Sunday Songs: Smashing Pumpkins – “Thirty-Three”


I’ve never been good at ending things.

It’s always a tricky endeavor, isn’t it? Finding a conclusion, a neat summary, a final sting. In journalism school, I was taught the inverted pyramid structure of writing: Put the most important aspects of the story at the front, tailing off to nothingness. Space was at a premium in the then-dominant print world, and the inverted pyramid meant that readers could get the gist without following the jump, or that if some of the story had to be chopped off to fit the space, nothing of import would be lost.

Even so, I struggled. I remember days in the old office, my stories all but written, staring into space past the translucent iMacs and searching my mind for one final line.

A few weeks ago, I was thinking about those days, about the nature of modern journalism and my semi-pride at the knowledge my framed degree has rested on the floor of my laundry closet for the entirety of the nine years I’ve lived in this home. My journalism career might have amounted to nothing, but I find that preferable to contributing to the shitshow the industry has become. All sorts of conventions are being challenged, traditions are failing.

One night, I tried to remember how it was stories are supposed to end. We never learned about this in school, but I’d heard of it nonetheless, a number between two dashes to represent to editors that your story was complete. As I remembered, it was -33-, but a Google deep dive told me I was wrong. In the end, it was -30-, a shorthand derived from the telegraph days and the title of the final episode of The Wire.

My journalism career never ended so much as it faded into nothingness, a match failing to light. It made sense I couldn’t recall how stories once ended.


I got a tick older yesterday. Thirty-three, the age at which Jesus was crucified. Thirty-three, the age at which my father became a father once more. Thirty-three, the age at which my mother was widowed.

Thirty-three, the age at which I…

don’t know.

Yesterday morning, I ran my third 10k of the year, my times growing slower in each. In the afternoon, I played a board game with friends, one that dragged on hours past any previous session of that particular game, long enough to call an audible on the modest drinking plans scheduled for afterwards. We wound up eating late at the diner I was last in two weeks ago, before grabbing one more drink at a nearby bar where my last appearance, earlier this year, turned into a minor meltdown.

Sitting at the bar, my lone remaining friend and I discussed the absurdity of modern tribalism and speculated on the state of our friends’ relationships, debating whether weariness was seeping into someone’s voice or if it had been there all along. His relationship had recently wobbled and nearly broken, but it remained intact, a story which I haven’t heard and don’t particularly care to.

As for me, nothing.

His girlfriend tried to set me up with someone this summer, and the trajectory of that lower-case-r relationship was not unlike that of the Space Shuttle Challenger: A slow start as engines prepared to fire, the early stage of a rapid ascent, and then, nothingness. Failure, only explained in hindsight, through conversation with third parties.

At my age, my father’s last major life event—except for the truly final one—happened. At my age, the arc of my mother’s life changed forever. And here, at 33, I’m trying to figure out how I got an invite (with a +1!) to an alleged VIP party next weekend, and conspiring with a friend to get fancied up enough that it will take more than one glance to tell we don’t belong.

I sometimes wonder if Imposter Syndrome is a recent phenomenon, if previous generations were as subject to crippling self-doubt as mine is. A few days ago, I saw a Reddit post stating that the average age of NASA engineers in the control room at the time of Apollo 11’s conclusion was 28. Did they wonder what they were doing there? Or did they feel they’d earned it?


This project got out of hand a while ago.

This project, this whole Sunday Songs thing, began as kind of a lark. As a warm-up exercise, as an attempt to practice certain skills I felt I lacked for the next project I wanted to work on. I thought it might last until the end of last year, or maybe a year in full. It quickly drifted, becoming something other that what I intended, and while I still managed to work on some of the things I wanted, others fell away. That other project, the idea for a novel that I’ve been bouncing around since before Johnny Cash died, kept getting pushed back.

I’m proud of some of what I’ve written here, but most of it is crap. And that’s fine—I’ve compared this blog, and this series in particular, to a musician’s garage, a place to experiment and work out the kinks, to find my sound. Stylistically, I have a better idea what I’m trying to do next. I’ve made a few mistakes, broken a couple of my own, never-stated rules, whether intentionally or not, but largely, I feel more confident that I can pull off some of the trickier things to which I aspire.

But these Sunday Songs posts long ago started to feel like a burden, like a thing I had to plan around, a thing I had to do instead of a thing I wanted to, or enjoyed. Several times, I had to bank a post earlier in the week so I could go out of town or attend a music festival. A couple times, I had to scramble home and plop down in front of the computer to pound something out before my self-imposed midnight deadline. Once, I put the finishing touches on a post with my iPad and a Bluetooth keyboard during a lull in a board gaming session, leading a friend to snark at me, “Congratulations, you’ve invented a laptop.”

If there’s a reward to be found from all of this, I don’t know what it is. To be fair, that’s not why I’ve done it to date, but that’s kind of why I’m stopping. To get my freedom back, to reclaim the chunk of my energy that I’d dedicated to this task, to remove this anchor from my mind. It got stale. It mostly hasn’t been good. And if I felt differently, well, I’d keep going.

Maybe some day, I will.

NaNoWriMo is coming up in November, and my current volunteer gig ends with the election. I’m thinking about trying my hand at that novel again, trying to redeem the mess that was my 2006 NaNoWriMo attempt. Maybe I will. Maybe I’ll find something else. Maybe aliens will descend the moment I finish this post and force me to reconsider this conclusion.

I grew older yesterday, and I’ve reached the point where I’ve realized that my present doesn’t look anything like what I’d imagined this age would when I was younger. I’ve given up on trying to predict the future, on assuming I know any of what it holds.

But what I do know, at least for now, is that I’m done with Sunday Songs, and on to the next thing.


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