I wrote a guest blog for @RachelintheOC that’s currently up on her site. It’s about how I’ve always used movies to help me deal with tough times, and the side effect this coping mechanism has had on me. I talk about where expectation and reality split. It’s the closest I’ll ever get to writing a memoir, and far more personal than most of what I usually post here (if you can believe that).
A warning to rude people, on behalf of writers everywhere. We’re issuing an eavesdropping advisory: if you don’t have an indoor voice, expect to end up in one of our stories. If your temperance drops, and you put a shrill into the air, you’re begging for a role in our next adventure. If you blow white noise conditions out your molar vortex, we owe it to future generations to make a record of it. If you’re a severe weather friend, letting out an arctic blast every time you vent, we’ll be there to chronicle it.
To those who suffer from line blindness. Who steal spots because they feel entitled. Who complain about having to wait, when they couldn’t be bothered to make an appointment. When you say you want to give management a piece of your mind, we’re the ones who really take it.
We welcome you line cutters, you unsatisfied customers, you unexpected guest lecturers. When we need a character’s bile to come from a real place, we eagerly await what spills from your face. It might be toxic, but we won’t let it go to waste. We write what we know, and we learn from people like you.
To the megalomaniacal moviegoers, arguing with actors on screen, we’ll make sure that your dialogue gets to the right place.
To those who throw temper tantrums at tech support, we’ll pay special attention to how you’re wired, to where your screws are loose. We’ll find your glitch. Check your terms and conditions, we reserve the right to do whatever we want with this information. Your call may be recorded for training, quality, or entertainment purposes. Your anger may find its way onto one of our pages.
When you scream, “Am I just talking to myself!” We’re all ears, writing your soliloquy into our screenplays. When you feel like you’re shouting at a brick wall, we’re on the other side building a monument in your likeness.
If there’s a big book tallying up all of your sins, who do you think is keeping score? Never piss off a writer. We’re Santa’s little helpers. We decide who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. We decide who gets shown in a positive light. If we see that you’re always in the red, that’s how you’re going to be painted. If you ignore other people’s perspectives, we’re not going to see your good side.
When you pose statements in the form of questions, with valley girl up speak, we’ll be there to note the inflection. When you lob back handed compliments at your friends, we’ll be there to catch every last one of them.
When you drop F-bombs on civilians from coffee shop couch cushions, gossiping about the other members of AA, we’re the ones writing the flight manifest of your Enola Gay.
You’ve crossed the line, from annoying to entertaining. We went from shutting you out, to tuning you in. It’s not in our interest for you to calm down. We want to egg you on. It would take a boardroom full of comedians, working several months, to punch up lines of dialogue to your level of crazy. You’re doing all the work, and we’re grateful for your charity.
If the potential for conflict is visible, we aspire to make it audible. Conflict is the heart of drama. Be a drama Queen and you will rule our scenes. Be a diva and we’ll give you a place to sing. Every opera needs a prima donna. Every story needs an antagonist.
Send your minestrone back three times in a row. Ask to speak with the chef. Hand out reprimands with your demands. Remind your server that she’s working for tips. Read your nasty Yelp review out loud just incase the staff doesn’t think to search for it. Bravo, you’re perfect!
Drive your knees into the bus seat. Choke the life out of your cellphone. Shout into the receiver until you’re sure your voice is distorting on the other end. Point a finger at a person who isn’t there to see it. We’re casting for The Terror of Metro Transit, and guess what? You just got the part.
We’re the lurkers, the creeps, the ones with records to keep. We’re the quote bookers. We face away, because it makes it easier to hear what you say. We’ll be the ones to accept the awards for your tell off speech.
It’s your audacity that gives our voices authenticity.
If you can’t say something nice, then say it to our faces. You’re an expert quip handler and we’re here to take your tongue-lashings. Thank you mistress, may we have another? We’ve been bad. You should give us a talking to. You’re a control freak, so dominate us. Rake us over the coals. Break us down. Break our writers’ block while you’re at it.
You are rife with material. Take it out on us. Scold us. Berate us. Take us to task.
Good, we can feel your anger. Strike us down with all of your hatred and your journey to the quotation mark-side will be complete.
