What are trees made of?

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biscuit worlds and biro smell

I am in a town called Linda. The sky is the same colour as the ground and the roofs. The man sitting opposite me ate too much at lunch. I am guessing this is the reason that he has unbuckled his belt, unbuttoned and unzipped his fly right there in front of me. We are driving through the countryside, cutting across the dense trees pinned to the ground like a mass of quills on the back of a porcupine.

I hate to be cliché, but I can’t help it. I am a teenager in a woman’s body, and the cliché of being cliché stifles me like a wet sponge. You write a metaphor sometimes, and it is dead on the page like an image of a corpse. When I say a tree is like a quill, or sometimes a trumpet, or sometimes a crooked old man bent double by time, or sometimes whiskers or foxes’ or rabbits’ tails, or a stripper’s legs, or a dense funereal entourage following the coffin of someone well-loved, or a buzzcut, or a billowing petticoated skirt, or a peacock’s tail, or zebra’s legs, or a lollipop, or fine rain, or tangled hair, or thrashing octopus arms, or a church spire, or a bearded face, or a silent winter, how can that be so evocative? Surely the closest thing to a tree is a tree, not a quill or a trumpet or a man bent double.

The problem, said Virginia Woolf, is that we are using old language. It is true that language is changing, and that new words are made all the time, and it is our job to express ourselves in the best way we can with the old and the new, in order to form something else entirely that is neither one nor the other, but that expresses something in a beautifully perfect way.

But, the problem for me is that language is incomplete. It is also subjective to a certain extent. This incompleteness is in deep contrast to the emotional completeness of music; music being another language, but a continuum, while the spoken word is discrete. A spoken word is a minuscule pin in the spectrum of thought, picking out an element of what is not thought or emotion or conception, but a multidimensional conflagration of these things. An evocation, I guess I mean to say.

Music has the power to quell pain, much as how one feels a punch to someone else’s face, or to be aroused by someone else’s sex, or to be infected by hysteric laughter. A study by Mathieu Roy in 2008 demonstrated the effects of music in attenuating pain induced by thermal stimulation on the skin, with the idea that music could be used as a form of analgesic in medical procedures, and as applied to chronic conditions such as psychosomatic pain (which is not so psycho, but a lot more somatic, that we previously thought, thanks to the brilliant Claudia Sommer). In this exparagus, pleasant music was excerpts of: Love and Happiness by Emst Ranglin, the William Tell Overture by Rossini, and, funnily enough, the French Cancan by Canissimo. Unpleasant excerpts were Pendulum music by Sonic Youth, The threshold of deafening silence by Paul Dolden, and Fassicles by The thirteen ghosts.

An interesting corollary to this study is the effect of these different types of music in everyday life. The study doesn’t mention anything about the participants’ overarching musical tastes. If I was a fan of Sonic Youth and thrash metal, which incidentally I am (even though Thurstan Moore irritates the hell out of me. There I said it. Answers on a postcard.), would the stimulation of my pain receptors bring out my true feelings about this sort of discordant, erratic and violent music? The fact is that it is exciting and interesting to listen to things that do not conform to anything you have heard before. When I can predict the outcome of a piece of music, it makes me feel a little bit queasy in my stomach. When I listen to terrible mind-numbing crap that is played on the radio, I feel a bit sick.

But, and for some reason we are here, I have been in labour for five days in my life. The reason I mention this is because it is the hardest thing I have ever done, hands down. And I have run up mountains, which is hard when you are a weedy little thing (the best is mount fiji, to save you a bunch of LEG WORK HAHA!), and been through my parents’ messy divorce (don’t laugh at that, asshole).

Remember that I was in labour for five days. It was no picnic. I was vomiting constantly. Visual stimuli had very little effect, in that I was happy to watch the Mighty Boosh as much as the ice hockey. I couldn’t have given two shits.

But the sounds that were reaching my ears – well, that was altogether a finer balance. My ultimate birthing dream was to listen to Reign in Blood on the way to the hospital and during the birth, but on the day there was no way. I just couldn’t do it. It just seemed to make the whole forcing a head out of my vagina business a little testing. As it turned out, it was the day that Michael Jackson tickets went on sale, and specifically Beat It was playing, and it was great, superb, wonderful, beautiful, mysterious…

I must say, it is hard to find the right words.

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