I got a text from a friend, saying she missed me. But when I called, she wasn’t alone. You don’t have to be alone to feel lonely, I thought as she excused herself and got off the phone, returning to her company.
I walked home in the crisp New York night. Walkups with fire escapes reminded me of days when I was smaller, looking up at these buildings and wondering if I would ever live amongst them.
I have this belief in music and its almost prophetic ability. Call it superstition, but a shuffled playlist is not just a shuffled playlist to me. Every song is a sign. Every word has a meaning. An old favorite that takes me back to a certain time, a certain place or a certain person was meant to take me there. I could feel someone’s company beside me as one song played. And then it ended.
I turned the corner where a diner sits, the fogged window framing a woman in a booth. The liquid in her glass was a light amber against ice from her mostly finished coke. Her plate was empty, except for a pile of onions pushed to the side. I imagined her peeling them off her burger.
There was no grace or poise reserved for this solitary meal and I felt a little cross with myself. There was nothing particularly sad about the scene and yet it struck me as melancholy. Maybe it was a projection of my own attitude toward loneliness. Perhaps she was happier than the couple four tables down—the young woman leaning across the counter toward a man slumped in the booth opposite her.
How do you bring together solitude and grace?
I can romanticize it—I can imagine myself sitting at home alone with a glass of wine, reading and curled up on a couch. Yet, when I venture to the liquor store alone to buy a bottle of wine, I don’t feel graced or poised.
I could write a million of these women into stories and into novels. I write strong women. I write confident women. I write women who don’t apologize for taking up space, women who don’t feel lonely, women who don’t feel shame. I write what I wish I always felt.
I am learning for myself that solitude can be a beautiful thing, if I can exchange loneliness for something deeper—for an exploration of self.
The irony of my thoughts lead me to want time alone—time to write it all down without the distraction of interjecting conversations. What started as a reflection of loneliness and a desire to hear the warm voice of a friend, turns into a yearning for solitude.
This will always be my blessing and curse, the writer who gets energy from others will always battle competing desires. The solitude I fear is the same solitude I need to gather all my thoughts.
How do you bring together solitude and grace?
Maybe it is found on quiet days and nights writing. Maybe it is something I will continue to teach myself.
The Single. LML.
Pop artist Katie Colosimo turns up the heat with her single “LML.”
“Like a song that I just can’t find/ I hum it, hum it all the time,” she croons—foreshadowing the song’s own ability to leave you humming after a listen.
It’s a catchy tune, full of spark and personality as she bellows and begs, “Come love me, love.”
The song doesn’t take itself too seriously as it teases her longing for affection. Her standout vocals and ability to craft such a snappy, captivating track make the single a promising start for music sure to come for this young artist.
The Album. Beirut.
2019 is starting out strong with new music I love by Deerhunter, Maggie Rogers and Total Oblivion Community Center (Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers). But I must say, my favorite album out of the gate in the new year belongs to Beirut. Front-man Zach Condon of indie folk rock band Beirut has a penchant for world music, pulling various cultural influences into every record he’s made. “Gallipoli” feels especially inspired. Some of the zest lacking in the band’s 2015 album “No No No” is fully realized in this new album.
Triumphant horns, Farfisa organ, synthesizer and parading drums pervade the tracks. Notes are channeled, according to Condon, through broken amplifiers, PA systems, space echoes and tape machines in order to create planned imperfection. Vocally, Condon comes through more powerful on this album than on “No No No.”
“Varieties of Exile,” ″Gallipoli” and “When I Die” are standouts. “Varieties of Exile” brings bohemian, island influences used by bands like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and adds The Smith’s Morrissey-like vocals.
The title track is lighthearted and jubilant, inspired by a brass processional Condon followed through the streets of the southern Italian town for which it is named. “When I Die” is more peaceful and joyful than morose. “When I die/I want to travel light,” Condon croons, “Don’t cry I/promise that I’ll get it right/I’ve been practicing my whole life.”
“Gallipoli” is the album we need today_one that celebrates the beauty of cultures colliding. Condon takes you with him, from the streets of Berlin to the coastline of Italy. As if cultural inclusion wasn’t obvious enough in its sonic representation, Condon makes it fully apparent on the band’s website which features an introduction to “Gallipoli” in seven languages including Portuguese and Japanese.
