Sunday, December 23, 2012

Life, etc.

I feel compelled to make a new post more out of a desire to have a somewhat thorough update of life since the last time I truly updated—over a month ago. So much has been going on and yet nothing has been going on at the same time, which tends to cancel out thoughts and emotions and leave behind a muddled mix of slosh that I don't have the motivation to clarify. Exams, papers, finals, an insanely chaotic academic semester have now come to a close. This was, quite simply, the most difficult semester, yet the fault lies with me for choosing to double-major (English and psychology) and minor (French). Oh, and it didn't help that I had three finals on the same day. Oh well. In other aspects, my life has been the best it has ever been. And for that, I am grateful. I was lucky to have lived in NYC for these past few months, and sitting on my bed at home in New Jersey makes me realize, after a mere 3 days, how much I miss it.

And then there is Paris. I have barely moved back home and yet I am already trying to finalize the paperwork for studying abroad in Paris this spring semester. I leave on January 14th. It seems so soon. Everything has been happening too fast and I just want to chain everything down for a minute so I can soak it all in without feeling like it will all slide away.

There are parts of the past that are still relevant now, and thus warrant a continued portion of my brain for reflection. Naturally, the present is also relevant, and so many of my thoughts are in that domain. And yet, the future is more relevant than ever before, so my thoughts—and actions—are dedicated to future events that have not yet occurred, and who knows if they even will?

This is all very rambly, disjointed, fragmented, etcetera. I recognize this, for it is the exact carbon copy of my current state of mind. A lot going on at once, a lot to do at once. I hope I can use these 3 weeks to get it all together and unwind. I need to write more, draw more, paint more, finish some design things, cook more, bake more, catch up on TV shows and movies, see the friends I haven't seen in ages.

A lot is happening, and a lot is going to happen quite soon. I think the worst part is that I don't know how to write it all down.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

Well, now that I am back in my dorm with power, heat, and running water, and things seem to be slowly winding back down to the normal grind of routine life, I thought it would be a good time to write about the past week.

A few days before Hurricane Sandy hit this area, I was one of many who were barely thinking that anything serious would happen. There have been lots of hurricanes before, and they all ended up being weak incarnations of gross overestimations of destruction. So no one, including myself, was expecting the "stock up" warnings to be necessary in the long run.

The clouds were dark and overcast on Sunday, October 28th, and the wind and rain were picking up momentum. Class was cancelled, at first just for Monday but then for the entire week, which gave us students a euphoria that now seems terribly inappropriate in the wake of the storm. How could one grateful for a natural disaster? The power went out on Monday and the night was, I daresay, quite enjoyable. There was a strong sense of camaraderie that took hold of everyone on our floor. New friends were made and older friends became closer. The storm strengthened a lot of ties in some of the sweetest, most heartwarming ways—but I don't want to talk about that.
An uprooted tree.

It was soon announced that due to the widespread power outage (a transformer had exploded on 14th Street, a video of which can be seen here), we would have to evacuate to one of the few NYU buildings that has back-up power. The subways were completely shut down—flooded, with no estimated time of recovery. There was no way for me to even go home in the event that I wanted to go home. I didn't, though. I wanted to stay here and ride out the storm and its aftermath like those too who were stranded here.

Two friends and I decided to walk down to the Lower East Side. Swarms of people crowded around various fire hydrants, gripping buckets, jugs, water bottles—anything that could hold clean water for the thousands of people who had none of it. One woman was drying her hair with a towel as she leaned against her car, conversing with two others. I could only assume she had plunged her head under the freezing cold water to maintain some sort of hygiene. Not only was there no power or water, there was no heat, and with the constant, icy winds, it felt like a winter that could not be abated, even though autumn still has almost two months left in its arsenal. Winter, with its guerrilla warfare, had crept up and taken hold of a city just when the city was at its most vulnerable.

