Tag Archives: I can has sadz

The Unbearable Intimacy of Art (Criticism)

The first time I heard this song, all I could think was “Holy shit, how incredibly brave for a married couple to record a duet together about this kind of relationship failure.” Because the song is about the slow fade, not the dramatic blow-out. It might have easily been true of them at the time (in hindsight we can say it probably was). The song is not, thematically, an obvious choice unless you’ve been there, because the death by a thousand cuts is not the media’s preferred narrative for the end of a relationship. And being in that place in a relationship, where you know something needs to change, but you can’t see your way out of it clearly enough to be certain you want out, is frightening. Maybe it’s time to break your heart and that of this person you love, and give up on a dream that has become a nightmare – or maybe you just need to reconnect, recommit, revive, and leaving would be something you came to regret. It’s a terrible limbo. So choosing to sing about it becomes an act of almost unbearable intimacy, to admit in public to what might be the most painful, shameful truth you have to tell. It’s also the kind of vulnerability that makes for great art.

I have wanted to write all of that for about three years. And I have been hesitant to publish those thoughts for the entirety of that time, because almost as soon as I started thinking through what I wanted to say about the lyrics, I realized: my interpretation was going to say so much more about me, and my relationship, than it was about the song or the singers. What if there is another meaning to these words that is so much more obvious? What if all I would expose in such a post was the fact that my own relationship was in that place, and I was reading into the lyrics far more deeply than someone not in that place could ever do?

So I never wrote that post – my interpretation of the song was more than I wanted to reveal. Maybe more, even, than I wanted to acknowledge, because if I actually wrote those words out I would have no choice but to face them. I wasn’t ready.

But here I am now, and the worst has happened, and I have faced the truth my heart feared long ago.

The chorus:

I’m just too selfish I guess

I know you’re tired and restless

It’s no surprise we’ve come undone

But I can’t unlove you just because

You say it’s better in the long run

I have always heard the first two lines as, “I’m too selfish to let you go, even though I know you’re restless and wanting to leave.” The alternate interpretation, of course, is that selfishness is CAUSING the restlessness – which is an entirely different meaning. I have no idea which way the song was meant to be heard. Maybe it was intentionally ambiguous. But the first interpretation cut me in a way the second did not. Probably because one version spoke to my reality, my experience, my fears, and the other did not.

The bridge:

Maybe somewhere a little down the line

I’ll get a little better leaving us behind

Maybe someday I’ll be fine

You’ll move on, and I will, too

But still I don’t see gettin’ over you

No, no

The bridge and the second half of the chorus sum up the horror of this kind of limbo: on some level you recognize that you’ll be happier out of the relationship, but you can’t bear to intentionally inflict the pain of breaking free onto yourself. Or perhaps you don’t know how to leave (or are afraid to leave, if you fell in with a crazy one who hadn’t decided they were done with you yet).

The further I get from our final end, the truer I believe to be the idea that most of the time a relationship is over before it ends. Most of the time we just don’t know how to get out. We have to wait for things to get so bad that the pain of breaking free is less than the pain of staying.

Or maybe that was just one more accidental revelation of more than I meant to tell.

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Filed under Muse Music, Ramblings

Goodbye Song

Roger Creager is a Texas Country country singer I found in college, probably while searching for bootleg .mp3s of Roger Clyne concerts on Napster or whatever the hell filesharing program we were using in those days. I wonder what Roger (Creager) is up to these days. Man, I should really look him up.

Anyway. This song of his I always particularly enjoyed, because it is kind of meta, and the fact that it’s both meta and super country was an amusing divergence that he somehow makes work. Also because his voice is rich and warm and comforting when he’s singing ballads, and that quality is really on display with this stripped down little song. I just want to wrap myself up in his voice like its a blanket, and snuggle in deep. The words aren’t profoundly written, and neither is the emotional moment described, but yet in gestalt it is powerful, and was even when I wasn’t living in this moment. I think because he captures perfectly that moment of letting go. It’s a little sad, a little hopeful, a little confused, a little resigned. It’s exactly what you feel at the moment you really say goodbye. It’s Ted letting go of the red balloon that is Robin.

