Musical Autobiography

This semester I’m taking a MEGA-RAD class called The History of Rock and R&B. It’s everything it sounds like, including weekly viewing sessions, a class Spotify account, and this first assignment! It was painful to realize how much I’d have to leave out if I wanted to write this in two pages or less, and as it’s ungraded, not try that hard so I could siphon my effort into other, more pressing tasks (like a real-life job interview, waddup.) However, I couldn’t help but make it snazzy. Here it is.

(Ok wait, a note: I’m rueful that I didn’t mention my family’s jukebox machine. Among thousands of other anecdotes… oh!)

Much of my confidence can be attributed to early exposure to The Queen of Soul, who encouraged me to demand R-E-S-P-E-C-T around the same time I was learning to write in cursive. Listening to “Pet Sounds” during Sunday morning board game sessions primed me for a deep appreciation for revolutionary harmonies while innumerable listens to The White Album led me to impersonate John Lennon for a sixth grade biography project. Records were constantly spinning in my house growing up, and since coming to college, music has remained a large part of my life. Over time I’ve changed roles from classical clarinetist to a klezmer frelyekh fanatic, exchanged my Coldplay poster for one featuring Simon & Garfunkel, and moved from car radio DJ to avid harmonizer. However, I believe that the reasoning behind my high school superlative of “Most Musical” will be remaining solid for a long time to come.

I began exploring my infantile musical potential through Kindermusik. Learning to clap along with rudimentary rhythms and sway to the beat served me quite well in the decades following that formative experience. After graduating, the piano became my next challenge. Like many kids, I loathed the weekly lessons and oversized musical notation of the Alfred book series. In retrospect, it was valuable for learning the basics of how to read and play music. A brief third grade stint with the recorder led to the adoption of the viola for a year (too much arm strength required) and finally to my current instrumental sweetheart: the clarinet. We’ve been together for about 12 years, participating in everything from school bands to NYSSMA to Area All State festivals to pit orchestras to Veeblefetzer, Wesleyan’s premier klezmer band. I also enjoy eking out songs by ear, my favorites being those by CSNY, Disney, the Beatles, and even top 40 hits.

My ears have heard more than I could ever identify, let alone write about. I feel very fortunate to have grown up with a constant stream of 60’s and 70’s music illuminating the house. When I received my first iPod nano as a gift in sixth grade, Earth, Wind, & Fire’s Greatest Hits were the first to be uploaded. The first song I ever bought on iTunes was Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park”. Middle school brought several sticky-sweet pop artists such as Mariah Carey and Katy Perry but they were tempered with fresh first tastes of David Bowie and Peter Gabriel. Around this time, my interest in Broadway musicals was taking off, with my repertoire including shows such as Wicked, The Lion King, Hairspray, Little Shop of Horrors, and the Fantasticks. Later, Spring Awakening and In the Heights would be the productions that topped Sophie’s top ten albums list before years of post-high school showtune drought set in.

Just as I entered ninth grade, Coldplay became a huge new musical realm to explore. Ingrid Michaelson’s lyrics prevailed over geometry vocabulary in my memory after discovering her flawless catalogue. Although any mention of it now makes me groan, an intense interest in the then-mesmerizing television show “Glee” introduced me to hundreds of classic hits such as “Like a Prayer” and “Losing My Religion” through their a cappella covers. I began attending concerts near (at Saratoga’s wonderful outdoor amphitheater, SPAC) and far (journeying to Boston, New York, and beyond.) Listening to Regina Spektor delicately catapult her balm-like yet piercing songs of Russian childhood and modern love made a formidable impact. Reveling in the deliciously melancholy sounds of Of Monsters and Men in a mediocre Albany bar was also a milestone that capped senior year.

