Where I Get My Songs From
The heat is orange and black when I remember it. It streams in the window while a cloud of midges keep sentry by the streetlight. My house looks like every other house on the block, with minor differences in paint job and layout. The differences upset me more than the similarities. The life I want is an undifferentiated corridor, the same forwards and back, stretching just further than I'm able to see.
I say heat and I mean both temperature and humidity, because no meaningful distinction lies between them in an Ohio summer. One day I watched the two of them fall in love out on the lake, crisp sun over my panting body. I had finished my morning shift, had planned out my evening shift, and asked my supervisor for the afternoon off, because it was her birthday. (I knew the director knew, and I knew my supervisor knew, and part of the wonder of that summer was discovering more people who knew, but didn't say, and instead offered me small silent kindnesses, unable to reach me except in brief, loving, unreliable spurts.) He said yes. I biked to Elyria and sat in the sun by the lake, watching the temperature and humidity birth of the heat. When I got back from my trip and returned to the evening shift, one of the actors asked me what I had done to rate an afternoon off. (The other wonder of the summer was learning that some people didn't know, couldn't see the orange and black heat clinging to my skin, unable to reach me as well but not knowing why, and maybe, honestly, that was easier, or made more sense, or was at least reliable.) I smiled at him.
While I worked, I left the window open and the door closed at home. Same when I got back. The rest of the house kissed their air conditioners when they got back from whatever 10 to 14 hour 6-days a week slog we did together. In so many ways I was like them: I worked with them, joked with them, walked home with them to the same block of apartments. But I gave my room its own climate, a liminal world, perfect for my purposes: a shelter that let everything in. I would come home to mutate in the heat.
I had a mattress on the floor just right of the door, placed underneath its mattress frame, making a sort of fort, with about a foot between my sheets and the metal supports. I would lay on my back and draw my fingers idly across the gray wire. Grime from work (sawdust, regular dust, metal shavings, bits of fabric) sealed tight onto my glistening half-naked body, spreading onto the carpeted floor and perpetually loosened sheets. I'd play cLOUDDEAD through my laptop speakers and just stare at the ceiling. If you lay still for long enough you can't feel your body any more, and if you're working 60-80 hours a week, it's pretty easy to justify lying still. So, really, I didn't have to do much to make the perfect cradle for my grief. The job brought me there and the heat welcomed me — I only had to say yes to it.
I had decided on this job months ago, because that's what you do when you work in theater tech: you find some local rep theater internship where you'll work two peoples' jobs, offering up your time and vitality for the sake of some art, or mission. In return, you receive experience (overwhelmingly), connections (tentatively), and money (if you're lucky). The director of this particular operation emailed a few weeks before I was supposed to arrive, after I had flew home to the hospital, wanting to know how she was. I told him they took her off life support the previous day and that I'd be in for work next week. I didn't see the point in doing anything else.
Grieving rituals are probably some of the most absurd. They're always so big, big as possible: funerals, tearing of clothes, wearing black for months, so on. Which is still funny to me. Grief leads me to a place where every action other than the most necessary and quotidian becomes utterly pointless. Why would I do anything but work and lie down? Your body seizes up under the flow of death that swallowed your loved one; you sense it at the edges of picture frames, under your fingernails, the gazes of your friends and family. It's everywhere. And so, in response — we go over the top! Maybe that makes sense to you, but God, I have no idea! Honest to God, during a show I left my post to pour out a beer into the paint sink at the precise time and date of her birth! It's just funny to me now. At the time, floating above my body for two months straight, only gestures that big could float up to reach me.
In that spirit, I started playing guitar. When people ask me where my songs come from or what they're about, I diffuse the question, responding as if they'd asked me a much more interesting question. But if I being honest, I know where they come from.
There's a line. It starts when you ask me that question. It follows me back in time, through long bus rides and suicide attempts and polyamory drama, the stuff that happened to me that I tell in my songs. But the line stretches further: through the summer tour I spent playing covers; through the first solo show I played in Columbus before I had a name for what I was doing; past every pointless comfort anyone has ever offered me; out to Ohio; around my throat while I lay naked, shining, with my thumb on the E string; out the window; past the midges; into the streetlight, where it coils forever.
Whatever you call that light, now far behind me, still without a name to me, horrible to look upon, impossible to frame literally, impossible to write about until now, still mysterious to me, maybe mysterious to you, maybe not literal enough for the question, maybe a cop-out, maybe the only thing that matters, different than my sister's death, different than my grief, different than my depression, holding all things in its grip, warm, humid, orange, black: the light. That's where my songs come from.