Always Greener on the Other….

Musings/Rants, Uncategorized

Two years ago, I took a semester off NYU to undergo a kidney transplant surgery. The surgery and recovery process took only about five weeks. The rest of those six months I spent in waiting. Waiting for the hospital to call and set up an appointment. Waiting while my friends nabbed exciting internships. Waiting for something to do, an inspiration to hit. Weeks passed and nothing hit. Losing the motivation to learn, write, or even binge-watch Netflix shows, I was quickly spiraling into something akin to nihilism. 

What it was, of course, was just laziness, a millennial malaise that’s haunted me for the better part of the last 10 years. At school, I’ve had friends and homework as powerful antidotes; lectures and essays have egged me toward specific goals. Back at home in Irvine, the archetypal Californian suburb, I was a free agent and a prisoner to my thoughts, which were shrouded by doubts and hopelessness. Rather than brainstorming activities to occupy my time at the present–when I had an abundance of it–I lamented all the missed opportunities that awaited me at school, 3000 miles away. I entertained a remarkably narcissistic idea that if I could just crawl back to Manhattan, straight As and new friends and internships and leadership roles would land in my lap–I just need to get close enough.

More out of desperation than ingenuity, I decided to start a blog. I came to that decision abruptly, while feasting on an apple and Game of Thrones. My first sentence? “To be honest, I’ve just about given up on starting a blog.” Halfway through the post, I realized why I had put off the endeavor for so long: I was scared no one was going to read it because I was either too boring a person or too mediocre a writer. I rambled some more about my low self-esteem and stereotypical teenage hobbies. As I kept writing, fingers flying across the keyboard as thoughts tumbled behind, I came to some bizarre conclusions. That we are all boring. That rather than giving you lemons, life is a lemon. That how hard you squeeze that lemon determines how much happiness and meaning you extract from mundane occurrences. In ranting about my insecurities, I slowly forgot about them. That was my “eureka” moment, and the title of the post. Why did I decide to publish this garbage of a post? Because, “Call me vain if you want, but I wasn’t going to let this epiphany go to waste.”

And I didn’t. I wrote almost everyday of the next four months I spent waiting. I continued writing after I returned to NYU. I’ve now amassed more than 2000 followers–1990 more than I’d expected to get. This is the first post I’ve published in almost a year, and it’s just a repost of an essay response to a fellowship application. I prompt asked me to write about a time I took the initiative to organize/start something, and I’m not sure this post answered that question at all. It doesn’t matter, though, because it got me thinking about a period of my life that’s at once so crucial and so painful. A time that I’ve rarely talked to anyone about, a time I’m scared of confronting. A lot of the indifference I feel toward life germinated during this time–the month or so before I started blogging.   

I’ve been absent for so long that I sometimes forget I even have a blog. I’m sure I’ll post again, but I’m not sure when. Graduation is less than two months away, and I don’t know if I’ll have any time to write after that. What I can say for certain is that blogging always makes me feel better, just a little more connected and invested in the forces around me. It pulled 19-year-old me out of that period of loneliness. That’s something I don’t think anything else would have been able to do.

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What Eternal Sunshine Taught 15 Year Old Me About Love

Movies and Books

A crestfallen, middle-aged man stumbles toward the exit of the bookstore at which his girlfriend works, crushing in one fist a necklace he’d bought her for Valentine’s. As he crosses the threshold, the lights fizzle out and the walls converge, morphing into the cramped living room of a grimy apartment in which his friends regretfully inform him that his now ex had erased him from her memory. It’s probably the most beautiful and heartbreaking scene transition I have ever seen—maybe ever will.

Out of all the poignant sequences Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind offers, this is the one that resonated with me most upon my first of four viewings. It stuck with me because it terrified me. At 15, I knew nothing about love and the control it has over the landscape of our thoughts. At 15, I had no desire to experience such a destructive and (in my naïve little head) overrated force, until I saw Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) stagger into that living room, shoulders hunched and eyes hollow, exuding shock waves of grief and vengeance. It was my first glimpse at just how suddenly and completely love can crumble, and how powerless we are to its crumbling. I was intrigued—no, addicted.

Oblivion terrifies me. To be eradicated from the consciousness of a planet to which I’ve literally devoted my entire existence is the saddest yet most inevitable thing I can imagine. To be eradicated from the consciousness of a person to whom you’ve devoted your heart—and invested an unwarranted belief in everything transcendent and beautifulis too cruel for words. Yet, there’s also a paradoxical sense of wonder to all this bleak bullshit, because the convergence of two souls is in fact the most transcendent and beautiful thing imaginable. Joel loved Clementine so much that he couldn’t remember a self without her; they were so connected that he had to eradicate her from his own consciousness to fill the void within it.