A woman with a radio, dancing alone in front of her home.
Yet despite everything, kids played ball in a playground, forced to retrieve their football every so often from a large, invasive puddle of water that, in its size, resembled more so a lake. One middle-aged woman stood all alone in front of her apartment complex, holding a small radio on her shoulder. As the music played, she swayed slowly with her eyes closed, and when she saw us with our cameras in her direction, she beamed. "Oh, me?" She continued smiling as she danced. One man walked his dogs at the same leisurely pace that almost everyone seemed to have. Strangers talked to strangers. There was no work to go to tomorrow, or the day after, so what's the rush? Trader Joe's offered free pumpkins outside their store to keep them from going to waste. Two men had set up a small grill near a church and were barbecuing. A Fourth of July celebration at the close of a cold October.

We walked by the power transformer that had exploded two nights prior, the source of the massive power outage in downtown Manhattan. We snuck into a subway station (the L) and plunged into the jet-black depths of the platform, using the intermittent, focused glare of camera flash bulbs as guiding lights. No need for Metrocards, no need to go through the turnstile, no need to even avoid the emergency door because no alarm sounded when we pushed it open. This particular station had not been flooded, but to see a place normally swamped with people and illuminated by harsh fluorescent lighting, now left in a state of dead blackness—it felt apocalyptic. And as we made our way back to home base—the crowded NYU building—we came across a car on the side of the road.

A wrecked car filled with debris.
It was perpendicular to all the other parked cars, and had actually collided into an adjacent vehicle, probably from being washed up by flooding. It looked like a photograph of a collision more so than a remnant of history: the front sides of the cars were smushed together, and a log stuck out of one of the backseat window of one of the cars. It was like a carefully-constructed display of tragedy, except this was no museum: it was cruel reality. The doors were unlocked, and branches, leaves, and dirt were scattered inside. A small bottle of hand sanitizer sat mockingly on the driver's seat, while the floor of the car glistened with several inches of still water. It was perhaps the strongest embodiment of all the destruction that the city had faced, and a chilling reminder that while there was so much tragedy that had been seen, both on the news and in real life, there was an entirely different realm whose ruination was unseen, and could possibly remain that way forever. This was someone's car. I wondered—and still wonder—if that person had even known of the demise of his/her car before my camera did. Complete strangers finding out that your car has been destroyed before you yourself even care to know. How many nighttime joyrides had this car been through? Drives to the movie theater with a dating couple, or a married couple, maybe some kids in the backseat where now a log sat indecently, half of it angled out the window? But even more frightening was that this was only a small fragment of a network of lives that had been changed. One small facet exposed to me, among thousands of others that I had not seen and probably will never be able to see.
Closed-off subway station, lit by camera flash. 

I couldn't believe that less than a week before, Hurricane Sandy was a distant joke. We've had lots of rain and strong winds, why would this be any different? But it was different, and it still is.

My friend Sandy (no jokes, please, she's gotten her fair share of them already) and I ended up taking a bus uptown to stay with a friend at his apartment. We boarded the bus just before sunset, and thus just before the dark night settled in—and I really mean dark. Downtown NYC was devoid of streetlights or traffic lights, and only the rare car headlights could illuminate the streets. The city had been tossed into a state of complete darkness, a darkness whose plenitude was one I never imagined could fall on a place that was prized for its sleepless, eternal brilliance. New York City without lights? It's the stuff of nightmares, maybe, but it had never been a reality until then.

The luxuriously unscathed stores of uptown.
We boarded the bus and it took a glacial three hours just to get to 42nd Street—a trip that would normally take fifteen or twenty minutes. We still had thirty blocks ahead of us, though, and so, suitcases, bags, pillow, and blanket in hand, we got off the bus and walked the remainder of our journey uptown. I had never seen traffic so stagnant. And yet when we stepped off the bus, everything around us seemed—well, quite normal, actually. The power was out everywhere below 39th Street, but everything above 39th Street was untouched. Everything we had seen downtown was barely a whisper up here. No stores were barred closed, lights glared in their fluorescence, crowds of people flowed in and out of restaurants and bars. The typical buzz of life was as vibrant as ever. A group of children in Halloween princess costumes sat at a table by the window in a McDonald's. I wondered, as they ate their French fries, if they even knew what it was like several blocks below. Worse still, I wondered if anyone would even care if they did know. A stranger looked at me and her eyes moved to my blanket and pillow hanging roughly out the top of a big bag that I held tightly. She smiled at me, almost pityingly, as if in acknowledgement of what my situation was, or perhaps grossly overestimating my vagabondage.

