“We might ask ourselves, what tools do we have? What can we count on? You can count on yourself. Believe me, your self is your best ally. You know who you are, even when sometimes it becomes a little blurry and you make mistakes or seem to be veering off, just go deeper. You know who you are. You know the right thing to do. And when you make a mistake, it’s alright — just as the song goes, pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and start all over again.”

—Patti Smith

What The %$#@ Are You Gonna Do With Your Life?

I’m graduating college in a month, and everyone loves to ask me what I’m going to do with my life. I usually pause, and stare off into space for a moment to think about it. It’s kind of a shifty question. Inside of that pause, this is the kind of stuff that’s usually sloshing around my brain:

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The “3rd Rock from the Sun.”

The “Pale Blue Dot.”

The “Godforsaken Planet.”

This is a picture of Earth.

It’s been hovering here for 4.54 billion years, and Earth has seen some shit.

It’s seen tectonic and volcanic warfare; it’s seen asteroids plummet from the heavens; it’s seen the first lifeforms crawl out of the sea; it’s seen cavemen dare to leave the cave; it’s seen the innovation of art; it’s seen the innovation of commerce; it’s seen the birth and death of nations; it’s seen Christopher Columbus sail the ocean blue; it’s seen an James VI of Scotland ascend to the throne at thirteen months old; it’s seen Orson Welles’s elegant facial hair; it’s seen an industrial revolution or two; it’s seen Martin Luther King Jr. march on Washington, D.C.; it’s seen terrorism, war, and hatred; it’s seen love, compassion, and heroism; BY GOD, this Earth has even seen Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay! And yet, here I sit, just a man, contemplating what I should spend my life doing.

It’s a worrisome task. I worry about what life has in store for me in the post-collegial world. I worry that I won’t be able to support myself, or do what I love to do. Sometimes I worry that I’ll die choking on a hamburger at a McDonald’s drive-thru, and that alone will be my legacy. I worry, because I fear. And I fear, because fear is survival. When those aforementioned cavemen moseyed on out of their cave, I’ll bet some of them had to cope with some scary shit. Lions and tigers and bears. In the face of fear, the body pumps hormones to signal that danger is coming–this is the fight or flight that you’ve all heard about in high school health class. I watched a really awesome documentary about stress recently, and it showed how this process works in baboons. Like humans, the baboons anticipate danger by way of these stress hormones and this biological warning system increases their chances of survival in the wild. Unlike humans, once the threat has passed, these stress hormones subside and the baboons resume their shit-flinging frolic. Humans are so conditioned to feel fear that the stress response doesn’t subside when the danger does, which, in turn, deteriorates the body.

I had an interesting conversation with a coworker of mine the other day. He’s my age (21), and very much going through the same crises. He said, “I just want to start my career now. I know what I want to do! If I’m not doing that, then I’m failing!” Who are you people who know, with undeniable certainty, what you want to do? Remember, the Earth has been here for 4.54 billion years. You’ve been here for less than a century. As far as I’m concerned, saying that you “know” anything, is just downright insulting. There’s more stars in the perceivable cosmos than there are granules of sand on this planet, and you KNOW that you were meant to be in finance, huh? Just like that? No. You don’t know that, Stan. You couldn’t possibly know that. But we feel a compulsion to tell others that we know. It’s comforting to that human stress response. Certainty caresses the comfort nodules of the brain. Saying that you know what you want to do is like a shot of morphine to your audience (and you). Ahhh! Everything’s gonna be alright…he knows. But you’re lying, because you don’t know anything. But guess what?

 [It's okay to not know.] 

It’s not blasphemy to be unsure of things. We don’t know the answers to the big questions, and it doesn’t seem like we will any time soon. Why trouble yourself with uncertainty? Unburden your stress response. Just say, “I don’t know.” Go ahead, say it. I’ll wait. No, really, say it out loud. Felt good, diddnit? It’s perfectly normal. Admit that you don’t know what you’re doing, and then proceed. Because proceeding in spite of not knowing is part of being alive.

“So, what ARE you going to do with your life, sir?”