15 year old me was terrified of how much I craved that connection for myself. I still haven’t fallen for anyone the way Joel and Clementine fell for each other. I still want to as much as I did six years earlier because, really, how else do you defy oblivion other than by leaving an indelible imprint on somebody else’s mind? The perpetual nightmare of reality doesn’t grant you memory-erasing machines. If you get fucked, you carry those scars forever, but at least you know that someone, somewhere will always bear some remnant of your soul–no matter how small, no matter how bitter. And that’s pretty fucking neat.

Album Review: The 1975, I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It

Music

Calling the 1975 a boy band is accurate but a bit insulting. They meet the criteria, for sure: a charismatic frontman, a self-imposed bad boy image and a cult following out of Tumblr-obsessed teenage girls. But when the Manchester foursome released their self-titled debut album in 2014, we didn’t get a string of formulaic love songs like One Direction’s corny “What Makes You Beautiful” or 5 Seconds of Summer’s god-awful “She Looks So Perfect.” Instead, we got a bizarre yet intoxicating concoction of pop rock, funk, R&B and melodic synths topped with animated ramblings about drugs, ragers and sex.

The 1975 are an alternative rock band that revels in debauchery. And at its center is Matthew Healy, the hypersexual, metrosexual lead singer and lyricist with chopstick legs and thick black curls.

A pair of catchy dance tracks, “Chocolate” and “Sex,” transported the band from grimy London bars into the O2 Academy, Terminal 5 and, in a few months, the Barclays Center. Witty, up-tempo songs may have made the 1975 alt rock’s hottest commodity, but the album’s standout tracks are the stoner jams that carry a dreamy, cinematic quality. “You’re a liar, at least all your friends are,” Healy sings on “You.” “So am I, just typically drowned in your car.” Blending affecting verses into a sea of ambient electronics, those ballads exhibit an artistry rarely seen in today’s pop music.

The 1975 get good when they get real. Which is why it’s a surprise that their dreamy, cinematic new record feels so underwhelming.

After a two-year hiatus, the leather-clad glam rockers rang in 2016 with an emotionally- charged, ridiculously-titled sophomore album, I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It. Ten days after its release, it knocked off Adele at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. If they were on the cusp of superstardom, they’ve surely
crossed it now.

The 17-track compilation is equal parts flamboyance and feel, marrying house 80s dance pop with atmospheric house. But while the band’s debut album extracts influences from other artists (from Michael Jackson to M83) to build a distinct sound, I Like it When You Sleep feels derivative and lazy as a body of work. Marked by heavy, head-bobbing synths, the chillwave production of “UGH!” could have been plucked straight from a Neon Indian record; “Lostmyhead” sounds like a disposed Brian Eno mix; and one of the best tracks, “The Sound,” feels like a sequel to the underrated “M.O.N.E.Y” from The 1975–an improved sequel, yes, but still a sequel.

That said, the album’s highs are dizzying, glorious highs. The infectious lead single, “Love Me,” puts a funky spin on a throwback disco jam, meshing groovy guitar riffs with frenzied pop-rock vocals. “She’s American” weaves synthpop hooks with witty wordplay to poke fun at the cultural difference between the U.K and the U.S. “The Sound” contains some of the band’s most creative and beautiful lyrics to date. “Somebody Else” and “A Change of Heart,” two atmospheric ballads, dive into the desolation and anguish that The 1975 only hints at, showing Healy at his most vulnerable: “I can’t give you my soul,” he laments, “cause we’re never alone.”

The record is most compelling when Matt Healy takes the reins and lets his vocals fluctuate violently in both pitch and tone, from loving whisper to piercing falsetto, from adoration to disdain. “You’re so conceited,” he sneers in “The Sound,” voice dripping with contempt. “I said, “I love you.” What does it matter if I lie to you?” A verse later, he backtracks and rambles, “It’s not about reciprocation, it’s just all about me: a sycophantic, prophetic, Socratic junkie wannabe.” By the chorus, he swallows his pride and confesses, chanting like a broken record: “I know when you’re around cause I know the sound, I know the sound of your heart.”

