Tag Archives: ruminations

me me me

  1. If it takes more than 5 minutes to take the food between restaurant and home, I will not eat take out.
  2. I love the smell of my dog three weeks after he’s taken a bath.
  3. I hate wind.
  4. I am paralyzingly uncomfortable around groups of strangers.
  5. I hate quotation marks when used for dialogue.
  6. I have no problem eating alone at a restaurant so long as I have a book.
  7. I will overpay by 30% just to patronize local businesses.
  8. I have been hit on by more women than men at bars.
  9. I drink my coffee black.
  10. I have zero tolerance for rude behavior.
  11. I never thought I would live past 30.
  12. I think Raisin Bran is the best cereal ever.
  13. I let the dishes stack up for 7 days before I decide to wash them.
  14. I have 6 different perfume bottles.
  15. I have zero tolerance for people who are “the life of the party.”
  16. If I put my mind to it, I’m a pretty good cook.
  17. I canceled my subscription InStyle last year because it made me feel bad about myself.
  18. It has only been within the last three months that I’ve become comfortable sleeping in the middle of the bed.
  19. If I don’t have a cloth bag with me, I will not stop to buy groceries.
  20. If I couldn’t live on the West Coast I would live in Chicago.
  21. I cannot walk into a bookstore and leave without a book.
  22. I can’t stand when people tell me I’m funny.
  23. I’ve had my heart has broken once.
  24. I hate public speaking but I’m good at it.
  25. Up until the last year, every decision in my life has been made in order to make my parents happy.

patron saints

My creative writing instructor gave us three pieces to read for homework.  One was Chekov, one was…something else that I can’t remember yet, and one was this 2008 piece by Malcolm Gladwell.  I read it while enjoying a tasty grilled cheese sandwich and ice cold Heineken.  Don’t ask me why I ordered a Heineken.  I think I panicked for no apparent reason.

If you actually take the time to read the Gladwell piece, which you should because it’s really inspiring and somewhat comforting, I’m sure you will pick up on certain themes that you’d think really resonated with me.  They did, but that’s not the point of this post.

My immediate reaction to that article was to lean back and reflect on my “patrons”.  The people in my life who have made personal sacrifices to allow me to pursue whateverthefuck it is that I’m pursuing.  Whether it be sacrifices of money, time, or an emotional or psychological tax of just being around me in my current dazed state, I am, despite my prickly and aloof state of nature, eminently lucky and thankful.

I was filled with warm fuzzies.  Though, upon further reflection, that might have been more the grilled cheese talking.

nurturing nature

I had my first writing class today. It is a nine week class called “Introduction to Creative Writing” and it is supposed to be a survey of all the different genres of creative writing (fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, personal essay, memoir, etc.), wherein we deconstruct and analyze poems and writings to learn what makes them good and then apply those lessons to our own writing via in-class exercises and homework. Aside from the rather precarious dance with public transportation that takes me to Potrero Hill, a neighborhood that for no good reason has scared me during my entire tenure as a San Francisco resident, I’m excited. I never took an English class in college and aside from high school, I’ve never had any formal instruction or training in any form of creative writing.

The class started with our instructor asking us to read the following quote from Katherine Anne Porter:

“I started out with nothing in the world but a kind of passion, a driving desire. I don’t know where it came from, and I do not know why — or why I have been so stubborn about it that nothing could deflect me. But this thing between me and my writing is the strongest bond I have ever had — stronger than any bond or any engagement with any human being or with any other work that I have done.”

I stared silently at these words as the class droned on, their voices dissolving into white noise that I easily ignored. I know this quote is supposed to have a profound effect on me. It is supposed to trigger something in my writer’s soul. “Aha! A kindred spirit,” I should say.

It didn’t.

