How Can I Miss You If You Won't Go Away?
That is the title of a song my friend Gluehead wrote a while ago about his psychotic girlfriend, Stacy, and their off-again, on-again, in-institutions-again romance. Like most of Glue's songs, it features half-scale walkdowns and is sung in Glue's often imitated though never replicated vocal stylings.
As I am writing this new memoir, I find myself in an unenviable position of having to accurately report on past relationships. I've been in the goddamn things non-stop since I was sixteen, and they never last more than a few years, so any memoir I write is going to have a new supporting cast. This is problem because my goal, like that of any writer, is to get the damn thing published. Maybe this doesn't happen. Since it is shaping up to be essentially a sequel to my first memoir, Junkie Love, a fast-paced depiction of the last seven months of my ten-year run as a junkie (and in which the aforementioned Gluehead plays a large role), which my agent and I are having a bitch of time selling (because apparently after that cock James Frey lied about his addiction, publishers are weary of the "junkie memoir," which is bullshit, because the book is about so much more than the drugs, and everyone, including editors at big houses, agrees the writing is top-notch, but no one has pulled the trigger; but I digress...). But if it does happen. And if I get this second one out there too, I am going to have to contend with a shit-storm. Because my wife (and she'll be "the third luckiest woman in the world" by then), Justine, is going to read about all my ex-loves, and get pissed because I will render my love for these women poignant and pained, not understanding that that is my fucking job as a writer. What? I'm supposed to write about the women I loved and who left my life, leaving no real absence, having no significant impact? Yeah, that's fucking compelling. It's poor strategy for one. And it's disingenuous for two.
See, part of what makes an artist an artist is the pining for unrequited love. Whether it's a woman or a really good sandwich. We can never get what we need to feel whole. In the absence of this completion, we create. I create a lot. I paint. I play music. I write. (If it wasn't for the degenerative hip I need replaced, I swear some days I might even take a dance to be a quadruple threat.) The fuel that feeds this emptiness, which in turn fosters the art, is nostalgia.
Christopher Moore writes in the hilarious Lamb, the Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, "Without yesterday I have no regret, and without tomorrow I have no dread. And without dread and regret, what am I?" I am paraphrasing but I think that is pretty close. And it hits the nail into the proverbial cross.
Justine has read my memoir, which is chock-full of bad shit I've done, including, in no particular order, shooting up Holy Water and mice feces, breaking someone's hand with a metal pole, and stealing my dying mother's morphine, but what she finds most upsetting are the parts about the girls.
"I wish you'd pine for me the way you pine for them," she says.
To which I quote Gluehead: how can I miss you if you won't go away?
You cannot get nostalgic for the present, only the past, and the important part about "nostalgia" is the device itself, not the subject matter.
There's a movie called Kicking and Screaming. Not the Will Ferrell movie about soccer. This one's by Noah Baumbach, one of his earliest films. (Don't bother looking for it; far as I know it's out of print.) The premise is four college friends are having a tough time leaving college behind after they graduate so they rent a house right next to campus. There's this great quote by one of the characters, Max, after someone questions how he can be feeling nostalgic for something that just happened.
Max goes, "I'm nostalgic for conversations I had yesterday. I've begun reminiscing events before they even occur. I'm reminiscing this right now. I can't go to the bar because I've already looked back on it in my memory, and I didn't have a good time."
Unfortunately, in real life, the present gets a bit of the shaft. It is much harder to romanticize the present. The past, especially past loves, are treated kinder. Even the ones who fucked me over, I sort of remember fondly (except for my second ex-wife; she is just a flat-out lying cheating whore). The present? Uh... There are bills to pay, babies to feed, the day-after-day drudgery where nothing much happens, and you take your not getting your brilliant memoir published out on her, and she takes her lack of sleep out on you, and it's, well...hard.
Like Rob of High Fidelity says, "and they have [those problems] too, but I don't have to see it because it's not in the fantasy."
But this is why we write, isn't it? It's all about the fantasy. Plus, if you're any good at your fucking job, you better make the love story resonate or you'll have my thesis novel (which is also still a pretty goddamn good book).
So, darling Justine, consider this my caveat, my disclaimer, my apology, because I am going to finish this new memoir, and if you find my portrayal of you lacking in the "pining and passionate" department compared to my undying love for A, B, and C, know this. I am here with you, not them. We have a child together. And you are three months away from becoming "the third luckiest woman" in the world. And if you are lucky, our union too will someday fracture, shatter and break, and losing you will kill what little is left of me to love, and you will leave me an emotional cripple. So when the time comes to write that third memoir, the Return of the Jedi of my life, I will wax tenderly and heartbroken about the beautiful blonde girl with the big tits and ass you could eat lunch off of, who used to sing to her chickens in her backyard in the red dress, and who made me fall in love with her, and how despite my best efforts I only let her down and lost her, and how if I only could've held onto her heart, I might be happy right now, instead of writing my sad stories, pining for what might have been.
Or maybe you actually will be the lucky one...