You Said It

Our World Alone

An epistolary meditation on Lorde, Flannery O’Connor, the grotesque, and the ache of being a teenager.

I love Lorde because she participates in the big, outside world, but creates her own small world inside it. This is why her music aches. Why it haunts. Why it feels so right. She is a pop singer whose music and persona contradict how we expect pop to look and sound. She is a teenager who relishes being young but refuses to be patronized. She is a girl who contradicts our conventional ideas about femininity. She sings about being bored with the everyday but also celebrates the beauty of those mundane moments—the driving through tree-streets that are intimate and tight over highways that are fast and long. Listening to her music, you get the feeling that she is participating in these worlds of youth, suburbia, and love, while observing them from afar. She sings about climbing under underpasses and drinking with teens with shiny mouths, then admits that she isn’t one of them. Her songs sneak their way into that private place inside me that worries it won’t ever truly belong to any world. That private place I think most of us have.

Bravado” is one of my favorite songs. On the nights when the world feels so big that it’s overwhelming, and I want everything to stand still, I get in my car and drive to an old movie theater no one really goes to anymore. The tickets cost four dollars and the popcorn costs two dollars and there’s a minibar in the hallway and stains all over the dingy carpet. I smuggle in fancy licorice from Walgreens and buy a big soda and sit alone in the corner of the theater. Everything stops. I watch shitty movies back to back. The world shrinks. I leave when I feel like I’ve grabbed back on to it. When I’m ready for everything to start moving again. When I’ve found my own bravado, in my own self.

I love Lorde because her lyrics sound like the letters I write but never send. They also sound like the letters I write and then send when I shouldn’t. Like this one. Like the six or seven other letters I sent you, filled with the grotesque, contradictory thoughts I’m tired of trying to hide. I love hearing these thoughts play. I love hearing her voice tell me of teenagers whose heads catch on fire; the feeling matches my own bored evenings, sitting in my friend’s bathroom, letting her cut my hair because I don’t want to feel pretty anymore.

I also love how much Lorde references the body. She gets how odd bodies are, and how nuanced. I like that a song about fear and growing up is called “Ribs.” When I listen to it, I feel the ebb and flow of a chest breathing in and out, of a world growing big and small as a teenager grows vulnerable and fearless.

These songs are all about contradictions. They shrink my world even as they enlarge it. These songs sit at the edge of so many communities, they are the soundtrack to the teenage experience, to the suburbs, Hasidic communities, Southern farms: grotesque, shiny smiles of white teeth, flaming heads, and pulses pushing into steering wheels.

When I read I Love Dick last night to feel less alone, I thought about how glad I am that Lorde is a pop artist. I think connecting with other people, whether it’s over music or food or favorite toilet paper brands, is another way to reclaim our worlds when they feel intimidatingly large. She seems to me to be someone who would never want to be inaccessible.

I wonder how you feel about being 20. I wonder if your world gets large and scary and if it breathes threateningly beneath your ribs. Mine does all the time. The more I write to you, the more I like you, and I begin to get better at excusing you.

I miss you, by the way. I know I don’t know you well enough to say that, but I do. I started missing you when I read that short story you wrote, the one you sent me about falling in love with the cow on the milk carton.

I hope you’ll understand, about me not wanting to quit this loving you and missing you and not wanting to change the CD in my car. I hope you’ll forgive me for writing so many letters. I hope you’ll understand how writing to you shrinks my world too, how knowing you’re out there makes me feel less alone, but also hyper-aware of my own loneliness. I wish you weren’t in another state so that I could see you, but you’re also the last person I’d like to see, and I’m embracing these dualities. I will keep dragging out these grotesque parts of life because they’re as compelling as they are repulsive, and it’s incredibly satisfying to confront them all.

Tova ♦

Tova Benjamin is a poet and student in Chicago. She likes biting her nails, crazy girl narratives, and telling great bedtime stories featuring strong, independent princesses.


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  • honorarygilmoregal April 29th, 2014 12:17 AM

    Great read! Lorde is so talented at writing lyrics.

  • asif April 29th, 2014 12:31 AM

    Thank you for sharing this. This is so so beautiful.

    Discovering Lorde was probably one of the best things about this year for me. She made me realize how ok it can be to love to hate things, and that its also ok to try and find beauty in the grossest parts of your life. She puts that feeling you get driving on a dark highway with your best friend in a gross place into the most beautiful melodies. I could go on forever. Her music is so infinitely important to me, as is her as a person.

    Everything you wrote here voiced everything I feel about Lorde, about appreciation, about grotesque things.

    I’m so extra appreciative of Rookie on nights like this, when I feel uninspired and too bored to move. You guys remind me how much I’m capable of loving things.

    Over and over again, thank you.

  • Mer April 29th, 2014 12:32 AM

    This is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read. It captured everything I’ve ever felt while listening to Lorde. There’s this eerie glow that surrounds her. She perfectly captures the teenage experience and I just feel so connected to her words and also to yours Tova.

    The song “Ribs” is my favorite and when I saw Lorde in concert, she gave a little speech beforehand explaining what the song meant to her and everyone at Roseland Ballroom was just screaming and ignoring her but I was so enthralled with every word she said and then sang.

    I find beauty in the normality of everyday life but I also fear this normality because I know that one day soon this will all change and my world will get bigger and I’m just so glad that I read his tonight because it helped me shrink my world back down. And for that I thank you.

  • ghostgurl April 29th, 2014 12:47 AM

    I loved this piece! I felt kinda nostalgic, and it was very eloquent. I’d love to see more from Tova in the future!

