The Cure, “Untitled”

I spend an awful lot of time thinking about the past.  I mean, let’s face it, this site wouldn’t exist if not for an overdeveloped sense of nostalgia.  I see that faces of people I’ll never speak to again in every crowd, and I imagine bumping into the people I used to know and love.  For some reason, my life has never really been about looking forward.  At least, it hasn’t generally been so.  In high school, my general disinclination to plan for the future meant that I graduated middle of my class, and without any plans beyond “avoiding lame stuff.” (1) And so, instead of following my friends to college, or doing meaningful work, I waited for my life to begin.

While waiting, I decided to try college for two months in the Fall of 1997.  I knew a few people at my local, state school, and I thought it would be like Senior-Year Plus.  You know,  a haze of Rodney Dangerfield-esque antics and Animal House-style parties. (2) It was not.  Now, I should point out that I had more-or-less been an underachiever by choice.  I felt isolated, and different, and like the only people that really understood me were mopey, middle-aged English pop singers.  It was, all things considered, a fairly typical suburban experience.  I had a band, and a few romantic interests (all disastrous – but I think that’s mostly on me, if we’re being honest), and the usual trappings of a proto-emo existence.  In general, these forces conspired to create a willful child that would do no schoolwork for anyone he did not personally respect.  The result?  High AP scores, and terrible grades.  I was an academic enigma – or so I was often told by concerned schoolteachers.  And so, middle of my class, I had “state school” or “nothing” to choose from.  So, I went.

Mercifully, a history professor kept me after class and asked me why I was there.  I thought, naturally, that he meant “in his class.”  For some reason, however, he meant “at that school.”  He told me that I was far too bright to be in his class, and that I should really consider transferring.  I explained my grade situation, and he still offered to write me letters.  In the end, I came to the realization that I would be no good for anyone unless I wanted to be, and so I decided to withdraw from school.  And so, at age 18, I was a dropout from state school with no plans.  For the next three years, I spent many wonderful hours visiting friends at a small liberal arts college in New York.  I got to know the place, and to love the people and their fascinating subjects.  I had never been uninterested in learning, you see… Just willful.

I learned about Anthropology, and Geology, and Morphology, and finally: Middle English.  Sitting on my friend Julie’s bed, I read my first words of The Canterbury Tales in Middle English.  Aloud (she taught me).  It was strange, and wonderful, and it was a puzzle that instantly made sense.  My father bought me a copy of the Riverside Chaucer, and I spent many long hours poring over it.  Something had finally turned on inside me, and I needed to learn again.  I needed to grow, and to move out beyond the walls I had built for myself.  The giant pillow fort that was my room had become more and more empty, as friends and lovers went further and further down the paths of their own lives.  It didn’t seem apparent, at first, that learning was what I had been missing.  I was jealous of my friends’ opportunities, maybe, and I had begun to feel inferior thanks to my girlfriend’s parents and their steady stream of smug remarks about my “career path.” (3) I knew that something had to change, but I couldn’t tell just what.  That is, until I had just the right migraine.

By this, I mean, the sort of migraine that says: “I am here because your brain is overwrought.  Figure out my riddle, and I will leave.”  I paced around in my room.  I talked to my mirror, and, finally, I called Julie again.  I said – though I still don’t know why – that I thought I needed to go back to college.  I felt that I needed to learn.  I had become so bored with my path that it was beginning to drive me mad.  It was hard to feel joy in anything, because I felt that I needed something that I was missing.  And the moment I finished saying those words, my headache scattered like fog in the morning Sun.  My enemy was Boredom, and now I knew it.

The only problem, of course, was the bridge I had burned before.  I still had no academic record, and my spectacular withdrawal had not helped matters much.  But with a little help from a certain History professor, and a lot of persuasion of a provost, I was re-enrolled in college in Fall 2000.  I pursued my studies with a vengeance, and graduated with a rather remarkable GPA (though just .2 off what I really wanted).  I went to Oxford for a year, and met beautiful, brilliant people.  I found that I actually belonged in their club.  Not as a star, of course, but they did let me talk to them when I brought drinks and such.  I graduated after winning all the awards my department had to offer, and I went on to do an M.Phil. at Cambridge University.  It was Oxford all over again, and the happiest year of my academic life.

There were, of course, sacrifices.  I lost friends and loved ones to my zeal.  To other things, too, but my flexibility was greatly reduced.  I became a little older, and a little more selfish… even if I also became a bit more self-assured and a little less confused. (4) I lost time with my father, who died not long after I returned.  I’ll always regret that.  But for the most part, the transformation my life had undergone was astounding.  The only thing that remained was the Ph.D.  I was determined to make it to the top of the heap, and so I began to cast about for a degree program.  In Fall 2006, I came here to York to begin my Ph.D. in English.

It has not been easy.

But for all the heartache and headache… for all the things I have lost, I have begun to win.  I am in the final month of drafting, which, as anyone who reads Piled Higher and Deeper knows, is the worst time of your life.  But I have met someone beautiful, and she makes me happy.  And the hope of a job… and the ability to live alone, and to not worry about what the drunken housemate will be up to… oh, Heaven.  And yet…

There’s that boredom again.  The boredom that was here a decade ago, and that I tried so hard to run from.

And this is what finally brings us to “Untitled.”

