On Solar Power, grief, climate change, my dog
It’s not summer anymore, but I’m still listening to Solar Power all the time. When it came out, some people brushed it off as an easy breezy album akin to Jimmy Buffet. I love wasting away in Margaritaville as much as the next person, probably even more, but it’s a harsh comparison to an album that feels to me like a religious text.
My favorite line on Solar Power is on "Oceanic Feeling,” when she sings "Sliding the knife under the skin/grateful for this offering." She's talking about cutting into a freshly caught fish, and the gratitude she feels for it providing sustenance, in line with devotion to nature she expresses on this album. Solar Power is about loving a planet in decline, about growing out of being a moody teenager and into a melancholic adult, about grief for things both tangible and theoretical.
I remember feeling offended when reading the Pitchfork review of this album, something I don’t usually do, because the author wrote that the album didn’t make her feel anything significant. “Shouldn’t an album about climate grief and puppy grief and social grief by one of the best pop songwriters of her generation make you feel something?” I feel so much when I listen to this album. Maybe that’s because I’m about the same age as Lorde, or because I’ve dealt with climate anxiety for so long, or because I’ve spent the last year wading through real grief for the first time in my life.
Solar Power is dappled with references to the death of Lorde’s dog Pearl, a feeling I couldn’t have possibly understood until January when I got a dog for the first time. Now I spend so much of my day staring at her. If something happened to Sesame, there would be a massive gaping hole in my life. It would be a new kind of grief. On “Secrets From a Girl (Who’s Seen It All),” Lorde sings “Remember what you thought was grief before you got the call.”
When a stranger asks how long I’ve had Sesame, and I tell them, they say “so she’s a pandemic dog too.” Yes, I say, because it’s true, and it’s also easier to say than “actually, she’s a grief dog.” I wanted a dog for a long time, since I was a kid, and spent a lot of time during the pandemic looking at PetFinder for hours. But I decided that I needed, not wanted, a dog, because there was a massive gaping hole in my life.
This week is the one year anniversary of my friend Alex’s death by suicide. Before he died, I didn’t really know what grief was. I thought it was feeling sad for a week after losing your grandparents. Now I know it’s months and months of trying to come to terms with what happened, trying to go on with your life even though nothing feels normal, questioning every aspect of your life, consuming a lot of weed, taking longer, more contemplative showers, buying lots of treats, trying not to notice how people fall silent when the subject comes up.
I’ve spent so much of the past year feeling surprised at how intense my grief has been, how much of my time it’s consumed, the degree to which it’s altered my life. I quit my job in March because the grief was too much and continuing to work at the same job where I worked with Alex was unbearable.
I’ve never been good at therapy, but I knew that this kind of grief was not manageable on my own. I also knew that the most intimidating part of therapy of finding a new therapist is making the first phone call and appointment and what if you don’t like them and then it’s a whole thing. So I used one of the online therapy services with an app and hundreds of subpar therapists. I realized a few months in that my therapist wasn’t especially good, but she helped me through the most intense period of my grief and that’s what I needed her for most.
I knew I had to get out when I started talking about how the climate crisis was affecting me mentally and she suggested I try religion. Climate grief is not as painful as grief grief. But it’s still grief. It’s October 13 and it’s 72 degrees and tomorrow it will be 80 degrees and the day after that it will be 81 degrees. One day soon it will be like this in November. I don’t know at what age the people I love will die but I know with certainty that by the time I’m in my thirties, which isn’t that far from now, the fires and floods and 80 degree days in October will be even more common than they are now.
On “Oceanic Feeling,” Lorde sings about everything. The beach, the ocean, her brother, her dad, her teenage self, her future children, the sun, the cicadas. Her Oceanic Feeling is all of this abundance, and the overwhelming feeling that the earth will never be as beautiful as it is right now.
The concept of an "oceanic feeling" has its own Wikipedia page, which I’m sure Lorde at least skimmed as I did. The term derived from a letter the French writer Romain Rolland wrote to Sigmund Freud, in which he described religion as "the simple and direct fact of the sensation of the eternal (which can very well not be eternal, but simply without perceptible boundaries, and like oceanic)." From what I understand, Rolland was trying to explain to Freud that mysticism was more valuable than psychoanalysis. Freud, being a little freak, went on to create a theory about how the “oceanic feeling” is tied to breastfeeding as a baby.
I don’t really know anything about the history of psychoanalysis, but I’m more inclined to side with Rolland, and I’d guess Lorde would too. Grief is maybe best described as oceanic--deep, no visible end in sight, salty, beautiful.
On Friday, I’ll think of Alex all day. I plan to go to the conservatory so I can be surrounded by plants and flowers and feel grateful for the offerings.