I am listening to pop music.

I love pop music.

I understand that the genre lacks almost all of the elements of so-called music – decent vocals, interesting musicality, lyricism intersecting with poetry, tact. But, the best thing about pop music is its ubiquity.

You heard it on the car radio driving to school, or droning through the Macy’s speaker system while sifting through the discount prom dress rack, or blaring at the middle school dance when you gave up on gyration and settled for melodic swaying, or whirring from a laptop in the adjacent dorm room as you tried to fight through school work and homesickness.

My favorite musical experiences consist of playing an old song – particularly songs rife with associations from my childhood – while walking through an unexplored part of a city or en route to meet new people or occasions. There’s a temporal blending of old and new – old memories converging with newly created ones, melding into a single track. I don’t see pop songs as just songs. They’re layered experiences – the times and landscapes of my memory.

Lately, I’ve been tuning into a lot of nostalgic music as a scientifically-backed source of joy, especially in these politically contentious times. Here are two songs that have been especially potent in memory:

Love Fool by the Cardigans

(From the Original Sound Track of Romeo + Juliet)

It’s the summer of 1996 in Houston, Texas. If you’re poor and don’t possess a vehicle with a functioning air conditioner, there’s only a few things you can do in the city: Watch a Real World: San Francisco marathon for the fifth time; schlep through the near-impenetrable wall of heat between your house and the local library; or convince your parents to drop you off at the dollar movie theater, where all the movies are as old as the theater is derelict.

It’s 1996 and today’s PG-13 movie – brought to you by a sister who is 5 years older – is Romeo + Juliet. You’re expecting another boring romantic “comedy” starring Marisa Tomei, only to witness a movie that feels like a visual aneurism – as if the entire script composed solely of exclamation points. You leave the movie theater convinced that everyone in southern California drives around in unbuttoned Hawaiian shirts of neon color palettes and that white people only make out in exceeding weird situations, like behind fish tanks or underwater in a pool or as they’re dying of poorly timed poisoned suicide.

From its opening disco infused chords of this Cardigans song, you think of Romeo’s first appearance in the film. He’s perched atop a rock along a shoreline. Someone in the move theater let’s out a loud whistle because it’s young, unblemished Leonardo DiCaprio. This is pre-mauled-by-a-bear Leonardo DiCaprio. He’s got the most beautiful, side-swept lesbian hair you’ve ever seen. He inhales the last drags of a cigarette while an awkward, pubescent voiceover reveals his first lines:

“Why then, O bawling love, O loving hate, O anything of nothing first create. Heavy lightness. Serious vanity. Misshapen chaos of well seeming form.”

Years and hundreds of miles later, it’s the perfect kind of song to play as you’re driving 75 miles per hour on the I-80, going east to west – Oakland to San Francisco – on the Bay Bridge. It’s the kind of song that mixes perfectly with a late night drive, crescendos with the first appearance of the San Francisco skyline. The buildings rise above the ocean like a vertical flip book, framed almost perfectly by the steel beams and rivets of the bridge.

It’s that kind of song.

Clocks by Coldplay

You can’t tell if you love or hate Coldplay, similar to how you can’t tell if Chris Martin is rugged attractive or scraggly ugly or if lyrics like “I discover that my castles stand/upon pillars of salt/pillars of sand” are illuminating or fucking stupid.

Perhaps the thing that hate most is that you never know the names of Coldplay songs, so you never know what to type into Napster or BearShare to steal whatever it is you’re looking for. A few of their early pop songs are lyrically chorus-less and named after the most obscure noun that appears once in the song (i.e. “Clocks”) or words that don’t even appear in the song at all (i.e. “The Scientist” or “Viva La Vida”). It’s conceivable that the moniker of the Coldplay hit you’re looking for is some preposition that appears in the song – “On,” “In,” “In Addition To,” “Regarding.”

But, you love Coldplay because every time that melodic piano rift from Clocks launches from your speaker system – those simple eighth notes saturating your surroundings until it explodes into a wall of synth 20 seconds in – it reminds you of a hopeful period of listening and driving. Driving to the Starbucks after school to indulge in conversations with friends about who you’ll be someday – a doctor for them, a journalist for you. Driving to postmark college applications, unsure if the precariously sealed packages will make it to Palo Alto, Providence, or Washington, DC in time. Driving to your high school graduation.