Because I don’t feel that way about my writing. At least, I don’t think I do. When I read that quote I immediately thought, “Well, replace “my writing” with “music” and that’s dead on. But writing? Writing, interestingly, is not necessarily something I enjoy. I don’t revel in wordsmithing or crafting stories. I don’t carry a journal and a pen with me everywhere I go in hopes of crafting the next great short story. I don’t ride an emotional high when I complete something I’m satisfied with. In fact, I find writing to be a chore.

I write because I feel compelled to do so. I write because, to put it simply, I can’t not.

Riding the bus home tonight, music of course blaring into my ears, this stark contrast between my feeling and connection with music and writing perplexed me. In class, as we sat in deeply tufted couches amidst the police sirens and ever-present smell of chai to deconstruct the intent, meaning, and greatness of a particular piece of writing, I couldn’t help but think “But this is what I do with music.”

I can hear a song and let it wash over me, marinate in it, live in it. I can spend hours deconstructing the meaning of that song, both lyrically from the writer’s perspective, lyrically from my perspective, the intention behind the song structure, melody, or riffs. I hear things that other people don’t. I know this because when I try to explain it to others they stare back blankly. When I hear a great song I can’t help but tell anyone who will listen about it. It is a gift and a curse. A great song becomes a part of me. It changes me. It can destroy me and move me in a way no piece of writing ever has.

But here I am. I’ve quit my job to pursue my writing. I’m considering going to school for it. I’ve shelled out $350 and am risking life and limb every week in order to learn more about it. I am consciously forcing myself to write more.

Why?

Like I said, I can’t not.

So this is where I come down on it: Music is my best friend. It has never failed me. It has always been there for me. I could “talk” to music for hours and I always walk away feeling better about myself, about life, about the world in general. Music is nothing but good times. But if you were to take music away from me, I could go on. I might not enjoy life the way I did with it in my life, but I would be ok.

Writing is love. Something that I am drawn to despite my own protestations. Something that I try to love on my own terms but fail. Writing commands me. I didn’t choose it, it chose me. And if you were to take writing away from me, to be honest, I’m not sure I would be ok. I quit my job because I did not like the person I had become and I did not like where I was headed. And a lot of that had to do with the fact that my job did not give me the space and the personal resources to address my compulsion to write. I know that I was headed down a very negative path and something had to give. Money and prestige or my sanity? I choose sanity. And Chaka Khan.

“But this thing between me and my writing is the strongest bond I have ever had — stronger than any bond or any engagement with any human being or with any other work that I have done.”

I hope that over time I am able to internalize this, acknowledge it as a truism and wear it as a badge of honor. But for now I am pleased and somewhat proud of myself that instead of letting the writing rule my life, I am taking active measures to learn how to control this compulsion. Because at the end of the day, I know that writing and I will be together forever. We might as well start learning how to live with each other.

i wanna be your dog

“take a deep breath and do whatever you must to survive and find something to be that you can love.”

Iggy Pop wrote those words in his response to a fan letter.  I read the letter a few days ago over at Monitor Mix and these words, along with his salutation (“all my love to a really beautiful girl. that’s you laurence. iggy pop”) have stayed with me all week.  They’re beautiful, sweet, and make me love Iggy even more (an artist, mind you, that scared the living shit out of me when I was a kid).

More so though, I keep imagining what it must have been like to get those handwritten words from an idol when you were an awkward adolescent who felt all alone, awkward, misunderstood, an outsider.  You shoot this letter off to a music idol who, presumably, you feel is a kindred spirit, someone you can confide in, who might understand what you’re going through.

And you get those sweet and encouraging words back.  Something like that can be life-changing and, depending on where you are emotionally, life-saving.  Four days later I’m still moved by it.

Really sweet, Iggy.

slow down, you move too fast

As I disembarked from my regular train this morning at the Montgomery station, I saw this ad for the new Palm Pre.  I normally ignore ads but this one struck me because it seemed to run counter to another mantra, upon which, as a dutiful child of the 80’s, I had been raised:

So Ferris told me that life moves quickly and if I don’t slow down, I’ll miss it.  Palm is telling me that they have a machine that allows me to keep up with the speed of life so that I don’t miss anything.  OMG!  You mean I don’t have to miss that awesome tweet from my friend telling me she’s late for work?  Where do I sign up?!?  I mean really, Palm.  Do you think people are that dumb?  You’re trying to trade on Ferris’ name yet your product is the anti-Ferris.

