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ten tracks
my mind in music
by michelle von euw

I get my best ideas when my brain and my body are as far away from a computer keyboard as possible. Up to my waist in sea water, a rocky beach behind me and a stretch of blue/green/white endlessly reaching out before me. My limbs moving faster than they should on a treadmill, my face red, the hollow of my lower back collecting sweat, my focus on my heart rate and my slipping sports bra and the Sportscenter highlights on the television above me and the speed at which the red numbers flip forward, telling me how much more time I’ve left before I can breathe normally again. On the edges of sleep, unsure of what is reality and what is conjecture, my brain quickly categorizing through known facts and pasting them together, paying little attention to context or meaning, like some sort of bizarre mental collage.

It is possible I get my worst ideas these ways, too.

* * *

Even in chaos there is order. There is a thread that ties everything together, whether it is tight and taut, or slack and in danger of meandering off into the netherland. Or maybe there is more than one thread, a thick handful of gossamer strands (I’ve always hated that word “gossamer,” but that’s the adjective that came to mind, so you’re stuck with it) clutched together.

This thread is religion. This thread is watching “Studio 60” and yelling at the pious character down on her knees, praying the only way a liberal television producer knows how praying looks like: Look at Me, just like everything else in Hollywood. My husband and I – who have admittedly prayed in public countless times without anyone knowing or calling this type of attention to it -- call this character an asshole.

Of course, we end up calling all the lead characters on this show an asshole at some point during the next 42 minutes.

* * *

Tragically, everything reminds me of television. When I hear the word “hearse,” the first image that comes to mind in the pale green version driven by Claire Foster on "Six Feet Under," and not, say, the day my dad drove us to elementary school in the hearse owned by Uncle Dave Oakie (Oakie? Is that right? How does one spell the uniquely Boston shortening of the name O’Connor?). Dave Oakie was a funeral home director, and on the days my dad would switch cars with him so the hearse could be taken in for service at my dad's dealership, my mom would ring the neighboors' doorbells and assure them no one had died.

* * *

This is where I start to stumble. This is where my bright ideas, conceived so very far away from the computer keyboard, begin to question themselves, where I begin to doubt the wisdom of my decisions. My character is built on forced modesty: every time I begin to think I’m doing something well, begin to take pride in my actions, something happens to torpedo this emotion and make me realize I’m really not all that brilliant (or cute or funny or talented or good at whatever).

It’s really too soon for this, though. On the best of days, I can tunnel through the slipups: when I’m writing fiction, I force myself to keep doing, just keep writing – give my characters shitty dialogue, write flowery and un-Michelle-like descriptions of the room they stand in. Insert backstory that I know will never make the first cut, just to keep going. When I talk about this to my students, I tell them it takes me roughly 20 minutes to get back on track, to turn off that critical voice and get back to the good stuff. I have no idea where this estimate came from, however.

With smaller things – stories, columns – I usually abandon them at this point. On my hard drive is a folder chock full of half-written Intrepid columns: some of them eventually develop into something you’ll read, a month, a year after I first leave them; some will stay in that graveyard forever.

* * *

This break is manufactured. The first glimmer of this column came from the first time I listened closely to the lyrics, caught the name of one song contained within another. I love it when that happens, love the referential inside joke artists hide in the corners of their canvases. I love it when the connections are clear to people other than me.

* * *

Right now, you’re getting tired of my fistful of iridescent threads. Right now, you’re scrolling down to the end of this column, wondering how long I can possibly go on this way without making the kind of sense you’re used to me making. Right now, you’re scanning for a mention of the Red Sox, or Roger Clemens’ return to the Yankees, or speculation regarding how well Randy Moss will fit in with the Patriots. Right now, you’re glancing right, to see if anyone else has figured out what the hell is going on here.

* * *

Fuck that. Right now you’re catching on. You’re getting the spirit of this column, if not the point. Right now you’re singing along in a Tennessee accent even if you don’t know all the words, or you’re hitting the fast-forward button because this is Michelle Von Euw, and you didn’t sign up for country.

Sometimes genre doesn’t matter, as long as the story’s good. Exhibit A: "Battlestar Galactica." I’m about as sci-fi as I am country, but I still managed to become hooked on this insanely developed, smartly-written, absurdly well-acted show in about thirty-seven seconds. And yeah, the political commentary that relates directly to our current world is interesting and all that, but give me strong characters, well-plotted storylines and a solid dose of sexual tension, and I’m obsessed.

