Winter Seeds

This is going to be a harder blog to write.

So, I suffer from depression. This is not a new thing, if I’m being honest. It’s probably something I’ve always felt in some capacity–touched by this feeling of Knowing and Understanding from a young age. I was always called an “old soul,” never exactly felt right in my childhood body. I say I’ve “suffered” from it, but I don’t know if that’s really the right word, the accurate one. It’s always been there in some capacity, sometimes more quietly, like the hum of appliances in the background, and sometimes I feel it as though it were another person I was accommodating in my mind. Not always an easy friend to have, but one who I understood, and who understood me.

Depression runs in my family, more openly discussed regarding my mother’s side, but something that I can feel on my father’s side, too. It’s hard to compare the two families equally, being that I don’t really know my mom’s side as well (although fortunately, things like social media have helped bridge that gap in some ways), but I certainly understand the way it operates on my dad’s side more. I think it is something that defines us, that makes me understand them better, and certain family members even more. There is a strength in us, but a vulnerability too that makes us feel the world a little differently. Maybe everyone has this, maybe everyone feels this way about their family, but I guess because we share blood and bones and DNA, I feel it more acutely.

My depression is manageable most of the times until it’s not, usually offset by some major stress/significant change, or often it’s seasonal, especially in the winter.

Winter is a season I both love and dread for this. I’ve come to understand that I operate differently during the winter, that my thoughts are different. It’s a time of reflection, of darkness, of self-evaluation and contemplation. There is some hibernation that comes with this territory, some isolation. And to me, that’s okay, because sometimes I need that time away from people, inside myself to really think about the things I’m feeling, to really absorb all the people and life that is happening around me and at me.

But there’s usually a point during the winter, towards the middle or the end, where it becomes a little too consuming. Where the time spent out of the sunshine and limited indoors is a bit too much and the company inside my head is not the most pleasant. It becomes much more difficult to do things, like get out of bed in the morning, or to keep myself from crawling back in it the minute I get home, warm, safe, alone. Continue reading

Liner Notes for a Year, p. 2

As I mentioned in my previous post, I put together my annual “Year in Review” CD and wanted to put together some liner notes for this year’s choices. Here’s part 1 of 2 of that.

“We the People” – A Tribe Called Quest. Coming up with the first song to a mix CD is one of the biggest challenges. You want to set the right tone, and draw listeners in immediately. Starting on a good foot will help make sure people stay engaged, or willing to be engaged, even if they don’t love every song you’ve selected.

I went back and forth on this one for a while, really wanting to start with a Bowie song, since for me his death in the beginning of 2016 really set the tone for the rest of the year. I also obsessively listen to Blackstar when it first came out and for the month following Bowie’s death. But as this project kept evolving, starting the CD with one of those tracks didn’t feel right.

After listening through my “Songs of 2016” playlist again, I immediately knew I found my first track when it came up.

This song really had it all: An iconic group, known for addressing social and political themes in their music, releasing an album after a decades-long hiatus that spoke to the current climate of the country. And, true to the seemingly mark of the year, one of its members, Phife Dawg, passed away earlier this year.

“Wintersleep” – Amerika. I think I can credit my discovery of this song to my XM subscription–it seemed like any time I got in the car while I was still driving an hour each way to work on 95, I heard it playing on the radio. (I don’t know if I can chalk that up to coincidence as much as a limited playlist rotation on most of the satellite channels). Although it wasn’t a favorite of mine right off the bat, it grew on me and began to feel a bit like a battle anthem as I sped down the highway, usually on my way to or from Jersey, Philly, or Wilmington.

“The Ministry of Defence” – PJ Harvey. I admit I made it to the PJ Harvey party late in the game. Although her stuff has been recommended to me since college (including a mix CD pass along by an admirer which is still tucked away in a CD sleeve somewhere), I never really had that “ah ha” moment with her until fairly recently, and this song especially seemed to pull me in. I created a 2-song playlist (featuring this and “The Nurse Who Loved Me” by A Perfect Circle) that I listened to fairly exclusively for a 2-week period early in the summer.

“Fill in the Blank” – Car Seat Headrest. Car Seat Headrest was my biggest discovery of 2016 and was on pretty constant rotation for most of the year. I actually debated which song to include on this mix, since I rather obsessively listened to both “Vincent” (Which proved to be a fairly decent running song) and “The Ending of Dramamine” (this was actually the original track I was going to go with, but I wanted to use the Spotify session version, which wasn’t easily available to download). CHS taps into all those angsty, middle school feels that I’ve realized I’ll never fully get rid of. It’s proven pretty versatile, too, fitting the mood for long summer evenings just as well as it does for snowy January Saturdays. In the end I ended up going with “Fill in the Blank” since it seemed like a good introductory song to the band and to that feeling/attitude they have that I like.

