From Issue 21: "Self-Portrait of the Writer on Their Thirtieth Birthday, in Nine Scenes Starring 'All My Friends' by LCD Soundsystem" by Jax Connelly (Nonfiction)

Self-Portrait of the Writer on Their Thirtieth Birthday, in Nine Scenes Starring "All My Friends" by LCD Soundsystem                                                                

Jax Connelly

Reading Time: 12 minutes

"Self-Portrait of the Writer on Their Thirtieth Birthday, in Nine Scenes Starring 'All My Friends' by LCD Soundsystem" originally appeared in Issue 21 of Tahoma Literary Review. Titles are important, and I don't think I would have been as drawn into this essay if it didn't say all that it does. "Self-Portrait of the Writer" would not have been sufficient. It needs the detail. The essay itself is full of mundane details that become sublime with Connelly's reflections about coming of age in an unstable body seeking an elusive truth: "The rest--where is it?" The work, which gets better with every subsequent reading, was listed in Notable Essays and Literary Nonfiction of 2021, as selected by Robert Atwan in Best American Essays 2022

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Ann Beman
Nonfiction editor


J asked me if I thought I’d ever get sick of him and I answered, honestly, “No,” and now it’s a handful of days later and I’m sick of him asking. Everything dies slowly, then all at once. I’ve thrown out two pens this week already. There’s a difference, everyone knows, between a cup of coffee warmed up in the microwave and a cup of coffee poured fresh from a new pot. I stand at the window and close my eyes against the sun, practicing being here, and then the furnace wakes up roaring and I remember it’s seventeen degrees outside. “Feels like eight,” adds my Weather app, slyly. There are texts I haven’t acknowledged for days. There are holes in my mittens I’ve been ignoring, there are lies I’ve been repeating so often they sound like promises.

Once upon a time, my conversations with lovers happened in hyperbole and italics, all slanted and stressed: After all the stars are gone, I’ll still be here, resolute. It was several centuries ago that we were so young and sincere, swearing our oaths, vowing our vows. How we grasped, how we lunged, weary fists tearing at hair: I cannot escape the black hole of you. We wailed: I regret everything. We moaned: Not just the big things. We wept and we wept: The little things, too. We gnashed our teeth and licked each other’s wounds like wolves, or some other such fearsome creature deserving of simile, clutching at collarbones as we mourned our inevitable doom: What are we doing? We are bound to end in spectacular failure, explosions and implosions and detached limbs flying through the air. We were in love, we were in anguish, we were sinking slowly beneath the weight of all those mixed metaphors. How we suffered: Our pain and our pain and our pain, ellipses.

I flop onto the couch theatrically, press the back of my wrist against my forehead with my hand limp and dangling, trying it on. “Ew,” the dog admonishes, by jumping off and laying down on the hard floor, then avoiding eye contact. “Ew,” I agree, writhing around, less like a wolf or an eel or anything so sentient than a rag trying to wring itself out. I know I’ll never be swallowed up like that again, lose control so catastrophically, so I decide it’s not so bad to just apologize to J when I exaggerate, fuck once a month or less, whisper the subtitles in his ear at the movie theater because he can’t keep up with them, thank him with a genuine earnest when he offers to “take the sticks off the grapes,” lay his soaking socks over the radiator when he returns from walking the dog in the snow, spend New Year’s Eve sober, eating sherbet on the beat-up futon, safe and sleepy in the blue glow of the TV. 

I’m sorry; thank you. That’s all there is, maybe. I reach for the speakers and turn up the volume on “All My Friends,” LCD Soundsystem. Every great song is susceptible to death by overexposure, but if I listen constantly, it will continue hitting me, for at least a week or two, in all my softest spots: the gums behind my back-most molars; whatever’s lurking under the smooth pink of my fingernails, half-formed; the thin skin stretching out on my inner arm, just below the armpit. When I got tattooed there, I told the artist I could feel it in my ribs, and she agreed nerve endings are a mysterious thing. 