I still very don’t know what I’ll be doing. I’ve majored in engineering, marketing, television, and film, and I still have no idea what the hell I want to do. I’m too busy thinking about why we’re all here, what happens when we die, what’s up with our basic nature, and why Donald Trump looks the way he does. I’m thinking about that stuff, yeah, but I don’t have any answers, because I don’t know anything. I don’t know anything, you don’t know anything, and neither does anyone else. Everybody is fucking winging it. Still, there are those people who think they know things, and they expect you to know things too. They show up everywhere–maybe this person is your grandma, maybe it’s your priest? There’s going to be people who demand answers you don’t have to questions that aren’t important. I would again urge you to tighten your stance and hold your ground with me. Admit that you don’t know what you’re doing, and then proceed. Or maybe you’re being compelled to feel/do something but it’s not necessarily because of a single person. Old Spice thinks you should smell like Old Spice. People Magazine thinks you should look like whomever is on their latest cover. And yet, Old Spice gives me a rash, and my teeth will never be as white as Rihanna’s.

We’re doing ourselves a gross disservice by demanding certainty, perfection, and absolution. We’re making each other really unhappy. But if we refuse to obey these forces that compel us, they will weaken. If you’re anything like me (or if you’re nothing like me–which is cool too I guess), I wish you luck and peace of mind. I don’t know anything, you don’t know anything, and neither does anyone else. Life is a massive pill to swallow, and it’s for that same reason that we need to be looking out for each other. Taking a seat every now and then to catch your breath doesn’t make you lazy. If you sit still enough, you can sense the Earth moving under your body, effortlessly, just as it did before you, and just as it will thereafter.

“Our problems used to be a lot more honest. We used to deal mainly with sabre toothed tigers and which leaves didn’t hurt when we wiped our asses. Now we deal with with how to excel, how to make people like us, how to cope with our handicapped coworkers. Stories can be adapted to this kind of stuff, but it is an adaptation, it is a secondary, unnatural thing. The stories in our minds are about birth and death and the big, bloody mess that comes between. They’re about killing our fathers and fucking our mothers. They’re about when to fight and when to run and when to atone with the invisible thing that makes lightning.” — Dan Harmon

The West End

Simply put, today was incredible. I woke up early and decided to go for a drive to the beach. This isn’t unusual for me, because I try to go to the beach at least once a week since I’m lucky enough to live so close. The sun was out, it wasn’t unbearably cold, so I thought it would be nice to go for a run on the sand.  As I was driving there, it occurred to me that my usual spot would be kind of crowded. Now, people at the beach during the winter are fine, and everyone mostly keeps to themselves. I don’t mind the kinds of people that turn up at the beach, because, well, we have that much in common. Lately, I’ve been purposefully spending large amounts of time with just myself, either to write or to just be a person. I’ve always been kind of withdrawn, and I know I’ve talked about the weird quarter-life crisis thing that’s happening to twenty-somethings before, but I appreciate stillness and solitude now more than I ever did previously.

So in seeking to get off the beaten path a bit, I decided to do some exploring. I know the Long Island beaches pretty well, but I noticed that one of the fields was open this morning that I don’t really go to. One thing led to another, and I found myself at one of the more remote beaches on the West end of Jones Beach Island. As soon as I pulled into the parking lot I knew I was in for a treat. In front of my car was about a quarter mile stretch of sea grass and dunes, beyond which the naked eye couldn’t really discern. Now I’m no geographer, but I know there’s an ocean somewhere at the beach. So I parked my car and started walking into this:

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It was awesome. The trails kind of meander about the dunes, and you can kind of create your own path. The wind wasn’t unbearable, and I heard the waves beating against the shore in the distance. So there I was, moseying through what looked like the Sahara (minus all that heat). And I was completely alone. I was the only car in the parking lot. And I was the only person (I’m assuming?) on that smack of beach for a few miles in every direction.

I didn’t really set out to do anything. I just kind of wandered. There was plenty of land to keep me busy. I took a few photos as I went, and really focused on enjoying this time that I set aside for myself. I was also marveling at the fact that I had this whole place to myself. I kept saying out loud to myself: “This is incredible.” Along the way I found some beach trash–remnants from the summertime, and this eerie “You’re the last man on Earth,” feeling took over. I took my time. I savored every second of what was in front of me (it was sort of hard not to). Having just ordered Thoreau’s Walden on amazon.com the night before I kept thinking: “This is it. This is my Walden Pond.” I thought: “This is so cool. I’m gonna Instagram the FUCK out of this.” But I took my time. And I slowed my steps on purpose. I took deep breaths of the salty air and enjoyed every second of it. And when I started to really focus on that moment, those jokes or labels inside my head started to fade away. Thoughts of Instagram and the outside world melted, and I sank into being present with myself in that moment. I can’t really ascribe words to convey just how good I felt out there. All that mattered was being there. It was such a trip.

