I have been running from my words.
A rush of syllables and phrases typically finds me immediately after an adventure, sweeping me up into a frenzy of movement. Pen to paper, fingers to keyboard. I am merely an instrument to what is trying to manifest itself. Though I felt the tug, this time, I resisted being taken under.
It felt laborious. It felt like obligation. It felt like a chore. Could it be because I knew I had a captive audience waiting for me and I felt pressure to fulfill said impulse? Truthfully, I believe it is because writing requires action. And at the time, I barely felt the will to move.
This catatonic state of numbness had been with me for about a month. I know how to continue on through the motions but this low had me at my wits end. The only phrase that seemed to sum up how I felt was "I'm done." I wanted the world to stop. I wanted the throbbing head pain, the hunger, the worry, the "I give 500% and you give 10% but we're still cool, right?" to just stop. I ached for the days when I would numb myself with smoking and drinking. I wanted to disappear but knew that I couldn't. Not because I cared, but because others did. And though that obligation to others can't persist as a will to carry on, it was enough to get me by.
I seemed to have foreshadowed this emotional state by purchasing a ticket to the Mars gig in Camden after I bought my ticket for the Hollywood Bowl. Something told me I would need a show for me. Hollywood would be an experience with my sister and it is never the same when I am with someone. I knew I would want to disappear into the Echelon and be devoured. I needed a vacation from myself, my life, and all roads pointed to Philly. The entire time I was there, I felt embraced by the Echelon and the music. There were no pre-tenses or pressure.
I felt like I could breathe.
This feeling mirrored a trippy experience I had a few weeks prior. For context, you should know that I am very visual person. And as such, I can see things very clearly that aren't in front of me in that moment. For example, I used to pick out my clothes for school while laying in the bed in a dark room with my eyes closed. In my mind's eye, I can hold vivid imagery and it is there that I came toe to toe with a certain Leto.
As I said, I had been in a bad mood for weeks and when I am like that, I know the best remedy for me is movement. Go for a walk or dance like there is no tomorrow. I walk everywhere but I hadn't danced in a long time. So I forced myself out of bed one Saturday, grabbed my headphones, and pressed play. Having had this habit for years, I've taught myself some tricks to keep me going. This is crucial since I have exercise-induced asthma which means that I become winded much quicker than my body grows tired. A few years ago, I realized that singing helps me get my breathing back under control. So as much I need to dance to let go, I also need to sing.
I ripped through Conquistador, Up in the Air, and The Race exorcising my thoughts with each flourish of my arms and shake of my hips. As the last notes of Pyres of Varnassi faded out, I could feel myself get dizzy, my chest heaving, and my hands searching for the nearest wall. I placed my forehead and palms against the cool surface as the first notes of Bright Lights began. As I tried to slow down my breathing, I closed my eyes. Then as clear as a VyRT broadcast, I saw Jared standing before me. Forehead to forehead to keep each other steady, we were eye to eye.
He was in full stage gear, all black with the fringe coat and no sunglasses, staring me down from onstage. I glanced around to ascertain our surroundings: Rock in Rio audience behind him, Shannon to the left and Tomo to the right. He was grinning at me, slightly squinting his eyes as if laying down a challenge, and he began to sing.
Oh, ohoh, Oh ohoh...
I had already began and he seemed to be egging me on. Coaching me through each word, congratulating with each smile as I gained control over my voice and my chest no longer heaved. We belted out my second favorite song off the album together. At the end, I opened my eyes with a grin and chuckle. And as Do or Die began, I closed my eyes again to see if my vision was still with me and sure enough, there he was. We were in concert once again.
That closeness did not feel as foreign as one would imagine. I was more amazed by the clarity of my vision than being toe to toe with him. Through every VyRT, we've gotten closer because of the intimacy inherent to the medium. Not mention his uncanny ability to find the center of the lens, peer into your eyes, and reveal everything about himself and who you are without a moment's notice. I think being a VyRT veteran and just a general laid-back kind of a chick makes me not lose it when I have physical proximity to the guys. In fact, I remember rather vividly how a conversation played out at the beginning of soundcheck in Camden:
- Me: Yeah, that sounds great. We should do that...oh look there's Shann-
- Ali: *runs off to right side of the stage"
- Me: Oh ok...
