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Semi-charmed, part 2.5

Last weekend, my father asked for my help in taking the cages off the trees, and pulling out the posts. They’d grown large enough over the years to fend for themselves. I spent Saturday mowing around the orchard, blasting music through my headphones to drown out the lawnmower. Hearing loss is just for a day, anyway, and Third Eye Blind was worth that.

The next day, I drove the truck midway down the hill, to the orchard. I remembered that Dad used to let me and my brothers drive up the hill when we were younger. We’d sit in his lap, put our hands on the steering wheel, and yell excitedly as gravel crunched under our tires and the engine rumbled like thunder that wouldn’t send us hiding under our covers.

The cages were thriving microcosms of weeds and vines, and choked with poison ivy. My father commented on it, as we struggled to untangle some vines from a wire cage. “They’re supposed to protect the trees, but they just turned into nurseries for weeds and poison ivy,” he said. I tore the next three cages out myself, heaving against the tangle with all my weight and strength. I knew the shears were just down the hill. My father exclaimed at how he was falling behind, mowing around the newly freed trees. I worked harder, at that, moving on to pulling the posts with the lever post-puller.

I had looked up the lyrics for Semi-Charmed Life, earlier in the day. Before then, I’d only understood a few lines’ worth of the song. The energy drew me in, the pace and the beat, and it felt like life, or a tangle of roots. The words that I understood painted a different picture, and hinted at rot, but I didn’t want to see that as I blasted it into my ears. If you haven’t looked up the lyrics, don’t. They ruined the magic, for me.

The post-puller used to bright orange, but the paint was chipped from use, and rusty in places. It hooked onto a series of bumps on the posts, and pushing down on the lever lifted the post by a couple of inches. I still had to sit on the lever with all my weight to loosen a few posts, and pull them out. There was one, though, that I couldn’t pull out at all, and I had to call my father over. Another was planted too close to the apple tree, and any attempt to pull it out rocked the tree back and forth as it strained against the roots. We left it there.

Semi-Charmed Summers

When I was younger, life didn’t begin until summer. School was fun, but it was a routine that swallowed up whole weeks at a time without leaving any significant impressions beyond “I learned stuff and got a gold star.” Summer was the grand adventures and expeditions into the woods to find strange rocks and massive trees, and the vast undertakings led by my father that resulted in projects that spanned weeks and months. We built sheds, and shelves, and garden beds, and a thousand other labors.

At the time, being a young boy, I couldn’t quite fathom why we needed to install yet another set of shelves, or move all the boxes out of the garage so we could paint the walls. When my parents managed to keep myself and my two brothers on task, it was actual work, unlike school. My brothers and I still found ways to amuse ourselves, be it through hunting down various bugs or lizards, or roughhousing with sticks.

Music, though, was something else.

When Dad turned on the radio, we didn’t really need sticks or rocks or bugs to keep us occupied, because the entertainment was right there, drifting through the air. Sometimes, when a song came on that was vaguely familiar, we’d even sing along, imitating the singer as best we could. “Blue,” by Eiffel 65 earned its own set of lyrics, courtesy of the Loftus bros (never mind that the “lyrics” were whatever words popped into our heads when we opened our mouths; we were rock stars).

In the 2004, my father and mother decided that it would be wonderful to expand our small orchard from three old apple trees and a trio of peach trees into something larger. Saplings were bought at Lowe’s, and hauled back home in the bed of my father’s big white truck. I remember that I wasn’t big enough to drive the shovel into the dirt, even when I stood on it with all my weight.

We never got outside before the sun hit midday, and the heat would leave us panting and sweaty as we planted the young apple trees. My father and mother drove posts into the ground by the trees to support wire cages that would keep ravenous deer away from their tender leaves. A summer rainstorm swept in one day and plastered our clothes to our skin. We didn’t have to go out and water the trees later.

At the time, “Jumper” was one of the limited shelf of songs that I knew a few lines of (beyond the library of Beatles music that my father blasted while we worked in the woodshop), though I could mumble along to Semi-Charmed Life just as well as the next ten-year old. It was strange and beautiful, and incomprehensible beyond the energy to it. I’d skip the whole album, just so I could sing along to that one song again, and again. That was before I learned how to feel complex emotions, and could appreciate the slower songs, or the rage of “London.”