Since coming to Wesleyan, I’ve explored as much music as I had throughout the previous eighteen years of life. Just a few artists I’ve fallen in love with include James Taylor, CSNY, Bon Iver, The Staves, Van Morrison, and Paul Simon, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have attended performances of the latter four in London within the last year. During sophomore year, I began an insurmountable project to listen to Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Albums of All Time, which has brought both great joy (finding Albert King, Manu Chao, and finally being able to relate to my parents’ undying devotion for The Boss) and a disappointing lack of understanding about the greatness of others (Steve Earle, Merle Haggard). Meeting a lovable, certified musicophile in September also greatly increased my passion for music. In addition to introducing me to a more holistic way of embracing music, from singers to record labels to producers, he’s helped train my ear to be more patient by experimenting with new genres and sounds. Now, as a student in the History of Rock and R&B, I’m thrilled to see what the next chapter in my musical autobiography will bring!

i s r a e l : part two

This trip, in many ways, felt like sleepaway camp. As opposed to the simple “free trip to Israel” many of us imagined before landing halfway around the globe, this Birthright experience allowed me to develop several strong emotional bonds. I connected with my fellow travelers, who live across the US from New York to Laramie to Provo, in conversations spanning from introductory small talk to intense queries about the validity of relief when natural disasters reduce population size (Halley is a superb thinker.)

When traipsing around Israel, I felt a novel sensation of being intensely and barely Jewish at the same time.

Standing atop Mount Masada at dawn to witness the sunrise, looking out to the Dead Sea, surrounded by a mixed, mixed assortment of fellow Jews was astounding. Then, to hike over that mountain and imagine the thousands of years’ worth of events that had transpired atop the fortress, ranging from daily dove-tending to heart-rending massacres of Jews against Jews… this was so much more than a free trip. It required you up at dawn the first morning after a two-ish day day of travelling across the globe to get on your hiking boots and walk up a mountain. You were allowed the gift of meeting Bedouin nomads, drinking their coffee, and meditating on more stars than you’d ever seen while cloaked in the darkness of the Negev desert evening. Seven young Israelis ranging from soldiers to students to engineers accompanied you for five days. At first you were doubtful about their value, but after just a few days, you found yourself making silly faces with them and sincerely sorry when they left.

Even now, I’m not sure how Jewish I feel, or how to sort out the web of politics, history, and sorrow that the Jewish state has both endured and waged. However, I do know that because of this trip, I see Israel in a new light that’s framed with more understanding, support, and pride. I’ve strengthened my Jewish identity by holding onto the aspects of the religion I truly cherish such as universal respect, love, and the belief in education.

For the first time since high school, this trip gave me a huge community of young Jews to befriend. (I tried to enter the Wes group but it never felt right.) One of my favorite parts of going to Temple has been and will always be the multi-aged, family-filled community I can’t help but grow to love. Even though I’m far from most of my tripmates here in Connecticut, the idea that they’re all over the country is comforting, leading me to the thought that, when I do find a job and live somewhere, I can find another Jewish community to integrate myself into. Another home. To a lesser extent, I also now feel that Israel is another home for me if I wish it. That’s another incredible takeaway from ten days in a place steeped in meaning.

Second Semester Senior Year Realization #1

I wasn’t invited a get-together yesterday and my first reaction was feeling left out. Which, technically, I was. But then I realized that, had I been invited, I probably would’ve been kicking myself for going. I don’t like having to fangirl about Harry Potter all the time, or hyperbolize my homework load, or complain with the rest of my peers as they do so often. I feel a closer kinship with my professors, my home friends, my boyfriend and his older friends, and even my parents and family. Wes has been unspeakably wonderful for me in several regards, but after studying abroad, my lack of patience for being someone I’m not has proven fatal for several friendships. Although it’s an exercise in honesty I’m proud of, that doesn’t mean it’s easy or that I have a readily available second friend group to turn to.

At the beginning of last semester, I was invited to a nearly identical gathering. When I arrived, I was excited to see the friends I hadn’t talked to since pre-London. But after being offered a G&T and settling onto a couch with a quasi-friend who almost made it but was decidedly too busy and cool for me, everyone started talking about what seemed like trivial topics. I became frustrated that I was wasting my time listening to my peers try to one-up each other with prideful stories that lacked substance. So I left, disappointed, visibly bored, and distraught.