“Your Best American Girl” – Mitski. This song was permeating my world for a while, but I didn’t really pay much attention to it until one day it clicked and became an obsession for me and Colin. It’s been on pretty heavy rotation throughout the fall and winter months, and when this year’s CD and some of its themes started taking shape, it seemed like a no-brainer addition. (Note, I never actually watched the video ’til just now when looking up links…Maybe listen to it first without it…)

“I Need Never Get Old” – Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats. This wasn’t really a song I listened to extensively throughout the year, but I found it on one of my saved monthly playlists (Each month I create a new playlist and throw any music I hear throughout that time period onto the list so I can go back and check it out later when I’m in need of something to listen to/in preparation for this CD). While going through songs to include for this mix, I rediscovered this one, and it felt like it helped add balance to some of the more somber, heavier songs in the collection. I also dig the throwback feel and am reminded of the Jukebox Jewels tapes I adored when I was little.

Shut Up and Kiss Me” – Angel Olsen. This album is on a lot of “best of 2016” lists for a reason (clearly they got their hands on my holiday CD before coming up with their selections). Ch-Ch-Check it out.

Liner Notes for a Year, p. 1

As is now a tradition, whenever I put together my Christmas packages I also make a little “year in review” CD that highlights all the music that defines the year for me. Creating this holiday package is always fun, and a welcome creative challenge. The past few years have been more light-hearted approaches to the cards–one year recreating the infamous Kim K. “break the Internet” shot, and another poking fun at the Starbucks “Red Cup” controversy–but admittedly, this year seemed hard to come up with good material to fit the way I, and many other people, had been feeling. I didn’t want the card to become too much of a statement, but I didn’t want to ignore the sheer sense of uncertainty and trepidation that seemed to be hanging in the air. So when Colin suggested making a “Greetings from the Bunker” card for the holidays, we started riffing on the idea until the Holiday Survival Guide was born.

We got to work right away, reading various survival manuals and researching styles. It took a while to organize the content the way we wanted to, and even longer to find the right artist to partner with, but once all these elements came together, the project started to really come to life, and I really love how the guide ended up looking, especially considering we didn’t find our artist/designer ’til the 11th hour (Seriously, he rocks):

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An open letter to the morning radio DJ on XPN.

**I initially shared this this morning on XPN’s Facebook page, but it’s still awaiting moderation. (Probably because I said “fuck” in the post, to preserve the authenticity of the moment). But in case it doesn’t get published here, at least I figured it was worth posting someplace in case someone else needed to find this song today, too.**
I woke up earlier than normal today without any issue. (Anyone who knows me well enough knows why that’s no small feat.) I got in the car earlier than I normally would and listened a while to my new audiobook, which is basically someone’s modern day personal account of their own “Walden” experience, essentially the thing I’ve been fantasizing for the past several years.
I hit a level of introspection listening to the book that I needed to turn it off to give me proper time to work through my thoughts and not totally tune out the rest of the narrator.
So I drove without the radio on for a bit and eventually that got boring so I clicked the radio back on. I had only been flipping through the stations a few moments until I came across XPN and heard you introing the Turn It Up/Turn It Down.
I admit I was getting a little impatient when you were describing it–I’m wary when a DJ seems like they’re overselling a song, especially if I end up not agreeing with their opinion (it affects the level of trust in our rather one-sided relationship).
And with the first few bars, I rolled my eyes. Trust definitely seemed dashed. But then just a few more seconds went by and the song opened up and something exploded inside me and I felt that rare feeling like I had found exactly the thing that had been missing to properly soundtrack this current moment in my life.
After you came back on and explained more about the video, I literally exclaimed “holy fuck,” (sorry, I know this is a family page) and proceeded to pull it up and watch it right then while crossing the Walt Whitman bridge. (I know that’s not safe, but sometimes you just gotta do.)

I proceeded to cry down the majority of 95.

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Soundtrack of a Year

I’ve put together these annual mixtapes for some time now, in one form or another. Some years I focus on particular seasons, others are more a “year in review.” To me these CDs are like a scrapbook or diary—they best represent the things that happened to me, the lessons I’ve learned, and the memories from the year that I hold on to the most. I love making them, and especially love being able to share them with others.

I recently had a few people request that I create “liner notes” to go along with this year’s mix to explain the significance of the selected songs. I thought that would be a pretty cool idea, though I had no idea how incredibly challenging it would be, too.

2015 was a very good year for me in a lot of ways, but it came with a lot of serious change and challenges. While going through the monthly playlists I created with this project in mind, I was able to recount exactly what had happened in that timeframe and the emotional state I was in during most of it. It reminded me of the power of music, and admittedly overwhelmed me a bit.

Some of the songs on this list hold a lot of emotional weight for me; some are just ones I really enjoyed and think you might enjoy, too. Continue reading

All that matters is who is open chested and who has coagulated

I know this is going to sound like another “I Heart Iceland” post, but I have to say, I really admire Björk for this.

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Vulnicura came to me at a time when I needed it. It played for me on repeat for pretty much 2 weeks straight while I worked through some shit. I got it and it got me and I loved it, but now I’m at a point where I’ve processed the thing I was working through and now I don’t think I’m going to be able to listen to it for a long time.

So I can only imagine how Björk felt, rereading her diary to the world day after day. Because even though you’re still grieving a thing, it doesn’t mean you have to keep repeating it. Because at a certain point, you’re ready to move past it.

