A love letter inspired by the body of works as produced by the band Passion Pit

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This is a love letter that can be seen addressed to a variety of forms. It is directed to one person and a collection of ideas. This is to the inner strength have to I tell myself that I have and to the friend that lets me sleep on their couch. It’s to those who give me mix playlists. It’s to the music and to the thoughts it gives me.

One of my favorite bands is Passion Pit not because I listen to them all the time or because I think they’re the best, but because their stories of emotional struggle and resilience are universal. It’s a story many people can relate to in their own perseverance. Passion Pit’s music largely deals with love, growth, and the mental health issues that the frontman, Michael Angelakos faces. An overwhelming amount of the songs are sonically upbeat and happy-sounding. Isn’t that true though? You have this inner sadness but you seem so happy to others.

Passion Pit has many loyal fans, fans that have been there from the beginning with Chunk of Change and the clangy, raw, powerful cut of “Sleepyhead.” The EP was actually a Valentine’s Day present that Angelakos made for his girlfriend at the time. The whole EP was him, tracks and vocals, but once the music gained traction, the band fell into place around him for the debut LP. Producing art, whatever form, is the greatest sense of happiness an artist, and especially one that has blue-tinted glasses on, can have. If an artist gives you part of their happiness, that is love.

The band came into themselves with Manners, a body of work like a book, an ode to the sweetness of the beginnings of things. A growing up version of love. It was an album that carried me into the last leg of my high school days. There was something else, however, besides the EP’s caring sentiment. There were songs like “Moth’s Wings” and “Swimming in the Flood.” These songs were boomy, base-driven. They were about how thoughts, like blocks, build and build to amount to our personalities. There wasn’t something wholly happy about the album, although the songs were mainly upbeat, dance-inducing. A little tug of intrigue that I didn’t think much about until their next album, Gossamer.

Gossamer came during the beginning of my sophomore year in college. Freshman year is a challenging time for everyone, I think. I don’t think there’s anyone in college that can say: “I dealt with no issues during the first year that I entered a new level of young adulthood.” There is a level of uncertainty that buzzes in your brain that whole first year. No wonder so many people turn to the party scene. I did and I was part of the culture solidly that second year.

I would listen to this album during my workouts at the gym the morning after the booming late-night rendezvous. I never turned down an evening, I liked the release.

Gossamer was a similar tone. Tracks that had a fast heartbeat and bubbly falsettos. If you listened closely to the words, there was doubt and self-defeatism embedded in the songs.

At these parties I told my friends my problems, my worries, the deep sludge of my thoughts about my self-image. The world was blurry at this point. It was a subconscious tactic to get away with saying what I felt. “Oh I was drunk, I didn’t mean it,” was my nasty little trick I played on myself and my friends. I wasn’t realizing the gravity of what I was doing since in the daylight I was happy and laughing with those same friends. So I carried on, living a normal college existence.

But listening to Gossamer was when I questioned myself. Gossamer was an album about a pain that I understood and I wasn’t really sure why.

A lot happened between Gossamer and Kindred. The albums are a contrast of each other. Gossamer is in the midst of struggling with denial and darkness whereas Kindred is looking up to the sky and wanting to be good to those you love and telling them you’re trying, you’re trying so hard. You didn’t used to have to work this hard.

I first listened to Kindred this year at the coffee shop I lived near in Syracuse. There were three weeks left of school. At this point in my life, I am learning to let go of denial about myself. I need to change how I act. The self-pity routine hurts people who love me and I can’t have that happen anymore. Thinking patterns are my nemesis. So is general anxiousness about everything.

I listened to this album when I was feeling peaceful, a low-glowing lamp that shone on my homework and a coffee by my side. I remember reading an article that day about how Angelakos made this album for his wife. It was about how much he loves her and how hard he is working on his issues with depression for her. It was about how she has helped him through so much.

When you listen to the album, Kindred is a love letter, as Chunk of Change is, but it is so much different. Chunk of Change is youth and learning what it’s like to express your beauty for someone. Kindred is commitment. Kindred is apologizing for the pain of the past to move forward. Kindred is looking at someone and letting them know where you’re at and how you are working hard for them. How you want to be healthy for them.

Sometimes I think of myself in this electrified cage. It’s a nasty electrical charge if you get too close. If you know me from afar, you can’t even see it. I laugh and I joke and I ask about how your day is. People smile and walk by and I’m relieved they don’t really know me. If they do get close, then they see the prison I have created for myself, and it puts them off. They don’t want to get electrocuted, who does? Not everyone leaves, though, and we learn to be friends with what I have.

Then there are the people that have known me for my whole life and they don’t notice the cage. They aren’t phased by my texts asking whether or not an indent on my skull means I have a fracture or texts about how because I said a weird joke, that must mean I’m a bad person. They tell me to knock it off and I do, and for a time I forget about my cage. For a time I remember drawing chalk cartoons on the driveway and smiling.

But then there’s that person that comes and looks at me with longing and happiness and rushes to me, not missing a beat, knowing to be close to me. They grab at the bars of my cage and are scared, hurt. This is the person where their stomach sinks when I say “I’m the worst.” They are hurt by my pain and when I look at them and I feel a fear, a real fear, one that isn’t part of the irrational cloth of nervousness. This fear is that I am hurting people vividly, and that I am hurting someone I care about so much about with words about myself.

This is when I know I need to get out of the cage.

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Kiss your knuckles- “Twin Size Mattress” by the Front Bottoms

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I hope 2015 kissed its knuckles, because it punched me in the face. And I’m glad it did.

Let’s start when I first started listening to this song in the early months of the year, in winter, when shit was bleak. My friend Jess told me about this band, and bless her. I think this song came up on Soundcloud by accident. I needed it though, it was freezing. I mean, it was Antarctica weather, right?

Okay so there’s this fucking hill that I had to walk over every day going to class when I was in school five months ago (which feels like five years ago).

