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JUST A THOUGHT: The Problem with "Chill"

By Rachel Shope

Let me begin with Jack Johnson. Listen to one song. Listen to another. Do you hear it? Do you hear the lyrics telling you that everything is always, perpetually, inexhaustibly fine? Do you hear the mild voice insisting that all of you worries are invalid because surfboards and pineapples exist? Can’t you envision that guitar just shrugging at you as if to say, “So what?” Occasionally, when my iPod is on shuffle, I’ll let one of these songs play for a bit, but generally I hit “Next” as quickly as possible. They all have the exact same sound and, if I’m being honest, that sound grates on my nerves. This, in an acoustic nutshell, is the problem with “chill.”

To be fair, there are circumstances where “chill” is fitting. There are plenty of cool dive bars and peaceful non-Jack-Johnson songs and laidback people that are, in fact, “chill.” “Chill” is most appropriately applied when nothing is really going on and the state of things is generally fine. “Chill” has its time and purpose, but I will always be of the opinion that adopting it as a general mantra is a bad idea.

The kind of chronic chillness that is often passed off as desirable is really just a means of ignoring things. Keep the music playing. Keep the wine glasses full. Keep talking, but only about certain things. If, say, a thousand different things just blew up at the same time and you have no idea how you’re going to make things work, don’t talk about it. Or if you must, give the abridged version, and be sure to finish with an enthusiastic “Awesome!” Even if something extraordinary happened, don’t be so excited about it. Downplay it a little. Keep it cool. But don’t kill the vibe. Don’t disturb the peace by showing that you have emotions invested, because we’re all perched very precariously on this high wire of coolly and pleasantly not giving a fuck. We skate on the thin ice of neutrality.

Too often, I think, we confuse being “chill” with being rational or level-headed. Even more troubling, we confuse being level-headed with being detached. Ignoring your emotions is not the same as being in control of your emotions. What we mean when we say we want to be rational is that we want to be detached. What we mean when we say we want to be happy is that we want to be entertained, which is not synonymous. We want distraction. We want to fidget without engaging, and there is an infinite supply of playthings to keep us semi-occupied.

But what’s the point of all that? What does anybody really gain from that level of faux placidity? You are entitled to acknowledge when things are generally, for lack of a better word, sucking. You are even allowed to completely come unglued every once in a while. Sometimes you have to do this in order to fully realize that your present circumstances are not working and you need to restructure ASAP. I am a firm believer that there is value in negative experiences. They deserve just as much respect as good experiences, which cannot even be properly enjoyed in a status of perpetual “chill.” You are equally entitled to excitement and nervous hope and celebration. Anything worthwhile requires emotional investment, and that is what I am in favor of.

I am an advocate of ugly crying and hysterical laughter and honest anger and the do-I-dare excitement of starting over. Of course not everything is a big deal, but the things that are deserve more processing and acknowledgment than an Instagram filter or a Facebook tag. They are worthy of more than being glossed over with “chill.”

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