I’ve been watching a lot of low brow Christmas rom-coms lately. Let me specify; I’ve watched four. So far. It’s just seemed like the right course of action. So be it. The last one I watched had particularly bad writing, but I went along with it anyway, I stuck in there and, yes, I needed a couple of time-outs to collect myself when the plot holes were just too jarring, or the drama just too unnecessarily artificial, but I still found myself clapping, dancing, giggling with glee, and otherwise being just very silly at multiple points throughout, alone in my house with no-one to witness.
And I like it. I like the simple joy of it. I like that I can access it with such little provocation. I feel accomplished that I have reached the point where I am so easily pleased. Because I am a fucking complex character, and allowing my mind to enjoy simple, unanalysed pleasures was not exactly written into my programming.
But there’s a weird yet predictable thing that happens when I catch myself being so joyfully, needlessly silly. Because I do like it about myself, and the observer within me enjoys to witness it. But some different part – the analyst, I would posit – immediately wonders what other people would think about it. And veers off on a tangent wondering why we aren’t all like that around each other. Because surely I’m not the only one being so weird and silly when no-one’s around. It’s even a device used in the very films I’ve been watching to endear characters to the audience. So why is it socially unacceptable when people are around? Why can’t I feel comfortable being joyfully, needlessly silly in front of people who aren’t my four year old son? Even with people who I know, rationally, love and accept me for who I am; I’m not going to fully unleash my joyful, needless silliness upon them. Presumably because I don’t want to test it. Because I’m not sure they are quite so weird and silly behind closed doors. I have a suspicion that their weird and silly stops far short of my own, and revealing the true extent of my fucking weird silliness would somehow alienate them.
Why? Why is the world this way? Because I am nothing more than a not-so-neatly packaged product of it, so I can’t take full responsibility. But I don’t think we were supposed to stop playing.
I mean, I do very, very silly things in very, very public places with my son (and sometimes other stranger-children who join us, like that kid who demanded I be a moaning, eyes-half-closed zombie rampaging around the middle of a bustling Newcastle square. Your wish is my command, Child-I-Have-Never-Met-Before). But the truth is, I would like to do those very, very silly things in very, very public places without my son, without any reason, and I am (many would argue, quite fucking rightly) simply too scared. The only time any of us ever seem to do that is when we’re in a pack, and that pack is still largely shunned by the rest of society.
But imagine a world designed for adults that play! That is a world I want to experience.
I have an email from a friend that is long overdue a reply. I’ve been sitting on it for months at this point. And now I’m writing about it in a blog post before I’m actually going to reply. How embarrassing. Mainly, the reason I haven’t replied is that, like most of my social obligations lately, I only seem capable of remembering about it at times when I can’t act upon it (mainly in the middle of the night). But the other reason is that, in the email, he made a perfectly fair criticism of Sufjan Stevens in the context of our conversation – basically along the lines of his music isn’t that sad – and the one time I did remember at an opportune moment, I looked at that criticism and, in trying to form a response, was so flooded with Sufjan fangirl feels that I couldn’t cope with it and had to go away.
Now, prone to fangirling as I am, I am a person who, when a completely different friend said he felt disappointed with the outro of a Tame Impala song, emphatically retorted, without missing a beat, ‘yeah but that’s how he wants you to feel!’
…Oh really, Yve? Have you discussed this specifically with Kevin Parker, have you? Did you have a nice little one-on-one zoom chat about the minutiae of his musical intentions?
I probably get a bit carried away defending the artists I have chosen to deify as sublime vessels of Universal consciousness. Maybe take it a little bit too personally. So I’m going to catch myelf and not send my friend a long-winded essay on the virtues of Sufjan Stevens. No, apparently I’m going to gush about him on my blog, instead.
This is gonna be a niche read.
There are some Sufjan songs that provide instant, easy access but, for the most part, he demands labour. Which is why, with little spare bandwidth and precious few hours to devote, I had failed to enter the sanctum of his album The Ascension back when it was released in September 2020. What I did do was immediately wrap myself in one single song – Video Game – on a sort of infinite loop. It became my mantra and my armour. A sonic touchstone, orienting me through challenging territory. I listened to the rest of the album a few times, but I could tell it wasn’t reaching me, because it didn’t yet sound like a thing of revelatory beauty. And I for sure had more faith in Sufjan’s ability to deliver that than my own ability to receive it.
