Adrienne Tooley


singer/songwriter and author

Here Are Some Words

for something which came about without our consent, life is an extraordinary burden to bear.

when i was young i remember lying in bed thinking about why [insert higher power of your choosing] chose to put me onto this earth, if it was all to end in darkness. how futile, i thought precociously, and while i’ve gotten older and a little more christopher hitchens, there are some days where that sentiment still echoes in the back of my mind.

the question “why?” is so deep and vast that it’s almost redundant to use those words as descriptors. the effort of it is enough to keep a person from asking anything at all. yet as we have been taught, knowledge is power-until we grow up and realize we have too much of it and not enough of the origin story to figure out how to use it in our best interest.

what a shame to find, as we grow, that what we hope for and what we have is often very different. how strange to realize that our expectations have abandoned us and that we are stumbling blindly, doing the best we can. how sad that we try so hard to mask our pain, no matter how inconsequential it may seem. some days, I am not okay. some days, I imagine you aren’t either.

so here’s where it gets tricky. do not succumb, but do not ignore what you feel deep inside you, which, can lead to a heady debate about soul versus body but this isn’t a death cab for cutie song and we’ve left the early 2000’s. I think we’ve (and here i correct myself because maybe it’s just i, i do not presume to speak for anyone other than myself, as i do not wish for anyone else to speak for me) sometimes lost sight of the fact that everything does not always have to be okay.

we are flawed. in our flaws we can find beauty. in our worries we can scrape together answers to questions we forgot to ask. and here i interject that i realize no one reads facebook notes anymore but this is cathartic and there are too many mean words on tumblr about the me from the past written by high school girls for that to be a safe space. sometimes you need to write to connect. with others. with yourself.

whichever it is, i hope it is for the greater good. i’m mostly concerned with the good. it’s sometimes too easy to forget that it’s there.

What You Expect

Every morning I wake up and I can’t see past my eyelids. I don’t try to plan my day, the map of my life is tied up in the colors of the MTA, who is taking all of my money and giving me nothing in return, quite like this year’s state tax refund, or, I guess, the lack thereof.

I am always late no matter how much time I try to give myself. I lose twenty minutes at the drop of a hat. Which is ironic because I hardly ever wear hats, and for them to impose such a serious restriction on my time seems insane. I have to hope that where I’m going understands that sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day, even if your day has only just begun.

I wait for a train that never comes when it says it will, but between my own habits and the actions of every other boy who has wanted to sleep with me, that’s a pattern I know too well. Yet I encourage this routine because it’s the only thing that I can see clearly in a city that is always hazy, always changing, always never quite what you expect it to be.

When I get to where I’m going it’s then a question of how hard I have to look before I figure out what I’m doing there. Sometimes it makes sense, and then sometimes I am in rooms with people that I do not understand, or that I deeply admire, and in both scenarios I wonder how it is that I came to be here, only, it’s during that latter that I know I am growing and doing my part to meet this city halfway.

Sometimes when I get sad in my empty apartment I think about putting on the teakettle and leaving it to the flame for just a moment too long so that I do not have to wail alone. But then I banish the thought, because I’ve heard that if you over-boil water, it ruins the integrity of the tea leaves, and I’ve been trying very hard lately to let everything’s integrity remain intact. It’s difficult when you have more conflicting feelings than you know what to do with.

Instead of facing them, you bury them down into the soil of the soul you swore you’d try to coexist with, and you forget the seeds you’ve sown until spring stops by for the week or two we know we’ll get, and all of a sudden you have a fully bloomed garden of emotion, and it’s no wonder that you’re feeling overwhelmed, walking through a world of colors you forgot to remember to expect.

It’s hard to accept responsibility for our actions. It’s easy to sit quietly and let the world pass you by. But what is life without a little failure? At least it means you tried. And that’s a hell of a lot more than some people can say. And no, it’s not a race; it’s a constant competition with yourself. Can I find it in me to take this next step? Am I brave enough to live honestly and courageously, even if what I want isn’t what everyone else tells me I need? It’s okay if the answer is no. For now.

