SAS 009: An old friend

I grew up without musicians in my family, but my family loved listening to music. I got a lot of exposure to classic rock and roll, funk, ballads and power ballads, RnB, and some jazz and blues. That’s where I started planting my tree of musical preference. I watered it with contemporary pop as a kid, and then from those branches, I began throwing pop punk and contemporary hip-hop and RnB. I had all these things influencing my taste in music, slowly shaping what I thought music could be and do. I began to notice how much I loved when I could feel it and when it could elicit from me any emotion that wasn’t anger. I loved when it made me feel happy because it could make me feel happier, and I loved when it made me sad because it reminded me that I wasn’t always happy. I loved when it made me feel resolute and adventurous and ecstatic and mellow and content and melancholy and everything else in between. (Just not anger. I reserve silence for anger.)

I listened to all these things, but since I had no one in my family who was a musician, I could really only understand it through a one-way lens. Then I started playing the guitar. And then it became a new language I could speak. I couldn’t communicate with music before; I could only listen. And with each song I learned on the guitar, I learned more and more words in this new language. And soon I began to develop an understanding of theory followed then by a sense of feel. It took a long time to get here, but it feels like the blink of an eye. Yesterday I couldn’t play a thing, and today I can. I can have a conversation in music now. If we’re keeping the analogy going, I’m not fluent. I’m like a high school freshman in honors English. I know what works and what doesn’t, but I’m still grasping why. But it’s no longer imbalanced. It’s a reciprocal relationship.

And today, I heard a song I had not heard in at least six years. I know this because six years ago, I stopped using my iTunes library and began using Spotify. But my iTunes library was unnecessarily extensive and large. I used shuffle most of the time, and I had over ten thousand songs. So it’s likely I haven’t heard this song since long before six years ago. Additionally, I did not start playing guitar until ten years ago. This means that for most of my adult life, I only had a one-way relationship with music, and I only had a two-way relationship with my iTunes library for four years. I still listen to a good deal of my favorite songs from iTunes on Spotify, but I know for certain that I didn’t port everything (revisiting my library is on my list of Things I’ll Need A Lot of Time For (Emotionally)).

Finally, we arrive at the song I haven’t heard in a very long time. “Aruarian Dance” by Nujabes. When I first heard about Nujabes in high school, I used Limewire to download everything he had available. And immediately, I clung to “Aruarian Dance.” I heard it and I couldn’t stop hearing it. Back then, it was what peace sounded like to me.

And I heard it again for the first time today. Not because I don’t love it anymore but because there were always other songs I loved too. Sometimes things fall by the wayside, and it’s no one’s fault. But who I was when I heard it last and who I am today  are vastly different people. At the core, I’m still the same. I try to do the right thing and I try to do it as well I have the ability to. So much is different though. I will not talk about those things now. The only important difference is that now I understand what I’m listening to more often than not. In “Aruarian Dance” I can hear the major sevenths and dominant sevenths and sharp fifths now. I can hear the family of notes that decorate this piece. I can hear the effects on the percussion and on the guitar and the reason the strings work so well, and it’s just so strange to me because I heard all these notes before but I’m hearing them so differently now. They’re speaking in a language I can now understand.

I imagine it’s like hearing a song in another language. There’s this older song. “La Vie en Rose.” Originally sung in French by Edith Piaf, it’s a zeitgeist in form and function. To hear this song first never knowing French and then to come back to it after learning the language is what this feels like.

It’s really an incredible thing to have this well of music I know I haven’t heard in a long time and to revisit them with more trained ears. I already can’t wait to go home and sit down with this song and talk.

SAS 008: A time you went camping

Why do some motorcyclists choose to rev their engine at the stop signs in the middle of the neighborhood before the sun is up? Is it unintended? Surely, they must be aware of themselves enough to know how loud their own vehicle is. But whether or not they care is the crux of the matter.

