Our theme for the month of September is Alphabet Soup. Each writer was assigned a letter and will title their post “___ is for ___.”
You ever just feel like you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop?
I’m in the car listening to this podcast called Song Exploder where artists come on and break down a song they wrote, line by line, instrument by instrument. Colin Meloy of The Decemberists is on to talk about his song “Once in My Life,” the complete lyrics of which are:
Oh for once in my life
Could just something go right?
I’ve been waiting all my life.
So he’s talking about the song and how he had a melody and was just sort of singing gibberish until finally these lyrics came to him. He recorded a demo of it and brought it to his wife, who is always the first one to hear all his songs. Which is, you know, adorable. But then he says this:
I remember playing it for her and being like, ‘Oh just once in my life could just something go right?’ Does that make sense? I mean, look at me, I’m like, a professional musician, have two wonderful kids, I have my wife, I’m fairly happy… I feel like so many things have gone right for me, and I have so much gratitude for that. Where do I get off saying, ‘Oh for once in my life could something go right?’ And we talked about it for a little bit and I still believe it’s a universal enough feeling. I think it’s something that everybody should, regardless of their situation, should give themselves license to really throw themselves into every once in a while. It’s sort of gloriously self-indulgent in a really ham-handed way. But I also feel like it’s genuine.
And I guess I’m just really glad the artists feel it too. I heard that and thought, “Thank God someone’s finally being honest.” Because I can’t believe that we’re all singing the blues from experience.
I really like sad music, okay? Cotter “can’t appreciate me” because he doesn’t understand people “who spin such deliberately wrenching music casually, who decorate their homes with that wallpaper.” He even calls out my favorite artists. Just let me sing my songs about death and heartbreak in peace. Am I mid-heartbreak? Nope. Has someone close to me died? No. Does it matter? Can I take pleasure in this achy stuff without the real-life parallel? Can I be an Artist without a personal tragedy?
I’m sitting in my house as it gets dark outside. And inside, because I just never get up from the couch to turn on the light. Why? Because it feels romantic to sit in the dark, sulking about silly things. This is my worst time of day. No matter how productive or life-giving the day was, I find myself on the couch wondering what I even accomplished. Stupid angsty stuff. Probably because I listen to too much sad music. The feeling’s banished the moment I get up for a glass of water (ahem, wine). But just before that, stewing in my own pathetic ridiculousness, is when the best ideas come. Poems, lesson plans, movies I want to watch that I haven’t seen in ages. This malaise is fertile ground, you know? I didn’t really have an emo teen angst stage, so I guess I’m living it here on my couch. What I really want is to stop feeling guilty. Guilty because my “problems” need scare quotes. Because I’m wallowing in marshmallow fluff, in a warm lavender-scented bath, in gold.
I’m in class teaching about systemic racism and I realize that maybe what I’m writing about is privilege. We’re filling out the white privilege checklist. Band-aids match the color of my skin. The food from my culture is available at any grocery store. When I ask to speak to the manager, they usually look like me. Or, I don’t know, maybe this is what blessing looks like. But really this doesn’t even feel like privilege or blessing. It’s something less than those. Less weighty. It’s sort of just… dumb luck. I was taught not to say “lucky” as a child. We didn’t believe in luck; we believed in God. But like, what are the chances that I live to twenty-eight years old only really knowing two people who have died? And only really getting (lightly, tenderly) dumped twice? And never getting fired? Never having more than a fender-bender? Never coming down with more than the flu? Never truly failing at anything?
So I guess I’m waiting. Statistically, that shoe’s gotta fall sometime. It’ll suck, I know. But—and I’m almost too ashamed to admit this—maybe I’m looking forward to it? Or at least, I’m anticipating it. That sounds bad. Don’t get me wrong. Please. It’s just…
You know about a crucible, right? Well I don’t have one. And I guess I’m just worried that while everyone else is busy being turned into gold, I’m mouldering here like pyrite, a weak imitation that’ll crumble under any real pressure. Is my life less valuable because it’s untroubled? Do I deserve to sing the sad song?
And what even are these 836 words I’ve just said, this diatribe, this jeremiad of woe is me my life is too good? What a thing to gripe about.
Can you forgive my dramatics, Lord? Whatever I’m calling it—blessing or privilege or just dumb luck—I am thankful. There are two prayers I’m left with, and I learned them both here. One is “Last forever!” and one is “If this isn’t nice, what is?” I guess what I’m left with is thank you. And please. Please teach me to linger.
Abby Zwart (’13) teaches high school English in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She spends her free time making lists of books she should read, cooking, and managing the post calvin.