One of the first things women notice in a man is his shoes, so says the round table of talking heads on day time television. Shoes are a window into a man’s wallet. What better way to put his best foot forward than to have the right kicks on? What better place to evaluate him then from the ground up? Of course, if there are suds dripping down the tongue of his loafers, you might want to pan up to see their source.
There’s something about a bubble pipe that makes you forget about a man’s footwear.
Watching the foam spill over his timepiece, you can’t help but wonder what makes this man tick. The pipe might make him look psychotic, but that soapy water is very hygienic. Mayhaps he’s giving his face a bubble bath. You’ve got to love a man who can luxuriate in public. That prop makes him such a mystery. Even his body language seems foreign.
Why would someone bring a bubble pipe to a champaign party? Maybe he’s just that confident. Maybe he’s crazy. Maybe you’re being pranked on national TV. You dare not ask, for fear the answer could never live up to your expectations, but still, you have to know before the night ends.
Watch another desperate boy work his tired sad little ploy, while just over his shoulder Professor Bubble Pipe is waiting there. You find yourself abandoning your companion mid-come on line. There’s something, someone else, that has your attention. He’s blowing you a path. Standing center stage, he plays his instrument, all tall dark and random.
Sure, he looks like a lunatic, but he’s a lunatic with a secret
Bubble Pipe was one of those pieces from the archives that had me thinking, “I don’t need to share that on the internet,” but I kept coming back to it. It was an inside joke that I was the only one snickering at. People watching at parties, I wanted to mock the mating ritual. I wanted to confuse everyone.
Bubble Pipe is a piece in the spirit of that tao of fuck it. That go for broke attitude that says this is me as I am, take it or leave it. Watch me eat junk food. Watch me sleep until noon. Watch me mock social mores. If you don’t like my attitude, then that’s your problem.
It’s about spending three hours putting an outfit together, only to say, “Screw it, I’ll just wear the sweat pants with the mustard stain again.”
It’s about dropping your flowers on the way up the steps, leaving you to present your date with a bouquet of bent stems. “They’re perfect, you love them.”
It’s about giving up the pretense, but not the ambition.
I’d rather stand out as an honest lunatic than go along with a heard of straight faced liars. To steal a line from The Twilight Singers, “A lonely boy will stand when others crawl.”
So to my fellow lunatics, with pipes leaking soapy water in your breast pockets, I say, “Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.”
The voice I used in this recording is a sad attempt at a posh accent, if anyone asks I’ll say, “Oh, that? That’s just a typical midwestern dialect, it is no way a piss poor attempt at replicating the tone of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Star Trek: Into Darkness monologue.”
I chose flute sounds for the musical accompaniment because, like bubble pipes, they’re wood wind instruments. I used distorted hip-hop beats to add some weight to my thin premise, a little badassery to go with my B.S.
As for the poem itself, it’s one of those things I had to get out of my system. I wrote it when I was 22. I still think it’s funny, and as it’s turned out, I still have a lot to say about the subject. My original artist description for this poem became a companion piece, called 11th Hour Valentines, if you liked this, then you’ll love that. Check it out.
Don’t worry, this rant doesn’t come from the perspective of an outsider looking in, no, it’s the confession of a participant. It’s racier than my usual fare, but the subject matter demands it to be. Don’t worry, there’s no judgements here. Why would I preach when I can immerse you in the sin?
If reading this makes you feel a little dirty, then my work here is done.
11th Hour Valentines
It’s last call. It’s the lightning round. It’s anybody’s game. It’s the final countdown. It’s your fifteen minutes to claim. It’s the ball dropping on New Year’s Eve. It’s the eleventh hour before Valentine’s Day. It’s the last round of a speed date, no pressure.
We go from looking for a soulmate, to someone to fill a space. We detach our heartstrings to make ourselves more appetizing. We go from real things to physical flings. We took our shot, now we’re rebounds just looking for a layup. Casting off our spines, we bend over backwards to lower our standards. We were your sour grapes, now we’re your low hanging fruit. Our desperation is in season. Come and get it.
It’s the end of the world. Time to find somebody to share it with. There’s a mushroom cloud on the horizon. We don’t want to leave a lonesome silhouette.