Hearing Condon return to vocal and expressive brilliance in this 12-track collection is a sigh of relief for Beirut fans. “Gallipoli” will be sweet music to the ears of new and non-fans, alike, as the band continues its exploration of diverse cultural sounds.
The gradual regression. Or, at least, the wish that you could regress. Don’t you remember how nice it was, the crunch of snow under your boots, the inevitable waddle of too many layers? Dogs pranced around nearby and the sweet smell of pine surrounded you.
“Which tree, guys?” your parents ask as evergreen branches brushed with snow tower above you. They all look the same, but somehow, this one is special.
Pine needles that pierced my fingertips or the bottom of my sock feet—those were the biggest perils in my life. The taste of raw cookie dough and the eternal fire that burned in our living room gave the season life. My mouth felt chalky after drinking hot chocolate too quickly. I was never patient enough to let it cool.
I long to once again live in a world of towering things that never seemed to threaten. Tiny Playmobil flowers seemed to find their way into every crevice of our home. Looking up at the fridge, it was a mountain before me. Pulling bows out of my hair meant the end of the day. And reading… How old was I when I read “Goose Girl,” a book so large it felt daunting? My mother encouraged me over and over again to read it. When I finally did, I fell into the pages. I could feel myself grabbing the mane of the horse she rode.
Getting sick didn’t hold the same gravity when I was young. Getting sick was apple sauce to counter low blood sugar. Getting sick was McDonalds chicken nuggets and a sprite when I was starting to feel better. Getting sick was Mary Poppins in bed. Does any movie make me feel as Julie Andrews did then?
I didn’t question life’s purpose. I didn’t question if I was living right, if I was choosing the right path. My mind instead wandered, light and airy. Rocks were canvases to be painted. Or, if they were flat enough, to be skipped across the water. Will I ever feel so light again? There was no tightening in my chest. There was no wondering when and if worries would subside.
I waited for my dad to return from a golf trip, hating his friends for taking him from me. I waited by our big, French windows, watching the tree in the front yard cast shadows on the lawn. I don’t know if I actually remember this, or if the memory is fabricated from the stories my mother would tell me. What I do remember is my brother’s car seat and the dark drive to our new home, painting walls in my yellow Sesame Street tee shirt and bouncing on a neighbor’s trampoline. The ones without enclosure nets felt especially scandalous. One bad bounce and I’d be sprawled on the ground. I knew my mother wouldn't approve, but I bounced anyway. Picking berries in the woods behind my grandmother's house, sitting on my grandfather's lap baffled by the conundrum of consuming sunflower seeds, popping cherry tomatoes into my mouth from my neighbors garden, trying to throw a ball up to an impossibly high hoop—these are things I remember. Piles of leaves magically formed in our front yard every fall. The leaves at the bottom were black and wet with a distinct smell that still strikes me today whenever I pass a pile.
Making dances, creating stories, imagining, playing. Filling my time was easy, not a burden. I didn’t strain in passing my day, rather, my mother was the bad guy, nightly telling me to go to bed. It was especially unfair in the summer, when I had to beat the sun to bed. I can still see the orange-red splaying out across my bedroom walls, taunting me, teasing me.
Scraped knees were my only scars and puddles were an exciting opportunity for deviance, not a dismal sign of a dreary day. Love was defined by what I felt for my mother or even my dog, and sadness was temporary, easily forgotten.
I suppose I pine for simplicity more than my childhood. Life now is not without its pleasures, but simplicity, that seems to be gone.
I turned 25 this month.
And I know what you'll tell me. I'm still young, right? I have my whole life ahead of me. Well, the sentiment is appreciated, but I'd be lying if I said that's what I want to hear.
The city is on the brink of change. Ginkgo trees are already touched with the slightest hints of yellow. And when the sun retreats at night, its presence no longer lingers. Instead, a cool breeze glides through, making its way into open windows, pushing the hair from my face as I sip coffee and type.
I feel that I'm on the brink of change, too. And it's change I would readily dive into, if given the chance. Over the years, I've conjured up a restlessness within myself that I'd like to think is healthy. But I'm learning that in your mid-twenties, things you want don't come quickly.