I was distant back then. Distant from my family, friends, and in some ways myself. I put up a wall to block anyone from getting too close. Every time someone tried to get near I would push them away until they were safely on the other side of that wall. I preferred that. It was better for me that way.


If I were to be honest, I was probably like that for a long time before I fully embraced it near the end of middle school and all the way through high school. I remember my mother telling me I was once a happy baby. I was always smiling and laughing and then one day it stopped. She never saw that carefree, giddy child again.


It was the year of 2003 when I was introduced to a band that, to this day, still resonates with me. Evanescence released their first album, Fallen, and since then have been a staple in my playlists.

“Wings” by BTS

Even though driving at night makes me nervous, I love it.  It’s like driving through nothingness; the only thing I can see is anything that happens to fall in the lines of my headlights.  I love the loneliness of driving down the backroads, rarely seeing another car.  The other weekend, I drove home from college.  Two hours down Route 60 with just my music to keep me company in the growing darkness.  My main worry, other than the possibilities of rogue deer and accidentally speeding, was falling asleep.  Thankfully, I had my music, and I hoped that that and my excitement about going home would keep me up.

As I pulled away from Amherst and “Richmond 100” flashed by on the sign, the opening strands of “Interlude” poured from my speakers, the notes seeming to echo my excitement and anticipation.  The sun was starting to set, and an enormous harvest moon had begun to appear in front of me.

One of the unique things about listening to music in a different language, is the initial comprehension barrier.  I look up lyrics and can pick out the odd word in Korean, but often, the biggest influence on how a song makes me feel is the sound.  Wings is an album with a variety of moods; there are slower sadder ballads, some “typical” upbeat pop songs, and even a few solo and collaborative raps.  Despite these variations, they work together to create an album that is cohesive and well-rounded.

Almost everyone goes through a phase or a few phases in their life. The phase’s can consists of how one dresses, beliefs, political standings, taste in décor or artwork, the list goes on and on. Even though there are all these phases I want to focus on one: music. Music has a way of connecting with a person on different levels. And as a person grows that music can still connect with them or it fades into a different genre/type of music. For me, I have been through many different genres, all-coinciding with where I was mentally in different stages of my life.

India Arie

“You will never be white,” she said.  “Just because you talk proper and straighten your hair, and you have a good education doesn’t mean that you will ever be more than an ugly black girl.”  I stopped smiling and stood completely still.  It was as if her words had cast a spell on me and forced to me to stand there.  I didn’t need to turn to see who was talking to me; I already knew who it was.  She was tall and pale. She had dirty blonde shoulder-length hair that moved when she talked. And now, as she stood in front of me, I could clearly see her face, scrunched up as if she smelled something sour.  I watched as she dropped the finger she was waving in my face to her hip. I think she was waiting for something.  Maybe she was waiting to see if I would respond.  I wanted to react. I wanted more than anything to tell her how wrong she was for thinking that I wanted to be anything more than who I was.  I was confused, angry, and offended. I was confused as to why this grown woman was yelling at me in the middle of the hall. I was even more confused because I still couldn’t remember what had triggered this conversation.  I stood there for what felt like forever. I could feel a lump in my throat, the kind that comes right when you’re about to start sobbing. I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes, but I refused to let this teacher see that her words had hurt me.  I opened my mouth to say something and then turned to walk away.  

I know you’re probably wondering why I didn’t put my “good education” to good use and tell her off.  Trust me, I thought about it.  And as much as her words hurt me, I knew that if I had tried to stick up for myself, it would have inevitably led to me being called aggressive. It was better for me to just walk away. As I got in the car with my mom, she started off with her usual  “Hey, Noodle, how was your day?” I told her it was amazing, and I skipped the part about how I had been insulted by a teacher in the middle of the hall.  I didn’t want my mother to try to handle this situation, not this time.  I turned on the radio, to flood my thoughts with something else.

Plastic Santas


I was 12 years old before I realized that the surplus of dancing Santas in my grandparent’s house wasn’t normal.  Every year the day after Thanksgiving, my grandmother would set them out as part of her Christmas decorating ritual.  “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” played whenever I pushed the button at the bottom and the Santas would began their mechanical dancing and sometimes I would challenge myself to have all the Santas dancing at once in what, I’m sure, was an incredibly loud race around the house to hit all the buttons as quickly as possible (work on this).  I once asked my grandfather where all the Santas came from, and he told me about how the glove factory down the road had once been used to mass produce the plastic Santas.  He also told me about the mean, old woman whose job it was to rip the heads off of the defective Santas (describe woman here).

