Floridada: My Home of Dreams

•December 6, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Listening to “Floridada,” the first single from Animal Collective’s forthcoming “Painting With,” is an engrossing experience, not unlike wading into an ocean rolling and writhing with waves.

Like any song by Animal Collective, the many layers take a couple listens to arrange themselves between your ears in a way that makes sense. (If you have the patience to hit ‘repeat.’) Then each layer, one at a time, wedges itself deeply inside the mind. The first listen, Avey Tare’s tenor rings out; the second, Panda Bear’s angelic responses to Avey’s calls stick with you.

This song is a return to the call and response format of “Merriweather Post Pavilion” – yada yada yada. What I want to talk about is the heart of the matter: Floridada itself.

Avey Tare told Newsweek the song’s inspiration is drawn from the interminable shit that is heaped on Florida and its residents daily by its countrymen. He spent summers near the Gulf of Mexico as a kid, and he DJ’d at this year’s Art Basel in Miami. He gets it: Florida is unlike other states in America because of the dangerous lure of its natural beauty. Perhaps it’s not home to the most innovation and ingenuity per square mile, but there is a certain magic here.

When I stand at the edge of the ocean, allowing the waves to caress the tops of my feet, I enter a special head space in which nothing else exists. I continue, wading deeper and eventually swimming into the horizon as far as my fear lets me. I pause to rest, and the slight difference in the blue of each wave consumes me. The lapping of the waves against my shoulders encloses me in a cocoon.

When I turn on “Floridada,” the crescendo of a chugging, surf rock drum beat draws me in past my knees. The splashy synth line sounds textured and soaking wet, and somehow doing the twist, or that move when you hold your nose and wave your hand around, just seems natural. All other thoughts cease when the pre-chorus melody begins; Avey and Panda’s voices naturally bleed into each other like the back-and-forth of waves forever crashing and receding on the shore. In the chorus, a more dissonant, dizzying synth line hits just one beat behind each note Avey sings, and I’m completely underwater, twirling around like a seal.

Listening to this song makes you feel on top of the fucking world because these guys have somehow bottled that pure heart happiness that we learned as sunshine babies, playing outside in the sand, running under swaying palm branches. We learned that in some places, time doesn’t tick quite as quickly. The days are long under the sunny, cloudless sky, and we don’t rush to our next destination. There is also a heavy helping of poppy cheesiness to this song which smacks of the Disney-fied theme park culture of central Florida.

I only mentioned danger earlier because, after visiting places like Chicago or New York City, I was struck by the lack of reality in my home state. When you’re shuffling through a freezing, bustling city street, the misery and claustrophobia of the masses causes frequent doubt: everyone’s rushing off to somewhere. Am I barreling towards where I need to be? Am I running away from anything or anyone? What exactly am I doing with my life?

That isn’t how it feels to walk next to the ocean, or to listen to this song. It’s more like visiting a really old, wise person who tells you to be patient, who uses phrases like “all in due time,” who advises you to just dance your heart out right now, and when it’s done and your breathing returns to its normal pace, everything’s going to be just fine.

“What’s the best shore/ Seen from a boat/ Miniature heads that/ Color the shore line/ If you could rest/ A minute to tell / Get me some grass/ Iridescent shells/ I know there’s a nest/ Fit with a hatch / Sunset a glowin’/ Makes us all sweaty”

If the state tourism board doesn’t try to work out a deal for a campaign with this song, they missed the boat.dada

The Spaces In Between

•September 8, 2015 • 1 Comment

Beep. Flash. Ring ring. Bzzzzzz. My phone vibrates across the desk to the floor. It’s exhausted; so am I.

Ever since I got this smart phone a few weeks ago, it’s been relentlessly notifying me of things big and small. Here’s a beautiful picture of a sunset from back home. Here’s a beautiful picture of someone I once used to work with and a pizza. I found myself glued to the screen, frantically trying to keep up with all the information, invitations, pictures and videos being sent to my phone. I drove home from work and looked up at the road maybe half the time. (Sorry, Mom.)

But then there would be evenings spent at home in which my phone was conspicuously silent. I would check it every ten minutes, and my anxiety would mount with each gaze at an icon-less home screen. Where are all my friends, I thought? Are they all doing something really fun? Was I not invited to said fun? Does everyone hate me?

