Let’s Not Turn the Page

“Have you ever read a book that you wish would never end?” she asked me. “You get to the last few pages and you’re afraid to check exactly how many pages are left, but you know it’s going to be over soon. You start to reread a few sentences from where you really are in the book. It feels like your heart is breaking every paragraph closer to the end. Have you ever felt like that?”

“I can’t say I have,” I said.

I had. I felt the same way every time she talked to me. I could listen to her read the dictionary. But I never told her. I was too afraid of finding out exactly what I was or wasn’t to her.

“That’s sad,” she said. “Everyone should get to feel that at least once in their life. Sometimes I cry harder simply because I finished the book than I do if the ending is sad. Every end of a book is sad to me simply because I know it’s over. Then I repeat the cycle all over again, with another book. Battered Wife Syndrome, man.”

“Battered Wife Syndrome usually ends with the abused killing the abuser though. Not the other way around. And I’m pretty sure it’s Battered Person Syndrome.”

“Well, it’s definitely a cycle of abuse and reconciliation. And it is all my fault.”

She laughed.

“Like this one book, man,” she continued. “This one book, I swear I got to the end of it, but it was missing the last page or section or something. I read the whole book. It took me weeks, but the ending was torn out. Someone actually ripped out the page. Can you believe that? I cried to days. I couldn’t find the book anywhere either.”

“I’d have thought you’d like that,” I laughed. “You never have to finish the book. No ending, no tears. You can make up your own ending.”

“That’s not funny,” she said. She was serious now. “The whole book you’re waiting to find out whether or not this girl even remembers this guy she was once in love with. I mean, she hadn’t seen him in like a decade, right? But this guy, he loves her. He still loves her, I mean. They had to move away from each other though for some reason. It’s been a while since I read it, so cut me some slack on not remembering all the little details. But he still gets nostalgic if he sees her name anywhere. Like, if he’s driving and there’s some street sign that happens to have her name on it, like ‘Aurora Ave’ or something, he can’t stop thinking about her for days. That wasn’t her name though. So he finds out that she’s actually moved back to her hometown, which happens to be the same one he moved back to, and the same one they fell in love in of course. But he looks different and he’s scared about that. Cause in his mind she hasn’t changed at all, you know? In his mind, she still looks like eighteen or nineteen or however old they were when they fell in love. She’s still gorgeous is what I mean. So the guy stays up all night writing this letter to her about how he never should have left home when he did, how he wishes they’d never left each other to go off and do their own things, and how he wants to meet up and talk about what each other’s been up to, you know? Date-type stuff. This is all the last ten or twenty pages, need I remind you. I didn’t count the specific number. And of course, this moment has been hyped-up for the last few hundred pages, shifting from his point of view to hers and back again. So I get to what I think is the last page. I’m scared. I’m nearly crying simply because the book is about to be over. Before I know it, he’s walking down the street. The crosswalk shows that white walking guy thing. I’m hardly paying any attention to what page I’m on too. He sees her and she waves. She’s happy, he knows that. And then before I know it, I’m at the bottom of the last page. The sentence doesn’t even finish. It just says, ‘And then he heard a sound that ’”

Her face was wet. She was nearly crying just describing the book.

“Well, it kind of feels like—”

“Don’t even say it,” she interrupted. “I cried for weeks. I lied. Days. But I still just wish I knew what happened. Did she still love him the way he loved her? Cause the book, when it was told through her POV, was always ambiguous. She could have gone either way. But he loved her.”

“Did she really still look the same as he remembered though? Like, did it describe her?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah. She was still gorgeous. At least that’s what it said in the book.”

“Why don’t you just find out what book it was? You could find out in a matter of seconds.”

“Because I don’t want it to end,” she was crying now. Real tears. “I mean, I want to know what happens, but at the same time, I still have the story in my head. He’s permanently on his way to meet the person he loves. Isn’t that the best part of being in love? The anticipation? The fear that it may be unrequited?”

“It is,” I said. And I sat back and listened to her some more, hoping she’d never stop talking.

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The Long Con(versation)

“That’s the best part of writing though,” she said. “The best part is that no one has to see it. You don’t have to share it with anyone. It’s not like singing where someone can listen in on you. It’s something that exists totally on its own.”