Anyway, I woke up (a little) before my alarm because I heard a motorcycle stopping at the stop sign in front of my house, then using the unfortunately long and unencumbered straightaway in front of them to absolutely shred the tranquility of the morning to microscopic bits. To be clear, I would’ve heard the bike even if my window were closed, which it wasn’t because during the summer I sleep with my window open. I do this because I like the sound of crickets at night and because it keeps the air in my room fresh. Or as fresh as an air-ventilated room can be during the summer.

Perhaps I could’ve gone back to sleep after the sound; I was plenty tired and I was prepared to let my alarm ruin me in a few minutes. But another thing about my window is that in the morning, the sun shines through it. Specifically, it shines on half of my bed. The only time it doesn’t is when it’s cloudy, and during the summer, it is never cloudy. Today, the abrasive outdoor alarm threw me into the inescapable awareness that my eyelids were nowhere near capable of blocking out the released photons of the star nearest to Earth.

I was undeniably awake by this point. So I checked my phone. 0742. My first alarm was set to ring in seven minutes. Well, at least I won’t be late.

I went through the notifications on my phone. Some texts through the night. Some dating app messages. Some Instagram comments. Some emails. And finally, the holy grail. Twitter. I went through the memes I was sent first because those don’t take much time. But my Twitter feed. It’s nearly everything I want in an update. It’s the news from sources I’ve deemed credible, it’s social media comedians and funny jokes and memes, it’s updates from musicians I like, it’s people I like and care about sharing their thoughts. My modern newspaper.

I’d already packed up my car with everything I’d need for this trip yesterday evening, and I kept my backpack in my room for my small stuff like cables and my water bottle. All I had to do right now was make my bed, change into the day’s clothes, and go through my usual morning routine. I was never really into breakfast besides cereal, so while I had time, it wasn’t likely that I’d eat.

I had some playlists ready for today. Well, I had them ready every day. They’re very terrible, so I always have a lot ready so that when one fails, I have backups. During the summer I come back to my Warm series of playlists. I’ve named them Warm, Warm 2, Warm 3, and, most recently, Warm 4. I started it a few years back, and each playlist represents its own year. When fall comes this year, I will make Warm 5, to be ready for next year’s sunnier days. (Please do not look them up. They are not good playlists.) Anywho, I put Warm on because I wanted to go OG, and it really helped set the mood.

The drive through the mountains and forest near Eldorado National Forest was beautiful and tranquil and it smelled incredible and the breeze through my sunroof was perfect and the music was happy and it was really all I could ever ask for in a drive. Since I was driving up on the back half of the weekend, all the traffic was headed opposite of me, so I was largely alone on my half of the yellow line. There was a point where I had to get off the highway/expressways and drive several miles along a windy road that led to the campground, and it was a dream. Slowing down so that I could hear the outside and feel the flickering of sunlight through the leaves, I couldn’t get enough of that kind of drive.

Alas, nothing gold can stay. I found the campground, and I met with my friend who will hereafter be referred to as Brandon. He and his wife and their friends had been here since at least yesterday, so I found an unoccupied spot with a clear view of the lake and the sky and set up shop there. I’d never gone camping where I slept in a tent alone, so it was a relief to set things up exactly as I wanted them to be, where everything had its own place and was clean. I got a drink and got to know the people I’d met just then.

(I’m going to be candid here and say I don’t remember too many of the details of these people. I just remember thinking that they were kind and particular and clearly not from California.)

That night, we all contributed to making dinner. We had roasted vegetables and grilled steaks and lamb chops, and it was simple and great. We drank and played What Do You Meme afterward. Then we drank a while around the fire and talked about country music; it seems I was not listening to enough (of the Good) country music. So I made mental notes of the artists to listen to. Then we were about to turn in, and I decided that it was warm enough to stay out in my jacket and lie on the large rocks next to my tent and clear enough outside to have a reason to keep my eyes open. So I lay.

