High School Graduation Speech

What a remarkable thing it is to be young. It is to live a life of constant contradictions, where nothing is fixed, where crushes change as often as the weather, and ideologies are learned, adopted, unlearned, and replaced with new ideologies, and, well you get the point… This is the limbo where I seem to reside. On a given day I might be torn between imitating the kool nihilistic characters from early Godard films, or trying to emulate my own friends. In the end, we all seem to be searching for just the right mix of protection and openness. If we put ourselves out to the world, completely earnestly, we risk getting hurt. I have learned much of this struggle at Calhoun, and still have much to learn. When I give myself to something, I want to really give myself.

I have attended The Calhoun School for thirteen years. Thirteen years of blood, sweat, and tears (I am not talking about the horn-peppered nostalgia rock band). Thirteen years of thin crust pizza, thirteen years of laughter, thirteen years of number five pencils rolling under tables with gum firmly entrenched beneath them, of Steve Nelson strolling through the school as one would stroll through their garden, of basketballs hitting the hard wooden floor, of hearing music coming from across the hall, of jumping over the stone fence and into the haven of riverside park, of talking to teachers while eating lunch, of reminding everyone to be quiet this IS actually a library, of Black Rock forest, of stupid fucking rainbow games, of zabar’s voiceover announcements and old people crossing the street, and of faces bright and shining with possibility, with question marks written in their eyes, and hunger growing in my heart. These same phenomena will continue, but I will never experience them again. These are the small things that have been swimming in my mind lately, the things that have been waking me up in the middle of the night.  

Again, the quintessential thing about being young is change. Just this year, 2017, has been a constant battlefield in my emotions and my mind. One week I came into school every day bursting with excitement, ready to simply live in the moment man and treat everyone as the deserve to be treated. This was due in large part to reading Moby Dick. Another week, I came to school sulking with shades placed firmly over my eyes, just thinking I’ll be lucky if I can get through this shit. In this way, being young seems to be a metaphor for truth. Every week seems to hold a new revelation. But then, no, I have been duped, lead down a maze, a labyrinthine trap. I know less than I ever thought I knew less than.

This brings me to what I am grateful for. I am so grateful to Calhoun for fostering in me a thirst for knowledge. It is this deep well of things to learn, to experience, that get me up every morning. And it is hard work! It is impossible to stay always open to the world, it can be exhausting, it can easily lead to cynicism, because lets face it, the world is a beautifully tragic (Camus would say absurd) place. In our own country, democracy is more in question than it ever has been, and the world as a whole seems incredibly divided and ill equipped to deal with the rapidly encroaching changes in the atmosphere. Life seems more out of balance than ever before.

            In a way, Calhoun is a tiny microcosm of this turbulent world. It has its mores just as society does—how could it not? We may pride ourselves on community values and togetherness, but we sometimes seem as fragmented as everyone else. This is not a bad thing, it is merely typical. At Calhoun, I’ve lived together with, but still in separation from, so many of you. Now, as I am saying goodbye (after knowing some of you for thirteen years), I find it funny that I will probably end up like Holden Caulfield, missing those of you who I never got particularly close with, in some ways more than I will miss my friends. With my friends I am confident that we will meet again, but with those of you whom I never really befriended there will be a quiet lamentation, a softening of the edges, a reminiscence for things never had.

            In the end all that is left is a reduction of a reduction of a reduction as time churns and crunches onward. We grasp and flail for something solid, something permanent. Connecting with another person is as close as we can get.

            It lies within our capacity to change: we can choose to look up. We can choose to look left. We can choose to look right. We can choose to listen to someone else and momentarily ignore the voice in our own head. When was the last time you looked into someone’s face? Looked at the lines that caress their eyes? Looked at the slight creases next to their mouth, their lips, which speak and kiss. When was the last time you followed the waves of worry across their brow and saw the soul in their eyes? Turn your head and look at the person sitting next to you. Take their hand and feel their fingers. To me, that’s truth. Look at their face, look at their eyes. To me, that’s truth. That is the life in between the photographs, between the big milestones which sit like gravestones at predetermined checkpoints in our lives. That face is the truest place you could strive to reach, it is the place that is never on any map. Many of the faces here today will fade from me, but like the truest places, once visited, they will not be forgotten. Whether I like it or not, your faces, and the spirit of Calhoun, will stay etched somewhere between my mind and my heart.

I wish you all strength, perseverance, and good humor. We’ll all need it on our uncertain travels to come.

Memories Are Made of This...

At the end of my sophomore year of high school, a plane landed in JFK airport, one of many; the city was still opening its eyes. Among the passengers (the lawyers, businessmen, wives, criminals, teachers, students, and prophets), there was a group of exchange students from Bordeaux, France. When the students arrived at my school, I knew something had opened. An announcement was made and the students were introduced to the school. I knew I should be poised to reach out and touch their newness, smell their rain-soaked jackets, and talk.

