elbow, 20 May 2014

I wrote the following piece on 21 May 2014, the day after my mother and I finally saw one of our very favourite bands, Elbow, in concert in Minneapolis. I didn’t post it right then, so now that a year has passed, one full of new and intense experiences, it seems like the right time to revisit the piece more publicly. Also, it’s been ages since I’ve last written here, and I wouldn’t mind restarting this blog. So here we are…

Some parts of medieval Christianity revolved around the power of relics. The use of relics suggested that someone could be so good, pure, holy that being in the presence of even a piece of them, a part of someone long gone, can be a sacred and otherworldly experience. Perhaps as a echo of this, or from some other source, maybe even older and more pervasive, trace presence still remains holy to us, though its focus has shifted. A famous artist’s mark or an autograph from a celebrity measure the authenticity of a meaningful connection, even if it is meaningful only by being direct. For people who immerse themselves in a fandom, there is usually a Mecca, the saints, and some ascetics. Fandom is a form of worship, and with that comes the necessity for sacrality and loci for faith.

I find faith in much; I am a devout believer in humanity’s power to create and hold onto beauty. Cultural, creative artifacts— video games, film, music— capture those, present them in sometimes neat, sometimes chaotic expressions. Those expressions are from creators, and the more beautiful the expression, the more it seems like the creator(s) must have something truly beautiful about him or her or them. I find that thought most irresistible with music. Music can be so personal, warm, intimate, and richly full of everything that humanity is in an accessible format. It can wash over and colour one’s mood without settling in. It can be listened to deeply while soaking in each note as they build the delicate interplay between instruments and sounds. There is music that demands one’s attention, either through being loudly competitive or being quietly arresting. Sometimes one runs across a song that stops her— stops her activity, her multitasking business, even briefly her breathing. She must listen. Sometimes the whole record has that effect. And rarely, every record an artist or group releases does that.

2014-05-20 20.41.24For me, that band has been Elbow. There have been others, and I’d be hard pressed to choose a favourite. But Elbow has been there for so long, in the right place and modes every time. Six albums (and other releases) over the course of thirteen years. I have been listening for eleven or so; I have only lived for twice that. Half of my lifetime I have been listening, arrested. Their music lent warmth when my family was looking for ways to come back together, as ourselves and with each other. My voice has been molded to softer, deeper, richer tones in constant hopes of matching Guy Garvey’s. Every time I have fallen in love, the words were already there in the songs; after awhile I realized that the words always fit because I wanted to love and be loved as seemed possible in them. I always knew that when I felt heartbroken or alone or doubting everything I could do or was, I could stop and listen. Listening brought them there, like old friends playing with a few instruments until it comes together into something beautifully unexpected. That feeling was there for rainy days of boredom, snowy days of awe, sunny days of singular elation, weak days of searing anxiety. Otherwise mundane, profane days could become sacred while singing along. Sacred days could be consecrated with songs that I know better than any others.

But it was always recorded. It may still have an intimate sound (a mark of potent production), but these were tones and performances that no longer exactly existed. By being removed from the change of a decade, my experience of Elbow was removed from their humanity, despite that experience always being in step with my own humanity. Eleven years passed before I could finally merge that humanity, before I could exist in the same time and space as the band. It’s a fallacy; just because many of the most pivotal moments of my life were underpinned by their music, I neither know nor am known by Elbow. So their performance somehow wasn’t my focus in going to their concert; I really sought that sacralizing presence. It was almost as if I wanted to show them what their music could do in helping shape a person.

2014-05-20 21.03.13That being said, their performance was wonderful; they played several newer songs but reached back through their discography as well. Craig, Mark, Pete, and Jupp play effortlessly skillfully; Guy Garvey’s voice is as consistent, powerful, and warm as it has sounded on every record since 2001. Songs were as we knew them but were rejuvenated. The crowd was certainly entertained. Between the variety of the set list and Guy’s immediately comfortable, friendly chatting, the crowd was there and present. 2014-05-20 22.15.06But sometimes I would have to fight myself to listen there, to make new memories rather than falling into the old ones held in each song. And I could feel that even more with my mother there; we wrapped our arms around each other and sang along to songs that once might have stopped us fighting during our toughest times. The concert ended with Guy’s voice merging with and being overtaken by the audience’s. It was a beautiful, moving finale that lingered in the air after the band left the stage.

