sings Tove Lo in “Stay High (Habits Remix),” her voice limp from wandering, drained from search. Each verse the same, unaware of repeating herself, loop of distraction. “You” is gone, and “to keep you off my mind,” she has to maintain the trance, “stay high all the time.”
If she doesn’t replace “you,” “you” takes over. So what is “you?”
“You” could be a lover. Capitalism. Patriarchy. “You” could be reality.
Nature as simulacra. From the comfort of his Connecticut home, Wallace Stevens hears “a scrawny cry from outside,” that “seemed like a sound in his mind.” He quickly does away with this inside/outside duality. Whatever it seems like, it is. Even if it came from the outside, the real, it’s in his head now, internalized, to be shaped as he pleases. Let it be “a chorister whose C preceded the choir,” or “part of the colossal sun, / Surrounded by its choral rings.”
More Tove Lo:
“Staying in my play pretend
Where the fun ain’t got no end”
For two weeks in early June, puffs of dandelion fly as I speed through farm fields of Massachussetts. A ship darting through stars. A snowstorm of June.
A way to keep “you” off my mind.
Preferring their intersection, the seam. Would Reality TV producers agree?
In her book E! Entertainment, Kate Durbin reframes Reality TV as poetry, as novel, transcribing action and dialogue from a number of contemporary shows, including The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Durbin draws attention to the “scripted-ness” of these “real” scenarios. Action reads like stage direction. Scenes and montage establish narrative. Description (“a beige silk Stella McCartney wrap over her turquoise tank top”) reads like prose, exposing “literariness,” kinship with a medium devoted to plot and character.
Actors who attempt the real and fail replaced by “real people” who act. And fail.
“I’m sorry, there’s just such a big difference between what you dream about and what’s really there.”
Gena Rowlands plays an aging stage actress playing a woman past her prime. A playwright has written her tragic end, one she’s doomed to repeat every night, onstage and in life. Unhappy in marriage, her character crawls to an ex-husband. Offstage, the director claims love but won’t leave his wife. A co-star rejects her advances. She hallucinates a young version of herself and smashes the hallucination’s head with a vase.
Must the play end this way? I want to believe the illusion: changing a character’s fate changes my own. Rowlands refuses defeat, improvises, adds laugh lines, torquing the final scene into happy ending, comedy wrung from tragedy, at least on the stage, at least for one night.
One person sees a duck. One sees a rabbit. One sees a Real Housewife. All reality.
Possible definition of reality: what you do when no one’s watching (or when you think no one’s watching).
Michel Auder’s digital video installation watches windows, views of adjacent buildings captured in grainy nighttime long shot. A mother and daughter primp, noodles dangle above bowls in TV glow, a maid vacuums, a couple fights, underwear strewn, asses bounce, a man scratches his back for a full minute, balcony cigarettes, teen sleepovers, a “Best Of” culled from running the camera night after night. The same shampoo commercial on three TVs: first floor, third floor, fifth floor. Three models, toss three heads of hair tossed in perfect time.
Auder tempers this invasiveness with a little girl in his apartment, maybe age 5, seen as a reflection off his window. She looks out at the world, clutching mini-binoculars, a reminder of voyeurism’s innocence, a collective curiosity. The girl sets down her binocs and bounces and twirls around the apartment, unaware or indifferent to Auder’s camera. When I see reality, I can’t look away.
“We want real people here. No stars.”
A studio exec, played by Tim Robbins, sips his drink as a director pitches a movie about murder and mistaken identity: “An innocent woman dies. That’s reality.”
Whose reality? Why does a certain brand of male believe “an innocent woman” must die, as in pagan sacrifice, for a script to be “real?” Must reality be harsh to be reality? Reality as either homicide or banal routine.
Waiting on a train or the train hijacked, in flames.
Upon arriving at a hot springs resort, Greta Scacchi asks Robbins, “Do places like this exist?” He replies, “Only in the movies.”
Only in the mind.
On a date, I talk about Jodorowsky’s Dune, a documentary about a movie never made, what could have been the greatest sci-fi film of all time scrapped for lack of funding, existing now only in sketches, anecdotes, and in Jodorowsky’s head.
“Huh,” says my date.
“Have you seen anything interesting lately?”
My date doesn’t really watch movies.
My date asks, “Do you watch Naked and Afraid?”
“No. What’s that?”
“It’s this show where they drop a guy and a girl naked into the wilderness and they have to find their way out.”
I must have judgment on my face.
“You may not like it.” Sips drink. “Maybe you could teach me about film.”
“Maybe you could teach me about reality.”
I let go of real.
“Staying in my play pretend Where the fun ain’t got no end”
Synonym for illusion: fool’s paradise.
Synonym for reality: achieving confirmation of one’s own illusions.
British pop band Go West, in their 1990 hit off the Pretty Woman soundtrack: “I’ll tell myself I’m over ‘you’ / cuz I’m the king of wishful thinking.” A title to aspire to. “If I don’t listen to the talk of the town / then maybe I can ‘fool’ myself.” Why be king of real when there’s all-you-can-eat turquoise tank tops at the fools’ table?
Black Sabbath mastered angst, and for many, angst = reality.
On “Into the Void,” starships = harbingers of “the end of man and time.” Ozzy advocates for replacing the pilots with “freedom fighters” who will fly “to the sun” to “find another world where freedom waits.” Without riffage accompaniment, the words sound wide-eyed as a campaign promise, a Nicolas Sparks novel, a flower child mantra, an embroidered sign in a country kitchen: “Make a home where love is there to stay / Peace and happiness in every day.”
Reality in the style, in the choice of distortion pedal, hair in the eyes, cross around the neck, a captive set loose. In 2009, Sanctuary Records remastered Master of Reality. Mastering reality, then mastering it again. Does the engineer toiling over the board, fussing with knobs, with fullness, digitally enhancing sound, make Ozzy more real?
If I get over “you,” I’ll let “you” know.
Patrick Gaughan is a poet, performer, & critic living in Northampton, MA. He interviews artists & writers for BOMB & The Conversant. Find recent writing in HTMLGiant, Coldfront, The Volta, Entropy, & Blunderbuss. He’s the writer & director of Fast Five, coming this fall from the Connecticut River Valley Poets’ Theater.