Branching Out

Hello, friends! Sorry it has been so long!

As many of you know, I am very happy with the life I’ve built in Boston. I have a very supportive group of friends and I have a job I love.

Which reminds me of the many things that have changed since I last posted!

In September, I wrote about how I decided not to go to Thailand after all. I felt I needed to stay here longer and that I was looking to remedy something that didn’t require moving away. I didn’t want to end this beautiful chapter that was just beginning to bloom. Turns out, the thing I needed to fix were my jobs.

Anyone who’s done this before knows this for a fact – working two part time jobs is HARD WORK. I worked an average of 50-60 hours making only about $12-15 an hour. I could pay my rent and bills, and I wasn’t starving, but I was exhausted. I was anxious, and depressed. My mental health suffered greatly, and, as a result, I called out from one of my jobs pretty frequently during the month of September. I had to get a doctor’s note eventually, which my psychiatrist provided. What was the point of working so much that it rendered me unproductive? What was the point of paying to survive when this was clearly no way to live?

Obviously, everyone has different thresholds for the amount that they work. This was mine. My brother works about the same amount per week, but he has many benefits that I don’t have, and much higher pay. Also, his days were more structured – he had time to get lunch, go to the bathroom, and do other things such as that. There were some days working for the dog walking company that I worked for when I didn’t have time to stop for lunch. I would walk dogs exhausted and starving. Then, after, if I had time, I’d try to eat and shower before going to my other job at the grocery store. Some people are grateful for a day off; I was grateful for days that I only had to work at one job.

Working like this really gives you a glimpse into others’ lives. There are people who have jobs like these and are single parents. There are people my age working these jobs who have college loans to pay off. If something happened to me, for example, if I were seriously injured, I wouldn’t have much of a financial fallback. This is what Senator Bernie Sanders means when he says, “It’s expensive to be poor.”

Something had to change. I started looking for full-time jobs, so that I could stop this mad, busy, unpredictable schedule.

At first, I wanted to work in higher ed, possibly in an office. I was busy looking for these sorts of jobs, but my mom found a full-time dog walking job. Unlike my last job, this position was higher-paying, full-time, and offered more benefits, such as reimbursement for gas. I applied to this job and almost immediately got a reply from the employer expressing interest. We had a phone call, and then had a more in-depth interview at a cafe in Somerville. Then I shadowed for a day to see what it was like.

I should also mention the primary difference between this company and the last one I worked for: this company specializes in off-leash hikes. So, it’s much different from leash walking in the city.

I met my new boss (spoiler I know) at a place about 10 miles from where I live called Cat Rock Park. Cat Rock Park is conservation land that allows people the opportunity to walk their dogs without leashes. The park is almost like heaven on earth for me. It’s a nice retreat into the woods, and you’re surrounded by dogs who are free to be their goofy, playful selves. Not far into the park is a large pond with a small dam. The dogs often stop here to take a dip or a drink. After that, there is a large glade where the dogs can run freely and socialize with others. This happens in the woods, too, but it’s much easier to keep an eye on them in the field. In the woods, I try to focus more on walking.

I was offered the job and quit at my other company early November. Right now, I am working this new position part-time for two days a week, and I start full-time in January.

In the mean time, I’ve been picking up more hours at the grocery store, and I’ve been depending more on this job than before for supplemental pay.

About two weeks after quitting my last dog walking job, I found out that the store where I worked would be closing permanently.

Let me give you a glimpse into the communication of this company.

I found out that we would be closing permanently in about a week in late November. I did not receive a formal phone call nor an email. Instead, I found out from a group text of me and my coworkers, who are my closest friends in Boston. At first, I ignored what my friend Charles said (no more BFresh!), because I thought he was talking about his new job that he got at Gillette. Then my friend Bill said he’d be having a party after BFresh closes on the 25th. He made a joke that it was for the closing, but really it was for his birthday.

So I and my other friends all had the same reaction of surprise and confusion. Even though I was off that day, I walked to the store to demand an explanation and definite answer. I got what I was searching for and lamented – of course the store would close when I needed it more, and also when I only needed the job for another month or so.