We shoot through the crowd, like comets looking for celestial bodies worth orbiting. Circling one, then another, looking for an opening, holding our breath until we can get into your atmosphere.
The clock is ticking. The window is closing. The train is leaving. The pod bay doors are down to a slit. The spark is running out of string. The stars are aligned. The sundial is ready for the ritual. We’ve got to sacrifice someone to our ego.
Time to blow as many kisses as we can, and hope that some of them stick. Time to throw ourselves into a pair of open arms, and hope we’re well received. We’re suicide kings with daggers for brains, and hearts hovering over our sleeves. Time to play the hand we were dealt.
Be happy to strike fool’s gold. Be happy to find a zirconium in the rough. Be happy with a forgery. It all looks real in the dark.
It’s bar close. It’s winning time. It’s the last few feet before the finish line. The night is young, but we’re aging out of it.
It’s okay if you’ve lost your focus. We’re all a little unbalanced, trying to find our footing on a point that’s tipping.
Magicians work the room, with linguistic tricks, slight of mouth illusions of wit. Weeding out volunteers from the audience, they blow smoke on mirrors, until all their competition has disappeared. Oh, they might seem like they could conjure up a magical evening, but really, they just want to take you home and saw you in half.
Social scientists step outside of their element, synthesizing chemistry from agents that were never meant to bond. They mix extrovert acids with introvert bases, with no mind the explosive consequences.
Self promoters put themselves out there, doing all they can to raise brand awareness. Stealth marketers close their deals, converting lustful leads into sexual sales. Night traders place their bids, buying low self esteem, selling their own as high. Shifting market value, they all have unspoken agreements to attend to.
Wingmen pilot their jocks into chosen targets. Pouring on the Whiskey to keep their Deltas from throttling back. They’re on the lookout for landing strips. They navigate their mates through kamikaze compliments, looking to help a friend scratch a one night stand into their night stand.
A confederacy of drunkards speak in man code, nonverbal cues and raised eyebrow clues. They challenge the competition to a staring contest. They offer their olive branches with balled up fists. They speak in two tones, one for each gender, flirting with one, threatening the other.
We throw psych out eye contact, like basket ball players, concealing passes. Don’t feel so bad, you’re just a means to your friend. We invite strangers to our table, introduce them to our secluded sidekicks, and flee the scene. The old booth bait and switch. Now your someone else’s entertainment.
We’re tired of being flies on the wall, eavesdropping insects, people watching parasites. We want to get some blood in the game. Give us a sign worth decoding. Give our hungry eyes something to snack on. Give our subconscious Sherlocks something to deduce, something that isn’t so elementary.
The pickings are getting slim. We couldn’t make the midnight kiss, give us the two AM illusion of bliss. We couldn’t cast the real thing, so let’s just role play the honeymoon scene. Let’s choose the mystery box. Let’s see what’s behind door number three. Let’s roll those dice. Give our dignity a chance to break even, for our status to go from “creepy” back to “harmless.” Give us time to wait for your raised chin to turn back into a subtle smirk.
Come on and give us a little win.
Spades call each other out. Pots have words with kettles. The glass home owner’s association lobs their stones at the other tenants. Staggering out with torn clothes, they mock each other’s nudity. Resting their heads on the bar, they draw attention to the splinters in our eyes, ignoring the planks in their own.
Fighters are just lovers who can’t get their shit together.
We know better. We swore we’d never do this again, but when the beat hits that dead horse, we’ve got to get our groove on. We can’t hear our conscience over the cognitive dissonance. Desire is our song, but dejection is our jam. We let it play, hoping that somehow it will turn out differently. This broken record, is the dictionary definition of insanity.
There are so many mixed signals, foot traffic has no where to go. We’re deers in headlights, when you want to call it an early night. We boogie on the barrier. We grind through the gridlock. We’re an unstoppable force hitting on an immovable object, a match made in collision. It takes two to tango. It takes two to play chicken.
The dance floor is an ongoing crime scene. Federal Agents claim jurisdiction over our libidos. Our eyes wander as we examine the evidence. Buttons are undone as we check each other for wires. We walk around with our flies down, hoping that someone will blow our cover.
Let’s follow our leads, find a nice soft mattress to carry out a sting operation. We’re just two confidential informants exchanging information.