I have had this song in my heart lately. Thought I’d share it with all of y’all. Also Roger Creager’s awesome. I should really go see what he’s up to these days.

Tonight I didn’t feel much like writing a song, but I guess I needed something to sing along. Something that I could sing and I could cry to. A song to help me say goodbye to you.

Yeah, I guess I finally said goodbye to you.

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Filed under Muse Music, Ramblings

The Bridge

The bridge was built of quarried stone

Across a river wild

Its sleepy arch would be at home

O’er Venetian canals

 

We carved out every rock ourselves

And placed them all by hand

Strong enough to face forever

That was what we planned

 

We built the bridge together

Thought it would stand forever

It crumbled into slivers

And I’m drowning in the river

 

The rocks are made of memories

Experiences shared

Some of yours and some of mine

And some we made in pairs

 

We built the bridge together

Thought it would stand forever

It crumbled into slivers

And I’m drowning in the river

 

There are no pictures of our bridge

It was only in our heads

It spanned the gap from you to me

But only in my head

 

We never stopped to check for weeds

For cracked or missing rocks

We put our feet up on the banks

Assuming we were strong

 

Time has all the time it needs

To wear down anything

Now all that’s left is a memory

Of a bridge that used to be

 

We built the bridge together

Thought it would stand forever

It crumbled into slivers

And I’m drowning in the river

 

It fell apart beneath me

I’m drowning in the river

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Filed under Lyrics and Poetry

Audience Expectation Vs Artistic Experimentation

Or, Spitting Out the Kool-Aid

The musical theme for me this week has been the tension between giving the audience what they want and evolving as an artist.

My favorite band released a new album on Tuesday. For purposes of this essay, the fact that they are an independent band and have been since the late 1990s – AKA long before it was the cool thing to do, or an acceptable thing to do, much less the most logical thing to do – needs to be said up front. For 15 years they have answered to no one but themselves, and their fans, when it comes to the direction of their music. They have been my favorite band since high school, and for their first several albums (five, to be exact), for me, they could do no wrong. Every song, or very nearly every song, was golden.

The last three (and now four) releases have been spottier, a lot of songs I either didn’t like or didn’t deeply connect with and a few gems that gave me hope for future albums. The album this week didn’t even have the gems, just songs that I didn’t find bad but also didn’t find…inspiring. They didn’t speak to me, nor did I find them objectively great even if not my preference.

I found myself wishing, for the fourth record in a row, that they would go back to their alt-country/desert rock roots and stop writing adult top 40 pop songs with the vaguest of twang to the guitar. It’s not so much a protest of their changing the style so much as judging that their change was a poor choice, aesthetically, and they would probably do better – or at least please my taste better – by writing mediocre songs in the genre where they started instead of mediocre songs in a different one. I appreciate the experimentation, the desire to do something to keep the songwriting and sound fresh…what I don’t appreciate is continuing to try the same experiment over and over when it didn’t really work the first time. At some point I have to attribute it to a new sound for the band, and one that I don’t care for.

Experimentation and change is always a risk for an artist, no matter what type of art they create. When it’s executed well, it breathes new life into your fandom and brings in new fans. It revitalizes your own interest in art and creating, because new horizons offer new challenges, and without challenges there is nothing to strive toward in the act of creation. And there is definitely a trap to be found in staying in the same mode, doing exactly the same thing, over and over again. At some point you become a parody of yourself, because you have said every profound or even mildly insightful thing that you can, and all is left is regurgitation and imitation of your younger, rawer self.

The flip side of experimentation, however, is that it doesn’t always work, and when it doesn’t, your audience may be upset that you changed the formula. Some people will appreciate the attempt to experiment, but others will just be upset by it. And if you experiment and fail too many times in a row, you begin to lose your audience.

I think what really drives away an audience, though, is if, in the process of your experimentation, you lose the qualities that drew them to your work in the first place. A writer, for example, whose fans love her for deep character work can change genres every book so long as she maintains the same type of characterization. A musician whose songs echo the empty desert highways can change the subject all he wants as long as that echo is there in the sound of the music, while one who writes songs about the absurdity of life can change the sound every album as long as the lyrical “voice” remains the same.

