The first singer I ever loved was Lauryn Hill, and by love, I mean want. Deeply. Fully. And forever. She broke up the word “reciprocity,” and it stained itself on the soft parts of my cognition. In her “Everything Is Everything” music video, her eyelids are this sweet shade of pink, and for months, I couldn’t stop thinking of the streets like a record, me spinning along some backbeat, the world whistling with me. In “Ready Or Not”, she has the most poetically mysterious verse ever, where she references Manifest Destiny and voo-doo, Gershwin and Nina Simone, in a single breath, effortlessly. And she was beautiful, the kind of beautiful that didn’t need to be mentioned, just felt, like the pinch of a smile.
But Lauryn Hill wasn’t just beautiful. Just slick, or deep, intellectual. Lauryn Hill made my heart ache, and that’s why I loved her, not just the cute parts but the bad parts too. When MTV Unplugged flopped. When she was jailed for tax evasion. When Rohan Marley said “I feel sad that I loved her so much and I faltered in expressing it to her somehow.” I wonder if what she’s expressing in “Neurotic Society” and “Consumerism” is less preachy than it sounds because I know how easy it is to think macrocosmically if you feel broken and disjointed inside. Sometimes talking about the world is easier than talking about yourself. Sometimes you say what you mean, but mostly, you don’t.
I may be learning that it’s easy to get numb. I’m at the end of my first semester in college, and I’m trying to be reflective. For the first time ever, if I’m bored, I have no one to blame but myself. No curfew. No permission needed to go places. No person’s feelings I have to protect. It’s easy in a place that wants you to be perfect, that grooms you so you may be, to become a robot. It’s sexy not to feel, to have zero tolerance for existential bullshit, to act on and on without the afterthought, but I think it’s also easier than it sounds. Humans have this ability to deny themselves what is natural and love things like dissonance, chaos, spicy food, and abstraction. They could probably tell themselves that feeling is unnecessary, boring, and mainstream too.
I grew up writing fiction. Older kids with subtle smooth senses of humor. Colors so brilliant they dazzled. Palm trees planted in the middle of the highway. People at the brink, the edge. I still believe that writing is asking, pleading, to be loved. To work to be loved. To have the right to be loved.
But regardless of those characters and words and scenes and plots and structures, I still don’t think I’ve pleaded enough. Like every writer who has ever existed, I don’t know what to feel about writing, because, yes, I do admit it’s selfish to believe your thoughts are important enough to merit a record, and yes, I don’t really think people care, and yes, most days, I have to convince myself that I actually do. I love it, but I wish I didn’t have to do it. I dread it, but I’ve convinced myself I can’t not do it. I haven’t tried to quit because I’m too selfish for that. I’m split on whether it would or would not work.
I once surprised myself by saying with too much conviction that most of writing is about being honest with yourself. I sounded like I’d thought about that statement for a really long time and decided it was finally worth living by, but the truth is, it came out like a laugh. So I asked myself later, quietly and after the nods, if it is ever enough to just be honest.
I used to believe, and maybe I still do, that only special types of people got to be honest, had the luxury to be. They were beautiful or rich, white or sensual. They were the people everyone else wanted to hold and get inside and coddle and cry over. They had the power to abandon and the nerve to get abandoned. They were privileged enough to believe there was no one else in the world that could replace them. They were naïve enough to think they could change lives. They were Tracey Emin with beautiful tits stuffing coins and bills up her pussy and E. E. Cummings sitting down to write “i like your body. i like what it does / i like its hows,” convinced it was innovation and not melodrama. Their rawness is breathless. Their rawness is captivating. I used to think it left no room for the rest of us.
I used to think you had to be perfect to be loved. To be opinionated. To have a column. To be impressive. To be important. Smart. Funny. Pretty. Useful.
But oh. Maybe I always knew I was wrong, even if I didn’t believe it. Because nothing I’ve ever loved has been perfect. Nothing I’ve ever wanted has been simple. My mother sneaking into my room at four o’clock the morning after a fight, whispering prayers that sounded too vague to be apologies, while I pretended to be asleep. Long, blonde, wavy hair. Lauryn Hill rapping about nepotism, despotism, racism, sexism, and all the isms, on a by-no-means-pretty-or-listenable track. Dorcas with acne scars like hoofmarks on her cheek. My best friend in high school who sent me emails, back when we were both in love with E. E. Cummings, with titles like “i m n rtist”, “more sad railroads”, “inner peace, or i want to get rich”, and “marion, salem, or.” My sister blasting more K-pop in every car ride because she claimed my music gave her a headache.
When I first saw Tracey Emin’s neon print of Just Love Me, I almost laughed because I thought she was the epitome of a dumb artist. She was pretty, angsty, and blissfully unaware that placing the words “just” and “love” together is like putting calculus in front of a kindergartner and threatening the poor kid with a stick. But then I immediately laughed at myself because, God, that was the point.
Just love me. Just be honest. It’s all expected, even necessary, isn’t it? It’s all the most natural things to do. But to let yourself go like that. To make yourself raw. Is there anything more difficult?
Maybe that is how writing has saved me. Me being honest by saying just love me. It’s a Sunday morning and my roommate’s gotten back from a night she describes as strictly chilling in Greenough and ordering Kong. I’ve got "Miseducation" playing, an album we both agree is the perfect weekend sound. I feel like I’m being hugged. 90s music is great because it’s rough around the edges. Youtube sound quality is awful, but it will do. I’m splayed cold on the carpet we need to vacuum, and Lauryn Hill is singing phrases that will stick to me for the rest of the day, if not the rest of the week, if not the rest of my life. Let me love you. Thank God I’m alive. You’re just too good to be true.
Christina Qiu ’19, lives in Matthews Hall.
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