Why I can’t write about David Bowie

I know what they say — that my generation chooses idols based on which Urban Outfitters band T-shirts are in stock. “I saw Hailey Baldwin wearing a Slayer shirt and knee high boots, so I bought a Slayer shirt and knee high boots.”

And OK, there’s a little bit of truth in that. If we rep a band from our parents era, our coolness is somehow legitimized. It shows that we’ve done our research and studied up on music history, that we don’t always listen to what’s dished out to us on Top 40 radio. In the aughts, I learned the entire Beatles discography before hitting 6th grade — a time when everyone else was focused on the aftermath of Britney and Avril as messiah. I was a fetus elitist, and I felt a proud individual because of it.

Even this becomes mainstream, though. For years, wearing Nirvana shirts was a trend, until it peaked in January when Justin Bieber wore a Nirvana shirt to the AMAs. Being unique is not so unique.

Since we didn’t grow up immersed in “classic rock,” it’s also all right NOT to know everything about every band that’s existed. You can CHOOSE which artists you want to invest in. Some days I’ll find myself in time-wasting Internet spirals, reading up on the psychedelia of Donovan, or bouncing from Wiki page to Wiki page, soaking in everything I can about Phil Spector’s weird world. I can tell you about all my favorite Hall & Oates songs, but I can’t explain their place in the music industry in the ’80s and how they impacted my parents.

A music conversation riddled with old-school references can be satiating, but I don’t know everything. And so often, I feel dumb or excluded when I can’t contribute. We each have our nuggets of info. Sometimes we share those nuggets, and sometimes we keep them to ourselves. I can’t hold a conversation about Whitney Houston, but I could probably tell you everything about Liz Phair.

When David Bowie died, I think a lot of people tried to join the conversation without the experience. We tweeted “David Bowie – RIP a legend” just to show that we were up on current events and that we knew David Bowie was a legend. Because he was. We know that. But maybe we’re ill-equipped to really add anything to the conversation. Anything I say about Bowie won’t do him justice — not because I don’t have the words, but because I don’t have the knowledge and the experience.

it was nice not to be so alone

July 2010

“Let’s hug,” Laura said, approaching me with arms open. “You know, you need at least five hugs a day to maintain your emotional health.”

I willingly accepted, and we held each other for a minute. I sat on her windowsill, and she stood on her bedroom’s plastic-covered floor. Her freshly painted teal walls surrounded us.

The hug felt good. And even if she was making it up, I still thought her hypothesis was valid. If only we did get five hugs every day. Hugs aren’t complicated, and they can make you feel better in a second. The all-purpose cure. Hugging was one of the million things I loved about Laura. Since high school, she’s been unconditionally supportive, lending a wise word of advice here and a hug there. Her advice was well thought out, biology-based, intelligent and always eloquent, whether she was telling you how to eat the ideal breakfast meal or tips on shaving your legs (or tips on how to grow your leg hair out) or profound life guidance. But the best thing about Laura is that sometimes her hugs didn’t need motivation. She hugged just to hug, which is what we were doing now.

We peeled back the plastic, revealing a marbley brown carpet that was probably older than both of us. I sat down on the floor, cross-legged, and Laura grabbed her guitar, which she named George. I watched her strum, first playing an F chord, then a C, then advancing into a Spanish melody, then into the intro of “The Potato Song,” a song about she had written about, yes, potatoes, in 11th grade. She plucked, pulled, slid, twanged in front of me. It was a while before I interrupted her.

“Laura!” I almost shouted, using my over-confident voice. My volume masked my fear. I had rehearsed what I was going to say, but I didn’t rehearse my timing. I knew this opportunity might never re-emerge.

She didn’t answer, just simply ceased playing.

“I have something to tell you…” I stuttered. “I mean, I need your help… Uh, is there anyone home?”

“Sure,” she said. I knew that face. I hadn’t seen it much, but I recognized the look of concern as she got up and glanced out the window to check for cars in the driveway.

“So I’m telling you because I know that I can trust you,” I started building up the suspense. God, I’m so dramatic. Get to the point! “And you can’t tell anyone… because if this got out, people would think of me differently.”

Laura shook her head, letting me continue. I looked down at the matted carpet, then to the side. I couldn’t match her eyes.

“So…” The words couldn’t come out, just like a month ago when I told Pete over the phone.

“I took a pregnancy test,” I had told him.

“Yeah?” His voice shook.

“Yeah.” Silence followed. I couldn’t bear to say the words, so I just waited to muster the courage. It didn’t come. I heard him breathing hard. I knew he knew. I didn’t have to say anything more.

But unlike living two hours apart connected by a phone line, Laura and I were face to face. We were connected by two feet of space. I had to confess.

“I’m pregnant,” I said, smiling nervously. Cold flooded my arms and legs while warmth filled my face like I was drunk on wine. My head started to tingle. I hadn’t been this nervous since freshman orientation.

