I've been crying off and on for two days. I don't really know what happened, and it hasn't happened in so long that I'm really not pleased. I mean I know my hair is all fucked up and needs help, but really. Just driving down the road to go shopping the other day I was all tweaky about a variety of things and started to feel very weird and bad and self-edit my thoughts and feelings as I am prone to doing so athletically lately. And a frighteningly intense and very specific memory of a neck and a lap popped into my head from out of absolutely nowhere and my heart broke in half over something totally useless and very ancient, and I started crying and crying, I guess because it was so visceral? And then I told myself I was a jerk for crying, which didn't make me stop crying at all, much like when assholes hit their kids and then yell at them to stop crying about it because they'll give them something to cry about, which you ALREADY DID YOU ASSHOLE. My brain is an abusive parent. Great.
All I ever learned from love was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you. It seems like maybe I ought to have a little bit more to show at this point, but that's a flimsy point to prove.
My dear friend and I discussed it and yes, it is a combination of birthday and holiday blues, a comedown from the concentrated variety of stresses from the past few months and the usual stuff that I can't explain to anyone, really. School was good but it was just...a lot - and it's something no one can really understand because they didn't live it. I get some reactions like "Oh, wow, why are you so busy?" because really it's not like I've gone to basic training or something that seems like it would be that difficult. Still, it was the most intense, demanding thing I've done in a very long time, if ever. This is especially because I just brought it, for lack of a better term, and worked really hard in a compressed period of time to do better than mediocre work, because mediocrity in this case just seems like such a waste and besides I really really hate it as a matter of principle.
Last night there was a meltdown involving differing family expectations (oh please, save us all from those) that triggered another attack of something horrible, and holy mother of God there resulted some deep, pathetic sobbing that hasn't been seen in years and demands that Christmas be cancelled. I seriously stated that I wasn't participating and would like it cancelled, a request that was completely ignored, of course, because no one plays along when I really need them to these days.
Then there's everyone linking to this video which just flattened me completely, and isn't December difficult enough already? (I can't even explain the sobbing), and then...
Then. I'm reading this book. It's called "Love is a Mix Tape", by Rob Sheffield, who writes for Rolling Stone. Rob's wife Renee died almost 10 years ago, suddenly at 31 from a pulmonary embolism. He's moved on to New York after trudging through years of grief in Charlottesville and is now remarried, but this book is an elegy to a woman who loved music and him and with whom he loved music. It is a jewel of a book that I've been waiting to come out in paperback for almost a year, although now I wish I'd gotten it over with and bought it with a coupon in hardcover just to support a book like this.
Shortly after the car breakdown the other day this book made me cry in the passport office, just the sheer emotion, beauty and humor with which he writes about her. I felt lonely for him at the time and co-opted my own lonely place when reading about it, which wasn't much of a stretch. I feel really pissed off that Renee died and that I didn't know Renee and that I don't hang out with more people like Renee. I also think I started feeling somewhere around, oh, the second chapter like no one would ever love me like this again, and quite possibly how maybe they never have, and how sad that was because what's all the fuss about over other things that don't matter at all? THEY DO NOT MATTER AT ALL and we spend so much time on them at the expense of the important things. So when I hit the part that really touched me in the passport office I really wanted to scream really loud, but I tried to act all normal sitting on my hard black plastic chair, like the tears were just a natural response to being in a public agency, which really isn't so far from the truth.
Rob is killing me softly. It was just too much, with the words and music and the way he expresses himself about love and grief and coping with kindness after someone dies or really even at all. First of all, the book is set up in a way that couldn't miss (for me), since every chapter starts with a mix tape list and includes an explanation of how that tape or those songs worked together. Specifically, also the mixes relate to him and Renee in some way, too, which is fascinating to read, especially because in the 90s I was into similar music and have a similar relationship with the culture on a grassroots level that he and Renee had - not that I've dj'd at an indie station like they did, but I've stood on the sidelines of that kind of life and have much the same mindset where it's concerned, where you personalize your relationships with the artists and the tunes so they really are your constant soundtrack whether you realize it or not. I also tend to run in smaller circles of people who get it, although that's something I've gotten away from in recent years. So anyway, I enjoyed his reflections on the music so much.
See, I wanted to date this guy not too long ago. It seemed like a distinct possibility which is pretty cool in and of itself given my complete lack of attachment to anyone for years and an accompanying
terror of interest in putting myself out there again, because it generally becomes such a terrible experience for whatever reason in the long run that I trust nothing where this kind of potential relationship is concerned at this point, especially myself. I love what Rob says about "that which doesn't kill you makes you stronger." Uh no. If it doesn't kill you, it just maims you and leaves you for dead, generally speaking. It's kind of funny when you read it, actually, but you have to have an appreciation for the darkness along wit the light.
