Dream Logic: A Review of Chelsea Hodson's "Tonight I'm Someone Else"


Tonight I'm Someone Else
Chelsea Hodson
Reviewed or whatever this thing is by Alan Good

A long time ago, one of my instructors at the University of Colorado told me I could write a sentence. I wasn’t certain—I still am not certain—whether he meant it as a compliment or a dig, most of my sentences at the time being dense and weird and hard to follow. It was probably both, and I’ll take it. For the record, I mean it as a compliment when I say that Chelsea Hodson can write a fucking sentence.

See for yourself:

“The only thing worse than hearing your voice at its most desperate is recognizing it.”

“Whenever I remember that dogs began as wolves, my hope for my own domestication returns.”

“Money needs us, depends on us to mint it, distribute it, exchange it, make it mean something, make it last. Dreams, on the other hand, don’t need us at all. Some people have needed me, but the ones I wanted most didn’t need anything or anyone.”

For the past few months, Hodson’s essay collection, Tonight I’m Someone Else, has been dominating my Twitter feed like LeBron against the Raptors (or, now that this simile is a few weeks dated, like LeBron against anyone—fine, with the possible exception, that is, of the Warriors). I started following Hodson on Twitter (@ChelseaHodson) after reading an essay in The Fanzine and I soon started seeing people gush about a book that was several months away from publication. I got lucky and scored an advanced reader’s copy.

It’s nice, in this bewildering and exhausting age of disinformation, hip cleavage, and rebooted racism, to see people getting excited over a collection of essays. Public service announcement: now is not the time to dither. If there’s a book you want to buy, a book you want to read, go on and do it; God knows what horrors await us tomorrow. You won’t go wrong if you start with this one.

Many of Hodson’s essays are fragmented, made up of isolated paragraphs jumping from one epigram to the next without transition. Here are three consecutive paragraphs from an essay called “The New Love”:

Peak—the height of Bear Mountain. And no, not even that—the highest point was in fact an observation tower on top. Up four flights of stairs, I could see over the mountains and through the clear day: the Manhattan skyline I’d left that morning.

I want to be a building that bends with the wind. I want to be designed that way. I give.

The loudest of voices are the ones heard, but what of the smallest one, strengthening. What of the orchid in the window, getting just enough light.

Maybe fragmented, disjointed times call for fragmented, disjointed literature. Maybe Hodson cares more about the sharpness of her sentences than the apparent flow of her essays. She could, if she had the desire, make a killing with a quote-of-the-day calendar.

January 1, 2019

“I’ve worked for enough millionaires to know that more money doesn’t mean more happiness. But facts were never enough to cancel out my dreams. Wake me up from a nightmare and try to tell me it’s not real. Try to tell me more money wouldn’t fix my life.” 

January 2, 2019

“I have listened to music I hated until I loved it. I have looked at ugly clothes so long they began appearing as desirable objects. I have lived in America so long that money started to seem like a good idea.”

January 3, 2019

“I like walking into the unknown the way I spend money: with my eyes closed.”

Quotability can be a mask, a way to hide the banality of your ideas (sorry, Christopher Hitchens) or the monstrousness of your soul (not sorry, Winston Churchill). I don’t think she’s hiding behind her precision; I think she just thinks enough of her readers to leave some gaps. If this was my book I’d have called it Fuck a Transition Sentence. There’s also a sense of duty (I said fuck a transition sentence and I meant it). “Girls like me,” she says, “we get to choose when and where to look. We get to choose for how long and when to turn away—that’s the real privilege. I think I can train myself to look longer, to remember more, to write more down when I can’t remember, to give testimony worth recording, to learn from it.” I don't want to make it seem like Hodson is a one-sentence wonder like G.K. Chesterton. Her essays are fascinating explorations of self, love, and life.

I only thought of this because I’m reading the Alan Moore Swamp Thing comics, but she could also, with her vivid, concise prose, write a masterful comic book.

This will probably sound stupid, but if you’ve read this far you’re used to that anyway: the part of the book that got to me the most is a part that I’d seem to have little ability to relate to personally. It’s a section about Hodson’s love, as a teenager, for a goddamn boy band:

My love for Brian [Littrell] was fierce, and it was perpetuated by Alexis and Casey, since the group was our main topic of conversation. We wrote entire notebooks full of stories in which we were in high school with the Backstreet Boys before they were famous. Chapter by chapter, they fell in love with us. Even if we’d known the term, we would never have dared to call what we wrote ‘fan fiction,’ because that would imply that the stories weren’t true—and though we knew we invented everything, it seemed true to us. Or, it seemed true to me. Alexis and Casey loved admiring the Backstreet Boys, but I secretly thought of myself as the most devoted of us. What I wrote wasn’t meant to be entertaining, it was meant to change fate’s course.