Then, the other day, while I was driving to pick my son up, I remembered the forgotten email. So, I decided, not to set up some kind of reminder to email later, but instead to listen to The Ascension. And, heading over the Newcastle Swing Bridge, five songs in, I thought fuck, I want to live in this. Not the bridge, although I do find it charming; The Ascension.
A few trips later, The Ascension now the infinite loop, I realised this was the Sufjan album I’d been waiting for.
I am a Sufjan fangirl for many reasons. His voice is my ASMR. He embodies himself in such a way that he’s fundamentally inspiring to me in his very existence. He’s just kind of brilliant. But also, he is a person who has surely peered into The Abyss. And he didn’t run from it, and he didn’t let its vast horror break him, he just stood his ground, seeing it. At least, that’s my perception. And in his songs, I hear the strength of that, but there’s also always been a fragility. The limitation of trauma, perhaps. Self-aware ego. An admission that he can’t go all the way to where he wants to go. In The Ascension, he goes. Somewhere, at least. Maybe not that place, or maybe not all the way, I don’t know, it’s audacious of me to even speculate this much, but in the right direction. It’s not that everything’s good, or that he’s safe, or that he’s saved, but there’s a subtle shift of that last remnant of fragility to something else. Perhaps to deliberate vulnerability. Which, paradoxically, makes that part of him invulnerable.
There’s a certainty on the album; a directness; a willingness to talk about one single thing and let it be known. Where in the past he defied boundaries and deftly, stubbornly represented a multidimensional view of everything he touched upon, in an almost evasive way, here he is comfortable communicating ‘this is what it is’. And there is something more transcendent about that for me. Like his humanity integrated with his divinity. Like he fucking ascended, I guess. There’s power in it, more than there was in his music before. But he hasn’t sacrificed any of the parts that made his music beautiful to me before.
Plus, there are straight up love songs here. Like, I’d say To Be Alone With You from Seven Swans is a straight up love song, but we can be fairly confident that it is, at least partially, specifically about Jesus, and I like that it’s about Jesus, but, I don’t know, it creates a sort of tangential feel. Futile Devices from Age of Adz is a straight up love song, but the fragility of it is excruciating; the love so acutely felt yet so self-denyingly understated it’s nearly unbearable. I have been waiting a long time to instead hear Sufjan Stevens sing “come run away with with me…and I will show you rapture“. You’re damn fucking straight you will, Sufjan, own that shit you magnificent Christmas Unicorn. And after traversing the desolate abyss I was so sure he had peered into on Tell Me You Love Me, the exaltation of hearing ‘I’m gonna love you anyway’ is everything I ever wanted in my life. And yes, I do mean I want someone to say exactly that to me. And yes, I do mean I want Sufjan to say exactly that to somebody. And yes, I do mean just the sound of it was exactly what I wanted.
I read some reviews of The Ascension while I was writing this, because music is inextricably tied to my most crippling insecurities, and I instinctively believe I have no right to comment on or participate in it, despite it being such an important, enduring part of my life. So I was seeking validation for my point of view. And I started panicking a bit, to be fair, that I was hearing stuff that isn’t there. Because no-one’s talking about love songs; they seem instead to be focussed on the pessimism; the anger; the politics. And even Sufjan himself, in interviews, was alluding mostly to that. And there I am, saying I want to fucking live in it! But then, at the very end of the last article I was permitting myself to read, I found him say
And so, I think I can be comfortable that at least part of his intention was to convey what I so keenly felt upon hearing The Ascension, and perhaps what I have so keenly been longing to hear. That, even as the world around us descends, as it has been for so long, and as we face the barren blackness of The Abyss; the more we choose to ascend through Love, the more beautiful, more powerful, more actualised we become.
Rather than exploring love in its many boundless forms as a subject, a study, or even a confession, on The Ascension it becomes a goal or destination. An aspiration. No.A commitment. And that’s what I’ve been waiting for. I don’t know why, exactly; I just want to hear people commit to Love. People who have some understanding of what Love truly is. People who know the risk, and see the peril, and Love anyway. I never doubted that Sufjan loved, but that’s exactly why I’ve been waiting to hear him say it like this.
