Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Moment: Wild, Poignant, Life-Changing Stories from 125 Writers and Artists Famous & Obscure edited by Larry Smith

(This review is cross-posted over at the lovely Persephone Magazine.)

The Moment: Wild, Poignant, Life-Changing Stories from 125 Writers and Artists Famous & Obscure
edited by Larry Smith


Though it is of course natural and obligatory, when talking about the major moments in one's life, to discuss the birth of a child or knowing when someone was "the one," they are not my first loves. Wildly and unresistingly able to love, I do not fear reveling within the emotion, but everything beautiful that I have ever experienced comes after a different kind of magic: music. Yes, I am in the business of writing, and have done so since the alphabet was within my grasp, but music? Oh, music is something other. Music is where my moments live, and the biggest moment of them all arrived when I took the train from Spokane to Seattle to see Ryan Adams & The Cardinals and Oasis live. For over a decade, I'd listened and been changed by this music, yet this would be the first time I'd ever seen either band perform. I traveled alone, and I preferred it that way.

Noel Gallagher and Ryan Adams are the songwriters whose work sends a tremor straight from my chest and into my ribs. To hear their songs live, to be in that music's presence — to stand with others who feel as you do and sing — felt like a gift. If Liam Gallagher’s other-worldly, a force to be reckoned with, then Noel’s the one tapped into the deepest part of my brain, woven right into the fabric of everything else. If there’s anything I love, it’s a person who’s not afraid to be the best in the room. They don’t fool around. You find your calling and then, dammit, you go go go until you are the example by which others are measured.

Further details — the hows and the whys and the songs themselves — are beyond the scope of this review, but know that within those words, within those notes, I am most at home in the world. It is personal, and it is unreplicable.

Smith Magazine knows that everyone's life has its standout moments, and operating within their desire to "celebrate the joy of passionate, personal storytelling," they've created a lovely book of reflection. Also known for their work with six-word memoirs, The Moment allows the writers a little more room to talk, though many of the stories are just a few pages. Some are paired with photographs. Almost all of them made me think of similar moments in my life, or how I might react were the specific situation thrown my way. The writers are both professional and not, but each have carved their way into the heart of their moment in an effective way.

Perhaps my favorite story came from Cheryl Delle Pietra, "Gonzo Girl," in which she applies, on a whim, to be Hunter S. Thompson's personal assistant.

What this means, I have no idea. I'll find out later when I'm drinking scotch in a hot tub surrounded by seven key lime pies and a gun: right now I only know that whatever it involves will be better than shaking another Long Island Iced Tea. It will be be better than one more "informational interview" at Condé Nast, where I have failed the fucking typing test twice. It will be amazing. If I get it.

She does. She throws herself "into the fire." What an amazingly odd experience, one I imagine that not too many people were able to have before his death, as he strikes me as someone who was particular about his company. I'm no Hunter S. Thompson expert, but his fierce independence was admirable.

There are other recognizable names in the book like Melissa Etheridge, Jennifer Egan, Dave Eggers, and Laurie David, but many of the stories come from more "ordinary" (though we are all at once ordinary and extraordinary) SMITH readers. Tamara Pokrupa-Nahanni's story, "Motherless," hit me both as an avid lover of cassettes and as a person who has lost a parent. "I was twelve when my mother died," she writes. "A couple of days before she passed, I asked her to record a translation of an English passage into Slavey, the language of our people."

The tape didn't record. She had nothing, just silent playback on a tape labeled in her mother's "beautiful script." It's so final.

A few comics artists also contribute to the book, including L. Nichols, Molly Lawless, and Emily Steinberg. I love personal essays told this way — sometimes there are things that are conveyed better in a drawing paired with only a few words, more so than they are if given a whole paragraph.

The Moment reaches all over the world, asking us to revel in our own lives, to be an active and studious participant in them. It asks us to let our ignored emotions in, and to decide how we will let our triumphant and sad tales affect our course. I've been teased before about my inquisitiveness towards other people — how I ask questions about family, about relationships, about all-time favorite meals — as though I couldn't honestly be interested in what the storyteller might consider mundane. But how are we to relate to one another if we do not know from where the other person comes? We've all been amazing, confused, and terrible at some point in our lives, and reconciling this, I think, will go a long way towards a better existence. We have to seek out what we need.

On the bus home from the concert venue, I overheard a woman talking about Liam Gallagher to the man next to her. "I don't know," she said. "It's like he thinks he's too fucking cool."

It's not a matter of thinking, lady, I thought.

I could've gone anywhere that night — had a few drinks at a bar, wandered around late-night Seattle, anything — but I went back to my hotel room. On the bed, I unrolled the tour poster next to the t-shirt I'd purchased and took a photo. My ears still throbbed with sound, my jeans were soaked from the rain. I could not think of anything but happiness.


Full disclosure: Harper Perennial sent me this book. It was an advance reader copy, meaning that my pull quote could have changed slightly in the final edition. I thank them for the gesture, and I will continue to be fair in my reviews.

#3/26+

This review is part of Pajiba's Cannonball Read IV, in which participants aim to read and review 13, 26 or 52 books within one year. Though I'm taking things easier this year, I expect to surpass the 'Half Cannonball' distinction by the end of 2012.

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