A week passed. I remained silent. As irreversible time did its work, I continued, simply not knowing how. Moving forward again to the final fated day of the exchange, the last hours of promise were reaching their end. Change was negligible. The aria’s final suspended chord was ringing into the present, playing to an auditorium of nobody and nothing, and I was the only one onstage. There had been a few cursory moments of connection in the previous weeks, but they never transcended the moniker of organized formality.

It was in this final hour I decided to act. Seized with life, the morning propelled me forward. During breakfast, I grabbed Tomas, my closest French acquaintance and requested that he gather his comrades and meet me on the sixth floor. A seed of an idea entered my mind.

I laughed with excitement. It was simple. I was going to send the students on their way with the one gift I could offer: music. The venue was to be the sixth floor alcove. The weapon of choice was an old beige piano, christened by the fingers of more boisterous children than I cared to imagine. As Tomas and his friends filed into the room, I could tell that they were quietly questioning the reason for this excursion. Once seats were located, they looked at me openly and expectantly. I clumsily related my intent. It probably sounded something like this:

“Hi, I uh just wanted to tell you all that your presence has been important to this community and I wish had gotten to know you better but yeah anyway I just want to wish you farewell and leave you with a piece of music you are all beautiful this is ‘Liebestraum’ composed by Franz Liszt.”

Finally I sank into the piano and played. I entered the keys and sparked waves of sound. The French students sat silent. My posterior hovered a full American inch off the bench. As the final rippling notes of the piece disappeared into space, there was a momentary pause. Then they clapped. I did not expect them to clap. I had made mistakes, but the smiles on their faces made me forget. A moment was shared between us. Something beyond words, whether they be English, French, or more accurately, a combination of the two. For the rest of the day, there was a warmth of rapport and a familiarity that was previously unknown. I am still in contact with two of the students who that day I learned to know.

When they got back on that plane and flew out of JFK to a place hundreds of miles away, they carried a tiny segment of my soul with them. A life lived in delight is a life in which every piece of the soul is distributed outward, one by one. A life lived in delight is a life in which these pieces attach themselves to the people and the trees and the birds and the falling dust, and nothingness becomes irrelevant.

This is why I want to be around people people people people. Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, Jewish, Muslim, White. All people. I want to know their stories, their passions, their fears. Because they are also my own, they resonate within me like a hammer hitting the string of a piano. The mechanism at work, creating imperfect sound.

 

 

Water

            I glanced over the craggy hot rocks of Sicily’s southern shore. The brilliance of the sun radiated off of the bright rocks and I was tempted to shield my eyes. The white foam of the Mediterranean engulfed the rocks and the spray sprinkled my bare skin. As the water receded, there opened a momentary void, a silence. The air hung still and suspended for a couple moments longer before it was shattered by another crash. The foamy water teased me again, the little droplets tempting me to take the plunge. I did not. I simply sat on my hot rock as the unerring song of the sea endured in the otherwise languid afternoon.

            As I sat I began to internalize the rhythm of the water and the song of intense ferocity became comforting to me. It embraced me, like the arms of a mother holding her baby at birth, or the true love I never had. I wanted to bury myself in the sound of the waves. I wanted to fall into the rhythm and release…

            The way the water consumed the rocks I wished it to consume me. The way it swirled around their bases and came back again…

            The push and pull. The struggle of the tides of life. Always on the brink of chaos, but always in control. I wanted to release myself to this struggle, this broken song, and let it consume me. Give up all control. Release…

            I never felt happier in my life. 

Nursery Rhyme

High school dolts

Wearing expensive coats

Walk around shameless, aimless, and blue

 

They talk quickly

They always trick me

Into thinking they are sincere


Stasis

There must be some vine to clamber down

Some fast car

Some escape

From this listless and unnecessary despair

 

There is, of course

It lies within my own mind

Within my own capacity to love the air I breathe

To grip the simple joys by the hand

And run with them down a loud city block

Through the fields of chance and opportunity

So why then, am I unable to lift this veil?

Perhaps, I don’t have the strength


Flight

A plane flies over Mexico

Spinning and churning through the hot air

A perfectly circular straight line

A metal pirouette

So straight and sharp

What a feeling, to be in the pilot’s seat

Anatomy of a Moment

When the world splits open

And the future pours out

A sore wound

That tender sting

 

Like love’s first kiss

Memories exploding into sound

 

Every year is a slideshow

Every minute a test

To prove that you’re here

Recalling a Trip (Work in Progress)

Memories are less like postcards, and more like three. Second. Snapshots. A breath.

Postcards are far too pristine- a revolting generalization rather than a place in time. A memory is a place, a space, somewhere between the cerebrum and the soul. A postcard is pleasant, it can be a checkpoint and souvenir, but it is not kept: it is forgotten. It is gratuitous and obscene. Walk, do not run down the halls of memory and you shall find more, much more.

I remember Northern Ireland like that. I cannot point to things that happened during that trip that changed my life, but it has carved a space for itself within my cranium nonetheless. Before the end, this “essay” wills most-likely turn out platitudinous: a postcard. So many postcards pouring into college admissions offices and being entered into scholarship competitions, and mine shall be like all the rest. Before I assimilate however, I would like to offer a few memories, not postcards.

