Chester Bennington, 1976-2017

I was at a concert with my friend last night. Korn was headlining, but bands like Skillet and Stone Sour opened. It’s not really my type of music, but it was fun, and he really wanted to go. Remembering countless concerts to which I have dragged less-than- enthusiastic friends, I was glad to finally repay the favor to someone else.

Earlier that day, I found out that Chester Bennington, the lead singer of Linkin Park, had committed suicide. He was only 41 years old, and Linkin Park had just released a new album. I was never a huge Linkin Park fan, but a few of their hit songs, including “Numb” and “In the End” definitely frequented my playlists as a teenager. One of my good friends was looking forward to seeing Chester front the band only a week later at the very same venue that Korn was playing.

Stone Sour opened their song “Looking Through the Glass” with an introduction. “We lost a friend today,” he said. “This was one of Chester’s favorite songs, so I’d like to dedicate it to him.” The audience applauded passionately. After the song ended, people chanted his name over and over again. Chester… Chester… Chester.

.

Mental illness is difficult. It twists the truth and makes it seem something completely different. No one knows what Chester, or Robin, or Kurt, thought in those last dark minutes.

I am a person diagnosed with such an illness, and I commend Chester for speaking and writing openly about his struggles in his music. I know it helped many of my friends through tough times. I, like Chester, have had suicidal thoughts before. It’s a scary, scary thing. It’s not something you can fully control. Sometimes it is an impulse, or a thought that somehow doesn’t even feel like your own. Sometimes it’s a feeling in your gut that overcomes any logical thinking about your living situation. Something that tells you that you are alone, and always have been, or that you are not good enough, and never will be.

The point is, that this successful musician, who was beloved by so many, still felt such overwhelming pain that he took his own life. He did not only think about suicide, but he made a concrete plan and executed it. I wondered if things would be different if he could’ve heard that arena tonight. How his music has impacted so many people.

Wherever he is, I hope that he is free of the pain that burdened him in his life. We cannot judge people’s lives, much less their minds, from the outside. Suicide is a tough subject that is still heavily stigmatized, but we need to talk about it. It’s the only way to prevent it. We need to encourage openness about the subject. Encourage, not only those who are haunted by such thoughts to share them with others they trust, but also for us to be on the lookout for signs of suicidal thoughts in others.

***If you or a loved one is experiencing a crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255

Boston Calling: Alone and Invincible

Last weekend, I went to my first big festival. And, I went alone.

For those of you considering going to a festival alone, I found my experience to be totally worth it. Keep in mind, however, that I only live a few miles away from the location of the festival, which, this year, had changed from the City Hall Plaza in downtown Boston to the Harvard Athletic Complex in Allston.

I went because I decided that I would rather be alone than deny myself the experience of seeing some of my favorite bands live. I do this a lot with concerts, and I know a few others who do so as well, but going to a festival alone, navigating the time between sets alone, is a little more daunting.

Day 1:

On Friday, I still agreed to work for the dog walking company, knowing that I would still be able to catch my favorite acts (Car Seat Headrest and Bon Iver) in time. When I got home, I had a chance encounter with my roommate, Davina. “I’m going to Boston Calling,” she said.

“Me too!”

This seems contradictory to the title, I know. We did ride to the festival together, although we split up immediately after entering the gates (she opted for Sylan Esso over Car Seat Headrest), we kept each other company in the long line at the entrance.

This was unexpected, and, on the festival’s part, poorly planned. The festival increased security measures after the Manchester attacks. So, even though Davina and I got there a little later than 4:30, we didn’t make it through the gate until 5:15.

I was glad to have Davina there, because I would have felt anxious navigating the unorganized line by myself. Uncertainty, like misery, loves company, I guess.

Regram from @davinapower – it was nice have company in the long line (clump?) to the entrance!

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When I got through the gate, I never ran so fast in my life to catch the rest of Car Seat Headrest’s performance. I ran over to the blue stage, which was far away from the ferris wheel, and the other two stages, as they were playing “Fill in the Blank.”

After Car Seat Headrest, I went over towards the ferris wheel to get some food, and I listened to the end of Sylvan Esso’s set. I met two guys in the food line from the Burlington, Vermont area. We switched from line to line, trying to decide which line was the shortest and which food truck had the most reasonable prices.

“You look cool enough to know where we could get some weed,” one of them said.

I was really flattered, but I told them that unfortunately I did not. “It is legal here, no?” I told them, yes, it is, but it’s not as easy to get as say, alcohol or cigarettes. While possession (up to a certain amount) and use, both recreational and medical, is legal, it’s still not legal to sell marijuana. However, you can “gift” it. I told them that, in the future, Boston may have some weed cafes, but not for another year or so. Who did they want to see? “If it weren’t for Tool, we wouldn’t have come.”

