My Kind of (Weather)

Location: car, sunroof open, windows down.

Date: 4/9/2017

Song Title: “My Kind of Woman”

Artist: Mac DeMarco 

Album: 2

Label: Captured Tracks

Duration: 3:11

Genre: Alternative

Source: Car stereo

Who I want to share this song with: Everyone

How I discovered this song: Spotify recommended

Playlists to put this song on: Already on “m00d”; sunny daze

 

Favorite Lyric: “And I’m down on my hands and knees begging you please, baby, show me your world.”

I never really paid much attention to the lyrics of this song, but when I stepped outside into sunny 55 degree weather (which feels like spring in Boston), I knew this was the song I wanted to hear. The melodies in this song are so haunting, dark, and relaxing, which makes me all kinds of happy. I blasted this song with the windows down and day dreamed of frolicking through a field with flower crowns. It’s so nice to have the sun around again, and I just feel so euphoric. I can’t wait to actually frolick in a field to DeMarco’s live performance at Boston Calling next month.

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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.

 

 

 

 

And it was as if I was watching it all through a videocamera

  • Location: Bedroom, 7:29 am, sunrise
  • Date: 3/12/2017
  • Song Title: Braid
  • Artist: Porches
  • Album: Pool
  • Label: Domino Recording Company
  • Duration: 3:27
  • Source: iPhone, headphones for immersive experience
  • Who I want to share this song with: Realistically, everyone
  • How I discovered this song: My roommate, Donna – this is her favorite band
  • Playlists to put on: Chill Meditative Jams?

Favorite Lyric

and it was as if I was watching it all through a videocamera. So shaky and blue, I’ve got a dark muscle too, pumping the same strange blood running through you.”

I woke up with this song stuck in my head so I felt the need to write about it. It’s interesting considering the lyric, “It gets so dark before the very powerful light comes down on me.” I’m thinking about the fact that it’s sunrise, but Aaron Maine could be talking about the lights on stage when he performs. He talks of being watched but also watching – he, himself, is an object to be viewed, a performer, but also a witness to the audience. The chorus (favorite lyric above) evokes surreal disconnection, and, at the same time, empathy.

“How I’d love to go to Paris again.”

  • Location: Bedroom
  • Date: 2/28/2017
  • Song Title: Paris
  • Artist: The 1975
  • Album: I like it when you sleep for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it.
  • Label: Dirty Hit
  • Duration: 4:53
  • Source: iPhone/Spotify app
  • Who I want to share this song with: Angel
  • How I discovered this song: Bought the album the day it came out
  • Playlists to put on: Driving at night.

Favorite Lyric

Hey kids, we’re all just the same. What a shame.”

I have a distinct memory of Matty Healy, the band’s lead singer, chuckling on stage while the crowd shouted out those words. It’s something rooted in sadness – that every person thinks they’re destined for something great or that they’re “different” than others. The song, I think, romanticizes what’s not there. The idea of running away to another girl, to drugs, or especially to Paris, a city which is essentially the embodiment of romance. I think Matty was writing about his own experiences becoming a cliched beatnik and romanticizing drug use.

Strangely, the song helped me a lot when I was grieving Abby, my dog. Maybe because the song itself is about a desire for escape, but, also, being held back by this desire to escape. The sound quality of this song is so dreamy and further matches the idea of romanticizing things that are ordinary and possibly even damaging.

So, here’s a live version of the song by the 1975, and an acoustic cover I did.

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?)