“Then why do so many people write in public?” he asked. “Like the ones who sit in a Starbucks with their glowing laptops.”

“I think it’s because sometimes people really don’t care at all about what they write so long as the people around them know that they are writing something. I think that’s the wrong way to go about writing anything, if that is their attitude about it. If you’re just writing so that people know you are a writer, that’s not really writing. You know what I mean? But then again, some people pick up on the things around them while they are writing. Like, they eavesdrop on peoples’ conversations. They steal from the scenery. They start to describe random things around them. Everyone writes a different way. If they are really just doing it for the attention, it shows up in their writing. My point is, if you write for some type of egotistical reward, you aren’t really writing. Your best writing should be the things that you don’t want to share with anyone just yet.”

“But then how do you know whether or not it’s good?” he asked.

“You don’t! That’s the point. It’s good enough for you. It’s good enough for you to hold on to and keep tucked away. You don’t want to share it just yet. You just keep it and that’s it.”

“Then why write it at all?”

“Because thoughts come and go and are hard to keep organized. I think of writing kind of like tying a balloon to your finger. If you don’t write it down, no matter how hard you hold on to it, it can still fly away if you don’t keep holding it. So, make it easy on yourself and write it down so that you can do other things.” She was looking up at the ceiling while she explained this to him.

“I think I get what you’re saying, but I just think that if it’s worthy of writing down then it has to be worthy of showing to people. You follow me? I just think that’s a better way to go about things when it comes to writing.”

She thought for a brief moment.

“See, I don’t know,” she said. “The thing is people can be so judgmental. If it’s not good enough for them, somehow they think that makes it not good at all. Like there is some objective, definite, concrete definition of what good writing is. Everyone now is into this anti-sentimentalism and I just don’t buy into it. Everyone is trying to narrow down their writing so that nothing is being described, everything is conversational, or there is little to no actual plot and everything is just people talking or eating a sandwich or something, you know? Like, where is the plot?”

She paused before continuing, “Say I wanted to write what happened to me a few days ago. Last week, I was driving down the road and listening to the radio and it got so bad that I put in a CD. I haven’t listened to this CD in over two or three years so when the music came on it was kind of a shock, like I was listening to it for the first time all over again. Then I started remembering more and more of the CD and I got a bit nostalgic. Then this song came on that reminded me of something really sad. And I just started bawling. Like I was dripping tears all over the place. I’m surprised I didn’t crash the car. It was so weird. So, say I wanted to write about that. I’d be consciously trying to strip away the sentimentality that is what the story is actually about, you know? The story is about me hearing a song that was sentimental to me. It was about how nostalgia is actually defined as the pain of remembering. So if I were to take all of the sentiment out of it, it wouldn’t even be the story that I wanted to write! Write the story you want to write, not the story they want to read.”

“Well, there’s a lot to be said about that,” he added.

“Like what?” she asked.

“You could totally tell that story. But, yes, you would have to keep the sentiment out of it.”

“And why should I have to keep anything out of what I write?”

“Because you want other people to read it and appreciate it.”

“But the point is you should write what you want regardless of whether or not someone else is going to like it. You don’t have to limit yourself to what this imagined audience wants. The odds are that if you like it, other people are going to like it. So make it as best as possible, but according to your standards. Because, believe it or not, you are not some special snowflake that has some advanced and unique literary talent. People read what they want to read. There are plenty of people that would read what you wrote no matter how good you think it is. Just write and if there are enough people that appreciate the things you write, eventually they’ll read it and like it or not like it. The point is, what do you care if someone else likes your writing as long as you like it yourself? We’re all narcissists here. We all love to read what we create. No different than a painter staring at his or her own work. No different than a musician wanting to sing his or her own songs in front of people. You do it for yourself. Don’t pretend that your work is some masterpiece gifted to the common people. Once you admit that you are solely writing for your own personal satisfaction, and no one else’s, you’ll find you enjoy writing more than you ever did before. At least that’s how I see it.”

“I always start with the audience in mind. I always think, ‘who is my target audience?’ It’s just what I do.”