I made it to the ocean finally, after about 15 minutes of walking, and I just sat on the beach and watched the waves for awhile. A helicopter flew over at one point and I waved. For once, I wasn’t thinking. You can bet that I Instagram’d some of my shots later in the day, and you can ALSO bet that I’ll be back there as soon and as often as possible.

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“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

The ‘Quarter Life Crisis’: Twenty-Two is Hard to Do

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“I hate it here…I can’t wait to graduate.” Photo: Parks and Recreation.

When your dad turns forty and decides to learn how to water-ski, buy a porsche, go skydiving, rock climbing, and visit Eurasia–all in one afternoon, he’s probably going through a midlife crisis.  And you know what, good for him! He’s made it halfway through life, which is awesome and terrifying all at the same time.  But when you witness someone else going through that, it’s pretty hilarious.  A person experiencing tremendous growth has no sense of perception.  They’re so confused and preoccupied with what they’re going through, that they don’t realize that porsches aren’t practical, and you can lose a leg in a water skiing accident. It’s like watching the drunkest guy at a wedding attempt the electric slide.

That’s a midlife crisis. So, then, what the heck is a quarter life crisis? I don’t have an answer to this question I’ve just posed. In fact, I don’t have answers to any questions right now. But if I had to define it, I’d say it’s a time in which everything you’d previously understood as being “true” is rendered “false.”  As teenagers, we say to ourselves (with attitude): “I am this thing, and I’m always gonna be this fucking thing, duh?” I’m an athlete. I’ll always be a fucking athlete. I’m in a band. I’ll always be in a fucking band.  Our definition of self is pretty thinly sketched out, partly because our brains are still developing and partly because teenagers are the fucking worst.  The best proof of this, for me at least, is reading what people wrote in my high school yearbook. God only knows what drivel is attached to my name in the yearbooks of my peers.

More to the point, teenagers are functional within the self that they’ve created because they don’t really give anything much thought. But now we’ve developed a bit more. We understand more about what it means to have thoughts. Suddenly, everything changes.  Now, everything is questioned. I notice it in my own life more than ever.  There’s a high intensity debate going on in my head about everything, all the time.  Do I like this? Do I want to be doing this? What does it mean if I’m doing this? What will people think it means if I’m doing this?  This is what makes us feel lost. We’re unsure of almost everything. We’re throwing ourselves out into the world hoping that something will stick. I see it happening to all of my college-senior-aged-friends. Literally, everyone is choking back vomit on a sweaty wedding dance floor while the group backing vocals are shouting “It’s Electric! Boogie-woogie-woogie!”

We’re all a little obnoxious to be around right now. Everyone’s rambling about their GPAs, their prospective job interviews, future plans, commencement speakers, etc.  We’re graduating college in a terrible economy, in a world that has taught us that we’re only as good as the jobs that employ us. It’s a difficult time for young people, and I mean really difficult.

However, there is a cure for feeling lost. The quarter life crisis has an antidote, people: Confront it.

Part of what is making you crazy, is refusing to acknowledge how innately screwed up you are right now. And let’s face it, you’re pretty screwed up, Kevin. If you’re “lost,” then be “lost.” This past Fall, I dropped ten pounds in three weeks, stopped eating, couldn’t get out of bed, etc. I resented myself because I didn’t have a job lined up for post-graduation, I wasn’t writing as often, and every attempt at making myself feel in control of things had failed.  It wasn’t until I started accepting that this stuff was happening that I felt some relief.  At a certain point, you have to be able to say: “Well this is the confused-awkward-introverted-20′s-me, I’m gonna roll with that for awhile.”  The ability to say “So, what?” to difficulty is what provides me instant relief.

I’m not trying to sound like I have all the answers, here. Nobody has it together, even if they say that they do. Be weird. Be open minded. Question everything. Hang out with your midlife crisis dad, maybe? Do everything that you like. Try some things that other people like. If you identify with anything I’ve said here, it’s important to appreciate that you’re not alone, and this isn’t easy.  But by surrounding yourself with other “lost” people, you may just find what you’re looking for.

