Saturday, July 4, 2009

Notes on Love (or: On Music, Love, and Loss: the Ex, the Waitress, the German, the Writer)

Audibly, to J.'s room-mate's older sister, I said that the mistake I'd made with my ex was to allow my life to be superimposed onto hers. Imagining a ven diagram that cannot hold, where the two circles are irresistibly superimposed, melded, and self-identity outside of that now fused whole is impossible. When she finally left me--and she had far more patience than I would have had, but then, I also had an amazingly insatiable desire for revenge and freedom... but neither wholly, not quite--I realized that I had no idea who I was, what I wanted, or how to go about getting it. She had been my totem, my fetish idol, and all of my energies poured into her vessel, and back out, refracting my accomplishments with a sheen that eventually faded to a grim shroud.

When I went home to see her in the winter of 2007/2008 I devoted myself not to my masters thesis, but to recording an album on my newly purchased MacBook. I would give her this CD, made specifically and exclusively for her, of my songs, the ones I wrote in the four years we were together, and the ones I wrote after she left, these latter morose pieces amounting to little more than poetically phrased pleas of desperation: come back! I gave her this cd for Christmas and I have no idea if she ever listened to it. That's not really important though.

This "album" I compiled, flush with "Garage Band" effects to set the mood of each song just right, is really a testament to the level of depravity I'd reached. When I listened to this "album" again tonight all I could hear was the voice of a person wholly lost, thoroughly in need of firm ground, and totally convinced that, simply because the past was known, this same past would provide salvation.

The songs themselves are actually pretty decent. The lyrics, which I gave the most attention to, honestly capture that moment of my life in a way all reflections can only blur. A few of them are old songs, at this point 9 years old, which I revamped to suit the circumstances. I have an old cassette of these original versions and the degree of musical sophistication that colors the versions I sent to her please me. I got better with time, and this simple fact gives me hope: I have grown, and I have proof, even if this proof is an amateur album and a cassette tape in my parents attic.

When it finally came out that she had been manipulating me along for so many months to simply squash me under the crush of resolute and cruel rejection--an episode marked by 3 days in a psych ward doped off my ass--the songs still remained. I didn't play guitar very much in the immediate wake of that revelation: I was too hurt, and needed distractions that would bring me away from myself, not closer. To this end I slept with a waitress a few times, drunk on each occasion, so much so that it was a miracle that I could even get erect let alone cum--I fell on my ass when we rose to leave the bar the first time we went out. I could say it was because I was drunk, but in reality it was my abject fear. I loathed this woman, but I needed her, and I think she understood that, which is maybe why she showed the faintest flicker of nonchalance when I told her I was moving out of Hyde Park to live on the north side. I can't imagine I was a good lover--it was only ever so mechanical and desperate that the idea of intimacy was impossible--and we had nothing in common, not even music.

With the German, however, I could begin to process the loss in a rational, intellectual sense, and this became our bond: we could both subject ourselves to the ruthless interrogations academics regularly perform on texts. We fucked only twice, but the first time was like he was pushing out from within me a strange, unknown creature that I had barely acknowledged for the last four years, a dangerous and mysterious being, who promised pleasure and adventure, but all with a sinister grin. I didn't fall in love with the German, but I fell in love with his therapy. That night I was, in a sense, reborn for a second time. Or, as for Odysseus, I was freed from Circes' charm, and re-turned to the quest for home, for myself.

After that I was able to play my songs again, and listen to my "album," this time, however, with a cold and methodical ear: I detected inaccuracies, places for improvement, and vocal monotony. I used that record as a template to improve the songs, singing and playing along to them like a producer might with a rough but promising new band: I would made that album a work of art I could perfect, craft into something other a desperate plea. That is, I set to work on my desperation itself, and slowly--if the metaphor holds--began to transform it into something like a new voice that sang the future, and not the past.