“So basically, you think of your work as an advertisement? You want to trick the reader into reading your work? How do you know that it’s even really your work if you are writing it with someone else in mind? That’s my problem with the way you write. You care way too much about what people think about your work. And to be honest, it shows in your writing.”

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Pessimism

“You know, you don’t have to be so negative all the time, you know?”

I knew she was right. She was correct. I didn’t have to be so negative. But I felt I had the right to be.
“I know I don’t, but there are plenty of reasons to be negative, or to at least acknowledge it,” I argued.

“Like what?” she asked.

“Like everything. For example, half the new churches that pop up look almost indistinguishable from any Taco Bell. Not to mention the church is within the same block as an actual Taco Bell.”

“But you don’t even believe in God,” she argued, “so what do you care if the churches that pop up look like Taco Bells?”

“I care about the principle of the matter! Like, if you are going to dedicate your life to something, shouldn’t where you dedicate all of these thoughts and beliefs be reflected in its architecture, or try to at least distinguish itself from the fast-food joint down the street? I mean, I go to concerts and stuff. I go to restaurants that look like they haven’t had guests in months. But, guess what? They all look nicer than any of the churches I’ve seen in the last ten years. Cause no one wants a restaurant, no matter how much they charge or don’t charge, to remind them of a mixture between a fast-food joint and a hospital. And it’s not just the Taco Bell Churches either. There are churches that I know, for a fact, used to be Jiffy Lubes. Not even joking. Like, they still have the little walkway you could use to walk under the cars and everything. Like, you could seriously still change your oil there if you wanted to. And then there are the rundown struggling movie theaters.”

She looked at me with a tired but interested face.

“What about the theaters?” she asked.

“Every theater I drive by doesn’t have any show times listed on their billboards. You know what they have instead? ‘Sermon @ 10am Worship @ 1I.’ And they seriously used a capitalized ‘i’ where they ran out of ‘1s.’ Random italics, underlines, and bold print letters everywhere. Terrible grammar aside, when did every movie theater become a church? Who let this happen?”

“Hollywood liberals probably teamed together with the Evangelical Christians to orchestrate a vast right and left-wing conspiracy to get people to think Bible movies are a good way to kill a Saturday night for the low cost of $20 a ticket and $8 for a small popcorn,” she laughed. “My point is, what do you really care? How does it affect you?”

“I have to see it every day. We have to know it exists, and it shouldn’t. Doesn’t it hurt you knowing that there are idiots that walk into these Taco Bell churches every Sunday? Doesn’t it hurt you to know that these same people vote? And not only do they vote, they only vote when they have the opportunity to vote against the progression of equal rights. Gays want to get married? You better believe that these Taco Bell Christians will be voting. Want more money for public schools? Not if the schools don’t teach the Intelligent Design alongside Darwinian evolution. These are the people that don’t shut the fuck up at PTA meetings. These are the people that don’t vaccinate their kids because they heard from some Playboy bunny, who is somehow more credible than the scientific consensus, that vaccines have mercury in them. Trace amounts of mercury that fall short of the average amount of mercury found in a can of tuna fish! I have to see my relatives indulge in the obvious bullshit. I have to bite my tongue while they let their tongue flap around and around until it comes full circle to agree with itself. It’s frustrating is all.”

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Blanket Words

“We talked about blanket words last week,” she said. “Blanket words are a way you avoid what is actually hurting you. What about your dream was weird?’”

Tom looked down at his shoelaces. He’d tied them extra tight this morning so they wouldn’t be an issue during another therapy session, but he must have accidentally stepped on them or something. He couldn’t help but notice that the laces were looser than when he arrived.

“I was walking down this hill. Well, a bunch of people were walking down this hill, but we were walking really slowly. Like, none of us wanted to get to the bottom of it. But, like, my platoon sergeant was walking behind me and my best friend was walking in front of me. It was really dark and everyone’s faces looked a little purple from how dark it was outside and how the lighting was or something. But, you know how people say that you can’t see colors in dreams? I call bullshit on that one because every dream I’ve ever had has been in color. Their faces were purple. I know they were. Anyway, we’re all walking, and then finally it hits me, I’m not active duty anymore. I don’t have to be walking down this hill! So I turn around, right? I turn around and tell my platoon sergeant, ‘Staff Sergeant, I can’t go with you guys. I got out years ago and I didn’t reenlist or anything. Look, my hair is even long and I haven’t shaved in days.’ But I don’t like to get a Freudian about dreams at all.”

