Song #21 // First Aid Kit, “My Silver Lining” [Stay Gold]

First Aid KitIt’s an awful feeling: the travel, the sacrifice, the pressure, the awkwardness, the expectation, the hopes, the waiting, the news, the disappointment, the guilt. And it’s become an annual tradition.

Last year I flew to Chicago in the middle of the infamous Polar Vortex. Interviewed with one school in a cramped hotel room, my chair, mismatched, placed in front of the hallway in which I came. I thought it went well. I really did. I didn’t. A few days later, back in San Francisco, I received the news and literally thought my life was ending. I had no hope. No future.

This year, just this week, I repeated the same process in a new place: Vancouver, different school, chair in the corner this time. Though I didn’t think it went well. The people, well, it just didn’t feel right. I couldn’t tell if it was ignorance or arrogance that had someone from a different field currently doing the job they’d want me to do. I kinda knew. But I didn’t. But then I did. My daughter was on my lap as I opened the message on my laptop.

But this year felt a bit different. No immediate loss of hope. No immediate sense of doom or a lack of future. Maybe the drugs help. Maybe I’ve matured to realize it’s not the end. Or maybe I’m just used to it.

What’s most striking about this process during this time of year is that it’s a new year with new classes. Optimism should reign, and instead I have to fake it. And it’s cold. And the sun comes down in slanted rays. Last year we introduced our daughter to a new nanny, her first. This year a new nanny, with my same mix of guilt and anxiety and fear. Last year I drove around listening to The Tragically Hip’s “Nautical Disaster” on repeat. It sorta helped. This year I’m just gonna keep reading, and playing, and moving forward. As I’ve said in a past post: what other choice do I have?

Almost exactly one year ago I also penned this poem. It’s gone unrevised so it’s not in the best of shape. But the sentiment is there. I think that’s worth something.

“January Triptych”

I.

Unusual
for this time of year
the temperatures so cold
well, that,
and the wind-
chill (to say nothing of the blowing snow)
they cancelled school
and work and special events
It’s only the first week
of the new year, not even,
and the snow has surpassed
last year’s totals

No one went out
and no one was happy

At just over 5”
it was the driest year
on record in San Francisco
unusual
and this time of year
the street corners look
like Christmas tree lots, or
miniature manicured forests
Some you pass and you
get the scent of sweet sap
Some you pass and they
just look dead, not even dying
I took ours to the corner
in broad daylight
which may be against some code
I abandoned it, didn’t
look back
When I got home there was
a hole where it used to be
and pine needles
everywhere
I tried to forget it
did errands
throughout the neighborhood
but each time I circled
our block I’d see it
standing alone still
with its familiar shape
and spaces
where we hung our memories

II.

I walked home crying
in broad daylight
breaking some unwritten code
of how men should act
We’d been together
for over six months
some days
every waking hour, literally,
and when my disappointments came
as they tend to do
this time of year
she made it not matter
even though
I knew it mattered more
for her
than me
eventually, but I gave her away
left before the goodbyes
because I knew I couldn’t take it
Took a picture of her
and Shannon walking
down the street
like some first day of school
like a happy time
like we all agreed to this

When I got home
I wiped my eyes and read
an email notifying me of another
rejection, no explanation
as if the entire world
and all those within it
are telling me something
telling me the same thing
about how what I’m doing
isn’t working

III.

Tomorrow I teach again
and hide my eyes
I filled up the car
saw our tree
hoping expecting that maybe
someone would take it home
so it would no longer be
my problem my guilt
Scanning then I hear
the worst song about missing someone
“I ain’t missing you”
or something like that
the song that dawned on me
years after first hearing it
as a child
that he did miss her, it was ironic
but there’s nothing metaphoric
about a line
“like a telegraph to your soul”
and still I keep listening
like in that first time
suddenly ashamed that I
let it speak to me
so obvious
so literal
such arbitrary breaks

Of course
this is not my story
but it was
and no one
not anything
is working today
except this stupid song

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Song #20 // Courtney Barnett “Avant Gardener” [The Double EP]

Courtney-Barnett-The-Double-EP-A-Sea-Of-Split-Peas-608x608When we travel, it’s not that we become who we truly are. Instead, we become who we truly want to be. Short trips are better.

