Monday, June 25, 2007

a small taste of victory

I took two weeks off work and drove to Chicago. The freedom therein is glorious: I have two weeks that are my own, entirely, to spend however I want, money being the only limitation. I have planned to go to Chicago, and I want to go to Chicago, but if I feel like it I can change my mind at the last minute and drive instead to Mexico or Oregon or anywhere on the continent, actually. My decisions are just about as unconstrained as they get for a single woman in her mid-twenties who pulls down a smallish salary (and that, let's face it, is pretty unconstrained.)

What did I do with all this riotous freedom? I drove, as stated, to Chicago. I ensconced myself firmly on the couch in my brother's living room. I found a coffee shop that I could walk to from my brother's house. And for ten out of the fourteen days I was there I wrote, usually at the coffee shop, for three or four or five hours on end. I went to the beach once, I hung out in the evenings with friends, but mostly I wrote.

And this is the best part, this is the victory: my brother has also been writing. His kitchen is littered with scripts from the sketch show he and his roommates are writing, for which they've already booked a theater. He's acting, too, I got to see his play twice. So as I sit here, having finished the opening act of my novel, making plans to return to Chicago to see the show my brother has written and is acting in and directing... I'm just so freakin proud. Of both of us. Because we're doing what we wanted to do, what we said we wanted to do back when we were in high school. Because we haven't gotten pulled under by the necessity of supporting ourselves in the "real world." Sure we both have jobs, which means we have less time for writing than we'd like, and sure we both have fairly minimal jobs, which means we have less money for beer than we'd like, but we're making it work.

Take that, naysayers.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

a small piece of perfection

I think even a lot of friends who know me well don't know that the Barenaked Ladies is my favorite band (is? are? is? most band names are treated as a singular entity, and a plural element in the name shouldn't change that... but I don't know what the article does to it, nor do I know whether it ought to be capitalized. "Are" sounds better but I feel like "is" should be correct.) There are so many bands that I like that are hipper or edgier or what-have-you. As evidenced by the crowd that showed up to the concert last night, BNL fans tend to be over 30, or under 16, and nerdy but not even real hard-core geeky quasi-hip kind of nerdy... just nerdy. There was a distinct lack of image-consciousness in the crowd. There were a lot of families, suggesting that parents consider BNL to be acceptable fun music to expose their children to. Nobody won coolness points by showing up to this concert.

But anyway, they're my favorite band, and I'll tell you why. It's because they think like me. Take their whole decade-spanning album collection, and you have a fairly good picture of my usual mental landscape. You have plenty of whimsy and goofballing, plenty of randomness and look-how-clever-I-am wordplay. You also have plenty of reflectiveness, brooding self-doubt, bitterness of futility, and the occasional raw outcry of pain. There's a dark side to BNL to be sure... but it doesn't overwhelm the landscape, it's just there. And if you pay attention you'll notice that the dark side and the goofball side are fueled by the same force: a persistently ironic view of life, a self-awareness that refuses for a minute to release its grip, and the consequent mistrust of every self-representation you make.

I am not, by and large, a happy person. Nor am I a moody or angry or bitter person. I am not capable of the single-minded passion of Nina Simone; I am hardly ever buried enough in my own emotional state to honestly produce a work of pure emotional force. My moods are always mixed; there is always another self, watching the part of me that is feeling, commenting on it. Mostly, mostly, I am an observing person. The closest I come to being single-minded, to being non-reflective, is when I am not doing anything, just watching other people do. As soon as I become a participant in a scene, I start observing myself, which means I am observing myself observing myself, and... well... if you've seen a chamber of mirrors you know what it's like.

Anyway, I love BNL because their music is like this. Being an ironist in this way seems to prevent you from being ever really depressed, or ever really elated. It's not that your emotions are shallow; it's just that they're always counterbalanced. This tends to make a person, or a band, hard to grasp. You think you know their general mood as happy or fun or easygoing or mild or sarcastic or cynical. And we the ironists have a hard time convincing you that it goes deeper than that, because to honestly express our feelings we have to also express our questioning of those feelings, and our frustration at our questioning, and our amusement at our frustration... and by this time you've forgotten what feeling it was we were originally expressing.

Ah yes, that amusement... elation and depression and rage might be rare and fleeting for us, but one thing we've got in bucketfuls is laughter. We laugh at everything. We laugh at inappropriate times. We laugh because we keep seeing where all this stuff came from and where it's going. We laugh because we're having so much fun watching this bizarre game play itself out. We laugh because we keep seeing our own consciousness rising in a recursive tower, that we can't even stop because as soon as we try to stop ourselves we see ourselves trying to stop ourselves...

You'd laugh too.