"Vacation" by Florist
[REUPLOAD] originally posted September 18, 2022
A delightful surprise: despite famously having beef with Phoebe Bridgers, George has recently become a convert to soft-spoken, indie guitarist women. He has recently fallen in love with not only Big Thief* but also Florist, which feels like a win not just for me, but for my whole gender (sad girls). This July, we spent every night for a week falling asleep to Florist’s new self-titled album, which swept me back into my college reveries over Florist’s most-streamed song, “Vacation.”
“Vacation” is a sparse and dreamy song, mostly Emily Sprague’s murmuring voice over fingerpicked guitar. The delivery is hushed, even flat — it risks being forgettable. But it is one of the most lyrically devastating songs I have ever had the pleasure to know, and I feel compelled to walk you through its world so we can live in this gut punch together.
The song opens with a sigh: “I don’t know how to be / what I wanted to be when I was five.” It’s the perfect line for postgrad confusion. This whole year I’ve felt like a child thrashing through a world I don’t understand. Being an artist, at its core, is like being a child – exposing your raw want to the bewildered world. But the business end – the cold pitching, the CV building, the LinkedIn trawling – belongs to the cold world of adulthood, with all its unspoken rules about how to make your mind seem like it’s worth someone else’s time. It’s nauseating, and it makes me miss the sureness of my younger self, her smaller world.
But when Sprague starts to remember what it was like to be five, she wavers. As she retraces her idyllic memories – ”bike rides, snow hikes, and Christmas lights” – she mourns the loss of a time when the world seemed easy, when everything was magical and bestowed upon her. But then she admits: “I don’t know if I can love that / anymore.”
I love getting to come back to this song at this time in my life, when I feel at such a crossroads — whether to go to New York or abroad, whether to chase the wilderness or urban entertainments, whether to hide away in New Zealand for two months making no money while I just try to finish a novel. What will get me where I need to go? What will feel right? Part of growing up is learning not to romanticize every possibility, learning to recognize that I am the one thing I can control, and so there is no perfect environment waiting to embrace me, no place that can elevate my life into the story I’m seeking. There’s only what I choose and how I handle what I don’t choose, whether I allow myself to sit in gratitude for it or whether I complain it’s not enough.
But losing the romantic glint with which I saw all my possibilities in college makes it so none of the choices now before me call to me with the same urgency or vitality. The choices seem drabber, drier, more coincidental. And nobody makes them for me, so I can never be sure I’m making the right ones. I wouldn’t trade this newfound independence for the sake of regressing into safety, for the sake of certainty I can’t retrieve now that I know it never really existed – that it was just my parents, professors, and bosses who wore the mantle of confusion. But I miss feeling totally immersed in my world, wide-eyed and wondering.
“Vacation” flips back and forth between these feelings, lingering in reverent nostalgia for childhood ease (“like riding roller coasters with my dad”) before reencountering the splendid risk of the present, the undetermined future. Sometimes it slips into millennial malaise (“Maybe I just want to get married / or maybe I just want to fall asleep”), but at the very end of the song, Sprague emerges from the drifts of ennui with a sharp and gorgeous turn. She starts by grounding herself in what she might otherwise take for granted: “At least I know that the world is spinning / when we’re tangled in the bedsheets / And at least I know that my mom is breathing / when we talk on the phone.” But when she sings, “At least I know that my house won’t burn down, down to the ground tomorrow,” she catches herself: “Or maybe it will.”
Which leads me to my favorite part of the song, the outro in which Emily Sprague finds the eye of the storm, pauses amid the anxiety that has so far governed the world of this song:
If I’ve been in love before
and I'm pretty sure I have
then I'm pretty sure my house
could burn down down to the ground
If I’ve been in love before
and I know that I have
then I know that my house
could burn down down to the ground
The startling morbidity of this revelation, sung with Sprague’s even-keeled delivery, gives this verse a prayerful peace. It’s volatile and gentle, a memento mori whispered in your ear. But it’s hopeful, too – the way the lines flip from “I’m pretty sure I have” to “I know that I have” reveals Sprague’s realization, at the last second of this song, that she’s already lived a life worth living, that she’s already loved whole-heartedly enough to understand what it is to put your faith in the eternal joy of love and lose it anyway, keep going anyway, find yourself suddenly on the other side of grief. There’s no point dwelling, searching, traveling up and down the timeline of your life relentlessly, missing or awaiting something else. There is only what you still have that you might not later. There is only faith that it will last forever and knowledge that it can’t. Reconciling these two spirals of time, its dilation and contraction, all at once, outside of your control — it is the great human project, the narrow path to fleeting peace.
Sprague fingerpicks her way to the end of the song in loose, meandering guitar riffs that grow sticky and atonal, leaving us in the uncomfortable knowledge that she refuses to recoil from: that this confusion, this perpetual and solitary searching, is the gravitational center we must build our lives around. We live in its orbit, and not the other way around.
Fans also like, aka literary references I tried to jam into this blog post before giving up after multiple drafts:
“Acknowledgements” by Maggie Shipstead, which is part of her beautiful short story collection You Have A Friend in 10A, and which features this incredible tribute to Lorrie Moore’s work: “the stories had helped her understand that adults were just people, too, that they fucked up all the time without meaning to or knowing why, and that her parents were peering out of their bodies with the same pervasive and permanent confusion as she was peering out of hers.”
“Romanticism 101” by Dean Young, which Brennecke recently sent me, and which could replace all 1055 words of this newsletter so far with one line: “All was change.”
*On the topic of Big Thief, if you’re interested in a shirt that says “Buck Meek is the weakest link,” please text me – so far I have five interested friends, and if I get to ten, I’ll order some for all of us :)