Written to the track “Funeral Pyre” by Julien Baker
Recently, a new artist I had fallen in love with was Julien Baker. The first conversation I had with a new friend last week, was about her, and how she put so much emotional prowess into each line of her music. The instrumentals are gentle, a single electric guitar, yet her voice is expressive, succinct and weightless. Weightless, but at the same time, the listener can feel the burdens of her sadness, entrenched in her struggle to defeat the binary.
As a Christian, as a woman, as a member of the queer community and a native to Tennessee, she uses the microphone as a well-oiled surrogate to tackle her pain and insecurities, along with all the tension she had grown up with, entirely doused with exhaustion.
I constantly think of how coming out will never get easier anytime soon. This is a topic that needs to be discussed in education, by parents, by friends—and not sloppily shacked in a corner, laying dormant, only to be reconciled when someone actually comes out.
It’s so wonderful to be myself, to be queer in a community that accepts me. I think about how queerness is a part of my identity, and how it has helped me break out of my comfort zone—from this nearly mute girl growing up to less of a nearly mute girl. As my sexuality has forced me to do so, I would never have my life any other way. And I aim to dedicate the rest of my life making sure others who are not as fortunate are loved and reassured, because they are so important. It’s time to stop focusing on fighting for my own beliefs and to focus to fight for the lives of the disenfranchised.
Written to the track “Vacation” by Florist
Mellow Frankie Cosmos mixed with Best Coast, but not as abrasive. I think about kissing, what makes it beautiful and what makes the emotions of a kiss mutual. Kissing, as it seems rather insignificant, embodies an arsenal of ways on what it is like to be human. That is, how to be intimate, loving, nervous, excited and happy…a kiss enacted in movies and books where there is nothing but tragedy revives the absence of happiness, acting as a type of comic relief. A kissing scene, acts, perhaps like a catalyst for hope—and that this show or book is not all shambles and misery and death, but rather, helps hold the light at the end of the tunnel.
I saw Florist live in Brooklyn’s Baby All Right just a few weeks back. Emily, the lead singer, equipped with a short fro, a fitted black turtleneck and mustard-rimmed glasses walked onto the stage in awkward intervals. Moments later, the audience were fighting over the heat pad she had thrown to the crowd, which were once nestled in her pants.
Written to the track “Hero” by Family of the Year
Laying in bed, I recall the times Adam, Vanessa and I spent staying up all day and then all night and then all day, just one year ago. Beach, sunset, sunrise, beach, repeat. Ice cream and Wawa sandwiches at the precipice of the night, “home-style haircuts,” me driving—with Adam’s body out my sunroof. We would sit in CJ’s room and listen to pop punk while his parents slept, and he would lay on my leg and say “love yew!!!” in that short, incremental burst. And every time I left his house, we would hug so tight that I was digesting his sharp bones and his fusion scent of wonder bread and cotton, which he claimed was his natural odor.
Written to the track “Angelina” by Pinegrove
Often times, even after that particular day in August, I found myself dropping off my packages in the mailbox adjacent to Adam’s house. I would still make that twenty-minute drive to get my gas at the Shell next to that mundane New Jersey strip mall with nothing special; your resident Post Office, Chinese takeout restaurant, Laundromat, Karate school, Pizzeria and Bagel Shop…each plastered with storefronts covered with neutral colored paint that seemed to be held together with Elmer’s glue, chipping off from years of negligence.
Although this plaza with the mailbox was always out of my way and Shell gas usually cost me an extra two to three dollars per tank, I kept going back there. Every time I dropped off my package, I admired Romeo’s Pizzeria, of course, the name, all too original. But it would take me back to high school where Adam and I would order large cheese pizzas, which were nothing too exceptional in taste, and Ben from AP Euro would always ring us up.
Spending time with Adam was like driving around with your license the first few months after you get it—except with him, that charm and excitement never quite expired. It was like that type of freedom without the transaction of responsibility.
It has been over six months. His nineteenth birthday just passed. Still, I don’t think I will ever understand death as a tangible subject. But what I can slowly understand are the happy memories that construct life before death, and after death, and the significance that time has when someone is alive.
