This year's brainless pop music uses the following lyrical pattern:
1. May I have your attention, stranger
2. I am currently sex-crazed and want to mate furiously with you
3. "They" (an amorphous collective of social peers) disapprove of me as I flagrantly violate their standards of behavior
4. Just to be clear, I will be mating with you tonight only, and have no intention of forming a relationship with you
Britney Spears songs epitomize this pattern-- most recently, "Hold it Against Me," in which the listener has the impression of being propositioned by one of the Chipmunks. Lady Gaga makes it through steps 1 and 2 before getting distracted by la petite mort and spending three minutes expressionlessly dry-humping the air in her "Edge of Glory" video. Pitbull nails all four steps in "Give Me Everything" while rasping and chuckling in a voice that makes me feel like I'm being lightly raped in the ear.
Songs like this make me uncomfortable. Yes, partly because I'm worried about catching chlamydia through the radio waves, but also because I'm worried about living reactively to this model. I'm worried about trying so hard to be not Britney that I live entirely inside my own walls. The personas that these pop artists put on are, sexually, ready at any moment to drop all of their boundaries and rush into total interconnection with a stranger, with no game plan for what happens the next morning. Most psychologists and gynecologists rightly discourage this behavior. The walls that keep us from doing this every Friday night are there for a reason. But I think and live as if all of my walls are as important as the walls that keep me from turning into Nicki Minaj.
Parents and churches and schools spend years trying to teach kids to build walls. Maybe, for some of us, the message was a little too effective. Do not, we learned, ever invest sexually in a person unless you expect a lifelong payout. Some of us apply that rule to everything. We build walls around our sexuality, and around our emotions, and around our time, and around our finances. When I encounter someone who needs what I've got-- my listening ear, a few hours of company, a boost of emotional support, the cash I'm planning on buying lunch with-- I play along but stay behind my walls, smug about being such a good steward of my life. It doesn't occur to me to recklessly charge into somebody else's personal space, tell them exactly what I want for and from them, and turn that desire into reality without concern for the danger to myself or the chance that there won't be a payout tomorrow. That would be an irresponsible way of living.
It would also be kind of like Jesus' way of living.
These days I have the walls that I picked up here in the city, mobile walls that I carry on my morning commute. I walk quickly, staring straight ahead, clutching my purse tightly. My eyes sweep across the faces of everyone else, all of us marching down the sidewalk, trying not to make a connection. If our eyes accidentally meet, we look away and pretend it didn't happen. If someone smiles at me, I feel confused-- does he know me? Is he being a creep? I set an apple on a homeless man's backpack as I cross the median. I don't stop to talk.
Walls tick me off. Fundamentalists have walls that keep my heart and mind and experiences from being relevant to their discussions about God. Catholics have walls that keep me sitting in the pew when my husband goes up to share the Eucharist. My own walls keep me from living in any number of ways that would probably please God more than the way I live now.
And there are less metaphorical walls out there. My brother lives and works just this side of a wall, patrolling the border between us and them, standing against the demons and against the saints on both sides. He's learning to be an heir of Constantine, binding God to Country. He's learning a life of barbed wire and sniper bullets and a drink of water for the stranger lost in the desert.
Sometimes I get the urge to hop over my walls and connect with the nearest stranger. Not like Britney when she sings about uncontrollably needing release (somebody slip saltpeter into this woman's french fries), but maybe as obnoxious in its own way. I want to know: hey, woman on the Metro elevator, what's inside your head? What are the beautiful things about you, the stupid things, all the junk you don't think is worth sharing? Here, this is me. Have my lunch money, and the thing I read in a book this morning, and the way my shoulder cracks that grosses everyone out, and my hope for a future in which everyone gets fed and all diseases are cured and my brother lives a long and successful life without ever being shot at by Zetas.
Sometimes, I want to jump my walls.