I’m not one for schedules.  I don’t like my days packed with things to do.  In fact, I hate to-do lists.  To the extent that I have any social life whatsoever it typically involves, at the most, one “event” in a day.  I have no tolerance for running from thing to thing, feeling rushed or otherwise stressed out that I am running late for something.  I don’t wear a watch, I rarely ever know what time or day it is, and keeping a calendar is a complete waste of time for me.  I just really hate being told that I have to be some “where” at some “time” to do some “thing.”

But obviously I’m a functioning adult, trained in the social norms and mores of the world.  I know I can’t take my “you can’t tell me what to do” ethos to it’s logical extreme, though believe me, I try.  So I keep a to-do list.  I check my phone for the time and date.  And I very reluctantly keep a calendar that I very rarely ever check.  You know, because you need to do these things in order to have a roof over your head, remain gainfully employed, and have friends.

As I think I’ve made clear in previous posts, I love song lyrics.  Song lyrics speak to me in the way that great prose speaks to readers and seminal philosophy texts speak to philosophers.  As such, I downloaded an app for my iPhone, PowerLyrics, which allows you to look up the song lyrics to any song currently playing on your phone.  It’s a great app, though not perfect by any means (sometimes the lyrics are wrong and it’s not great for obscure music).  One of my favorite things to do on weekends is to get some coffee, take Chase to Dolores Park, cop a squat, and just watch the lyrics scroll by as I listen to my tunes.  It’s meditative to me and often times, it’s like having a conversation with an old friend.  At least that’s how I feel an hour later when I get up to leave.

For the past week, I have been taking the F train home from my job in the Financial District.  By way of background, the most direct and quick way for me to get to and from work is the J Church train, which picks me up a half block from my house, runs underground and only has six stops.  It takes less than 20 minutes.  But on Monday, for some reason, I thought “well, I’m not in a hurry to get home, the sun is still out, and I’d like to just sit and listen to my iPod for a bit.”  So I’ve been taking the F, which is horribly unreliable (you can wait upwards of 45 minutes between trains), stops at Every. Single. Block., takes 30 minutes to ride, and then requires me to walk another five blocks to get home.  On average, it triples the length of my commute.

But I don’t care.  Because the F gives me more time with my music and, since it runs above ground, I can access PowerLyrics and just sink into the words of a lot of my favorite songs.  It makes a difference for me to both hear the songs and read the words.  I absorb so much more as a reader than a listener.

The past few days I actually didn’t end up accessing PowerLyrics.  I stood patiently in the chill evening wind on the little island in the middle of Market Street and Montgomery for 30 minutes, just people watching.  Men in questionably coordinated suits (really, I can’t think that GQ rubberstamped the blue blazer/olive slacks look) trying to hail cabs, women who could easily double for Banana Republic mannequins rushing to the underground stations with their purses, laptop bags, and small Kiehls/Banana Republic/Anthropologie paper bags that earlier this morning housed either their lunch or their heels, and the weary East Bay commuters, who slowly walked their way to their public transportation of choice, mentally buckling in for the additional hour and a half commute home.

Upon boarding the antique F trains, many of which have been beautifully restored, I took my seat, cranked my music, and stared out the window with an odd expression of bliss on my face.  I am the odd man out.  Everyone else on the train looks either lost (lots of tourists take the F to get to Union Square or the theater), weary, or just flat out annoyed at how slow the train is moving.  Not me.  I’m loving it.  I could live on this train.  “Take your time!”  I scream in my head.  I’m all good right here.

