So, I watched Magnolia earlier, I really forgot its complete brilliance and beauty. It’s a long movie that doesn’t feel long, basically a series of interconnected stories, themes like, the past repeats itself, mistakes and regrets aren’t unique to the individual. It’s a fast movie in that the cuts between stories are quick, it doesn’t linger on one character’s life for too long. There’s also a lot of camera movement, not shaky Cloverfield camera, just lots of panning, zooming. The cuts and the camera give Magnolia a very fast-paced frenetic feeling, even though its thirty minutes shy of three hours long. It’s also a movie about really fucked up people, people dying physically, emotionally, people whose stories do and don’t work out. I was watching with a friend and she asked, “Are people really like that?” I didn’t feel like putting down the words, I just eyebrowed a “yes.” There’s a scene with Philip Seymour Hoffman, he’s a Hospice nurse trying to track down this dying fellow’s estranged son, trying to fulfill a final request. His son, played by Tom Cruise, turns out to be a pretty famous, pretty vile, motivational speaker, teaching loser guys how to have lots of sex with lots of women. So, Seymour Hoffman’s on the phone talking to one of Cruise’s underlings and says something to the affect, I know this is something like a scene from some movie, but I think movies have scenes like this because this actually happens. I mean, that’s so much of why we go to movies, because we identify with what we see, or we want to do or be what we see. I answered my friend with a “yes” because my experiences have been so much like the characters we were watching. Depression, loneliness, addiction, loss, regret, I know those experiences, felt them, feel them, been drowning in them. Yes, people really are “like that.”
Magnolia’s soundtrack is another reason I love it so much, Aimee Mann contributed most of the songs, specifically written for the movie. One particularly unusual, very moving scene, cuts to each character singing Wise Up. My favorite line, “You’re sure there’s a cure, and you have finally found it. You think one drink will shrink you ’till you’re underground and living down, but it’s not going to stop, it’s not going to stop, it’s not going to stop ’till you wise up.” It’s very surreal, but the scene totally works. It hit me really hard, I broke-down, sobbing. I breakdown quietly, nobody ever notices. Almost nobody. Listening to Aimee’s lyrics, crying, it reminded me of something.
It was four years ago, I was with Sara, my girlfriend then, kind of. We’d broken up, but started finding each other again toward the end of shooting our This American Life episode. So, she wanted us to go see a Chris Isaak concert, and I just wanted to go anywhere with her. The trach was still a little fresh back then, I’d still get nervous going out sometimes, so I’d have wine or brandy before getting into the car. Not the best way to cope, but it worked awhile. I didn’t want to not take her, I didn’t want to be weird and nervous, I just needed the crutch to get there. It wore off and I realized I was okay because I was with Sara, everything was always okay with Sara. So, we’re leaving the concert, which was great, we’re walking back to the car under a summer night-sky. I look up at the stars, bright beautiful stars. I didn’t want to be anyplace else, just right there, under those stars, with Sara. As we’re walking she takes my hand and out of nowhere starts singing Aimee’s You Do, off the Magnolia soundtrack. And you do, you do, you do, you really do… I never thought I could love her any more, but holding her hand, listening to her sing under those stars, I did, and I felt so completely loved. I quit the pre-outting drinks after that night. I didn’t need them, and we went so many more places together. We held each other and sang so many more times. Losing her hurt so much.
I never thought I could find again what I felt with Sara, but I did, so intensely, so beautiful, but that’s gone too. Losing Monica hurts so Goddamn fucking much. I don’t know how to be okay.2 comments
I’ve said that I admire Elliott Smith as a writer, I think he was a genius. He’s a writer whose level of brilliance I aspire toward. He captured human experiences so perfectly, told these perfect little stories of love and loss and sadness and loneliness and addiction in just a few hundred words. Theres’s a special skill in that, no less brilliant and beautiful than the tens of thousands of words that writers like KJ Bishop, or Michael Cisco, or Jeff VanderMeer put into their stories. It’s not easy to capture how it feels to lose someone you love, to capture it in a way that is universally accessible, in just a handful of words. Smith’s Sweet Adeline off his fourth record, XO, is a gorgeous example of describing the end of love and the aftermath of that ending.
Waiting for sedation to disconnect my head, for any situation where I’m better off than dead.
He felt that, put it into words, perfect words. It’s how I feel right now, and a thousand times before right now, and probably a thousand times after right now.No comments
I’ve quit many things, sitting up, breathing without machines, various narcotics, talking. Really, none of it terribly difficult overall, not compared to, say, quitting people. I mean, physical losses are pretty easy. I cannot talk, that’s just a fact. There are other ways to communicate, one adapts. It’s difficult at first, but facts are facts. A fellow can’t expect to live on narcotics either, just watch Most High or A Scanner Darkly and it’s obvious to see where that road ends. So, fine, narcotics, done.
