Monday, March 29, 2010

Nostalgia for a place I've never been

Back when I worked at WNYC, I was taken to do some field interviews at a photography of exhibit of jazz photographs by a man famous mostly for his pictures of Miles Davis.

I asked people about their reactions to the photographs, and one person put it perfectly -- and, if I recall, this was the only man-on-the-street quote that made the final piece.

He said that the photographs made him nostalgic for a place he'd never actually been.

For better of worse -- or more accurately, sometimes better and sometimes worse -- this is a feeling I can relate to. I guess that's what hopeless romanticism really is: a longing for a comfortable familiar feeling that you may have never actually experienced.

When it's something you have experienced, then it is just depressing, thinking of what you once had that has slipped through your fingers.

Right now, I'm nostalgic for seeing the Bill Evans Trio in the Village Vanguard. Never saw it, seeing as he died 5 years before I was born, but hearing all the recordings, feeling the emotions behind the music, singing along with the piano lines, I'm there. I've never been there, but it's easy to get there.

So now, without further ado, I allow you to join me. I present to you, Bill Evans playing "When I Fall In Love."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Earn Joy

I do a lot of reading on the subway. Admittedly, over half of it is over other people's shoulders.

I know I'm not alone in this, so I feel no guilt in admitting this publicly. I read my fair share of newspapers, magazines, gossip articles, and whatnot. (In fact, last week, a man saw me reading a newspaper over someone else's shoulder, and he, having already finished his, offered it to me. I wasn't sure whether to take it or not. I opted not and then focused on listening to my music rather than reading about Tiger Woods. But I digress.)

My favorite things to read, though, are the things I shouldn't be reading. I watch others around me, and I know I'm not the only one who looks over someone's shoulder while he's drawing or writing, trying to sneak a peak at a poem or journal entry. (I even expect others to be reading over my shoulder, especially when I'm writing on the train. I accept it and am okay with it, knowing full well that I'll never see these people again. Maybe, also, I'm secretly hoping for this to happen to me...)

But this weekend, I was on the train and saw a girl pull a journal out of her bag -- filled with pictures, writings in English and what appeared to be Korean from far way, drawings, and doodles -- and flip through it with her sister sitting next to her.

One of the things that caught my eye was a list. It was "things I want for myself." They were all things about self-betterment, but the one that stuck out at me was number 4 on the list: "Earn Joy."

At that moment, I stuck my hand in my pocket, wrapped my fingers around the 2-inch stuffed dog that happened to be there, and thought about what it means to earn joy -- or if that is, in fact, the way we obtain joy.

My initial reaction was, "Well, that's silly. Joy isn't something you earn; it's something you..." And then I realized, I didn't know how to finish that sentence.

Is joy something you work for? Is it something that comes from the conscious mind? The subconscious? Outside sources? (From a stuffed animal who occasionally lives inside your pocket?) From friends? From just waking up on the right side of the bed in a sun-soaked room?

I'm not sure what it means to earn joy, but I know what it means to work for it. And I know that sometimes, all the work you put in is to no avail.

And maybe that's what earning joy is all about -- working for it and falling short. You can't earn without work, and if it isn't hard, it isn't worth working for.

So I'm not sure if you do earn joy, but just in case, I'm going to go back to working for it. At the very least, I'll get some good experience along the way. And some ice cream. And in the end, even if joy isn't earnable, ice cream certainly is.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Commuting from Brooklyn

When I moved out to Brooklyn 9 months ago, I was working in such an out-of-the-way place that my commute was the same 50 minutes from where I lived in Manhattan to where I live now in Brooklyn. I've since changed my daily routine from work to school, and school is in a place where the commute would have been 15-20 minutes shorter had I stayed where I was as compared to where I am now.

But that doesn't bother me. I like commuting. And moreover, I will never get tired of this commute.

