On “Coolness,” Enya, and Embracing Your Weird
September 29, 2020
We were not cool in high school. And yes, Brittany and I have totally bonded over this.
Last week both of us were freshly reminded of this fact when I found and shared this epic and inspiring tribute to Enya from Pitchfork. We went through intense Enya phases in high school. This article made us both feel seen, and we felt fiercely grateful.
Let’s back up a couple dozen steps. I went to a prep school where students were highly prized if they were a) killer at academics, b) Christian, and c) athletes. No, I’m not making this up – this was the actual criteria for most of the awards that were given out at the end of the school year. Despite a certain outdoorsiness and A++ archery skills, I only rocked 1 out of 3 of those metrics. You already know which it was: I always had my nose in a book. (Admittedly it was usually a fantasy novel rather than a calc textbook.)
But it wasn’t really the formal differences that made me feel like such a weirdo. And I think just saying “I listened to a lot of Enya” is a pretty good shorthand. I wore jeans, but I also wore a lot of long, swirly skirts and black boots with high heels. I was completely obsessed with King Arthur, and I always had a book by Patricia McKillip or Charles de Lint in my backpack. And I listened to a lot of Enya.
This became agonizingly clear one fateful day in 10th grade English class. My teacher, faced with the task of getting a bunch of 15-year-olds excited about poetry, asked the class to bring in their favorite songs. We’d listen to them in class, he said, and analyze the lyrics like poetry.
My classmates brought in songs by Billy Joel and Beyoncé, the White Stripes and the Dixie Chicks. (No shade – they had great taste, and I was definitely rocking out, in my quiet and awkward way, in my chair while listening.) And then it was my turn, and Enya’s “Anywhere Is” filled the classroom.
If you haven’t already listened to this song, go listen to it. I’ll wait.
It’s awesome, right? But it’s not a billboard classic. It is not what a bunch of fifteen-year-olds would call a jam. It’s cyclical and atmospheric. It sounds like the ocean, a labyrinth of sound, a riddle. The words are enigmatic.
I loved it. I still love it.
My classmates stared at me like I had two heads. One guy did a mocking little dance while grimacing. I was so embarrassed that I couldn’t listen to this song for at least a year without cringing. But I still listened. Even though it wasn’t cool.
So when I read this piece about Enya last week, I felt… gleeful. If you haven’t read it, basically it traces Enya’s unconventional career and her utter refusal to play by the rules of the music industry. It reminds us how Enya was relegated to “doctor’s office” music and demonstrates the wildly powerful influence she’s had as a “mother” of so many contemporary artists across genres.
For a long time, Enya’s music was put in a box. A box labeled as “uncool.” But somewhere along the line, a magic trick took place. The box is empty, and her music is everywhere. It’s even a bit… dare I say it… cool?
The thing is, though, the cool factor doesn’t matter.
Embracing what you love? And not being shamed out of your weird? That’s what matters. Enya went on being Enya and doing her multi-vocal oceanic sound and kicking ass. And I’ve embarked on a long journey of learning not to care quite so much when people don’t get my weird. (“You’re a…folklorist? What is that?”)
But the thing is, embracing your weird is your superpower. Loving the stuff you love and letting it fuel you is how you get stories – it’s how you make poetry and art and fan fiction and communities. It’s how you think up something as crazy and wonderful as Carterhaugh. It’s how you get best friends.
There’s nothing like finding other people who get your weird. And, if you’re reading this, I’m pretty sure you’re one of those people too.