And the stars were… what were they? Hm. Have you ever been on top of a cliff near sunset? And it’s warm and the breeze is light despite being atop a cliff and there isn’t a single cloud near you or the water or the horizon? And the sunlight begins sparkling off the waves on the surface of the water? But every little wave has a crest, an apex that moves like the top of a fluid mountain? And every apex is really just a bunch of tiny little diamonds with an uncountable number of reflective surfaces? So that when the sunlight hits each surface, it creates an uncountable number of sparkles on an innumerable number of crests on an ostensibly endless open ocean surface and every single one of those reflected rays of light reflect into your cornea all at once because the sun and ocean are huge and your eyes are very tiny in comparison but the result is that all you can really see is the sound of chimes and all you can really feel is magic?

That’s what these stars were.

And I fell asleep on this rock under these stars and woke up to them again. And I have to say that the miracle of perfect vision simultaneous with the miracle of the perfect view is, to no one’s surprise, otherworldly. So thank you, contact lenses.

SAS 007: A song that makes you cry

“Dog Years” by Maggie Rogers.

It doesn’t make me cry anymore. It didn’t that often really. But it’s one of so very few that have.

I used to play Call of Duty online, and over time, I started playing with the same people over and over again. Shrooom and Lopez and Panda and so on. I remember talking to Panda, and progressively we’d talk more and more. Then we’d share social media information. So we talked through that. Eventually we started texting. And we talked all the time. Every day, in fact.

It was nice to have someone with an objective view of my life (she was not involved in it at all) but also a subjective view (she only knew what I told her). She’s sharp and passionate, and we’d talk about everything. Our pasts and our presents and our futures. What I thought about this person or that girl or the trolley problem or climate change or how Kyle Lowry did tonight or the reason I love making music or how much she loves her niece or the way we agreed that Coraline and Paranorman were underrated masterpieces that showcased the value of at one point feeling like the outgroup and reconciling that with the manifestations of it and then choosing to do what you want anyway because why the fuck not.

I found out she lived in Toronto. So after years of talking to each other, I’d finally gotten myself together enough to go to Toronto. I was there for a week. It was right before Christmas, so there was snow and lots of decorations. I loved the place. We spent the entire week together. We visited ice bars and the Christmas markets and the CN Tower (and had dinner there!) and Jurassic Park and the ice skating rink and the best place for a skyline view. Then we said our goodbyes and held each other for the last time. I wasn’t sure when the next time I’d see this person was, but I knew I didn’t want this to be the last.

As I sat on the plane, I started playing music. It took off, and soon it was high enough that I could see the sun peeking over the mountains before it would rise for the city. Aspenglow. And “Dog Years” came on.

I count my time in dog years
Swimming in sevens, slow dancing in seconds
Oh, and I’m the one that loves you
Oh, and I’m the one that loves you
I spend my time daydreaming
As sure as the sea
It’s just you and me
Oh, and I’m the one that loves you
Oh, and I’m the one that loves you
And if you had a bad week
Just let me touch your cheek
Oh, and I’ll be there waiting
When you get frustrated
I know things are changing
But, darling, I’m saying
I’ll be singing you in all of my songs
Come what may
I’ll still stay inside your mind
For all of time
Singing, ooh
We will be alright in the afterlife
Of all that is shifting and shaking my system
I know your rhythm
And I know, I know, I know, I know
I know that I’m the one that loves you
Oh, and I’m the one that loves you
And if you had a bad week
Then I’ll sing you to sleep
Oh, and I’ll be there waiting
If you start to get jaded
I know things are changing
But, darling, I’m saying
I’ve been here all along
Come what may
I’ll still stay inside your mind
For all of time
Singing, ooh
We will be alright
Not in vain, we’ll still stay the same
Inside your mind
For all of time
Singing, ooh
We will be alright
In the afterlife
In the afterlife, hmm
I count my time in dog years, dog years, dog years, dog years, dog years
We will be alright (Dog years, dog years)
We will be alright (Dog years, dog years)
In the afterlife (Dog years, dog years, dog years, dog years)
Singing, baby, we will be alright (Dog years, dog years)
We will be alright
We will be alright

SAS 006: A sound or noise you love

So many to choose from.