Few minutes later...
- Me: Jared's here.
- Girl in front of me: AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!
My "lost it" moment came later once they performed my favorite song on the album: The Race. I remember having to remind myself to open my eyes. I was so busy singing, air drumming, and dancing that I just didn't think to look up. But I knew I wanted see Shannon play since I couldn't at Church of Mars in Boston. And I knew one of the benefits of being tall is that you are pretty much guaranteed to catch the eye of the vocalist. In that rare moment where both Jared and I had our eyes open at the same time, I got to sing with him while looking into his eyes. Not as close as my vision, of course, but it felt good to croon lyrics that mean a lot to me with the man who wrote them.
Soundcheck was filled with such great vibes and humor. I can rattle off my highlights from memory with ease:
- Shannon's shoe flying of the drum riser as he rushed to take it off and make the beginning of Northern Lights
- Shannon drumming like he's a kid with a pencil on a cafeteria table as Jared rapped A Tribe Called Quest
- The massive grin that Shannon had as he said "It was great." in response to the question "How was Walmart?"
- Jared singing one line of Oblivion and Echelon to satiate the crowd
- Jared and Tomo doing the banjo dance and Tomo professing "I feel like an American!"
- Shannon raggin' on Tomo for not being on beat "C'mon man!"
- Jared's corny jokes "I laugh because of your expression, not the joke..."
- The young girl with a light up mohawk and cape
- Jared saying maybe they could play Stronger though the only line he remembers is "You can be my black Kate Moss tonight" to which I replied, "Its a good line to remember" and got some laughs (It came to me instantly as did thoughts of Kianna)
- Reni recognizing the Echelon Donates banner and saying "I know you guys, you do great things!"
- Being told that I am the nicest tall person someone has met at a gig
- Shannon saying beer can like a Shakespearean actor after Jared's accent lesson
- Jared belting through Amazing Grace and part of Stay in between coughs
- Being told to beware of the journalist by Jared "Don't trust a guy with a backpack in the pit"
- Mentioning of New York and Boston shows possibly being added to this wackily organized US tour
- When Ali, Mel, and myself took a picture and the guy taking it said "Ok, say Puberty!" and I just about died laughing.
It felt like the Church of Mars but less people and by that time in the day, I was miles away from myself. Though the whole day I'd been chatting to people and being introduced by Ali to everyone, I wasn't Amina. It was nice. I wasn't aware of myself. I wasn't thinking myself into oblivion. I was just waiting and relaxing with my folks. In this relaxed state, I looked up to see Shannon and Tomo walk through the foyer. There were no screams just turned heads and waves. Minutes later, I saw Stevie bop his way through. I love the pep in his walk and as I mimicked him to Mel, I saw a bright light to my right. Jared was coming through with a bit of a camera crew. Sill no screams, just turned heads and waves. I loved how mellow it all was.
Standing there, I noticed a huge poster above us for the show and took a picture. I mentioned it to Ali in passing, which of course lead her on a quest to see if we could get it for Echelon Donates. Her tenacity is something to be revered as I watched her sell totes as we waited. You could see the wheels constantly turning in her head. It makes me happy to know that I get to help keep the machine running. Like letting her know about the signing after the show so we could try to get it signed to raffle off. We were working as a team and it felt good to be doing something. My actions are what let me know my worth and after weeks of emotional paralysis, it felt good to be contributing again.
The opening band New Politics, which I had never heard of before, brought such energy that I felt myself losing my voice early. I had heard the vocalist was a dancer but when he did a body roll while standing on the crowd, he got my vote for any- and everything.
Then the wait........
The monstrously long wait that Jared later attributed to interviewing James Franco killed some people's buzz. But I was fine, just enjoying those I saw around me. An anxious 15 year old on my right with braces and dark eye makeup who was clearly at her first show. The older security guard to my left with the sweet smile who started to get a bit worried the longer it took. The girls a few rows in front of me who performed to every song played through the speakers, including a lively rendition of Treasure by Bruno Mars.
Just as I started to get aware of myself again, the lights went down.
