“It is the Same” – The Sameness of Change in Shelley’s “Mutability”

BY PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY
                                         I.
We are as clouds that veil the midnight moon;
    How restlessly they speed and gleam and quiver,
Streaking the darkness radiantly! yet soon
Night closes round, and they are lost for ever:—
                                         II.
Or like forgotten lyres whose dissonant strings
    Give various response to each varying blast,
To whose frail frame no second motion brings
    One mood or modulation like the last.
                                        III.
We rest—a dream  has power to poison sleep;
    We rise—one wandering thought pollutes the day;
We feel, conceive or reason, laugh or weep,
Embrace fond woe, or cast our cares away:—
                                       IV.
It is the same!—For, be it joy or sorrow,
    The path of its departure still is free;
Man’s yesterday may ne’er be like his morrow;
    Nought may endure but Mutability.

In Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Mutability”, the speaker explores the tension that is experienced as a result of change; this change is seen in nature in the first four lines, music in the next four lines, emotion in the following four lines, and finally the speaker resolves the conflict in the concluding quatrain by expressing that “It is the same” (ll. 13). Although this seems to be a strange conclusion to come to considering the contrasting and oftentimes combating conundrums within the quatrains, it is in fact the only fitting final thought that can ultimately untie the knot and alleviate the pressure that is contained within each line. Through creating tension with contrasting imagery within the same lines, Shelley adeptly accentuates the truth that change, whether it be drastic or subtle, is a part of our existence as humans that must be reconciled with.

As an introduction into the tension surrounding change, the speaker utilizes the image of a cloud covering the moon as a way to show the mutability inherent in nature. The opening line expresses the idea that we are “as clouds that veil the midnight moon” (ll. 1). This picture has within it subtle tension with the use of the verb veil. The clouds are in motion, but the speed of this motion is slow, and uncertain. It isn’t until the following line that the speed of the motion is revealed to the reader. The tension increases with the addition of descriptors like how the clouds speed “restlessly” (ll. 2). The clouds aren’t just slowly veiling the moon; they are rapidly shrouding it. This creates a feeling of encroaching darkness and gives the reader a sensation of claustrophobia. The light created by the moon is being cloaked by the incoming cloud cover.

Although there is definite dissonance in the movement of the clouds across the moon, the speaker deepens this dissonance through contrasting light and dark. Normally, when clouds cover the moon the light is squelched behind a veil. This is not so in this case. The light of the moon “gleam[s], and quiver[s]” (ll. 2). The light is still present, but it quivers with the coming of the clouds. Tension rises in the following line as the clouds “[streak] the darkness radiantly!” (ll. 3). The juxtaposition of the streaking of darkness radiantly propels the pressure created by the contradicting wording until the tension is finally released in the last line of the quatrain: “yet soon / Night closes round, and they are lost forever” (ll. 3-4). The contrast of light and dark and the way in which the light, oftentimes white, clouds act as an agent of streaking the darkness creates and exhibits the tension that comes with changes in nature visually.

The changes that occur in the physical world, as addressed in the first quatrain, are heightened as the speaker continues their exploration of mutability in the realm of music and sound. In the first quatrain, the reader receives a visual representation of dissonance; the second quatrain examines auditory mutability. The speaker tells of “forgotten lyres, whose dissonant strings / Give various response to each varying blast” (ll. 5-6). The tension in the first two lines of the quatrain is heard through the words “forgotten,” “dissonant,” “various,” and “varying.” These sounds were once audible yet forgotten. The audio-memory of the lyre and the music that was once played thereon is fading further into memory. This image elicits a tone of sad longing for a half-remembered tonal memory that, just like the clouds covering the moon, will soon be “lost forever” (ll. 4). Rather than using contradicting phrasing like that of the first quatrain, the speaker builds upon the tension through compounding the melancholic mood by describing the “various response[s]” of the lyre as possessing a “frail frame” that is constantly changing with no “mood or modulation [being] like the last” (ll. 6-8). The tension isn’t totally resolved with the final line of the quatrain, for it is made more manifest through the motion of the mood and modulation, which perpetuates the pressure presented in the first two quatrains of the poem.

The perpetuation of pressure is proclaimed in the opening two lines of the third quatrain, as it is in the first quatrain, through creating cacophony in each individual action in the line. The speaker suggests that “We rest,” connoting that rest is a natural human experience. The complication surfaces immediately following the dash: “– A dream has power to poison sleep” (ll. 9). Although sleep is something that we all do, there is a potentially dangerous element of slumber that has the power to poison. Likewise, in the following line, the image of sleep is juxtaposed with the initial “We rise.” This rising, which usually holds within it a denotation of rebirth and redemption, is contrasted later in the line following the dash with, “– One wandering thought pollutes the day” (ll. 10). As compared to the previous two quatrains, the speaker condenses the tension like the spikes seen in that of a shrill noise captured in a microphone. This tension, although very much present in this quatrain, is short and more representative of the “varying blast[s]” described in the second quatrain (ll. 6).

