It wasn’t the taped-together cover, nor the fuzzy orange ovals floating in a darker orange ether, nor even the giant black-and-white close-up of fork tongs and their shadows that made me so sad. It was my own happiness. Which is absurd because if I can’t be happy when I’m happy, when can I be happy?
[Ceyda just called and said we can’t watch any films tonight because Leili doesn’t want to, so I said, “Maybe we can put plays on for each other,” only Ceyda heard, “Maybe we can put pastries on each other,” which I in turn heard as “put pasties on each other,” pasties being a word that Ceyda, who is Turkish, doesn’t know, so I explained it to her.]
After listening to the final song, Sing Swan Song (did you know – I just looked this up – that swans sing some exquisite song as they die, thus the expression swan song?), I realized that the song list is a map, each song a stop along a route you laid out. Or that’s what it felt like to listen, a full day between songs, and that too is why it was heartbreaking: because I want to live (I typed love) in that place (a place forever down the road?) and never leave. I’m reminded of the songlines – vast labyrinths of invisible pathways preserved in the form of songs. It’s a bit much when speaking of a mix CD, but who knows what our descendants will be into and anyway the thing rocked.
Song 17 is Nick Cave’s “The Weeping Song.” I found the production bombastic. As I listened I thought that Nick Cave would be a really intense person to have over for dinner.
Also something in the music made me remember a time when, high and freaked out, a man appeared in my head and helped talk me down. He was older and had a nice voice. I was so stoned I didn’t realize I had conjured him.
Then I remembered the time I got caught in an undertow. This is not a metaphor for something; I got caught in a real undertow and couldn’t get uncaught. The shore was right there, with hundreds of people on it, but I couldn’t get to it. I thought of calling for help but was too embarrassed to do so, so close to the shore.
Wasted day. Don’t want to say what I did, or rather didn’t do, except to note that I watched as Ryan Nyquist sewed up the X-Games Bike Stunt Park competition by putting together a Double Truckdriver, 360 Bar Spin Backflip over the Spine, One-handed X-Up Backflip over the Sharkfin, and finally a 720 over the Spine. Now my head hurts. I listened to a song (not Song 15, which was the sweet and melodic “405” by Death Cab for Cutie) but that song by Caetano Veloso I mentioned in Song 5, a link to which was subsequently sent by a kind reader. It nearly made me cry. That was today’s highlight: crouching with my ear next to the lousy mono speaker and feeling overwhelmingly sad and melancholic.
My friend Eva is visiting me for a few days on her way back from Bali where she spent a month with her boyfriend, a Balinese shadow puppeteer. She phones him in Bali three or four times a day. After each conversation she reports how affectionate he was on a scale from sparingly to exceedingly. Rarely does he rate higher than sufficiently, although in fairness to him, I sense that Eva’s a hard grader.
The one thing that bothers me about the guy is his cellphone addiction. Once when they were having sex (totally great sex, says Eva), his cellphone rang and, incredibly, he stopped what he was doing and got up to answer it. That’s an addiction.
The eighth song is by PJ Harvey. It’s called The Garden. This morning Eva and I listened to it together, except she spent the entire time downloading photos of her boyfriend.
A friend made a compilation CD for me and I’ve been listening to one song a day and more or less writing about that experience but not really. (Yes, one song a day: I have oodles of self-control. And by the way, today’s song, Je Ne Respire Plus, Milos by Domnique A, was intense and excellent.) Maybe you already knew. But what you didn’t know is that this same friend recently received a weird and scary email.
there will be nuclear war this month – i just wanted you to know.
My friend doesn’t know any Stanley Dougler of Boise, ID. When she forwarded the email to me, I wrote back that if there is a nuclear war this month, the first thing she and I will think of will be Stanley Dougler of Boise, ID. Now you will too.
I meant this as a joke of course, but then today I wondered what I’d do if I believed what Stanley Dougler believes. It seemed a good question, but as it turned out I couldn’t imagine believing such a thing. No vision, no matter how vivid and apocalyptic, is going to convince me to send emails to strangers, or to do whatever I’d do as a result of such a belief. So I gave up on that and instead considered a related question, one others have pondered, and still others have faced in real life: What would I do if given a month to live?
My response was immediate and certain, but before I say what it was, I want to say what my friend Eva said. She said she’d spend the first two weeks writing her life story, a book called Things I Noticed On My Way Through.
