I never really thought I would go back for more than a visit. As the law became more of a reality my ever going back to live in London became less and less realistic. I wasn't even sure if I wanted to live in London. I continue to have mixed emotions about London, about my time in London. And if you had told me two years ago that I would be back in London, planning on staying in London for up to four more years, I would have laughed. Or, more likely, I would have told you that's a crack pipe dream, completely unrealistic. A year ago I would have had my fingers tightly crossed, mentally telling myself to expect two more years of legal torture and not to say anything too positive.
I'm sitting in a rather spacious student housing room (bathroom included!) thinking about how long I've been living in this room, in this city. If you don't include the three weeks I was home for the holidays I've been living in London for 7 and a half months. If you include those three weeks it's been 8 months which is a much tidier number. I had a professor once say that you can't really know if you like a place until you've lived there for a year. I would hasten to add that you can't really say whether you like a place until you've lived there for a year in non-student housing. Student housing warps one's perspective of the place you're living in for better or worse. Living in student housing as made me ambivalent about London because I can't really say I know what living in this is truly like. Living with other students is like living in a cocoon of booze and stress protected by security guards and protected from utility bills, rent, and council tax. I live in what can only be called a sketchy area, an area that if I had the choice I wouldn't have picked and that has altered my view of London. If I lived somewhere I had chosen, I might be less ambivalent. I can't say for sure, but I suspect I'd be more comfortable in my choice of city.
London is an unforgiving city. It's cold, it's mostly overcast, bus drivers can be rude, the people won't smile at you and actively avoid making eye contact with anyone outside of their social circle, and even in late May everyone seems to be wearing mourning clothing (unless they're tourists or African/Caribbean immigrants on Sunday.) There is some amazing and beautiful architecture and sometimes if the light hits the horizon just so London is even a little pretty. But mostly it's unforgiving and forces you to fend for yourself. I took a sociology class in my sophomore year and we discussed the idea that city dwellers are more estranged; more isolated from others than people who live in, for instance, the suburbs or a small town. I don't necessarily think that's true, but a sociologist wanted to provide a perfect example of that theory it would be London. Outside the people you know, you fight for yourself and no one else. It can be lonely, but as I repeatedly tell people, there is so much that London offers it can be a bit overwhelming. There is always something to do. So even if the people are always terribly hospitable and the city a bit unrelenting, you'll never be bored if you put your mind to it (that old Samuel Johnson comes to mind.)
I sometimes feel a bit isolated in this bustling city, a fact that perhaps adds to my feeling of ambivalence. But my reason for being here, my course of study, I'm not ambivalent about that. I get a geeky happiness from the research I'm doing, something I never felt in four years of undergraduate and one hellish year of law school. I keep telling people that the things I'm reading for my dissertation are things that I would read for fun and that's absolutely true. The only time that has happened previously was in my British history class senior year of undergrad. I have no particular theory that I'm trying to support, merely the idea that it's a good thing to write down popular music's history. It's important to remember a civilization's culture because in a 1000 years that's what the archeologists will be digging up. I get pleasure from what I do and above everything else that's what I think is really important. It's not often that one gets to follow one's bliss and I'm just so happy that I get to. I've also learned quite a bit. Ideas that I've been holding onto since high school have been altered, though not completely changed. Ideas that I had held as absolutes have become less absolute. I feel that for many people their world views get changed in undergraduate and mine didn't. My world views have been altered that much in my master's program, but they've been changed just enough to alter my perception of certain things I had taken for granted, at least when it comes to popular culture. Some things have stayed the same though. And that's not a bad thing. I’ve grown as a writer, as a thinker, as an academic and that to me seems the main point in any course of study (besides learning whatever it is you're supposed to learn.) My master's program hasn't been a structured as I am use to with academic programs and I have had to rely more on myself to learn things, for better or worse. My first semester was rocky because I didn't know what was expected of me, but now I know and I've become a better student for it. I've never really relied on professors to hold my hand (because I've never really relied on anyone to hold my hand but that's whole different kettle of fish) but having higher expectations placed on me and no hand-holding was difficult at first. I've since gotten used to it and while I sometimes worry my simple ideas (history is good, we should write it down before idiotic critics do) aren't 'worthy' of academic consideration, I remind myself that that's not the point and carry on reading about 1950s rock and pop music. I'm really happy with what I'm doing and hope that I get to spend three to four years diving further into this line of inquisition. And then maybe I'll get to teach young idiots about this stuff, students who think they know better and then turn around five years later and realize they really should have listened to that one professor who said they should give the Who a chance.