I knew how famous they were, and that they were in their twenties while we were only thirteen, but it’s hard to explain how close they felt. I filled an entire wall with magazine photos of the Backstreet Boys, and I looked at them with such focus and for such long periods of time that it became like a prayer. It was the first time in my life that I remember feeling physical side effects of longing—I preferred to ache than to feel nothing at all. Someday, I would reach out and touch Brian and he would touch me—but when?

Hodson made me remember my sister, who liked shitty bands like Hanson and the Backstreet Boys, bands I thought were stupid; I wish I could go back and say it doesn’t matter if you like bad music right now, you can still grow up and make something beautiful.

There are a few allusions to contemporary politics, but in Tonight I’m Someone Else our national nightmare exists on the periphery. What matters is what it means to exist, to feel, to remember. It’s not always nice. It’s not always neat or appropriate. It’s just human: 

I always hear stories about how insignificant we are, how alone we are, how the universe is expanding and aren’t we so small, isn’t our English so adorable, so prone to disappearance. And yet, one person’s hand can change a life—one palm, one pull, one paltry touch. Like, how about the immeasurable electricity between two hands about to meet for the first time, how about the texture of a hand on my face versus my forearm versus my thigh, how about the heat of a slap meant as a placeholder for love or harm, you decide. I’ve had hands around my neck that turned from lust to violence. I knew I could die, but still I didn’t fight. Survival of the fittest—a game some choose not to play. I thought if he felt so strongly, then maybe that’s how it ends. That’s how much I love the world—I accept my mortality, my temporality, my weakness, my choice to be held, to disappear.

The passage above starts as insightful and ends up unnerving. It’s at times frustrating to read Hodson’s seeming nonchalance about violence, like when she describes, in the essay “Swollen and Victorious,” goading a male friend into punching her:

Come on, hit me, I said. Don’t be a pussy. Hit me in the face. Even my weakness sounded strong sometimes. He laughed hard, knowing he was about to hit a girl, maybe for the first time ever, who would do that? I guess anyone who looked at me too long with my begging face shining like the moon would do that. I’d always wanted to know what it felt like—in Tucson I’d loved men who believed violence was the answer, and they hit each other until thy got it right. One time I saw a man go down in the alley behind the diner and, later, I held the hand that hit him. It was so big I had to use both of my hands to cradle it—swollen and victorious, I’d said.

The same guy later “grabbed a butcher knife from the kitchen and chased after me—I laughed so hard I fell to the ground in the hallway. He pinned me down and put the knife to my throat while my sister closed the door to my room. You can’t do anything now, can you? One of those questions that’s more of a comment. I laughed because I couldn’t believe how much he loved me.” The fuck, as the young folks say.

The hardest part about writing a review of this book is leaving out the dozens of quotes that belong in here but just aren’t going to fit. Chelsea Hodson is a hell of a writer, and I’m going to let her close this thing out:

“Dream logic seems fine for a world that has been theorized to be nothing more than a simulation—a big video game where we think we play the world, but in fact someone else is playing us. I buy what I can’t afford; I idolize people who have nothing to do with me; I refuse to believe one thing leads to another, which is to say I don’t believe in logic, not all the time—not the way this world rotates and orbits, I feel slower than it, too poor to live in it; I want to sleep until I’m someone else.”

“I thought living on Sunset Boulevard seemed glamorous, but each morning I awoke to a new layer of black soot on the windowsill. My address ended with a fraction, my room was painted lime green, and my bed folded back into the wall like a lie.”

“I’ve had enemies so intense that it felt romantic, so mutual it felt like love.”

“I once saw a magic show so convincing that I refused to acknowledge the possibility of illusion. I’ve done that with love ever since.”

Tonight I’m Someone Else
Chelsea Hodson
Henry Holt
ISBN: 978-1-250-17019-4

Note to persnickety readers: I received an advanced reader’s copy of Tonight I’m Someone Else, which is liable to be slightly different from the official published version of the book. I emailed the publicist with the quotes I was planning to use in this thing, but I never heard back, so if any of the quotes in here don’t match up with the final text, it could be because I’m a fuckup, or it could be because no one got back to me.

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