12/31/2019
Best of the decade

"Oh, right, it's time for the best-of-the-year pop culture lists. I completely forgot about that."

It's been eight months since I closed the music blog, and it seems I've forgotten how to do it. Gone are the days when I'd keep an eye peeled for album announcements and single drops - as if I have done that properly. A part of me wanted to be on top of everything that's going on, but I gave myself a bunch of disclaimers so I have an out when I fail to do so, which is pretty much every single time. This is about the music I have come across, whether it's really new or really old. Or something like that.

That philosophy applied as well to the blog's best-of-the-year lists. Rather, a list of my favorite songs of the year that passed. I don't listen to everything - I cannot listen to everything - so I cannot claim, even to myself, that I have a somewhat definitive take on what really was good from the twelve months or so that passed. So, a list of my favorite songs of the year. Sounds pretty simple, but for six of the blog's seven years I crammed the list, racking my brain for a couple of hours as to what songs I've listened to a lot over the year, and then figuring out whether it fits the criteria, because for all we know, it was actually released the year prior and I'm just really late to it.

I'd spend a fair amount of time on it. It's ten song reviews rather than one, complete with a different graphic treatment every year. After a couple of days of writing and editing I'd be happy with what I came up with. Then a few months would pass and I'd realize that I forgot to mention one song that I really loved. In the case of the last list I ever released, in 2018, I forgot to mention "Swim" from the Canadian band Dizzy. It's a sublime song.

It's been eight months since I closed the music blog, and all that trouble to write a list nobody would read, more so take seriously, has eluded me. You can't make me list ten songs I really liked from the past year now, even if you gave me a couple of hours. I just haven't kept track of it like I used to.

And then I realize it's not just the end of another year, but the end of another decade. Would I be making a list of my hundred - okay, I'll be lazy; let's say fifty - favorite songs from the past ten years? This is why I closed the blog. It's too much work for too little gratification most of the time.


This is also the time of year when we look back at whatever's happened to us in the past twelve months. Not so much a list of everything, warts and all, but an attempt to put everything in a more favorable context. Let's be honest - nobody really talks about how shitty their past year has been. You talk about how challenging it's been, but you also talk about how you pick yourself up from the crash and move forward a better person. It's more palatable that way. People are more likely to read something positive, after all, even vaguely.

But then, it's all really arbitrary, isn't it? I've said as much before. It's not as like everything goes back to zero the moment the clock strikes midnight on New Year's day. You don't get a fresh start. You continue with everything that you've done and everything that's been done to you. We all just tend to do it on this point in time that people have agreed about, and yet could be any point in time, really.

That said, this is the end of a decade. Yes, sure, it could happen on any point in time, but the fact that we've gone through ten of these points seems really significant. If our existence is a dot, then this is a slightly bigger dot. There really is a lot to unpack.

For one, I've spent seven of the last ten years writing about music.

Sure, it's a hobby gone horribly wrong, a stab at wish fulfillment that both came close to doing its goals and also not doing it at all. (And I'm pretty sure the moment I quit people forgot about me, my so-called clout going down to the negatives.) But in some way, I've made conversations I wouldn't have started because of that blog. I've had experiences I wouldn't have had otherwise. I've had friends - or at least people I exchange messages with relatively frequently - I wouldn't have made otherwise. (Come to think of it, most of the friends I made the past ten solar revolutions were because of the blog.) It was, in its weird way, a truly fulfilling thing I did.

Good heavens, that was cloyingly positive. Perhaps Shalla is right on this one. Perhaps I am truly a contrarian. Perhaps I think the things I think, say the things I say, because a part of me wants to go against the grain. And I wonder why people can't tolerate me, eh? Like, as I write this - over the weekend, to be upfront about it - people are up in arms on social media about the news that the government will shut down motorcycle taxi services by March next year. Like, fuck the government for ruining something that actually works! And here I am thinking, but we don't really have the infrastructure to make it really work for everyone. It's a valid point, I think, but it goes against what people are passionate (okay, angry) about, so there is that.

Right. For seven of the last ten years, and counting, I've been in a relationship. That's something I never imagined would happen in 2009. Sure, I pined for some hairy-legged colleague, for some reason, but it was really just me going crazy inside (and out), knowing I'll never act on my ill-informed feelings. But then, how Shalla and I got together is not exactly a conventional story, either. There was no courtship, for one, and technically, it's she who asked me if we wanted to go steady. Now, as I write this, she's sleeping in the next room, and I'm waiting for the rice to cook.

This is the decade I learned what love truly means. That's too romantic, cloyingly romantic. But you know what I mean, and at the same time, you likely don't, because you don't really say you're an expert on these things. You continue to learn, and forget, or take things for granted, and then you relearn, until you get it right several times in succession. It's difficult to explain, but at the same time, you kind of know your way around it.