My grandfather and I were riding around in his truck one Saturday afternoon as we often did when I would come up to visit when I remembered that woman.

It was the middle of August, but we still had the Christmas CD playing from when we had first bought it in the gas station just down the r3rd gradeoad next to Mel’s Fireworks a few months earlier.  The album had been recorded by Mrs. Sturgill’s third grade class at their annual christmas pageant and only had five songs.  The song “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” was playing in the background and the image of an old, heavy set woman twisting the heads off of the dancing Santas and most likely laughing because of the perverted enjoyment she was surely getting from it (writing is slack). I wondered why the Santa factory had closed.

I asked my grandfather about it and he told me the story.  The company was founded by two bothers and I have yet to figure out their inspiration, but for a few short years they made millions off of the dancing Santas.  It wasn’t until Walmart began to produce and sell the Santas that the entire company came crashing down around them.  For a while, they talked about a lawsuit and the entire ordeal was well documented in the local newspaper, The Tomahawk.

Shorty after meeting with Walmart’s lawyers though, the brothers became convinced that they couldn’t afford the lawsuit they would ultimately lose.  Later that year, they sold the patent to Walmart for a few hundred thousand dollars and left the state.  With the patent and the owners gone, the factory was closed.  Some of the employees were hired by the new factory taking its place and others were hired by the Super Walmart being built in town.  Those who stayed took the necessary pay cuts and began learning how to make those off white cotton work gloves that can be found in any gardening department.  A few years later, that Qtpfsgui 1.9.2 tonemapping parameters: Operator: Mantiuk Parameters: Contrast Mapping factor: 0.1 Saturation Factor: 1.8 ------ PreGamma: 1factory was moved to Vietnam and the remaining workers went to minimum wage jobs at fast food restaurants or at the Walmart that they had all boycotted for the first few months of its existence or for as long as they didn’t suddenly need milk after 8pm when the local grocery store closed.

With many factories in the area meeting the same fate, people began to move away and the small town I had grown up in only got smaller.  I still have that album, but “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” has begun to sound a little cheerless lately.



shorten the factory bit

add a location

add biographical information

write better

The “Rent” Effect

Before Rent, I was a moderately terrible person.  Not horrible, mind you.  I was nice to my classmates, polite to adults, and was a generally happy person.  My main flaw was how I secretly viewed other people.  My family, you see, is full of conservatives who have difficulty seeing things from someone else’s point of view, especially if those people aren’t like them, and I was sucked into the same school of thought for the first sixteen years of my life.  Like my family, I wasn’t open about the disdain I felt for some people in this world, but I felt it, all the same.  Discussions about race and sexuality made me extremely uncomfortable, thanks to my extended family’s influence, so I never associated with the people my family scorned.  All of this began to change, however, when one day in my sophomore choir class my teacher showed the first twenty minutes of a musical that would change my life.

I never noticed how conservative my family is until probably eighth or ninth grade.  My immediate family sponsored a little girl in Mexico when I was in early elementary school, and one day my sisters and I got to talking about how fun it would be to have an adopted sibling like her from a foreign country.  Our hopes were quickly dashed, however, when our mom told us how furious our grandfather would be if we adopted a child who wasn’t white.  While I do admit to having racial prejudices in the past, my views were nowhere near as extreme as my family’s, and I vividly remember how shocked I was by that statement.  Over the years, my awareness of my extended family’s character flaws broadened, and I began to notice the jokes that they made about people of color and homosexuals.

All of my beliefs began to shift one day in my sophomore choir class.  It was towards the end of the semester, and my teacher decided to give my class a musical theatre education instead of making us sing.  The show he chose to play for us was the 2008 DVD recording of Rent, the final performance on Broadway.  That day, I was shocked by the characters in the show.  I barely even knew what a drag queen was, so Angel was a complete surprise, especially since he is also gay.  Mimi was far too risqué, and although I found Roger to be an intriguing character, his past drug use and the fact that he has HIV was just too much for my sheltered little conservative mind to handle.  I went home that day minorly scandalized and looked up the show’s synopsis, where I was even more shocked to find that about half of the leading characters have HIV/AIDS, or are gay.  I made up my mind that the show sounded way too depressing for me to enjoy, and I resolved to never finish watching it.