Downtown Manhattan was shut down, but uptown was dry, unscathed, unaffected. Power, heat, running water. Open movie theaters, late night diners, everything was functional and operational and alive and breathing. How could I blame people here for not caring as much about downtown when I too was quickly swept up by the ease with which uptown was still running? Nevertheless, after two nights, Sandy and I decided to head back downtown. I would have given anything to be able to fly (despite my fear of heights), just so I could've seen how starkly the bright lights of the city ended at a divide between the two halves. The city was a creature that had been slain in half, one side cripplingly harmed and envious of the other side that continued to survive without struggle.

On our way back to NYU, Sandy pointed at our feet, where on the sidewalk in big chalk letters was written: "Free food straight ahead, provided by JetBlue." We walked half a block and saw three food trucks—waffles, dumplings, and Lebanese cuisine—and indeed, it was free for anyone and everyone. Sure, it was promotion for an airline company, but that sort of commercialism didn't matter at that point. I don't think I've ever been as touched or moved by an act of generosity as I was at that moment. I shuffled my bags to hold on to the food that warmed my frozen hands and looked around at how happy everyone seemed to be. One man exclaimed loudly: "See, we don't have to pay for shit right now! This is New York!" Everyone smiled. I ate the most delicious waffle I have ever had in my life—warm, soft, with chopped fresh strawberries, a liberal drizzle of melted Nutella, and a sprinkling of powdered sugar. A gift of luxury at a time of austerity.

Washington Square Park, closed-off and empty.
After returning to the NYU building, I spread my blanket on the floor and surrounded myself with the bags and belongings I had with me. I called my family in New Jersey and they told me that, by some miraculous stroke of luck, the power had returned to my hometown. If I had wanted to, I could've taken a bus home, since the buses were starting to run again. It would've been an arduous hassle to attempt interstate transportation at that time, but it could've been done. I chose not to, though, and that night, I ended up sleeping on the floor with my laptop and cell phone charging as I drifted off into a rough sleep. Sleeping electronics beside a sleeping vagrant. I was relieved to have the privilege of this technological connectedness, yet at the same time so blatantly aware of how even at the depths of my nomadism, I was a million times luckier and more privileged than even the wealthiest of the stocks of homeless people wandering about the streets. Little water, little food, no warmth, no permanent home. I was grateful but disgusted at the same time. (I still am, and it is one of the greatest stuggles I have always dealt with, and it was during this experience that this inner turmoil for me reached its climax.)

I was sore when I woke up, but the sun poured in through the large windows with the greatest abundance of light I had seen in over a week. And an e-mail informed me that all NYU residence halls were open once again, with power and heat and running water.

I am now sitting on my bed, wrapped in a blanket, my hair wet from a fresh shower. The sun still continues to shine in so brightly through my window. My window. My room. With power, light, heat, internet, water. I have food. It's been nonstop, cold rainy gloom for over a week, and I swear I've never seen the sun shine this brightly before. I'm typing this as the burning sun illuminates my fingers on the keys. I can see all the dust on my screen. I don't even care about the glare that is reflecting back into my eyes. I would normally close the blinds on any other day, but not today.