You also remember, in the Spring of 2009, a few weeks shy of your college graduation, taking a road trip with two friends to Hershey, Pennsylvania. The trip aligns with Coldplay’s Viva La Vida world tour and though you don’t have the money to attend, you and your two friends lie on a hill outside of HersheyPark Stadium. The grass is slightly damp, the air is fairly warm, everything sounds muffled, but it doesn’t matter because you’re about to graduate and you’re with your friends. The crowd noise and prelude music resonates like an undefined hum until Chris Martin – ugly, pretty Chris Martin – hits the first 8 notes of Clocks on his piano. The crowd noise and music rises to a fever pitch well above HersheyPark Stadium, escaping and dissolving into the night sky. For a moment, everything sounds clear and feels possible.

I am making a protest sign.

Since the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States, I have been to 2 protests – the Women’s March in San Francisco and a “pop up” protest at the San Francisco International Airport. As of this writing, this amounts to approximately 1 protest every 5 days. I don’t even clean my bathroom once every 5 days, but perhaps this is an indication that I should clean my bathroom more rather than protest less.

Unlike the Women’s March, the latter protest was a sudden occurrence. I received a text message call for participants, which was almost lost amid correspondence from the Bitmoji machine that is my mother. There was little time to prepare, so my partner and I made the decision to hop into our car and drive to the arrivals section of our airport’s international terminal – a drive fueled less by anger and more by an acute determination to not be silenced over the next four years.

My biggest non-political takeaway from the last two weekends of rallies is to always be prepared with snacks, water and a noisemaker – a drum, a protest kazoo, or that plastic recorder that you played the hell out of in 3rd grade music class. Finally, always bring a sign, your best god damn sign game, and your best god damn penmanship.

With the frequency of these protests on a broad scope of issues, I’ve decided to create a series of generic signs that I can reuse:




Clockwise from the left:

  • NAW.
  • NAW, DAWG.

Additionally, if I am feeling particularly specific in my signage, my partner put a poster creation kit in our car – an old blank poster board, painter’s tape, markers, and a handful of political pins. I don’t even have an earthquake kit despite the fact that there is a 37% chance that a 6.7 magnitude earthquake will occur at the fault line closest to my office within 25 years.* Should there be an earthquake, at least I can make a sign.

Editor’s Note:

*Thanks to the geologist who made an appearance at our university’s emergency preparedness meeting this past week for this reminder.

I am with her.

I’m with her.

I’m with her. There’s the her in the slogan – the presidential candidate, the iconic political figure, the woman who was a few percentage points away from becoming the most powerful person in the world. But, I am also with her in another sense – in sharing the shame, sorrow, and will to endure as a woman. I’m with Hillary even if the election is over because this doesn’t end with her.

This morning I listened to her concession speech on my drive to work. I have since heard it once more, read the transcript, and re-lived it on video. It’s painful – each of her wide blue-eyed glares to hold back tears, every cracked note of her voice that is muffled by her resolve to continue speaking with clarity and calm.

The premise of a concession speech is to gracefully and peacefully transition power to the person who has won. Political concession speeches are also frequently big apologies – I’m sorry we didn’t win. I’m sorry this didn’t turn out the way we wanted. I’m sorry I couldn’t put all of your hard work to good use. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

I realized by the first “I’m sorry” that this concession speech was a fitting analogy for womanhood. She withstood a rival candidate who interrupted her more times she ever interrupted him, called her a “nasty woman,” and threatened to imprison her amid chants of “lock her up.” Unfortunately, these are not exaggerations – these examples are all on the public record. And yet, here we are with the woman having to stand up and say with incredible eloquence and strength that she’s sorry.

I thought a lot about my own experiences as she spoke – all the apologies I had to make for the weight on my body, the tone of my voice, the unnecessary “I’m sorry” statements I sometimes use to interject in a group conversation. Most of all, I thought of all the apologies I made to myself – sorry for the silence when someone catcalled, sorry for not speaking my mind in a room full of men, sorry for not doing enough to lift up my sister, my friends, or my partner.

The speech ended and so did this election. Elections are cyclical events that come and go – events that become fog in our collective historical memory. Politics is an on-going process that we live through every single day. The candidate is gone, but the cause is bigger than ever. I’m with her – I was with her when I voted, I was with her when she “lost” in our archaic election system, and I’ll continue to be her because it doesn’t end with her.

There is very little doubt in my mind that the glass of the hardest, thickest ceiling will be broken in my lifetime. Until then, this image of Hillary – adorned in her lavender collared suit, conceding to someone far less qualified than her – will be incised in my memory. I will think of her each time I lift up the work of another woman, say whatever the fuck is on my mind, and keep fighting, per Hillary, for what is right.

I’m with her now, tomorrow, and beyond.