We’re still hungover from last night. We poured on the compliments, made eye contact, struck up conversations with strangers because we knew we’d never see them again. The bartender gave us free drinks, talked to us between serving other less-inviting customers. We felt the charm, the confidence in saying, “We’re not from here…We’re from California.”

We stayed out late, stumbled like we were in college. The fog hung low to the cobblestones of this city, Vancouver, like some gentile vision of the future. Like a dream inside a cloud. We briefly debated what a donair was before buying one. We spent all morning regretting it, wishing the cleaning ladies would take out the trash to erase the smell of humus and cold french fries.

So we decide it’s best to walk around Stanley Park: literally. Take the seawall around the perimeter and watch as the mist and fog climbs over the top of mystical cedars like the visual echo of bonfires. All around us we see fathers and children. One father pushes his small daughter, no more than a year old, in an umbrella stroller. She’s sleeping, with her little head to the side and a calm, if bored, look on her tiny face. We know she’s safe. Her entire world is being taken care of for her. Her dad is so lovely.

It all makes us very sentimental, and sad. All we want to do is hug our children. At times we’re alone on the path, and in those moments we feel triumphantly independent. But yet we have the urge under us at all times to call the people we love, to tell them we miss them, to tell them we want them. We know that if they were actually there the magic of solitude would evaporate. And so, again, on the shaded eastern side, with snow-capped peaks in the distance to the north, we feel suddenly very sentimental and very sad.

And we wonder if we forgot to take our meds, because it was before our meds that we always felt sentimental and sad, and things that make most people happy make us sad, like looking at old photographs or thinking of family trips when we were young, and we try to recall if we popped that pill bottle open last night after the donair, whatever that is, and whether just missing one night can account for feeling so out of control with emotions, emotions that, no doubt, are pure and real, but nonetheless feel like they can push us over the edge, don’t get too close to the seawall now.

When we notice a memorial bench, with a brief, almost laughable nameplate: SoandSo: He made people happy. Just that. He made people happy. And for the first time in our lives we realize that maybe it really is as simple as trying to make others happy. That in a somewhat unselfish way we had always thought it was about making ourselves happy. But this guy made others happy, and someone thought enough of that to memorialize it here. What a revelation.

But the revelation passes as we realize the inherent fallacy in such a summation. That we can’t always make people happy. That sometimes we have to make people unhappy. That our daughters can’t always get what they want. That sometimes we need to be alone to be better lovers. That sometimes telling people they’re wrong or bad is the only thing we can do. And everyone’s unhappy for a time. And maybe they’re happy again in the future and it’s never clear if it’s a causal relationship or what.

And the scale of it all makes us think about God, and how God maybe faces the same dilemmas. Except that she understands the scale. Or we hope she does. Has an understanding of the infinite expanse of compassion and love that we can only glimpse in pockets, at most, if we’re lucky, once or twice a day. Sometimes we don’t see it at all.

But today, in Stanley Park, we do, and we continue walking, slowly turning counterclockwise back to the city, wondering if tonight we should treat ourselves to the cute bistro down the block, and how the coffeehouse inside the art gallery is open till 6 and we can make it if we speed up a bit. And then all the emotion is gone. All the introspection. It’s been a while. It’s cold. We’re tired. We suddenly feel that our inner-thighs are cold and chafing to our stiff jeans.

We just want to go home. We were who we were, and we allowed ourselves to be selfish. Just as we think this we pass Siwash Rock, which was supposedly a person (being?) rewarded for his unselfishness. He was rewarded for being unselfish by being turned into a large rock structure next to the island. Later we try to confirm this on Wikipedia and read a different story. We’re confused. We don’t know who to believe.

