The legendary, soulful sound of Amy Winehouse first delighted the world on this day, September 14, in 1983. She would have been 33 years old today.
My appreciation for Amy’s work began at a young age and stemmed from my magical, fiery Auntie Denise who lived in Switzerland.
While other kids grew up listening to their parents’ old Beatles CD’s, I would spend summers reading Harry Potter in the backseat listening to ‘Back To Black’ with my mother and my visiting auntie.
Like many of her fans, I credit Amy Winehouse for my fondness of jazz, r&b and soul music– but I also credit her for being a lyrical and vocal role model in finding my own voice.
To me, Amy is a legacy of passion, feminine empowerment, deep-rooted pain and emptiness, and then, manifesting one’s own identity and truth. She was a torn, beautiful being who exuded emotion and talent. But then again, aren’t we all?
From shower sessions and solo car rides to the 8th grade talent show and humming at work, singing became the simplest and most soothing practice for my throat chakra to find it’s use. Sometimes they were my own words, sometimes they were Amy’s, or Frank Sinatra’s, or Taylor Swift’s. But every time, a heaviness deep inside of me found release.
So as this summer draws to a beautiful close, and New England weather reminds me just how sweet and sunny September can be, I knew I had some things to say in achieving my final goal of the hot season: singing at an open mic night.
This past Monday night, I gathered with support from some dear, clear-eyed, independent queens at Perks and Corks in Westerly. We got martinis, grilled cheeses and girl time, and I got excitedly nervous. I was the last performer to go.
It was a small crowd, but seeing my friends (when I actually opened my eyes) and hearing the strength and feeling in my own voice as I got comfortable under the light was all that I needed.
At the end of the first song, the event manager gave me a verbal pat on the back. I hardly remember saying, “can I go again?!”, like a child on an amusement park ride, but he granted my wish.
Exposing my vulnerable voice and emotions to the outside world was the right kind of terrifying. Allowing myself to share my secret passion with the world was an act of self-love. Holding myself accountable to this fear-facing goal was a form of self-care, and great practice in putting myself first.
It was listening to my very soul, the essences of me that were screaming to be let out, and acknowledging that I deserve to be heard, in the way that each of us do. And in doing so I felt that same rush of adrenaline that I got from skydiving, and the best high I could ever feel in this life.
I’m no professional, but singing is something that I absolutely love to do. I’ll leave the rest to the videos. Thank you to all of my family and friends who have shown endless love and support!
It’s been two months since I’ve returned home from a four-month backpacking adventure in South America. I flew home to surprise both my mother and father on their birthday on May 6 (yes: same year, same hospital, no: not related) despite serving a spoonful of white lies in the weeks prior about inexpensive flights at the end of the month, when I could probably come home.
Surprising my inquisitive, detail-oriented mother was the imminent task at hand and my absolute victory was reason for a full weekend of birthday-turned-Mother’s Day celebrations, only to be continued with the return of my father from his California surf trip later that week. And my 23rd birthday. Needless to say, returning home and being home came at me nothing less than full force.
I’ve been bummed about this unwritten “conclusion” blog post regarding my travels, and a good friend said to me recently, “maybe you’re just not done concluding.” Maybe he was right.
Reverse culture shock was instantaneous upon my touchdown in Orlando, Fla., for my connecting flight.
I could fill my filter water bottle from– and what’s more, drink right out of– the water bubbler without concern for sanity or cleanliness? I could call or text anyone without having to search or beg for access to Wi-Fi? I am expected to put this toilet paper– wait, there’s toilet paper, and soap, and paper towels in every bathroom– in the toilet instead of a trash can? Can the pipes really handle that waste?
My most shocking observation was the contrast and complete social and cultural opposition of South Americans and North Americans regarding technology and electronics, and children. The two categories of precious cargo are at polar ends of sociocultural spectrums on both continents.
In South America, particularly in less industrialized and more traditional areas of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Chile, I noticed an overwhelming
unsuspecting demeanor in parents. Children were running around at all ages and all hours of the day and night, often times alone without any
Kids are plentiful; particularly in highly religious countries like Ecuador and Peru that have strict abortion laws. And they are costly.
Less prevalent and in higher demand are technology and electronics. Unfortunately, pickpocketing is still an issue in many parts of South America and my boyfriend and I had heard our fair share of travel horror stories. Constant awareness and overprotectiveness of cell phones, laptops, tablets, music devices etc. were drilled into our young, blonde, English-speaking minds.
Some of my first instincts in the Orlando International Airport were to tell people that their bags were open. “Do you know your iPhone is hanging right out of your unzipped backpack?!”, I would think anxiously. The number of electronics exceeded the amount of people around me, and they were all being used or lying nonchalantly near their owners.
I refrained from revealing my rusty knowledge of United States of America norms and entered the fully stocked bathroom, only to see a mother shuffling her probably 8-year-old daughter through the three-person-throng from the stall to the sink with a fearful look on her face.
