It started out with a girl as most things do.
The inward historical weight of Linklater's pending sequel and why I can't stop mentally drooling over it.
The first time I saw Before Sunrise I was an eighteen year old verbally-effete high school senior who had just returned home from his third European sojourn in as many years. (A blessing I had slaved for financially, which I would later culturally-contort to promote my own self-worth.) I sported a shock of short-slightly gelled nutmeg hair replete with peninsula sideburns flanking a sly-raffish grin; an innocuous white flag hoisted in the center of my youthful visage. In an effort to salvage culture in in a town, that, I was far too keen to point out to the random pedestrian, obviously wasn't "European", I wore charcoal flavor turtlenecks matched with thickly trussed Velvet Doc Martens. I sometimes sloped a beret over my head in tandem with my heavy Berlin-chic trench coat. I smoked cloves and cigars without knowing how to inhale, I swished boxed burgundy fluid around the inside of my cheeks while prematurely chatting about vintages and years. I supercilously felt like I was already an ordained authority on 'modern' poetry and recited T.S. Eliots "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" incessantly to anyone unfortunate enough to possess an earlobe. "Let us go then you and I/ When the evening is spread out agaisnt the sky/ Like a patient etherized upon a table."
Highschool was one endless elongated blue hallway shepherded by shrilling alarms and social clicks that failed to buckle emotional sanity. My junior year I started scribbling sloppy-inked feeble free-verse in notebooks and by senior year I was obsessed. I scribed only droopy first drafts, penning somewhere between sixty and 100 insufferable angst-laden poems a month. I was arrogant beyond all borders of the definition, all too certain of my destined literary stardom and, rather akin to Eliot's Tarot identified "fool" in the previously mentioned poem, I remained pompously baffled why my peers had failed to recognize my pending literary sainthood.
It's interesting to note that most writers tend to go through this ugly indulgent ego-nourishing period at some point in their careers. Random readers are of course 'privileged' to read their purportedly 'deep' yet shallow canonical metaphors that will inevitably be archived in the British Museum someday b/c (obviously) everything this so--called self-ordained scribe has in print is obviously the greatest thing in scripted ink since the King James edition. Many writers (such as local pretentious fop's conducting college comp. courses) never seem to slough this superior ego-cloak.
(Male writers, I think, are MUCH, MUCH worse at this 'feigned' pretension than female writers...in my experience that is....perhaps innately, females are better dancers, better movers and tend to be more highly literate early in life)
Joseph Campbell calls this ego-gourged individual a dragon. "Dragon's horde things," Notes Campbell. "They horde heaps of gold (unread books that pile up their offices) and beautiful virgins (their students)...and they don't know what to do with either of them.
I feel fortunate that I gradually flaked off these dragon scales over an eight year time span of simply ugly and bad writing where of course, I cared extremely little about the actual labor of the craft and paid scrupulous amounts of attention to my own Jack Kerouac bad-boy literary lifestyle.
Looking back over my early "poe-whims" (always a snooty dual-syllables)all I can say is that they were plastic linguistic Lego’s that I would employ only later to snap the shape of my aesthetic identity.
Okay, no more tangent’s. Back to pangs of high school.
Friday nights were spent at my best friends David Hale's abode in Bartonville. His mother would retire early and then the stash of semi-tepid malt liquor would avail itself from hidden panels in the basement. In those days a forty of Ice House or Mickey's circulated a long way being bartered between teenage boys who vociferously boasted in locker-rooms about the longevity of their livers. White-Trash Pat, Hale, Randall and Goth Dan would drop ten-sided dice and verbally illustrate the next move of their level two dwarf while I, of course the seemingly well-read narcissistic "cultured" one would swig shots in the corner while transpiring meaningless thoughts as they dripped out of my fountain pen.
There was always, of course videos. White-Trash Pat and Hale already possessed a formative heap of permy-haired adult sophisticated visual gumdrops by the age of fifteen. The first "porn" we ever watched together was titled something like Artic Orgy and it was about a group of rather voluptuous polar-nuclear physicits who find themselves stranded in Antartica without any heat and all of a sudden contract a great idea on how to conduct warmth.