I went back to the blue stage and caught some of Mac Demarco’s performance. He actually went on early, and he invited people up to the stage to dance. After staying there for a little while, I decided I wanted to get a good view for Bon Iver.

I made the right decision. The Red Stage was packed maybe an hour or 45 minutes before Justin Vernon & co would come on. I was able to secure a small space behind the VIP area to the left of the stage. I met a young, drunk guy who claimed to be a Justin Vernon superfan. “No one makes music like him!” he said. “Hey! Can someone pass me a beer?” I passed him mine, which only had a few drops left. Surprisingly, he obliged and turned the can upside down over his lips.

This guy was garnering some strange and annoyed looks from others in the crowd. While he was nice and fun to talk to, I tried to make it clear that I wasn’t with him and that I didn’t know him. I looked at others with a “haha yeah get a load of this guy” sort of look.

Let me tell you about Bon Iver’s performance though. Bon Iver is a band that I thought I’d never get the chance to see live. Something about their status within the music world made them seem unattainable to me. This ended up being my favorite performance besides the 1975. I was entranced. Bon Iver’s latest album, 22 A Million, is different from the two previous albums. Where the previous two albums were more folky, this album was more electronic. Still, there is something transcendent about Bon Iver’s music. I remember the aggressive chills that formed when they played “715 CRΣΣKS.” I remember the magical way the stage lights caught the drizzle during old favorites like “Holocene.” More importantly, I remember everyone screaming “I told you to be patient, I told you to be kind” during “Skinny Love”– Mr. Justin-Vernon-Superfan being louder than the rest.

Before leaving, I stayed for a little bit of Chance the Rapper’s headlining performance. I don’t know much of his music, I was far away, and I wanted to get home at a reasonable time rather than leave at the same time as everyone else.

Bad pics from day 1: car seat headrest, Mac demarco, bon iver, chance the rapper Oh and a bad pic of me

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Day 2

To be honest, this day completely centered around the 1975, and not always in a good way.

Earlier in the week, I had won two passes from a local radio station that would allow me access to a “secret listener lounge” with the 1975 at a bar near the Harvard Athletic Complex. At this event, the 1975 would play a couple of their songs “stripped down,” there would be a Q&A session, and then a meet and greet with the band. I could hardly sleep on Friday night knowing that I would be meeting my favorite band the next day.

And then I got a call from the radio station at about 10am. “We’re sorry to tell you that the event has been cancelled for reasons beyond our control.” They offered me some free concert tickets, which I still have to swing by the station to get.

I still have no idea why the event was cancelled, but I was so mad and sad. I was mad at my favorite band and sad that I wouldn’t get to meet them. Being upset about this made going all alone to the festival that day a little more difficult. So, I missed the first few bands play, and I hung out with my other roommate, Donna, who listened to me complain about the whole thing.

Anyway, I’m still upset about it. But I walk away saying this to myself:

You know what’s more sad than me not meeting the 1975?

The 1975 not meeting me.

So, all that aside, I arrived maybe sometime in the mid afternoon. I ate, caught some of Oh Wonder’s performance, and decided to head over to the blue stage where the 1975 would be performing later, and where I, propelled by my anger, would be in the front row. My mantra was, “I am alone, and I am invincible.”

I wasn’t in the front row. Not quite anyway. Apparently standing in front of the stage for four hours was everyone else’s idea too.

Despite being alone, I met a lot of people in the crowd. There were a few girls who came together from New York and had never seen the band before, and then there were two girls who came together. We asked each other the usual questions, where are you from, who did you come here to see, etc.

“I live here, but I’m not from here,” I told her.

“Oh, then where are you from?”

“Virginia.”

“Which part?”

“Roanoke.”

She then told me that she graduated from Roanoke College in 2008. We talked about Roanoke things. She said she loved Grandin, and I said “I got this jacket from a shop in Grandin!” We talked about Pop’s and the Star. She talked about how she missed it and I talked about how I hated it when I was there, but that the city really seems to be growing. To be honest, I like visiting there a lot more than I liked living there.

She also went to the same 1975 show I went to in November, which was at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut. I told her that coming here alone was a lot cooler because I made some connections, if only temporary. At the last show, I was in the stands, next to a man who looked like he was a chaperone for someone. I danced by myself.

This time, however, this girl (I never learned or forgot her name) gushed about Ross’s beard and sang to our favorite songs. The 1975 were as amazing as the last time I saw them. I could watch Matty dance forever. I love their infectious energy. This wasn’t my first time seeing them and it certainly won’t be the last.

