Monday, March 25, 2013

Monday Mix Tapes: Once We Get Across the Border

"It seemed he had little pity for me and the divorce I'd brought on myself. He, Eddie, and Karen liked Paul. I couldn't make them understand why I'd had to smash things up. But you seemed so happy was all they could say. And it was true: we had seemed that way. Just as I'd seemed to be doing okay after my mom died. Grief doesn't have a face."

— excerpted from Wild, by Cheryl Strayed
I'm a little more than halfway through this wonderful book by Cheryl Strayed. I had just finished reading this passage when I got to my train stop tonight on the way home from work. The book details her amazing story about hiking more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail alone  — and throughout, it also details her grief of losing her mom.

Reading this book is cathartic, so much so that it's probably a gamble each time I open it on the train and start reading it, surrounded by strangers. I so far have managed not to start crying in public over it, which is impressive, given the material and the power of her writing.

It's not just the way Cheryl Strayed captures her feelings of loss over her mom, or the way she captures her alternating terror and jubilation while on the trail alone. It's also the way she directly addresses her faults, as well. After her mother's death, she spiraled into a series of bad choices with men and drugs, which also led to her divorce from her husband, a man whom she still deeply loved.

At this point you might be reading (if you haven't stopped already, bless you!) and thinking: What the hell, Alison? I thought we were going to be talking about fun music, not getting all serious again. 

Well, it really is getting there, I swear it. After reading this particular passage, I came home and heard this song by Say Lou Lou (formerly Saint Lou Lou). It's called "Julian," and to me, it feels brave and hopeful and exactly like how I feel when reading that book.

There's something about the lyrics, "I'll get you through the check points/I'll get us through the night." There's a sense of displacement, but under it all, this hope that we're going to get to the right place eventually. ("Oh, Julian.")

I haven't written that much lately. After my last post about Local Natives, a couple of people commented to me that I seemed sad. When I wrote it, I was. But then today, I listened to that same album and I didn't feel sad anymore. It wasn't that I no longer felt anything. I just felt something different.

It's kind of like how Cheryl Strayed felt hiking the PCT, I think. One day, she's miles away from water on a hundred-and-something degree day and feeling like "a big fat idiot," but then the next:

"As I spoke, the doubts I had about myself on the trail fell away for whole minutes at a time and I forgot about being a big fat idiot...I felt like a hard-ass motherfucking Amazonian queen."

So with that said, here's one more track for your Monday mix tape. It's the kind of song that makes me stop worrying that while I might feel like a big fat idiot one day, the next I might be a hard-ass motherfucking Amazonian queen.

Sometimes, you just have to feel it. Whatever that may be.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Every Night I Ask Myself...

Local Natives played in Chicago tonight. I was originally planning to go, but that didn't work out.

Maybe it's for the best.

I’ve been listening to their new album repeatedly since it was released, so much so that it’s become deeply personal, and almost representative of these last few months of my life, strange as that may sound. And since most of that listening has been through my ear buds, riding the train and walking to work, it’s also become an album that for me, speaks specifically to my solitude as well. It's how I feel bundled up against the harsh Chicago winter wind. It's how I feel, being alone with my thoughts as I walk to work in the mornings.

I know that if I start playing Hummingbird, the new album, right as I step out the door on the way to work, by the time I get to the elevators at my office building, the last song, "Bowery," will have just started. I know this, because I've been doing it at least once a week for the last two months.

One day, one of the first days, "Breakers" came on and I was so excited, I couldn't stop grinning as I stood, alone on the crowded train.

One day, one of the worst days, I listened to "You & I" and pressed my cheek against the cold train window. I didn't realize I was crying until I caught a woman staring at me, with that specific, kind sense of worry in her eyes that nice people give strangers they see crying in public. So I decided to just keep crying, because I needed to cry and because the songs were asking all my questions for me.

"When did your love, when did your love grow cold? The closer I get, the farther I have to fall..."

It’s funny how I can love an album so much when it makes me feel so deeply sad. But perhaps sad isn’t the right word. The album also makes me really damn happy. (I swear.)

But there's something about these songs. I feel it in almost every one. A yearning for something. Another fan said to me: "It's definitely a breakup album."

Maybe. But it's so much more than that. It makes me feel a yearning for so many things—things that I know I can't have, and things I didn't even realize I missed or wanted until that moment I hear it through the song. Either way, it's a feeling of wanting, of needing, something that seems just out of reach. But maybe if we keep listening, we'll get there.


The song "Colombia" begins with a slow, steady piano, and the words:

"The day after I had counted down all of your breaths down until
There were none, were none, were none, were none;
A hummingbird crashed right in front of me and I understood all you did for us."

From my first listen, I knew immediately what it was about.

I wanted to be wrong. But I wasn't. It's a song for vocalist Kelcey Ayers' mother, who passed away in 2012, and as the song builds, and builds, I'll be damned if you can't feel every ounce of his loss come through every plea.

"Ohhh, every night I ask myself
Am I loving enough?

Am I loving enough?

Patricia, every night I'll ask myself
Am I giving enough?
Am I?"

I can't tell you how many times I've listened to this song. I can't tell you how many times I ask myself those same questions.


The Saturday morning the tickets went on sale, we’d been out late at another show the night before. But we were serious about getting these tickets. He'd set an alarm on his phone to make sure to buy our tickets as soon as they went on sale. When the alarm went off at 10 am, he got out of bed, grabbed his laptop and carried it over, and bought us our tickets from bed.

A little bit later we walked to get breakfast, and the sun was shining. It was bright, too bright for how cold it really was. Our fingers were interlocked together but we were a million miles apart.

Across the booth from him at the diner, I gripped my coffee mug and looked down, and then up at him, trying to read his eyes. He smiled at me, but his eyes didn’t. I had a feeling, then, that maybe we weren't actually going to go see Local Natives together in March.

Because his eyes said everything that I knew he wasn't going to say. Or at least wasn't going to say again, not when the sun was so goddamn bright and it was so cold outside and all I could taste was the coffee on my tongue.

Later that day, I played "Heavy Feet" as I walked down the street away from his place, and to the train.

"After everything, after everything/left in the sun shivering"

The album comes to a close with "Bowery," which is perfect. ("Can't tell if the ceiling is rising or if the floor is falling down.")

I'm sure Local Natives put on a beautiful performance tonight. But I'm okay, right here.

"At the time I wasn't with you

At the time I didn't care."