Thursday, March 24, 2011


I write too much about love and death. I say "too much" too much because I'm always too hard on myself. Love and death are very important. So I write about them. If cars were more important to me, I'd write about cars. The first car I drove was a 1980 Mercury Cougar. The first car I owned was a 1990 Mercury Cougar. I now drive a 2000 Mercury Cougar. There is no 2010 Mercury Cougar.

When I take photos I like it when the subjects barely make it into the frame. I like the way faces look when part of them are hidden. I like it when the flanks and tops of buildings go veering out of sight. I like not knowing, not having it all. Life shouldn't be too conquerable. It should be a bit of a flirt. I will never dunk a basketball. I will never have a cocktail with Ingrid Bergman. I will never be a famous concert pianist.

When I was 19, I was terribly depressed, and I used to listen to Debussy's collected piano works on a Walkman every night as I waited to fall asleep. I fell asleep on the headphones and it hurt my ears. When I went to Paris five years later, I went to see Debussy's grave at Passy. I got lost, and an old Frenchman in a navy blazer named Pierre showed me the way. He'd watched the G.I.s drive the Nazis out of the city. "I will always be thankful for Americans," he said. Pierre took a blurry photo of me at Debussy's headstone.

I think about doing things that terrify me. Joining the Army. Becoming a cop. Traveling to war zones. Most of this is bullshit, and I'll never do it. But I might. After 9/11, I didn't fly for seven years. All my friends moved away after college and I started working a job I hated in the county where I grew up. Then I met a girl who had spent the last year traveling places I swore I'd never go. There was a picture of her posing in a bikini with someone else's AK-47 somewhere in southeast Asia. I started flying a month later. I took 21 flights that year.

I don't remember high school. The cornfields outside my high school still look the same. The roads still slalom in the same directions and go the same places. I remember college but I'm starting to forget what it was like. For four years I played saxophone in the concert band and there were times when practices and rehearsals consumed me. When I started getting good enough, I could feel the contours and textures of the harmonies in ways that should have been reserved for eyes and hands. But then I stopped playing. Music now has the familiar distance of girls I used to like. The surfaces are all the same. But the passion is distant and foreign.

My best friends hate all the same things I do. I don't talk to my best friends as much as other friends. I don't care about meeting strangers. I'm not a good conversationalist. Many times I don't know what to say, even around the people I care about. To me, shared presence counts as sociability. I like the perfect way actors talk in movies, like gods. I like the perfect way rural folks talk when they don't give a fuck. Classical versus punk. I keep fragments of throwaway conversation and phrases with me forever, until they are so forgotten that they completely belong to me.

I remember every first kiss with every girl I've cared about. The good ones always make me a little nervous. Relationships make me nervous, because I'm always afraid I'll eventually stop loving. Lifelong love seems staggering and impossible. What emotional metabolism could sustain it? I like beginnings for their momentum. Beginnings are always better than the ends. Beginnings can be anything. Photos from beginnings are more interesting, as are memories from beginnings.

Before Pierre took me to Debussy's grave, taking slow steps, we talked about literature. The old man seemed to like me. I found myself wanting to impress him. I said Flaubert and Proust astounded me, which was true. He asked me if I'd read Guy de Maupassant. In a moment my mind flickered back to a used bookshop in Kansas City earlier that spring. My hands had wandered over the shelves. I had picked up a collection of de Maupassant's stories. My eyes had skated over a few sentences of prose before I put the book back on the shelf. I'd bought a copy of Moby Dick instead. It was now jammed in my backpack for my stay in Europe. I looked at Pierre and his eagerness to talk to me and felt a short moment of tender sadness. You don't get to share everything with everybody. You will always be a little alone.

I told Pierre I hadn't read de Maupassant, and when we reached Debussy's grave, I laid a flower on it. He wandered away, a little awkwardly, with a tiny wave, presumably to visit a former friend. Soon, I left Paris, and saw so much, and later finished Moby Dick while flying over the Atlantic, and it was so beautiful, the book and the travel, the growing older, it was hard to believe the luck of any of it happening at all.

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