Following days and weeks brought more observations. I didn’t realize how accustomed I was to the beautiful, ever-dynamic landscapes of South America. Bolivia still offered the most spectacular starry sky I have
ever seen in my life. The Amazonian jungle of Ecuador, endless, looming peaks and valleys of Peru, Bolivia’s salt flats and deserts, the entire Patagonia region of Chile and Argentina, the rolling hills and waters of Brazil and the Andes mountain range that accompanied us for
much of it all; our planet had never been so utterly magnificent to me.
It was easy to find myself in awe each day. It was easy and convenient to shop at local outdoor markets full of traditional farmers and vendors, not to mention the economical and social impact it made. It was impressing to cover so much distance and explore so many places on foot, and not via car.
It was humbling to hear people speaking a different language than I did. It was beautiful mind practice every single day to pick up new words, listen for words that I had already learned or try to figure out what strangers were saying.
It was special and soul-opening to meet people chasing after the same dreams and adventures as me: the spirit of being alive.
It is seeing these changes around me and feeling these changes inside of me that required all of this time to process. It is returning to the same place with the same people and a similar routine and knowing that I am very different now, though it’s not easy to communicate or show.
“So, what’s next?”
It is summer-after-each-year-of-college inquiries multiplied by Thanksgiving and Christmas family small talk. It is a common question, born of human curiosity. It is intrigue that seems to grow exponentially in face of unconventionality. What does one do after backpacking for four months? There’s no chapter for that in the rat race handbook, and hey, I’m dying to know, too.
But at some point along the way, if even subconsciously, I determined the conventional life was not for me. I knew I wanted to travel after college and that I had many life lessons to encounter before I could share my gifts with the world. I know that South America was just the start of this winding and unsystematic path of mine, and that excites, though scares me at times.
The mind, soul and spirit I was created with and the life decisions I have made thus far have demonstrated and called for a different route. It is unknown and self-manifested, in the same way that they all are. I do not have the answers. And I’m coming to accept the terrifying and freeing truth that I never will. No one will. But I have dreams and strengths and ideas and gifts to bring to the world, and I’m the best possible version of me that I’ll ever be for what’s coming next.
And it’s already here, happening everyday. It’s now, it’s present, it’s ever-flowing and ever-growing. And my eyes, heart and arms are open for it.
Some of my favorite experiences on this trip so far have been the unplanned, yet calculated series of yes’s that lead to outings and interactions with locals. They are the deep, authentic moments of culture immersion that are near impossible to feel on the surface level that is being a tourist. They are the tastes, after all, that are the true makings of travel. They are the experiences that remind us to accept the interconnectedness of life using a broader perspective. The night before Easter was one of those times.
A. and my intentions for that Saturday were to be productive: accomplish some reading, some writing and some financial planning. We had been in Santiago, Chile, for nearly two weeks- the longest we had been in a single place- and we were getting antsy. Though our Airbnb landlord, R., had invited us to a daytime electronic park party in the morning, he found us, hands grasping the barred gates, open-mouthed and wide-eyed, staring at the overly stimulating, yet very over, park darty at 9:30 p.m. that evening.
Laughing, R. followed up his first invite with a second: did we want to join him and his friend at a house party in the “Beverly Hills” of Santiago? Eager not to miss a second shot at fun- whyyeswedid.
The Chilean hillside house was stunning. It was equipped with an in-ground pool and lounge area, a living tree growing through the ceiling in the shower, Buddha statues galore and other sprinkles of modern design.
A local couple approached us shortly after our arrival, offering a kind welcome and intriguing conversation. We hit it off instantly, discussing deep relationships and closeness with others, connectivity and mindfulness. The Chilean man told me that at once point in his life he felt anger and dislike toward certain individuals. How could I love a rapist or a thief?, he asked aloud. We concurred together an answer to be something like this: it is morally difficult, but possible when looking at the pixels that are the sameness in each of us.
Instead of getting caught up in the differences, dive into the deeper, shared qualities. It doesn’t mean malicious and unkind acts should be overlooked or justified. It does not make them right or change wrongdoing that has already happened. But remembering the oneness of humanity aids in the relief that is forgiveness and even further, love. At the end of the day, we are all human. It is much easier and deeper to find love for another person remembering that than it is to love, accept or evaluate someone solely for their actions.
It is both the tiny pixilations that compose us, and the magnificent web of oneness that encompasses us all. It is not the insignificant differences that lie in between. We humans share all of the same most magnificent and significant qualities: the universe inside.
Before leaving the party of Chileans, swaying to the dj and having lounge chair conversations under the night sky, our friend left me with one more piece of wisdom: family is the most important.
“At the end of it all, they gave you life. They are humans just like the rest of us. They don’t know what they’re doing. But they brought you here. And without them, you are nothing.”
I woke up feeling homesick on Easter morning, in part due to last night’s conversation with the stranger and to a dream I had about my grandparents and my aunt. But after calling my parents and speaking with some loved ones, and a short moment of condolence from the person who has spent the last 75 straight days with me, I was feeling better and was ready to celebrate Easter the way that I best knew how- like my family.