Being an adult is a funny thing because I know I will never feel as old as people my age once looked to my younger self. It's a convoluted sentiment, but just because I am not always understood, doesn't mean I feel it any less. I like to delude myself into thinking that someday, I'll have figured it all out. Until then, I cope by drinking whiskey and rye and stealing my sentiments from classic American pop songs. That's just about as patriotic as I get these days.

Tonight I put too much sugar in my old fashioned, but I think that my subconscious was trying to communicate to me. Too often I hide behind my steel trap mind and my glass encased heart. I am afraid that people think that I am all jutting angles and hard lines, when really, all I'm trying to do is survive.

Little Victories

I look around at my life and I realize I’m starting to recognize it. I stand in my kitchen as the bread of my grilled cheese burns and I see the cutting board my last roommate left behind hanging as it always does on a nail in the wall. I see the stain on my Christmas oven mitt-the only one I have-from the time I stuck my thumb in the gingerbread before they were finished baking. I turn off the burner and I walk to the living room where the ikea light fixture casts shadows on the wall that look like spiders. I wonder if it’s time to change the mantra on the chalkboard.

I go back into the kitchen and sit on the countertop as I eat my sandwich. A song plays on my phone by a band I used to listen to and even though I’ve never heard this particular tune before, it feels familiar and I am twenty again riding in the back seat of my friend’s sister’s car as we drive through L.A. and I am dreaming about the future and where I want to be. I don’t know where it is, but I know it isn’t there.

I blink and I’m back in my apartment staring at peach painted walls. The “where” I didn’t know back then is here. I guess. I’ve had the same strand of Christmas lights in my bedroom for eighteen months and not a single bulb has burnt out. But I feel burnt out. Maybe I am taking one for the team. Maybe the team has taken one for me.

I moved to New York with two suitcases and hope and now I have a bed and a kitchen table and four chairs and a desk and I wonder what I’m supposed to do with all these things, not the least of which is that hope which sometimes fills me up so high I think I might drown in it.

I work hard, because that’s what you do here, and I recognize the scars and the bruises all over the body that has grown and changed with me. Today I like it. I am happy with its shape but I know that isn’t what matters. What matters is what it’s been through not what it looks like, but I think it’s okay to revel sometimes in superficial things because sometimes the things you are not supposed to do are the ones that feel the best.

I fall down a lot. Both literally and figuratively and both my knees and my heart are very often tinged black and blue. I try to pretend like this is not the case with my heart. There’s nothing I can do about my knees. I can see that sometimes I have been unwittingly hurtful to good people because I am afraid to let them poke at my bruises before they have turned that scary yellow color that proves they are healing. Self preservation, you know.

So many times I have been given the chance to choose between someone and the inevitable "something" that I have been chasing after and I keep choosing the something. They say that your career won’t keep you warm, but maybe those someones wouldn’t have either. I recognize that I have made a choice. I face that choice every day. I feel it most when it is 7 p.m. and I can’t decide if I want to take a nap or make a pot of coffee.

All of my favorite habits are bitter and vaguely unhealthy but science justifies a glass of red wine with dinner, an existential crisis before bed every now and then. My mother says I need more vitamin D, but I don’t think that’s going to change anything. 

I am happy to be here and scared to keep going but I’m going to do it anyway and maybe that’s what growing up is about. Maybe not. I’ve only just begun.

I am uncertain and isolated and ready for whatever may be lurking around the corner. I look around at my life and I recognize it as my own. I built it with my two hands and my hesitant heart. These days, it's all about the little victories. 

This is What it is to Love an Artist

It is a truth universally acknowledged by anyone with the misfortune of experiencing it, that to love an artist is to always come in second.  On your first occasion, it can be seen as an accident, and either you learn that being underappreciated is not your style, or you learn to defer to paintbrushes and leather bound books, to six strings and favorite pens. You convince yourself that someday, the exquisite works that are produced will come to reflect your sacrifice. That you will see yourself in the lines on the canvas, hear your laugh in the melody line, taste your kiss in the metaphors typed on the screen. You will believe that it’s only a matter of time.  That you are being saved for the masterpiece. But you would be wrong.

