cover image by Flickr user Generation Bass
Be the ocean, where I unravel
Be my only, be the water where I’m wading[i]
The way I listen is a kind of addiction.
When I first discover a song I love — like really love — I listen to it over and over again, on repeat for an entire day, or several days. I listen while cooking, while biking, while crying, while naked, all the while singing at the top of my lungs. I go hoarse with obsession.
I need to be enveloped in the sound. I want total occupation, a warmth spreading across my clavicle. I let myself drown.
Hit ’em with a left
Hit ’em with they knock, knock
Hit ’em with a play
Then away, and away, and away, and away[ii]
Once the song joins my regular rotation, it will stop inducing that euphoric state. I will no longer be giddy at forthcoming high notes. The song’s structure will become more predictable, like how a tickle doesn’t tickle if you know it’s coming.
A year or so later, when I’ve gotten enough distance, healed and come upon a new scar, the song can work its magic again. I let myself taste the old salt water, melancholy for past melancholy.
Fall in your ways, so you can crumble[iii]
I make mixes at the threshold moment when I can’t quite say what I want to a new lover. I let someone else do the talking, an invitation without the vulnerability of desire. Emoting in silence, to a tune.
I was raised under my mother’s strong-headed insistence that photographs, prints, and paintings can never be displayed on the same wall. So before I gift a mix, I listen and re-listen to it dozens of times, paying special attention to the first and last five seconds of each track. I want transitions that aren’t abrupt, choppy, or awkward. I attempt to recreate the giddiest anxiety, a concentrated burst from curiosity to wonder to panic to heartbreak.
Or is it ultimately a self-destructive act? I share the music that fucks me up, that moves and destroys me, so that someday the recipient can use the songs against me.
Breathe, this is love without love without love without love without love without love[iv]
I don’t miss any of my lovers, past or present: I miss longing itself. I’ve been confidently single the majority of the past four years, but I crave the stage of a new relationship which is all self-doubt and insecurity and nervous co-dependence.
I think I will never make you a mix. You have a primary partner. You cohabitate. You share a cat and a car, the same model my mother has, which always makes me strangely embarrassed when you pick me up.
I need a taxonomy of relationships. I need a spreadsheet that indicates how much each type of partnership warrants the creation of a coy and seductive mix. I want to delineate degrees of appropriate musical feeling between rows and cells. It’s interesting that I don’t even want to make you a mix — there’s no room for quiet longing in this solo poly arrangement.
I could find you in the corners of my head[v]
I want to be in love or falling in love or at least have identified someone I could fall in love with. I wish there was someone out there constantly thinking about me, or someone I could think about constantly. A desire to fill the silence, to have a near-constant distraction. Obsession is not love.
Singing Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend” at the pub on Main Street for weekly karaoke. Our friends whispered to each other off-stage while you danced. They thought my choice of song loudly and silently implied you should leave your partner for me.
Where would that have left us? I took the cue and left my lover of five years anyway. I didn’t need you to change my life.
Is your love big enough for what’s to come?[iv]
[i] Lykke Li, “I Follow Rivers”
[ii] Solange, “Junie”
[iii] Solange, “Rise”
[iv] Chet Faker, “Cigarettes & Loneliness”
[v] All-Time Quarterback, “Untitled”
[iv] Lianne La Havas, “Is Your Love Big Enough?”
Music can hold enormous power in memories and experiences, transporting us instantly to an age, location, or person. What sonic joys, mysteries, disbelief, and clarity have you experienced? Identify songs of influence in your life and explore them like variations on a theme, melding syntax and song structure, recalling the seriousness or levity that accompanies. Whether it’s an account of when a specific song first entered your life, the process of learning to play a song, teaching someone a song, experiencing the same song in different places as it weaves through your life, unbelievable radio timing, sharing songs with those in need, tracking the passing down of songs, creative song analysis, music as politics, etc, I am interested in those ineffable moments and welcoming submissions of your own variations on a theme, as drawn from your life’s soundtrack. Please email submissions to email@example.com and keep an eye out for others’ Variations.
**(“song” is a broad phrase: could be a pop song, a traditional tune, a symphony, commercial jingles, a hummed lullaby, 2nd grade recorder class horror stories, etc)**
Tanya Paperny is a writer, editor, and translator in Washington, D.C. Her journalism, essays, poetry, and literary translations have appeared in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Washington City Paper, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, The Literary Review, and elsewhere. Tanya is the recipient of fellowships from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, the Vermont Studio Center, and OMI International Arts Center. The child of Soviet Jewish refugees, Tanya’s work deals with the aftermath of atrocity. She is currently writing a literary nonfiction book about her revolutionary great-grandmother.