The perils of opening one's heart

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Recently I fell head over heels in love with someone I just met. I've never felt such an instantaneous, complete, perfect connection with another person, so literally limitless and infinite with possibilities. When we held hands, I felt like I'd known him all my life, and the first time we kissed, I felt like I was struck by lightning.

It didn't work out, and it ended in such a spectacularly hurtful way that I feel like he pulled my heart out of my chest and squished it around in gravel with his shoe for a while. I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep, my heart was just constantly racing like I was having a 24-hour-a-day panic attack. I knew in my mind that I didn't want to be with someone who could treat me like that, but in my mushy little heart, I kept looking for some misunderstanding, some reason why what he said wasn't what he meant, that there was still some hope that he really was the love of my life.

Despite how cruelly and coldly he broke my heart, I miss him. I miss knowing he's out there, thinking of him fondly, knowing he was seeing my stupid photos and Facebook posts and even for that half-second it takes to click "Like," he was thinking about me. I miss the excitement and fluttery anticipation of feeling that way for someone who exists in the world, and I miss having what I now know was the erroneous belief that he might feel that way about me too.

For the past few years, I've been pretty blasé about love. I didn't believe it would make a difference if I opened my heart or not. I was so cynical and frustrated with guys who acted like selfish children that I didn't see the point in really putting myself out in the open, with all my emotions vulnerable for being crushed.

It hurt - and continues to hurt - like hell. Maybe worse than very long relationships that had drawn-out and ugly break-ups because I was just so unbelievably hopeful about him. For a while I regretted opening my heart because I thought that was why it hurt so much. Surely, if I kept coiled up and closed-off, no one could get inside enough to wreak this kind of havoc.

But for the few moments of exhilarating, profoundly lovely beauty that I felt to fully open up and love someone, recklessly, unabashedly, I'm glad I opened my heart. It would be a shame to have really met the One and been afraid to give it a shot.

Feeling my feelings

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One of my favorite lines in the Jim Gaffigan book Dad is Fat is slipped in while discussing candy:

Most of the time I don't even want to eat their candy, but late at night I'm confronted with the predicament: eat my kids' candy or feel my feelings. Eating the candy always seems to win.

I've been thinking a lot lately about my feelings, specifically the great lengths to which I'll go in order to avoid feeling them. I feel like a hypocrite because I usually blather on about how artists serve such a crucial function in being sensitive to how life feels, then helping to express it for others. Then it hit me in the face: for as long as I've been avoiding feeling my feelings, I also haven't been making art or even writing.

It's been going on way longer than I care to admit. I've spent most of my adult life trying not to feel too much and developing elaborate defense mechanisms to avoid and escape my feelings. But all this time that I've been running and hiding, it never occurred to me to just feel and get it over with.

It started slowly. I haven't let myself truly grieve most of the family and friends I've lost in the past few years. I just went numb and built something hard and impenetrable around my heart. I'd tell friends and boyfriends I didn't want to talk about it and freeze them out if they tried to show any kind of sympathy (really healthy, I know). I buried myself in school, work, hobbies, literally anything, always saying no, I didn't have time to feel.

And mostly, I succeeded. I didn't feel that gasping breathless sadness I feared. But it's because I wasn't feeling anything. The closest I was getting to genuine emotions was occasional annoyance, anger, or frustration in the midst of depression, followed by suffocating, exhausted apathy. I'm problematically good at being cheerful, bright, and sunny while feeling desolate inside. I see it almost as a form of politeness. Yes, I may be dreadfully unhappy, but gosh, that's no reason to walk around frowning at people or treating my coworkers poorly.

When I lost my beautiful Smokey, I lost my defenses. I couldn't hide how much it hurt and how intensely I hated going home to an empty apartment. He was always one of the great comforts in my life when I couldn't cope with my feelings because I felt such pure warmth and love for him. Without him, I spent weeks at a time trying to stay late at work, going out every night, and doing anything to avoid being alone and feeling anything.

I decided I can't do it anymore and that I needed to start feeling. I worried it would be like opening a floodgate and that I wouldn't be able to control all the emotions that would inevitably drown me.