Luckily, instead of losing my job, I was able to transfer to another location in Allston. The commute is slightly longer – I have to drive about 2 miles to get there, which doesn’t sound like a long drive, but it can be depending on the traffic. I now work here, but I am planning on quitting soon. I did think about keeping it even when my dog walking job went full-time, but I return home exhausted from hiking and driving all day (I drive about 80 miles a day, and probably hike about 4-5 miles. I’d love to get my fitbit working again so I can more accurately track how much I walk.).  Would I really feel like going to work for a few more hours in the evenings? Secondly, I’ve started focusing on other things. I’ve worked hard and built a strong foundation here, as I’ve said many times before: I live in a great apartment with awesome roommates, I have a strong network of friends, and, now, or at least next month, I’ll have a steady paying job with a regular, predictable, and manageable schedule. In addition to this, it’s a job that I look forward to working every single week.

So, about those other things. Now that I have a foundation, I need to build a house, right? For those of you familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I feel that I am now in the self-actualization stage.

For a while, I’ve been wanting to date. Pursuing a relationship in this modern age is hard enough, but, just to make it harder, I am queer and searching for a relationship with a woman. I do more specifically identify as bi – I do like men sometimes, but I like women more. It’s something that I had a hard time accepting until the past year. Through high school and college, I knew somehow that I was different, but I couldn’t put a finger on it. I had a crush on a girl in high school, but it went away, and I sort of forgot about it and buried the experience. It was a shameful one that didn’t end well. I went away for the summer to work at a camp and developed a massive crush on a guy there (which ended in a similar manner). Essentially, I used my attraction to men to negate and ignore my attraction to women.

Over the summer, I briefly dated a woman. She was from Orlando and living in Boston for the summer, working an internship at an international exchange school nearby. We talked constantly for a month, since she hadn’t moved here yet. When we met, we had a lot of chemistry, and we had some great dates… for about a week.

She didn’t ghost me. She still talked to me, but she flaked when I tried to make plans with her. I tried (REALLY HARD) to give her space and let her have her own life and friends in this new city she came to explore. I knew that she didn’t want her entire experience to be defined by a relationship that wasn’t even sustainable in the long run. My heart is often louder than my logical thinking, so even though deep down, I knew this to be true, I kept trying to pursue her in a more serious way. I think I chased her away. Obviously, this blog will be great information to put on my dating profiles!

Of course, at the time, this felt like the end of the world, and now, as I’m writing this, I’m laughing. Everything works out in the end, I suppose. In fact, she sort of triggered a period of self-examination that inspired me to stay here rather than move to Thailand and to look for better jobs here. So I have that to be thankful for, though it may have happened without her help.

So, I’ve been browsing Tinder on and off. Online dating is rough though. Some people swipe and swipe and swipe and never talk. Some people (like me) aren’t responsive because maybe they don’t look at their messages all that often. And most dates are pretty unsuccessful, but hey that’s part of the game.

So, I decided to get out there and meet some people “IRL” (In Real Life for those not fluent in Internet-speak). Obviously, people do this a number of ways, but when you’re queer, it’s a little harder, especially when you’re a woman. Queer women are sometimes less visible, especially when they’re femme (which means they wear make-up, dresses, or have long hair). Sometimes, I don’t feel visible. I cut my hair short, but thats about it. I still wear make up and dresses and consider myself to be pretty femme, although sometimes I toe the androgynous line. It feels like, essentially, when I meet other people in spaces that aren’t necessarily queer spaces, I want to shout “HEY I’M QUEER” without shouting “HEY I’M QUEER.” Obviously, this isn’t what defines who I am, or the thing that makes me interesting, but it still is a pretty large part of who I am.

To meet queer people, specifically those interested in dating, you have to put yourself out there. That’s why there are queer communities, gay bars, and other spaces such as these. These are places where queer people can be visible and can flirt with each other without worrying about whether or not the person they’re flirting with is actually straight.

