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I have been pondering the strings that tie us together, the things that bind us and keep us together, how we affect one another, one human to another.
We’re a lot like thumbtacks on a pegboard, each of us tied with many strings that connect us to all the other thumbtacks on the board we call life. Of course, we’re all moving, so the strings are tightening and getting loose and stretching, changing colors, length, thickness. Our relationships change as these strings do; the connections evolve over time.
And everything we do, we’re sending sound waves along the strings, pulling them and changing them. Once we change one of the strings, we change other strings, the ones that everyone we’re connected to holds. Then other strings move, shift, change because of our changes meaning we’re all affecting each other, and in different ways, we’re all connected. Somehow, we are all connected via this mass network of strings criss-crossing the globe, and with the advent of the internet, e-mail, Skyping, Facebook, we find more and more strings.
The connections may not be particularly strong, but they’re there. We are changed by all of the people we have known, seen, and heard of.
These people: we’ve met, we’ve inspired, we’ve loved, we’ve read novels by, we’ve despised, we’ve broken bread with, we’ve battled against, we’ve drank with, we’ve prayed over, we’ve bumped into on the street, we’ve taught, we’ve tripped, we’ve enlightened, we’ve made love with, we’ve fed, we’ve stared at in public but never actually spoken to, we’ve known more than we can know anyone else.
Just reading this on the outskirts of the internet, you are tying off a string. My thumbtack to yours. And maybe this is just wishful thinking, but maybe these strings keep us sane, alive. Because with the board changing so often, the pegs all moving, we could fall off, slip from our places. Fortunately, we’re tied together, part of this huge safety net.
It is the people in our lives that keep us from falling.
This morning, I would finish my novel. The night before, I had written the penultimate chapter to what would be what I considered my best work. The climax finished, I needed only wrap up the story in a few hundred words. I went to bed early, anticipating waking early for work the next morning. When I woke too early, I lay in bed thinking exactly how the story would end. Not that it would end, because no story truly ever ends, but where would I stop following these wonderful people, recording them through the lens of fiction?
This morning, I thought. It would have to be this morning. College looms, and maybe if I don’t finish soon, I may never finish, never decide on a conclusion. Even if it isn’t any good, even if I have to change it, at least something will be written. I will feel that much closer to being finished.
And maybe finishing In Lickskillet makes me feel finished with high school. Even though I graduated back in June, I’ve still been navigating the social maze of high school within the walls of fiction. Sure, my time at school gave a lot of good source material and inspiration for the novel, but I think I’m ready to finally leave that stage of my life.
But ain’t that the truth? Everything ends.
Every novel has an ending, just like every part of your life does. In my opinion, it doesn’t really flow that smoothly– there are definite
times when you might think a chapter number would be suitable. Like right now, before I leave for college, I’m ending a chapter, a huge chapter. All about high school and the city of Aiken and the immense impact it has had on me. Most of the characters will bow off stage, maybe not be seen but for cameos. All the history I’ve learned here, I’ll have to learn new history elsewhere. I am cutting off ties, leaving both jobs, and moving onto to bigger things.
Next Friday, I move into a college dorm, and then a new chapter will begin. Maybe I’ll find some new photography studio to work at or a new hip magazine to write for. Maybe not.
New things will come. For example, I’ll start my time in the International Scholars Program at the College of Charleston, which is brand new and is sure to be a wild, enlightening time.
This blog was recently freshly pressed, so maybe there is new life in that. Just because some readers from Aiken might stop reading, I may gain more readers, other readers, both from Charleston and all around the world.
But this morning, I had the satisfying feeling of typing THE END to a novel I feel may be my first major published work. Everything ends, and right now, what’s ending is maybe that part of my career when I’m still working to be a success, still doing little things that might one day add up to big things.
The next chapter?
Well, Hell, who knows what might happen?
I arrived Sunday afternoon for a college orientation which would begin Monday morning, and we were supposed to explore the city that day since there were no official plans or schedules. Those would come the following day. Already upon arrival, I planned to talk about the experience but never had the time or energy to write anything down until now. The streets here burn your feet, tripping you up with uneven stones so that you stumble as you walk. Not that you’re looking at your feet with the historic architecture of King Street looming above you, the high-end fashion store windows volcano-erupting with colors, and the people– oh the people on bikes, in high heels, in capris, in bowties, in jogging wear, in Maseratis, on unicycles.
