down the song, and clear away the tears, and get off the computer so he can finish his homework, and just let the painted ponies keep going ’round and ’round – because I’m no where near ready to get off the carousel yet.

My Obsession with This American Life

I’ve heard stories from This American Life before – usually from some other NPR show where they played one story from the show, or even only one part of a story.  After I had exhausted the recent archive of other NPR favorites like Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me last week, I clicked on This American Life  http://www.thisamericanlife.org/. I listened to one day’s collection of stories, which the host, Ira Glass, calls “acts”.  Then the most recent one before that, then another.  Now I’m officially obsessed.

So far, I’ve listened to all of the 2011 episodes and all of the 2010 episodes and I’m making my way through 2009. I’ve made notes about a couple of individual “acts” that I might use in my GEP classroom this fall.  Maybe my students will roll their eyes. Maybe they will be interested and accidentally learn something. Maybe one, just one, will become addicted like I am.

I just love a good story, don’t you?