The counselor looked at him with a skeptical look on her face.

“None of us really go by that stuff anymore. But I think you are on to something though. You’re trying to figure things out in your dreams. You may try to push it away while you are awake, but when you are asleep your defenses are down,” she said.

“Yeah, but. The thing was, is that I knew that once I got to the bottom of the hill that we were all going to go somewhere, you know? It was really weird.”

“There’s that word again.”

“No one in the dream said it, and there was no way for me to know it, but I knew it, you know? It was just something that was there whether I was aware of how it got there or not. I knew that the bottom of the hill meant another long stint in some combat zone or something. But at the end of the dream—”

Tom stopped talking. He tried to talk, but it was like there was something in his throat blocking anything from coming out without sounding like a little kid who’d just scraped his knee for the first time. The feeling was not just in his throat. He felt it rush up his face until he was looking through watery eyes and surface tensioned eye lashes. He was crying.

“What happened at the end of the dream, Tom?”

“—at, at the end of the dream I… I turned around and gave my platoon sergeant a hug. I told him how much he meant to me and how he was like a father to me. I can’t even remember what he said in the dream anymore. But he said something back, and then I remember watching them all walk down the hill. And then I woke up in a puddle of sweat. Like, drenched.”

“Do you remember what the hill looked like? Was it anywhere familiar?” she asked.

“Yeah, it was at the end of this road that my parents used to drive on all the time when we were all little. My parents were always late wherever they were trying to get to and they’d always be going too fast. But this hill, this hill was really steep, still is, and the lanes are really narrow. Like, if two cars are heading towards each other on it, they both slow down before crossing paths. It’s a really scary hill. I used to ask them if we could go another way every time, but they always drove on it.”

Tom was still fighting tears and struggling to get his words to leave his throat.

“So it was a road you’d been on before?”

“Yeah, and you know what the weird—the most unusual thing about that dream is now? It’s that when I had the dream, I didn’t cry or anything when I woke up. I didn’t cry about it the next day thinking about it, even though I did wake up in a puddle of sweat. I talked about it later and didn’t get all worked up. But I come in here, I talk about this stuff and I turn into a little baby. Crying over a dream that didn’t have to do with anything. Can’t you see why I want to call these things weird? They are weird to me. I need my blanket words. Things can be weird. I like my blanket.”

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Music

I’ve been listening to Sharon Van Etten for a bit now.

 

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Petting the Dog

The couple in the corner of the living room isn’t so much making out, at least not in any way that I’m familiar with. It looks more like they are having sex with whatever drug it is they are on and happen to be doing so right next to each other. That’s how high they are. Their faces never connect in the right places, and their hands just don’t seem to land on or squeeze the right spots. But I can tell that they appreciate each other as much as any person in their late teens can appreciate another person. It’s more of a mutual get whatever I can out of this person-type agreement. At least they are both in on it.

The kitchen is full of about six wannabe NFL stars. Each one bragging about how many Coors Lights they drank before they even arrived at the party. The sum of the brags adds up to approximately thirteen, which really isn’t all that much if you think about it. Surprisingly, there is not a girl within a fifteen foot radius of them, even though they all have girlfriends. In some unknown region of the house that resembles the living room, but isn’t the living room because it has what looks like a dining room table, but isn’t, the girlfriends are talking about everyone but themselves. Occasionally they talk about whether or not their boyfriend is really going to make it. They lie about how big their boyfriends are, not taking into account that each boyfriend has seen the other boyfriends in the locker room, and that their exaggerations could be called into question and proved or disproved, and probably will be, in a matter of seconds in the kitchen.

The stoners are out under the deck, but only because the large group of people are hanging out on the deck. If the stoners didn’t smoke under the deck, the people hanging out above them wouldn’t even be able to smell the smoke, resulting in no one noticing or caring or talking about them later. The stoners don’t really talk much about anything else besides how good the pot is or how stoned they are or how stoned they got the other day smoking someone else’s really great pot. None of them would smoke if they didn’t have friends that also felt like they had to smoke in front of their friends that they assume feel the same way.

