I woke up at 3:30 this morning with a splitting pain and incessant ringing through my right ear. My immediate first thought was, “I have a new greatest fear.”. For at least the admittedly short duration of my adulthood thus far, my single largest fear has been that of premature balding. Every male on my mother’s side of the family tree had begun shedding their hair by the time they began their third decade of life. My uncles and cousins were all shiny-headed and looking well beyond their years one-quarter of the way through their time on Earth. So I, knowing that half of my lineage was cursed with this inability to retain hair, have resigned myself to the fact that my dome would be shaved by the time I was hitting middle age. But this early rise today brought upon a fear more visceral and scarier than balding ever could be, that of losing my hearing.
On the average day, I listen to about 5 hours of music. It’s pretty rare for a day to go by that I don’t listen to a new album, and on days when I have nothing better to do, it’s not uncommon for me to check off 10 from my ever-expansive list of things I want to hear before I die. Or before my ears do. I’ve had a lot of trouble grappling with the fact that I’ll never consume all of the media that I want to before I die, it’s just a scary thought. There will always be more content out there that intrigues me and that I am likely to get enjoyment from than I will ever have the free time on this mortal plane to experience. And this is why I refer to it as “media” or the dirty-sounding “content”, and make mention of the act of “consumption” solely for how gross it sounds. If I were to refer to all of this as art every time I think about how I’m never going to get to take in all of it and make it a part of my being, I’d be left feeling infinitely worse about the fact. “Art”, as a word, holds a special sort of meaning. To label something as art attributes value to it, both the end product and the creation of said work, it turns it from simply something that can be experienced into something you gain something from via experiencing. Art is beautiful.
Content, on the other hand, is not. And sitting here now, with my ringing and stinging ear, unable to think about anything but the fact that I very well may lose my ability to take in and love my favorite variety of said content, makes me very glad that I restrict myself when using the term art. That’s not to say I don’t think of the media I experience as art, I of course do. Listening to my favorite albums are some of the most emotionally impactful experiences I’ve ever had, with media or with life itself, and the artistic value of them is something I cherish deeply. But if I were to tell myself, day in and day out, “There is so much art out there waiting for me to interface with, and so much of it will never make its way to me.”, I would lose my mind. Dehumanizing and devaluing the media with the term “content” allows me to hold it at an arm’s length. It makes it slightly easier to swallow the pill that yeah, I’m not going to be able to do everything I ever want to do in life. Even on this zero stakes scale of listening to new music, it’s an endless journey that will literally never end. I will die before I get to listen to every single piece of “good music” that exists.
I could wake up tomorrow, and instead of my ears being filled with an endless buzz they could be filled with nothing, and never be filled with anything again. I don’t know what I’ll do if that happens, whether it’s today or the day I die. There will be a threshold in the foreseeable future where the things that mean the most to me right now are no longer accessible, where what I spend my free time pouring over and obsessing over is just out of reach, where the art I love so dearly truly is no longer art that I can experience, but just content that I once consumed.