Before leaving, I saw some of Mumford and Son’s performance. I was crazy about them my freshman year of college. Babel and Sigh No More were both in heavy rotation on my playlists. Then their third album came out, they added in electric guitar, and I just wasn’t that into it anymore. I stayed for a couple of old favorites: “Lover of the Light,” “Thistle and Weeds,” and “White Blank Page.” I left when I heard them pull out the electric guitar.

😍

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Day 3

Sunday, I made sure to get to the festival early to see Mitski perform. She has an amazing voice, relatable lyrics, and her music makes me feel a lot of things. So, she’s also one of the loves of my life.

Before Mitski, a band called Mondo Cozmo performed. I actually loved their performance, and they did a pretty good cover of “Bittersweet Symphony” by the Verve. The lead singer said, “Cozmo is spelled with a ‘z’ because that’s how my dog spells it.”

There was a group of people in front of me, and I asked them if they were here to see Mitski. They said, instead, that they were there to see Flatbush Zombies, who came on after Mitski. We talked for a while, and it turned out that they were also big 1975 fans. We became allies, and, I asked them if I could have their spot on the barricade for Mitski and promised I’d give it back for Flatbush Zombies. They agreed.

Mitski was not energetic in the way that many other musicians in her genre are. She sang like a stone-faced angel. I didn’t care if she didn’t jump around; her intensity was electrifying. I cried when she sang “Your Best American Girl,” which is the first song I ever heard by her in an Urban Outfitters in Harvard Square. She played “Drunk Walk Home,” and “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars,” and screamed during both. After finishing a song by taking the tip of her mic in her mouth and growling, a man from the crowd yelled, “You scared me!” She cooly replied, “Thank you.”

After Mitski, I hopped from stage to stage. Among some of the acts I saw were Converge, Frightened Rabbit, and Flatbush Zombies. I stayed for all of Piebald’s set. I was introduced to Piebald in high school. A friend that I worked with when I volunteered at the gift shop in the hospital burned me a copy of their album We are the Only Friends We Have. She said she saw them open for Say Anything.

Piebald was psyched to be at Boston Calling. In fact, the lead singer said that the festival actually asked them to play, rather than the other way around. They were among the few acts, including Vunderbar and the the Hotelier, who are from Boston and its surrounding areas.

After Piebald, I stayed for some of Cage the Elephant’s performance, who were very energetic. I would have stayed for their entire set but I wanted to see some of Weezer’s set too, and they were playing on the other side of the festival and started less than five minutes after the end of Cage the Elephant. On the way to the blue stage, I ran into a friend from work, who I had been trying to meet up with that day. The reason we hadn’t was that the festival had become so packed that neither one of us had good service, and we could text each other, let alone find each other among tens of thousands of other people.

This was my third time seeing Weezer, sort of by accident. The first time I saw them was when I took my cousin to a concert last summer. They co-headlined with Panic! At the Disco, who is one of my old favorites. Despite this, after the concert, I decided I liked Weezer’s set better than Panic’s. I saw Weezer again in December when I won a pass to a Songs and Stories event through Alt 92.9 (apparently I’m good at winning things). I got to see Weezer play an acoustic set in Brighton Music Hall, a small venue in Allston. This third time, I stayed for maybe half of the set and left after they resorted to playing covers of “I Took a Pill in Ibiza.”

Finally, it was time for Tool. Tool is probably the reason that the GA one day passes on Sunday had sold out. The festival was the most crowded I had ever seen. I was very far away from the band, but I didn’t care. And, despite the distance between me and the stage, I could feel the vibrations of their set.

One thing that upset me was that, unlike the rest of the performers, Tool used the screens on the side of the stage for a light show/animated film to accompany their music. So, I didn’t really “see” the band at all. Still, being an artist, I understand why musicians present their shows a certain way. Tool is known for their artistic integrity: they refuse to be on popular streaming services such as Apple Music and Spotify. In fact, you cannot even download their music from iTunes. I Googled this to find out a little more about why. My favorite answer was from a reddit user that said that Tool opposed the “a la carte” experience that streaming services and iTunes cater to listeners. In other words, Tool wants Tool’s music to be experienced as the band intended or not at all.

Out of all of the headliners, I stayed for Tool the longest. Their set mesmerized me. Still, I wanted to leave before the end of their set so that I could avoid having to leave with everyone else. I remember I kept turning around to leave, and then hearing them start another song, and turning back around to stay a little while longer. Their music is melodic and dark, and darkness is something that always fascinates me. Apparently, it fascinates the rest of Boston as well.