I love watching the City pass by as the train slowly makes its way down Market Street.  You get the hurried rush of workers lining the streets in the Financial District, annoyed drivers trying desperately to fight their way through traffic to get onto the Bay Bridge (thank God we’re not a honking town), the confused yet excited tourists walking at a glacial pace in Union Square, gawking at every damn window, the grimy Tenderloin, where things that I am totally unfamiliar with and have only seen on The Wire are happening all around, and then the fantabulous Castro, where the boys are just getting ready to do it up.  That’s where the F ends and that’s where I hop off, happily strolling to my house amid the faint smell of pot, bears walking their tiny dogs, and neighborhood locals circling the block, head on swivel, attempting to secure a parking spot.

These have been the best hours of my days.

Today, however, I had to work a bit late.  Not because my job was particularly onerous.  As it happens, it only took me seven days of work, wherein I’m kind of supposed to be in by 9am, to get back to my regular sleeping pattern of falling asleep between 3-4am and waking up at 10:30am.  In other words, I was late to work so I had to stay late to log my hours.  And, since I was up late, I was quite tired by the end of it all.  Walking back to the train I considered just taking the J home.  I was tired, I wanted to see my dog, lie down, and catch up on all the internet related stuff I missed all day.

Thankfully, something stopped me.  The F was calling my name.  So again, I waited in the cold for twenty minutes (keeping myself warm by dancing to “Turn It On” and even doing the handclaps — no really) and finally boarded the green and yellow car that finally pulled up.  I didn’t have the energy to marvel at the nuttiness of my city.  So I plopped down in a distractingly warm seat (seriously, dude who sat there before me, you should get your temperature checked), fired up my go-to playlist and settled in for the ride home.

The first song that came on was “Burn, Don’t Freeze” by…wait for it…Sleater-Kinney.  A perfectly fine song, but never one that I remember as a favorite.  As I sat and listened to the familiar guitar intro, I realized that I actually don’t know the words to this song.  And despite turning up the volume and straining to listen in, I couldn’t make out the words in any meaningful way.  Sometimes this doesn’t bother me.  I can listen to a song and not have a full understanding of the lyrics.  It doesn’t necessarily bother me.  But something about this song was bothering me.  Well, “bothering” is probably not the right word.  But in that moment I was drawn to it.

“Burn, Don’t Freeze” is written in a style that Sleater-Kinney perfected: It is literally two songs at once.  Carrie and Corin sang on top of each other with melody and counter-melody, each with different words.  That in and of itself wasn’t enough to compel me to crack the song.  But two elements stood out: (1) I always want to know what Carrie’s singing because I think she has a way with words and wit and (2) Carrie and Corin’s vocal affects were flipped.  Normally Carrie has a very disaffected and unemotive way of singing and Corin, even when she belts it, has a sweetness or emotion to her voice.  But even though I didn’t know what they were singing about, on this song, Carrie sounded like she was purposefully singing rather sweetly and Corin sounded, well, pissed or bitter about something.  Hence my curiosity peaked.  As their disparate vocal styles, melodies, and lyrics intertwined I realized that purely listening wasn’t going to help me solve this song.

Frustrated, I fired up PowerLyrics.  As I read the lyrics, a slow grin crept across my face.  Remember, Carrie and Corin are singing simultaneously.  You can listen to the album version here.

Carrie: I’d set your heart on fire, but arson is no way to make a love burn brighter.  Always thought that the devil was the only one who knew the ins and the outs of the ways of love.  So I sold off my heart to see how this would end.  Now I can’t move an inch for fear it will begin.
Corin: When you saw me on that first day, said I’d blossom under your care.  Wrap me up tight inside your wing.  Is it safe now, is it safe to breathe?

Carrie: You come in between me and the darkness.  Please don’t you ever leave.
Corin: I force my eyes open and now who has changed?  You look different, so different today.

Corin: Holding your eyes in the hardest stare.  Running around like you wanted me there.  Looking at me like I’m the hottest in town, then turning your back when you’re moving around.
Carrie: Backwards, forwards going out of my mind, spinning way off time.
Corin: I ain’t gonna listen to you no more. Breaking outta this place throwing open the door. Use me up just to fan the flame.  But you’ll be sorry as I’m walking away.
Carrie: Fire to water, baby’s putting me out.

