[“In This Diary” – The Ataris]
Words can be tricky. Sometimes I feel them expertly packed inside of me. Perfectly stacked and sorted, accessible at any time and for any purpose. And then there are times when I feel as though I can grasp words as well as I can grasp a wisp of smoke or a sunbeam. Beautiful, but fleeting verbiage. These past few months, though, have had a different quality. They have seen a series of difficult mental health days. With those, my carefully stacked edifices of words collapse and leave behind them a ruin which I am ever more tired of rebuilding. I’ve felt lost in toppled towers of unfinished thoughts and weathered facades of fuzzy notions.
At best, my writing style, here at least, can be described as meandering so a sense of lost-ness does not necessarily lend itself to a coherent dialogue by any means…
However, I unfailingly and thoroughly ruminate this time of year. So bear with me as I re-ruminate some cohesion to my internal composition. It’s during these difficult mental times that I largely retreat into myself because I don’t want to take out my mental insufficiencies on anyone else. But, really, there is a difference between “taking out” and “getting out”… An important distinction to make but a line I’ve, as of yet, not been very good at traversing.
Essentially, it’s astonishingly easy to feel sad, alone, and unloved during this glorious season of light and hope. I’ve allowed myself too much of the melancholy and self-pity. I am not saying I am done exploring that wallow – but I am here. It may not be great, but it’s something.
Another Concert Story…
Believe it or not, this post has been in the works since October 31. On Halloween this year, I had the great pleasure of seeing the Ataris in concert for the 15 Year Anniversary Tour of So Long Astoria (only the second anniversary show I have attended, whaddup Relient K?). Usually, when someone writes about something (particularly in our immediate gratification culture) they say “today I..” or “yesterday we…” and sometimes I feel bad when I can’t manage that. Sometimes it’s mood, sometimes it’s work, and sometimes, as I said above, the words don’t comply… Whatever precludes me from writing I feel guilt for not getting out into the world the story that is on my mind. But really, there is no expiration date to a memory. There is no decreased relevancy for an experience that sticks with you. And this concert has really stuck with me.
In every way, this concert offered me a front row seat to my adolescence. A fascinating time in my history, full of ALL THE FEELINGS… Leading me, I suppose, to this point where my life seems to be periods of anxiety dotted with musical interludes. Looking back, I thought I ruled the world but really I was a lost child who had way more confidence than I should have about the nonsense that was coming out of me. May blessings be heaped on anyone who had to deal with me.
But let’s circle back to this band. Picture the scene… March 19th (ish), 2003. My 13th birthday celebration with friends in Naples, Italy. “Liz, you’ll like this band, they are from ENGLAND” (already, my Anglophile tendencies were making themselves known to my friends, it’s almost reassuring that not ALL things change). That was how I was introduced to the Ataris – a burned CD birthday gift with a vague sharpied title and the promise of music to be explored and appreciated. The England part? That was, in fact, very false, but how was I to know when I was not in the business of actually fact-checking on the internet (ahh, the good old days).
Notably, from this album, the song In This Diary expounds: “Being grown up isn’t half as fun as growing up. These are the best days of our lives. The only thing that matters is just following your heart, and eventually you’ll finally get it right.” At the time, I felt this lyric on every level. These words resounded within my very existence, and still do to a degree.
I could clearly see the veracity in that idea. Looking back, adolescence, despite all that angst, was so much easier. My teenage years were such a fascinating time because every day was new and different. I didn’t have enough of a life history to look back on anything fondly and reminisce about simpler times… outside of the beauty of getting star stickers instead of letter grades. More importantly, when you are young, you don’t know what regret really is. How innocent and pure we start out, just ignorantly waiting for the world to relentlessly hammer intrinsic truths about both the beauty AND pain of existence into us.
Now, having some solid dings from the hammer, the album idea that resonates clearer with me is from the title track: “Life is only as good as the memories we make.” At the ripe old age of 28, I can look back (oh God) HALF MY LIFE AGO to when I received this album. Life may have been conceptually simpler but it seemed like the hardest thing in the world at the time. School, boys, figuring out what to do with my future (oh wait, that’s still my life…). Wanting, more than anything, to be an adult so I could forge my own path and not worry about what other people told me to do anymore (oh, my sweet summer child, if only…).
