Every once in a while, a moving asseveration comes barreling your way through the routines of diurnal life. In my case, yesterday’s unexpectedly stirring experience resulted from a long chain of quotidian events. Forgoing my usual desire to remain bedridden until 10 a.m., it all began with a sudden spurt of productivity at 7:30 in the morning. Hopping out of bed with a vigor my body hasn’t demonstrated since Saint Nick still existed, I got right down to business and washed the sand-steeped vestments that comprised my suitcase while vacationing at Newport beach, entered a juried gallery exhibition on the subject of portraiture, conducted an array of business calls that my indolent-self would have delayed, safeguarded my bank accounts against the Target hacking fiasco, rendezvoused at the grocery store, and ventured to Victoria’s Secret to exchange a blind pity buy I’d made after receiving word that Steve Job’s infantry of Geniuses couldn’t salvage my fried laptop. Because my newfound productivity was so potent, I then decided to take up my neglected hobby of drawing for the first time since completing a festively gruesome Christmas gift that parodied The Walking Dead. Avid illustration led to a late night of BBC mysteries, and watching Mark Williams of Mr. Weasley fame merge Catholic priesthood with amateur sleuthing soon segued into one of OPB’s film critic programs. Thus, at the very end of my long day, it was this adventitious sequence of causality that ultimately introduced me to The Spectacular Now.
I had never heard of The Spectacular Now before, but with my detachment from zeitgeist culture that hardly comes as a surprise. After conducting some curiosity-fueled research and interrogating my movie database boyfriend, I learned that the film’s reception had deemed it “a slightly better than average coming-of-age film.” This response, coupled with the OPB critics’ repeated comparisons to The Way Way Back (a story that only cultivated grins and furrowed brows as it strove for profoundness), made me question whether The Spectacular Now was actually worthwhile. But when restlessness prompted me to watch it at 2 a.m., I was pleasantly surprised by a genuinely resonant narrative: one of those rare, arresting movie experiences that we’re lucky to encounter in a film era where unoriginality runs rampant amidst an endless procession of sequels and remakes.
As its average reception suggests, The Spectacular Now isn’t for everybody, and anyone whose stomach turns at the thought of teenage insecurities, judgment calls, and hormones would be wise to avoid this film. Considering my personal retrospection on the roller coaster that commences at thirteen and keeps you dipping and diving until you’re twenty, I regarded The Spectacular Now as one of the most honest film depictions of teenage sentiment I’ve seen to date, and was very grateful that someone finally endeavored to do it right.
The film starts out in typical teen-flick fashion à la She’s All That and 10 Things I Hate About You. Our protagonist Sutter Keely serves as both a party animal and wounded recipient of a recent break-up, two stereotypes that pervade the coming-of-age genre for their existing veracity. As the diegesis advances, Sutter’s preoccupation with his ex is gradually sidelined by an interest in his humble classmate Aimee Finecky. While the OPB critics dubbed Aimee “the quiet girl,” I would argue that the original author and screen adapter devised a character refreshingly atypical of Hollywood’s teenage pigeonholes. From my perspective, Aimee straddled the archetypal barrier between solitary academia and the whim to experience new phenomena, just as a real teenager exhibits contradictory mannerisms. Not to mention, it was nice to see a character who laughed her way through her dialogue just as persistently as I laughed my way through my entire institutionalized education. Once Sutter and Aimee’s courtship comes to fruition, the film turns to examine another relationship, that of our main character and his absentee father. Subsequently, we witness an estranged 18-year-old become increasingly entrenched in the pathos of inherited alcoholism, subject his relationships to an utter disdain for the future, and ultimately face the crux of how to approach the “now.”
The plot is no revolutionary tour de force by any stretch of the imagination, but the way in which the filmmakers divulge this prosaic concept is immensely effective. The critics discussing the film remarked that cinematic analyses of teenage experience are becoming more frank and relatable, citing The Perks of Being a Wallflower as an exemplary character study. In my opinion, The Spectacular Now takes human verisimilitude to a whole new level by evading the flawlessness coveted in celebrities like Logan Lerman and Emma Watson and instead presenting a cast that looks so natural you might as well be watching a documentary. The last time I was this impressed by the film industry’s stab at reality was when the latest Star Trek franchise allowed Chris Pine’s pockmarked complexion to fill screens in high definition. But even then they had Pine’s pre-established sex appeal to justify such tight cinematography. In The Spectacular Now, makeup was mostly foregone in surrender to the Georgia heat that would have melted it off, and in an uncommon scenario, we’re free to scrutinize scars, pores, double chins, and ultimately the unique beauty of real human visages.