All in all, going to Boston Calling alone was an amazing experience. I know it would have been different with some friends by my side. I never felt unsafe, especially since I was only a few miles away from my apartment, and many of the other people there were very friendly. We live in a society in which we think doing certain things in public- eating in a sit down restaurant, going to a movie, going to an event- alone is sad and lonely. If you’re in the right mindset, however, it’s an adventure. If you feel lonely, you can often talk to people. This was easy to do because, you have something in common if you’re both waiting around for a band to perform. You can talk about other performances that have already happened or are yet to happen. You can talk about how far they traveled to get there.

What’s more, being alone, I had no one to tie me down. If I didn’t like what I saw, I could leave a set and go see another band perform. If I was hungry, I didn’t have to ask anyone if they were hungry too and would they like to get something. If I wanted to get closer to the stage, I didn’t have to worry about being such a nuisance in a big group of people. I could come and go to the festival as I pleased. I was alone, but I was also untethered. This weekend belonged to me, and that was a great feeling.

I just had a change of heart.

Do you ever revisit a song because it seems appropriate for a certain situation and you just completely fall in love with it again?

Ironic, as the song is about disappointment, disillusion, and falling out of love. I’m being melodramatic, as I tend to be when I get excited about plans that fall through. They were small plans, really, so I’ll wake up tomorrow and be fine.

Are we awake?

Appropriate for late disappointment and life contemplation. I sit here and all I can think about is how I’ve missed out on potential plans, how this Netflix isn’t keeping my attention anymore, how I can’t fathom that my attention span would last a page into a novel. I’ve read a little, eaten a little. I’ve finally changed into my pajamas, admitting defeat.

And I turn on this song: “A Change of Heart” by the 1975.

Most people know my obsession with this band. It’s quite trashy and comical sometimes. I made it my pin for my register at work (it’s not that anymore cause I have to change it so often), and one of my coworkers even called me over to look at a customer’s purchase because the price came out to $19.75.

I never found love in the city. I just sat in self pity and cried in the car, oh I just had a change of heart. 

I was listening to this song in the parking garage at Alewife when I still lived in Concord. Privately, there were many things going on in my life. I had just moved to Boston. The person I hung out with the most was my sixteen year old cousin. I was searching and applying for jobs I wasn’t even totally sure I wanted. I remember feeling alone, but somewhat hopeful. I wasn’t exactly where I wanted to be, but I was somewhere. Maybe, in retrospect, I’m romanticizing it a little. Maybe because at the same time, I had the other line in my head from the 1975’s earlier album. In “The City,” Matty sings, “If you wanna find love, then you know where the city is.” It’s a catchy tune about a kid who gets caught counting cards and does some community service work.

Anyway, now I am here, actually living in Boston proper, and I’ve just started feeling at home. I’ve gotten to know my coworkers, human and dog, well enough that we can be friends. On the outside, I go to work, I eat, I hang out with more than one person now. Originally, a place that I felt I didn’t belong has become a home to me.

Still, on the inside, I am restless. Where am I going with my life? Should I pursue a romantic relationship with someone? Should I get a plant if I may be moving soon? I feel a sort of dread that nothing will change, even though things have been, and still are, changing every day.

You used to have a face straight out of a magazine. Now you just look like anyone.

“A Change of Heart” is such an important song to me. It signifies growth. Though the song is supposed to be sad, to me, it is triumphant. The song is about someone who recognizes the shallowness of his relationship with a certain girl, realizing that he may have outgrown his original desire for her. It reminded me of high school: how, during high school, I wanted so desperately to belong and to be accepted, and how I was also steadfast on marching to the beat of my own drum, despite others’ apparent distaste. (Go high school me, for real.)

When I went to college, these fears still deeply submerged me in a world of anxiety and dread. I’m not sure if I just didn’t mesh well with others in my dorm or if it was because I was undiagnosed and unmedicated. Either way, things weren’t working out. Later in the semester, I decided to fully commit to a friendship, one that I tentatively dipped my toes into during visits to the cafeteria. I’m not really even sure why I hesitated, because she’s one of my best friends now and an absolute treasure to behold. And, unlike many other people I’ve had in my life, she never once asked me to change. I gained others like her, and those people in high school that never accepted me now feel like something so small and far away. I will admit, it is still a small thorn in my side. Scorpios like me have a hard time letting things go, and I have the unfortunate memory of an elephant.

Point is, something that I once highly desired and valued started to look worn and cheap to me. I had moved on. And, damn, I don’t think anything ever felt better than that.

You are here.

I am exhausted in the most satisfactory way.