I was completely right, and this year has been a bit of a tumultuous train wreck so far in my heart. Trying to process a decade's repressed emotions in one shot leads to messy leaks, shaking and crying over truly insignificant things while still having no resources to cope with legitimately upsetting things. I've been walking around feeling raw, excessively fragile, and so vulnerable that the slightest touch will make my whole heart collapse.

But it's getting better and I'm not giving up. I shouldn't have been so surprised that when I started trying to feel again, words and images started flowing out of my hands. Something opened, like a fist unclenching, and that cold glass shell around my heart started cracking and dissolving bit by bit. I've painted more in the past month than I have in the past five years, and it isn't just going through the motions. I'm feeling sincere affection for people instead of intellectualized appreciation coupled with an overwhelming aching dread about bad things that will happen to them. I'm looking at things one by one and seeing how they make me feel. And then I'm actually feeling.

It's weird as hell to relearn something as basic as emotional processing, but feeling my feelings is making me more human. My feelings may hurt, but feeling nothing hurt so much more.

Apparently I was so excited in my last post about concerts that I forgot how to count. It wasn't seven amazing concerts, it was eight, and I can't possibly pick a favorite.

Tame Impala / Flaming Lips at Terminal 5, October 1

Two summers ago, my brother, best friend, and I saw an extraordinary Weezer / Flaming Lips double bill in Wantaug, where my brother officially became a Flaming Lips fan. So when I texted him this summer to ask if he wanted to catch Flaming Lips with Tame Impala, I got an immediate "YES" in reply.

Neither of us had heard of the opening act, The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, and we were delighted to discover it was Sean Lennon's excellent band. In addition to rocking a Beetlejuice-Slash love child look, Charlotte Kemp Muhl rocked the hell out of their set. They established such an ace psychedelic rock tone for the night that I could even forgive Sean Lennon's tease when he said they were going to play a cover of an older musician he really admired and it turned out to be Syd Barrett's "Long Gone" (if you aren't playing John Lennon, Syd is an okay second choice).

I knew I liked Tame Impala enough to see them in concert, but I couldn't honestly say I knew more than "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards" with any great familiarity. But holy hell, they were incredible. My brother and I both agreed they were one of the best live acts we've ever seen, and after every song, we kept looking at each other amazed, saying "WOW!" They walked a perfect line between 60s psychedelic nostalgia and something very new and current that I want to hear a lot more of.

On hindsight, and as blasphemous as I know it is to say, I think I may have even enjoyed their set more than the Flaming Lips.

I will admit that I got a little pissy with the amount of time it took to set up the stage after Tame Impala finished. Tame Impala had almost nothing on stage, working purely with projections and lights, and they brought the house down. I know the Flaming Lips are known for their exuberant, elaborate stage sets, but I got impatient and felt like the energy was evaporating the later it dragged on. I had made a big point of getting way up to the front (we were maybe 2 or 3 people back from the stage) but that meant we'd been standing for several hours by the time they finally started playing, and I found myself glancing at the clock on the side of the stage to determine when we'd have to leave so my brother could catch his train home.

But then Wayne Coyne came out and made magic.

Their set was heavy on atmospheric new material from The Terror, which was mesmerizing, but a little difficult to translate into concert. Wayne seemed frustrated with the energy and got almost bossy trying to rile the crowd up, which is usually so effortless for the Lips.

They were smart, though, and they knew when to blanket the crowd with confetti.

And gorgeous lights, solid performances, and a maximalist stage presence that more than compensated for eery, nearly infinitely sustained frequencies.

And more confetti.

I freaking love metallic confetti.

Junip at (le) poisson rouge, October 10

I've recently decided that le poisson rouge is probably my favorite concert venue in New York. There is always such a great energy there, and I always have a lovely time.

The opener was a fabulous acoustic group called Dawn of Midi. They were like a breath of fresh air, using real instruments to make gorgeous new sound.

Of course, you know my rule: if your band has a stand-up bassist, I already love you. So much the better if you're immensely talented.

