If you close your eyes and just breathe, you feel like you’re in a small room, full of smoke and weed and sweat, you take a breath and wonder if you did, the air feels the same as what’s inside your lungs, but every now and then there is a strong enough breeze to remind you you’re outside. You are hot, sweating, and everyone around you is too, but if the band’s good you forget this. If they’re bad you forget too, already planning what you’ll say over midnight tacos to your friends.
It’s funny: I think I am such a private music listener that it’s almost strange to be surrounded by other people enjoying the same things I do. Especially with particularly contemplative bands like Broken Social Scene and Fleet Foxes, who I usually listen to while I’m driving, reading, walking; it’s like everyone else here is intruding on “my” moment, but it’s possible we all feel the same way.
I love when a band doesn’t feel like they have to cater to you; like when Sigur Ros gets up and just starts playing, runs through the whole show, completely takes you to some strange and beautiful place, then after the last song simply says, “Thank you,” and bows out. Real humility is an attractive quality, especially in a band with talent. It shows appreciation for the fact that when we really create something of worth, it is bigger than us. In a world governed and defined by branding, it’s little surprise that so many successful artists have started to believe what we tell them; namely, that it’s all about them. Fleet Foxes seems to know that it’s not.
I am simultaneously fascinated and grossed out with how amazing the sun looks behind this haze of smoke, dust, and the exhaust of thousands of people; coming down in sheets of light, moving in the wind like beds of kelp. What a backdrop.
It’s the end of the night, and we pour out of the gates like a slow-rising flood, following whatever paths present themselves. It is staggering to be in the middle of such a congregation, all moving in the same way and to the same end.
Packing Light: An Entirely Impractical Guide to Packing for a Jaunt, a Journey, a Commute, or Anything At All.
For several years now I have cultivated an often-unhealthy love for luggage; an abiding interest in what we carry and how we carry it; a desire to somehow sum up in leather, canvas, or cordura everything I needed to be comfortable, to be happy, to be me. I think it started when I was in college, and I found myself surrounded by new people, ideas, identities–all pretty terrifyingly independent of my own. There arose this sudden need to have a thing, to figure out who I was and how I fit into all of this.
Like many writers, I was (and am) inherently superstitious; I kept a particular smooth stone in my pocket for the way it smelled, like newly dried rain on a creekbed; I went barefoot for a while; I carried a ukulele. I think when you spend enough time trying to catch clouds of smoke with a butterfly net, working with intangibles, you become fond of artifacts, of things you can touch and smell and build and break. They’re touchstones to who we are, portkeys (to borrow a Rowlingsian term) that take us back to familiar territory after all of our imaginative rangings. Hence, penchants for costumery, lucky pencils, visceral devotion to typewriters, obsolete technologies, etc. If you look at pictures of famous writers in their workspaces, they are usually surrounded by clutter of this kind, to the extent that you wonder how they even move, let alone write. It’s a scary business spending a significant portion of your time in a world you’ve built yourself. You tend to want to make sure you can get back when you want to; you keep your ruby red slippers handy.
So, you get the idea: I’m a pack-rat with a constant need for souvenirs of my own life. Add to the equation these three (two?) simple, horrible words: “carry-on restrictions.” The first time I went to London for a semester I assembled this huge pile of “essentials.” I think everyone who has traveled and is not devoted to some monastic order or other has had some form of this experience; the optimism, followed by herculean efforts, the straining of zippers and straps, the slow, inevitable acknowledgement of defeat. Physics, as it mostly does, wins.
Thus, I am forced (oh, most salacious, most indecent of labors) to edit. Because I am a writer, I sit there for several minutes thinking about all the implications of this. I’ll spare you the too-easy stylistic, spiritual, etc. conclusions. Suffice it to say, I am carrying too much baggage. What, in that pile, is essential; not in the outdoor clothing store-endorsed, buy-all-synthetic-zip-off-clothing-and-biodegradable-underwear sense, but in the “this is who I am” sense. I won’t say that I didn’t subscribe, for a long time, to the idea that you have to buy lightweight clothes and bags and things you can wash in a hostel sink in order to identify yourself as a minimalist, a backpacker, a light traveler or whatever you would like to call it; I will say that I have gotten a lot better at packing in the years since, and at not looking like Bear Grylls in the middle of Shoreditch.
What, then, stays in the pile? That would be telling, I guess. The clothes I love enough to take, but not enough to mind ruining. A waxed-cotton coat to keep the rain off and make me feel like the combination of writer, traveler and country squire that I aspire to. Usually a smaller camera than the photographer in me wants to bring. More books than I can justify as a Kindle owner, but can’t leave behind. Notebooks that accuse me with their blank pages, usually shoved into a random pocket and forgotten. Too much, mostly, not enough, occasionally.
What couldn’t you leave behind?