This is my first few days here as someone not a tourist– instead, a future resident not so much trying to cram in sightseeing landmarks but trying to digest what it would be like to live in this city. It’s only strangeness that pervades everything: a wonderful, spell-binding strangeness, though, that delights, that enchants. You’re left often wondering what impression you’re getting. Whether everyone here rich, poor, or in college. Whether this indeed is some mystical city with the highest ever beard-to-face ratio.
The beauty. Naturally that’s what first shocks you like a defibrillator to the groin. The historic, amazing houses with their perfectly trimmed bushes, immaculate designs of ivy upon the brick walls, every architectural nicety present like a ten-block tour history of buildings everywhere.
Sunday, I arrived and began to walk through the streets lugging my rolling suitcase. Driving here I expected to be a problem but never was; navigating these winding, crossing streets became perilous, like following Ariana’s string through Minos’ labyrinth with the Minotaur at your heels. I found the dorm eventually, being the first to settle in, make up my bed, and put away my bags. Then I set out alone to wander the streets till dusk.
When you come on vacation to Charleston, you feel restricted by a schedule to visit places you’ve always seen: the market, the battery, the waterfront pier, the marina, the college, whatever. I saw all these things but without the requisite urgency of travelling in a group. Alone, you have the leisure to simply sit for an hour, even two by the seaside reading. Or to when eating, not simply eat but enjoy the quiet atmosphere. Perhaps the calmness only comes from vacationing without my family which always prove as hectic as if Chevy Chase were involved. By myself, I am freed from antics and misadventures, meeting only a sort of calm beauty everywhere I went.
Because I arrived four hours earlier than I expected to, I did not feel bad for “wasting time.” I simply walked up and down the streets, along the water, and elsewhere. I even had a delicious falafel for lunch while watching the Portugal-Holland game in the 2012 Euro Cup. At some point, I realized I had an article due fairly soon for Verge. I had already done the interviews, so I sat down at a Starbucks to begin writing. I only finished writing and editing it today and will be e-mailing it very soon, as soon as I can find wifi to send that and post this.
In Charleston, a Starbucks Cafe is not a rarity, but instead like a Zubat in a Pokemon cave, they pop up every few feet. The abundance of cookie crumble frappes and cherry-whipped lattes floating in the hands of flip-flopped business men on fixie bikes astounds me.
As I sat plugging away at a first draft which constituted long quotes and awkward transitions, I watched some interesting things around me. If nothing else in a new city, watch how people interact. There is the homeless guy high out of his mind on the corner screaming nonsense at tourist, the gay barista flirting with every man who walks up to the counter, the goateed English professor furiously grading a grammar test while, in the fashion of Disney villains, twirling his moustache thoughtfully.
Then I saw from the window a girl I went to high school with. I ran down the street after her, slowing down as I reached her since running after anyone screams “I’m desperate for company.” Not that I didn’t enjoy being down here alone, only that I hadn’t much talked to another soul all day except to say, “Yes, I would like the falafel please.”
For a while, we perused shops together, then met with her roommate to eat dinner at this very fine sushi place for very cheap. Around ten, we returned to the dorms where we met even more students who came down for orientation.
I know college will not always be like this, constantly introducing yourself, but it’s not a terrible way to live. You meet a hundred people in a day but only ever have the same conversation.
What’s your major?
What do you want to do?
Where are you from?
Was it a long drive/flight?
Then dazzle them with fun stories of your uncle’s Polish wedding and a summer in Germany.
Tell the same stories again and again and again and again until even you’re bored with them. Then start talking about your job or about writing or about anything. For example, “I’m totally famous online.”
On the next day, this cycle of meeting new people commenced, meeting the guys I stayed with at orientation, meeting the tired, passionless orientation interns, meeting professors, meeting more homeless people.
It’s a very nice thing of course to plot your career path, your intrepid course through college, what adventures the next four years will bring. I admit that is as important as not trying to inhale underwater. But what is more, what really signifies why moving somewhere new, meeting new people matters, are the stories.
