April 18, 2012 § Leave a comment
Every day, like many people, I wake up with a song in my head and follow along with what’s left of my singing voice and stumble into the kitchen for a cup of coffee that Andrew in his completely wondrous pattern of living has set to go off at the same time every morning, which is too early. In trying to mine this song-in-the-head phenomenon for meaning and/or occult properties (is the song a version of a prediction?) — and after many, many years of it — I haven’t been able to figure where the songs are coming from or what they’re trying to tell me. And because it’s music, I don’t ask questions. Music is like unconditional love, and songs — I don’t think — are like dreams which all feel like a call to action as much as a personal synthesis of hope and fear. A song doesn’t want you to do anything except listen to its being.
A lot of the songs in my head are literal — i.e., they seem to be triggered by a word or set of words that I heard on the radio (in a speech or report from the street), or on television. Or they may be literal in terms of objects recently observed: cars, flowers, little boxes, little boxes. A lot of them are love songs because I love somebody. Or it can be a song about what the day literally represents in time. “You Must Remember Spring” might be in my head on the first day of it, for example, embarrassingly. The only annoying fact that a lovely habit of song in the head can carry inside its secret is trying to figure out how a song I hate or never even think of ever got in there. Of course, it’s the over-saturation of that song, the stubbornness of a way too familiar chord progression; the playing on the radio, etc., etc., that forces some sort of sound mirror to capture the bad song and sing it back to me inside. But that bad song only reminds me that I’m a consumer when — in terms of music, anyway — I want to think of myself as a connoisseur.
And there is no music more fitting for a connoisseur than the music that Stephen Sondheim writes. His theater music (notice, please, I dodged show tunes) has been in my head on more mornings in my life than any other music. Of course, I’m a complete and overly ambitious advocate of his work, but there is something else, too, that I can’t put my finger on, that must be part of the reason “Every Day A Little Death” or “Pretty Women” or “Sooner or Later” gets broadcast to my brain at least once or twice a month. I don’t have a life that is in any way like the lives (desperate, many of them) Sondheim writes about. But the music — the way the music sounds — the syntax of the music — feels as though it recognizes something in my body and comes looking for it.
And here I am, in my being. It’s morning.
Of thee, I sing.
March 21, 2012 § 6 Comments
Once, I had to go to the emergency room – some weird upper stomach spasm or I was getting a hernia or something else that never happened to my body and couldn’t be explained by a memory. It was new.
The person who did my intake told me there were 14 people in front of me to see a doctor. It was 11:48 pm and I was tired and wanted to go home. It’s strange how you can remember a certain time when you are in a certain place – the place, of course, where you have never been before. A certain time exactly: 11:48. My stomach wasn’t doing anything strange so I just left with my boyfriend and we took a gypsy cab down the 10 blocks or so back to where we live.
At one point, during my whatever-this-is attack, Andrew said it was like somebody was sticking a pin into my voodoo doll. And it actually did feel like that. But I didn’t think it was funny: Andrew pointing to a doll of me. I wanted support in that rough draft of something happening in a hospital and because he is funny, I got something else. You always get something else with funny people: the thing itself, which is what you share and the funny version, which is yours alone. I wanted to judge Andrew but I realized that nobody really has any right to custom order the comfort just as long as its there. I wanted Andrew to take the pain away or make me think of something else and instead he put his hand on the pain to listen to it as I was listening to it.
I love to lie in bed and watch TV late at night. And no matter what my living situation has been – and they have been as varied as the television manufacturers – there has been a television across from me when I am bed-horizontal.
I remember happiness when I was lying in the unhappy hospital having my appendix out when I was a kid and my stepfather (in an uncharacteristic stroke of generosity) actually rented a television for me to watch in my room. The television was so high in the corner that when it wasn’t on I imagined that it must have been filming me sleep walking with my dreams.
What happens with the television now is that I lie with Andrew while it’s on and he goes to sleep and I go back and forth from whatever show I am watching to softly pushing on Andrew so that he’ll stop snoring.
It used to make me lonely: him, the beloved, falling away and me still very awake, involved in a story, a guest host, an old movie – moving through time projected from inside a screen to find something that will make me unthink softly softer into sleep. But now it’s pleasurable: my little world of shows in the dark. And turning to real life every now and then to watch Andrew sleep. It is such a distinct and total departure from the self to watch somebody sleep that it almost feels religious. And I always resist the urge to wake him up by letting Andrew enter my mind for the last time.