When I go to concerts of artists I really enjoy, I can’t help but try to be noticed. Right after extending the connection to a mutual one, I can savour that trace presence, the relic of a smile. 2014-05-20 21.25.57I caught Guy Garvey’s eye a few times during the show. He looked over; I raised my fist high and grinned. He returned both gestures. Later he looked over; I changed my clap to a wave. He winked. I was beyond elated. This may have looked like a fangirl swooning; perhaps in part it was. But to me, it was more so the knowledge that someone I admire so wholly and have for so long, who has been in some way part of several of my passions and thus the course of my life, recognized for that moment that I was there to share in that space and that performance. In those quick interactions, the connection between myself and him and them that I had felt for so long, though distantly, had been authenticated, had been made real.

Thus today, the day after is a strange one; I waited months for that particular performance, but I had waited years to attend one of Elbow’s at all. And greedily, it felt like those few hours were not enough after that long a wait. I want to sink back into that feeling; I want to perpetuate for myself the idea that they might know how much their art and all that it has meant to them have meant so much to me too. I had to venture back too quickly into the profane world, in which some people want much from me and others don’t care at all about what has made me. As soon as I can, I want to go back to where it is sacred, where the performance of those people— very talented and very human people— condense my life and self into moments and sounds and where that performance makes strangers friends, known to each other infinitely distantly and intimately.

Thank you, Elbow, for making that Tuesday night special. In future, as always, I’ll be listening.2014-05-20 21.44.37-2

DmC: Design Meets Culture, Part III

Had to take a quick break to get bits of my life in order, all that fun stuff. I’m hoping the suspense didn’t kill you all… Now back to picking at DmC, yes? And in case you forgot, I did mention that spoilers abound in this entry, so again, beware.

Right, confession: I liked the story of DmC. When I consider the games that I enjoyed the most, some of that was derived from mechanics, but many more fond memories came from connections to the characters. I like my characters to talk as if I know them, to act as if they are self-aware, and to treat others in a way that makes sense not just to their role in a story, but to how they would be if they were real. It’s why I like (read: freak out over) Final Fantasy X and X-2 and Persona 3 and 4, though I thought for awhile that I was just all about Japanese RPGs. Yes and no, but the draw was more personal. Voice acting and motion capture do sometimes help foster this for me, and DmC Dante, even when employing his own immature dickery (by now a scientific term), did so while carrying himself with a self-assurance that matched his smirk as he lobbed various insults at enemies, briefly talked to himself, or winked at Kat.

Kat earlier on in the game.

Kat earlier on in the game. Still hiding under that hood; it’s not about how much skin is showing.

Speaking of which, Kat, despite the near-requisite low-cut shirt and high-cut shorts of a modern video game lady (an important conversation for another time), just made sense. Where Dante obscured his demons (yes, well, couldn’t resist) through a haze of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, Kat hid hers as she hid herself, a common response to the sort of pain she held. Dante barks his indignant resistance at anyone and everyone, but Kat finds hers through a quiet personal strength that might herald games’ much bolder strides into exploring dark, devastating, and intimately personal suffering (though the human causation is cloaked here by literal demons). Eventually, Kat develops a fondness for Dante through his unique brand of kindness, a connection that binds them rather than any reciprocated sexual attraction to his obnoxious but ultimately harmless passes at her early on.

Oh HELLO, Vergil.

Oh HELLO, Vergil.

Mind the biggest spoilers here! Dante’s twin brother Vergil (also, for the record, a good-looking fellow) fights with a logical, sometimes callous perspective that, as it turns out, is fueled by a self-serving desire for revenge, rather than any sort of redemption, a favouring of his demonic nature over his angelic one. It’s an interesting turn of events, in that the originally self-serving, fiercely independent Dante strives to save the world as Vergil’s idealistic rebellion crumbles into his own power play. Now, I do have a bit of a beef with the ending, which may have been constrained by Vergil’s established antagonistic role in the series. Vergil’s turn of face was hinted at through his interactions with Kat earlier on (let’s just say the ending is most notably foreshadowed as the lads leave Kat to the authorities while they escape from the HQ of their notorious resistance group, The Order). But Vergil’s descent into evil seems a bit over-the-top in contrast to the relatively subtle changes that the story weaves into Dante throughout, making the brothers’ split seem a little forced. And then play Vergil’s Downfall! Yeesh, with Oedipal issues like that, you’d think we’d see a bit more of that earlier in the main campaign (though the sibling rivalry was no great surprise).