The rest of the quatrain, which continues exploring dissonance in emotions, shortens the tension to an almost syllabic sensation, thus making for an even quicker and sharper conflict-resolution than the previous two lines. Instead of dividing the dissonance between one half of the line and the other, the tension is evident between neighboring words. “We feel,” the speaker states, “conceive or reason” (ll. 11). Each of these words are ways in which humans receive and perceive sensations. Although these words are used to describe sensations, each word is vastly different than the other. “Feel” connotes a response to physical sensations, “conceive” holds reference to a response to visual or audio sensations, and “reason” sides closer to the metaphysical response to sensations. Within the three verbs provided by the speaker, there is a lexical and connotational chasm that is concocted in the remainder of this line as well as the line following.

This dissonant divide in diction drives the tension further as the discord is directed and focused more fully in the final three words of the line: “laugh or weep” (ll. 11). These two basic human emotive actions are on completely opposite sides of the spectrum, yet they are pressed together tightly like the positive sides of two magnets. These magnetic forces of expression, when pushed together literally or metaphorically, cover the chasm constructed in the beginning of the line with a taut rope that eventually allows the reader to cross the deep without the fear of falling to one side of the other. Though not entirely concluded, the speaker admonishes the reader to “embrace fond woe, or cast our cares away,” suggesting that the reader has the ability to choose whether they will embrace the mutability of physical nature and human nature, or to cast it away (ll. 12).

Regardless of what the reader will do after being shown the sheer shakiness surrounding the unstable and mutable nature of all things, the speaker provides the reader with comfort knowing that “It is the same!” (ll. 13). The speaker exclaims that “be it joy or sorrow, / The path of its departure still is free,” suggesting that though pressure is presented in the poem, as well as in the lives of the individual readers, the capability to resolve the tension is ultimately left in the hands of the reader. They are free to view the tension however they would like to. They can see it as sorrow or joy, and they can react to it by laughing or weeping. Either way, it is the same! The way in which the conflict is resolved depends solely on how each individual reader chooses to alleviate it.

To further complicate the constant stream of cacophony, the speaker concludes by claiming that the only constant in life, whether that’s physical life (as is evident in the example of the moon and the lyre in the first and second quatrains) or metaphysical life (evidenced by the emotional and existential elements evoked in the third and fourth quatrains), is mutability itself. The speaker simply concedes that “Man’s yesterday may ne’er be like his morrow,” hearkening back to the notion of “no second motion bring[ing] / One mood or modulation like the last” in the second quatrain (ll. 15, 8). No day in the past, present, or future can ever be exactly the same ever. Clouds will always cover moons, the music of long-forgotten lyres will always fade into the fog of memory, and human emotions will fluctuate as frequently as syllables succumb to succeeding syllables in a poem.

The speaker releases the pressure that has thus far been congregating in the previous fifteen lines of the poem by reiterating that the only constant character in the conundrum of choices surrounding tension is mutability itself. As the speaker states, and as Shelley strives to suggest through his utilization of contrasting imagery within selfsame stanzas and lines throughout the poem, “Naught may endure but Mutability” (ll. 16). The capitalization of the word “Mutability” gives the idea and the action pertaining to the word an almost deity-like demeanor. By ending the poem with this God-like image, the necessity for accepting the changeable nature of things generally becomes more of a charge from on high than a challenge negatively charged with the impossibility of completion. Nothing can or will ever remain the same. Nature is in constant flux. The strings of a lyre will oftentimes be discordant and out of tune. Human emotions will forever, frequently find themselves frazzled in the fray of feelings. Yet, it is through understanding the need for tension in existence that the reader is able to truly come to terms with the constant creation and resolution of tension in the poem and in their own lives.

Advertisements

Why is this Millennial a Mariner?

Millennial Mariner edited
The Millennial Mariner

I feel like an explanation of why I chose the name I chose for this blog is way overdue. A lot of people have asked me why my blog is called The Millennial Mariner. The short answer is that it came from a goofy conversation that I had with my older brother. The long, and more meaningful answer is a little more complicated than that.