But for the most part, Healy’s lyrical prowess and animated vocals are tragically underused. Instead of building beats around his voice, the producers bury Healy under layers upon layers of fluttering synths and dreamlike harps. Though enchanting, none of the album’s slower tracks captures the regret and yearning the way “You” does. Healy drifts absentmindedly from “Nana,” a heartfelt yet sleepy ode to his grandmother, to “Paris,” a safe and unforgettable pop ballad, to “Please Be Naked,” a wordless track with instrumentals so bland that it feels utterly pointless. As alluring and affecting as his lower register can be, Healy’s charm rests primarily in his primal howls and wild inflections, and it’s a shame that we barely get that to hear that side of his voice on this record.

As with its predecessor, I Like The Way You Sleep is plagued by oversaturation and overproduction. From the neon-lit album art to glossy music videos and an Instagram account full of black and white portraits, the 1975 try way too hard to market themselves as the artsy trendsetters in fashion and music. And a 17-track record is a behemoth by today’s standards, especially if half of its content can be discarded. The album has a handful of excellent songs that would have made for an excellent compilation, but now they’re outliers that make a below average record above average.

Thematically and sonically, I Like the Way You Sleep is more cohesive than The 1975, but the band’s appeal revolves around its messiness, frankness and willingness to flicker from one sound to another. The combination of rawness and bravado is what sets the 1975 apart from both mainstream boy bands like One Direction and indie rock royalty like the Arctic Monkeys and Vampire Weekend. And that’s what they should continue doing: bask in decadence, experiment with unusual sounds, and drop the sleepy ballads.

Dazed and Confused: 20 Years On

Movies and Books

It’s a definitive moment of 90s cinema, the era of Gen X slacker flicks: Six high schoolers sprawled on the 50 yard line of their empty football field, gazing at the ink-blue canvas of a pre-dawn sky and trading hard-hitting stoner thoughts on the meaning of life.

“If I start referring to these as the best years of my life,” says Pink, the star quarterback and alpha dog of the school, “remind me to kill myself.”

“You just gotta keep on livin’, man,” comes the now iconic response from Wooderson, the twentysomething womanizer with greasy hair and a faint mustache. “L-I-V-I-N.”

Such existential ramblings, at once satirical and deeply profound, transformed Richard Linklater’s 1993 low-budget comedy, Dazed and Confused, into a coming-of-age cult classic.

It follows a group of students on the last day of school in 1976. What happens? Not much, other than what usually happens–underage drinking, unsupervised parties, first kisses, pseudo-hazing rituals, and a whole lot of soul searching. By the time dawn breaks, Linklater has given us a hearty throwback to the 70s, a soundtrack full of classic rock anthems, and a pair of future superstars: Matthew McConaughey and Ben Affleck.

But Dazed and Confused is more than just an authentic portrayal of the rebellious and indulgent 70s youth culture. It is an impressionist painting of the adolescent mind, expressing the timeless struggle to escape mediocrity and find purpose, to discard the future and embrace the now. Its characters are as familiar to us millenials as they were to Gen Xers upon its initial release 22 years ago. They are reckless yet empathetic, lazy yet passionate. They are, for the lack of a more apt phrase, dazed and confused–as we are now.

“I’d like to quit thinking of the present as some minor, insignificant preamble to something else,” says Cynthia the redhead scene-stealer, in what could be a mantra for the youth movement.

With seamless transitions from one vignette to the next, Linklater’s understated direction captures the immaturities of youth with an observant, compassionate eye. The weakness of the script, marked by one-dimensional characters and incoherent plotlines, actually adds to the haziness of adolescence and the realism of the filmmaking. The absence of plot twists keeps viewers fixated on the characters’ hilarious and deceptively deep dialogue, giving us an unfiltered look into the teenage soul at a moment in time.

Unlike two other seminal high school movies, Amy Heckerling’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High and John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club, Dazed and Confused skirts pivotal occasions like pregnancy and graduation, focusing instead on the mundane events and conversations we’re most likely to forget. Like those of Heckerling and Hughes, Linklater’s high schoolers are flawed and privileged, irresponsible and irreverent. But rather than showing how they are capable of change, he brings forth their redeeming qualities: self-awareness and loyalty. They’re slackers and thinkers who could not care less about societal progress but would do anything for their friends.

To Linklater, adolescence is the accumulation of fleeting moments that we take for granted–silent drives around town, trivial gossip and aimless musings about life. Over the years, those moments dissolve into the abyss, leaving behind just a shadow of the frustration and optimism we felt in those painfully beautiful years.