I was just heartsick all the time, and maybe because I didn’t really know and I was I was just numb to it, I didn’t really know why I was climbing the hill (since there’s this thing called buses). But maybe I needed the cold, wet snow seep through my boots so that my mind wouldn’t latch onto the words that someone told me two years ago.

I climbed this hill and I was so God damn angry for the past, I hated the way it made me feel, but I thought it would be better to climb it than just… Not. 

I thought walking would be better than closing the blinds and laying in my bed and being alone saying, “no, not today.” 

I climbed this hill and this song would scream in my ears and I felt like it was justified, here were my nightmares every night, but just on a daily basis walking over this hill.

Things in my life began to change. Old securities were evaporated, health updates shook me up when it wasn’t even about me (healthy as all can be, that’s my curse). I was away from the people that formed me and all I could think about was being with them. I needed to know what they were doing. How they were doing. 

Being remote from those you love in the tundra takes a toll, but you don’t let it get you down because it can’t. You can’t get down.

So I am listening to this song as lives are changing and I want to tell them that I will help them swim, but even to this day I don’t know how I can tell them.

But during those months, I know I have to do this thesis project on this punk venue that’s cold as balls when a band plays and I have to do well in my classes and I have to find a fucking job.

I go to New York in March to say good bye. I honestly thought it was good bye. I don’t remember feeling sadder as I departed from my visiting brother and friends who were of the world I was foaming at the mouth to join. I wanted to contribute to that glorious chaos.

It was a blow to the gut, like the punch I gave my high school boyfriend when a girl sat on his lap for forty five minutes as I watched them talk. Everything was pounding in my head, everything was becoming a breaking point. My arm was starting to get numb but I didn’t think too much about it.

I didn’t think, even when nurse practitioners asked “what have you done about your anxiety?” And I would shy away. I would be fine, even though I would go to the counsellors at the counseling center at school and tell them about the way people treated me and they’d look like they were about to cry. 

I was hurting by the end of the semester because I was trying to not be in my head, but I was so deep in there, coming to a head during graduating class picnic with all of my fellow senior friends. It made me cry because I didn’t belong anywhere. I was gone already. I talked to fellow floaters, but they, like me, were dust passing. It’s no big surprise it turned out this way. I felt cursed forever.

With tears in my eyes, I begged not to stay anymore. I wanted out. This song pounded in my face as started going on jogs and I ran by the cemetery, spring showing its head and reminding me to take care of my (to me) pathetic body again.

Three weeks were the buffer I had before adulthood after graduation. I was sure there was something I could find to do in the city, like shake a tambourine as I find a place to live.

Miraculously, I lived in my dream nostalgia for two months. I was back in East Village like before, and loving it. I was where was destined to be.

Until I looked at my bank account.

I was lucky I was on a full-sized mattresses, let alone a twin-sized mattress. But here I was! I wasn’t thinking of living longterm. I was living that life. I was here. Here I was. 

But every day was a trek, a journey, to get to work. The song faded as I walked and I was happy. 

The end of my sublet came faster than I expected and I was thrown into the ocean of unexpected living. I’d pretend it was casual at work, but I was drowning in fear and insecurity. It wasn’t a lake I was swimming with friends. Where was going to live? Where the fuck was I going to live? 

Pounding, dull sadness is a powerful terror on the soul. This happens when you can’t meet your needs. 

I had friends take care of me, comfort me, shelter me. This was good, but people were still worried when I found my temporary place in Hoboken. I exhaled a long sigh of exhaustion and sadness, and I poured that fear into rediscovering this song. It was nice to listen to it in a bed and not the air mattress that I was on.

I was dedicated to finding the longterm. And I found it. My dedication, my sleepless nights paid off. I didn’t ignore the warning signs, but I did expect more.

New York, hey man, I love you, but no fucking way.

I wanted stability, and Jersey felt like that to me. I knew it the first week I lived with my friend. 

There are people that fizzle and then there are people that keep that spark in your eye.

I found my longterm sublet and I waited for that to begin.

When it did, I was punched the face again, but this was the best wakeup call I could have ever gotten.

Here I am, living 2015, a fucking boxing match at this point, and then I meet someone that I actually want to care about and get to know.

My normal cycle of “Claire, you’re not worthy,” seeped into physical manifestations, to the point that I talked to nurses and they burst at me, “stop! Stop you’re not helping yourself looking up webmd.”

I was used to myself saying “no” to myself about any sort of person creating happiness in me and I put up every front I could think of and thankfully they just melted. It just melted and now I’m in this glistening pond of beauty and hope and happiness and positivity and care and there’s wonderful person I’m still getting to know here with me as well.

I always wanted to feel like I mattered and it’s something I have to work on, but when there’s people who look you in the eyes and tell you you’re worth it, it gets easier to believe.

This song came up again through conversation and concert and progress with my heart and my hope for myself.

I keep getting happier for myself and for the people I care about. I keep unwinding the twisted thoughts that are lies. I see the beautiful truth which is that I am so loved and that I am worthy of someone to find out who I am.

Know where you’re going to sleep – “It’s Around You” by ANR

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The “oh, let’s just see where I turn up next” idealism that I carry has acted as an armor against the stability and commitment that I see so often in this young life that my peers and I lead. Some people have found their path and can see into years; they know what they’ll be doing, at least one aspect of it. This idea of foresight scares the living shit out of me. No wonder I don’t know how to have a long-term romantic relationship.

My vision is three months. I can see what I’m doing in three months and that’s it. That’s how it’s been for awhile now. I was used to just going and seeing what happens in every out-there place I ended up. I still don’t believe what my life has been for about two years now. It’s like I’m reading one of my books, but I’m living it. I’m creating the stories that I devised in my head for eighteen years while in my suburban schooling. When you have that much time to focus on literary theory, it’s easy to figure out how to carry it into your life. My steps are calculated, but not predicted, if you will. I’m still my own main character. Long story short: I’m a bit messed up.

The problem with that, however, is that you can end up in the situation that I was in last month.

