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On a Solar Eclipse, Taylor Swift, and Other Reasons to Look to the Sky featured img
Category: Feminine Nature

On a Solar Eclipse, Taylor Swift, and Other Reasons to Look to the Sky

April 29, 2024

It is cold in April, especially in Utah where the day could start in sun and end in snow, and it was cold the morning the sun disappeared, when I left the winter warm temperature of my classroom in the basement of the humanities building and walked to the center of campus, my students trailing along as we left behind the desks and whiteboards and computer screens for a grassy space where we could gather together with blankets and backpacks and a handful of solar glasses we passed from one hand to another to watch the moon shadow the sun in a partial eclipse. 

Watching an eclipse is not a new experience for me. In the last few years I have been able to watch three partial or total solar eclipses, been a part of the awe and wonder as darkness swept through sun filled mornings, marveled at suddenly crescent moon shaped shadows of leaves trembling across the surface of sidewalks, been astonished as the temperature dropped, as the birds stopped singing, as the people around me fell into a hush of discovery and delight. During the 2017 eclipse I made playlists (yes, including the Bonnie Tyler classic Total Eclipse of the Heart), and served food (moon pies and Sunchips and Capri Suns) and watched as my neighborhood gathered on the small patch of grass in front of my house; neighbors and friends and classmates and siblings came to watch together. 

I have written before about the way I feel about sunrises and sunsets and the fleeting fall of meteor showers in the soft sweep of dark night skies. I revel in the contrast between the celestial and our very human frailties, our smallness in contrast to the rest of the universe as it dips and dances above our heads, and it reminds me to look at the world around me with joy and with hope. 

This time I watched my students as much as I did the heavens, watched the others across campus who stopped for a moment to borrow a pair of glasses and look briefly upwards, watched those who lingered, and watched those who stayed until the last sliver of shadow slipped away from the sun. I watched professors with classes and glasses, and young families with children in strollers and on shoulders, all looking skyward as we paused for a brief moment in time. There were couples holding hands, and a photographer who kept trying to catch us all at the same moment, glasses on, faces upturned like flowers seeking the benediction of the skies. There were athletes in shorts despite the chill of the day, and one student dressed in ski clothes, fresh from an early spring mountain run. The most memorable viewing for me that day was not the sky but the faces of those around me. It felt, for just a few moments, like a moment of collaboration, as if we were all a part of something larger than ourselves. 

The next day as I scrolled through my feed I saw articles and essays and photos and discussions of the same thing I had felt and experienced—all focused on the coming together of a large number of people to do something extraordinary, along with one rather shocking headline which declared in bold black letters, $700 Million in Lost Productivity Estimated During Eclipse. I cringed. For me and for thousands like me that morning was anything but a distraction, a detraction, a negative balance on some never ending tally of losses and gains.

It is not new, this focus on concrete measures and measurements, on commodifying even the most mundane of experiences, and I could not help but consider and calculate the ways we center commerce over curiosity, economies over creativity. 

The world would shape us into perfect pillars of productivity, reward us based on how we can trade our time for tick marks in the column titled economic gain, would praise us for the stabilization of an economy and culture that values only the shallow scales of profit instead of the quality of our experiences, our communities, and our connections. It would judge us through the ways in which we are set against one another, a competition which we all lose, finding ourselves weighed and wanting in isolation. 

As I stood in the center of campus, surrounded by my students, gazing at something wonderful and wondrous, I did not feel diminished in comparison. I did not feel small, or inconsequential. I felt instead a great gratitude for the way we gathered, all a part of something larger than all our small insignificances could account for, and it struck me that we have been limiting ourselves. We have suffered from a lack of creativity when it comes to the way we let ourselves be alienated from the strength of larger connections, greater boundaries, lives lived on a grander scale, a scale that incorporates the wonder of the larger world which we so seldom see. 

We look at the same thing through different lenses, through the scars of our individual experiences. We each come to our interactions with different goals in mind, and yet we stand together and seek strength from our sense that we are not alone as we confront what it means to be human, what it means to be flawed.

