It’s been a really long time since I’ve listened to a whole bunch of music in one go. Not by intention. I’ve been having a tough time with most music streaming services since moving to Europe, and YouTube’s algorithms aren’t great for maintaining a certain tone or style, so I just slowly shifted away from music overall. A few pop songs at a time, the lofi hip-hop channel, soundscape generators, podcasts. It didn’t matter really; it was just my life’s background.
But today it occurred to me that I really missed ska. I listened to it all the time at my job in New York. The genre is, in my opinion, singular for its ability to take high-energy negative feelings and channel them into something positive. I really needed that back then.
So, feeling a little more positively nostalgic than usual, I popped on the first Streetlight album YouTube had in full and went back to drawing. It was good. I realized it wasn’t just ska I’d missed, but music, being genuinely engaged with media (even if it wasn’t my main focus). And then my favorite song came on.
A Better Place, A Better Time is a song about someone talking a friend through a suicidal episode. It’s always hit close to home for me, and I was always amazed at how it could simultaneously give me the message I so desperately needed to hear, and still make me feel like moving. In a time when I couldn’t celebrate being alive, it was a song that allowed me to celebrate that I continued fighting to be alive.
When it came on today, I found myself dancing. It was like I had last listened yesterday instead of months ago, as though all the lyrics were just waiting all this time, coded into my bones, resonating with the song’s soundwaves, indifferent to anything but their message. It was a fervent recollection that I’ve known a time that I needed to survive, and that I did, and that I am incredible for it. It was six minutes of celebrating my life by fully inhabiting my self.
There are still, as I travel, many times when my brain is bad for me, when my assorted mental health difficulties are suffocating and overwhelming. Even when they aren’t at their worst, they impact the everyday in small ways, flavoring the way I walk through my life. A lot of this trip has been about discovering those health boundaries and needs, and learning to listen to myself. Things have improved overall, for sure, but it’s not like I took a vacation and it miraculously whisked away my brain chemistry.
Today though, for a few minutes, that didn’t matter. My struggles were a thing I’ve overcome by the very fact of my existence, and I was beautiful, and I danced.