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December 19, 2006

Book Notes - Tao Lin ("you are a little bit happier than i am")

If 2005 was the year I discovered graphic novels, 2006 will be remembered for my discovery of modern poetry. I'm not talking about 20th century poets, but 21st century writers sharing their worldviews a poem at a time.

Tao Lin's you are a little bit happier than i am is poetry unadorned, offering a stark portrait of our modern world and its alienation. Pulling no punches, and drawing the reader in with seemingly simple statements, Tao Lin is one of the most inventive and insightful authors I have read this year, I am looking forward to his debut novel and short story collection, both due to be released in the spring of 2007.

In his own words, here is Tao Lim's Book Notes essay for his book of poetry, You are a little bit happier than i am:

You are a little bit happier than i am is I think a non-fiction poetry book. The narrator is myself, "Tao Lin." I wrote most of the book to console myself against unrequited feelings, loneliness, meaninglessness, death, limited-time, and the arbitrary nature of existence, maybe. The reason the book today exists is because my brain used my body and the world of phenomenon as tools to create something to make itself feel better. My brain said to my fingers what to type, my fingers said, "Okay," words appeared on the computer screen, my eyes delivered the words to my brain, my brain processed the words, and my brain said, "I feel better, thank you. You're welcome."

When I was writing most of the book I think I lived in a studio apartment with my brother on 28th street in Manhattan. I was also working on two other books. A novel called Eeeee Eee Eeee and a story-collection called Bed. Each day I woke and ate cereal and brewer's yeast and flaxseeds and walked or took the train to the library and sat at the computer two to six hours until night, then walked to a bookstore and stared at books and walked somewhere else and stared and maybe ate dinner alone somewhere and walked back to the library where two to six more hours I stared at the computer screen (or sometimes I went to a reading and stared at authors), then around or after midnight went home and lay facedown or in a fetal position on my brother's bed. If my brother was asleep I hid in the bathroom and read on the floor, to not disturb him with light. I didn't see anyone really or have any friends, or talk, and slept on an air mattress. My life was optimized for writing. If I had a choice of what to do I would just think, "What will make my writing better," and then there would be no choice anymore and I would just do what was required, like a robot. It was good. I think almost everytime I actually "hanged out" with someone the event was included in the book. Everything I did was in service to writing, except when I got very depressed and didn't do anything, which happened at least once a day. This story which is in the book is what I did some days. (I was unemployed most of this time.) Throughout all this I was always listening to music using earphones or giant headphones.

I almost always listen to music when I write. I'm listening to music right now. I'm listening to "Take the Picture Now" by Mineral. I also almost always listen to music when I'm doing anything else, including when I'm experiencing severe depression or crippling loneliness. I like crippling loneliness. Just kidding. Crippling loneliness is okay. Maybe I do like it. I don't know. There are scenes in you are a little bit happier than i am where I listen to Against Me! and Rilo Kiley (the one linked above) while experiencing crippling loneliness, and now when I read those pages I think, "That was a nice, alone, calm, quiet Tao who was able to enjoy his crippling loneliness. That is nice. That is a good Tao. He feels good."

Or maybe not "good," but that the combination of unrequited feelings, severe lack of social responsibilities and social situations, medium-high standard of living, confidence in my ability to write things that I would enjoy reading and that would console me, enjoyable interest in music, and having something non-human to focus on (writing) while repeatedly being disappointed by humans... the combination affected me with a rare, mediumly-valued form of severe detachment where the person is able to feel amused with and a little proud of his or her severe detachment, like a beginning Buddhist or alienated teeanger with high self-esteem might be, which felt something like "good."

I will create a mixed CD that gives me the same kind of feeling I just described. I like creating mixed CDs. This will be a real mixed CD that will really work if you create it. I mean it will start at one song and go to the next song and sound natural and good, and then end with a good "ending" song, like a real CD. If you email me I will create this mixed CD for you, maybe, if I have a computer that can create CDs that I am allowed to use. I spent a lot of time on this mixed CD and feel good that I can share it.

1. Pop Unknown - Writing it Down For You

This song begins very quietly and sounds good and is catchy and has sincere lyrics about not knowing if someone likes you or not. It says, "Don't believe everything you hear." I like the drums on this song. The song has a lot of bass. I like when a song has a lot of bass. I think many records would be better if the bass were louder in the mix. Once in college I was alone on a weekend at night and I went to a soundproof music practice room and learned to play this song on the piano and recorded myself doing that and wrote out the notes on staff paper, and felt embarrassed and f*cked, as a contributing member of society, which shows what kind of feeling I get when I listen to this song.

2. Miracle of '86 - Teenage Unity Song

I listened to this song a lot while laying alone in despair at night in college. The drums are good on this song. I don't know. The guitars sound good. All the instruments sound like they are alone and doing things alone, except bass guitar. The bass guitar here is like a person crushed by peer pressure into doing the same thing repeatedly until he or she dies of old age, like seventy years later. I think this song sounds like how it would feel if you were alone inside a room where the walls, floor, and ceiling are pink and blue and white mattresses and the only things in the room are piles of white pillows, a mini refrigerator of many kinds of fruit, a mini refrigerator of Westsoy unsweetened organic soymilk, and a smoothie blender.

3. Samiam - Don't Break Me

I will post the lyrics to this song.

"Sitting in the corner / I don't know what to think, I can't speak / I sink a little deeper with every drink / I try to sleep, I shut my eyes / like a leaky faucet fear floods the room / The one that drips away, patiently, by day / It was either lost or it was stolen, but it's been missing for too long / I woke up one morning and I couldn't see the sunrise / I can't recall the exact moment now, but it began some time ago, and it makes me wonder, after all i've done, what have i got to show / I'm aggravated / I'm what you created / Now don't break me"

4. Jawbreaker - Ache

This song feels like being depressed in really good weather, and walking around in the really good weather feeling very sentimental and nostalgic, as viewed from above with a 360 degree shot, from a helicopter, at the end of a very sincere but sometimes melodramatic independent movie.