I've never been one to wish away the seasons of life. Dwelling in each one, you're greeted by surprises, turns, relationships, lessons. Beauty can only truly be experienced in the present, right?
And it's true, I've listened to enough songs and watched enough movies centered around the theme to know better than to wish time away... just cue John Mayer's "Stop This Train." And yet, I've never felt more ready for a stage to pass.
Recently, I watched one of my boss' studio interviews where she spoke to Alyssa Milano and Debbie Ryan. The conversation ranged, from talk of #MeToo to the supportive environment on set, but there was one part of the interview, particularly, which resonated with me. The two actresses seemed connected by a very real struggle they both faced. Having started their careers from young ages, Milano talked about how hard she had to fight to be seen as a woman, not as the young child star she once was.
And I feel that. I have ambitions that are, of course, larger than my current age. I don't have five years of working experience, but that doesn't mean that I'm not willing to work and fight for the passions and desires I have in my career. I have this unsettling feeling at times that my age keeps me from being taken seriously... a feeling I thought I left behind in high school.
But it sits with me. Every story I produce, every video I cut, every word I write, I find myself feeling that each is an attempt to prove myself—prove that I'm cut out for an industry that insists I need a few more years under my belt before the training wheels come off.
Now, don't get me wrong, I've been graced by the opportunities I've been given. And I fully understand that everyone, in every industry, must pay their dues. But the burden of my own critic, the weight of my own restlessness, makes it difficult to simply enjoy this season of my life.
Summer is coming to an end and, of course, she's done this on her own accord. You can't force the sun to let up any sooner. Cool autumn days come when they come, no matter how ready you are for that jean jacket weather.
Surrendering control to life's seasons can be a difficult and at times frustrating experience. But this stage in my life only passes once. Instead of weighing myself daily against what I want to be and dwelling more on my colleagues' perceptions of me than my belief in myself, I need to step back, be present and know that each day is a step in the right direction.
At 25, I thought I would have done more. My creative writing's been on the back burner as I search for more opportunities in freelance. I watch music videos and documentaries and dream of the projects I hope to produce.
So yes, it's true that I don't want to hear I have my whole life ahead of me. But, I suppose I do. My sleepless nights aren't going to rush this stage along any more than placing a pumpkin on my porch would force fall to hurry on its way. I may as well enjoy this season of my life and know that others are in store.
Milano goes on in the interview to tell Ryan, 25, she sees her for the woman she is. The former Disney Channel "Jessie" star isn't just a child in Milano's eyes. And that's what I want, that's what I long for: to be seen.
People won't always stop and tell you they see you. Some even will, but you won't believe what they say. You'll be too fixated on your own self-dialogue to hear the truth in their words.
Contentment in life's many stages looks very different to different people. I'd be naive to think there was a single formula or that my own will happen overnight.
But I'm learning that my own lightness of spirit will only start the moment I stop telling myself that I am not seen.
And for anyone else who feels this way, whether you're on your 5th job application or your 50th; whether you're "still" an assistant or "still" waiting for that big job promotion, I hope you don't believe the lie that no one sees you. Life's biggest blessings, I've found, are the kind, encouraging spirits around you. For every negative thought you're willing to tell yourself, there are people seeing so many more positives within you.
I'm waging an eternal war with the city where I live.
Grey skies weren't so forgiving in London.
Making ends meet isn't so forgiving here.
"New York, I love you but you're bringing me down," coos James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem.
On the subway train, I'm reading Rosecran Baldwin's "Paris, I love you but you're bring me down." And I've been gently letting go of the image in my head of what life on the Left Bank would look like. Despite the Hemingway-esque image I have of filling in pages of a novel from the comfort of an outdoor terrace, being lost in translation doesn't always make for the easiest of days.
Admittedly, I'm guilty of romanticism. Each one of us can imagine a life somewhere else in all its grandeur. It would be easier, if only I lived here. My problems would go away, if only I lived there.
I've grown to really love this city, but in the moments when anxiety is at its height (as it often is when I think of coming bills and the so-far-dependable-but-not-so-guaranteed career choice I've made in freelancing), there are times I think whisking off to somewhere else is the only remedy to my apprehension.
But as Charles Bukowski once said, "You begin saving the world one man at a time; all else is grandiose romanticism or politics."
So, my thoughts lead me here- past the romantic and into reality.
