A Wall Street Journal headline caught my eye: "When Workers Can Live Anywhere, Many Ask: Why Do I Live Here?"
So, why do I live here, in New York City?
New York City wasn't the easiest place to live in the pandemic. In the early days, I was biking with a mask, wearing gloves to walk my dog and Lysoling everything in sight.
I didn't quite realize how rigid my actions were until I left the city and visited my parents in Kentucky. Riding in a car alone, touching door knobs only touched by us, it felt good for a moment to not have coronavirus at the forefront of my mind.
Even when I stayed in Connecticut shortly, I took comfort in the fact that when I walked the dogs maskless, I would never pass another person on the small suburban street where I stayed.
So, why New York?
New York has my heart in more way than one.
I can step onto my fire escape to watch a protest march down the street adjacent to mine.
I can cover a BLM march from the ground, where the electricity in the air feels inimitable.
I can turn the corner of my block to hear Bill Withers blasted from a loudspeaker.
I can walk my dog in the park and stumble upon a socially distant DJ set, people separated in the dark but dancing to themselves. I can fall off my bike after a car pulls out in front of me and be helped by three complete strangers. I can see the warmth in the face of the man who works at my local bodega, even though it is concealed by a mask. I can pass a neighbor walking home and stop to catch up, feeling our shared camaraderie that we have one another in the city.
I may be seemingly untethered to this city as a result of working remotely, but I desire nonetheless to be intwined within the fabric of this community.
The resilience of a city that has seen so much death and pain as a result of coronavirus reminds me that I can be resilient too. I'm here for the people who are resilient, passionate and alive, and who inspire me to be the same.
It's good to find balance and I'm glad for the two weeks I spent away, but when it comes down to it, there's still no where else I'd rather be.
I'm inspired by these people. I'm inspired by this city.
And though I could live anywhere now, I'm happy it's New York City where I've landed.
It's hard to fathom just how much can change over the course of ten years. Ten years ago, I was 16. My biggest concern was keeping up with my AP Euro readings and balancing track and tennis practice. At night, I'd sit down at the table with my family and eat the meal my mom prepared for everyone.
Now, I walk to the subway every weekday morning from my Brooklyn apartment. Inevitably, I'm running 10 minutes late, having waited too long to take out my dog, Monet. For his part, he always takes his time doing his business. Me waking up on time isn't his problem, after all.
But, of course, it's more than these circumstantial elements that have evolved over the last ten years. And as I look back at the person I was and the person I've become, I can see the hand music had in carrying me here.
So, here they are. The ten albums that most influenced me over the past ten years. It's my own hybrid of a decade reflection and a "top albums of the decade" list.
“The Suburbs,” Arcade Fire (2010)
I came across this album at my university library and rented it for my four-hour drive home. As I drove, I felt myself melt into a completely different world, one that overtook me for the 63-minute running time.
It was the first concept album I spent time with and maybe one of the first albums that allowed me to appreciate how much effort and forethought could go into a musical project. Each song fed into the next. Every word carried weight. And sonically, it was masterful. From the urgent violins that open “Empty Rooms” to the staccato piano in “We Used to Wait,” I was completely captivated.
And thematically, it resonated. Songs like "We Used to Wait" fed my desire for a simpler time, when life moved more slowly.
It seems strange
How we used to wait for letters to arrive
But what's stranger still
Is how something so small can keep you alive
Now our lives are changing fast
Hope that something pure could last
I can still feel this longing today.
“Helplessness Blues,” Fleet Foxes (2011)
Anyone who knows me could probably guess that this album falls on my list. Fleet Foxes have traveled with me everywhere. From the streets of Paris to cafes in Florence to a bus ride through Switzerland, mountains rising on either side of me.
My love for them also brought me to Dublin, the closest venue I could find to finally see them play, while I lived in London. Even my Spotify Wrapped named them my artist of the decade.
So, it’s only fitting that two of their albums fall on my list, this being the first.
Cue the accusations of young angst, but there was a time when I thought the title track for this album encompassed everything I stood for. I never felt so understood by a song.
“Helplessness Blues” carefully balances the narrator’s ideals with the continued admittance that there are things he has yet to figure out.
Like him, I know what I stand for, I know I want to be part of a bigger picture, or “a functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me/ But I don't, I don't know what that will be.”
There’s skepticism and there’s hope. There’s longing for a simple answer and a simple life—a life on an orchard, built by your own two hands.
Beyond this song, the other tracks hold as well. They paint stories and tales that hold truths and subtle feelings. From the question of why you love despite reservations to reflecting on the fact that you are the same age your parents were when they had their first child, they touch on thoughts I like to push away, throwing them on the table and forcing you to examine them out in the open.
“Dead & Born & Grown,” The Staves (2012)
The Staves were an especially transformative discovery. Most of my listening catalogue up until this point had been male vocalists—from the Beatles to Cage the Elephant to John Mayer in early high school.
