Signifying nothing

The most harmful pattern of habit I’ve ever developed with my writing and my music consisted of creating rituals around those activities. With writing, I started buying expensive notebooks and pens, and with music I would wait to find some comfortable and quiet place to sing and play my guitar. And many others… I wanted to be alone, I wanted to be in a cafe, I wanted to drink beforehand, I wanted a tall chair… It goes on and on.

At 7 years old, during my longest hospital confinement, I kept a diary in a spare Rx pad and realized that I had found something I was good at.

At 11 years old I wrote stories on intermediate pad papers that my classmates passed around. A particularly popular one was a satirical story about our home economics teacher. It eventually found its way to her hands, much to my horror, but she was too amused to be angry.

I started winning school essay contests.

I first learned to play guitar in 6th grade music class. My fingers stung and ached while I was learning but i did not stop.

The first Paramore song I ever heard was “Crushcrushcrush” on the radio. I bought their first CD, and at first all the songs sounded the same to me. When I started to understand, I knew each was unique and told different stories. On the back cover photo, the band sat on a sagging red couch placed on the grassy ground under a dark blue sky. It looked to me just like the sky on the evenings that I spent running outside after school, with the first stars winking on in the darkness.

The front cover photo was of the empty red couch, and it filled me with a longing i could not explain, like the songs – the cacophony of the instruments and Hayley’s soaring voice stirring echoes inside me.

I let the echoes out, and I realized that music let me say things that could not be said only in words.

When I got an electric guitar for my 14th birthday I slept next to it every night.

Later I got a blue acoustic guitar that I took everywhere with me. I rarely went a day without playing it.

That year, I also started climbing things. Under the cover of nightfall, I would climb the torn chain-link fence around the subdivision water tower, then up the ladder. A narrow platform circled the huge tank, and I would lay there, wrapped in my favorite gray windbreaker, between the wall of the tank on one side and the railing on the other. I would lay there, as close to the sky as I could get, and listen to music, and my heart would soar. Next to the water tower grew tall trees, almost as tall as the tower, and fireflies swarmed in golden, twinkling clouds in their highest branches – the ones nearest to where I lay.

(Those trees were cut down a few years ago to make way for power lines, and the torn fence was replaced by barbed wire.)

I climbed other water towers in the nearby subdivisions. I climbed roofs. One semestral break my family stayed in an old hotel that looked like a condemned building. I found a trapdoor in the hall ceiling that led up to the roof, and played my guitar there.

When we vacationed in Florida I played as quietly as I could at midnight, and when we stayed in a one-bedroom in a motel I sat inside the bathtub and wrote late into the night.

I wrote because I had to, because I was full of words that I needed to say.

I played music because I had to, because I was full of echoes – because I felt like a caged bird – and because I wanted to hear echoes too.

Through most of my teenage years I filled around a dozen journals every year, which my classmates passed around like the stories I wrote on pad papers.

Near the end of high school they became too bitter and sad to pass around anymore. I started writing blogs. Whenever people asked what course I planned to take, I always said journalism. Actually, I wanted to be so many things. I wanted to be a doctor. A lawyer. An agriculturist. A veterinarian. At the time it seemed like there was nothing I couldn’t do. Nothing I could not become if I chose it.

(How proud I was! I had never been truly challenged, even though I already thought my life was hard and unfair.)

Anyway… That’s how I wrote and played music, before.

My first girlfriend made me completely happy for the first time in my life. I had nothing to say because I only had words for pain – the way that people who live in perpetual winter have many words for snow. I would look and there would be nothing. I didn’t understand it. I didn’t realize that it was time to learn a new language. Instead I blamed her for stifling me…

(Oh, but I don’t want to write about where I went wrong, I think that is the reason why the novel won’t move along.)

I’m happy again, now, in a way that is blurred and numb. Sealed off from pain, sealed off from the stabs of joy I used to feel from the most random things – the smell of the cool, clean evening air outside my window; a hot cup of coffee; the white birds skimming across the surface of the wakepark lake; the taste of someone new; the sound of a violin; the warmth of a body.

I keep hearing her words, one of the last things she said to me. “I don’t know how to make pain sound beautiful. That’s your forte, not mine.”

yes, she knew me better than I knew myself. In one sentence she destroyed my silly pretence and uncovered my art for the simple sound and fury that it was.

It has been years and I still have not learned the language of joy.

I am curious, I want to know, I want to someday be able to write you in that language.


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