Midnight in New York City
I’ve taken up my usual spot at the dingy, dimly-lit airport bar that I’m convinced exists in some identical capacity in every airport in the world. The usual semi-morose crowd fills this bar/purgatory-of-travel sipping their poison of choice. I’m never quite sure which of us are alcoholics and which of us are innocently indulging in a large draught beer at 11 am which we allow ourselves while our lives are in motion. At any rate, the atmosphere is calm, and bored, and I sit here with a Miller and my laptop open. I’m facing the open airport runway thinking hard, with slightly dark thoughts of crashing planes creeping into my mind.
It’s the day after Christmas and I’m one flight down, one to go, traveling back to New York. This specific day feels so weird, like I should be changed in some way, like I should have some clearer perspective on life and the things I’ve learned. But really my mind is more cluttered than usual. 2016 has been a year of mind-fuckery; a reality TV star became president, The United Kingdom withdraw from the European Union (I’m still confused whether ‘Brexit’ is the official term or if the media really has that amount of influence over how we label things), and more and more countries seem to be leaning toward an extreme right-winged attitude. Christmas markets, clubs, and churches have been attacked, and I’ve watched it all from the safety of my mother’s couch while tucked away for the holidays in her home in South Africa.
I know that I am privileged. The newbie suburban lady next to me on the plane (reading the airport safety manual, so I know she’s not a regular) reminded me of this once I explained how I’m from Cape Town but went to college in Boston and now live in New York with the occupation of “guitarist.” I find myself thinking about privilege a lot more these days, and probably because the word has taken on more meaning as I watch a greater divide forming. Maybe I’m growing older and less self-centered, crawling out from underneath my composer rock to peer at and take note of the rapidly changing world around me. Or maybe there is just something insane happening that is seriously hurting those less privileged than me. Things have taken a sharp left turn, and I’m forced to face the darkest corners of civilization that most of us choose to ignore while we buy another dark-chocolate-caramel-swirl-fuck-me-pumpkin-spice latte and sip it while we choose which Netflix series to re-watch while we get stoned.
On November 9, the day after the US election, there was a tectonic shift in the world — and because I am just one tiny human writing a blog post about my experience, I will say more accurately — my world. It probably won’t come as a surprise to you that there was a “Hillary won!” party at my apartment on election night. As we watched each state go red (by Florida I knew it was over) we started drinking more champagne straight to the face and the tears started rolling. I laid my head down on the pillow that night with a slight glimmer of hope flickering in my heart. I left my phone on loud by accident, and as I started dozing off my BBC app made the alarm tone for “Breaking news!” I knew it was over then and pretty much from that moment on until two days later I would have tears streaming down my face at any given, completely random time. The next morning when I woke up from sleeping in late, when I ordered my coffee at the Japanese coffee spot down the block, in the studio when I was asked, “how’s this snare sound?” with me responding, “it sounds fucking awesome”, water was uncontrollably evacuating my face. All the tears while life was still going on. Not so much out of sadness, but more out of shock, and then numbness. Not just because of an election result, but because of the accumulated hatred, fear, and anger that was now over-flowing through my heart and out my eyes.
So this is why I want to talk about privilege. My initial shock was not unwarranted — I am a female immigrant living and working in the United States. As well as the obvious HATRED of misogynist remarks and some conservatives’ wild fantasies of the reversal of Roe v. Wade, I felt hugely afraid of the isolation theories, the xenophobia, of the door being closed on me after so many years of living in America. I am freaked out by the idea of a nation going backwards, triggering a reversal of progress across the entire world, of having rights that were fought for throughout our lives and our parents' lives to be thrown out like trash, in vain. My blood felt thick and my body shaky — like that time I was 13-years-old and had hiked all day in Athens in the oppressive Greek, summer heat. Lying down that night, I literally felt my skin crawling while my head was spinning from dehydration.
But then the days went on. My parents stopped calling me to urge me to “maybe start planning my exit strategy” and started asking about my music again. Friends called to say that if I ever needed a place to crash while I undertook massive immigration costs that their doors are always open to me. An immigration lawyer even reached out to say he would assist me with my visa renewal case at no charge because he believes in my cause. People called me just to tell me they loved me, that they know I will figure it all out, that I would still be here in a year and that then we will drink champagne for much better reasons. The community came together and the love that was imparted on me melted the inch-thick layer of ice that was collecting over my heart, paralyzing me in fear and the “what-ifs” of a life choice that could go very, very wrong from under my feet.
There are people less privileged than me who have real fears and have much bigger problems. They’re really afraid. There are refugees from terror-stricken countries, ridden with war and hatred, with innocent civilians being murdered in the wake of rebel groups. There are islands completely overrun with water because of climate change, a real-life nightmare of people who are losing their homes — their entire world as they know it — who are forced to immigrate. With a world becoming more and more isolationist, I’m afraid that we are taking back our previously-extended hand to those who need our help and are leaving them drowning on their own.
This was the first time in my life that I felt the phenomenon of darkness being fought with light. That’s only way I can describe it. Yes, I still live with some fear in my heart that I may run out of money and out of time, or that my visa will be denied or my artist visa category will be taken away, and sometimes I even have my darkest moments of ‘what if I never make it’ inner monologue. But you know what this just reminds me off? Nothing is certain and nothing is permanent. I mean maybe the best we can do is to just find the things and the people we love and hold them so close to our hearts that we can practically breathe in their warmth. In my experience, that is the life-raft that keeps you afloat. No one can do it alone.
On New Year’s day I laid in bed in wintery NYC, sheltered in my heated room in Brooklyn, watching Midnight in Paris while eating delicious food with my boyfriend. I’d somehow never seen this movie before, and I watched the story unfold about characters who seem discontent in their time period. They’re convinced that if they were just in another age or another place, that life would be more exciting and satisfying. As the film drew to a close, it was eerily reminiscent of recent conversations I’ve had with friends and family. Everyone seems so beaten down, so disappointed in the world, so afraid of life. Everyone talks about 2016 like it opened up the gates of hell. But the only thing that can make this time in our lives a little better for us is us. Don’t back down you guys; don’t move to Canada, don’t give up on your dreams, don’t stop making outspoken art, don’t be afraid to enter the US with a visa, don’t be afraid to be sexually liberated and true to yourself, don’t be afraid to love openly, because we don’t have time for that. Do not act or make choices out of fear now. We need to do all the amazing things and we need to do them now and with fucking FIRE. Just do, move forward, keep your head up and put one foot in front of the other every single day, do some goddamn good in the world. Help others and they will help you, send out love and understanding — even to those who you don’t fully understand and who you disagree with. We desperately need to hear one another out because we seem to be continuously shouting at each other without listening, living in our idealistic views in our heads while ignoring the very real differences in opinion between some of us. We need to rebuild our damaged psyche and heal from a time that has brought on so much confusion and shock, and we desperately need to move on.
I’m going to leave you with a quote from Midnight in Paris that really left an impression on me — it was one of those right thing at the right time moments. I hope that it will get you to pause for a moment and consider how you do things from here on out.
“Nostalgia is denial. Denial of the painful present. The name for this denial is Golden Age thinking - the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one ones living in - its a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.”