With hardly any animal visits or walks today and no work at the grocery store, I had the day to myself. This is a rare occasion. The other night, my mom asked me what I was doing this weekend. “Working, visiting a cat, cleaning.” I hadn’t planned to do anything in particular until I realized the opportunities this day presented me. I could go on a day trip somewhere. I could explore my little corner of the world, a place I’ve lived for the past nine months.

I consider myself to be an aspiring traveler. While I often dream of places farther and more grandiose- France, Germany, South Korea- there are places within 50 miles that I haven’t bothered to explore. I try to remind myself that traveling far and traveling well are not correlated. There are numerous places within your own region of the country, state, or, if you’re lucky to live in a big enough place, city.

IMG_8324
Even my city, Boston, looks tiny from here. 

During my semester abroad in England, I spent all of my time in the United Kingdom, save for a couple of days in Ireland. Some of my other friends who studied abroad went to other places such as Paris, Barcelona, Brussels, Amsterdam… all of those places are on my list. While I didn’t visit these places while I was abroad, I believe that I had an advantage to staying in England, Ireland, and Scotland: Within the small nation, I left very few stones unturned. I thoroughly explored the country, from London, to Stratford-Upon-Avon, to Bath. Remembering this, I hope to do the same in other places where I live.

Time, however, is a luxury. During my semester abroad, I was lucky to have lots of it. Here, I work two part-time jobs, and I work at least one, if not both, of these jobs every day.

As I usually have to focus on work- getting dressed for work, eating so I won’t get hungry during work, making sure I leave my apartment on time for work- I find very little time to focus on the here and now. When I come home from dog walking with only an hour to spare before my shift at the grocery store, I am always looking at the clock, anticipating the moment it will tell me that it is time to leave. You’d think this makes me jumpy, but it often makes me sluggish. “I wish I could take time to enjoy my breaks.” I think to myself. “I wish they didn’t feel so short.”

During the weekends, I get angry at myself for not doing enough productive things before I go into work for the rest of the day. I go to work and my room is still messy. My dirty clothes still unclean. I’ve lost count of the consecutive days I’ve worn the same jeans. Doing these small chores isn’t hard. But it is also very hard. The thought of lifting my 50 pound basket of clothes and driving to the laundromat is much more daunting than the task itself. Because of these thoughts, these tasks are left undone. Seeing them undone, seeing my messy room the way it is, makes me feel less of myself. “I should be able to do these simple tasks. Why can’t I do anything right?” It makes a stone in my stomach that keeps me in bed sometimes.

Getting over these thoughts is like climbing a mountain. It’s hard to start these chores, but they are simple once I do.

IMG_8319

This brings me to what I decided to do with my free day today: I went on a hike. I chose the Blue Hills Reservation just outside of Boston because of its proximity and because of its views of Boston’s skyline. Making plans to do this, and perhaps the fact that I deep cleaned my room yesterday, made me excited to get out of bed and get ready. I went to the grocery store, said hi to my friends, and bought some water and trail mix (albeit the blend containing the most chocolate) to go with my homemade ham and cheese sandwich and a couple of clementines.

There are two reasons I decided to get trail mix: one, I hadn’t eaten anything this morning except for Greek yogurt and granola, and two is that I decided that I would take the Skyline Trail, which was marked as “challenging.” “Whatever,” I thought to myself, “I can do anything I set my mind to.” This is coming from someone whose last hike was over six months ago.

Less than half a mile into my hike, I had already hit a wall. Almost literally. The hill was almost perpendicular and covered in rocks. Instead of being nervous, however, I went ahead and started my trek. Finding footholds on this hill was therapeutic and meditative. It kept me present. I focused on my legs and feet, and, like in yoga, sending my (heavy) breaths towards them.

There were at least five or six stretches of the trail that were like this that I had to either climb up or down. I was rewarded in between with expansive views and relatively flat terrain. Also, a few dogs walked up to me and said hello, including a pitbull/terrier mix puppy in a cable-knit sweater.

Focusing on nothing but my next steps, feeling the cool air around me, and turning my phone on silent helped me to be present. The simple task of moving forward allowed my mind to wander. It is through these metaphorical and literal wanderings that I am able to deeply think.

Within nature, I am reminded of its resilience, and of my own resilience too. I was overjoyed to find that climbing the peaks became easier as I moved forward. Perhaps I was moving pretty slowly, but since I was alone, I didn’t have to worry about keeping up with anyone. I could make my own pace. I think about how I felt looking at the first hill I had to climb, and how I felt after I had reached my destination at the weather observatory. It turns out, my overconfident mind was correct. I can do anything I set my mind to.

