I recently visited my parent’s home in San Anselmo, California. I woke up early and walked into the kitchen. Both of them were huddled around the Marin Independent Journal, a Sunday morning ritual. Bobbi Brown had passed away the night before. We discussed the tragedy while my mom fried two eggs, comparing Bobbi’s lifestyle with her mother’s, Whitney Houston. They died in similar ways: hotel bathtub, drugs, depression, etc. I was at a family gathering when Whitney died. One of my estranged cousins stayed in the hotel they found her in a few days after her passing and took a picture of Whitney’s room number: 434. At that point, my mom was making a sandwich for my dad’s lunch, and as the conversation was winding down, she said, “Another masterpiece destroyed.” I thought about that for a second, about how another life had been snipped because of the throes of societal pressure, anxiety to succeed — all those modern diseases we face every day. But then I realized my mom was actually talking about the sandwich (her masterpiece) and how in the near future, it would be destroyed by my dad’s appetite. Imagine that.
I suddenly felt disheartened and asked myself: How many other things have I misinterpreted? I wanted a semantic understanding of this new fear or anything relating to it, so I searched for specific words or phrases. The first word that appeared was “Eggcorn,” which means a word or phrase that develops from a misconception of something that sounds similar. The word “acorn” sounds like “eggcorn,” which is where the idea originates from. A common example is “old wives’ tale.” Many people say or think it’s “old wise tale,” which could actually work in some contexts, and in these most politically correct of times it should, but no — it is the “wives” who speak and bring us knowledge from past generations.
There have been many instances of eggcorn in my life — or I should say that I’ve eaten lots of eggcorns in my time. Up until two months ago, I have ordered “expresso” from cafes all over the place when I should have been ordering espresso. Also, for as long as I can remember, I’ve been using the phrase “deep-seeded,” when it’s actually “deep-seated.” Apparently, when a problem is “deep-seated,” it has a profound level of complexity. The idea is that the problem is deeper than regular seats, like one of those pod-looking things from the sixties that could be from the future. A problem being “deep-seeded” makes total sense to me. I think of a hole that’s really deep, and down at the very bottom there’s a seed producing the great California avocado, and someday it will grow into a bit fantastic, fruitful, bushy tree with lots of beautiful black ovals growing from its limbs, and lots of people will gather around it and pray for its growth, but once again — it’s the seat that takes the claim.
I thought about that for a second, about how another life had been snipped because of the throes of societal pressure, anxiety to succeed — all those modern diseases we face every day. But then I realized my mom was actually talking about the sandwich (her masterpiece) and how in the near future, it would be destroyed by my dad’s appetite. My next connection was “malapropism,” or mistaking a word for a similar sounding word. In my freshman year of high school, I would come home from a long day and say to my mom, “I feel really nostalgic today,” when actually I meant to say I felt “lethargic.” But she never corrected me. Maybe she crossed the definitions too.
I’ve used the word “aftermath” probably 500 times in my life and passed it in reading thousands of times. Someone recently put me onto the actual meaning of the word. This has more to do with origins than anything, but it still irks me that I had no idea. It comes from Old High German in 1515-25, about the same time King Henry VIII was striking around England looking for his second or third wife. It literally means a new growth of grass or crop after it has been mowed down or ploughed. This opens up many new and interesting insights, but it also makes me wonder if I would have used it the same context. I always connected the word to battle or something that has been decimated — rubble from a bombed out building or structure.
While studying medieval literature last semester, when talk of knights at the round table abounded, I couldn’t stop saying “Courtney Love” when I should have been referring to nobility and chivalry as “courtly love.” I must have been hot on Hole that month or maybe listening to Nirvana, but it drove my teacher crazy. My peers thought it was great, so I went with it. King Arthur’s “courtly love” would forever be Cobain’s infamous widow, Courtney.
I do this constantly with song lyrics too, which brings me to the third and final fancy word I encountered: “Mondegreen.” The classic example is Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.” I hear him belting out, “Hold me closer, Tony Danza.” It’s something that’s been lodged into my brain. I know it’s “Hold me closer, tiny dancer,” because it’s in the title, but it sounds so much like “Tony Danza” that I still sing out loud when I hear it at a bar or on the radio.
King Arthur’s “courtly love” would forever be Cobain’s infamous widow, Courtney.
I recently ran into mondegreen in another song. Many people know the Vapors by their 1980 hit “Turning Japanese.” Most of us have heard the one-hit-wonder at some point in our lives: “I think I’m turning Japanese / I think I’m turning Japanese / I really think so.” Well, that particular song appears on their debut album, New Clear Days, which has an incredible B-side titled “Bunkers.” A bunker is something constructed that protects people or valued materials when under attack, which makes total sense when paralleled to the sound of urgency the song relays. There’s a reason why the band chose to end the record with it — it’s a banger. It has a feeling, and it invites radical interpretation the way certain paintings do. The chorus goes: “I have no idea / where we go from here / maybe that’s why we’re / living in bunkers.”