I had the chance to go home last night. I really did. But I stayed, and I have never been so humbled by any experience as much as this past week. Power and water and heat and internet were always essentials and I, along with countless others, dismissed their existence as privilege and took them as requisites. But now I can't stop smiling at having everything that I took for granted for so long. So what if I slept on the floor for a night? So what if I carried my heavy backpack, cameras, pillow, comforter, and blanket uptown and downtown for so many blocks? So what if my shoulders are a little chafed from the weight of my belongings? So what if I was a vagabond for a brief period of time? There are so many others who went through the same thing, and there are countless more who have experienced and continue to experience so much worse. Hurricane Sandy was truly unprecedented, and it will still take some time before everything is back to "normal." But what is normal anyway? Me having power? Is that normal, or a privilege? It is without a doubt the greatest privilege of all. I have never been so grateful for everything in my life until now. It pains me to hear people exclaiming "Starbucks is open now!" or "I'm so glad we didn't have class, I had so much fun!" with utmost sincerity, as if nothing happened and as if no one was harmed by the storm. For me, this week has been one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I lived first-hand through the hurricane and its aftermath, exploring all its different facets, shiny and dull, good and bad, clean and scratched—all of it.

I just saw some friends who live on my floor and in my suite, and it feels like we haven't seen each other in weeks, though it has only been three days at most. I know how cliché it can be to ramble about how humbled and grateful I am by everything that has happened, but I don't care, because it is all true. I live for these moments, I live for these experiences, and they are indeed life-changing.

More photos below.

A street completely empty, without any traffic or street lights.

Sandy using flash to take photos in the dark and deserted subway station.

Last night, power was restored to almost every place that has dealt with power outages. And today for the first day in over a week, the sun came out.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Necessary Updates on Necessary Changes

I started writing this post on a moving bus that was just passing West 43rd Street going up 10th Avenue, on my way to Boston from New York City. Typing was quite uncomfortable because the passenger in front of me had chosen to recline her seat as much as it could extend on its hinges. I prefer sitting up straight, and so the laptop was awkwardly close to my arms, which were too long for the compressed space—you can imagine my hands hanging limply on the keyboard like a tyrannosaurus-rex. Anyway, I was on my way to Boston to visit a friend. Leaving my home, New York City, for about two days.

Home. It is not a word I readily attached to NYC a couple of weeks ago, and I realize that I have not written anything about my experience living here for almost two months now (and about a month during the summer as well). This silence was due in part to the fact that I wanted to first acclimate fully to living here—I wanted to develop the inner workings of my quotidian life as it became a comfortable routine, not a foreign one. I think part of what was always strange to me was that I have lived in New Jersey my entire life. New York City, while certainly an entertaining city, was always so close, so accessible, that I never understood it as the covetous hub of culture and connectedness that it truly is. My parents were averse to the city when I was younger, and so our visits were infrequent and my interest relatively nonexistent. They did not like the hustle-and-bustle, mostly because they understood NYC to be Times Square and nothing more. Large, glittery advertisements, epileptic lights, swarms of tourists, retail-priced stores—all show and no substance.

It was when I started interning at Random House, Inc. my senior year of high school that I started to ground myself more in the city. My sister too began taking frequent trips for shows and friend visits and the like. My "love" for the city grew slowly and incrementally. I use the word within quotation marks because I am always hesitant about applying love as ubiquitously as it usually is nowadays. I am not an "I <3 NY"-shirt type (although I do have one that was given as a gift, and so I wear it to bed occasionally, but pajamas are okay). Moreover, my perspective of the city was always that of both an insider and outsider—the former because I have always lived so close to the city, the latter because despite this close proximity, I was never truly under NYC's daily spell, its grinding lifestyle, its true vigor.

My parents warmed up to the city when I became a student at New York University, but again, my first year was spent in the same insider-outsider limbo that comes with being a commuting student. Waking up early, coming home late, doing homework, sleeping, with a small window available for a social life because of all my time spent on trains and subways and doing homework, and because of the fact that I simply didn't live on-campus with my friends—it became an arduous and quite frankly depressing routine. One I adapted to, but only out of necessity. I established a closer connection with NYC, but it still remained somewhat elusive in my grip.

Fast-forward to this past summer, when I spent about a month apartment-sitting with my sister in a fancy Chelsea apartment (remember this?). My parents—especially my mother—by now were already much more comfortable with the city, because my sister and I had exposed them to the truth that NYC has—gasp—parks and greenery and places that are not as insane (and overrated) as Times Square. The beauty of the city is not its commotion, but its diversity. It has everything for every niche, and that is why it is popular.