 

 

 

 

George Saunders: Lincoln in the Bardo

On Friday February 17th, I had the pleasure of seeing author George Saunders read from and talk about his novel Lincoln in the Bardo. Though Bardo will be Saunders’s first novel, he published numerous short story collections, including Tenth of December, which won the Story Prize and Folio Prize and was also a National Book Award Finalist (think Golden Globes in the literary world).

I have yet to read Lincoln in the Bardo, but I read Saunders’s short story collection, Tenth of December in my fiction workshop senior year. The humor and absurdity of Saunders’s stories reassured me that it’s fine for literary fiction not to be steeped in realism, which is why I decided to see him speak in Cambridge.

Lincoln in the Bardo is a novel about President Lincoln’s grief at losing his son, Willie, in the American Civil War. The book centers around the story of Lincoln going to the graveyard in the middle of the night to hold his son’s body. Saunders explained that he struggled with different ideas of how to tell this story, whether to write as an omniscient narrator, or as someone who witnessed the event. “A couple of grave robbers would be too cheesy,” he told a laughing audience. So, to tell his story, Saunders uses ghosts who witness this event.

This idea to write about this came to Saunders years ago, on a tour of the graveyard, when his guide told him of Lincoln’s nightly visit.  Of course, it wasn’t without its challenges. Saunders realized that he would have to write this in a way that was earnest and out of his comfort zone in the absurd.

Now, Abraham Lincoln is one thing familiar to most people. But what in the world is the Bardo?

The Bardo, Saunders explains, is the Buddhist equivalent of purgatory in Christianity. It can be translated into “in-between state,” “liminal state,” or “intermediate state,” and it occurs between two lives on earth, between the death of one life and the birth of the next. Saunders, who is a practicing Buddhist, seems to hold ideas that are most similar to Tibetan Buddhists, who believe that the Bardo is a place in which the soul is no longer tethered to a physical body.

“Think of your mind like a wild horse,” Saunders explained. “It is powerful, but, while you are alive, it is tethered to a physical body that holds it back. After death, this tie is severed, and the horse- or your mind- takes off.”

The Bardo, then, is the liminal space in which this novel takes place. Literally, it is the space between death and birth for the deceased souls surrounding Lincoln and for Willie. This space could also represent Lincoln’s grief. As he processes the death of his son, there is a gap of time between Willie’s death and Lincoln’s acceptance of Willie’s death. In that time, Lincoln wrestles with denial, anger, sadness, guilt. Furthermore, this liminal space represents the Civil War itself, in which a country is divided and fighting to stay united. At this time, American was neither officially united nor was it two different nations, as the Confederacy had wanted. America would be reborn from this war as a different country. As America wars against itself, so does Lincoln, as he knows that his son’s death is a direct result of his own commands.

 

Saunders read a long excerpt from his upcoming novel with a twist: he had some staff from the Harvard Bookstore read as different characters. Saunders, of course, read the part of the protagonist, President Abraham Lincoln. “This is my show,” he told the audience.

From Chapter 48, page 155:

He is just one.

And the weight of it might kill me.

Have exported this grief. Some three thousand times. So far. To date. A mountain. Of boys. Someone’s boys. Must keep on with it. May not have the heart for it. One thing to pull the lever when blind to the result. But here lies one dear example of what I accomplish by orders I-

May not have the heart for it.

This passage in particular stood out to me because it shows the collision of the personal and the political within President Lincoln’s own life. Politically, he must move forward with the War, keeping the country in Union, when, personally, he has been directly affected by the carnage of the war. While Lincoln carries the weight of his dead son, he also carries the weight of “a mountain of boys,” who are dead as a result of his orders.

 

I am excited to read Saunders’s debut novel and see how it compares to his short fiction.

Warmth

It was New Year’s Eve, and a gust outside plummeted the 35 degree weather to windchill of 20 degrees. And I felt nothing but warmth.

That was the theme of my Christmas this year. I asked for a parka, an electric blanket, snow boots. Moving from Charleston, SC to Boston has proved to be quite a change of climate, which, of course, was to be expected. After getting off work the other night, I ordered take out from 12 Hours, a place that serves a variety of Thai and Asian Fusion. I walked there in my new Lands End parka that dropped to my ankles and surrounded my head in a halo of faux fur. It was like walking the streets wrapped in a bed quilt. As an added bonus, I looked like Lord Commander Jon Snow of the Night’s Watch.

The next morning, I awoke wrapped in my synthetic down comforter, woolen blanket, and flannel sheets. The latter two items were gifts from my mom; they were both things I considered buying for myself and never put on my Christmas list, but here I am. As you can imagine, I stayed in bed for a few more minutes (like 60) and scrolled through social media, email, and Indeed jobs and internships.

