It’s so nice to see you! (If you are wondering why I’m no longer showing up in your inboxes weekly/on Tuesdays, here’s your gentle reminder that I switched to a monthly format in August. I send my newsletter on the 24th of the month because my birthday falls on a 24th. I know that’s probably not intuitive or easy for you to remember [unless you’re really good with birthdays; if you are, right on! that rules] but it works for me, and my brain can only handle so much. Thanks for being here!)
When I was twenty-one I lived in Baltimore for a month or so. My partner was finishing up his degree and I was post-grad unemployed and Baltimore was cheap and his lease wasn’t up yet so I moved in. One day in the computer lab of one of his classroom buildings I followed a Tumblr recommendation and downloaded an album called Get Disowned by a band called Hop Along. I fell in love. After that it was the only thing I wanted to listen to while I drove my beat-up navy blue sedan whose AC only worked intermittently and not at all that summer up and down I-83, trying to stay occupied.
That month was a weird and hard adjustment, a liminal time. The internet loves to call everything “liminal” now but the anthropologists who first used that word were describing the midpoint of a rite of passage and that’s more or less where I was: having graduated, no longer a college student but not yet a person with any new or formed identity.
Years later, I read an interview with Frances and Mark from Hop Along about the album. The interviewer says the title is “pretty loaded,” and asks how they came up with it. “Well, a lot of the songs have to do with the idea of detaching yourself from where you came from to become better somehow, but you can never become someone else,” Frances says. “You’re always taking all that baggage with you. I think a lot of the songs deal with not being ready, not being young, not being able to…” Mark cuts in, finishing the thought: “not being able to have your mistakes written off just because you’re young.”
That last line, in particular, stuck with me. To me it evoked the sensation of looking back on where you once were, and looking at where you are now, and realizing that some window of wide-open possibility has passed. The time for mistakes has passed. It feels slightly claustrophobic — you’re stuck with the choices you’ve made, and with the consequences of your actions— and weighted by other people’s expectations — they aren’t going to cut you slack anymore; they expect you to know better by now, even if you feel like you don’t.
I’m not sure I could have put my finger on that theme myself, just from listening to the album. But it certainly resonates as I’ve returned to the record over the years. (Did I feel young enough to write off my mistakes when I first heard it? How about now?)
Lately I’ve been thinking about where those kinds of questions appear in other music (etc) that I like. For example: Mitski’s “Class Of 2013,” from her sophomore album Retired from Sad, New Career in Business. “Mom, am I still young?” she asks in the song’s closing lines. “Can I dream for a few months more?” (In which I hear: Is this a mistake? And if it is, how much longer do I have to write it off as a youthful one?)
(I found the song almost too painful to listen to for a while, but can’t deny that her Tiny Desk version of it is absolutely impeccable.)
And now, listening to Mitski’s new song, “Working For The Knife,” it seems like maybe she is still wondering if she can keep dreaming: “I used to think I'd be done by twenty,” she sings, “Now at twenty-nine, the road ahead appears the same / Maybe at thirty I’ll find a way to change.”
Another thread: From a Vogue profile about the new Sally Rooney novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You, which I just started reading: “If [Rooney’s] first two novels were about the transition from adolescence to adulthood, Beautiful World is about the next phase, ‘when you realize some of the doors have closed behind you.’”
Then this line, from “Working For The Knife,” too: “I always thought the choice was mine / And I was right / but I just chose wrong.” As in: Wouldn’t it be easier if we didn’t have everything we needed to make the decision, or if things were outside our control. (And even if those things were true, maybe it would be easier if we didn’t know they were.) Then we could just write it off, lay the blame on something outside ourselves. But Mitski, in those lines, takes responsibility: The choice was mine. I just chose wrong.
(Meanwhile Lorde, while stoned at the nail salon, is trying to ward off the feeling in advance: “Got a wishbone drying on the windowsill in my kitchen / Just in case I wake up and realize I've chosen wrong”)
I guess I’ve been collecting all these moments because they’re emotionally rich territory: consequential and queasy and, yes, liminal. Maybe I’ve been especially keen to notice them lately because the pandemic has put a pause on forward momentum for so many people, or because I (like Mitski) am rounding the corner on the end of my twenties, or because I’m back in my childhood home again. These are situations that make you take notice of what baggage you’re carrying and which doors have closed and which choices you’re stuck with.
When it doesn’t feel good to dwell in the feeling of stuckness or the fear of too-lateness, I remind myself: I’ve been proven wrong about timing before, over and over. And I like being a late bloomer. And there have been times when every door being open hasn’t felt as liberating for me as forward motion in one direction.
There’s some of that optimism on Get Disowned, too, I think. Or, at the very least, there is a looking back with fondness, a knowing acknowledgement. “At least with you,” goes the penultimate track, “I got to be young and happy.”
Here are some other things I have been consuming lately: Tender Buttons by Broadcast; new Land of Talk; Shade by Grouper; Let Me Do One More by illuminati hotties; Una Rosa by Xenia Rubinos; season 3 of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK; most of What We Do In The Shadows over my mom’s shoulder; the aforementioned Beautiful World, Where Are You; the rest of On Freedom by Maggie Nelson; “What The Living Do” by Marie Howe; some cool knowledge about bugs; views of the year’s best foliage; candy corn; jasmine tea; really good local cheddar from the farmstand in town.
Thank you for reading. May all the right doors be open for you this month. See you next twenty-fourth.