It is this visual candor and the equally credible performances by the film’s principal actors Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley that result in a tangible, recollective look at youth. It’s a shame that my first exposure to Woodley was the trailer for Divergent, in which we’re expected to believe that this unthreateningly skinny girl could aid an ass-kicking insurgent squad while decked out in false eyelashes and thick slabs of concealer befitting children’s beauty pageants and the aging Southern belles who “jog” Forsyth park in hot pink sweatsuits and teased up-dos. If my familiarity with The Spectacular Now had preceded said trailer, I could have saved myself some initial cynicism, revering Woodley as a thoroughly endearing actress whose conjunction with Teller’s charisma yields palpable on-screen chemistry.
Fortunately for those of us with flighty attention spans, this is not your typical Mandy Moore and Shane West love story. True to its sense of authenticity, Sutter’s newfound feelings for Aimee don’t drastically alter his character, and their relationship is periodically marred by an ongoing reverence for his former girlfriend and the assertive asides he makes to a buddy that he’s “just giving this girl a first boyfriend experience.” Where Aimee’s concerned, it broke my heart to watch her fall victim to the rapid stages of First Serious Boyfriend Syndrome, an ailment that can be very detrimental if the first serious boyfriend is emotionally unavailable, infatuated with a previous girlfriend, and prone to abusive behaviors inherited by no fault of his own, all of which define my first serious relationship to a T and serve as further evidence of this film’s cathartic impact.
Examining The Spectacular Now from a critical perspective, there were a few sensationalistic scenes that took me out of the otherwise pragmatic depiction of adolescence. And don’t worry parents, not all senior girls who become helplessly besotted with the school’s resident Bacchus start taking casual swigs from engraved flasks. I also have to admit that some of the dialogue was a bit trite, but overall these clichés reinforce the fact that the characters are in the awkward throes of high school, a period where mentally engaging conversation is few and far in between. Despite this minor limitation, every moment of teenage discomfort, joviality, and sorrow is illustrated perfectly, reinforcing the fact that high school truly is a lodestone for insecurities, superficial behaviors, and the drive to find your personal definition amidst a throng of amorphous identities. Comparably, my own high school experience was riddled with self-centered ephemera and laughably awkward anecdotes, such as the many times I was seated behind one of my boyfriends in Advanced Algebra II and found myself repulsed by the fact that his hands looked like rubber whenever they lay motionless on the desk before him. Or the way I consistently vacillated between extremely loud, obnoxious tomfoolery and respectfully silent and diligent studiousness. I even used to pour serious effort into keeping my eyes wide open at all times to reap compliments about how attractively large my peepers were, and can clearly remember the day I opened my eyelids to their natural resting position and thought to myself, “Why does this feel strangely comfortable?” Lastly, I would be remiss to exclude the hilarious occasion on which I finally succeeded in ensnaring a crush of many months by taking him on a date in my dad’s wholly unsexy Astro Van.
The fact that The Spectacular Now transported me back to the emotions of youth and evoked so many parallel memories speaks to its powerful effectiveness. In striving for an organic ambience, this film melds the universally visceral experience of growing up and harboring raw feelings for others with a very personal story about the perceived absence of love. Not only does the visible heat of the Georgia landscape appeal to my personal ideologue of living in Savannah, but the many dimensions the filmmakers have imbued in their characters allow you to identify with, or become engrossed in, or harbor sympathy for the candid nature of human experience. It’s not often that I see myself, my former boyfriends, and my high school cohort reflected so frankly through the frames of a film, but thanks to the detailed attention paid to actuality, The Spectacular Now proved to be quite the sincere and poignant mirror.
This past Tuesday, I was inducted into the Sherman Alexie fan club immediately after reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian in five and a half hours. I would have finished all 230 pages of youthfully large font sooner if I hadn’t uncontrollably sobbed my way through the first third of the book, variable pockets of the middle, and a large portion of the end, pausing every four minutes to reread Alexie’s poignant and deeply affecting prose over again through fresh bouts of blinding tears.