When I finally got out of bed, my roommate, Donna, greeted me. I went to the kitchen and put the Keurig on. While I was waiting I shouted down the hallway, “Do you like coffee?” I had already started walking towards her bedroom.

“No, not really,” she said.

“Smell this!” I said. I pointed the open end of the bag toward her.

She humored me because she loves the smell of coffee, though she doesn’t enjoy drinking it.

“Oh my god,” she said. I was satisfied with her response, but I ended up being slightly impatient for her to stop inhaling the strong aroma that the grounds emitted.

I got this particular coffee while I was in my hometown, Roanoke, VA, at the Roanoke Natural Foods Co-op downtown. This store offers bulk coffee, which means you can pour your own beans into a bag and also grind them yourself. The roast that I got is called Mind, Body, and Soul by Equal Exchange. I wish I could tell you all of the undertones in it, but I’m not a professional, or amateur by any means, coffee taster. Still, I love a quality cup. My friend, Ally, who manages a coffeeshop called Oceana in Tequesta, FL, spoiled me with the coffee that they roast. Since she brought me coffee from her shop, I have never again settled for Starbucks. If you live in South Florida, consider stopping by. Also, you can buy their coffee online. I hope my bank account doesn’t suffer too much from my newly acquired taste, although I’m still saving tons by making coffee at home rather than buying it out at a cafe.

Since I got this coffee on my last day in Roanoke, I kept it in my car rather than bringing it into the house. As we packed away my things, my dad said, “You’re right, Alex, that coffee smells damn good.”

After driving from Roanoke to Boston, smelling this coffee for 12 hours, I was eager to finally drink it. I was not disappointed – it was just hot enough to create a warmth that radiated from right below my sternum. In me, it struck a sudden inspiration, and a sudden realization of this morning’s theme. I am so lucky, so grateful, for the warmth and comfort of my apartment and the gifts I’ve been given. I am grateful for the contrasting and refreshing air outside, for its invigorating nips and the gear I have to fight against the bigger bites.

I feel within and without the contrast and ironic juxtaposition of my desires. On one end, I desire adventure. I am always hungry for to try new things, to be awe-struck by sublime visions, to travel to new places. Changes, like rocks in a flowing stream, oxygenate me. The idea of my life becoming stagnant is depressing. I made this analogy a lot in my college essays, and I think that was because I was going through a transition. I now find myself at another.

The other side of the coin is that I crave comfort. I crave familiar intimacy with those who surround me. People who warm my heart and help me to relax. People who calm the reverberating echoes of my mind. People who, in a sense, keep me warm.

Since moving, I’ve realized the importance of physical touch. I’ve talked to Donna about this a little. I’ve wrote poems about a flower withering without touch (If you’re laughing, that’s fine, because I’m laughing too). I’ve been making friends in Boston, but not friends who I can yet feel comfortable hugging. I know this may sound strange, but one thing I miss most about my friends from Charleston is physical proximity. I miss hugs, sitting next to them on the couch, or leaning on them when I start dozing during a movie. My family is not huge on physical touch, save for my dad, who is an amazing hugger. But, as I sat on my bed New Year’s Eve morning, enveloped in warmth that is in many ways provided by them, it wasn’t hard to imagine that I was being hugged. That, through these gifts, they reassured me comfort, stability, and safety in my many adventures, far from home, and in the strangely uncomfortable but thrilling climates I constantly seek.

Before I finished writing this yesterday, I went to meet my friend Mickey at her house for Irish Breakfast and New Year’s Eve adventures. She greeted me with a bear hug.

 

Favorite Albums of 2016

Moving to Boston has exposed me to some great music: I live with another amateur musician, and I’ve made some excellent discoveries on Boston’s radio stations, namely 88.9 WERS and 90.3 WZBC Newton. Both of these stations are publicly funded and run by universities (Emerson College and Boston College, respectively). Public funding keeps these stations authentic, as they play music they feel is worthy of listening to, rather than run by the pop music market to play what people buy. Furthermore, the young DJs keep the music fresh.

This year has been a year of rediscovering old favorites, such as Green Day, the exponential growth of the 1975, and some newly discovered artists, such as Mitski, Angel Olsen, and Car Seat Headrest.

22, A Million – Bon Iver

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Courtesy of pitchfork.com

I was skeptical of Bon Iver’s newly acquired experimental electro sound. I’d heard his single “33 God” on the radio, and I was puzzled by it at first. But something about that little loop “I’d be happy as hell if you stayed for tea.” I then decided to give the entire album a try on a long drive. “22 (Over Soon),” the album’s opening track, is just as haunting as “Skinny Love” with dulcet symphs and manipulated human voices. Something about this makes the track overly emotional and yet somewhat detached, like a sad robot of some sort. Bon Iver does not fail to show their mastery of instrumentation, and 29 #Strafford APTS is a treat for aficionados of the band’s original folk sound.