But these three women were like nothing I’d listened to. They were articulate and poetic and their tight harmonies pulled me in with every song. If it’s possible to sound like sun streaming through a window, they did.
It was not just the way they sounded, but what they seemed to stand for. I found them in college, when I was only beginning to understand my own identity as a woman. Up until that point, I’d not only listened to primarily male artists, but I felt I more closely identified with men.
My primary goal in life wasn’t a marriage, but the pursuit of my writing. I felt misunderstood by a society that wanted to stick me in a box when I was younger—push me toward princess movies (which I didn’t care for), pink (which I despised) and a childhood of playing house (something that interested me far less than climbing a tree).
But these women, they were like me. In "Pay Us No Mind," they wanted to yell.
I never needed sympathy, I only want to say
That I’m not afraid to shout, I’m not afraid to tell
And we’re ready now to give them all hell
And in "In The Long Run," they normalized my feelings of hesitancy when it came to being with a man.
But we can’t be lovers
‘Cause I’m still afraid
Of leaving the things I love dearly
To this day, I’m thankful to The Staves. When I listened to their music, I didn’t feel like there was something wrong with me as a woman. There are so many different types of women out there, and hearing the perspective of those who thought like me, was exactly what I needed.
“Let’s Be Still,” The Head and the Heart (2013)
Sometimes an album finds you at the right time and in the right place. And for me, that was this album. It fell into my lap during my sophomore year, a year that was one of my most difficult.
I remember one late night drive in Nashville. I was going nowhere in particular, but needed to drive. The rain drops that snaked down my windshield looked like tears as I allowed a few of my own to fall.
I wanted to scream the lyrics as they played.
I was burned out and lost
There's no light in here now
And the nighttime was the worst
There's no light in here now
I was burned out and lost
As this album played, I let it wash over me. It was both melancholy and hopeful. It felt my pain, but promised there was a door beyond it.
The sun still rises
Even with the pain
I can still remember how lost I felt when I listened to this album. It was a difficult year, but I eventually found those words to be true. The sun still rose. Even through my pain.
“North Americana,” Leif Vollebekk (2014)
I discovered this album not in 2014, but in 2017, a bit of a lonely year for me.
I’d moved to London and didn’t know anyone yet. So, I found company elsewhere, in music.
There was a blues bar I frequented often, feeling less alone in the company of strangers. We were at least sharing the experience of music, even if we weren't sharing in conversation.
And when I was home, I spent an ungodly amount of time pouring over albums. Including this one, which I happened upon.
It wasn't a new album, but it immediately grabbed my attention. Vollebekk was a storyteller. That much was clear. He was in the vein of Bob Dylan, though truthfully he had a better voice.
The album was taken with something akin to wanderlust with songs about road trips across America and anecdotes from life in the city.
Each song painted such vivid, personal pictures, that it inspired my own writing. What were the seemingly insignificant moments in my life which held a grain of humanity or a subtle truth?
“I Love You, Honeybear,” Father John Misty (2015)
I have a love-hate relationship with Father John Misty. He’s cynical and I don’t agree with everything he says. And yet, this album found me at the right time (before I'd left for London), articulating some of the very thoughts I had, but didn’t allow myself to say.
I’ve grown out of this album in many ways, but I believe it is still important to acknowledge its impact. It found me at a time when I was a bit more cynical. And for a period of my life, I needed to know it was okay to express feelings that are ugly.
The reality of life is that, of course, there are rosier parts. But life in its entirety isn’t rosy.
This album shows the full spectrum, from the innocence of love in “Chateau Lobby #4” to the aptly named “Holy Shit,” which feels a lot like Josh Tillman’s list of grievances with life, humanity and the world.
Sometimes you need to voice your uglier thoughts. That’s what this album taught me.
But, while I can acknowledge the ugliness, I've learned now that it's better not to revel in the mess. I try instead to focus on the beauty and hopefulness around me.
“Blonde,” Frank Ocean (2016)
This album does everything for me. Sonically, Ocean takes chances, playing with dissonance, voice manipulation and other devices. Lyrically, the album is deeply personal, while also making political statements (just see opening track “Nike”: “RIP Treyvon. [He] looked just like me”).
Growing up in New Orleans and dealing with Katrina (a natural disaster that disproportionately affected communities of color), he draws from personal experience to paint a picture of the world around him and the life he lived.
This is what I want to do with my art. I want to draw upon my personal experience, tell stories that only I can tell. And I want to be brave enough to tell them in a unique way. I think there are stories buried within each of us that we are meant to tell. As a collective, they paint a bigger picture. Not just of tragedies like Katrina or social injustice, but about humanity and perseverance as well.
As a quick sidebar, I also appreciated Ocean’s appeal to nostalgia in this album. It is a consistent theme in his work, but I felt especially moved by songs like, “Self Control,” where Ocean so effectively sums up feelings toward a past love. There’s an understanding that both must move on, but there’s a hope as well that the other keeps “a place” for them and holds on to their memory. Simple, but great writing.