Raptor News Network. Stay classy, San Diego.

Raptor News Network. Stay classy, San Diego.

Meanwhile, I’ve been ranting and raving personally about the state of today’s news media, especially that of my American homeland (as it’s what I know), what with plenty of fearmongering, sensationalising, and general driveling, all in the name of ratings as Americans get more paranoid. It’s common to point at Fox News, but it’s not just Fox. I prefer to sift and winnow through Twitter for current events rather than watch the news turn tragic incidents into month-long attempts to villianise the guilty, desensitise viewers to that which is horrific, and ignore such horrors elsewhere in the world to freak out as the archetypical Indignant Yet Privileged American. Whew. So the satirical Raptor News Network of DmC hit that nail right on the head, with the absolutely biting “Just Doing God’s Work” catchline and a particularly great sequence in which you fight demon hordes through a simulated news camera, complete with logo, ticker, and a voiceover that describes Dante as a terrorist, pedophile, and generally evil SOB, none of which can be fairly said about the albeit snarky protagonist but most of which are often dropped in the real news as labels meant for dehumanization, a dangerously slippery slope that has driven many of humanity’s worst atrocities. That sounds like a bit much for a game discussion, but 1.) it’s not, because the game is critiquing something very real and current and 2.) it’s not, because games are not a trivial form of narrative media anymore, and I will destroy via long strings of words any counter-argument to that assertion. So the game is not subtle about its piercing satire, nor does it need to be, and it’s stronger for it.

Right then, content analysis is my bread and butter, and I benefitted greatly in my final undergraduate semester by going on about it at length. But next I want to look beyond the story of a game and think about that which makes it a game: the mechanics.

DmC: Design Meets Culture, Part II

Continuing my thoughts on DmC: Devil May Cry! How did everyone feel about it? Well…

Early build of the redesigned Dante.

Early build of the redesigned Dante.

Immediate outcries against Neo-Dante’s haircolour and cut, his youthful devil-may-care (pun fully intended) attitude, and Sex Pistols aesthetic labeled him an “emo” disgrace to everything that made the series cool and worthwhile. As per my habit, I read reviews after my own playthrough, and was met with rather venomous critiques of the story, characters, even the developers themselves—and that was on Gamasutra, usually (from what I’ve seen) the most objective, design-oriented gamers’ site. Several sites’ critics, meanwhile, loved the mechanics and didn’t love but didn’t fuss about the story. Clearly the game was controversial in the gaming world, one that, with full expectation of backlash here, often contains AAA-title review biases on one side and a lot of franchise purists on the other, though no one much liked the story.

So why did I completely fall head over heels for the whole experience?

For one, I’m a terrible critic. If I figure I’ll like something, I will likely enjoy it. (Usually. See above for counter examples.) I played Final Fantasy XIII for dozens of hours, happy about it for some time, unlike most gamers of early 2010. To be fair, I was totally dazzled by the graphics, and I didn’t try too hard to make all the story pieces fall into place, giving the benefit of the doubt to or ignoring the characters who were less than savoury.

"And a good morning to YOU, sir!"

“And a good morning to YOU, sir!”

For two, Ninja Theory did endow the new Dante with his own sex appeal. Not going to lie here, I thought the guy gorgeous, and each cutscene gave me another chance to ruminate on that. Yum.

For three, I had a damn fantastic time playing that game. Perhaps this is because it marked my imminent return to recreational gameplay after deciding that I wanted to study video games and after realising that my college endeavours left little time to indulge my favourite hobby. (And speak of the devil, how’s that sentence for spelling that belies my aforementioned Anglophilia? I’m prepared for the jabs; come at me, bros.) My studies are anchored in a fascination with how video games tell messages, and what messages they’re best at telling. In fact, my undergrad thesis is about the medium’s efficacy in relating or even inspiring religious experiences. DmC has a very particular, and not particularly subtle, message that is buoyed by its medium, and for this I admire it.

