Frog in a
Richard Sonnenmoser's amplifier: writing, literary podcast, music.
Liner Notes for
"How Slow I Fall"
I was teaching at a summer arts program at a boarding school in Vermont. And for extra pay I volunteered to go on something called the Outback Overnight, which meant walking about a mile into the woods—with ten or so kids from the program—and then setting up camp. Tents. Make a fire. Cook dinner. S’mores. We hauled our own water. That part was hard. I carried the water. As part of the experience, after setting up camp, we were all supposed to go off by ourselves for a while, an hour or so, and write in a journal or meditate or some such thing. I was never really quite sure what we were supposed to do “on solo.” I wandered away from our campsite with my notebook, ready to reattach to my feelings, and, within a minute or so, I was feeling vertiginous and Very Emergency! Best guess is that I’d ingested some orange Gatorade that had “turned.” So I spent the first part of “solo” trying to get far enough away from the campsite and the kids under my “care” so as to have some privacy with my Emergency!, and then, empty and cold-sweating and bloodshot, I tried to stumble back to the campsite. I walked and walked. Every tree looked vaguely familiar. A fork in the path, marked by a big boulder, on the third time, stopped being kinda funny. And I wasn’t quite done being sick, it turned out. Later, I’d devour article after article about “Spatial-D” and think about JFK, Jr. and think, oh, that could have been so much worse, in the Real Forest. If out on a Real Camping Trip. I was out there a few hours. Wandering around. Circle after circle. Boulder. Familiar tree. Another. Walking. Dry heaving. Walking. Finally, when I heard some voices off in the distance, I made a whooping noise, which the students I was “supervising” returned. They guided me home. In their faces, legitimate worry. Also, perhaps, relief: they wouldn’t have to explain my disappearance or death. They sympathized, asked me questions about the Gatorade, and then, after we all ate dinner and made our s’mores, they played what at first seemed a cruel trick on me but then, years later, turned out to be a groovy, useful, very repeatable, always revelatory writing exercise. Which I bring up as the poorest of poor explanations for why I love “Doesn’t Remind Me,” by Audioslave.
“I don’t wanna learn what I’ll need to forget” is the abstraction that partially illuminates the catalogue—“hammering nails and speaking in tongues,” “gypsy moths and radio talk”—of liked things. They’re liked because they don’t remind him of anything. And we are given the list so as to better imagine the pain underneath all those things that don’t remind him. It’s got to be a song about love, right? Oh, it is. We know it is. A song that seems to be about love but perhaps isn't: Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah." Still, it's useful that “love is not a victory march” coexists with “But all I’ve ever learned from love / Is how to shoot somebody who outdrew you.” There's your slumber party question: Which of those gets closer to how you feel about love right now? Last summer, every other day, I was thinking about this line from Cohen’s “Everybody Knows,” which, come to think of it, seems an uncle of “Doesn’t Remind Me”: “Everybody’s got that broken feeling / Like their father or their dog just died.” The possibility that there’s a particular brokenness that hits when either a father or dog dies—that’s so funny. Or sad. But is it true? It depends, perhaps, on how you feel about your father. It depends, perhaps, on if you’re willing to admit how deeply you’ve loved some animals. It depends on if you can, without irony or malice or as part of a writing exercise disguised as a cruel trick, say, “I believe in love.” Oh, I’m going for it. I believe in love. Say it with me. Say it to yourself, right now. I’m guessing you’re alone—or could get alone with just a few moves. Say it on solo. That sort of solitude is as good a way as any to relax enough—but not so much you fall asleep!—to understand how sometimes there’s this indefinable something missing (“she said she felt so awfully hard”) which, in its absence, makes love and trash confusable. The mattress on the floor I had to make up, strangely enough, as a way to remember it. That’s my way of saying it reminds me, truly, of everything.