Adulting is Hard
At this time in my life, with the benefit of hindsight, I don’t think I’ll ever stop being surprised by how much of adulthood is just making up the rules as you go along. That, and, in my mind, owning your mistakes (well, I suppose, others doing so. Obviously I am infallible)…
Essentially, life is a collection of our best attempts. We are all just here doing our best. That’s what it means to be an adult. It may not seem, day to day, like we are doing much but the culmination, the whole, is what makes a life.
It’s amazing what visceral experiences, like a concert, can do for my mental clarity. I see a band and… lights off, mind off. It’s stunning. It’s the most “in the moment” I can manage to be lately, but it’s what my whole life looked like when I was a teen. I had less to think about and therefore I had more opportunities to just turn my mind off and BE.
Current and future me could learn a thing or two from past me.
Having had this ah ha moment, I’ve used it as an opportunity to reflect inwardly (though let’s face it, when do I not look for that opportunity?). Life is only as good as the memories we make. Not the surface-level anecdotes we’ve accrued or the boxes we’ve checked. Counting off the hours of life allows it to pass you by in the most impassive and soulless way. Sometimes I find myself living in a moment just because it’s how I get to the next. Survival vs. actual existence is no way to live. Let’s face it, moments can be boring but the collective whole, the LIFE they make up, is what’s ultimately most important.
It’s easy to lose perspective when your most recent moments have slogged by, or if they have been particularly hard on your already fragile soul. I overthink and try to control my surroundings because so many things have been well outside my control recently. Unfortunately, actually living and experiencing life means relinquishing control of the moment and letting it take you along for the ride. I have never been good at not being in control of a situation but I do recognize that, with control, there is no surprise or real joy.
2018 – A Recap
So in the words of Kris Roe’s reliable song lead-ins, and as I play myself into the new year – A one, a two… a one, a two, fuck yeah… Here in this (online and vastly different from 2003) diary, I write you visions of the memories I’ve made this year. Memories which may have occasionally been treated as moments to survive but, looking back, were so worth experiencing for more than just the anecdote. Memories which, in many instances, forced me to relinquish control in one way or another.
This year (in a list that increasingly, in my mind, sounds like it should be read to the tune of The 12 Days of Christmas):
- Thanks to a festival and a lot of one-off concerts, I saw 25 bands – both alone and with stellar family/friends.
- I traveled prolifically to D.C. and Baltimore, but also to Chicago, New York, Boston, and PERU.
- Because life is funny, I changed 4 tires. Or, really, I changed one tire, 4 times.
- I was able to see my favorite comedian, Kyle Kinane, perform. I also met one of my favorite authors, Deborah Harkness.
- I attended three stunning weddings. Celebrations of love for some of the people I love most in the world.
- Ultimately unfortunately, I went on three dates. All terrible but also all learning experiences in their own inexplicable ways.
- In a moment I still remember with terrifying and freeing clarity, I jumped out of a perfectly good airplane.
- In an effort to be entirely myself, I stopped taking my medication (under a doctor’s direction and reassurance).
- I moved to my very own, very wonderful, apartment. A place that is entirely mine, in a neighborhood entirely new and open for new experiences and memories to make.
- I let go of friendships and I made important new ones.
- And, after almost a year, I am comfortable saying I’ve survived my divorce – final on January 10, 2018.
Most importantly, and as was my intention for the year, I was vulnerable… both here in writing, and in person. I proved that, despite the universe seeming to be actively working to ensure the opposite, my heart still works.
That, my friends, is the best and most reassuring memory I could have made.
In terms of 2018 listing, because lists are fun, I can also say:
- I wrote 13 blog posts… well, 14 including this one.
- According to Spotify, I’ve listened to 1,360 unique songs. And according to Audible, I’ve listened to 8 days, 20 hours, and 26 minutes worth of audio books (that also shows how much driving I have done).
- By my, definitely incomplete count, I’ve physically read (or re-read) at least 17 books.
ANYWAY, to wrap out my musings – I hope each of you had rewarding years with fond memories made and robust lists of accomplishments. More importantly, I wish you all every good thing through this holiday season and into the new year.
Here’s to relinquishing control… and, as will always be true, following your heart… Because eventually you’ll finally get it right.
Photos: E. Campbell (2018)
The Ataris and We were Promised Jetpacks concerts
The Voltage Lounge and the Foundry, respectively