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Telephone Wires


Why is a sunset with telephone lines blocking it sometimes more beautiful than a straight sunset? The natural overlapping with the manmade is more beautiful than just the manmade or the natural on its own. The intrusion of the manmade on nature amplifies both as long as one doesn't overwhelm the other. Is it like androgyny?

Is it the darkness of the telephone lines in silhouette against the sky? Because it transforms something that is there all day and night into something else different and specifically beautiful, but only for a very brief and emphatic time? How much of its beauty is bound up in its briefness? Isn't that what is so beautiful about flowers?

What is it about contrast that is greater than sameness? It's not just beauty versus ugliness, because I don't believe the telephone wires to be ugly, and the sunset can be so beautiful as to become ugly in its maudlinism. They are beautiful in completely different ways, ways that necessarily exclude. Each thing cannot be the other. 

Writing is spending that creates more money in your wallet. The wallet has the illusion of only ever having five dollars in it, so you are always afraid to spend your last five dollars, but then when you do another five dollars magically appears the next day.

Sometimes a ten or twenty appears. Occasionally you spend it unwisely and feel stupid afterwards. But when the next bill appears it is a brand new opportunity to decide what to do with it and no decision that you made before the current one matters at all.  

If you don't spend the five dollars, it disappears at the end of the night. The five dollars you get the next day is an entirely different five dollars but it looks identical to the one from the day before. There is no accumulated interest, but the more often you spend the five dollars the more likely it is that a twenty might show up sometime.

We think of artistic processes as male sexual processes. You ejaculate on the canvas (Jackson Pollack to Dash Snow). You write a book and then you bind and print it, the end. And then if you want to write another book the whole process starts over again from the beginning. But what if art is a female sexual process? If there is no refractory period? What if orgasm just leads to more orgasm? More spending? More paintings, more poems, more posts on a website? Every day there is five dollars and a sunset. 

Hamlet is about a very common twentysomething desire: the desire to not make any permanent decisions. It is an extension of the desire to not get any older, which kicks in right around 25 and manifests as a darkened train tunnel projecting to the grave. There will be a lot of times at which you have to decide something and there will be no way to avoid making a choice. If you kill your stepdad, you can't un-kill him. 

The decision to not make a decision is ironically enough, totally still a decision. It just means your choice will be made for you, which is even more stressful and worse than choosing. If you live in one place, you don't live in another place. If you're a doctor, you can't be a lawyer. If you marry one guy you can't be married to some other guy. Self-absorbed young men such as Hamlet tend to think this tendency against wanting to make serious decisions is specific to them but it is how everyone feels.

That was the real moment of clarity in Knocked Up: when Leslie Mann asked her husband Paul Rudd why it hadn't occurred to him that she might also want to see Spiderman, might also want a night alone away from their kids to play fantasy baseball with her group of friends, might also want to drive to Vegas without telling anybody and do mushrooms with Seth Rogen and see Cirque Du Soleil. Why hadn't it though? 

Hamlet is really about how hard it is to make any decision, important decisions but also unimportant decisions (what to eat?) There are plenty of smaller decisions which then add up in momentum or especially lack thereof to being important decisions. How hard it is to close doors behind you and how hard it can be to keep them closed. How passivity is very much a kind of choice that creates consequences for your life. 

That there is no way to be so passive as to never make a serious decision about your life, because not making decisions or blinding yourself to the ongoing existence of this decision making process in your life still adds up to a kind of choice, often the most miserable. We do not always want to try, because to try is to open up the possibility that we will fail. But not trying makes failure guaranteed in advance.

We remember times that we took action but we also remember times we restrained ourselves or were restrained by forces greater than ourselves. We especially remember things we wanted to do but didn't, because restraining yourself from doing things you want to do but shouldn't hardly kills the desire to do them. We remember the point of decision, whatever decision we made or was made for us. We picture alternate worlds. 

The black swan cousin of "remember when" is "what if?" What if it had gone differently? What if I hadn't? What if I had? We never think of how we could have lost at times we won, only how we could have won at times we lost. We are frustrated by circumstances outside our control, but we hate to think that we control our own circumstances. 