There’s a day left in this trip and we’re already checking our flight times. We’re already ready to be ourselves again. We’re already ready. But till then we just think about the people we love. And we make sure to take our meds. Because that’s important, too.

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Song #19 // Chet Faker, “Cigarettes & Loneliness” [Built On Glass]

Chet-Faker-Built-On-GlassAll I wanted was to be left alone. Alone to read. Alone to prepare. Alone to be alone. I try to explain that it’s hard-wired in me, but it never comes out clearly. Saying without hurting, “I just want to be alone.”

And then I was. Flying across the country alone. Back home. Stepping out into the 60 degree California night en route to a dark, cold house. Alone. But then I got into the shuttle, just a short trip between SFO and my car. And there I was face to face with 20-somethings. Beautiful. Big diamond rings on the women’s hands. Smart clothes on the men. Tanned. Actual surfboards taking up the luggage rack. My overpacked suitcase between my legs, I looked down at my winter coat, now covered with cat hair and dry skin from a week away and a day of travel. I wondered if it was all worth it.

Immediately, though, I thought about this actual draft I composed before the trip, while I was still surrounded. Not alone. Not home. You can tell why I saved it as a draft, but never planned to publish it in this form:

There’s something quietly humbling about being here. In small town, rural Minnesota in the depth of winter. I live most of my life feeling insecure and out of place: knowing that I don’t make enough, that I’m not good looking enough, that my future isn’t as bright as I once hoped it would be. I’m convinced that my shoulders have grown hunched to reflect my inner feelings of inadequacy.

And then I come here, from sunny, futuristic San Francisco, teaching at Stanford, with several degrees to my name, seemingly a world away and so much to feel confident about. And here it means nothing. Instead I’m surrounded by men who built their own houses, women who sacrificed their careers to take care of their children and parents, and a historic downtown that keeps bumping along, unwilling to give in to the economic decline and drain of recent generations.

But here it’s different. It’s not inadequacy or insecurity. Here it’s a mutual admiration; that we live our separate lives in our separate ways

No one is at a loss for me not continuing in that vein. But the sentiment was at least partly right: at home I feel undervalued, and away I feel, well, perhaps just a bit full of myself.

But what does that say about being alone? The urge to be alone in the latter, the consequential loneliness I feel alone in the former?

I arrived home, as expected, to a house that had been locked up for a week. It was dark, and cold. I put things in order without music or sounds. I drank a beer by the light of Christmas bulbs we hadn’t taken down before leaving. I got into bed and never felt warm. And this, for what it’s worth, is pure coincidence, but today (the day after) I listened to Chet Faker’s “Cigarettes & Loneliness” on repeat at least a dozen times. I’m not feeling particularly lonely, but it still felt like the right song for the right time. It still does.

This song may just be my favorite song off of my favorite album of 2014. Against a lot of odds perhaps since I had never heard of him until my friend Christian dropped his name. Even then I didn’t get around to listening to the LP until CBC Radio 2’s The Signal started adding “Gold” to their rotation. And even then I was more dialed in to the R&B that anchors the front of the album more than the introspective, DIY nature of the back-end. In fact, this song really only came to my immediate attention when I fell asleep one night on the train back home. As we were pulling into 4th and King this song was humming in my headphones. I awoke, startled to be into the city already. I restarted the song, rediscovering it for the first time. Listening to it on repeat for what ended up being the way home.

And because Christian thinks that 1998 and C&L go together (they’re back to back on the album) here’s a live version, which–it should be noted–should probably be played first, before the video above.

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Song #18 // Sylvan Esso, “Coffee” [Sylvan Esso]

sylvan-essoIn honor of this song’s entry, I’ll share what I believe to be the cheapest, quickest way to roast quality coffee at home. Ever since I started roasting my own several years ago, I haven’t bought any beans from stores or other roasters. You won’t either once you perfect your own personal roasts and blends.