Thank God for Facebook, because I was able to diagnose my symptoms via a friend’s status. I was exhibiting signs of bonafide FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out. The Oxford Dictionary defines this as anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website. I found out next that the guy who “identified” and named FOMO runs seminars for marketing professionals to instruct them to successfully cater to the needs of FOMO-driven consumers.

I resent the fact that one day FOMO might grace the pages of the DSM V, alongside serious, life-consuming mental disorders. Last spring, I came down with walking pneumonia, and I came down hard. I felt like I was living life from inside of a bubble. Nothing could penetrate to make me feel alive. I was chemically depressed, and I could have been prescribed Prozac. I currently check Instagram once every couple of hours. For this, I could be prescribed Prozac. My friend Travis, who has experienced depression and anxiety disorders, says when FOMO becomes a diagnosable problem treated with medication, it trivializes mental illness.

“One of the hardest things about mental illness is that so few people respect that you are actually sick. No one would tell a guy with MS to ‘snap out of it,’ but I’ve heard that so many times,” he told me. “FOMO, I fear, makes it that much harder for us to put mental illness in the place it belongs in terms of the societal perception of it. It makes it harder for people who suffer serious conditions to get the help they need without being socially ostracized, which happens anyway because when you’re ‘crazy’ it’s your fault.”

Social media and our ability to constantly talk and text create this need for continuous external validation. When our phones are ringing off the hook, we feel wanted and important in our communities. In those spaces in between rings, we feel lonely and anxious. For some people, FOMO goes deeper than a fear of missing out on fun things – it turns into a fear of missing out on happiness. We didn’t have a good day unless someone posted a picture of us online with the caption, “Had so much fun today! #Blessed”

But there is something more important than being happy all the time: knowing how you feel at all times. Just because there is a five minute gap in which your phone’s screen remains dark doesn’t mean you are utterly alone in the universe. When we have twenty minutes in a reception area or even two minutes at a red light, we shouldn’t be tapping away at a screen. We should be tapping into our thoughts and feelings. We shy away from reflection because it could lead to pain and the realization that change may be necessary. But the alternative, distracting ourselves with notifications and worthless Snapchat, won’t heal the problems we’re facing. But asking ourselves questions like, how do I feel right now, and how can I fix what’s bothering me, will do some good. This same process can be used in good times as well. On superb beach days, instead of taking a million pictures, we should remember what Kurt Vonnegut’s Uncle Alex told him: “I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’”

We shouldn’t glean all our gratification and validation from external sources like Instagram and Facebook; these feelings should originate within ourselves. We don’t have to be consistently present in other people’s lives and tapped into the Twitterverse to participate in life. A tree always makes a sound when it falls in a forest, no matter who’s listening. Ergo we can have valuable experiences even if they aren’t shared on the Internet or repeated through text message. And sometimes, thoughts and experiences we don’t want to share with others can be just as valuable as those we do share. Even sad thoughts and negative experiences. At the end of every day, we must remind ourselves that we may not feel happy all the time. And that’s ok. As long as we’re feeling something, we’re still participating. That’s all we can ask of each other.

C U IRL

•September 8, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Wake up. Get out of bed. Check your Facebook. That meme you reposted sure sparked a lot of conversation. Feel good about it. Change your profile picture. It gets a couple near-instant likes. Feel even better. Check your Tumblr. Scroll through Instagram. Tweet tweet.

I’m not the first to say it – we exist online a lot more than we used to. We spend a lot of time crafting our online personalities so that they most accurately represent how we’re feeling at each moment. We gather information about ourselves online by putting out ideas, photos and videos and seeing how people respond. But how much is this supplanting the effort made to better ourselves and our interpersonal relationships IRL?

A few years ago, we’d talk about girls with “the angles,” MySpace queens with names like ForBiddeN and Tina Tiara™ who had thousands of friends and even more picture comments. These people existed nearly entirely on the Internet – it’s not a stretch to think that even with thousands of “friends,” there were nights when no one called with plans for the evening.