You can dress up like pirates, talk to Financial Aid advisors, dream of studying abroad, but it’s all for naught if there aren’t any stories to tell. So that’s what life gives: stories. Each person has one of triumph, loss, or love, and these things, like atoms, build the world in which we live. Even if you’re only recounting what major you’ll take, how hot or cold your dorm shower is, whether your room has a microwave or not, everything can be boiled down to plot, characters, submerged themes.
Charleston is a city of stories, brimming with stories unlike almost anywhere else in South Carolina. Aiken too offers its own unique stories, but even its rich history pales compared to Charleston. Not just ghost stories and tales about “The War of Northern Aggression,” though. Stories reside with people too, even professors if you consider them people—and some people don’t, I believe. Regardless, that’s what Charleston offers, a multitude of stories that can be observed, told, and told again and again and again until only the teller is bored with them.
But me? Never.
Facebook, over the course of its existence, has changed many times its privacy settings. Some people limit everyone from seeing pictures on his profile and some allow anyone to see all info. In fact, privacy settings are very rarely used by Facebook users under the age of 25. Middle aged users tend to use privacy settings more prudently. We teenagers, we allow anyone to see what music we like, what books we like, and what celebrities we admire but get offending when someone “stalks” us.
It annoys me that some people will say they have read my blog or seen a picture, then apologize for “stalking.” If we were really a generation afraid of unwanted attention, we wouldn’t have Facebooks, tumblrs, and Youtube accounts. We would not recklessly share our inner lives with a computer screen.
No, we don’t mind that anyone may be stalking us because it stokes our ego. We feel better that someone is paying attention; who cares how creepy it seems? If all info is available, all info is free-game. No one is a creeper or stalker for looking at another’s profile, just worshipers of a single ego.
There is a voyeuristic pleasure we receive with allowing others to see into our “inner selves.” What we portray on social-networking sites like Facebook, however, we can manipulate. We can make ourselves appear exactly how we want to appear. A moralistic Christian? Post Bible verses all day and list Jesus as an inspiring figure. You don’t even need to go to Church. Want to be seen a stoner? Why not simply like “weed” on Facebook? It won’t even matter that you don’t smoke as long as you perpetuate a certain image. And we enjoy intensely luring others into believing they’re learning our deep, dark secrets when we have shaped those secrets meticulously.
Teens are like D-list celebrities who complain about the paparazzi, then wear sheer shirts onto the red carpet so pictures of their nipples end up on the internet. We love that attention. Attention is the new love. Facebook is the perfect mirror to preen in, making ourselves into what psychologist Maslow would call our “self-realized selves.” We’ve reached a stage where we can lie without making any facial expressions because words on the web give no social cues. On the internet, we can create new identities.
We’ve seen this time and time again where some fourteen-year-old girl meets her internet boyfriend for the first time at Target only to be kidnapped by Buffalo Bill. But creepy skin-wearers aren’t the only ones who reform their identities via the internet. We do it too. Facebook merely is a better tool to facilitate how we get others to perceive us. Back in the day, we would subscribe to certain stereotypes, then dress in a certain manner. Today, we’re allowed far more uniqueness to express ourselves through what the pins on our Pinterest boards say.
The internet offers the perfect fantasy. A social illusion, where you are the all-important person. Any person following your blog does not simply appreciate your insights but is a “creeper” obsessed with you. Aren’t we all in love with that idea, that celebrity status where people check Twitter just to see whenever you poop in public?
Earlier today, I worked very minimally to post a blog about The Avengers. I am really excited for The Avengers and definitely want people to know how much of a comics book geek I’ve become (especially superheroes), but it was for that reason I wrote the post. That, and because Avengers is such a popular search item currently, I figured it would boost my view count. Does that not just shout megalomania, Tony-Stark-style? I didn’t feel passionate about revealing my thoughts; I was too tired to write and forced myself to just because I hadn’t for two days. We’re all on the internet like it’s some high school party, keeping up appearances.
