Friday, August 27, 2010

Carry On

I am back at school again. Every morning, I open up my backpack and pull out the books and binders I don’t need and shove in the ones I do need before setting off for class. But every day, there is a collection of papers and notes that stay in the backpack.

Some of them have been there now for over a year. Some of them have been there for just about two weeks. Last year, when I got back from the moot, I couldn’t bear to take everything out because to do so felt too final. I didn’t want to force an ending. And so for an entire school year, I carried around these extra things with me. There are notes on the nature of art and our role as artists, a copy of a monthly magazine from a church in Colorado, a painting of a butterfly, notes from friends, and a few other assorted items that to anyone else would seem random.

A few weeks ago, I went back to Colorado, and I carried these things with me again. When I returned, I had added some more papers to the little collection. I considered removing it all before this school year, but as I looked over the now wrinkled pages, I found it was better to leave them there. Better to carry a piece of the memories with me every day, a piece of the people and the words and the moments that have meant so much to me two years in a row.

This summer was an interesting summer. I spent many, many hours at work, in the world of ink and books and dusty pages. I also flew to Atlanta and saw friends and let the music of many of my favorite bands carry me. I went to Sixflags twice, and enjoyed the wonderful flood of adrenaline that comes with the feeling of flying. Most importantly, I went to Colorado for two weeks and spent time on mountains and under stars and with the most passionate and lively and loving people I have ever known.

Looking back on it, it seems like a wonderful summer, much like the summer of 2009 (in which I had an incredible two weeks traveling in southern California, followed by 10 days in Colorado). However, it did not always feel that way at the time. There were some of the loneliest and most difficult moments of my life, as I struggled with questions that I’d left unanswered... and faced new questions that had no answer. But that is not what I remember or what I carry with me into the school year. I choose to carry the hopeful things and the beautiful things, because they shine brighter.

Last summer while I was in California, I had some of the most incredible opportunities of my life. At the time, I could barely grasp or appreciate it, due to the season of my life. But ever since then, I am constantly reminded of those two weeks... of the ocean, of the waterfalls and mountains, of writing songs under the stars at the foot of a cliff. It is something I have partially lived in retrospect, because I chose to hold onto the memories and let them last.

It’s not hard to see where I’m going with this.

To some degree, the turbulent seasons in our lives have an effect of regret and pain that we can’t fully ever erase. And that is valid, and not something to be ignored, because when we ignore the start of scars, they grow. You can’t come out on the other side of something if you try to deny that you ever walked into it in the first place. However, I also believe that we have a choice as to what we carry with us.

We can carry away the bitter memories, the moments that hurt, the times people said unfair things, the times we lost. These are the things that are easier to hold on to (the things I usually hold on to, if I am honest). Or we can carry the moments where someone said something beautiful, the songs that made things different, the times of honesty, when truth broke through shadows-- even if it was only for a moment.

The things we carry with us change us from the inside out. If we carry the dark moments, they will bleed through even our most cleverly devised facades. If we carry the light moments, they also will change us as the light slides through the cracks and makes us shine. Those are the things that will shine in the shadows as we go on to face new moments of darkness and pain. Maybe even the process of learning how to hold onto the brighter things is a beautiful thing in itself...

And maybe that’s just a theory, or just wishful thinking (and this is a definitely a very simplistic overview of this idea). I don’t know. But I do know that I am carrying some very beautiful things away from the summer, and because of that I can smile, even in the places that are anything but beautiful to me. I also know that carrying around words and butterflies and notes from friends in my backpack makes it feel so much lighter.

I will carry the songs and the prayers and the starlight and the laughter of the summer as I move towards the winter. I will hold them close, let them change the person I am, even as I move into new moments with their victories and failures. And maybe that is really one of the important parts of growing-- not running away from everything that has gone before, but rather knowing what to carry with you and what to leave behind.

Asking you all to react and comment last time was beautiful. I loved reading the comments that you all left for me-- there are no words to express how excited it made me to see responses. So I’m going to get into the habit of leaving you all with questions, I believe (though you’re free to comment on the blog post as a whole, of course, or to talk about it through chat or messaging, as some of you already do).

What are you carrying away from this summer, and why?

God bless, friends. Keep shining.
- Elraen, the Wandering Star -

Monday, August 2, 2010

20 Concerts: Looking Back

On Saturday, I went to what I consider to be my 20th concert, all of which I have attended in just over 2 years. So here is a blog post that is sort of looking back, in a way, partly because it’s a way for me to marvel at how incredibly blessed I am.