First, the short one. About a year ago, I had returned home from a date. I honestly felt like it went really well. But, to my dismay, I got the dreaded “let’s just be friends” text. This was probably the third time in a row that this had happened to me. Knowing that one of my older brothers had experienced dating at the same university I am currently attending, I decided to call him and see if I could receive some much needed wisdom from one that had survived the dating scene. So, I called my older brother, Joel, and told him what had happened. After a good five minutes of one-sided discourse on my end, I asked Joel, “What should I do?” He answered: “Man, I wish I could tell you something helpful. I really don’t know what to say. Your experience is different than mine. You’re crossing seas that I never did. You’re a mariner.” I thought about that for a second and replied, “Yeah, I guess you could say I’m a millennial mariner.” With the help of one of my younger brothers, Court, I drew up this suave, mustachioed sailor. And thus, the Millennial Mariner was born. He’s a pretty handsome dude, if I don’t say so myself.

Anyway, it was really just a casual, mildly-complainy conversation about the woes of rejection in dating. But, as I’ve thought about it more, my purpose in writing in this blog, as I’ve stated before, is to be able to share my story and my ideas so that others can feel like they’re not alone. I also really, really, really love to write.

So, the more meaningful meaning behind The Millennial Mariner is as follows. I’ve realized over the last few years that the pace of modern life is accelerating more so now than it ever has been. We live in a generation of post-truth and fake news and what have you. It’s becoming a lot harder to distinguish truth from non-truth and frankly a lot people are losing hope and faith in humanity. I’ve found myself on the more cynical side of the spectrum more than I’d like to admit. Sometimes it’s hard to remain positive when it seems like everything around us seems to be careening into oblivion and there’s nothing we can really do to stop it. So, this is where The Millennial Mariner comes in. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know everything. I’m a 22-year old college student. The more I’ve gone to school the more I’ve been aware of the fact that I know absolutely nothing. What I do know is that in order to understand the complex problems that persistently pound down upon us, we need some help navigating through the issues, questions, and ideas that arise as a result of our being on the earth in 2018 and beyond. A mariner is defined as “a person who directs or assists in the navigation of a ship.” Like mariners of old, I hope to share what I know and what I’ve come to understand in hopes that my blog can provide some iota of assistance and guidance as we each traverse the seas that we all need to cross.

Why Post-Rock is the Music You Never Knew You Needed

In an earlier post, I wrote about the crucial role that writing has on allowing us to express what we feel. I am still a strong believer in that regard, but sometimes words aren’t quite enough to express how we feel. When words wane, I resort to music. Sometimes it’s music with words, but more often than not, I find myself listening to classical music. Romantic musicians like Chopin, Mahler, Wagner, Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, and Rachmaninoff. Baroque composers like Bach, Vivaldi, Handel, and (if I’m in the right mood) Pachelbel. I don’t hate Pachelbel, but as a cellist sometimes Canon in D just rubs me the wrong way. I also enjoy more contemporary composers like film score composers Thomas Newman, James Newton Howard, and Hanz Zimmer, as well as  Ramin Djawadi, Max Richter, and Johann Johannsson. I love orchestral music. Books and words have their place in expressing emotions, and so does music. I was raised listening to movie soundtracks and classical music because two of my older sisters played the violin and through exposure and association, I came to love this type of music.

As a high schooler, my taste in music was pretty much the same. Indie music got mixed in there, but I had and will always have a soft spot for music sans words. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of high school that I was introduced to post-rock music.

My Dad is an Oakland A’s fan through and through, and so when the movie Moneyball came out, we had to watch it. As I was watching it with my Dad and my brothers, there was a scene toward the end of the movie that showed Brad Pitt, who played the A’s General Manager Billy Beane, driving on the freeway while listening to the A’s play on the radio. While he is driving, there is a song playing. It starts off slow with a single guitar playing with a droning note in the background. The notes echo as if being played in a tunnel. The drums come in as a steady heart-beat like metronome as the song crescendos, indicating that the team is winning and that all the hard work that Billy Beane and his assistant Paul DePodesta had put into the franchise was coming to fruition. No one spoke or sang over the music. It was music without words. It was like the classical music I had been raised on, except it wasn’t. It was rock music, just without lyrics. I was extremely moved by this song.

After the movie ended, I hurried to the nearest computer and looked up the soundtrack and found the song I was looking for. The song was “The Mighty Rio Grande.” by the Austin Texas-based band This Will Destroy You. Never had I ever thought that rock music like this, rock music without words, could move me in the same way that songs like those of Chopin, Schubert, and Handel had. It was probably one of the coolest musical moments of my life. Since then, I have had many moments when I’ve been listening to a post-rock song and be moved to tears. Let me clarify that, manly tears.

