You murmur your poems
in a hall of doors and mirrors and
I strain to hear.
Your voice barely carries
through the staid air
so I make eyes with the reflection of a bodacious blonde,
herself half awake.
These mirrors broadcast more effectively
than the second generation speakers erected by grad students.
You command this room, its stifled yawns and watering eyes,
but poetry is a dead art,
selling twelve more collections
of your critically-beloved, publicly-ignored
jumble of words.
Well, I fail to make an impression on her,
the red-lipped heiress who exits
before the free pinot gris evaporates.
There are others:
a brunette in a knit cap,
two French girls discussing a boy,
professors of literature.
For an hour, we are your audience,
but afterwards, like ex-lovers,
we are too ashamed to make eye contact.
You murmur your poems
Death Cab for Cutie – No Room In Frame
The newest Death Cab album, Kintsugi, is getting mixed reviews, which is pretty much par for the course for latter day DCFC (or, really, any once critically beloved band), but for my money this is their most thoroughly enjoyable album since Plans. There’s a darkness throughout the album – reflecting Ben Gibbard’s recent divorce from Zooey Deschanel – and that’s exactly what was needed to rejuvenate the band (sorry, Ben). For that reason, “No Room in Frame” is the perfect opener, a bitter kiss off to a lover who is too enamored with her own fame and public appearance to allow room for him. It’s biting, incisive and tinged with hurt, like every great Death Cab song should be. Oh yeah, it’s catchy, too.
The Mountain Goats – Heel Turn 2
Last year, John Darnielle released Wolf in White Van, his first novel. Well, technically his first novel, because in reality most of his albums are so full of details and painfully true characters that it feels like I’ve been reading Darnielle books for years. When the most recent Mountain Goats release, Beat The Champ, was announced, I was a little skeptical: an entire album about wrestling? Well, no shock, Darnielle managed to take a subject I couldn’t care less about and find the pathos and humanity in it. “Heel Turn 2″ is the centerpiece of the album, and besides for having his trademark lyrical vulnerability, it makes a genuine left turn halfway through the song: The vocals disappear and all that’s left is gorgeous, haunting piano work. In a career built on unexpected maneuvers, there’s really only one thing you can count on from Darnielle: Beautiful music.
Sufjan Stevens – Fourth of July
If you’re seeing a pattern with these choices this time, there’s a reason for that. This has been a flat out phenomenal year for music so far. I feel spoiled. Not only are some of my favorite artists releasing music, but none have disappointed. Sufjan Stevens came out of hiding with Carrie & Lowell last month, and man does it pack an emotional wallop. Sonically, the album is probably his least varied creation so far – mostly unadorned vocals and piano or guitar with lilting atmospheric tones floating behind him. Yet, each song evokes very specific emotions, like the devastating “Fourth of July” (which brings to mind another holiday song by Stevens, “Casimir Pulaski Day”). If I had any nitpicks with this album, it’s that it was released 3 months too late. This is clearly winter music.
Damien Rice – I Don’t Want To Change You
Dropping back to last year (only because I already mentioned the Decemberists in my last entry in this series), I have to give a shout out to Damien Rice’s lovely return from exile, “My Favourite Faded Fantasy.” Rice vanished after his last, not-quite-critically beloved album, 9. Folksinger with a guitar is always going to risk being a little too ‘soft rock’ for the critics, and admittedly some of his lyrics can be a bit ponderous. But Rice’s gift has always been in the gut-punch manner his songs connect both the saddest and happiest parts of love in one moment. In that way, “I Don’t Want to Change You” is classic Damien and a stand out track on an album that constantly reminds me why I used to listen to O night after night in my college years.
Taylor Swift – Style
Hate if you must (must you?). Question my manhood (you wouldn’t be the first). Think Taylor Swift is annoying (eh) or a bad singer (eh) or has lousy legs (I will fight you to the death), but it doesn’t matter. I could pretend otherwise, but the truth is, I can’t get enough of this song. I thought “Shake It Off” was catchy, I enjoyed the self-deprecating wit of “Blank Space,” but “Style” is where TSwift (I promise I will never write that again) hits it out of the park. I’ve made no secret of my affection for pure pop gold, and that’s what she’s managed to create here. It’s easy to hate Taylor Swift when she’s talking about life in New York City or saying stupid, 14-year-old girl shit in interviews. It’s a whole lot harder to hate her when she just lets the music play (and, also when she’s wearing a “tight little skirt”).
I know I wear the addict’s gaunt,
thin in a skeletal way, sallow eyes,
You can never trust me
to repent or represent
your best interests.
I will fail in formalities
and Christian charity.
But I have forsaken my heaven
in the pursuit of lips
and the syllables on them.
If I appear to need a meal,
it’s because I sacrificed for art:
You suppose it’s simple.
I know it’s not enough.
There’s more to give,
more to strip away,
an artifice of skin and ambition;
always more to lose.
You believe in the rhetoric,
I believe in the man
or what’s left of him.
Welcome to the great new game to play with all your white friends:
Which Region of the U.S. is Most Racist?
Which Region of the U.S. is Most Racist? can be played with as few as two (2) players, but it makes a great party game and there’s even an online version that can be played in the comments section of any article about a non-white celebrity or politician.
The rules are simple!
The first player picks any Region in America that isn’t ‘The South’ and states I Do Declare: “[Said Region] is more racist than The South.” Ex. “The Northeast is more racist than The South.”
Once the declaration has been made, that player must then supply one Intolerance Anecdote that illustrates the overwhelming racial prejudice of said Region. More points are awarded to stories that are specific and invoke “a black friend.”