What you’ll need:

  • Green coffee
  • Hot air popcorn popper
  • Strainers and/or a vegetable steamer
  • Wooden spoon

Where to get the stuff:

There are many places to buy green coffee online. It’s a bit more difficult, however, to find places that are high in quality, consistent, and low in prices. My favorite is Sweet Maria’s, a really reputable importer out of Oakland, CA. Their website has beautiful descriptions and flavor profiles, and their selection is typically can’t-go-wrong quality.

Beans, like anything, are cheaper when you buy them in bulk. However, I typically buy between 2-5lbs when I’m trying a new bean; you don’t want to get stuck with a bean you don’t care for. I love fruity, rich beans from Ethiopia (and sometimes amp up the berry profile by getting dry-process beans; though that’s a bit controversial in some parts.) However, I also love dark, caramelly beans that coat your mouth with a rich cup. So I also buy beans from Java and Sumatra. To make a really balanced blend, I combine them both, typically at a 2:1 ratio of Java:Ethiopia. But you can play around.

I bought my hot air popper off of Craigslist years ago for $10, but you can find good ones new online for $25 or under. The best ones have air vents on the side of the chamber, and not the bottom (I’ll explain why later.) They also have an on/off switch. Mine doesn’t, which means I have to unplug the machine every time I want to stir. The plastic upper part doesn’t matter; you’ll remove that and throw it out anyway.

The basic process:

1. Pour your beans into the popper
The less beans you roast per roast the easier it is to control, but obviously the longer it takes to accrue any significant amount. As a result, I typically roast about a cup per roast.

2. Set up bowl under popper to catch chaff
Beans have several layers of skin that they shed during a roast. The popper will blow them out into a waiting bowl that you can dispose of later.

3. Cover the top of the popper
Like popcorn, the beans will fly around when you turn the popper on. I cover the top of mine with a vegetable steamer. Just make sure whatever you use has vents to let the hot air escape.

4. Turn it on
The beauty of this method is that it’s a one-step process. Incredibly easy. The nuance (and dare I say, skill) comes in how long you leave the beans roasting.

5. After a few minutes, turn off popper and stir beans
This is where side vents have an advantage over a bottom vent. Side vents will blow the beans around in a circle, typically resulting in a more even roast and less required stirring. However, in a bottom vent popper (like mine) you need to stop and stir so that some beans don’t get stuck at the bottom and burn while others pop free and stay green. You’ll need to gauge for yourself (and your popper) how many times to repeat this step, but I typically only do it once per batch.

6. Listen for the cracks
This process largely involves judging beans’ roast level by the sounds they emit. There are three basic stages of cracks that correspond to beans’ doneness:

  • First crack (sound like popcorn, intermittent and loud): Light roast, City/City+
  • Second crack (much quieter, may sound more spaced out): Medium-Dark roast, Full City/Full City+
  • Third cracks (like machine-gun fire, typically followed by billowing smoke): Dark roast and/or fire, Vienna/French

7. Turn off popper and pour beans into strainer
After the first crack your beans are ready to take off. However, depending on the flavor profile even these “done” beans may not taste like much. Getting closer to the second crack gets closer to a medium roast, or what most people are used to. Again, though, it depends on your beans. Some beans take really well to a dark roast, but be ready if you push it that far, the beans will continue to roast for a while after you dump them, and you may get a strainer full of burnt, undrinkable beans. It obviously depends, but I typically go to the second crack (which, admittedly, I often can only barely hear) before taking off most beans.

8. Pass beans between strainers, preferably outside
Again, beans will continue to roast even once removed from the popper. By passing them from strainer to strainer you’re helping them to cool down quicker. By doing it outside (or, in my case, out a 2nd floor window) you’re not only cooling them down, but helping to remove extra chaff. After a few minutes they’ll be good to go.