Fast-forward some more to late August, when I moved in to on-campus housing at NYU for the first time, as a sophomore. Still sufficiently close so I can go home to NJ conveniently, but removed enough so that I did not feel like an outsider in the city. I officially (mentally) branded myself as a New Yorker,  with a snazzy numerical street name as my home to match. "Home," however, was not a word I used to describe my living: I called it "my dorm" more than anything, until one day while conversing with a friend I said that I would "go home" for a bit. It slipped out unexpectedly, and I didn't mean Jersey, of course.

It was such a banal thing to say and so naturally it did not mean anything for my friend, but for me, that was the moment when it truly hit me: I am living in the city that was always so close to me but the city of which I had never taken advantage, the city of which people spend their entire lives trying to catch a distant, shining glimpse, sometimes without realizing that dream. Yet here I always was, a hands-breadth away but never quite conscious of how significant that was, how lucky I was.

Locations are strange, the concept of "home" is strange, moving is strange—it is all very strange,  especially for someone who has called the same small Jersey abode "home" since birth. Home was a stagnant schema in my mind. Location is a paradox of the permanent and the temporary—unchanging for an indefinite amount of time, then suddenly jostled back and forth. In fact, when I started writing this blog post, I was on my way to Boston. I wrote a little more of it while in Boston, then I wrote some more when I was back in NYC, then a little more when I was on my way to Connecticut the following week, and now I am writing it in my original residence, my house in New Jersey, the place where I was raised, the place where my knees chafed from learning to crawl, the place I would walk to and from every day on my way to the elementary school around the corner, the place that has remained static during years and years of chaos and sorrow and joy and anger and depression and confusion and growth and death and memories and change and change and change. As I write this, I am sitting on my bed near my window that overlooks my backyard, and the nostalgia is so incredibly palpable—it's raining, and I am stricken with the sudden recollection of running around the lawn with my friends during a torrential downpour, several years ago. I was young, but the rain was the same. It is the same rain that falls now, more or less. The same, but different—rain is rain, but time has altered its meaning.

Perhaps it is fitting to conclude the week-long, sporadic composition of this blog post within the walls of my original home. Only now, as I edit this post, I am in my dorm, my home, in New York City. That this blog post was written and edited in so many different places was not intentional but may indeed be confusing—which is the exact irony of it all. So much has moved, so much has changed, and an effort to quantify change is always fruitless, despite constant attempts to put it all in words (hence the long blog post, of course). So much has changed, good and bad, and so much continues to change, and the melange of feelings and thoughts only continue to complicate themselves and interweave in ways foreign to me.

Life is growing increasingly complicated. This is not always bad just as it is not always good. But right now—sitting in bed listening to the rain obliquely hit the large window that overlooks a Broadway intersection, scooping speculoos spread out of a jar using a cookie as a spoon, writing this post instead of studying for three imminent midterms—I realize that for all the strangeness that comes with "home" and "life" (and everything else that is just as broad and personal and significant and ineffable), it is necessary. Necessary strangeness and necessary change—good and bad, but change all the same and strange all the same.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Confused Dreamworld: A Review of "Coexist" by The xx

With a name as minimalist as "The xx," it was no wonder that the universal praise garnered by the English band's eponymous debut album—sans article—rested in the music's beautiful simplicity. Three years later, the eagerly-awaited sophomore album, "Coexist," has materialized along with exponentially greater attention and, of course, expectation.

It is quite necessary to distinguish and thereby separate the fan from the critic. The fan in me was quite pleased with this album, and listened to the songs on repeat for days and days on end. Naturally, so did the critic as well, however the glaring flaws of this album could not go by unnoticed—and, of course, unmentioned.