I have had a musical crush on José González for the better part of a decade, so I was beside myself with excitement to finally see him live. Junip has quickly become one of my favorite bands right now, and I was so excited to stand like five feet away from them, watching them create astonishingly beautiful songs.

It was especially fascinating to watch how the lush, rich waves of sound they made - which I assumed were all done by producers - were actually created live (that video is about as close as I was standing too - it may even have been the guy right between me and the stage). I am in love with this blend of real instruments and light-handed, soulful electronic mixing on the spot, and I was delighted to find they were even better live than their albums. They've quickly become mainstays on my iPod, and if you are looking for a new blanket song, I highly recommend "Walking Lightly."

Frightened Rabbit at Webster Hall, October 25


I was so stoked for Frightened Rabbit that I got there absurdly early to stand right up front and had had quite a lot of whiskey by the time Augustines came on. Damn, what a powerful, energetic set.

There was a rawness and a genuine openness that made me just immediately adore them. I want nothing but good things for them.

I remember when I fell in love with Frightened Rabbit, back in 2009. Literally, the first song I heard, I thought, "Oh, this is my new favorite band." I spent a month in a drafty campsite outside of Pompeii listening to little else, solidifying my endless appreciation for Scott Hutchison's poetic songwriting and vulnerable, lovely emotional voice. The equally adorable and sexy Scottish accent doesn't hurt.

I had opera tickets the first chance I had to see them in New York, so I convinced a friend to go on a whirlwind day trip to Philadelphia to catch them in a church basement. They were amazing, and I knew I had not misplaced my "new favorite band" status, even if it meant disloyalty to Thom Yorke. The next time I saw them was at Terminal 5, which they described as the biggest US venue they'd ever played and "a real moment" for the band. This night at Webster Hall felt like seeing old friends, solid in who they are as a band, trying new things, and doing what they do so unbelievably well.

I was excited to be among so many other real fans, and there was a wonderful moment where Scott said he had his eye on the balcony, then climbed up for a gorgeous acoustic version of "Poke" that I will never forget.

I keep thinking back on September and October and thinking how spectacular it is to have seen basically all of my favorite living musicians perform live. I feel genuinely privileged to live in the cultural capital of the US (maybe the western world) and to have had the opportunity to see such mind-blowing, incredible shows.

October didn't end the spree of awesome concerts either, and I haven't even touched on the classical music performances. This autumn may be the one that solidifies music as the true love of my life.

Summer Rain

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One of my favorite, most sacred annual traditions is going crabbing on the Navesink River with my nice dad. We both look forward to these days all year, and this past Labor Day weekend we were worried the weather would thwart us.

Fortunately we did get our trip in, and it was as special and excellent as always. It was cut a bit short by wind and the beginning of rain, which eventually turned into thunderstorms.


The soft, gentle beginning of rain falling on gray water feels like exactly the right level of delicate sensitivity that I need lately. I found this little clip on my camera and have been transported over and over to that moment in the summer, standing on the wet dock. I keep thinking about my frighteningly tiny place in the universe and the extraordinary benevolence it shows, even when it seems otherwise. Somehow I really believe everything will be okay.

(Except it was seven times, in the past two months.)

Anyone who's spent more than a few minutes talking with me will quickly pick up how obsessed I am with music. Increasingly, I suspect that music is the true love of my life and everything else I do is a dalliance in comparison. I love living in New York because odds are high that if a band is going to tour in the US at all, they'll have a show in Manhattan or Brooklyn.

The longer I've lived here, the more addicted I've become to concerts. Music transforms when it's played live - I hear things that production glosses or smooths over, and I get to watch the mechanics of how the sound is created. To see people coming together and producing something so extraordinarily layered and beautiful is nothing short of a magic show for me, and that energy is something that has become essential to my well-being and happiness.

This fall, I lucked out and have gotten to see some truly extraordinary concerts. I've also been on a streak for the past year or two of having really great opening acts - one of my current new favorite bands, Milagres, opened for a James Iha performance at the Mercury Lounge last year, and I couldn't believe my good luck to stumble upon something so damn good.