It’s a delicate balance, a fine line to walk between delivering what the audience really wants and what they only think they want. I wonder how many artists actually understand what their audience loves about them? And how many members of a fandom really understand what it is that draws them to a particular artist’s work?

As a writer working in one of the most formulaic of genres, I worry sometimes about writing the same thing over and over – the same conflict, perhaps, or maybe the same characters, all while believing each story is unique. I have seen too many writers start off with a string of strong books and then slowly wilt into fainter and fainter copies of themselves as they continue to just do more of the same, with less conviction each time. Will I recognize when I need to experiment? When I do experiment, will I successfully carry over the elements that define my work at its core? Will I be able later, after experimenting and evolving, to revisit the style of my early works and reconnect with it in a deeper way as an older, more seasoned creator?

The one thing that is simultaneously most relieving and most frightening about being self-published is that I don’t have to worry about an editor turning down my request to experiment when I feel that itch to change…but the onus of executing it well will be entirely on me. I won’t have to answer to anyone’s instincts or tastes but my own – but as my band proved to me this week, sometimes that’s not a good thing.

I know for me, as a fan, the worst part about a disappointing new release is the dashed hope for something that would be as special to me as that artist’s earlier works – the works that made me fall in love with them. This is true of the above-mentioned novelists who, instead of getting better, get worse, and it’s true of movie directors as well as musicians. It’s the tyranny of being in someone’s first tier of artists: the expectations are high.

Perhaps youth and insouciance are the key to creating works that do not disappoint, because you can create without fear of rejection or letting someone down. You have no audience to lose, so you have no chains on yourself. When you feel the weight of expectations, you second-guess yourself or lock yourself into the same old creative habits and patterns. It’s why, in the end, the only audience I can care about, when I am inside my creative sphere, is myself. I have to please my own aesthetic and believe that if I do, it will please other people’s, as well. But the only one I can consider is my own.

If that is, indeed, what my band did on this release, then perhaps we have reached a parting of the ways, of sorts, where the band they used to be is my favorite, not the band they are today. Or perhaps this was just another experiment, a path untravelled that will eventually reconnect with the path of my aesthetics. Time will tell. I have not given up on them yet…but I miss the glory days of my youth, when receiving the new CD in the mail still guaranteed an afternoon of gleeful bliss as I wrapped myself in new songs that meant as much to me as the old ones had. Now it represents a painful hope that I have less and less expectation of having met. Perhaps that is the most tragic part of all.

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Filed under Muse Music, Ramblings, Writing

Associative Memory

I woke up this morning thinking about the night my godmother died. Her passing was the first of two events for which I have spent significant time in a hospital (not as a patient in either case), and my subconscious dredged up memories of that time probably because I am nearing the clinical definition of full-term with my pregnancy and could thus be making my own hospital stay at any point in the next 5 or so weeks.

The power of a single moment, or series of moments, to echo with what feels like near-perfect reverberation years to decades later is amazing. It unleashes the same feelings, if a muted version of what you felt in that moment.

What I woke up thinking about what the last time she woke up. She had been in a comatose state on and off for about a day and a half; her initial admission to the hospital allowed some hope that the end was not imminent but that disappeared when she slipped into the sleeping state. Her cancer was too aggressive, and she was too tired to fight. My godmother was my mother’s best friend – they had been best friends since childhood. I had my own friendship with her, and in a lot of ways at the time of her death I was closer with her than my mom was. My godmother’s husband had called my mom to drive him to and from the hospital because he was, at that point, pretty foxed. My godmother woke up the last time while my mom was in transit one way or the other (at this point I don’t remember which). It left me and here brother and nephew in the room with her. She woke up, or at least her eyes opened enough to see that she was not alone, and she simply said “I’m dying. I’m dying.” And the three of us said, in our various ways, that we know, and it’s okay, and we love you. She said “See you sometime, somewhere” and slipped back under the waves for a few more hours before passing in her sleep.