I used to have these nights, when I was about 15 or 16, when I would lay in bed and listen to the vinyl version of The Cure’s Disintegration over and over.  It was breathtaking.  Full of space and texture… I mean, sure, it reminded me of my first girlfriend’s perfume, and her crushed velvet skirt… but I really did love it for its own sake. (5) Most nights, the showstopper was “The Same Deep Water as You.”  That line – “The shallow drowned lose less than we.” – used to touch some deep, mysterious place in me and echo for hours.  Even now, shivers when I think about it.  But other nights, the bed would feel slanted, and the walls too tall, and it would be “Untitled” that would hold me.

Sometimes, it was the loss of some dear friend or other that led me to that place.  Or my poor, sad band.  (Even now, there are two of you that linger behind my eyelids and cling… ) Maybe it’s that this song so perfectly articulates the two things that permeate the existence of a mopey, awkward child.  The first: “Never know how I wanted to feel  / Never quite said what I wanted to say to you / Never quite managed the words to explain to you / Never quite knew how to make them believable / And now the time has gone / Another time undone…”  When you’re that awkward child – more or less – life is a string of losses.  Everything hits your oversensitive heart hard, and with a fury and moment that makes the world feel permanently at the edge of combustion. (6) But it’s the last two lines of the song that really make it so hard to swallow: “I’ll never lose this pain / Never dream of you again…”

Moving sideways for a moment (I knew I’d work Lost in here somehow), I’ve come to realize that I have a very unusual way of dealing with the world.  Maybe it’s “obsessive,” or “eidetic,” but I remember everything.  Colors, sounds, the positions of objects in a room.  All of it.  When I look for things in books, the process is something like this: “Find two sentence block of text, left-hand side, about 1/3 through…” And there it will be.  When I see my friends, I remember the whole index of things we’ve done, and it makes it hard to keep track of whether we’re now or then.  Not that I actually forget where or when I am, but I have been known to gloss over serious life changes in my interactions as they’re not part of my current composite of an individual or situation.  This can be weird.  “Oh, you’re married… right, of course you are… sorry, for some reason, I was thinking we were still ten years ago.  Never mind.  So, how are the two kids…” (Exit, pursued by a bear.)

The point of all that is this: I have to come to a place where I am profoundly bored, and also exceptionally encumbered by these years of experiences.  There are lots of people that I have known, loved, hated, and lost that I can no longer reach to resolve things.  They are broken records.  (What would have happened if I’d said “yes?” ” No?”  “I wonder if they…”)  And then there are the ones that don’t write, and don’t call, and that I also don’t write or call.  And I watch them move away, and I’m stuck with the unpleasant task of reconciling what was with what’s left. And… “Hopelessly adrift in the eyes of the ghost again…”

Nostalgia is wonderful when it carries you back to where you once lived and loved, but it’s poison when it just leads you in circles.  And no, I’m not giving up this website, but I do think it’s time I start making some hard choices about my life.  I have to build on those friendships that are here, bury the ghosts I carry around, and learn to live and love in the days I have left.  “Untitled” is a funny song to save a life with, but I’ve come to realize that I always want to be able to feel it, even if I definitely don’t want to keep living it.

So, here I am.  And here you are.

And here’s this…

Thanks for sticking around.  It means the world.

  1. Clearly, I was also born without a keenly honed sense of irony. [Back]
  2. Just look them up, young people. [Back]
  3. You have no idea how hard it was not to send them a postcard from Cambridge…on the day I met the Queen. Yeah, the Queen. [Back]
  4. The details are probably all in here. [Back]
  5. True confession: Despite her goth cred, and the considerable mopey cast of her music collection, my first kiss was to U2’s “Trying to Throw Your Arms Around the World.” For serious.  And yes, it was my record.  And yes, Mr./Ms. Smartypants, I remember the song and not the day. [Back]
  6. It also leads to the most ridiculously melodramatic self-examination. Ahem. [Back]

7 thoughts on “The Cure, “Untitled”

  1. Hard choices about life seem to be what has to happen for a bunch of us here at the beginning of 2010. Good luck making yours. I’m facing some difficult ones myself, so I’d like to think that I feel your pain.

    At any rate, looking forward to making it through to the other side…

    • When we get there, I think there should be excellent food and drinks. We’ll soak up some great tunes, and maybe play some Ms. Pac Man. *wistful sigh* Seriously, though, good luck! Let’s get ourselves a Goat, if there’s time, and we can talk about the year and why it feels like “Name” by the Goo Goo Dolls.

      It’s starting to seem like years do not follow the odd/even principle as established by the Star Trek movie franchise. Someone should get on that…

  2. I stumbled upon this by accident really. It’s hard to believe that it’s taken me this long to come across it, given how long ago it was written. Thanks for this. I trust that you’ve made forward progress, progress with which you’re satisfied and content. I personally think that nostalgia and the past in general are good things to reflect on, so long as one can look back with a fondness and with the realization that something important was learned from those lessons ages ago. Move forward, don’t “move on.” Moving forward involves remembering the past without hurt. I love the Disintegration album but “Untitled” has a special place in my heart. The ache, the melancholy, the space and texture, and the gorgeous tone of Thompson/Smith’s guitars, whoever the hell actually tracked those parts. Some occasions that song suits me so well, it IS me. As in the liner notes, the sweetest songs are of saddest though.

  3. Your post is dated but timeless. I was searching around about “Untitled” and there it was.

    Your comments were like I wrote them myself. I’m now over half way through life (or so they say) and I’m not sure I’m that different. I have to wear a grown up face and be the adult in the room while always wanting to not.

    I hope people like us always exist.

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