* * *

And – I’m back on television. It’s like how all my musical obsessions and likes and desires always circle back to Pearl Jam: every song begins and ends with Eddie Vedder, chasing the thin little threads home.

I’m fascinated by connections, thrilled by the idea that some really bad crap led me directly to meeting a boy in a bar ten years ago this week, that a random comparison spoken out loud to an acquaintance I’d never see again led to the introduction of me to the man I’d fall in love with, marry, and drag to Pearl Jam concerts.

* * *

I believe in coincidences. And fate. And weird shit leading to gorgeous, life-changing events. I believe we learn from our experiences, that we fail and we fail and we fail again so that when we succeed, we’ll know exactly what it cost, and just what we should do with it, because we’ve had so much experience at screwing up.

I think this may make me an optimist, but I’m not entirely sure. I’ll get back to you on that one.

* * *

So I if were being honest, that last one was kind of cheating. I hit rewind. And I edited. I took out a song that was supposed to be there, because it just didn’t fit. But that’s the beauty, and the work, of writing – the power to edit. I’m a big, huge fan of editing. Of the back button, of the highlight function, of the action of copy/cut/paste.

I’m going through a Jane Austen kick: my Netflix queue has been dominated by twenty years of dramatic interpretations of her books, and over the past few days, I’ve been simultaneously reading and watching Pride and Prejudice, comparing a current interpretation, inspecting what’s been cut and what’s been condensed, while admiring what’s been kept exactly the same.

But I cannot imagine the physical act of hand-writing an entire novel (or even typing, or producing on a small-screened word processor). For me, writing so connected to the computer screen, the possibilities that it opens to the editor in me.

* * *

I’ve always known how this will end. I wasn’t sure about the middle (I was convinced there would be mentions of Bright Abbott and Beaver Casablancas and Pirates and Larry Mullen’s drumming and medical school match days and Nicolas Silva Santy and Hideki Okajima/Jonathan Papelbon and hemming a bridesmaid dress and what poetry text to assign beginning writers, among the other things that have recently occupied space in my brain), but I was sure of the ending.

I’m standing on my toes in the chemically blue water of my apartment complex’s swimming pool, my new bathing suit measuring how deep I’ve wandered into the welcoming but still shockingly cool liquid that envelopes me. And I’m twenty-four hours past my deadline, no where near my computer, but from where I am, I can see my ipod sitting on the chair next to my towel, and I suddenly know what it is I’m going to write.


Originally from Boston, Michelle is a writer, editor, instructor, obsessive sports fan, loud talker, quick laugher, new mom, and chances are, she watches more television than you do. Follow her on Twitter at michellevoneuw

more about michelle von euw


the worst show you can't stop watching
by michelle von euw
topic: music
published: 10.11.10

soundtrack, alphabetically
a personal history via ipod compilation
by michelle von euw
topic: music
published: 1.7.05


dan gonzalez
6.11.07 @ 1:36a

Applause! Like, stadium-buzz applause!

I could never guess all the tracks that inspired you. I know VH is one of them, and PJ too, but the latter only because I know that you are one of those unfortunate fans that still don't realize how dwarfed they are by Layne, Jerry and friends. (In the case that one of these comes from Alice in Chains and went right by me, I stand humiliated!)

Anyway, I can honestly say that every single thing I've ever written, fiction or otherwise, that anyone actually enjoyed, is rooted in music. Even my political shit is all RATM and SOAD.

I tend to worry too much about the outcome as well. WE just gotta squelch the inner critic though, you and and me both, stay in tune and crank that inner rock up a notch.

michelle von euw
6.11.07 @ 10:40a

Apologies: I wanted to link to the tracks, but as our legal representation has correctly informed me, that's not quite kosher.

Instead, here's a link to the set list, which contains even more links to places where you can hear part or all of most of the songs mentioned.


jael mchenry
6.11.07 @ 11:01a

Love your point about genre. If a show or a song is good, the label on it doesn't matter that much. Right?

tracey kelley
6.12.07 @ 9:23a

I echo that so soundly. I'd never like to think I'd turn down a good movie, song, story, hell, person, because of a label.

Except for "Blades of Glory." I'm not going anywhere near that.

jael mchenry
6.12.07 @ 9:36a

It isn't the label that makes Blades of Glory a bad idea.

dan gonzalez
6.17.07 @ 2:28a

our legal representation

Walker... Not sure I'd take his legal advice. Maybe he's as good of a lawyer as he is an IM columnist. MAYBE.

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