Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The brick!! The glass!! The revolving doors!! The skyline!!
I tried writing this. I tried sitting down and writing exactly about how Chicago made me feel. But I couldn’t. It was awkward. It’s hard describing something that you’ve seen but your readers haven’t. Writers always say to show, not tell; it’s hard to tell people how you felt about something.
I had an amazing time in Chicago. I can show you all the pictures I want and record all the fairly-bad-vlogs I want and tell you what it’s like, but I feel like it wouldn't fully capture what I felt while I was there.
So instead, I’m doing what I’m calling a “Play-by-Playlist.” Instead of telling you how Chicago was, I made a playlist of songs to listen and think through. I’m going to explain why I chose each song, but ultimately it’s up to you to listen to it (in the right order, because there’s a rhyme and reason to my song placement) and try to feel what I felt like when I was walking through the city with my family.


The first time we drove into the city, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the window. It was like a (stereotypical) scene in a movie where a character is visiting a place for the first time, and you see the reflection of her face in the glass, and the wonder/fear/astonishment in her eyes.
I remember the ride was quiet, much like this song is. And I remember thinking that Chicago was different. It’s different. It’s different from where I live, it’s different from where you live (unless you actually live inside Chicago), it’s different from any other place on earth, just like no two places are alike.
The differentiated images--my home and Chicago--stayed in my mind, parallel and perpendicular at the same time. I’d been sitting in luxury, but looking at another corner of the world made me lose my complacency. I started imagining I was sitting on a pile of stones instead sitting on my bed--not entirely unpleasant, but uncomfortable enough to make you notice the contrast.


Geographically, Chicago is in the state of Illinois, which is about three-quarters of the way across the country if you’re going from west to east. I know a lot of people here would consider it the East Coast and couple it with states like Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, but I didn’t see it that way.
The weather is similar to the East Coast, sure, but Illinois itself is as flat as the Midwest, and it had a lake that reminded me of California oceans and a skyline and city-grid-like layout that resembled New York. It’s like the distinguishing features of the different sides of the United States met in the middle--and that’s the thing that makes it different from those other places.
When you listen to Jaymes Young and Phoebe Ryan’s vocal pairing, you’ll understand what I’m saying. “We Won’t” has a beautiful melody sung by young-sounding voices, but if you listen to the lyrics, you’ll notice that its meaning is a little bit edgier than the voices themselves, which makes it a blend of something deeper. Californians might call Chicago the East, but it’s different than any other place in the country. In order to figure that out, though, you have to try to know and understand it more.


Once the initial sleepy haze of presupposition and culture shift had lifted, I started becoming more excited. I was in Chicago! The place my mom had traveled when she was younger! Skyscrapers taller than any building in Los Angeles! A conglomeration of brick and glass, people to watch, a skyline to soak in, restaurants to check out, revolving doors to use, March weather to brave, etc., etc. My neck was constantly swiveling around and my eyes tried to take everything in.
One of the coolest things about the city was the fact that it was a tall city. If all the cities in America were people, Los Angeles would be the short, cool baby brother and Chicago would be a taller, more sophisticated and experienced mid-twentysomething yuppie. The L was raised on wooden tracks. The streets were flat and perpendicular to the giant buildings. When we went up some of the buildings to look at the skyline, everything looked...small. The cars and vans and trucks looked like toys that I could smash with a single swipe of my finger. As a person who is five-foot-one, it was fascinating to me. Is this what God sees when He looks down at us?

“Hands to Myself” is pretty much continuing the thread that was started by “Luxury” and “We Won’t”--a quiet wonder of Chicago itself. Except instead of me looking with wide eyes, it’s me wanting to see more of Chicago. My family visited the Shedd Aquarium, watched the skyline, walked down a pier, traveled on the river, took pictures at the Bean, and examined paintings inside the Art Institute of Chicago. I looked at all the tourist traps, yes, but what I really wanted to feel was the culture.
What kinds of stereotypes do they have about people like me? How do people typically live? What are some stereotypes they have of themselves? When you go to tourist traps, they’re trying to 1) get your money, and 2) present to you an ideal picture of what you think Chicago is and what you think it represents. Because that’s all that visitors typically want--a camera roll full of pictures and a brain full of semi-fake experiences and the ability to say that you’ve done this, done that.
“That’s what it’s like there,” you say. “I’ve been there before. Trust me.”
But is it really?