9. Store in an air-tight container for at least a day
A lot of coffee roasting guides will say you can drink coffee at this stage, but I generally don’t agree. Put them in an air-tight container like a jar (if you put them in a plastic container they’ll be fine, but the emitting gas will probably blow the cover) for at least 24hrs. When you next open the jar up you’ll not only be ready to drink your first home-roasted coffee, you’ll also be treated to a nose-full of the freshest coffee you’ve ever enjoyed.

That’s it. Cheap: about $6/lb. Quick: about 4-8min. Simple: just the steps above. Experiment. Don’t be afraid: it’s just coffee.

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Song #17 // S. Carey “Glass/Film” [Range of Light]

 

S. CareyI keep few traditions around New Years. I’m not a huge fan of NYE, but I nonetheless feel compelled to go out. I can’t stand the mind-numbing TV countdown shows, but I still like having them on. The first hangover of the year makes you want to forget your final regret of last year. And being a Notre Dame football fan, well, kinda opens up my viewing options on a day of bowl games. None of these are traditions, though; they’re annual recurrences. And, yes, there’s a difference.

But for as long as I can remember, I’ve played or hummed the words to Crash Test Dummies’ “Winter Song” on New Years Day. Say what you will about them (although I’m guessing people, at most, have a vague recollection of “Mmm Mmm Mmm”), their first album was a raucous mix of quasi-Celtic and Americana with some incredibly witty, existential songwriting (who else can get away with a song titled “At My Funeral” that makes you both laugh and think at the same time?)

It’s, to me, the perfect song to welcome in a new year. Against the backdrop of a wintry setting, hinted at with family history, local legend, and personal longing, you get what I consider one of the best lines in any 1990s pop song: “But I cannot rewrite my old diaries/ I can only recall all the things that came and went.” Simple? Of course. But it’s a shaved down fact; unadorned with sentimentality. And in the early days of Janus, it’s looking forward while seemingly only giving a quick look over the shoulder. There’s no loss over looking back here.

And so on this first day of 2015, after looking out at the low-rising sun over the windswept snowy fields of the northern Midwest, I greeted the new year with the closest thing I have to an annual tradition on this day, and as I put my daughter down for a nap I sang her this little song:

I can’t say that I miss my old dog much
And I’ve never looked back since I left home long ago
But I hoped a trip into the country
Would help remind me all the things I used to know

That’s what I came for
That’s what I hoped for

There once was good blood in the breeze here
We rode across the lake each new year
What have I remembered
What did this used to be

The ice, it used to shine upon our river
It was a mirror that the cold dark water ran way deep beneath
And here were many years of winter drownings
I kept track of these things as they were told to me

And that’s what I came for
That’s what I hoped for

There once was good blood in the breeze here
We rode across the lake each new year
What have I remembered
What did this used to be

The changes of the year were once a blessing
Well this year they’re the seasons of my discontent
But I cannot rewrite my old diaries
I can only recall all the things that came and went

And that’s what I came for
That’s what I hoped for

There once was good blood in the breeze here
We rode across the lake each new year
What have I remembered
What did this used to be

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Song #16 // Lykke Li, “No Rest For the Wicked” [I Never Learn]

Lykke LiNo, it wasn’t the countdown. Or the build-up. It wasn’t all the plans, or the lack of plans. It certainly wasn’t loneliness (as being alone was one of the few things that stopped time for her.) None of the typical things–the things you read about in newspapers or see on the TV news with headlines like “Beat the Holiday Blues”–are what caused her to dislike New Year’s Eve. It was something else. Something even she couldn’t fully articulate.

If pushed to explain, she’d go back to her first apartment alone. It was in the country, flanked by fields on one side, woods on the other. And across the country road was the back of a high school. Each evening the sun shone on the three stories of brick as if they composed a giant movie screen, and the opposite-facing bleachers were the sole audience to this drive-in theatre of oranges and gold.

Except the movie was always in double-speed: quickly telling the story of her day before fading to black, often with no one there to witness it.