March 17, 2012 § 1 Comment
“Try to make your life as though it’s a movie, and you and God are going to watch it. Try to make some parts that he will like.” — Bawa Muhaiyaddeen
I went to a screening of “Being Flynn” in Chicago a few weeks ago and had that exhilerating and eerie experience of seeing somebody I knew in real life being presented as a character in a movie. How strange it was to see scenes played out that were once real conversations I had with somebody named Nick Flynn years ago on Cape Cod. It’s a hard movie to watch, even if I wasn’t already familiar with the true story that makes up the screenplay of Nick’s life (based on his memoir “Another Bullshit Night in Suck City”) and specifically, his relationship with his narcissistic father who is homeless and living off and on at Pine Street Inn, the shelter in Boston (the movie made it New York) where Nick himself works. When I met him more than 20 years ago with Marie Howe at a pot luck dinner at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, I thought that he was also homeless in some ways — wild and unmoored, trying to get clean and sober, just beginning a serious commitment to writing poetry and working on a boat that was parked on dry land at the end of Bradford Street so it could hopefully one day hit the water again. I think Nick was living on it, but he may have gone inside somewhere at night. It was that kind of relationship in the beginning, I didn’t see him much. And over the years, we’ve become good friends and he’s stayed remarkably the same person while the frenzy of fame and whatever fortune rushed in to meet him with the life that he has now — a very different life and like so many of us, a resolutely saved life. I kept being hit with that hard knowledge of Nick’s saved life as I was watching his movie about it and struck harder still by the idea that he and his father have been living off and on at different ends of the same boat.
I ran into Nick the next morning in the hotel lobby where we both had breakfast and asked him — like a fan — what he was working on and he told me that he was finishing a book called “The Reenactments” about the making of the movie “Being Flynn” and of course, I thought in the same way that a mirror reflects a mirror reflects a mirror through a hall of eternity that I was looking at Nick Flynn who wrote a book about his life that was made into a movie about his life that was made into a book about a movie about his life. How odd. What if nobody likes the movie? Who’s going to read a book about a movie nobody liked? And then in back of that thought came this: it didn’t matter. However “The Reenactments” turns out, it will be like everything else that Nick Flynn writes — a gorgeous meditation on the new version of Nick, in Nick Flynn’s life.
March 17, 2012 § 2 Comments
This is a picture of my dead brother’s best friend, Bruce and I’m not sure how I ended up with it, but I love it for a lot of reasons. It might even be the cover for my new book of poems which is called “The Talking Day”. The photograph’s beauty is made with what you see and what I know. For one thing, Bruce is, obviously, beautiful and he is doing something not so obviously beautiful (what are those rings made of?) — something that looks like a sorcerer’s trick, probably outside his home in Colorado where he had been living the day he walked down a path into a valley and his heart just stopped. Bruce had a rare heart condition, and like so many rare heart conditions, nobody knew — nobody I knew, anyway — exactly what it was, what it was doing to his body, how long it would mean he would live. Still, I think Bruce knew he could go at any time, and if it was anywhere close to the time that this picture was taken, I would say that he lived a charmed life. Like many charmed lives, it was very short, and in retrospect, necessarily emblematic.
Bruce died the same year my brother died — only a few months apart, actually, in 2002. And even though Bruce was straight and my brother, Kevin, was for the most part, gay, they would probably each say that they were in love with each other. Of course that love must have been — at least in part — fueled by the fact that both of them knew they would probably never have sex and I think that probably both of them lived in that incredibly charged erotic space that separates two people who want each other but won’t step out of the force field of their own making. Even when one is willing (Kevin), the field is sealed by the one who isn’t (Bruce). So I was surprised in Chicago, recently, when one of Bruce’s ex-girlfriends — also a good friend of Kevin’s — told me that Bruce told her once that he should have had sex with my brother. Because he loved him. Because it would have meant so much to Kevin. And now they’re both dead sweethearts and only Bruce had the grief of Kevin’s death and only Kevin died without ever knowing that Bruce should have had sex with him.