Although I enjoy a variety of different types of music, I would have to say that post-rock is my number one favorite genre. It has never failed to disappoint me. As I’ve listened to more classical music and even more post-rock music, I feel confident saying that there are many similarities between post-rock and classical music. Post-rock could easily be considered the millennial classical music. The connection between the two can be found in one composer: Felix Mendelssohn. As we consider this connection, I encourage you to check out some of my favorite post-rock albums as you read.

Although post-rock, like classical music, is definitely an acquired taste, I encourage you to listen to some post-rock music as we consider what makes post-rock comparable to classical music. This plea comes from an unapologetic music nerd; in short I want to show you that post-rock music is the music that you didn’t know you needed in your life. So, please indulge me and I promise that you will not be disappointed.

German Romantic composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847), is known for composing some of the most well-known romantic music of the movement. Of all of his compositions, his collection of piano pieces entitled Songs Without Words is considered his most famous. One of his contemporaries, Marc-André Souchay, once asked Mendelssohn to explain to him the meanings of his “Songs Without Words.” In a letter to Souchay, Mendelssohn expressed that “There is so much talk about music, and yet so little really said.” He goes on to say that he believes that “words do not suffice for such a purpose, and if I found they did suffice, then I certainly would have nothing more to do with music.” Mendelssohn claims that words are “unintelligible when compared with genuine music, which fills the soul with a thousand things better than words.” Continuing, he says that “What the music I love expresses to me, is not thought too indefinite to be put into words, but, on the contrary, too definite” (269) Mendelssohn argued that genuine music should be universal in sound. Music should reach across cultural, linguistic, and geographical borders and make sense to all who listen to it.

There are definite barriers that are placed on emotion when lyrics are put to music. In these cases, the interpretation of the music relies more heavily on what the lyricist implies rather than what the music is trying to convey. During my music browsing on Youtube, I often find myself reading the comments made by others on videos. The most contentious comments are those that are made about interpreting the lyrics. There’s always someone who says that the lyrics reflect the musician’s inner turmoil with such and such and his or her relationship with so-and-so. These comments tend to be quite fiery because everyone has their own interpretation of what the lyrics mean. In this regard, words can complicate and express what Mendelssohn defines as “thought too indefinite.” Songs without words, according to Mendelssohn expresses the most with saying the least and connects individuals through a collective conception of music without the indefinite nature of words.

This idea of connectedness is what brings me to post-rock music. Music critic and theorist Simon Reynolds coined the term “post-rock” essay published in the Village Voice. He defined it as “bands that use guitars but in non-rock ways.” He continues stating that “With it’s droneswarm guitars and tendency to melt into ambience, post-rock erodes, then obliterates the song and the voice. By extension, it also parts with such notions as the singer as storyteller and the song as narrative, source of life-wisdom, or site of social resonance.” He explains further that “The more ‘post’ a post-rock band gets, the more it abandons the verse-chorus-verse structure in favor of the soundscape” (Cox, 358). Rather than telling a story that the listeners follow, post-rockers create an atmosphere of sensations. They envelop their listeners in a world of sound. Their aim isn’t to write catchy songs that people can jam to on their way to work. They construct sound so as to allow listeners to become part of the music. They feel it. The range of sensations and emotions that are created in post-rock music is exactly what Mendelssohn describes as “definite thought” because it provides the hearers with the chance to interpret the music without being wrong and being roasted by some dude on a Youtube comment thread who thinks he knows everything there is to know about the lyrics, the meaning, and the implications of yada, yada, yada. Mendelssohn believes that words have many meanings, and yet music we could both understand correctly” (270).

Just like how music in Mendelssohn’s time could be understood correctly by two completely different individuals, the universal nature of post-rock music was discussed in an interview with members of the bands This Will Destroy You, Russian Circles, and Maybeshewill in 2014. When asked about the evolution of post-rock music, John Helps of Maybeshewill said that “[post-rock] seems to be a very international thing. It doesn’t seem to be restricted to any particular country.” His bandmate, Robin Southby, expressed similar thoughts to that of Mendelssohn. He says that the interesting thing about post-rock and “instrumental stuff is that it does kind of break down the language barrier thing, so anyone can do it, and so it connects with people immediately.” As is true with Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words, post-rockers believe that music, just plain, unadulterated songs without words, has the power to bring people together across languages, cultures, and continents.

Not only does post-rock connect listeners together, but it is also brings musicians together under an umbrella of commonality. It tends to be conglomerate of many different styles of music. In an interview with Runaf Rayani and Michael James of Explosions in the Sky, they explain how differences in music was what ultimately brought them closer together as a band. Rayani says that for them as a band, “the notion that you’re taking heavy metal, you know of just being heavy metal over here and hip-hop over here, it wasn’t like that because we all listened to that style of music; even more so before we got together, but by the time we got together, the common ground was punk-rock and experimental music, and indie-experimental.” They explain that it was the diversity they had in music styles that helped them come together and create their unique sound and place them as one of the most commercially successful post-rock bands in recent years. Their music, among others of the genre, creates such an encapsulating environment of sound that it makes you feel at home. It evokes feelings of togetherness, understanding, and for lack of a better word overall zen.