So, maybe I’m reading too much into it. Maybe I’ve completely missed the point, or muddied it beyond recognition with my own biases. Maybe this is a sign I’m starved of Love in my everyday life. Or, at least, starved of a certain kind of Love. Maybe this is really fucking boring to read. But maybe my view is valid regardless of whether any of that is true. So maybe I should just post it anyway.
I have recurring dreams about being in a romantic relationship with Tim Ferriss. This is not by choice, but it is my reality nonetheless. While I’m not attracted to Tim Ferriss, I do like and admire the version of him I have been exposed to, and so I suppose that accounts for some of it. But he’s, not like, you know, Guy Martin. Or David Tennant. Or Sufjan Stevens. He’s not even Jason Mraz or Elon Musk. He doesn’t capture my fascination or make me giddy with joy. He’s just a very steady, positive, peripheral presence. Somewhere between Andrew Huberman and Seth Godin. I’m just having fun listing people now.
They’re not sex dreams about Tim Ferriss, exactly, although there is sex; they’re specifically about having, developing, maintaining a romantic relationship with Tim Ferriss. I don’t recall ever having that kind of dream about anyone else. Only Tim. Always Tim.
That’s all. No conclusions. Just thought you should know.
I have been very stubbornly refusing to use tags and categories correctly on this blog. Part of it is because the faff of having to apply them correctly was what nearly put me off having a blog. So I decided, very intentionally, to just not use them the way they are supposed to be used, and instead use them the way I want to use them. That was a good call. It resolved a problem. But it was also a long time ago, and the faff is far less of an issue than it once was. Now, the problem is different. And the problem is confusingly twofold.
One (and an unsurprising one at that, because I’ve been harping on about it, on and off, for fucking ages); I’m scared if I use them correctly they will bring more people here. And two; I’m scared that they won’t. Because I’m scared that if I start trying to use them correctly, other people will notice and judge my efforts, and if my efforts are imperfect then that will somehow be worse than what I’m doing right now, which is avoidantly rebelling against the system. If someone judges my SEO right now I can laugh it off and say “well I wasn’t fucking trying”. But if I try…well…then I can’t say that, can I? Then that’s a real failure, isn’t it?
Number two is narcissistic. Who gives a fucking shit about my SEO except me? In fact, number one is narcissistic too. Nobody cares about my blog as much as I do.Nobody cares about me as much as I do. I’m the only one living here. If anyone cares very much about what’s going on in my corner of existence, it’s only because what they’re seeing here is reflecting something in their own corner of existence.Get yourself straight, Yve.
So, am I going to start using tags and categories correctly? Well, to be honest, I don’t know; it seems like it would require a large overhaul to jump straight to correctly. But I am going to start trying. I’m going to risk leaving my liminal space.
Like most of us, I imagine, I’ve spent a lot of my life learning from pain. At times, from exquisite, searing, unbearable pain. I was rewarded for that, it felt like, with the reprieve of spending the last few years exploring and uncovering things that actually feel good to me instead.
But, see, as we discovered yesterday, I’ve been keeping a secret. That secret being that I still believe the thing I’m not supposed to believe.
And the better things feel, the closer I get to that thing I believe that I’m not supposed to believe. Because that thing literally unlocked ecstasy for me. That thing is the source of All Good Things for me. But it’s not supposed to be.
My joy takes me somewhere I’m not supposed to go. Just like my certainty takes me somewhere I’m not supposed to go. So I simply do not let myself go all the way there.
For the past few years, I’ve been free of almost all the pain tied up in my joy, and I’ve even had ecstasy just a well-placed thought away. There should have been nothing stopping me. And yet I’ve refrained. I’ve declined bliss. I’ve passed on exaltation. Not completely, by any stretch of the imagination. But I’ve been, how you say, edging. I never go all the way. I stop short.
Do you think that’s why, for the past three years, if I get sufficiently sexually aroused, I sneeze? Because I’ve been trying to figure that shit out for ages.