A true artist is an intrinsically selfish being. Always convinced that, given enough time and freedom, a great work will be contributed to the cannon. Always sure that perfection lies dormant within, it just needs to be goaded out. This is why history dictates that many artists are insufferable. Drunks, divas, depressed, addicts, angry, and reckless. Not the habits we try to impart upon younger generations. Not exactly what we want the children of the world to aspire to be. And yet, we celebrate them. Venerate them. Idolize and love them, so wholeheartedly and so desperately. Why?

Because they do what the collective “we” cannot, or dare not. That selfishness also includes thick skin and perseverance. They hold on longer, believe more deeply than others dare to. It’s no accident that they are the ones to succeed. 

Once, in casual conversation, I mentioned to a new acquaintance that I had a penchant for dating painters. He looked at me and laughed and said “Oh, so you’re a masochist?” There was nothing to do but nod.

A Special Kind of Sentiment

I am sitting in the back of a Volkswagen van. It is eleven o’clock and we haven’t sat this close in months. The faded plaid upholstery pokes at my thighs through my nylon stockings, but I don’t mind because this moment is authentic. I am authentic for the first time in a long time, and maybe it’s the twenty seven sips of pino grigio, or maybe it’s the rush I feel from being able to bare my soul to twelve strangers, three acquaintances, and eight friends in the form of a microphone and six steel strings. Or maybe it’s the one you, sitting before me, eyes that look at me like they did the day we first spoke, about travels and Monet and understanding that sometimes people are worth more than they give themselves credit for. You told me that then, and you tell me that now.

It’s getting colder, but I don’t say a word because I don’t want to leave your side, the breeze blows through the windows and I promised I’d make you curtains for your birthday which sounds like a lame gift but I hope it isn’t, not really. I want to leave pieces of me inside that van, my sloppily scrawled signature fades into the wood grain and you wouldn’t know it was there unless you thought to look. So maybe the curtains will hold a special kind of sentiment, and when you feel alone, you can look back and remember the girl who sewed you curtains to keep you blanketed in a literal form of a figurative feeling.

We talk about the future and I am scared and amazed to realize we have grown up so suddenly from the people we once were. And I am excited and certain that we have what it takes, but I trace your cheek because I know it will not be the same without you. But I am assured because we need to allow ourselves to grow into the people we want to be. And we are strong enough to realize that we deserve that. We deserve to partake in this love, and we deserve to let it go.

But still, I beam when you call me your best friend. Your art will always cover my walls, my heart; your hands will always intertwine perfectly with mine.

“The world is at your fingertips,” I say. “Now all you have to do is reach out and take it.” So you kiss me. And I laugh into your lips.

The Central Line

It is 3 a.m. and I am waiting for a train. I know that this is a dream because the central line was something the city talked extensively about but never got around to, in a typical government-funded he-said-she-said. But I haven’t been sleeping well these past few weeks, so I decide to play along. My subconscious has probably been feeling abandoned and will need ample time to express itself.

It is 3:05 a.m. and I am waiting for a train. It is February, the month I hate more than any other, and I light a cigarette to offset the chill. I’ve been trying to quit, but why not indulge a little bit? It’s imaginary tobacco, so the worst that will happen is I’ll die from lung cancer in my dream tomorrow night. My generation is frivolous with consequences.

Snow begins to fall lightly, like sifted powdered sugar and I move to guard the lit end of my cigarette, enjoying the feeling of smoke in my lungs juxtaposed against the flakes sticking to my hair and reddening my nose. It is quiet.

I inhale deeply, the nicotine rushing to my head with a dizzying sense of clarity. I understand why once you begin, you never want to let go. I feel as light as the air around me.  The wind picks up and the snow begins to swirl gently at my feet. It is 3:17 a.m.

