The other night I had dinner with Deborah Edler Brown, a poet and journalist I’d just met. We both had to drive back to LA after a meeting in Orange County, and we decided to wait out traffic together over really crappy sushi.
“Sometimes I have these compulsions to do things that don’t seem to have anything to do with writing,” she said, “but I think they ultimately do. Like when I was having a really rough time after this I was in relationship ended, the only thing I could think about was taking all my books off the shelves and putting them in boxes in my garage. And now I’m reading all my old journals that I’ve been keeping since I was 16 and indexing them.”
I tried to imagine what an index of my teenage journal might look like.
Babysitting: 6, 14
Boys: 4, 13, 15
--annoying me: 3, 6, 11, 13, 20
--making varsity next year: 10, 12, 17
Fauver, Bill, A.P. U.S. history teacher: 3, 10, 11
--annoying me: 2, 10, 17, 18
--secretly hating me: 1, 4, 7, 8, 16, 19
Haunted houses: 2, 12, 17
Lesbian subtext: 1, 4, 5, 7, 13, 14, 15, 18, 20
Losing weight: 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 19, 20*
No, I don’t think that’s the project for me. But Deborah’s confession got me thinking about other random projects that my brain takes on, which seem to fall somewhere between OCD and creativity.
AK and I were recently talking about how, when you’re young, you can go really deeply into pop culture in a way you don’t have time to when you’re an adult, unless you’re writing a dissertation. She and her sister watched hundreds of movies (or dozens of movies hundreds of times) on cable and recounted sitcom plots to their cousins like stories around a campfire. My friend Stephanie drew pencil sketches of Vivien Leigh. I knew a girl in high school who was slowly transcribing Jane Eyre into a notebook by hand.
Me, I watched Nadia on video over and over. I saw Rent on stage 14 and a half times. I lay in my dorm room on Friday nights (like I said, I hadn’t really learned how to socialize yet) listening to musicals on CD and reading the liner notes and painting my nails hand-blended colors.
These days I’m not so good at just fucking around. Because I’m more productive, I’ve written two and a half books. But I don’t think I could have done so if I hadn’t had all those obsessive, unproductive years, and I don’t want to lose that ability to follow my lamest instincts.
A couple of days ago I decided that I would listen to all the songs on my iPod in alphabetical order, because iPod enables this and because it seemed like a random and necessary thing to do.
I started with “Sorrow” by Bad Religion, a song I’d just purchased from iTunes. I’d heard it on KROQ a handful of times over the years and always thought it was really catchy, although the lyrics seemed kind of biblical and I thought maybe it was by some kind of one-hit-wonder Christian band. But when I looked up the song, I discovered it was by Bad Religion, which, although I don’t know much about them because I spent my formative years listening to the Showboat soundtrack, kind of sounds like the opposite of a Christian band.
It was a good song either way, and I played it twice. I decided that, on my A to Z (or S to R) quest, I could listen to songs twice, but I couldn’t skip any. I’m only on T so far, but already I’ve noticed a pattern: I’ll start listening to a song and think, “Ugh, ‘Suede’ by Tori Amos. This song plooods along.” But around the one-minute mark, I’ll find myself wandering around in it, exploring and thinking about new things.
I’ve also been saving my parking passes for the last 10 years (religiously for a while, now more sporadically), thinking that someday I will make a collage called, “Nobody Walks in LA.”
*My journals never made it much past the 20-page mark because inevitably, every few weeks, I would decide I was going to start a new and fabulous life, which of course necessitated a new and fabulous journal.