A Closer Listen: On uncertainties

Carlo Javier // Columnist 

Given fair traffic, the trip from my home in Coquitlam to a clinic in Burnaby can take around 10 minutes by car.  

I make this trip—often on a Saturday—every eight weeks to get an IV infusion that helps me manage my Crohn’s Disease. And because I don’t drive, it will often take me closer to 20 or 30 minutes by bus. 

What this means is that if I put on Paramore’s After Laughter just as I board, I’ll take a seat near the exit doors right around the same time that Hayley Williams starts to sing, “All that I want is to wake up fine, tell me that I’m alright, that I ain’t gonna die.” 

On the days where I can avoid waiting long periods in-between bus transfers, I’ll get to the clinic around the end of “26” —just as the album’s emotional centrepiece fades into a prolonged silence. 

Much to my dismay, turning 26 did not turn out to be the monumental moment of growth I had romanticized it to be. In the weeks and months that led to my 26th birthday, I had started to grow cognizant of my place in the world and all the goals I had set for myself and have yet to achieve. Maybe, because I arbitrarily deemed 26 to be the point when I switch over from my early twenties to my late twenties, I inadvertently conditioned myself to see this year as an important point for introspection and self-assessment. 

The environment I occupied catered to my desire for a grand self-assessment, too. Over the past year, I had started a full-time career in tech. A nine-to-five type that is bound by an indefinite contract as opposed to the internships and short-term gigs I had become accustomed to. It is an odd sensation to feel uncertainty with permanence, but as I settled into commuting to the corporate corner of Richmond every morning, I couldn’t help but get lost in wondering if this was it. 

To further add fuel to my thirst for self-questioning and self-critique, the past year saw me live through a break up with life-altering repercussions. I left the jungle of social media and instantly lost contact with the old friends I grew up with. I wrote, I got published, I snuck time away from my debilitating schedule to spend as many hours as I could with the friends who remained.  

Most of the time, I was left to wonder about what might come next. There were structures that guided my early-twenties: the boundaries of school, relationships, and internships. On some days, I’ll only feel the enormity of whatever might lie ahead and the thought of tomorrow is always marred with uncertainty. 

What I love about the first six tracks of After Laughter is not just that each song captures the wild turmoil of Piscean emotions I have, it is that the rollercoaster sequence of the songs perfectly encapsulates the metronomical mood swings I’ve tried hard to combat. 

Ironically, it is the pessimistic view of “Hard Times” that gets me uppity every time I listen to After Laughter. The reality check of “Rose-Colored Boy” always feels more like an endearing kiss on the cheek than a stern talking-to. 

And then there’s that ending to “26”, a 10-second silence that serves both as an interlude and as means to emphasize the song’s last lines: “Hold onto hope if you got it, don’t let it go for nobody. And they say that dreaming is free, but I wouldn’t care what it cost me.” 

The thing about silence is that it beckons introspection. What I really like about the silence at the end of “26” is that it never fails to invite an urge to rewind and hear Williams’ words again. It is like a reminder, a note to self, or an opportunity to look back. 

The 410 bus from Richmond-Brighouse Station can take a little over an hour to get all the way to its terminus stop at 22nd Street Station in New Westminster. At night, when there are fewer commuters and thus, fewer stops to make, the end-to-end trip can be completed in just around 50, maybe even just 45 minutes.  

On the night I turned 26, I played basketball with some coworkers at a gym in Richmond. After the last game, I hopped on the 410 from its terminus station, preparing myself for one of those long bus rides I irrationally enjoy. And because I had become so comfortable with only listening to the first six tracks of After Laughter and ending my listening sessions during the silence of “26”, I had forgotten about what followed. 

Once the silence of “26” starts to feel a little too long, the buoyant beats of “Pool” begin. In this song, Williams preaches persistence by singing: “As if the first cut wasn’t deep enough, I dove in again ‘cause I’m not into giving up.” It is a song about trying again, but really, it is a song about simply trying; in spite of the fear of it all, and the impossible weight of uncertainty.  

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