The combination of quotable one-liners, quirky characters and nostalgia for the 70s gave Dazed and Confused its lasting legacy and ageless appeal. We remember Wooderson’s pick up line (“Alright, alright, alright.”), Slater’s Martha Washington monologue (“She a hip, hip, hip lady, man!”), and Mitch’s freshman initiation beating. We remember the bell-bottoms and denim overalls, the Aerosmith opener and the Foghat closer.

But more sharply, we remember the sense of familiarity that envelops us when as we consume each scene, mentally flicking through instances in which we’ve said a similar thing or felt a similar way.

Dazed and Confused isn’t inventive or inspiring. It’s not supposed to be. It’s a fond reflection on the American youth culture and how little it has changed in four decades. It reminds us that even as the world becomes unrecognizable, we can still find parts of ourselves in relics from the past. 

Uninspired, but at peace

My Awesome Life, Uncategorized, Writing

I’m on the cusp of a profound transition, arguably the most significant one in modern life: crossing the threshold from 20 to 21.

My grand initiation into the 21 Club is scheduled on Pi Day, which may be more than 50 days away, but I thought I might as well reflect on and immortalize in writing the bizarre and uninspiring person I’ve grown into over the last two decades.

The first 20 years of my life have been a collage of confused decisions, abandoned resolutions, disillusioned attempts down various career paths, and random epiphanies about both myself and the world around me.

My teenage years revolved around an emotional pendulum rooted at equilibrium, refusing to even flirt with either extreme. I’ve been frustrated and lost, hovering in a purgatory of mediocrity and indifference for the better part of the last four years. I’ve been sad but never heartbroken, I’ve been happy but never ecstatic, and I’ve dated but never in love. At times I feel like I’m incapable of feeling anything to the fullest extent, like anything I experience will only be a dimmer version of what others have already felt. I love writing–always will–but I’ve never felt that scorching thirst to sew my dreams into narratives, never been inspired enough to write for hours on end until the sun bled into the horizon and hours bled into days. Can I ever feel as passionate about anything as professional athletes do about winning a damn trophy, or as actors do about, well, acting? Can I ever commit to anything?

My state of mind is the Jamie xx album, “In Color”—not any particular track but snippets of the entire album. In electronic music, we anticipate drops. We dig bangers that take us on pulsating mind trips and emotional roller coaster rides. The spectacular is what expect from life, too, and if we don’t get it, we lash out: “I didn’t deserve this. I just thought there’d be more.” When the going gets tough, we tell ourselves to hang in there, push through the pain and wait for eminent arrival of better days. I think that’s been my attitude for the majority of my adolescent years: You haven’t seen shit. Just wait for the bass to drop.

The bass never drops in “In Color.” It’s just an impressionistic painting of intelligent beat-making and ethereal atmospherics, delicate but brimming with wonder. Some tracks (“Far Nearer,” “Loud Places”) bottle a fountain of youthful emotions–optimism, desire, dread, yearning–into a quiet and exquisite world of gentle, fluttering synth sequences and stirring vocals. “Gosh” builds up to a two-minute climax of lush keyboard soundscapes that douse you with euphoria and hope. On the other side of the spectrum, “Stranger In a Room” envelops you in spellbinding warmth using minimal percussion beats against deep baselines, hinting that life can be okay without staggering achievements or life-changing revelations.

Electronic music is an enormous and expanding world of countless sub-genres that defy categorization. Bangers comprise a recognizable but very small part of that world; extraordinary milestones comprise but a small part of ours. I’ve been so lost and frustrated that my youth–the most exciting years of my life–has so far been defined by a maddening indifference, and that I couldn’t find the motivation to reach my full potential to make my parents proud.

But maybe I’ve been asking too much. The way we package our emotions determines the way we experience them. I’ve never been euphoric about anything, but I’ve been happy about plenty: getting into college, road-tripping with mom, feeding my dog, hanging out with friends. I just need to believe that happiness can give me the same satisfaction as euphoria. I’ve never been obsessed with writing, but I want to write and I’ll continue doing so, inspired or not. What if you don’t need to live life to the fullest to be at peace with it? I’m not in love with life, but I feel lucky to be alive and to live this life.

I doubt much will change about my appearance or attitude 12 months from now. Maybe I’ll be single and jobless at 25; maybe I’ll be profiling Leonardo DiCaprio for Vanity Fair. I can’t see either happening, but I have always been dreadful at predicting the trajectory of my life. And I’m still young. I want to believe that one day I will fall in love with life.

