We used to waltz into the water as kids, even when it was too cold for comfort. Our pre-pubescent squealing made the jerky movements of our limbs seem like a choreographed routine. The whooshing of the wind and crashing of the waves hastened our accelerating dances into the sea, the ocean, the Long Island Sound—whatever body of water we found ourselves in on that day of that particular summer.
I remember hearing about the healing power of salt water. My mom always said to wash out all wounds with salt water. “The ocean can heal anything,” she told us. It stung the random scratches on the bottom of my feet badly, probably from the tiny shells near the shore, but eventually my small scrapes would feel better. I’d wonder if the sea could fix more than my external wounds. Sometimes the smell of the beach would invigorate me for weeks to come. Now, however, my question has changed: I wonder if, like the bite of salt water on a raw wound, one must first experience pain to achieve eventual relief.
As I’ve gotten older, my miniscule, inadvertent calluses and scrapes have transformed into more serious injuries. I’ve developed scars on my ankles from haphazardly shaving my legs in a rush to impress boys at the beach, and raw, red flesh chafing between the supple skin on my upper thighs (always more painful than anticipated, physically and symbolically). I’ve developed metaphorical wounds, too; these wounds are in the pit of my stomach, in my head, in my heart. The sea and its salt may cause microscopic abrasions on rocks and sand and shells and little girls’ dancing feet, but how does one explain the microscopic wear and tear of living life as a woman in your early twenties? Of living life, at all? Of living and loving and failing and falling?
Maybe an answer to my call is an aquatic-themed album, written by, of course, a woman in her early twenties: quinnie’s 2022 debut album, flounder. I didn’t let the fear of heavy-handed ocean imagery stop me from listening. Instead, I dove right in.
Twenty-one-year-old quinnie found her moment in the spotlight with “touch tank” in spring 2022. I remember hearing a snippet of the chorus for the first time on TikTok, instantly falling in love with quinnie’s dreamy, airy vocals and tender vulnerability. The clip went viral, with tens of thousands of instant fans begging to hear the full song. As I desperately waited for “touch tank” to be released, I concurrently, desperately waited to fall in love. I had been feeling quite lonely and was looking for, hoping for, dreaming of, companionship. Soon enough, I would find it. (Coincidentally with someone named Quinn; the world has a real sense of humor!)
We’d sing “touch tank” to each other in the car sometimes. It was our song. The relationship was joyful and oh-so-sweet, until it wasn’t. Soon enough, I fell victim to the “touch tank curse,” (a seemingly collective experience shared by women on the internet). My year-long relationship ended, not by any nefarious, disastrous, extreme means, but because of the strain of long distance. The microabrasions, the wear and tear, added up to something too difficult to maintain. We walked away both needing some of the ocean’s healing powers, I think. I hope he’s found some.
I felt split wide open, even more vulnerable to the world’s weathering. I did a lot of thinking, humming, listening. I listened to flounder almost daily, quinnie’s siren-like voice a cool salve to what felt like cracks in my heart and soul.
quinnie investigates and interrogates what it means to exist as a woman—in all our complex, confusing glory—during a time of overwhelming online content and harmful feminine standards and impositions. In naming her album flounder, containing songs such as “man,” “ribbons,” “itch,” and “flutterby,” she celebrates, questions, and verbalizes the liminal space that is existing as a femme-identifying person in a particularly femme-unfriendly world. quinnie’s lyrics delve into hefty topics such as toxic masculinity, grief, climate change, mental health crises, and abusive relationships––while also detailing small, lovely moments of childhood nostalgia, self-growth, wonder, and first loves. Her album fulfills a function of both memoir and cultural critique. She allows for and embraces the in-between moments, the works-in-progress, the feeling of floundering. quinnie is able to reframe life’s more challenging experiences, not by reducing their discomfort, but by acknowledging her own, and womanhood’s, expansive capacities to contain multitudinal potential. quinnie’s music has challenged me to imagine brighter days, brighter futures, brighter loves.
In “flounder,” a song with a momentous, sparkling acoustic introduction, quinnie’s lyrics are a patchwork assemblage of observations, lists, and visual experiences. The song’s layered instrumentals––guitars and bells and percussion––are reminiscent of the scattered yet vibrant experiences of growing up in an age of quickly transforming digital landscapes. Quinnie dually engages with reshaping memories of intimate moments ("I'm trapped inside my frame of sight / so much wonder that I cannot see”) while also involving collective, cultural experiences by using the second person “you.” (“Now sugar babies, Mickey Mouse / digitize your parents’ house / turns into the world we choose to see.”)
“fade,” released as a flounder bonus track, has proven to be the most transformative song on the album within my life. The opening beats thrum, and I dive in. Immediately, I am taken to a place of safety, understanding, and visibility. What if this feeling really never is gonna fade? The song is cinematic, important, and validating in its musical composition and lyrics. In addition, the song’s percussion is sonically reminiscent of waves crashing against the shore. quinnie’s voice envelops me in a feeling of recognition, like the sensation of a close friend cupping your cheek, wrapping you in a warm blanket, and reminding you that this too shall pass.
Sometimes I feel like I’m being worn down by the world, slowly but surely. Feelings of depression and heartbreak and self-doubt, like sandpaper, scrape away at all my softness, leaving brittle bone, bitter thoughts, behind. Sometimes I think I just can’t handle any sort of erosion anymore.
But quinnie makes me pause and wonder: perhaps this erosion, this wear and tear of life, can be reframed, repositioned in my mind. Not as damaging or destructive, but as a molding of sorts. In the same way a potter crafts a piece of pottery with gentle hands, a curious mind, and a thousand soft touches, every moment, experience, and person I’ve interacted with has shaped me too. Maybe the salt water is not creating abrasions after all; maybe the water is simply rushing through porous openings, like those of a sponge. quinnie’s music enables me to feel ready to soak up new life, new love, new moments. Perhaps in the shuffling of the world, in heartbreak, in failure, in rejection, in regret, these microscopic channels are creating even more space for life to move through my body. Perhaps that makes me even more full: full of love and wonder and potential.
I’ve always been drawn to the ocean. My impressive imagination as a young girl would often convince me I could see a mermaid’s fin, somewhere out there in the distance. I’ve cultivated a specific relationship to the ocean, to water, a relationship drenched in both fear and desire, in pain and pleasure, in past and future versions of myself. In the ocean, and in quinnie’s music, I can finally envision a world in which microabrasions––from the salty sea, and from life’s heartbreaks––can coexist with spongy, soft porousness. I can flounder in the in-between after all.