I met a woman named Charlie the other night, at the Village Tavern open mic. I’d actually met her a week before, at the Pub on Park open mic, but when I saw her again in the VT I couldn’t place where my sense of recognition was rooted. In fact, I avoided looking at her because I found her attractive. A feeling of recognition only adds to that.
The old pick-up line, “Don’t I know you from somewhere,” is based on the fluid relationship between recognition and attraction. It’s hard to say which is a subset of which. Being a Follower of Narcissus, I’m thinking attraction is a subset of recognition. Attraction is the force exerted by recognition. Attraction is the force of identity, and the hawk and dove are polar expressions of this Force; as, on another level, are the Eagle and Serpent.
Back in Biblical Times, this relationship was even more explicit and pointed. Back then, to know was to copulate with. I much prefer this word, know, over all others to describe this act. Fuck is too crude, though it has it’s place. Make Love presumes too much. But then, know has its own pretense. Still, it carries deep implications that I find valuable perhaps exactly because they’re scarce. More generally, I think these are the sorts of implications, the level of meaning, that I’m most drawn to. It is the archetypal, the classical, and the archaic.
Anyway, I had a sense of both knowing her and wanting to know her, so I looked away. When she got up to sing, though, how I knew her became clear.
Charlie is from Rhode Island and has the accent to prove it. She sings in flawless Nashville, but she speaks pure Cranston. Maybe she’s from Smithfield, or Warwick. Wherever, I am tempted to call this duality her signature charm. It’s a way I feel at home with. It’s a way I know, because I am similarly part local and part outsider. Charlie is recently back at home after spending a few years in Tennessee, developing her craft and doing the things people do to make it in music.
I’m coming to recognize during my extended shipwreck here in the Ocean State that this place is inside me. Even though I felt like an alien here, and left exactly in pursuit of some higher version of myself, at the same time I feel at home here. It’s a comfort to talk to the people. But, every conversation I’ve had here has felt partial, satisfying to one part but not the other. Sitting and talking with Charlie after she played, I felt the … what is the word? … recognition of being met on both sides of myself.
I’m hatching a theory as I write that such meeting is like, and potentially involves, getting the two hemispheres of the brain into a sort of harmony. This synchronization makes us much, much, smarter. More than that, this synchronization is what we’re seeking. It is what an artist does.
So, I was what we might call thrilled to be speaking with her. Loneliness is not simply a desire to know other people, but a desire to know ourselves. Better put: we want to know others so that we can be ourselves. Being and knowing go hand in hand, and this union is bliss. But that’s an awfully heavy responsibility to lay on someone: let me know you so I can be myself and experience bliss!
It’s ridiculous. Fools rush in, as the song says. As we sat, though, one of the regulars, Don Colt, was doing a nice rendition of the Stones’ Wild Horses and Charlie and I, both being songwriters and students of songwriting, got into talking and laughing about what a good song it was. I commented on how it didn’t matter that I didn’t know any of the words from the verses. The whole song was contained in the chorus, and that was barely any longer than the title. Wild horses couldn’t drag me away. That, I said, is what everyone wants to feel. As I write this, I can both acknowledge in retrospect that I was talking about myself, and that this that is the bliss of be-knowing.
I went up after Don and Charlie hung around to listen. I was last on the list and the Village Tavern was mostly empty by then – just a few regulars, the staff, and a couple other people. Lori, the host, made a comment about how it was perfect for me because I like the room to be quiet, and as I plugged in I had the thought that it might actually be that way while I played. But, the VT is what it is. As soon I started to play, all of the regulars broke into conversations.
When I arrived earlier I was thinking I might not play. I mostly went to watch the Celtics play game 7 against Washington, as my mom doesn’t have cable. I’ve played so many open mics over the last month and a half – and so many at the VT itself – that I couldn’t see the point of doing another. But, Charlie being there had given me a point. I enjoyed what she shared and I wanted to share back.
I don’t really know if she enjoyed what I played – the harmonica guy was very keen on talking with her, and with me on stage this was his chance – but I used the opportunity – as I have on many occasions these past weeks – to cultivate my own sense of performative focus. In fact, perhaps in a way the regulars talk so as to help performers drop through self-consciousness into their own zones. Being involved in conversation is a sort of courtesy.
Whatever the case, I was the last name on the list and Lori kept asking me to play more, so I did. Charlie had told me she was planning on leaving right after my set, and as my set stretched from the usual three songs to what was probably the seventh, she got up from the bar and collected her things. Being between songs, I said into the mic, “Charlie, before you leave, write down your number for me.”
The regulars loved this. It seemed to them bold and romantic, though I wasn’t consciously thinking about it as such, and neither was she. I think we were both thinking about it in terms of being something like fellow travelers on the same path. Everyone wants to ride the wild horses, though, and I’m what you might call wild horse deprived. So, after feeling totally innocent in the moment, in retrospect I had to reckon with that reality.
From the perspective of the regulars it was all simple enough, and charming in its simplicity. I know it’s not, though. Later in the evening, at home, I resolved not to make use of the number she’d left for me. So rather than writing her, I’m writing here.
Finally, I chose the image for this post not only because it’s a character named Charlie X but because the central issue of that character as it relates to my own state is where I was aiming to get by means of this story. Not going to get there this time, though, so I’ll just consider it a note to a future self as regards an abiding reality.
This story continues here…