However, quitting people, or a person you honestly love more than any drug, more than your own voice, it’s something I just don’t know how to do, and might never know. That idea is a little frightening. Quitting a person’s so entirely different, there’s no way, that I’m aware, to intellectualize or rationalize it. I mean, I know it’s been done, and that sometimes there’s absolutely no way around it. That’s a very rational line of thought. Still, when looking up at a clear night sky and thinking about that person, rationality jumps from a little metaphorical window and says, “fuck you,” on the way out.6 comments
A reader recently wrote…
“I wonder sometimes how you feel about being an inspiration. Because you are, as many have noted (including myself).”
I’ve actually been thinking about this and wanting to write about it for awhile. I understand that people think my life is admirable and that I’m brave, but I feel oddly about it. I mean, if my life and the way I write about it helps people, I’m glad, but I’m not trying to be inspirational. I look at myself and I see a list of flaws a mile long. As I think about it, the idea that I inspire people, I’m trying to figure out why it bothers me. I guess there are a few reasons. I feel like people admire me for things that I’m not. People tell me that they love my “positive attitude,” like I’m some sort of motivational speaker, but honestly, I’m naturally melancholy. I’m a little dark, sometimes I’m a lot dark. Sometimes I feel like Aimee Mann is absolutely fucking right about everything. Sometimes I feel like she’s writing about me.
but you sit there in the darkness,
and you make plans but they’re hopeless
So here I’m sitting in my car at the same old stop light
I keep waiting for a change but I don’t know what
So red turns into green turning into yellow
But I’m just frozen here on the same old spot
And all I have to do is to press the pedal
But I’m not
People are tricky you can’t afford to show
Anything risky anything they don’t know
The moment you try – well kiss it goodbye
I have felt just like that so many times. Wait. Before we go any further, I have to say right now, the core of my melancholy isn’t solely from my disability, I definitely don’t want people thinking that, that answer is way too easy. I’m not that archetype. My disability causes obstacles, definitely, but my frustrations are more born from difficulties that I have getting around things that are in my way. I don’t lie around wishing that I could walk, it’s more that I just want the workarounds to be easier. My family’s just as fucked up as anybody’s, but for as long as I can remember, being disabled has been a non-issue. I was never told that I’m “special,” nor was I raised with the idea that being disabled means that I’m expressly limited or broken. I wasn’t raised with the saccharin-sweet idea that I can do “anything,” but I was also never told that couldn’t do things. My disability just has certain facts. I can’t walk, or drive a car, or play football, but so? There are a million other things to do. I grew up with the idea that I can always try just about anything, though I probably have to do it differently. So, if I am melancholy, unsure of myself, it’s more because of general anxiety than me being disabled. So, I hope we have that straight.
At any rate, I’m definitely not one with an eternally sunny attitude. I’d feel better if I didn’t get complimented for it. I am drawn to dark music and fiction for a reason, and that reason sure as shit isn’t because I’m constantly chipper.
I’m not perfectly brave either, but I feel like people think that I am. I’m nervous and uneasy as often as anybody. I’m scared every time I cough a lot. I’m scared before every trache change. I’m scared because so many of my thoughts go unsaid. I’m scared of dying. I’m scared there’s a Hell and I might go there. Sometimes I’m scared to leave the house, or even sleep. I don’t feel particularly heroic. I was so freaked out after seeing The Diving Bell and the Butterfly that I drank a bunch of brandy and passed out. That definitely wasn’t the brave thing to do.
Now, here’s the tricky part. I’m melancholy, prone to reverie, doubtful, fearful, yet I’m also endlessly hopeful that as bad as anything is or feels, there’s a chance it will get better. I’ve experienced some spectacular things, so I totally know that life can be amazing. Good experiences are like heroin. I’ll endure a million bad experiences just for the chance to have things that I know are incredible. Something inherent in me keeps me chasing that fix. No matter how down I feel sometimes, I can’t quit. I’ve hit bottom so many times in the last two years, but whenever I hit that dark place, something about me lights up and I go again. Maybe I’m just an addict to anything that gives pleasure. I don’t entirely know. I just know that if I want to see Europe, or wake up next to Sara every morning, yeah, deep down, I’m willing to die for the chance. One can just as easily die living a life they don’t want.
If I come off as inspirational, that’s fine, but it’s also not intentional. I just want what I want. I’m flawed, I break, I adapt and I keep going. That is how I want people to see me.