Note the off-colour Union Jack on his arm. Whole look struck me as a nod to that British punk vibe.

Note the off-colour Union Jack on his arm. Whole look struck me as a nod to that British punk vibe.

Lists of my biases aside, I did love DmC, unlike most of the internet. What, then, did I find in it? Regardless of how one feels about it, the game is confident in what it’s doing, despite the pre-release rabid fan frenzy and the developers’ own worries leading to some early redesigning. This is the kind of reboot that one would want: an assertive reimagining of familiar elements into a new iteration of a known universe. It’s also a stunning example of cultural translation; as mentioned above, many of the differences between the original series’s aesthetic and DmC’s seems closely related to the cultures surrounding the development team. The Gothic Lolita and other such fashion phenomena enrapture many Japanese youths, if one is to consider much anime, manga, and fashion boutiques (one of which I visited in Kyoto) revolving around those looks. Meanwhile, a rowdy British youth in the same lineage of the punk movement would look towards gritty, drug-laced clubs in search of a “cool” counterculture, where men like Dante find their swagger and sounds like and including that of the game’s music producers, Noisia, break through the mild English nights. Dante is in essence the same character in the same cultural situation, just in different cultures. The frustration that has caused fans is understandable in that sense, but the change in design is as well. Seems to boil down to a bold move on Capcom’s choice of development team.

Next time I’ll talk about the game’s story. Spoilers up ahead, so beware.

DmC: Design Meets Culture, Part I

Since my graduation from university a week and a bit ago, I’ve already gotten mentally restless, turning me back to both blogging and gaming. The most recent branch of my schooling has led me to combine my love of writing, my tendency towards academically-styled overthinking, and my beloved hobby of playing (primarily console) digital games. So without further ado, I will launch into a wickedly/obnoxiously (fitting!) long breakdown of my impressions of Ninja Theory/Capcom’s controversial DmC: Devil May Cry. One last bit: citations! For the academic in me. Any images I post will link to the YouTube video I got it from (one of the easiest ways to get game images; thanks interweb!), and I’ll round up games cited by the end.

Right then.

As a preface, I never did get into the original Devil May Cry franchise. The Gothic outfittings were a bit hyperdramatic for my tastes, and I didn’t see much in Dante’s coolly detatched, sometimes androgynous persona and look. More importantly, I kept trying to commit to the franchise because I loved the idea of the mechanics: constant streams of righteous melee action, using mental dexterity to blend good timing with stylistic creativity. But I could never quite feel it.

Devil May Cry's Gothic cathedral look.

Devil May Cry’s Gothic cathedral look.

Attempts at the first game left me a little bored. This could be my fault; like with Final Fantasy VII, I’ve developed a bad habit of playing classics long after everyone else has, and after I’ve played games that further evolved their mechanics.

Kyrie in Devil May Cry 4, not doing much for female game characters.

Kyrie in Devil May Cry 4, not doing much for female game characters.

Attempts at the fourth game in the DMC universe left me frustrated. I couldn’t stand Nero’s unrestrained… well, immature, angsty dickery; Kyrie, surely the first mainstreamed fictional character to share my name, was a bit of wift, with few character strengths and seemingly there mostly to get kidnapped.

Devil May Cry 4, featuring Dante and Nero hanging out.

Devil May Cry 4, featuring Dante and Nero hanging out.

Dante swooped into this one to teach Nero some necessary lessons, but to be honest, it seemed like Dante’s more mature, “cool” dickery was too little, too late for the lad. Regardless, the controls were just on the edge of what was interesting, as I was scratching at a surface that may have been deeper than I was willing to explore. I found myself just wanting to get to the end of a chapter so I could wander off without losing progress.

Bayonetta: absurdly over-the-top, but gobs of fun.

Bayonetta: absurdly over-the-top, but gobs of fun.

That all being said, I am already breaking my Writing About Things That Sometimes Matter To Myself And Others rule number one: I haven’t thoroughly played those two Devil May Cry games, and I hadn’t touched series entries 2 and 3. I didn’t even finish the related and much praised Bayonetta, though I had liked it. Simply put, its difficulty scaled past what my time allowance afforded for my skills. So perhaps a curiosity (or at least a stubborn obligation to the Ethics Of Playing Games I Chat About) will ignite a reattempt at the original Devil May Cry series, especially now that I have a bit more time (having finished that old Bachelor’s degree recently). Always love a trip to the local Gamestop.

