My friend Hannah describes Billie Eilish as “if Tumblr was a person.” She’s artistically angsty with a dramatic edge that can almost induce an eye-roll if you’re not paying enough attention.
The first song I heard from her, her new album’s first single, “bury a friend,” was exactly that. God, she’s like the girl from The Ring meets Wednesday Addams meets a record deal. But then I payed better attention. The song is clearly about mental struggles — burying a friend isn’t literal, as it is in My Chemical Romance’s “Kill All Your Friends” (in that one, the singer laments that “We all wanna party when a funeral ends; and we all get together when we bury our friends; it’s been eight bitter years since I’ve been seeing your face,” hence the reason for the murder spree). For Eilish, it’s dealing with the emotional demons that haunt us.
So perfect for half the character I write, as the greatest enemies they face are themselves.
One of my favorite places to write and eavesdrop is the airport, particularly O’Hare International Airport. Not only is it the airport I flight out of the most, but it’s also a hotbed for international flyers getting their last shot at being local Chicagoans. We’re talking about passports in colors you’ve never seen before, being whipped out in the security line, while the bars along the terminal are stuffed full of people watching the Bears vs. Eagles wildcard game, regardless if they’re interested in the outcome.
The Berghoff Cafe is at the end of this United Airlines terminal, and it’s where I was able to find not just a decent sandwich to send me off on a business trip to Phoenix, but it also has decent bar where I can pretend I’m watching the Golden Globes red carpet instead of an NFL game. The guy next to me is shopping on Bonobos while drinking a beer — no, wait, he’s now scrolling through HBO Now. And now he’s checking hotel accomodations in Toronto.
The corned beef sandwich was more than decent, I’ve decided. It was downright good.
It’s mostly older people perched on leather-topped stools around the high-top wooden tables. Most are drinking beer, but one woman just dropped half a glass of white wine off at this end of the bar and walked away. If I wasn’t paranoid about cold sores or picking up (yet another) virus, I could easily finish it off for her without anyone noticing. Instead, I’ll stick to my merlot served in a white wine glass — she looked like the chardonnay type, anyway, and I’m not a fan. Gives me headaches.
I know this is the second post I’ll have published this year, and still no sign of my resolutions. Those are coming, though slowly. I’ve decided this is the year I step away from obsessively planning everything, as it usually leads to too much stress and not enough productivity. That’s the rub: Spending so much time planning you don’t get any time to actually accomplish what you set out to do. Isn’t that a whole John Lennon lyric? “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”
Guy next to me just added some camel-brown chinos to his Bonobos cart. He could pull off that color.
This song makes me want to smash five bottles of champagne on the floor and dance over the pieces in five-inch stiletto boots made of leather.
If that seems oddly specific, it’s because you haven’t watched Killing Eve, a rightfully lauded show that debuted last year and gained Sandra Oh an oh-so-deserved Emmy and Golden Globe nominations. This song appears a couple times in the most tense, plainly cool moments of romance between two women who have yet to meet face-to-face.
Seriously, watch Killing Eve.
Another song discovered this week at just the right time. I’m diving more into Pru’s romance with Federal Vigilante Agent Maxwell Spelling, and when I heard “Savior” by St. Vincent — really heard it — and decided it was a perfect summary of their relationship. Pru is so enamored by him that she doesn’t mind that he’s looking for her to be a distraction, scapegoat, accomplice and victim all at once for him. Similarly, St. Vincent’s song cosmetically sounds like a woman’s adventure with sexual experimentation as her partner begs her to take on different roles (nurse, teacher, nun, cop and leather-momma).
But that’s not the point of the song at all, it turns out.
“I got ’em trying to save the world,” she murmurs at the end. “They said, ‘Girl, you’re not Jesus.'”
So not only is “Savior” about the demands Max makes on Pru in their relationship, but also on the demands she makes on herself and those around her. St. Vincent insists she “can’t be your savior” until being worn down by her lover’s pleas. Pru succumbs to her own addiction to the rush that comes from making a difference.
On this American holiday of Thanksgiving, I find myself with a lot to be grateful for this year. I hit a number of writing milestones that I didn’t necessarily expect: my short story Septimus is in an anthology of emerging Illinois writers; I finished and submitted my first manuscript to an agent; TZLA agreed to represent me and my book, Omaha; and I received my first rejection from a publisher.
A lot of changes came this year, too. New job, new apartment. The Man with Time on His Arm started off as a couple of dates in December 2017 and January to become a solid part of my life — not a muse, but a partner in shenanigans (I ate oysters for the first time!). I finally let go of some of the regret I was keeping around under the guise of “for my writing and my humility” despite not being good for either.
But what I’m most thankful for is having another year to create, and this week I got started by reaching out to my friend Cody:
“2019 is going to be the year I think we should start actually creating the crazy shit we conceptualize over boozy brunches,” I wrote, fully sober at my desk in corporate America. “I just saw a comic called Exorsisters and was like ‘that seems weird enough for Cody and I to have come up with at the Bongo Room,’ the only difference being that someone actually made it instead of laughed over it while wolfing down a sidecar pancake.”
Look up “writer quotes” and you’ll find an abundance of advice telling you to just write. Or, as my new favorite Dorothy Parker would say, “I hate writing, but I love having written.” Sometimes you just need to start creating instead of waiting for the idea to be perfectly clear — or already brought to life by someone else.
I kind of wish Frankenstein’s monster had been missing a finger or something when the good doctor brought him to life: It would have been a better metaphor for writing if Victor had just said “Eh, we’ll get him a new thumb eventually.” Ideas don’t have to be whole for you to start working them — that’s the very point of National Novel Writing Month.
So I’m thankful for the progress I made in 2018, but I’m even more excited for what half-formed monsters I bring to life over the next 365 days.
My playlist-prodigy friend Hannah Burkett sent me the link to “Snow Girl” by Staygold on Monday with the simple message, “I’m OBSESSED with this song.” Seeing as she’s the reason I listen to about 37 percent of the music I do (rough estimate), I tuned in.
Seriously, I don’t think I’ve stopped listening to it since that first play. The song came into my life at a perfect time. Right now in Nobody’s Hero, my main character has a come-to-Jesus meeting with the only other person in on her secret when he gets tired of her making decisions without taking him into account.
“So selfish, can’t help it, I know,” Staygold’s song says. “I should think of myself / ‘cuz you never ever thought about me…Acting like I am emotional / wonder why I should stay when I know you won’t change / only happy when you’re in control / you’re always getting your way.”
I know how the argument has to end, but this song just put me in the mood to write a good confrontation.
When your book’s hero goes by the monacre “Nightfire” and can spark flames using the flint in the heel of her shoe, “Arsonist’s Lullaby” becomes a must-have on the writing playlist.
Then again, all of Hozier’s work is writing-appropriate. Try “Nina Cried Power” if you need an uplifting cry later before penning your pledge to the resistance.