Birth riles something primal in me, like how it feels when your eyes adjust to the dark. I just feel so in tune with my senses and ready for whatever is coming. And what greeted me was the warmth of Kings and Queens with the yellow lights and soaring voices. Thanks to my aisle seat I was able to lose myself. I actually jumped. Most time I just go up on my toes because I am so tall that it has the same effect, but this time my feet left the ground. It didn't matter to me what else was happening because ahead of me, I saw raised hands, a leaping guitarist, shining lights, a whirling mass of hair muscles and voice, light reflecting of cymbals in the distance as a bass drum vibrated my body and dictated my every move.
This is all that matters and somewhere in my mind, I knew it would be a shortened experience so I gave everything to every note. I jumped while I could and danced when I couldn't. I sang through every crack and cough even once my overpaid drink was gone. I went to church, bathed in sweat. embraced by voices, and commanded by lights. The gospel of living in the here and now shook through me. Someone behind me was having their own religious experience because when Jared sang "Where is your God?" during Hurricane and I heard a scream, "He's onstage!" Later on during the song, the unexpected "Yeah!" from a bass-laden voice made Jared stop and smile as a man was moved to testify.
I kept myself worked up through the last songs even though my legs and voice had given out. I was still there in the moment because it was pure. It was real and intimate but also big and bombastic. And I savored it because I knew I would have to let it go. The end of Up in the Air always seems to come to soon and before I knew it, the lights were raised. There were people scrambling everywhere and there were spots before my eyes. My body was trying to adjust to the shock. I found my folks and Ali asked me to come to the signing with her. I didn't care if I was the one who went with her but she offered so I was there to support her. I already got my signing in Boston, so I was good. I found Jennifer and Tiffany, who I had actually came with, and we all stood around to wait for the chaos to die down. I got to meet more members of Echelon Donates which was great. We chatted to pass the time but whenever I stood still, I could feel my muscles still vibrating.
Eventually, we made our way to the end of the line. Though the staff was being pushy about them only signing CDs, we got the gentlemen to sign it! As soon as Ali said Echelon Donates, there seemed to be a glint of recognition and acceptance. Shannon gave a look of, "Yea eff what they're saying I'm signing it!" Plus, I know they had to be aching for their hotel beds as much as we were at that point. They all quickly made their marks on the poster and our CDs, and I thanked them all feeling genuine gratitude for their willingness to bend the rules for us. I heard Jared say something to Shayla about the poster like he was concerned. I turned to see Ali being addressed by a member of the venue staff. He proceeded to try and take it from her as he badgered her with questions on how she got it. Once she explained, he let it go and wished us good luck and goodnight. I am happy he didn't rip it because with all the adrenaline coursing through my veins, the guys would have gotten a show!
We stopped to take a photo of the poster and I looked up to see Shannon and Jared make their exit. I assumed Tomo was gone as well til I glanced to my left to see him hugging a group of stragglers and taking a picture. He waved us all good bye and good night as we rolled the poster up for safe keeping, then made our way to the doors much to the venue staff's delight.
Plans to hang out got ditched as we all felt exhausted and I knew I had an early bus to catch in the morning. All I wanted was a long hot shower and a bed. In the car, I recounted soundcheck for Jennifer and Tiffany as they told me about the M&G and being in the pit, respectively. We got lost getting back, just like we did getting to the venue, but this time it was my fault for entering in the wrong address. We all just laughed it off and once we were back, Tiff and I sent Jennifer off with hugs. And hopefully on a high that would would get her through having to work in the morning.
The late night banter with Tiff continued just like the night before and as we got ready for the show, though we didn't have any Twilight movies to make fun of at such a late hour. This time we talked about what this experience was for the both of us: an escape. And though we knew we had to go back, we knew it would stay with us. Thats what the songs are for, what every artwork, photo, VyRT, and Echelon you meet is for. Because its easy to disconnect from it and lose that feeling once life comes crashing back in on you. Even hours after the concert as I lay in bed, I could sense myself retreating in anticipation for going back when I heard from the bathroom: "I took my shirt off and now there's confetti all over the floor!" I couldn't stop laughing and I thought, "Ok, I get it. This one is gonna stay with me."
I left the next morning before she had awakened, stopped for a quickie breakfast, then started my trek back to the bus station. I decided to walk because it was a beautiful day and I actually wanted to see a bit of Philly before I had to head home. I was in good spirits and looking forward sharing my experience with everyone. Especially Kika in Portugal, who I sent photos to sporadically throughout the night, but she told me to be there in the moment and we would talk later. More than anyone else, she knew how much I needed this. With memories of the the night before, I got to the station and began to jot down some thoughts.