Now the second player has two choices: They can counter with a Southern Gentleman, an example of more egregious racial prejudice from The South, or they can Up the Antebellum by picking a brand new Region and stating I Do Declare: “[New Region] is even more racist than [Previous Player’s Region].
Ex. “The Midwest is even more racist than The Northeast.”
The round continues until all players have had their say. Then the first player has a choice to either provide another Intolerance Anecdote or they can choose to invoke Brotherhood and ratify another player’s declaration of racial prejudice. If this occurs, both players must provide Intolerance Anecdotes in defense of [Said Region]’s prejudicial dominance.
(In case of only two players, this officially ends the game. This ending is incredibly rare.)
The game ends when the players have gotten sick of each other and themselves. The winner is the player who maintains the least Cognitive Dissonance while proclaiming entire regions of the country ‘racist’ without a sense of irony. They are deemed the Carpetbagger and awarded hours of smug self-satisfaction.
Happy Gaming and Good luck!
*Warning: “Which Region of the U.S. is Most Racist?” is not recommended for children under 13 or for groups of mixed ethnicity.
I’ve been writing. I have created drafts of the first 2 chapters of 10 Cities / 10 Years: The Book (not the title). It was in those first cities – Charlotte and Philadelphia – that the foundation of the whole endeavor was set, both in experience and in patterns: Move; Meet; Learn; Love; Detach; Disintegrate.
For much of what I’ve written, I’ve relied on memory, an imperfect capsule. I didn’t start out trying to capture every moment as it happened. I didn’t keep meticulous journals and notes to document my travels or my evolution as I progressed through 10 cities. Instead, I have snippets of remembrances: poetry, letters, rants written down, the occasional diary entry. The fullest details are left to be reconstructed through the loose connections and misfilings of my frayed synapses.
This is how myths form.
How I reassemble this story, as a series of events building up to a decade, will not be how the other participants – those who only appeared for a short time, a year or less, maybe only a month – will remember it. I will tell stories that some people won’t remember at all. I will leave out happenings that others will have believed to be of utmost importance.
The final product will be a version of history. Not history.
I have taken to reading old emails to fill out the memories. I’m lousy with names, always have been. If I’m introduced to someone, there’s a 50/50 chance I’ll have forgotten the name by the end of the conversation. Part of the problem is that I’m a visual learner. When I see something written down I am 10 times more likely to remember it.
The other problem is I prioritize my socializing: If there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to leave my life and I will never see you again, I won’t put much effort in storing the information.
Now, as I’m sitting down to recount old stories, I am realizing that there are ancillary characters who, though not particularly vital in the grand arc of my story, still played an important role for a brief moment. And their names are mostly lost in a mixture of time, space and liquor.
Thankfully, I was a better documentarian than I realized. It turns out that my aversion to phones (seriously, don’t ever call me) served a purpose: I have written literally thousands of emails to friends and lovers over the years. Sometimes they were nothing more than a single sentence, a brief greeting when I was feeling lonely or I knew the recipient was having a rough day. Much of the correspondence is built on long forgotten inside jokes.
But there are longer letters in those digital file cabinets in which I wrote at length about the events of my days. In one email to a friend, I discussed attending a house party after my first week in Philadelphia. I have no memories of that party, and the letter is short on specifics, but I did list the names of my neighbors: David (the landlord), Phil, Seth and Alexis. None of these people were especially important to the direction of my life, though I did spend a number of nights attending parties and shows with Alexis. Knowing her name doesn’t strengthen my memories of the year, but it does provide a precise detail by which a reader can latch onto her as a character.
It’s these kinds of details that make me grateful for the nearly limitless storage capacity of Gmail. And yet, in those dusty tombs are also the fragments of many lost relationships.
I have never intentionally thrown out a letter or a note from a friend. If it was handwritten, I most likely have it somewhere. Even if it’s nothing more than a Post-it note, it’s likely stored somewhere in my file of papers. When I was a child, I received an odd penpal letter from a boy in Russia (odd because it was in response to a letter I had never written) and I’ve kept it ever since (I never wrote back). There is just something about words written with pen or pencil that hold so much power.
Most of those notes are from old lovers. There are letters of courtship and eroticized notes from the height of romance, but there are also desperate recriminations and sad postmortems from the failing or failed end of a relationship. I’ve kept them all. They are history, not told by the victors, but by the defeated.
In the early goings, when I left a city for the next, I had 1 or 2 ex-girlfriends who were reliable e-companions. I was always trying to stay friends with exes in those days, and so our emails back and forth still included pet names and the occasional admission that feelings had not faded. But we were trying (or trying to try) to be platonic.
There is nothing sadder than an old love letter, except perhaps an old love letter that was never meant to be a love letter. To sit down with the specific intention of expressing one’s feelings in a letter is a reflection of love, albeit a calculated one. To sit down, though, with the simple idea of writing about one’s day, only to be so overwhelmed by your need and longing that you pour out your feelings on the page, well… that’s just love.
And it’s gone.
Ex-lovers move on, as they should. They get engaged, they get married, they have children and they don’t go through their old emails and love letters and reminisce about some phantom to whom they once foolishly devoted themselves.
Well, perhaps they do. Even in happiness and contentment, they must wonder about the past and try to remember how both the pain and the pleasure could have felt so intense. They wonder if it was ever real. They have their doubts. They have their memories.
An Impossible Task
When this decade ends, I’ll string together a through-line from Charlotte to Brooklyn, attempting to assemble a cohesive story out of 10 disjointed, directionless years in which I spent as much time trying to forget as I did remembering. I’ll piece it all together with love letters, emails, notes on scraps of paper, photographs and, most importantly, memories. Yours and mine.
It will be a lie. It will be a myth. It will be a kind of truth. Like a love letter.