I went through a lengthy phase where, much to the chagrin of Hale and White-Trash Pat, everything I viewed was endorsed by Merchant-Ivory. On the night I was trying to explain to them the cultural significance of Remains of the Day the group of sozzled gamers retired early. White Trash Pat and I stayed up and I flipped in Before Sunrise. Though the movie is 100 percent dialogue the flicker of the screen hushed a normally petulant-opinionated Patrick. By the end of the movie, we went outside and hugged each other. It was two in the morning. It was a senior year. When you are in high school you advance a decade in knowledge each year. Patrick and I shared a cigarette and then Patrick opened his woodchip lips and paused slightly before commenting:
"Dude, man. That's us."
Of course there's more. Of course its about a girl. The girls name is Megan Kristin (I'll omit her last name here in deference towards her own privacy, but for privvy-fingered and omnisicent-eyed Mara-Arya's her maiden name is inserted into the title of this entry and has nothing to do with "osculation")Megan was from the tiny norwegian cheesehead hamlet of Appleton, Wisconsin, of all crazy places to fall in love.
I met Megan about a week after I first saw Linklater's verbal feast and even employed lines from the actual movie on her (smooth-Mistah' V; yeah). The first time we kissed her body squinted like a butterfly in mid-flap before her entire flesh transitioned into spring. Megan could be classified as cuddley and petite (5 ft.2). Her birthday is the first day of spring (Naw Ruz) and with a comfortable six-hours between us we started writing letters. The internet was just starting to wedge it's costipated modemic groan into universal conciousness (e-mail was foreign lexicon and waiting for the damn computer to usher its way into cyberspace seemed to take light-years back then). So Megan and I wrote letters. Huge, inky inky sounvabitches undressed from metered envelopes by itchy fingertips. NOthing beats finding your heart in a mail slot. Her letters were fraught with stickers and hearts; mine were verbose illustrations about everything stuffed with off-metered poems. She'd always smile when she told me that it used to take her forever to read them (smiles).
On October 18th, 1996 (I can still tell you the exact translucent denim sleek autumnnal-blue of the morning sky) I dropped out of my freshman year of college (mainly becasue it was a community college and my parents deemed that there son wasn't worth more than that intellectually) and bought a one way ticket to Appleton, WI of all places, arriving with notebooks and dreams and ambitions. Needless to say my sojourn was terse and our rapport didn't last long. Megan was still in high school her parents seemed rightfully nonplussed by their daughters suitor (although to this day I swear her dad loved it when I referred to him as "Master of the House"). I had written literally symphonies of poems for Megan and read them to her, feeling shunned by the silence of her face afterwards. She was young. I was young. Golden and kalidieoscopic autumn greets the sways and dips of northern Wisconsin in thick strokes of wind gulping down heavily from Canada. I remember seeing Megan through the airplane tint as I arrived on thew runway and I remember her standing next to me in the terminal as I caught my flight home with tear stained chin and cheeks arriving on the runway to an all too dubious future.
I also remember watching Before Sunrise with Megan in her parents basement. It was the only time during my trip we kissed, however tersely.
When I arrived back home from my eternal tryst I felt completely worthless, like a crinkled up back pocket receipt dated from a product that no longer worked, only my heart was that aged product. My sisters had very promising careers as musicians and I was, well, the writer, but my parents really didn't seem too keen on anything I did as long as I didn't smoke in the house.
According to Sister A, the miniature slants splintered on the thumbless side of my left palm indicate the number of times I'm suspect to watch my heart slip and shatter in front of me like wet delf China. Sister A looked like she was squinting through magnifying lenses when she deeply perused the inside of the hand (it was a very mystical experience) so I sincerely take to heart her prognostication that I'll have my heart broken four times in my life. Megan was the first time I got my heart broken, Vanessa was the second (can't wait to meet numbers three and four) and here is why Megan matters:
I used to only write in black ink and notebook paper and when I arrived home from my seasonal sojourn with Mara Megan I locked my door and transcribed the scroes (50, 60?) of poems written for Megan into the computer. I slaved relentlessly, pecking the swirls of my aching fingers into the keyboard like a young chick gradually hatching from an egg.
