constellations #68: looking backwards, looking forwards
I’ve been listening to a lot of Krill lately. Krill’s lyrics are full of perfect little lines: “I had a bad day / but at least it's ending”; “Whenever I have a good time / I just miss my suffering”; “If you wanna feel like a failure / That's your right.”
Mostly I’ve been returning to this lyric, from the band’s 2014 EP Steve Hears Pile in Malden and Bursts into Tears: “And how could who you are / not be bound up in who you were?”
That line is from a song about the future (more specifically, the “unbounded nameless future”). But mostly I have been thinking about the past — about being bound up in who I was.
Maybe that’s because Matt and I finally moved this month, into an apartment that’s officially ours, and we got all our stuff out of storage. We didn’t expect to store our stuff for so long; as a result, it felt like a kind of time capsule when we got it all back. It feels like getting reacquainted with someone I haven’t been in a while, and maybe am not anymore.
And that made this lyric, from Madi Diaz, from an album from last year that I really loved, rattle around in my head: “Can’t be a new person in an old place.” Not that being a “new person” has been a front-of-mind goal for me, necessarily. But I guess that lyric makes me feel like it might be an inevitability.
Anyway, for me, a certified nostalgist, the process of reencountering my material possessions has made me feel unexpectedly sensitive. On a good day, I feel alive to all my past selves; I find myself remembering the exact dimensions of the apartment we once lived in in Brookline, reliving a late-night walk from the Black Cat back to my apartment in Dupont, feeling the joy of waking up early on a near-silent Saturday morning in the rowhouse I shared with friends. On a good day, I feel grateful for the little gifts my past self packed away — like, Matt and I filled a whole box with the bowls and plates and vessels we made over a couple years of taking pottery classes in DC, and as we unpacked the box we treated each item with reverence, like a parent hanging a kindergartener’s drawing on the fridge. Only about a quarter of the pottery, if that, is usable and almost beautiful; the rest is misshapen, cracked, strange-looking — simply the products of inexperience. But we loved them all, and the selves who had made them, even as we shuffled most pieces into an “unusable” pile.
On a tough day, though, it feels like I’m dragging around the tools of my past (useless books from grad school, a sentimental poster from my childhood bedroom, a dozen empty Mason jars, my ego, the memory of every embarrassing thing I’ve ever done, etc.) and have found myself at a loss for how to use those things to build the future.
The future, the unbounded nameless future. That makes me think about this recent essay by Leslie Jamison about daydreaming: secret, consequence-free fantasies and hypothetical futures.
(I’m a big daydreamer. My daydreams are mostly interpersonal, but not necessarily romantic; delusions of ego, of success, of being loved.)
“Daydreams aren’t questions to be answered,” she writes, “but questions to live with.” I love that. And also: “Daydreaming often has political stakes: intrinsically anti-capitalist because it doesn’t ‘produce’ anything — though its content is often deeply aspirational, structured by capitalism — it’s also an activity that workers can do alongside the labor they’ve been forced to do, whether it’s manual or domestic, clerical or janitorial; whether it involves caregiving or production.” (Matt and I often joked that our bad pottery was anti-capitalist: resisting productive purpose, not worthy of a market valuation.)
Jamison says daydreaming is, essentially, “preferring the hypothetical to the actual.” Which makes me wonder: What does that make my nostalgia tripping? Neither hypothetical nor actual — perhaps curatorial?
In her essay, Jamison writes about (arguably) the most famous slogan from the artist Jenny Holzer’s Survival Series: “IN A DREAM YOU SAW A WAY TO SURVIVE AND YOU WERE FULL OF JOY.” One power of daydreaming: to find a way to survive, to build “a bridge off the edge of a cliff,” as Jamison describes it. I keep that phrase of Holzer’s close to my heart. It’s the desktop background of the computer I’m writing this on. Years ago, as a Christmas gift to me, Matt formatted and printed and framed some of Holzer’s Survival Series and some of her Truisms. The posters have hung in our homes ever since; I was delighted to rediscover them while unpacking last week.
Jamison also quotes the psychoanalyst Adam Phillips, on fantasy: “Our lives become an elegy to needs unmet and desires sacrificed, to possibilities refused, to roads not taken,” Phillips writes. “We can’t imagine our lives without the unlived lives they contain.” In other words: How could who you are not be bound up in who you were? and also: How could who you are not be bound up in who you weren’t?
It makes me think of the end of this poem, by Ada Limón, called “Joint Custody”: “And so I have / two brains now. Two entirely different brains. / The one that always misses where I’m not, / the one that is so relieved to finally be home.” I have a lot to miss, too. But I’m relieved to be here.
Here are some other things I have been consuming lately: This Woman's Work: Essays on Music, co-edited by Kim Gordon; this article about slushies/Icees/Slurpees; this article about Severance (the novel) and Severance (the TV show), both of which I consumed last month; this year’s winning Tiny Desk Contest entry (!); a live set from Grouper — magnificent; Boat Songs by MJ Lenderman; Radiator by Sadurn; We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong by Sharon Van Etten (which I wrote about); Jinkx Monsoon on “Snatch Game” in the new season of Drag Race All Stars, truly running laps around the competition; advice from 90-year-old runners; shock and horror about the cost of movers, which ultimately was worth it; a chocolate-vanilla twist soft serve cone on the first really hot day of the year
Thanks for reading. Please tell me about your daydreams!