This show, however, seemed destined to be life-changing for me.  Roger’s song, “One Song Glory,” in which he expresses his need to write one meaningful song before he dies, lodged itself in my head and refused to budge. That June I finally succumbed to this earworm and watched the 2005 movie version of Rent with my sisters.  I was astonished to find that the show I was determined to hate actually resonated with me.  I fell in love with the characters I initially despised.  Mimi, Maureen, and Joanne, who are the show’s female leads, now make up the core of my dream roles.  “Out Tonight” and “Without You” are now two of my go-to audition songs. The songs are both heartbreaking and beautiful, the characters are complex and relatable, and the show truly does a magnificent job of conveying the idea of living each day as it is your last.  The theme of acceptance especially related to the ideas of tolerance that I struggled with, and helped me navigate the road to becoming a better person.

From the day I first watched the movie, I was hooked.  I created a Rent station on Pandora and listened to it whenever I had the chance, I found the 2008 version on YouTube and watched the whole thing repeatedly, and I purchased the entire 1996 original Broadway cast recording and joined the rest of the Renthead community in dissing the movie version in favor of the original Broadway cast.  For my senior choir project, I researched and presented the origins of Rent, much to my teacher’s delight.

It is this ongoing obsession with Rent that transformed me into the person I am today.  When I first watched Rent, I was shocked by the obvious portrayals of transgender, gay, and non-white people .  This musical is what inspired me to start performing in musical theatre.  My high school is known for having an extremely diverse student body, and this trend is echoed in the theatre department.  During my time in my high school theatre, I befriended people of different races and sexual orientation.  I learned that despite what my mildly racist, homophobic family taught me, gay, transgender, and people of different races are still just people, and are nothing to shun or be afraid of.



I was always one of those girls who was completely oblivious to the presence of guys.  Up through the end of middle school, and even into high school, my main priorities were homework and my horse.  In those years, “Ready to Run” was my mantra.  Why did I need to worry about boys when there were so many fun, important things that I could do with my life?  “What’s all this talk about love?” I sang with glee, meaning every word.

My first real introduction to the world of boys came in my freshman year of high school, when the boy who I had sat next to in government class asked me for my number at the end of the fall semester.  I was shocked, and blurted out the first thing that came to my mind, which was: “I don’t know it.”  Technically, this was true, but I’m sure that the boy in question didn’t believe me.  After winter break had ended, and I discovered that our paths never crossed with our new course schedules, I realized that I felt bad for not thinking more thoroughly about what I had told him.  We had become friends over the course of the semester, and, honestly, I was curious to learn what he really thought about me.

Shocked at where my thoughts were headed, I put in my earbuds and pulled up “Ready to Run,” but I couldn’t escape my newfound angst.  “You see it feels like I’m starting to care/ and I’m going to be ready this time,” the Dixie Chicks sang, and I discovered a whole new layer of meaning in the song.  Was I starting to care about what some guy thought about me?  Me, the girl who practically lived at the barn, who barely knew how to talk to anyone outside of her small circle of friends, was suddenly concerned about the feelings of a boy that I had never spoken to until about three months ago?

No way.  That wasn’t who I was, or who I was planning on becoming.  “’What’s all this talk about love?’” I reminded myself, and then threw myself into school work and riding with renewed vigor.  Often I was too busy to even talk very much to my female friends, and I was so quiet that I think most of the guys in my classes didn’t know what to think of me.

My resolution worked well, for a while.  As my senior year rolled around, my closest friend suddenly got the attention of a boy in her choir group, and became his prom date.  I wasn’t jealous of her, exactly, but I wondered: what is it about her that guys notice that I don’t have?  Was I too quiet?  Was it the way I dressed?

By senior prom, I had developed a plan to go out on a limb and be the person that I had never been comfortable being.  For just one night, I would be outgoing.  I would wear makeup, dress in something that I would never normally dare to wear, and dance like no one was watching.

And I got attention that night; but not from someone that I had ever expected.  And, once again, I found myself considering, “what’s all this talk about love?”  This new guy was someone I had known since sixth grade, but we had never really spoken.  I had always just thought of him as one of the choir guys; socially awkward, somewhat geeky, and never someone who I would have ever crossed paths with outside of the choir room.

