From A Rooftop In Brooklyn (Something Long, Something Personal)

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“We stumbled and stared at the carnival lights that lit up New York City / From a rooftop in Brooklyn that was covered in bad graffiti.”

I’ve lost track of the amount of times I’ve listened to The Menzinger’s On The Impossible Past. My iTunes tells me it’s been 214, but adding on listens to the vinyl version, and the steady rotation on my phone it’s probably far greater a number. I first listened to that record on a tour bus in Berlin, some four years ago. The record, and the way in which I view it hasn’t changed much, but I realise that I have. I realised the extent of that change last night, looking at the lights illuminating New York from a rooftop in Brooklyn. I didn’t have any idea who I was when I first heard that record, but I think it’s a lot clearer now.

Four years ago, I wasn’t a particularly happy dude. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, or even what I wanted to do with the immediate future. I decided I’d hold off on going to University by taking a gap year, and I filled my head with lofty plans of going to Laos to teach English to children in Buddist monasteries. Needless to say, that didn’t happen. It was an elaborate form of escapism, something to look forward to, but all I really did with that gap year was lose weight and start a fairly average music blog. Two months into said gap year I decided to go to University after all, and from here things improved significantly. I settled down in Chichester far quicker than I’d hoped to, and I began to feel positive about the future for the first time in a while. I managed to maintain this PMA for about sixteen months. After a year in Chichester I began to feel myself slipping once again into the hold of old anxieties, old doubts, old traps. I knew them, I’d lived them before, but that didn’t stop me living them all over again. I could feel myself regressing day by day. I started to feel a little bit like that 2012 version of myself, introverted, timid, and pessimistic about everything. I began to find it hard to truly have a good time, and there was always something lurking on the peripherals that seemed to be waiting to trip me up. That thing was my own mind, my own mentality, telling me that something good can’t stay good ­indefinitely – at some point it’ll worsen.

I let that paranoia warp who I am and how I act, and it does so because I’m not a confident person, I never have been. I’m not confident in myself, and I’m not confident around other people. I’m shit at making conversation, and I don’t consider myself to be particularly interesting, at least when comparing myself to those around me. I tend to turn inwards, and against myself, very quickly, and for the most I am my own worst enemy – as clichéd as that sounds. Once I let my anxieties in they tend to consume me, and I found this happening more and more often as my first year of University drew to a close. I couldn’t even say why that was, or why I presumed it to be that way. I stopped sleeping properly, scraping a few hours a night at best. I’d lie awake until the early morning just running things over in my head to the point where sleep itself became a dream, and in it’s place I was only torturing myself with a reality that wasn’t the one I was actually living in. My imagination exaggerated things out of proportion, and I was often unsure of how things truly were. I’d construct elaborate images in which I was always at fault; I had a tendency to blame myself for everything. It’s tough to explain.

I was never really sad during all of this – at least not in line with what I’d expect the word to suggest. I guess I was more unhappy – this adjective seems better suited to a person’s situation than their internal feelings. The thing was, I wasn’t necessarily unhappy with my life, with my situation, or with my friends. I’d surrounded myself with good people -the best people – and I was doing well at Uni, achieving firsts and enjoying my course. On the outside, I probably looked like I had everything worked out, but that hadn’t really been true for a long time. If not unhappy with what was around me, I was unhappy with myself ultimately – I wasn’t who I wanted to be. Almost every morning I woke up disappointed that I hadn’t done more with the day before while knowing that I wouldn’t do enough with the day still to come. My motivation and ideas of self worth were both pretty low, and I found myself dragging from day to day; I stopped writing music reviews, and I put less effort into my studies. I let myself sink. It got to the point where I felt like I was stuck in a perpetual rut, each day too similar to the one before, with not enough to make me feel like I’d achieved anything of merit. I was doing really well at Uni, and having a great time socially, but I always had these self-doubts that would manifest as soon as I was alone, or had been too long too quiet in a room filled with too many people. Drinking helped in these situations, and my anxieties tended to lessen after a few bottles of Corona, but when I wasn’t drinking I was generally nervous about something. I used to worry that my stomach would rumble in class and people would think I was ill. If a cute girl smiled at me I used to think it was because my hair looked a mess from the wind, or I had something stuck in my teeth. Talking to strangers would always leave me wondering if I’d made a good impression, when I assumed I’d made myself look a bit of a twat. Conversation was never my strongest suit, and I spent a lot of time talking to myself. I’d been in a similar state of mind before, but to end up back there when I thought I was making progress – that hurt. It became difficult to take anything positive from anything, and the negative associations I constructed seemed to eclipse these brighter moments anyway. In the end, I did the opposite of what I should’ve done; I embraced the rut and didn’t really try to escape it.

However, there was a point last year at which I decided that I’d had enough. I’d had enough of sleepless nights and static 4AM Sainsbury’s shifts, of paranoia and self-loathing. It wasn’t healthy, and it wasn’t what I wanted – it never had been. Having reached a certain point, after however many months, I decided to make a change. So I decided to move to America to study for a semester, in the hope of altering the perception of myself and the life I was living at the time. I did it for other reasons, but I mainly wanted to see if I’d look at myself any differently after living there for a while. I definitely do. Being here, being somewhere new, being somewhere far away from home, has felt like a fresh start. I can now look back at who I was and decide that that isn’t who I want to be anymore. Sometimes you need distance to get perspective. I got a whole lot of distance, and in turn I got a whole lot of perspective. From a rooftop in Brooklyn I decided that I was done feeling sorry for myself; that I was done settling when I could be doing more. It felt like the culmination of a process that began when I applied for my VISA last September, and it marks the end of a first step forwards.

