I have a weird relationship with the music of The National. Most of the music grips me in places I don’t want to be touched, yet I listen over and over again, letting it not only touch me but embrace me, pull me in close and whisper in my ear. Sometimes it’s ok and I get a certain comfort from it, like somebody sitting quietly next to you, just handing you tissues as you mourn a loss. But sometimes it pushes a button and takes me to a floor I didn’t want to get off on. And I stay there. I stay on that floor with that music, with that awkward arm around me, with emotions that flood my heart and my eyes and I revel in it.
There are some albums more than others that force these feelings upon me. Boxer and Alligator both have the ability to set me on a path that usually ends in tears and a feeling like having your soul poked with a stick repeatedly.
And here is Trouble Will Find Me, an album that took just one listen to surpass both Boxer and Alligator in terms of emotions felt and fists squeezed around my heart.
Make no mistake, it’s not simply a case of lyrics hitting home. No, there’s so much more to the National and especially to Trouble Will Find Me than that. It’s in the tone, in Matt Berninger’s beautiful baritone, in the presentation and arrangement. It’s all put together in carefully constructed layers; a cake made of ingredients you find in your brain at 3am. All this beauty and sadness, all the poignancy and melancholy, crafted so precisely, so perfectly layered you can barely tell one piece of the cake from another, you just devour it without knowing which parts are which and you taste everything at once. You’re smiling, you’re crying, your heart is soaring, your heart is breaking, you want to turn off the record and never listen again and you want to listen to nothing but this forever.
So you listen. And your heart goes one way while your brain goes another. There’s a tug of war between your rational self and your emotional self, part of you just wanting to enjoy the intricate melodies, the lullaby lilt of Berninger’s singing and part of you wanting to just find someone to cling on to and hold tight while you weep and sigh and love and rage.
The best thing about Trouble Will Find Me is the best thing about most of The National’s music; each song is immediately familiar and known, a friend you didn’t know you even had until it knocked on your door and let itself into your world. You pour it a cup of tea and sit there talking about love and loss and fear and anger like you’ve been friends forever. In a way you have. Trouble Will Find Me is a culmination of all your inner thoughts and emotions come to life. That friend you’re having tea with, that song you let into your house and heart is just really a piece of you. The National are best at being familiar, at turning a mirror on you while you listen to their music so you’re never listening alone, there’s always your Demons to hang out with, there’s always the trouble that will find you, knock on your door in the form of album full of salt for your wounds and then offer you a salve for the sting.
If you are your own best friend and your own worst enemy, Trouble Will Find Me is a manifestation of self, something to listen to alone - which is really the way to listen to all of their albums. But you’re never really alone. You share this one with your demons, with your hidden skeletons, with all those 3am ghosts that hover around your bed. And you don’t mind. You don’t mind them coming out because my god, the music is beautiful and heartbreaking, music that needs to be shared, even if it’s with just the other parts of yourself that understand how a simple set of notes strung together can make you feel so much.
I’ve tried to foist The National on others to no avail. Maybe they don’t hear what I do. Maybe they don’t listen for it. Perhaps The National is one of those bands that you have to have a certain mindset to get. To someone else, maybe all the songs sound the same, maybe in a perfect world that voice and these arrangements and the low key cadence shouldn’t work. Maybe if you live in a world that has its share of cracks and sharp edges you can hear it. You can hear it in “I Should Live in Salt” and “Sea of Love” and you can feel it in “Slipped” and “This is the Last Time.” In a perfect world a band like this couldn’t pull off six albums of sounding exactly like the other albums, but in a perfect world we don’t need the comfort of songs that sound like old friends to sit with us while we mourn. In a perfect world, everything sounds like a pop song played on a car stereo on a hot summer evening, but this is not a perfect world and sometimes things need to sound like this, like the world is cracked and peeling and falling apart and the only thing that holds it together is knowing you’re not alone. So you slow dance with your demons and skeletons and ghosts while you listen to Trouble Will Find Me, knowing your cracked world is, in a way, perfect for you and whoever else finds their heart in these songs.
Here's an ask: pitching. How do you convince an editor that your idea is worth reading and you are the person to execute it? And if the response to a pitch is silence, how do you learn from that (and how long do you wait before trying elsewhere)?
It took me a very long time to be comfortable writing pitches. And once I started, I just went headlong into it.
Each pitch I write is different in tone, depending on who/what publication I’m pitching to. I do my best to make my idea sound like the most original idea in the world, one that only I could write. I put a personal spin on everything because I think that conveys a message that I’m the one to write the story.
I have many pitches out there that have been met with silence. But I know sometimes it takes upward of six months to hear so I just wait patiently.
There is one publication I pitched where the editor I sent to the pitch to followed me on twitter about two weeks after I sent the email. I thought that was a good sign. Four months later (and an interview with him for a Forbes article) I still have not heard anything and I’ve developed an “oh well” attitude about it. I am going to refine the idea and send it off to someone else.
My greatest pleasure would be to write an email saying “Sorry I must rescind that pitch because Publication B (a much bigger and better publication, of course) has accepted it.”
The only thing I learned from no responses to pitches is that editors probably don’t have enough time to respond thoughtfully to everything they receive or that my pitch wasn’t sound enough and needs to be rewritten or that it is hanging on a wall in an office somewhere and people make fun of it on a daily basis.
Ok, that’s not so much what I’ve learned as opposed to what I think about at 3am.
So I sent an email to me editor last night telling her I think Forbes and I are no longer a good fit. I explained in detail why I’m struggling with publishing articles the past three weeks.
I haven’t heard from her yet.
Who gives up a paying writing gig, you are asking yourself right now. Who does that?
It is more important to me to keep my stress and anxiety levels down than it is to get a paycheck for something I’m not happy doing.
Remember when I thought having a full time job was a burden keeping me from writing for a living? Well turns out having a full time job is a luxury that enables me to not take writing jobs that make me feel inadequate and like a failure.
Maybe I can work something out with my editor, but I doubt it. Forbes is what it is. They have parameters in which they expect you to write. I write outside of that.
Honestly, after I sent that email I felt a ten second twinge of regret. It lasted only as long as it took for that feeling of relief to wash over me.
Time to start writing pitches. Again.
Doors start closing (even if you close them yourself), doors open.
I am going to have my own magazine. It will be 100 Word Stories and will be available as an app from iTunes and this is really happening (I just found out) and I’m really, really excited. I get to be creative and write stories and take pictures and publish them for people to read and look at and I feel really good and excited and hopeful about this endeavor.
It will be put out by 29th Street Publishing, who publish Maura Magazine and The Awl Weekend Companion among other magazines.
I will let you know more as I get this ready and we get closer to actually launching it but I hope you will join me on this adventure (and I will be taking submissions).
I have never felt so good about anything, writing career wise.
I want to thank all of you for always encouraging me. Stick with me. This is about to get exciting.