 

Dream as if you’ll live forever, Live as if you’ll die today

My Awesome Life

We’re responsive creatures, always yearning for some kind of carnal or spiritual fulfillment. So many of our conversations are dedicated to that one question: What makes us feel alive? For me it’s neither people nor adventures. It’s the shapes and colors that make up a city I love.

When I took a semester off in Cali, all I could think about was how much I missed NYC and how exciting it would be to blog about college life there. But four months after I returned to NYU I’ve only written four posts on my adventures here in the Big Apple. Ostensibly it’s because I just haven’t had the time. In reality it’s because I’ve kind of lost confidence in my writing. I don’t think I’ll ever be as good a writer as I would like to be, and I certainly don’t think I’m good enough to capture the sense of wonder I feel every time I step out onto the streets.

I’ve experienced no shortage of epiphanies walking on the same blocks, seeing the same things in different ways. Paradoxes run riot: tattoo parlors next to corporate banks, museums sandwiched by takeouts, apartments stacked atop liquor stores, and chains of buildings in alternating colors – black, tan, maroon – adorned by staircases twisting like rusty vines. It’s homogeneous yet dynamic, indifferent yet inviting. None of it makes any sense yet it all feels so right.

It’s a convoluted maze with a constellation of neon lights and no exit. Horizontal and vertical lines converge to make intersections that look exactly the same whether you’re in FiDi or Dumbo. You’re lost every time you’re out, but you never feel more at home. Last night I was strolling through Washington Square Park in the nicest weather in a long, long time, and I see the arch–silver silhouette inked against the black sky–illuminating the fountain and everyone around it. It was just so liberating. In that moment I actually felt so blessed to be alive. And I just couldn’t help wondering: Why then? I’ve seen that sight countless times in the past year and a half, and I’ve walked through the park in every weather, every hour. But that moment last night was the only time I’ve felt that kind of relief, the only time that those random bursts of sadness and rage I experience everyday felt so far away.

Despite the incurable bleakness of life and the shittiness of human nature, the world itself is still as sublime a vision as you will ever imagine. That vision alone is worth the effort of waking up every morning with a smile. It’s far more beautiful than life is ugly. It’s far more sincere than people are fake. Loving a place is far more satisfying than hating everything else.

Live with hope and live with love, if only for your surroundings. Find somewhere you love. See as much as you can before it’s too late.

A Love Letter to Calories

Musings/Rants

I randomly found this passage in my notepad. I don’t remember how it came about–it must have been for some dumbass application. Anyway, I’m posting it because it’s been too long again and I still can’t come up with anything new.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I was born in China but moved to the mystical land of New Zealand when I turned nine. It’s a place where sheep roam freely, people are sweet but phony, and the most average coffee shits on the best espresso you can find in NYC. It’s the kind of town you dream of escaping while you live there but miss terribly once you leave.

My whole life there–living in resentment, departing in glee, reflecting with fondness – is how I developed my voice as a writer–curious and humorous, yet somehow always tinged with nostalgia. Even though I’m finally living in the city of my dreams, exploring sites and restaurants in every corner of the five boroughs (nah, just Manhattan, to be completely honest), I still think about that mince and cheese pie from Browns Bay and that slice of pavlova I had at a bakery that probably no longer exists.

I think food evokes our most visceral memories. If our existence is indeed highlighted by specific impressions, then food is the chain that connects all the dots in life and puts everything into perspective. How did the apple tarts that doused you with euphoria in childhood become an unbearable source of grief in adulthood? How did you ever come to crave coffee when you hated it with a passion as a kid? How are you going to look at strawberry shortcakes (lol) after you rejected the dude who stuffed an engagement ring in one?

Eating doesn’t inspire such introspection. When you’re ravenous, you’ll inhale anything you see, and when you’re chewing, you see only two categories of food–the disgusting and the phenomenal. Everything that’s not disgusting is phenomenal. You’re not really that hungry if you’re lucid enough to critique and analyze your food. Truth is, you don’t grasp the philosophical significance of what you shove into your mouth until you’re done digesting it. Introspection happens in retrospect.

How was a 13-year-old supposed to know that the moment he got tired of hot chocolate would mark the end of the beginning of his life? How was he supposed to know that it would all go downhill as he transitioned from mochas to lattes to espressos? Would I still enjoy that $20 burger when I can scarcely afford to pay rent after I graduate and move out? Food is the reckless, instantaneous decisions we make that would come to make sense in hindsight.