But today, in this age of “Catfish” and what Thought Catalog keeps referring to as the “New Disconnectedness,” more and more people are finding gratification and receptivity from connecting with others through social networking outlets. Now we meet people at parties, rush home to add them on Facebook and then creep incessantly on their interests and photos. Instead of asking them to meet for coffee, we send them picture messages of what we made for dinner. Instead of taking them to shows, we send them YouTube links. And of course, at 1 a.m., when that late-night, post-$2 single-wells loneliness sets in, we shoot our crush a Facebook IM. Because just showing up at his or her door would be so desperate.

I’ve noticed myself falling into this trap within the last two years. I used to be able to talk on the phone for hours – to my friends and to boys I was more than friends with. I would call them out of the blue, ask what their plans were for the evening, and then try to meet up. But now I find myself checking their Facebooks and Twitters to make sure they’re not already busy. If they’ve posted some vague status about having fun, I immediately feel bad that I’m not having fun yet and I don’t contact them. Even worse, a few times instead of contacting friends directly, I have posted a “Who wants to go to such-and-such with me?” status. And we all know those can only end badly, when that one weird boy that comments on all your pictures says he would love to and what time should he pick you up.

Of course, having a mostly online identity is not without its benefits. It gives us control over what aspects of our lives are up for discussion, so we can offer up an image of our best selves. I sure as hell don’t upload pictures of myself on days when I look anything less than impossibly fresh and radiant. And I don’t post videos or links to topics that I don’t want people to know I’m interested in. It can also be a surefire way to find people with shared interests. When I post my million and one Cheers fangirl statuses, I find that people I already know share my undying love for Sam and Diane. And maybe we would have never known that we share such a passion had I not shared it first on the Internet.

But the disadvantages far outweigh the benefits. Existing mostly online breeds a sort of passivity to interpersonal communication, and this can follow us IRL. When I’m standing outside of a show and people are telling me jokes or stories, I sometimes get an urge to just “like” what they’re saying instead of engaging. This passivity can also hinder us in our abilities to meet people whilst out and about, to gauge interest, and to even fall in love. If we rely on the Internet to learn about each other, we can lose our natural sleuthing abilities. It used to be that people got to know each other slowly – through asking questions and sharing experiences, people became closer and shed their layers like two little onions. Now, a quick search through someone’s Facebook music, movies and TV lists is all it takes to peg his or her personality.

But the Internet’s not going to just disappear one day. So a solution is necessary. I propose a balance of two mostly congruent personalities, online and in-person, which take turns holding center stage in our quest for self-betterment. We don’t need to delete our Facebooks, but we need to know when to close our laptop lids and just go outside. We need to use online networks to become closer to people we’re already close with IRL. We don’t need to use the Internet as the only means of making connections with other human beings – a laptop can’t pat us on the back or hold our hands. But most of all, we need to be true to ourselves. Post all the Kendrick Lamar videos you want, but if he doesn’t get your booty shakin’ like say, LMFAO (make it not true, please make it not true!), then don’t bother. Just do you. Also, if anyone out there just understood my West Side Story reference, hit me up on the Innernette and let’s be friends.

Table For One

•September 8, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Your outfit is perfect. Your hair is impeccable. Your make-up is off the chain. You’re so pumped up for this concert tonight when your phone chirps. It’s your best friend; he’s not going to make it tonight. The panic sets in. Who are you going to go to this show with? Who are you going to talk to all night? You couldn’t possibly attend this event alone, could you?

Our generation is absolutely averse to being alone. We drag friends to events they don’t care about; we text incessantly when said friends escape briefly to the bathroom. Then we upload pictures of the night to the Internet to gain the approval of the rest of our “friends.” It’s as if being alone, even for one night, makes us feel friendless, socially inept and otherwise unfit for civilization.

I’ve had a downright fear of being alone since my first semester at UF. In high school, I was in the IB program and the marching band. I was around the same kids all day, and soon enough, we formed a little family. But in college, I had a different schedule than many of my friends. Some days, I was forced to eat lunch in the dining hall by myself. I put on a brave face and armed myself with an iPod in my ears and a book at my fingertips, but every time I heard someone laugh or exclaim something cheerfully to his friends, it pierced straight through me. Then there were the evenings during exam week in which I’d walk back to my dorm from studying at Library West all day and realize I hadn’t opened my mouth or interacted with others all day. To compensate, I’d spend my nights on the phone chatting for hours with long-distance friends or begging my roommates to accompany me to whatever on-campus event I could find. I felt like an evening spent alone would be a waste of an evening.