Here I sit, languid in the late afternoon sun, and moments drift back to me. Listen to this, dear reader.

 

Dappled light draping the graveyard.

Buying Phillip Pullman’s The Subtle Knife, kneeling on the smooth crystalline floor of an airport bookstore.

Eating corn beef hash in some musty inn at two o’clock in the afternoon.  The hills looked greener than ever through the window. Time moved slowly while we ate (and the adults drank.) There was an air of inactivity to the whole affair, and the afternoon was to unfold in a leisurely manner. It didn’t matter. 

The foam of the frothy sea curling and crashing against Giant’s Causeway. The stone pillars of octagons jutting perfectly beneath our rapid adolescent feet. 

Ode to Travel

When I come home from my classes, if I am not out partaking in some activity, an inevitable catatonia is draped over my being. Is it the summer afternoon itself? The grinding of the toaster timer? The occasional lukewarm breeze? The churning of planes gliding through the air above me, moving 200 people towards hope and oblivion. Towards the future. I would enjoy travel. I would like traveling. I would appreciate traveling. I want to travel. I wait to travel. I will my world to let me travel. I waste to travel. I wrestle to travel. I wrangle the days and nights hoping to travel. Now the question I ought to ask my non-existent psychiatrist is: why?

Aphex Twin's Drukqs: A Breif Review

This sprawling, schizophrenic album careens between Satie inspired piano solos and James' typically frenetic programming. Some of the songs on this album will reach inside of your head and pull your brains out. The sequencing on this thing does seem a bit random, with drum n' bass excursions following pure musique concrete following gamelan music box pieces, but that it is part of its charm. While some might say this album is a retread of passed glories, in my opinion it plays to all of James' strengths; nary a sound is misplaced. 

"Avril 14th," "Jynwythek Ylow," "Mt Saint Michel Mix + St. Michaels Mount," and "Vordhosbn" are good places to start.

Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Vol. II: An Appreciation

This album will play thousands of years from now when nature has reclaimed the earth and only faint memories of the human species remain. It will play as an alien race descends from their crafts and finds lost traces of cities that once were. These are only some of the situations that this album conjures up. It is also perfect for listening while: waiting for a flight, driving late at night, exploring an ancient temple in the depths of the jungle, wandering around the MET museum while looking at the artifacts, studying through sleepless nights, getting lost in the Tibetan mountains, looking at the stars, laying on the living room couch and at the ceiling, sleeping, and of course, wandering through a power station on acid.

When I take a piece of crusty sleep from my eye and stick it to an airplane window

When I walk through the West Village at 8:00 in early spring and I see the moon.

Thank you Richard James for this beautiful, haunting, timeless, and forever enigmatic music; the soundtrack to all our dreams.

Nirvana's In Utero- An Appreciation

This is the sound of decay. When you take a big hit of pot and you feel your lungs burning and you inexplicably cough up blood.

There is blood splattered on the walls and cum stains on the sheets

The guitars on this album are fucking corrosive

Can't decide if it feels like flushing out a virus from your body or getting sicker 

I feel the mucus building in my throat as i listen to the maggots eating 

The walls breaking

And yet this is a throughly entertaining album, and it rocks a lot harder than the fucking Black Keys or another "rock band" safe for the whole family. It's fun I promise enter the American corporate wasteland we've got some great elevator music for you... How but some Maroon Five? Or some Fall Out Boy? Some Coldplay? 

No thanks, I'll take some Nirvana In Utero; you can go fuck your self.

 

Thought: most people don't like punk music. Most people don't like to be spit on.  

Charles Mingus' The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady: An Appreciation

When the last lingering saxophone note of the piece fades out of existence, you feel like your whole life has been thrown in a continuum. You don't even know where you are anymore, or how long it's been.

There are a thousand screams hidden beneath the surface of this music. A few of them are audible; the shouts and grunts of the frustration of pure existence. When you listen to the Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, you can hear Mingus yelling. You can tell that he was a fucked up person. When I listen I close my eyes and I see the African American struggle, the trial of history. I see bodies and nooses. 

The music also conjures up beautiful women and lakes of crystal. Delicate dancers and skaters in fall. Most of all it invokes the city; that particular brand of urban despair. You can scream as loud as you want to but you still won't be heard. 

I see brothels and taverns. I see 60's revolution, throw up and gin. 

The music itself is beyond compare and the composition as a whole is one of the most ambitious and textured in all of jazz. There are vibes, not even noticeable on the first few listens that softly add detail. Flamenco guitar strums, the moaning registers of brass instruments. Mournful sax breaks, cries. Elegantly braying flutes and that piano, oh that piano. 

Beyond words; just listen and leave a person changed.

Nick Drake's Pink Moon: An Appreciation

In the woods in the dead of winter

In a snowbank slowly dying

Pink moon reaches the most intimate levels possible

It is music for one person, the single listener of the album

It delves deep into the corners of your mind that even the bright winter sun cannot reach  

Pink Moon is not just timeless; it is out of time completely. It feels like it has always been here. The soundtrack for lonely jesters then Something conflicted millennials stumble upon now

"I am the parasite of this town"