Places will always bring you down; Baldwin and Murphy have so kindly pointed that out. Of course, it's easy to hold on to a glistening image of what could be. It hovers somewhere off in the distance, just out of reach.
Imagining a different reality is sometimes easier than confronting your own. But if you ground yourself just long enough to ask, Who is the one man I am saving? Maybe, the rest doesn't matter.
I've been saved by song lyrics. I've been saved by words written in a novel. I've been saved by the touch of someone I love. I've been saved by a look of compassion. People have always saved me.
In the LCD Soundsystem song, Murphy goes on to say, "You're still the one pool/ Where I'd happily drown," of New York City.
In a way, I understand his sentiment, but all the same, I'm not sure that a city is where I'd like to happily drown... be it London, New York or Paris with all their luster and allure. Instead, I find myself relating more to another lyric these days, one from Fleetwood Mac's "Sara."
"Drowning in a sea of love, where everyone would love to drown."
If I'm going to be completely overwhelmed—drown in a sense—by something that overtakes me, I'd far prefer to be taken by love or human compassion, than to simply be lost in the sea of a city.
I will end with an anecdote, that to me illustrates this point.
There was a moment on the train recently which filled me with hope. A women started, just like they always do, with her initial pleas to be heard, to be seen. In a city as engulfing as New York, such a plea is not uncommon.
"I come in peace," she said. "I'm here today because I have nothing. And I'm going to sing to you in hopes of receiving money, water or food. I hope you're never in a position where you will have to do this. Pray for me. I will pray for you."
I could hear her through my headphones, but, as discretely as possible, I turned up the volume a few notches and trained my eyes on the text of the book in front of me. It somehow felt more polite if I made it seem as though I couldn't hear her, hadn't noticed her presence. Eye contact seemed a waste of her time when I had nothing to offer.
Her voice rang out beautifully, and it startled me. Her spoken voice was soft, but her singing voice was strong.
Being brought down to tough times in New York does not render you silent.
I handed her a peach I'd brought for my lunch. She took it in one hand, and grabbed my hand with the other. She looked at me with genuine gratitude as she received my 35¢ piece of fruit.
You begin saving the world one man at a time.
I didn't save her of course, but maybe, in a way, she saved me that day.
Life will inevitably bring us down, but I've found it is people, rather than places, that pull us back up again.
If New York was an album, it'd be Duke Ellington and John Coltrane's from 1963. "The Feeling of Jazz" would play while birds dive in front of five story walk ups on a busy street.
The romantic appeal of the city is there, of course. But the reality of my first week has been far from idyllic. I've had more coffee than food and laying awake, thinking about my budget and finances on the cot of my Airbnb "microroom" has become more of a regular habit than I care to admit. My start hasn't been glamorous. I now cringe at the mention of broker fees and will never again take for granted a couch to crash on- never in my life did I think finding one would be so impossible to come by. My human contact has shifted from my London community to realtors and my Airbnb host, and I've found myself spending more money in a week and a half here than I did an entire month in London. Welcome to New York.
Admittedly, I'm tired. The tension of the first days has moved to a low level of fatigue. And though I certainly wouldn't have complained were I handed an easier transition, I somehow feel okay about it all, despite my rough introduction.
In Paulo Coelho's "Like the Flowing River," there's a passage where he discusses the 'mountains' of our life:
"Don't be influenced by what other people say: 'that one's prettier' or 'that one looks easier'. You are going to put a lot of energy and enthusiasm into achieving your objective, and you are the only person responsible for your choice, so be quite sure about what you are doing."
I read Coelho's words on the subway toward Upper West Side. I was on my way to yet another viewing and second guessing basically every decision I've made in the last month and a half. But when I read that last sentence, I felt at ease.
I am quite sure about what I'm doing. I don't have all the answers, but at least I know what I want.
New York wasn't the original plan, and leaving London and starting here certainly hasn't all been kicks. But I'm certain about my pursuit- the career I want and the sacrifices I'm willing to make to get there. The feeling of New York is a good one because I know what I aim to achieve here.
In time, my Airbnb staying, house hunting days will be behind me. I'll be settled into a place and building a community here. I'll still miss what I made for myself in London. But the beauty of creation is that in creating something new, you don't have to destroy that which you already created. With the right time, effort and discernment, I can create something wonderful here too, in its own right- something that doesn't detract from what I've already built a few thousand miles away.