The end of July was brutal. Maslow’s hierarchy of God damn needs. The guy was right. You need that base. You need to know where you’re going to live. Every other day I was living with friends in Brooklyn or Hoboken and most of my day was either working, messaging strangers on Facebook to see if I could live with them, or traveling via bus, subway, NJ transit, walking to wherever the hell I needed to be in some place at some time and oh Christ, it’s 5:30pm and I forgot to eat and I only drank a quarter of a water bottle.

Physically, I had never felt so weak – a weak sensation that I brought upon myself. I wasn’t focusing on the whole, you now, food and water thing. I would be talking to someone and feel a cloud, hoping that what I was saying was making somewhat sense and being able to stand without wobbling. I was propping up my body with my elbows to convince myself that I could focus when really I needed to rest. I couldn’t though. I didn’t know where I was going to live in five days.

Luck saved me, I swear to God. I was on the phone with Mom, hearing encouraging words and I was saying, “You know what, I haven’t checked Airbnb in a few days… wait… wait there’s a place in my price range for a month. I’m going to see it now.”

It worked. Two days before August 1st, I found where I was going to live for a month. Two days. It makes me throw up a little inside when I think about it.

Things needed to change. I couldn’t throw caution to the wind. Adventure and spontaneity is important in general, and still the way in which I try to see out the next stories that I live out in my life, but God, I wanted to know that I had a bed.

I hit the ground searching for my next place the week I moved into the new place in Hoboken. I visited a few places at the beginning of the month and then I found someone and a place that really clicked. I have a week and a half left at this current place I’m in but, Oh my God, I mercifully don’t have a repeat of last month.

I get to have a place that I can call my home, for however long I want, and it’ll probably be longer than three months. If not, then that’s how the cards will be played. I don’t care. I don’t care because I don’t have to drag suitcases through subways or sleep on an air mattress wondering if I can keep my promise to my friend of, “Yeah, I’ll only be here for a few days.”

I still like this idea of discovery and finding yourself and trying new things and being adventuresome. But I also like being smart about things. I don’t have my life mapped out, but just because I have a stable place to be able to sleep in doesn’t mean I am relinquishing my energy. It’s giving me the chance to focus on how I want to adventure and not worry about “wait, where am I living again?”

This song could be about anything, I don’t care, but it’s this one lyric that stands out to me: “keep your toenails on the ground, put your fingers in the air.”

That’s how I need to start living. I sometimes feel like I am in the clouds, floating and floating, above consistency and normalcy. Sometimes I am proud of that, sometimes, as of late, it becomes a hassle. If I can have my toenails on the ground, enough to keep me sane, then I can still reach my hands up, way up, to the sky and the clouds. I can think of the world and how, God, I really want to see my friends in Jerusalem one day. What would be like to live in San Francisco? What if I one day go to grad school? What would I study? What if I write that novel that I have been wanting to write my whole life?

And I can keep my hands up, way up, and I don’t have to let them down. I can reach, reach, reach, because I won’t get carried away into oblivion because, yes, I know where I’m sleeping tonight.

Run fast and angry – “Cradle” by the Joy Formidable

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I don’t like admitting when I’m angry. In fact, it’s probably the thing I am worst at doing. I don’t like when I’m pissed off at someone and I don’t like when I’m pissed off at myself. I’m always so worried about keeping the status quo and it sometimes comes back to haunt me.

I’m still trying to get better at expressing anger, but when I was in New York City during the summer of 2013, I found something out that was vital.

I could run.

I could be angry when I ran.

No song better explained my feelings than when I listened to “Cradle” during my morning run through the city. It wasn’t so much of a run-to-a-park kind of a run, it was let’s-not-get-hit-by-cars kind of a run. It was a run to over-wrung my already wracked mind. I wanted to be distracted, and I wanted it to be difficult and something that I could accomplish.

“Cradle” was my anger, “Cradle” was me coping. “Cradle” was my way of breaking plates or screaming or crying. “Cradle” was me letting out the emotions, letting it flow out rather than smack someone in the face who didn’t deserve it.

And something that it taught me was that I was angry much more than I originally thought.

Fare to the well – “Kindred” by Passion Pit

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What do we say to something or someone that changed our inner being?

What do we say to those with no access to context, yet all we can do is talk miles of exposition, of our backstory, of our history? What do we do when we find someone and all we want is to unlock the secret of their significance in our lives?

What do we say to those that can never know what we become? What do we do when we ache as we wish that we can take them with us?

What do we do when the same smile falls from person to person over and over again when we leave? What do we do when we get used to seeing that blankness? What do we become when we start to throw caution, brevity and social graces out because we’ll be a memory soon enough anyway?

Where do we go to feel relevant? Where do we go to stop living in the past and exceed beyond what is expected of us?

What do we do when we find the ones that we love more than the sky above and yet we know we have to let them go? Why do we have to learn to let go so early on when these presences have only just woven into the fabric of our lives?

When should you stop and look at the ground to notice the worms wriggling? Will these lost moments haunt us when we look outside of office building windows onto the pavement that are stories below?

Why do we wonder? Why do we allow ourselves to think into so many holes, into so many crevices? Why do we forget that we’re so unabashedly, unequivocally loved, so intensely present with people here? Why do we think we’re alone? Why is there sludge in our minds?

When is the right moment to part? When is the right time to smile and say the words that we dread? Will we make those we leave happy with our actions? Will we inspire those who have time to catch up to us? Will we overdo it? Will we not put enough effort into it? Will we ever feel satisfied or fulfilled?

When we are sitting on a summer day, when the lightning bugs are flittering around and everything is sweet in the air and droopy, drowsy smiles seem to hang on everyone’s faces, will we think of the beauty of this moment? Will we think of you?

Will we still wonder what we are wondering now?

Why do we have to leave?

Why do we have to say good bye?

A Sensation of the Softness of the Snow: “Watering Hole” by The Apache Relay

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As you drink your coffee, your tea, what have you, you think about how there’s just so much shit to do. There’s just so much to do and you’re not sure how it’s all going to get done. But really what this self-talk shows is that you’re entertaining your self-pitying side of you. But why judge yourself? Everyone does it. You’re just not as sure as you used to be, and my God, this snow just is not letting up. It’s colder than Antarctica. Antarctica! You’re not a penguin. 

