*WARNING: This episode contains strong language and mature content. If you’re not down for that, I won’t be offended, but please do not bother with this one. Just a head’s up.*
NOTE: This episode features a (tragically brief) clip of an incredible song called “After The Blue Moon,” by the Toronto band Low Hanging Lights. Please support LHL and their charming, incredible frontman Al Grantham in their musical pursuits by buying any (or all!) of their songs here or here. Al is, genuinely, one of the most amazing songwriters I have ever heard, and I believe this from the very bottom of my heart. He is a kind and encouraging soul, and he’s the closest thing to a real-life troubadour I’ve ever come across. He deserves far, far, far more recognition than he gets. Thanks for letting me use your tune, Al. I appreciate it.
Hey, gang! Welcome to EP 07 of my podcast, “Something That I Wrote.”
I’d like to welcome you back, and I’d like to welcome my self back, too. I know that sounds strange, but I need to recognize that I’m here. It’s been awhile. It’s been a long and lonesome while since I last wrote something. It’s not (just!) that I’m lazy – I’ve been busy! I was down in Nashville for a little bit, and I’ve had to get back to my day job, too. And I’ve been out on strolls, staring at springtime flowers, with all the childhood friends of mine who’re back home for the summer, and so, I haven’t written. I haven’t written, and it’s felt awful. But I’m back, sweetheart. Don’t worry baby.
I’m back in the cafe where I write most of my stories, but most importantly, I’m back at the cafe where I wrote this story. And I’m sitting in the exact same spot, too, by the window that looks out onto Market Street. And right now, I’m listening to the album “Reunion Tour” by the Weakerthans, because that’s the album I was listening to as I handwrote this story, into the same ringed notebook in which I’ve written love songs, caffeine-fueled rants, a few half-decent stories, more than a few half-finished stories, and all the lyrics to the record I put out when I was 19. That notebook’s full now, but this story is no longer in it. When I finished it I ripped it out, and I made sure it got somewhere, and it is now in the only place I’d ever want it to be. And I hope it stays there, always. Anyways, as I’m hearing these songs, the story’s coming back to me. Not that I ever forgot it – I could never forget it. Just like John K. Samson says: I could never ever never ever. But I am remembering where I was when I wrote it. I mean this figuratively, of course, but also literally, too.
See, I wrote this story shortly after a relationship I was in for long, long time ended, and more immediately, I wrote this story right after a noteworthy weekend outta town. In the midst of all my lovesick blues, I decided to go visit an old friend, because I needed to be with someone who could understand why and how I was broken. And then I wrote this story on the Greyhound ride back home. I finished it off the next day at this cafe, but the bulk of it came out on that busride home, even though I’d had no intention to. I mention this because I think this is a story that could only have been written when it was written. It is an instant and almost instinctual reaction to where my head was at at this exact time in my life, and it is a documentation of me sorting through some shit as I’m sorting through some shit. It is a reflection of where I was at a very specific moment in my life, and I am so fucking scared to share it with you.
I wrote this story a little while back – just before I started this podcast, in fact – and I’ve been wanting to put it out since, but I’ve been way too terrified to. Cause nearly everything in this story is true. I’ve changed some bits, of course. I’ve danced my special dance across its pages, so that parts of it have been messed around with. I’m not a fucking journalist, and this is, after all, a story. But most of it is true. More than anything else I’ve ever shared with anybody, these words are true. This is practically me reading from my diary. It wasn’t written in my diary, though. Not exactly. It was written in my ringed notebook, but for me, it’s basically the same thing. I wrote this story in that notebook, and I bled all over the lined paper. It might look like blue ink, but it’s blood, just the same. And it’s so personal. It’s so vulnerable. It’s me writing with wounds that have not even begun to heal, and so I’ve been very hesitant to put it out.
But I need to.
I need to for a few different reasons. For one, I need to share this because there is no reason not to. The only reason I could ever think of is that the person it’s about wouldn’t want me to, but I know she doesn’t feel that way, and in fact, I think she’d only be upset if I did hold it back, especially if I was only holding it back cause I was scared of what people would think of it. So I can’t use that excuse. And I wouldn’t want to, either.
I recently read a book called “Not That Kind Of Girl,” by Lena Dunham. It is a collection of personal essays, a bunch of which discuss her former relationships, romantic and sexual and all things inbetween. It is intimate and confessional, and it is powerful in all its naked honesty. And what struck me is that at the start of the book, Lena dedicates it to Jack, her current partner. I started to wonder how Jack felt reading what his girlfriend had written. I wondered if he’d feel jealous or hurt or pissed off, and I really wasn’t sure how I’d feel if I was him. I lent the book to a special friend of mine, because I knew she’d like it, and because I wanted to ask her this exact question. I wanted to ask her this question because she’s smart and I knew she’d have an insightful answer, and also because there’s a part of me that kinda wants to marry her someday, and I hoped I could get a sense of how she might feel if she ever read something I’d written that was intimate and confessional and nakedly honest, in the way what Lena Dunham had written was. So after she read it, I asked her. I don’t remember what she said at first, because sometimes, when I’m around her, I get nervous and flustered, because she’s so funny and charming and clever, and I can’t concentrate on anything but whether or not I should keep my hands in my pockets, and as we walk down city sidewalks I keep checking my hair in storefront windows to make sure it doesn’t look too goofy. But I remember that by the end of our conversation I’d decided two things: 1) I definitely kinda want to marry her someday, and 2) If I was dating Lena Dunham I would never (ever never ever) want her to feel as though she couldn’t or shouldn’t write about something. A writer should write whatever they want to write. And a painter should paint whatever they want to paint, too. I don’t think any artist should be censored in any way, by anyone, and especially not by themselves. And I realized that if this was true for Lena Dunham then I had to let it be true for me, too. I should not feel as though I cannot write something, especially not if I’m going to be putting it out into the world. I do not want to ever feel too scared or shy or vulnerable to share something with you. You deserve more than that, and I do, too. You deserve to have me write as truly and sincerely as I possibly can. And, for better or for worse, that’s what I’ve done with this story.