As life keeps going on and on you are forced to acknowledge that each individual decision is not made in a vacuum. That they add up to something; your character, the way others think of you, which are not the same thing. They seem to diverge further as you get older, even as you become more firm about declaring and owning your persona, your affects and effects, whatever little island you have built for yourself. 

When you take stock of your life there are plot holes galore. You find it hard to believe that you acted as if the future was endless, as if bullets only go up in the air. But that is the illusory image of youth; nihilism, just as the illusion of adulthood is stability.

Molly Lambert is the managing editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Los Angeles. You can find How To Be A Woman In Any Boys Club here, Speak Now here, and East End Boys and West End Girls here. She tumbls here and twitters here.

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Reader Comments (14)


March 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterE

I'm puzzled by your choice of couching a discussion of artistic creation in monetary terms. If you "spend" it, who's taking your money? And doesn't your conception result in each artist introducing more and more money into the system, making all of it less valuable every day? I'm not being flip. I really think that matters. Do we lapse into commercial discourse because it really applies to all areas of life, or just becuase we decide to apply it to all areas of life?

Also, is it necessarily safe to connect artistic creation so closely with pleasure? Do all artists see the creative process as inherently pleasurable? Are there asexual artists? Is that possible?

The connection helps you make a point about how we gender the creative process, but I wonder if you don't gender it yourself as well--not by positing a female model for artistic creation, but by pairing an idealized feminine creative process with a *patriarchally* masculine model for the creative process? If patriarchy distorts and reduces masculinity, strictly enforcing its limits, what does your schematic do to femininity?

March 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNickelas

hamlet, knocked up, molly lambert

March 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWill H

How are yaaaa???

In all seriousness, as a comedian: from now on, please spell my religion, the one I invented and do informercials for, as Maudlinism(TM).

And don't miss our Labor Day Telethon with Lola Heatherton, Lorna Minelli, Bobby Bittman, and Lord Xenu!

March 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSammy Maudlin

OMG wtf has happened to Molly recently? Soooo solemn. Jesus write less and don't kill yourself.

March 2, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterboobs

sprint! go! don't stop! it's only Wednesday and the binary-dividing horizon is actually starting to get closer! do you need a cup of water? if the auteur film-maker can adapt a novel into a film w/o compromising her integrity, why can't it swing the other way? where is your book, Molly Lambert? this comment is not spam-

March 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDerrick

your segues are abrupt, though logical; i suppose this stems from writing for a blog audience and within the confines of a blog format. just need to adjust my own perspective. i find the beginning of the verbal argument path and the end always surprising, which i enjoy. that being said, i prefer to keep my thoughts on "hamlet" and my own creative process, whether it be metaphorized monetarily or sexually, apart from those on "knocked up."


March 2, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterblue roses


Yeah, you're right. Now that I read it again, I guess I was being a jerk with a bunch of pretentious, hectoring questions, overeading, etc.

Feel free to disregard, errbody!

March 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNickelas


What? You're fine. We are def just two guys named Nickelas and Derrick commenting on this blog we love. It is all about us.

March 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDerrick

I so <3 Molly Lambert, and this piece is just one reason why. There are others that I won't go into.

March 2, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercugat

I liked the way the piece starts by having us look up into the sky at the prosaic telephone line sky tableau, and ends with us looking up into the same sky watching for bullets on a downward trajectory.. and tripping over the metaphors they're so thick as it falls, and falls.

March 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterItroll

Who cares if it's monetary value. That's a value we all (have to) understand. Better, it's simple too. Having spent several forehead-bleedingly unproductive days not writing recently, it's a relief to be reminded it might be that straightforward: spend that five dollars, it's the only way you might ever make twenty. (though sometimes it feels all i've got is loose change in my pockets) Thanks Mollly

March 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTony Volda

@Derrick and @Nickelas

Never change.

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterZoe

I just found you linked from a post on Her Five Dollar Radio! I recently started a blog myself and I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing yet, but your post helped me sit down and think about it and, well, spend five dollars. Thanks! Looking forward to going through your archives.

March 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLeah

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