how to do things with words

by s.

Here is a humbling thing: You will sometimes find that, as a grown up person, you can feel the exact same way about a song / a person / your life as you did when you were a teenager. You may mistake this for nostalgia. Do not make this mistake.

What it is, I almost hate to tell you, is the fucking truth. You are wiser now than you ever have been and you are certainly older, but if you think for one fool second that you are not still a teenager, you risk missing the point entirely. That would be a shame for two reasons. The first is obvious: you’re taking yourself too seriously. The second is a bit more subtle than that, but ultimately comes in lockstep. It is that while you can and should change drastically as you age, there is still a core part of you that’s the same person you were at twenty, at seventeen, at twelve. That person tends to be the one you return to when things go awry in your brain, and it’s probably that person who comes out in full force when you fall in love with the right song, the right person, the right idea. You may not like that person and they may be embarrassing, but they probably have a lot of heart. You need that.

I love music and I love trains and I love hanging out inside other people’s brains for a while, so yesterday I did all of those things and in the process remembered what it feels like to listen to Nine Inch Nails “Hurt” and actually feel the song. That feels pretty juvenile to say later, but in the moment it’s anything but. If Trent Reznor, at 48, can sing that song with as much conviction as he does, you can expect that if you ever felt feelings about it, you will probably feel feelings again if you see him perform it.

And so we felt feelings on an hour-plus train ride out of the city. On our way back, I curled up and re-read a Tom Robbins book and felt torn between appreciating the ridiculous shit he does with words and worrying that as an adult I still can’t quite crack that verbal whip in the same manner. When I got home, I listened to “Hurt” a couple of times before falling asleep, remembering that as a teenager my inability to do things with words had the kind of reach that rendered me speechless in front of anyone who mattered to me. You felt that way too, I know. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t. 

The only difference between then and now is that we’ve inherited the vocabulary to talk about how it feels to be that teenager. It’s only a question of whether or not we choose to use it.