Pasha Malla

What You’re Trying To Be

I have been in something like a demolition derby. Though it was not a demolition derby, exactly; the purpose was not to crash our cars into one another, though that happened a lot. It was a race. The drivers in this race were blind, and each driver had a seeing-eye navigator like me. This race, called Défi-Vision, takes place every year in Quebec as a fundraiser for MIRA, a nonprofit organization that trains and provides guide dogs for the visually impaired.

Here’s a video of how Défi-Vision looks from the grandstand.

Tommy Lafleur, “Défi-VisionAutodrome Granby” (July, 2006)

And here’s a view from inside the car.

Yves Séguin, Marc André Labrosse, “Défi-VisionGranby” (July, 2008)

The origins of the demolition derby are debatable, but its invention is often attributed to motor sports guru Don Basile, who was organizing smash-ups as early as 1947. Basile’s son Bob explains the appeal: “People just go to a [car] race to see a wreck. With the derby, there’s a wreck every second.” In my limited experience, I agree. While the competition of the Défi-Vision race was fun, the best moments by far were the crashes, and we had many.

After an initial bang-up, I found myself longing for more, bracing myself but needing them — the sudden explosion of life through your body, disbelief, survival! There was a carnality to it that bordered on something vaguely sexual — or at least primal. In the afterglow we’d take stock, make sure that the car was still working and we were okay, and then tentatively continue on our way.

It was also liberating: in any other context car crashes elicit guilt and rage, monetary panic and legal wrangling. At Défi-Vision they are sanctioned, even expected; every collision is a glorious accident. And so the idea of the demolition derby appeals to me. It is about having fun with destruction. It is about recognizing that a race is lonely, and that coming together, despite trying to smash the shit out of one another, is much more thrilling. It is about the joyful, beautiful anarchy of collisions.

But isn’t this also what being a person is about, the desire and fear of having your life crash into someone else’s? Isn’t being alive a similar state of melancholy and ambivalence — cautious hope for a collision tempered by the potential ruin of the aftermath?

Someone named Kyle Smith (YouTube handle: smitty4657) has created a video for “Songs: Ohia’s” beautiful piece of music, “Hold On Magnolia,” out of footage from the Boone County Fair Demolition Derby in Columbia, Missouri.

smitty4657, “Boone County Fair” (Columbia, MO); Ohia, “Hold on Magnolia” (2003)

A person made this, an ordinary person with a camcorder or some such thing. And what he has made is great. I love Kyle Smith for creating this perfect — and perfectly unlikely — accompaniment to Jason Molina’s amazing song. He has brought the violence of the demolition derby to a song about death and love and the terror of being alone, and he has brought the beauty of the song to the demolition derby and revealed tenderness beneath all that destruction.

I don’t really want to say much else. Kyle Smith seems to have created this video intuitively and humbly (“used without permission, but honourably, I hope”), and to write about it excessively feels unnecessary, even unfair. Some things are best left unexplained, and instead felt, and felt deeply.

One last thing: Someone shared this video with me. When this person sent me a YouTube link (“You may already know this.” — I did not — “Super sad.”), at the time we were just getting to know each other from opposite sides of the country. I watched the video once, and then again, and since then I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve watched it, which is every time I miss this person, which these days is a bit too frequently, because she lives far away and when I miss her, I miss her very much.

It is good to let yourself crash into someone else, I think, to let go of fear and give in. It is good to hold on. And it is good to hold on, with everything you have, as much as you can, as often and long as you can.

- Pasha Malla

  • Sean Dixon


    • Pasha Malla

      Thanks man.

  • Nyla Matuk

    Beautiful–my favourite curated video so far. The rush of vulnerability, a metaphor for love.

    And it reminds me of David Cronenberg’s Crash, if you want to take out the longing and substitute with sexual interest.

    Thanks for introducing me to the music of Jason Molina.

    • Pasha Malla

      Thanks, Nyla, for the kind words. I think I need to watch Crash again. I only remember being bored. Is it good? (Like Jason Molina good?)

  • Mary Gaitskill

    Thank you, especially for saying the part about “some things are better left unexplained and instead, felt”. That is something I’ve meant to say in many of these essays and somehow my impulse to write too much has usually gotten the better of me. This is so good and car races are something I normally have no interest in.

    • Nyla Matuk

      Mary, I also felt my own essays over-explained after I read/saw this one…

    • Pasha Malla

      Ha, well that was maybe as much a cop-out as anything else…

  • Elyse Friedman

    Where’s that “Like” button?

    • Sean Dixon

      goddamn missing ‘Like’ button.

  • Nyla Matuk

    Pasha, Crash is one of my favourite films–I have a gigantic poster of it at home! Mostly, it does what your wonderful curated video does, which is yoke together two things that would seem to be in friction, but that illuminate some aspect of the other. The actors speak in a sort of stylized way–there is a mesmeric quality that I think makes the desire between the lovers much more intense for viewers. And how he managed to make aesthetically viable what would normally be repulsive (and many people hate this film because they are horrified by injury) is a mystery. It’s Jason Molina-good–I think it’s melancholy too…

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Pasha Malla is the author of "The Withdrawal Method" (stories) and "All Our Grandfathers Are Ghosts" (poems, sort of) and "People Park" (a novel).