Food is life, quite literally.

My 2 Cents On Pronouns

Musings/Rants

 


I generally don’t use YouTube as a focal point of think pieces, but the video I just watched is so eye-opening that I had to jot down my thoughts.

It’s a three minute Youtube video posted by Cut Vid, a channel reminiscent of an indie Buzzfeed – less revered, more refined. In the video, a group of transgender people talk about what pronouns mean to them. They start with one word–“identity,””choice,” “liberty,” then elaborate with some pretty amazing analyses. The group is as diverse as it gets, with Caucasians, AAs, Latinos, and Asians of all ages. The answers drown in a storm of emotions, some in pain and disillusionment, others defiance and pride.

The two responses that carved the deepest impressions on my mind are from two middle-aged, white transgender women. In a coarse, masculine voice, the first said she see pronouns as a vocal validation of her identity and, more importantly, a symbol of sovereignty.

“If anything I’d be more hung-up on the need some people feel to attach ‘preferred,'” she says. “My pronouns are not preferred. They just are. My gender is not a desire that I have or a wish or something. It’s who I am. It’s just part of me.”

That response raises an issue, a question, we unconsciously dismiss: why are pronouns, a part of speech exclusively associated with sexuality and identity, regarded as a preference rather than a force of nature when we talk to or about transgender people? Why is it that, as a society that has grown so much scientifically, politically, and socially, we still see transsexuality as the revolting exchange of sex organs rather than a displaced soul’s yearning for a body, a home, it can never have? Preference implies choice. And with regard to sexuality, either assigned by birth or brain, there isn’t one.

Another response that grabbed me was the closing one. “You better get them right,” is how she sees pronouns. Yet the importance of pronouns rests not in sight but in respect.

“What’s more important: how you see me, or respecting how I see me?”

To the cis population, pronouns only take an offensive turn when someone identifies us in a different way from the way society does. That’s confusing, isn’t it? Think of it this way: you look, talk, act like a dude, you’ve been referred to as a “he” and a “him” your whole life, then this asshole comes along and calls you a “stupid bitch” because, I don’t know, you refused to spilt coffee on his shirt or something. That’s offensive to you because, what the fuck, you look nothing like a “female dog,” right? Maybe that’s a bad example, but my point is that cis people like me never had to deal with two perceptions of one identity. Society and I use the same lens when when looking at me. You’d never ask a cis person, “Do you prefer to be a ‘she’ or a ‘he’ today?” Because you know there can only be one answer, right? But what happens when the body you’re born into and the body you want to be born into fight for dominance in the mapping of your identity? What if both voices are legitimate in the eyes of society? You need pronouns to settle that conflict.

The disparity in the significance of pronouns between the cis and trans communities underscores the, perhaps unconscious, linguistic privilege we have developed as the prevalent gender identity. We don’t realize, having been fortunate enough to be born in a body we belong to, just how liberating and validating a simple part of speech can be.

Pronouns radiate a sense of selfhood and certainty for a group of people that knows none. When identity and appearance clash and struggle, pronouns are the torch that melts them from antonyms into synonyms, reins into wings.

A Torrential Downpour of Bullshit

Musings/Rants

I haven’t written in a long time and I’m very rusty. The heat here in New York is killing my brain cells. Then this morning Zeus got horny as shit and decided to give the clouds a good, hard pounding and like the obedient little maiden she is, the clouds parted her slender, fluffy legs and with several loud ecstatic moans, let out an explosion of angry fluids that has lasted for four hours now.

I am currently drenched in that fluid. I’m a slimy, sticky, sweaty slug. My shirt is clinging to my bra and my hair smells like pissed-on seaweed in the bottom of a highly polluted portion of the South China Sea. It’s appalling, but I couldn’t care less. I love rain in all its charming and unappealing moods. And it couldn’t have come at a better time. My soul needed cleansing. I’ve realized that I’m a horrible person who does questionable things and has the audacity to feel guilty about it but not the will to change anything. Walking through rain does not by any means remake my character or alleviate my rarely-existent guilt. It simply warms me up to it.

The one quality a writer needs to have is empathy. Every good writer has it. Every person has it to a certain degree. You can be a hypocrite, like myself, but you have to be able to react emotionally to people’s actions. Maybe you’re an alcoholic who abhors other alcoholics. Maybe you’re a slut who slut-shames. Maybe you hate cliches but has the full collection of Nick Sparks novels stacked like porno under your bed. You don’t have to be morally upright as long as you can sympathize with people’s motives and ultimately understand with their deeds.

