Archive for October, 2014

In the ABCs of Twenty-something life, M is for Music

I don’t listen to music as much anymore.

I’m in my apartment, alone, as I write this, and it’s quiet – save for the whirring of cars passing by on the nearby highway and the tapping of keys.

If this were college, I bet there would be music. Not necessarily even my own music, but someone’s – coming from my roommate, the guy down the hall who plays the bass, the other guy down the hall whose stereo plays too much bass, the marching band practicing in the distance or the lite rock radio station in the coffee shop.

But this isn’t college anymore. This is the career world, twenty-something life, and my room is quiet. No music.

The fact that something’s missing becomes evident only once in a while. But when the realization hits, it brings a feeling of emptiness and nostalgia that can be hard to shake.

I miss music, but it’s not as simple as just turning on some songs, opening up iTunes or Pandora and enjoying some music while I write, read, paint my nails, stretch after a run or Swiffer my kitchen floor. That may be nice, and I fill the void that way from time to time. But it’s not the same.

I miss something deeper than the literal chords and lyrics, something music came to symbolize for a former band geek turned casual alternative/rock fan like me. What I long for right now is something more like camaraderie and companionship, because those pleasant things are what music means.

I miss the rhythm of a cadence at marching band practice in high school, as my friends in the clarinet, flute, trumpet and baritone sections try to keep our steps in time while mostly thinking about how obvious it is that Bobby likes Lauren or how we’re all going to fit into my uncle’s car to go to Dairy Queen.

I miss the slightly tinny tones coming from the speakers of my mid-2000s laptop as I explored the iTunes libraries of everyone connected to my dorm’s wireless network. And I miss even more the closeness of the friendships I formed while listening to some of those same nearby iTunes libraries, but with the whoever’s music it was actually in my presence.

It’s not like I’m pining for the often pointless reading assignments I skimmed while listening to my “homework mix,” but I do occasionally wish I could get the twenty-something equivalent of “completion points” – a type of credit that doesn’t seem to exist.

On the whole, the phases of life when I listened to more music were phases I had more time to spend with friends, enviable chapters of life I can’t recreate no matter how many times I play the “August and Everything After” album or every Jack’s Mannequin song on my hard drive.

Yes, it seems I’m 26 and I miss a simpler time. A time that had more music.

Still, the challenge now isn’t so much to find new favorite bands or a really solid radio station or some time to walk around my apartment complex, earbuds in and iTunes on.

In a different era of life, the challenge is to recreate those connections with likeminded people that often form around music. To find a new group with whom to share stories of family and friends, workplace gripes and ice cream dates. To stop missing the easy camaraderie and companionship of an earlier, less scattered and time and to achieve it again and savor every note of it.

If we can do that, we’ll be jammin’ to the right tune for decades to come.

There's an "M" in the background in the mountains. It's really for Colorado School of Mines, but in the ABCs of Twenty-something life, I think M is for music.

There’s an “M” in the background in the mountains. It’s really for Colorado School of Mines, but in the ABCs of Twenty-something life, I think M is for music.

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In the ABCs of Twenty-something life, L is for Luck

Two of my favorite sayings have to do with luck.

“You make your own luck” was one of the phrases I listed in my quotes section, back when Facebook had a quotes section, because it’s basically my philosophy for life.

“Speak soon, stay lucky” is the closing line of one of my favorite songs. I’ve been known to use it as a conclusion for letters – yes, real, old-fashioned letters – on the rare occasions when I write them.

“I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it,” is the quote that got me thinking about luck one evening, when I saw the phrase attributed to Thomas Jefferson retweeted by someone I follow on Twitter.

I’m also a great believer in luck, I realized. Not in the slot machines and race tracks variety, but in the kind of luck Jefferson must have been describing, the kind that rewards hard work and comes to those who make something of their lives, and finds its way to those who believe, not only in luck, but also in something larger than themselves.

Luck can come to all of us if we look for it.

My love of luck probably began my sophomore year of college, when a journalism professor kept harping on one little catchphrase to advise us not to be lazy and attempt to write our stories from our dorm rooms or the silence of the library, but to get out in the world, to drink it in and to reflect our experiences in our words.

“You make your own luck,” this professor often would say. “You make your own luck.”

I took the advice to heart.

I learned sources will call me back if I make my own luck by calling them at the beginning of the business day, giving them plenty of time to fit in a phone call with me around their busy schedule. I learned the best details come from observing, and when I head to a site just to watch, I might find someone awesome to talk with, too. I learned I don’t have to rely on dumb luck to meet deadline; I can make my own luck by doing my research early, organizing my source lists and contact information quickly and never, ever, allowing myself to procrastinate. I admit, I fall off the boat on that last anti-procrastination part just a bit from time to time. But I get to work early and stay late and that’s part of making your own luck, too.

“You make your own luck?” Absolutely, I say.

A couple of years later, I was living in Pittsburgh and interning at a newspaper there (I landed the internship after applying two years in a row, making my own luck by forming a relationship with the editor who narrowly rejected my application the first year and working hard to impress him the second time around). One of my favorite bands, The Gaslight Anthem, released a new CD, and on it was the song “Stay Lucky.”

Lots of lines caught my attention. In my mind, the song is about our constant search for the next big thing that’s going to make us happy, and how dangerous it is to live in that search mode. The song is a warning to a character, who used to be called “Lucky,” to “stop pacing ‘round and waitin’ for some moment that might never arrive.”