But now, out of nowhere, this guy was adding me on SnapChat and making an effort to talk to me.  I really wasn’t sure how I felt about him; he was nothing but nice to me, but I had heard bad things about him from other people.  He’s misogynist, racist, and homophobic, my theater friends said.  My twin sister and my best friend found the whole situation hilarious.  I, on the other hand, was so confused that all I could do was pretend to be completely oblivious to his admittedly obvious crush.

THE MUSIC REACHED DOWN MY THROAT, to nourish with each reverberating, electronic note and echoed with bittersweet, vibrant pungency out my ears. I was touched by music in an entirely new way when I heard/ ingested “Maggot Brain” for the first time.


I had allowed Napster and Instant Messaging to creep into my life with great excitement. I had found a way to access the world from my dorm room. Everyone around me was doing the same. My soon-to-be boyfriend was an Allman Brothers fanatic. He was Italian, everything was excessive, including the amount of time he spent messaging with his best bud back in New York. His computer screen was filled with back and forth Allman23 and FunkadelicNYU. I amused myself by imagining the scenario of the two bands being behind the screen names. It was not long before FunkadelicNYU and I began our own banter. His name was Dan, but I rarely called him anything other than Funk. My education was expanding.

I was a fan of Bootsy. And what teenage girl wouldn’t be a fan of an old man with rainbow dreds and a wardrobe worthy of envy? Funk schooled me in beats recorded and lived. He introduced me to Puerto Rican city life and the energized rhythms pumping out of New York City. We exchanged World beats via keyboard and search engines.

And then it happened, it was time for me to know the insides and outs of P Funk, Funkadelic, and what seemed like a million other pieces of music history. Bootsy came two years after “Maggot Brain” was released. “Maggot Brain”? Of course I hadn’t listened to something with a name like “Maggot Brain”!



Unfortunately, I am a teenager.

With that comes all of the crazy, hormonal drama that everyone must go through: high school, backstabbing friends, hopeless crushes, and the pressure to figure out what you’re doing with your life. These are the parts of life that everyone faces in their teenage years, but for many of us, there is a much darker side that comes with growing up, a brutal crash into the harsher side of reality that destroys the blissful naivety of our childhood.

When I was thirteen, I lost three family members in less than a year’s time. Up until that point, I had only ever seen death on television or caught glimpses of obituaries in the newspaper. Death was something that happened to other people, not the people I knew, the ones I loved.

By the time high school rolled around, I was almost a different person. I still enjoyed the same things, but my views of the world had changed. I was never depressed, but I wasn’t as optimistic as I used to be. I was wary of the world around me, cautious to become close with anyone in case tragedy struck again. I began questioning things I’d never really thought of before – religion, whether or not there was an afterlife – and I yearned to find someone, anyone, who seemed to feel the way I did. And, like many before me, I found solace in music. More specifically, I found Twenty One Pilots.

The Smile Sessions

I really enjoyed the readings for this week and I was pleasantly surprised by them.  I was expecting a dry review of the albums, but instead they were interesting writings on the effect the albums had on people.  I found the topics intriguing because often with art the most important part is not the art itself, but instead the effect it has on the viewer.  With music this can sometimes be overlooked.  It is easy to forget what makes music iconic or great.  It is easy to forget that music has the supreme power of message sending among the arts.  Songs are the perfect length to make a statement and to have every part of it heard without a loss of interest.  It’s easy to listen to a song or an album and forget to pay attention to what it really means, but albums like The Smile Sessions affect the listener on a subconscious level as well.

I have never listened to Coldplay very much, and I probably couldn’t recognize one of their songs off of A Rush of Blood to the Head, unless it was “Clocks.”  Maybe it was because I was still very young when this album came out, but I have never felt the need to dislike Coldplay the way the author of the Rolling Stone essay did.  Listening to the album, though, I can see why it was as popular as it was.  As many of the songs in A Rush of Blood to the Head were written not long after September 11th, the aftereffects of these attacks are present in the songs.  One song that this is very apparent in is “Politik.”  Part of the second verse reads: “And in confusion, confidence/ Give me peace of mind and trust/ And don’t forget the rest of us.”  These words call for peace and cooperation, something that was hard to come by in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

Lena Moses-Schmitt’s essay on Coldplay’s second album, A Rush of Blood to the Head, resonated with me when she discusses tapping into the music to understand her own emotions.  Matching music to my mood is something I’ve done for as long as I can remember, something I know everyone does.  As long as I’m not trying to focus on schoolwork or something, music helps me concentrate on my thoughts.  Fun, dance-y pop and country complements a good mood helps make it last.  Bands like Flyleaf and Evanescence (in small doses) help calm me down when I’m upset and figure out how to navigate my way out of a bad mood.  Songs from Fall Out Boy, Panic! At the Disco, Green Day, and Twenty One Pilots are like a balm to frazzled and stressed emotions.  Moses-Schmitt’s essay on A Rush of Blood to the Head is relatable to all readers who use music to navigate the sometimes tumultuous sea of emotions that a person experiences in a day, even if not many of us use soft British rock to help ourselves recover from a car accident.    