I worked my ass off. Although I was an accomplished vizionary, I was a very young, verbally naive writer. The poems were pretty shitty poems, although their heart was in the right place. I wrote and I wrote and finally, after a week of tears constantly canaling down my cheekbones ( everytime I saw my bluish reflection in the computer screen I thought it was her) BAM...it was done. I watched my newborn take it's first breath as each sheet slowly buzzed and whizzed, slowly exiting the slits of my parents early nineties printer.
I collated the poems and bound them in a notebook, awarding the script with the calligraphic title POEMS OF LOVE AND ARDOR FOR MEGAN KRISTIN.....My first completed book of poems after high school. I didn't care. It wasn't about the writing . It wasn't solely about me. It was trying to figure out what the hell was going on. Where was I? Why am I here? What does it mean to watch your heart droop in front of you like it's taking a bow after the final encore of a tragic Italian Opera. Why did my sisters have promising futures and all I had was the promise of happy hour every friday?
I also bought a video edition of Before Sunrise and kept it unopened and stashed in my closet in the bushel of her letters. I finally watched it drunk, on Valentines Day 1997, dialing up Megan's digits, listening to her answer machine, confessinally still too apprensive to plant a message of my own merit.
I didn't watch the video again for a long-time.
But this is perhaps what has always allured me to the film. The fact that it was so much like life. The fact that, if ony for a moment, you're embracing this person, your holding that person, this moment in and of itself is an eternity. You don't need to ammend a nuptial contract, to procreate, to budget, to age, to grow infertile together. All you need to do is to have that moment. To hold that person and to know that, for as long as we are here, we are immortal.
What I did next was what Megan gave me. I took my newborn manuscript and stuffed it in a shoebox manger for sixteen months. I had read Megan many of her poems tete-a-tete on my visit, but I burrowed my blood sonnets in a Doc Marten shoebox. I refrained from writing or calling her. All the love I had for Megan pulsated and flapped in the beaded lines of my poems, a book of poems I wrote with the intent of having each line reflect the forever smile of her face, the forever scent of her breath, the inside warmth of her mouth.
During those sixteen months I quit writing poems, wrote a HORRIBLE david foster Wallace influenced novel on basketball and Opera (?) dropped out of college to work as a supervisor at Barnes and Nobles, lost (or maybe found) my virgintiy to a rich Bradley girl from the suburbs.
Everything in my life seemed perfect. I had more cash than I had ever had. I wasn't in debt. I was writing a fair amount. I had a beautiful girlfriend named Jana that I took out on lavishing dates every Friday. I had VERY short hair. I wore cool ties. I talked about the books I would write someday.
Even my mom seemed to actually think I had some dormant potential stowed in my skeleton.
On Valentines day '98 I lied to my parents and took the weekend off from work and Jana rented a hotel room in Chicago. She showed me her old high school. Her old house. We attended Mass together Sunday morning. She introduced me to friends that were special to her. We couldn't keep our fingers from snapping towards each others body.
The Sunday night I came home I brewed coffee and decided to reread Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I can't recall the exact time (11:11) but it was close when the phone reverberated and a familair soft velvet-laced voice inquired if I was home.
It was Megan.
Suddenly late winter had transitioned into spring.
I was dating Jana and I was in love with Megan. I worked all day, made love to Jana, went home and talked with Megan until 4am. I told her from the outset about my situation. Told her that I was already in love with someone. Told her about taking Jana to the Opera. About taking Jana out of town every weekend. About reading Thomas Pynchon and William Gaddis and David Foster Wallace. I told Megan all about sexual discovery and finding yourself above and below sweating in the pupil of the person inside of you. I told her all of this and then I told her that I never stopped loving her; that I never stopped loving Megan.
Earlier that morning, after one of our six-hour conversations, I opened up my closet and sifted through attire and manuscripts until I found the Doc Marten shoebox with the manuscript inside.
