I sat down for a brief conversation with a song that has been talking to me for most of my life. The song is “Once in a Lifetime” by the Talking Heads, and it comes from the 1980 full-length album Remain in Light. Released as a single on February 2, 1981, “Once in a Lifetime” has arguably become the group’s signature song. A mildly interesting fact: Remain in Light was released on October 8, 1980, and I was in utero, letting the days go by, letting the water hold me down…

“Once in a Lifetime”: And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack.

It’s always a possibility. I’ve lived in a couple trailers, which is as close to shotgun shack as I’d like to get.

And you may find yourself in another part of the world.

That’d be nice.

And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile.

Are you familiar with polysyndeton? It’s a rhetorical device used for cataloging. Children use polysyndeton—namely, the use of the conjunction and—when they tell stories. Ernest Hemingway was good at incorporating polysyndeton into his prose.

There’s also epanadiplosis, but I don’t want bore everyone with talk of rhetoric. You can Google it when you have some free time.

And you may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife.

Ah, the inexplicable weirdness of how we get placed into life. And how life goes on and on and on, as the Kinks song goes.

Life is such an interesting word. Living, being, alive. Animate existence. Life. I like the way the tip of the tongue presses against the alveolar ridge and sort of holds onto the lateral sound before letting it free. Life’s a good cereal, too.

You speak of houses, which reminds me not only of “Burning Down the House” but of another Talking Heads song—my favorite Talking Heads song—”This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)”. It’s a quirky song, and it’s as true a love song as any. Especially if you’re one of those people who thinks he never deserves to be happy. “This Must Be the Place” is really about feeling okay with love and joy.

I hope I someday find myself in a beautiful house with my beautiful wife. I think that’s exactly what friends and family will say when they pull up to our beautiful house for the first time. They’ll throw the car in park, sit there for a moment, and say, “This must be the place.”

And you may ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?”

Well, I’ll try to answer that. Although, my memory does not serve me that well. I read Brad Listi’s novel Attention. Deficit. Disorder. back in 2006. To be more specific, I read it in a hotel room in Myrtle Beach in March of 2006. I started to read his blog, and found my way to The Nervous Breakdown website. I liked reading reports from people all over the planet, and I thought I’d like to do it too. So I asked him if I could write for the site, and he let me climb aboard. It was nice of him to do so. And that’s how I got here.

And you know what’s cool about here, this thing called The Nervous Breakdown? Essentially, it’s alive. It’s animated, it has life. Whether or not you love everything that’s going on here, you have to acknowledge that much. There’s always stuff happening. The Nervous Breakdown is like some sort of literary petri dish. And Brad Listi is just sitting in his lab watching it (us) grow.

And you may ask yourself, “How do I work this?”

Talking to yourself may be a sign of loneliness. But it’s also a great way to rehearse what you’d like to say to other people.

And you may ask yourself, “Where is that large automobile?”

Interesting. The you in this instance could be a young boy awaiting a late school bus. Or a spectator at a monster truck show eagerly anticipating Bigfoot’s entrance. Is Bigfoot still around? I’m pretty sure Grave Digger is the top draw these days, but I remember when Bigfoot was it.

Anyway, I routinely lose track of where I’ve parked my car in parking lots. My car’s not a large automobile, per se, but it’s the largest automobile I’ve ever owned. I’m pretty sure this happens to lots of people. Unless, of course, you own a large automobile, like an Envoy or something. If that’s the case, you probably know exactly where your large automobile is parked most of the time.

And you may tell yourself, “This is not my beautiful house.”

Denial springs eternal.

And you may tell yourself, “This is not my beautiful wife.”

That’s pretty sad. I mean, a house is one thing…

Same as it ever was.

Yep. For better or for worse: Same as it ever was.

There is water at the bottom of the ocean.

There is sand on top of the beach.

You may ask yourself, “What is that beautiful house?”

I had a thought as I walked down a handsome residential street the other day. It was one of those fine historic streets lined with big old trees and big old houses. Each house I passed left me with feelings of admiration and envy.

Writing teachers will tell you, if anything, read widely and deeply. And I got to thinking that sometimes reading literature feels like strolling down a street and admiring beautiful structures. As though, if you will, the homeowners (authors) built these houses (books) for you to envy and admire and learn a thing or two from.