And you’re also a little sick, which is just zapping your sense of good vibes in the first place. It’s like your lungs are balloons you filled up with squeaky air and you’re holding that little opening to the balloon and then when you finally let go, the balloon (your tears) just ends up flying everywhere, noisy and breathy and just cumbersome to the people around you (or at least that’s what you tell yourself, but really you know that people are willing to help out).

The weirdest part of it all, though, is that deep down you’re so, so happy. Is this, like, some weird part of you that likes to punish yourself? I like to challenge myself is what you go with when people normally point this out. It’s all about positivity, man.

But yeah, you’re really happy because it is all about positivity and perspective. Where else in the world would you be able to do these things? Where else in the world would you meet these people? And oh, the people. With their little smiles and hugs and pokes and you know you’re going to be okay because look at who you’re with right now. My God, they like you! My God, you don’t need to wonder about being weird or silly or strange because we’re all just little balloons floating around, bumping into each other every now and then.

The snow, as cold as it gets, is soft when I touch it with my fingertips. And I look at it sparkling and I walk every day to get to the life that I chose. The life that I got to create. Maybe it’s just for a few more months where I’m the author of this particular story, but man, I couldn’t have asked for a better cast of characters.

The year of the anthem: “I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)” by Stevie Wonder

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During the first semester of my sophomore year, I took a class called “Race and Gender in Pop Music.” Fortunately for me, this didn’t simply just mean pop music, but also extended into the breadth of rock and roll. I loved it.

One day, our professor gave us this task at the end of class:

“Next time we meet, I want you to think of what your anthem is – like a song that really represents you.”

And she gave us a week to think.

By next class, I hadn’t thought of a song – I couldn’t choose. I told the class “White Flag” by Dido was my anthem because it was the first song that I felt like I ever “got into.” After that song, I became a Dido fan and that’s how I became the music-geeky person you know today.

Since then, I always liked pondering about what my anthem was as sort of a thought to get entranced by whenever I was daydreaming. Would it be “Thunder Road” by the Boss? Would it be “Falling Slowly” after all of those times that I watched Once? For awhile, I thought it was “England” by the National, but I believe that “England” is my favorite song. That is different from an anthem.

Two years later, this year, I created my anthem.

I first listened to this particular song after I watched High Fidelity for the first time. For a long time, the song always had this sort of romantic connotation to it. I mean, if a young John Cusack made a mixtape for me and this was on there, who wouldn’t be smitten?

I had always really liked Stevie Wonder growing up, but his music was always in the background for me. I don’t know if I would even really consider myself an official fan either – I’ve hardly gone through his discography. However, I was always, at the very least, a casual fan because I always loved playing the Stevie Wonder trumpet parts in band.

“Sir Duke” was always so much fun to play and I’m pretty sure I started playing “Superstition” when I was a freshman in high school. I’m particularly fond of “Sir Duke” because the first time I listened to it was in the car while I was waiting for my mom to pick my sister up from a friend’s house. I, unsurprisingly, was hiding from social interaction and listening to music. This… song came on, and it was so optimistic and upbeat and happy and I had to dance. I had no way of telling what the song was (it was before the days of Shazam), but I didn’t care and just simply danced. I knew that the song would come back into my life again. And it did.

But it was High Fidelity and this power of such emotion that seriously drew me into his music. It played to the melodramatic entertainer in me. Oh, reveling in such vocal prowess! I started listening to more of his stuff and got more interested in other soul and funk artists as well.

It was this year when “I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)” became my anthem.

It was first when I was starting to finally feel better about everything in LA. I had been able to get back into the swing of driving after my accident and I was being a lot more cautious. I was starting to be less mousey and anxious at with the people I was meeting and thinking of myself with the mindset that yes, maybe this isn’t a fluke that I’m here.

Cognitively, I was in a better place.

I liked the routine that I established. While I still was dealing with my anxiousness, I could find periods of happiness that were becoming less of pockets of time and more breadths of stability. I didn’t automatically expect upheaval – things could be normal and I would be all right with that. I was getting to know people better and was happy with the wonderful closeness that I was developing with new friends.

Amoeba Music was part of that routine. It was quick to drive there from the apartment and if I didn’t have much homework or if I was done, why not go? Why not just walk among all of that music, all of that history, all of that sound? The life of the place boosted me whenever I walked in and it felt like home.

One day, perusing the CDs, I found the High Fidelity soundtrack. I always loved the music in the film and it made me think of Chicago. Despite feeling more comfortable in this new city, I couldn’t wait to be home again. The bridges, the river, the lake. So, of course, I was going to buy the album.

Driving back, there was a moment in the car while listening to “I Believe” where I finally let go.

I can be really hard on myself. It’s annoying to my friends, family and myself. Not so much because we’re all heartless. It’s because we all know that I don’t need to be like that to myself and that it’s debilitating to always hear about my self-criticisms. My self-deprecations. A spiraling sense of drama of something that doesn’t exist but something that I feel.

When the semester started, I went into LA a little physically heavier than I’ve been that the last few years. Not extremely noticeable to other people, but because I used to weigh even heavier, I’m very vigilant about the way my body feels. I remember packing for the LA semester and crying because I kept trying on all the clothes that used to fit me just three months before. I couldn’t even pretend to button some buttons or make some zippers work.

With that, I went to LA with a critical look on myself. This reflected in how I interacted with people. It was like how I used to be in high school – I was more subordinate, quieter, timid, less confident. Certainly not the pub-strutting version of myself that I grew into while I was in London. The previous semester was also different because I was going into London with a better sense of self-worth. LA, I was already feeling like I was tired of dealing with my problems.

