Category Archives: TMBG

Shoehorns With Teeth


My thoughts are scattered. In them, I see a sort of pattern, a coalescence of ideas that I’d like to gather in one net, into my basket of stars or fishes. Yes, I’m fishing for ideas.

Sadly, my thoughts don’t want to be caught. In fact, I don’t want to be caught. I want to slide out, slip free, hold onto nothing. But it’s a curse of humanity to want to capture and categorize. Ever since we gave sense to sounds by giving them meanings, we’ve defined the world according to a shaky order of ideas. Why do the symbols l-o-v-e come to be pronounced in one phonetic pattern (that actually doesn’t follow the phonetic order), and where does this phonetic pattern obtain its abstract meaning?

I have no idea, but I accept the meaning and sound of love for the sake of the linguistic history of my own idiom. But what I can’t accept are others forcing their barbed definitions onto me. You know how it feels when somebody chooses to make sense of you by expressing an all-encompassing definition. And you’re hurt by the callous, if not false, meaning attached to your core being. You aren’t a “right-wing nut-job” or a “bleeding-heart liberal” or a “strident feminist” or a “wannabe writer” or a “conspiracy theorist”–not by the narrow definitions given for those terms. Rather, you’re a complex human being who may have thought long and hard about what it really means to be a feminist or a writer, maybe even what it means to be a Christian.

But, hey, the master of definition says, if the shoe fits, wear it, even if the shoe has been forcibly worked onto your foot by means of a shoehorn with teeth.

The expression shoehorn with teeth comes from the chorus of a They Might Be Giants song. The next line says, People should get beat up for stating their beliefs. The genius of this pair of lines [He wants a shoehorn, the kind with teeth. People should get beat up for stating their beliefs] is in its reversal of meaning. It works both ways. The “he” of the song is an immature adult who believes in his own right to batter others for giving their opinions. But it also works against him because the next time he shoehorns his opinions on others, he might be the one to receive the divine karma.

Now I’m back to my scattered thoughts and the coalescence of ideas. Over the last several days, I’ve read internet debates on feminism, on politics, on self-publishing. Yesterday, I began reading a memoir, in which the meanness of the writer is so grating, so covered over with bumper sticker labels that I felt I was being pinned down. I was an insect on a board, a fish caught in a net, a star defined by a narrow definition of hydrogen and helium. And by the very nature of this memoirist’s status in print, she becomes the master of definition. She’s an authority. An author.

/s-t-a-r/ /l-o-v-e/ /s-h-o-e-h-o-r-n/ /a-u-t-h-o-r/ /b-e-a-t-i-n-g/. Pronounce the phonetics with me: beating, bashed, hurt, wounded. I know we can make sense of these sounds as they correlate to physicality. What about the abstracts, though? What of those? What does this mean?–> LOVE.

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Nighty Supper Special: Nightgown of the Sullen Moon

Yesterday was one of those days. Maybe you don’t know about those. It wasn’t the type where everything goes wrong–it was the type that doesn’t seem to exist, at least not for me. I’m not connected to it–I might, due to a glitch in my atomic make-up, not exist. My spin might be wrong, my magnetic moment lacking. On days like these, I accomplish little and, if I try, my attempts are worthless. TMBG captured this feeling in their song Piece of Dirt, and because of that, I know I’m not the only person who feels this way: I find myself haunted by a spooky man named me. I wish that I could jump out of my skin.

Despite my disconnect, I took my first afternoon as an independent scholar at the local college library. My research, however, didn’t go very well. First of all, it was limited to a two-hour slot because I’m not officially a student or teacher. So, not only was I an independent scholar, but a temporary one, as well. And I didn’t feel like a scholar of any kind due to my lack of search term results on JSTOR. But that’s the way research goes; I already know this. James Boswell, my research subject, eluded me. I have an important quantum physics question: If my mind is not dwelling in my physical body, why can’t it time travel to 18th C England where I might meet Boswell at a coffeehouse? Then I could be done with JSTOR.

Before my two hours passed, I remembered I had to meet my husband at—to sign a plethora of paperwork. If affirming one’s existence by signatures doesn’t work, I don’t know what will. But who is that person with the bad handwriting, I ask? Who is she? I have no idea. After we were done, we collapsed across the street at the coffee shop over doppios. I wanted to continue with my failed research project, but my husband wanted to discuss my animus. I don’t know what he looks like, I admitted to him–he tends to wear many faces. I only know that, albeit a figment of my subconscious, he’s connected to his (non)physical form in a way I’ll never be.

At that point, I dashed off a quick blog post, only to have it disappear into my nether world of nonexistence. Either that, or the internet sucks at the coffee shop. Frustrated, I stared at my empty espresso cup before glancing at the wall-mounted menu for help. I needed something to tether me to earth. That’s when I noticed the coffeehouse was advertising a Nighty Supper Special. For some reason, imagining the young male baristas in Rainbow Brite nightgowns further distanced me from the day and the moment. And please don’t ask me what kind of nightgown my animus wears; he doesn’t wear one. Trust me.

I’m sure you can guess the rest: my husband and I split from that establishment. Boswell may have loved such a coffeehouse, but we weren’t so sure. Something about it being our eighteenth wedding anniversary cropped up in the conversation, and we ran home to care for our children before going out once again for a dinner date. It turned out to be open mic night at the plaza restaurant and, while listening to musicians sing and play instruments, I bemoaned my lack of an accordion.

“Someday,” I wistfully breathed, “you’ll have to buy me an accordion, Darling.”

He touched his magic phone. Yes, he has one of those. I think it might be called a smart phone, but let’s not wrangle over details. “Done,” he said. He held up his phone and showed me a picture of a Hohner diatonic.

I might have banged my head against the wall a few times to convince myself I was actually in that restaurant, actually drinking a glass of real wine, actually looking at an accordion on my husband’s phone face that would arrive via mail at my doorstep in a few weeks.

Although I firmly believe love tethers me back to earth, I didn’t feel back in my body again until later that night. This morning, I checked to make certain the previous night wasn’t an illusion propagated by a cracked mental state. My husband’s Facebook comment cemented its reality: “Well, I did promise to love and Hohner you till death do us part and I take my vows very seriously.” Yes, he’s that kind of husband. That kind.


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