In times of trouble and times of uncertainty. In times of remorse and times of insecurity.
That this realization is neither new nor mine alone makes it no less true.
We go back.
How else can I explain my recent days of a freed schedule, driving to get coffee at places that remind me of past misery, eating at places that remind me of being alone, going back to bed an hour after waking up not because I’m particularly tired but because I don’t know what else to do.
I’ve often hung my hat on the belief that people (myself included) too often confuse sympathy for love. But a retreating to the familiar is just as strong a conflation.
How many aborted affairs have been rekindled out of these fall-backs? How many collisions of uncertainty pave the way for mistaken romance?
Love is a powerful emotion for us not because of its magnetic pull, its elusive chase. No, love is powerful because it shifts and transforms. Like the ripples formed by errant wind on some distant dune, love meanders and leaves subtle echoes of itself behind. When we think we see it, it leaves us with the millisecond delay that so too fools our eyes and brains every waking moment.
Our pursuit is to capture it in real-time. To see it for ourselves in the present tense.
Failing that we rely on photos and songs and secondhand accounts.
But none of that speaks to my desire to stay indoors for days in January listening to Elliott Smith and not so much feeling hopeless as wishing to return to that sure feeling from so long ago that I, and life around me, was hopeless. Why not put XO on for another spin and refill my tea?
After each major break-up I’ve encountered I’ve experienced severe depressions. Withdrawals. Anti-socialism. Suicidal thoughts. It’s all part of the toxic brew that I unwittingly fermented in my younger years. The consistent thing in all of these cases was how often I dreamed of the women who had left me. How often I’d drink, sit in silence, and think I could make it all work again. Sometimes I’d reveal it to them in long letters, emails, or calls. Sometimes the light of the next dawn would reveal the cracks hidden in the shadows of the night before.
Were those instances of love?
I sincerely don’t know. It would be heartbreaking to think that I rolled into my 30s and family life without ever knowing it, but at the same time each occurrence in hindsight seems to be Exhibit A in support of Occam’s Razor.
Either it was love, and I knew it in solitary and/or drunken conviction after each fact. Or I was simply distressed and craved the familiar.
Simplicity, of course, doesn’t negate the reality of the feeling. But just the same the retreat is lonely, and long.
Like so many other entries in this year’s bizarre postings, this song and band has seemingly nothing to do with this writing. In fact, Big Thief’s “Masterpiece” is one of the more uplifting pieces of music I’ve included in this year’s posting. Which is not to say my thoughts above are necessarily depressing. I simply still lack the acumen to describe facts in convincing, objective ways that aren’t simultaneously dripping in maudlin self-pity.
Those who have been reading this list of songs over the years know that I’m a sucker for Canadian artists, especially French-Canadian artists who sing in a unique dialect that has been breathed in through cigarette smoke and spit back out through chattering teeth.
So it should come as no surprise that I’m including Lisa LeBlanc here this year. Her album title is completely indicative of the type of writer she is and the type of humo(u)r she brings to her tight musicianship. It’s not enough to say she’s quirky or sassy. No. She’s simply Canadian. French-Canadian, no less. It all makes more sense up there.
So instead of sullying her growing reputation stateside with my little reflections on memories or regret of woe-is-meism I’m instead reprinting the lyrics of this song below. They’re wonderful: funny, honest, clever, and direct. We still have much to learn from our friends up north.
I won’t say it to your face So I’ll write a song about it I won’t say it to your face So I’ll write a song about it
I love you like a sister I love you like a sister I mean, come on
We’ve been friends this long I love you like a sister So I watch you like a hawk Sorry but I just can’t help it
So when you talk about him And tell me the things that he tells you And the stuff he pulls off The red flags are a-poppin’ The alarms are a-ringin’ I can’t say I’m his number one fan
You call me to rant and it’s totally fine We’ve both seen each other’s ugly cry It’s none of my business, but it kinda is ’Cause you talk to me about it all the time
And I understand that you love him and I respect that But I kinda want to punch him in the balls
Wouldn’t it be lovely if you’d just dump the guy ASAP? Wouldn’t it be lovely if you’d just dump the guy ASAP?