When you have a negative mindset about yourself, it makes your way of interpreting events more difficult. You tend to pick out the bad in situations a lot more easily. I let my feelings of discomfort rule my head at times. Reaching back to the past – calling home, reaching out to friends that I missed at school and from home – was a coping mechanism. It was sometimes healthy, but sometimes it was excessive and took me away from the present.

Despite this, I had traveled too much to let a city rest on its own without me. I felt best when I explored.

My screenwriting professors at the end of each class would always tell us to “Keep going.” I’d think about that whenever I had to drive places or do tasks at work that I had no experience with beforehand.

I started to work out more and I ate well considering there was a gym in the apartment complex and that there were eighty thousand grocery stores within a five-mile radius.

It was the routine.

It was working hard.

Knowing how to do those two things makes me feel like I’m on track even when I’m having a moment where I’m being hyper self-conscious. In the corner of my mind, even though I was overwhelmed, I knew that if I worked on focusing on those two things, I would feel better.

Once some of the initial anxiousness ebbed, I loved being in the moment of working. I was able to enjoy myself more during class and I certainly loved studying at my favorite coffee shop. I was beginning to allow myself to feel happy because I knew that I deserved to at least give that to myself.

So it was that moment, in the car, listening to “I Believe,” when that feeling truly settled.

And I realized that it wasn’t a love song.

Relationships and romance can be incredibly stressful. Of all things, it is very easy to get caught up in the minutia with those experiences. It’s not until later when you think to yourself, “That didn’t work, but I feel wonderful that at one point in time, someone felt that close to me.”

When you do finally take it in, it just makes you feel good that you were that good to yourself and that someone else noticed. And it’s not like you even were trying to be anything, you were just feeling so good about doing your own thing and that made another person, even with their own walk of life, be drawn into you.

That’s self-worth. That’s confidence.

It was with that mindset when I was listening to “I Believe” when I realized it wasn’t a love song but a song about overcoming those feelings of self-doubt and being above tormenting yourself emotionally. Why are you doing that to yourself? You don’t need to do that.

You have so much and so much to offer.

When Stevie sings “I believe when I fall in love with you it will be forever” I saw it in a different perspective – it wasn’t to anyone specific. It was the fact that one day, you will find someone who will love you.

And you’re always knowing of break-ups and divorces and all of that. But that hope is so powerful, that optimism is so uplifting. Because we do live in a world of break-ups and divorces, so why not put yourself out there because then you’ve at least tried. And you’ll meet people and some of those people will still be in your lives; they’ll just take a different shape. And at very least, why not feel let yourself feel good to believe in that hope?

Apart from relationships, why not put yourself out there in the world? The world is a cold and hard place but that’s why people are so grateful to find all the good that’s in the world. That’s how people get over crippling diseases and traumatic events and feeling depressed because thank God for the things that makes you feel good.

It was that moment where I started belting along with the song. Like comically.

You know what moment I’m talking about. When he’s saying that “God answer my prayer.”

I grew up in a church that was so wonderful to me but to be honest, my religious views are murky right now. But I felt so relieved to know that I would be able to allow myself to let go of my self-criticism, that I wouldn’t always be so trapped in my mind, so I sang along.

Despite the beautiful revelation that I had, of snapping myself to as I pulled into the parking garage, despite returning to that song in a new light up until the plane ride home, I thought that it was as simple as that. That I would never allow myself feel bad again because I had already learned my lesson.

Your mind moves with you no matter where you go.

I was very content and solid this summer. I had a fantastic internship that I loved. I was video editing again, and, oh my goodness, I missed it so much after a year. I didn’t even realize how much I missed it. But being someone that is fastidious about the correct placement of things (not my clothes in my room, rather the posters on my wall), editing is a grand sense of relief. That eagerness to create and edit is all right there on the timeline.

I was feeling content. I was feeling solid.

I allowed myself to forget that it was temporary.

There was one night in the summer where “I Believe” was a blast of reality. I didn’t listen to it with the right mindset.

I had just had an absolutely wonderful time in the city with a friend that I had met up with at a coffee shop. I had a great day at work and I had plenty of time to make the train at Union Station. I walked along Wacker Drive with the sunset glimmering on the river, walking next to the bridge that Rob Gordon milled around on when he was contemplating on his love with Laura. I let the dialogue from the film flitter around in my brain, switching back and forth from pretending to be Rob and imagining what it’d be like to be loved by Rob, to be his Laura. The buildings, beige with the glow of the lampposts, looked like river facades of Amsterdam. The L car routinely rattled on auburn tracks as I passed underneath its bridge. I kept walking, feeling as if I was stepping into a perfect moment. Or maybe that was just the caffeine kicking in.

I had reached the archways of the Lyric Opera, the lights hanging, illuminating the sidewalk below. The beautiful, grandiose buildings across the street created a cubism portrait of the skyline in front of it.

What a perfect place, I thought, thinking of how a city, once again, made me feel at home, no stressors in any part of my mind. I want to spend an eternity here. I want to find love here.

The song had swelled to when Stevie was singing about prayers. I crossed the street and looked down, the road and the future suddenly seeming so long, so vast, like when you stare at a diagram of our solar system for too long.

This is all just temporary.

A nasty feeling crept up from my stomach to my brain. The freeing feeling, the summer, this moment – that’s all it was, just a moment. And it was going to go away. One day soon, I would be back in a place that I had left behind. I had left people behind.

And my mind menaced me.

The rest of the train ride home I sat shaking, listening to nothing, watching people walk up and down the aisle. I told myself that it was because I drank too much coffee.

I didn’t listen to the song for awhile. In fact, for a variety of reasons, it really hurt to listen to it. I became afraid of my own anthem because I was allowing myself to dwell. I was allowing those negative thoughts to come back.

Especially when I went to back school.

Seeing people that you befriend nearly two years prior and then expecting to have the same friendship again is like having drunk goggles on. You’re pretty sure you know what you’re doing, but every now and then things get a bit wobbly. I fortunately did have a lot of good people that I relied on, at school and at home and other places where I had met people.

But I had changed. And it’s not like they were going to know exactly how.

