Sometimes I listen to people talk to each other and the way they miss each other and purposely say things that are impossible to pin down and never exactly what they mean forms a kind of rhythm. It’s really pretty and one of the reasons it’s so pretty is that it is always hovering on the brink of utter collapse of communication and descent into pointless argument. So so often this happens in conversations “but I thought you meant . . .” If we could just hold on to our individual interpretations and not seek after some real truth, how pretty our conversations would be. Like art. Urinals can be art, but usually art is less . . . utilitarian.
I watched this movie last night called Funny Ha Ha. From the beginning to the end it is full of these kinds of conversations, they just hover on the brink of actually being about something important. People are trying to figure out their relations to each other, but they can’t come out and say anything because then feelings will actually get involved and spoil everything. And really, this is how most of us talk, mumbling, stuttering, saying what we mean but then taking it back the next moment (“I’m just kidding, just kidding”). The movie wanders with no clear beginning and no clear ending. It’s about a girl who recently graduated from college and lives in a suburb of Boston. She’s trying to find a job, she’s confused about her friends, especially boys, but she doesn’t have the words to ask questions. She doesn’t seem to really need the answers either. In her post-college world, where everything seems insignificant if not pointless, even the small stuttering conversations are important. She meets her friend several times over coffee to “talk”, but apparently making jokes about cows is as significant as discussing why her friend has recently made various life-changing decisions.
Hope gave me a book, which is really a magazine, called A Public Space. There’s this essay in it about how the theme in rock music, especially punk, is a life-affirming NO. “These people say NO because they care very deeply about things, otherwise they wouldn’t bother. Let’s face the big uncomfortable truths, these bands implicitly say. And to do that you have to make a dark noise.” The author, Michael Azzerad, complains that music today doesn’t have this NO quality. He points out that, unlike during the Vietnam era, when the threat of war affected everyone, “Today there is no unifying fear or enemy. It’s long been a commonplace that our culture is growing progressively more fragmented, so much so that no significant bloc of people can agree on what we’re supposed to be rebelling against.” Then he suggests another explanation “Maybe they don’t get as frustrated with the world at large–because they don’t have to deal with the world at large.” Well sometimes dealing with these little lives, in which musicians apparently only sing about how their “alienated from their artsy girlfriend,” is just as hard as dealing with the world at large. One of the “big, uncomfortable truths” of our generation is that we don’t know how to connect with our friends and our neighbors, with the boy at the coffee shop and with the best friend’s boyfriend. We’ve graduated from college, where we didn’t know what to prepare for, we’re out in the world unemployed and alone. Is it wrong to see life struggles in terms of ourselves? Isn’t that where we have to start after all? And doesn’t alienation from other human beings need a bigger NO than almost anything else? Knowing others–knowing self–knowing God, these are all related. As E. M. Forster says in Howard’s End “Only Connect.”
And as a further example of what I’m talking about, the title of this entry is from a song by Stars.