Best book I have read to date. And it’s meant for fourteen year olds.
I have never wept so hard and so consistently through any story I’ve ever read or borne witness to, and I have tear ducts that start welling at the mere mention of “Pixar.” When the devoted mother in Mrs. Weasley surged forth and reaped its murderous revenge on Bellatrix Lestrange, the dormant, wannabe mom in me bawled in empathy even though I haven’t the slightest idea what it actually feels like to protect your children, and when Joey the title character of War Horse pummeled his way through barbed wire in a mad frenzy, I think I actually pleaded with my dad’s TV, begging it to stop the torture in spite of my disinterest with horse stories ever since Black Beauty stopped awing me at six. But somehow, Sherman Alexie’s first novel intended for young adults trumped the hordes of tear-jerkers from my past.
Despite the incessant blinking I had to engage in just to read through the overactive floodgates that anatomy classes would have you believe are eyes, The Absolutely True Diary wasn’t depressing. Instead, it was life affirming, educational, and cathartic in the sense that it exhumed relatable pain from your own past, even if you’d never endured anything so tragic as the young protagonist. It was hopeful, cunning, and refreshingly frank in the ways that every teenage novel should be: eradicating the censorship a Young Adult sticker generally necessitates. It was inspiring, yet eye-openingly devastating, and it was a read that made me fall so head-over-heels in love with the voice of youth, the notion of community, and the responsibilities of an inherently nomadic soul, that I want to return to my former career as a middle school art teacher and dole out this book as a more effective creative tool than any splayed paint brush or hand full of quick-dry clay.
I really, really needed Arnold Spirit Jr., the main character, in this uncertain chapter of my life, and I thank my mom (and the committee that surprisingly allowed her to read this book with her summer school students) for telling me during a phone conversation that this was the next book I needed to read, ignoring my question of “Why?” with the same mysterious elusiveness my parents always employ when they know seeking the answers for ourselves will be more beneficial in the long run.
Having finished this charming novel, I feel revitalized. I feel inspired. And without giving anything away, I feel that others should place library holds on this gem with the same sense of obliviously piqued curiosity that I did. I promise, whether you’re just entering the throes of puberty or registering as a methuselah at your local DMV, this book is well worth the read. Now off I go to spend what few precious, apartment rent-destined dollars I have on a written account that truly matters.
Several weeks ago, I’d nearly forgotten that this month marked the one year anniversary of an accumulated facet of my persona that goes unnoticed by the general populace but serves as a daily perturbation to myself. This facet doesn’t require much in the ways of explanation, but warrants a story via its sheer unexpected endurance.
I was one year younger, one year more invulnerable amidst a customarily stressful summer of juggling two jobs within an 80 hour work week, and one year toothier, with four wisdom teeth completing their emergence in my jaw. Having hosted those four budding molars for years without any professional indication that they needed to be extracted, the “wisest” of incisors would have been welcome to set up permanent residence in my dental cul-de-sac if they hadn’t been pushing together the gap between my front teeth. An iconic aspect of my semblance that had served as an adolescent source of contention, and later a pivotal aid in establishing my self-confidence, my gap was an important symbol of both my personal and business identities. Thus with one of my favorite assets diminishing before my eyes, I had to take action fast, and as soon as I returned to Portland for summer vacation, dentists were visited, examinations were conducted, referrals were made for dental surgeons, and appointments were scheduled. Come August, I was all set to endure the surgery that’s made many a chipmunk out of even the most sallow-faced patients, and having been regaled with a myriad of nightmare stories including my friend Nyssa’s immense pain that even ice cream couldn’t quell, the school jokester who’d asked my mom if she’d rubbed orange peels on the pronounced spots where her jaw was badly bruised, and my father’s excessive bleeding that required immediate medical attention, I was far from enthused about the whole ordeal.