I had reset the cognitive clock and I was the early-February version of myself again. Unsure and nervous. This time, I had been in Syracuse before, but everywhere I walked, I remembered so vividly what it was like to walk next to those beautiful beige river facades, those glowing lampposts. I had become petty about looking at trees instead of skyscrapers.

I worried that I had become ungrateful. I was acting spoiled in some respects, but I allowed myself to wallow in self-pity instead of acting against my neurotic tendencies. My high school habits were easy to rely on because they were that – easy.

To be honest, I still at times revert back to that sort of thought process. That wariness, that search for the negative. Creating scapegoats, crying for no reason. When I was in LA, I thought it was all going to go away but I hadn’t allowed myself to admit to myself that I am harder work than that. I’m smarter than that. I’m so smart that I can manage to trick myself thrice times over.

But you know what does help? Learning to own it.

I am very intelligent and I have always considered that my greatest strength. That is always what I rely on, which is why I am at such ease when I work, when I create. In a way, I have made myself so strong that even though I could be pulling myself up from some dark emotional hole that I dug for myself, there is no way in Hell where I am going to give up on what I am working on, what I am working for. At my center, at my core, is perseverance and diligence. Even if I can’t always reflect that emotionally, I will always reflect that in what I do with my productivity.

I thought that I would be a better person if I were less of a control-freak with my own mind instead of accepting who I am. Because even if I am allowing my mind to branch off in a thousand tiny spindles, at least I know who I am, truly. And that takes courage.

I got this feeling in my gut when I began to listen to “I Believe” again.

I was walking up the monstrosity of the hill that I have to climb each day to get to class. It was the second to last week of school. I was preparing to go into finals mode and my brain began to compartmentalize the hours in the day, the techniques and tools that I needed to use for each final or project that I had to turn in. My mind was at its most productive and I was feeling vibrant.

I was walking up the hill and seeing my breath in front of me and dared to listen to the song again. Instead of being bombarded with nostalgia, I remembered what I felt in the car, belting, and used that to push me up. Lift me up into that feeling of power, that feeling of surety. This semester was an emotional rollercoaster but by God, at least I was going to destroy my finals. And I did.

So here I am, on the cusp of a New Year, as we all are. There are many, many people who have felt the things that I have felt, have been on the roads that I have had to cross. It’s just taken me until now to join the variety of collective experiences, the good and the not-as-fun, shall we say.

I’m going to graduate this upcoming year, as many of my friends and my peers will do as well. We’ll be searching for something, be it a job or a home or a network. Or something simpler, like truth. Or grander, like the world. And as we do, every now and then, it’s nice to drive around, listen to Stevie Wonder, and just let it all out.

Because in the end, it’s okay.

We all get strange: Portugal. The Man, moments of listening and the lead-up to Lollapalooza

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Portugal. The Man is at the perfect level of hipster. There are enough people who don’t know about Portugal. The Man, but there are enough people that do. Its cult following that is starting to expand out into the masses of indie fans with their most recent album Evil Friends. Whenever people ask me about the band, I always like to gloat and say “Oh yeah, they have a bunch of albums. I think The Satanic Satanist is my favorite.” I don’t even try to hide how smug I am. Yeah, I’ve known them for awhile. Yeah, they’re great. Yes. Yes you should listen to them. Join me.

I can’t really claim that I was a true hipster fan, though. I started to listen to them my freshman year of college. They were a little too bizarre for me in high school, so good thing to know that I’ve gotten even weirder as a person as the years have gone on. The first song I heard by them was “Lay Me Back Down” and I was uncomfortably drawn to it. I didn’t think like the wavering vocals but… but maybe I did? The psychedelic swirly sound? Was it musical or was it noise? What I did dig was the groove. So my senior year of high school ended with me listening to the band feeling confused… but glad that I was confused. Sort of explains how I felt for that year in general.

Then it was freshman year of college, the trial-and-error-and-cry-a-lot year. The year where you have extremely weird peaks of happiness and life fulfillment (“Oh my GOSH I love this TARGET RUN the school is doing for freshmen I’M GOING TO TARGET WITH MY NEW BRETHREN”) and extremely weird lows (“The dining hall DOES NOT HAVE ALMOND MILK my life is RUINED”). All in all, freshmen year is great but unsettling at times.

I was used to a pretty consistent existence. I never moved around as a kid (being eight-months-old moving out of the city doesn’t really factor into my memory) and the kids in the area were largely people I grew up with since I was little. They knew that I was sensitive and emotional and artsy and sporty. Everyone had context. Then I got to college and no one knew anything about me. I can’t begin to count the amount of people I have freaked out with my own freak-outs. The worst are the banal experiences that turn into catastrophes: burning popcorn and having everyone leave the dorm as the smoke detector goes off. Yep, that was me wallowing in my tears outside on the sidewalk. Oof, it’s painful to think about. It’s even more painful to think that I’m still that emotional at times.

As my life felt more surreal, I turned to the psychedelic sounds of Pink Floyd. If things were confusing for me, things were even more so for these guys. Listening to Pink Floyd my first semester set me up for the wealth of psych rock that I have grown to love and heavily listen to today.

Second semester, I needed a little something more than just one band. Experiencing winter was tough. I felt alone at times and I was far from home and needed to not feel alone. Why do we forget that so many people love and care for us? It’s like we shut off part of our brain that is filled with logic.

Claire, come on, you’re not alone, I’d tell myself.

I didn’t feel like that all of the time though. When I was sitting down with my head in my hands, it could take me a long time to be able to get back up again.

I tried listening to music and it’d sometimes work if it was calming enough or interesting musically. The best song, though was “Sleep Forever.” It just matched with how I felt. It wasn’t exactly an uplifting piece, but it was what I was looking for – it made me remember that I wasn’t alone.

After that, Portugal. The Man went from a casual listen to a band that I was affectionate towards. I got stuck listening to that one song for awhile, but as I continued to feel better and as winter dissipated, I started listening to “The Sun” and “Senseless” and a few others here and there.

Then, last summer, Evil Friends came out.

