One of the things I enjoy about being a 51-year-old Taylor Swift fan is that I get to channel my inner child by counting down the days until her album releases. Counting down the days is a peculiarly childish occupation, but I think we should embrace it as adults, even if there aren’t as many days left as there were when we were young.
As a child I seemed to have been always counting down the days. Days until my birthday. Days until Christmas. Days until school was over and the summer holidays began. Days until Wham! played the RDS and I’d meet George Michael on Grafton Street and he’d fall madly in love with me and make me the third backing vocalist, alongside Pepsi and Shirlie. (Some of my countdown goals were a tiny bit unrealistic.)
Anyway, last August Swift announced that her new album, Midnights, was going to be released on October 21st. Almost immediately, like the devoted Swifty she is, the child in me began counting down the days.
When the morning of the Midnights release arrived, last Friday, I slept through my specially arranged 5am Taylor Swift alarm call, and instead, at 6am, a daughter came in with her phone, the first song on her new album blaring away. “Mum,” she said. “Wake up, it’s Midnights.” I was touched by this thoughtful act of kindness, especially because lately I’d not been easy to live with. My narkiness had spiralled. I’d been finding fault with everyone and everything. My mood was dark. I didn’t know why. I tried to blame the menopause, but that seemed too easy, too predictable, and it wasn’t a justification I wanted to explore with my children.
I felt calmer. A switch had been flipped. And all because I was keeping my side of the street clean
On one gloomy day the whole house, including me, was fed up with my nonsense, so I took myself out on the bike for some cycling meditation. It was there, pedals turning, that I had an epiphany. A voice in my head said: “All you need to do is just keep your side of the street clean.” It sounded almost comically self-helpy and simplistic. I let the words float around my brain. Sink down into my gut. “Keep my side of the street clean.” What did it mean?
I gave it some more thought. The answer came quickly. Keeping my side of the street clean meant taking responsibility. For myself. For my actions. If I took care of my own business, whether it was deadlines or domestic duties or emotional problems, then I would not feel the need to lash out at everybody else. Because I realised – slow-learner alert – that my narkiness at other people was actually narkiness at myself. I felt lighter all of a sudden. The world seemed a little brighter too.
I waited a few days before I shared this revelation with my family. I decided to find out if keeping my side of the street clean actually made a difference. I was amazed. Suddenly I was no longer preoccupied by everything that was wrong with our house. I stopped fixating on the irritating habits of other people. If something annoyed me I tried to do something constructive about it. If I couldn’t fix it I let it go, knowing I couldn’t control the situation or the person. I could only control my side of the street. I felt calmer. A switch had been flipped. And all because I was keeping my side of the street clean.
[ Taylor Swift: Midnights — A tangled, twisting tour de force that will keep you wide awake ]
One night, at dinner, I told my family. They listened warily. They know I say more than my prayers at the best of times. I told them I understood if it seemed a bit strange but I hoped that me taking a metaphorical mop to my side of the street was going to make our home life more harmonious. I told them that if they noticed me being unreasonable or nagging too much about lost water bottles or forgotten sports gear then they were to look me in the eye and say with kindness, “Listen, all you need to do is keep your side of the street clean,” and I would hopefully remember to take out the metaphorical dustpan and brush.
Then Midnights arrived. I lay back, snuggled in my duvet and listened, letting Swift’s words and music wash over me. Her song Karma came on. And then I heard her singing the following words: “And I keep my side of the street clean/ you wouldn’t know what I mean.” I nearly fell off the bed. According to Swiftian scholars, the song is about people who have done her wrong – Kanye West and Scooter Braun for two likely examples – and how their toxicity no longer affects her because she is keeping her side of the street clean. And here I was, newly resolved to keep MY side of the street clean. In sync, somehow, with my musical and lyrical heroine Ms Taylor Swift.
Midnights is an album full of wise, emotional, beautiful words. In one of my favourites, Sweet Nothing, there is a starring role for a tiny pebble Swift picked up in Wicklow “last July” and brought back to the United States. “Does it ever miss Wicklow sometimes?” she wonders. But Karma is the song I keep returning to because it reminds me that, if I want a situation to improve, I need to improve it myself. If I can’t, I need to accept that reality and move on.
[ Bono: Ali would have been happier with a simpler life than the one we’ve ended up with ]
Another lyrical and musical hero of mine, Bono, has a new book out this week, called Surrender. I’ve discovered recently that keeping my side of the street clean is a sort of surrendering. It takes effort and it’s easy, all at the same time. As Bono writes: “Climbing into the ring, the best-prepared fighter is the one who has tried to understand their opponent. Especially if it’s yourself.” And apparently, because good things often go together, Taylor Swift is appearing on The Graham Norton Show on Friday night with Bono. I cannot wait, to be honest. In fact, I’m counting down the days.