In Defense of T Swift

T Swift came out with a new album on Monday. I’ve listened to it more than once. Since I’m not seventeen, I feel like I need to explain myself.

A few years ago, a boyfriend asked me if I thought T Swift had staying power. I tried to think of a way to say, “Yes, you moron.” What I did say was something along the lines of “Yes, she does. She sings the songs that every girl can sympathize with.”

There are some musicians I really love (Esperanza Spaulding, Broken Social Scene, Bon Iver, Santigold). And there are other musicians that just entertain me (Kanye West). Taylor Swift is somewhere between those two places. I don’t think that T Swift makes complex and challenging music. I don’t think she claims to do that. But she does make damn catchy pop songs.

I started listening to Taylor Swift during the disintegration of the “Scott” saga. At the time, I was still driving my family’s Geo Tracker. I remember driving home on the highway, sing-screaming You’re Not Sorry (He wasn’t) and Picture to Burn (I tore up them up because I didn’t have a fire pit) while the wind kicked around the vinyl top. I was relieved nobody could see my sob-screams, because I was 21 and convinced that T Swift made teenage anthems that were the epitome of commercialized carp.

It was obviously therapeutic. I had finally found music that was reflecting exactly what I was feeling, but with this air of empowerment. While I was feeling shame and embarrassment about the breakup, she was embracing the feelings unabashedly. She was hurt. She was pissed. And she was making a lot of money off of it.

For the last few months, I’ve been brainstorming an essay about my transition from a girl to a woman. I’ve felt a pressure to be mature and womanly from a very early age. I don’t know why and right now, I don’t care to speculate. The point is  that I never felt comfortable embracing my girlish feelings. I didn’t want anybody to know that I could be insecure, the victim of unrequited love, or feel like that crazy girl who wanted to humiliate her ex-boyfriend. Listening to T Swift is how I reconnect with the part of myself that I feel like I didn’t allow to surface when I was a teenager.

This isn’t to say that I was a cool, mature teenager. My diaries from that time eliminate any possibility of that. I just didn’t want people to know about my craziness, which is probably why I listened to a lot of emo and wrote about it all in notebooks.

What I’m trying to say is that I’m enjoying Red. It’s annoyingly poppy and catchy, but I love it. It doesn’t make me think deep thoughts about the intricate feelings of love and longing, or the quiet intimacies that happen in my head during a crisis.

But it does allow me to connect with those emotions that occur so obnoxiously that I don’t care to examine. They’re those universal emotions that feel unique, despite that they’re anything but. It’s what I hate and what I love about pop music.

Pop music is not for the cynical or skeptic, which is probably why I don’t listen to it much. Though it’s my default setting, it can be exhausting to maintain. T Swift gives me a break from that.

Alright, girls. Go find your new anthem to sing into a hairbrush. We’ll be here when you stop dancing on your bed and decide to put on something more than a cami and undies.

Rules for When You See Your Ex-Boyfriend

  1. If possible, wear an in-ear speaker that plays a continuous loop of yourself reciting all the reasons you’ve broken up/why he’s now an asshole. 
  2. Avoid alcohol, you moron. 
  3. Don’t revisit rituals from your relationship. Did the two of you play Scrabble together? Not allowed. Did you drink Guinness and watch Burn Notice? Don’t even think about it. Feel free to drink caffeine-free tea and watch Shark Week reruns though. 
  4. Keep your damn pants on, you moron. If you’re wearing a dress, put on some spanx since they’re essentially vagina armor.
  5. Wear your least sexy underwear so that in the event the pants or spanx are removed, there is one more barrier before you do something you regret. Yes, ladies, this means you could and should pull out the granny panties you only wear when you have your period. 
  6. Don’t create new and novel memories. Never shot a pistol? Don’t do it with him. Anything fun and exciting that will be remembered as a personal milestone should not be acted on unless you wish to forever remember the first time you shot a handgun was on a sweltering hot July day with your ex-boyfriend’s new Walther 9mm while sweat stung your eyes and dripped down your back. Or something. 
  7. Notice how he changed and how he stayed the same and react appropriately. Exhibit A: Does he wear a new cologne? Does it smell like pine and an intimate toy cleaner? Take note. Exhibit B: He shows up with 3-day stubble and wearing that grey t-shirt he knows you love? Pompous ass.
  8. Stay out of the bedroom. I don’t care if you just got a new bed and you’re living in a new apartment. He’s not allowed to see it. If he’s spending the night, he can sleep on the damn kitchen floor with a towel and an uncased pillow if you’re feeling generous.
  9. Remember that there is no such thing as unconditional love. Then remember your damn conditions, you moron.
  10. Don’t. Just don’t see him. It’s not a good idea. Nothing good can come from it. You’ve broken up for a reason. Remember that reason. Maybe he said he was “missing something” (he probably still is) or maybe he kissed some indian bitch who plays the flute (he probably gave her a hickey), or maybe he’s unsure of how he feels (he probably still needs to shit or get off the pot), whatever the reason, it probably still exists and you have no more time to waste.