Laura scooted closer, pulling me in. I had a few good friends left from high school, Laura included. The casual friends filtered out when we all went to separate schools after graduation. I planned on keeping on keeping the remaining golden friendships forever. But still, I decided to only tell one friend. I didn’t want anyone else to know. Like I had told her, I needed somebody to trust.

Whenever we all got together, we’d gossip about classmates who just got engaged or had a baby. We’d talk about them in disbelief, saying, “I feel so old.” Everyone around us seemed to be taking very adult-like steps, and we needed to be above it — to prove that we were all just kids still. None of us wanted to be that girl who got knocked up in high school or the girl who had two kids and was dating her boss at the gas station convenience store. Or the girl who needed an abortion because she missed a day of birth control, like me.

Laura gave value to the most beautiful things – friendship, nature, sexuality, desire, love, health and even trees. She valued the moss on the trees and the tiny organisms that live in the moss on the trees.

“Are you keeping it? Or are you getting rid of it?” she asked, bluntly.

I let out a big sigh. “I’m getting an abortion Friday.” The word abortion flowed past my lips. It sounded like any other appointment – leisurely almost. As if I were saying, “I’m getting my nails done Friday.” “I’m meeting Allison for lunch Friday.” “I’m getting a new phone Friday.” But I supposed that was the most straightforward way of saying it. Laura probably would’ve thought of something more articulate.

She offered to go with me before I could even ask. I was hoping she would. I couldn’t go to the clinic alone because I was going to be on pain meds and wouldn’t be able to drive home by myself. If I hadn’t been drugged, I’m positive I would’ve tried to go without help or support. I pride myself on independence.

Pete was going on vacation with his family the day of my scheduled abortion. I begged him to stay. He said he couldn’t because his parents would suspect. They would need an answer to why he had to stay home from Disney World, and he couldn’t think of anything. I told him I’d rather him go away than for his parents to find out I was pregnant. I was ashamed. I had to be hidden.

This was our thing. (Like they say, it takes two to tango.) But somehow it turned into my thing very quickly. Without Pete there, the whole experience was exclusively mine. From the discovery, the brown mess instead of my regular period, my journey to the grocery store to buy a pregnancy test, hiding it behind a bag of candy at the register, finding a cup to pee in, hanging out in the bathroom while I waited, lying lifelessly in my bed while I struggled with my situation silently, the phone call, the second trip to the grocery store, the third and fourth pregnancy tests, saying goodbye to the money I was saving for textbooks, Googling (a lot of it), awkwardly calling the clinic, frighteningly making an appointment – this was all me. Pete had played a tiny part in the decision, but getting an abortion didn’t really seem like a decision. It was a natural solution, and he just kind of agreed with me. I hadn’t really thought of any other options at the time. Abortion would solve my problems. I had no money or maturity: two of the most crucial things to have if you’re going to give birth. Abortion was not a simple solution, but it was necessary.

Laura and I detailed a plan for that Friday. I’d sleep over and leave in the morning for the 8 o’clock appointment. We’d tell her mom that we were going hiking and wanted to get an early start on the day. We talked a little more and then moved on. The whole thing was hard to talk about because I’m never able to piece together words to express how I feel. But I was relieved that Laura understood, and I was relieved that I had told someone. It was nice not to be alone.


June 2014

This time Laura and I were in Alaska three months after my dad died. We were crashing on a stranger’s couch and he had a picture window overlooking a glacier sliding into a lake. I wanted to cry at the beauty of it all — the whales we had seen in the icy water, the mountains that almost seemed to come crashing down on me, the people who let us into their homes without knowing a speck about us. I was crushed knowing my dad could not see the beauty, and I was warmed by knowing that he probably was the beauty.

We went to karaoke, and I got drunk and sang that Nate Reuss and Pink song with a random bar hopper while Laura captivated everyone with Adele. She drove me home in the stranger’s car. The man, a dentist, had pushed his couch together to make a bed for us, and I flopped down. I covered myself in blankets and started crying as violently and silently as I could. When I thought Laura fell asleep, I stayed awake for hours, until finally I got up, opened the door, walked down the gravel driveway and down to the lake. I couldn’t take my eyes off the mountains. I was whole with love and simultaneously broken.

At 4 a.m., the mountains were dark, but nothing is ever really dark in Alaska in the summer. They stared back menacingly. I had never seen anything so mammoth and all-knowing. They were deep, untouched, mysterious, overwhelming. They wanted me to spill my secrets like the glacier slowly oozing its way down.

I called my mom. Four years later, she told me it was OK. She told me she loved me. She told me she understood.

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Fuckin Gilmore Girls, man

I watched “Gilmore Girls” after school. My dad said they talked too fast.

I watched “Gilmore Girls” with my high school boyfriend because we didn’t know what else to do.

I watched “Gilmore Girls” with my college boyfriend because he knew I liked it, but don’t tell his friends.

I watched “Gilmore Girls” with my sister, miles apart.

