Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve

In 2009, 32 year old singer John Mayer was rumored to be romantically involved with then, 19 year old Taylor Swift after the two collaborated on Mayer’s, “Half of My Heart” together. A few months later, it became clear a split had taken place, especially after Swift’s 2010 album Speak Now included a biting break-up track, titled “Dear, John.” Seemingly confirming both the relationship and the break up, Swift vividly depicted the volatility of their short-lived romance and the regret she had looking back on all of the warnings she ignored about Mayer and their relationship in her spin on a “Dear, John letter.” In the decade-plus following the release of the album, Mayer made it incredibly clear there was no love lost between him and Swift, even remarking that the track was “cheap songwriting” in a Rolling Stone interview.

With Swift now 32 herself, it was unsurprising to many fans when she revisited this previous relationship, ripe with power imbalances, in her newest album Midnights. “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” is a scathing sequel to “Dear John” made even more poignant with the powerful insight Swift now has on just how inappropriate their relationship truly was. It is a relationship that keeps her up at night, to this day, 12 years later; desperately longing for the girl she used to be, before she was corrupted by Mayer.

Swift writes in the first stanza:

If I was some paint, did it splatter

On a promising grown man?

And if I was a child did it matter

If you got to wash your hands?

This lyric is the perfect opening to the song, establishing the reality of just how many eyes were on their relationship at the time. Swift had notoriously been a target for the media’s slut-shaming, and her relationship with Mayer was no exception. Despite the fact that she was the younger, less successful, less powerful and less wealthy of the two, she was still criticized for her role in their relationship. She was seen as the one tainting his “promising” reputation, or splattering paint on him as it were, when in reality he was the one crossing lines as the true adult in the relationship. She establishes the imbalance further, stating outright that she was nothing more than a “child” during their romance, while he was a “grown man.” Furthermore, she references the saying “washing your hands of someone” to show just how much Mayer wanted to forget about their relationship after it ended. He wanted to wash the paint she splattered on him away, and he can. He erases her from his life just as easily as he could get paint of his skin. For Taylor, it’s not that easy, though. What was just a few months for him, is something she can never escape. What he did to her haunts her everyday:

I regret you all the time

I can’t let this go

I fight with you in my sleep

The wound won’t close

I keep on waiting for a sign

I regret you all the time

There is a clear sense of desperation to these lyrics. The lingering emotions and damage from their relationship spill out into every aspect of Swift’s life. Even in her unconscious mind she is thinking about him, longing for closure. Like a wound that keeps getting opened up again and again. She can’t escape the effects of the cut, no matter how long ago it happened, it is too deep and permanently changes and disfigures her. She regrets him in her conscious moments as well, so deeply, in fact, that shes looking to a higher power with her pleas for closure.The sign she’s looking for is a reference to a sort of bargaining with god to restore her to the innocent child she once was before she was touched by Mayer. The song is filled with religious illusions depicted in the lines above and below in order to portray the innocence that Swift was robbed of as a result of their relationship:

I would’ve stayed on my knees

And I damn sure never would’ve danced with the devil

At nineteen

This relationship was Swift’s fall from grace. She depicts her self, devoted in prayer, or staying on her knees, as a way to represent the purity of her life before Mayer. She states that “all I used to do was pray” and without the influence of Mayer, or the devil as she not so subtly portrays him, she would’ve “gone along with the righteous.” She was on the path of virtue and innocence, before she was lured in to the hands of the devil. He was the one who took her away from “god” and “innocence” and changed her. She wishes she could go back to them simplicity of before she was taken advantage of.

Mayer was incredibly alluring, and in many interviews Swift remarks how excited she was to be working with Mayer because she was such a big fan of his. She writes:

If you never saved me from boredom

I could’ve gone on as I was

But, lord, you made me feel important

And then you tried to erase us

Oh, you’re a crisis of my faith

Mayer was able to slip into her life offering excitement, praying on her naivete at just 19 years old. Her “crisis” was her youth and her belief in Mayer and his words: making her feel loved and important in ways she had never felt because of her youth. He groomed her, much like the saying “idle hands make the devil’s work,” Mayer took her into his world and corrupted her, irrevocably changing her. Then a few months later he decides he doesn’t want anything to do with her anymore so he erases her from his life, easily, like he washed the paint of his hands earlier.

The most heartbreaking line of the song is when Swift finally ends the bridge the song had been building to:

Living for the thrill of hitting you where it hurts

Give me back my girlhood, it was mine first

This is just the nail in the coffin for Mayer. It is a true highlight of just how young Swift was when she experienced this trauma. The lines are incredibly childish, the first one reading like an eye for an eye almost: he hurt her so she wants to hurt him back. Now, she finally sees just how wrong what happened was, and in a childlike way she wants to get back at him even though in her current perspective as an adult she knows she can’t. The following line clinches the absolute heartbreak of the song. The “it was mine first” plays a dual role in again highlighting the childlike nature of her 19 year old self, perfectly encapsulating the gap of maturity in the relationship but also revealing just how much Mayer stole from her. Their relationship ripped her out of her childhood and she can’t forget it that so easily like Mayer can.