Sitting in the music building on a college campus and listening to everyone practicing. It’s the best worst symphony.

Waking up to an open window and everyone in the world except for the birds is asleep.

People noodling around softly at Guitar Center.

The low-fidelity hum of music when you’re outside the building it’s coming from.


Snow against a board.

Crickets in the middle of the night.

The sound of my house’s heater turning on.

When my sandal scrapes against concrete; largely, I only wear sandals to the beach or at home. So when I hear them against concrete (none found in my house), it means I’m at the beach.

Colors of the Wind playing during World of Color.

When you’re sitting in the trunk of your car in the parking lot of a park. The quiet you hear is broken only by the living.

The general quietness of parks, actually.

The echoes made by a basketball in a gym. The swish of a shot.

When the book you put back on the bookshelf makes that clack of the pages against the wood.

SAS 005: A time you pursued something you really wanted

The first time I saw her was in a psychology class I took in my first year at a four-year university. (I started as a junior because I’d gone to a community college prior to enrollment here.)

I remember thinking that she was the most beautiful person I’d ever seen. Even now, four years later, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone that would me reconsider that.

The first time we met, however, was a year after seeing her for the first time. She’d been in multiple of my classes, so I assumed we had the same major. I was trying very hard to focus on school because I felt I was so behind already, given my age, so for a long time, I didn’t even consider the prospect of dating. But here was this girl, sitting in front of me in a night class on the day of a test (after which we were allowed to go home), holding on to every bit of hope that I had that she was proof that I had a Person. You know, that dreaded, wistful, oversaturated word–a soulmate. So I finished my test quickly and early–school, for all the focus it took from me, was not very hard nor challenging–so that I could turn in my test close to when she would turn in hers. It’s called moves?? Look it up.

I found her walking to our school’s parking lot, so I walked up to her.


“Oh, hey.”

“Did you just come from [redacted’s] test?”

“Yeah, I did. Did you?”

“Yeah. How do you think you did?”

“I think pretty well. I studied a lot for it. I’m [redacted], by the way.”

“Oh oops, my bad. I’m Nico.”

“Nice to meet you. I feel like I’ve seen you around before.”

“Yeah, I think we have some of the same classes. What’s your major?”

“Psychology. What about you?”

“Me too!”

Nothing substantial came of this. A couple months of flirting (I tried not to because based on her Instagram profile, she had a boyfriend. And if this was going to be something good, I’d rather it not start off with me as the homewrecker, which I concede is a subjective term.), a couple years of waiting (she’d moved to SoCal after graduation), and one almost-date.

That almost-date turned into a date, and I had a really nice time. And I thought this was going to finally be what I’ve been working toward for so long, and it was. But only momentarily.

I’m happy and sad that I pursued her. Happy because it was something (read: someone) I really wanted. Sad because it was the most work in a long while that I’d put in that ended in unhappiness. I like that it’s both, though. I feel happy to have wanted someone so badly because at some point I wasn’t sure it would happen again.

SAS 003: A way you are not at all like your parents

I take after my mom and my dad (in vastly different ways) (but happily). My parents love to travel to visit new places. It fulfills multiple things for them, one being a break from the norm. It’s cathartic to balance a life spent mostly at home or at work. It’s a chance to see beautiful and noteworthy things and places and to try new foods and to experience life in cultures completely unlike their own. There is an aspect of culture, however, that only those who partake consider a piece of culture: alcohol.

My parents rarely or never drink. It’s not really for any particular reason (that they’ve told me). They just don’t do it. And while I’m not an alcoholic (allegedly), I do drink often. It’s never really that heavy, but I like to have drinks socially; it’s comforting to have something in my hand to resort to, even if, at some point, it’s just melted ice with a dash of a cocktail.

I consider alcohol an important part of a developed place’s social culture (I don’t know enough about un- or underdeveloped places to know if it’s important there too). We drink when we’re happy or comfortable or celebrating. We drink when we’re nervous or uneasy or upset. I drink when I’m with people, and I’m usually happy with people. So whether I drink when I’m happy or when I’m with people, I like the forwardness alcohol affords me and others. It’s a substance that affects disinhibition, and I don’t let this go to waste.