Despite my reservations about the series, I held out hope for Ninja Theory’s DmC reboot. Most of that hope was, admittedly, culturally situated. The shift from the organ-fueled drama of the Japanese Dante’s exploits to the bass-laced grittiness of a British-born Dante oddly fell in step with my own shift from a flirtation with Japanese studies to a return to a lifelong Anglophilia. Each new trailer brought me closer to an excited pre-order, and each further enraged the online Devil May Cry fanbase.

This musing will be continued soonly, in which I’ll chat about the various and very divided receptions of the newest game in the franchise.

connections across a digital realm

I actually wrote a slightly different version of this piece several months ago. However, it still seems incredibly, even strangely, relevant to what I’ve been doing and feeling recently.

I continue to be astounded by our new world, the one created, distributed, watched, and felt through the internet. Instant communication continents away; international relationships and research literally at our fingertips. We can piece together the feelings of others’ lives, those across the planet or just far enough away, by seeing pictures, by watching and listening to a video.

But this bevy of information comes with a price. There it is, the whole of civilization, no more than a Google search away. When I saw those images before, they could have been pictures in a book- I rationally recognized that those places are real, that lives are lived there. Yet, now that I’ve had a taste, just a drop of water on my tongue, I have realized how thirsty I am for such windows. We save those pictures and videos to look back at them, more real than memories but just as much a mirage. We cannot go back to that moment, no matter how much we laugh when we see a friend’s face in a photo. We cannot enter that life, even when you watch a smile unfold as you remember it once did.

Perhaps without these mirages, we would not suffer as much. Without the attachment to that which was but cannot be again, or that eludes one, perhaps one could make peace with the memories and let them fade into the warmth of a life well lived. This is a unique era, not because people have never sharpened their memories through photography, but because to visit those images, a physical, transformative journey was necessarily undertaken. The pictures of a life we’ve never lived would probably not find us, and we would not feel our hearts break from exhaustion, a restlessness that brings up photographs as quickly as a memory. Seeing a smile break open breaks open the heart with a greed for the past, or in the case of those with ambition, for a future that is as unpredictable as a chance encounter.

These are the beautiful trials suffered by the first generation of the digital age. Our lives play out online, and if one stays open enough, people may find themselves drawn to another’s life in an exploration of alternative existences. We are world travellers. We are scared young adults hiding behind the mask of anonymity provided, but not ensured, by internet communications. We are content to browse and surf and search for a laugh, but only because we are confident that an answer to any question rides on the tides of information somewhere. We listen to global music. We watch international film. We play, argue, and commiserate with people from all corners of the world. But yet, the more we are connected, the more we fear a loss of connection. Alone in a veritably foreign city, late at night… no problem, grab your phone. But if it cannot provide the information, the connection, panic sets in.

Does the power of the internet bolster our courage, or does it tear down our self-sufficiency and self-reliance? Does hearing a loved one’s voice across a limited connection make us feel strong, or does it make us realize how painfully inadequate that is? Does our ability to talk and text and email and sync our calendars put us in control of our schedules and build our lives, or does it close us from the experiences rippling around us?

I don’t write to discredit the internet- how could I? It connects me to the world and the new ways we’ve come to digest and interpret it. Instead, I merely wish to recognize that, like all forms of power, this power is one that can be wielded gracefully, brilliantly, resplendently, but it can also crush, devastate, and leech us. And sometimes we can directly feel, so warmly and painfully, how terrible— and how great– that power is.