I’m grateful for these moments where I internalize reluctance to stay in college. They act as boosters to get out into the real world and thrive. But it’s tough love.

List: I’m becoming nostalgic for college in the present moment

Luxuries I’m actively enjoying and reminiscing about while presently engaging with them:

  1. A meal plan. If I choose, I can spend about 16 points per day on pre-made food. That’s usually pretty good. And somewhat healthy. And readily available. All day. The next time this happens may be if I ever enter a nursing home… or camp (let’s hope for the latter.)
  2. A house with heat that I can crank up without worrying about expense (room and board covers it.) This is not to say that I don’t wear copious layers or go to sleep bundled up like an infant, but compared to my experiences in other places (e.g. home), the ability to saunter over to the thermosdat and effortlessly raise the heat above hibernation-inducing is absolutely divine!
  3. A residence that’s four minutes from my science classes, three from the grocery store, three from the gym, four from many other classes.
  4. A campus whose grocery store is a yuppie’s dream: practically all organic or local or cruelty-free or vegan or gluten-free or without preservatives or a big mix of those factors. Of course, that means that natural peanut butter is eleven dollars, but the fact that I’m practically required to indulge myself in these culinary treats is quite a luxury. How can I complain?
  5. Professors who are practically celebrities. My friend’s advisor is a climate change econ advisor to the president. A professor for whom I’m devising a project and was a former lab assistant was the advisee of Richard Lewontin and TA’d for E.O. Wilson. Two other evolutionary bio profs were at Harvard getting their grad degrees at that time as well.
  6. A student body that struggles to contain their exuberance for life by constantly breaking the Rule of 7 and using their non-existent free time to manage musicals, clubs, movements, volunteering, bands, projects, companies, you name it… I know that each person I pass while walking from my house to Usdan has a fascinating story and set of passions that led them here. I wish I could get to know them all. But because that’s not really within my time limit, I’m satisfied with knowing the stories of a portion of them and dreaming about those of they who remain.

A confession of aspirations

Is it my duty, as a Wesleyan-educated alum, who has been the recipient of countless privileges and good fortune, to pursue academia and high-level knowledge? There’s so much stress and comparison and elitism that comes along with that. It’s also obvious that having a minimum-wage or middle-class job has its own stressors.

I just finished Ruth Reichl’s utterly consuming memoir, “Tender at the Bone”. When I was younger, I flirted with the idea of becoming a chef. I adored cooking, and still do. Now I realize that I don’t have the passion to relentlessly refine a tart recipe nor have the emotional tenacity to produce multiple recipes every day, as so many foodies do. However, I would just love to explore the field of terroir, because it is so intimately linked with my passion for evolutionary biology and nature/nurture, aka how the environment affects one’s genetics and phenotype (very much a run-on sentence… Just trying to get these ideas out). Terroir: “the conditions in which a food is grown or produced and that give the food its unique characteristics.

Ruth’s book recounted her adventures around America and the world on her journey from a child to celebrated restaurant critic. I greedily swam in the words that structured the retelling of her colorful, character-laden path full of loneliness, talent, luck, and bravery. Such is the luxury of reading.

It also reminds of of last week’s psychology class, where we divulged our secret desires that we’d act on if not for fear of arrest, guilt, or other societally-influenced constraints. Some were to-be-expected: walk around naked, cheat on tests. But one that drew much interest and confusion was along the lines of, “I’d be a high school math teacher.”

My immediate reaction was of shock: Of course they can do that! Why is it such an issue? But after a few days’ activities including reading, altering mental states, giving blood, and subsistence upon mostly carbs (molasses-oatmeal bread, two homemade types of granola bars, beer pancakes…) new perspectives emerged.

Whose judgment matters to us? I’m fortunate that, at this moment, I know of no one who has objected to my dream career path. But I’m worried that those I haven’t met yet, who will be implicated in this career path, will care and will negatively view my choices.

