Best Worst Year: Episode 36 (Or, Hold My Life Until I’m Ready to Use It)

This week Quiddity issue 6.2 is officially off to the printers. I came in on the tail end of the issue–the editorial board had just finished the first round of edits. One of my first days here in the office was spent going over the cover with the assistant editor, how appropriate that the last thing I eyeballed on 6.2 was where I started. It’s only been a little over two and a half months since I’ve been out here, but it feels so much longer. It’s like when you’ve fallen hard and fast for someone–I remember a former flame looking almost through me over blueberry bagels and chai tea with a bit lip smile saying she couldn’t think that I wasn’t always a part of her life.

Of course, we split up.

I do remember life before Quiddity–alright so it’s not the best example but it gets to my point. I cannot remember a time in my work life where I’ve felt this good about who I am and what I am doing. For once I feel comfortable with the word potential. I have had a twenty year love/hate relationship with the “p-word,” usually driven by my own neurosis. Hope and expectation are the two prongs of an anchor which I felt like I’ve lugged around from apartment to apartment, classroom to classroom, stage to stage, and page to page. And it’s not different than anyone else really. You are supposed to spend your college years and twenties swinging on a pendulum of self-doubt and astonishing overconfidence.

Potential and expectation loads you up heavy on risk because someone else has placed that tag on your shoulders. It’s flattering and unfair all at once. The Warner family line has always been “let someone else tell people how good you are,” which is fine and horrible at the same time. Coming from a small town, any time you stand out, positive or not, you become open for all kinds of business which you may or may not be mature enough to handle. In a way, all our communities have that pressure–be it on the gridiron or the honor roll or employee of the month at Subway. When someone thinks enough of you to place an expectation on your success, you are also taking on their failures–their inability to reach beyond their grasp. It’s not necessarily malice, but we are also of a culture and society which will love an underdog right up until the underdog succeeds. After that apex, we wait for the fall back to earth. It’s like Icarus on TMZ.

You want to say that you don’t listen to other people’s opinions, and that’s almost true enough to be a load of bullshit. I’d put a world of undue pressure on myself, daily, because I felt like I am representing so many things to so many people–from my job, to being the good son, to being “that guy from that town we can’t pronounce (Wilkes-Barre) who comes to our readings in NYC.” The reality of who I was representing was probably much smaller and more a product of thinking much more of myself than I was, but it’s almost immaterial. Any time someone pulls you out of the crowd and recognizes you because of x,y,or z, it’s going to change your own expectations. You might get impatient. You might get insecure. You might get concerned that you aren’t where you are supposed to be, doing what you’re supposed to excel at doing. If you’re lucky, and true to yourself, you learn to be patient, with circumstance and self. You bide your time. You listen. You watch what expectation does to others.

Maybe that’s why I love The Replacements. I don’t think anyone has had more influence on me as a writer and a lost Gen Xer as Paul Westerberg. St. Paul, the patron saint of the beautiful loser; the poet who grew up to get lost; the rock star who took potential and platinum promise, loaded into a six string revolver and repeatedly (and willfully) shot himself in the foot. Paul, who gave me my high school quote “He who laughs first didn’t get the joke.”

(SIDEBAR: I’m assuming you know who The Replacements are. Usually, when I drop the off-reference in your friendly neighbor episode of Best Worst Year, I ape Steve Coogan (talking about Icarus) in 24 Hour Party People and say If you get it, great. If you don’t, that’s fine too. But you should probably read more.” Not this time, folks. It’s 100% not okay. If you don’t know the ‘Mats, stop everything you considered doing today and go buy their records. My personal recommendation: start with ALL OF THEM. You’ll thank me, and if you don’t, why are you reading my nonsense anyway?!)

I know most people call The Clash “the only band that matters,” but for me The Replacements are “the last band that mattered.” There is something beautiful in the ramshackle unpredictability of their mythology–from their lifetime ban from Saturday Night Live to the absolutely brilliant dumpster fire live performances (ranging from inspired to insipid). The shoulda-been versus the coulda-been is an ongoing debate, and yes you can argue the whether or not the lack of commercial success was a product of The Replacements’ inability to cope with success or the geography of 1980’s MTV/FM landscape but it’s all immaterial. Whatever potential and expectations were laid upon them, The Replacements remain so near and dear to their fans because they were true to their flight plan.

Listening to the board mix of their reunion show in Toronto, I am struck with the level of satisfaction which underscores their playing. It feels like a homecoming of sorts, that this night is a vindication of all their escape from the trappings of the “next big thing” and even more so the spectre of their indie-fed mythology. The Replacements are a great band, playing great music with nothing to lose, and even less to prove In the echo of decaying speakers, we are the ones left to discuss and debate potential. Is it that easy? Do we all make too much of other people’s expectations.

I wish I could feel so effortless. I do. I don’t. I’m already concerned about the next issue, the next radio show I’m producing, the thirty plus poetry submissions I have submitted to journals, the collaborative poems I’m writing with BGP, the next episode of Best Worst Year, the next poem, the next deadline, the next next. The difference now is that I’m comfortable. Raise the anchor.

_________________________

Jim Warner is the Managing Editor of Quiddity International Literary Journal and Public Radio Program at Benedictine University and the author of two poetry collections Too Bad It’s Poetry and Social Studies (Paper Kite Press). His poetry has appeared in various journals including The North American Review, PANK Magazine, and Drunken Boat. Jim received his MFA at Wilkes University. He lives in Springfield, IL and never travels far without a little Big Star. 

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