For some reason I am wearing my favorite pair of heels, shoes I only break out for very rare occasions, and I fear for them as the snow continues to dance about. I move to sit on a bench, carved with long forgotten devotions to past lovers and mortal enemies, the primitive carvings done by children old enough to know better but too hurt to care. 

The paint has been worn away by age and abuse and the weather, although, come to think of it, it hasn’t snowed here since I was twelve, and even then, was only a quarter of an inch, but that’s enough for someone who has never been held hostage by the weather.

I have been distracted for too long, and my cigarette has gone out, though I crush it with my stiletto heel, just for good measure. Those Smokey the Bear commercials really made an impact. Too bad the Above the Influence campaign never had the same effect. It’s 3:26 a.m.

I remember once my mother told me that the more you change, the more everything stays the same. Or maybe that was just the quote at the beginning of a novel I read last week. Everything is beginning to blur together, words, both printed and spoken, swirl like the snow around my head. It’s getting harder to remember who said what, only that someone else is the one doing all the talking, and not me. I have plenty to say. But I am afraid to say it.

Maybe it is because I’m afraid to let it out into the atmosphere where it can be intercepted by overanxious minds and twisted into a weapon. Or maybe my words will be underdressed and everyone at the party will be embarrassed for me. I can never tell. So I keep my mouth otherwise occupied. I light another cigarette.

Every time I go to a party in a garage someone tells me that a white lighter is bad luck but I laugh in their face because I don’t believe in luck, I believe in aesthetics.

At 3:45 a.m., a man in a black trench coat begins to walk towards me. I am on my third cigarette and, consequently, unafraid. Instead I admire his gait, and the way his coat swishes silently around his calves. I have always wanted a trench coat. His shoes tap a steady rhythm as he approaches me. I do not wonder what he will say, because I know he will tell me whether I want him to or not.

As he approaches, I sweep my eyes over the face of a man I have never seen before. Often with strangers I am able to find slight characteristics and features that remind me of people I am close to. Doppelgangers in a simple sense, because it is easier to envision someone I already know than to bother with the niceties of getting to know a stranger. But this man’s face is unfamiliar, and for that I am glad. This is my dream, and I am free of the unrelenting presences in my everyday life. At least my dreams are my own. I must remember to thank my subconscious later.

He opens his mouth to speak, and for an instant, I think we will remain forever in this moment of limbo, caught in between the present and the future, for time cannot move on unless we truly will it to. But then his words escape and I am met with a hot Atlanta summer, with visions of cotillions and too-sweet tea, perspiration hidden behind a wooden fan, and a gentleman who will kiss your white-gloved hand. “The train isn’t coming,” he states simply in his Southern drawl.

I nod my head ever so slightly, and in that moment, he knows that the words he offered me are of no consequence. I will continue to wait. And so, he nods back, and with a scuff of his shoe, is gone.

But I remain, on a bench in the wee small hours of the morning. 3:56 a.m. and I wonder if I will be waiting forever. Did they really wait forever for Godot, or did the audience just grow weary and wander home, bemoaning the lack of a climax and consequently missing the resolution altogether? I suppose I will never know unless I remain here quietly contemplating my purpose. But that sounds like a regular Tuesday for me, so I guess I’d rather go home.

At home there is coffee, and swimming pools that smell like too much chlorine, and there are endless numbers of books that I say I’ve grown bored with, but I know I’ll be back to. There are Sunday mornings with my mother where we drink too much tea and try to pretend that we hate each other, just to mix things up for a change. There are dresses of lace, and boys who tell me I am pretty, and there are secrets that I haven’t yet begun to share.

So I will go back. I will wake, and all will be as it was. And yet, despite my resolution, I do not know how to escape from a dream. If the numbness of my hands hasn’t done it, I doubt a pinch will be effective. So I wait. It cannot be much longer. I am a mild sleeper at best. No doubt a stranger on his morning stroll will walk past my front door and incur the relentless barking of my sandy haired puppy. The walls of my room are thin. He will wake me soon.

But until then, it is 4:00 a.m. And I am waiting for a train.