Suburban Diptychs

It’s strange to be back home after spending time in a city like New York. I’ve been trying to understand what suburbia is, really—aside from manicured lawns and well-kept landscaping—and I want to know if these residential bubbles are any less compelling than bustling cities or charming villages. There’s a weird type of atmosphere that pervades suburban neighborhoods. It’s hushed and withdrawn, yet tinted with a subtle desire to be more than it is. The rituals, the patterns, the familiarity of life: everything is in pursuit of being nice and average, but there are often moments when the facade falls through.

I’ve been wandering around local spots and trying to capture a glimpse of the oddities (and beauties) of suburbia. Here are some photos. Everything was shot at a 50mm focal length with Fujifilm Superia and Kodak Portra. Overexposed at half box-speed (200 ISO).

foliage

lines

trees

mailboxes

cars

exteriors

textures

hedges

yards

the new year

some favorite things experienced in 2017, this god-forsaken year:

  • films: Thelma, Call Me By Your Name, Dunkirk, Tampopo (1987), Still Walking (2009)
  • albums: Melodrama (Lorde), Turn Out the Lights (Julien Baker), async (Ryuichi Sakamoto), Bach’s Goldberg Variations (Beatrice Rana), DAMN. (Kendrick Lamar)
  • books: Autobiography of Red (Anne Carson), To the Lighthouse (Virginia Woolf), Paradise Lost (John Milton), The Cinnamon Peeler: Selected Poems (Michael Ondaatje)

and for 2018:

  • the first day of the week! a full moon! new projects! new places!
  • honestly, this new year feels like a fresh start in so many ways, and i’m very excited.
  • i’ve also been thinking of what it means to remember, and if remembering is any different than taking a past experience and re-experiencing it in the present. there’s an apt quote that my friend showed me, from Wendell Berry’s Hannah Coulter: 

“You think you will never forget any of this, you will remember it always just the way it was. But you can’t remember it the way it was. To know it, you have to be living in the presence of it right as it is happening. It can return only by surprise. Speaking of these things tells you that there are no words for them that are equal to them or that can restore them to your mind. And so you have a life that you are living only now, now and now and now, gone before you can speak of it, and you must be thankful for living day by day, moment by moment, in this presence.

But you have a life too that you remember. It stays with you. You have lived a life in the breath and pulse and living light of the present, and your memories of it, remember now, are of a different life in a different world and time. When you remember the past, you are not remembering it as it was. You are remembering it as it is. It is a vision or a dream, present with you in the present, alive with you in the only time you are alive.”

happy new year, friends. wishing all the best.

Trying to write is harder than writing

tips for writing when stuck in a rut, whether it be an essay, the next great american novel, a poem, a letter, an email, or any form of words assembled together, really:

  • read your favorite authors and writers. circle your favorite sentences, phrases, words. write them down in your journal, copy entire passages by hand and feel someone else’s words rush through you like blood.
  • discard your bumfuck of a first draft and rewrite the goddamn thing. clean slate, no strings attached. kill your darlings, if you have nothing else to do.
  • walk outside and write outside. take a notebook and pen / pencil, and scribble away at every single thing that is happening: the sounds (or absence of sound), the sights, the smells, the sensations, even the tight grip of your fingers against the writing implement, the skin against plastic, the palm against paper.
  • sit on the grass, if you’re not allergic.
  • write about the small things, like the bugs and the breeze, or write about the grand things, like the sky and the sun.
  • listen to music. turn on the radio and listen to whatever fizzles into focus.
  • listen to your favorite album(s) of the year.
  • watch a movie. note the way the characters talk: is it formal? casual? is there a distinct accent, slang, derivative form of speech? old-timey? do people skip around their words? do they say what they mean to say? do they talk with their mouths or their bodies? too much or too little?
  • find a poem. there are mountains and cascades of them everywhere. find one single line that you would keep close to your heart.
  • read some of your old essays and writing projects. remember that you wrote these and struggled to write them, too.
  • find a photograph, portrait, or painting that you love, and write about everything that isn’t depicted.
  • make lists. grocery lists, book lists, travel lists. lists of essay topics and key words. write a list of the things you’re too afraid to experience in life but are curious about nonetheless. (great entry points into character writing).
  • write a list of the things that make you angry.
  • afterwards, pair that with a list of the things that make you happy.
  • look for patterns in the everyday. timestamp cards. traffic data. police reports. advertisement mail. sailing terminology. cooking recipes. old proverbs recited by old people. then look for the breaking of those patterns.