How many times was she at work around the house, making dinner or cleaning up, when she’d look out her dirty window glass and see the nightly display already in progress? Something in her always compelled her to drop everything and run to the empty football field to watch. Even when she didn’t do just that–putting on a pair of shoes and simply standing in the cooling grasses populated by slowing grasshoppers and blurs of bats–she felt the push. The slight disappointment in herself if she didn’t. Like she had missed out on something that would never return. Like she had let something, or someone, down.

And so it was each December 31st. It wasn’t the final minutes of anticipation, nor the optimism at the turn of the calendar. With just seconds left she’d grow anxious, wishing somehow that she could slow the clock. Rush out into the empty field of her life and take it all in at her own pace. Everyone around her foolishly rushing forward. They didn’t notice. They didn’t care.

This is why she didn’t mind being alone. This is why the seconds after midnight were the hardest. There were no holiday blues, they were only painted in black in the moments after.

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Song #15 // Real Estate, “Talking Backwards” [Atlas]

Real EstateI still don’t know how authors are able to write about memory without touching on nostalgia and emotion. When I see it done well I’m hit with a feeling of jealous awe. How can one talk about firsts or the passing of time without a whiff of sentimentality? And yet somehow in those records of success you find the impact of emotion in prose that can seem heartless upon close inspection. The memories are lacunae, or maybe the insulation between words: unseen but still felt.

It’s a fine line, and I’m not sure which side this band is on. On one hand, the shimmering punctuations between strums and fuzzy vocals emits not just a feeling, but a pastiche of memories riding in the back of my parents’ car on a warm Sunday, listening to whatever burgeoning alternative station my sister was into at the time. They were days of Toad the Wet Sprocket and R.E.M. They were carefree only because I was so young and so naive and so focused on the sense of being carefree.

On the other, bands like these–for better or worse–can come off as nostalgia cover bands. Not that they’re covering the bands of my youth, but actually covering the feelings that those memories radiate. What if it were possible to create a soundtrack composed solely of what it felt like to kick off church shoes and run into the shaded backyard? The result would be something like this album.

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Song #14 // The Haden Triplets, “Slowly” [The Haden Triplets]

Haden TripletsThe bell hanging over the door hadn’t rung properly in years, a missing clapper leaving the overhang all but silent. Instead, visitors were meekly announced by the creaking spring holding the screen door onto the building, and the follow-up slam as the wooden frame met the doorway.

Locals muttered, “Hi Bill,” not expecting a reply, as he was never in sight. Visitors looking through the collection of kitchen supplies and antique cookware were meanwhile startled to find him in the back of the store, huddled over a computer placed precariously on a makeshift table of 2x4s nailed to the exposed wooden walls. The lumber was original, dating back over a hundred years. Not as old as the first hardware store that had stood here at the town’s founding, the one that was built with timber from the nearby camps: the rest of it hauled inland to build the burgeoning northern settlements or shipped down Lake Michigan to Chicago. Shortly after the first, the new store was built, nary a hesitation by the townspeople to slow down or reconsider their original plan.

With the new building came new additions: a small grain elevator next to the would-be computer desk; schoolhouse electric lights (presumably from the same shipment delivered to the district schoolhouse around the lake) to replace the gas fixtures; and additions to the eastern and western walls, practically doubling the capacity of the store and setting the scene for the late century ability (and economic need) to sell plastic summer toys and autumn decorations to the tourists seeking an authentic experience in the forgotten town up north.

A single cast iron box stove stood in the middle of the floor, no barricades set up to guard it; instead children learned the hard way not to get too close. Never glowing at full capacity, Bill instead supplemented it in the winter with tiny ceramic heaters made in China and plugged in via extension cords throughout the store. On this day no less than three were buzzing to fill the empty space with electric heat when the door slammed–“Hiya, Bill”–with the full force of the screen door that wasn’t taken down, again, this November.

This album was recorded with three voices singing into a single mic. The harmonies can be fully appreciated when any of the individual sisters sing a solo; it’s not that their personal voices are lacking, but that when they rejoin their counterparts you realize the full impact that a cohesive ensemble can produce. This album feels like a visit to someone’s living room: intimate, cozy, and without any pretensions at all to the world outside.

