Too Much and Not the Mood and the Cosmos

I am anyone I want to be on a flight. That’s the benefit of being a frequent flyer—being able to tell funny and innocuous white lies to the woman seated next to you; she doesn’t know any better, and I have nothing better to do. Developing a personality that I can stretch and toy around with for the afternoon is my own personal form of lying about my name at Starbucks. It’s a game. Two flights ago, I was a Harvard undergraduate. I speak in memorized Russian lyrics on the tram to domestic baggage claim. Yesterday, my name was Slater.

Before I took off for Atlanta yesterday (seated next to a labradoodle with his own ticket and a woman who thinks I’m studying to become a dental assistant), I struggled to tolerate the humidity of the boarded flight while flipping through Durga Chew Bose’s Too Much and Not the Mood. My inherent laziness has compelled me to abandon reading it—or, at least, read it slowly and in staggered intervals, but my lack of in-flight distractions has caused for an indulgence of the book’s glory. I do my best and most-focused reading while trapped on an aircraft; it’s kind of like buying food at an amusement park—you really don’t want to buy an overpriced meal, but you’re forced to either starve or fork over the $14 to the cashier.

The most captivating excerpt from the novel caught my eye in an Instagram post about a month ago. The passage was describing the vanity of one of her friends who was acting on Broadway; the description of the unharmonious ephemera—a canister of Wet Ones, a dried yellow rose, a vile of dandelion fluff—sparked something deeply within me. I felt like a voyeur reading it, like I was one of the boys from The Virgin Suicides spying on the mystic, witch-like Lisbon sisters, like I was peaking my head down the hall and following the Fleetwood Mac playing from another room. I was engrossed by the thirteen-lined paragraph and the way it engendered a prickly feeling all over my body; Bose seemed to have spied on me, as if she peaked into my overstuffed journals and traced heart shapes in the films of dust that cover snow globes on my bookshelf. It was creepy, and weird, and violating in the sweetest of ways. She summed up thoughts I have been unable to translate into words into a taught passage; where my attempts to describe the otherworldly nature of my teenage bedroom seem fuddled and incoherent, her prose flows like incantations rolling off of the tongue.

I immediately ordered the book off of Amazon.

I am confident in saying that it is truly the most cosmic (I improperly use the term cosmic with meaning; whenever something—a thing, a person, an idea—overwhelms me with an indescribable joy and an inexpressible burst of delight, I mentally label it with cosmic. I am unable to use the term liberally. It is specifically reserved for things that I feel a sonic connection with—an aged friendship, the movie Beyond Clueless, the be-a-woman part of Joanna Newsom’s Only Skin. Divine intervention. It has to feel like an extension of myself, like another arm that is attached by sticks and liquid glue.) novel I have ever read; every passage has been ripped directly from my journal, from my telephone conversations muddled with what I means and can you believes, from my endless stream of self-narration entombed in my subconscious. One particular excerpt—pages 53-66, specifically page 61—moved me so much in my constrictive seat that I could not think of anything better to do than to physically embrace the book, clutching it so close to my chest that it could morph into another limb, an extension of my heart and my body and mind and soul. This line nearly brought tears to my eyes:

“Or when an Annie Baker play sets in motion a story I’d like to write; an ex I’d like to call; a dinner party I’d like to have and invite Annie Baker to, and Sarah Polley[…]. It’s that floating feeling—a light, invigorating sickness—that stems from seeing an Annie Baker play; that makes me want to make stuff instead of make sense.”

It saddens me to think that I will never be physically able to convey to another person the way this passage makes me feel and what it means to me. Sarah Polley’s film Take This Waltz is a cosmic film; the character of Margo is the only fictional character I have ever been able to see myself in—in her emotional disconnection from everything that is familiar to her, in her emotional vulnerability that punctures her resilience, in her confusion and itch for What May Be, for the inexperienced. Annie Baker’s play The Aliens, a work I have never seen live but whose script I covet with all of my eager energy, its cover a lime green hue that has been marbled by a water spill, has a featured spot in a shrine that litters a corner of my carpet by my bedroom door; after reading through it in one sitting, I felt strange and compelled to burst into tears—almost as if my body was covered with a million slowly-fluttering bugs that I feared. The Aliens does not fit the theme of my shrine, but I felt so bizarrely moved by its simplistic ending that I couldn’t possibly store it back on my bookshelf between A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Matt & Ben. It is cosmic.

Seeing Sarah Polley’s name adjacent to Annie Baker’s actually took my breath away. How wonderful were these thoughts, these words that melted off of the page and drained into my head. I wanted to shout them. I wanted to write them over and over again until they mended into sigil iconry. This passage reminded me of all of the unfinished plays (specifically, all of the unfinished plays I drafted after finishing The Aliens) and essays that idle in the Documents folder on my dilapidated Dell computer; of the terrible one-act play I penned earlier this year that my high school theatre teacher wants to direct while I’m in college; of Red Light by The Strokes and how Julian Casablancas composed the melody after attending an orchestral arrangement Mozart’s Requiem under the influence.

