The Use of Regret
When I began to have the chance to do readings from The Use of Regret, I wanted to make them true performances, including as much multimedia as I could without distracting from the work itself. This has evolved from having a DJ dropping bits of music pertinent to the scenes in question to actors playing various roles to “The Use of Regret: A Novel in Concert,” an event at Fingerprints Records where 20 musicians and actors brought to life scenes and music from the novel.
This video is another iteration. It’s not Hollywood slick; then again, it’s a reading, not a film. We hope we’ve achieved not a translation of the text into another medium, but a bringing of the text to life. In a novel it’s ultimately the words on the page that matter, but a reader may find various means to access those words. Like this.
For an attempt at a synopsis of The Use of Regret, see below, but for the purposes of this video what you should know that Perry meets Terry while she is a college freshman in the History 101 class he is teaching, and the two have a long-term relationship, which he breaks off for reasons that have to do with his interpersonal demons just before she is diagnosed with a relatively rare form of leukemia. (Oh, and it doesn’t hurt to know that the phrase “no one ever knows or loves another” comes from a song (namely, “How Beautiful You Are” by The Cure) from Perry’s childhood that resonated with and shaped him.) The first, third, and fourth sections of the video are chronological; when the second takes place is not entirely clear. This questionable chronology is fitting, as the organization of the novel mimics the private logic of thought and memory, rather than public linearity.
The sudden death of Perry Gregson’s chronically ill little sister impels him to return from a semester abroad in Amsterdam to Southern California, his newfound emotional growth stunted by guilt and the parental modeling from which he had just begun to break free. Years later at the University of Washington, he reconnects with his Amsterdam girlfriend, though his failure to have developed a capacity for true intimacy dooms their love. Eventually obtaining a Ph.D. in philosophy and a history professorship, he enters into a relationship with a student, wherein the insidious patterns of Perry’s life continue to play out, even as her adoration of Pink Floyd and ways of coping with his existential doubt offer him escape from his cell of self.
The intricately interconnected 100+ sections of The Use of Regret are a (re)collection of Perry’s life formed by Perry himself as truths and fictions and fantasies in (to quote a seminal mind theorist within the novel) “an imaginative reconstruction, or construction, built out of the relation of our attitude towards a whole active mass of organized past reactions or experience.” With a substratum of meditations on the paradoxical unions of singularity and plurality, separateness and togetherness, language and the non-linguistic, The Use of Regret is Perry’s attempt to find within a life already lived, a life in which (as The Cure sang during his childhood) “no one ever knows or loves another,” a means to connect with the already-lost, “to atone, to make amends, pay tribute to your failures, you can’t really make restitution but you do your best, put in the effort anyway, willingly, that’s how you want to be now, no regrets, no regrets.”
[Text from video]
Section 39: Can’t Help But See
I see why she wants to draw them. The clouds are a tableau of swirl and roll that’s catching an impossible luminous pink. They’re turning smoke gray from east to west, it’s just the edges now but you know it’s coming, you can see it happening if you watch carefully enough. She’s sketching madly, outline, shading, colored pencils pressed into service then dropped on one another with a gentle tinkling. She has these eyes like you’ve never seen, they’re bigger than her head, they pivot with a flow and force that you can almost hear, those synched-up chasms that would express emotion even where there is none (while she brushes her teeth, when she’s dead in the morgue). They seem to take in more photons than yours or mine or anybody’s, trying to trap more than their fair share of the light that flashes by, so much so that you’d swear you see them glowing, nothing figurative about it. She looks from sky to sketch pad to sky again, trying so hard to create something fully true to what she sees out there and what she is in there before it’s gone. It’s desperate, impossible but she tries so hard, the clouds now half dark and half more impossible pink than ever and so deep that you want them to explode or melt and hope that’s what the end will look like. I see why she wants to draw them, but if you just saw those eyes you might forget for a second that there’s color or clouds or a sky there at all for all that trying, trying, trying, you might forget that there’s nothing you can do but look.
Section 9: Out
I had planned on going out. Just go out, I said to myself, you want to go out. I felt like going out when I said it, I wanted to be out right then I think, or liked the idea of being out, not being alone, out in public, with people. But it took so much less effort to stay in, stay there, be alone, not having to suffer the consciousness of being seen, of having my appearance perceived, my actions interpreted. But I’d planned on going out, Just go out, I said. I felt good, felt well, wanted to be out, the idea of being out, felt like not being alone (even though alone is so much easier in so many ways).