Carrie: You’re the truest light I’ve known.  But someday I’ll learn I don’t need your fuel to burn.  Always thought that hell was the only place hot enough to melt our hearts into a locked embrace.  There’s something so safe about a lack of air.  It’s the only way to make sure that you’ll always be there.
Corin: I’m the one who decides who I am.  I’m the one who will shed this old skin.  I force my eyes open, and now who has changed?  I feel different, so different today.

Carrie: We’re buried underground.  That’s where these hearts are found. Devil spins this world around.  Only Love can save us now.  Do you want to go underground?  Lay buried underground?
Corin: I’m gone!  I’m gone!  I’m gone!  I’m gone!
Corin: Don’t you wanna
Carrie: Did you really change your mind?
Corin: Ain’t you gonna?
Corin: Was this fire way too bright?
Corin: Don’t you wanna?
Carrie: Could this be your only crime?
Corin: Ain’t you gonna?
Carrie: Did you really change your mind?

 

I listened to this song on repeat at least 6 times, scrolling through the lyrics on each.  I would listen to Carrie’s part all the way through.  Then I would focus on Corin’s.  Then Carrie’s.  Then Corin’s.  Then try and process both together.  It was so much fun and it turned, what was otherwise a minor SK cut, to one of my favorite SK songs.  Because I had only caught bits and pieces of the lyrics on my prior listenings, I had no idea this was a love on the rocks/break-up song.  I had no idea how poetic Carrie’s lyrics were.  She sounds so desperate and needy (“You’re the truest light I’ve known.  But someday I’ll learn I don’t need your fuel to burn.  Always thought that hell was the only place hot enough to melt our hearts into a locked embrace.  There’s something so safe about a lack of air.  It’s the only way to make sure that you’ll always be there.”) and Corin’s so fucking bitter (“Looking at me like I’m the hottest in town, then turning your back when you’re moving around.”).  It’s so awesome.  I was feeling the high I get after discovering a new band or song that I never knew existed.  I literally skipped home, I was so excited.

I never would have experienced this had I just lazily taken the J home.  But thankfully, I broke my usual patterns and habits and my penchant for meandering about by myself, wanting to feel the pulse and rhythms of the City, not feeling wedded to a timetable or what was “sensible” created this moment for me.  I’m really grateful for that.

With the developments in technology there’s so much pressure to compress as much as possible into our waking hours.  And while that might work for some people it doesn’t work for everyone.  I am constantly amazed at how heeding that not-so-small voice in my head that screams “HOLY SHIT! SLOW THE FUCK DOWN!  WHAT’S THE RUSH???” often leads to those moments where I feel most alive and at peace with my life and with myself.  Getting caught in the race, I’m definitely guilty of  thinking that to do = doing something = living life.  Thus I must “do” as much as possible.  Otherwise, what evidence is there that I was here?  But sometimes, not doing anything, relaxing, and letting life take you wherever it goes *is* living.

Fuck Palm.  Ferris had it right the whole time.

PS — Dear dude who laughed at me when I did my little handclap dance.  I’m glad that me, my iPhone, and Sleater-Kinney were able to bring a smile to your face.

rebel girl

When I look back on memorable life moments they are often comprised of my little acts of rebellion.  And really, when I say “little”, I mean little.  Despite my attempts to to actually be a rebellious kid, which I honestly do believe is my nature, I’m just too “good” of a kid to actually rebel in a meaningful or real way.  That said, rebellion is part of my nature.

Somehow, this idea crystalized as I went to the fridge tonight to grab a beer.

For those who have been around me with frequency over the last year, you know that my beer of choice is Pacifico.  As I grabbed my Stanford bottle opener (which sadly has run out of batteries and no longer plays “All Right Now”) I wondered how this happened.

This requires a bit of backstory.