head of a bull

A little girl with an insatiable curiosity, the quintessential product of Dewey’s educational reform movement. As she wanders the rooms of the Oriental Institute, she finds the head of a bull, a relic of Persepolis and the heights of its empire. Conservationists might rave, but she thinks nothing of that as she reaches out to the still impressive snout, dark and smooth. As her small hand meets its target, she closes her eyes. As the colours swirl behind her eyelids, she notices another girl, one with darker skin and hair. The image emerges. The other girl touches the head of a bull as well, but this bull is a living, breathing animal, docile under the slight weight of the hand on its nose. This girl stands outside, under the sun and wind and sand of a desert. With a shimmering haze first mistaken for heat rising from the sand, the girl is now a teenager and the bull breathes a little less easily. Now the girl has become a young woman, gracefully adorned in deeply dyed fabrics and a maturity that seems to have changed her before she was ready. But she reverts for a moment to the child that had once smiled softly at the bull. Now she weeps as the great animal shudders into the nothingness that envelopes it. With another scintillation, the woman has grown older, dressed as a queen. But she has the same smile playing around her eyes and lips as her hand touches the snout of her beloved friend, immortalized in black stone. The woman then disappears herself. But there are others to touch the nose of the bull; a young boy stopping his games for a moment to gaze through his fingers at the majestic beast. An old woman resting her wearing body. A young soldier grasping for something solid and warm as he looks at the blood flowing from his side. The history of an civilization glimmers before the bull, the vision of an object that sees through touch. It moves motionless through time and place finding glimpses through curious whorls, arches, and loops. Eventually the little girl in Chicago sees herself. It’s the 1960s. Now, the 1990s, and the girl finds herself a woman reconnecting physically with a past she had left long ago. Then she sees a girl who looks lovingly familiar but yet unidentifiable, like someone she knows very well but has not yet met. Although this girl appears so young to her, as another child, this girl is really a woman, standing in the Oriental Institute and searching for the traces of her mother’s life before it involved her.

But then the little girl with an insatiable curiosity opens her eyes. The bull’s stone face is always cold, but the nose is now as warm as if air just passed through its nostrils, as if the little hand that rests on it had kept it warm for centuries. The little girl looks back at the creature as she returns to her father, but it can no longer see her.

Iran: Persepolis, Hundred-Column Hall
Achaemenid Period
Reigns of Xerxes/Artaxerxes I, ca. 485-424 B.C.
Dark gray limestone; restored
216.0 cm H, 158.0 cm W
Excavated by the Oriental Institute, 1932-3

this is a place where i feel at home.

It began to hit me when I walked into the room decorated with so much colour. I was there to see our dear friend married. The years in Madison seemed to shift, events condensing into feelings and feelings into growth. We are all a bit older. Somewhat wiser. A little warmer with the hearts of others and a little kinder to ourselves. Yet it seemed like the time apart hadn’t really existed; the maturity and the new bride seem as if they were always there, with mutual connections that run so deep that I felt like I, as someone I had always been, was meeting someone who had always been present. And now, finally, I have the confidence to provide support for those who have supported me, who have given me advice and told me I was loved when I wasn’t always sure. More than the nostalgia or the déja vù I had expected, I felt love. How could I not? I was surrounded by it. We were all drawn there by love for these two people, who looked at each other with such adoration that it was impossible to feel anything but that bottomless joy.

And my brother was there. All my brothers were there. And sisters; I’ve never quite had any like that before. We all had one energy, one boundless being that radiated from the centre. Dance brought laughter and smiles. Conversations brought weight and kindness. I can say anything wordlessly with my brother: the boy I once relied on for communication, and the adolescent I watched to find and yet separate my self, and now the man I stand alongside as the embodiments of sibling harmony, a bond not always softly spoken but always whole and loving. When we caught each other’s eye that night, we saw everything. We saw every moment shared between us and the groom, but, on a greater scale, every moment that has shaped us in the last ten years. To look at my best friend and see, without question, that we had become better people, knowingly through the love we give and receive from others, the love manifested in the energy flowing through that room…

I slept gratefully that night, drifting off in exhaustion with those three brothers around me again, for the first time in five years, perhaps. The next day I tried to help with preparations in a personal comedy of errors that hopefully brought someone a relaxing smile, if only for a moment. The second ceremony was stunning. Picture perfect. I expected to see two families come together. I expected to see people happy and yet a little emotional. But I did not expect to see so many families merge into one or to get to know people better just by seeing them smile and understanding that which lit up their eyes.

I will remember that weekend in its ephemeral moments and glances. Those smaller instances that shook away any negativity I have been holding by offering fleeting but unguarded glimpses into the spirits of loved ones and strangers. A notebook left open on a desk, a thought process frozen in time as someone dear to me tried to put into words the unfathomable depth of how he felt. Those words were so beautiful, but somehow they didn’t quite capture the blaze of the words he spoke on the stage, holding her ring.