We’ll throw a big party I’ll buy the balloons and the booze There’ll be a buffet of Kleenex We’ll be ready for the grand ol’ cryfest Ice cream, Nutella, and chips You name it, I got it
But until that day comes I’ll listen and wait patiently And tell myself: Wouldn’t it be lovely if you’d just dump the guy ASAP? Wouldn’t it be lovely if you’d just dump the guy ASAP?
You’d like to enjoy the freedom of being unemployed for just part of the time.
Ability to add “I’m a professor” or “I teach at…” to your repertoire of pick-up lines.
You recently watched Stand and Deliver, Dangerous Minds, Rudy, and/or Kindergarten Cop.
You believe that your hard work, dedication, engagement with students, long hours, ethical approach, and/or pedagogically-sound teaching will be recognized and awarded with security, promotion, and respect.
You want your Masters degree to be the second dumbest thing you’ve done with your life.
N.B.–This seemed funnier in my head. In fact it kept me up late a few nights ago with how clever (and truthful!) I thought I was being. Now that I’ve written it out, though…Anyway, I’m keeping it here because it’s more self-critique than anything. My faults are my own, and when even the Simpsons have an oft-quoted quip about making terrible life choices maybe there’s some truth here even if it’s not particularly funny.
There’s not much to say about this song beyond what’s in the title. Ironic or not, wouldn’t it be nice to simply not be _____ anymore? Preach, Lucy.
Open letter to myself (or anyone) in my (or their) 20s:
Don’t be scared. It’s only you.
Travel. Move someplace, the farther the better. Leave your family, friends, and familiarity behind. Cry yourself to sleep. Feel alone and lost. Don’t be afraid to go back. Don’t.
Get a job. Get a dream job. Lose it. Get fired. Don’t feel unduly superior to others. Secretly know that you’re right. But secretly know that you’re probably not.
Spend days drinking coffee and listening to classical music while looking at job ads. Feel like you could literally do any of them. Apply to them. Don’t wait to not hear back. Repeat with more coffee, more music. Learn some of the names, the major works. Spend days looking at job ads and fearing that you can’t do any of them. Apply to them anyway. Don’t appear too shocked when you get a call.
Live with other people. Hate it. Live alone. Hate it. Live above your means. Get used to it.
Hold onto some traditions from when you were a child: church on occasion, red pop on birthdays, a stuffed animal that you hide when you bring someone home.
Bring someone home. Fuck around. Have sex with strangers and people you know. Have sex and feel great about it. Have sex and feel awful about it. Regret it. Try to act like it’s not a big deal. Kiss on the mouth the day after no matter. Don’t be a dick. Don’t hurt people. Make out. Call back. Let them hurt you.
Date if you must. Don’t look a month, or a week down the line. It’s only you standing in the way of that view. Any attempt to look around it just tips the boat. Let it glide no matter the seas.
Spend your money on books and concerts and being out with other people. Walk or bus. No cabs.
Don’t be afraid of having nothing to do on a Sunday. Go to the park and try to read again. Go for a walk and get tired too quickly. Let yourself feel sad. Eat alone in the quiet and pity yourself.
Realize that you’re in control. Make the most of it. Take a daytrip without telling anyone. Stay up too late. Keep journals that you’ll cringe at later. Eat food that you’d never cook for yourself.
Don’t get married. Just don’t. No matter what your friends are doing or what they do back home. Don’t.
20 isn’t old. 25 isn’t old, 30 and 35 isn’t old. Your life isn’t over no matter how much it sucks. Your life isn’t over, it hasn’t yet begun.
This is an excerpt from my “Self, Help!” manuscript How to be a Good Dude.
This is a great song that somehow ended up on a lot of people’s year-end list. More power to her. I’m just gonna leave it at marveling at the title. Whether direct and honest or coy and ironic it works. Get out of your way and tell the boy what you want. Get it.
These may be most favorite poetic words that I return to time and time again in quiet moments.
Lights get low.
And not just because of the mis-remembered title of the Miles Davis jazz standard recording, or the image conjured up by the pizza parlor chairs and sawdust floors of Tom Waits’s “Closing Time.”
Something about “lights get low” gets me every time.
When I was in high school I wrote a collection of poems. I wrote them quickly. Didn’t revise. Didn’t know what revision was. Didn’t know what poetry was. I wrote them in a notebook and typed them on a computer. Printed them out and stapled them together. Gave them to all of my friends, mercifully as ignorant of poetry as I was. The title page read Scenes & Fields.
