Soundtrack for a Memory

You may have one. THE ALBUM. THE SONG. It may not have been good then, when it was new, and it may not have aged well. But its sound is a time machine. The moment it takes you to is far back or deep down, and the memory aches in a way that makes you smile. That’s the whole reason you sometimes pull the CD out of its case and pour yourself a glass of something — maybe wine, maybe whiskey — and remember.

My album is Hard Candy by Counting Crows. I don’t remember why I bought it, but for the fall of 2002, it had a near permanent home in my car’s CD player. Beginning to end and end to beginning. The songs were a strange intensified echo of what was going on in my life.

These are the circumstances: I thought I was trying to be in love with two men at the same time. The real situation, in retrospect, was that I didn’t realize I wasn’t in love with my boyfriend of four years, and I found myself desperately infatuated with someone else. Inevitably, without being technically unfaithful, I was lying to everyone, myself most of all. My boyfriend had to have been willfully ignorant (he was pretty smart except when it came to me) because not one of my friends was fooled by anything I claimed. Hence, the comfort of Adam Durwitz’ voice cracking on emotion that melodies could not contain.

The intervening years (and the influence of my husband) have changed the way I listen to music. Reactions are still viceral, but the depth of the experience flows more from the music itself, and less from outside associations. So a couple of weeks ago, I started wondering how I would react to this album if it came into my life now. Because of those few months, a bloated emotion experienced within a negligible duration, I have a relationship with these songs that colours any objective evaluation of their merits. But the real question is does that matter? Do I need to be able to extricate the music from the memory to evaluate it in terms of present experience?

As a mini-experiment, I put Hard Candy into heavy rotation on my iPod (listening from start to finish once every few days) to see if the separation was possible. For the first few listens, the memory was so vivid the experiment seemed like misplaced nostalgia. I could recall the roads I drove, the texture of the air: late autumn, late night sharpness spiced with fallen leaves drenched in late season rain and early frosts. And of course, each song had underlying harmonics of emotions that had absorbed too much of me for too long.

I should have known it was all related to Pavlovian conditioning: the dogs eventually stopped salivating at the sound of a bell. Each time I listen to the album now lessens previous associations. By asking the question, I began being able to evaluate this one album on its own terms. Eureka. Or something. Because it isn’t quite that simple. Complex neural patterns have been established in my brain; I still enjoy the memories and want to maintain some aspects of their intensity while understanding that none of those people really exist in present terms. Weakening the link is valuable only if I want, on occasion, to enjoy the music itself.

I’m not sure these questions will have any long-term effect on my relationship to music in general, but I’m glad I took the time to explore. I know now that Hard Candy appeals to me on a level beyond objectivity. Guitar riffs, lyrics, over-dramatic production burrow deep into my skin and feed me on a level deeper than analysis. The memories can slide in and out of the experience as they please. I’ll just pour myself another glass of wine. And listen.

Packing up

I’ve been saying goodbye all month. Goodbye to people and places and pigeonholes. A goodbye stretched out too long even for me. Leaving and leaving and leaving but never gone and starting again. And of course, you never start again completely. Because everything you gouge out and throw away leaves a bit of a scar. I’m learning to love this unseen pattern of scars all along my past.

Separation, impending or imminent, highlights importance and unimportance. Faces and hearts and minds. The ones I will cherish. Carry through and through and through no matter where the world sets me. The others I will quietly wipe from the slate. Spend an evening shredding evidence and walk away smiling.

I’ve spend the last two days purging old memories. Photographs. Letters never sent. Half-written stories from half-my-life ago. Diaries of a seventeen-year-old me. But I kept the billet-doux passed in elementary school halls. Handwritten letters from lovers (former and current) and friends. All the bits explaining how I came to rest in this moment .

When the pictures have finally come down from the walls. After we have cleaned between the tinny echoes of empty rooms. Once the car is crackling forward on the gravel that never gets completely cleared from these streets. I may acknowledge the sadness of packing up and disconnection. I will frogleap into the west coast rain and resolve my life into waves.

She also tells me constance is a virtue

Constance wants to know what I’m afraid of. So I answer: Scorpions. Lingering deaths. Not saying goodbye. Saying goodbye too quickly. Falling down holes. Plane crashes. Monsters in the closet. Rabid dogs. Electrical fires. What will happen if I’m alive when this civilization falls. Losing the ruby out of my engagement ring. Hitting pedestrians while driving a car. Being left out. Being unlovable. Being wrong. Deep, rapid rivers. Strange men at the bus stop. Strange women in the grocery line. Phoning strangers. ?????? ??? ???????? ???????

Constance says that isn’t what she meant, so she asks me what I’m waiting for. I say: The right kind of silence. A mid-morning kiss. An evening alone. The light to change. The sky to break. The words to drift past. That song to play again. These seconds to tick the minute-hand to just the right angle. A better day. A shorter month. Less sunlight. A whisper inside my skull.

Constance complains that I never understand her. I kiss her forehead. And nod.

Friday Notes

1. The instructor for my magazine writing course is pushing me (and the rest of my classmates) to pitch ideas to magazines. She really wants us to succeed, and I can’t help but want to do a very good job for her. It’s nice to be taught by someone so passionate and so willing to include us in her passion.?????????? ?????????????? ??????????: ? ??????? ???????????? ???????

2. I got the twitter. I have no idea why I joined, and I’m not really sure I understand what the point is. But if you’re on twitter and you want to follow me (or if I can follow you), look me up. My username is “milkcratejess”. I remain uncertain and wary. For now.

3. My mind is in turmoil, and my heart has sunk. I have found out that my husband considers mashed potatoes a radical shift in the Christmas dinner traditions of his family. I argue that roasted potatoes are not my forte, and that I’m quite good a preparing mashed potatoes. Besides, I miss them sometimes.

4. The September weather has been dismayingly uncooperative. It persists in breaking records for daytime high temperatures. I want to wear sweaters, and I’m sick of my summer clothes. Far more sick than I ever get of my winer clothes. I want to wear boots. And my new wool hat.

5. I ought to have been in bed an hour ago.