When You Were Young And On Your Own

Falling in love. Deciding to be in love. What’s the difference?

“Long May You Run” is playing. McCormick remembers the “chrome heart shining in the sun.” Winter Matheson driving away.

He’d chosen her at chorus practice from a row of altos, written her number on his palm like he imagined people did.

Neil Young songs charted the whole thing. She was a “Cinnamon Girl,” hungry mouth offering lifetimes. Until the day she couldn’t stand him, after which McCormick lived on his knees and always replaced the needle.

“Nestled in your wings my little one…tomorrow see the things that never come…”

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Those Who Can (Magnetic Fields)

What if you have the gift of listening—knowing—so when you hear

We don’t have to be stars exploding in the night, or electric eels under the covers
We don’t have to be anything quite so unreal, let’s just be lovers

the alchemic achievement lifts you, holds you, sends you back down for more

like breath, like a child who has learned to swing?

Do you then imagine you can cast those spells, that reading so well means you might also write?

Try it. Open a page. Lower your hands and blink twice. Bring all your talent and luck.

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Hard Limits Fade Into Memory

(Now that his morning funk has been rocked away by Steve Earle, McCormick is free to discover a new record from a favorite band…)

Because Julie called her high-school mate John Darnielle a genius, he resisted the Mountain Goats on principle.

Dylan was an ego-object back then. Making Bob share any space crowded McCormick when he really needed to feel large.

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His change of heart wasn’t gradual. The recognition struck while hearing:

I remember California, I remember Malibu
I remember the states and the names of the cities but I don’t remember you

It was the perfection of college lit review writing. Things you just thought, rhymed and adored. Who hadn’t searched for that treasure?

Defeating jealousy gives him room. With pleasure, he listens.

 

You Should Write Funny

From the steps he watches June bounce onto the camp bus. The rows call her name. She blows him a kiss. Makes him glad, but still, he wants to go blue.

Not dirty blue. Gloomy blue. He goes upstairs, puts on Steve Earle—I know I can always count on you—and composes himself.

A lit agent once asked why McCormick’s author felt no compassion for his characters. Wonder what that guy listens to in the morning?

His golfing buddy Jay feels the same way: “You’re funny, man. You should write funny. Everything isn’t a lesson.”

Well, that’s not true.

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The Work of It

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Once he saw Salman Rushdie hold up a book and say, “This is a hundred thousand words. That’s a hundred thousand choices. Impossible to get them all right.”

McCormick loves Enchantress of Florence.

McCormick is a hundred words each time. Only. He’s related to Haiku, and Tanka and Tweets. His choices, those made and those remembered, tax him to exhaustion.

He turned to the woman with him at Rushdie and said, “It is hard to be made of words.”

She said, “No. It’s like brushing your teeth or making the bed.”

She was wrong or she was mean. Either way.