If this doesn’t convince you to be converted to post-rock, maybe a recent experience of mine might do the trick. As I was driving from my sister’s house back to my apartment, I was thinking a lot about life and how sometimes you just get a crap hand every once in a while. I’ve been trying to be the kind of person I know that I should be, but recently I’ve felt like all of my efforts have been for naught. I felt pretty down on myself and my seemingly lack of progress in the direction I want go. As I was thinking, I was listening to the song “Postcard From 1952”   by Explosions in the Sky. I had listened to that song before, but this time, I guess something clicked. As the wordless song played, the words “You’re one step closer” came into my head as I sat in my 2003 Acura going 75 down I-15 toward Provo, Utah. It was the atmosphere of hope that was created by the song that allowed me to be able to hear those words. I will forever be grateful for whatever was written on that postcard from 1952 that inspired these musicians to write this 7:06 long escape from anxiety and self-doubt.

Each of us is different and has different experiences and interests, but we all yearn for the same things. We want to be happy, we want to feel safe, we want to feel loved. In a time when division has become the norm and words continue to be the cause of confusion, war, heartbreak, and calamity, I believe that post-rock music is the music that all of us need. Mendelssohn claims that “the music of the song alone can awaken the same ideas and the same feelings in one mind as in another, – a feeling which is not, however, expressed by the same words. Resignation, melancholy, the praise of God, a hunting-song, – one person does not form the same conception from these that another does” (269). With the diversity inherent in a world full of 7-something billion people, we need music that can connect us. We need music that doesn’t create division or destroy. We need music that is able to express those “definite thoughts” that fill our minds. We need music that provides us with the environment and atmosphere we need to feel love, joy, and hope for a better world and a better future, even when that future seems very indefinite.

Books Cited:

Letters of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, from 1833 to 1847. Edited by Paul Mendelssohn Bartholdy, of Berlin; and Dr. Carl Mendelssohn Bartholdy, of Heidelberg: With Catalogue of his musical compositions compiled by Dr. Julius Rietz. Translated by Lady Wallace. Published 1864, Reprinted 1970, Books for Library Press, New York, pp. 269-271

Cox, Christoph and Daniel Warner. Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music. “Post Rock” Simon Reynolds, pp. 358-361. Bloomsbury, 2004.

Why Do (or Should) We Write?

family 04A lot of people I talk to say that they hate writing. “Writing is difficult” or more commonly, “This sucks.” Even as I’m writing this, I realize that writing does suck. It’s hard to truly articulate what you want to say. Sometimes it’s not as much trying to say what you want to say, but it’s more saying what you feel. It’s like wringing out a wet rag. No matter how hard you twist and contort the rag, the rag is still wet. There’s something still there. After exhausting your efforts, there are still a few drops left that you’ll never get out. It’s frustrating. It’s like getting to the bottom of a container of ice cream. The only way to get every last drop or the last scoop requires using the spoon in an uncomfortable way. Sometimes, if you’re the one finishing the ice cream you might think, “This will be so much easier if I just licked the container clean. I paid for this, or someone paid for this, and I don’t want to waste anything.” The only problem is that licking the container puts you in a vulnerable position. It makes you look weird and it might be against protocol. It might offend people. It might make you a social outcast. But, sometimes the last scoop of ice cream is worth it. Writing is hard work all the way to the end and as arduous and painstaking as it might be, the end result can be indescribably satisfying. What I’m getting at here is that writing is a way we can express how we feel and oftentimes it’s hard to say what we really feel. It’s a way to make sense of the world, our lives, our problems, our insecurities, and our overall predicament as humans. It is, in every dimension, a straining endeavor.

I had a conversation with my mom the other day about acquired tastes. My brother was trying to get his wife into Spongebob. She was not all that impressed, but my mom assured her that Spongebob is an acquired taste. After watching a few key, classic episodes my sister-in-law admitted that it was starting to grow on her. I’d have to say that writing and expressing one’s self is the same way. It takes exposure. A spray tan is not a real tan. If you want the real thing you have to go out in the sun. It might hurt the first time, but you get used to it and you see results.