The area of the song I encountered mondegreen was in the last verse. I thought the vocals were: “Don’t tell me in anger just tell me for real / why does everybody have to be a ‘ripping’ wheel?” But the lyrics are actually: “Don’t tell me in anger just tell me for real / why does everybody have to be a ‘real big’ wheel?” This changed everything for me. I might like the song less now. The difference between a “ripping wheel” and a “real big wheel” is oceans. I feel like my interpretation is better, more poetic. Often, I myself feel like a “ripping wheel.” I’ve torn through this earth like a cannonball, with sheer force, smashing it up, getting crazy, but I’ve never felt for one second like a “real big wheel.” What does that even mean? Are people who act like real big wheels big shots? Are they people who enjoy to blow themselves up until they lift from the earth like a hot air balloon? Then yes, I would much rather be in the house of the ripping wheel.
But, all of these words and their definitions don’t really get at the feeling I’m looking for. For me it’s more of an anxiety. I’m anxious about anything that I’ve missed out on. I have FOMO: “fear of missing out.” FOMO is commonly used in context with the real world, as in — a group of friends go out on a Friday night, but you have to stay in and complete homework, thus giving you FOMO. But my FOMO is more complex. It has more to do with my internal life and a fear that I have missed out on something crucial to my understanding or that I never fully connected the pieces correctly, thus skewing my perspective. I would actually call it IFOMO (internal fear of missing out), which unfortunately makes me think of Apple computers. Maybe they’d want to combine forces on a computer application — iFOMO: “A new way to connect your thoughts and feelings in a more sublime and comprehensible way.”
After not being able to find something that describes what I feel, I am left perplexed. One of the many downfalls of the English language has to do with reification: the act of naming makes it real. FOMO is in the dictionary now. It’s has become a real thing because humans have put it into the world, and now IFOMO is too I suppose. Anything that brings us closer to understanding ourselves and this mixed-up language is of benefit. We invent to illuminate, but I feel like there are a lot of underwhelming or inaccurate word-inventions out there. Take “sky” for example. How did someone come up with such a pitiful word for such a paramount thing? If I was a neologist, I’d call the sky, “Great Magnus Atmospherous” or “Welkonious Tranvelonious” Or “The One Who Calls so Loud.” I don’t know — something better than “sky.”
I would actually call it IFOMO (internal fear of missing out), which unfortunately makes me think of Apple computers. Maybe they’d want to combine forces on a computer application — iFOMO: “A new way to connect your thoughts and feelings in a more sublime and comprehensible way.”
Because in many instances I can’t find the right word to articulate how I feel, I conjure ideas that are resemblances. I started thinking about resemblances in art and nature because of that Charlie Kaufman movie “Synecdoche, New York.” I didn’t know what the word “synecdoche” meant when I first saw the film, and it has only been in the past few months that I’ve started making links. To my understanding, a “synecdoche” is a resemblance of something that represents the whole. It’s also a figure of speech (which is funny because “figure of speech” actually came from an adaptation of the phrase “figurative speech”). For example, in these modern times we use the synecdoche “bread” to represent money.
I was in New York for a week at the beginning of 2015 to do press for the fifth full-length record my band was releasing later in the year. Sasha-Frere Jones had recently left the New Yorker and was starting a music related website called Genius, and he was interviewing me about lyric content. He said: “So, is this record a synecdoche for what you’ve been creating for the past 10 years?” And I had to say: “I don’t know what that means.” He laughed, of course, and asked the question in a more understandable way, but only now am I recognizing what he was asking, which was pretty simple: Is this the big one, the last piece to fit? And I know there are many other times when information hasn’t fully connected and will never come back, and that is a serious IFOMO for me. I feel as if a lot has passed through me, as if I’ve been an apparition for most of my life.
In many of my dreams, I walk through streets bumping into people but they don’t see me, or I step into rooms and people carry on without recognizing me. This must say something about my sense of self. I spoke with a close friend about this. He brought up a particular song lyric I wrote, “Bleeder, You desire to be seen.” We connected the lyric to the American sentiment of needing to feel constant recognition. Often, I feel insignificant. I think that notion comes from the idea that we’re living in the heaviest of times. There are so many people at this point in history, and so many of them are doing great things, and I feel stuck in this 10-by-20-foot room going into the reasons, trying to figure it out, and I continuously get to this problem of impossibility.