There’s a fat raccoon laid out in the middle of the street, looking so alive one must assume he’s taking an afternoon nap until one locks eyes with him as though it’s time to bail from a lame party. “Can you hurry up and finish your drink so we can get the fuck out of here, please,” the raccoon might be pleading, silently, and one might look away and continue nursing one’s vodka, so the raccoon might leave on his own and stray from the path and get run over by a frat boy in a red pickup truck and a backwards A’s cap.

Just the other day, during an hour-long run with “All My Friends,” LCD Soundsystem, on a loop, one watched another fat raccoon amble down the trunk of a sturdy maple tree, swagger over to the sewer, and pour himself away. One should have taken a video, but one didn’t. One couldn’t—the sight of him pinned all one’s corners in place, legs frozen bent and crooked, arms stuck akimbo like a couple of to-do lists pinned to a bulletin board. One had never seen a raccoon in real life, and what a petty wonder, the way he moved—so lazily, like he’d woken up in the past and would be content to remain there, whole and unscathed, snug inside this handful of moments stretched out, sustained, swollen with every passing yet to come.

It was a bright spot in the day, maybe even the year—watching the fat raccoon dive into the sewer. When one remembered one could move, too, one sprinted to it and peered over the edge, but it was the same as always: leftover water trickling quietly along the concrete, no particular future in mind. Where everything ends up.



“How was it? How was your first day?” an old man asks a youth at jury duty, with a smile. “Boring,” they reply, without one. The old man, bent with loneliness, maybe, or dread, steps into the elevator and holds the door. The youth, so unapologetic, so ungrateful, so un un un they’re temporarily untouchable, replaces their bulky headphones over their shaved head—“All My Friends,” LCD Soundsystem—and takes the stairs.



The air when pasta’s boiling is a memory on the tip of the tongue. That sound like rain on a windshield but I can never place the smell so I listen and I breathe, just by default, while I use my phone to google the lyrics to “All My Friends,” LCD Soundsystem. Nobody can agree on the line about submission: “If I’m sewn into submission,” says one website. “If I’m sued into submission,” says another. What I hear is, “If I’m suited to submission.”

“What’s the difference between a scapegoat and an excuse?” J’s asking me, earnestly, while I inhale and exhale and forget to stir the noodles. I’ve been teaching him words like saturates and nuance and dichotomy. “That one sounds like a chip dip,” he’d said, wrinkling his nose, and I loved him so much, then, for collecting scraps of vocabulary he’ll never have to use at the auto shop and for taking the sticks off the grapes, ellipses, but what happens next is what always happens—I know there’s a difference between scapegoat and excuse, but I don’t know how to explain it. “Words are not enough,” I’m always reminding him, whenever he doesn’t follow through. The sun can’t always find its way to my eyelids, my shins, the drooping wood floors, and all my plants are dying. I move them around constantly, arbitrarily, because I don’t know shit about keeping something alive.

The radish I’ve started peeling keeps slipping out of my hands, landing in the trash can with the sodden coffee filters, the emptied shells of eggs. I leave it there, this time, out of spite. When I flick off the burner and dump the contents of the pot into the colander, I see the pasta has mutinied, clumped together in sturdy bundles, like damp sticks in the woods. Every day these miniature betrayals. Every day these miserable little tasks, every day the getting older: the cartilage in my knees disintegrating, leaving bone to scrape against bone like claws on concrete. The muscles in my right hip collapsing against my sciatic nerve, that neon-yellow kind of pain hissing down to my calf and up through my ribs, like lemon juice in a paper cut. The Norco stopped working months ago, I take more and more and more.

We chew, we swallow, we chew we swallow. James Murphy probably had something specific in mind when he wrote that line—the one about submission. There must be a right answer out there somewhere, some definitive kind of truth, but I’ve never gone in too hard for authorial intent. I decide I like my own version best, because it doesn’t rely on anyone else for results. There’s nobody with a needle and thread, there are no lawyers, no plaintiffs. There’s just the “I,” giving up on all the people it thought it was going to become. 



