Love Songs for the End of the World

May 1, 2022 / Jessie Yin

Sometimes I think about what the end of the world would feel like, what it would sound like.

Last fall, I walked out of the Paris Olympia theater weeping.

When a man with all the airs of a woodland fae tells you, in not so many words, that what we need in our trembling world is greater kindness and intentional love, you believe him. You believe him and you spend the 20-minute walk home in the pre-winter night feeling like lightning in a bottle. Comforted and panicked at the same time, buzzing in glass for something bigger than you.

In sad blue lights that made him look submerged in water, Hozier played those first gentle chords of “Wasteland, Baby!” and declared to the theater, like it means anything at all, that he was writing love songs for the end of the world. I stared up at this tall man with too many guitars and thought, how stupid. At the end of the world, are we really worrying about a soundtrack? What use is there in creating flowers when we are burning?

I spent the better part of last year studying in France and sometimes when I walked those night streets, I would think about what a waste it was. There was this gnawing guilt that I was indulging in idleness when there were so many more important things that I should’ve been doing, that I could’ve been doing, if I were back home. I have 20 years and a laundry list of small victories and absolutely nothing to show for it except a sense of powerlessness.

Trudging up all the steps of Montmartre, I found myself wondering. What meaning do I want my production to have? What kind of things do I want to be putting out into the world? It feels like what I should want is to graduate and work for some corporate firm or another, make a lot of money, spend it, and retire to the idleness that I tasted in Paris. The kind of production that has market value but no meaning. That’s what my parents have always wanted for me: a breezy, unthinking life ⁠— the American Dream. But I couldn’t stop thinking. What meaning do our creations have? And why can Hozier and his love songs leave me feeling full but inert?

The truth is, I don’t know how to find a purpose that doesn’t feel vapid. More often than not, I’m exhausted and empty. In the face of all the terrors in this world that make human hearts ache, how can I imagine working in the same systems and mechanisms that are driving us toward our end? Forests burn and oceans rise and wars rage on and maybe if we just join enough GoFundMe campaigns, the hurting can finally stop. I don’t know if I fear anything more than this backsliding toward political fascism, this inching toward an extinction-level event of our own slow making.

It feels so uselessly naive to say that I want to do something meaningful. It’s rendered redundant in its subjectivity and its directionlessness. But standing at the lip of that drowning stage as Hozier sang love songs for the end of the world, I felt like I could breathe. Like there was a reprieve to have my self-doubts echoed back at me.

Somehow, as I trailed by the cramped cafés that used to house Hemingway, the lonely chill reminded me of high school English classes. You know, the gentle scoffing when we were told to look for symbols and hidden meanings. And to some extent, that’s true. Sometimes, the couch is just red because the author has ordained it so, but shouldn’t these things imply a secret message? If someone is crafting a whole new world from a blank page, an empty canvas, a silent guitar, then shouldn’t it be made to matter? Shouldn’t the things we place into that void be imbued with something from the human that made it?

And yes, sometimes that blood is just red, but also sometimes there’s so much blood, too much bleeding, and we have to find a way to make it beautiful and to make it bearable.

I ask that you forgive me for my banal thesis that art has meaning, that creation has immeasurable value beyond merely filling up space. This world was built from ideas, ones that were not ours. So then maybe our ideas can be the ones to remake it. Like tireless argonauts, perhaps we can find a new Atlas.

By putting terrible realities through this mechanism of creation, we can make them feel better or we could make them feel worse, but most importantly, we make them feel. We can feel part of our own fumbling consciousness echoed back at us.

I am 20 years old, and I barely feel old enough to be called an adult or good enough to be called a writer. But torn between sorrow and panic and rage, I just want to be heard and seen, and for someone else to show me what they’re feeling too. Art is an act of love ⁠— not romantic or platonic per se, but one that stretches beyond individuals. It’s a practice of immense human connection, of loving.

I think, and I am willing to argue, that in times of crisis, we need creation. We owe it to each other. It’s a duty to hope, to care, to love, to hold someone in your arms and mean something by it. It’s a duty to each other as humans. It’s maybe one of the few truly selfless things we can put out into our world. This desperate need to be heard, to connect. To create something that says, “Hey, you’re here right now and so am I, and I promise there’s someone out there who loves you.”

Sometimes I think about what the end of the world would feel like, what it would sound like. I imagine that it’s quite empty and we would feel alone in it all. Is it a sad-blue? Would we be drowned? Swallowed in the shadow of war, famine, and pestilence, how do we prove that we lived? I hope that it sounds like those first gentle cords, like a tiny space left to breathe. I hope that at T-minus two minutes to the end of the world, the last human thing we do is fall in love. ■

Jessie Yin

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