But, I’ll admit, I have to balk at my own precocity. After a while you can grow damned weary of admiring other people’s beautiful houses. After a few blocks, I find myself wanting to burn down one of these beautiful houses and erect my own in its place.

One should never count arson out as one way to rid of an idol.

You may ask yourself, “Where does that highway go?”

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, highway is often the antithetic to by-way. A by-way, as you may already know, is the alternative to the highway. The road lesser-traveled, as it were.

And you may ask yourself, “Am I right? Am I wrong?”

I should’ve been left-handed. My father is a staunchly proud lefty. Would my life have turned out different if I had been a lefty?

And you may say to yourself, “My God, what have I done?”

But wouldn’t it be worse to have never taken a dangerous chance in this life? Is it better to have lived a life spent in the commonplace?

I see what you’re saying, though. A life wasted in the commonplace.

Same as it ever was.

You’re sweating profusely.

Look where my hand was. Time isn’t holding up.

I recently tried to listen to an audio book version of Einstein’s “Relativity: The Special and General Theory”. I didn’t get very far. I was listening to it on my way to work. Then I pulled into a Speedway and turned it off. I don’t know whether to blame the prose or the reader or the Speedway.

I got my audio copy of “Relativity” from a website called Librivox. Librivox offers an impressive collection of free audio books, mostly classics. Stuff you don’t want to read but know you have to.

Time isn’t after us. Here comes the twister.

Well, what should we do? I think we should find a basement. But, no, damn it, there’s no basement here. Don’t go near the windows. Is the sky green?

We could sit in the hallway. But that’s boring. That’s commonplace. Let’s go to the bathroom. Get in the bathtub. Crouch down in a ball and cover your head with your hands. Good. Now, I’ll go drag my mattress in here and we can both crouch down in the bathtub together and cover ourselves with the mattress. I was using polysyndeton right there. No, don’t run the water. No, turn it off. I’ve got an audio copy of Gogol’s Dead Souls we can listen to until the twister goes away.

Same as it ever was.

Same as it ever was.


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JUSTIN BENTON has written for the Nervous Breakdown since 2009. He co-authored Board with Brad Listi, a literary collage released by TNB Books in 2012. He is now a father and is currently writing an ongoing pantoum poem you can find here.

10 responses to “And You May Find Yourself”

  1. Greg Olear says:

    I really liked how you did this, and your meanderings are interesting…the conflation of houses and books, the weaving in of “Burning Down the House.” And now, of course, the damned song is in my head. My talking head, as it were…

    I don’t think this would have worked as well with “Psycho Killer.”

  2. Zara Potts says:

    I agree with Greg.
    And I agree that talking to yourself is a briliant way of rehearsing things. I do it all the time.

  3. Simon Smithson says:

    DAMN IT! Goddamn earworm! This song will be in my head for the next week…

    “I recently tried to listen to an audio book version of Einstein’s “Relativity: The Special and General Theory”. I didn’t get very far. I was listening to it on my way to work. Then I pulled into a Speedway and turned it off. I don’t know whether to blame the prose or the reader or the Speedway.”

    Blame gravity.

    And thanks for the heads up on LibriVox!

  4. Although it feels embarrassingly adolescent to declare, at the age of 38, “That’s my favourite song!”, that’s my favourite song! Like, in the world, ever! Bits of it keep creeping into my writing, particularly “Well? How did I get here?”

    Simon, as a result of some silly Twitter games, I was recently earwormed by a couple of songs that don’t even exist: Little Red Courgette and Owner of a Lonely Arse.

    Sorry.

  5. D.R. Haney says:

    Very clever and original, Justin, and that also goes for the accompanying picture.

    I, for one, was not familiar with polysyndeton — or the term, anyway. Thanks for the education.

  6. Peggy Braddock says:

    During a discussion I was having with a group of i.generationers, I quoted lines from a Talking Heads song;
    Were on a road to nowhere, we all know where were going, but don’t where where we’ve been. They chuckled at the cleverness of the group’s name, never mind connecting the intended message to their one dimensional lives. Their bulgy brains were imagining toliet seats flapping loudly as their deepest darkest secrets were be exposed. Oh, what a head could tell.

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