It’s brave she was willing to share it with the world; it’s brave she knew when it was time to end it.

Tips on Traveling in Iceland, Part 3: What to Listen To (And Where to Buy It!)

I gotta admit, this is one of the posts about my trip that I’ve been most excited to write, mainly because discovering new music is a passion for me no matter where I am in the world. But it was especially exciting in Iceland, a country that is chock full of so many incredible bands and musicians. Most people are already familiar with Björk, Of Monsters and Men, and Sigur Rós, and although each one of them is fantastic, that’s just scratching the surface of the music coming out of this country.

At the bottom of this post I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite bands and musicians whose work I was introduced to during this trip (and a couple from my last time here in 2013). The list below is not meant to be comprehensive–they are simply the ones who’ve been heavy in my own personal rotation.

If you’re looking for the latest artists who’ve emerged or who are on the cusp of emerging during your stay in Iceland, you don’t have to go further than the local Reykjavík record shops to find out who you should be listening to. From my experience, the shop clerks are incredibly knowledgeable about the latest local music and are happy to share their recommendations with you.

This last time around, I spent a lovely afternoon at 12 Tónar listening to the artists recommended to me by the owner. (I especially enjoyed this experience because they have listening stations set up throughout the store so you can hear the albums before you buy. They even served me some espresso–a clever way to reel me in/make me more motivated to make a purchase there. Spoiler: It worked.). Lucky Records is another great spot with a massive collection–I was lucky enough to be within walking distance of this shop during my first trip here and discovered a lot of great artists during that first short stay.

Still looking for more music shop options? Then add Reykjavik Records (small shop, but they still have a notable selection) and Bad Taste Record Store to your list of places to check out!

Keep in mind though, as with just about everything in the country, vinyl can be quite expensive, and new albums can range between $25-$45 USD (or higher, depending on the item). Whenever I go into a shop, I generally ask which albums/artists are hard to find outside of the country and start there (though it doesn’t hurt to do a quick search on your phone to be sure it’s not something you might be able to get for cheaper back home. I was able to find most of the artists on Spotify and SoundCloud, and their records for sale on Amazon). Of course supporting local businesses is always best, but if your bank account can’t afford to take home all the records you love, use these avenues to pare down your selections.

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Don’t worry if it’s a cold night, because we all go up in flames

Rome was beautiful, but the week of blue skies and breezy days has made coming back to the cold, grey landscape even more challenging. Knowing that this will be the last major trip for some time is also a bit of a bummer, but I’ve definitely had a good run the past few months.

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Admittedly, it’s a bit frustrating how quickly reality set back in. It almost feels like I never went away at all. I blame a lot of this on the weather, and the strange isolation that cold seems to bring, especially when you’re forced indoors. I’m seeing how it’s taking its toll on just about everyone I know. We’re all stumbling around like pale, restless zombies, waiting impatiently for spring to finally arrive. Hell, at this point, I think everyone would be OK if we catapulted right into summer. (I’ve recently been fantasizing about sunburn…)

Until then, I’m still plugging along… been trying to focus on some art projects and writing. What better way to combat the blues then by channeling them in creative ways, amiright?

How are you managing to get through this last miserable stretch of winter?

 

Moment of Zen: Northern Soul Radio

How did I not know about this–a 24-hour soul/R&B station playing the lesser-known hits of the era–until now?

Although I could be sad my life has been lacking this the past few months since it started, I instead choose to focus on how much happier I am for finally discovering it now.

Hopefully some of you out there will be equally as excited to learn about this station’s existence. Enjoy!

For now I am winter.

January is a tough month, one that seems to lose its purpose after its first day. Growing up in an Italian-American household, we at least were able to hold onto Christmas until January 6th–the feast of the Epiphany (i.e., when the Wise Men actually made it to the manger–tell me, though: if they were so “wise,” why didn’t they get there on time?). But this year, it seems a lot of people were ready to be done with Christmas before then. I saw a lot of trees–including our own–dragged to the curb way before that, many people proudly declaring on 26th that they were over the holiday and officially eradicated it from their homes.

The days after New Years are always the worst–weeks of celebration and anticipation finally completely exhausted, reality inevitably forced back on us. I feel like I’ve lived a thousand months in the past 2 weeks, and every day I’m more surprised that it’s still only the beginning/middle of the month.

I’m looking forward to February–even more excited for March. I just kind of feel like the next few weeks are going to seem like a lull before life officially picks back up again. Not that it’s been slow at all–I swear I actually did more socializing the past few weeks than I did during the holidays–but I just kind of feel like right now is about laying the groundwork before really busting open 2014 right. A part of me is excited about that; a part of me is a little too impatient to wait around for all the great things that I’m hoping happen this year.

I guess I’m painfully optimistic that this year will be a good year–Like, a really good year. I’m ready to bust outta my shell even more. I’m ready to take even more risks. I’m ready to start settling down and focusing on The Plan. But for now, I’m gearing up for these revelations–for now I’m prepping myself for the good things to come. I am cultivating myself, I’m waiting patiently until the time is right to bloom.

For now, I am winter.