Sand and Smiles

Elise Burke’s homage to her sister stirred near forgotten memories from when I was twenty-three and purchased Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE. I wanted to know what The Beach Boys were about, more importantly, what they were about that had been put away for so long. How could rejection and something that sounded so joyous be one in the same? Maybe it was simply the rejection that intrigued me.

Burke’s well-executed introduction provided enough detail that the descriptions contained something recognizable for me, too. I was unable to remain in the backseat of a Chevy that was thumping Ace of Base or lamenting my stolen clementine crate of cassettes within a few sentences. Resounding intimacy could be found in “Enduring surgeries, treatments and false hopes.” I wanted to know this child of wilting youth, still vibrant in part because of quirky harmonies and bizarre lyrics. I read of her precious life and cradled her into a metaphor for my own dying youth and needs for silly, smiling, and dysfunctional.

The incorporation of Ferris wheel halos, heaven-sounds, and assumptions altered the focus from complete suffering to a reality maintained in smiles and rhythms.

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In comparison to The Beach Boys, Coldplay is very similar in some ways but they are also very different. The Beach Boys are happy and carefree in their music; their music is the kind that you hear in older movies where the setting is somewhere like California. I also noticed while listening to the music that it was really kind of catchy and good change-the-mood-of-someone music. Coldplay’s music, however, is very melancholy, the type of music that most people would listen to when they were having a bad day or something sad was going on in their life. I mostly connected well with the Coldplay album, not just because it’s more of a modern style, but because I wasn’t really into the Beach Boys. It’s something that I wouldn’t listen to in my home because I was raised on different styles of music.

This essay stuck out to me because of the way the author spoke about listening to music during her teenage years. As someone who was quite obsessed with certain bands and music in general, especially during my early teen years, it was something I could relate to. When she describes how the music video for “The Scientist” was the “Most Beautiful Thing I Had Ever Seen,” it made me remember feeling that way myself – even if I no longer see the appeal in the music videos I once loved.

She then goes on to write, “I cannot imagine Coldplay’s music as a shared and communal experience, though such an experience is arguably fundamental to the very roots of music itself, because my teenage relationship with them was solitary and internal. For me, they embodied emotion itself. The minute I imagine Coldplay as a band that can be heard and scrutinized by other people, I can hear how they actually sound: cheap and sentimental.”

This is something else I remember experiencing, feeling like bands and songs belonged only to me and that others who listened to them didn’t understand or feel it like I did. It is such a teenage feeling, the idea that only your favorite musicians understand you and that only you understand them in return. While not everyone listened to Coldplay growing up, the experiences the author describes are something anyone who ever felt a connection with a certain musician can remember and relate to. Music is a retreat from the roller coaster of emotions that feel unique to you only. While most people tend to grow out of this feeling, listening to albums you used to adore from that crazy time can take you back, allowing you to relive your thoughts and emotions. Whether you were a teenager two years ago or twenty, it’s something you never really forget.

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Amy Hempel writes with great insight into human nature. She writes in a way that makes the imperfect most poetic. In “Today Will Be a Quiet Day” Hempel uses the sincere, familial love to express humanity and humility. Early in the story a glimpse into the father’s psyche elicits such sentiments, “He wanted to know how they were, is all. Just—how were they.” This occurs only after reference to a possible foreshadowing of disaster when the brother provoked his sister with worry, a threat confirmed in the form of birds. Directly following, Hempel slips in a toxic look only a sister could give a brother.
Hempel uses a halved red belt, a ping-pong paddle, and a lighthearted death threat to blur the everyday and the extraordinary.

“You think you’re safe, the father thought, but it’s thinking you’re invisible because you closed your eyes.”

A car ride, music lessons, revelation, and conversation reverberate throughout the story a commonality that resonates with middle and upper class America.