My major concern entailed something the nurse had momentarily paused in her incessant description of her favorite dishes at Noodle House to tell me during my pre-surgery check up. According to my $200 x-rays, my wisdom teeth had matured to the extent that the roots were anchored far down into the meat of my gums, right next to the nerve that’s responsible for all the feeling in my lower jaw. Even with the x-rays, the surgeons couldn’t determine if the nerve ran through a hole in the roots of my teeth or if it merely paralleled them, but if it was the former scenario, they would have to severe the nerve to extract the teeth, leaving my jaw numb for the rest of my life.
Naturally, a lot of liability paperwork ensued.
Come surgery day, I met with the doctor who’d flirted with my mom about her predominantly purple attire (the same color the medical center boasted in their scrubs) and the noodle-savvy nurse who’d gleefully shown me the top of her waist-high underwear to prove that purple superseded the scrubs in this facility. With the future of my nerves in these competent hands, I was sedated, and all else of that appointment beyond waking up drooling and being escorted to the car is a mystery. In the post report, however, I received the great news that it turned out the nerve only paralleled my teeth, and there was no severing necessary. Over the next week of uncontrollable salivation, a daily bout of bleeding, and slight puffiness that disappointedly did not warrant any chipmunk jokes, I couldn’t feel my jaw at all, but could rest assured that with copious amounts of Oxycodone-laced apple sauce, a water syringe to clean the cavernous holes at the back of my mouth, and the comical head sling that was meant to keep the swelling down, I would heal.
Soon, the pain had subsided and despite the prominent bruises on my face, the thick lisp I’d developed, and the lack of feeling in my jaw that made drooling an inescapable mannerism, it was back to the old, grocery customer service grind. After days of accidentally drooling down the front of my uniform and telling customers, “The ithe ith down aithle thixth,” my symptoms began to subside, and it seemed I’d been successfully inducted into the club of wisdom teeth extraction recuperators.
Well, all my symptoms had subsided except for one: I still couldn’t feel my jaw.
After a couple weeks of the pins and needles sensation that plagues sleeping limbs or nerves that are overcoming a hearty dosage of anesthesia, it was time to bring my plight to the attention of Dr. Old Tease and Nurse Mauve Panties. The doctor dragged several instruments back and forth across my jaw, and stabbed me with a sharp little poker to pique a reaction, but if I hadn’t borne witness to his attempts, all of them would have gone completely unnoticed. According to the doctor, however, there was nothing to fear. A lot of patients experienced delays in the return of sensation, and because my nerve had been so close to the roots of my teeth, it was likely it had been bruised during the operation. Thus, feeling would take a long time to return to my jaw, if bruising was all that occurred. Without another $200 x-ray, however, there was no way to tell for certain what had happened under the operating knife…
So, without the slightest desire to subject my parents to another large expenditure, I did the only thing you can do in an inconclusive situation like this: I waited.
And returned to classes.
And enjoyed an October vacation in LA, only to discover how weird it is to kiss your boyfriend when one lip is insensate.
And went on one of SCAD’s excessively long winter breaks to enjoy homemade pumpkin pie, pumpkin scones, and pumpkin bread through a comatose mouth.
And waited some more.
And returned to school for my last two quarters, posed for graduation photos with a tingling sensation in my smile, and moved out to Los Angeles to start the infamous “next chapter” of life.
Now it’s August, 2013, twelve months and two weeks after my surgery.
I can’t for the life of me believe an entire year has past since I first lost feeling in my jaw. One month into the ordeal, I couldn’t fathom enduring such a nuisance for the six month period my doctor predicted, and six months in I figured I must be getting close to recovery now!
But alas, here I am celebrating the one year anniversary of what may very well become a lifelong component of my face. While the numb sensation was excruciatingly aggravating for the majority of this experience, the fact that I’ve reached a point of blissful unawareness for the majority of the day is a testament to how easily humans can acclimate to different situations. At least there’s hope in the fact that we as a species are powerful adapters, and although our generally keen memories may cause frequent reminiscing of the days when we could rest our chin against our palm without hammering vibrations erupting beneath our skin, my year-long relationship with Numb Jaw has taught me not to place so much stock in a small thing like a shoddy nerve.
Besides learning how to complete tax forms and fill out checks, one of the saddest, inevitable aspects of aging is the gradual diminution of daydreaming. That isn’t to say that there aren’t adults out there who still pass the hours with their head in the clouds, seemingly idling away while their imaginations rev with steam power, but I beg to proffer a generalization when I say that most adults in our Capitalist system don’t have the time or mental energy to dream like they used to.
