I worry that the little pile of books by my bedside is trying to tell me something.
Clearly I am in crisis.
But despite these seemingly telling titles (and despite that oddly optimistic-cum-debbie-downer post of last week), I swear it’s not all that bad.
Or at least I think I swear?
For better or for worse, I’ve never been much for sugar on top texts. Life is hard, we all know it’s hard. It’s hard if you’re rich, it’s harder if you’re poor. It’s hard when you’re working, it’s harder when you’re unemployed. Life is hard, but it’s also beautiful – something else we all know. Hence the thing that draws me always to stories and storytellers that acknowledge upfront these basic truths, because books live with me a long time. At fifteen, Hemingway was my favorite writer; at thirty-five Hemingway is still my favorite writer (sad but true, I know). Hemingway makes me happy, but he was by no accounts a happy guy.
What I’m trying to say is that books can be deceiving, because if my reading habits were any indicator, I’ve been in crisis since I graduated into books with chapters. More so than what I’m reading, it’s the music I’m listening to that defines my mood.
What I’m listening to right now: early nineties industrial and electronica, late nineties techno and drum ‘n’ bass. Acts like Orbital, Roni Size, Nine Inch Nails, Jeff Mills. Anything new now coming through my speakers is just a throwback to the old days, like CHVRCHES or Daft Punk (though, of course, they kind of helped create those old days that they’re now throwing back to).
Clearly I am in crisis.
This is not what it seems. The anger of industrial distortions, the pounding of Detroit dance music – this all points to some sort of inner rage, some sort of internal violence turned outward, but that’s not what’s going on at all. Certainly that’s what was going on my first time on this rumbling, rocking train of noise, but it’s different now. Now I can’t even quite call it nostalgia. More like reluctant, resistant, yet inexorable acceptance. It’s my long (and loud) goodbye to my misspent youth.
Why the reluctance? Because life is hard. And even though life was hard when I was younger (if it hadn’t been hard I never would have needed such intense sonic vibrations to drown it out to begin with), it’s hard now in a different way. I have more money and a fulfilling job. I’ve figured out who I am and what my right path is (for the foreseeable future, anyway). I’ve made peace with my demons (or at least managed to cut ties with the most vicious of them). But the oh so difficult flip side of all those good things is that life is still hard. I have to work hard – really, really hard – at my job. I have to work hard to remember who I am in the face of the sometimes unbearable time pressures of balancing a career and a kid. And those demons. The reality is they never really do go away entirely, do they? It can be hard work keeping them at bay.
And in the meantime, while I’m busy working hard at working hard, my little baby daughter has grown up, and has started responding to pressures of her own. New school, new friends, new underpants. While I’m busy working hard at everything, she’s sprouted up another foot. She’s started speaking not just in sentences but in paragraphs. She’s graduated to books with chapters (even if it is still me and her dad reading them to her).
While I’m busy working hard, time rolls along, and it rolls along now faster and louder and more terrifyingly than ever before. Because now it’s not just me getting older, me noticing that first gray hair or those first little lines along my forehead or the first time buying beer when no one even considers whether they might need to check my id. Now the passage of every single day is reflected in my child. In her new words, her new jokes, her new emotions, her new actions. And all I want is for it all to stop. For just a day or a week or an hour or even a few seconds, I want it all to stop so we can take a breath and look around and enjoy all of the beauty that is always present and yet always and ever fleeting.
And so the music. It’s not rage and it’s not regression. It’s nervous energy that needs an outlet. It’s nostalgia for a time when the pressure came at me from the inside out and not the other way around, nostalgia for a time when time was all I had – time to dance, to wander, to stew, to mope, to enjoy. Time to just sit around and think about what I wanted to do with all of the time that was left in my life.
There’s not much time for any of those things anymore. And my life is better for it. Sometimes I just need a little boost, a little outlet for my nervous energy, a little piece of my past to be like a favorite old blanket worn as a cape to help me sail through the bumps and bruises.
Today I slowed down, literally. I brought the Fiat down to a light electric hum and cruised through the mountains of my still comfortably unfamiliar commute, humming along to Belle and Sebastian – not quite new, but at least something different.