I want to go to grad school for biology, get a PhD, and do research. But before I do that, I feel the urge to capitalize on my tender, sweet, twenty-something years and travel, have experiences, and enrich the rest of my life. How can people just go from school to school to school to job without travelling or exploring? Leaving their bubble? Comfort zone/zone of familiarity?

Fortunately, biologists tend to be pretty open-minded. They might understand why I took off a year or two or five to create myself. But will the admissions counselor? Will my PI? Will future employers?

After writing down these three gatekeepers and noting their possible influence in my entire life, I feel a little better.

I’ve been told that, if I want to take time off in between college and grad school, it’d be logical to get a science job. But I want to travel, volunteer, and do somewhat non-sciencey things. Will I be condemned for this? It’s not to say that I don’t have a passion for science (what an utterly silly thought!) But does it implicate that I don’t have passion for academic science and therefore enough motivation to attain a doctorate?

I’ve been neck-deep in biology-based learning for over over six years. I’ve loved it since I was young. I’ll keep loving it forever. But will it reflect harshly on me if I take a hiatus of biological learning? And at this relatively young age of 21/22?

Maybe I’m just tired of the system through which I’m learning. Indeed, one of my volunteer ideas is to work on a farm. That’s an extremely biological activity. It’s just not through the traditional ideas of experimenting and publishing results. This would be about engaging with biology in a more spiritual, wholesome, blue-collar way.

Sidenote: Recently, two friends and I were talking about our dreams and one who I won’t name mentioned that all she really wants is to find a husband and have kids and be a mother. As reproduction is our ultimate goal in this life, what she wants makes total sense. But I’m judging her. Doesn’t she want more out of life? It’s brave of her to say that (at least, putting myself in her shoes.)

By forging an alternative, volunteer-laden path now, will I be able to avoid a mid-life crisis? If I embrace the difficulties of having to stray from society’s principles and regularly remind myself of my true autonomy, will I be better off in the long run? It’d be so easy to just siphon into the system after college: get a job or go to grad school and assimilate into a typical American lifestyle. To passively jump into the forceful and alluringly predictable economic system. But I don’t want that. I want to move around too often and meet people and struggle to communicate in different countries. It’s tough because people don’t understand the pull of wanderlust. One cannot conceptualize/understand its colossal personal impacts. It’s an addiction most people just can’t fathom, like imagining a novel color or feeling a type of prejudice that’s foreign to you.

And now, an excerpt from a blog post written at the tender age of sixteen, which strikingly resonates even five years later.

9.12.2010

I change shapes just to hide in this place but I’m still, I’m still an animal.

