A Tragicomical, Unsophisticated Blog about the Weird, the Absurd, and the Banal

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Tribute to Miranda July

Everyday for a month last spring I cursed myself for giving up the piano in second grade.  It was too hard, I told myself.  I could be outside playing instead of sitting in front of this ridiculous loud, cumbersome chunk of wood and cat gut contraption for a half hour every day.  They made the strings from cat gut, so I'd heard, and I told my parents this, appealing to their animal rights sympathies which I was sure they had.  They said the strings were metal, not cat gut.  But I persisted until they finally gave up.  What a stupid little kid.

Most people forgive their younger selves for these little things, and I usually do, too.  But I won't forgive myself for giving up the piano.  Never.  I should've known that Tamara was a musician.  How could I not have known that Tamara was a musician even before I met her?  It seems so obvious now.

We started working together at Earl May a year ago.  She's the manager, but she said once she just does it to get by until she can find a label.  That's how I learned she was a musician.  That explained everything, really.  The way she sang Florence and the Machine while she watered the plants and beat out a weird rhythm on her desk when she did the books every night.  Flowers took a backseat to music.  And she did love flowers.  She confessed, when she hired me in the spring, that she's never happier than in the spring.  I'm a spring child, she said.

After I started working at Earl May I tried to relearn the piano.  That's when I started to realize that my life had been ruined, no sabotaged, by my eight year-old self.  He didn't want me to win Tamara over.  He wanted to be a little boy forever and to have fun, like the little Peter Pan Syndrome freak he is.  Or he just knew about corporate policies prohibiting relationships.  In a way, he might've been helping me, though not in the way I wanted.

I'd been relearning the piano for months and it was winter so the store was full of Christmas trees.  Tamara sat us all down for a morning meeting about sales, new promotions and policies and ended it by saying, I'm doing a concert tonight.  You all should come.  She said it like a joke and laughed a little, but we all promised to be there.

Only Rachel and I showed up, though.

I didn't have anything better to do, Rachel said, sipping her beer.

Nothing better to do? I asked.

No.  Nothing.


What about you?

I felt it was a test of some kind, so I said I had nothing better to do either.  I guess I passed because she nodded and went back to sipping her beer and waiting.  It was secret message of some kind.  A very chill secret message.

Before the show, Tamara sat down next to us.

Thanks for coming, Tamara said.

We had nothing better to do, I said.

That was the wrong thing to say because they both stared at me for a moment.  I said something else that seemed to appease them but I didn't hear it myself, which would've been useful because I might've needed to say it again later.

Where's your boy? Rachel asked.

Oh, he's bartending tonight.  You can wave at him.

We all turned and waved at the bartender.  He was a big guy with a beard and Buddy Holly glasses.  He waved and smiled back at us, even at me, before going back to another customer.

He's your boyfriend? I asked.


Is he a musician too?

No, Tamara said, laughing.  I never date musicians.  They all complain too much.  He's a bartender.

Yeah, all musicians are high maintenance, Rachel said and looked off into the corner as if she were looking at a high maintenance musician with whom she was formerly involved.  Someone in the corner waved.  I waved back, but Rachel didn't.

Tamara went up on stage.  I didn't hear her play or even see what instrument she was playing.  I was too focused on catching the eye of various audience memebers.  Every time I did, I looked at them as if I knew them, smiled broadly, and waved at them.  Some waved back.  Others didn't.

Eventually I went to the bar and waved at Tamara's boyfriend.

You're one of Tamara's coworkers?


You get one on the house.  What will it be?

A Coke.



He brought me a Coke.  I thanked him and said, You know, as a kid I never wanted to be a musician.

He stared at me for a moment, as surprised as I was that I'd said it.  Me neither, he said.

We smiled and laughed together.  Me and Tamara's boyfriend, the non-high-maintenance bartender.  I decided I should be happy for him and I laughed longer and harder until someone sitting next to me said to be quiet so that he could hear the music.  So I laughed quietly for as long as I could.


A few years ago I watched Me, You and Everyone We Know at the Bijou Cinema and thoroughly enjoyed it.  I just finished reading No One Belongs Here More Than You (seriously, check out the website.  It's fantastic.) and my watching the movie informed my reading of the book and vice versa.  There is a cinematic quality to her writing and a deeper, more complicated element of storytelling to her movies that you just can't get from being exposed to one or the other.

One of my English profs once said he believes Miranda July will be one of those writers Remembered from our Time.  I'm not sure I agree with that, but I will say I think she writes Longing and Loneliness better than any writer I've ever read.  It's tough stuff made palatable by a dark, rich sense of humor.  Her characters are the Weird Ones, people who try very, very hard..  They are all delicate people who Survive, like pieces of glassware that inexplicably don't shatter no matter how many times they hit the floor.  The infinite regression of self-awareness is almost post-modern, but I think could be categorized as something post-postmodern (or... expostmodern...? I'd like to talk about this article sometime) precisely because it takes a step back and acquiesces to the absurdity of the self-analysis.

One final note on the Language.  July is a master of metaphor and simile, though she primarily uses it to a comic effect.  She uses no dialogue markers, a technique that I've seen used by Cormac McCarthy, but for a different end.  While the absence of quotation marks in McCarthy's work always seemed to me to imply a lazy, "fuck it" attitude toward life, July's use of this technique screams "Everything is important!"  That, I think, sums up her style quite well.  Carver said that Great Writers' styles are instantly recognizable.  If I picked up an unattributed short story, I'm sure I could say whether or not July wrote it.

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