Now I am back home, left with memories but more with the glow of someone who has been inspired. Yet, for all my words, I feel oddly wordless. I feel like I have not captured and probably never can capture exactly what I felt in those moments, despite my faith in the textures and patterns of this language. But I do know that I have experienced so much in this past year, even just the past several months, that will forever influence who I am and am becoming. I sincerely wish that everyone could have that feeling, that knowledge that he or she has been shaken to the core and will never be the same, led by a passionate awe for the simply beautiful turning of the world and all its warmth.

Andrew Bird, 9/26/12

As a longtime Andrew Bird fan, needless to say I was thrilled to hold those tickets again. They looked much like a pair I had held three years prior, nearly to the day. This time too we entered the beautiful Overture theatre, met with the soft curves of the architecture and the warm tones of the dim lighting lining the balconies. Our seats were brilliant.

The Overture Centre, Madison. September 19, 2009.

My party was cheerful and pleased to be there in a gently expectant way; they’d spent the money, hopefully the show would be worth that and my passionate hype. The lights faded away, and the stage came into attentive focus. Here We Go Magic was fun, with an energetic sound that belied their causal stances. Their set finished, so we got drinks. (Happy to be 21 and surrounded by friends.) Soon we were back in our lovely seats, laughing about the couple making out across the theatre. Then the lights again fell away, and Andrew Bird jogged up to his mic, wearing a heavy scarf, a blazer, and belted trousers. Surprised to see shoes over his socks, which might yet have had holes in them. Immediately he began to fill the sizable room with sound, conferring with the stage crew member about the static feedback. The shrill but perfectly pitched whistling soared above us, much like a songbird (coincidentally) flying into the endless dark sky above. His skill with the violin is natural; the time he’s spent with it is always apparent, as if it really isn’t a separate entity; as if he was born to play and has grown to adulthood on the sustenance of the beautiful sounds he can make.

Andrew Bird at the Cobb Performing Arts Centre, Atlanta. June 15, 2009.

The scarf came off early, and the band joined him soon after the set began. The first notes of each song was met with cheers from an audience who has digested every album thoroughly and frequently. I tried not to mouth the words, to let the other members of my group feel the music whichever way worked best for them. As Mr. Bird switched from violin to guitar to glockenspiel to floor loop to vocals, I divided my attention from the wonder on the stage to the wonder on my aunt’s face to my right and the slow but definite acceptance on my friend’s to my left. I wished I could see everyone’s face, that I could feel the beauty of the music through my own senses, and vicariously again through the others’. How do they experience live music versus recorded? This music versus their favourite artist’s? Although I’ve been told that many people don’t experience music quite like I do, I still wonder how hearing and vision could ever be separate. Gorgeous combinations of light and sound rose up to the mezzanine, swirled and speckled and meshed together like the pieces of art hanging down from the ceiling behind the band. The lights flashed across the room; I squinted, and as I did so, the bright magenta light spread until it was all I could see, and the song spread too— it was already all I could hear.  Change to a sharp blue. Change to a bright orange. To fresh yellow. To rich purple. Pulsing, dancing, sweeping, pulsing again. Not exactly how I see music, but since it’s related yet not the same, lights at live shows absolutely enhance my experience. I don’t need to close my eyes to let the music wash over me, because it’ll make the lights sing instead.

I looked up to watch the lights flicker over the ceiling, like a pool of coloured water reflecting sunlight. I looked down to watch the incredibly talented musicians, gathered around a mic playing the acoustic instruments as deftly as the electric. Andrew Bird cleared his throat again. The raspy edges of his voice made it that much more visceral, recalling in my own throat the feeling of a temporarily overtaxed voice that hasn’t regained its footing. My aunt knew as well, and she too, I think, felt the ghost of that sensation.

Each song felt invigorated; if I hadn’t known which songs were new and which old, I would’ve been hard pressed to tell. His aural aesthetics have shifted, but nothing he’s written sounds dated (save the wonderful Bowl of Fire records, which could’ve easily happened in the early 20th century). The double encore was well deserved and played with the same warm energy as the rest of the show. This was a night that was unabashedly Bird’s; he welcomed us into the meanderings of his mind, which, as it turns out, is a stunningly graceful and sonorous, yet sensuously disheveled, place to be.

