I’m listening to a lot of music these days. It’s always been a huge part of my life, sure, but not a part of my writing life. God, I sound like such a tremendous asshole. Whatever, I am an asshole a little. Anyway. Music for me has always been either deeply personal, or something on in the background while I tried to learn math. There was no in between.
The personal side of it means that I auditioned for musicals as a kid, and barely made it through a verse without weeping. Music is like opening a vein. That’s not profundity. That’s a fact for every sweaty, stinky youth who ever stumbled across their parents’ mold-riddled record collection in the basement, or heard a song on the oldies’ channel that made unknown parts of their bodies shiver in scary ways. If you really listen to music, let it creep inside you, it’s something akin to possession. It’s unrelenting. It batters you. You aren’t the same after it ends.
As for the math side of the equation (see what I accidentally did there?) -- it didn’t help me any. But in my attempts to escape the below-average algebra classes I learned a lot about the Manchester music scene of the ’80s and ’90s. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the knowledge I acquired about Joy Division has maybe been something I’ve used more often than I’ve had to employ any math other than basic arithmetic. This sounds like a boast. It’s not. I should be able to figure out 20% of a bill in order to tip. It’s embarrassing that I can’t.
Maybe I should be equally embarrassed that when my skin breaks out into welts from being in the sun too long, my first shrugging explanation is that, “Ian Curtis had a sun allergy, too.”
Music. There were songs, albums, artists, whole genres I avoided because they made me feel like a sharp knife in a drawer: I was dangerous and just hanging out in the dark, waiting to fulfill my terrible and violent purpose. I avoided Bob Dylan for years because of a finely-featured blond-haired boy from Alabama, and while there are any number of reasons not to like Bob Dylan, he is not one of them. Silly girl, silly girl.
My therapist is back from her vacation. I would have forgotten our meeting if she hadn’t texted me a reminder. As previously discussed, I forget everything. I’d forget my own name if it didn’t haunt me like some sort of constant accusation. Rebecca Jane Stokes. I borderline don’t know what that means, but it feels true, so I’m keeping it there.
I’m listening to Jack White’s first solo album -- "Blunderbuss" -- while I write tonight. I’ve never been able to listen to the music I love and write my own words at the same time. I pay too much attention to one or the other. This album is the exception to the rule. It turns me into that hot guy in in high school -- you know, the music-obsessed dude who thinks -- who knows -- that he’s better than everyone else. Maybe that’s good, maybe that’s bad, maybe it’s nothing, I don’t know. I do know that it’s nice to feel passionately about something. His music makes me feel gutsy. More than that, it makes me feel cocky and just sort of right about everything.
That’s probably what it’s like to be a guy, right? It’s the sort of music that insists on its importance. It takes it as a given, that there’s a place in the world that is its birthright. I can’t imagine waking up and feeling like I deserve to be here, like my destiny is all to some greater purpose. Unless I’m eating pizza for breakfast or staring into the eyes of the man I love or writing the perfect combination of words. Then I get that blissful feel of synchronicity. But I could never write songs about it -- it’s fleeting.
While my therapist was gone, I’d been worried about her coming back. “What if she tells me I should only see her once a week or something?” I feel (hilariously, given the content in the paragraphs above) like I’m making major progress. Hating myself isn’t the first item on my agenda each morning upon waking. Mostly now I just shuffle off to the bathroom and make sure my face hasn’t changed into a stranger’s overnight. My best friend Jesse smiles when I say this. “I don’t think it works that way,” she said -- with considerably more restraint than I probably deserve.
I guess it’s impossible to be objective about yourself, really. I'm asking this handsome man if he thinks it's possible. He considers (he considers everything, he parcels out words like explosives -- he's very careful) “There are degrees,” says this same handsome man sitting in the blue chevron printed over-stuffed chair in my bedroom.
I tell my therapist all about him, I say words to her before I know if I mean them or not. “I was busting at the seams to tell you all this,” I say. I say it casually, like I would to a friend in a cafe. She’s a friend, right? Her name pops up in my phone, just her first name, and we text, so she’s a friend, right?
“How are you feeling right now?” She asks. I misunderstand and talk about sex. “Would you like to meet with me a couple of times a week for a little while,” she asks. The wind goes out of my sails.
“No,” I say. “No,” I say again, “I’m okay. I’m doing fine.” Because, however it sounds here, it’s true.
All the same, I am chagrined. Jack White plays a million grinding guitar solos. I don’t know anything about guitars other that when he plays my guts roil in a delicious way. He’s ranting on his instrument and I'm right there with him and I can taste someone else’s breath in my mouth. What do I do if he wrecks me? I think. The "he" is not Jack White. He will never break my heart. He'll stand on a stage in shades of blue and white unquietly reminding me that I can feel whatever I damn well please. No, the "he" is someone else.
What do I do if he breaks my heart? Am I ready to be shattered into a million pieces when I’ve only just started pulling myself together? Am I really going to give someone else that power? I don't say this to my therapist. I say something else. “If something happens, we’ll talk about it. You’ll call me, and we’ll talk about it.” That’s my therapist. She can read me like a book now. I nod and stare just past her head. That’s where the door is.
Today was hard. Today I wanted to curl up like a roly-poly or an armadillo. I thought, I just shouldn’t date at all. I should stay focused on my mental health. I should build a tower and grow out my hair and spit down on anyone who thinks they can use it as a ladder.
But his face when he says he loves me. His face, the way he skews his lower jaw to one side. His face when I sit on his chest, all in play and not at all, and tell him to be brave.
“Okay,” I say to my therapist. “Okay, I can do that. I can call.” The record ends. I could flip to Side B, but I just listen to Side A again.
What's the scariest thing you've done in the name of love?