Obviously, I’m not immune. I’m consumed, sucked in, and obsessed. I crave attention as well and am as self-centered as Superman if he hadn’t found Earth and had instead floating in space his entire life thinking he was the only living organism in the universe. Of course it affects me. That’s the nature of the beast call ego-centrism. When my psychology teacher inferred it passed after adolescence, I wanted to laugh. Our generation may never grow out of this, never stop fueling our own need for obsession and rejection of privacy in return for new-age love.
No need to stop feeding the ravenous machine that is Derek Berry’s ego, so comment and like and view this post sixty times to give me delusions of internet-grandeur. Just giving you something to think about.
Some people love hearing themselves talk, so they give endless advice on things they hardly know anything about. I am one of such people, and so here is the best advice my feeble mind could scrounge up. Hopefully, by applying these simple rules to your life, you will live more fulfilled and more awesome.
1.) Before running a marathon, be sure to take a pre-run poop.
2.) If anyone calls you childish for watching the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers movie, give them an Indian Burn. That’ll learn ’em.
3.) When in public, for example on a train, do not listen to your music so loudly that anyone not attached to your earphones can hear the music. It’s annoying and rude.
4.) Never clean a CD in a circular motion. Start at the center and move to the outside with the cloth.
5.) If you suddenly get the idea to write your entire novel in second person, rethink that, because it might not work out. Then again, done right, this style can seem quite cool.
6.) Use Soap.
7.) If you cut your leg on a coral reef and the blood attracts sharks, get out of the water to avoid being eaten.
8.) Do not eat roadkill.
9.) When tuning a string instrument, try tuning up to the note. If you must tune down, tune too far down, then back up so the tension in the strings are taut.
10.) If you’re a skateboarder and can do really cool tricks, most people will believe you even better if you actually land these tricks instead of crashing into the cement.
11.) If you open up your eyes wide enough, you get to see colors like never before as if you haven’t noticed them.
Normally, I might start off a post apologizing for not posting in a while as if my blog posts fuel the universe. As if the words are hooked up to someone’s life support system and if I don’t blog every day, that person might die. Unfortunately, I don’t hold such power in this world. When and how often I post matters only to me to bolster my self-confidence whenever I check the Stats page, to which I am unhealthily addicted. (Instead of Facebook or e-mail, it’s the first thing I check upon arriving home. I even have an app to check it on my Nook.) But I see no need to apologize for not posting. Laziness is merely a natural part of life and perhaps I am busy. With… well, work and school and learning things about the world I never knew before.
I spent the weekend in Charleston, touring the college there and learning much. But I can’t blame my lack of posts on merely being away. No, I have also been reading. As if reading so voraciously is a bad thing which I don’t think it is. In the meantime, I’m still getting excited about Game of Thrones and have seen The Hunger Games, but no, I probably won’t write a review. Everything to be said about it has been said. I thought it was great, but if I were to review the movie, it would only be to raise that magic number of views on my Stats page. Worst than opium, that Stats page. Addictive as a snakebite.
In a perfect world, I would like to say I have spent a lot of time not blogging because I choose to do “real work” on my novel. Or writing short stories. That fantasy dies quickly when I really consider how much I’ve truly written in the past week. So what? I’ve been reading and playing Angry Birds Space, which I will also not review though it is a lot of fun, but will include as a tag in this post to raise view counts and subsequently… well, you know where this is going.
The truth is, I enjoy procrastination. Nothing gets my heart beating quite like sitting to waste time, doing nothing. Such fervid inactivity makes my blow flow faster, I swear. Perhaps not doing things is what we were meant to do. Perhaps God meant for our species to laze about, sleeping, waking only to use the restaurant, eat fruit, drink, and procreate. Oh, Garden of Eden, how I miss your sweet benefits. I would also if within the garden, we might have been kin with the animals. We could ride on the backs of tigers and lions in between naps.
But of course, such paradise of doing nothing exists only in death. Unless I was a koala in my past life (highly possible), I am not dead. And so, “doing so” demands to be done no matter how much my own will wills me to do naught. Interesting thoughts, yes? So, what compels me to post an entire blog post about not posting? Am I blowing your mind, breaking the convention of the “I haven’t written a blog post in a while” post? Will I promise to stay ever-vigilent in continuing to post blog posts? No.