This unfortunate phenomenon occurred to me last night after seeing Pacific Rim in IMAX 3-D at Universal’s neon-lit CityWalk. Despite the obvious holes that even Guillermo Del Toro admits to, this film was an increasingly rare personal experience in which I was actually able to relax and enjoy a summer blockbuster and all the giant, sword-wielding robots it had to offer. But while beating back motion sickness for the thrill of prismatic kaiju-jaeger carnage, the thought occurred to me that if I were a twelve-year-old kid watching this movie, my mind would be racing to fabricate a myriad of subplots and potential characters, and as soon as the movie ended I would hurry home to manifest my alternate narratives via writing, illustration, or a long bout of daydreaming. As it was, the movie ended and I hustled home to collapse exhaustedly into bed.
It’s a real shame that daydreaming seems to be a pastime literally and ideologically reserved for children. Even for those adults fortunate enough to still possess the active reveries of juvenescence, our culture seems to perpetuate a social stigma about daydreaming after a certain age. The phrase, “get your head out of the clouds,” comes to mind when pondering the fact that idle behavior in adults is generally chastised by the United States’ emphasis on productivity. Since youth, aging in America runs parallel to an exponential loss of time: our homework starts to amass in middle school to ensure that we’ll be ready for high school; or social lives have to be marginalized in order to complete all the high school work that prepares us for college; college buries us so deep in post-college preparation that sleep becomes an irregular recreation; the five unpaid internships a city like Los Angeles demands from us and the secondary jobs we fill just to make rent consume every waking hour of the day in preparation for a career; and unless we’re lucky enough to secure a relaxing schedule and ample time off, our careers become synonymous with “life.” Of course it all peters out eventually, and one can only hope that the reinstated free time of retirement might kindle some sense of contemplative woolgathering… as long as the exhaustion of the years prior doesn’t preoccupy the mind.
I think hispanic countries got it right when they established midday siestas as a cultural repose. Providing people with an opportunity to regain their energy and cerebrate at their leisure is a genius social strategy that not only aids in employee stamina but also in creative output. Daydreaming, while criticized as mere inattentiveness, self-absorption, and absentmindedness, is a progenitor of art and innovation. Back when I had the time and the energy to simply explore the contents of my imagination for as long as I saw fit, my artistic output was tenfold its current yield. Today, if I’m lucky enough to have a writing implement and jot down a creative thought when it galavants my way, I have to seek time to flesh it out, and by then I might already be preoccupied with the next fleeting fancy.
But I shouldn’t be so quick to bellyache about the future to come, for having attended art school, I’m geared up for a career in creative ideation. Despite these occupational prospects, the expectations of most middle and lower class vocations that I grew up amongst are worrisome on the creativity front. Unless you have a job at Pixar or in an advertising agency, work schedules are not conducive to imaginative thought. And even with a creative occupation, daydreaming just isn’t the same when you work to produce creative ideas versus spontaneously slipping into hours of free associative contemplation.
I suppose if there’s any consolation to be garnered from this predicament, it’s that even though the American system demands that we work hard to afford the necessities of life and work even harder to live leisurely, creativity continues to flourish. Eccentric couture designs continue to catwalk their way into fashion shows, anonymous muralists continue to adorn city streets with whimsical illustrations, teachers continue to create innovative curriculum to engage their students, architects and urban planners continue to brainstorm new strategies for cost effective living, and artists like those assigned to Pacific Rim continue to dream up bigger, more fantastical monsters. With creativity manifesting all around us every day, it’s clear that innovation is not solely the product of excessive daydreaming, and with the help of these imaginative adults, creativity will continue to augment social progress. Yet despite this propitious silver lining, I can’t help but wonder what this country would be like if everyone still had the time to dream with the same fervor that propels a child to build castles in the sky.
In the same vein that Catholics have their renowned flavor of guilt, my immediate family has the alcohol taboo.