On Monday night, I went to an event called “Feminist and Queer Happy Hour.” This was perfect, as I fell into both categories, and though it wasn’t exclusive to women (obviously men/genderqueer people can be feminists too), I knew it’d attract a lot of women and femme people. Also, it was low pressure; it wasn’t a dating event, but rather, a networking event. More than dating, I was interested in meeting friends and getting involved in the Boston queer community. I got out there and actually met some pretty cool people who live nearby! I just need to keep in touch with them and keep hanging out with them. So, while dating isn’t my primary focus with this, I am trying to make myself available to people that I’d be interested in.

So, this is one way I am trying to branch out. Another way I am trying to branch out is through my creative projects. Though I was working like crazy, somehow, I never stopped creating. I mostly wrote – poetry, songs – I even started writing a novel recently! But this writing wasn’t going out into the world. It was staying put in my journals and sometimes in correspondences with other writer friends.

What I am doing now is focusing on my music. I am hoping to buy an electric guitar soon, and I’ve been writing and recording songs. This is where I am really lucky to have my roommate Donna. She’s a musician who’s in a band called Strawberry Machine, and she also has her own solo music and has started another band called Moon Sisters. She has a network of musicians and plays semi-regular gigs at places nearby. On top of this, she’s a lovely person who I look up to and cherish dearly. It’s so nice that I get to pester her with my writings and recordings by simply walking into the next room.

I made a post about my band on Craigslist and Facebook, and I’ve had several people contact me. Out of those many people, there is one who’s sustained interest and invited me to a gig on Friday night. So, because of this project that I want to bring to life and put out into the world, I am meeting more people who have shared interests and making myself open to meaningful relationships (not exclusively romantic, obviously).

I am really excited about this next chapter! I’ve got some very strong roots – now it’s time to bloom.

 

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Staying: A Change of Plans

As of one week ago, I have been living in my apartment in Brighton, MA for one year. This apartment has been a milestone for me: it was when I committed to supporting myself financially by paying my own rent and utilities, and it was when I fully immersed myself into a city where I knew no one. Furthermore, it is the apartment that I agreed to live in for not just one, but two years.

This comes as a surprise to some people, but not all. I had not made my decision public, but, earlier in the summer, I had been accepted to Teach Abroad. I had been accepted to my first choice in South Korea in early May. South Korea attracted me for two reasons: one, because a city called Wonju is, strangely, a sister city of my hometown Roanoke, VA, and two, because my family hosted a resident of this city when I was 12 years old. Sol Ki was the first of a long line of international residents the Worthy family would host.

Sol Ki became my introduction to the international. Before meeting her, I’m not sure that I had much exposure at all to people of different nationalities and cultures. Living with her allowed me to learn a lot about Korean culture, and it made me excited to share my culture with her (though Roanoke, VA is not what I would think of as a prime travel destination).

Shortly after receiving my acceptance, I was warned of three red flags when applying for a South Korean visa. Things that would interfere with my ability to obtain one of these included a criminal record, drug use, and, strangely, use of prescription drugs for mental illnesses. My ambassador told me to reply immediately if any of these things applied. Without thinking much of it, I told him that I do take antidepressants for depression and anxiety, and that, because of these medications, I am healthy and stable.

I was devastated to hear that this did not matter. I would be unable to obtain a visa to work in South Korea.

One thing I didn’t know about South Korea is their strong mental health stigma. I know that things are progressively improving in the United States, at least for more common disorders such as depression and anxiety, and that other countries and cultures view these issues much differently. This led me to articles that told me that South Korea has one of the highest rates of suicide in the world, and that Confucian ideals of piety and hierarchy, as well as a responsibility to family and community, contribute to the stigma of mental illness and the urgency of those affected by it to keep it under wraps.

As a result of this, the program through which I applied offered me to switch to another program in another country, given that I was already accepted. They suggested China and Thailand. On a whim, I picked Thailand.

I was drawn to Thailand because my two roommates traveled there earlier this year and had the time of their lives. One of my old roommates in Charleston taught English there for a year and thoroughly enjoyed it. My best friend traveled there to visit her brother and recommended traveling there. All of these people spoke of the friendly people of the Land of Smiles.

So, I chose Thailand. And I had two months to prepare my documents, including a state level criminal background check and an application for a working visa, to collect my belongings and move out of my apartment, and to say goodbye to my life in Boston.