This phobia continued long after I threw my cap in the air and Bernie shook my hand. This summer, four of my closest friends in Gainesville left for greener pastures. Every Facebook event invite filled me with dread. Who would I go with? Could I find a co-worker to drag to this film? Would I be able to think of enough clever things to say to my acquaintances so they’d stand next to me at this show?

I’m not sure where we learned it, but we’ve been taught that being alone is less preferable than being around others. I’m quick to blame social media – our tendencies to overshare mundane details and document every happening (pics or it didn’t happen) lend themselves to fear and embarrassment of being alone. But it doesn’t have to be so.

This summer I made a conscious decision to as Tom Haverford advised me: treat yo’self. Why should I deny myself adventures just because no one else was around to share in them? I went to the record store by myself and added to my burgeoning collection. I sat by the pool and soaked in the sun’s rays. When I wanted to get something to eat and no one else was available, I got something to eat. And I didn’t stick earbuds in my head either.

Though sharing things and making connections with others are what makes life worth living, it’s also important to share things with you and only you. In fact, there’s a certain joy in knowing you were the only one to witness that beautiful cloud formation or the only one who saw how delicious your lunch looked before you ate it.

My friend Collin told me, when you’re by yourself, you can be exactly who you want to be. If we think of alone time as freeing and liberating instead of a trap, we can use this time to find out exactly who we are. And that way, when we’re with our friends or acquaintances or even around people we don’t like that much, we’ll feel secure in our personalities and identities. Plus, dancing alone in your house is one of the best, if not the absolute best, feelings in the world. Trust me.

Judge Not

•September 8, 2015 • Leave a Comment

The eyes are everywhere. They scan from head to toe. They say, “Who does she think she is wearing those boots?” They mock every movement, from the nervous way you tug at your hair to the awkward shuffling you call dancing. The eyes leave you rooted to the spot, afraid to provide any more fodder for their hungry gazes.

OK, so maybe it’s not that nightmarish, but it really sucks to go out on the town and feel like others are judging you. Everyone makes judgments. Everyone discerns certain things about each other based on how we dress, how we talk, where we hang out, even what drinks we order at the bar. But problems arise when we let these judgments affect our behaviors, and when we make decisions about others’ worth or value to us based on these judgments.

In our early twenties, we make judgments based on what is readily visible. Boys in cut-off shorts sporting mustaches must be hipsters. Girls wearing strings of pearls and carrying Vera Bradley bags must be in sororities. And we attribute personality traits to match what we see. These guys must like really obscure bands and probably drink their body weight in PBR. Or, these girls must spend their nights painting each other’s nails and watching “Pretty Little Liars.” But how often do these judgments prevent us from getting to know people?

Back in college, I was the queen of judgment. Living in a dorm near sorority row made me feel like a captive in enemy territory. Riding down 13 floors on an elevator filled with like, excited like, chatter and “Love Spell,” I would only look down. I felt that having interesting conversations or creating meaningful connections with these girls were impossibilities. They didn’t look like me, they didn’t sound like me. Ergo, they probably didn’t want anything to do with me, and vice versa. This logic stuck with me for all four years. I was guilty of assuming that anyone with an affiliation to a frat or sorority, Midtown or Gator football would be of no interest to me. Since I never talked with anyone of differing backgrounds or viewpoints, my assumptions about those who were dissimilar to me remained steadfast.