“Why not write it now?” I asked her.
“Lack of discipline.”
“A death sentence would give you discipline?”
“I already have a death sentence and I’m not writing anything.”
We were having this conversation in Starbucks and she was drinking a double tall mocha.
“Why would a more specific death sentence change things?” I asked.
“The illusion of immortality. All day long we live with the expectation to live. We know on some level we’re going to die, but we don’t expect it to be today or tomorrow. If I knew I had a month left, I would write.”
Sadly this is probably true: Eva would write if given a month to live. One reason this is sad is that Eva can really write and really wants to write. The other reason is that in lieu of such a sentence, Eva probably won’t write. So Eva needs a highly improbable tragedy to do the one thing she really wants to do.
My lot is similar, not that I would dream of writing at such a time. Instead I’d post a thank you on this site, either mention my illness or not, and go see the people I love. That was my first and only thought. I would visit friends around the country, exclaim my love for them all, get drunk a lot, cry buckets, possibly sleep with a certain ex-girlfriend, and consume a lot more coffee than I do now, no longer needing to fear developing a more serious habit.
Also, silly but true, if I listened to my friend’s CD again, I would listen to all nineteen songs in one go and forget this one-song-a-day crap. Life is too short.
I sit at a school desk outside a bar, thinking about my prayer. You’ve gone inside the bar to pee. Across the street, perched above another bar, is a giant neon sign shaped like a cigarette. The red tip flashes on and off as though someone, a giant, were smoking.
A man walks by I immediately recognize. He sells belts and assorted junk at the corner of South 5th and Marcy. Maybe you’ve seen him. He’s skinny and Asian and lays out his merchandise on a white canvas laundry bag, the kind with a drawstring. I can’t imagine he’s ever made a sale: his belts are ugly and he is insane.
I never told you about my prayer. Basically I talked to myself out loud and explained what was happening, which was that there was something I wanted so much I was willing to pray for it, despite having no one and nothing to pray to. This was part of the prayer. The idea was to be as honest as possible. I said that it felt wrong to be praying for what amounted to a personal favor and that I therefore saw no reason it should granted. I said that the thing I wanted had to come of its own and not through some magical manipulation of reality. I was on my knees as I said these things, kneeling near the end of my bed, and had my hands joined in an approximation of hands joined in prayer. I said that instead of having my desire granted, a better thing to ask for, a better thing to be given, was what I called joy but what I really meant as wisdom in the face of loss.
The sixth song is beautiful. He never quite says what he means and yet you understand what he’s saying.
At the co-op yesterday I watched a baby stick her foot in her mouth. She managed it without using her hands. As I shopped I made a mental list of things babies don’t know. Although it was a long list (babies know almost nothing, as it turns out), today I can remember just four items:
I could see the musicians as they played. They were in a room, possibly at different times, wearing headphones. A series of images floated by, extreme close-ups: the drummer’s wrist, a hand moving over keys, a guitar pick held between thumb and forefinger, the taut neck muscles of the man singing. I didn’t want to see these things, preferring to experience the song as one thing, a kind of wave, rather than a collection of sounds made by several people in a room, perhaps at different times, according to some complicated arrangement.
I once saw a film with Caetano Veloso. I had never seen him before, wasn’t expecting to see him, had no idea what he looked like. But when he opened his mouth, out came that voice – a voice, I realized, I had never quite thought of as belonging to a person, nor even being a voice exactly but simply some beautiful thing, like the way maps are beautiful, or manhole covers.
This song made me realize you are capable of hearing what I hear but in such a way that it becomes something else. Of course this is always true, about everyone and everything, and yet I still manage to forget it. It’s as though I forget I have a shadow.
In the film I watched last night, a woman gazes out the window during a fight with her lover and threatens to take up with the first man she sees. In the next scene, she carries through on the threat, following a random man to a train station and staring at him as he buys his ticket. Then we see the man calling his wife from a hotel where he’s in bed with the woman. He tells his wife what has happened and says that he’s going with the woman to Barcelona. In Barcelona we’re treated to numerous shots of the woman’s naked breasts in the moonlight. The film could well have been called Naked Breasts in the Moonlight. In his journal, in 1913, Kafka wrote: “Went to the movies. Wept. Boundless entertainment.” I didn’t weep but became sleepy.