I still consider the Skillet concert in April 2008 as my first show, because it was the first one that I understood, wanted to be at, and enjoyed. However, some years earlier (in September 2004) I went to see Seven Places (who broke up a few years later), Sanctus Real, and Jeremy Camp with some friends. I knew only three contemporary songs (Shine by Newsboys, Jesus Freak by DC Talk, and Dive by Stephen Curtis Chapman), so for me it was an experience that was confusing and somewhat frightening-- so much so that I barely remember it now. In fact, here’s what 13-year-old Elraen wrote in her journal the next day:

We found a seat near the back on the hard, metal bleachers. I put my earplugs in. Than it began.
Yikes! It was to loud with earplugs! And “7 places” is a trashy band. I hate most modern music-- they were no exception. Then “Sanctus real” came on. They were slightly, very slightly, better. It was when they were playing that I suddenly thought “What ever am I doing here?” People on the floor by the stage, yelling and screaming, were having fun. Not me. Jeremy Camp was quite a bit better. By now there was at least 1,000 people there, by my reckoning. What a... well, I can’t find the word. Rowdy... no. Loud... no. Crazy... no. Weird... no. Miserable... no. Somewhere in between all those, or rather a mix of all!

Moving right along.

I have much better memories of the Skillet show in 2008, which I actually wanted to go to. It was 3 days after my 17th birthday. I was at the very front in the pit, pressed against the stage right in front of Ben. I had no idea what headbanging was before that, but when Decyfer Down was playing, I started imitating what the people around me were doing. I remember John Cooper saying “OK, everyone who has never hurt your neck headbanging, raise your hand. Don’t be afraid. OK, we’re going to change that tonight.” And I was sitting there thinking “wait, headbanging hurts?” ...And then the next morning I woke up and thought I must have broken my neck. Fun times.

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Ben Kasica, April 24, 2008

Now that I’ve talked about the first of the 20, it’s only fair to talk about the last of the 20, which also happened to be Skillet (and Sanctus Real, coincidentally). I went to Sixflags with two of my siblings and my friend Anywhere who is visiting from Colorado. There I got to meet up with my awesome friend Mikayla, who I know from the Skillet fan world. We had pretty good seats, and it was fun to be there with friends. But more than that, Skillet put on one of the best shows I have ever seen. And not just because it was a show, but because there was a sense of being united. Everyone in that stadium was having fun and getting into it, the band included. There was laughter and tears and enough headbanging to ensure that my neck won’t fully recover for at least another week.
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John Cooper, July 31, 2010
All of the shows that are the most significant to me are the ones where I take something away from it. This one on Saturday fits into that category. God gave me a promise that I’m not letting go of...

Bands I’ve Seen:
Seven Places, Sanctus Real x3, Jeremy Camp, Decyfer Down x4, ~ Skillet!!!!! x6, Ginny Owens, AG Silver, High Flight Society, ~*Bread of Stone, ~*VOTA x2, *DecembeRadio x2, ~*Newsboys x2, ~*Disciple x3, ~*Red x4, Brandon Heath, ~*Dekree, Luminate, ~*FM Static, ~*B. Reith, ~*Audio Unplugged, ~*Thousand Foot Krutch, ~*Jars of Clay, Barcelona, Copeland, ~ Relient K, Ivoryline, ~*Superchic[k] x2, ~*BarlowGirl, Hawk Nelson, *The Letter Black, ~*Me in Motion, ~*Pillar, Sattelites and Sirens, *Jason Gray x2, ~*Jon Foreman, ~*House of Heroes x2, TobyMac, ~*Kutless, *The Museum x2, ~*Chasen x2, ~*Manic Drive, Remedy Drive, Downhere, Living Anthem, Fireflight, Echoing Angels, Seventh Day Slumber, Kids in the Way, ~*Family Force 5, Reilly, Addison Road, Britt Nicole, Tenth Avenue North, Canton Jones, Jeff Chandler, ~*Manafest, Set Free, David Dunn
[58 in all]

* Means I've met them.
~ Means I have their autograph, whether or not I've actually met them.

Top Five Shows
Skillet, Red, Disciple, Decyfer Down - April 11, 2009
Disciple, Decyfer Down, Satellites and Sirens - March 4, 2010
Jon Foreman - April 1, 2010
Skillet, Sanctus Real, David Dunn - July 31, 2010
Jars of Clay, Thousand Foot Krutch, Audio Talks, B. Reith, FM Static - September 19, 2009

Top Five Band Meeting Experiences
Disciple (the first time)
Thousand Foot Krutch
Jon Foreman
Family Force 5
Me in Motion

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[click thumbnails]
Top Five Bands I Want to See

Switchfoot (!!!)
The Almost
Owl City (don’t judge!)

Five Random Other Goals
Meet Skillet
Go to Cornerstone
Road trip to a show in another state
Get a guitar signed by a band
Work merch again

I have enough concert stories to fill a book, enough band merch and autographs to overflow my desk, more epic show memories than most people would have in a lifetime... and I’m just two years in.

I have decided that I want my blog to become more interactive, I guess. I want it to be more of a conversation that me always talking at you. I have found I have no motivation to write here unless I have hope of getting a response echoed back.

And so I’ll end it with a question (I should probably end it with five questions, just to stick to the general theme here, but that might be a bit overwhelming): what is the best live music experience you’ve ever had, and what made it so good? I don’t care if it was the symphony or a Metallica show-- this one’s wide open.

I’m headed to Colorado early tomorrow. Until I return, God bless.

- Elraen -