A Change of Heart: On Failure and the Future

ACHANGEOFHEART

Taking a break from writing my 1975 review to work out a few things on paper. It’s been a tough month. I’ve been rejected from 7 out of the 8 grad schools I applied to over the last four weeks. Each one has been a hit, knocked me out for anywhere from an hour to a few days to a week. I’ve handled it and I’m moving past it; I’ve been working on not internalizing all of this too much because I know it’s kind of a crapshoot no matter what I do in these situations. Still, it’s not fun to get these emails and letters one-by-one-by-one and on and on. No matter how much I tell myself how fine I’ll be if I don’t get in (which I will be, really), rejection can’t not take a toll on me. So I’ve given myself some leeway, which I don’t normally do. I supplant the compulsion to feel guilty about moping with some time to just let myself be sad because I am sad. 

As I wait to hear back from the last school, I look back at the past month of rejections, and the sadness and self-reflection they induced in me. The former is boring and not all that important; the latter is. And as I sit here in Plant Hall on a Sunday, putting off all of the stuff I need to do (again), I think about the second wind I got earlier in the week, and take solace in the good things I have in my little bubble which spurned that second wind on, without me really understanding why.

I think I grasp it a little more now, in my caffeine haze. I understand why earlier this week I got out of bed before 11 a.m. for the first time this month. The new 1975 record was waiting for me that morning, and that first listen invaded and reconfigured my headspace, but it wasn’t the record itself that turned things around for me that morning (as incredible as it is, album of the life incoming).

What turned me around, what truly energized me for the first time in I don’t know how long, were all the things I had to say about that record, planted in my brain to be harvested over the next few days and weeks. Now, I blamed the record at this point, but as I sat down to write my review and struggled to get everything on paper in a space compact enough where one or two people would read it, I realized that I was pulled out of my haze of momentary failures by the thing I was meant to do with my life. It hit me at around 500 words (wherein I hadn’t even exhausted all I had to say about “Love Me,” and had forced myself to move on), when I stopped and took a walk around the building through which I’d come and gone countless times over the last four years.

I was meant to write about music. I don’t mean that divinely or self-indulgently (although I like it when you sleep… sure does inspire that kind of rhetoric), I mean that in the most intimate and personal way. It doesn’t mean that I think I’m all that good at it or that I’m unique in any way, or that I don’t grapple with the difficulty of constructing my chosen art form completely on the basis of another art form. But it does reduce those worries in my mind to something more manageable.

The proposal I sent to my graduate schools was to be a kind of cultural studies project on the punk subculture, analyzed through a theoretical lens. That’s simplifying it a lot, but that’s basically what it was. Although I was excited about the prospect of tackling this project, I found that I was shy about telling more than a few people out of some kind of fear of being judged…I can’t even put my finger on exactly why. I know now that this was a stupid attitude. I walked to my advisor’s office to talk it out, but he wasn’t there (which is kind of shocking actually, even though it’s Sunday). But I think I’ve parsed it out on my own. That attitude is stupid because I’m god damn lucky.

I’m lucky to know what makes me happy; what makes me feel worthwhile; what makes me feel like I have something, anything to say. And I’m going to follow that feeling for as long as it still exists in me. Whether it’s in grad school (by the way, I love you [graduate school redacted] admissions person), or through a publication, or all by myself in a million unread word documents while I work some crappy (or maybe even good!) unrelated job. And as I prepare to leave this school, having no clue where I’m going or what I’m doing, I realize that every little thing I’ve done here has led me to this realization—this thing I came into this place knowing, on some level—that I wanted to write about music. If I’m leaving college sure of anything, this is it.

And that’s something to feel good about….I feel good about it. I can’t promise that I always will, but right this moment, I’m happy to have something that gets me out of bed.

Okay, that’s it. Back to the sound and the words that come with it.

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