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Song #13 // Hospitality, “I Miss Your Bones” [Trouble]

HospitalityI’m writing this from rural Minnesota. In late December. We awoke to pale blue skies and temperatures several notches below zero. The sun continued its slow assault on the 5″ of snow we received several days ago, perhaps chipping away millimeters a day as the ground cover crusted over, turning to ice. There’s evidence that snowmobiles cut across the front lawn again last night, creating an ad hoc highway between the farmlands and downtown several miles away. You can look out for miles on an endless horizon, your view only hampered every few dozen feet by cornstalk stubble.

This frozen morning made me wonder: where do our talents emerge? More to the point, assuming we all have hidden (if unrealized) talents, what is the alchemy that finally brings them forth? What gentle, or violent, curation brings them to fruition?

For me, my nascent “song” writing begun in junior high blossomed into what can only be called by its proper name–poetry–in mid-high school. I stapled my first collection together (written and revised, before I even knew what revision was) and gave it to friends. It was called Scenes & Fields. I still don’t know where that title came from. But I love it. It may still be the best title I’ve ever given something. It was also so bold to write it, to print it, and to share it with others. I was either incredibly arrogant or incredibly naive with my talents. Maybe I was just incredibly brave.

Either way, I created it in quiet moments, alone. I looked out onto suburban landscapes of season-ended golf courses, browned and forgotten tree clusters, and parklands abandoned by people but repopulated by Canada geese. In an ironic gesture I wrote what I saw, dreaming of getting out, in the meantime securing all that was around me to memory through blue pen ink.

Likewise, many miles and years later, I look out from our temporary house, literally in the middle of cornfields, and think to myself that this scene, this feeling, this moment can only be described using the title I dreamed up half a lifetime ago.

I don’t miss any of it, of course. But there’s a romance to things past. Crystallized like the snow wrapping us tight: either holding us in a comforting embrace or holding us back from what lies beyond.

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Song #12 // Future Islands, “Seasons (Waiting On You)” [Singles]

Future IslandsThere was a time last year where I was doing a reverse commute. As a compromise to my paternity leave (which is 6 weeks long whereas an academic quarter is 10 weeks) I was allowed to come into work at night and on the weekends to tutor students in our writing center. Whereas I usually take buses and trains to get down to Palo Alto from SF (resulting in a 2hr commute each way; the topic of another post perhaps) in these instances I’d drive and make it down in 45min or less.

Especially in the waning daylight weeks of November and December I’d drive down the 280 alongside the San Andreas Fault listening to new Arcade Fire with the windows open. It was, for all intents and purposes, my first foray back into the adult, public world since my daughter was born in June. I was working. I was doing what I have been trained to do. And I was alone. Gloriously alone, at least for that commute where I was doing 80 on the right while the traffic to my left crawled back to the city.

What was most fascinating to me was that as I drove closer to campus, down Sand Hill Rd., the leaves on the giant oaks and smaller sweetgums had all begun to change. Instead of the green I had last seen in August, they were now all red, orange, and yellow. It was as if the seasons had changed without notifying me. It dawned on me that I had been cloistered in San Francisco, emerging every day to take my daughter for walks, but never seeing the evidence of the world continuing to move on. In hindsight I suppose it was idyllic, but as I drove down this stretch of suburbia each night it felt like I had missed out on something significant.

There are a lot of mixed feelings about Future Islands, and I share all of them, too. This latest LP is for fans of mid-80s art rock (again with the 80s), alternative to the power pop of the day before things like “alternative” even existed. But I’m a fan of this mid-career David Bowie and Roxy Music sound so this feels like home to me. Like a late morning radio show in 1983, on as I pulled the vacuum cleaner across thick carpet.

Sometimes time is relative. Sometimes it waits for us. Sometimes it doesn’t.

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