So that’s why I want to put this out. But there’s more to it, too. I sometimes struggle trying to understand what the point of all this is. Why am I doing what I’m doing? And I don’t mean this podcast – I mean that, but mostly, I mean all of this, all these stories and songs and everything else I write. What’s the point of me writing? It’s the only thing I feel I should do with my life, but it feels so innately selfish. It’s something I enjoy, and so I do it first and foremost because it makes me happy. And, then – then! – I have the gall to expect you to give up your time to spend it with something that I wrote. Why would you? I wouldn’t, if I was you. And yet, still, I keep click-clacking away. How vain and arrogant and conceited! What fucking nerve!
I once asked my friend Rob about this, because it’s something that bothers me. I feel like other people have so much more to offer the world, and here I am, writing these stupid words, and singing these stupid songs. It seems like such an egotistical pursuit. Rob tried to talk me down off this self-loathing ledge by assuring me that I can offer something to people by making sense of things in a way that helps them make sense of their own things, in a way they might not otherwise be able to. It’s a touching idea, but I wasn’t convinced. I certainly agree that this is one of the main reasons we turn to any kind of art at all – I’ve got at least a dozen rock records that I’ve wrapped myself up in, like a warm blanket, during times of need, and though I haven’t read much of the Bible, I have read a few books that I think, for me, do the trick just the same. I am not convinced, though, that anything I write can have such an impact. It’s not that I think I’m a lousy writer – I just don’t think I write those kinds of things.
But then I wrote this.
I am at my best when I am writing about myself. I try to resist these autobiographical urges, so I don’t turn into some kinda one-trick pony, by writing stories about girls named Serena and guys named Strongman. But I am at my best when I’m writing about myself. When it comes from a personal place, it ends up being more genuine and more real. It has more heart. It’s inevitable.
I did not mean to write this story. But as I took the long, lonely Greyhound ride back home, after the weekend this story talks about, I stared out the window, the way I do when I’m thinking hard, and though I was certain that all that had happened had had some kinda effect on me, I was not sure what exactly that effect was. And so I started to write, because I knew there was something I wanted to say but wasn’t yet sure how to. I wrote this story, and when it was finished, I finally understood what I was trying to sort through. I had made sense of what I needed to make sense of. And I was proud. I think this is one of my favourite things I’ve ever written, because it says exactly what I needed to say, exactly how I needed to say it. For me, there is always a disconnect between what I’m trying to say and what I end up saying, and I just try to get the words as close as I can to what I actually mean. With this story, I feel I got closer than I’ve ever gotten before to what I wanted to express. These words represent, as accurately as I can manage, exactly what I was feeling at the time I was writing them. I cannot say it any better than I’ve said it here.
After I read this story over, I felt like I finally understood what Rob was trying to tell me. This story is very individualized, very specific, very personal – it is my experience – but I think it is an experience that is pretty universal. This is a story about what it’s like to be 22, brokenhearted, and drunk. I had some stuff I needed to work through, and some stuff I needed to understand, and through this story, I was able to figure that stuff out. And so maybe, even though it is my story, if I can tell it as truthfully as possible, it can help you work through something, too. If you’ve ever been 22 or brokenhearted or drunk, maybe this will help you, in some small way. I hope so. I really hope it does. Because I understand, now, that these kinds of stories are the stories I tell best. And these kinds of stories are the point of all this.
Now, that said, I don’t think it’s a story for everyone. Some people just might not be able to relate. That’s fine. And some people – my mother, my boss, my great aunt, or my future wife – might find it awkward and uncomfortable to hear me share such an intimate experience. That’s fine, too. And some people might get bothered by the language, cause it can be a bit strong, and that’s also fine. I’m sorry if it bothers you, and I try not to use such words unless I have to, but sometimes, you just can’t say what you want to say any better than you can with a strong four-letter word, like fuck, or love, or come. If you don’t like this story, that’s fine. But I hope that by making sense of something tricky and confusing in my own life, it will help someone make sense of something tricky and confusing in their life. If I’ve managed that, this has all been worth it. And so, even though I’m nervous, I have to put this story out. I have to.
As best as I can, this is me doing what I was meant to do, the only way I know how to do it.