Monday, September 27, 2004

Music, weather and writing about yourself

After a little more than a week where clouds were as rare as a sober Irish writer, the remnants of Hurricane Jeanne have descended upon the ‘burbs of Atlanta. I was unprepared—mainly because I had not changed the CDs in my CD player to reflect the weather.

Yep, among the myriad of ways in which I’m a bit off-kilter, one is that I really like the music I listen to (especially while driving) to “match” the weather. Last week it was truly beautiful: not too hot, not a cloud in the sky, hints of fall breeze passing through the air—the perfect weather to drive around with windows down and Guns N’ Roses, Jeff Buckley and Bon Jovi blaring.

In particular, Buckley’s “Last Goodbye” received a ridiculous amount of airtime on my own private radio dial.

If you have not heard the song, through legal or “dubious” means I implore you to listen to it now.

Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

Give it a listen.

I’ll still be here when you get back.

What’s that?

Sorry, I just realized that ESPN, hip-hop, and I are all 25 this year and it kind of blew my mind a little. But didn’t that song kick ass?

The problem with songs like “Last Goodbye” (and “Sweet Child O’Mine” which I also played a lot) is that they just don’t work as well on dreary, rainy days like today. The end result of me not planning ahead for a rainy day was I was left with only one CD (out of 6) that really worked for the weather—Pain of Salvation’s brilliant album BE. There’s going to be much more on that CD in this space soon, but not yet; albums with this kind of depth require many, many, many repeated listens before I can talk at length about them. But at short, let me say that this is one of those rare pieces of “rock music” that I can say I’ve never quite heard anything like it (in a good way).

Last week a good friend of mine told me she was going to write a novel. This was somewhat surprising news (Note: I’d love to be popular enough as a writer so that random people tell me “I’m going to write a novel” as a way of making conversation—though if this actually happens I’m sure after the 4th or 5th random yahoo tells me about his or her book to be I’ll be contemplating what it would be like to live out most of my public life drunk off single malt scotch.)

It was also pretty good news: she is a card-carrying member in that sadly declining clan called The Readers and, while most of her writing experience is of the so-called “less creative” variety (she’s a Journalism major, not an English major), the writing I have seen of hers is very well-done stuff. (Note: it may seem like I'm holding up the English major as somehow superior to the Journalism major as far as prepping someone for creative writing. I'm not. Really. I'm not going to get into the ins and outs of the majors yet--that's a whole 'nother post, easily--but I also wanted to clear this up so you J-School folks don't try and lynch me with old AP style manuals.)

The interesting thing (I’m going to try and share only interesting things here—but realize what’s interesting to me may cause you to contemplate life through a single malt scotch) is that what she’s planning is a “loosely based on my own life” novel. And that’s got me thinking quite a bit about stories like that.

A potential problem she may find is that the old aphorism is “write what you know”—well, if you’re writing about yourself, and you don’t (to borrow another aphorism) “know thyself” (and who in their early 20s really does know themselves) you could be in a heap of trouble.

The other problem, which didn’t hit me when it should have, was a matter of endings. She expressed some concern about filling 250 or so pages, because like a lot of people, she has not written that much on one subject (Note: I’m using the term “subject” a little loosely here, but that’s ok. “Subject” doesn’t mind and is a legal, consenting noun.) The problem about writing about yourself and your experiences is a problem of endings. It’s possible Proust was worried about filling 250 pages when he started Swann’s Way too. I’m not saying she’s going to wind up with 3,500 pages, but I’m throwing it out as a discussion point. When writing the story of your life, how do you pick an ending? Sure, the morbid answer is you end it as a suicide, step away from the keyboard (or put the pen down) but even then something could happen (I can see it now, the author thought he'd found a way to write the perfect autobiography...until a real-life deus ex machina caused the gun to jam. Perhaps God doesn't want man making "perfect" autobiographies.) Basically what you're stuck with is to pull a postmodern trick and end with no "closure" ("because life has no closure" you would say when interviewed--earnestly to the Times Book Review, rolling your eyes and sarcastically on to Jon Stewart on the Daily Show) or worse, treat the story like an old Buck Rodgers serial and end with the hackneyed "To be continued".

My own experience about writing about myself (in non-column or non-blog form obviously) is pretty limited. I’ve had moments of megalomania where I figure recording every detail of my life will help my future biographers out, but mostly I have naught to show for all those thoughts but about 5 pages of some pretty average writing.

Anyone who’s had better luck, do share.

Until later, peace, love and self-knowledge (go easy on the self love unless you want to go blind).

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