I found out about the album through the music video they made for “Purple Yellow Red and Blue.” For those that are unfamiliar with the video, this is how it plays out:

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Moody singer in a kitchen okay that seems pretty normal for a music video.

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Oh, I like this – cool composition with the screens and the silhouette.

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You… you having fun there in your… slumber party?

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You sure do like your blankies, sir…

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Your friends seem like they could use a bit of pep there…

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AH OH GOD oh I’m sorry total Poltergeist flashback geez don’t do that again please.

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SHIT THAT’S A LOT WORSE PLEASE DON’T STEAL MY SOUL.

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YEP BYE.

That’s not even the half of it, either. The music video for”Atomic Man” you say? Fluttering eyelids and distorted head movements?

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Just as unsettling.

But I loved it.

Here was my ticket into the fandom, my way into their weird world. The album’s composition was tight and each song was like a moment in their minds. So much of our life is about fulfilling a story but it’s nice to find those things that momentarily suspend that drive for a beginning-middle-end. Things that just are. And things that just are strange.

It became the soundtrack for the moments where I could turn off my brain and focus on an action rather than a thought. I ran with “Hip Hop Kids” in my ears. I commuted everyday on the train into the city with “Do You” playing as I stepped onto the platform to begin my walk to work. I didn’t have to think about anything in those moments. I didn’t have to plan or strategize or analyze. It was just me walking or running or sitting and just listening for the sake of listening.

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After having the comfort of those songs for a few years, it felt so rich to finally see them at Lollapalooza. My dad and I walked up to the edge of the field, the first sounds of the set beginning to echo through the park.

Was that…?

No. No way.

“…another brick in the wall!”

They were starting their set with a Pink Floyd cover.

“Dad! Dad they’re starting with Another Brick In The Wall!” I exclaimed, practically skipping to the stage.

“This is cool,” he said while looking to the stage, bolstering my excitement.

We got up close and met up with a few of my dad’s colleagues, all happy to be here and instead of at the Perry’s stage. They laughed at me as I kept inching closer and closer to the stage but making sure that I hung back enough to be with them.

“Claire, you can stand in front of us, it’s fine,” my dad sighed.

“Oh, okay! I’ll do that then,” I said, my mind off lost in the music.

My favorite part of the entire set was that a good twenty minutes of it is was a string of songs all blended together. I could pick out where one song ended and the other picked up, but it all remained so solid and the transitions were so fluid. I felt like I was lifted up into the clouds as the rain started to trickle down.

The pulsing rock never disappointed either and added to the pace of the songs, some songs more driving than others. It was a psych rock ballad pieced together like a montage of melodies and rhythms.

As they closed with a cover of Queen, I could feel the moment linger in my head after the music had stopped. I felt so in the moment and so in the present and nothing was in my mind. The rain felt so cold and the brisk air made everything smell earthy and so… real. I felt so real and it was so weird to be so much in the present but I liked it. I liked feeling so real. And I liked feeling so strange.

As the band says, we all get strange and we know it, but we’re cool with it.

Falling asleep to waking up: In Rolling Waves by The Naked and Famous

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Insomniacs have a tendency to let their head fill up with thoughts and memories and worries. Whenever my introspection is excessive, I combat it by filling my head with music.

These albums have a special place in my heart. While I’ve always dealt with the difficulty of falling asleep at night, whenever my insomnia is worse it’s because I’m dealing with change or stressful environments or even just feeling self-conscious. These are the albums that relax me to the point of serenity. These albums are able to take away the buzz of my mind and allow myself to just relax. Just relax and listen.

Sometimes, though, when an album can help you get through something, it can be lodged with that feeling for a long… long time. So your once saving grace becomes an uncomfortable reminder of the stress that you had to get over.

With these sorts of things, it’s best to just let those songs lay dormant in your music play-through. Those songs won’t show up for awhile and, even though you got so used to having it be part of your every day life, you’ll learn to be okay with it.

Some of these nighttime albums have become this, some of them not. Some of them are just calming and nice to listen to while I sleep. Some of them I listened to so I could fall asleep.

With In Rolling Waves, it was a little bit of both.

I didn’t use it to fall asleep often, but boy, did it calm me down. I attribute this to the first time that I ever listened to the album the first time, which was last year when I was in London.

I had been extremely excited for the album ever since the band released “Hearts Like Ours” during the summer. Its energy was infectious, a perfect compliment to my experience in the East Village. I couldn’t wait to listen to the catchy synth ballads that were to come.

Months passed and I moved back home for two weeks from the city and then to London. My life became exciting and full of opportunity and fulfillment but also filled with uncertainty and distance from family and stressors that I had never accounted for before. Things that I was always just used to kept becoming more and more different. I kept a smile as much as I could but sometimes the stress was debilitating. I could feel myself wanting to make sure that I was doing things perfectly, that I wasn’t making wrong choices. I was trying to do everything and I wanted to be good to everyone.

After walking through Covent Garden with my friend, we happened upon a fantastic media shop with a focus on CDs. And there it was – I had forgotten about the release date but it just so happened that In Rolling Waves had come out the day before. I dropped the quid on the album and downloaded it into my computer as quickly as I could. My iPod synced, the album was ready for me.

I waited to listen to it.

“Hearts Like Ours” wasn’t just any other song and I knew that this wouldn’t just be any other album for me. I had to treat the music with respect and wait for the perfect setting to listen to it in.

Deep in the late hours of the night, I shut off my computer and laid down. The window was open in my tiny room and the breeze fluttered in. It was still relatively pleasant outside, so the air billowed into the room, making everything feel so fresh.

I put on my headphones and I started.

“A Stillness” buzzed into being and I was wrapped up in the sound already. I loved the dreamy quality of the song, the little build-ups and fade downs. And of course, the crescendo into the release of sound near the end of the song was the perfect emotional transition into “Hearts Like Ours.”

I had never listened to the album before, but I could already feel myself nodding off. It’s one of those special things where you know something is so right when right away it just works so well. I was so used to manicuring my listening pattern before falling asleep but here I was, dozing to “Waltz.”