But is it wrong to sympathize with some tragedies more than others? Is it possible to react insensitively to happenings that sadden you? Almost a year ago, I bawled my eyes out upon hearing about the Charlie Hebdo shooting. I sobbed as hard at the end of Brokeback Mountain as I did while I was reading Jennifer Gonnerman’s New Yorker piece on Kalief Browder. I even shed a few tears after Djokovic lost his 3rd French Open Final. I didn’t shed a single tear about the Charleston massacre, the Yulin Dog Meat Festival, or the now countless ISIS orchestrated casualties.

Why? Because I’m a typically insensitive, pop-culture obsessed, spoilt, heinous member of the Millenials. Because I obviously don’t give a shit about political crises and communal tragedies and flawed cultural attitudes and racial binaries that threaten to destroy the world as we know it for good. My ignorance is going to send this planet straight into Satan’s gaping, salivating jaws and aren’t I just ecstatic about it. Jimmy Kimmel was criticized for tearing up about the murder of Cecil the Lion but not about any of the things I didn’t lose a tear on. I can carry on sniffing about unimportant shit without being shat on because no one knows or gives a shit about me. Too bad that’s not the case for Jimmy.

I don’t send my mom an “I love you” text everyday even though she’s one of the two people I love most in the world. I don’t cry about every single thing that makes me incredibly, incredibly sad otherwise it’ll be niagara falls every time I think about my future or my face. I don’t decide what or who I’m attracted to. So what if sports happen to move me more than global news does? It doesn’t mean I’m not appalled by what I read, and it doesn’t mean I don’t care about it, otherwise I wouldn’t fucking read it, would I?

Thing is, and we often forget it, just because other people have it worse does not mean we don’t have it bad. Pain is relative, to that of others as well as our own. Empathy is a beautiful thing. No one should feel guilty for understanding one kind of pain but not another. You’re not slighting anybody else when you devote all your energy to one point of interest.

At least you care about another human being, and that’s not a truth that everyone has a claim on.

Craving Something I Can Feel

Music

Album Review: James Bay, Chaos and the Calm

Teenage Wasteland. Wild Youth. Roaring 20s. Our coming-of-age years have been romanticized to such an extent that destruction has become synonymous with desire, stability with stagnancy. You haven’t lived if you haven’t fucked up big at least a few times over. But the ugly truth is that the twenties isn’t such a glorious time. Those supposedly exotic years are more like a blissful purgatory, like a boat floating on a serene creek separating optimism from disillusionment. Your dreams have amassed too much force for the life you knew, and the life you will know hasn’t yet shattered your lofty expectations.

Navigating through the emotional traps of youth is like walking a tightrope. As long as you stare intently only at your feet, you’ll stay in that blissful purgatory and take life as it goes. But my eyes are always wandering, behind my shoulder down memory lane and up, way up ahead, into stormy skies and distant stars that spell nothing but disaster.

That’s why I can’t stop listening to Chaos and the Calm, the debut studio album by English singer-songwriter James Bay. It’s a twelve-track album bursting with desire, courage, excitement, loneliness, heartbreak, and love, the emotion more powerful and prevalent than any other during those complicated years. It’s an homage to all the joys and pitfalls of growing up. It’s an unfiltered, intimate portrait of a changing mind – confronting the uncertainty of the near future (Move Together) and the pain of separation (Scars); reflecting on relationships gone awry (Let it Go) and the claustrophobic frustration of being ensnared in a hometown he had outgrown (Craving).

James Bay isn’t a household name, but he’s soaring to superstardom faster than Stay With Me hit number 1. A year ago he was busking at Brighton, playing at open mics, and opening for Hozier. Now he’s selling out arenas across the world and opening for Taylor Swift in front of 50k fans. It won’t be all that surprising if he follows the same Grammy-sweeping path as Sam Smith.

An acoustic powerhouse who blends bluesy riffs with confessional lyrics and plaintive vocals, Bay effortlessly weaves soul, blues, and indie rock in an album full of heart. Nowhere is his composite style more evident than in Hold Back the River, the gem of the album and the highly anticipated closer at concerts. The preachy, uplifting single is highlighted by progressive tempo and seamless transitions from a smoother lower register to rougher aching falsettos.