That stupid thing I did yesterday afternoon

So yesterday afternoon,  I did a stupid thing. Something I can’t believe I’m about to blog about. Whatever. I’m doing it for the sake of literature.

Who I am I kidding? I need for somebody to laugh with me. It was pathetic. A low point. I have a feeling that, despite my initial enthusiasm about my new apartment, I will find myself having many pathetic moments that will serve as good blogging material. When I say good blogging material, of course I mean self-obsessed ramblings that no one actually cares about. Nevertheless, I pretend everyone is  wildly entertained by the way I combine words. I suppose that’s a pretty good working definition for a writer: one who deludes herself into believing people find her word combinations intriguing.

Maybe I’ll return to that.

Anyway. I was home alone for the day with nothing to do. I had just returned from my parents’ house to see the new kittens and was feeling sorry for myself since even the damn cat had friends to hang out with. I only let that last a few minutes before I made plans for the night. But I still had plenty of time to be alone before I was going to meet up with my friend. So naturally, the only thing I could do was turn on Netflix and make a profile on POF – formerly known as Plenty of Fish.

Before you react, I’ll tell you that you’re probably right in whatever you’re assuming. Yes. I was lonely. Yes, I was feeling ugly. Yes, I was feeling self-indulgent. And yes, I was at such a pathetic point that I actually thought I would be comforted by strangers telling me I was pretty.

It worked for a while. Within two hours of making a profile, I had over 50 messages sent to me. Most of them were messages from men who I am not remotely interested in  (re: Men whose picture is taken with a camera phone in front of a mirror, men over the age of 13 who find it acceptable to use “u” in place of the actual pronoun, suspiciously old-looking 29 year olds, men who list beer pong as a hobby) that were just “wut up. u r pretty. wanna hang”.

I kept getting emails saying that men wanted to meet me. And then I had these bubbles pop up on the side of the screen, telling me that men wanted to chat with me. I didn’t really know what was going on and I ended up chatting with a guy for a while. He seemed like a perfectly nice young man. We got to talking about relationships and what we were looking for. As the conversation went on and each of his messages reminded me of his apparent animosity for punctuation, I realized I didn’t want to be doing this. I didn’t want to be chatting with some guy who couldn’t bother to separate his sentences coherently. Furthermore, I didn’t want to be comforting myself in such a disgusting and cheap way.

So I did the mature thing. I ended the conversation with niceties (“It was nice chatting with you. I’m sure we’ll talk again soon”) and deleted my account. That’s the nice thing about online anonymity – you can do things like completely blow off a guy you’ve been talking to for an hour without having to see what an asshole you look like.

I’m going to call this my own version of the rebound: shamelessly and selfishly taking advantage of someone’s affections to make myself feel better momentarily. For a few hours, I was able to quantify my allure. See? I am still pretty and at least 50 men wanted to meet me and/or rape and kill me.  But when I finally peeled myself away from the screen, I realized I was still alone in my apartment, wishing I was talking to one person and one person only. And until I get to a point that I’m just lonely in my apartment, I don’t have any business flirting with someone else. It’s reckless and selfish. No one wants to feel like he’s in a relationship with someone who feels she needs to be in a relationship. She should want to be in that relationship, not just any relationship.