The other day at services I was watching the all the Rabbis on the stage dance, sing, and play instruments to celebrate the Jewish new year. As if I adjusted my eyes, I suddenly saw them as what they are- apes. I noticed the primitive way they moved their body in dance. I saw one of them banging a tambourine on their hand to make sound. I saw their mouths open, forcefully expelling air through their throats to make different pitched sounds. Then, everyone else who gathered that day voiced back lines written down to the rabbis. They did this because this is the “proper” thing to do- go to services. Sing songs that have been in existence for centuries seems right. But half-mindlessly repeat back sentences that are typed up? I feel like when I read those words, I’m half worried about staying in time with the congregation, the other half I’m trying to understand what I’m saying.
I think I’d rather pray on my own, with words that aren’t so rigid and are more understandable than the ones written in the prayer books. If there even is a god, I have a feeling that it wouldn’t matter if the words we spoke regarding this god were outrageously eloquent or broken english. Maybe it makes people feel better/like they’re fulfilling their obligation as a Jew if they just read these dry words and are attentive for those few hours at services. I don’t know.
I read the Alchemist. It’s really a masterpiece of a book. Not in the way where it’s really complex and everything connects (like Harry Potter), but the dialogue and events that occur are just spectacular. I don’t feel like explaining it besides commanding, yes that’s right, COMMANDING that you read it yourself. It’s excellent brain food for teenagers pondering life. It’s affected me really deeply and I look forward to reading it again at a different stage in my life. I think the contrast of how I interpret it then vs. now will illuminate many things I can’t see or understand right now.
Going back to the rabbi part though, I find I’m periodically entering and departing from two mindsets: one where I’m a citizen of America, a student, an aspiring scientist, a subject of immense high school pressure, a driver of a car. On the other hand, I live as an animal: a humble member of Homo sapiens, a monkey, an equal to all the other creatures in the forest and even the smallest of beings. Plants too. However, I’m “higher” on the food chain, so I eat them, although I still respect them for having that miraculous breath of life circulating their body and existing in a realm of unfathomable magic.
Here’s where my astrological sign comes in (yes, I believe that stuff to a reasonable degree, just not the newspaper columns [all they talk about is work anyway, which makes them seem really stupid.] I simply like to look at it for a possible fortelling of what could happen soon/advice of how I could react to things differently.):
My Aquarius sign stresses that I’m deeply intellectual, methodical, idealistic, etc. My opposite would be emotional, people-person, needy individual (nothing wrong with those people, btw.) It admits that I have an issue viewing things as they are in a combination of those two mindsets. I can clearly see pros/cons from each perspective, but it’s hard to decide what to do if I try to exist in both those mindsets at once. When I’m thinking about my future, I long to take the alternative path: to explore the world, to detach myself from communications, really discover who I am, realize the meaning of love. The rational/reality side of me defaults to thinking about college. I want to travel a path that includes both of these options. There’s so much that can happen. In ten years, I can’t give you an answer of where I’ll be, in some parts because I don’t want to imagine myself somewhere that I can name right now as a 16 year old. I want to be in a place I didn’t expect, with fascinating outcomes. I want to become a shepherd like the boy in The Alchemist and discover my Personal Legend; to establish a relationship with a God/spirit I truly believe in; to travel; to love; to complete my mission on earth. I also want to become a scientist and make my impact on the world. I suppose a mid-life crisis could really trigger a realization of my Personal Legend, but I don’t want to wait till I’m 50 and ailing from various things. I want to start now, when I’m aware of how naive I am, and I want to learn now.
But the world we live in now doesn’t support that. It supports suburbanization, “settling down” with 3 kids and a husband you met at a bar, working just to make money.
I have time, I’m only 16. But in two years I’ll be heading off to college (most likely) and choosing a path. I appreciate the conflict I have now because it means I have options. And I know that at college I’ll have options. But it’s not the same.
Or is it?
For the first time, after college, I’ll actually be the CEO of my own life. Not to imply that college was a forced decision- I embraced it and wanted it very much. But it was always expected. Now, no one, including myself, will be able to predict what I’ll do next. S C A R Y, yet oh so exciting.

List: Favorite Places to Study

At Wes:

  1. Dean’s office waiting area. They have an amazingly sophisticated assortment of objects on the shelves, like an abstract clock, interesting foreign art, and a book about where to find great food in Connecticut! The couches are truly comfortable and there’s new age music pulsing from the speakers. It’s a one-of-a-kind space in a college campus.
  2. Ground floor of Olin: Periodical room. Lounge in a big chair or couch, propping up your feet towards the spacious windows that reveal all of Andrus field and Usdan. A room with a view.
  3. 41 Wyllys classrooms. The building has that clean, new feel that gives off warmth because of its color scheme. It feels organised, welcoming, and without clutter, which helps my brain focus on work.
  4. Basement of Allbritton, either in the little arrangements near the doors or Espwesso when it’s closed. Peaceful.

Around Middletown:

  1. Russell Library. I love feeling like a part of the community and being around people of all ages! As someone who enjoys being surrounded by books, their universal collection has a more comforting feel than Olin’s severe, academic, ancient stacks (although those definitely have a certain appeal as well.)
  2. New England Emporium. Their playlists are some of the finest I’ve heard in any restaurant or cafe! Varied spaces to sit and read, such as booths, couches, chairs, and outside tables if it’s warm.
  3. Would like to try Perk on Main, in nearby Durham, very soon!

