Listener’s Block

It’s been a long week. Whether with work, school, or just life, your attention has been dragged back and forth. You go to put on some of your favorite music…and nothing. You don’t feel particularly better; you don’t have much of an emotional response at all. So you switch to a different band, only to find that same hollowness. The artists you normally love just aren’t doing it for you today.

If you listen to music often as a means of reflection, as a way of handling your emotions, or even as a way to unplug from the world (I think I’ve got 95% of us covered), then you may understand this feeling. It’s not music fatigue, per se, not being sick of your music. But like a writer who can’t figure out what his first sentence should be, you’re stuck wondering what you should listen to. Being a writer who’s intimately familiar with that first condition, writer’s block, I’ve taken to calling this other experience listener’s block. For a writer, there are some days that words are effortless. When you sit to pen or type that next page, everything you want to say is right there, and it practically flows from your head to the paper. But on other days, even if you have a compelling idea, you haven’t the faintest idea of how to start translating that thought onto paper. In the end, you might walk away entirely discouraged by writer’s block. And listener’s block can be just as frustrating.

Listener's block

In his memoirs, Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis experiences something similar. As a child, he got to experience rapturous beauty in his earliest experiences of the Irish countryside and in the first books he adored. Later, longing for that same feeling, he would return to those old things, only to find that they no longer provoked anything in him. And like Lewis, we might find ourselves going back again and again to the musicians we grew to love, hoping for a taste of that same magic that made us sit up and listen the first time. When it doesn’t come on demand, we may well be left baffled.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a one-solution problem. Sometimes, it may just be that we need to broaden our music horizons – if that’s the case, we’ve got you covered! Expanding your music tastes can begin simply by plunging into music you wouldn’t normally listen to, and the results may well be better than you ever expected. But I’m not here just to shamelessly plug the show I write for. Maybe you, a bit like Lewis, are relying on music to be your emotional IV, giving you a dose of feelings whenever you want. If that’s the case, you may honestly be asking too much. Music can sometimes be like wine – it’s a great complement to all of the delicious flavors of life, and it can help us appreciate the world when we reflect. It can certainly liven up a party! But if you stopped drinking water and had wine all the time, would it be special any longer? You’d probably get sick of it after a pretty short time.

If listening to music all the time is something you enjoy, keep it up! But if, like me, you find yourself running on empty, it may be time to switch things up a little. Go for a walk, spend time with friends, or try your hand at a creative pursuit. The music will be there when you get back, and you may find it can speak in ways you didn’t expect. And when you do, it never hurts to switch things up a bit!


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Richard Lyne

Richard is an ACU graduate who was graduated summa cum laude from Abilene Christian University's honors college with a major in English and a minor in business administration. He hopes to return to school for an MA degree at some point, but is currently managing a coffee kiosk at the local grocery store in Denton, Texas. He has written for the Appetizer since spring 2015.

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