It started at the end of August. I was lamenting the paucity of exciting summer concerts this year, so I was really ready for a great show.

Bat for Lashes at Webster Hall, August 30


The opening act was a terrific San Diego group called Barbarian. Sometimes on the day of concerts, I look up the opening act and listen to whatever I can find online. When I searched for Barbarian on Spotify, I found the album fitting the description of a band that "hits your ears with warm surf pop fuzz, '80 post punk and goth pop, and a hint of '60s garage rock," but I also found a not so lovely metal band with the same name.

I was quite happy to get the warm and fuzzy slightly psychedelic band full of adorable guys instead. My friend Penelope and I literally couldn't decide which one we'd most want to be our boyfriend.

One of them even turned into Pacific Rock Jesus when he put his tambourine on his head.

Delighted and thoroughly charmed by such a strong opener, I got all excited because I've been wanting to see Bat for Lashes live since 2008. I actually had the chance to see her for one of those $15 Brooklyn shows, but I wasn't sure if the coworkers who would eventually become some of my best friends would be up for a concert with me. I'd been kicking myself since then, but I was also kind of chuckling at the irony that Penelope went from a girl I was too nervous to ask to a concert in case she thought my music taste was insipid, to my most frequent concert buddy.

And wow, it was everything I imagined it would be and then some. Natasha Khan (who has such a pretty real name that I don't really understand why she goes by Bat for Lashes) has one of those voices that is full of clarity and subtlety. Listening to recordings, I knew I wanted to hear the breathy touches and flowing warmth in person.

What I didn't realize was what a charming, engaging performer she was too. Everyone around me had a big smile and gushy expression on, full of that summery lightness and pure joy. Not a small feat for a Manhattan crowd, but that's the kind of radiance and exuberance she evokes.


I got obsessed with her brightly-colored psychedelic jumpsuit, which was also modeled by Shanali on Australia's Next Top Model (don't judge). I tracked it down and learned it was designed by Romance Was Born as part of a collection that strikes me as Peter Max by way of Lisa Frank (in a good way), thanks to a collaboration with Tanya Shultz.

We also stood by a woman wearing a flared macrame maxi dress, with long wavy hair and lots of stringy bits hanging off her. She had the look of the type of person who would open her arms to the sides and take up a lot of space hippie dancing (she was), so everyone gave her a wide berth, I think sharing my fear of accidentally getting tangled up in some of her woven parts. Penelope and I amused ourselves with Macrame's antics for the whole concert and noted the efficacy of claiming space by dancing enthusiastically.

Passion Pit at Hudson River Park, September 7

I can't possibly count the amount of times I listen to Passion Pit albums when I'm walking around places. Before the Black Keys album "Brothers," it was basically the soundtrack to my art history thesis, and I listened to "Manners" nearly every day while walking through Penn Station on my way to the lab I worked at then. Marching in time to "Sleepyhead" is a surprisingly entertaining way to navigate the city. They just keep getting better, so I was dying for a chance to see them live and dance my face off.

Our opener was Best Coast, who were solid if a bit repetitive. I've never fully understood the hype, but at least I heard a lot more in them live than I had in their recordings.


The real opener was Mother Nature, with a spectacularly lovely and unseasonably windy day. After such a hot and sweaty summer, temperatures in the 70s were absolutely perfect for an outdoor concert surrounded by 20-year-olds (I mean, actual NYU freshmen, seriously).


We adopted the Macrame strategy of space-consumption in the midst of a tightly-packed crowd by what a sour-faced girl behind me called "that girl's erratic dancing" right at the moment when I was wondering why she couldn't get her fist out of my backside.


It was exactly the stress-relieving, sweaty, high-energy release I needed and it was even more fun than I imagined it would be.


Michael Angelakos reminds me of Wayne Coyne with the way he mesmerizes and energizes a crowd. It's truly infectious energy, and I love it.