My first real exposure to writing came when I was ten years old. My family had recently experienced the death of my oldest sister and everything that accompanies the unexpected passing of a loved one. I had been to funerals before. Grandparents come and go. The elderly die. Old age kind of does that to people. My sister was in her mid-twenties. It didn’t make any sense at all to me why any of this was happening. In the weeks following the funeral, I had classmates who would come up to me and say, “My grandma died. I know how you feel.” All I could think was, “That’s not the same.” That’s not saying that I didn’t appreciate the effort made on their part to comfort me in a time when I so desperately needed the help. It was noted. The fact of the matter was that nobody I knew really knew how I felt. I had my family. They knew how it felt, but outside of my immediate family I felt like there wasn’t anyone who really understood what I was going through. Ten-year-old kids don’t normally experience the death of a sibling like I had. I felt like the carpet of my childhood was pulled abruptly out from under me leaving me on my back staring up at the ceiling, wondering why people died, why there was a carpet to begin with, and questioning whether or not it was even worth getting up off the ground.

With this event came feelings of loneliness and isolation. I spent a lot of time in my room after school listening to audiobooks, drawing, reading, writing. My mom bought some modeling clay for me and I used it to make people. I would sculpt faces. I would look into their inanimate eyes and wonder if they knew what I was feeling. I craved the comfort of commiseration. A simple, “That must be so hard. I’m sorry that happened to you.” A few months later, my parents got me a journal to write in. I wish I could say that I was devout to my diary, but I really didn’t know what I should write. I didn’t really feel like anything I had to say mattered. I’d write every once in a while, but it was so infrequent that every entry was an apology to anyone who would read it saying that I was sorry that I hadn’t written in so long. Life happened and I didn’t really see the point of writing it down. I got the support from my family, but I still felt the pressure of solitude building up in my chest. Would anyone truly understand how I was feeling?

A year passed and I was in middle school. One of the assignments that the core teacher had us work on was an autobiography. It was a behemoth. I was almost twelve-years-old by that point. Twelve years is a long time, but how could you expect a twelve-year-old to compose a history of their life so far? Anyway, I decided to take this assignment seriously. I sat down and wrote every experience I could recollect from my long gone childhood. I was able to put into words the first time I got stitches. The blue plastic kiddie pools, the sprinkler under the trampoline, the genius of putting the pools on the wet trampoline and getting my younger brother to jump into the pools with me. The confusion, the pain, the blood, the rush to the the hospital in our old green suburban while holding a wet rag to my split chin. A damp dishrag draped my brother’s dirty blond hair as he held the split in the top of his head. The stitches. The shots. Don’t get me started on the shots.

jace court

I wrote about my dad bringing home a traveling family that had car trouble on their way home and needed a place to stay for the afternoon while their car got fixed. It was the first time I had ever met a black person. I remember realizing that race didn’t matter. Everyone has struggles. I remember eating dinner with this family. My parents had just signed me up to play youth soccer and I had just gotten my uniform. I had it in a little bag. I wanted to show it off to the visitors and brag a bit about being a soccer player.

I wrote about what it was like having siblings in college and how fun it was to have them come home for the weekend. Mom and Dad called it babysitting, but it was anything but. I remember when my oldest sister came home from college one weekend. My parents had gone to the temple and left her in charge. We played silly races in the backyard. Red Light, Green Light. TV Tag. You had to say the name of a TV show and sit down in order to evade being “it”. Watching movies. The Princess Bride. MTV music videos. The Best of Saturday Night Live. The Simpsons. Seinfeld. Playing Scene It. That night she was getting me and my younger brothers ready for bed. The only problem was that we weren’t tired and the sun was still out and it didn’t make any sense as to why we had to sit in bed. You don’t go to bed until the sun goes down. Everyone knows that.

megan and jace

After reaching back into my adolescent archive, inevitably I came to the year my sister had passed away. I fought it. It was too hard to bring those emotions up and share them with others. I didn’t know how to adequately express what I had felt, what I was still feeling. After a long time of struggling to say what would best illustrate the myriad of mixed emotions that spun in my mind, I finally emptied everything. I wrote about the car accident outside of Las Vegas. It was the first weekend in October, about a month before she passed away. I was with my sister and her kids. It was a Honda Odyssey Minivan. We were going to pick up her husband at the airport. Her kids were crying in the back seat. I unbuckled myself to go check on them and before I knew it, we were careening off the side of the road into a ditch. I tried to scream, but the terror choked the sound in my throat. Was I going to die? Were we going to die? Was everyone okay? How did this happen? Why did this happen? We were fine, nobody was hurt. As I sat and typed this experience, things became a lot more clear to me. I recalled the day it all happened. Halloween 2006. The scariest Halloween to date. One of my older brothers came into the room I shared with one of my younger brothers. He gathered us together and led us up the stairs and got us ready for school and drove us. I remembered the paramedics in the basement and the police officers in the living room talking to my mother. The confusion that congregated in that setting left me scared and unsure about everything. I floated to class. All I knew was that something happened to my sister. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew that something was wrong. I couldn’t talk. I felt sick. My fifth grade teacher noticed something wasn’t right. She approached me and asked what was wrong. I started to cry. I told her something happened to my sister and that I wanted to go home. I sat in her office and cried. The kind of cry that you want to hide from others, but it comes out anyway. My classmates had no clue what was going on. Within the hour, my oldest brother came and picked me up from school and took me home. It was the middle of the morning. We went into the laundry room and started folding laundry. I was still confused. What was going on? It was me and two of my older brothers. I asked what what had happened. I couldn’t believe it. There was no way. It didn’t make any sense. “She attempted suicide in the basement.” Suicide? What? Why? I had an answer, but it made things all the more confusing. She had been life flighted to Salt Lake City with my mom.

