When In Doubt, Dolly

6 March, 2020

Jamie. This is future you. We’re about to go through some shit. Unlike all the other shit, this thing cannot be conquered by leaning in, rolling up our sleeves, burning the midnight oil, or any of the other cliches we tell ourselves about exercising control over the uncontrollable. As if it were engineered to torment us personally, the only thing we can do is wait. I don’t have to tell you that waiting is not our strong suit.

If I could offer you a single piece of advice about how to survive the next three months, it would be this:

Go download Dolly Parton’s “Light of a Clear Blue Morning”.

To our knowledge you’ve never heard this song, although it sounds like the backing track to many of our childhood memories. I’m not sure when or how you cross paths with it, but one day it will show up in your Spotify account like it was there all along. All hail the algorithm. It could’ve been something cool, like Dire Straits or Smashing Pumpkins or The Clash. But it isn’t — it’s Dolly. I don’t make the rules.

I know you think this sounds crazy, but hear me out:

  • Moving from a slow, brooding start to uptempo finish is perfect for experiencing the entire emotional spectrum in a mere 4 minutes and 55 seconds. When each day feels like a rollercoaster, you’ll appreciate the versatility.
  • You’re going to need the kind of tune that will drown out the 6a.m. call to prayer, its droning crescendo reminding you that you haven’t been to bed.
  • The song will remind you of the big, open sky. Sky which you will not see for months, except for the sliver beyond your balcony. Some days, this glimmer of blue will keep you going. On others, you’ll turn your camping chair towards the balcony door.
  • The driver’s seat of the car will be the only place you can really be alone. You’re gonna need accompaniment while you cry in the parking lot. Big sobs demand big vocals.
  • Sometimes, all that’s left to do is a twirling, movie-montage dance break in your underwear.
  • You will listen to this tune approximately 17 times on your birthday. It will help when you can’t help but be reminded that you were supposed to be in Paris sipping wine and gloating on Facebook about how great your life is now.
  • Eventually, your birthday present/quarantine self-improvement gift will arrive. This song will motivate you through those early, skin-flaying guitar practices. No, it won’t always hurt this bad. No, we still haven’t mastered the F chord.
  • The lift in her voice will remind you of all the folks in your family with the same muted twang, the one we’ve spent years covering up. She sounds like home.
  • I’ll save you a single boredom-Google: “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” was written on the same day as “I Will Always Love You”, on the car ride Dolly took to break up with Porter Wagner. You, too, will spend a lot of time over the next few months thinking about the relationship you left behind. Days will come when this feels like a mistake. Let the song remind you that even though there’s a lot of love left over with nowhere to go, the sacrifice was worth it.
  • On the worst days, getting out of bed seems like an impossible task and you confuse the breath trapped in your chest as illness rather than emotion. This song will remind you of all the other “worst days” you’ve already survived.
  • If Dolly can sing about sadness and pain and still nickname her tits Shock and Awe, you can balance the tragedy and absurdity of this moment.

I know this feels dark. It is dark. But I know that a day will come when you can get on the highway. Roll the windows down even though it’s over 100 degrees — we still haven’t figured out the Celsius scale. Let your hair down, breathe deeply of air that smells like sand and salt and not at all like apartment. Stand alone on the beach.

On that day, darling, the morning will seem so impossibly clear, impossibly blue, that God herself couldn’t have given you a stronger sign that you’re right where you need to be.

Hang in there.



A writer/teacher/designer split between the Midwest and the Middle East.