Every morning, my day starts waiting in one of the smaller subway stations in the New York City Transit system, both in terms of its ridership, but more in terms of its physical size. The station house is smaller than my parents' kitchen and the platform is only as long as the train itself and only as wide as to let one person stand and one person walk by. It is the southern end of the two closest subway stations in the system. And it is filled with creatures of habit.

I stand next to the same people every morning. Three days a week, I end up on the same train with the same train crew. I end up standing in the same car with the same people from stops before me.

But as great as the routine is, I will never get tired of the view.

My train takes me into Manhattan by way of the Manhattan Bridge. Every morning, I look to my left and watched The State of Liberty march across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan. (Of course, she marches backwards into Manhattan, as she faces the other direction. But at night, she and I both march onward to Brooklyn.)

No matter how sunny or gray or rainy or snowy the weather, no matter if it's foggy and I cannot see the bridge, let alone Lady Liberty, I will never get tired of looking out onto the water, looking into downtown Manhattan, seeing the tower of the Municipal Building (in which I once worked), the South Street Seaport, the occasional tugboat below.

I loved living in Manhattan. I love the hustle and bustle of it. I love the feelings and energy that come with it. But the problem with living there is that you don't get to go there every day.

My favorite part of New York is leaving it so I can enjoy rediscovering it when I return. Commuting from Brooklyn lets me renew my love of it every day.

Even Tuesdays.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Fear of success

There's only one thing that scares me more than failure: success.

I know that sounds incredibly illogical. And y'know what? It is. But it's because success is an unknown.

There's something comforting in failure. Failure is a known entity. We've all failed. We've all failed many times and in many venues. And what comes after failure is a known entity: Another try.

What comes after success?

I'm not sure, and that's what scares me. Maybe what comes after success is more failure, and logic would dictate that falling from a higher place is more painful when you hit the ground. Maybe after success comes more success -- which would be wonderful, but who knows.

Maybe success is like death: Nobody really knows what comes next; nobody lives to tell about it.

But more than likely, my problem is not in fearing success, but in defining success. I should stop looking at success as this grand thing that comes after a lifetime of hard work, but in more bite-sized chunks.

Or maybe, I'm just worried that I haven't failed enough or worked hard enough to have earned success.

I'm not done failing. And I am not going to say that I like to fail, and I'm sure I'll like success, but right now, I like what I'm learning from failure -- or at least I like knowing that every failure adds something to my life. Every failed path shows me a pathway not to take. And sometimes it's more important to know which road NOT to take than it is to know the one TO take.

I'm not sure what success will bring, but I know I've got more failure ahead of me.

And I'm comfortable with that. It's certainly less scary than success...

The Classic Artist's Dilemma

There's something almost every artist I know goes through, and my own dealings with it have gotten me to where I am today.

It's the classic artist's dilemma: No, not balancing creativity and finance, but that's a pretty classic one, too. I'm talking about the dilemma of: Do you need to be in a bad place to make good art?

The answer, of course, is no, but looking back, the 3 moths of my own art I like the best were also the 3 worst months I've ever had. (Kind of. They were the 3 worst months I had in which I still got stuff done. At one point, when you get to be too bad, you don't make art anymore. That's the real worst place to be.)

It's always strange for me to listen back to my own music. Just as how all music holds with it memories and emotions, my own music has that much more weight to it. Just as with other music, I associate memories of emotions that stick most to my experience of listening to it, but with my own, I feel the struggles and the pains that came with the process of writing. And sometimes those pains come with triumphs in completing said composition, and sometimes, they only come with the tears that came at the end, seeing my emotion -- more often than not in the 3 months I'm referring to, pain -- played and articulated so perfectly by another musician.

It's one thing when art takes you on an emotional roller coaster. It's another entirely when it takes you on a roller coaster that you built.

When I listen to these pieces -- I have two in particular in mind, I want to be back in that place of artistic success. But I remember with it the emotional failures.

I know that you don't need to be in a bad place to make good art, but we wouldn't all worry about it if it didn't at least help.

I think I'd rather be in a good place and help good art not made by me.

But more than anything, I'd just rather be in a good place.