Some Things Shouldn’t be Fixed

In “Trust” when Matthew’s boss asks him to fix a broken piece of machinery Matthew replies, “no.”

“Why not?” His boss asks.

“Some things shouldn’t be fixed,” Matthew answers.

The reason why Matthew is frustrated with his work is because they are fixing computers and TVs that were built to fall apart. They were made cheaply and with faulty components and so they inevitably break allowing his company to profit. Is it worth it to attempt to fix a faulty product that is going to simply break again? For the company, the answer is yes. They benefit greatly from fixing their defective products because they are getting paid to do it. It is a genius cycle, they sell flawed products that are built to break and then get paid to fix them and then they inevitably break again. From this, we as viewers begin to question whether sometimes things are better off staying broken than they are being fixed.

As Matthew an Maria’s relationship develops, they both start to change as well seemingly both “fixing each other.” Matthew inspires Maria to become more passionate and learned. She begins to worry far less about her appearance: ditching her extremely heavy makeup and bright clothes for her “librarian” glasses and a simple, muted dress. These were all aspects about Maria that seemingly needed fixing at the beginning of the movie. She blew off school, she was far too worried about her physical appearance and on top of that, she was pregnant as well. Once Matthew comes into her life, her perspective changes. She writes in her journal about her wishes to become more intelligent and less “young” and “stupid.”

Matthew begins to change as well due to Maria’s influences. He was once a man who could not have cared less about anything he was doing in his life. He was getting fired from jobs he hated. He had so much knowledge and potential but was not channeling it anywhere. He stood up for what he believed in and allowed his morals (and self-righteousness at times) to guide every decision he made. Hence why he refused to repair the TVs. Once he was set on marrying Maria, moving her away from her mother and raising the baby with her, he made drastic changes in his life. He went back to his job so that he could get “practical” hours and benefits for Maria and the baby even though the scam they were running went so deeply against his morals. He started watching TV and being short with her and she confesses to the nurse at the diner how much she wishes she didn’t change him. Even if it happened unknowingly.

Both of these characters are worse off in the end after changing for each other. Matthew ends up getting tricked by Maria’s mother and Maria ends up really disliking the new Matthew. So much so that she goes through with her abortion. In fact Matthew must go back to his original, apathetic self (with the grenade) for them to be together again. They became attracted to each other not in spite of their perceived flaws but because of them. It is similar to how in the Stranger, Marie tells Meursault that the fact that he is so strange is probably the reason why she loves him. Like the TVs, both of these characters would have been better off “unfixed” and “untouched.”

202 Checkmates and Coming of Age

On the surface, 202 Checkmates seems like a story about a girl and her dad’s relationship and how playing chess allowed her to more deeply bond with her father. In reality, it is more of a coming of age story in which the chess allows the girl to see the world and her parents in a new light rather than bringing them closer together. When they first start playing, the girl sees her father as “the god of chess” much like how she probably sees him in her life. She is still very young and hasn’t had much exposure to the outside world and different perspectives. All she knows is her dad’s and her family’s. Initially their chess is very insular. It is just them playing together with no other distractions or inputs from the outside world. It is just their game that they play together. Her father dominates her every time and so he becomes this all knowing figure who could never lose.

Once chess is taken out of their own personal world and into the park is where the coming of age takes place. Realizing that her dad is not perfect and is in fact beatable is the girls awakening to the outside world. Part of coming of age is realizing that your parents are not these all knowing, perfect, god like creatures. They are human and have flaws and there comes a point in every kids life where they begin to see their parents for who they truly are which is simply human and nothing more. After the girl sees her father beaten for the first time her world changes and so does their chess game. She now sees her father’s flaws more clearly and deeply and that he is not only beatable by the outside world but by her as well. Manny is her first true influence outside of her dad and her family and he inadvertently helps her realize these things about her dad. After the father’s huge loss in the park the story really shifts and the girl begins to see the world more clearly. Manny opens her eyes up to moves she had never even considered on the chess board and he does the same to her world.

Relativity in The Semplica Girl Diaries

Pam’s Father = farmer in small town. Had biggest farm on edge of small town. So, relative to girls on smaller, poorer farms, Pam = rich girl. If same farm near bigger town, farm only average, but no: town so small, modest farm = estate (137).

In this portion of The Semplica Girl Diaries the father is reflecting on how previously he has only bought new clothes for Pam and the kids. He reflects on the wealth Pam’s family had growing up and the guilt that he has regarding not giving her the best of everything and ensuring she is well dressed. In this section of longing for and placing value in material items, the father inadvertently brings up the relativity of wealth. This family, specifically the father are always looking at people wealthier than them and worrying about what they do not posses. They are constantly aspiring to be wealthier (more cars, more clothes, more vacations), when in reality they already possess some wealth. Especially in the eyes of less well off people or in this context the “smaller, poorer farms.”

The point is that although the family in the story is not wealthy by any means, wealth in general is relative. There will always people that have far more money than they know what to do with, and yet there even be people who have more money than them. There is always something to aspire to and be jealous of when you compare your life to others. On the other hand your “average farm” may be an aspiration for another farmer who holds you in the same regard that you have been viewing the “richer” farmers. There will always be people that have more but there will also always be people that have less.