Miserable & Magical: This is me trying

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As someone who writes a column named after Taylor Swift’s lyrics, I’d be remiss if I didn’t use this opportunity to write about her new album. 

Yes, I said new album. Something good finally happened in 2020.

Taylor’s album, “folklore,” also known as TS8, also known as the greatest thing to ever bless my ears, dropped July 24. And while I could use the next 700 words to dissect the lyrics, wax poetic about the hauntingly beautiful melodies, or theorize about who exactly Betty is, I want to talk about something else.

The thing that really sets folklore apart from other Taylor albums, aside from genre and overall sound, is how she released it. She announced it less than 24 hours before it came out – no months-long lead-up, no Easter eggs, no cryptic Instagram posts. 

In her announcement, Taylor wrote, “Before this year I probably would’ve overthought when to release this music at the ‘perfect’ time, but the times we’re living in keep reminding me that nothing is guaranteed. My gut is telling me that if you make something you love, you should just put it out into the world. That’s the side of uncertainty I can get on board with.”

The creative in me loves this and wants to write it out on paper and hang it above my desk as inspiration. This type of boldness in expressing myself and belief in what I’m doing has eluded me practically my entire life. The perfectionist in me won’t let me create much for the world to see.

Coronavirus has made this even clearer for me. If you had told me at the beginning of the year that I’d soon have months and months of free time with no job to report to, I would have been over the moon. There would have been so much I’d want to do, most of it related to writing. I’d finally finish revising my novel, I’d work on short stories, I’d pitch personal essays to dream publications.

Well, this fantasy I longed for has become a dark reality and the past four months have definitely not been my most creative. They’ve not been very freeing either. When I read what Taylor wrote about uncertainty and overthinking and putting what you love out into the world, my first thought was that she sounded so incredibly free. 

It’s not that I think she became free of her anxieties, but I think she managed to not let them control her, and that’s freeing. Anxiety and fear are what control me a lot of the time. They keep from sitting down at my computer and writing anything down. They keep from thinking I have it in me to create anything interesting or good. They make me think no one will ever want to hire me.

Anxiety and fear mixed with my perfectionism are making me stand still. It’s as if I’d rather write nothing and fail quietly, slowing fading away into oblivion and obscurity, than try my best, put it all out there, believe in myself, and watch it all flop and fall apart. 

I am so tired. I am so, so tired. There is so much ambition and motivation in me, but it’s buried under fear. I don’t want to live like this. I don’t want to lock my creativity away because someone might not like it. Not everyone will like you, something Taylor Swift knows all too well.

Taylor has taught me the power of telling stories and sharing what’s in your heart and on your mind. She’s taught me that some people will just hate what you do, no matter how good it is. She’s shown me what happens when you push past that and continue to write, and create, and be. She’s been teaching me this for 12 years, but something about “folklore” just hits differently.

It’s magical I think.

“In isolation my imagination has run wild and this album is the result, a collection of songs and stories that flowed like a stream of consciousness,” Taylor wrote. “Picking up a pen was my way of escaping into fantasy, history, and memory.”

This album has my imagination running wild. I can see stories and characters and I’m going to put them on the page. My only hope is that I’ll make something I love and decide, like Taylor, to just put it out into the world.

Kate Gardner is a Portland-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, Teen Vogue, SELF, and Bustle. You can follow her on Twitter @katevgardner.

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