I get stuck into phases. Mostly this happens to me with music, but it can happen with books and movies or even clothes. In 2001, you couldn’t stop me, my sister, or my best friend from incessantly singing and repeating whole paragraphs of dialogue from Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge. Something similar happened when I discovered high waisted skinny black jeans. When I really like something, I don’t just like it. I seem to somehow traipse that border right away and fall into obsession mode.
This happened most recently with the video for Adele’s “Hello.” The song itself is amazing, but the video added an entirely new layer for me. In the first week of its release, I was watching the video easily three times a day. (How cute is her pretend ex-boyfriend?) I’d probably still be watching it if it weren’t for a new obsession to replace that one: The Weeknd. True, I did just see him live, and any time I see an artist live I tend to fall into a trap of only listening to them for a week or so after. But this feels a little different. I’d been listening to The Weeknd before I saw him live with pretty much daily regularity. My boyfriend and I fell hard for his first mixtape, 2011’s House of Balloons, and I’ve gone through phases of listening obsessively with each new album release.
But recently I’ve been pretty much unable to listen to anything else. With the choice of listening to no music or listening to only The Weeknd, I’ve chosen the latter every time. I’ve had buds in my ears even when it’s irresponsible to do so, like crowded grocery stores, or even (shh!) while riding my bike. Not even a night of dancing in a crowded sweaty club to Beyonce, Rihanna, and Nicki Minaj (full disclosure: this post is written in the space of a cloudy latent hangover) could make me switch. This morning, I waded through said hangover to beat the crowd at Trader Joe’s (and failed), but when it came time to choose my music for the journey, I only wanted to listen to the same 20 songs I’ve been listening to all damn week. It’s getting a little crazy.
Something else happened this week. At an after-work session with a financial advisor for first time homebuyers, I sat across from a man who offered me un-buffered hard truths about my ability to purchase the type of home I’d like to, and I cried. A stress cry, not a sad cry, but still, it was awful. There’s little worse than crying in front of strangers, but there’s something particularly shameful about being a woman and crying in front of a man she doesn’t know. It’s the shame of being fragile, of showing weakness. He was equally awkward, pushing a packet of tissues my way and using the phrase “water works” and “Oh, geez” more than once.
And why was I crying? And what on earth does this have to do with my current musical obsessions? (I’ll answer the former first; the latter we’ll get to.)
I was crying because I suddenly felt the pressures of time. This happens to me every now and again, usually without much warning. Everything can be right, the days moving along normally, or even better than normal, and then wham! I’m suddenly, totally in my head about what I’ve accomplished, what I haven’t accomplished, what I need to accomplish immediately because good god look at the seconds tick by! And while reviewing my options for home ownership and feeling completely overwhelmed by it, time hit me. There I was, in this man’s office, late on a rainy Thursday, and unexpectedly, sharply aware of time, of my place in it, of all of the things that American societal pressures tell me I need to accomplish in order to be taken seriously as an adult. Buying a home felt like one of those things. I came home from that meeting crying to my boyfriend (loving, understanding, and wholly freaked out) and managed to reveal another time I’m terrified of, the type of time adult women have come to be intimately connected with: that ticking biological clock that hangs over us whispering baby, baby, baby.
(Ladies, best way to quiet a conversation? Mention your biological clock! Men love it!)
I can’t be the only one that this happens to. Here we are, living our happy, productive lives, finding accomplishments in our art, in our careers, in our relationships, fighting for progress and equal pay and abortion rights, when it hits: Shouldn’t we have a 401(k)? Shouldn’t we buy homes? Get married? Have children? Don’t we have to do all of these things, suddenly, immediately? WHY HAVE WE BEEN WASTING OUR TIME DANCING TO BEYONCE IN CROWDED CLUBS? WHY???
When I mentioned my concerns to a coworker, she told me her anxiety about time got so bad she had to buy cats. She had her son three years later, but still, there had to first be cats. Another got so worried about her lack of homeownership that she bought a crack house for $8,000. A crack house.
Which makes me think I now understand why I can’t stop listening to The Weeknd. At his concert, there were large screens set up to the sides of the stage that showed fans in the crowd dancing. Many were girls. All were doing the same slow, woozy, full body sway that his music induces, the same move I find myself doing when I listen to it. Watch any video of his live performances and you’ll see the same thing: these same girls, eyes closed, head lolling, body rocking slowly. Aside from his current chart hits, most of his music is, what the interviewer in a recent Rolling Stone article characterized as, “atmospheric and chilly” and “an addiction counselor’s worst nightmare.” And apparently I’m not the only girl who loves it. Is it that his music — syrupy, slow, beautifully piercing — is getting us out of our heads? Is it that for three minutes (or more like six minutes for the non-chart toppers) the (female) listener is taken on a trip away from time (biological or otherwise) and all its complications? Is this what really great art does for us?
I’m thinking that yes, this is the case.
As I write this, I wish I could go back to that girl sitting in the room with that advisor, and tell her this: Time is constantly moving. We can’t slow it down or speed it up, so let’s make a collective pact to allow it to happen around us instead of to us. Let’s all declare it now: we won’t let time choke us like a vice. Houses will come (or they won’t!), marriage and babies will happen (or they won’t!) and we’ll eventually see everywhere in the world and master the Spanish we’ve been studying since high school (or we won’t!) And that’s okay, because we can’t do it all.
So, final thoughts: listen to music you love (repeatedly, if you must), dance raucously in clubs with your friends, eat chocolate, drink too much wine, be messy, have deep conversations with people you love, read great books, experience great art, take a nap, and chill out.