Like most musicians, The xx write about love. Few things are as universal and few things are as hard to describe. It is perhaps this ineffability that could explain the truth behind the words on "Coexist," which is—well, that there aren't many words at all. While this lends itself well to the band's signature minimalism and diaphanous treatment of sound and subject, the lyrics are often so simple that they really aren't saying much of anything in particular. The stoic, whispery delivery that gave the band its memorability now only reinforces how prosaic the pieces that form "Coexist" can be. While the bleak simplicity can be quite moving—"Did I hold you too tight? / Did I not let enough light in?" croons Romy Madley-Croft on "Chained"—often, it isn't. The opening lines of "Try" ring out: "We bide our time / though the time is fine." That must be quite meaningful, right?

But is it? Sure, many argue that they are saying a lot more by saying so little, but this is a pseudo-philosophical cop-out. Or one may argue that the band is simply being creative: who else but The xx could draw four short words—"it's hard to say"—into 15 seconds of runtime? Is this some kind of stylistic irony, a tongue-in-cheek juxtaposition between sound and word meant to be acknowledged and admired by listeners? Perhaps, but the repeated laconicism of the band's songs is so constant that it leaves one thinking otherwise. It is hard not to imagine the band sitting around in a smoky room and one of the members suddenly interjecting: "Well, we shouldn't make an album that is entirely instrumental, because people want words. So let's just throw in some words here and there." Lo and behold, the quasi-profound slant rhymes and half-baked lyrical ambitions of this album were born.

Their characteristically short and choppy lyrics, however, leave room for vast stretches of echoing instrumental interludes, when it comes down to it, it is in these instances that the album, and The xx's music as a whole, soars. Close your eyes and let the Jamaican steel drums mixed with guitar sounds on "Reunion" and "Sunset" cocoon you with nostalgia tinged with the scent of ocean waves, or let the sweet, distant guitar of the first single, "Angels," lift you up to an intangible paradise. You may roll your eyes and think that this is a bit too much, but the point is that any description of the music is too much: it is the simplicity of the beats and melodies that make the emotional whirlwind behind them so deliciously inexpressible and moving. Trying to describe the sounds is like trying to catch an elephant with a butterfly net. It may have seemed like a good idea in a dream, but when you actually do it, you realize your embarrassing ineptitude.

The xx, quite simply, make some of the best beats in town, and "Coexist" is the newest testament to this prowess. They know how to mix with artful perfection traditional instruments and electronic sounds, leaving the resonating riffs that Oliver Sim constructs with thoughtful asceticism. One of the strongest tracks, "Tides," epitomizes the band's ability to fashion succinct and downright catchy melody whose beauty is further reified when repeated with different instruments, creating a simultaneously complex but starkly simple sound. This is because the beats are never overbearing or overdone, leaving you with an insatiable addiction for more and more of something of which you are only given a small tease.  The xx's music plays hard-to-get, and that is why it is so irresistible.

The singing itself is the same wispy, dreamy, trancelike whisperings that distinguished the first album. Their stagnant fidelity to a signature, hard-to-hear murmur can grow tedious, but with the first album, it was alright. They were a new band and they were a fresh one, so we smiled and nodded, pushed aside minor quibbles, and welcomed them with open arms. Now, with a second album, the wearisomeness of their singing style is a lot more palpable and harder to forgive. The more disheartening truth is that even the instrumentals—the band's forte—can get a little old, or lacking. If you're not paying attention, you won't even realize when one song ends and another begins, making for a constant, unchanging atmosphere that blurs the album into one congealed mass.

Indeed, you could even shuffle the first and second albums together in their entirety without noticeable difference. It is after you have completely overplayed the addictive gems of "Coexist" that you can truly strip the album down to what it's worth, and the skeleton looks almost identical to "xx": emotional, captivating, and evocative, yes, but sagging slightly under the weight of weaker, skippable tracks. While "Coexist" has, without a doubt, beautiful new sounds, this novelty rests not in variation or experimentation but in the unremarkable fact that this is three years after the first album. "Coexist" is more like the B side of "xx", leaving a somewhat familiar and thus lackluster sheen that appears shiny only because of a necessary time gap between the two albums. "Coexist" is, in short, quite safe. While consistency is good, you wish you could shake Oliver Sim and Rom Madley-Croft out of their pensive and lethargic quietude of which we already got our satisfying fill from "xx".

