The Music of Moving

How my favorite musicians helped me move away, on, and forward.

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How my favorite musicians helped me move away, on, and forward.

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Photos by Paul Schlesinger

The funny thing about taking control of your life and actually doing what you want to do is that you don’t usually think about what happens after.

Where do you go next? Where do you want to go next? What the fuck are you going to do?

Moving is an act of courage, a test of your personal strength. When you find yourself realizing that it’s time for you to move (away, on, forward), it probably signifies a huge change in your life. It’s scary—there’s no denying that. Moving is synonymous with change, and change is terrifying and beautiful and necessary and challenging…it’s a part of life.

Over the past seven months, I’ve had to come to terms with just how quickly things can change, and what it means to move through that. After I finished my master’s in July of last year, I found myself struggling to figure out what I would do next, how I would do it, and who I would do it with. I’d been feeling a heavy, dragging weight on my entire soul for a while, and then, one day, I decided to let that weight go.

And now, in my new apartment, in a new city, with my new life, I’m trying to explain to myself (and now, to you) why it’s so important to embrace the natural fear of change, of vulnerability, of moving. Because the thing is, I still don’t know what I’m doing. And that’s okay.

Packing

Now Playing: “Lifted Away,” Joseph (2014)

It’s here, I’m cutting the cord.

Lifted away, where this doubt can’t hold me down.

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Native Dreamer Kin, Joseph; 2014.

Listen, I’ll just come right out and say what we’re all thinking…

…packing sucks.

It’s tedious and time-consuming, and it’s far too easy to get lost in old memories while you’re sorting through all the shit you’ve somehow managed to accumulate in one place over a short period of time. But it’s also really, really important. There’s something cathartic about forcing yourself to take an honest look at all of the bits and pieces of your past that may be holding you down, whether or not those objects are tangible, or something more metaphysical.

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As I started packing everything up, I found myself turning to the music I love to help me move through it all. Joseph, a band of three sisters from Oregon, has had a tremendous impact on nearly every aspect of my life since I first heard their music my sophomore year of college. They’ve inspired me as a writer, a musician, and a human being, so, naturally, their music helped inform how I processed moving on to this new phase of my life. “Lifted Away,” my favorite track off their first album, Native Dreamer Kin, has helped me get through so much since I first watched them perform it live at my alma mater, SUNY Oneonta, in 2014.

The album’s message resonated particularly clearly while I was going through the first steps of my move. Natalie Closner, the oldest of the three sisters, sings in the first verse: “I’ve been focused on what I could lose, and I’ve lost touch.” Before I listened to the terrifyingly honest things my gut was telling me, I was zeroing in on everything that could possibly go wrong if I actually decided to move on, and it was holding me back. I learned something really important, though, listening to Joseph’s music and, quite frankly, listening to myself: you have to let things go, but most importantly, you have to let yourself let things go.

It’s like the three sisters of Joseph sing in “Lifted Away”—you have to cut the cord. Once I started letting myself literally throw things away while deciding what was absolutely necessary for my move across the state, things got easier. I felt lighter. I let myself let things go, and all of the doubt I was feeling about the decisions I’d made started to lift away.

Saying Goodbye

Now Playing: “Rivers and Roads,” The Head and the Heart (2010)

A year from now, we’ll all be gone;

All our friends will move away.

And they’re going to better places,

But our friends will be gone away.

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The Head and the Heart; The Head and the Heart, 2010.

While I’d only spent a little over a year in the apartment I was moving out of in Cortland, it was hard not to plant a few—admittedly shallow—roots there. During the yearlong master’s program I was working through at Syracuse University, I had crafted a pretty consistent response whenever people asked me what my plans were for the future: “I think I’m going to stay in the Central New York area for a while after graduation.” I desperately wanted to make myself happy there, because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do. But then, as my cohort finished up our degrees and started moving away, on, and forward, I realized that I was forcing myself to be stagnant for the sake of a sense of false security, and that it was time to say goodbye—goodbye to the friends I’d made, the life I thought I was supposed to be building, and the region I’d half-assedly convinced myself I wanted to make my home.

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I found myself turning to this The Head and the Heart song a lot during the moving process, and not just because it’s one of my absolute favorite tracks off of their self-titled album. I’ve always associated this song with transitions in my life, so it’s not surprising that it was a source of comfort (and a big old sadness trigger) while I was moving.

Maybe this is an obvious thing to say, but saying goodbye, no matter to whom or to what, is a really fucking hard thing to do. When I finished the last leg of my move to Troy back in October, I said a quiet goodbye to the tiny second-floor apartment I’d turned into a home during one of the most pivotal years of my life so far, and I cried. It’s kind of naive, but in that moment, I wasn’t expecting that letting go of something I felt truly ready to leave behind could elicit such a tangible, emotional reaction. I’d already said goodbye to all of the figurative bits of my life I was leaving in Cortland, but not to the physical, and to be honest, that goodbye was harder.

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Here’s the funny thing about letting things go and saying goodbye, though—despite knowing that one day you’ll feel light and free again, it still hurts like hell when that weight is lifted, because if you’ve spent an extended period of time forcing yourself to accept the burden, suddenly living without it is shocking.

But it’s better.

Starting Again

Now Playing: “The Once and Future Carpenter,” The Avett Brothers (2012)

If I live the life I’m given

I won’t be scared to die.

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The Carpenter; The Avett Brothers, 2012.

The bags are unpacked, the last of the boxes are broken down (after like…three months), and the cats have finally stopped sprinting under the bed every time a door opens. Maybe the new apartment isn’t perfect, but it’s something. I don’t know if I’ll even be in the same place in a year, or even a month, but that kind of certainty isn’t necessarily the point of starting over, is it?

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I think that The Avett Brothers really said it best with this song, which has gotten me through nearly all of the major transitions in my life so far: “Forever I will move like the world that turns beneath me / And when I lose my direction, I’ll look up to the sky.” Maybe the deeper meaning behind starting again isn’t that you’re completely sure of what will happen in the future, but that you’re letting your life take its course without trying to interfere too much. That’s why it’s scary, I think…because putting yourself in a vulnerable position – whether that’s with another person, with yourself, or with the universe – is an inexorably terrifying thing to do. But we still do it, because we have to, because if we didn’t, we would never move anywhere. Not away, not on, and not forward.

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I’ve really had to learn how to let myself let go since I moved—whether that’s been letting go of people, places, things, or something deeper—and it’s been incredibly difficult. It’s only when I really let myself to listen to what songs like “The Once and Future Carpenter,” or “Rivers and Roads,” or “Lifted Away” are trying to say that I actually start to listen to myself. Maybe it’s silly to let music be the driving force in how you begin to reckon with your own growth, but, then again, I’m pretty sure it isn’t.

These artists have brought me comfort and clarity when I needed it most, and it would be a great disservice to both myself and to them if I tried to say I got through this year, this move, this life, without them. Music can move us, but I think that it can also help us move. My mind rests a little easier knowing that if and when I move away, on, or forward again, this music will be moving with me, too.


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