“There’s bones in my closet, but you hang stuff anyway.”
In the context of my life in March during the time period surrounding my trip, I wasn’t having a good time.
If you look closely at my vlogs (you probably won’t even have to look that closely), I look tired. I made a conscious effort to film while in Chicago, but I didn’t make an effort to vlog with a winsome personality, simply because I was tired of trying to be cool and failing miserably.
My life this year has not been the best. To be quite honest, it has stunk. I’ve been holding a lot of emotional wounds back, and the stresses of this year weakened the dam that held them, so some of those broke through.
Things that I tried to pretend were unimportant to me didn’t feel unimportant anymore. They felt important, so massively important all of a sudden that I didn’t know quite what to do with these pent-up feelings. Rejected friendships, lack of acceptance, critiquing from people I hardly know, an sharp feeling of minimal freedom--things that I pretended I didn’t value I realized that I valued. A lot.
It wasn’t that people had singled me out and bullied me for my entire life. It’s just that the little things that irked me eventually grew taller than the wall I contained them with.
Chicago was a place to get away, but the amount of homework that I had, the personal issues and insecurities that I was feeling, was enough to remind me that I can never...really...run...away from my problems. No matter how long I stay away, it’s my life, and I have to handle my own life or else it’ll manhandle me.
Depression was an undercurrent throughout the whole vacation. The trip was undoubtedly one of my favorites. But the quietness in “Guillotine” represents the mixed emotions I had in Chicago. On one hand, I was excited and thrilled. On the other hand, I felt awful, and I felt like I was running away.

I had one of the best experiences of my life while I was on my trip in Chicago: I had the opportunity to visit, and stay at, Wheaton College, which is a small Christian liberal arts college in Wheaton, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago).

I participated in this program called Wheaton Connection, where I was able to stay with a Wheaton student for a night and experience life as Wheaton students had it for a period. It was honestly one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. I had the chance to play games with some of the girls who lived there, walk around campus, and eat the cafeteria food (which was pretty stellar). It gave me a peek into what could possibly be my future.
“Carpe Diem” is, to me, one of the most joyful songs I could ever listen to, because it chronicles a person’s journey. My journey may be at a low point right now, but it’s a journey, and that knowledge is what keeps me going. Every night I stay up late studying or writing, everything I do--it’s all part of God’s plan for me, and that gives me hope.
The Chicago trip had a significance because it wasn’t just a trip. It was also my first college visit, and it helped me realize that my life in high school will be over before I know it.
“If you never chase your dreams, then they’ll run away.”
I forgot about my dreams for a period of time. I did. I was stuck in a slog of so many things to do and limited time. I was too intent on doing what was right in front of me. But when you open up your perspective and let yourself see a new world, a better world that can result from you taking a chance or two, that’s incredible. To me, that’s exploring. That’s discovering. That’s living.
And that’s what it felt like when I was walking down the streets of Chicago. It was a different world, so many paths intersecting at once. It’s crazy to think that some of the people I saw in Chicago who walking by, talking with each other, buying drinks--I’ll probably never see them again in my life. Or I might become best friends with them later on, and we’ll never know that we saw each other before in passing.
Life is funny, isn’t it?
New places open up your mind. They really do. And Chicago holds a special place in my heart, for reasons that number way more than one.


think about how music makes you feel. did you feel how i felt in chicago? 

then make a playlist that chronicles your journey, your story. it could be of a place. it could be of an event. it could be of a person.

but use your emotions to guide you. listen for the sound, for the lyrics, for the voice.

and ultimately, use other people's voices to create your own.


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