Let’s talk Taylor Swift, Travis Kelce, and a very specific freaking out happening right now. Because it’s a NEW kind of freaking out. It’s not the same old “Taylor-hating.”
And I think I know exactly what’s driving it.
The world has been foolishly bagging on Taylor Swift for decades now. And all along folks like me have been reminding you how awesome she is:
She writes her own songs…
She plays her own instruments…
She now owns her own recordings…
She’s one of the most influential, and successful, artists and business people of our time…hands down.
Not even debatable.
So, no, I’m not going to defend Taylor Swift, because she honest-to-God doesn’t need me to. She’s at a level of success few artists ever attain, and anybody still debating her merits is a flat out idiot.
What I’m suggesting is that the current society-wide freakout is not just about Taylor Swift.
It’s about “Travis and Taylor” and what that cute young couple means to far too many men like me.
First, a rant, which will eventually come back around to my main point: We have all lost the ability to simply “enjoy the enjoyment” of others.
We can no longer, it seems, ever celebrate any success of any other human being. We have so completely swallowed the cruel lie that life is a “zero sum game,” that any success by any other human beings must be, de facto, “taking away from me.”
This is tragic, really. Deeply tragic. And dangerous. It’s dangerous because envy, jealousy, bitterness, and depression, can lead individuals and societies to some very dark places.
Not everybody gets to do everything in life.
People you know will achieve great things that you never will.
You might achieve things your friends never do.
Total strangers will have rags to riches stories.
Young people will fall in love.
That’s the way it works. One of the benefits of age is realizing just how true those last five sentences are, at a deep, existential level. This is where I am.
I happen to think Travis and Taylor are adorable.
What’s not to like?! It’s a fairy tale romance.
One of our most successful musicians with one our iconic NFL athletes? It’s super cool, super fun, and a salve in a hard and bitter world.
But…. “Taylor and Travis” —taken together as a unit— tweak a bitterness and envy, deep inside the psyche of far too many men my age.
Because when we were young, we had two dreams for our lives:
— We dreamed of being a Rock Star
—We dreamed of being a Famous Athlete.
Sure, some dreamed of being astronauts, and stuff like that.
I myself dreamed hard of baseball glory; and a few years later Rock and Roll glory. No doubt others dreamed of football or basketball. Almost all of us dreamed of playing guitars in front of adoring crowds, and especially imagined young women adoring us. (No need to laugh or slam these dreams…they are DREAMS…fantasies…)
For all but a small chosen few, our lived-lives eventually fall well short of those dreams. Most men eventually put them away —wash the sandlot dust off the uniform one final time— before mothballing it in a bottom drawer at our parent’s house. Most men sell the electric guitar, or stop practicing the ones we were lucky enough to buy. Still more of us never picked one up in the first place.
Because, we men eventually tell ourselves, dreams of artistic or athletic greatness are…just that…dreams.
And, we tell ourselves, the real world now expects things of us. Everything about our lives, our schooling, familial, church and civic subconscious messaging, teaches us that we are supposed to put these dreams away and get to work. We must get ourselves trained up in some reasonable, rationale, money-making profession.
“Tie the necktie noose around your neck.”
“Work forty years for a pension.”
Except, even those are now a dream…no, a lie…aren’t they?
All that hard work we were trained for —all those things we were told would be true for us if we put down our dreams— those are gone too. They are also, fantasy.
The “Company Job” is now a “ the gig economy.”
There’s no pension. Dream on.
And there’s no guarantees we’ll ever be able to retire.
The American Dream is farther and farther away for everybody.
And for the first time in history, many men are feeling this too.
I know, I know…break out the little violins for us, right?
I completely understand that everybody else has always had it way worse than men have had it. I truly and deeply get this.
I’m just suggesting this theory: That if you want to understand this freakout over “Swift/Kelce” take a hard at the dreams that men themselves long ago put away.
Then, look at the ones that have been taken from them, when they put those dreams away, as they were told to do.
And now, look at young, virile Travis Kelce. Living the athlete dream. See how free he is with his emotions; throwing up hearts to Taylor in the stands. A jock openly showing his love for his woman from the field of play.
Then, look at Taylor Swift –a savy and brilliant billionare– living the musician dream….cheering Kelce on inside a clearly exclusive stadium box, like some junior high pom pom girl.
The combination of WHO THEY ARE, BOTH OF THEM TAKEN TOGETHER…cannot help but tweak deeply unconscious, and definitely unacknowledged, anger and bitterness in way too many men.
I’m not defending these men. I’m just trying to understand the WHY behind their ridiculous freak out.
But, speaking of you men…Let me end by speaking to the few of you men who have read this far, and are reading still…
Here’s a hard truth you need to hear:
Putting down, putting away our dreams? That was always a trap. It was always a lie. The world is NOT “zero-sum game.” You never had to just be one thing. Even now, there is still time for you to follow some dreams, and broaden your life.
It might even help you deal with just how badly your chosen job sucks.
Whatever you do to make a paycheck —however hard you have to work, and for however many years– if you were ever once an artist…dear God, in, heaven, do us all a solid, and get back to your art.
Because otherwise, you’re likely to just keep saying stupid, asinine things about the perfectly wonderful Taylor Swift.
If you were ever an athlete, find a way to move your body. Get off that couch. Ride a bike. Take a walk. Pick up a Pickle Ball Paddle. Sure, you’ll never make the NFL now. But your health still matters.
And the more you move your body, the less time you’ll have to be jealous of Travis Kelce.
In her seminal book “The Artist’s Way,” Julia Cameron says there is no more lethal jealousy than the jealousy of a frustrated artist. In the now 30-years of my artistic life, I have founds this to be deeply true, over and over again. (About myself, and about others…)
It seems to me that almost as ferocious as artistic jealousy is athletic jealousy.
“Swift” and “Kelce” are as explosive as “hydrogen and oxygen” to men today precisely because that couple reminds us of not just one, but two dreams we men were told to put down; dream too many of us did. And there is danger in a world where men (or anybody, really) live without dreams.
And bitterness, envy, jealousy….these will never take us to any healthy place. And right now, some of you don’t even see that this is what you’re doing, or these are the emotions driving you.
If you still don’t get any of this —if this is all still way too subconscious in your life— then I’ll just ask you to quit complaining about these two for how it makes all the rest of us men look like total idiots too.
Maybe if you’d get out of the barcalounger a bit more —pick up that guitar again, push your heart rate higher than the sedentary zone— you’ll one day also say:
“Look at those two. Aren’t they just adorable?”