Perhaps one day I will quit. Perhaps I will change blog names and never tell you. You will be lost to me, forever, dear readers. But whoever deludes himself or herself into the belief that those readers NEED to blogger, they are so mistaken they might as well go back to the third grade. Blogging is nice and fun and connects you with people. In fact, blogging is far less pretentious than I imagined it might be. It allows us not just to communicate ourselves but our ideas. To circulate ideas about life which invigorate conversation and notions that might change minds.
It can be self-indulgent at times, like whenever I toast myself for scoring a week of days when the view count is consistently over 200. Or when I comment back and forth to every person who comments to ensure the blog post will read that many, many people have commented on it despite the fact that more than half of those comments came from me. Blogging can indeed be for those who love themselves as I do, but it can also help us learn things in a personal way. No one depends on you posting blogs, but that doesn’t mean to stop posting! What if you end up changing someone’s ideas?
That would certainly be interesting? Why now? Why have I now decided to post a blog to translate an idea which may or may not mean anything? We can only postulate. But the pen calls to me, so write again I shall and write much I shall. Rambling is merely the product of having too much to say, which perhaps is better than not having anything to say out of which procrastination is born. So when I stop thinking, I will stop writing and in extension, stop blogging. Not that this particular event will happen any time soon. We should wait to see, though, shan’t we?
So keep blogging. Take as many breaks as you need. Post as sporadically as you need. Write no matter whether someone is reading what you write. Of course it’s not necessary, but it gives a relief to the brain and if looked at through a queasily spiritual lens, the soul. This is not to say, keep writing or reading. Only to say, don’t stop.
If none of this makes sense, remember it’s only Word Salad. It’s life. It’s not supposed to make sense.
Three and half hours after picking it up, I had finished the book. Its brevity shocked me, almost frightened me. Yet the entire story was there. And more than just the story contained within the pages, but an entirely other story. One of the human race and its dark past. Of its desires and hypocrisy and self-loathing.
Before reading Oates for the first time, I considered her merely a feminist writer. After finishing her novella Beasts, I can confirm that to be true. She does not, however, explore femininity in an obtuse way, merely as a strong opposite of masculinity. Instead, it is merely a shade of humanity, or rather, many shades and very complex. In the book and in much of her work, she seems to explore what it is like to be a woman. I say this only having read little of her work and hearing much about it as well. For that reason, I cannot claim to understand her or dissect her work. I can, however, admire it. Also, I want to read more of her. She’s published over one hundred novels and this one, published in 2003, is merely a coin dropped in the fountain for this prolific author. That’s why it amazes me that despite her having written so many books, she has yet to dilute her work with disappointing poor quality.
I encountered her first in my English literature class in a short story called “Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?” It recounts the story of self-obsessed Connie, who despises her parents and sisters and yearns for more sexual respect. She finds, however, a warped reality of what sexuality is. The short story is a very subtle sort of horror, something that creeps upon you and nags your brain. Beasts works much the same way. The story seems rather innocent until you realize that something about this story, this narrator, this confession…. is very, very wrong.
The twisted ideal of sexuality carries into this work as well. A young college student Gillian falls in love with her narcissistic poetry teacher. She and her friends swoon over him and his artistic French wife. They, however, hold dangerous philosophies that begin to affect the girls. And there is some wickedness brewing between them.
Beyond that, the novel is difficult to explain. From outside, it seems almost just about a silly little girl with a crush on her professor. The implications go much further than that. From page one, Oates has full control. She knows where she wants the story to go and it will go into Hell. And whether you like it or not, you’re going too.
I began reading, merely passively. I admired her prose, which was both simple, elegant, and impossibly complex. Within each sentence is a treasure cove of symbolism and stark, dark beauty. But I feel, if I were to explicate this novel, it would lose its enigma. That is what made me keep reading until the book was finished. Because easily, I could figure out the symbolic meaning of the fires that some secret arson sets throughout the school year or what the female lead might “represent” or why the poetry teacher is so obsessed with D.H. Lawrence and Ovid. I could figure out all those things, but in those ways, we destroy literature.