5. Blacktop Cadence - Cold Night in Virginia

This song makes me feel like I'm walking around at 4 a.m. in Manhattan alone, which happened often when I lived there because late at night the trains would always get canceled or just not come and I would walk home from the library, to my brother's studio apartment, where I would hide in the bathroom.

6. Blacktop Cadence - Sinker

This song is here partly because it is a good transition to the next song. I like having this song on mixed CDs because it is a good transition to a different kind of song because it ends with 2 minutes of bass guitar, cello (I think), and snare drum repeating the same thing but quieter and then ending with snare drum alone. The next song on this mixed CD is a ska/punk song that is harsher than anything before.

7. No-Cash - The Lucky Few

I don't really listen to the lyrics on this song, you can't really understand them. I just like that it sounds good and sounds creative (when something sounds creative it is exciting and makes my brain think better things) and is catchy and the two singers seem sincere and aren't being "cute" or "entertaining" at all, but are just alone somewhere doing something without any humans around, maybe some animals. When I listen to this song it feels like I'm surrounded by dark gray mattresses and alone and have just taken many Tylenol Colds. I think they stole the guitar riff from "Today" by The Smashing Pumpkins for the chorus, which is okay. "Stealing is wrong" is an "absolutist" statement, which most people would say is bad.

8. No-Cash - A Better Tomorrow

This song has a nice, calm, undistorted guitar beginning with sound clips from The Goonies. I haven't seen The Goonies, but in relationship to the lyrics of this song the sound clips are "touching," and I might have almost cried a few times while listening to this, or really cried maybe. The drums are very good. No-Cash was made up of like three or four seventeen-year-olds. They sound like Choking Victim or Leftover Crack but maybe more creative but with less clever lyrics. Leftover Crack is also in the poetry book this essay is about.

9. Jets to Brazil - Sea Anemone

He says something about laying on the floor looking at the things in his room. He looks at the shower rod and wonders if it can hold his weight, because he wants to hang himself on the shower rod curtain, and if it can't hold his weight it will fall and he won't be hanged. He also says he is a turtle on its back in the desert and that the person this song is directed at is water. I like songs that don't repeat lyrics. This song doesn't. I like this song. It doesn't repeat lyrics, it just keeps going and then ends.

10. Jets to Brazil - Sweet Avenue

This song makes me feel like I'm happy even if I'm very unhappy and alone, because it has the power to trick me into thinking I am actually happy, but in a good way, because in tricking me it also teaches me that I can feel however I want, regardless of circumstance. I think I just made that up. Maybe it's true a little.

11. Neva Dinova / Bright Eyes - Tripped

This song and the next three songs is one medium-giant song to me. Some of my favorite moments in life happened when I was drinking coffee and writing and listening to these four songs. These four songs sound like how it feels like when you are severely depressed, but are on Tylenol Cold and just drank a giant iced coffee and maybe took some Advil. The facts say that you are f*cked and you know you are f*cked, you are conscious of that, but you still feel good.

12. Neva Dinova / Bright Eyes - Poison

Right now I reread the lyrics for this song and I liked the lyrics better without reading them, but mishearing them, like I did before, than the actual lyrics. That's okay. When I misheard the lyrics I thought he said something about sweating the poison out of himself so that he could drink it, to kill himself. I like these four songs very much, I don't think I'm conveying that. These are my favorite four songs, maybe. They work for any mood and never make you feel embarrassed, bored, pretentious, desperate, or more depressed.

13. Neva Dinova / Bright Eyes - Get Back

I will post the lyrics to this song.

"As if i hadn't learned it before / I tried my hardest to keep it all in, but I ain't keeping it in no more / made mistakes every day, and I learned from two, keep those that you love, the furthest from you, and try to take care of them too / it's just a feeling I had, and it ain't what I think I should do / pluck out my heart and I'll give it to you, and you'll get more use from yours too / get back, I'm too tired to go home and I'm too lost and alone / I looked in the mirror on the back of your door, all my weaknesses show / there's a bomb going off, out in the yard of the house, when we worked so hard to pull all the weeds out, what were we talking about."

14. Neva Dinova / Bright Eyes - Spring Cleaning

I will tell a story. I was in a girl's room. The girl mentioned most in you are a little bit happier than i am and who the title of the book is mostly directed at and she was trying to kick me out of her room. That's what she would say. "I'm going to kick you out of my room in [a number] minutes." She looked at her computer's clock and then said that. I was feeling very depressed after she said that so I lay on the floor. I was laying on her floor. I said, "Why are you kicking me out of your room?" She was looking at the computer and doing something and she told me to get out. I was saying I wasn't going to leave and that if I left I was going to walk in front of a bus and she looked at me and said, "Why are you so miserable?" and I layed on her floor a while more and then stood up quickly and walked away. This story first appeared in slightly different form in you are a little bit happier than i am and appears here courtesy of Tao Lin.

see also:

Tao Lin's blog
Tao Lin's book's blog
Tao Lin's myspace page
Tao Lin's poetry online
Tao Lin's stories online

bookslut review of you are a little bit happier than i am
time out chicago review of you are a little bit happier than i am
underground literary alliance review of you are a little bit happier than i am
L magazine review of you are a little bit happier than i am

interviews with Tao Lin

Tao Lin blogged about every poem in the book

Ellen Kennedy and Tao Lin's press

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)

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