When you start to write anything, you are presented with a problem and must find your way through it. But, if you are smart, a true thinking person, you will never actually come to any real conclusion. You will be left wandering in some unknown season. As a writer, my main incentive is to work through problems and try to uncover dilemmas, but doubt, fear and instability envelops me. This goes much further than IFOMO, this is FOWO — Fear of Weeding Out, which is what I believe everyone fears. It’s the idea that one day you will cease to experience this world, and that time will slowly subtract you and your much cherished consciousness. When it comes down to it, the fear of death is really what it is. But then I think death will be okay, it’s what happens directly before the lights go out that scares me. It’s the last few months I suppose. I want to remember everything.
I’m torn though. I don’t agree with remembering everything. If I remembered every moment or every person’s face I’d be up all night I feel like existing in a state of perpetual change or mystery can be invigorating at times, so I don’t really know why I search for definitions to things that are inevitably indefinable. Poetry helps get me through much of my FOWO. Most of my ideas lean toward uncertainty. When people ask me if I believe in God, I say, “Who knows, something might be out there?” Mark Strand, in his Paris Review “Art of Poetry” interview suggested that his poems were often about the dailiness of life, the seemingly familiar, but somehow they turned into otherness, deep mystery. Strand replied, “In the act of figuring it out, of pursuing meaning, the reader is absorbing the poem, even though there’s an absence in the poem.” This absence he speaks of is what draws me to art. Working on poems, writing short fiction, even working through this piece, I know that what I’m doing is trying to figure out a problem, something I can’t come to terms with in my head, and often my interpretation of things seems incorrect. This of course scares me. Am I going to misinterpret something drastic? Am I going to look at something backwards, which will inevitably leave me doomed or misguided?
It’s the idea that one day you will cease to experience this world, and that time will slowly subtract you and your much cherished consciousness.
I often wonder if I’ve missed out on other people too. I’ve been introduced to some incredible folks, and I’ve thought to myself, “I’d really like to get to know this person,” but something happens, and the opportunity slips, a gust of wind pushes through the room and blows them away from me, as if they were a ghost. This happened with a friend of a friend once. I was introduced to him in passing. Later I would run into him at a coffee shop I frequented. He worked the register, and slowly I felt that I wanted to spend one-on-one time with him. He had a kind of aura, a vibrant persona, and I knew he’d become a strong friend if I let him. But weeks later, he died of a heroin overdose — a real ghost now.
I see beautiful women pass me in the streets and think about what it would be like to share a bed together. I consider falling in love for a second, and I suppose I do. But mostly I feel I’ve lost an incredible opportunity, and that saddens me. The Portuguese have a word for this, “saudade,” which means a deep longing for a person or thing that is absent. Brazilians hold a day for it, Jan. 30, and it’s something I’ve experienced my whole life. When I was 12, I woke up from a dream where I had fallen deeply in love with a girl, and the pain I felt from waking up and losing her felt so real that I moped around the house for an entire day, grieving the loss.
The more I try to get at the core of this anxiety, this FOWO, being left to the wayside, misconceived, reduced into some abstraction — I realize it has everything to do with the future — how the anthology of my life will conclude. (“Anthology” means a gathering of flowers. I’d like to think my life as such, but there are lots of rocks, pebbles, dead bugs and other stuff in the bouquet that too closely represent my psychoses, trappings and anxieties.) I am afraid that I will forget, afraid that crucial memories will not return, afraid that my life will evaporate like a gutter puddle.
I see beautiful women pass me in the streets and think about what it would be like to share a bed together. I consider falling in love for a second, and I suppose I do.
My grandfather on my mom’s side died in a state of confusion. He had been hiding his liver cancer from the family, as well as his quickly worsening Alzheimer’s. He didn’t know who he was at the end, the woman standing beside him, nor did he have any recollection of his family. He called my mom a few months before and excommunicated the entire family. “I don’t want to talk to any of you ever again,” he said, and that was that. I had a dream about him shortly after his death. He was standing in the dining room of the house I grew up in, staggering, searching through drawers, as if he had left something behind.
All of this finally brought me to a single moment. When I was young, I visited the city of Piedmont, California, and I stood in a park near the town center, which overlooked Oakland. Directly across the street from where I was standing was a boisterous scene. There were people out in front of shops and cafes enjoying the evening, eating,and drinking coffee, which seemed idyllic at the time. I must have been 16.
Recently, I took my bicycle out and made the trek up the hill, to that same park, to the exact place I stood that day, but to my surprise there was nothing — just a street and cars rapidly crisscrossing. How had I been so sure of this memory to go all the way up the hill and find nothing? That’s when I panicked. I looked all around and felt terribly alone. The sun was high in the sky, and all I could see was my uncast shadow elongated there next to me.