The first line of the first poem–some rambling image of autumn lawns abutting wild, black woods in crisp changing air–begin with the words “Scenes and fields.” The last line of the last poem–some likewise rambling (though admittedly more poetic than it deserved to be) retelling of emotions related to when someone knocked over a snowman that my parents and I had made in our front yard–ended with “scenes and fields.”
It was a bookend trick I took from an interview I heard from Sting in the mid-90s. On a small clock radio in my bedroom late at night I heard an interview where the songwriter described his writing process of Mercury Falling, where the opening and closing lines were–you guessed it–“mercury falling.”
For some reason that anecdote stuck with me; it seemed important somehow. In the nascent days of AOL chatrooms, the late night radio was as good a transmission from the world as I could hope for; I took what I could get. In that same interview, Sting lauded the Dalai Lama’s Joy of Living and Dying in Peace, which only served to supplement my fascination with Buddhism that I’d picked up from Dharma Bums and other faraway lands.
I still don’t know what “scenes & fields” means, or why I put those particular words (and ampersand) together. But I love it. It still holds a mystery for me. It still invites me to explore.
“Lights get low” doesn’t quite do that, though. Instead it paints a muddied, vivid picture. A romantic notion, both wistful and warming. I write this tonight, the last one up, ready to turn out the lights. Ready to sneak into bed. Ready to remember and project. And the lights get low.
The title of this album and the involvement of Jack White only makes me love this woman and song more. Likewise, a clever turn of phrase in a catchy country song never could turn me away neither. But it was her set at this year’s ACL–which I could hear almost crystal clear from my backyard–that really won me over. It was then that her voice carried over half a mile up a hill and weaved through several houses and garages to get to me and still be a strong enough breeze to nearly knock me out of my seat.
He was out of breath, the night after Christmas. Mist hung to the small frozen mounds of snow alongside the curbs and slick sidewalks as each house’s decorative lights already looked sad and past due. It was time to tear it all down.
But now it was quiet except for the crushing salt and frost, even the front lawn sounding like broken glass under his heavy boots. By the time he got home his parents would be asleep, the kitchen light would be left on, leaving the rest of the home mercifully darkened. Now, above, the sodium lights burned a hazy orange lit up the hue of his plastic CD player.
Later the fresh dead air of December was suffocated by his Ford’s heating system, seemingly the only thing still working (by working too much) in the car passed down from his grandfather, dead not even a year. Somehow in the burnt dryness he could think more clearly. About her. About the night. His belt screeched and the power steering gave in in a sudden jolt midway through the first rolled stop sign right turn. The blank LED face of the CD player faded into view, and after its electric heart beat slowly back into life he skipped to 2, “Far, Far Away,” which he’d repeat by pushing the small circular button in the lower right.
“I’m so glad it’s you,” she had said, though he’d barely heard her, looking down and concentrating.
“Yeah, I can’t believe it. It’s so great. You’re so great.”
He tried kissing her to shut off the sound, one hand on the crushed cushion, the other between his legs. One by one their four friends had fumbled to bed or for their car keys. Parents’ folly of leaving their kids home the only difference between kitchen lights and the blackened vacation houses in the subdivision. It should have felt liberating, or anything other than lonely.
The golden ’83 Grand Marquis floated through the streets for blocks before he realized the lights weren’t on. His breath was beery, but no long visible in the warmed cabin. What did it mean? he thought. What now?
Back at the house, not hers, she slept on the same couch in Kelly’s oversized t-shirt. Kelly, as always, had supplied the booze, or at least opened her parent’s oaken liquor cabinet, and reveled in everyone else’s ability to pair up. She, more confrontational as she relaxed. She, with more pronounced crooked eyes by the time he showed up.
He had never felt guilty before. Never regretted the lies, averted his mother’s eyes the next morning. In hindsight it was all childish, children’s games–give or take the drunken driving. But now it was different. Now he’d crossed some sort of line, and he knew the racers (all of his friends, seemingly everyone in the movies) should be happy, self-congratulatory. And all he felt was emptiness, and wet jeans.
“I won’t tell anyone if you don’t,” she’d said. “This is ours.”
“OK,” he’d said. “I have to go,” some time later. She closed her eyes much too early and forced her wet lips in front of him. He seemed to see her for the first time, and instantly felt awful for thinking what he was thinking.