This was difficult, and in no small measure because though the songs may have become more palatable the lyrics still pronounced the same desire. Many dejected nights were spent with a six pack of beer and my guitar, huddled in my bathroom--the only place that had a second door to mute my noise--singing these songs. I broke many strings railing against the inadequacy of my desire, and even against the sheer fact of my desire itself: the songs all cried for the past, for her, for a fantasy space of stability, certainty, comfort... I sang like a sailor might at the height of a tremendous storm, for his home and his love, now only a faint memory, but all he has left to shelter him from the impending threat of the sea's abyssal depths.

Poverty ended this trend, however. I broke a string, and without a dime to my name could not afford to buy a new one. I gently placed my guitar in its hard-body case, and resigned myself to simply living, come what may. This parting was not so simple. Around this time I met the Writer, and the intensity of that connection, which would have otherwise been vented on the steel of my guitar strings, was displaced into so many rambling blog entries. I became, myself, a Writer. At the same time the demands of my classes were increasing and I allowed myself to be enveloped by the grueling schedule of drafting lecture notes, commuting to Elmhurst, and teaching four days a week. In fact, it seems that I lived mostly through my written word, my pages of notes and comments the only tangible testament to my existence. Except for my weekly, and sometimes twice-weekly, rendezvouses with the Writer. Perhaps I fell in love with him because he was the one person I could hold, or who would touch me--my hair usually, and with uncertain affection. He listened to me, and shared himself with me to a degree I'd not experienced except with my ex. But he was nothing like her, and I was happy for the gulf that separated them. He was fiercely intense, unrelenting in his insecurity, and beautifully charming when he wanted to be. I couldn't help but allow myself to be taken more and more by him, and I think he knew he could do so, and maybe for this reason he might have--even if despite himself.

If the German forced from the darkness of my guts the pleasures I'd repressed, then the Writer allowed me to fantasize those pleasures manifesting themselves in a sustainable way. Falling in love with the Writer was also falling in love with the idea of being with someone again, the terror of vulnerability, but also the euphoria of intimate relationality. Somehow, with him, both were in perfect tension, and it made me feel alive again. I stopped going out to cruise, because I was too poor to afford anything other than the night of drinking I'd share with the Writer, but mostly because it was revealed to be shallow and vapid by the light of his company, and the veil that hid its true face was stripped away and I couldn't help but cringe at my earlier enthrallment with whirling, anonymous club-scapes and the equally anonymous and disordered one-night stands I once boasted.

Still, I didn't play guitar. Even when the Writer fell in love with a boy from Normal, and even when I denigrated him for his choice. Instead I wrote and I taught and I wrote and withdrew deeper and deeper into the confines of my own space, which drew tighter and closer to my skin. I couldn't rightly blame him--he had warned me after all, even if these warnings were always undercut by some oblique sign-- but then, nor did I want to blame him. I wanted him to be happy, which is what I wanted for myself, too.

...And it seems I've stopped speaking of music, and started speaking of bodies, which isn't at all fair, especially since I'm about to ride my bicycle down to see the boy I am falling in love with, who is a musician himself, and whose questions about my own music prompted me to listen to this fated "album" I started out describing. How am I to tell him the story of my love for these bodies, and my regret? That is, this story of this "my music"? I'm afraid, frankly, that I will seem too promiscuous in my affections, or, perhaps worse, too soft in my soul--too porous. But then maybe this was never about music at all, but rather about these four bodies, which needed a soundtrack to appear, a thread which could tie them all together in a coherent narrative. Maybe this was always all about him, about the fantasies I've had to traverse to reach him. But this doesn't seem wholly right, either: they weren't ever simply fantasies: they were irreducibly bodies, bodies that matter.

I wonder, then, at the cost of every love. And though I would not wish to lose him, I still feel as though I need to be absolved of the narrative transformation that renders each of these characters simply stepping stones to this new love. And I can't help but fear: will he, too, eventually become one of these as well?

It is time to play guitar again, to write new songs.

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