On Overcoming Obligations
Two and a half weeks ago, the month of April ended. It ended without a mixtape.
- “Berlitz” — Seam
- “Jo Jo’s Jacket” — Stephen Malkmus
- “DMSC” — El-P
- “Kumite” — The Polish Ambassador (w/ Ayla Nereo, Mr. Lif, & Chali 2na)
- “Midnight Rider” — Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
- “2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten” — Lucinda Williams
- “SUN RA” – Jamila Woods (w/ theMIND & Jasminfire)
- “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” — Roberta Flack
- “Add Value Add Time” — Shilpa Ray
- “Since You’re Gone” — The Cars
- “Sinking Ships” — Mereba
- “8” — Sunny Day Real Estate
- “Here in After” — De La Soul (w/ Damon Albarn)
- “More Mess on My Thing” — The Poets of Rhythm
- “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” — Baby Charles
- “Sunday Morning Coming Down” — Kris Kristofferson
There was no mixtape. There wasn’t even a half-baked one; the “April 2021” Spotify playlist had just two songs. There was no blog post tenuously connected to the mixtape. There was nothing.
To be fair, no one noticed. I don’t say that for pity — I make mixtapes for myself, and I write blog posts to keep my skills sharp, and if they gain an audience that’s perfectly fine. But they’re for me: they’re my collection for this moment in time. And, honestly, I can’t be too upset about no one noticing, because I didn’t even notice.
How could I? I was in Minneapolis. Hanging out with friends. At times, thanks to science, we weren’t even masked.
It was wonderful. It felt like a new world. And because of that, I forgot my obligation. But this time it was different. It wasn’t just that I forgot, but that the obligation held no more sway over me. It no longer owned me. The best part of forgetting to make my mixtape last month is that I no longer cared.
For the fourteen months, my monthly mixtape became one of those odd pandemic outlets. Even though I’d created them for over two years by the point of lockdown, it wasn’t until we all turned inward, hiding from a virus and more specifically hiding from each other, that I saw a monthly routine as necessary. The routine of choosing an hour of music. The routine of writing a dozen paragraphs on whatever was bouncing around. The routine of creating something and offering it to the world, to help others know that I was still around.
And I would actually stress about it. My self-appointed deadlines — these faux-obligations — threw an extra wrench in the already gummed works of my serotonin.
I had created a deep network of obligations around something I didn’t need to do, but the issue wasn’t in the obligations: it was in the lack of grace I allowed myself. Like falling off of a health routine or getting sucked into an addiction, the all-or-nothing nature of respecting obligations over everything can drag a person down. I wasn’t throwing mixtapes together because I felt they needed to be done, but because I created an obligation that was too rigid to get free from.
I had forgotten the healthy side of that obligation. I had only focused on all-or-nothing.
Less than a week ago, here in the United States, we were told that those of us who are fully vaccinated don’t need to wear a mask anymore. The obligation is gone, and we can take it off.
I still wear one into stores, even if they don’t ask. I still feel obligated, and honestly I feel frustrated. I feel as though it was a cave-in; even if the science supports it, it feels like a cop-out. There are millions who wandered through the pandemic with barely a care for anyone other than themselves and their commercial interests, who fought masks and fought science and fought decency, who couldn’t even bother to show a bit of empathy. Who immediately weighed their personal comfort over the safety of society, who took personal affront at being told to do anything, like a child who refuses to wipe the ketchup off of his mouth simply because he doesn’t like being told what to do.
Honestly, I feel like a moment was stolen from me — that the freedom of going mask-free should have been a momentous occasion, yet so many fought masks from day one that the occasion is soured. I know things are getting better. I am thankful that I am in a situation in which I can go mask-free if I so choose. But it somehow feels like we lost a battle.
I still feel obligated, because I know so many never felt obligated. I know that obligations can weigh us down, but they also keep us honest.
I missed a mixtape last month, and it felt like I shunted an obligation. Instead, I spun it a bit: now I can get a head start on May, and try to get these to a point where they’re made as the month begins, rather than in the last seconds as it ends. I’m not quite there yet. But it will get better.
I should spin my mask obligations a bit, too. I should take advantage. But this one’s harder. A decision about a mixtape doesn’t affect anyone else’s health, or send a message about my belief system. Honestly, a mask shouldn’t do those things either. But they did. They still do. And despite being freed from my obligation, it’s still hard to go back.
I’m hoping it will happen soon.