When I first started drinking at a bizarrely late and legal age in comparison to most members of my generation, I was compelled not by the usual suspects of seeking liquid confidence, struggling to obtain relaxation, or succumbing to peer pressure, but instead by my drive to try everything at least once, an inherent compulsion responsible for those kimchi-marinated snails I ate in Hawaii (the things I do for writing material). The trouble was, after trying a Georgia Peach once, I was perturbed to discover I actually liked it–as long as the bartender got the proportions right and fruit comprised the overarching piquancy. Successively, the increased sense of intrepidity, ensuing tranquility, and social aspect were just added benefits, and as long as my Georgia Peaches were balanced with steady water intake and good food, what was the problem?
The problem was that prior to acting on the experiential curiousness that compels me to seek work on a farm someday and serve as one of the background dancers in a Bollywood film, I had taken a personal oath against drinking and had spent my whole youth effortlessly overcoming the teenage escapades that stereotypically cajole substance abuse. In fact, I was never met with any of the cliché, cautionary pressures teenage television personalities have to deal with on a seasonal basis. I can’t recall a single instance in which I was egged on to drink or ostracized for sipping water through a beer pong tournament or king’s cup. My incentive for attending parties was to socialize and partake in the dancing that had better ensue at some point during the night, and contrary to what the media would have you believe, my peers seemed fine with that.
Yep, my teenage behavior was just as innately innocent, prude, and unadventurous as most kids will insist when being interrogated by their parents, and my parents knew they had nothing to worry about, for they were the inadvertent source of my non-alcoholic vow. I stem from a heritage that promoted beer and wine drinking on both sides of the family; an Irish-Swiss mix stereotypical for their Fumblin’ Dublin alcoholism and pleasant, mountain-dwelling nightcaps amidst the resonating songs of the alphorn. Remarkably, one member of my family abstained from this hereditary propensity, and fortunately for my adolescent brain cells, that family member just happened to be my mother.
Besides a glass of champagne allegedly sipped at a family party years before I was born, a private investigator would be hard pressed to cite multiple offenses when it comes to my mom and alcohol. Along with her teenage gravitation toward a healthy lifestyle of yoga and vegetarianism, my mom (pre-pre-motherhood) observed the effects alcohol had on her superiors and made the same simple decision I made in childhood: to abstain. It was my mom’s stout resolve, however, that proved victorious, as she sticks to virgin margaritas to this day.
Growing up with such an inspirational health nut made rescinding my personal temperance a guilty endeavor indeed. I like to think that if there was any religion in our agnostic household, we prayed to the deity of sobriety, and absolved my dad’s Flat Tires, Sierra Nevada IPAs, and Mirror Ponds on the premise that he’d been drinking before the Moon-Wood Church of Teetotalism was established. When it was revealed that my sister had been drinking at a young age, it was as if World War III had just surged through our doorway and my mom’s encampment had been trounced, leaving her to lament the antebellum peace of mind that had precluded this revelation. Having borne witness to this ordeal, my first few alcoholic beverages in college were enveloped in an ambience of penitent doom. Sure, my whole family save for one innocent soul drank, but everyone was completely convinced my mom had sired an unimpeachable progeny: I was the predictable kid, the one who presumably embodied the D.A.R.E. motto long after graduating from elementary school.
Fortunately for my guilty conscience, the Teetotalism denomination came equipped with three confessionals, and because I’m also renowned as the daughter who blathers on endlessly about everything and can’t keep a secret to save her life, I confessed the whole affair to my family in the throes of the worst, Bartini-induced hangover I ever intend to experience in my life.
To many, the alcohol stigma that existed in my household during my youth is a trivial affair. Alcohol is such a prevalent aspect of our culture that several families I know have taken to allowing their so-inclined teenagers to drink as long as they keep to the house, adopting the creed that thanks to that 21-year-old jerk your kid knows through a friend of a friend or those shady liquor stores that don’t check identification, there’s no absolute way to prohibit alcohol, but at least a viable way to supervise it. Having recently converted to the doctrine of The Occasional Cocktail, I like to think that when I have children of my own I’ll be able to establish this same negotiable policy, but having hitched my tent in a dry camp for so many years, it’s likely the experience will be just as difficult as it was for the Immaculate Maman.