(these are, of course, merely notes to myself, disguised as offbeat writing advice. i can’t attest to how these tips might help anyone else, but they’ve all worked for me at some point, desperate or otherwise).

New York, New York

Hello, friends. It’s been a little while.

This final semester packed itself with memories. I went to some powerhouse concerts (never forget, Martha Argerich), and I saw lots of good films (ahem, Thelma and Call Me By Your Name). I spent more time in museums. I played more music. It was only bittersweet from time to time; otherwise, it felt very gradual and inevitable. After a few remaining finals, I’ll be saying goodbye to this place.

There is something that I always try to put into words, but even with deliberate thought and eloquence, it never seems to hold any lasting affect—easily dismissed with a smile, or a nod. It is the gratitude that I hold, the deeply infused knowledge that I could not have survived without the help of others. So many people I need to thank, forever and ever.

I think I’ve often said that New York is like a dream. It’s always been a glittering, gorgeous thing in popular imagination—steely, jewel-ridden, buildings sweeping overhead, bombastic streets brimming with life, inhabitants both new and old partaking in a flurry of flickering lights. It is ever-shifting. Here, husks of people and places never remain for long; everything is shuffled, driven forward, and the hallowed past is nothing more than some sweet reminiscence of a time long gone, like any other.

New York is a place where you can walk out at night and stand under the white luminescence of a convenience store, where you can stare at your reflection in the window and feel more alive than you’ve ever felt in your life. It is odd that way. Living here means living inside a city that breathes. However silly that sounds, I think there is something organic amidst the man-made construction, when the after-dark hours still flow with headiness, when the mornings hum in anticipation. During my time here, I have often been swept away by the relentless movement.

I will come back, someday. New York will always offer me the possibility of a home, even if I decline. For that, I will always be grateful.

Twenty

I called my mom earlier this week and she said, “Nineteen and twenty aren’t so different. Twenty just means you’re a bit more mature. You’ll always feel as if you’re behind—I still feel that way—but the important thing is to keep at it. Keep going.”

It’s a strange feeling, entering the third decade of my life. For the first time, I feel old. And I know, relative to many people, being 20 years old isn’t really old, but nonetheless. When I track these posts that I’ve been doing for the past two years, turning eighteen, and then nineteen, and now twenty, I realize that these nights are always anniversaries of reflections. 8PM, on the dot, expecting to feel renewed, yet finding myself in the same old skin, same old body. Sorting through the gatherings and residual memories of my life, calculating how far I’ve come, how far I’ve yet to explore, and how much I’ve changed. How much the world has changed.

Remembering the faintest image of a little girl, splashing around a pond with a slice of fruit, sticky in her hand, and her grandfather’s bicycle laid upon the grass. Remembering that that moment was the equivalent of a lifetime.

The best gift I received today was a birthday voicemail from Ethan and Ariel—as I was listening to it on my way back to my room, I just started crying, because I still find it difficult to believe that people care about me like this. I’ve spent so much of my life believing that I don’t deserve anything grand, and that I’m much more inclined to give than receive. To feel loved is to feel responsible for upholding that love, but it’s also an admission of need. And needing something, or someone, isn’t as terrible as I thought it would be. If anything, it’s a kind of warmth. Tenderness. Something akin to peace. Something like home.

Turn Out the Lights

Just saw Julien Baker at Town Hall. A gorgeous, moving, fulfilling experience. Petal and Half Waif opened the show—wonderful musicians and people as well. Julien seemed so vulnerable on stage, but at the same time, bare-bones honest and heartfelt to the last breath. Hearing “Rejoice” live was a gift.

Earlier, before the concert, I read this New Yorker article and held fast to the last sentence. I still don’t know what I believe about myself, about people, about what we’re doing here, but I believe something. I believe something. It’s an unsatisfactory and vague thing to say, but maybe a simple confession is the first step toward feeling whole again.

So I’m listening to her new album, “Turn Out the Lights” (just released today), on the subway ride back. I’m broken and mended. Split open and exposed, healed and protected. Sitting in this subway car that’s whirling toward a temporary home, sitting very still, like a rock against waves, like a trunk against the breeze, feeling my chest steady and my heart fill with gratitude and life.