And yes, it would be much less painful and probably a lot more fun to heal if I had somebody to hang out with constantly, somebody who I knew I could call whenever I wanted and have him come over and shower me with affection. But I also know that I’m not going to find the deep and meaningful connection I’m longing for in something right now, because at this point, I can only offer superficiality. I can’t share myself or my complex emotions with another person because I’m hesitant to deal with the responsibility of another person’s emotions since I’m still dealing with so much of my own pain. Momentary distractions might serve as a cheap salve, but they won’t actually help my healing process. It’s a bandaid over a bullet hole.

So in the meantime, I’m going to just keep drinking tea, watching Netflix, and singing along to Regina Spektor because she’s the only one who can truly express what I’m feeling right now.

Now that I’ve effectively scared off any future beaus, I’m going to go to take some nyquil and go to bed.

And then I reread Sloane Crosley…

If you have to ask someone to change, to tell you they love you, to bring wine to dinner, to call you when they land, you can’t afford to be with them. It’s not worth the price, even though, just like the Tiffany catalog, no one tells you what that price is. You set it yourself, and if you’re lucky it’s reasonable. You have a sense of when you’re about to go bankrupt. Your own sense of self-worth takes the wheel and says, “Enough of this shit. Stop making excuses. No one’s that busy at work. No one’s allergic to whipped cream. There are too cellphones in Sweden.” But most people don’t get that lucky. They get human. They get crushes. This means you irrationally mortgage what little logic you own to pay for this one thing. This relationship is an impulse buy, and you’ll figure out if it’s worth it later.

So, assuming you’ve gone ahead and purposefully ignored the first adage because it doesn’t apply to you and you are in love the way no one in the history of spooning has ever been in love: now what? You’ve gotten what you want, but the state of mutual ownership has shifted. Like that piece of jewelry that you’re never quite comfortable wearing, you become concerned with its whereabouts, who borrows it and for how long. You wonder if you’ll lose it, if it might look better wrapped around someone else’s neck. Admit it: wouldn’t it be less stressful not having it touch your body at all?

The first time I read  Sloane Crosley’s essay “Off the Back of a Truck” I was at the university gym almost two years ago. I was on the elliptical and I had to stop several times to make notes in my Kindle. The way she talked about relationships in such a frank way was refreshing. At the time I was with Bill and didn’t think I would ever need to seek salve for the pains of a breakup. But it resonated so fully that I wanted to stop other girls on the treadmills and bikes nearby and read paragraphs to them.

When Bill and I broke up, this book was the first book I bought, only hours after the initial exchange. I couldn’t remember the passages. I couldn’t remember the name of the title. I just knew that I wanted the paper copy of the book. I needed the tangible thing to hang on to and to underline those paragraphs that had literally given me pause. I also wanted to be able to point to something and say, “This got me through it! This got me through that first day and helped me make sense of everything in one fell swoop.”

Of course, the book didn’t really get me through it. What it did was remind me a couple things. First, that I needed to figure out how much this was costing me. Was it going to hurt me more than give me satisfaction? Did I have to sacrifice my self-respect, goals, hopes, interests, or even passing amusement in order to make this relationship work? What, exactly, was the cost? It was a rhetorical question, one I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to answer in a quantifiable sense, but I knew that for then, at least, I couldn’t afford it. The second was that I would eventually be okay. Eventually. Eventually I would be able to walk past his old house and think, “That’s where Bill used to live” the same way I might make note of a post office or grocery store. Eventually I would just look back on it as a part of my life.

That was what most struck me that afternoon on the elliptical – I knew what she meant. I had passed landmarks with ex-boyfriends and just seen them as cold facts. That was where we went on our first date. That was where he first saw me cry. We rented movies from that Blockbuster. We walked together along that trail. I recognized how those same facts that had once torn me apart now read like an uninteresting pamphlet.

I had the first promise of that the other day. I was getting ready for a wedding on Saturday night, and I digging through my desk drawer when I came across a picture from our sixth month anniversary. It was of us kissing – one of those barf-worthy things that I hate seeing on Facebook. But it was a picture I had once had framed and sat on the table next to my bed. Instead of crying and wiping my tears on my dress, I set the picture aside. “Oh,” I thought. “There’s that picture. I was wondering where it had gone.” And then I continued getting ready.