While watching the Savannah College of Art & Design’s reputed fashion show last Spring–and wishing they’d attribute the work to the artists so that I could compare the outcomes to the conceptual catalysts of samurai armor, muscle tissue fibers, monsters found in children’s imaginations, Inuit culture, and DaVinci’s anatomical drawings (none of which was identifiable)–something happened that would unbolt a whole new entryway into my persona. With each wardrobe change, the DJ would seamlessly meld a new track into the electronic du jour, and midway through the production, the tempo slowed, the treble chimed in, and a virilized Destiny’s Child classic contributed to the androgynous dubiety of digital music.
That’s how I discovered Cyril Hahn, a Vancouver-based, Swiss producer with a knack for slowing down pop and hip-hop hits and turning them into something light, ethereal and far from the banality entrenched in the originals’ lyrics. Not gonna lie, Hahn’s tendency to turn vocalists like Mariah Carey, Solange, and the aforementioned Destiny trio into contralto men was a large temptation on my behalf (a fact that might stem from my long-standing membership to the RuPaul’s Drag Race fanclub), but for anyone seeking meditative music that blends the soft din of a sea breeze with recurrent percussions and vocals that could double as the bass, Cyril Hahn is worth a listen… And in honor of LeVar Burton stint on Reading Rainbow, you don’t have to take my word for it:
Before discovering this hermaphroditic opus, I was bred into an eclecticism so quintessentially meta that I’ve never once been able to answer the survey question, “What’s your favorite music genre?” Therefore, Hahn’s induction into Emily Moon’s idées fixes means his oeuvre is now conglomerated into a categorial soup so diverse it gives the melting pot of Los Angeles a run for its money. While I have the ability to fixate on one artist at a time, repeating their canon with the same broken record finesse my dad used to drive us insane with, my ears refuse to hunker down with one genre for more than a day, and thus, I always choose to answer that dreaded question with an explanatory list.
Since childhood, I’ve been raised on an assortment of music ranging from the Irish wail of U2 and the soul of Buena Vista Social Club, to the anarchic shrieking of Bow Wow Wow and the utter nonsense of The B-52’s. My pops had a collection of CDs he recycled through with regularity and when I wasn’t manning the sound system with Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” and Now That’s What I Call Music, Vol. God Only Knows, my dad was instilling in me a nostalgic fondness for Peter Gabriel, Fleetwood Mac, P.M. Dawn, The Police, Seal, and Simon & Garfunkel. Meanwhile, my mom introduced me to classical singers-turned-alternative like Paula Cole and Sinéad O’Connor, Californian favorites from her youth like The Beach Boys and Dick Dale & The Del-Tones, and never-stale oldies like Smokey Robinson & The Miracles and Marvin Gaye.
Along the way I picked up quite a few of my own arbitrary additions to the eclectic mash-up pre-programmed in my brain. Included in this assortment was my middle school fixation on Damon Albarn’s brainchild the Gorillaz (and all things Jamie Hewlett); a sixteen-year-old infatuation with industrial German band Rammstein, which occurred in tandem to my classical singing education and resulted in some atypical harmonizations during my drives to class; my teenage liaisons with Björk’s melodramatic gobbledegook, Kanye West’s catchy complaining, and Joshua Bell’s violinistic prowess; “scooping up coconuts” to my favorite dubstep hailstorms in college; and finally my recent surrender to the oxymoronic mainstream-hipster tunes I refused to listen to while dating an indie ex. But I cite these artists and genres as mere highlights in a longstanding courtship with music: a simple answer to an unintentionally difficult question. For while I inadvertently learned temperamental German listening to Till Lindemann roar his lyrics and “danced this mess around” at Kate Pierson’s behest, I never stopped listening to absolutely everything else. Patsy Cline, Enya, The Coasters, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Elvis Presley, Hawaiian slack key guitar, Ella Fitzgerald, Flight of the Conchords, and all the classic Disney soundtracks–you name a genre, and I’ve probably listened to it twice in the past week.
So welcome, Mr. Hahn, to the euphonic jambalaya that makes succinct answers to that age-old question near-impossible.
My friend Mark recently notified me that Xanga, the online hospice for attention-seeking preteens and angst-driven high schoolers, has finally come to terms with its fiscal and technological fossilization and is shutting down tomorrow unless it fulfills the last two-thirds of its staggering resuscitation quota by some miracle of God. The last time I thought about my Xanga blog was when I suddenly felt impelled to create this WordPress account, but in that instance I merely pondered the medium of blogging itself–not the content of my diaristic teenage rants and ramblings. Now that I’m faced with an actual expiration date, I figured my old Xanga deserved a parting once-over.