I’m petting the dog. And that’s not some weird slang that you don’t understand. I’m simply hanging out with a dog. We were all told to make sure he didn’t get out when we got here. He’s the reason I’m in the living room by myself, essentially. I found him in the basement eating some-kid-I’ve-never-seen-before’s vomit. I brought the dog upstairs with me about an hour ago, I think. I don’t know half of the people at this party. But I took like three cases of beer out of the fridge when I got here and then came in the front door a second time to make it look like I showed up with a bunch of beer. They are all so drunk that they can’t remember who brought what and they don’t really care anyway. But tomorrow they’ll think that I brought a bunch of booze to the party. Or I’ll get called out. Or they won’t care because they don’t really know me anyway. This dog is awesome though. I don’t know if the dog is drunk because he just ate a bunch of some drunk-kid’s puke, or if he’s actually just this cool. But in all actuality, the dog probably only ate (drank?) about a shot of vodka. I don’t even drink all that much and even I can tell that this party is full of amateurs. Anyway, the dog is great.

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Now I’m Bored and Old

Like many teenagers growing up in Washington State, I was obsessed with Nirvana. They were my first experience with music. I was late to the game though. Kurt Cobain had already killed himself, the band was two or three years gone, and yet it felt so close. I learned about when the band was formed, when Kurt Cobain’s birthday was (I still remember), when Cobain killed himself, when each album came out, etc. Now it’s all information that I keep stored without even realizing it. If only my memory held other things that well.

Years later, Nirvana still seems to encapsulate those confusing and painful years of puberty that I remember (unfortunately) so vividly. The angsty-teenage years. I still think it’s funny that I stole my first copy of Nevermind from a Fred Meyer while skipping school. I couldn’t wait to get home and listen to the whole album, as opposed to the handful of songs I’d hear on the radio from time to time. I couldn’t get enough. I listened to their albums over and over again on a leftover Discman that either my brother or sister had left when they moved out. I wasn’t allowed to listen to rock music at home, so I was limited to a pair of dorky headphones. It was great. It may have been that I was in love with doing something that I knew I wasn’t supposed to do, but I was having a great time regardless. The music was loud and rebellious. The guitar wasn’t that advanced, the songs were easy to learn how to play on guitar, and there seemed to be nothing fake about it. It was just loud, raw, pure aggression that I wasn’t able to express myself, at least not at home. It felt good to listen to someone else express it freely.

Eventually I stole yet another Nirvana album, this one was a live album, MTV Unplugged in New York. I didn’t know what to expect from it. I’d never seen it on TV, and didn’t remember hearing it on the radio. They may have played a few songs on the radio from it, but Seattle radio stations were more about playing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on repeat at the time. It was a song that I’d gotten sicker of after I learned that the band didn’t like it that much, so I had to pretend that I also didn’t like it. Anyway, I put Unplugged on expecting acoustic versions of maybe “Lithium” or “Heart-shaped Box.” But what I got was a live performance that was mostly covers of songs I’d never heard before. I’m still embarrassed at how long it took me to learn what a cover was. The album was soft. It wasn’t loud. They didn’t smash their instruments together. They didn’t really play their big hits at all. It had this weird, almost Western, sound to it. It was not what I was expecting. It sounded so mature, like someone who has just found his place in the world. Finally accepting who they are. It felt like some weird way of receiving valuable life advice from a close friend.

Sadly, I don’t much listen to Nirvana anymore. At least not Bleach, Nevermind, Incesticide, or In Utero. I’m just not that angsty anymore. I’m happy to say that I no longer relate to them. But I still find myself listening to Unplugged every few months or so. It reminds me that I’ve matured and come into my own. I’ve broken free of adolescence and have established myself in a world that actually is as scary and hostile as I thought it would be when I was a kid.

Today marks twenty years since Kurt Cobain ended his own life and subsequently ended Nirvana.

There’s probably some significance in the fact that my favorite Nirvana song isn’t a Nirvana song at all, but I don’t know what it is.

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