Patti Smith spoke at a church in Berkeley and did an impromptu musical performance. Her self-deprecating humor was exquisitely charming. Her book, M Train, is about nothing. Really, on page one, first paragraph, first sentence, she writes, “It’s not so easy writing about nothing.” (Smith, 1). I devoured M Train. I was on vacation in New Mexico reading it, at my Aunt’s ranch, sitting on the porch, drinking coffee out of my deceased Uncle’s mug. Everything felt so connected, so immediately relevant. And yet, I suspect I would relate to this book and connect everything wherever I was while reading it.
Smith’s nothing writing felt like intimate ruminations. Things that could have been locked away in a diary, or placed to music and sang with a break in one’s voice. I fell into a trance while reading her book. Perhaps because she easily mourned her dead love, Fred. Her small tender reveries of her husband are so fragile, they lightly cascade like a gentle mist. Because they feel so fragile, so precious, the reader feels a deep understanding, an intimacy not often experienced when reading a book about nothing.
And perhaps I fell for Smith so hard because a lot of her ideas, her quirks remind me of an old boyfriend who died a few years ago. I can’t pinpoint it exactly, but I think it’s her dry humor. So quietly funny.
Her obsessions however, mirror my own. Reading and rereading the same books. Chasing dead writers’ lives across the world. Visiting places they used to hang out. Photographing their gravestones. Her unapologetic, unwavering love for detective shows warms my heart. She’s a creature of habit, so am I. Her frustration when someone was sitting at her table, in her chair, at her cafe (or more accurately, a cafe she frequented daily) was so relatable. “If this were an episode of Midsomer Murders she would surely be found strangled in a wild ravine behind an abandoned vicarage.” (Smith, 74-5). That seems to me an appropriate sentencing for unknowingly sitting in someone’s spot.
Patti Smith’s M Train has no plot, no true form. It seems to be about a specific time period in her life, a recent time, but during that time frame, she thinks of past moments, past lives she’s lived, and she brings those to the forefront of her mind. We live those experiences as she relives them. We recognize her routine, her obsessions, her continuing and constant love for someone she’s lost. Her curiosity, her cats, her literary loves are what drive her art, what drive her life. And when I closed the book, I was sad. I felt like I was leaving a friend to wander alone.
Without noticing, I slip into a light yet lingering malaise. Not a depression, more like a fascination for melancholia, which I turn in my hand as if it were a small plane, streaked in shadow, impossibly blue. (Smith, 25)