I pulled an Easter outfit out of my backpack to get me in the spirit: cue pink floral romper and pink lipstick. I compiled three Easter “bags” out of the $10 thousand Chilean pesos’ worth of chocolate I had bought the day before (not included in the backpacker budget): one for my favorite sweet-toothed partner, one for R. and the last for our roommate, T.
I let the three adult men search the house excitedly as I cooked Easter brunch for A. and me, smiling at how much I reminded myself of my mother.
A. helped set the backyard table, munching on his remaining peanut-butter-filled chocolate eggs while we waited for my frittata to finish (I really do need to stop eyeballing measurements- how do you do it, dad?!).
In some time, we moved outside to enjoy a delicious brunch of eggs, home fries, fruit salad and avocado, accompanied by the South American touches of fresh maracuya juice and Chilean red wine.
We sat outside laughing and talking long after the food was finished. If the neighboring cat made an appearance, I might’ve thought I really was home. Or better yet, that my family was all here with me celebrating like we always do. I smiled again at A., feeling loved and full of love.
The stranger was right. I am human, just like him and our families, and just like every other stranger besides him. What’s more, my family did give me this life. They have given me everything. And they are always a part of me.
For too many, Valentine’s Day is a day to reflect on singlehood, unrequited feelings and lost lovers. It seems, according to my university’s (unaffiliated) Snapchat account and other various social media, the holiday has become a day of overconsumption for my generation. It’s become an equation of excess alcohol, chocolate and self-pity: one that yields for a dismal holiday if not a most regretful February 15th. In capitalizing on the negatives and the “have nots,” we have forgotten why Love Day is among the most beautiful days of the calendar.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved Valentine’s Day. Think something like this. Maybe it’s the pollen or the extra dopamine, but with the flowers and heart-shaped chocolates comes an energy that is unique to this day alone. Beyond love, the air is teeming with excitement, hope, nerves and courage. It’s Valentine’s Day that we hear of budding fairy-tale romances, valiant confessions of adoration and the fervent praising of present sweethearts.
Perhaps the typical Millennial’s cynicism is due to such grand expectations of Valentine’s Day, and perhaps this is because mainstream media showcases nothing less than paramount chivalry.
Maintaining a love is a complex journey at any age, but especially so at a younger one. We are wide-eyed and confused, we’re still growing and exploring. We are cultivating our dreams, pursuing our passions and creating our own identities. We are undergoing crucial changes and testing different paths and searching for our purpose. Sometimes, we’re lucky enough to find something so beautiful so early in our lives. It’s the sweetest blessing of life, to love someone and be loved without restraint, fear or condition.
But for a mature, healthy, unconditional love to endure, both players need to love themselves maturely, healthily and unconditionally. At such a young age, we’re still learning these pivotal lessons. And yet, we are often the target for mainstream media’s cultural ideals and expectations of Valentine’s Day.
What mainstream media fails to convey is that romantic love is not the only kind of love. Love comes in many forms, to those who are willing enough to receive it and open enough to let it in. And love is humbling in all of its forms.
Perhaps most importantly, there is self-love. In the way that you cannot make another happy before you find contentment with yourself, you cannot love another truly until you possess self-love. As a dear friend of mine put simply, “know your magnificence.” You are atreasure: one-of-a-kind, unmatchable and perfectly imperfect. You are just as you should be; however you’d like.
Love also manifests itself in family and friends. In such a period of recklessness, personal growth and uncertainty that is life before entering the real world, friends become family. They delight in being by your side when you’re all lost as hell, and the great ones will be by your side when you find yourselves, too.
How many of us were lucky to receive a love note, homemade cookies, or merely a call from family or friends on Valentine’s Day? I don’t think we’re underrepresented. And of course, a special shout-out goes here to the mothers of this world, who exemplify unconditional love for us all each day of the year. (You rock, mom).
With open eyes, we see that love is not limited to a romantic partner, or even to people. Perhaps the most outstanding expression of existing love is in nature.
Nature guides with graceful, unspoken lessons: the self-love of a flower growing without competing to those next to it; the affection between unexpected pairs and creatures; the ability of a consistent, flowing river to smooth over even the roughest surfaces over time. There is no better teacher of unconditional, accepting and persistent love than nature, nor is there a better teacher of living open-heartedly.
I do believe that if you look, you’ll find that love is all-surrounding. Love manifests in ourselves, the people in our lives and the world that we live in.
I don’t love Valentine’s Day because of romantic love alone- but because for one day of the year, people are encouraged to live life with an open heart. If everyone were open to love and possessing such hope, optimism and kindness every day, the world would be a lot more good and a lot more grateful.
Allowing love to overcome means renouncing strength; it means feeling vulnerable, leaving the comfort zones and valuing something much greater than yourself. I believe there is nothing more rewarding in this life than to love and be loved. And to have a day meant solely for expressing it in various ways- how beautiful is that!?
Call me a romantic. Or maybe I’ve just been hit by Cupid every February 14th, and every day besides that. But if you can see it in your heart to find love everywhere you look, you will never feel lonely. Not on Valentine’s Day, and not on the other 364 days of the year.