At the very least I'm here for another three months. I really, truly hope I'll be here for another three years. And since I'm really shit and ending things I'll leave it at that. (I'm also really crap at coming up with titles.)
Ever since I really got into British rock music I've been trying to understand why my favorites aren't more popular on this side of the pond. It largely made no sense to me that these bands, which I really liked and considered to be very talented, weren't having more success in my home country. Then once I got into the Kinks I continued to be dumbfounded that this revolutionary band hadn't made more of an impact in the US or in the UK for that matter. This mystery haunted me well into college before I started coming up with a theory of my own for why certain bands make an impact, or succeed at all, while others don't. What I came up with was the universal vs. the particular. Now this theory doesn't take into consideration the business aspect of popular music but instead, at least to my mind, acts as a predictor of what kind of music will be successful enough for the business side to even come into play. This is the first time I've actually written this theory of mine down and is really the first step in long slog of writing a PhD dissertation (or a least I hope it's the first step.) By posting this I'm hoping to help elucidate the kind of research/theorizing I am doing and plan on continuing to do for really the rest of my life. Popular music research can seem so amorphous that I hope that by providing this glimpse into my work that it becomes a little clearer.
Universal: Topics and themes that are well known to everyone; love, loss, loneliness, death. These are ideas that are familiar to everyone who has ever lived or will ever live. These are ideas that have been written about in literature for centuries, have been discussed amongst friends since language first arrived and have been at the heart of culture since the Ancient Greeks. Examples of a universal song in this line include [fill in the blank]. Another attribute that can make a song universal is the overall sound of the song. A danceable beat, an overall sound that is in tune with what is currently popular, or anthem-like orchestration can make a song with lyrics that aren’t very universal sound universal enough to fool a lay listener. An example of this kind of universal song is U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” The song is a reaction the Troubles in Northern Ireland and there is no effort to cover up the overtly political lyrics. However the orchestration of the song is such that if the listener chose not to engage with the lyrics they could be convinced that the song had no particular political message. Furthermore the anthem-like orchestration used in “Sunday Blood Sunday” was very much in line with the over-the-top orchestration that was being heard in popular music at the time.
Particular: One person’s experience of the world around them. Usually a song with a particular view uses more colloquialisms that won’t be easily understood outside of the culture that produced that colloquialism. An example of this is Blur’s use of the phrase parklife for both the name of their 1994 album as well as the title track. The phrase itself, which means “the act of not having a job or any means of gaining money except that of the dole”, would be unfamiliar to audiences outside of the UK who may not have any idea what the dole is. However colloquialisms aren’t absolutely necessary to make a song particular in its point of view. A song need only describe a life situation that isn’t relatable to those outside of a specific social, cultural, or economic situation. An example of this kind of particular song is the Kinks’ “Village Green Preservation Society.” In this song not only do the Kinks describe a very particular social and economic situation, life in middle class Britain after World War II, they also make cultural references that would be unfamiliar to those outside of the United Kingdom. A particular song may not reflect current trends in popular music, instead co-opting a style that has fallen out of style. An example of this would be fun. an American band whose debut album co-opted the sound Queen pioneered which, when it was released in 2010, was not in favor in popular music in the United States.