Andrew Bird at the Variety Playhouse, Atlanta. February 4, 2009.

a week draining, a mind hopeful

The setting has changed, but the scene is familiar: Friday night, typing at the softly clicking keyboard of my laptop, thinking about the work done, the work still to be done, the work looming inevitably on my horizon. American drinking laws suggest this is the first of this sort of evening that the red wine I sip is legally procured and consumed, as I try to find my tastes without slipping into dependency. Fatigue struggles with creativity. The need to be productive, to get ahead before I fall behind just to find myself in a whirlwind of need-based bursts of output. I worry that the stream will dry and my writing will cease, yet I consistently propose new projects, new ways to flex and challenge the mind that disquiets my sleep.

My shoulders ache not with some metaphoric weight, but with the effects of a morning at the gym with little upper-body strength. This seems to be a reminder: whatever aches most needs the most attention. Push through that tightness and the difficulty will recede, as I have found time and again. My legs feel the same restlessness through weariness that led me back to aligning words on a digital space. This too is a reminder: I have pushed through. I walked streets desperately unfamiliar, my hand as frustrated as my tongue while my mind flailed for a communicative outlet that would come easily. I found it through drawing a translucent line connecting my being to others’, as I unwittingly (or merely subtly) always have found my words. A mischievous grin under a red cap. A drawl once stifling and now nostalgic. Children of a land far away, further from home even than I already was, filled with people I understand but yet don’t know at all. Softening presences as I introduced myself to a civilisation I had seen from afar. I’m not sure how long it will be before that displacement will stop floating to the front of my consciousness; the memories have blurred a bit, but the lessons seem to remain. I learned to write from the depths again. I learned to walk with confidence and yet to find myself through interactions. Everything is a reminder, a cause, and an effect of what has come before. The same moments that sent me down a more difficult path are the same that have left a smile lingering years later, when the lessons have been accepted but the memories still sit heavy somewhere between the mind and the heart, like a beautiful snowfall that crushes an abandoned yet once loved home.

I have begun my last year at university. People have drifted in and out of my vision, paper deadlines have come and gone, and summers have become winters as falls become springs. I’m ready to find somewhere new, but not with the impatient determination with which I came here. Perhaps the calm surfaces because I know how much I will smile to myself on a rainy day, watching the flickers of my time here dance across the faces of people outside a new window. My dreams will bring me back here before I awaken, a vague and wistful cheerfulness on my lips as I start a day that might end with the strokes of clicking keys and a glass of wine that has lost its novelty but not its warmth.


This was written on 24 August as a response to a free writing prompt: 10 minutes; key word is “breakfast.”


Stumbling out of bed always seems to end in breakfast. I am the type of person to eat heartily (as heartily as budget will allow) in the morning, preferring a nice leisurely moment with tasty vittles to a big dinner affair. Breakfast has meant many things to me in times past. Now that I have my own apartment, I eat my breakfast in my pajamas while playing Animaniacs in the background, enjoying a cup of coffee and thinking about what I’ll wear, who I’ll be trying to impress that day, and what I expect life will throw at my unsuspectingly clean slate.

But last weekend, breakfast followed a night both fun and surprising, an awakening leaving me unsure of where I was until I saw a good friend nearby. This is a friend who has meant the world to me, and when one of the most important people in both of our lives took off to follow a myriad of his passions, my friend and I were at loose ends. But last Sunday’s breakfast was the end to these worries. Life never quite looks back; you may wish to visit a previous moment or bring your relationships back to “where things used to be,” but you never can. So I won’t say that I felt the same as I did when I first woke up in the same apartment as that friend, because I instead felt like we had truly grown since then. Over breakfast (and the journey to it) we reconnected in a way that made me happier than I’ve been for awhile– to grow and change and yet to find yourself consistently happy in the presence of another person. Although most would say that the most important social encounters happen over dinner (lunch is for appearances), breakfast has always impacted me the most. Anyone can join you for dinner on the town, someone you may never see again or ever care about. But if you want to share your breakfast, you have found a connection worth keeping.