SAS 002: Your first crush

It was in preschool. I attended Montessori, and there was this girl there. I don’t remember much about preschool besides a few core ideas.

In no order,

  • I absolutely abhorred my preschool teacher (her name was [redacted])
  • I loved oranges and bananas
  • Woody was the only correct Halloween costume
  • I was in love with this girl I’d never seen before

Facts about this girl:

  • I’d never seen her before
  • I haven’t seen her since (I don’t think)
  • She was just the cutest thing
  • I loved her name

Her name was Sabrina.

SAS 001: What you know is right with the world

SAS: Share a story.

I received a box of cards from a resident, each one with a unique prompt. The cards are meant to help people get to know each other. I plan on sharing the cards with our residents here, but since I won’t be sharing with them, I’ll be sharing with you. You’ll get to know me, and hopefully I’ll get to know you.

There are so many things right with the world. I can’t possibly list them all because, frankly, I don’t know them all. There’s a butt ton wrong with the world too, to be sure, but we’re not on that today. Kindness is one of the best things right with the world. It’s so hard to get wrong, even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good. Music is so, so good. At any given time, there’s so much you either already love or can and will love. It’s mind-boggling, honestly. Parks and Recreation is a perfect and flawless show, and Jean-Ralphio being unable to stop a rap line on the rhyme is an absolutely flawless moment on an endlessly charming story. Calvin and Hobbes is a sublime work of art. Conception, execution, background, external references, moral and ethical examinations, art criticisms, I could go on and on about what this strip has to offer. But like its creator, Bill Watterson, I’m withholding everything but the strip itself.

Clearly, there is a lot that is right with the world. But I would be remiss to omit the greatness of hope. Found at or near the core of anything we are or do, hope is as inseparable from humanity as love is from dogs.

Story 2: We Could Have

The light of the sun began to bleed into the night. It was cold in the car, and I wondered if it were colder outside. The car had been running for hours, but Sarah and I were so preoccupied that I didn’t notice it was on or that the heater was off or that my phone was still playing music. I let go of Sarah’s hand to turn the heater on low. I didn’t want it to be too loud. She grabbed the box of tissues, nearly empty now. Our eyes were red and swollen. We’d been drained dry. My soul felt flushed, and she must have felt the same. We had little else to say.

I sat back to feel the warmth and looked out at the horizon, now a light orange, casting a soft shadow from the mountains onto the lake. The music was soothing, and it healed me as slowly as dawn bled over the sky. Sarah held my hand again, and her cool fingers were smooth against mine. I looked at her, but she was looking forward, just as I’d been. Her gaze was wide, searching for something that might not have been there. She seemed to be looking through the mountains. I looked out again.

“Do you think we could have made it?” Her voice was hoarse and tired and broken.

We could have, I thought. If we were truly honest about how we felt from the beginning, before any of this, we could have avoided digging the hole we were stuck in now. Resentment and mistrust were poisons that killed us slowly, but we could have found a cure sooner. We could have held each other and told each other about all the stupid thoughts we had and all the irrational things we tried to rationalize and all the people whose stories revealed us to ourselves. We could have forgotten about the meteor shower and gone straight to the restaurant. We could have avoided all this if she or I decided that enough was enough, that life as we knew it wasn’t what we were promised in those thoughts and rationalizations and stories.

The sun peeked over the ridge of the mountain and the light hit Sarah’s eyes. They were vibrantly brown. The first time I saw her eyes in this kind of light was the first time I told her I loved her. Could I say it now?

I was drained. But it was satisfying. There had been too much in me for too long that drained was the best I could ask for in that moment. The emptiness granted clarity. That we didn’t stand a chance was always clear. But that we could’ve given ourselves a better one was something that dawned to me now.

The gold of the sun faded slowly from her eyes.

“We could have.”