I’m not the same person that I was when I boarded the plane in January, and I’d like to think that I’m a lot better – mentally if not physically (I blame the American food for that half). I want to go back to Chichester with a positive outlook again, and I want that to be visible. I have love for my friends, and I intend to show them. I have purpose when it comes to studies, and I want to commit to that purpose. I think I know what I want from my future, and for the first time I feel like working hard enough to ensure that future becomes a reality. I want to start writing reviews again, I want to juggle this site effectively again. I want to be busy; I don’t want to be stuck in that old familiar rut again, never again. I don’t want to be defined by my anxieties anymore. I don’t want to wake up already regretting the day ahead. I want to start enjoying my life, enjoying how I spend it and enjoying who it makes me. Maybe it’s a bit shit that I had to travel halfway across the world to start thinking that way, but fuck it. Fuck it, I feel better.

All of that begins when I get back though, and writing all of this down seems to solidify that commitment. After I’d left that Brooklyn rooftop I walked down to a beach nearby which borders the East River and offers views of the entire Manhattan skyline. I sat down in the sand and I pulled out my old, beat up iPod Classic, and I did what I always do when I’m confronted by a view like the one I was beholding – I put on Threads by This Will Destroy You. I sat back, I closed my eyes, and when the song gained momentum I opened them, and looked out across the water at Manhattan in the near-distance, and I felt a rush of goosebumps stitch themselves across every inch of my skin. I came as close as I have to crying since I watched the finale of Six Feet Under five years ago, overwhelmed by where I was and how I’d got there. I’m not ashamed to admit to those levels of emotion, because for me that just means that I felt something as real as I could ever hope to feel. I don’t experience those moments often, but going forwards it’s all about trying to capture more of them.

If I could open my arms
And span the length of the isle of Manhattan
I’d bring it to where you are
Making a lake of the East River and Hudson

I wish we could open our eyes
To see in all directions at the same
Oh what a beautiful view
If you were never aware of what was around you

(Death Cab For Cutie – Marching Bands Of Manhattan)

Anyway, if you’re still reading this, then I appreciate the fact that you made it this far, and I hope you were able to take something from what I wrote. If you happen to feel a similar way, then I hope you feel better soon as well. I started this blog post by writing about music, and what it meant to be, and I’ll end it with something to do with music as well. At the end of the day, regardless of how I’ve been feeling, music has always been there, and throughout this trip certain songs or records have become paired with certain memories – here’s a list of what I remember / noted at the time. I’ll keep it updated as I continue my travels.

  • Taking off for US – The World Is A Beautiful Place… January 10th 2014
  • Landing in the US – Wolf Alice, Giant Peach
  • First song I played in Columbus after a 27 hour journey- Foals, Birch Tree
  • Arriving into Atlanta for the first time – Hodera, First Ones At The Party
  • Shuttle ride from NOLA airport – Brian Fallon, Painkillers
  • Greyhound back from Montgomery – Mothers, When You Walk A Long Distance…
  • First time seeing the Mississippi – This Will Destroy You, Quiet
  • Visiting F. Scott Fitzgerald’s House – Somos, Thorn In Your Side
  • Watching a thunderstorm from my porch – Grateful Dead, Box Of Rain
  • The moment I realised I missed home, almost profoundly – Nouns, I Still Want To Make You Proud
  • Walking around downtown at 4 in the morning – Foxing, Dealer
  • Visting Carson McCullers’ house – OI. – Standards
  • Walking along River Street, Savannah – Petal, Tommy
  • Standing on Jackson Street Bridge – Linkin Park, Shadow Of The Day
  • Walking around Atlanta Dogwood Festival – Keaton Henson, Birthdays
  • Driving to Providence State Canyon – Deep Blue Something, Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  • Leaving my final class at CSU – Foy Vance, She Burns
  • First train ride in the US – From Indian Lakes, Absent Sounds
  • Bike ride to Oxbow Meadows – The Wonder Years, No Closer To Heaven
  • Peak at Stone Mountain – Sarah Carey, In Twenty Years We Won’t Be Sad Anymore
  • Walking down Stone Mountain in torrential rain – Lucy Dacus, No Burden
  • Washington DC, National Gallery of Art – This Will Destroy You, Young Mountain
  • Flying to DC – Diet Cig, Over Easy
  • Seeing the DC memorials – Looming, Nailbiter
  • Looking over DC at night – Broken Social Scene, Anthem For A Seventeen Year Old Girl
  • Watching the sun set over Manhattan – This Will Destroy You, Threads
  • Top of the Empire State –
  • Walking around the MET – A Great Big Pile Of Leaves, You’re Always On My Mind
  • Wandering around Central Park – Brand New, Deja Entendu
  • Seeing Times Square – Fucked Up, The Chemistry of Common Life
  • Enjoying Washington Square Park – The Wonder Years, Washington Square Park
  • First time seeing the sea – Pity Sex, Plums
  • Driving into Philadelphia – Make Do and Mend – Desert Lily
  • Walking across Brooklyn Bridge – Architects, All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us
  • Walking the High Line –
  • The Franklin Institute – Pup, The Dream Is Over
  • Looking out over Philadelphia – Explosions In The Sky, The Wilderness
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