If the band were to explore new musical plains and sonic realms other than the ethereal breathlessness that characterizes their current discography, then the world would have a noteworthy change to laud. Nevertheless, "Coexist" is solid. Neither superlative nor lesser than its predecessor, simply because of their synonymity, and nor is it an incarnation of musical brilliance (the closest being "Crystalised" on the first album).

But does that matter to the fan in me? A little, but not too much. The critic? Well, he will bite his tongue for a little longer: the xx are still the hip new kids on the block for now, and the third time's a charm—a charm that will be anticipated with even greater expectation.

RATING: 7/10

TRACKS TO LISTEN TO: Angels, Fiction, Reunion, Sunset, Tides

Monday, September 3, 2012

Coney Island

Jackie, Rockie, Anna, Jessie, Lissy, and I spent yesterday afternoon in Coney Island, a place that, despite my location here in the NJ/NY area since birth, I had strangely never visited before. Though the skies looked apocalyptically stormy, the boardwalk and amusement park had the quintessential, neon-light-and-cotton-candy glamor that I was expecting, or rather, that all people expect. Quaint, charming, and ostentatious in the most deliciously self-conscious way.

Perhaps the more mystifying allure of Coney Island—indeed, all beaches like it—is the disparate coexistence of something so man-made, materialistic, consumeristic, and boisterous as the boardwalk, lined with yellow restaurant signs and live musicians, with the entirely natural, unchanging beauty of the water a short distance away. It is as enticing as it is mildly indecent, almost blasphemously perverse. Then again, it all perfectly reflects the amalgam of disparate emotions and thoughts that beaches in general seem to exude for me.

The feel of hot, yielding sand or the scent of saltwater or the sound of waves crashing against mossed boulders or the dizzying downwards view of advancing and receding tides all construct a sense of nostalgia, at least in my experience. A quiet splash reminds me of the time a secretly malicious wave took my plastic green pail and carried it too far for me to chase after it, while I was busy digging a moat for my sandcastle. Running children recall for me the excited cries of my sister and I as we would egg our father along the boardwalk in the hopes that we could buy a cheap souvenir whose gaudy luster was made for the ephemeral excitement and subsequent abandonment that would characterize its possession (as is the case with all childhood toys). The nostalgia is sweet but tinged with the sharp consciousness that it is all part of a past that has been blurred into one solid chunk of time, with the infinite horizon serving as a timeline.

The endlessness of water and sky fill me with the same childish wonder—and fear—as when I was six years old, only now the grand scope of a beach fill me with a humbling sense of my own insignificance, but also power. These are neither vain nor self-deprecating thoughts. They are simply truths. You are, ultimately, alone, and what do you have over the infinite expanse of rolling waves and clouds? You are small. But you have a mind and a heart and the mere fact that you can engage in such cognitive and metacognitive pensees of something as simple as a beach vista is enough to realize that our power is internal, quiet, but very mighty indeed.

It could simply be the power of nature to leave one in a state of introspective contemplation, or at least a pervasive yet elusive feeling of general existence, of consciousness, a feeling of feeling itself. It is stimulating as much as it is calming, and it makes you as conscious of time as it seems to erase it. Minutes are waves and tides lap your toes with vague recollection mixed with new introduction, a desire to remember and also keep you.

You may be rolling your eyes at how ruminative I can get over something as simply as a beach, and I don't blame you. I'm practically rolling my eyes right now (or rather, I'm typing with one hand as I eat a cookie, which I think suggests the same practiced self-patronization as an eye-roll). The truth of the matter is I simply can't keep my mind from reeling forward and back whenever I am presented with—well, anything at all, really. A curse wrapped in a blessing shrouded in convoluted and muddling thought.

Not to switch tracks so suddenly, but I think that's why I love photography. It gives me the ability to capture with such stagnant simplicity a range of thoughts and emotions. When words fail, pictures can succeed, and vise versa. Yet I like to rely on both, in equal measure.

Here are all the other pictures I took from the wonderful afternoon and evening spent at Coney Island with the best company one could ask for.