It’s not that one doesn’t try to go out anymore. It’s not that one thinks thirty is too old for partying. It’s more that it used to provide exactly what one was looking for, and now it doesn’t. It used to be dancing in cages, coming in someone’s mouth against the graffitied walls of a public bathroom, hula-hooping at pool party raves, a bassline stripping electrical sockets inside the knuckles, the soles of the feet, and now it’s swaying in the corner of a sad small-town bar, pronouncing No on a loop, vomiting in one’s mouth at the taste of the vodka in the drink the bartender mixed too strong, an extra dollar bill looking damp and resigned on the greased-up surface of the counter. Now it’s the smokers huddled outside who aren’t very interesting, or maybe it’s that one can never think of anything interesting to say, that one can no longer stomach enough liquor to feel interesting, that one is always searching one’s pockets for a lighter, for some words, any words: Nuance. Scapegoat. “It comes apart, the way it does in bad films.” “You forget what you meant when you read what you said.” Thank you; I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.



The night comes apart into symbols: staccato whines and a tucked tail, canine gestures which can be translated roughly as, “I don’t feel good.” The dog’s human wipes the sleep from their eyes and arranges their face in a stern sort of way, like, “Are you really gonna make me put on pants and deal with this bullshit,” so the dog calls his human’s bluff by jumping down and scrambling around the rug in frantic figure eights. When they trudge down the four flights of stairs and around the building to the raggedy backyard, the dog pees for a full thirty seconds before tearing off down the block to deposit several squirts of gurgling diarrhea into some unsuspecting clover. He vomits, too, just for good measure, a yellow bile so thick he slurps it back into his mouth when it’s halfway to the ground. He swallows several mouthfuls of grass. He vomits again. 

The dog’s human drives the twenty miles to the closest animal emergency clinic in silence, because listening to anything other than “All My Friends,” LCD Soundsystem would be irrelevant, but the song must not be stained with the suburbs at three o’clock in the morning. After a rectal and fecal exam and several X-rays, the vet determines there’s absolutely nothing wrong. “Just a little gas,” she explains, pointing out a few ghosts of shadows on the screen she’s set up in the only room with windows. “Put him on a bland diet for the next couple of days—nothing but chicken and white rice.”

The dog’s human doesn’t mention they haven’t eaten meat since they lived in their mother’s house—twelve years ago, now, when the whole world was still TK—so they would have no idea what to do with a chicken. They say “Thank you” for the bill, which is $434 and change. “Sorry,” the dog shrugs, jumping into the driver’s seat like he’s going to drive the Kia home. The dog’s human nudges him over the center console, not necessarily gently, and the dog is too busy pressing his nose against the glass of the opposite window to notice his human gripping the steering wheel until the tendons atop their hands are taut and raised like ropes, pulling down some massive thing.



I’ll drink a cup of microwaved coffee; I’ll even look forward to it. I can’t tell the difference between a boxed meal from the frozen aisle and an entrée at a fancy restaurant, it’s too exhausting keeping track of invisible characters like sodium. I used to count calories like it was keeping me alive and the irony is, in a way, it was. “Sympathize with your feet for the way they feel inside your shoes,” my therapist might suggest, back then. “Appreciate the fabric of a woolen sock, pressing up against the side of your pinkie toe.” It’s important to practice being here, she thought, occupying moments, but moments leak away, and every feeling wanes artificial, if you hold it right.

When J first arrived in the city it was early January and there was no hot water in my apartment so we took a cold shower each and a lime-green heart-shaped pill from the Netherlands and by the time we reached the L the floor was breathing. “The floor is breathing,” I informed him, alarmed, and he laughed and told me to chill the fuck out, as if the whole point of doing obscure European hallucinogens isn’t to feel more than just alive. I nodded knowingly and raised the hood of my coat. “I’m chill,” I shrugged, breathing in time with the floor, and I almost believed it. “Sometimes your feelings lie to you,” he reminded me, helpfully, but people are never who you think they are, standing there at the beginning ready to get fucked up by love.

It won’t be long before I realize “All My Friends,” LCD Soundsystem uses only two chords in nearly eight minutes. We have so little control over our bodies, our clamoring taste buds, the half-life of a feeling.