Besides finally admitting my sexuality to myself and getting a tattoo (yes, I did that too) I've been spending a lot of time thinking about February of 2005. More specially I've been thinking about how different my life would be if I hadn't discovered the Killers. If I hadn't put my trust in VH1 to show me good music. If I hadn't visited my sister over spring break that year. If I hadn't discovered the Kaiser Chiefs. What would I be doing now if those events, which really happened in very short span of time, hadn't happened? Would I be drifting along, working at some fast food joint because I never found my purpose in life? Or would I have figured something out through therapy and being doing something I care about as much as I care about pop music? Would have I gone down the history path instead of the music? Would I have ever gone to London and would I be moving there now? It's a lot of what ifs, but not to be overly dramatic, I can pin point the path I'm currently on to a day. February 25, 2005, when I discovered the Killers. Some might say otherwise, but to mind if it weren't for that band I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing.
And part of me knows all of what I just said is ridiculous to a certain extent. One band can't and isn't the sole reason for me being where I am. At least four other bands played a part along with two professors, two high school teachers, my parents, and a general obsession with the UK. A lot has happened between February 2005 and the present to get me to where I am. But it doesn't stop me from wondering those what ifs. It doesn't stop me from thanking the powers that be for allowing things to happen the way they have. Because as stressed as I am at the moment, I couldn't be more thankful for the bands and music in my life and what they've brought me. It seems silly, but I really and honestly believe that without them I wouldn't be where I am. I would be in a lot worse place. And they'll never know it, but I'm glad they exist every day.
So it's been a few days (five in fact) and mainly because I don't want to freak out my sister* and I'm going to make a few observations about what I talked about last time. And continue to be cryptic, it's more fun that way.
- The LBGT alphabet soup of labels is way too complicated. And yet not detailed enough. And lablely. However I have heard bi/pan/omni-sexuals referred to as unicorns so I've decided that if I were to ever label myself** I would call myself a unicorn. Because unicorns, as The Oatmeal and Cabin in the Woods have made clear, unicorns are awesome.
- Most of the advice I've read and most of the materials I have found on the web are geared towards people in high school/beginning of college, not people in their twenties. I know most people have defined who they are by this point, but as the one friend I've talked to about this pointed out, I'm a complicated butterfly*** so the fact that it's taken me this long to admit what I am is fine. However it's really annoying reading advice that's geared to teenagers who are dealing with coming out because they have the rest of college to come to grips with who they are. I'm moving to London for graduate school, it's not the same thing.
Those are all my observations. All two of them. Good to get them off the chest though.
*She seemed a little freaked out when we talked this evening about "the Twitter stuff" as she put it. I could be wrong.
**Which I don't plan on doing because I really and truly hate labels. My plan is that if I ever get a girlfriend I'll just...never tell anyone. God I hate confrontation. That's a whole separate blog post though.
***She didn't actually say butterfly. Complex person yes. Jasmine not the kind of person to refer to people has butterflies though.
There's an idea that I keep hitting up against in my therapy sessions.* Maybe not an idea more like a truth: It's amazing how negative experiences early on life have more of an impact on how you react and act in the world than any positive experience during the same time period.
When I was little (probably 8 or 9) I was convinced that I was suppose to be a boy. I didn't feel comfortable in the female world. There was so much confusion and no one was straight forward about anything. I loved girly things, but girls themselves were just too confusing. Boys on the other hand were straight forward. They said what they meant and meant what they said. So clearly, since I didn't really fit in the girls world that meant I was suppose to be a boy. When I told this to other people, including my mom, I was shot down. I never talked about it again.
I don't feel that way any more. Yes, women are still confusing as hell and I do sometimes wish I was a guy just to make my life easier, but I don't think I was suppose to be a boy. Instead what I got from people's reaction to my declaration of being the wrong sex was that you don't talk about those things. You don't talk about sex, you don't bring up how you feel about any of it. It's private and you keep it to yourself.
As a by-product I am very well known for being a prude. I don't talk about sex, I don't even like thinking about talking about sex. It's private and I keep my thoughts on the subject to myself. When friends in high school talked about masturbation and other related things I got uncomfortable. I couldn't understand how they could be so open about such things. Didn't they know the rule? When they made crude jokes I didn't laugh, I just felt weird.
