THE BOLD YEAR// offswitch magazine, volume two

I went to my first concert just over a year ago.

I had gotten tickets for my brother for Christmas and the plan was that I'd take the bus to Boston to visit and we'd go together.

I remember that Saturday night: our late dinner ordered in, the cold air blanketing the city, the feeling that i had not a single thing to wear--what does one wear to concerts? I finally settled on a black shift dress and my Frye motorbike boots. We entered the small venue--standing room only--and found a spot close to the stage. Connor got us drinks and then we waited, remarking mostly on how lucky we were to be tall (tall is good where no seats are concerned) and how we were not the usual hipster crowd (in a sea of beanies our heads went hatless).

We were there to see The Head and the Heart. 

Now, I can just imagine readers all over, nodding their heads, of course, of course, The Head and the Heart. But just over a year ago they were virtually unknown. Just over a year ago they were the opening band for someone else. And when we saw them, just over a year ago, no one knew the words to sing along--no one had heard of them. But their music was heaven. And so Connor and I stood there, drinks in hand, bobbing and swaying, as the music moved through and up, as the air was charged with the sound and the guttural need of those voices.

And that was it. I was sold. Hook line and sinker, or however the expression goes.

When I returned to New York I began buying up cheap tickets for fringe (I use that word very loosely) bands playing smaller venues. I saw Noah & the Whale at The Bowery Ballroom. Beirut at The Wellmont. The Lumineers at The Mercury Lounge. Slowly and surely over the course of the year I refined my taste in music and began to chart the city as i did so--venturing into downtown neighborhoods and once foreign boroughs--mapping city and self, unfurling New York and my place in it.

At some point it became very clear: I was made bold by a year of listening to live music.

But how or why i was made bold by this was still unknown--well, maybe not unknown, but certainly beyond words.

It was just about a week ago I went out with some girlfriends I hadn't seen in quite a while and I was explaining all of this and what bands I loved and why and what about their music made my weary heart thrum when my friend Vivienne took a deep breath and said, All of the music in my library was given to me by friends and ex-boyfriends--mostly ex-boyfriends.  

Ah, ex-boyfriends. I've come to realize that in every relationship I've ever had--first loves, half-loves, reluctant flirtations--music plays a part. The passing of the mix-tape might as well be a relationship marker. Music and men. To this day I can't listen to Nick Drake without feeling a sadness and longing for one Sunday in December in which I both lost and found the very best parts of myself on the couch of my first love. 

I'll never forget sitting on the floor of my first boyfriend's apartment. I was just out of high-school, new to New York and terrified by nearly everything. I sat on his floor surrounded by record sleeves and pictures of him and I was quite sure that I wasn't actually keen on him, but I had yet to really wake to that though. He picked up an Ella Fitzgerald album: Ella, she's the one, you know? She's my one. She's my music. She sings and it stirs something low in me. Something i hardly know how to place. 

Who's your ella? he looked right at me and asked. 

Who is your ella? 

Who is my ella?

I hardly knew what he was talking about. I don't know. I don't think i have an ella.

Oh man, i can't wait for the day you find yours. Finding it is the best part. 

Sometimes I wonder how often that question hung over me. How often I was aware of the presence and immediate need of that question.

It took six years, but I now know.

I figured it out this last year in dark and crowded concert halls amongst nearly perfect strangers.

I found my Ella in the sounds of the folk movement coming out of London and the Pacific Northwest. I found my Ella in the broken voices of Charlie Fink and Kristian Matsson. i found my Ella in the sublime dissonance--that perfect space between the Avett Brothers' voices.  In the ferocity and haunting vulnerability with which Laura Marling sings and Johnny Flynn plays the fiddle. I found my Ella in the lyrics which call upon Bukowski and Shakespeare and Hemingway for their piercing (and humblingly simple) wisdom.

I found my Ella. And in finding my Ella, I found myself.

And I did it all without a man.

My music library is made up of those songs that I love. Those songs that stir that low unknowable, unnamable part of myself. The songs that upon listening to I can't help but move and laugh and sway my hips, putting socks to wood floor. Those songs that grant, when I least expect it, a perfect, quiet moment, in which I stand just as still as I  can and cry--because someone else has given voice and melody to my great triumphs and deep tragedies--because someone else has unwrapped what I thought singular and secret.

And in those moments I am not alone. I am never lonely. I stand listening to the chant of the human experience. 

It's that knowing I'm not alone bit--that knowing that others have gone before and others will follow after--that vulnerability that makes for this human experience. That's what made me bold.

Well, that and the music. 

the journey home {off switch magazine}

Screen Shot of my article in OFF SWITCH MAGAZINE

In the fourth grade I went to the rodeo with my friend Rachel Keenan. The two of us climbed onto the sizzler, a spinning contraption in the parking lot outside, and just as I turned to complain that it wasn’t spinning and sizzling fast enough, the thing started moving with such force that I couldn’t lift my head from the seat. I don’t know that I’ve ever laughed so hard.

