In high school, I started making sporadic recordings of myself singing: Top 40 hits I had just discovered, oldies that popped back into my head, songs I needed to get out of myself. I took multiple recordings per month, and over the years this library became a sort of oral journal for me. Singing is a compulsion—similar in some ways to my compulsion to write yet in other ways so different. Even with the free style of journaling, I still considered what to put in, what to keep out. Less for my present self, it often felt like a chronicle for an older version of me to sidestep previously damning mistakes, all the knee-jerk reactions that inevitably end in regret. With a recording of my own singing, I could be all the in-betweens and uncertainties, catch them in a contained moment. It could be an outrush, an impulse of present need. Often I wouldn’t even use the piano, just singing acapella, starting at the chorus or a random point in the song, never the beginning. I treated the song like a pool of water, entered it however I needed to. The lyrics were sometimes wrong because I sang the way I remembered, the way that came to me in the moment. Only recently did I start using real song titles instead of recording number 44, number 45, number 46. Now: Sweet L.A., Chasing Pavements, K., 9 Crimes, Tomorrow Never Came. It goes on like this.
I heard somewhere that we treat our future selves like strangers, and I believe this. I can think my way into a decision, run it through my head, map out my assumed emotional responses. But the person who makes any choice is not the same one who lives through its consequences. When learning the length, genre, and artist of a song, you get a vague idea of the sound without being forced to hear the song itself, all the memories attached to it. You feel prepared to plan for an inevitable collapse, a fresh absence. All this is only theory for you.
And of course it is. How could you know of the dreams where you wake up with hands and lips unbearably light with absence? When you listen to the song, you travel through it like a tunnel. It’s dark but maybe there are lights overhead for you to see yourself in the most shadow-like of ways. Sometimes, though a song serves only as a mess of sonic mass, one lyric phrase floats up to understanding every time. When I listen to Maggie Rogers’ “Falling Water,” I always hear I never loved you fully in the way I could so deeply, completely. When I sing it myself and hear the recording played back, it sounds true. I still feel ashamed.
After a breakup earlier in the fall, one I continue to blame myself for, I listened to a song called “Circles” by the Young Romans on repeat. Around that same time, as the Young Romans played in my earphones, I vividly recall the circle my English class drew on the whiteboard as we discussed Catherine’s and Heathcliff’s tumultuous relationship in Wuthering Heights. There was a gap between the two ends, one side named love and the other hate. Though on opposite sides of the circle, love and hate existed close to each other in intensity. There was still hope of nearness and transfer between the two, though we all readily agreed this didn’t seem particularly healthy. The really damning thing was a word flung on the outside of the circle: indifference.
The circle on the whiteboard and the circle of the song are connected in my mind, the lyrics repeated once at the end of the original song, the lyrics I repeated three times at the end of my own recording: if we could find a way to start the chase again / we might rediscover love when we circle ‘round the bend. In my particular situation, in my particular recording, this song—though hopeful in its original context—represented the psychosis of repetition, my obsession with the loss of someone I loved, my constant need to blame myself, my belief that the only way I could properly atone for my behavior was through getting him back. And over and over, constant, unchanging: my belief in circles.