Shower, shave, choose and put on clothes. Should I pee before I go? What do I need to bring? My coat? Where are my keys? Do I have enough cash? It’s a bother. My energy seemed to fluctuate, my will, the impetus to keep progressing toward an end, just go out. And I’m going to be seen. I could just stay in, watch TV, smoke a joint, so easy, I could just wait until the weekend and go out with friends. The idea of being out, Just go out, I said.
I locked the door, I’m out, on my way out. I feel okay, up to going out, this is good. It’s nice out, I’ve got the right coat, I’ve got my wallet, okay. I walked to the corner, rounded it, passed by a planter of flowers in front of an apartment complex. The smell flashed a memory. “Terry,” I said without thinking, not to her in apostrophe but in recognition, the Spanish conocer, like That’s Terry, that smell.
I reached the shopping center’s parking lot, heading for a bar at the far end. I looked out beyond the giant American flag and the lights to the black above them, the black in between the necks of the overhanging streetlamps. I thought about feeling the darkness around me if the light were extinguished, a blackout or the death of all technology. The lights were falsehood but viscerally I believed. A sudden lack of illumination while I was out and exposed would feel colder, my desired lie failing to shield me from the truth of darkness and a crescent moon.
The lights stayed on, comfortably dishonest, and I reached the bar. Do I want to go in, I asked myself, feeling less resolved, not wanting to be seen but wanting not to be alone, desiring the idea of being out, whose reality is more problematic, it’s so much simpler to be alone. Just go out, I said, I want to be out. Just go in, you’re already out. I went in.
The jukebox was playing the Pixies, somebody was singing along: ‘I like Lou Reed,’ she said, sticking her tongue in my ear. I was in. I’m in, I’m out. It was more crowded than I had hoped, I was unsure where I could sit. If I have to stand I’m leaving, too conspicuous, I’ll feel too self-conscious just standing here. A couple of empty stools were at the end of the bar, perfect, I sat. I looked to the bartender, he was too busy to notice me. I waited, he did not notice, I felt conspicuous. I moved to the middle of the bar, squeezed my way in between two patrons, one looking at me as if I were intruding. I leaned forward, trying to establish eye contact with the bartender (busy and not noticing me). Finally he leaned my way, two fingers resting on a red cushioned ledge on his side of the bar top. “May I have a 7 and 7, please?” He nodded (without looking at me) and went to mix the drink. One of the patrons next to me laughed with monstrous, disgusting exaggeration and swayed back, bumping me into the other, who glared at me again. My drink came, I paid for it, the tip too big but I felt an unspoken pressure not to ask for change. I extricated myself from the bar and made to return to my original spot, but both stools were occupied, there was nowhere else to sit. I sipped my drink, it was not very good. I’m out, I said. The jukebox was playing: Caribou, caribouoooo. I didn’t want my drink anymore, didn’t want to have paid for it, didn’t want to stand there out, exposed, the problematic reality, the reality not the idea. I looked at the people, so many of them, none alone. I knew it would be like this, what was I thinking? I swallowed from my bad drink, I looked around, not wanting to make eye contact. There was nowhere to sit. I wished for a power outage, wished for invisibility, wished for an escape. I was out, this is being out, remember for the next time. But you won’t, I said, you’ll want to be out, the idea of being out. And you’ll go, just go out, you will.
The jukebox was playing, the rest of the bar had joined in: We’re chuh-ained, we’re chuh-ai-eened. . . .
Section 19: What Use Regret?
I couldn’t really see her; the sun was in my eyes.
“And so that’s it? That’s it?” she continued with that appalled surprise that had marked her end of the entire conversation. “Seven years, just like that? Over this. Over nothing. This is fuck-ing ridiculous.”
“Nevertheless,” I said, knowing she would hear my intended ellipsis, knowing it would annoy her.
“Oh, you’re such a character, ha ha.” She popped me on the left side of my chest with the palm of her right hand. “What are you doing?”
“What do you want me to tell you, Terry?”
