Song #24 // Big Thief, “Masterpiece” [Masterpiece]

We retreat to the familiar.

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.

Or memories.

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.

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