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What are the implications of the resonance I felt upon mishearing?
It starts with a boygenius lyric I heard incorrectly.
I misheard a boygenius lyric in the song I used to always skip as:
if nothing can be numbed then stupidity is holy
and I felt it so much!
That is not the lyric. But when I heard that lyric, incorrectly, that was the moment that this stopped being a song I would always skip. Why?
Something I have written a lot about — here, in journals, in plays, in prose, probably in whatever words forever — is feeling a lot. I have wondered if it would be easier if I felt less, and have wondered, with something approaching jealousy, if it might be nice to feel numb. Not all the time, just sometimes, when the feelings feel out of proportion with the moment.
My line of thinking implies it is possible to achieve numbness, while the misheard lyric implies the impossibility of numbness. If I can’t be numb, can’t smooth things out, and instead must experience life with all of the non-numbness, then to be stupid is to be sacred. To be stupid is to be better, in this paradigm, right? In a world where nothing can be numbed, it’s better (holier) to be an idiot. If you’re a divine idiot, maybe you won’t wonder about the lack of numbness so much. That’s the gift of hallowed idiocy — you don’t crave oblivion, because you already have it, or some version of it, whether you know it or not.
But like I said, that isn’t actually the lyric. It actually goes:
if nothing can be known then stupidity is holy
I learned the correct lyric because I googled “boygenius if nothing can be numbed”, only to open the song lyrics and see that those weren’t the lyrics at all. I felt sad; I thought those lyrics had seen me, and thereby boygenius had seen me, but they hadn’t, and they hadn’t.
I think it is easier for me to accept that nothing can be known than that nothing can be numbed.
I do want to know everything, but I feel like I have accepted that I can’t and won’t (reading Faust helped with that, lol!). As a kid I wanted the superpower of being able to understand every language because then I could understand every person. As an adult, I know I won’t speak every language and I definitely won’t understand every person. I know I probably won’t be able to read every book I want to. That’s okay. There’s too much knowledge to hold inside one human. Maybe across all of us, over all space and time, we know everything. But even then, across everyone and everything, stretching backwards and forwards in generations and land, we probably still don’t understand everything. And it seems counterintuitive to my character, but for some reason, my response to that is, “okay, that’s alright.”
I think my mishearing of the lyric felt so powerful because it felt like someone was saying to me,
I know! Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to tap into numbness every now and then! If you can’t be numb sometimes, then what’s the point of thinking critically! If you can never be numb, it’d be better to just be stupid!
and hearing that, I was like yeah, exactly!
I didn’t write about this question for two weeks or so. I didn’t think I had enough to say. But it came into my head again today because of a moment on the subway. This guy was looking at a message on his phone in Whatsapp, and I was looking over his shoulder to see the message. (I can’t be the only person with an insatiable desire to textually eavesdrop on public transportation, can I?) Someone had sent him an image, followed by a few messages, each only a line long or shorter. He clicked on the image to enlarge it, to really look at it.
The image was what I can only describe as an adorable baby surrounded by lettuce. And what’s really insane is I have seen this exact image before. I have seen this baby beaming in a bed of lettuce before, it must’ve been on Instagram or something. He opened the image, looked at the baby, smiled a very small smile, and then navigated back to the Whatsapp conversation.
I thought about someone sending him this picture of a baby and lettuce, because they thought he might like it. They thought it might make his day a little better, or it reminded them of him, or they wanted to hear his take on it, or something. And somehow, the idea of someone, somewhere else, so far from my field of vision and imagination, seeing that funny adorable image and thinking oh my god! I gotta send this to so-and-so! made me feel, well, somehow it made me feel gratitude — I think gratitude for being alive, in splendid isolation and splendid collective.
I have moments like these a lot, Subway Moments I sometimes call them to myself, though they don’t have to happen on the subway, of course. They can be anywhere.
Another one that’s been happening is I look around at all these people on the subway and find myself thinking, every single one of you has a mother. No matter your relationship with that person, living or not, you were born at some point, from your mother.
I get especially verklempt thinking about this fact when I look at elderly people on the subway. Try looking at someone in their eighties and thinking, they have a mother. Tell me it doesn’t mess you up, too. To someone, that eighty-year-old is a baby, even if they’re grown up, even if they’re downright old, they’re still a baby in one part of someone’s heart. I then start wondering, what would their mother think of them right now, sitting on the F, going to Brooklyn or Manhattan? Would they want to give them something for their skin or a snack or something? Would they want to shake them or hug them or something else?
The really strange thing is when I find myself thinking this, I always conclude, they’d be so proud of you. It’s really odd. I find myself thinking this about people I don’t know at all, I’ve never known and probably never will, in all states of being and apparent success or failure, they’d be proud of you for being here at all. Maybe I’m projecting.
I know, I know, the conclusion this must invariably lead to is that I’m learning that actually it’s better to feel a lot, better to feel the bad because that means you can feel the good, too. I don’t know if I see it that way, though. I don’t “earn” the Subway Moments by enduring the hard moments of too-much-ness. There’s no abacus, no rulebook. No one is keeping score.
It’s simpler, I think: I experience the Subway Moments when I look up.
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