I never had an intentional sip of alcohol until I was 22 years old.  That’s right, I was one of those squares who just never drank as a kid, and even when I did begin to drink (during the summer of my first year of law school) it was because I didn’t want to seem weird at the social functions thrown by the firm with which I interned.  And I use the term “intentional”, well, intentionally, because the only lick of alcohol I had before I was 22 was because my kid sister “accidentally” gave me a frozen daquiri from the freezer one night after I was hot and thirsty after Tae Kwon Do practice when I was 16.

Thanks, Kimmi.

Even though I drank during that 1L summer, I still didn’t actually drink.  When I returned to law school for my second year I was still straightedge.  My friends would go to parties and bars and I would sip my coke and call it a night.  It helped that for the most part, my law school friends were just as square as I was, so alcohol wasn’t central to our bonding experience.

It wasn’t until after graduation, when I started my Big Firm job, that my drinking went from a “please let me not seem like a weirdo” to “huh, I actually quite enjoy this stuff” phase.  I haven’t looked back.

At first I was kind of scared of beer.  I didn’t love the taste, it was so filling, and it seemed kind of lame to order a beer when everyone else was ordering X and tonics.  So I went through a phase wherein I only drank gin and tonics.  Then I moved to vodka tonics.  Then I went to margaritas, which, well, let’s just say tequila and I are no longer on speaking terms.

Then came the fateful day where my firm sponsored an event where we went on a tour and tasting at San Francisco’ Anchor Steam Brewery.  Anchor, as it’s referred to in SF, is a bit of an institution.  It was local, it was good, it was on tap all over the city, and it became my drink of choice for over two years.  It was hoppy, dense, and it made me feel like a real San Franciscan.  That sounds so lame to actually type out.

Ok.  I’m meandering.  So let me cut this short.  Ish.

I would bounce around for the next few years from liquor, beer, and wine.  Wine became a prominent fixture, as most of friends loved to going to wine bars and fancy dinners.  Just as things were starting to become intolerable at my firm, my friends and I began to frequent, often three times a week or more, a nearby wine bar in the financial district.  I have so many positive memories of these “happy” hours, but I specifically remember one day realizing that I kind of hated wine.

Ok, hate is a strong word.

But I didn’t enjoy it, at least not enough to shell out $15-20 for a glass, particularly when, let’s face it, I wasn’t just drinking one glass.  So one day, when we went to the wine bar, I perused their very limited beer menu, which included Belgian beers, local brews, and the aforementioned Anchor, and picked the cheapest one on the menu: Pacifico.

And that was that.

It is so embarrassing to admit now but I took so much pleasure out of going to that wine bar, sitting with a table full of lawyers whose combined income easily exceeded $1 million, drinking a $3 beer.  I would order it every time, leading to the kind waitresses to have a cold one popped open and on my table by the time I had taken off my jacket and scarf.

It’s a funny phenomenon, really.  As I made more money and worked my way up the ranks at my job I increasingly and intentionally engaged in little private rebellions that, while they seemed like endearing quirks, meant so much to me.  By the 5th year at my job I had gone from wearing business formal/casual 5 days a week to coming to work in jeans and Converse.  I never wore my hair up as a first and second year, but years later there would be weeks where I wore my hair in a messy ponytail every day. My boss would rattle on about how messy my office was and I would simply make it messier.  I would look at my shiny BMW, which I shamefully admit I bought primarily for status reasons, with immense shame.  “Look at the fucking sellout” I’d think to myself.  And so I would do stupid little things to prove to myself that I wasn’t one of THEM (then again, I intentionally drove my car down to Coachella just to fuck with all the hipsters — rebel was the name of the game).

Which is so dumb.  Sometimes you’re too busy rebelling (or being preoccupied with rebelling) to actually just be who you are.  I don’t actually dislike wine.  I just think I do in my head because of everything it represents to me based on my upbringing: white, rich, elitist, bourgeois.  I mean, that’s just an idiotic thing but as I stayed at my job it became real to me.  And so I drink my cheap-ass beer (usually either Pacifico or Bud Light).

