it's a great life, if you don't weaken (matociquala) wrote,
it's a great life, if you don't weaken

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"The motel ceiling stares you down."

I want to talk about this sentence, in this song lyric, and how it's doing what it's doing, and why what it's doing is so freaking brilliant.

This is one of those things that seems very simple, at first glance, A straightforward metaphor, a sleepless night as a staring match with a dingy acoustic tile ceiling. But that's not the thing that awes me about that snippet of writing. What awes me about it is its efficiency, its muscularity, and the amount of plain work it does in six evocative words.

First of all, you've got the simple inversion of what anybody might normally write to describe the situation. "I stared at the ceiling all night." But in this case, it's the ceiling, personified, doing the staring. It's a gorgeous bit of characterization, in that it shows us the protagonist's discomfort without having to tell us that she--or "you"--is unhappy. Her guilt and loneliness and regret are right there in her (implied) sleeplessness and the evoked sensation of the ceiling winning the staring match.

And then there's the implications of the motel. It's a motel, not a hotel, for one thing. Just a bed for the night, not a destination. So there's the implication as well of running, and leaving something behind, and all this subtext piled up to make those six short, plain English words haunting and effective.

Some of the effect is because of confidence. It doesn't work if you explain it. I couldn't get the same effect with something like this:

"I didn't sleep that night, just stared at the motel ceiling. It didn't help. I couldn't let go of my unhappy thoughts."

Nope. Not the same at all.

Especially cowgirls, they're the gypsy kind
And need the rein laid on 'em loose
She's lived to see the world turned upside down
Hitchin' rides out of the blues


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