I’m recently hooked on a song called “Shark Smile” by the band, Big Thief. From time to time, there are songs that get stuck in my head and in my mind’s ear, play on loop — this is one of them. I went to look up its lyrics. Behind its enchanting melody lies a dark story about two people driving in a van and ending up in a car crash where one dies and one survives. The chorus of the song goes:
And she said, “Woo
Baby, take me”
And I said, “Woo
Baby, take me too”
It implies that the woman in the song is taking her last breaths. The man, watching his loved one die, wishes that he was taken away too. In an interview by Jon Hart, lead singer Adrianne Lenker describes the song (she does it so beautifully that I’d rather quote it in its entirety):
“[There’s] such a swell of love and wildness, the taste of life and the wind blowing […] Suddenly, it’s just brought to a halt. But that’s the juxtaposition, that’s the contrast or the duality, that’s everywhere in life.”
Hart talked about how Lenker’s “lyrics place moments of freedom and sudden loss side-by-side.” In 2020 in the US, 23,817 people died in passenger vehicles (cars, vans, SUVs, etc), compared to just 11 for buses. You saw that correctly — eleven. You may think that that is an unfair comparison given that the US is not a country that is big on public transportation. However, if we were to take a more equal measure by considering deaths per 1 million passenger miles, the difference in the numbers is still staggering. Passenger vehicles: 56, Buses: 2 — an almost 30 times difference. The car is a symbol of freedom — the road trip movie has become a film and TV trope. That is true, owning a car allows you to get to anywhere you want to at your discretion and volition. It puts you in the driver’s seat, literally and figuratively. That freedom comes at a price, which takes the form of risk of death and disability. A risk that many seem to be willing to take.
Well, I don’t own a car, so why do I care anyway? I guess for me, it is something to take note of if I ever consider buying one. That said, this freedom-safety balance resonates with me deeply in a metaphorical way. At the end of 2021, I decided to leave my job as a public school teacher, which is a stable government job with good pay and a clear path of progression. This job is the metaphorical “bus”. I joined a consultancy housed within a university in Singapore as a Creative Technologist. The pay is decent, but there is a lot more uncertainty about where this job may lead to. This decision to explore other options is the metaphorical “car”. When I left teaching in 2021, the tech industry was booming, making it easy for tech-related professionals to find jobs. Right now in 2023, the opposite is true — tech companies are laying people off en masse. There is some speculation of a looming recession, which would only worsen the current economic climate.
Honestly, I cannot say for sure what will happen in the coming years. Predicting the future is a fool’s errand. However, what I can say is that I am enjoying being able to work on projects and build things that I previously was not able to. I fell in love with art in high school through my experience of working on a project and bringing my ideas into reality. That later morphed into design in college and whatever I’m working on now, which is a combination of design, tech, and culture that I do not quite have a buzzwordy name for. I enjoy teaching and may go back to some form of it one day, but for now, I wish to continue honing my skills and building projects that I am excited about.
So, that took me on a mental trip from an earworm to reflecting on my career choices. I hope that whatever you are going through, you are making sense of it, and not letting your worries deny you of joy in your life. This is a cliche, but the things that make life meaningful or beautiful are often right there — we just have to notice it (or perhaps that just shows that I am quite a lucky person who enjoys a fair amount of privilege, which is another topic).