I have also been on the receiving end of this nasty habit. Midway through freshman year, I had to switch dorm rooms to find a more peaceful environment. (Let’s just say I was reluctant spectator to many late-night love affairs.) I was instructed by the staff to visit the few rooms with openings and to get to know the residents to see if I could find a better match. One of the first suites I visited was neat and clean-smelling, with a large Marilyn Monroe portrait on the wall. I liked the environment and hoped its inhabitants would like me as well. I was interviewed about my sleeping habits, class schedule, my favorite bars, what designers I admired, the make-up brands I liked. As the interview wore on, I realized I had no answers for the questions posed. I didn’t wear make-up back then; my daily routine was dragging a brush through my tangled ocean of hair. I didn’t go out to bars; at 18, my idea of having fun was riding my bicycle. My interviewer got up to shake my hand to signal it was over. “I’m sorry, you seem really nice, but you’re not really the kind of girl we need around here,” she said. Hot, angry tears welled up in my eyes, and I shot out of there like a bat out of hell.

Like most important life lessons, it was long after graduation before I began to think about the errors of my ways concerning judgment. The term “restaurant revelation” should become a household name, because, I’m telling you, working at one of these places will turn your worldview on its head. The staff of my restaurant creates a diverse cross-section of Alachua County residents; many races, income levels, and value systems are represented. But when everyone is wearing a uniform, there is little to no visual indication of one’s background. Thus, I was able to get to know people for who they are, sans judgment. Of course, old habits die hard: there was the one guy I used to give a really hard time to because I heard he was in a frat and decided he was a tool; later he helped my mother and I move heavy furniture into my new apartment. Oops.

What I learned from these experiences was this: judgment only serves to further the separation between us. It breeds indifference, or at worst hostility, in situations where we shouldn’t even have an opinion yet. And it creates a cycle of fear. On so many “What Not To Wear” episodes, women come in wearing shapeless sacks and trying to be invisible because they believe the only alternative is judgment from others for wearing flashy clothes.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that it’s plausible to live life without judgment. But I think we can hone our skills of judgment. We can learn how to set aside these preconceived notions and truly get to know people. Perhaps our initial judgments were accurate, but we can relish in the fact that we took the time to find out. Here’s how I do it: when I make a judgment of someone I just met, I consciously try to keep it in the back of my mind, and I take pains to see this person as he would like to be seen. It’s like imagining someone naked – you’re seeing him without his affiliations and accoutrements and focusing on his inner core, his soul even. This way, you’re leaving the door open to connect with anyone, regardless of what they look or sound like.

Frankly Speaking columns

•September 8, 2015 • Leave a Comment

In the next few entries, I’m going to repost my Frankly Speaking columns for posterity, starting with the made-up word that started it all:

IG-KNOWING

Imagine: you’re sitting at a little table at Maude’s Coffee, pounding furiously on your laptop keyboard, surely whipping up one of the most brilliant analyses of Moby Dick known to man, when you notice that girl you’ve met a few times walking down the street.

You watch her, waiting for her eyes to meet yours, so you can exchange greetings or at least give the obligatory head nod, but that moment never comes. She looks in your direction and then looks back at her friend, or the ground, or whatever surface she deems more interesting than your face. You feel flushed, and you think, “Did she not see me? No, she saw me. She definitely saw me.” You look back at her, by now your face contorted with a frenzy of emotion and confusion.

Don’t look now, for you’ve just been ig-knowed.

Ig-knowing is a term my good friends Amy, Emily and I created to describe those instances of being consciously ignored by people who acknowledge you in other situations. They know they’re ignoring you – they’re ig-knowing you. I first witnessed this phenomenon when I moved to Gainesville more than five years ago to attend UF. On the first day of my Introduction to Buddhism class, I befriended Stephanie. We sat together every class, making snide remarks and slurping smoothies that only my meal plan flex bucks could afford. Then, on a day when we didn’t have class, I saw her walking through Turlington Plaza while I was sitting near that poop sculpture. I stood up and smiled, thinking she’d stop to talk, but alas I was ig-knowed. She looked me right in my face, didn’t smile and kept walking. It happened every so often that year; sometimes she’d see me and we’d chat excitedly, but other times I was a stranger to her.

Maybe it’s the transient nature of our town – some people only live here for a few months out of the year when school is in session – that perpetuates ig-knowing. Maybe it’s because our twenty-something egos won’t let us risk rejection. Whatever the reason, Gainesville is definitely Igknowsville, USA. I’ve been ig-knowed in the most bizarre situations. At coffee shops, people will sit down a table over, facing me and not look up from their laptops. At shows, acquaintances will stand next to me and not turn to me after I say hello. Walking downtown, I’ll approach a group of people I know and maybe half of them will acknowledge with me with a nod or a smile.