In “The Obsolete Man,” an episode of the original Twilight Zone, a librarian is sentenced to death because he lives in a wacky future where books don’t matter anymore. Sometimes one watches it over and over, in spite of the screeching dictator and the Bible verses, because it makes one sad—this demotion of story, of the option to dress things up with words. It’s not Snorting Crushed-Up Percocet Off Poetry Books About The Columbine Shootings sad, it’s not Staying Up All Night Writing Tragic Letters To One’s Lost Love or Crying So Hard One Throws Up sad, but maybe any feeling louder than Nearing The End Of A Pretty Good Book sad, or This Is A Great Pen And I Can Tell It Is Dying sad, is becoming obsolete. Maybe one will be an adult, now, who checks out books from the library and returns them before their due dates, instead of scribbling inane ideas all over the paperbacks one buys used and leaves rumpled among the bedsheets like dirty socks; an adult, who knows how to be friends with an ex without getting hysterical about it; an adult, who eats wheat toast in the morning instead of cold Kraft mac and cheese and never forgets to feed the dog and wakes up at dawn on Fridays to go to physical therapy for hip dysplasia, then diligently practices the exercises at home. 

I’m sorry; thank you. Thank you; I’m sorry. I’m sorry thank you but here is a truth: Hurting goes away when you sit inside of it. Tiny needles plowing through your skin and after the first seven minutes the tattoo artist might as well be drawing on your bicep with a ballpoint pen. “That’s how it starts,” one tells the dog, who appreciates this obvious and clever reference to the opening line of “All My Friends,” LCD Soundsystem. He is so thankful, in fact, that he chuckles pleasantly—just not out loud.



What follows is a loose interpretation of “All My Friends,” LCD Soundsystem: A twenty-four-year-old whose prefrontal cortex is still sloshing around, who this year climbed a volcano and realized they were queer in New York City and was in love with three different people, turns twenty-six and finds that every song, every poem, every sky out a window is no longer speaking directly to them. They have to find the Next Beautiful Thing, but then they’re twenty-eight and mostly they sit around on wire patio furniture in Fruit of the Loom boxers and an XXL T-shirt from an insurance conference, wondering if there’s anything new on Netflix today. Then they’re thirty and they still have all these years ahead of them. Technically there are fewer than before, but a year moves slower now than it used to, it has sciatica and bad knees and it eats a lot of oxy.

Maybe “ready” will always belong to the past. Maybe it’ll always be a retrograde kind of practice, standing there in the sunlit kitchen, plastic spatula in hand, slick wet guts of two eggs turning opaque over a blue flame. I’ve been doing this every morning for at least five years and still I can never prevent the layer of film that creeps over the surface—clotted salt and pepper, oil unleashed from a tin spray can. “Ew,” J complains, watching me peel off the crisped edge between my thumb and my forefinger, so I eat both eggs myself, let them linger thin and stripped against my tongue, and when I place my coffee mug inside the microwave, the ceramic tinkles and chimes against the glass plate as if it’s communicating something enchanting and hopeful, as if it belongs to some other story.

The rest—where is it? It must have been the same raccoon, dead in the middle of the street. One wouldn’t presume to know for sure, but it would be no more or less disappointing than anything else that happens on a Thursday. A minor emergency threatens to ruin, but doesn’t quite manage it, and look: all these lives, spent, whether or not they’re splashed onto the side of the road.

Reprinted with permission of the author

Connelly had this to say about their piece:

I was a teenage Rascal Flatts fan when "All My Friends" came out in 2007, so I discovered the song late, ten years late, as a pop culture reference in the novel I was reading. After that I played it on repeat for approximately five months. I still listen to it, sometimes, when it comes up on the playlist I compiled featuring every song I’ve ever loved so much I needed it to be constant. It doesn’t make me cry anymore, or at least, not reliably, which is kind of what I’m trying to say in this essay, with all these other words.

Jax Connelly (they/she), a non-binary writer whose creative nonfiction explores the intersections of queer identity, unstable bodies, and mental illness, has received honors including Notables in The Best American Essays 2019 and 2022, first place in the 2019 Prairie Schooner Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest, the 2018 Pinch Literary Award for Creative Nonfiction, and more.

Listen to the author read the essay here: