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Friday, April 3, 2015

That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore

I've never really learned to play the guitar. I've had one for the last 15 years or so, a very lovely acoustic guitar I inherited along with a very lovely wife and an extensive J.R.R. Tolkien collection. I have, however, sat down several times and learned and re-learned the same handful of Johnny Cash songs. I can play them just fine after a few hours of getting the muscle memory back. And I can kind of do a Johnny Cash voice. I'm a pretty cool guy, actually. When I play those songs I feel like I probably could have done that. Written those songs and played them and sung them, I mean. It may be deceptively simple, or maybe just simple. Anyway, I like Johnny Cash.

I love The Smiths. I haven't tried to learn how to play any songs by The Smiths, though. Their guitarist, the fellow Johnny Marr, uses some kind of weird tuning scheme. Morrissey sings way different than I can. His lyrics are complex and filled with layers and metaphors. If you put me in a little room with a guitar and some paper and a pencil and a girlfriend in a coma I'd never, ever, in one million years write a song on the level of The Smiths. Or Los Esmeets as they're called in Mexico (I'm bilingual).

Check it out. It's a freakin metaphor. Some authors, like musicians, are very good writers and storytellers, but they're straight-forward. They're not reinventing the wheel, as the saying goes, and there's a secret part of me that believes that I'm a good writer and storyteller. I've written a novel that, while not good enough to share with anyone in my whole life, has some good stuff in it. Parts of it are good enough to publish, in my humble opinion. As a whole? Goodness me no. Oh my good heavens above no no no.

When I read Haruki Murakami, though, I'm confronted with writing that I could never replicate. Not in one hundred million years and not with 10 girlfriends in comas. Joan of Arc's walkman could be melting, flames directly under her Roman nose, and I'd be flummoxed. These are all references to The Smiths lyrics.

Listen, everybody does it

I just finished the wonderfully titled Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. Even that title is a combination of words that I don't think I could summon. Tsukuru Tazaki is an amazingly mundane guy in almost every sense of the word. His schedule is rigid, he has almost no hobbies, and his job is building train stations. And yet there's a moment in his life that completely changes him. Something that perhaps has happened to all of us.

Tsukuru was part of an extremely close group of five friends. He compares them to the points on a star. They're all part of each other through their teens. The other four friends all have color in their name, and they make fun of Tsukuru as being "colorless." Then one day, when he was 20, they cut off all contact. "Never call us again," they said. Really harshed Tsukuru's mellow, honestly.
Because I have no sense of self. I have no personality, no brilliant color. I have nothing to offer. That’s always been my problem. I feel like an empty vessel. I have a shape, I guess, as a container, but there’s nothing inside. I just can’t see myself as the right person for her. I think that the more time passes, and the more she knows about me, the more disappointed Sara will be, and the more she’ll choose to distance herself from me.
Guys I guess I really relate to Tsukuru. Reading this made me wonder if we don't all feel like this. Those of us who don't have any one thing to define us. If you're not the good student, the artist, the musician, or the athlete. If you're just you and it's hard to see how you fit. If you wonder if your friends would ever call if you didn't call them first. Or if your name ever even comes up in their conversations, like theirs always does in yours.

Here's an interesting thing. We spend a lot of time in Tsukuru's head and listen to him repeat how bland he is, how colorless, yet when we see him through the eyes of others, he is fascinating. He's clearly an integral part of this friend group, maybe even the most vital. Why did they reject him? I mean people who are into trains are pretty insufferable, but is that enough?

                                                                  Wikimedia Commons
Fact: In Japan all the trains look like Power Rangers

Holy smokes. Reading that synopsis makes it sound like the most boring book ever but I powered through it in two days. Couldn't stop. This is with a pile of X-Men books just inches away. There's something surreal about this "normal" story that keeps sticking with me.