I went to the Post office and paid an extra ten bucks to have it federally expressed. When Megan opened the manusript two days later she told me that it was opening up her heart and finding her new born, only to realize that the father was out, caressing someone else becasue he had pledged his love to her first while the mother was out finding herself.
I got drunk and wrote Megan's name all over my body with different colored markers. I wanted her to reclaim old territory. My girlfriend Jana figured that something was going on when she saw looped smudges somersaulting across my body. I had to tell her the truth.
Someday maybe I'll blogg about the next four months that followed. I had a timeless afternoon with Megan watching RENT in Chicago and I can still show you the corner of State and Adams where last we kissed. Jana was rightfully furious and rightfully fooled around with people to make me envious. A lot of it's a blur. It ended with me going back to Jana, partly because she was here, partly because I wasn't even twenty-one and, as is typical with males, my brain was located beneath my navel, partly because no one can really know for certain what they really want, no one can tell you from the outset how things will work out in the beginning of any relationship; all we have to follow is an inexplicable tug orchestrated by the fingertips of invisible angels.
There were lies and duplicitous emotions. Megan would tell me that she possibly couldn't consider dating me long term becasue of how I treated Jana, even though Megan herself was the catalyst for most of Jana's anger. The whole situation was just a mess.
It ended with Before Sunrise. It was late May and Megan and I were once again talking. I had wrapt up my copy of Before Sunrise to offically sned to Megan as a gift. The casette was tightly wrapt in Renoir Country Dance/City Dance wrapping paper. Jana found and told me that I would never hear fom her again if I continued to my liason.
She then pointed out that she dated a poet who never wrote her a poem.
For two years the video remained gift-wrapt, waiting for me to give it to Megan. eventually, I watched it with a girl named Jasna who had, for a while, been to Vienna. I gave it to Jasna after we watched it.
That's the Before Sunrise antcis. In a weird way Megan was there when my dad died and the last time I saw Megan it was in Madison Wisconin, with uncle Mike. I sipped Knob's Creek and she told me about her pending engagement. I walked her out to the mini-van she bought from her dad "for a dollar". We embraced and in my typical fashion I hoisted her in the air and spun her around like a carousel.
"You're always so romantic David." She said to me. "When are you going to learn how just to say goodbye."
The next day I went to Greenlake and saw you-know-who presenting a formidable lecture on mysticism.
Even more so ironic was that the date, October 18th, the date I initially abandoned the port in search of my cheesehead bleoved, on that same date, six years later, I officially declared.
Life is good. Even if we don't have the girl of our dreams, we still have our dreams and that fifty percent is simply worth dying for.
But what Megan gave me was the fullfillment of Walt Whitman's proveb:
O ME! O life!... of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish;
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d;
Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined;
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.
Blogging's a lot like putting your heart into an empty gin bottle and then tossing it out as far as you possibly can into the ocean of cyberspace. You never know whose shore the bottle is going to brush up on. You never know who's going to uncork the capsule of your life's story. Never know who's going to be moved by it. You never know (i.e., Joe Propinka) what literary genius is going to stalk you.
I have no plans on future correspondence with Megan. The last two times I've wandered around Madison I didn't even bother to look her up (She would probably hang up anyway). I contacted her on 9-11 and when my father died three years ago, she was the only voice I needed to hear. We talked for a long time the Saturday following his funeral and we both cried. I don't know how it's possible to hold people over the computer screen or to hold people over the wireless warble of a cell phone, but I held her that day, on the phone and we drained tears from one emotionally fatigued socket.
The greatest gift that Megan gave me was just the ability to write. I'm still developing it (when I get a rejection letter I take it way too much to heart)... I've opted to forge a career that pays in a foreign currency. What I learned from Megan was that, even if I write something and put it in a shoebox for sixteen months (or don't hear from anyone in over a year) that that wordy "something" still has the possibility of growing and I have the simple duty of giving or at least trying to give as much of myself as the concourse will perhaps allow.