Grab your coat and grab your hat
Leave your worries by the doorstep
Life can be so sweet

I used to walk in the shade with my blues on parade, hating its guts
But I’m not afraid…this rover’s crossed over

This story ends on the sunny side of the street.

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Thoughts have been speeding into and spewing out of my head; I wouldn’t be surprised if aura readers and the like can see sparks. This increase emerges as a result of true moments of awe. Reading Steven Millhauser’s “Dangerous Laughter” marks one of these moments. I was inspired to new thought upon reading the title.

Instantly, I thought of the moment in the hotel room when I was scolded for laughing too loudly because “it was early”. We were at the ocean, $@8!#! I suppose this memory is so intense because the ocean is a place where one’s sense of freedom is even greater, but mostly because at thirty-five, I was reprimanded for laughing too loudly, in the wrong pitch, at a place that served a continental breakfast.

Early childhood memories came with as much intensity: memories of matches, gasoline, and curiosity. I was aware that change would be significant from Millhauser’s decision to open with the sentence, “FEW OF US now recall that perilous summer.” My reflections were somehow confirmed. I saw milk and a whole Cheeto shooting out of my little cousin’s nose.

“We wanted to live—to die–to burst into flame—to be transformed into angels or explosions.” Yes! Yes! I was fully Millhauser’s half way into the opening paragraph. I was right on target with my matchbook memories. I was now thinking of humanity in whole, transferring desires for everyone to feel in such magnitude. I was trying to squelch out the negative thoughts creeping in, “Not enough laughter is what’s wrong with this world…” I barely underlined “or explosions” because my mind did not want to wait for my hand to keep up with it. Yes, the mundane is offensive! I am not alone in that secret fear of my destiny; so secret, it was not until reading those words strung together that I let myself in on it. This was one step closer, in the present, than “Everybody wants to go to Heaven, but nobody wants to die.”

My pen remained tightly gripped in my hand. I was no longer marking, as horizontal lines soon became vertical. For me, every word carried a certain momentum and I read importance into every single syllable. I began to feel as though I had entered into a coming of age story. I was reading a sexual charge in word and rhythm: “fanatics of laughter, devotees of eruption,” “the art of invading and withdrawing”. Elements of the desire for the forbidden became intertwined with that of need for change. I was seduced. I opened myself up to laughter in audible form. I wanted to achieve greater depths of happiness in physical manifestation.

I began to long for the moments when I am able to allow my imagination to be fully “seized”. I thought of the area where pain and pleasure merge, separate, and merge again. What was so captivating in the perceiving of laughter as dangerous? I wanted to know more, I was lured, and yet I wanted to remain in the state Millhauser referred to as “conjuring new possibilities”. I wanted to linger in the pleasure, in its ripest state. I wanted to catch hold of such a “fever of obsession”. Or maybe it was that I became reawakened to the escape found in secret distractions; I wanted to touch the lace of curtains in Clara’s house and see the frill of the bedspread. I wanted to go to that place where laughter fringes on indecent. I wanted these things because Millhauser lit this fire for me, early in the story, with “our eyelids grew heavy with obscure desires.”

Throughout Amy Hempel’s short story “Today Will Be A Quiet Day,” the reader gets the sense that something is absent in the family’s relationship, and that they fear whatever it is.  After reading through the story, the reader discovers that it’s the mother who is absent– it can be inferred that, based on the lack of reference to her, there is some point of pain that is related to her absence.

The story is written from a third person limited omniscient point of view, in past tense.  The narrator is the father, so the reader gains a little insight on his thoughts on the situation.  During the course of the story, the father takes his two children (a son and a daughter) on a drive over the Golden Gate Bridge and to a diner in the city because “he wanted to know how they were.”  This interest in their well-being is obviously a valid concern.  Both children express bitterness when talking about things like the death of their dog and the rain, but the reader can tell that the line both of them use (“I hate its guts”) really has a deeper meaning and actually refers to whatever their mother did to cause them grief. 

At the end of the story, the father and his children are lying on the floor of the master bedroom in sleeping bags, trying to sleep.  Seemingly to finish the evaluation of his children, the father tells them that he has “good news and bad news.”  To his apparent delight, the daughter tells him to “get the bad news over with,” showing that she is emotionally prepared to face whatever bad things the world can throw at her.  Through this line, Hempel shows that her characters have gotten over whatever bad thing happened with their mother, and that they are healing together. 

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