Wake up to the morning after interrogation room scene, to the entrapment of a state of the union conversation. Last night was a dream come true, but now anything you say can and will be used against you. That gas station food you shared on the way, that retroactively counts as a date. Your partner recites the night with the clarity of someone who didn’t have enough to drink. They read your words back to you. You might want to have your lawyer present when you go for brunch.
We make plea bargains for relations without relationships, docile deals for compromising positions, visitation rights for those long lonely nights. Making the walk of shame out of their jurisdiction, we wonder what the hell happened.
Some of us get sloppy. We leave an orgy of evidence. We don’t bother planning an escape route. We try to get caught. Show us to your cell. Handcuff us to your bedpost. We’ll get off with good behavior. We weren’t looking to cut and run. We were trying to end up here.
“Love” is a word we so rarely get to use in context. With our backs against the wall, just give us a reason. Tell us that you want something serious and see what happens. Do you really want to put a term on it? Because we’ve got all this meaning, we’re just waiting to attach to something.
Be our high time hookup, our last minute lover, our eleventh hour Valentine. Be our crisis point crush, our cab ride cupid, our wooer under the wire. Be our fail safe flame, our infatuation for when we’re in a bind, our escort under exigence circumstance.
You can be the hangover cure we didn’t know we needed. The unnamed number in our caller ID. The mistake we look back on fondly. Be our happy accident. We’ll be the missing piece that still doesn’t fit into your plans.
Maybe we won’t be yours for long, but for a moment we’ll be somebody’s something.
For those of you unfamiliar with Highlander, it’s the story of a five hundred year old Scotsman drawn into a deadly contest that’s raged for centuries. Connor MacLeod and immortals like him, fight for a prize some believe to be godhood. He is a reluctant participant in this game. Seeking the protection of holy ground, MacLeod fights for survival. Claiming the heads of those who try to take his own, MacLeod grows stronger through a merging of souls called “the quickening.” He’s done this ever since his mentor, Ramirez, taught him that in the end there can be only one.
Duncan MacLeod is Connor’s kinsman. While Connor represented the franchise on the silver screen his distant relative became one of the most enduring characters to dominate Saturday afternoon television. While the film series lost it’s way, claiming the immortals were reincarnated fugitives from the planet Zeist, the TV show kept the mystery interesting. When Connor and Duncan were reunited in Highlander: Endgame, fan favorite Duncan was put in a situation (MAJOR SPOILERS) that forced him to claim Connor’s head. This gave him the strength he needed to face a bigger foe. The series collapsed after that (stumbling back into Zeist-like planetary alignment territory in Highlander: The Source).
The problem with the currently proposed reboot: The screenwriters are stuck on retelling the story of Connor’s battle with the Kurgan, the strongest of the immortals. They want to bring back Ramirez, and give us an updated clone of the first adventure. Their additions have Connor swapping his iconic katana for a sniper rifle. They have the Kurgan exploiting a bureaucratic loophole to deconsecrate a church in order to fight on holy ground. Apart from Connor taking on one of his opponent’s physical ticks, after a claiming his head, it felt like this interpretation had nothing to add.
Controversial Fix: Keep the concept ditch the hero.
Connor MacLeod is not without his charm, but he’s no Indiana Jones. Connor was upstaged by his television counterpart Duncan, the romance novel cover model of the series. Both characters have established histories that come with a lot of baggage. I think the premise has more staying power than the protagonists. If we want to modernize the franchise, we’ll need a new MacLeod, one whose past, present, and future are mysteries to us.
Question for writers: do you ever have trouble keeping yourself out of your stories? I do.
Keeping my Memoir out of my Fiction
Whenever I’m writing escapist fantasy, something happens that urges me to bring it back down to earth. My journal makes a compelling argument for its inclusion. My story relocates itself from a foreign land. It’s time frame travels back to the present. Memoir entries sneak into the margins. Mistaking them for notes, I find my private affairs on the page.
Overcome with a compulsion to method write, I draw from life experience. At the expense of the mystery, each line is a composite of my personality. Hoping no one has got my number, I hand my readers all the variables they’d need to do the math. Unrolling secret parchments, I leave them out for the uninitiated to see. Putting my shame up on a pedestal, I invite art authorities to criticize it.
