I’m afraid of conflict. I’m afraid of even the perception of conflict. I am always apologizing, always walking on tiptoes when I talk, always peppering my speech with “if it’s not any trouble”s and “so long as you’re OK with it”s. I don’t want to make anyone upset, and I especially don’t want to make anyone upset at me. In the words of John Mulaney, you could pour soup on my lap and I’d probably apologize to you.
I wasn’t always like this. When I was younger, I could be a whiny, petulant pain in the ass when I wanted to be, and while I couldn’t always control my outbursts (I was on the spectrum, after all, even if I wasn’t diagnosed yet) there were times when I was an aggressive little brat for no good reason. I can’t tell you what changed–maybe it was just the process of maturation–but in any case I overcorrected. No one ever got what they wanted in life by acting like a jumpy prey animal.
“A Lot To Ask,” a new song by the Oakland indie folk project Boy Scouts (aka Taylor Vick), ruminates on these themes of conflict aversion and low self-esteem. According to Vick, she’s “always been a little uncomfortable with conflict,” which didn’t just extend outward: “until recently, this also meant not acknowledging or wanting to look at any issues of my own.” She reflects this feeling in the lyrics: “Turn my back and look away/Deal with it another day.” This, too, is familiar territory for me: avoiding my own flaws, or simply performing the rituals of self-deprecation, is easier than grappling with those flaws in any meaningful way.
Thankfully, Vick has her music to help her overcome this situation, and “A Lot To Ask” is a warm, honest take on what it means to take up space and exist in other people’s lives. Over the earthy twang of acoustic guitar and bass, Vick sings about struggling with the consequences of her actions (“who’s the one who made you laugh?/Nothing’s funny in this aftermath”) and the difficulties of feeling comfortable in her own skin. “I don’t mean to come off like this,” she says, like a preemptive apology, “but being myself’s a lot to ask.”
“Just be yourself” is a well-intentioned piece of advice, but it’s rarely as simple as it sounds. What does it mean to be yourself when you don’t always like yourself? What if you are yourself, can’t be anything but yourself, and you’re convinced that that’s the problem? It can result in a situation much like mine, or Taylor Vick’s: thinking of yourself as a burden, a nuisance, something to apologize for. It’s a hard mindset to escape from, and “A Lot To Ask” admits as much, but it offers hope, too: as is so often the case, admitting the problem is the first step to overcoming it.