Silencing the Noise to Hear My Own Voice
What I learned about writing — and myself — after spending a summer alone in the woods
He made us lie on the couch in the small, dark apartment. This wasn’t just his favorite album; the work — from start to end — had changed him on a fundamental level. He wanted me to not just hear it, but experience it. My back against his stomach, his arms wrapped tightly around my too-small body. He suggested I close my eyes. His lack of embarrassment was astonishing, intoxicating. Several times I was on the verge of falling off the couch, but it didn’t matter. I had never believed in anything as much as he believed in this album. There was no world in which whatever came out of those speakers wouldn’t change me, too. I was already changed.
It was the Bonnie Prince Billy album, I See A Darkness — a cult classic for many, but especially for a certain type of secretly-sad-but-getting-by man now in his late thirties. These days, I’ve forgotten most of the album — but the third song, the title track, haunts me still. A staggeringly slow tune, with a heartbreaking crescendo; it will cut through anyone with a pulse. The lyrics mirror the notes, teetering between hope and sadness. The verses are pure poetry but it’s the chorus that stings. “Oh no, I see a darkness,” Will Oldham sings four times before closing out with a wish, “Did you know how much I love you / It’s a hope that somehow you you / Can save me from this darkness.”
“Did you feel it?” he whispered when the song was over, the next one beginning. I did, or I thought I did. Did I? My heart had been pounding since he’d shut the lights. We had only been dating for a few weeks and I could feel the sweat starting to form in every crevice as I clenched my stomach, where his hands rested, tightly. My curls were in his face and I was afraid he might see how thin and frizzy they really were. But with each “darkness” something in me pinched, a tightness in my throat. I wouldn’t dare swallow, though; at least not too loudly. I’d heard enough to know that I couldn’t wait to listen to it again, alone, so I could really feel it.
The first time I called myself a writer was two years ago, and only because an actual writer friend made me — presumably so we could talk about anything other than my…