despite staying out late last night, i woke up earlier than I needed to so that I had some time in the morning to relax before work. i am not a natural morning person, and changing habits has been so hard won that i never want to give my morning time, the time I take to have a coffee and browse the internet a little bit, back, for anything. i caught L for a little bit before work (these letter games are stupid, it just seems too familiar somehow to use people’s full names online), and we watched that episode of Friends with ross and rachael in the rain that i know from Pop Culture.
as soon as I got to work, i felt like Getting Shit Done and started working on the horrific art room storage area, which got fucked when we lost our storage room. it kind of felt like cleaning up someone else’s mess, but at the same time i really like organizing and tinkering with systems, and I’m clearly being productive so i feel entitled to listen to pop in headphones and immerse myself in music. i nerded out with J about frank zappa on sunday after listening last weekend, and i listened to an album of his he recommended, One Size Fits All. it was a great choice. at some point, i just tried to ignore what label i would put on it and just rolled with the silliness and the postmodernism of it (postcontemporary? eclecticism? what does it mean to be a magpie of every musical trend five years in the future, all of which hated each other? how can one track sound like talking heads, huey lewis, and weather report at the same time?). when that album finished, i metaphorically popped in Rilo Kiley’s The Execution of All Things. songy songs with lyrics and thoughts are not my first language, it’s taken a lot of training to even hear words at the same time as music, but the very first song on the album, “All the Good That Won’t Come Out” stopped me in my tracks.
like a lot of rilo kiley songs, it’s really straightforward and simple with a handful of really interesting musical details that makes you feel that the simplicity of the music is really craft. the beginning with the skittering drum machine, phasing guitar lines and languid words more spoken than sung, slightly behind the beat, have the deeply feeling of a 3am cigarette (the smoking might have stopped but i still think in smoking metaphors). The second line of the chorus, on “If we keep shaking them/standing here…” has the deeply unusual chord progression of tonic to minor leading tone to IV (G-f# minor-C in this song) which is perfect and delicious and breathtaking and achingly lonely harmony to me.
but its the lyrics of the second verse that really called to me:
I do this thing where i think i’m real sick
But i won’t go to the doctor to find out about it
‘Cause they make you stand real still in a real small place
As they chartup your insides and put them on display
They’d see all of it, all of me, all of it
All of the good that won’t come out of me
And all the stupid lies i hide behind
It’s such a big mistake, lying here in your warm embrace
i’ve still been hung up on how dumb it was for me not to go to the doctor, and how much it scares me that it’s something that my dad would do, and what that says about me. i’m not so worried about being in a real small place, but the feeling of drifting rather than sinking and not quite being in control of yourself—saying “i do this thing” as though you’re talking about someone else and the dumb thing they do—made me feel a little bit sad. the central image of the song, the “good that won’t come out” of herself and these people she’s singing about, was really affecting to me too. its almost like goodness is this poison, or this infection, and as long as it remains unexpressed in these people, it hurts them. i really identified with that. it also made me want to read for the first time in several years T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock.
Mrs. Dalloway had my annotating pencil chops sharpened and at the ready (I’m usually a gel pen absolutist, however I like annotating in with a pencil. I know that there is literally no one in the entire world that gives a shit about this, but I’ve switched to using a General’s Cedar Pointe #333 unfinished pencil that I
stole found at work, and I love it.) and I was able to find a lot more meaning in it than the last time i read it. there are a tremendous amount of layers in it. when i was scouting out some of the common commentary about the poem after i finished, i was suprised how literally some people took the sexuality/virility/alienation from women stuff, as though the poem is an internal monologue on the way to deliver a proposal. that the whole thing could be the cri du boner of a straight dude with blue balls is tremendously uninteresting to me.
to me the most interesting thread in the poem is that “overwhelming question” that obsesses him: “Do I dare/Disturb the universe?” even if he wants to, he wonders, “…how should I begin?” and “would it have been worth it” if he succeeds and disturbs the universe in the wrong way? J’Alfred lets us into the loneliness and regret of his interiority, and he is crushed by the branching possibilities of action vs. inaction vs. wrong action until the “hundred visions and revisions/Before the taking of toast or tea” become complete stasis, any moment of action reversed in a minute.
it reminded me of this quotation from Marianne Williamson:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
my roommate all but rolled her eyes once i started reading it out loud, so perhaps it’s a cliché in the wider culture, and it probably says something about my immersion in more psychotherapy and self-help circles that it means so much to me. because it speaks very much to my present moment, where i feel weighted down by the extent to which i’ve spent a lot of time in the past couple of years trying to figure out how other people work, and not giving enough mindshare to figuring out how i work. or at least not giving enough thought to the idea that those two things—how other people work and how I work—might not be the same. to think myself special and find out that i am wrong is so deeply shameful to me and i don’t quite know why. whether i am “objectively” special or unusual or fringe or whatever is almost beside the point, it really bothers me that i have so lost touch with the part of me that does not qualify or hedge, that believes unshakably in my own godhood, that i can’t even hear it in my own head, where it should feel most safe.
i ache with prufrock, but unlike him—
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;Am an attendant lord, one that will doTo swell a progress, start a scene or two,Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,Deferential, glad to be of use,Politic, cautious, and meticulous;Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—Almost, at times, the Fool.
—i still feel empowered to make myself the hero of my own story, to write my own ending. is that the tragic trap of the poem? are we all supposed to feel that and the cruel idea that animates the poem is that we are all wrong? at first i got discouraged because I figured that it might be it, but then I found one very interesting thing out:
Eliot was 26 when the poem was published (100 years ago, this June), and was 22 when he started it.
like half of the angst evaporated away once i found that out. Eliot didn’t have any fucking idea what his deathbed regrets were going to be like when he wrote the poem either. it’s a great poem, but he was also full of shit. genius!