School was a week away, but already he knew it was inescapable. The next two years of his life, inescapable.
Before going inside, after circling the neighborhood, he idled at the curb where he’d first learned to ride a bike, first caught a football. He felt nothing, and yet he wanted them to love him. He wanted them to not be asleep, to wake up, and make him not be alone.
This, a work of fiction.
This song, this album, this band seems to hint at something that I didn’t yet know in my teenage years, in the mid-90s, when I thought I knew what I didn’t know. It’s hard to read all of the hype surrounding this music and not be forewarned just a bit by similar praise heaped on Conor Oberst and Bright Eyes circle the beginning of the 21st century. Sadly enough their masterstroke (for me, at least), I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning, can never be fully separated from the anger/malaise of the Bush era, (more) suicidal thoughts about a breakup, and shattered hope of escaping the winter grey of South Bend-Mishawaka. In other words, music is not out of context. I look forward to, and dread what may happen to, anything released or listened to during this current time.
I had a friend in high school who meant the world to me, who meant the world to us. Looking back, it’s clear that I needed him in so many ways at that time that it’s not even fair to call what we had a friendship; friendships aren’t so one-sidedly dependent. But there it was.
He was Mormon (many of my friends were) and he went on mission after graduating, first to Australia and then Utah. He left early one morning and I got up before dawn to see him off. I left my parents a note at the breakfast table telling them I had left. I was teary (I later balled in the high school parking lot beside my beard of a girlfriend) and though I don’t recall the contents of the note, I do recall that it was the first time as a semi-adult that I wrote in words that I loved them.
How stupid is that?
What can I say? I’ve always been immature, and high school was a high water mark. I must have gone years without expressing any emotion to anyone, let alone those closest to me. It must have been some time after that then that John Denver died. I was just down the road to college but it may as well have been worlds away. Some years later I watched a documentary on PBS about him and they interviewed his son, who, among other stories, relayed a very plaintive tale about his dad always saying that he loved him.
It was a throw-away line. Something obvious. But to me it was a revelation. In college. Still immature. From that day on I made a point of always telling my parents that I loved them. Up to then I can’t recall saying the words. How stupid. And then John Denver’s kid in a Vaseline-creamed shot in a late night doc mentions one little detail and my whole life changed.
So it was this spring that I heard of Gord Downie’s terminal diagnosis. It didn’t seem real, let alone fair. It was national news in Canada, everyone on radio and TV talking about it. Hours of playtime devoted to the Hip’s greatest hits. Their final concert of their brief summer farewell tour simulcast on the CBC. It didn’t make any of it any more real, or more fair.
At the time of writing this he’s still alive and producing work: music, poetry, graphic novels. In addition to how much he and his music means to me–so many summer nights, so many hours in cars–he should mean even more to the world of art.
To this day I’ve yet to read better poetry in simple aabb rhyme:
Sundown in the Paris of the prairies The wheat kings have all of their treasures buried And all you hear are the rusty breezes Pushing around a weather vane Jesus
This from their classic “Wheat Kings,” which, on top of being an amazing song both lyrically and musically, tells a real story to boot. The man is a genius.
Think about the many ways that you may or may not talk about your terminal diagnosis in song. Would it be first-person? Would it be maudlin? Would it be hopeful or dire? Somehow Gord sidestepped all of these questions by being direct, but still being poetic in lines from “In A World Possessed By the Human Mind” (a song title/concept that in and of itself is poetry):
Just give me the news It can all be lies Exciting over fair or the right thing at the right time Everything is clear Just how you described The way it appears, a world possessed by the human mind
Then I think I smiled Then I think you said, “it’s fine” And quietly I dressed, in a world completely possessed by the human mind
Regardless of my inflated sense of introspection and artistic self, I could never dream of coming up with such vivid language during such tumult, much less delivering it with such harmony and conviction.
But of everything surrounding the news and aftermath of Gord’s disease, the thing I’ll remember most is a recent interview I read between he and his longtime friend. He’s slowly losing his memory, and so he found it hard to even remember to whom he was speaking, much less their long history. Just the same, he spoke with fluidity and grace.
In particular, he revealed how unapologetically emotive he is with his family. Specifically he told the interviewer about how he still hugs everyone he can, and kisses the people closest to him full on the mouth each time he sees them, including his son, including his dad. Love. Hugs. Kisses. From a dying man. So full of life.