“Crack-Up,” Fleet Foxes (2017)
This is another London album I poured over. I can remember cooping myself up in my tiny, shoebox of an apartment and going through it song by song. I pulled up every lyric, reading through them like poetry. I went to lyric forums online and even read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s essay, “The Crack-Up,” which Robin Pecknold says inspired the title of the album.
I respect that the band doesn’t spoon feed the listener. Meaning is deeply embedded in songs, forcing the listener to be a more active participant if he or she really wants to understand a song.
“Wife, a son, a son and a daughter,” on its own means nothing. But, taken within the larger narrative of the song—protests on the street, “guns for hire” opening fire—it points to the loss of Alton Sterling, the father of three who was killed by police in Louisiana.
The themes and subject matter of the album mattered to me. They focused on real issues, but addressed them in a poetic and profound manner. I can only hope to do the same with my writing.
By the Way, I Forgive You, Brandi Carlisle (2018)
Over the past two to three years, my perspective on feminism has drastically changed. Comparing the way The Staves’ album and this one affected me, illustrates this transition.
I connected to The Staves because in their music, I saw the rejection of roles I felt were assigned to me—roles I was not sure I wanted for myself. Without realizing it, I became ashamed of my more feminine traits.
I saw my nurturing proclivity as weakness. It had allowed me to get into a destructive relationship, and I saw my emotionality as a weakness as well. I saw the abandonment of my female traits as the only way to get what I wanted in life, to follow my dreams and to be independent and strong.
It wasn’t until I read Ani DiFranco’s memoir that I realized my own bias. And it wasn’t until I carefully contemplated her words, that I started to realize that the traits that made me a woman, were not traits to be ashamed of, but to celebrate.
I found this truth in Carlile’s album as well. Her emotions make her powerful. Her empathy makes her admirable. She loves, accepts, forgives and is vulnerable, but never do any of these things make her weak.
Even her song “Mother” touched me in a way I wasn’t expecting.
For most of my life, I’ve seen motherhood as the opposite of empowering. I assumed I had to pick between my dreams and being a mother. But songs like this (and examples such as Greta Gerwig directing “Little Women” while pregnant) are reminders that I don’t have to choose.
I can be proud of my feminine traits. I can be happy that I think not only with logic, but with my emotions as well. I don’t have to be embarrassed that I turn my head away during violent scenes in a movie.
Society may tell us at times that male traits and perspectives are more valued than female (just take a look at the award season nominations this year, where there is a continued dominance of men in the director category and where most films in the best picture category portray violence in some form or another), but that doesn’t mean we should listen.
I can embrace all my feminine traits. And while I may not be anywhere near ready to have kids, I can allow my nurturing side to be fulfilled in a positive way, as I take care of my small pup, Monet. I have nothing to be ashamed of.
Two Hands, Big Thief (2019)
As I come to my last album, it’s important to acknowledge the common theme across all ten: lyrics. This is my connecting point in all music. Of course, a voice moves me (Adrianne Lenker’s affected, passionate vocals especially), but at the end of the day, it’s the writing that stirs my soul.
And it is also the writing which inspires me in my own journey. Listening to a song which moves me, forces me to ask myself questions: What are the stories worth telling? What are the moments that draw us in and ring a human note?
Big Thief always hits this note of humanity. Even in albums prior, I’m struck by the band’s ability to draw me in to scenes of tranquility, passion, violence, contemplation and pain. This album is no different.
From her vivid depiction of anxiety in “Rock and Sing” to the raking feeling of empathy and guilt in “Forgotten Eyes,” Big Thief’s writing never fails to captivate me.
I also love the emotive nature of their songs. In “Not,” Lenker sounds like she’s on the verge of screaming when a guitar almost screams for her. There’s so much feeling wrapped into their music, it’s impossible to not feel moved.
Honorable mentions: “Bloom,” Beach House (2012), “AM,” Arctic Monkeys (2013), “Currents,” Tame Impala (2015), “Carrie & Lowell,” Sufjan Stevens (2015), “Jaime,” Brittany Howard” (2019), “i,i,”Bon Iver (2019)
What are the small, precious joys of life?
My small dog rests his head on my leg as his weary eyes flutter closed. Stepping out of the car last night, snowflakes coasted down from the sky. When I awoke, they were gone, leaving no trace of their presence. Were they only for me? Who else watched them fall at 3 in the morning?
I think of these things now as a reprieve.
At times, I feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the other things happening in the world--the people who are hurting, the earth that is burning, the threat of destruction. Sitting in a coffee shop with the paper laid out before me, I feel helpless. What can I really do?
I dreamed last night that I cut off all of my hair. But did I feel any better? The realm of that which I can control is so small.
What good are the snowflakes? What good am I?
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."
Enjoying and learning from this chapter as the pages turn