New York may not meet my romantic ideal just yet, but I'm quite sure about what I'm doing here. So, I'll keep playing Ellington & Coltrane as I walk these streets and keep at my climb, thanking Mister Coelho for his words of wisdom as I go...
"Don't keep repeating, 'I'm going to do it.' Your soul knows this already. What it needs to do is to use this long walk in order to grow, to reach out as far as the horizon, to touch the sky. Obsession will not help you in the search for your goal, and will end up spoiling the pleasure of the climb."
Elegant pros written not to impress, but to express. There is cathartic release in turning the thoughts of the mind into words on paper, and these personal thoughts and observations, when penned alone, have an honesty, transparency and humility that is rare to find elsewhere. The Journal of Katherine Mansfield is a book which possesses this rare form of honesty, and one which has the power to connect with an audience generations removed.
Within her journal, Mansfield eloquently articulates life’s duality. You can feel the weight of her sickness, doubt and depression in the words of a single passage. Yet, in one passage more, the shadow cast on her living room floor can remind you of the exquisite simplicities that bring wonder to an attuned eye. Her every detail and observation is expressed in such a way as to inspire your own commitment to take in life more presently. Her health hinges on these observations. Persevering through periods of sickness, she draws in life's details to give sustenance to her continued living.
The duality of life, and the doubts held by Mansfield in her ability to persevere, are themes carried throughout her entries. The universal nature of Mansfield’s doubts and struggles make the book timeless. Though we live in what has been labeled an egotistical era, we are as self-critical and self-conscious as ever. We measure our efforts, happiness and talents against the social media curated versions we see of others—versions which cast our peers through a rose-colored, and not truly authentic, lens. The honesty Mansfield shows in expressing her own reservations, insecurities and doubts transcends generational lines, allowing her work to maintain relevance today, almost a century removed from the time when her words were written.
The Journal of Katherine Mansfield spans from 1910 to 1922, documenting the time when she lived primarily in London, pursuing her work as an author. Her words, though they are from a different time, are valuable to hold alongside the voices of the present. Each voice adds to the greater dialogue, and as a voice for women, Mansfield’s holds a strong place. Her entries are not filled with longings toward men. She is a driven by passions beyond relational fulfillment. Her identity is not tied to a man. Rather, it is tied to her life’s work—her writing, which she pursues fervently and tirelessly. In this way, she does not fit the traditional cast set for women of her time. She defies the bounds of gender normativity, and stays committed to her passion, while still acknowledging her own frailty and humanity. She is not always strong. She is not without emotion. She can long for a man, but she knows a man will not fulfill her life’s purpose. Above all, Mansfield is willing to fight, even when the fight exhausts her. She fights for honesty and she fights for her deepest desire, “to be a writer, to have ‘a body of work’ done.”
Though perhaps less acknowledged than her peers, like Virginia Woolf, Mansfield’s voice is one which should not be ignored. It deserves to be heard, for in it is the comfort of a human soul which longs and desires deeply, and which sees life through a candid lens. It acknowledges the beautiful intricacies, and the numbing pain that coexist in the days and months of fleeting years.
A Digression. Persephone Books.
Anyone living or visiting London, I highly suggest a visit to Persephone Books, easily my favorite book store in London. Persephone aims to republish works, primarily by women authors, that have been overlooked and under-appreciated. The gender gap was just as present in the publishing world as it was in other industries. I myself for quite some time, counted Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck and Dickens as among the best authors to exist, failing to acknowledge their female counterparts, primarily because I'd never been exposed to their work. I now count many female authors within this list and am grateful for my every visit to Persephone books, where I find even more female writers to hold in admiration. Located on Lamb's Conduit Street, and only a few doors down from Noble Rot Wine Bar (the perfect pit stop after a purchase, if you ask me), it's certainly worth stopping in. I've posted a link to Persephone's website below, if interested.
"Persephone Books reprints neglected fiction and non-fiction by mid-twentieth century (mostly) women writers. All of our 125 books are intelligent, thought-provoking and beautifully written and are chosen to appeal to busy people wanting titles that are neither too literary nor too commercial. We publish novels, short stories, diaries, memoirs and cookery books; each has an elegant grey jacket, a ‘fabric’ endpaper with matching bookmark, and a preface by writers such as Jilly Cooper, David Kynaston and Elaine Showalter."