It’s still all too soon. I’m still not sure how I’ll react when the time comes. I’d like to think I’ll make positive changes before then. That I’ll be equally giving and forgiving. That I’ll be expressive and expansive enough to throw my arms around, if not the world, then at least my family. One last time at least.
This world, indeed, is possessed by the human mind. Maybe that’s all there is. Our hands let go long before our memories do.
Song #17 // Moby, “LA1” [Long Ambients 1: Calm. Sleep.]
Neither one of these songs are in and of themselves great songs. Instead they echo the soundtrack that I listened to nearly nonstop in my office for long stretches of summer 2016 as I worked on a book proposal. Those were hot days where I’d barely see anyone in the empty hallways of our empty campus. Although I tried to listen to classical, jazz, or other soft favorites, I continually gravitated back toward this free Moby download or more times than not Brian Eno’s “Music for Airports,” whose map-based cover art reminds me as much of summer in Austin as does any greenery or cockroach.
1 The Prodigal Friend
It was the stuff of 12yo girls: friends, besties, unexplained anger, banishment, silence, and reconciliation.
It was my first adult apology. I was 32.
It’s not too far a stretch to call him one of my best friends. He was part of a regular circle. And when everyone else was busy he was almost always free and willing to go out. When he revealed that he was gay, I kissed him. I was proud to call him a friend, and proud that he considered me one.
And then one day it all stopped. I still don’t know why. Maybe he was transitioning to a new set of friends. Maybe he was dealing with new identity issues as he still hadn’t widely admitted to others that he was gay. I even heard that he no longer considered himself gay. Maybe it was a midlife kinda crisis. I honestly don’t know why.
I beat myself up for days trying to figure out what I did wrong. I felt hurt and confused, and then I felt angry. We stopped talking for years after our breakup became awkwardly apparent to me at a party where I tried to talk to him throughout the night, each time him staring at me stone-faced, as if I was despicable yet he still had enough maturity to listen to me. I had no idea he was already done with me.
And then years later, long after I became jaded and completely wrote him off even as other friends (he did this to them too) welcomed him back, he wrote me a short, succinct, and sincere email. He never explained himself, nor completely apologized in the most direct of ways. But he did admit that what he did wasn’t that cool. He said he valued my friendship. He said he’d like to take me out again. He closed by saying he understood if I didn’t want to respond.
My reaction was a cocktail of love, disdain, and self-righteousness. I sat on it for a while, told my wife about it, eventually wrote back with a “thank you” and a noncommittal acceptance of the offer that we have yet to cash in on. In fact I haven’t seen or heard from him since. The apology made me feel better up to a certain point.
But there’s still a little piece of me that hurts. That little piece sometimes thinks that it can crawl through that small crack left open. But in the end, we both know that door closed long ago.
2 No Tradebacks
The second apology was in direct response to the first. Regardless of its outcome, that initial email took guts, and came from a real place. Even though it slightly irritated me, and ultimately didn’t sway me, I could recognize that much. It became a surprise tool that I decided to put in my toolkit for another day. I had no idea I’d pull it out so shortly thereafter.
I was at Stanford and finding reasons to be unhappy at everything. The latest target was the hiring process in my program: I had just finished a PhD in the field, I had 10yrs of experience, I was coming back to a job that I had left just 5yrs earlier. And here was my program hiring people outside of our field with no experience. It felt unfair.
I tried my best to swallow it all, but bitter pills stick easily in throats, and I began holding it against the new hires, one in particular who seemed popular, capable, and not particularly interested in my concerns. In a word, I don’t think he ever did anything personal to me, but I had principles to uphold.
Eventually I figured it out. Following Apology #1 I realized that redemption and forgiveness were just a click away. I waited till a weekend and wrote it all out: how I didn’t think he belonged, how hard I had worked, and–most importantly–how irrational it all was. In another word, I was completely honest, both admitting that I was being a dick and apologizing for being such a dick. How could it go wrong?
The answer came quickly, dripping with venom. How dare I question him? How dare I think I was better? What if my own insecurities were reflected in others in the program?
I was a horrible person, twice over. I now had written proof, and I was never forgiven, by him or by myself.
3 Forgotten Facebook
Some apologies happen quickly, and their aftermaths simmer for long whiles after. Sometimes, though, it’s the other way around.