Without tragedy, there is no renaissance. There is no realization of true appreciation. Happy things, small things–entailing, say, forehead kisses, the scent of French fries in your lover’s tousled hair, an exceptional romantic restaurant restroom or the sunrise by the lake that you miss every morning because you slept a little too late…
I think about him the most when I am driving. A mundane experience has become a spectacular one when I bring my thoughts to consciousness. I have been reading a lot of Virginia Woolf lately…I do not have enough words to express this in succinct terms (and neither does Woolf, but that is part of the beauty of consciousness), but a quote I remember distinctly is how she says the past is beautiful because one never realizes an emotion at the time. It grows over time, and we only have emotions of the past. The present, which builds upon the past, is what Adam has built. Warmth, love and an ever-growing support system from friends and family are the ingredients, the kernels of affection, which have helped immortalize his passing.
The distinct details of the best and worst memories are doused in stench, sight, noise and touch…in savory, maybe unsavory environments. I accept that distinction of feelings will never hurt any less, but the ability we all have now is to capture life, more fruitfully–we have a pristine plate to start on everyday, and that is the best type of reason, the best justice, the only justice, for my dear friend.
Tragedy, like a creative work, is a process. Time may never make tragedy hurt less, but time and experiences after tragedy help you to continue building with what you have of the past, making you realize how much you can live for.
Written to the track “Pink + White” by Frank Ocean
The lady at the Plangere Center makes my coffee perfect every time, from her enthusiastic laugh to her asking me how my day is going to the perfect amount of lightly sweetened almond milk she adds to my cup of smooth, strong coffee that keeps me working throughout my day. One of my sources of genuine happiness comes from a lady whom I do not even the first name of. I am going to ask tomorrow, and introduce myself as well.
I think so many of us have trouble figuring out if we are happy or not. Maybe that is because we materialize happiness like obtaining a Golden Fleece or the like, and sketch an image of happiness in our head as some tangible, big quality.
Whenever you feel like you are not happy, there is always happiness you can find around you. My view of happiness is that it is a compilation of small things; maybe the sun is shining brighter today or your coffee tastes extra smooth. Or it is that new friend you made today where you two connected so so well.
Happiness is not a prize. It is a goal. Although these two things take effort and hard work to accomplish, a goal takes small steps and planning. A prize can often times, just be handed to you. You make that choice when you decide how you interpret happiness.
Written to the track “Once More to See You” by Mitski
A few days ago, I entered the city, alone—the bustling street cafés and swiveling taxis and hip-hop music from clothing stores, would blare—overwhelmingly in my face. The city, so disheveled, so stripped of love, melted in stench…was so isolating. The rush-hour subway was crowded with passengers, dressed with stressed illustration in the wrinkles of their noses and focused eyes. The subway poles were rubbed with butter.
I like the city. In fact, I love the city. But I like the quiet parts. Like how Park Slope looked like a snapshot of my Puerto Rico vacation three years ago and how the couples were out, hand in hand at a leisurely pace, participating in casual tête-à-tête, walking their nice dogs and children.
Written to the track “Waste of Time” by Elvis Depressedly
All my friends tell me I have my entire life figured out and that they are jealous because they can’t even figure out if they want to stay in college or why they are in college. But that does not make me any better or any more well-equipped to be more successful or less successful than them. In fact, I am completely terrified. I am terrified of changing my mind, of being able to afford my education by myself, of finding satisfaction in love and friendship and my career, of doing well in school, of getting into my graduate school of choice…
Truthfully, I am terrified of everything. But I still want to do everything that makes me uncomfortable, or I am never going to realize what I actually want.
I am trying my best.
Written to the track “Creator, Destroyer” by Angel Olsen
Near the end of senior year, my parents were cleaning out their room had asked me to help move some of their things into the living room for extra space. As I opened the door to their walk-in closet, which I had never been in before, I noticed these familiar drawings taped on the mirror. All these years, my parents have kept my awful artwork that I drew on Applebee’s construction paper when we would go out to eat there. I had tried so hard to impress them. There were pictures of animals and of my brother and my grandma, but most of them were of me in the middle holding my Mom and Dad’s hands, smiling. The sun was always out.
