…like I don’t recognize me

A lot of my pleasure-seeking practices center around things I can hear. This would probably seem like a pretentious, overly flowery way of saying “I like the way listening to music makes me feel,” if that’s what I meant. But it’s a little more complicated, I promise. A few years ago, one of my professor-aunties who is also a beautiful singer and musician (I know her to play the guitar but I wouldn’t be surprised if she plays other instruments as well) was making a point about how a lot of Sade’s popular songs sound alike, and she sung a medley on the spot, each line from a different song flowing one into the next. The moment lasted probably about 10 seconds, and the only detail I remember clearly is that she ended on “…sweetest taboo,” but in my memory that sound acts as a sort of window into the thinking-feeling-knowing-creating place that I keep trying to look out of.[1]

Another example: when I was around 13 or 14, I watched one of those “True Hollywood Story” episodes about Destiny’s Child, and there was a scene where Kelly Rowland talked about and sang a few lines of the first song she ever wrote as a young person. The actual notes are lost to me forever and at the same time remain so vivid because I can remember exactly how ecstatic the sound made me feel, and I think of it often, wishing I could only complete the sweetness of the memory by hearing again what exactly she sang. Other sounds that open up windows into that thinking-feeling-knowing-creating place are the several instances of “good night” (as in “good evening”) I heard in Barbados; the creaking sound guitars make on acoustic recordings; Mel and her brother talking to each other in their very New York accents; whatever the effect is that makes the music sound muffled like you’re hearing it through the wall or from outside the party before the song actually starts [the most recent example I can think of is at the beginning of “Pull Up” by Koffee]; the low “I like my girls just like I like my moneyyyy…” playing in the background, much more audible when Kehlani performs “Honey” live; Sakeenah saying “Now, wait a minute!”; the swell of a symphony’s strings filling your ears; the sound of the word trill or trilling as well as the sound of a voice when it does what the word describes; Toni Morrison asking “Are you any good?” It’s not just that I enjoy beautiful sounds and want to hear them all the time. It’s more so that those sounds open up emotional experiences or brief moments of ecstasy or the black femme sublime, and remembering or chasing the sound becomes more about accessing the feeling they elicit, whether or not the sound is available to me.

To chase away the soul-bowing down feeling, I listen, searching under and inside the songs I currently have on rotation for those notes and trills and harmonies that will be windows to that “other place” where cubicles and office politics are a distant part of my past. Currently, my working days are soundtracked by Sza, poet laureate and patron saint of the delightful, depressed, and delusional. I haven’t listened to much else since the release of her album SOS before the holidays[2], and I’m still finding new ways to relate to/wonder about/laugh at, even after two months of listening. Far like I don’t recognize me… and I’m thinking about how much repression or denial of one’s needs, desires, and self as a whole in order to participate in the world of work, so much so that it is common for us to not “have time” for ailments of varying levels of seriousness, because who has time for their body to break when due dates approach and the bottom line has never had more zeros? 

Far like I don’t recognize me… and as soon as the pandemic was declared “over,” I feel like we accelerated headfirst into the worst of pre-COVID work culture, with surveillance, coercion, and conformity dressing up in the emperor’s finest clothes and calling themselves community-building. I am clutching with closed fists the boundaries I try to maintain between my full, real self and the one I must inhabit between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., and in one instance from a few months back, I disappointed my self by making a petty comment about someone that I shouldn’t have, because whispered snark is often the conduit for channeling frustration at each other instead of towards someone more powerful with a heftier check.[3] I like my self the least on any given Monday until the sun sets, and then I am too tired to step back into the self whose fragments I left at home.

Lately, I’ve been finding it very difficult to reconcile the pressure to act “normal” as if even one of the million and counting lives that have been lost to COVID did not mean anything, as if people are not repressing and denying themselves round the clock for jobs that do not keep the cupboards full nor allow [what shouldn’t be] the leisure of pursuing pleasure or finding rest just for the sake of it, as if every single office and committee and system is not currently designed to ensure that the aforementioned tragedies keep happening so that the [at times, rarely] benevolent and wealthy few can have an embarrassment of abundant resources to spend and enjoy as they wish. I will save the rest for my journal, and as my friend Ami says, “If I [talk] about a job, it’s hypothetical or I’m lying.”

But, I’m still upright [mostly, as frequent gym-going seems to have given me runner’s knee that I should be resting more] and seeking sweetness and pleasure wherever I can, and have recently signed up for piano lessons so I can maybe go back to the skill 15-year-old me had for being able to listen to songs and play the tune to my self, maybe relearn all my lost music vocabulary and knowledge so I can explain more clearly what exactly I like about particular sounds, maybe creating even more windows that open based on my own desires and ability to make them materialize, maybe having more frequent encounters of the black femme sublime.

[1] A door or a path into that garden of my mind would be more like full pieces of work I watch/read/listen to in order to access that place, whereas memories of brief instances like this are windows because I can see that feeling place through them even if they don’t necessarily carry me there in full.

[2] If “Kill Bill” had been released in 2016, you would have been sick of me posting side-by-side lyrics and gifs from the video with Rihanna’s “Needed Me” alongside yet another post about how angry I was at the time. Good for me [and you, and him] that I am no longer in that place.

[3] My guilty conscience is most over-active and most punitive when I feel smallest, and I have been caught in endless loops of self-questioning, “Why would I say that? That person has been nice to me before and I’m therefore a terrible person for thinking or saying uncharitable things about them.” At some point I need to tell my inner voice to calm down and find some real trouble to get into if these are the things keeping her/us up at night.

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