I try to catch myself doing this. I try to spot the lines plagiarized from the other side of my mind, but they’re spaced out. It’s hard to drag the bottom of the text for corpses, the skeletons that once resided in my closet. It’s such a slow process, it’s no wonder my subconscious keeps getting away with it.
Exercising eminent domain, my internal city planner rezones my mental map. Putting my deepest fears in the town square, it gives the bad idea I’m trying to cast out of my mind the key to the city. Polluting my thoughts, it changes the skyline. Soon my enchanted kingdom resembles the streets I always walk down. The population resembles the people I see every day. Reality bleeds into my imagination. Now my dreamworld is no longer mine.
Real people show up for character auditions. Their dress code shows up in my descriptions. Personal ticks preface dialogue that I can’t help but quote verbatim. Sometimes I find myself wondering if I’m a writer or a stenographer.
I try to obscure their identities with accessories. They cast them off as inauthentic. No amount of armor can lock down their limps. No amount of flashy jewelry can bury their body language. No veil can mask their micro expressions. Glasses with plastic noses and mustaches will not spare me from paying likeness rights. The players want to be recognized on the page. I’m afraid that’s the only way I can get them out of my headspace.
The disclaimer will read: all characters appearing in this work are out there among you, any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely intentional. Names have been changed to protect the obvious.
May the class action lawsuit commence.
I’m a closed book until you read my writing. My drawbridge goes down, and I’m open to interpretation. There’s no artistic alibi, no neutral nuance, no subtle subtext to hide behind. All my deeper meanings float to the surface. All my subliminal messages go up in lights. All of my dramatic disguises get outed to the public.
Every quotation mark says something.
Every ellipsis is evidence.
Every full stop is a footprint.
Brail breadcrumbs will take you right up to my residence.
There are too many parallels to the path I walk. Too many telltale signs buried between the lines. Too many plot devices for you to reverse engineer. Too many transparent notions making my agenda clear. You know that I know, that you know, what I want you to know.
Casting myself as the lead is such a rookie mistake. It’s bush league. It’s a noob cheat. Making myself the main character is so first year author, so vanity press, so screenwriting 101, but here I go again.
It happens so gradually that I don’t catch myself doing it. I’m tailoring the hero’s garments to fit me better. I’m relocating them to a climate that resembles my own back yard. I’m limiting their knowledge base to something I can pull out of my own ass. Forgetting what color their irises are, I hit my own with the old eye-dropper tool. Forgetting how they style their hair, I give them the grown up Bart Simpson look that I always wear.
Suddenly my female lead has undergone a sex change. Now all the parts for women have been underwritten. Their nuance gets rounded off, and a set of troupes come to fill the spaces in. My once progressive premise shifts, it’s now part of the problem. My ego demands screen time, and all my great ideas for solving conflicts with words fall by the way side. The violence just keeps finding it’s way back into the script. I keep seeing myself making a fist. I need someplace to put it.
Before long, I’m looking back at myself from the text, in this paper mirror, wondering how the hell I even got there.
The hero speaks in catchphrases I never got the opportunity to use. They lift lines from tell-off speeches I’d never be brave enough to give. Their words strike a balance between cold and charming, with a whit so quick you’d never see it coming. They’re not me, they’re how I’d like to be. Even when they’re down and out, they do it elegantly.
It’s obvious why Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler wrote the way they did. Their detective avatars could be the men they never were. They needed a place to feel secure.
There’s no mystery why this happens. Feeling weak, we writers long for self empowerment. When we feel emasculated, we tell a male power fantasy. When we’re lonely, we fill our dry spells with wish fulfillment. We escape to a parallel universe with a more agreeable set of circumstances. One that’s full of manic pixie dream girls, femme fatales, and sometimes even genuine companionship.
Someone get this blog entry out of my horror story. Get this coming of age piece out of my sci-fi fantasy. Get this cautionary tale out of my dark comedy. Curb the autobiography. Set the diary at the dumpster. My life story hasn’t been lived in enough to fit in with this furniture.
I don’t want to talk about my circumstances. That’s why I tried to write this story in the past tense. I don’t belong in this universe. That’s why I wrote it in third person omniscient, but the story keeps shifting to try and deal me in.