The truth is that we are not bound by the limits of our walls, our halls, our ceilings. We are not defined by the isolation of the houses others told us we should strive for. Those hallmarks of the family or the home are artificial. They are built of the idealization of some other life. They are, to me, one of the reasons that some people are so strident in calling for women to leave these spaces, like the woman from the French delegation at the UN who stood for a moment at the front of the general assembly room and declared, without hesitation, that emancipation from the family is the only true route to equality. 

She argued that the family itself is an institution that exploits women who remain full-time inhabitants of family spaces, full-time mothers, full-time homemakers, full-time nurturers, creators, and comforters. 

The answer for her, and for so many women, is liberation from the family through paid work instead of home-based labor. It is in privileging the workplace over the home space, leaving behind the domestic, the personal, the human. In abandoning the small and simple tasks of creation, leaving it behind for other places that emphasize production over protection, and consumption over comfort, that speak of the work of mothers and fathers as too limiting and too limited to be of any benefit to society as a whole. 

And maybe they are right in a way. Maybe we do need a new type of space, but the answer is not in liberation but in creation, it is in cultivating connections not collecting outside acknowledgements of our worth according to someone else’s ideal. 

We have the tools. We have the technological advances to make our lives easier, to let both men and women spend more time in the communities that they create, pursuing passions that fill their hearts and their souls and their very beings with light and love and connection and empathy for the other humans that fill their communities, and still we allow others to tell us it is not enough, that we have to do more, be more, produce more, validate our existence through a balance sheet of loss and gain. We allow them to exploit and manipulate and manage those same tools to maximize some meager metric. We let them measure our merit instead of freeing ourselves from the limits of other’s expectations, pushing past the boundaries that curtail our creativity in favor of commodification. We have spent so long building boxes, we forget that the walls around us are of our own construction, that we have the creative power to shape the world to fit us instead of bending to fit the world others have made. 

Susan Sontag envisioned a family that was not a “sealed off molecule,” but a communal space, a curtailing of competition, that abandoned attitudes of acquisitiveness in favor of inquisitiveness, in favor of an insatiable curiosity about what we could, perhaps, become. 

I have always loved the spaces where people come together. Car shows, comic cons, garden tours, writers’ groups, workout groups, workshops—places of creativity and creation and celebration. It is one of the things I have enjoyed the most about what I am calling the summer of Taylor Swift. The wholesale enjoyment of something that has drawn in women of all ages, from all spaces, all demographics, all levels of dedication from the seriously sincere Swiftie to the casual cultural consumer. I have attended movies of the concert, sing-alongs, album debuts, and, on one memorable occasion, a laser show set to Taylor Swift music where we reclined in a planetarium to watch a strobing light show vibrant enough to induce migraines as we stared into the dome overhead.

I was not, prior to this year, a dedicated ‘fan,’ despite the fact that two of her albums feature heavily in my writing playlists; however I have been slowly converted by my daughters, by my sisters, and by my eight-year-old niece, who made us all friendship bracelets before one of the shows. 

Last week, when Taylor’s new album dropped, I sat on the floor in my front room, phone in hand, as my sisters and I listened together, spread over city and state lines, texting and calling and commenting at the start of every song, at the end of every lyric line. The first sixteen songs dropped at midnight, and the next fifteen at 2 am, and in between we lost one sister to slumber, but the rest of us forged forward, and I am sure, if someone cared to measure such things, that you could have written an essay on the hours we spent listening together, on the loss of sleep, and the loss of productive hours the next day, but to me those moments felt magical as we together crafted a type of collective creative communion. 

And I have opinions about the writing, about the poetics, about the politics, of course I do, I’m a writer, and an English major, and analyzing language is my bread and butter, but my reservations and recommendations fly out the window when the beat comes on and we’re suddenly singing along with our arms raised over our heads, as my daughters and my sisters and my nieces and I sit in the dark of a laser show, waiting for the lights to start, for the music to begin, listening together as we look up into a communal sky of our own creation.