“I ask myself, why do you do this, make words attached to melodies? Seen from a distance, doesn’t it seem just a little bit absurd? The only reason that I can come up with is that now and then, I find myself singing aloud, and when I listen to the words coming out of my mouth, they have the feeling of being a little knot of meaningfulness. In the best cases, the words sound like the answer to a question which I have been wondering over. Sometimes they are an answer that I haven’t wanted to hear. It is almost always clear to me whether or not they are true, whether or not I am trying to lie to myself. All I can say is that the truer the words, the better the song. Is this rotten or golden? I think the song is the aural process of dealing with whatever you have there in the mouth.”—Khaela Maricich (The Blow)
“When you are around young people who have ambition and taste, and who long to enter an imagined world full of gloriously attractive and brilliant cognoscenti, it can break your heart to see their fear and insecurity—which is very natural and really, almost inescapable for the young—manifested in distrust and an assumed arrogance, in a pretense at more knowledge than they really have. The way they pretend to know about this or that band, or the way they suddenly up and say that Pitchfork itself is “too mainstream,” or they pretend to read a book that they haven’t read. They literally twitch with grief and fear. They are suffering! And this suffering stifles their natural curiosity and pleasure, imprisons them in an airless chamber of embarrassment and insecurity. How many lofty, jaded teenagers are out there right now, too bored and cynical to enjoy anything freely? When they should be having fun instead. So that is why it is a good idea to say, go ahead and be a hipster, if you want to! That is very charming and delightful, and please tell us when you find another band as good as WHY?.”—Being a Hipster Is an Excellent and Wonderful Thing!
“'How to live and how to die,' that's what Kalman says occupies her thoughts all the time and every day, 'and have some snacks and yell at my children.'”—Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World)
Looking at the sun through a pinhole’s projection, I once watched a solar eclipse on a school playground, a group of eight-year-old heads buried in cardboard. On a road trip through some sun-blanched flatland I faced it unblinking, something stagnant across the sky—three hours strapped in the seat, watching the conversion of hydrogen into helium. Now I put something in front of my eyes to make me see and wonder how quickly I would have died before the advent of optometry. Where do corrective lenses fall on the spectrum of human takeover? Somewhere between firearms and agriculture? Before Snellen charts, I’d put my money on a mountain lion doing me in; now I get vertigo thinking about the ten thousand ways I could die with 20/20 vision. Ninth grade biology’s bright spot came in reading that this fire was finite, this that cast a long shadow as it fell. Outside, in the weeds behind my house, I read it again, the paper bouncing one finite thing into the eyes of another.
In elementary school I planned out my future careers: from the Dayton’s Clinique counter in high school, I would attend the Aveda Institute, become a taxi driver, and launch my career as an architect. I did none of those things because I found others I wanted to do more. (Not only did I nix the cab, I didn’t get my license until last year at age 22, so much did my plans change.)
Any character that now enters into conversation, I ask, “What do they do?” Not as a matter of judgment, but to know how people spend their time (and how people are paid to spend their time). What motions do they execute, and could I do the same? Would I want to? Maybe each of us have a threshold of tolerance, differing degrees to which we allow space between our idyllic lives and our quotidian ones.
It’s always easy to invent narratives for people. Giving them simple, uncomplicated worlds to navigate is a reliable way to feel bad about the messy and unfocused qualities of your life. No one’s existence is so flattened, a movie character whose only actions are the ones you see; no life is as shimmering as the glimpse you caught of it from the bus window. Salaried employees tell you they envy your bakery job and science students confide their starving artist dreams three whiskeys deep and you (I, we) are reminded, like we may always need to be reminded, that we’re forever on the outside of one thing and the inside of another.
Sugar’s identity remains a mystery, though there are scraps to gather about here and there (such as: she’s a she). In a recent interview, she says, “I inherited the column from another writer and so the anonymity of Sugar had already been established…I do plan to ‘come out’ as Sugar someday, but not soon.” We should start a cross-country book club when her identity is revealed.
On the spectrum of action, moving to a new city is not revolutionary. The stakes could be higher.
The extremes: a new place is nothing, a new place is everything. I’m in the gray space: a new place is something.
I’ve spent the last year dating someone across a distance of a thousand miles. I imagine it would be more poetic to be separated by an ocean. Instead, it’s a thousand miles of country crowded by people with their own distances.
He starts off from the East Coast this morning and is stopping midway for me. (I offered cookies and deep fried cheese curds.) In a week, we head west, a four-person, two-car caravan, wedged tight against the things we can’t leave behind.