I spent Halloween day with a friend. I dressed up like Howie Mandel. Deal or No Deal was a brand new show and I thought it would be funny to dress up as him. My friend’s mom took us to the store. We bought a bald cap. She used a toe ring as a substitute fake earring. I trick-or-treated like everyone else, but everything was a haze. Masks. Costumes. Nobody knew that I was hiding more than a full head of hair underneath the bald cap. I remember stopping by my house and feeling like it was some alien place. It was different. It wasn’t what I remembered it to be. I spent the next day at one of my friend’s house. [I don’t think I have ever truly thanked the Davis family for letting me stay at their house and helping me have a good Halloween especially considering the circumstances. Thank you for helping a scared ten-year-old boy feel normal during a time when my family needed the help] After the first day, I ended up just going back to my house. My oldest brother and his wife were there. Each of my younger siblings were with different families in the neighborhood for the week. My brother and his wife were watching this show called Lost and a new show called The Office. Even though it was November, the air was heavy and hot. It was a Wednesday. It had been a couple of days since the incident. I called my mom using our home phone. I wanted to know if everything was going to be alright. The words, “she’s probably not going to make it,” snatched my breath. The doctors were doing all they could to save my sister. She was still alive, just not that responsive. They were going to lower her body temperature to see if they could do anything else. But, it didn’t look good.

Through tears I said sobbing, “No! No! This can’t happen!” My mom said that we were going to fast and pray for a miracle. Later that night, my brother, his wife and I knelt in my parents bedroom and prayed. We prayed for a miracle. The rest of the week was blur. But, I remember sleeping on the couch in the living room on Saturday night. Early the next morning, I was starting to wake up. My brother was at the door talking to a close friend of my mom’s. “She didn’t make it. She passed away early this morning.” It didn’t seem real. I was definitely still sleeping and I just needed to wake up. I went back to bed hoping that I would wake up from this week long nightmare. To my dismay, it was as real as the blanket I was hiding under. It was as real as the bald cap I wore earlier that week. It was real. It had happened and there wasn’t anything I could do.

My parents came into the house and told us that we needed to get ready for church. I did. I went outside dressed in a white shirt, slacks, and a tie. I watched my oldest nephew jump on the trampoline. The same trampoline I had split my chin on. Split. Cracked. I thought about how things would never be the same. No stitches this time. Not even the strongest stitches could mend the hole that was in my heart. I turned around to go back inside. One of my older sisters was there. I looked at her. My eyes still red. She knew. I knew she knew. No words were spoken, but we both knew. We both felt. We hugged each other and the dams broke. I hadn’t been able to express how I felt that entire week. I tried to play it cool and be strong, but sometimes strength gives out. We went to church and my dad let everyone in the congregation know what had happened and thanked everyone for their love, support, and for their help during our family tragedy. I wrote about the funeral, how surreal it all felt. I wrote about how I had to be a pallbearer because one of my older brothers was serving an LDS mission in Singapore at the time. I remember carrying the casket with my other two brothers.

I realized as I wrote about this experience that I had been carrying this experience with me for the last year and a half alone. With time it got heavier. After writing about this experience, I felt that it would be a good thing to talk to my parents about it. After talking to my parents, we started having open family discussions about how everyone was feeling about our sister’s passing, and other trials we were going through. As I was able to talk openly about my feelings and receive validation about my emotions, I felt the weight lift. I didn’t feel like I was alone anymore. I knew for a fact that I had people I could confide in and rely on. I came to see writing as a way for me to make my voice heard and also help others feel comfortable talking about their struggles and provide them with the courage to talk about their feelings. That’s why I write. I write to be heard. I write so others can be heard. I write so others can find solace in the fact that they aren’t alone in their experiences. Everyone has a story to tell and that story is important.

