“I haven’t met the new me yet,” –Taylor Swift, “happiness” from the Evermore era
After the Great Ticketmaster Debacle last November, I didn’t think I’d be going to a concert in the Taylor Swift Era Tour. But last week I nabbed a last-minute ticket to the second night of the tour, which happened to be just an hour (make that 2.5 hours in concert traffic) from where I’m dogsitting this week. And so yes–against all odds and contrary to my predictions–I witnessed the absolute splendor of Taylor in all her many eras on Saturday night in the State Farm Arena in Glendale, Arizona from a strangely decent seat that I bought for an almost reasonable price.
And as she rapid cycled from a Speak Now era youthful romantic in a pink Cinderella gown to a Reputation era bad bitch clad in black and red to an Evermore cottage fairy, I found myself thinking about how the entire magical show was a giant lesson in self-acceptance and reclaiming the disowned parts of ourselves. And, how that reclaiming of disowned selves is 90 percent of why most who’ve tried it will agree that writing a memoir can be, um, hard. Like, brutally.
If you’re a Taylor fan or merely have been walking on planet Earth the past few years, you’ve likely heard that she’s been rerecording albums to reclaim the rights to her early music. No doubt that process that’s ushered back into heavy rotation “Taylor’s Versions” of albums from her twenties as well as the fact that she’s released four new albums since her last tour led her to this concept of an “eras” tour that includes songs from the full wingspan of her career from her teens to her thirties. Songs she wrote, you know, about experiences at age 19, 21, and, say, 30 steeped in a potent brew of feelings ranging from the joy of being sure the new one is The One to the burning anger of betrayal to the bleak despair of love lost.
You know when you come across an old journal or a long lost box of photos and you fall under a spell for an hour and maybe at first you just feel nostalgic? But then maybe you spiral into a pit of anguish about the general and specific foolishness of younger you? Well, there’s just got to be some of that for anyone who sets out to relive all their eras in a three-hour 44-song gauntlet.
And this anguish can be some of the true terror of writing memoir. To bring scenes from the past to life on the page, you don’t have much choice but to feel the wild ride of all those feelings again. The writers most willing to do this no doubt wrote your favorite memoirs that include moments they never, ever wanted to relive and yet did to write them (and rewrite them and revise them and copyedit them and proof the galleys and read them aloud at readings).
And in writing these scenes, you come face to face with your eras, all the past versions of yourself–the person who wanted X and rejected Y, even the you who was trying to be someone she wasn’t. In this British Vogue interview, Taylor describes her twenties like this: “My twenties were really, really fun, but I also equate my twenties to like walking into a costume shop and trying on all these different costumes. And then walking out of the costume shop in my regular outfit and being like, ‘I’m cool with who I am.'”
Her costume shop analogy offers me some perspective just days after watching a 33-year-old Taylor whisper sing a 21-year-old’s “All Too Well” and belt out the sass of her mid-twenties’ “Look What You Made Me Do” that did not shy away from song’s conviction in the epic proportions of one’s own disputes. So what if we could see all our human experiences of jealousy and foolishness and heartache as simply past parts of ourselves? Our eras? What if we wrote seeing ourselves through the lens of the poet and memoirist Dr. Maya Angelou’s quote, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” We did better when we could. Everything else: The stuff of books and songs people will see themselves in and find comfort.
If we can sing our old songs without shame–without even cringing–with the knowledge we were doing the best we could, maybe we would suffer less as we wrote and the writing would be better for it. I am thinking now of Cheryl Strayed saying once about writing her memoir Wild, “I tried to write with compassion for my younger self.” Perhaps, with compassion and the perspective of age, we can even comfort our younger selves with a bit of advice to our younger selves strung out on matters that once loomed so large and legendary. As Taylor sings (and wrote) in “Long Story Short” (Evermore):
I wanna tell you not to get lost in these petty things
Your nemeses will defeat themselves
Before you get the chance to swing
“Reclaiming the disowned parts of ourselves.” Great metaphor. Can’t go over it. Can’t go under it. Can’t go around it. Gotta go through it. I’ve tried every other way and it doesn’t work! Writing my way through it.
What encouraging words to read as I reread letters I wrote to my first husband in 1979–for the first time since I wrote them. Oy. Compassion is needed for that other self!
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