A friend made a comment the other day that made me smile quietly to myself: “It’s really nice to finally see you get to be yourself.”  I’m not going to lie, it’s really nice to finally be myself.  Even if that means I’m a BMW driving, blue haired Asian chick who wears army jackets and drinks cheap beer.

strange and awesome powers

Last night, the new documentary about one of my favorite bands, The Magnetic Fields, debuted at San Francisco’s Noise Pop festival at Mezzanine.  This was the first screening of the movie and I was lucky enough to score a couple of tickets to the sold-out show.  And much to my surprise and delight, Stephin Merritt, the mind and “heart” behind The Magnetic Fields was actually there!

But before I get ahead of myself, a bit about The Magnetic Fields and Stephin Merritt.  Stephin is an amazingly prolific songwriter and revered among indie music fans.  His songs have been covered by everyone from Peter Gabriel to Arcade Fire.  He’s also a renowned curmudgeon, often described as “prickly” and “irascible”.  You can Google him and read all the superlatives but I’ll take this moment to attempt to articulate my reasons for reverence and bewilderment.  What makes Stephin writes beautiful songs and stories in a way that recasts concepts of love, loss, relationships, and story in ways you’ve never heard them previously articulated.  Cliches that we cynical post-modern assholes simply dismiss and scoff at, Stephin transforms into songs and stories slathered in sarcasm.  He’s as cynical as they come.  He looks at life and rolls his eyes.  But this process makes everything sound new and revolutionary.  Anyone who knows me knows my love of “Book of Love”, a track from TMF’s sprawling three-CD concept album, “69 Love Songs”.  The album is, in fact, comprised of 69 love songs.

I love “Book of Love”.  Any boy who gave me that song would be my husband (or, at a minimum, my baby daddy) in a heartbeat.  I love what it says about love.

The book of love is long and boring
No one can lift the damn thing
It’s full of charts and facts and figures
And instructions for dancing but

I love it when you read to me and
You can read me anything

The book of love has music in it
In fact that’s where music comes from
Some of it is just transcendental
Some of it is just really dumb but

I love it when you sing to me and
You can sing me anything

The book of love is long and boring
And written very long ago
It’s full of flowers and heart-shaped boxes
And things we’re all too young to know but

I love it when you give me things and
You ought to give me wedding rings

It is a beautiful song, particularly when sung by Stephin’s disaffected baritone voice.  But the genius of the song is that Stephin is being completely sarcastic.  He has said that he wrote Book of Love as a joke.  It mocks what people are like when they’re in love.  He was recently told that the song was played at a fan’s wedding and he scoffed.  Obviously, this makes me love the song that much more.

So yes, the guy writes beautiful songs.  But what makes Stephin different for me is that he believes that you shouldn’t write songs or be creative when you’re in the emotion or feeling you are trying to evoke.  That is, if you’re in love, the last thing you should be doing is writing a love song.  Similarly, if you’re writing a story song, you shouldn’t be writing about something you’ve experienced or are experiencing.  I have never heard him elaborate on this point.  I was hoping that the documentary would get into his creative process but it didn’t touch on this particular issue.

I can only assume the following:  The idea must be that if you write while you are in that empassioned state, you cannot possibly capture the full range of emotion or possibility in the song.  You’re hamstringed to what you’re feeling.  Because of that, how can you possibily articulate something new or express something that is not cliche?  You can’t.  So why bother? You’re too tied to the “truth” of how you feel or what you’re experiencing.

This is mindblowing to me.  Over the past few weeks I’ve been trying to break out of my “I can only write what I know!” mentality and force myself to write from a more objective place (thus the lack of posting here).  It’s really hard.  I am not hardwired this way.  I feel compelled to write what I see and what I feel at the moment.  The problem with this, and why I am entertaining these notions of more detached writing, is that in order for the reader or listener to connect with what I write, they have to care about *my* point of view.  Why the fuck should a complete and total stranger care what Courtney is experiencing?  In a way, you have to care about me in order to care about what I have to say.