I kept staring at the my black fingernails. I painted them before the show and they were already a rugged mess. It was always something I wanted to do but never did. I felt proud as I stared at them gripping my pen as a took in my surroundings. Soon, I was en route to New York and decided to leave myself notes to flesh out later because my handwriting worsened with each bump of the road.
By the time we reached New York, I had grown tired but still in fairly good spirits. I felt a headache coming on but thought it was probably just hunger pains and I knew I would eat soon enough. I could sleep it off and all would be well. When we pulled into Springfield, just thirty minutes from my town, I was in agony. My head pulsed and my patience grew thin as I just wanted to get home. I got myself a Subway sandwich and a Coke hoping the caffeine would tackle the migraine that was taking hold. Even with my changing mood, I kept my outward appearance light-hearted as I was still trying to hold on.
As I walked home from the bus stop, I felt something in me breaking. The food and drink didn't work, my body ached, and I knew I wouldn't be at 100% for work the next day. Once I made it inside my apartment, I dropped everything and crawled into my bed, willing my brain and body to relax. All I could think was, "I wanna go back." It wasn't lost on me how with each mile I got closer to home the worse I felt. I didn't want to talk. I didn't want to write. The recollection hurt as much as the present and the future wasn't even perceivable. So again, I went blank.
I automated my way through collecting images from the show, letting everyone know I had returned, and checking my work email. "I could coast through this a bit more..." I thought. Until I got to work the next day and the government shutdown threatened my livelihood. Was this threat ever truly real for me? In hindsight, no. But in that moment, I felt everything within me give up. I sat in my office trying not cry, flexing my hands, and digging my nails into my palm. I felt myself shaking and the need to scream. So I tweeted instead and though the responses calmed me some, without context, no one could know how much of a blow that email was to me. And though I know I am a fighter, I couldn't hold it back because my brain doesn't seem to allow it anymore. Too much tension and I'm gifted with a migraine.
So my body made me do what I would never allow: I let myself just fall apart.
And in those pieces, I retreated. I hid behind work and fulfilling obligations but not truly connecting. My smile didn't make it to my eyes and phone calls didn't get returned. During this time the drive for the VyRT of the Hollywood Bowl began and I felt only a slight twinge of excitement. The spark hadn't died but it had gone dormant. Hollywood still felt so very far away.
Somehow the chaos of my reality, or at least my perspective of it, began to lighten. I began to anticipate seeing my sister and being with someone who truly knows me. I longed for the intimacy. With each VyRT Violet but particularly the one from backstage at a gig in Canada, I felt closeness with a caring person who could cheer me up or make me laugh. Kin but not by blood, close but yet still so far, and yet his presence has effect. It is difficult to remain numb while around someone so vehemently full of life, passion, and drive. And it is also difficult to hang on to that numbness when so many believe in you and what you do.
We all have coping mechanism and for me, sometimes I just have to live through it. Other times, I rely heavily on those who fascinate or support me. I once wrote this about fascination:
"being fascinated is the best feeling i know. its love, respect, empathy, inspiration, and conversation that can be conjured without the other even knowing about it. and that unawareness is sometimes necessary...you know the saying "never meet your heroes." but even without their personal participation, there is still a discourse because they exist and they are producing. they are inviting you in. its a relationship that serves you selfishly as a blinking blinding reminder that you are not alone. you are not the only one who feels this or thinks that. you may be an outsider but we are out here with you. i am sure it is nice for them to know that. maybe it is symbiotic. they need us, we need them. thats a nice sentiment really."
Its been years since I wrote those words and I now know them to be true. I am grateful to have you all as my bright lights, my blinking reminders. Even when I don't want look or can't see through the haze, I know you are there — coaching me through the times when I feel like I can't breathe. Though I live for the moments when its all gloriously realized under the stage lights, in all honesty, its those quieter moments when my phone flashes with a notification unexpectedly that I often find solace and strength in having you with me. We're in this, symbiotically keeping each other up and running.
In this case, you've veered me to run towards my words and for that, I am much obliged. I hope they serve you as well as they have me. Until we meet again.