Oates, I believe, understands more than anyone else that a good piece of literature, a good story, is not meant to be fully understood. In ways, I am perplexed, yet by simply reading the novel, I understand completely. The author, by subtly placing the cues and clues that English teachers so love to point out, does not mean for the story to be an excavation site. Oates does not wish for fiction to be trivialized into meaning. The story, rather, makes a very distinct impression.
Sure, one can discuss how she uses imagery. How each word affects the mood. But instead, we can learn to be complacent that the book does have an effect. It puts me on edge, even now. I sit in the dark and write this and feel a sort of strange horror creep around me. The book is something like horror, but contains no ghosts. No monsters, vampires, or bloody deeds. Only very human characters, in the cruelest of their renditions.
What alarmed me most about the plot was not the fact that it was riddled with sexual abuse, though not evidently. There are passages in which the narrator describes her poetry class. At first, it is a class where girls go to ogle the professor. But soon they fight for his attention. They write the whole truth of their lives: every relationship, every anatomical flaw, every incestuous sexual encounter. They lay all this out in poetry which the professor praises. Yet I noticed that as each poured more of themselves into the poetry, they became less. Small details, that Oates writes, cues this. They became skinnier and less healthy, a bit more deranged. They live only in poetry.
Every single one of these girls becomes a victim of their own infatuations. By the end of the novel, the main protagonist is no longer the sweetly naive girl from the start of the story. She is transformed into a husk of pure obsession and is crazed by her jealousy, rage, and longing.
Even now, I find myself trying to make sense of everything she did in the story that it would have such a great effect on me. Understand, the story itself would seem to me frivolous and pointless if told by anyone other than her. If you were to go read the plot on Wikipedia, you might not see anything special. I doubt it. But when you read the novel, it affects you in a disturbing way. Such is Oates’ gift.
In conclusion, I admire Oates for her subtlety and power. She understands her entire story before it begins. Every word is meticulously chosen to create the atmosphere of the work which might always be compelling while slightly unnerving. Either way, every writer can learn something from her stories. She has mastered the ability to forever confound English teachers by wrapping her stories so tightly with symbolism, with meaning, that they can never truly be unwound. Nor should they ever be.
What is the purpose of discovering the secrets of the universe? We surely cannot ever take them seriously.
If you give a writer a pen, he’ll want to write a story. Once he writes that story, he will trash the paper and fume about how terrible it is. If you allow him to criticize his work, he will begin to critique it. Once he begins to critique it, he’ll write up another draft. If you let a writer finish a story, he’ll want to publish it. Then he’ll move into your guest bedroom and never leave.
In November, I wrote my first story for the Verge about Nanowrimo. I interviewed over twenty local writers about what drove them to write novels. Writers are a morphing bunch of people. Some write epic fantasies, obsessed with trolls and wizards. Others plotted high-end thrillers involving politicians and nuclear war. Some wrote of the nuances of private family lives. Yet every writer is driven by a need to tell a story.
We approach dialogue differently, think of characters differently, and certainly tell eclectic stories. Writers, though, are bound by the necessity to tell stories. That fiery X-factor that impels us to write down what we’re thinking. We need to leave our marks on the world in forms of poems or stories.
When I begin to write a story, I do not immediately leap to what “theme” I might want to pursue. Instead, I concentrate on a single character and place him in a strange situation. I want the reader to be able to sympathize with the character by the end, to feel the journey the character takes. The character’s story takes center stage. What we can glean from the story and how it affects society, yes, is important. But there are many essential components to a good story. One of them is a story.
I began thinking about this for two reasons. Firstly, I strive to understand the stories of those I surround myself with. Intentionally, I will strike up conversations with strangers. Whether they be doctors, bums, or Cuban restaurant owners. If I talk to them about their days or about their months or about their lives, I can have a story. There will be an opportunity for me to sympathize. The only thing that sets writers apart is that we sometimes fictionalize stories in search of a greater truth. That, however, is a discussion for another
day. Deep down, we all have these stories to tell. Real or fictional.