Thanks again, study abroad

I think that another reason why I feel so comfortable in my skin as of late is that I truly feel entitled to:

  • Take up space
  • Go after opportunities because I’m qualified (well, partially) and deserve to benefit from them
  • Be happy
  • Have free time/Delegate tasks to others (within reason)
  • Excel
  • Believe that I can achieve my goals of obtaining a PhD and possibly filling the professorial roles of my mentors someday.

Community

It’d be challenging to live without canned beets, arduous to compensate for a lack of motorvehicular transportation, and downright preposterous to forego late night collaging sessions. However, it would be absolutely impossible to maintain a vibrant, inspiration-filled life without communities.

I’m still unsure of how I optimally function socially, but now that I’m 21, I can say that I’ve tried out a plethora of systems. I’ve had best friends, groups of best friends, groups of mostly acquaintances, few friends. I feel love from my blood relatives and families that I’ve chosen at camps, through sports, classes at school, temple, all over London, and more.

Now that I’m on my last year of college I’ve begun to understand a big change that few talk about when you transition to life with your parents to without: When you submerge yourself into the college bubble, you oftentimes exclude elders.

By elders, I’m talking about wise, older people who aren’t necessarily old. I mean it in a very respectful way similar to how post-middle-age people are treated in Eastern and Native American cultures. I guess I’m referring to level of knowledge versus chronological age (because we all know the two aren’t always correlated!)

  

But let’s move on, shall we?

It’s easy to get caught up in everything me and questions about almost everything. Speaking with an elder about those questions or something unrelated like the name of that pretty flower over yonder often calms me down. I adapt to their disposition by unconsciously mimicking it. My physical composure leads my mind into a correlated transition. Life looks different for a second: the world stops spinning around me. I regain perspective. This is critical.

And just because I’m me, let’s also remember that we can’t live without the communities inside of us! We (our bodies) are composed of 90% non-human cells! We are deeply devoted to our little gut microbes in a symbiotic relationship: they break down certain substances for us to digest and in return, we give them a cozy home. That’s just one relationship. When was the last time you thanked your bacilli with a cup of yogurt or kimchi-topped dish? (Especially if you’ve taken an antibiotic recently!)

I think one of the downfalls of the Millennial generation is their lack of interest in participating/volunteering in multigenerational communities. Belonging to these communities quells selfish urges and reminds us that we are obligated to serve others even if there’s no specified requirement. When you expand your worldview beyond your personal bubble, you’re more sensitive to the world’s pleas for help.

Another wonderful thing about being a member of a community is the oft-felt feeling of belonging. It’s good to feel welcomed and wanted 🙂

Mirrors

Despite the fact that I did not bring a floor-length mirror to college this year, I have a feeling that the next two semesters will bring an unprecedented amount of self-reflection. (Was that a really corny opening? It seems like a typical way to start an article. Maybe it’s both.)

Since it’s the start of the semester, I’ve been meeting with a gaggle of professors to discuss employment and projects. Today I met with one who used to make me nervous. He’s not the only one who did: When I went to office hours or spoke to profs after class, the authority complex would kick in and my confidence would waver. I’d remind myself of their higher status and that I should be as humble and appreciative as possible. Today, when I saw that one prof, he very vocally exclaimed how much “older” I seemed. Twice. His intentions were extremely pure, but it almost felt a bit confrontational… similar to if someone goes over the top when complimenting someone on losing weight, to the extent that they question how they were received “before”.

Anyway, that sort of weakens my next point, but I’ll say it nonetheless: I think that studying abroad gave me a thicker skin. I’ve noticed that my level of social anxiety has plummeted compared to last year.

Finally, it seems that some of the strongest informants of how and how much I’ve changed may be my companions. It must be pretty noticeable!