That’s not an inherently problematic thing.  The strongest emotional connections I have with pieces of writing or songs almost always stem from my “relationship” with the author, writer, or singer.  If I know where the writer is coming from, their backstory, it creates this emotional connection that doesn’t exist otherwise.  Here’s an embarrassing and tremendously lazy example:  I hear “Simple Kind of Life” by No Doubt and I can cry fairly easily because I know, based on interviews and reading, what was going on with Gwen Stefani when she wrote that song.  “Knowing” her in this way allows me to create what feels like a very real emotional connection with her and thus, the song, despite the fact that it’s not a particularly amazing piece of work.  Compare that to, say, reading The Great Gatsby.  A beautifully written piece of art that, while I can intellectually recognize its genius, carries no emotional resonance whatsoever.

Like I said, that was an idiotically simple and lazy comparison.  Music is a more inherently moving form of art for me personally, so sorry, Scotty F.

Which brings me back to Stephin.  Here’s a guy who writes songs that move me on a frighteningly regular basis.  “Papa Was A Rodeo” is just a fantastic song with glints of country melancholy.  Yet he’s a complete mystery.  No one knows much about it.  In fact, one of the only things we do know is that the songs aren’t autobiographical.  They are not glimpses into his soul.  He doesn’t emote when he sings.  In fact, he looks completely bored.  Is it his mystique that draws me in, searching for little hints as to what he’s feeling in that song?  I’ve thought about that and the answer is affirmatively, no.  I’m not so arrogant as to think that I can find something that Stephin inadvertently let slip through the cracks.  I have too much respect for him for that.

But this conundrum was the driving force for wanting to see “Strange Powers”.  I was hoping for some insight into his creative process and his personality.  While the movie touched on both, it left me wanting more.  I WANT TO KNOW MORE, STEPHIN!  Which of course is exactly how he wants it.

That said, “Strange Powers” does exactly what any Magnetic Fields fan would want (loved the filmmakers’ acknowledgment that San Francisco is the heart of the Magnetic Fields’ fanbase):  It will convert non-fans into fans and make fans into superfans.  It is a documentary, 10 years in the making, that tells the story of the band, showing live footage, and really putting the music and the band front and center.  And that’s not to say there is no insight into the band.  The filmmakers’ focus on the relationship between Stephin and his best friend/collaborator/bandmate Claudia Gonson is really beautiful.  If you’ve ever been a fag-hag or friends with a prickly creative (ahem), there’s so much you can identify with.

Leaving Mezzanine I felt jazzed and inspired.  I’m sure Stephin would roll his eyes and tell me to calm the fuck down.

More TMF goodness:

“All The Little Words”

“I Don’t Believe In The Sun”

“Nun’s Litany”

I want to be a Playboy’s bunny
I’d do whatever they asked me to
I’d meet people with lots of money
And they would love me like I loved you

I want to be a topless waitress
I want my mother to shed one tear
I’d throw away this old, sedate dress
Slip into something a tad more sheer

I want to be an artist’s model
An odalisque au naturel
I should be good at spin the bottle
While I’ve still got something left to sell

I want to be a cobra dancer
With little Willie between my thighs
I may not find a cure for cancer
But I’ll meet plenty of single guys

I want to be a brothel worker
I’ve always been treated like one
If I could be a back-street lurker
I’d make more money and have more fun

I want to be a dominatrix
Which isn’t like me, but I can dream
Learn S&M and all those gay tricks
And men will pay me to make them scream

I want to be a porno starlet
For that I’ll wait ’til Mama’s dead
I’ll see my name in lights of scarlet
And get to spend every day in bed.

I want to be a tattooed lady
Dedicated as I am to art
Characters bold, complex and shady
Will write my memoirs across my heart.

“Book of Love” sung to…a puppet.