A second conversation with one of the main characters in my story At Last! Last time, in the chapter called Olwen, we chatted for a while. This time I her invited over to listen to some music and talk. Sure, maybe I’m slowly losing my mind, but she is really interesting to talk with and get to know whether either one of us is real or not.
Her: So you’ve been editing.
Me: Yes, I did what you suggested and started going back through everything I’ve written. My therapist is reading it through with me.
Her: Therapist? Why?
Me: I need someone else to at least tell me whether it makes sense.
Her: Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t (laughs).
Me: And I was on a run and I couldn’t help but think of you when I listened to this. (I start playing Mary Jane’s Last Dance). It’s one of those songs I’ve heard a million times but never really listened to.
She grew up in an Indiana town
Had a good lookin’ momma who never was around
But she grew up tall and she grew up right
With them Indiana boys on an Indiana night
Well she moved down here at the age of eighteen
She blew the boys away, it was more than they’d seen
I was introduced and we both started groovin’
She said, “I dig you baby but I got to keep movin’ on, keep movin’ on”
Me: (I stop the music) I guess the lyrics are somewhat in dispute, you know, about what they mean. But she sounds so much like you. And I love the delivery of that lyric, “Keep movin’ . . . . on.”
Her: I can see why you’d think that I guess. Indiana. Kansas. Missouri. Wisconsin. There’s something going on there. But I don’t think it’s me really. As difficult as it was growing up in a place like that, I do have a fondness for places with water towers. Are we going to hear the rest of it?
Me: Sure. Yeah.
Last dance with Mary Jane
One more time to kill the pain
I feel summer creepin’ in and I’m
Tired of this town again
Well I don’t know but I’ve been told
You never slow down, you never grow old
I’m tired of screwing up, I’m tired of goin’ down
I’m tired of myself, I’m tired of this town
Oh my my, oh hell yes
Honey put on that party dress
Buy me a drink, sing me a song
Take me as I come ’cause I can’t stay long
Her: You’re a little obsessed with me I think. I’m not sure it’s a healthy thing. Remember, I don’t exist, right?
Me: Sure you exist. It’s just a question of where. I see you all the time, in a face I see, in a song I hear. This one just sounds like you, that night in the truck with your boyfriend. “She blew the boys away, it was more than they’d seen.” You didn’t let that small town kill you; you killed it.
Her: I wouldn’t say that. I built on what started there, on the family I never knew. That night changed everything. But I knew I had somewhere to go, I had someplace to be.
Me: You built an entire system of thinking about how to learn about culture then use story to transform it. I have been obsessed with the Aeneid – and the Book of Mormon; both are perfect examples of using narrative to rewire history. It seems like you did that too, took the life you lived before you found out about your real family and remade yourself.
Her: I suppose I see where you’re headed, but you are trying to characterize me – in every sense of that word. You’re running the risk of turning me into a romanticized cut out. I’m not something you can pin down and hold with a description. I sort of liked the chapter you called Camilla. I think people have the misperception that somehow women have just recently found their power; we’ve always had it. I sometimes feel like you’re treading into sexism mocking my intelligence.
Me: You both would make fun of each other together with your daughter. That’s the charm of it is that you were always mocking each other, even for your strengths. The three of you form a unit. I see you never letting up on each other. It’s like that Johnny Cash song, A Boy Named Sue.
Her: My Dad loved that song. “I know I wouldn’t be there to help you along, so I gave you that name and I said goodbye. I knew you’d have to get tough or die, and it’s that name that helped to make you strong.” It’s true, that’s a creative retelling of abandonment.
Me: But it’s true isn’t it? We don’t need a time machine if we have a good story to tell.
Her: Yes, maybe you’re starting to understand what my work is about. And you capture my daughter’s strength, or you have a sense of it.
Me: She got it from you. It’s a fire. It’s something that can’t be put out. I admire it. I wish I had that, or had more of it.
Her: Why? Are you tired of screwing up, tired of goin’ down? (She laughs) Are you tired of yourself and tired of this town? Maybe the song is about you, not me.
Me: Of course. You know that. I haven’t figured out what I am supposed to do and where I am supposed to go from here. We don’t live forever. You and Camilla might, but I can’t.
Her: I can’t be your therapist, you know. I’m not sure what you’re supposed to do. I can’t help you.
Me: But you already have. You have been an inspiration to me.
Her: But wait, I thought you created me (laughs).
Me: Listen, you said it last time. You’re real. “Real” is up for grabs. What is real? You are a part of me anyway.
Her: That’s very sentimental of you. How sweet! (Laughs).
Me: I know you’re capable of tenderness; it’s not all sarcasm and toughness. I like the toughness but I like what’s under that too. I think growing up the way you did gave you strength and courage but somehow you didn’t lose your vulnerability.
Her: Well, you can’t be my therapist either. You can try, and you can try to be God but it isn’t going to work. I think what you’re missing is that you can’t control everything, even what’s in your head. You can learn from it, but you can’t make it do what you want. That’s never been my point. That sort of thing requires force.
Me: But narrative is everything. Even you’d agree that whatever ontological solution we come up with it all depends on the story we tell. Nihilism? Fine. What are we having for breakfast? We still have to answer that question. Even if there is nothing out there or in here, we have to carry on, and that means coming up with a story. There is a fine line between narrative and outright force.
Her: Play something else. Maybe jazz. Maybe some John Coltraine.
(I start playing Righteously by Lucinda Williams, Live at The Fillmore)
Me: I heard this today too and made me think of you.
(She knows the song. She laughs and shakes her head, then rolls her eyes and looks at me).
Her: It’s almost like your hitting on me now. Or something. This is way too sexy a song for right now.
Think this through
I laid it down for you everytime
Respect me I give you what’s mine
You’re entirely way too fine
Arms around my waist
You get a taste of how good this can be
Be the man you ought to tenderly
Stand up for me
Flirt with me don’t keep hurtin’ me
Don’t cause me pain
Be my lover don’t play no game
Just play me John Coltraine
Me: (Laughing). Maybe. Maybe.
Her: Maybe you need to talk with your therapist about this. Is there anything female you won’t hit on? (Laughs).
Me: I don’t know. A light socket? Although, you know…
Her: (Laughs). Cut it out. You’re absurd. This always gets you into trouble. Even I know that about you. You’re smarter than that. You can’t fall in love with a character you “created.” Remember, I’m in that story you’re writing.
Me: Am I writing you into my life, or myself into yours?
Her: I’m not sure either is possible. I’m not sure either is desirable. Both are ridiculous. I think you’ll find more satisfaction from spending some time with something more practical than trying to figure me out. I’m already done. You can’t add or take away.
Me: But I can learn from you – and Camilla. Remember, you said we have to become a victim; we have to become infected by culture. Maybe that’s what I need to do. Maybe that’s what I’m doing.
Her: (Smiling). A-ha.
Me: What? Uh huh?
Her: No you dork. Play A-ha.
Me: Oh, fuck. Yeah. Right. Perfect.
(I play Take On Me by A-ha).