  • taratwinkle April 29th, 2014 1:01 AM

    This is one of the most beautiful, honest, heartfelt and intelligent things I have ever read. I can relate to it on so many levels even though I’m coming from a very different place. I’ve been trying to put a word on the grotesqueness you described so well. Also, your prose is lovely.
    Cheers to duality and contradiction and tiny worlds and huge worlds and being in love and the grotesque ghosts hiding behind normally.
    Thank you.

  • greystar April 29th, 2014 1:06 AM

    “I’ve never really strongly identified as a “teen” nor thought about belonging to that particular species until this year, just as I’m almost done being one.”
    I started to cry at this part
    i feel this so much
    thank you for this

  • Zoe April 29th, 2014 2:28 AM

    This was crazy beautiful and insightful and perfect omg

  • Elsary April 29th, 2014 2:39 AM

    I feel some way same as you, and I understand what you’re talking about – or at least I think I do. I love Lorde too, and the fact that her lyrics tell about being teenager, but in a different way than all teen movies and books do, in more realistic way.

    I really enjoyed reading this.

  • whateveryazmine April 29th, 2014 3:07 AM

    Love this article and the accompanying illustration is gorgeous!

    P.S. Is Tova Benjamin a real person or is it a version of Tavi Gevinson?

  • sonnentanz April 29th, 2014 3:49 AM

    thank you so much for this!

  • JaneII April 29th, 2014 4:50 AM

    Wow. Just great.

    This Lorde album has been destroying me in a lot of ways lately and I’ve had the suspicion that it’s been destroying a lot of other people too. But I’ve been left alone in my own world with them. No one to share with.

    Thanks for shrinking my world.

  • Parmenides April 29th, 2014 6:39 AM

    I don’t know what to say.

  • Tilda Vilde April 29th, 2014 7:12 AM

    LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this!!
    I have been thinking about this all day and how insanely perfect it was. And the illustration is just as crazy perfect.

  • Eileen April 29th, 2014 9:51 AM

    Are these real letters? I just really loved this; it was so incredibly well written. Seriously, I hope I get to the point where I can articulate like you can.

  • onlykhenzo April 29th, 2014 11:58 AM

    This is so perfect. Thank you. Thank you. I’m going to put aside how much I appreciate the I Love Dick references to say that I just found myself nodding and welling up at, like, everything. I’ve always wondered exactly what it was about Lorde that I loved so much and what was so endearing. What kept the lines of her songs stuck in my head for months on end.
    And you, Tova, got it. And I am so happy and fueled with creative energy now.

  • elliejamc April 29th, 2014 12:34 PM

    Beautifully written, please write more! Perfect explanation of something I could never quite put my finger on. I think it’s what our youth is all about, that cross between what really happened and what we dreamed happened. I was screaming “exactly!” the whole way through.

  • speakeasied April 29th, 2014 2:19 PM

    About halfway through reading this, I started crying, and continued to until a good ten minutes after I finished it.

    I immediately went to print this out so I could hang it in my room and sent it to everyone who means anything to me so I could share this beautiful piece of writing.

    Tova, your writing spoke to me in a way that I forgot was possible, and I want to thank you for that. Your meditations on Lorde, specifically, were all of the thoughts I haven’t been able to translate to words – and your willingness to share such a personal introspection has made me remember I am not alone in feeling this way.

    Thank you, times a million.

  • o-girl April 29th, 2014 8:27 PM

    thank you so so much. this has been so special. everything everything was great, “i don’t want to feel pretty anymore”, i love this piece with all my heart.

  • willa frances April 29th, 2014 8:31 PM

    this was beautifully written, and i love the shout out to west rogers park!

  • lyssagrltx April 29th, 2014 9:47 PM

    Crying. So Beautiful and well-written. These are poetry in letter form.

  • Paola April 29th, 2014 9:50 PM

    I connect so completely to that I Love Dick line, about living so intensely inside your head that it doesn’t matter whether it’s made up or not. Bravado is my favorite too; I used to listen to it on the way to soccer practice walking alone and feeling sorry for myself until I turned it on and the lyrics and her voice made everything okay. Thanks for this, Tova!!

  • Zen April 29th, 2014 10:03 PM

    All too familiar

    I shed tears the first time I listened to Ribs and my heart kind of ached and I couldn’t yet comprehend why


  • readyfortofade April 30th, 2014 1:08 AM

    This is one of my favorite Rookie pieces to date. Thank you, Tova, for the inspiration, comfort, catharsis, and beauty. (Also, I love your poetry).

  • Aitchy April 30th, 2014 5:46 AM

    l am well out of the demographic of this site – Lorde brought me here! Her music still resonates with me, it makes me remember what it was like to be 17 and have those thoughts “l want them back “…
    This is a great story, such insight and so articulate.

  • Alexandra T. May 1st, 2014 5:21 PM


  • Kiana Kimberly Flores June 1st, 2014 9:32 AM

    This is very profound and perfect and intimate. My heart bursts. Beautiful writing, Tova. ♥

  • oliviare June 22nd, 2014 12:09 AM

    Thank you for this. It is absolutely beautiful, and I relate to it on so many levels. You are an amazingly talented writer!

  • cautionarywhale June 25th, 2014 1:26 AM

    I’m really glad that I decided to read this at 1 am during the loneliest month of my life. I don’t feel alone thanks to Lorde’s music and thanks to this piece. This was amazing to read.