The Artist. Moses Sumney.
"I know what it's like to hold and not be held"
Moses Sumney has been singing that line since 2014. It is no less resonant now, when he sings it to a field at a festival, than it was when he sang it in a quiet New York City room. A single from his first EP, "Plastic" makes its appearance once again on Sumney's debut full album, "Aromanticism."
"Aromanticism" is sensitive, ambient, artistic and impassioned. A sense of longing billows out as layers of vocals cascade over a softly strumming guitar in "Indulge me". "Lonely World" creates a hypnotic field, where the sounds and feelings of an isolated mind echo and roll into each other. Sumney confronts the undesirable, the impure, the frailty and the imperfections that define the human condition. Using sound to cast these emotions into sonic form, Sumney is unrestrained, pulling jazz, soul and blues influences into ambient form. Paired with the sultry tone of his voice, Sumney brings "Aromanticism" into full form, crafting it with an honest and artistic edge.
The Singles. "Paranoia", "Closest to Me", Liza Anne
I can be a little partial to the talent coming out of Nashville, and Liza Anne is no exception. My partiality, at least, seems to be precedented. I came across amazing musicians during my time there, who only continue to impress me. From her debut album, "The Colder Months" to her recent singles, "Closest to Me" and "Paranoia," Liza Anne has seemingly come to her own. Taking the pure tone she brought to her first album and pairing with it an air of confidence, boldness and delicacy co-mingle, giving the singles a certain strength. There's still a sense of melancholy beneath it all, but one that is carried by an artist who is self-assured and comfortable with her talent and her sound.
It's an overcast morning in Bonn, Germany. The sky is mirrored on the soft, rustling surface of the Rhine, with only the dark smudges of trees breaking the glossy grey. I can hear a child calling out in German. Church bells answer his call and ripple through the small, quiet city. Birds and bells dominate my sonic environment and I feel quite far away from London's busy streets.
I don't know where I will be living in six months.
That thought has infiltrated all others for weeks at a time. It has highjacked my moments of peace and contentment, bringing with it a trail of questions about visas, jobs, apartments, and applications.
I don't know where I will be living in six months.
As I look across the river now, this thought, which had so riddled me with worry just weeks before, doesn't seem so worrisome now.
As much as I love London, I could see myself spending more mornings looking out across the Rhine. I could also see myself spending more days reading at cafes in Amsterdam, watching bicycles pass and hearing intermittent conversations in Dutch.
There are many places where I could see myself spending more of my days. And that, perhaps, is the beauty of life's plasticity. I'm never stuck... a privilege I don't always take the time to acknowledge.
While I sit, worrying about where I'll end up and counting my alternative options, there are many with no options at all.
What brought me to Bonn and Amsterdam to begin with was a reunion of students who'd traveled to Kosovo, a country I knew absolutely nothing about. Roxy and Ivan had gone there a few years back with the university they attended in Amsterdam. Having had already wanted to visit Roxy's home in Bonn, and having heard so much from both Ivan and Roxy about their love for the canal entrenched city of Amsterdam, now seemed as good a time as any to tag along and visit both.
I anticipating learning about Germany and the Netherlands, but I didn't anticipate learning about Kosovo. After meeting a few of their friends from the trip and hearing various conversations about the country, however, I started to get a glimpse at the country's situation, and, in turn, at my own privilege.
The freedom of movement I experience and rarely acknowledge, is denied to many in the world. My life and its various travels and freedoms stands in stark contrast to those living Kosovo. Many in this country are denied the right to move.
At a cafe over breakfast, I listened as Roxy and Zoe talked about a friend of their's living in Kosovo. They always felt a bit guilty discussing their travels and lives, knowing their friend didn't have the opportunity to travel and live the way she wished she could. She was in her 30's, hating her job, and had no option of leaving. Even acquiring a visa to travel and get away for awhile was near to impossible. There was a suspicion that this was in part due to her status as an unmarried woman. The Embassy may fear that she would try to marry during her time abroad in an attempt to leave the country.