Writers have been scribbling through my mind also because tonight I will be mingling with many of them. I am being published in the 2012 issue of the Inkling, published by the Verge editors. Tonight (in fact, in two hours) is a release party for the magazine at which all the writers will congregate. Tomorrow is the Verge’s New Year’s meeting/party at which I shall meet my fellow staff writers and editors. Two nights will be spent dancing in social circles and discussing literature. What is most frightening is that I am still unsure what I am publishing in Inkling, poem or story. I submitted five entries, so I shall find out tonight what made it in.
Come Friday, I will update everyone about what occurred at each of these literary gatherings. I relish the opportunity to speak to fellow writers, to discover and read their work, and to find that within them is a familiar fire hungry for stories.
Here is a real treat for readers of this blog, the first of perhaps a few short excerpts from The Savagery of Sebastian Martinelli.
If you’re looking for fun quotes from the novels, check them out here.
This piece introduces Laurent Rousseau, a down-on-his-luck jazz musician who lives in the disused freezer room of a rundown liqueur store.
A decently sized crowd pressed closer, closing their eyes in musical rapture. Whether people were listening, Laurent hardly noticed. His saxophone squealed a melodic spill of sorrow and drug-induced madness. Behind his eyelids was not only darkness, but the piercing light of the sun as well, manifested like blithe ballerinas dancing in a horrifically fluid manner. The figures of his mind were corpses, held up by marionette strings; they pranced across the stage, powered by some unknowable force. The music compelled them to emulate a dance, and they jumped and spun and flipped in dull emulation of human expression.
Laurent opened his eyes, removed the saxophone from his mouth, and was startled by a shower of applause. He was almost certain of what the drugs were doing to him: he was going mad.
The music didn’t really help, of course; in fact, music was sort of like a drug in itself. If he could ever manage to pry himself from its melodious grasp, he might apply for a job at a burger joint or begin working for the post office. But there was an invariable and distinct appeal to playing music every day, even if he only earned enough to barely purchase food to eat, coffee to drink, and light bulbs to illuminate his miserable life and later vaporize.
Music is a drug. Just like heroin, it addicts.
Music served as an almost legitimate escape from his failed lifestyle; as far as his family was concerned, however, his playing music on the street was nearly as shameful as his drinking dog piss when he was sixteen so that he’d retch up.
Not many people know, but throwing up dog piss or cleaning supplies gets you high; that’s why when people get sick, they feel so dizzy and everything feels so surreal. It’s because those people are coming off a huge high, after their body has been beaten into normalcy.
Playing music, however, gets you high in a different way. It’s just like when twelve year olds choke themselves because it makes beating off feel better: that’s called autoerotic asphyxiation. When the carotid arteries on the side of your neck are compressed, the buildup of carbon dioxide makes you loopy— gets you high. When playing a musical instrument, a person utilizes so much oxygen, he can barely breathe. When the brain loses oxygen, the person enters a hallucinogenic state, like that of lucid dreaming. The effect, whether produced by choking oneself or playing a trombone for too long, is highly addictive .
The effects of sucking on the tungsten vapors and then depleting his air supply were wearing off: his vision was returning to normal; his breathing was slowing down; the faces of the clapping crowds were becoming discernable; Laurent was able to stand up. The scene was clearing up before him, and he concentrated on the smallest of his spectators, a boy no older than ten slipping furtively through the mass of bodies. It took a moment for Laurent to realize that the boy halted behind each person surreptitiously: a pickpocket.
Anger bubbled up inside of him; indignation washed over him like a tidal wave of flesh-eating acid. A young boy stealing from the few people who still admired his music— it was like rolling a joint to find that some oregano had been thrown into the bag along with the dope. It first occurred to Laurent to tear through the crowd and wring the child’s neck. He willed his body to move, but it lazily refused, and he plopped onto the edge of the fountain again, returned the mouthpiece to his lips, and continued playing.
Just hold your breath and pretend this isn’t happening.
The boy. Get rid of the boy. He ruins everything.
Laurent spent the next forty five minutes in a haze, holding his breath for twelve, fifteen, twenty measures at a time, each time releasing the note desperately early to swallow air.
When after holding his breath for too long, his notes lost their tone and waved irately. Stumbling, honking, and improvising sloppily, his behavior frightened his audience away.
As he drearily burped out the final note of Pennies in Heaven, he looked up to see that the crowd had dispersed.
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