The song seems to be yearning for a feeling, something always desired but never obtained, like a different outcome of a relationship that hit its peak long ago. And it ends with this line, one I’ve adapted to close letters to people I miss: “If you’re anywhere near Manhattan in the next eight days or so, let me know. Speak soon, stay lucky.”

But in case all of that is too mushy for you, this should lighten it up a bit:

I’ve known of two animals named “Lucky.”

One was a pet dog of owned by one of my best friends from college. I’m pretty sure he told me that dog got hit by a car. Can’t remember if it survived or what happened to it after that.

The other was a box turtle my siblings and I had as kids. It died a few days after my dad stepped on it, trapping it forever in its shell. “Speak soon, stay lucky,” all right, you little turtle, you.

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The all-seeing eye of online privacy

There should be no surprises in this online world.

We can find footage from NASA pumpkin-carving contests, the birthdate of Greek football referee Michael Koukoulakis (the first thing that popped up when I searched for something random in Wikipedia), and the name of the TV show that put our cousin’s baby in California to sleep – all on our computers, smartphones or whatever Internet-surfing device they’ll invent next.

The Internet knows what we did last Saturday, the gift we bought our brother for his birthday and whether we’re dating anyone in particular these days.

As far as the relationship status stuff goes, I think we’ve all become somewhat desensitized. It’s not just Facebook that wants to know if we’re single or taken, but pretty much any random survey we take, our employer (for tax reasons), our health insurance provider, and now, even the eye doctor.

My eye doctor has moved to online health records. Keeping up with the Jonses and all. I get it.

But I don’t get it.

For starters, the darn forms took me at least a half-hour to fill out. The paper versions in the office only took up the 10 minutes between when I’d arrive and when the doctor was ready to see me. In that case, the paperwork was a welcome distraction from the threatening charts about glaucoma and the tantalizing cases full of designer frames I can’t afford.

But the online version is supposed to be convenient. I filled out the questionnaire in my pajamas while eating a bowl of cereal, didn’t I? And I completed it at my leisure, a full three days before my appointment.

The most surprising part, though, came in the “personal information” section, when my eye doctor asked for my “marital status.” Seriously? Why does the guy making sure I can see need to know if I’ve got eyes for anyone in particular, or if I’m scoping out the scenery? Maybe it’s the online anonymity of it all – I doubt the doctor would ask me in person if I’m single or married, divorced or in a domestic partnership. But online? Why not!

And that’s where the real surprise sets in. The sheer number of “marital status” options provided on the doc’s online form floored me. As did the fact none of the options really fits my situation.

I could have chosen from the following list to describe myself and my love life: Annulled; Common law; Divorced; Domestic partner; Legally separated; Living together; Married; Other; Registered domestic partner; Separated; Single; Unmarried; Widowed.

I chose single. But I’ve been dating the same great guy for, like, two and a half years. So I’m not really single. All I was looking for was “in a relationship,” like Facebook says or “in a committed relationship,” an option I saw recently on a survey I completed about the status of newsrooms in the Chicago area. But among 13 choices, I couldn’t get it – short of picking “other,” which just seemed weird from a list this, uh, comprehensive.

Part of me gives my eye doc props for providing more than the usual number of options and trying to avoid forcing his patients into relationship status boxes that don’t really fit their lives.

But then the more private side of me snaps back into action. The eye doctor really doesn’t need to know my relationship status. Neither does the dentist, the Association for Women Journalists, the grocery scanner at Aldi or scores of random people on the Internet.

So even in this online age when nothing is private, let’s all remember not to be nosy for no reason. We all deserve to keep just a few facts to ourselves – even if whether we’re single, married, widowed, annulled, living together, etc, is not one of them – and not pushing the issue is a sign of respect. The kind of respect we all deserve.

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Only “old” people check the weather

It’s Tuesday morning and you’re already thinking about weekend plans.

At your computer, you hit up weather.com. Gotta see if you’ll actually want to be outside for hours on end Saturday afternoon at that football game your college buddy asked you to …

But wait just a second. Let’s take stock here. A college friend invited you to a football game and you’re checking the weather before deciding if you want to go? As in your decision about if you should go see your team play depends on the temperature and precipitation forecast?

Take a deep breath here, because you’ve officially reached adulthood. Really, your weather checking tendency makes you just a bit … old.

You’re old in a way that means you don’t necessarily care about your college team anymore. You don’t have to be there or tune in on TV or read about it later to see how the football team did every week or how the basketball team’s faring leading up to March Madness. You’re just not that into it anymore, and that’s the way it is.

You’re not old in a middle-aged or parental or no-longer-fun way when you begin to check the weather before deciding about college game attendance or similar weekend plans. You’re just trying to ensure that whatever you do on the weekend actually will be fun, and that’s smart of you. Thing is, your definition of fun has changed.

In college, going to football or basketball or even volleyball games was fun for many of us no matter what. We checked the weather, but only the morning of the game, and just to see if it would be warm enough for spelling our mascot’s name with letters on old tank tops or a painted chest, or cold enough for blankets, hats, gloves and a painted face.

Now, freezing or getting wet or sweating it out at some stadium in a cornfield college town, where the majority of fans are a few years younger than you and drunk, no longer sounds like a great day. And because attending college sports is no longer automatically fun, you’ve got to weigh your options and make sure conditions are favorable before committing. It’s in your best interests, really.

It takes a mental adjustment to admit you’re a little bit old, just in the sense that what’s fun now is different than what was fun in college. But to preserve the idea of fun itself, the adjustment – and the old-fogey weather checks that come with it – is well worth the while.

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