What I have never known and will never know is if, in that last moment of waking, she saw me or my mother. (I have been told my whole life that I look like my mom, and when I see pictures of us together now that I am an adult I understand why people say it.) I don’t care which of us she saw standing there; I hope it was whichever of us would have been more of a comfort to her in that moment.

It’s been a long time since I thought about that night in much detail. Probably part of what brings it up now is my impending transition to motherhood with all its tangled connections (such as the above me/my mom thing, although with my son it is more likely to be a him/my husband thing) and also just that I haven’t seen much of hospitals and that was if not my very first memory of one certainly my most formative memory of one.

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Filed under Ramblings

The Immersion Conundrum

This post is aimed at those of my readers who are also writers.

Do you have a good way to overcome your psychological need for immersion in work? What I mean by this is, I struggle to find large blocks of time (like hours of time) in my life to focus on writing. But when I sit down knowing I have only 30 minutes or something, I often find working impossible.

For various reasons that seem impossible to change right now, my life is fragmented. I won’t have entire Saturdays to just write for the forseeable ever.  I have been opening docs and staring at them in confusion, trying to orient myself in a story, focused mostly on the fact that I have a finite amount of work time, and getting nothing done. Or at best a handful of sentences that get written over the next day because they were useless.

Part of this is just life stress. Work has been stupid lately, and hubs and I are about to take a trip out of the country so I am stressing out about making sure everything is ready for us to be gone, caught up at my desk at the job so someone else can step in for a couple weeks, etc., and one of my ghostwriting gigs has changed so it’s not a comfortable column anymore but articles I am really struggling to start, much less finish. I feel like my brain is flying in a hundred directions and about to explode at all times, and it has been getting more and more frenetic, wound tighter and tighter, by the day. I haven’t been able to focus on words either at night after work or even first thing in the mornings–it’s like English is Klingon. The words just don’t fucking make sense.

And this is killing me. I feel neutered or bound in a straightjacket or something. I want to cry when I think about what I want to be doing (writing) and how for whatever reason I just can’t do it right now. I hate that I can’t just pick up a story and write a few words and let them add up. Instead it’s this stupid “If I can’t have too many bon-bons then I will have none” mentality, only by bon-bons I mean hours to just simply focus on my story.

Part of the problem, undoubtedly, is that I am having to imagine all the current scenes from any project I could pick up as I write them. In fact maybe the primary problem is that my brain is so focused on other things–work, while I’m there, and getting ready for this trip while I’m home–that I haven’t been free to just imagine anything lately, and that’s really what’s upsetting me.

I don’t know. I just need a way to stop myself from dwelling on the fact that I only have a finite amount of work time and instead just do the work.

I’m the same way when it comes to sewing projects, so I know this is not just a matter of writer’s block or something like that. It’s something in my psyche. Maybe it’s a subconsious acknowledgment of my ability to hyperfocus away the usual ADD, which is a process that takes me out of my own mind for hours.

The sticking point is, if I am in the regular routine of working and in touch with the characters daily, I don’t need to have the hyperfocus to get to work…but right now because I don’t have the time to do a hyperfocus writing marathon, I am not able to work even in small doses. I am banging my head against a wall.

In the past when I have had this, the problem solves itself when I have a day that words just come pouring out in a flood, and then I’m back in the groove and all is gravy. But I don’t have that day right now. It won’t happen for at least 3 weeks. And I can’t deal with waiting three entire weeks to write something.

I should probably just say, “I am not writing again till we get home,” but I want to cry at the very thought. I am just in despair and making writing a source of stress for myself at a time when I need less stress, not more, but the fact is that I tend to define bad in terms of whether I got anything done. If I have a shit day at work and my husband is away and none of my friends will come out of their caves to see me and even the cat won’t talk to me, it’s still not a bad day if I got good words down. I have had a lot of bad days (in all ways) lately, and I could really, really use the balm of at least writing well to make them better.

So, anyone else struggle with this? What do you do?

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Filed under Writing

Things I Am Feeling (Illustrated Edition)

yup
creative constipation

donefuckinground

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Filed under Housekeeping, Writing