I have had many experiences since then that have reaffirmed to me the importance of listening to stories. Listening to others’ unwritten memoirs. Almost four years ago, I was a brand new struggling missionary in the Philippines. I didn’t know the language or the culture. I was lost and I didn’t feel like anyone knew how it felt. I was the only native English speaking white 18-year-old for miles. If it weren’t for the more seasoned and tremendously compassionate company of a 21-year-old pasty white ginger from North Carolina who was willing to listen and validate the struggles of a freckled, frightened, foreigner, I wouldn’t have stayed in the country and completed a life-changing two-year mission. [Quin Volpe, thank you forever. You will never know how much I needed that exchange. You gave me the confidence I needed to become the missionary the Lord needed me to be. Mahal kita!] I wouldn’t have met a young mother who wanted to become better and raise her children with a knowledge of Jesus Christ and the promise of something better than what she had. I wouldn’t have “barged” into the home of a family of six who had been hiding from the missionaries for nearly a decade only to find out that what we had to share with them was exactly what they had been praying for for years.

lagawe elder volpe

FHE Bagabag

We all have struggles. We don’t always need solutions. We need to be heard. Telling our stories, whether that means orally or written, and listening to others’ stories allows us to connect with one another and grants us the chance to commiserate about challenges or accomplishments. It allows us to be human with each other. As difficult as it might be to write or tell our stories, the payout in the end is incalculable and might save your life.

Writing and listening can change lives. Tim O’Brien, author of The Things We Carried, a collection of short stories about his experiences fighting in Vietnam, said in an interview that the reason he began to write was because he “want[ed] to touch people in a way that stories can touch them.” He continues saying that, “literature… really touches individual people, and real lives, in the real world, and contributes to their lives, it does something to their lives. That’s what I dreamed of when I began writing. I dreamed of touching some fifteen-year-old kid… some grieving mother.” In addition to this, O’Brien says, “if [literature] is any good, it can make you feel a little less alone in the world. Someone else has gone through this, and it gives you some late-night company, with your memories and your sorrow. Literature does touch people. It’s not just to be read in English classes.” [I’ll provide the link to this segment of the interview at the bottom of this article if anyone wants to watch it] I wholeheartedly agree. I’m not saying that everyone should become an author and write books, but I am saying that everyone has a story to tell. Reading or listening to someone else’s story, along with telling our own, gives us the chance to create connections and construct collectives of individuals who are able to empathize and validate.

As a high school student I had the chance to read many books. I’ll admit it completely. I was just like any other high school student. I complained about having to read books for my English classes. It wasn’t until I read J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front that I really started to enjoy reading and really solidify my love for writing.

Salinger’s Holden Caufield really resonated with me. I related to him. He loved writing, and he was a teenager trying to figure out his place in the world. The way that Salinger wrote the dialogue in the book impressed me. It wasn’t full of long words or passages that were difficult to understand. It was written as if it had been written by a teenager. He was speaking my language. Not only that, but Holden had seen and known, or at least claimed to see and know, the uglier side of the world and wanted to protect his sister Phoebe from it. This book left a huge impression on me as a writer and showed me that even an angsty teenager can have a story to tell.

Remarque’s semi-autobiographical war novel depicts Paul Baumer and his classmates who are urged by a school teacher to enlist in the German army in the opening months of World War I. After joining the army, they realize that war isn’t as glamorous and honorable as they had read about in books. They experience the horrors of mechanized warfare, chemical weapons, and the destitution of the trenches. The moment in the novel that impacted me the most is when Paul has to spend the night and most of the day in water-filled crater with a French soldier who he kills while trying to defend himself in the hole. He speaks of reaching into the dead man’s breast pocket to find a picture of the man’s loved ones and other items that suggest that the man he killed was not much different than himself. He had similar fears, interests, and he too probably had no idea what he had gotten himself into when he joined the army.

Stories like these, my own, and others from people who have confided their struggles in me have helped me understand that each person has something that they carry with them. They have experiences that we don’t know and we won’t be able to truly understand them unless we listen to them, validate them, and give them the chance to be heard. You have a tale to share, I have one. The guy in your neighborhood has one too. The lady at work who keeps to herself does as well. Writing might not be your “thing,” but I can promise you that writing and sharing your story with others can not only help you sort through the crap that accompanies the low times in life, but it can most definitely help others who are struggling with similar things. Like Tim O’Brien said, we have the power to touch other people’s lives with the stories we carry. If we take the time to write them down, share them, listen to them, and validate, we can, while atop a solitary patch of dirt on this spinning rock in space called Earth, find friends and fellow humans with whom we can commiserate and who can comfort us in the times when we need it the most.

Here’s the link to the video! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C48fWkljK28