15 December 2013

Music + one last letter for 2014

Though being with Cris last year had healed me up in a way I hadn’t even imagined possible, this year, I found that there was still more healing to do. As I went on with life and went on enjoying things as they came, it seemed that, out of nowhere, some thought of the recent past would show up and deflate things.

I found myself in these weird mental cycles:

I’m having so much fun; why do I have to think of this thing now and ruin it?

Maybe thinking that this thought is ruining it is actually what is ruining it.

I’m having so much fun; why do I have to think like this and ruin it?

I kept wondering if I was unnecessarily reopening wounds that had just mended or only realizing that they were actually much deeper than I’d thought. I spent a lot of time inside my head — and, eventually, a lot less time blogging and crafting — to work these questions out.

Is processing this again doing more harm to you than good? Is there something about this that you have yet to come to terms with, or are you just rehashing the past and not letting yourself move on? What scars must you allow; how much of this are you willing to acknowledge and embrace as part of who you are now?

I found myself disappearing into music in a way I hadn’t in a long time. Sometime toward the end of the first quarter, I listened to “Fleet Foxes” for the first time, and something about the repetition and macabre implications of “White Winter Hymnal” drew me in. Eventually, the whole album awakened in me a longing for the California of my childhood.

I wanted to feel the heat of the spring sun among the endless rows of peach blossoms along the dusty county back roads. How boring I found those drives then; I couldn’t imagine why my parents wanted to just drive around to look at the same pink and white flowers over and over again, and I can still hear myself whining from the backseat. Now, I just have this memory filtered through a cranky squint. What I’d give today for all those trees.

I wanted all of it back — all those mountains and all that valley and all that coastline viewed from the backseat of a car on the freeway. How magical frost on the lawn in the early winter mornings was. How weird to see Hale-Bopp in the sky. How wet I was surprised to learn snow was, and how cold that side of the Pacific Ocean. How country music sounded on the radio. How public school construction paper and playground wood chips smelled. How tall the redwoods and the sequoias were. How it felt to make and eat my first roasted marshmallow on a twig, one night at that camp just south of Yosemite, and then to walk back to the cabins with the older kids, under the trees in the near dark.

I think California returned to me because I didn’t want to recall more recent memories that I’d already gone through and over-thought already. I didn’t want to process California, either; I just wanted to be there, somewhere faraway but familiar, and not to revisit my childhood but to make sense of my adulthood.

It felt weird to try to write or talk about these memories and these feelings while very much surrounded with stories of things going on today, in this country, where there are only two seasons. So, I just let music take me where I couldn’t physically go.

(Shoutout to Petra Magno, whose postcards from California came right in the middle of this.)

Here’s a list of the albums (plus one EP and some sessions) I discovered this year, with some of my favorite songs. The list is arranged in the order I first heard them, and I tried to find links to the same versions I listened to. I’m just sharing, of course; you don’t have to listen to all of them.

1. “Fleet Foxes” by Fleet Foxes
- “White Winter Hymnal”
- “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song”

2. “Through the Deep Dark Valley”, by The Oh Hellos
- “Like the Dawn”
- “Wishing Well”
- “In Memoriam”

3. “Ys”, by Joanna Newsom
- “Emily”
- “Cosmia”
— I love all five songs on “Ys”, really; these are just the first and last on the album.

4. “Helplessness Blues”, by Fleet Foxes
- “Montezuma”
- “Helplessness Blues”

5. “Get Noisey EP”, by Lucius
- “Go Home (Live)"
- “How Loud Your Heart Gets” (Live)

6. “Born to Die”, by Lana Del Rey
- “Blue Jeans”
- “Summertime Sadness”
- “This is What Makes Us Girls”
— Lana Del Rey doesn’t seem to belong on this list, but “Born to Die” was an interesting break. It made me think of how I might have turned out if my family had never left California.

7. “Honey I’m Home”, by Lucius (The Wild Honey Pie recording)
- “Two of Us on the Run”

8. “Buzzsessions”, by Lucius (The Wild Honey Pie recording)
- “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” (Buddy Holly cover)

Eventually, I found my own words to explain to myself what was happening. I feel like new.

I also feel too old for some of my anxieties. When they came to me this year, I felt a mix of exasperation and despair — this problem is so x years ago; have I really progressed only this much in x years? Closure is one thing; recognizing that the door is, in fact, closed is another. That was another reason I didn’t talk about some of these things with anyone, not even Cris. I wanted to show myself that I could work things out on my own and learn, on my own, to let them go.

I finally feel now that I’m able to leave certain things to gather dust in my mental museum, visited only occasionally and — finally — painlessly. Those eras are ended. The mammals have moved in. Whatever pains from the past left still living are isolated on a tropical island somewhere. If I find myself on their shores, if I see them again, I will see them only as shrunken shadows of the species that once threatened to crush me with their great weight.

Just last month, I got my hands on two more albums, I guess to ease the way out of the woods, into the new year, and into whatever life gives me next. “Pure Heroine” took me back to high school and brought back some old insecurities, but Lorde’s own jadedness helped me to put those to rest, too. After that, “Originator” was a nice reminder that I’d managed to get through everything I’ve just written about, and there’s still plenty of and to love.

+ “Pure Heroine”, by Lorde
- “Tennis Court”
- “Still Sane”

+ “Originator”, by Brooke Waggoner
- “Waterlogged”
- “To Love”

Between the day I started working on this blog entry and today, a lot of things happened to make at least 2014 clearer. Cris got a scholarship to grad school abroad. He got the letter just last week; if everything falls into place, he might be gone next month, and I might not get to see him for several months after that.

My brother Mikko, who is not coming home for Christmas, and Camille, his girlfriend of four years, broke up this week after deciding that their lives were going in different directions.

Two acquaintances died of aneurysms this week, roughly within a day of each other. One was a bubbly, well-loved 24-year-old young woman I'd met in college. She died in a foreign country, among friends but away from family.

The other person was my grandmother's best friend. My grandmother doesn't know now if she should come home from the US to say goodbye or stay with her son, who is still fighting cancer.

It doesn't seem like a good time to be far away from anyone you love; suddenly, every day away from anyone who really matters feels like a risk. After this year, though, I find it easier to accept that this risk is a part of the life I've chosen and a part of working toward the future I hope for — the future I have to have at least a little faith in if I want to keep going at all.

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