Wednesday, February 23, 2011

patterns of decay

T.S. Eliot measured his life "out in coffee spoons"; i measure mine in measures, bars of music that cast long, Hitchcock shadows in the rooms I remember. There's a cardboard box crammed with records i should write about, but the record i need to write about--the record that i need to write about now--is The Antlers' Hospice.

A lyric-driven autobiography, Hospice is the child of isolation; vocalist Peter Silberman took a year and a half processing his personal experience before self-releasing the album, which "tells the story of a psychologically abusive relationship, some of which took place in a children's cancer ward...the record sort of drifts in and out of the hospital, which is true of the relationship itself...the best way to say it is that there's a few ways to lose someone. It's not always through death, even if it resembles death." (Interview with M. Ayers)

Hospice is a cathartic reminder of the power of the narrative album. Each track is a chapter; even in the booklet, the lyrics are written out as paragraphs rather than lines. The prologue is an exposition to a softer world; the cold, sterile sounds of a hospital echo as the scene flickers into view, rows of stiff beds muffled by gray sun.

I won't pretend to know what The Antlers intended by writing Hospice; i only know what the album means to me. In Silberman's muted falsetto i hear the sad, hopeful voice of a boy watching someone he loves die of bone cancer. Her marrow decays between the strings of a harp. Decay:this, above all, is the verb of the album, a sometimes tired, sometimes hopeful beat on a heart-rate monitor, often spiking but always slipping until--finally--fading out in a quiet line.

My first listen of the album coincided with two events that would forever change the way i ate an orange, tried on clothes, or looked at a painting. The first was the death of someone i never met. The second was mental illness.

"There's two people living in one small room, from your two half-families tearing at you, two ways to tell the story (no one worries),two silver rings on our fingers in a hurry , two people talking inside your brain, two people believing that I'm the one to blame, two different voices coming out of your mouth, while I'm too cold to care and too sick to shout."

This paragraph, taken from the song Two, portrays--for me--the dichotomy of anorexia. There are "two people talking inside your brain", you--a rational, healthy girl--and a skeleton that sticks a knife in your hand every time you reach for a piece of bread.

samara talkin

The skeleton stifles your voice, lying and knifing it's way to a position of control. During recovery, you--the healthy girl--begin to fight back in a struggle too immense for the "small room" of your mind; confusion and self-hatred are the sweat of your internal knife-fight.

(Why am i writing in the second person? I should, by now, be brave enough to write from my point of view.)

When depressed, i looked for meaning in something beyond the numbers on the scale. Most of what kept me going came from books; My writing from that time is a clumsy echo of Salinger and Kerouac. Hospice breathes Sylvia Plath. I suspect Silberman--a true poet--keeps a copy of The Bell Jar in his guitar case:

"Sylvia, i only speak when you are sleeping, that's when i tell you everything, and pretend that you can hear me."

How can we not be emotionally invested in our influences? What we read in our times of struggle become motifs for the rest of our lives.

I did not know Marleen. She was dying of bone cancer while i was trying not to overdose. I felt sorry for my mother, split between an old friend who wanted to live and a daughter who wanted to die. The cancer ward was her weekend home. She had been visiting for half a year when she started bringing back canvases and brushes; Marleen was an artist.

"I showed her your paintings; she wants you to have them."
Marleen had stretched the canvases herself. "Why doesn't she keep them?" i said.

The way my mother waited before putting the sugar in her tea--the spoon lingered over the cup--turned my stomach to eggshells.

I didn't go to the funeral. My mother's grief was a fine and private place. I remember hearing her footsteps outside my bedroom door, floor board creaking an undertone to the lyrics of Wake:

"It was easier to lock the doors and kill the phones than to show my skin. Because the hardest thing is never to repent for someone else, it's letting people in."

There is no difference between an illness in the bones and an illness in the mind. A cancer ward and a psych. ward are just that: wards. Hospice has become one of those great motifs; already, i've written two stories that--in the vein of the album--follow patterns of decay.

As to the autobiographical nature of The Antlers' Hospice--and consequently this post--all i can say is that our lives are important; that is why we write about them.

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