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Photo: Lost In Translation

WTF Am I Listening To? – 9/27/13

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‘WTF Am I Listening To’ is a monthly music list consisting of five releases (both new and old) that demand to be heard.  Whether you like pop, folk, rock, disco, or R&B — the good stuff is on this list. New lists published the last Friday of every month.

By: Nick Ciccone

It’s pretty astonishing how quick Fall always seems to arrive.  You can sort of feel a change in the air even from August 31st to September 1st.  Music behaves the same way, and the changes we experiences in weather as seasons pass also effect the way we hear new songs.  Those summer jams you spent hours listening to on the beach seem so far gone, and as we prepare for winter, our sonic preferences change shape too.

In no particular order, here’s what the f%$* I’m listening to:

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Junip – “Line of Fire”

Album Title: Junip

Release Date: April 23, 2013

Genre: Acoustic Rock

I’d be telling hipster lies if I said that I’ve known about Junip all along.  The truth of the matter is that I was introduced to this little-known wonder by the fantastically edited Breaking Bad series finale trailer that aired after Sunday’s episode.  The song, “Line of Fire,” is an emotionally stirring ballad that wonderfully folds under the umbrella of the hit TV series.  However, this is not to say that the song is only listenable if you are familiar with Walter Hartwell White. The song is a story all its own, and a beautifully told one at that. Can you tell I can’t wait for Sunday?

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HAIM – “The Wire”

Album Title: Days Are Gone

Release Date: September 30, 2013

Genre: Alternative

I’m trying to shrink the number of expletives I use daily, but gadzooks is this song incredible.  It’s got the hook and tempo of a great pop song, all without being overtly pop.  This is something I think the alternative music scene has really done well over the past decade or so.  Taking the things we like about music on the radio while leaving out the things we don’t like.  Minimalist in style, the simple kick to the drumbeat coupled with ornate harmonies and engaging vocals make these ladies a group to watch.

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Hellogoodbye – “The Magic Hour is Now”

Album Title: Everything is Debatable

Release Date: October 29, 2013

Genre: Alternative

Hello, Hellogoodbye, nice to see you guys.  It’s been awhile since 2006’s “Here In Your Arms,” was a hit, and you may not recognize their sound this time around, that is, unless you listen for it.  That’s the beauty of artistic maturation, the simultaneous change and continuity of expression.  Their new single “The Magic Hour is Now,” is very 2013 pop-rock, but it also has the quirks you liked about them when you were younger.  If you aren’t familiar with the group, get familiar.  The song is universally likable regardless of your sensibilities.  Again minimalist in nature (are you sensing a trend?) this sweet song is infectious because it’s simple and simple because it’s infectious.  A perfect Fall tune to help you both celebrate the end to another beautiful summer.

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Geographer – “Night Winds”

Album Title: Animal Shapes

Release Date: August 17, 2010

Genre: Synthpop

Though a little bit older, “Night Winds,” is such a soothing and beautiful song.  For some reason, I find it hard to articulate why, which, in a way, is testament to the power of music.  There’s symmetry to the melody that I find comforting, in addition to the wide variety of synthesizers and real instruments being used.  I’m also prejudiced toward songs that are one big crescendo, starting soft and ending loud.  There’s an ethereal quality to this song that I seriously am unable to pin down.  However, I do know that if there’s one song you owe it to yourself to listen to this month, it’s this one.

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Avicii – “You Make Me”

Album Title: True

Release Date: September 13, 2013

Genre: Dance

I recognize that to put Avicii on this list looks and feels totally out of place, especially since I try to pander to the kind of music that you may not have heard of.  That being said, he has to be on this month’s list, because his new LP is so doggone ambitious and different.  Throw whatever preconceived notions you may have about modern dance music out the window, because this album demands to be heard.  No, it isn’t a masterpiece, and it isn’t perfect.  Yet the cross between dance music and folk is so bizarre, but so fun at the same time.  I have a lot of grievances about electronic music and how mundane and emotionless it often is, but this album is definitely a step outside that construct.

Check back for the next ‘WTF Am I Listening To’ on Friday, October 25, 2013.