The fear of citizens leaving Kosovo and not returning seemed to guide much of the legal action that left harsh restrictions on visas and travel.
While I sit, worrying about where I'll end up and counting my alternative options, there are many with no options at all.
This past week has provided some much needed perspective. While I'm still not sure exactly where I'll end up, I'm grateful that I always have options and that I've been privileged enough to take advantage of my own right to move so often in my life.
I've felt the hand of incredible cultures and places touch me, and though I've welcomed these greetings, part of me has also taken for granted the freedom I've had in experiencing these interactions.
Whether I end up in London, Germany, Amsterdam, or back in the States, at least I can always be thankful for the movements in life that have brought me here.
I don't know where I will be living in six months, but I always have the freedom to move. And that's enough of a comfort for now, despite the seeming instability of not knowing.
"Crack Up" Album Review [and, as it turns out, editorial]
The release of a new album by a favorite band brings with it mixed emotions. There's elation at the prospect of raking over new lyrics, new sounds and new intricacies as the album plays on repeat. But then there's also the terror that after listening to their latest, your favorite band might not be your favorite band anymore... for whatever reason their new work might not touch you the way their old stuff did. You might find them watered down, sold out, or lacking the spirit and luster that caused you to fall for them in the first place.
At the release of Fleet Foxes' new album, "Crack Up," I found myself at this crossroads: hopeful, but prepared to be let down. It only took two tracks to confirm that my reverence for this group wasn't going anywhere.
"Crack Up" wasn't "Helplessness Blues" made over. I didn't admire the album because it mirrored what I had grown to love. There was a maturity to the work. It offered no spoon-feeding of catchy hooks and easily-digested lyrics. Instead, it asked more of the audience. The album begs to be listened to, not passively, but with an attentive ear. There are nuances, subtleties and layers, all of which would be missed without spending time on the album, perusing it, and searching for the purpose within each piece. The album feels like an opening into Robin Pecknold's mind--a mind that doesn't care to express itself explicitly, but instead implores you to find understanding within yourself. The album calls you to do exactly what Pecknold had to do in creating this work.
The hiatus between albums is in part what built up the hype of the new record. It was known that Pecknold had moved to New York, where he started taking classes at Columbia University, but no one could see what was going on inside his head during that time. Until this album.
Both musically and lyrically, "Crack Up" is introspective. It ebbs and flows like the crashing waves of a temperamental mind, or of the ever temperamental movement of time. In the opening track alone, there is a cacophony of emotion--tension and ecstasy course through the track coming to a head each time the competing voices in the narrator's mind crash into each other. The song dialogues the conflicting parts of self, the hopeful and optimistic, with the weary and despairing:
"You've got all you need on me
And now I see that it's all corroding
Soonest seething, soonest folding
But the night won't last if you just hold fast, so calm down
I am hardly made of steel
Tell me, are you so concealed?
Can't I just go to sleep?
You're no more so blind to me"
"I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar" is a fitting start to the album. In it lies a theme that carries its way through the remainder of the record. The album is an exploration of the personal places of the mind, as it acts in desperation to understand an incomprehensible world that promises purpose, but at the turn of a corner steals the very life-giving hope in which we all cling. Just as the mind cannot be stripped down to more comprehensible units, the songs could not be bare-boned simplicity in their expression of this theme. The journey to feel and understand the record mirrors, in ways, Pecknold's own journey as he sought understanding.
The very characteristics that brought me to praise Fleet Foxes last record, are the same that brought down harsh criticisms by Stereogum's Tom Breihan in his "Premature Evaluation: Fleet Foxes Crack Up."
In his review, Breihan seems to pine for the good ol' Fleet Foxes days, when lyrics and composition were more simple and accessible, and hooks like those found in "Helplessness Blues" were "the type of thing where you and your friends might find yourselves singing it into each other’s faces when you’re at a festival together."
Breihan is not shy in expressing his distaste for the album, saying it was more apt to make him "want to take a nap" than want to listen for more. Among his criticisms, is his belief that Pecknold chose introspection in a time when people are yearning to understand the world around them--a time of Brexit, of Trump, of political and social disarray. The last thing people need in a time like this is a Pecknold puzzle.
