Let us suppose these things are like the truth.
It starts as a tingling
in my neck. A shivering
. Like after you take a piss and get that spastic rrughrahah.
First time, it was a Mozart
tape I got in a series of audiobooks about the lives of the composers. Bach was my favorite, but Mozart gave me the spastic tingles
. Near the end, with the narrator describing his death and legacy, they cue up a crescendoing Requiem
and there’s me, 7 or so, worming out with epileptic joy
, curled up in the wayback, listening on my Walkman, face pushed into the cool red plastic side of our cooler
It was usually music that did it. But it also happened with books. Like right at the beginning of The Phantom Tollbooth
, when Milo gets the big box delivered to his bedroom and realizes what it is is a portal from his monochrome
world (even Milo sounding perfectly like a last word before sleep, a long-voweled
sigh) into something big and florid and chancy.
That’s it, really, although I like to think my aesthetic shivery thing is idiosyncratic
. It’s a sense of expansion, of things opening up all around me, of possibility unfurling
. A Friday in the fall
and you're fifteen. It's night. Three
of you have a beer to split and your feet cricklecrack the tiny gravel of the path. Some laughter. Your parents are gone. Some quiet. A swingset. There are girls to see somewhere. Anything might happen. Some wind. Some stars.
Or Bridge to Terabithia
. Death. A book taking you seriously, letting you in on the tragedy of life that almost everyone is trying oh so hard to keep you insulated from. Or The Diary of Anne Frank
. My God. 2nd grade, sitting in the library when it's raining, on the blue industrial nubby carpet, a girl a bit older talking to me. Grown men want to kill her and her family because of their name. Adults gone so damn crazy. Why did they kill this girl, who I was sort of in love with and had the unguarded expansiveness of the precocious and the good. The knocking at the door. Jackboots on the stones outside. Undone
. It’s the darkness sometimes, too, that brings these fits. The last sentence of The Lottery
: And they were upon her. Feel it. How alive and correct and sepia
-colored with dried blood. … falling gently
, gently falling over the living and the…. borne back ceaselessly into the ….
Please see this. Please feel the thrum and the knot
. In chess
, when the squares are music
and the pieces are lines and the moves are so right you feel electricity behind your eyes. Arurughughugh
. I want to stress that these fits are visceral
and involuntary. Like a doctor’s soft plastic triangle bounced off your knee
. Tap – kick. Beauty – shiveryshake. It can sometimes happen in a movie that just hits the narrative beats with perfect syncopation, first 14 minutes of Raising Arizona for example. Feeling you're in a master’s hands. Watching the sort of genius tinged with violence
. Or too when I sense that a person with whom I’m speaking is right there with me
, and there is a freedom and unpretentious ease. Engagement
. A chance of surprise. A labyrinthine mind like Nabokov
treating you to a subjective slice of its runtime.
Rugugugugh. My eyes close a bit. My shoulders tense up. I know what you’re thinking
, but it’s completely different. Instead of death more like a little birth
, raw scary glimmering openness (like a wound, like a gosling) rather than muted bliss
. Most often it’s the human voice that triggers me.
Could be the worst cliché of a school musical or something
, but then she’s
singing a solo and that damn note rings out, expanding and quivering in ether, by the time it reaches my ears the soundwaves already grown a bit distorted and lossy, but still right there I am in the dark sweaty auditorium, trembling, the world cracked
open for a second like a geode
to reveal the pure chaos and truly strange beating heart
at the center of the thing. I was born to find these moments. It is written under my skin