All of this isn't to say that I don't think about sex. I think about it nearly every day. I don't do things other people do** and I've often wondered if I'm asexual, but the fact of it is that I am a sexual being. I've had sex actually. Didn't enjoy it at all. But again, it's something you keep private. The dreams and the fantasies are things you keep to yourself. You don't talk about them.
Well until now. Like nearly everything else I broadcast on here, I'm writing this because there are things I need to get off my chest. Like the dreams. Obviously I'm not going to be graphic, but this is something I've been wrestling with in one way or another since high school. So I think now is the best time to talk about it. To be blunt, really, incredibly blunt, I like girls. I've had exactly one boyfriend and numerous crushes on boys, but I like the Ken doll version of boys. Male genitalia immediately turns me off. Women on the other hand, not so much. I feel uncomfortable about everything having to do with sex, but the idea of having sex with a women seems far more appealing than sex with a guy. I can't say I've had any conscious crushes on women, but there are women who I've known that I found attractive and felt somewhat attracted to. But it's confusing.
There are pros and cons to "coming out." There's a whole...I don't want to say culture, but it's the best I can think of right now. There's a whole culture to "coming out" that I don't feel comfortable with. I support gay and lesbian and transgender/sexual rights because I see no good reason to not support it. On the other hand I don't really think I'm a lesbian. I also don't think I'm bisexual. I think I like girls, but since I don't have any real experience I can't say that's true definitively. I was absolutely positive I was going to like sex, but that didn't turn out the way I thought it was going to, so who's to say I'm right about this. All which is to say I don't want to come out as anything. I don't really even want people to know I think about these things.***
It's private I suppose. If or until I actually meet someone I want to be with it's all theoretical anyway. More than anything it's confusing and private. But it's a confusion that won't go away, which says a lot I think.
*This should be indication that shits going to get personal. Turn away if that makes you uncomfortable
**You know...that word I said like four sentences ago. Starts with a "m."
***Which may beg the question why I'm writing about this stuff in a public blog, but hey I never said I was consistent.
I'm currently having a war with my brain (which is possible) over whether I should be excited about getting into Goldsmiths.* I mean, yes, I'm super excited. I don't have to deal with law school, I don't have to constantly question what I'm doing with my life, etc. On the other hand, the visa application process is terrifying.** The idea of having to sell all of my furniture is freaking me out. The mere notion that I may not come back to the US except for Christmas from here until eternity is making my brain melt. So that's why I'm having a war with my brain.
Yes, I got into Grad School. I found a week ago today and have slowly slipped into a state of existential terror over everything I have to get done here in Boston in the next month and a half. Because the thing is, most the big things that I need to get done before I can leave the country need to get done before August 1st. Big things like apply for a visa and sell my furniture. I was so happy when I first found out about my offer and now, while I am happy in kind of a theoretical way, I'm mostly just stressed out by everything. And that's the recurrent thought for me right now. I'm so stressed, I'm so worried, I'm so anxious, I'm so nervous. I'm nervous about the visa process. I'm anxious about what awaits me across the ocean.*** I'm worried about selling my furniture. I'm stressed about funding. On and on.
There is one thing I'm glad about though and that is the fact that I'm not doing anything this summer. I decided at the beginning of May that I deserved a summer off, a summer of doing absolutely nothing. And now with all things I need to get done before I move temporarily back to NoVA I'm so thankful I have nothing on my plate. The idea of having to deal with "moving to London" stuff and a job...not good. So I do have that.
And then of course I do have one thing, the thing that's stressing me out, that I'm thankful for. Getting into this grad program, getting to live in a city I love like none other is a blessing beyond description. Getting there and settling in may be stressful, but I really, really, really, fervently believe/hope that I'll be happy once I get to London. I'm going there with open eyes and no expectations. So let's hope this works out.
*Formally known as Grad School, when I didn't want to jinx things because I'm crazy like
**Oh sure, the first half is easy, but then they hit with money questions and biometrics. Shit get's real after the online part.
***See January 2010 to June 2010 for why I'm a bit anxious about what awaits me across the ocean