Is it a condition of youth, only? Do you have to be wholly present in a way that is nearly impossible to find in middle age? Do you have to be a puppy? I’m hoping not. I want me some of that.
I’ve been spending a lot of time recently reflecting on that heady age of 23, when unadulterated joy was something I had access to (along with u.j.s darker cousin, unmitigated sadness). I was between relationships, a little fragile (had just been stomped on by someone who didn’t deserve me anyway), and looking for what, or who, would come next. I had a job that demanded very little from me mentally, but offered constant access to the one thing that sustained my emotional wellbeing: music. I was cleaning houses and could listen to whatever I wanted all day. I’d be scrubbing toilets, thinking about how I was wasting my brain and education, and then, say, John Linnell’s sweetly nasal tones would hit that upper register, resonate in my ears and right down through me, and everything was good and bright and right for those minutes. I’d put that toilet brush down and just drink it in–that musically generated joy that fills your chest so palpably you could reach right in, wrap your hands around it and give it a look-see. But why would you ever take it out?
One of my favorite bands came to play Chicago for the first time just then. From the minute my friend had put their first record into my hands, I was completely hooked on the smart-longing-lyric, jump-inducing perfection of them. They were all I listened to for a year, and they were coming to town. And she was visiting. Profound alignment. Truly. A sparkly perfection decorated every second from when they hit the stage until they left it. Their sound was even more delicious live, and they were tight. We jumped and bounced and spun, singing at the top of our lungs. So happy. So fucking happy. The music I loved being made in the room with me, surrounding me. And when the front man took note of us, two girls singing along with every word in a town they assumed had never heard of them, the joy intensified. He and I made eye contact–joy feeding joy–he making me so happy, my happiness making him happy–this crazy circuit of good and right and true–a profoundly deep connection between total strangers in those minutes of notice, one that carried the message “I am seeing you, YOU, right here, right now, and you are perfect.” Maybe that’s what other people are talking about when they say they’ve seen god. It certainly felt divine. The divine through the physical. We needed the loud and the sweat and the chords and the dancing to get there. I’ve rarely felt so in alignment with everything in the universe. Except the three other times I saw them play. Beautiful.
The eye contact intensified with each show, fed by a crush-y blush-y sweetness that I still miss. If there’s anything more intoxicating than someone looking into your eyes and singing your favorite song right on into you, I’ve never encountered it. Those moments sustained me during the weeks between gigs, helped me get over feeling like the left-behind loser shlub my ex turned me into. [My attempt to drag that connection out of context, out of its present, destroyed it. Now I think I'd be better able to leave it where it lived.]
You really can be in love for just a few minutes at a time. I didn’t understand that then–it was all or nothing for me at 23. Love defined as truth, of being totally present with another person, open and vulnerable but sure too. Connected. A flash that’s just enough to see by. When I see two people onstage that I’m compelled by, it’s because they’re tapping into this. Being a little in love with each other.
I refuse to accept the idea that because I’m 43 I no longer get to participate in that. Not that I’m looking for some singer to flirt with me onstage. That’s not what I’ve been talking about, and that’s not going to happen anyway. I want communal joy access–the presence. Between friends, strangers, or whatever. Shake off this middle-aged, frumped out existence and reacquaint myself with THAT. Get the hell out of my own head and be here. Renaissance indeed.