I’ve written a lot of pieces as editor of this section about fears and trauma in this new political climate. In my months here, I have tried to write about staying respectful as an ally, warning against the rise of white supremacy, wrestling with the people in your past, and recently, conveying my deep-seated anger in the wake of Betsy DeVos’ nomination (now confirmation). It’s a mandate of being lucky enough to have this platform and talk about these issues. It is difficult and necessary. But sometimes, sanity comes at a price for this vigilance, and holding these systems accountable and amplifying these fears requires self care. So today, I’m not going to talk about any of the causes to which I’ve devoted myself, but my own regimen of self care. When I need to shut off and recharge for a little bit, all I need is ABBA.
For those of you who do not know, ABBA, the Swedish music sensation consisting of instrumentalists Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, and vocalists Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad (scramble their names and put their first initials together and you get A B B A. Get it?). They consistently churned out perfectly crafted pop masterworks over a 15-year period, from the late-’60s to the mid-’80s. You might know them from the musical smash hit “Mamma Mia,” a three-hour jukebox musical named after the ABBA smash hit of the same name that continues to make billions of dollars (and also was adapted into a terribly wonderful film that made more money in the UK than any before it). You might, like me, have been listening to staccato synthesizers and Swiss-accented vocals from the backseat of your car throughout some of your earliest memories. Or at least, I was. I don’t presume to know who you are, dear reader.
For the last few years, ABBA has been a lost relic in my life, an object I once held dear, but had somehow lost over the years. In these last few weeks, when I’ve needed it the most, I’ve gotten it back.
Sometime over the past few months, I learned that my friend Jess Wolinsky ’17 was writing and directing an adaptation of the ABBA musical, titled “Mamma Mia’s Pizzeria.” Something possessed me, a phantom-limb itch, to go all in on this project, and as of two weeks ago, I began playing saxophone in the pit band and accepted a role in the show’s ensemble. It is the best decision I’ve made this semester.
These last few months I’ve been struggling with an anxiety level I haven’t felt in a few years, spurred on by my impending graduation, chronic pain, and uncertainty in the next few years of my life that I’ve never experienced. Indeed, there are bigger issues, bigger problems that people more at risk have to wrestle with, and it is not my intention to diminish them. In fact, I avoided taking time for self care for that specific reason; I was born in privilege, so what is there for me to take time away from or to take care of? But that doesn’t change the fact that I didn’t realize how important self care can be, even for someone with my privilege. It’s something everyone needs to be mindful of, no matter how insignificant your issues seem to be. You cannot fight for what you believe in without leaning into discomfort, and it is unwise to lean into discomfort if you don’t have some kind of system in place that will allow you to take care of yourself. It should not be judged what methodology one takes for self care. It could be music, exercise, the support systems of friends. It could be total privacy, it could be sharing your struggles with everyone who reads your words online (I suppose this is another act of self care).
Putting on the “Mamma Mia” soundtrack, or the original, organ-flavored “Lay All Your Love On Me,” or strutting through campus to “Take a Chance On Me,” or skipping “Waterloo,” because I don’t like that song very much. Recently, it’s mostly been “Under Attack,” an excellent, beautifully severe, somewhat lesser-known ABBA masterpiece. The vocoder solo on the line “you know that I’m nobody’s fool,” is something that I’ve found particularly stabilizing. In the last few weeks, listening to this music, I’ve been able to approach my work with more clarity and intent than I have in months.
My self care routine is mine. Yours may be different, and probably is. But that doesn’t change the fact that no matter where you are, no matter who you are, you need something to center you, to keep you grounded, whether you’re fighting institutional injustice or not. You might like ABBA, or hate them, but for these next few years, I’m gonna need them. So if you see me walking through this campus, nodding my head, now you know. You know what I’m listening to, why I’m listening to it, and how much I need it. If you want to join along for a chorus, I won’t stop you.