It reminds me of Deadcrush by Alt-J, its lyrics cryptic and unimportant until studied. It was the only song off of Alt-J’s third album that I had the patience to listen to, and its frantic, scuzzy electronic temper appealed to me. I never contemplated or thought about its meaning until its accompanying music video was released a few days ago. Strange and cryptic and deliciously bizarre, the video involves a series of dancers dressed as Lee Miller, Anne Boleyn, and Sylvia Plath contorting, twisting, and shaking in some post-apocalyptic shelter. These three women were the band’s dead crushes—the women they’d like to sit at their theoretical dinner table and share a drink with, heeding their secrets and marveling at their stories.

I think Sarah Polley would be at my dinner table. Sylvia Plath too. My deadcrush. Salinger, Lee Miller, Jacqueline Susann, Joan Crawford. Joanna Newsom, Courtney Love, Tavi Gevinson, Tyler, the Creator, Lorde, my friend Gabi, Chris Kraus. Sofia Coppola for fifteen minutes. I’ll let her pick out the wine that I won’t be drinking.

What would I serve? Italian food, I think. Spaghetti and warm Italian bread, merlot and Cheerwine, deformed chocolate chip cookies and clumpy pistachio gelato. We overstuff ourselves with bread before the linguine is al dente and are unable to finish, none of us picky or unwilling to indulge. We eat until our cheeks are red and our stomachs are full to the point of delirium.

What would I ask? I wouldn’t talk much. I’d facilitate the conversation and calmly interject with questions to veer the discussion to a different topic. A round-table debate. I would heed their advice and speak with my hands, animated and doe-eyed. I’d observe their conversational patterns and study the way they speak, twitch, and move; in the sense ofs and by that I means overused without intention, like how at any rate was spoiled by my senior-year English teacher who exhausted it to the point of irritation (my class cringed when we heard it, but we embraced its familiarity—like the obsessive-compulsive ticks your mother elicits and the turning of your head to let her do them in peace; like unintentionally ignoring the autonomous in-flight procedure banalities that the agitated flight attendant recites before you takeoff). I’d let the energy in the room, mystic and forged in the moonlight, stain my skin and color my tongue red like a cherry Popsicle.

It would be held in the summertime and afterwards we would sit on my dimly-lit porch and drink grape juice from pickle jars. Ruddy cheeked and flushed from the Georgia humidity, we would dance and dance and dance to Soviet Kitsch until the soles of our shoes weather down and the last cigarette butt is tossed into the yard.

I love how explicitly evocative Bose’s prose is. It triggers memories that would normally take a specific scent or sound to exhume. I see myself in the “nook people” she describes with great fervor in Heart Museum: “Nook people are those of us who need solitude, but also the sound of someone puttering in the next room[…]. What a nook person wants is space, however small, to follow whatever image is driving her, instead of sensing like she might have to trade it in or share it before she is willing.”

Bose’s “nook people” make me feel less-small, like there is some sort of justification behind my every movement and decision; why I itch to leave the ordinary and feel vulnerable when faced with the unfamiliar, why I seclude myself to create, why I coil my body up to the tightest position possible when I sleep at night and do not wake up sore, why I hyperfixate on anything my interests gravitate towards—the color red, Can’t Hardly Wait, Dane Dehaan, why I eventually love everything that I have hated at one point, why I am unable to feel sadness during poignant moments but feel the need to burst into tears at the most inappropriate and idle hours of the day—reading my graduation cards, seeing a child on the street, the ending of The Aliens.

Her prose makes me feel like I’m glistening, like my acne scars are stars burning out and fading into oblivion. She makes me want to start wearing earrings—something chunky or circular, glittering stars or hand-woven pom-poms. I feel like dressing in something green to go sit in Central Park and scribbling down Ouija-rendered answers on the inside cover of Nine Stories. I want to cut my hair and never look at myself in a mirror ever again; I am good enough for myself and my unwashed face will glow from the flashing fluorescents inside of the pinball machine I will play tonight.

Too Much and Not the Mood is my older sister and the light of my bleeding heart. I love Her like a lover and will place her upon an altar after I’ve finished it, right next to my locket and chipped never underestimate the power of a woman mug. Or maybe I’ll carry it with me at all times, stuffed in the back pocket of my mother’s vintage Coach bag like an abridged Bible collected from a street preacher. Or maybe I’ll pass it down to my best friend for her to feel moved by it, or my mother, or my daughter once she is old enough to discern pain from prose.

After my flight landed, I carried it proudly through the terminal and read it while leaning on the handrails in the tram. I’ll read the Annie Baker passage to my mother when I see her at baggage claim, but she’ll politely tune out and tell me my suitcase is rounding the carousel. That’s okay. She’ll never understand anyway.

Photo by Bergen Larson. You can follow her here

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