I’m not sure why I’ve been thinking about that moment of late, but I have. And I’ve been thinking about how just after my college auditions I took a cab with my mother to the airport and fell asleep with my head in her lap. These are the moments that make a life. These small, seemingly insignificant moments that only in hindsight can a person point to and say yes, that moment there—that was a really good day.

The night I moved I sat on the floor of my new apartment, boxes everywhere, the bedframe pushed up against one of the curtain-less windows. I was freshly showered, a glass of Oyster Bay Savinguon Blanc next to me, and as tired as I’ve ever been. It was the end of an impossibly long day in which, with the help of my two best girlfriends, I packed everything of worth into a U-haul and hurtled south to Brooklyn, where we then pushed and pulled and dragged all that worth up three flights of stairs into a tiny studio apartment that leans, just a little, to the right.

We did it ourselves, the three of us, Kim and Ashlea and me. And at some point during the worst of it Ashlea made me promise that for the next move I’d hire a company and we’d sit in lawn chairs drinking sweet drinks with small umbrellas while we watched as someone else did what we were doing now. Stuck between the second and third floor, my arms shaking under the weight of a box of books I wasn’t now sure I needed, I gave in: yes, next time, yes—but please God, don’t let that next time come anytime soon.

There were countless moments during the day in which I thought, for sure, we wouldn’t make it—we couldn’t possibly come out the other side. So at the end of it all, that box of books tucked safely away, we each poured a glass of wine, took a shower, and readied ourselves for a celebratory dinner. Even as it was happening, I knew. Even as I watched the girls search through my clothes and put on makeup and laugh, I thought, well, this here, we’re living through the best of it. This is one of those moments. It was remarkable in that hindsight wasn’t necessary. I could feel the moment printing itself on me even as it was happening. A tangible sort of happiness.

I don’t remember much of what followed--what we ate once we finally got out the door or what was said as night crept towards morning, but I do remember that at the end of it all, in those slow and sacred hours when the night is a particular sort of black, the sky opened up and it rained.

A cleansing. A fresh start. A new world.

I moved to New York at the age of eighteen and have spent the subsequent eight years here looking for a home—searching for a place where those moments that make a life—those moments that occasionally happen at the rodeo or in the airport or after an impossibly long day—could accumulate, take root and grow.

The night of the move, Kim, searching through my stuff for a pair of shoes, asked in which box I had put my high heels.

There isn’t a box, I said. I don’t own any.

--because I need some for this outfit, she continued, only to stop, turn her head. What do you mean? What do you mean you don’t own any?

I just—well, I don’t.

What?! She screeched. Why?

Because I don’t like them. Don’t worry about it, girls in Brooklyn don’t wear heels, I finished.

This isn’t entirely true. Girls here wear clogs and platforms and winter boots well into summer months, but heels—the kind of heels that Kim was talking about—you’d be hard pressed to find them here.

Perhaps this is one of the ways I knew that after eight years of Manhattan living Brooklyn was the place to be.

No high heels and an abundance of trees.

Now that I am here in this small neighborhood with which I am undoubtedly, unquestionably, desperately in love I wonder why I didn’t move sooner.

But the thing is, I didn’t know at eighteen that I would be the girl to eschew high heels. Didn’t know I’d be the girl to use the word eschew. Didn’t know I’d wake each morning and make myself a latte. Didn’t know it’d be men with dark hair and deep-set eyes that would invariably undo me.

I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know heartbreak. I didn’t know loss. And I sure as hell didn’t know failure. And without these things I knew very little of myself. It has taken eight years and many, many mistakes to piece together a picture of who I am and what I want.

And it is upon these things that a home is built.

I used to think that the I-don’t-knowswere the point of this life. Which is to say the things that transcended understanding were what gave meaning to this earth-bound existence. But as I get older (and, I hope, a little wiser) the I-don’t-knows don’t hold so much sway. I like not only to love something, but to know why I love it—to be able to say why I love it.

The area in which I live now—the area I will proudly tell people I am building a home in—well, it was love at first sight. And immediately I knew I could explain and give voice to my wonder: the trees—the explosion of green, the Catholic Church one block south, the absence of tall buildings, the front yards and back yards and corner bars, the pace with which I naturally walk here—slower—markedly different from the speed I use to dodge tourists in midtown Manhattan.

Eight years ago I would have gotten off the train at Carroll street and I would have been smitten, but I couldn’t have told you why. I only know now—I can only say now because I know myself. Because I’ve circled back to that girl I was at five, at eight—the one who without fear got on the sizzler—the one who at seventeen chose a conservatory theatre program over an ivy league education—a fearless creature was she: a girl who knew she’d always take trees over concrete; a girl not interested in bright lights or sky-high heels or the cutout of a city skyline; the girl who would grow up to fall in love with a small and diverse neighborhood, who would love the old New York with its cobblestone streets and turn of the century charm.

Eight years. It took eight years in Manhattan to build a home within myself. To forget who I was and what I knew and what I wanted so that I could be surprised and delighted and totally in awe as I journeyed back to myself.

I didn’t move to Brooklyn any sooner because I wouldn’t have known it was for me. The eight year old in me would have known, yes, but I had yet to reclaim her. And now that I have, all I can say is, holy hell was it worth the wait.