“Rolling Waves” was the definitive song of my trance. It felt like waves crashing on the beach. It was such a peaceful discovery of a song. The waves of sound pushing and pulling like the tide pulling me into sleep. The lyrics itself were about sleep and it just fit so well with the quietude of the night.

I went deeper and deeper into the beginnings of sleep and didn’t even realize I had listened to “The Mess.”

“Grow Old,” however, was a different story.

Again, it starts small and muted and like a story in the background. It’s a song to easily underestimate.

The climax, however. The one that comes at 3:05. It ripped me into hyper-awareness. I gasped as the guitars and keyboard and vocals came crashing together, everything exploding. I felt like it was such an example for how I had been feeling those past couple of months. That I was dealing with a lot of different things but that it was going to be okay because I could at least feel myself express myself through the music. It was okay that I was growing up and that I was changing.

And then the song ended just like how it began. Just a voice, small and dialed down.

The mental effort that took to listen to that song is why I fell asleep for the rest of the album play-through. Normally I would have chastised myself, but I didn’t mind. It was one of the best listening experiences of my life and that feeling still is so vivid in my mind.

So much so that I felt it a few days ago, completely mirrored with my first time listening through. It took a long time before that could happen again.

That album became a staple of my London experience and helped me be able to settle in a place that was a country different from my own. It helped me learn how to navigate new places and people and experiences.

But because it was such an emotional album for me, I had to take a break from listening to it.

I never had bad memories associated with any of the songs, but the songs became a vehicle for emotional release. I didn’t want to over do it, I wanted to still enjoy the songs for the sake of enjoying the songs. I had to find other things to listen to, which I did.

Throughout the rest of the year, I’d perhaps listen to “Hearts Like Ours” or “Rolling Waves” from time to time. Never “Grow Old.”

But the album would pop up in conversation from time to time. I kept thinking about it and how it had such calming qualities.

Coming into senior year so far has been an exciting and wonderful but extremely surreal experience. Again, change. I have to take extra measures for myself to process change just because I know I feel it so fully.

So I listened to the album again. I didn’t even mean to recreate the first time that I listened to it. I just was lying in bed and it was nighttime and there was this summery breeze coming in through the window. I felt at peace and that feeling of dreamy tranquility came back to me. I felt like I was in two times at once. The wonderful thing, though, is that this time I wasn’t using the songs as an emotional release. I was listening with fresh ears and enjoying the music for how it was. The memories of those songs just made the music even more powerful.

I didn’t finish the album, but this time purposefully. Not soon after, I fell asleep, thinking of the waves of the Thames, but also thinking about how I could listen to those songs now in new places. How they could grow into new parts of my life.

Emotionality and Expression – “Thorn in my Pride” by the Black Crowes

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It’s those first few notes. Those first few strums on the guitar. It starts so small, like everything.

But it grows into something so much more.

This song has been in my life for a long time, but I’ve just recently really gotten into it. Despite this, I’ve always associated this song with the release of positive expression.

This song has roots in my childhood. If we ever needed to clean the house, this was usually on a CD mix that my dad had made. He’d put it in and turn on the surround system.

The light from the day shone in and the house was filled with crooning. “Let you love light shine let it shine.” It made everything feel fresh and reinvigorated. It felt good to clean and see spaces organized once again.

As time went on, the song popped up periodically but I never sought it out. It became a pleasant surprise whenever it happened to play on XRT. Another memory is when I heard the song play on the radio as I stepped out of the shower one peaceful morning. The steam and the warmth complimented the vocals and guitar as the feeling and sounds swirled into the air, dissipating into the ether of music and atmosphere.

I started to seek out the song the semester before I left for my year of city hopping. I had a sudden urge to listen to it, like I had to get out the joy and the nervousness and the only way to do it was to dance to it and let the music fill my head.

Again, though, my listening was sporadic. I didn’t quite get what it meant to me, but I was working on it.

In that semester I was starting to come to terms with the idea of change – change that I was about to initiate not only in my life but how I viewed myself. I was in need of something different and, to be honest, I was scared. I was unsure at times. I doubted myself at times. I felt awkward to express myself because I knew that I had the ability to over-express myself. I didn’t know if I had the capacity to do the things that I had always dreamed about. Dreams are warm and comforting thoughts but only to a point. They’re only truly fulfilling if you attempt to realize them.

So little by little, I’d listen to the song more and more. The idea of self-exploration persisted once I started the journey and lived in New York and London.

When I lived in LA, however, the song clicked.

It was a huge challenge learning to drive in the biggest commuter city in the universe and balance work and school. I also wanted to get healthier after a hearty feeding session during my entire semester in London, but I was daunted by the work that I needed to put into it.

I just had to get into a rhythm.

Those feelings of being unsure of myself and of putting myself down were starting to abate because I realized that I was doing it. I was working hard and I was getting healthier. I also worked on getting over those feelings of unsureness. I started to work on to stop being so self-conscious if someone liked me or not and realized that all I could do was just try to be the best version of myself. In that year I met so many types of people and kinds of people that I never thought would pass my way. If I was true to myself, then I could express myself in the truest way possible.

I sought out the song nearly every day and listened it in the car on the way to Amoeba, walking around Ralph’s or running on the sidewalks in Toluca Lake. I wasn’t going to allow myself to stop expression. I was going to let it shine, let it shine.

This summer in Chicago, the song became part of the soundtrack that colored the backdrop of my experience. I’d walk through Daley Plaza or down to Millennium Park or back up from work near Reckless Records and the buildings would reflect the light all around me. I’d smile and listen to the song and think of the somersaults that you do in life to get to where you are and you know what? It’s worth it.

So now, back at school, the song reminds me of things that have been and things that are now. How one moment in time can grow and texturize the landscape of your life. The song is a boost and a way for me to get inspired. To think of hope created when I just let myself be. To feel free whenever I want to express myself because I have to let it shine. I don’t want to live any other way.