Lately, I’m struggling to reconcile the big, wide world with the tiny slice of it that I occupy.
Right now, the fabric of my world is held together by familiarity, made up of the town I’ve grown up in, my tight circle of friends and the streets and corridors I walk down every day. The most significant moments are those of a private quasi-magic: 2 AM at a sleepover in a candlelit attic, tinny Paramore under a muted-blue evening sky. I’m discomforted by the insularity of it all. The things that matter in the outside world filter through as news reports and images on TV and topics at debate club. There is a degree of separation that allows them to arrange far too neatly around the trivialities of my everyday life, causing minimal disruption. They are all too easy to ignore.
This concept can essentially be whittled down to a few choice lyrics from a Lorde song that I relate to on a very personal level, Buzzcut Season.
“Explosions on TV/and all the girls with heads inside a dream/so now we live beside the pool/where everything is good.”
The song captures that small-town feeling of being perpetually in the eye of the storm, that convenient separation of calm from chaos. It creates what Lorde is so talented at creating: a small world within an infinitely wider one. I listen to it and become aware of just how small the world I’m living in is. It wraps itself around me and insulates me from the explosions that are happening thousands of miles away. Even when images of them can be beamed to my laptop, in my bedroom, in seconds, I’m somewhat numb because they don’t have the solid physicality of my experiences. Coffee shops on Saturday mornings. Summer walks through sun-baked countryside. Train journeys to London with my headphones in and the world rushing past. These are the things that are raw and real for me.
In a piece for Rookie, Tova Benjamin writes about the small teenage world she creates to provide refuge from the bigger, scarier one, and how it takes the place of the insular Hasidic community she grew up in and left. “Most days”, she writes, “the world feels overlarge as it teems around me, and I struggle to keep steady and feel relevant within it…On those days I feel powerless, and I am driven by a need to make the world feel bearable and navigable.”
These words resonate with me. The outside world often feels too big, too scary, too unmanageable, and the only way to deal with it is to hide in a bubble where I simply don’t have to deal with it, where everything is easy and good. But at the same time I’m frustrated by my inability to connect and feel part of something bigger. One day, I will leave this small, safe world for good – the idea of spending my whole life in it fills me with claustrophobia and guilt, yet I still grasp at familiarity. I still need my friends and my home in all their solid, dependable realness. I can’t imagine ever not needing them. But they have to be part of my world, not all of my world. When I read the news in the morning, each headline makes the outside world seem more impenetrable. But these events, in all their tragedy and complexity, need to be just as raw and real for me as coffee shops and sleepovers and country walks. It’s my responsibility to untangle them and gain an understanding. It’s important for me to travel, to experience the unfamiliar, to live in a world where I’m not sheltered. I can’t be numb to explosions if I see them first-hand.
However, it’s also important for me to hold onto my small town and network of friends. I’m lucky to have them to provide support and keep me grounded. The world is big enough for both the known and the unknown. Transitioning between them won’t be easy, but it will be both possible and necessary.