But certain things happened between the time that I applied to teach abroad and now. I realized how torn I was to be leaving Boston. A place where I had once felt so alone was now a place filled with friends. I find myself spending more time going out with my friends from BFresh than staying at home. I find myself staying up an extra hour late talking to my roommate about her week. I find myself nourished by my connections here, and I find that I have built a community and a family.

This all reminds me of when I first moved here. I remember crying in my room and missing my all of the friends I had made in college who were all now so far away. As I lay in bed, I remember feeling similarly when I first arrived at the College of Charleston. I felt that I couldn’t fit in with my peers. I found myself more inclined to spend time alone in my room watching Netflix. There are times when all of us need this time alone, but I did this not to refresh myself, but to avoid the anxiety of interacting with others. I felt helpless. I was so happy to finally leave my hometown and my high school, where I had been less than happy (i.e. miserable) for so many years. My senior year of high school was the best year simply because I had already begun to let go. The fact that I did not fit in at my school was something that no longer bothered me because I knew I was moving on to something better. I focused on my applications, on my studies, and on saving money. To see that things did not get better when I left made me feel as if that light that had guided me for so long had been snuffed out.

I realize now how juvenile the assumption that a change of environment would mean instant peace. Home is not a place that we find or stumble across. Home is a place that we build. I began to choose my friends; friends I found that gave me energy and life rather than taking it from me. I found my passion for writing and began creating more. I discovered a love of adventure, exploration and travel in a historic tourist town. A place that I had originally regretted coming to became my home.

Fast forward again to me, lying in bed, crying about being alone in an unfamiliar place I had chosen to move to. As I thought of what I had done in Charleston and what I needed to do in Boston, I had a realization. Boston was my mountain; I needed to climb it, to work hard if I wanted to make this place my home.

It’s been a year and I can say that I have climbed that mountain. I have found a place that I enjoy living. I have built a community that I can’t stand to leave.

Which is why I did something unexpected: I stayed.

Collecting all of my documents and things to go to a new place didn’t make sense when I was so reluctant to leave Boston. Of course, I wasn’t happy or eager to leave Charleston as I was to leave Roanoke, but I knew that my time there had come to an end. Beyond the college, which was my community, there wasn’t much left for me. I felt that I had fully lived out the life I was meant to live in Charleston through the College. If I had stayed, Charleston, of course, would still be there, but the classes, the campus community, and most of my friends would not.

I had come to find, too, that the only thing that I am currently unhappy with is my job situation. Working two part time jobs is no easy feat. This past week, I have worked three days for about 14 hours straight between walking dogs, bringing them to daycare, taking care of cats, and working at the grocery store. Today is my fourth consecutive day of such a schedule.

I find that I don’t have as much time for my creative pursuits. I am envious of my roommate who has time to write music and play gigs with her band. I am eager to start submitting my poetry and writing to more literary magazines. I am wondering what path I should take next, be it travel or teaching abroad or grad school, but I still feel like I don’t know enough to commit to such large decisions.

I’ve had many people tell me that I can always come back to Boston. While this is true, my opportunities to teach abroad will also be something that I can come back to, if I choose to do so. I felt that I had been applying for the wrong reasons. I applied because, as someone who wants to travel and as someone who majored in English and is having a hard time in this competitive job field, it was something I could do to quell my itch to visit new places, and something impressive I could add to a resume. Finding a job teaching English abroad is much easier than finding a job here, as openings abroad are abundant. Of course, I am not putting down those who choose to do this (at all!) because it is an amazing experience and it is one I am still very interested in. I just don’t think it is the right move for me right now, especially given my faulty reasoning behind applying, and my restlessly ambivalent intuition that told me to stay.

So here I am, having woke up at 4 am, not being able to go to sleep. I have applied to three jobs since then, and now, suddenly, for the first time in months, words are pouring out of me, like a heavy rain after a drought.

It’s true that I have accomplished a lot since those nights I spent alone. If Boston is my mountain, than I have certainly ascended, and I can look behind me and clearly see the path of the labyrinth I once felt so lost within. I am on the face of the cliff; leaving Boston behind would mean falling or undoing much of the work I had done.

I have come a long way, but I am not finished climbing yet.

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.