I cannot say that they stopped loving me after I came out to them, but they have been so distant ever since. But I do hope that they never stop loving me. They show their love in subtle ways, like when they ask me what I want for dinner or if my jacket is warm enough or if I’d like to invite a friend to sleep over. I think they show their affection in ways in which they can still keep to themselves.
Written to the track “Free” by Angel Olsen
I’m sneaking out of my house as a teen and driving my car around 4am just to meet with Vanessa and you by the poolside. We would we chanting our favorite verses to our favorite tunes, I know how much you hated “Good Riddance” because we had performed in junior year and practiced until our figures and lungs hurt. CJ is there too. He knows all the words to those Ed Sheeran songs you always seem to love when they’re not overplayed, so I love how you have them on a separate playlist instead of your master playlist. You also taught me that I should set my alarm clock to ten minutes after the actual time so I can trick my body to thinking I’m getting more sleep. I love how we did the same things.
The pool lights are shifting from a lime green to a distinct purple and the bugs are feasting on our fresh skin. We all felt quite young, our bloodlines filled with saccharin, thinking life will never get better than this.
But then I grew up a little. I realized that all the facets of my future happiness is contingent of the past and what you have built with others. I want to thank you for building that with me. I never thanked you enough, I know.
Today, you are my longboard. The one where you relentlessly tried to pry out the bolts because I had left it in the snow all winter. But you helped me fix it up with new bearings and now I go so fast, because of you.
Wherever I go, I’m going to carry you with me. You’re more present than you ever were, reincarnated into each place or each object that makes the people you love better everyday. I miss you. I love you.
It would be an honor for your parents to walk me done the aisle, if I ever were to get married. They have supported me in ways that my parents may have not.
By the time I got home that (morning), the sun was out a little. I never really appreciated this view because I very rarely get up before the sun rises. You know, just when the moon becomes translucent and you see the clouds parting…it is like that kind of immaculate color in the sky that foreshadows a new day, restocked with hope. That kind of novel beauty. Breathtaking.
Written to the track “ILYSB” by LANY
Don’t sweat the petty things—like long lines at the grocery stores, a delayed green light, a driving ticket or perhaps a bad grade on a quiz. But rather, do care about the rather insignificant things that seem to soar past us. The significance of non-significance. Maybe it’s that perfect kiss after your best friend for ten years had finally told you how they felt or the countless amount of television episodes leading up to two characters finally sealing their love for each other. Do care about a kind gesture, like gifting a donut as a token of appreciation for the lady at Plangere. Or perhaps it’s finding solace in that perfect song to go with your jog at the peak of sunrise. Woolf herself knows of happiness, not in large increments, but in learning how to live along the way. Leaning how to reap the smallest details. Learning how to find happiness in what you do have…oh it’s so much. Your life is soft, docile and gentle—it is a song that paints a fluorescent aperture, allowing your best memories to seep through, immortalizing the little thing planted in savory kernels, that create the bigger experience.
Music can hold enormous power in memories and experiences, transporting us instantly to an age, location, or person. What sonic joys, mysteries, disbelief, and clarity have you experienced? Identify songs of influence in your life and explore them like variations on a theme, melding syntax and song structure, recalling the seriousness or levity that accompanies. Whether it’s an account of when a specific song first entered your life, the process of learning to play a song, teaching someone a song, experiencing the same song in different places as it weaves through your life, unbelievable radio timing, sharing songs with those in need, tracking the passing down of songs, creative song analysis, music as politics, etc, I am interested in those ineffable moments and welcoming submissions of your own variations on a theme, as drawn from your life’s soundtrack. Please email submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep an eye out for others’ Variations.
**(“song” is a broad phrase: could be a pop song, a traditional tune, a symphony, commercial jingles, a hummed lullaby, 2nd grade recorder class horror stories, etc)**