Puberty 2 – Mitski

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Courtesy of Mitski Bandcamp

Mitski has the voice of an angel and I’ve listened to “Your Best American Girl” and cried more times than I can count.

You’re the sun, you’ve never seen the night but you hear it sung from the morning birds.

I’m not the moon- I’m not even a star, but awake at night, I’ll be singing to the birds, “Don’t wait for me. I can’t come.”

These two lyrics sum up the doomed love described in “Your Best American Girl.” Two things that can never naturally occur, the pain that the lover feels, and the blissful ignorance of the beloved. In addition to this song that would fit perfectly on anyone’s drink wine and cry playlist, Mitski also adds some upbeat songs like “Happy,” “A Loving Feeling,” and “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars.”

MY WOMAN – Angel Olsen

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Courtesy of pitchfork.com

If you sense a “Girls in Rock n Roll” theme in my recent listening patterns, then you are correct. Angel Olsen’s MY WOMAN is an album that sounds like it’s straight out of the seventies. Olsen’s vocals range from howling to musing. Each of the songs either packs a punch or is downright dreamy. From the longing frustration of “Shut Up, Kiss Me” to the resigned “Never Be Mine,” Olsen creates a timeless soundtrack about a timeless subject: love. This album is the perfect soundtrack for driving around when you feel slightly despondent.

Revolution Radio – Green Day

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Courtesy of tinymixtapes.com

How could such a politically tumultuous year be complete without America’s favorite punk commentators? Green Day has always been fearless about voicing its viewpoints. Green Day has mastered garage punk fire in songs such as “Bang, Bang,” which also contains the most chill-inducing drum solo I’ve ever heard.  Other songs, such as “Outlaws” and “Forever Now” boast Green Day’s theatric arena-rock sound that they’ve acquired over the past decade.

Teens of Denial – Car Seat Headrest

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Courtesy of bandcamp.com

Finally, a good band from Virginia. Car Seat Headrest is a band that can keep their music on grassroots streaming website bandcamp while also being recognized by Rolling Stone as one of the top 50 albums of 2016 (it took fourth place). Grungy, angsty, and deadpan humorous, set to killer instrumentals, whose production preserves the beautiful rawness of rock and roll.

Why Are You Okay? – Band of Horses

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Courtesy of pitchfork.com

 

Domestic nostalgia and heartbreak, the restlessness one feels in white picket fence suburbia, growing into someone you thought you wouldn’t be. This album was one of the most played of my summer. Band of Horses never fails to make hauntingly beautiful music. Among my favorites on the album are “Hag,” “Casual Party,” “In a Drawer,” and “Lying Under Oak.”

I like it when you sleep for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it – The 1975

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Courtesy of genius.com

This list is in no particular order, but I did save my most favorite for last. I could write an entire blogpost about this album alone. It changed my life and speaks to me in unimaginable ways. From the satirical narcissism of “Love Me,” to the hopeful heartbreak of “A Change of Heart,” the out of touch and depressed romanticism of “Paris,” this is one hell of an album, and, frankly, if you’re putting The 1975 off because of their boy band, poppy sound, you’re seriously missing out. The melodies are delicious and the lyrics have a full of substance and wisdom .

I put “A Change of Heart” on the album, because I’d never heard a song about falling out of love before. It reminds me of when I had graduated high school and all of the things that high school is romanticized to be – a coming of age, a place to find forever friends, etc. – was a facade. In the same way, this song talks about a girl that the speaker falls out of love with as he realizes that she is not as unique or interesting as he once thought. “Was it your breasts from the start?” Matty Healy muses. “They played a part.”

You used to have a face straight out of a magazine. Now you just look like anyone.

Not to mention, “A Change of Heart” deflates much of what was romanticized on the 1975’s first, self-titled, full-length album, particularly in the songs “Robbers” and “The City.” In “Robbers,” Healy gushes, “She had a face straight out a magazine.” Earlier on the album, he sings, “If you wanna find love, then you know where the city is.” In “A Change of Heart,” he directly responds to this: “I never found love in the city/I just sat in self pity and cried in the car.”

The 1975 has grown from a pop band playing songs about the mundane life of a teenager in Manchester to a band that analyzes their own position within the media and the messages that they send to their many fans.

(Can you tell I’m a big fan of theirs?)