I watched “Gilmore Girls” even though I was tired, but not tired enough to keep my mind running and to stop from crying.

I watched “Gilmore Girls” when I moved in with my mom. It was our show.

I watched “Gilmore Girls” on a mattress on a floor, eating a cold, leftover hamburger and plotting the future.

Broken glass

My roommate smashed her water bottle on the road because she put it on top of her car and forgot about it. She was paranoid that the glass shards would get stuck in her tire, so I tried to get every last drop of the tiny pieces in the pockets of the asphalt. She rolled back with her car, and I inspected her tires as my index finger spouted blood. I wiped in on a box and threw it away.

The next morning, I heard a crash from the kitchen at 6:30 a.m. Lily had knocked over her mason jar, but she was unashamed, purring and galloping around the house like she was proud that she had caused a ruckus. With no broom to our name, I wet a paper towel and wiped the floor so every last fleck was stuck to its fibers and lived safely in the garbage. A new red cut on my hand.

Later, intrigued by the proximity of the two shatterings, I asked my roommate how she would analyze the situation. She said that it was the universe testing her to see how easily she can pick up her broken pieces and move on. “What did you think it was?” I told her it was a bad omen, and she put her fingers to her temples and said, “Cancel, clear, cancel, clear, cancel, clear.”

I wanted to say that it was a metaphor for me having to pick up other people’s messes and moving on. It’s funny how self-absorbed we both are.

Part 2! Best Tracks of 2012 (or How Music Got Me Through the Year)

Part 2 is finally here! Here’s the last of my best of 2012 playlist. Now that it’s Februany February, you can say I’m officially behind on this stuff. But who cares? You have Miguel, Cat Power and Ellie Goulding singing to you from years past! Quit complaining!

Here are my 11 through 6 picks if you need them first.

5. Miguel – “Adorn”

Probably the height of the year. Miguel came into the newsroom at MTV and played for us. Miguel. At my job!

Anyway, Miguel is first male celebrity crush since John Mayer from his Heavier Things era. It’s been a long time since a celebrity/singer/songwriter actually tugged on my heartstrings, but the second Miguel (allegedly) made eye contact with me again at a Brooklyn show, I was sold. His Kaleidoscope Dreams album is filled with sensual jams, some that he produced himself. Miguel just wants to make you feel special, singing lyrics like “let my love adorn you.” Guys, Miguel just wants me to feel loved and pretty and ugghhhh…. amazing. Anyway. He came to my work to do a special performance for our “Big and Best of 2012” live stream. He was in the newsroom! And he was singing to us! This pretty much solidified the fact that I love my job.

4. Grimes – “Oblivion”

Really, I could pick any song off Grimes’ <i>Visions</i> and say that it was my jam. Since “Oblivion” was the most popular single, I’ll just go with that one. The song, however dark the lyrics are, just made me dance in my dorm room in Townhouse 331. In between researching Beethoven’s insatiability and Debussy’s musical paintings for my senior project, I’d flick on the “Oblivion” music video and try to dance like Grimes… which isn’t really that hard. Listening to Grimes gave me a break from all the boring readings I was doing, but it didn’t let me forget about the complexity of music. She has a lot going on, so I’d try to dissect the different loops she was using and pick apart the bouncy synths from the bass and her light, baby voice.

3. Alex Winston – “Sister Wife”

I didn’t see Alex Winston on many end-of 2012 lists – probably because her 2012 album’s music was mostly released in 2011 and 2010. Nevertheless, her music re-emerged from EPs to her first album. “Sister Wife” was a weekly staple on my roommates’ radio show, and I always heard it blaring from their rooms. It’s such a strange song… and it has an equally strange music video. But geez, it’s excellent. Alex Winston knows good pop music.

2. Grizzly Bear – “Yet Again”

Oh, I was so homesick in October. I missed the colorful trees and the smell of dirt and the non-polluted autumn breeze. I missed watching the black maple turn to bright yellow on our street (it’s always the first to change). And every time I listened to “Yet Again” or “Sleeping Ute,” I started researching ways to get to the Adirondacks. Maybe I could take the train for a weekend, stay at a bed and breakfast, go for a hike in the woods — anything to get me closer to the life I was used to at home.

1. Fiona Apple – “Every Single Night”

My favorite night of the year was when Pete got me tickets to see Fiona Apple, my favorite. I sang along to every word, and although I couldn’t dance (everyone was sitting — stupid), I made up this move where I swooped my head back and forth and slapped Pete’s thigh repeatedly (sorry). So attractive. I loved when Fiona played new songs from her album, which was out that day. One of those was was “Every Single Night,” which I had been listening to routinely the month before graduation. As I was trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life, updating my resume, getting on the one-way street to a career, I was feeling a bunch of different things. I related to all of this song’s lyrics — from fighting with my conscious to wanting to fully absorb every single feeling I was going through, and not just powering through like a robot. Of course, Fiona Apple put it more eloquently.