I know they’re evil and all, but I have to admit that I’m big on Starbucks. My current poison is steamed soy milk with dark chocolate. I go to the same Starbucks a few times a week, Sara and I used to go on weekends. There’s a big shady tree out front, it’s surprisingly tranquil for being near a busy road. It’s one of those twenty-four hour Starbucks, last year we were there with a bunch of other hardcores at 2 AM after Midnight Mass. There’s also one barista in particular who practically lives there…
Shaun Leveroni, 25. He’s been an alchemist of caffeine since moving to Tampa from San Diego. Five years ago, before joining the ranks of his fellow baristas, Shaun found himself slamming down around $350 a month on various coffees. Aside from flexible hours, the job offered plenty of free lattes. It’s another example of a fix for a fix. Shaun’s actually not so into coffee today, he says, “I used to be a coffee addict ($350/mo in CA). Now, I rarely drink it. Not that I don’t like it, I just don’t crave it. I love tea.”
Shaun’s actually surprisingly serious about the job, he knows people often compare Starbucks to crack, but he notes, “There is good and bad in everything, Starbucks helps a lot in communities and other countries. Sometimes these things come at a cost. They aren’t a crack dealer. People are smart enough to know what they are putting in their bodies. They offer decaf.” I brought up the subject jokingly, but apparently it comes up a lot.
It’s also always amusing to hear the hyper-elaborate drinks people order, so I ask Shaun if people are so particular for a reason or if it’s just an affectation to sound hip, to which he says, “People do elaborate, customized drinks for health reasons. But I have accidentally messed up drinks and only realized it 20 minutes later… they never returned the drink. So, people do order drinks to sound cool, too.” I ask if the pretension ever drives him crazy, but such is not the case for our coffee hero, “Modifications don’t bother me, I question whether they make sense (like 1.5 tsp. Splenda), but I make what they want regardless.” Personally, I’d probably deck people left and right, but that is why Shaun’s the barista and I just write about it.
It’s not easy work, but Shaun definitely digs it, he’s ready for anything. One time, “someone ordered 25 shots of espresso at once,” but Shaun was ready. If Batman walks in tomorrow, he’ll know exactly what to serve the Dark Knight. “Straight black offee, to the point, low maintenance, quick and easy,” Shaun tells me. I think he’s totally right.3 comments
So, I recently finished reading Choke by Chuck Palahniuk and it totally reminded me again how brilliantly Palahniuk can write. Though, it being one of his earlier works, I also worry that his best stuff is behind him. Palahniuk has an amazing knack for creating complete lunatic, fuck up, low-life characters who are still likable and relatable. At least, I find them relatable. Choke’s protag is Victor Mancini, a sex-addicted liar who may or may not be the Second Coming of Christ. Victor’s a med-school dropout working as an indentured servant at an historical theme park. His mother’s a senile social anarchist who spent most of his childhood in and out of prison, kidnapping him from various foster homes. If Victor’s not busy having sex with women from sex addicts anonymous, he’s pretending to choke at local restaurants. His saviors befriend him, hear his troubles, they send him money. Victor needs the money, indentured servant, sex addict, med-school dropouts don’t pull down enough to keep their moms in high-end nursing facilities. Victor also likes the idea that he gives people a story to tell, that he creates heroes one meal at a time. At the nursing home, the demented old women mistake Victor for men who wronged them in the past and he cops to every sin from incest to dog murder. It’s much easier for Victor to be someone else, with each confession providing closure until senility reopens the wounds. Victor’s best friend, Denny, another sex addict, collects rocks for every-day he doesn’t masturbate. He says he wants his life to about something rather than be about not doing something one day at a time. Still, the rocks are just a fix for a fix.
Palahniuk likes to write certain themes into every novel, like, losing everything to truly appreciate anything, or how hitting absolute rock bottom simply means there’s nothing left to fear, both of which I love. He also writes a great deal about things being just a fix for a fix. One addiction to fix another. Denny and the rocks. Victor taking responsibility for so many sins just to feel needed. I really understand such themes and I feel better knowing that other people have that same understanding. I think about the idea of a fix for a fix quite a lot, ever since the hole in my throat and and the tube in my stomach. The trache fixes my breathing and takes away my voice leaving thoughts and worries to fill my head until I can’t sleep, until I miss every drug I ever had. Brandy to slow everything down. Reading, watching movies, writing as much as possible so the brandy doesn’t feel necessary. Amazingly hot soup, astonishingly hot coffee, fantastically cold cereal go into my feeding tube because eating has become more about sensation than taste. The oral pleasure of sweet cocoa replaced by the sensual pleasure of heat from steamed soy milk as it passes through a tube to my stomach, to my chest, to my face. Fixes for fixes. Palahniuk’s writing, especially in Choke, Survivor and Invisible Monsters is so spot on as to make things that I think about more clear and less frightening. I feel less alone.
Definitely read Choke, it’s darkly hilarious and quite provocative.6 comments