A Year of Leaving

How the coming-of-age tale “Lady Bird” and the music of Jack Antonoff shaped my 2017

The problem with leaving is that moving on and running away look so much alike. Both imply some sort of escape: to another level of education, to another significant other, to another location. Usually with the intended purpose of making better. But one implies closure, the other, cowardice, and no one wants to be the coward. This year, the most important pieces of entertainment to me addressed the coming-of-age story in a way that stressed the inner turmoil of “the next step.”

In Greta Gerwig’s masterpiece Lady Bird, Christine McPherson’s 2002 doesn’t seem all that different from my 2012, the year I graduated. Of course it was, undeniably. But as Gerwig captures in her hometown of Sacramento, small towns just move slower. Looking back from 2017 to 2012 feels like a lesson in ancient history class. What did I do before I refreshed Twitter every other minute? But 2002 never felt that far way then. I remember the NOW! That’s What I Call Music and other compilations or greatest hits CDs handed down to me from my parents. I had to wait until junior high to get a shitty little prepaid phone. In Lady Bird, Sacramento spoke to me in a way my own hometown hadn’t recently and made me remember that sometimes just paying attention is the same thing as love. But how do you pay attention from afar?

New York City. It’s where I always wanted to live I think. The first time I visited, hailing a taxicab made me feel like a god. Like I could go anywhere and see anything; a feeling that miles and miles of farmland in Central Pennsylvania didn’t often instill. Now, I wake up to the sounds of construction and sirens every morning as the sun beats against the curtains covering the window of my tiny, studio apartment in Queens. Waking is both affirming and existentially dreadful. On one hand, I’m here. Breathe. I made it. But yet, the outside world feels overwhelming. There are few precious moments of peace outside of my 500 square feet. No open roads to speed on. No childhood locales. None of my friends from “home.” But I am home. Breathe. I am home. Home is now hoping the subway car smells like piss and not shit. It’s also afternoons at the MET and nights in concert venues packed for artists that skipped over my old home to get here. I’m not running away; I’m finding my place. They aren’t the same. Breathe. I am home.

But as much as try to pay attention, I’m not sure that home — Pennsylvania home — loves me (or more importantly, others that aren’t me). Of course, my family does. The feeling is mutual. I wouldn’t trade them for anything. But unfortunately, they’ve been trading away a lot. Honesty. Empathy. That’s what Red America sacrificed when voting in 2016. Though I love to see their faces, family can no longer be my moral center. So I grieve and, in this case, I run.

Jack Antonoff knows how to write happy music about sadness. Maybe that’s why Gone Now, the newest album by his band Bleachers, was my most listened to album this year. In almost every song, there is a call back, a lingering of days past that are now gone, for better or for worse. “Goodmorning,” the second track on the album, especially captures the experience of waking up grateful, but fearful. As Antonoff wishes everyone a good morning, there’s a longing for the connection and favoritism that only home provides.

On tour, he literally brought his childhood bedroom with him as an exhibit. In a statement, Antonoff said, “…I removed my room. Every inch of it. Every wall, the rug, my bed, every poster and sticker. This is literally exactly how I left it … It’s a bit literal, but the only way I was going to fully move on and live what I’m trying to live on Gone Now was to remove this room and freeze it. It speaks to how badly I want to enter the next phase of my life and how impossible it is for me to let go of what’s gone.”

(Andrew Hetherington/Redux)

The thing that many coming-of-age tales get wrong is the idea that change happens in an instant. In losing your virginity, in getting into college, in one magical night of cliches and realizations. It’s much more subtle than that. It’s the time between phone calls to Dad. It’s the time spent worrying about job applications. It’s about the discomfort of the new, not the last hurrah of the old. Leaving for college was easy. I knew when I would be back and I knew what that meant. Now, uncertainty reigns. Being an adult means breathing is harder sometimes.

As my Adidas pound the sidewalk and the smell of the sewer rages against nearby food carts, I feel dwarfed by the expectations the nearby skyscrapers heap down on me. We don’t have those in rural Pennsylvania, but I’ve felt that same feeling before. When I was younger, the towers had names and faces. Now, they are a phone call away. My feet take have taken me somewhere new and I couldn’t have done it without the steps before mine. But looking up is for tourists. I’m home now. Keep walking, but don’t run.

My 2017 favorites:

Albums — Gone Now by Bleachers, SATURATION II by Brockhampton, Melodrama by Lorde, Flower Boy by Tyler, the Creator, Greatest Hits by Remo Drive

Movies — Lady Bird, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Blade Runner: 2049, Wind River, Get Out

Comics — Black Science, Bitch Planet, Invincible, Saga, God Country