Just as compelling as its preachy chorus is the tinge of nostalgia prevalent throughout the album: “Once upon a different life/We rode our bikes into the sky/But now we’re caught against the tide/Those distant days all flashing by.” It’s echoed in the sense of yearning from Let it Go: “Trying to fit your hand inside of mine / When we know it just don’t belong/There’s no force on earth/Could me feel right.”

You leave a past you’re sick of to pursue the future of your dreams. What if you get lost chasing those dreams? What if the road gets too tough and all you want to do is return to the home you escaped? Maybe feeling lost and confused is what we twenty-somethings have in common.

Maybe we’re all just craving something we can feel.

What am I Even Saying

Musings/Rants

You know what’s the most frequently asked question in my life?

“Why are you so emo?”

It comes in several different forms: “Why are you so angsty?” “Why are you always so mad?” “Why do you never smile?”

The answer is very simple: smiling is painful. It literally hurts my face to smile more than a minute straight, even when I’m having a good time around people I like. Who the hell decided to make curved lips on full stretch the universal expression of happiness? It’s physically exhausting, like holding a coffee mug in your palm for an extended period of time. But some people can smile for hours on end like their jaws were born ajar. I used to think those people were phony as fuck until I got to know a few of them and discovered that they’re the sweetest people ever. That’s when I realized that I’m the phony one, baring my teeth like a fucking vampire when all I wanted to do was curl up in my bed and cry. And it made me wonder: are introverts just inherently more depressed and cynical than extroverts?

That’s a difficult question to answer because most introverts are camouflaged among extroverts. We all lie somewhere on the introvert-extrovert continuum, and the more heavily you lean toward the introvert side of the spectrum the more excessively you have to lie. Pretending to be outgoing and outspoken people has become our defense mechanism. Obviously some of us are better at lying than others. I suck at lying. I drop my smile when it gets even slightly unbearable. I stop socializing with people as soon as I detect the emergence of an headache. I flow in and out of my own reality when conversations get awkward. I retreat back to solitude the first chance I get. The longer I dwell in my own head the more depressed I get. So if all introverts are like me then yes, maybe we’re just a bleak species. But I can rarely distinguish the hidden introverts in a sea of extroverts.

Amazingly, even I have managed to fool some very intelligent people. A classmate said she didn’t believe I was an introvert. A relative complained that I was “too gregarious.” If an atypically shy introvert like I can convince people that I’m “too gregarious,” imagine what normal, less awkward introverts could do. Regardless of how good a liar an introvert may be, I’m sure we’re all sick of putting on a bloody mask all the damn time.

Sometimes I just want to start over. I’m not talking about going back to a particular moment in my life. I don’t want to rewind the clock because I don’t need more regrets gnawing at my messed up mind. I just want to be in a different place, like Budapest or something, with a different name, preferably something asexual like Alex or Taylor or Jaime. I’d reset, find my place in new surroundings, among people who can never unearth my past transgressions. As much as I love some people in my life right now, there are just too many others I can no longer deal with. Remember how Forest said life is like a box of chocolates? For me it feels more like a box of Bean Boozled jelly beans. You know, the ones containing both nasty and yummy flavors, except my box is 80% the former, so I’d get three boogers every time I get a strawberry.

Anyway, I’m well aware that life isn’t all rainbows and butterflies and sometimes it’s compromise that moves us along (lol thanks Maroon 5). I know it’s mostly my own fault that I’m so unhappy with myself, and I know that I can fix my situation without ditching everything I’ve come to know. I also think fate is bullshit. Your life’s not gonna be some perfectly structured skyline with proportionally distributed peaks and troughs, interrupted by occasional periods of dullness. Who knows? Maybe my life will turn out to be some downward sloping curve that gets steeper as time goes on.

But right now it isn’t. It doesn’t have to be. As I said before, I don’t know how many of you out there are introverts going through the same identity/life crisis I am, but if you’re reading this then this next part is for you too. Maybe self-pity and self-doubt is something we’ll always have to deal with, but we will work through it and it will get easier. And here’s a crazy thought: maybe we need that pang of self-pity and self-doubt to remind us of who we really are. Lying is a skill that can be improved, even perfected, through practice. The more we pretend to be the extroverted, outspoken individuals this fucked up society pressures us to be, the more we’ll be convinced that that’s who we were made to be. We’ll start to believe that introversion was an illness that we have finally cured.

And that’s absolute bullshit. It took me almost twenty years to stop hating my preference for self-reflection over social interaction. Introversion is not a problem. It’s a personality trait that’s every bit as beautiful and important as extroversion. It may not thrive in this stupid 21st Century world, but it needs to exist.