When my wife and I visited her old friends in Portland years ago I was in a bad way. I was still undiagnosed, still unpredictable, still bitter that things weren’t being given to me simply because I had made it clear that I intended to put forth some effort. I was insufferable, I’m sure.
Having said that, they really annoyed me. Like, really really annoyed me. Still do for some reason.
There was some mild drama, some partner arguments that took place in closed, shared quarters. I had a tendency back then to stomp off and skulk back only to apologize and cry. I did that. I did that to her. I did that to them. I felt bad (I still do) but it was all part of the flavor profile back then. I ruined a lot of otherwise decent memories and I don’t necessarily deserve to be forgiven for that regardless of good excuses.
And then this year I was unexpectedly on Facebook, deleting every post I’ve made on the site since 2005 (long story, pick up your data like litter) and realized I had been receiving messages even though I’d been off the site since 2014 or so. One was recent, and from the woman in Portland. It was long and I didn’t read past, “I’ve forgiven you.”
The preface to that apparent gift was that she had done a lot of processing and heard about whatever issues I was going through and came to realize that I deserved if not pity then at least forgiveness for an apology I never gave.
I deleted it. I never told anyone about it. I got mad. I got incredulous. I felt like suddenly I was owed an apology. I knew, if nothing else, that I would have been a lot better off if she had never said anything at all. No peace offering necessary. No reason to bring up the past. Just leave it alone.
4 Good Intentions
And of course I’ve yet to learn. Or grow up.
On a recent trip to our neighborhood coffee shop one bleary morning I cracked. A barista mumbling under her breath. Picking up on my mood, giving it right back. Me, not letting it go, having to say something. And she, like a professional, just walking away as her coworker picked up the pieces and I picked on myself.
My initial reaction was to never go back. I had been wronged. I had been disrespected.
But then I thought. Then I realized. I intended to go back and apologize. Look her in the eye and admit that I was an asshole, that whatever she had done or thought was nothing compared to the way I surely ruined her day. The way I’ve ruined so many days.
It was Christmastime. I intended to go back.
One day I did. And she wasn’t there. Another. No one.
And so it’s a month gone by and I still feel guilty. Less so, but still guilty. And some days, when I’m feeling good about myself regardless of how anyone else feels about themselves or about me, I consider going back and making good on that original idea. I don’t know what I expect, but we can assume it’s some sort of gratitude. Some sort of agreement that it’s in the past. That I’m a good guy just for even still thinking about it.
But there are sadder days, days where I don’t feel so outgoing. Days where I’m busy or tired, and I simply go on with life. Go on without interactions, without apologies. Because they never seem to do much good anyway.
This is an excerpt from my “Self, Help!” manuscript How to be a Good Dude.
The core of Magna Carda is from my school, St. Edward’s. From my English Writing department no less. That fact makes them cool (if not overly celebrated in faculty meetings.) I first heard them driving through Zilker Park on an errand to either drop off or pick up my daughter. I can’t recall the exact date, but I can vividly remember time slowing down as I turned the music up, thinking to myself–as I nodded along–that this was what poetry in music should sound like. It was like something I’d been hearing for years and something new all at once. I’m not even sure this is the best song off of their latest release. But it’s certainly one of the best examples (outside of Mal Devisa, of course) of what spare vocals and bass accompaniment can weave into magic.
Sunlight through the window. Slanted and keeping time, sliding up the wall.
Sunlight in the afternoon. Last dying breath of day. Rush out and feel. See your breath. Retreat.
Sunlight. As gentle as a mother’s touch. On a hot forehead in a dimly lit room. As gentle as that.
Sunlight in foreign tongues: German, Italian, and French. In Texas.
Sunlight in underheated rooms and breezes that seep. Listen to Elliott Smith. Light a scented candle. Sip coffee or flavored tea. Visit Chicago on the weekend.
Sunlight and a new dawn of a new day. Imagine a fresh start. Imagine what tomorrow looks like.
Sunlight and I’m romantic, living inside of the harmonies of Kings of Convenience, retreading the past in small degrees. Single digits.
There is little that needs to be said about this song, or about this artist. A solitary female voice. Bass accompaniment. One against/amongst the world. The fire that burns here is smoldering, but persistent, and no less dangerous to the touch.