As soon as the adolescent memories started amassing, I realized revisiting three out of the innumerable blog posts was enough for me. Present-day critics certainly aren’t kidding when they joke about Xanga’s cultivation of the malaise. While I usually entertained my small but loyal cohort of subscribers with a hyperactive sense of humor that has since evolved, there are a couple blog entries that augment the Xanga standard for emotional harangues. Some of these vociferations probably revolve around my father’s neurotic girlfriend at the time, but most irrefutably deal with the boys of my past. For instance, in one entry I spend a paragraph listing off my relationship standings with 23 guy friends, exes, and past crushes–the majority of whom I have absolutely no memory of (Straight Ryan and Gay Ryan? Sebastian #5629? Skunk Boy!?). To make matters more difficult, I speak in a cryptically metaphoric manner that only close friends could have decoded back in 2006. Flash forward to what I assumed were my greater mental faculties of 2013, and I have no idea what in Buddha’s name I was babbling on about.
One thing I do remember with clarity, however, is a pastime documented in an entry dated Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006; an entry that describes a breakup with a former boyfriend in morose detail.
When I was growing up, I never confined myself to a single clique, floating instead from each stereotyped social circle with ease thanks to my fluid label of “artist.” Apparently, this liminal nature translated to the host of guys who came courting, because my boyfriends of school years past were quite the archetypal medley. Amidst this collection was the indie musician who started my high school dating life with disturbingly long, 70s tresses and reappeared years later to culminate high school with a hackneyed Portland beard; the pseudo-gothic, punk kid whose attraction to me apparently emanated from my obvious “innocence” and probably contributed to his recent conversion to born-again Christianity; the multicultural cross-country athlete who barely said a word to me the entire time we dated and puked at my feet whenever I tried to congratulate him after a race; the visually-deceptive hyper-nerd who built his own iPad from scratch and intended to revolutionize Lexus sound wave technology via his favorite overused phrase of “frequencies;” the budding politician who at 6’8″ would tower over the competition but ultimately make one of the most lethargic congressmen ever elected; and an array of flings so obsolete as to nullify explanation.
What most of the aforementioned disparate characters had in common (besides their initial gravitation towards a giggly, teenage girl with dyed gold hair and hurdling bruises) was that they fell prey to a cruel trend I seemed unable to shake back in those days: my propensity for dumping guys after a mere three weeks of dating. I suppose I was something of an unbreakable foal back in those days, my head too high in the clouds to find any value in menial high school relationships and my young predilections too fickle to be anchored to any one commitment for long. It wasn’t that I was completely inhumane though: in the November Xanga entry where I describe my breakup with the taciturn athlete (who finally mustered up a response when he punched a locker in anger and went on to compose several songs that anathematized my name and garnered meager local fame), my compunction and sorrow is apparent and I vividly recall succumbing to the romcom cliché of lamenting each separation with a fresh crop of tears.
In retrospect, however, I can’t help but muse that some transcendental Moon intuition was at play every time I said my adieus on the 21st day of a relationship. After all, years of rumination and introspection have asserted that every single one of those beaus was not a good union by Matchmaker Yente’s criterion. It was only when I went against the three-week benchmark and reconnected with my first high school boyfriend that the whiplash of retribution catalyzed a new chapter of my dating life, resulting in one of the most harrowing experiences of my youth and teaching me a life-altering lesson in recuperation and self-perseverance.
Today, as I look back on those first three Xanga posts, mulling over the irony that three is still the biggest number I can stomach, I can’t help but feel a sense of peaceful detachment. While it’s a fascinating study in human maturation, reading the words of a young girl with an entirely different outlook on life, a slew of petty relationships in her past, and no suspicion of the interpersonal bliss she’d accidentally discover junior year of college, merely reminds me of a bygone longing for something I wouldn’t let myself enjoy. Ultimately, I have little desire to salvage that conflicted teenage voice. So go ahead Xanga, the times have changed, that girl with the fickle temperament has grown a whole new conscience and her three-week dispensation has long since found a new naïve host; guess it’s about time to let the online record go the same way my noncommittal past went.