Here I go breaking my hero’s routine with a break up, flashing back to the moment of impact, as a cheap ploy for sympathy. Underdog established, check. Alright, let’s milk this bit. Now my novella is haunted by the Ghosts of Moments Past. Not sure if I should hire an editor or an exorcist to fix it.
This is not the story I want to be armed with when I’m running the introvert gauntlet of social networking events. It will leave me in limbo at the punchbowl. There are too many personal details, too many big reveals. This pitch would make a cramped elevator feel a little too intimate. It weighs heavy on the tongue, because there’s too much information in it.
There are ballad titles in my chapter headers,
torch songs in place of description,
verses cutting through the prose.
You could practically sing my fiction.
Sad bastard lyrics show up in speeches,
blues structure creeps into the timing,
and no matter how hard I try,
I just can’t stop it all from rhyming.
Okay, so really, we’re going to do this? We’re going to let a character whine about watching a sunset alone, and everyone is cool with that? We’re going to commit to words that we bootleg movies because we have no one to go to the theater with? You don’t think anyone’s going to pick up on who’s really saying this? If all of our characters save seats for their imaginary friends, pretty soon our readers are going to pick up on exactly what is happening.
Now I’m talking to myself and making a record of it.
I want to use lies to tell the truth, but the truth wills out. A few grains of it become a silo, and there’s nothing left to omit. I can’t distort it, stretch it, or be economical with it. A half truth is a whole lie, and my internal reader knows the difference. Jonesing for authenticity, my reader knows when something has been cut with bullshit, when a pack of lies has gotten into the mix, when an expression has lost its purity, it knows to squeeze the rest out of me. So I over share to feed its appetite. It keeps me honest with its refined tastes.
This compulsive honesty comes at the expense of a clever premise. Naked emotion costs me the storytelling possibilities that come from outside of my own skin. It narrows the appeal down to those who speak the same language of regret. Where a strong plot could carry a reader, I leave it up to a character’s voice to do the heavy lifting. Where a strong conflict would keep the pages turning, the honesty demands that I pause to dwell on how I’m feeling.
I refuse to accept that a fall from grace is a part of the process, that I have to hit a slump to produce a hit, that a downward spiral is a good point of reference. I have too much truth to draw from. My palette is overflowing with it. Quite frankly, I don’t even want it.
I need to learn to lie to myself more effectively. To vent about things that have never happened to me. To smuggle adventure into my tales of woe. To trick myself into writing fabrications with a twinge of authenticity.
When there’s something in my life to dwell on, it has a way of trying to star in everything. It bursts onto the set when it’s not even in the sequence. I can try to hide it in the shadows, but it keeps sliding into the spotlight, stealing the scene every chance it gets. This thought I can’t push out of my mind, is a diva that refuses to go back into their trailer. It wants to keep shooting until we get it right. It wants its story to be known, even if it’s not the one I wanted to tell.
If I could only smother it in makeup. If I could only give it some direction. If I could only fire it without slowing down the entire production.
Sometimes it takes someone else’s words to let you know that you’re not alone. Sometimes someone else’s art speaks for us. Henry Rollins’s poem I Know You spoke for me.
(If SoundCloud is still down, download the track)
(Download the instrumental version here)
(Download the vocals only version here)
Have you ever read something and felt like the writer knew you, like they got under your skin and spilled your guts, like they cut to the heart of the matter and found out what made you tick? Have you ever felt apart from the world until a song lyric revealed the connections that bound you to it? Your situation was pegged in the length of a verse by that one perfect line that hit the nail on the head. Something that put your allusive emotions into perspective.
Have you ever watched a movie and saw yourself on screen? You blinked and suddenly you were the protagonist. You heard a love lorn line of dialogue and proclaimed, “I just said that today!” Has a dated romantic comedy had you searching your living room for microphones? Has a line from a screenwriter’s pen found its way into your breakup talk?
Has a stand-up comedian made a punch line of your secret quirk? Has a clever cat got your tongue and started saying things with it? Your thoughts streamed down their teleprompter. They outed you to the world. Did it surprise you to see the audience laugh with the comedian, as if they knew exactly what they were talking about? Did it feel like some of their approval rubbed off on you?