My friend Emily told me she’s been ig-knowed at supremely close distances. While at a party, standing in a circle of friends, someone who had previously smiled and introduced herself was now avoiding Emily’s gaze and explicitly not talking to her. Emily says being ig-knowed can have an emotional toll.

“It’s an extremely effective tool to make someone feel like a worthless human being,” she told me. “When you’re ig-knowed you feel personally responsible – ‘What did I do to make them hate me?’”

Perhaps it’s a mix of shyness and an inability to communicate IRL (in real life – get the ‘net) that creates these non-interactions. It’s also probably true that ig-knowing is a two-way street. Maybe we’re all just waiting for the other person to make the first move. But what to do if you’ve been involved in an ig-knowing relationship for days now, months even? (If it’s been years, you should probably just give up now.)

Every time you are ig-knowed, you have a choice. You can bow your head in shame and go home to post a thousand Tumblr posts about how we’re all so alone in this world. But you can also take a deep breath and say hello. Close your laptop lid at the coffee shop and loudly say the ig-knower’s name until he looks at you. Stop him on the sidewalk with your body and smile. I hate to get all Smokey-the-Bear up in here, but honestly, only you can prevent ig-knowing.

Silent Hearts

•January 27, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Published for Quarterlette here:http://www.quarterlette.com/love/i-really-like-you-but-im-scared-to-tell-you/

Here I am in the mirror, psyching myself up for the big moment: Can I talk to you about something? No, don’t start like that. He’ll think you’re about to say you have some fatal disease. There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you. Will that freak him out? I’ve been reflecting on the time we spend together. Just come out and say it. I have feelings for you. I like you. I want to be with you. I want to be with you every night I don’t have to work. Feels good to blurt it out.

But what happens when I’m sitting next to him, and there’s a lull in the conversation, a perfect place to steer things where I want them? I talk about something benign, or worse, I say nothing. Scenarios of doubt play in my mind: I tell him I like him and he says nothing. He says he’s flattered but thinks of me only as a friend. He says, ”Now you weird me out, let me show you the door.” So why am I still entertaining the thought of dropping this bomb of truth? Because in my heart of hearts I believe there is a shred of a chance that he’ll say, “Why Tyler, I’ve been waiting for this moment my whole life. Why didn’t you say so sooner?” But for every ounce of my being that believes that last scenario, there are a fucking million ounces of my being living in fear and dread of the worst.

So I say nothing. I’m completely silenced by fear. And I’m not proud of this fact. I pride myself in being open and honest in so many areas of my life, but my reaction never falters: when I develop feelings for someone, I feel like I’ve grown this terrible blemish that I must hide at all costs.

Telling someone you like them for the first time is so fraught with fear because you’re ultimately giving yourself up to another for evaluation. And if you’re anything like me, you’re afraid of rejection. The spectrum of possible responses is so wide, and each one will elicit an intense emotional reaction. Will the next words out of his mouth cause me to bust into a shit-eating grin, or will it glue my eyes to the floor, afraid of meeting glances from He-Who-Has-Bad-Taste?

This has been happening to me for years, and the process never gets easier. The first time I did it, I cowardly told my friend to put in a good word for me and watched what happened from the sidelines. And what do you know? I got an IM from HIM!!! saying “Can I call u?” Then, wham, bam, I got me a man. But there was also the time I told a guy friend I liked him and he kissed me and then he was all like, ‘Oh I have a girlfriend. I don’t think I’m going to leave her for you.’ It’s a crapshoot at best.

We must not rely so much emotionally on what one person thinks of us. Why be scared of one man’s rejection, when you’re going to find someone else in a matter of days? Or months (or years it seems sometimes.) Instead of holding back from fear, we should turn that anxiety into productive energy and just come out and say it. Either way, it’ll provide incredible relief to bring these feelings to light. No longer are you living in fear, hiding in the shadows. The light is streaming across your face, the angels are singing, you are living an honest life! And if he’s not into you, he obviously has some hang-ups of his own, and ain’t nobody got time for that.