Later at the wedding, I was by the bar by myself for a few moments and I thought about how remarkable of a step that was for me. It was the first time I had come across something of us – something significantly tied to fond memories with him – that didn’t physically hurt me. It gave me hope that I was moving forward and that things would be okay. So when my friend returned from the bathroom and asked if I wanted to dance, it only seemed natural for me to accept his invitation and to enjoy myself, even if I was dancing to disco.

There is one thing you know for sure, one fact that never fails to comfort you: the worst day of your life wasn’t in there, in that mess. And it will do you good to remember the best day of your life wasn’t in there, either. But another person brought you closer to those borders than you had been, and maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Knowing what you can afford is useful information, even if you don’t want it.

You can find the above selections and more gems in Sloane Crosley’s book How Did you Get this Number. It would be a great book to read on the beach.

Feeling Like a Criminal

I’m thinking of doing this thing where I try one new thing a day. Just one thing I’ve never done before. I’m not talking about doing crazy things like bungee jump on Tuesday and steal a pair of shoes on Wednesday, I mean relatively little things to push myself out of my comfort zone.

I did two last night. I went to a vinyl release party at a bar by myself and I wore lipstick. As I’ve said before, I don’t know how to wear lipstick, so this was an exercise in makeup tricks and confidence. I was hoping one of my girlfriends would come along, but that didn’t end up happening. So I was faced with a decision: stay home and watch Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix while painting my nails for the second time this weekend and go to bed before eleven, or go to the Nicole Rae  and the Traveling Suitcase vinyl release party where I would most likely see people I knew. Also, at this party I would be beautiful and charming and meet fabulous new people.

So I put on some heels and went out. And I had a fabulous time.

This was bigger than me just going to any bar or any band’s release party. This bar was where Bill had performed several times. Part of his senior recital was held here. He knows the owners, and I met them through him. In fact, when I walked in, one of the first things I saw was a picture of him. His old band is performing there in the near future I guess, and the promo poster still has his picture on it. Nicole Rae didn’t hold particular significance for us, but the drummer is a good friend of Bill’s.

So, I ran into many people I know because of Bill. And I was by myself. I didn’t have a girlfriend to huddle with on the side of the room. I didn’t have a boyfriend or date to silently flirt with. I was all alone. I spoke to friends of Bill and when they asked how I was, I told them that I was doing well. Maybe I was hypersensitive, but I felt like I saw pity or something in their eyes, so I decided to talk about the elephant in the room and told them that we had broken up. They offered obligatory words and sounds of condolences, but I was quick to say, “But I’m doing alright. My life is going well right now.”

I was introduced by Jason, a perpetual bullshitter, to a contemporary artist who is also a professor. He did not look like a professor. Considering my source, I didn’t believe him and the guy ended up pulling out his university ID, proving that he is a professor. The professor then introduced me to somebody who he claimed worked with the FBI. I told Jason, the professor, and the FBI guy they were screwing with me and then I walked away to find someone else to talk with. I ended up bouncing around between groups of people and standing by myself throughout the night. And it wasn’t nearly as terrible as I thought it would be. Interestingly, some of my favorite moments of the night were when I was by myself, watching the band perform.

I also ran into an acquaintance from years ago. We ended up talking for a good chunk of time. She said she had been reading my blog and had wanted to talk to me. She said she didn’t want to send the facebook message because of the generic quality of nearly every facebook message. The conversation was great. It feels weird to report some of the things we talked about because I’m a human and there’s an obligatory sense of self-efficacy. But because I’m a writer and blogger, I suppose I tossed that idea to the wind long ago. Anyway, she said she had wanted to tell me that she knew what I was going through – she knew what it felt like to be struck by love only to have it pulled out from under you – and she was impressed by how strong I was. “You are so much stronger than you think you are, Ashley,” she told me. “You are such a woman.” And she said “woman” in the way that means powerful and strong and confident. She went on to praise me for coming by myself despite what I’m going through. It’s great to be told you’re admired when you spend a great deal of time feeling like a fool.

The band ended with a cover of Fiona Apple’s Criminal. I stood next to Jason, sipping my water, watching the band rock out, dancers toss hula hoops in the air, and audience members sing along to the same angsty chorus that I’ve been listening to all week. And I felt great. That last song felt like the universe telling me, “Yes, you’re going to be okay. Life continues even through heartbreak. We are all in this together, so join in with the chorus and remember what it is to be alive.”