Washed Out at Terminal 5, September 18

Next was a random Wednesday night show at a venue I'd previously sworn off. The trick with Terminal 5 is that you have to get there early enough to get a spot in the first few rows back from the stage. Any deeper, and you spend the entire time getting jostled by people trying to move forward or back, getting hit by backpacks, or having actual teenagers shout over the music about which of their friends has the Molly. Going up to the second or third floor reveals just how terrible the acoustics are, so for me, being one of those super-early front folk is the way to be.


The opening act was HAERTS, a tremendous Brooklyn electropop band that Penelope and I both fell for immediately.


I have such a deep love for chillwave and ambient electronic music, but I wasn't sure how it would translate to a concert. Some of the hauntingly beautiful tones and reverberations might not fly in a huge club full of sweaty people at the end of summer. I was so glad to be so wrong - they keyed it up with extra beats and more dance-friendly instrumentation, while keeping the profoundly lovely atmosphere and complexity that I so loved.


The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that Ernest Greene is a real musical genius, and Washed Out is making the incredibly smart, viscerally exciting kind of music that I wish I could. There are so many great videos online from that show, but I'm partial to this one of "Amor Fati" because I actually remember the moment during this song when my mind blew open and I realized I was completely at peace with the world and lost inside the music. Swoon.

The xx, Radio City Music Hall, September 23

This year's birthday concert for Penelope was The xx, whom we'd seen together a few summers ago in Central Park. Our seats were a ways back, so my photos from this concert suck, but they went from basic stage lights to something closer to a laser show, which was fantastically entertaining in Radio City.


The opening act was once again great, Poliça, but I haven't loved their recorded music anywhere near as much as I loved them live.


The xx were spectacular. They are another band that I listen to so much when I'm walking around the city that their music is as familiar as my heartbeat. Since the last time we saw them, they've expanded their sound and pushed what they're so good at. They play like a group that was flat-out born to play together, and hearing Jamie Smith mixing live was incredible.

(Sean Hayes, le poisson rouge, September 25)

This show admittedly isn't counting in my favorite bands list because I barely knew Sean Hayes's music going into the show. I did, however, fall in love with it while I was there, and I'm delighted to have had such a tremendous time. I'm glad he's included in one of the best months of concerts of my life.

Atoms for Peace, Barclays Center, September 27

Later in the same week that I saw the xx and Sean Hayes, I saw perhaps my favorite living musician, Thom Yorke, with Atoms for Peace at Barclays Center.


James Holden opened and was as terrific as you might expect. He had some ace projections going and an overall high level of artistry and sensitivity in his music. I dug it.


My photos are again garbage, but how can you even begin to describe what it's like to hear Thom Yorke live? I saw him a few years back with Atoms for Peace at Roseland, and it felt like we made eye contact while he was playing piano. But at that show I couldn't really hear what the band was doing. Say what you will about stadium concerts, but the sound at Barclays has its moments.

I saw the interview that Flea and Thom Yorke gave on The Daily Show a few days later, and I thought one of the great points was that Thom sought Flea out because he played the bass like it was a lead instrument (or I guess, he made it a lead instrument). I think they've changed from being Thom Yorke's live band to a real artistic collaboration, and I love it.


Of course, my head nearly exploded when they played the U.N.K.L.E. song "Rabbit In Your Headlights." If you've spent as many years obsessing about Thom Yorke as I have, you'll see right away why this was such an exciting setlist.


And at one point, the lights changed to darting red pulses behind watery blue shimmers, and my mind flashed to this painting and a bunch of stuff about light on water, and I felt some deep connection with the universe. Like, Thom Yorke's voice hovered at the same pitch as languid late afternoon sunlight, then the intensity of so much percussion sparkled it away into a cosmic instant of crazy fleeting perfection dancing off water. I was in some kind of heaven.

I can't believe that's only through September. I'm going to split this baby into two parts so the October shows don't get rushed and half-assed way down here in infinite-scroll land. Until then, I invite you to obsessively search YouTube for live footage from each of these shows as I will be doing. I'm sure you'll see straight away why I've been having one of the best concert seasons ever.

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