She waited for me to say something more; I remained silent.
“Jesus,” she laughed, wiping her eyes. “This is you? I didn’t know this was you.”
Me: “No one ever knows or loves another.”
“Oh yes. Do that. Quote to me. That’s delightful. You’re so fucking clever.”
“What can I tell you? I just don’t . . . Look, this has made me see that . . .”
She shook her head gently. “Shut up.”
I glance her way every few syllables as I compose my words: “Hey, I know it’s bad timing, that you’ve been funky, in a funk, whatever. But hearing it now is better than . . . Hey, look, you know, so what, right? I’m the bad guy. Does that make you feel better? Fine, you know?” I looked at her, considered touching her, looked. “We’ll stay friends. Hey, give it some time. It’ll work out. It’ll be fine. I’m sure this is for the best. And you’re young, you’re attractive. You’ll have no problem . . .”
She wasn’t angry now. She let me gaze at her face, open as ever, let me see her hurt, her pain, what I’d done, letting me have the victory if that’s what I was after. She turned, stopped, waited, walked away.
Section 93: I Can Only Paraphrase
By this point she was having difficulty talking for any length of time, and it seemed like she saw this as her last opportunity (which it was). I can only paraphrase:
If you remember me, she said to all of us (parents, brother, the Amsterdam Gods), don’t remember this, the end, or remember it, but only as part of the whole thing, part of the whole process, the cycle, the flow. Remember that I believe in reincarnation and that I’d do it again, I’d choose to come back even if only to do this all again in just this way with just this ending, this ending that’s not ending. Oh, I don’t know, she said and laughed a little. I admit it, I’m guilty, I’m petty, I want your sadness, I want for you to miss me, I want you to think of me every time you hear Kate Bush and Pink Floyd and remember how much better my taste in music was than yours, she laughed, and we laughed, but think of me only a little, a little part of all of this and all of you, put me in my place, don’t let me crowd anything out, no matter how small or mundane you think it is, not even just a couple of laughs. Remember that you’re not alone. Oh, that’s not quite right. I know we’re alone, I do. What is it? No one ever knows, she said, and I heard the ellipsis of her thoughts, and was thankful she didn’t look at me, that she declined to take the victory she could so easily have had, thankful she allowed me to remain intact, regretful but intact, preserved. I know it’s true, she said, that no one can ever know what it’s like to be you, not really, not at all. Only you can feel the stain of your own existence, my Terryness, the taste of my own mouth, they could never know that, but sometimes his experience isn’t so different, I think, she feels somewhat like you feel, there can be this commonality, something that could be truly recognized if only we could see first-hand. It’s terrible and beautiful, isn’t it, to know that’s out there but that it’s out there? She looked about to cry but didn’t, and she chortled once and snorted and wiped her nose and sniffed, and there was viscous mucous on her hand, and I felt guilty that I noticed and that I felt disgust, and I thought: I’m about to lose this person, I’m about to lose her. Laugh more than you’re sad, she said, don’t forget to laugh, laugh at the sadness, cry and laugh, fucking life, piece of shit, she laughed, laugh in the midst of all of this pain because it doesn’t hurt anything and I’m both: the horror and the humor. Look at me, recognize everything, the true, the false, it’s all one thing, all together, take in what you can, knowing that you never know, that the story you have is just a story. I’m all of it, and I’ll come back and do it all again, I will, I will, just you wait and see.
Except for his first two years of life (Ohio) and a much later four-month jag (Comoros, a third-worldy island nation in the Indian Ocean between southern Africa and Madagascar), Greggory Moore has always resided in Southern California, including his current digs in a historical landmark in downtown Long Beach. While there (here), he has done various things with words, including for the Los Angeles Times, the OC Weekly, the Long Beach Post, The District Weekly, Daily Kos, L.A. Record, Long Beach’s Gazette newspapers, and GreaterLongBeach.com, along with a number of literary and film journals, Websites, etc.. Once upon a time he was the Jerry Rice Jr. of the Top Gun Flag Football League, setting the all-time single-season receptions record and on multiple occasions leading all dozen or so cities in yards, receptions, and touchdowns; but now he is enjoying his retirement, awaiting his Hall of Fame enshrinement (as soon as they set one up).
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