Wake up early enough in suburbia and you discover your life is only one of many quiet lonely lives at the end of a cul de sac. It’s quarter to five and my bare feet are slowly turning blue on the freshly stained back deck of my cousin’s house. The glowing beacon of Geisinger Hospital burns through the fog. The stillness is interrupted by the sound of sneakers to pavement–a middle aged woman jogs the street. She is lean-tissue and compact energy. She has a monotonous pace, the bounce of Nikes are insistent and lonely. She breaks stride on her way back through when she sees me on the back porch a half hour later–she’s not used to other life up at this hour. I’m drinking a coffee and watching the steam rise like the tired from my eyes. There’s no real interaction–just a slight skip in the beat of her run and just a neon orange echo of light paces past.
I am gliding a brush over a well-loved copy of St. Dominic’s Preview, wiping away late hours and fingerprints from clumsy hands. It rained. All day. A good record just sounds different against the backdrop of rain. I had waited for thunder but it’s probably too early for it. I have a small radio station-sized stack of vinyl spilling out of the kitchen. Over the last year, I have gone through two turntables. Caring for records teaches patience. You can’t be careless with an old piece of vinyl, you attend to it, actively follow its migration to the spindle. You are active in its rotation. The needle. The vibration. The sound. The echo. It’s all so physical and now. A turntable removes distance from you and the music. Sometimes, I’ll place my head on the kitchen table and listen like a scout putting his ear to train tracks. There are literally days’ worth of music surrounding me in the kitchen. It’s at once comforting and disconcerting. I know me. Days of vinyl means days where I am not in contact with the outside world. Isolation. Hours vanish. Time gets measured in flipsides or the pages to books read in tandem to the record player. The world in analog and ink is sometimes too close to being a wall I cannot see over.
When I was younger, I would actively hide at parties behind a wall of music. I’d take over the cd player and be the dj. It was a world that made sense to me–a conversation of chord changes and one hit wonders. I would talk to people through the songs I chose in lieu of actually saying anything at all. When I was in college, I worked for WHLM in Bloomsburg, PA. I always volunteered to work the holidays. I remember coming off the air New Year’s Eve, 1998, and was greeted to the echo of parties and the sound of Main Street being covered by a snow squall. It wasn’t the first or the last time I hid from the party of people, but it wasn’t like I didn’t enjoy being on the air–I miss it to this very day. I just know that if I allow myself to, I will quietly and happily vanish into a world of books and music. That’s not living, that’s just running away to join a circus which never pulls up the stakes from your back porch.
I would confuse this decision to explore my internal universe as an escape instead of a retreat. Even writing fills that space at times. In the cosmology of finding your “voice,” I have made the mistake of encouraging self-mythology. Granted there is something to self-exploration and contemplation in solitude, but there is also something sad and lonely about only cataloging the constellations behind your eyes.
People always say there is a larger world waiting for you beyond your door, but that’s not true. The world waits for no one. It spins effortless and free of the guilty knowledge of your inaction. It doesn’t give a fuck about your record collection or if you’ve read Remembrance of Things Past. If you engage life from the back porch, you may only startle it briefly, before it continues on its way. If you chose Van Morrison over the highway, nobody celebrates your wisdom. You can wrap yourself in your lover’s arms or write a poem late at night and neither provides the promise of enlightenment more than the other. It can be last call or it can be in a dinner half a state away. You can be watching Band of Outsiders at home or taking your cousins to see Iron Man 3. They are all just choices with the potential of revelation. It can also just be something that just happens without gravitas or emblematic to the human condition. Connection or disconnection. Together or alone. The world within. The world outside. You need it all in order for any of it to make sense but there’s no way to know if you’ve got a clue–even if you show all your scratch work.
Last night I was buying a pineapple (because I’m Filipino) and I overheard two nurses talking about their weekend plans–a full dance card of the casino, the new Great Gatsby film, and maybe dinner at the Olive Garden. My knee jerk reaction was to smirk at the pedestrian weekend these two had lined up, but they were so genuinely excited and happy that they had these things to look forward to that I immediately felt bad for being an asshole to them in my head. I wanted to apologize for being so quick to judge. Once again, here I was making snap decisions on other lives based on my own nonsense and self-serving bullshit. They were happy and who doesn’t deserve to be happy? Maybe Dick Cheney, but anyway why do I have to shit all over someone elses’ plans? It’s not like they’re forcing me to validate their lives, unlike me who will spend part of the weekend reading poetry to people who I hope will like me enough to buy my book…Of course, when I came out of my navel gazing, I realized that I was staring directly at them for probably a small forever. Just me. And a pineapple. I spent the rest of the night listening to Astral Weeks.
Jim Warner is the author of two poetry collections Too Bad It’s Poetry and Social Studies (Paper Kite Press). His poetry has appeared in The North American Review, PANK Magazine, Word Riot, and other journals. Jim received his MFA at Wilkes University. He likes pineapples. Follow him on Twitter: @whoismisterjim.