I wish

Have you ever been sitting on pubic transit, perhaps during commuting hours, listening to a podcast or something on your iPod that incites in you a little irrepressible smiling or giggling? And you become the freak sitting there grinning to yourself while everyone around you looks like a sad robot?
Actual sad robot from Spike Jonze short I'm Here  -  image via

I had one of those moments today. I was listening to an episode of This American Life on BART coming back from San Francisco. Episode #259, "Promised Land" from August 8. Anybody catch that one? He starts off talking about Disney movies, and how so many of them and other musicals start with what they call an "I wish" song. Snow White wishes for the one she loves, Dorothy wishes for somewhere over the rainbow, etc. The examples are too many to count. The same thing happens again and again: the main character appears, sings their anthem spelling out what it is they're after, and this drives the story forward. Ira Glass observes that you start noticing this everywhere, and then? What does he do? He sings. He sings his own "I wish" song for the show, and this is where the smiling ensues. As far as I can remember, I've never heard him sing before, and I was just plum tickled.

But it got me thinking about how everyone has an "I wish" song. See the world, buy a house, graduate, retire, procreate, survive. Maybe you're still trying to place the tune, work out the melody or come up with the lyrics, or maybe you've been singing the same ditty your whole life. Whatever we're after, each of us has a song that drives our story forward. But unlike a Disney movie, our tale doesn't end happily tied ever after up neat with a bow. Our song isn't over when our wish does or does not come true, we just add more verses. 

Ira played the opening number from Stephen Sondheim's broadway musical Into the Woods as the BART train sailed over the sprawl of industry and suburbia of the East Bay Area. The voices of six characters spun together in a medley, all crying out their own respective wishes, and it was as if those voices were floating up out of the windows and chimneys of the tract houses below. Dusty, freeway-adjacent developments awash in grays, taupes and burnt siennas. Rooftops and sidewalks all diagonal lines and one foot in front of the other. Some of those houses are dreams realized, and some hide wishes that may never leave the driveway.

As for me, I've recently had a wish granted (one that took me months to come up with in the first place), and as a result I've got a whole new set of wishes. Today I started a brand new shiny job in San Francisco. It's on the 10th floor of a tall glossy building in the Financial District, and I have a cubicle, a company email address, and benefits. Now, having spent the last two years au pair-ing, traveling, camping, road-tripping, interning, and just generally floating around, this will be a huge change. My peep toe flats clicking on the waxy floor of the lobby as I made my way to the elevator this morning sounded like a foreign language. It's change, but I'm ready for it. I'm ready to find an apartment, buy a bike, and make San Francisco my own. Yes, friends, I'm ready to drive my story forward.

Stay tuned.


  1. oh my goodness, shan! i haven't even finished reading this yet but i had to comment because i listened to that EXACT same podcast and totally giggled at snow white's singing and also instantly fell in love with the entire way they set up the podcast. so wonderful.

    you are so hot for liking good podcasts. seriously. okay, i promise i'll finish reading this blog but i couldn't even wait to comment!

    trav baby

  2. Have you seen I'm Here? I caught it at Sundance and kept referring to it as the Robot film targeted to hipsters. The robots are very impressive. Definitely worth checking out.

    Three cheers for this American Life. I'm very late on this bandwagon but I've been listening to Ira nightly the past week before I go to bed. On Saturday while doing chores around the house and running errands I listened as well. I felt like an established woman. Here I am listening to public radio and getting shit done. I'm so high class, right? So this post made me smile in my cubicle.

    And congrats on your new job! Save a business card for me.

  3. You are a truly talented writer. The line about your shoes making a clicking that sounds like a foreign language is so genius!
    I'll be waiting on your novel...