Has an artist that died before your time, peered across time and space, to plagiarize the thoughts from your head? These knowing Nostradamuses, saw your breakdown coming. They stepped on your grave. You felt it in your bones. They knew you before you were even there to be known.
They found a way to put into words the thoughts you believed would go unspoken, unmarked by your nearest and dearest. How you’d lived to find someone with the emotional capacity to share them. Here a stranger has seen you for what you are. They’ve shown you a truth about yourself, and it’s devastating.
Don’t think that this connection is less meaningful, because it didn’t happen face to face. If Stephen King has taught me anything, it’s that writing is telepathy. It doesn’t matter if the author was alive, if their work has been translated, remixed, or covered. Moving into your mind, their thoughts have taken up mental real estate. They’ve cast you as the hero in their story.
You learned that your most private peculiarity, was actually universal. You were stricken with a profound relief. Thank you dear author, dear singer, dear comedian. Thank you for letting us know that we’re not in this alone, that I am not alone. Thank you for making yourself seem vulnerable so that I might feel a little bit stronger. Thank you for quite possibly saving my life.
I’ve never experienced this phenomena more profoundly as I did the first time I heard Henry Rollins read his poem I Know You. My composure melted away in an instant. I collapsed onto my cramped twin bed. True to his word, Rollins knew me very well. I was sobbing by the end of the first read through. Locking myself in my room, I listened to it for an hour straight, staring at the ceiling, seeing into something bigger than myself. This was over a decade ago, a time when I needed to hear it. I needed to know that I wasn’t the only one who operated the way I did, and Henry told me.
He didn’t stutter. He didn’t ramble, nor did he get lost in abstraction. Where I’d felt scatterbrained, he was collected. He preached with steadfast certainty. He’d broken a code and he was showing his data. With a cool composure, he spoke to the screaming silence of isolation. He brought calm to a conversation about rage. While so many growling vocalists brought brute force to their mic stands, he applied just the right amount of gentle pressure.
He wasn’t hiding behind euphemisms like “mental illness.” While psychologists argued about the map, Rollins told us about the terrain. He told it like it was.
He armed me with the language to communicate my inner workings, and instilled in me a strong desire to do just that. He got me thinking about deciphering myself for the benefit of others. He’d given me purpose.
It was on the tip of my tongue, but I couldn’t find the right word for it. Following my roommates out for drinks, a strange pull beckoned me home before bar close. I had every intention of riding the night out with them. I wanted to meet people, to make connections, but my enthusiasm worked on a bell curve. I came out with a pocket full of high fives, only to find my fingers go limp in the middle of handshakes. I spent my quick wit on the pilling introductions, only to watch my jokes fall flat by the time the conversation got light. I was the one who brought the lull to the table.
I got low, but “depression” was the wrong word for it. It was too broad.
My James Bond composure came with a time limit. The moment the clock struck midnight I reverted back to Woody Allen. My charm turned into a pumpkin. The larger the crowd, the more I’d turtle up. Shifting the conversation, girls joined us in the booth. The more competitive the tone, the less I participated. The more overt my room mates’ intentions, the more subtle mine became.
A polarizing fear had come over me, but “social anxiety” wasn’t the right term for it. I could be social. In my element, in my sweet spot, I could hold my audience’s attention. I could read ten poems a night without so much as blushing. The stage was my domain, yet small talk always seemed like Everest.
Watching the screens mounted on the bar, I found myself paying more attention to commercials than I ever thought I would. Convincing my friends I had a prostate condition, I took more than my fair share of bathroom breaks.
Sure my breath quickened, but calling these episodes “panic attacks” would be a tad too dramatic.
Giving up on waving down bartenders, I paced what little space I could, guarding my precious shoulders from being rubbed. After all, I wore my heart on my sleeve.
Pop psychology would have you wondering where I fit on the social disorder spectrum, where I fell on the Myers Briggs, or where to categorize me in the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. You could try to dissect me with all those “blunt little tools,” but you wouldn’t come away with anything of substance.
While giggles turned to cackles, my voice became a whisper. I waited until the group hit a critical mass, until I was sure that I was lost in the crowd. Then I disappeared, Batman giving Commissioner Gordon the slip. Off to fight crime from the confines of my bedroom.