Anyway, I knew something was wrong with the situation although a lot of it seemed like it was really right, because this guy is great. So great. And in an alternative universe it could have been fabulous (Alternative. Could have been.) He just - and this sounds so bad and like it really shouldn't matter so much - doesn't get music, not at all, and that seems to have an impact on complementary world views. I don't care that he doesn't play it, and in fact, do you play an instrument? GET THE HELL AWAY FROM ME, because you will scorch the very earth I stand on and leave me for dead, you rogue harmonica or whatever player. I mean, not really, but really. But not really. I'm a bit ambivalent about the whole thing at this point. Maybe that's just the price I'll pay, I don't know, and I'll always be that person, "she fell in love with the drummer, another and another."
It doesn't really matter, I just didn't understand this person who is not moved by music in general, who considers it "background noise" and doesn't think to turn it on. I lived with a person like that once, who was pretending to be my boyfriend at the time because he couldn't stand to be without a woman in his domestic situation and he foolishly believed that I was the type to be a placeholder. He listened to radio talk shows and got pissed when I put actual music on. I "took him" to his first concert at the age of 27, and although it was kind of sweet and mildly fun, it just didn't work. If you're 7, I'll dig taking you to your first concert. At 27 it just didn't work. Maybe that does make me a jerk, but for me it was like cooking someone I'm dating the first meal he's ever had so he can learn to eat whereas I've already got it down to a science (and oh wow do I, in that case.) Too weird, too much responsibility, something I don't have the patience for, a trip I need you to already be on with me, not that I help you kick off. It's not something I want to be responsible for, it's just something I really want to do, and that I do indeed do all the time, talk about, and constantly acquire and experience for the rest of my life, all hunter-gatherer like.
The thing is that Rob Sheffield weaves the music into his and Renee's life together so you know it was a hugely important thing for them, and you don't really have to be a music geek, per se, to understand it. It's definitely the third party in their relationship, but like others of that ilk it takes nothing away from them. It adds. It gives them a base for the rest of their common language, as he calls it.
Just gorgeous, a lot of this book. This is the passage that finally did me in, about the night he finally told her that things were shifting for him from friendship to more:
"The minutes dripped by, each one totally bending and twisting my shape. We eventually stopped getting up to flip the tape, and just listened to dead air. I could feel serious changes happening to me the longer I stayed in Renee's room. I felt knots untie themselves, knots I didn't know were there. I could already tell there were things happening deep inside me that were irreversible. Is there any scarier word than "irreversible"? It's a hiss of a word, full of side effects and mutilations. Severe tire damage - no backing up. Falling in love with Renee felt that way. I felt strange things going on inside me, and I knew that these weren't things I would recover from. These were changes that were shaping the way things were going to be, and I wouldn't find out how until later. Irreversible. I remember that we discussed The Towering Inferno that night, the scene with Steve McQueen, the valiant firefighter, and William Holden, the evil tycoon who owns the hotel. William Holden asks, "How bad is it?" and Steve McQueen answers, "It's a fire mister. And all fires are bad!" That's the last thing I remember before I fell asleep."
So go read this book, especially if you care about love and music (please care about those things, I don't know what else you should care about more, really) - and if you've ever made a mix tape or been in love and lost it - at all. It is not all pathos, I promise, although I can't promise it won't make you cry. Still, it's the most interesting and well-written story I've read in a while, sort of an anthropological study of an art form and how two people relate inside of it.
Yes it's sad but in this week of weirdo breakdowns it actually gives me a particular sort of hope amid the sadness, that maybe I can fix what's broken, although I don't know why I'm extrapolating that from this man's experience exactly because I've not had a loss myself of this magnitude. But I do know from sadness and on that very basic level I can relate to his words and be happy for him that he was able to rebuild and reinvent and recreate, because that's what life really is, a daily act of reinvention. And after he got happy with someone else and in a different city, he was able to write this ode to a woman who apparently made him unafraid to be with her, and in that way seems to have made him less afraid to face the world. He also made me feel really good about holding out for someone who gets it, even if it's decades and decades from now, as it may well be...and equally sad for other reasons. But the bottom line is it's well-written and it speaks to something I can't really grab ahold of yet. When I know, I'll probably, clumsily, try to share that too.