by Ethan Seavey
I used to sit in class with songs in my head, loud enough to feel their beat in my fingertips. I used to blare Adele instead of listening to my teacher. I would sing voicelessly with Hozier while my classmates read a paragraph out loud. Passenger, P!nk, The Lumineers, Steven Sondheim. Billie Eilish, too, though not openly as it’s not cool to like anything that’s cool.
I would fixate on one song all day, hear it bouncing around my head like a gnat trying to escape a glass box; or I would press the mental play button and enjoy every song of an album in order. Sometimes I could only hear one song and would grow very tired of it, and sometimes I would frustrate myself trying to recall a rapidly vanishing melody.
Often it wouldn’t distract too much from class but when the song reaches its crux, it’s nearly impossible to keep your pen focused on mitosis. It flies into the margins, it tears up the lyrics, it thinks it will finally achieve the ecstasy in your heart with a hasty font, a lyric that feels so much larger in your head. Of course you’ll look back upon it through the lens of failure. It will be sloppy instead of emotionally hasty.
These days you can plug your earbuds in class, because you’re online, where no one cares, no one can see, and you can play that song that’s bouncing around your mind. You turn it up loud with a single button on your laptop. But it’s never as loud as it was before, and typing the lyrics out on your notes in big fonts will give you nothing and get deleted.
These days, things are different. These days, they link you up to a laptop for hours, and you’ll think this is better than looking through paper, but every day is another headache, another day spent on a squeaky chair, another day spent in non-being.
There are no margins in this new style of class we’re thrown in. There’s exhaustion and insomnia and chamomile tea and coffee, there’s midday espresso shots and 4 o’clock vodka shots, an Arnold Palmer with lunch, weed before dinner to relax, and coffee ice cream when you’re tired and hungry after dinner but need to write an essay. Then a 5 Hour Energy for studying for an Art History test, and, two hours later, a shot of CBD, melatonin, and wishful thinking.
These days I feel hooked up. My needs are quite easily met by my space. I sleep in a bed that’s five feet away from the desk where I do homework, the same desk where I video call my friends and family, the same desk where I write. I eat dinner on a table that’s ten feet from a kitchen that’s two blocks away from the store we buy all of our food. I don’t need to go outside for anything. I can pay someone to buy my groceries for me. I can call my doctor and he’ll ignore symptoms just as well on-line as in-person.
No, I should stay inside because it is worse outside. It is Chicago so it is too hot and muggy to be in the sun for too long or it is so cold and windy that you can’t pull yourself away from the radiator. Inside are safety and security. Outside are other people, and with them come virus particles and car accidents.
These days bringing your body outside starts to feel like taking your phone out without a spare charger. When you leave you feel your battery start slipping away, and you have mere hours before you’ll need to return. It is one o’clock and you’ll be tired and hungry and ravaged by six so you only have five hours and two of those will be spent traveling so you have three hours and no, that’s not much time at all, so you cancel and you’ll see them next time.
We used to have All Day to do whatever we wanted and these days we have a few hours to do everything we need to do. I can’t dissect it any further than that. I don’t know if I feel that way because I’ve been alive for longer now and every day feels just a little bit quicker. I don’t know if it’s because I’m having trouble with the transition to being hooked up to our necessities. I don’t know if being hooked up is the right phrase because sometimes it feels like taking care of my body is hard work, like tending to crops or caring for a rather volatile cat.
All I know is that around the time I grew up, music stopped being loud and powerful in my head. I stopped doodling in the margins. I stopped loving the hot of the summer and the snow of the winter. I stopped loving the computer when the time limits were taken away and instead I must plug myself in every morning. Things are different. Beauty and curiosity are hard to find and the limitless internet feels like a belt that’s suddenly too small but which you wear every day.
These days I often think about what I would bring to a desert island or an apocalyptic bunker. Others might bring cooking abilities, survival skills, leadership or at least a level-head. I could bring a pen and some songs I have memorized (though these days it’s less than before). I cannot bring facts I know because I can’t fact-check them on Google; and I cannot bring poems I saved on my laptop. I would bring intense cravings for a hooked-up life–caffeine, internet, bathroom, food all within reach–and I would sit uselessly and in tears and expect to be fed.