The word “INTROVERT” hung beneath my face like a caption, I just didn’t want to accept it. At the time, I took introversion to mean shy, meek, and fragile. If you only looked at half of the data, you’d say that I embodied all of those traits, but if you watched me lead a counter demonstration against one of America’s most notorious hate groups you’d draw a different conclusion. If you listened to me speak at a writers’ workshop, you might mistake me for an alpha male. Drop me into an argument where I can speak with authority and you’ll hear Sherlock Holmes bubble up from my mouth.
It turned out the right word had been there the entire time, I just thought it meant something else. Introversion had less to do with how weak I felt, and more to do with what types of interactions I valued. While others needed a group to blossom, I excelled at the one on one, bringing things out of people others couldn’t see. While extroverts were the life of the party, I was the king of empathy. While others saw their emotions as splotches in an impressionist painting, I could translate mine into words.
The best part of these revelations was that they defused so much of the hate I’d been carrying. Extroverts were not the enemy. After a lifetime of jealousy, I realized that I possessed qualities that they might envy, that they might even need. Rather than flee them, I sought them out. As Sarah Silverman put it, “I’m looking for a Yin for my Yang, not a Yang for my Yang.”
Turns out, there might not be anything wrong with me. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the hole in your heart is an optical illusion. It disappears the moment you change perspective.
After reading Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts, I found myself drawn back to Rollins’s poem.
I see Henry Rollins as a role model for introverts. He’s one of the good ones. The man wears his solitude like a superhero. He walks the earth, searching for himself, like Caine from Kung Fu, or The Incredible Hulk moving from town to town, challenging authority, saving villagers. He’s a poet, an author, a musician, an actor, a stand-up comedian, and a role model. He’s an international man of mystery, getting in his van, rocking off faces, stopping crime, and giving Ted talks.
Grateful for everything he shares about himself, I have an endearing affection for this man. It takes a lot to be a positive example of vulnerability. Along with George Carlin, Rollins’s candor is something I’ve tried to adapt into my own literary voice.
This all started the night I’d discovered I Know You. I had to capture that feeling of identification. I had to share it. I had to let people in on the secret, that we’re in this together, and there’s a community out there for anyone who wants it.
Rollins’s speech resonated with me all the more, because someone had paired it with A Warm Place my favorite song (at the time) by Nine Inch Nails. A Warm Place has always been my go to instrumental for self reflection. If you’re making a meditation playlist, this song is mandatory (feel free to download my instrumental version to add to that list too, it’s also great for yoga, and other intimate encounters). It hypnotizes with its descending and ascending melodies, both sombre and tranquil, bitter and sweet.
When I decided to cover Rollins’s poem, I realized that I had to cover A Warm Place as well. I’ve always wanted to hear the song with grinding distortion, and heavy beats made from footfalls and whip cracks, so I added those elements to my version.
It’s not enough for me to just throw up a link to Rollins’s original recording, I had to pay homage to it. I had to read it myself. After all, along with Nicole Blackman and Saul Williams, Rollins inspired me to get into spoken word in the first place. Turns out, this is one of the most popular pieces for poets to read live. They’re Rollins’s words, but we all want to inhabit them. It’s his monologue, but we all want to star in it.
As I mentioned, the idea to combine I Know You and A Warm Place wasn’t mine. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a recording of the poem without the Nine inch Nails song tacked on. I’m not sure who came up with the idea to combine these recordings, but they’re two great tastes that go great together. Although, I always felt jostled when A Warm Place started looping half way through Rollins’s reading, then abruptly faded after he’d finished. I wanted the recordings to fit together seamlessly, so I notated my version to do just that.
I got it in my head to transcribe the song myself, to put together my own minimal interpretation, a distorted melody, made fragile by heavy tremolo and thunderclaps. Not that I could hold a candle to Rollins’s deep rich voice, but I loved his piece so much I had to give it a go. This is a cover of a remix of a poem. I can’t think of a deeper niche than that, but it’s the universal themes that make it so endearing.
Over the last year, I’ve done over five hours of audio recording (if you include my audio book Terms and Conditions). This seven minute piece is by far my favorite. Please share and enjoy.