To end his review, Breihan states the following:
"Maybe Pecknold needed to travel deep within his own head to get back out again, and maybe that’s what we’re hearing now. But where Fleet Foxes used to make anthems, they’ve now given us an album full of puzzles. They’re very pretty puzzles, put together carefully and artfully. But they’re still just fucking puzzles."
Though I respect Breihan's argument, I couldn't disagree more. I depart from his opinion on two grounds: 1. I believe there is absolute necessity and relevancy to an album that is not immediately accessible and understood; an album that requires focused, active attention is precisely what we need 2. Regardless of what an audience "needs," art should not be evaluated on this basis; consideration of audience desires by an artist is the very behavior that can stifle creativity and undermine creative works.
In order to keep my argument here brief, I will first point to Nicholas Carr's book, The Shallows, to support my first assertion. With two hundred pages outlining research, studies and observations about the way the internet is changing the human mind, the book serves as a warning sign to current and subsequent generations. With the distracted, disrupted, over stimulated environment encouraged by the web, individuals are devoting less time to sustained attention, and concentrated thought. The more that these patterns of behavior are practiced, the more these neurological pathways are reinforced and strengthened. In essence, our mind's neurological makeup is influenced by the behaviors we choose to practice and the behaviors we fail to maintain. The less time we spend on tasks requiring careful attention, devotion and awareness, the more difficult these practices will become. The pathway to deep thought, thought that leads to creativity and a depth of connection, is the pathway that becomes jilted in the digital age.
We shouldn't ask for "easier" art. We shouldn't ask for lyrics that coddle us, and hand us their meaning. Instead, we should allow ourselves to be immersed in layers of thought and deep thinking, as we seek to understand the world of the artist presented to us in the form of his or her art. Maybe we could use some "serious reassurance" in this turbulent political time, as Breihan contends. But maybe, instead of asking Pecknold to do the heavy lifting for us, we could turn to his music and seek reassurance and understanding ourselves.
That being said, the irony of Breihan's critique is that Pecknold does address political issues and goes far beyond creating an album that is simply for himself. My personal favorite of the album, "Cassius, -" is about the experience Pecknold had participating in the protests after the death of Alton Sterling, a black man who was shot and killed by police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In his passing, Sterling left behind a "wife, a son, a son, a son and a daughter," lamented in the song. Pecknold then asks: "Are we also tamed?"
Pecknold points to some of the problems of this age, but he also never promises to know how to fix them. He's not preaching from a pedestal or pretending to have an ordained knowledge the rest of us missing. Instead, he's as puzzled as anyone else, saying himself that the album is more from the "perspective of an observer, or participant, than it is from that of one sent from on high." In "If You Need to, Keep Time on Me," Pecknold's confusion is palpable: "How could it all fall in one day? Were we so sure of the sun?"
Meeting Fleet Foxes' new album where it is may not be as obvious and simple as it had been with their previous works. But the meaning within the record is still there. And the band shouldn't have to apologize for making you work a little bit to find and understand it for yourself.
My second point of disagreement with Breihan's review can be made far more concisely than the first. To put it simply: there is danger in evaluating creativity from the lens of what an audience wants.
To me, the very value of art is found in the vulnerability and transparency of an artist who expresses him or herself honestly. In this act, meaning and purpose become the cathartic byproducts to the artist, fueling the creator with the energy and passion necessary to keep creating and making his or her art. These byproducts of meaning and purpose are the avenues of connection between an artist and an audience. They can't be feigned, they can't be artificially crafted. They must be pure in order for authentic, human connection to take place. The beauty of art is the beauty of this connection. And this connection cannot be made when we are so concerned with audience needs and desires that we are afraid to craft transparently the intricacies and honesties within us. Creating art for the sake of giving an audience what they want, is void of the authenticity that gives art its worth.
Fleet Foxes didn't sing to us this time about a simple life, working in an orchard and dirtying our hands. And as nice as this kind of 'reassurance' may have been in this current political time, it wouldn't have been coming from a place of honesty. Instead, Pecknold's path to understanding himself and the events of the world is no different than the path we each must take. And frankly, the fact that we're all 'fucking puzzled' and figuring it out is the avenue of connection that attached me to Fleet Foxes' new work. That connection is a 'serious reassurance' to me, even if it wasn't the kind Breihan had in mind.
Enjoying and learning from this chapter as the pages turn