I guess it all feels massive because this is the decade - for all of us, or at least my contemporaries - where everything you've spent the rest of your life before 2010 begun preparing for actually happened. Either we're in the middle of our first jobs or we're just finishing college. Or we're entering it again. We're figuring things out for ourselves. I hate the term "adulting" for how it infantilizes this very transition, but, well, that's the only apt term I have at the moment. We've talked about growing up; now we really have to do it. We figured out what our dreams are. We recalibrated when we realized that they're not at all plausible. We saved up, a bit. We pondered life without our parents, if we're lucky enough to still be able to do that. We fell in love. We made choices, more permanent ones.

We're in our thirties. I never imagined this point actually happening would be as surreal as it is. Your friends and acquaintances are either married or getting married. You're seeing a lot of family photos on your news feed. "From my family to yours." My impostor syndrome - a term I just learned lately, and am honestly hesitant to use, but, again, it's the only apt term I have at the moment - is flaring up. What have I done, exactly?


I had one major career change this decade. I always thought I'd spend my life writing for magazines. But then, that's why I started the music blog - because that ambition is implausible at this point in time, when bookstores no longer sell magazines, because there are no (relatively cheap) magazines left to sell. I entered the corporate world. In hindsight, I didn't immediately adjust. Now, I think I'm better at it, but in a weird way I am now also writing for a living. I write columns and magazine articles and invitation letters and those little bits of copy you take for granted, and it feels like what I thought I'd love doing for the rest of my life is draining at an alarming rate.

I realized I've been pushing myself way past the edge to impress people, to keep them on my side. You will say it's toxic. I will say it feels like I don't have a choice. I have felt appreciated, but only for what I can do, not who I am. I'm a wimp. I'll never have the courage to end the cycle. My head has never been in the right space for a while now. Therapy, they say, is the only solution; I could never afford it, and it's always felt like a cop-out. Pay for someone to listen to you. It's these troubles I would assume we all have as we make our way to this world we didn't imagine we'd have to navigate in, but then, nobody wants to talk about the ugly stuff. Amidst all the people showing off what they have accomplished, and you failing to control yourself, still comparing yourself to them, you break a little each time.

But then, time is arbitrary. There is a truth in people saying that you should do things in your own time. Or, failing that, just trust in the timing of this imaginary being from the skies. But my slightly convincing excuse to myself - that I tend to do things after everybody else has done it - doesn't hold muster at this point when everybody's keen to show off how far they've come. You're stuck here while they're travelling the world. You have no disposable income. They're likely millionaires already. My head goes on overdrive. I want it to stop. I can never make it stop. Somehow it's all my fault.

And yes, you can claim to be above the fray and say it's all social media's fault, how it just gives you the impossibly aspirational and how the solution is just to stay away from it. (Don't get me started on both how social media wrecked the past ten years, and how it's hard to quit social media if your work partially revolves around it.) Still, even if you're aware of all this, and even if you do your best to stay away, or at least do less with it, somehow it will still be all your fault.

Funny how, at this point in our lives, nobody really cares about other people, and at the same time, everybody cares about everybody else.

So why does it matter? Why do we have to recognize the immensity of having gone through ten arbitrarily-designated lunar cycles, and prove to everybody else that we've made something of ourselves, that we've fulfilled the potential we claim to have had when we were still studying? I guess it's nice to wrap it all up in a convenient list, of sorts, highlights that have transformed us and made us who we are now on the last day of 2019, or somewhere in the near future, if you're reading this after the publication date. If pop culture journalists can summarize ten whole years in a hundred paragraphs, why can't we?

I used to know that feeling. It's why I started a music blog in the first place.


I've been doing the maths in my head. Next year would mark fifteen years since I began blogging here. The year after that, I can say that I've spent half my life blogging. The year after that, I can say that I've blogged for most of my life, and that would feel a bit sad, because writing your feelings out in public for people to dismiss is something only those in high school do, supposedly.

I also remember this feng shui expert telling me - indirectly; he told my dad - that I would go through a tumultuous next ten years. But this was in 2010. From that time, I went through a couple of job changes, did a stupid wish fulfillment scheme, got into a relationship, and progressively got sadder about things, logic be damned. If that's to be considered, perhaps things will be better from tomorrow. Things will settle down, and I'd have found my space in this world. It seemed like a convenient excuse for all the worries I've had. But then, again, this is just a randomly-selected and universally-agreed point in space and time where we look back at the recent past and figure out just what's happened to us.

When I started writing this I thought I had an answer. I still don't. I'm sure I never will. And perhaps that's how it's supposed to be. I'm sure we'll forget we've gone through a new decade and continue like we have all these days and weeks and years before: day by day, step by step, with the pressure of having to have a grand plan and something to show for yourself. But then , it would be nice to have some answers.

And your responses...

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