Unstable Connection

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This week, the Nass considers the potential a virtual first year, In the finalofissue of Volume 40, traces the Nass a musical from a gets somehistory, Heelys,and trieshears out American student tradition,artist. and goes to therapy.

The Nassau Weekly

Volume Volume 42, 40,Number Issue 18 6 September December 9, 20,2018 2020

In Print since 1979 Online at nassauweekly.com


September 20, 2020

Masthead Editors-in-Chief

Dear readers,


Letters to Self: David Timm’s Art By Anika Khakoo


Rethinking Traditions


Despite Everything


By Jane Castleman

By Peter Taylor

Standing Still By Christien Ayers

Welcome to the start of a new school year. Virtual seminars, precepts, and club meetings are not what we expected, but we’ll continue to move forward with what you can always expect from the Nassau Weekly: nuanced reflection, beautiful artwork, strong reporting, humor, and more. Since 1979, the Nass has been at the center of campus life, capturing the zeitgeist of each year and offering fresh perspectives. When we left campus in the spring and in the months following our departure, we were reminded of what makes the Nass so special: its community. When our founders began this publication, they did so with a mission that we continue to pursue: the Nass offers Princeton’s writers, artists, and creators a space for their work, and it offers readers a place to engage deeply with it. Built on a shared love for art and writing, this community is sustained by friendship, curiosity, and dedication. This community, especially now, is one that we encourage you to contribute to and lean on through this difficult time. Nothing feels normal right now. With the start of this new school year, we’re returning to an altered form of “business as usual” in what continues to feel like an alternate (and often awful) reality. We’re looking forward to a post-pandemic world where we’re reunited with our campus communities and working on the crossword over Sunday brunch. Still, through a fully digital publishing model, the Nass will continue to adapt to this moment and the opportunities it offers us to create new paths and traditions. In the meantime, take care of yourselves: talk openly with your friends and family, engage with art that makes you happy, and rest when you need it. We’ll be here online—and on campus as soon as possible. With love, Faith Emba ’21, Editor-in-Chief Tess Solomon ’21, Editor-in-Chief

Faith Emba Tess Solomon

Publisher Anika Khakoo

Managing Editors Peter Taylor Andrew White

Design Editor Mika Hyman

Assistant Design Editor Melina Huang

Senior Editors Pat MacDonald Joshua Judd Porter Tara Shirazi

Junior Editors Abigail Glickman Juju Lane Drew Pugliese Mina Quesen Meera Sastry Elliott Weil

Art Director Nora Wildberg

Copy Editors Isabelle Casimir Maia Harrison

Events Editor Richard Yang

Business Manager Violet Marmur

Web Editor Gina Feliz

Social Chairs Isabelle Casimir Maia Harrison

Cover Attribution

Design and concept by Mika Hyman and Andrew White


September 20, 2020

This Week:

About us:


9:00a LCA Yoga for Dancers

12:00p Muslim Life Peace Meditations


1:45p Physics Dept. HET Seminar with Oscar Varela

7:00a Global History Lab Border-Crossing: the History Dialogue Project


4:00p Philosophy Dept. Carl G. Hempel Lecture: “Plural signification and semantic plasticity”

4:30p Math Dept. Algebraic Geometry Seminar with Junliang Shen


10:00a The MET Insider Insights—Asmat Art of New Guinea

11:00a Campus Recreation Yoga Class


12:00p Intersections ‘Blackness and the End of Man’ with author Joshua Bennett

5:00p ORL Virtual Paint Party


2:00p Morgan Library Family virtual Tour

3:00p Pace Center ‘Who lives, who dies, who decides’ - Kenneth and Isabelle Reams


4:30p CHV What About the Workers? Talk with Kwame Anthony Appiah

5:30p PUAM “Behind Iconic Images in Life Magazine” Panel Discussion

Got Events?

Email Richard Yang at ryang@princeton.edu with your event and why it should be featured.

For advertisements, contact Violet Marmur at vmarmur@princeton. edu.

Nassau Weekly is Princeton University’s weekly newsmagazine and features news, op-eds, reviews, fiction, poetry and art submitted by students. Nassau Weekly is part of Princeton Broadcasting Service, the student-run operator of WPRB FM, the oldest college FM station in the country. There is no formal membership of the Nassau Weekly and all are encouraged to attend meetings and submit their writing and art.

Read us: nassauweekly.com Contact us:

thenassauweekly@gmail.com Instagram & Twitter: @nassauweekly

Join us:

We meet on Mondays at 5pm and Thursdays at 6pm on zoom.


September 20, 2020

Nass Recomends:


David Timm’s New EP ‘Poem’

Letters to Self


An interview with a Princeton creator. By ANIKA KHAKOO


n Wednesday, August 5th, I sat down on a Zoom call with David Timm. David is a Princeton student in the Class of 2022 studying Art History in the Art & Archaeology Department, originally from West Saint Paul, Minnesota. For the past several years, I’ve admired the music and art David has posted on Instagram from afar in all forms; from a set of chalky technicolor miniature portraits, to a series of beautiful architectural collages which look like modernist origami butterflies, to recent singles he has released on Spotify, I’ve been a devoted admirer (Voyeur? Let’s not say that) of all. I sat down with David to interview him on his music, art, and everything in between. This conversation very much transformed into a discussion of the project that occupied the bulk of his spring and summer: his new EP, Poem, which was released on streaming platforms on August 16th. Thus, what started a broader interview eventually

transformed into a conversation mostly about Poem. The transcript of our conversation is below, which has been edited lightly for length and clarity.

AK: Excellent. So first, how are you doing? How has your summer been? DT: I’m, I’m definitely doing, is what I am. I’m here, I’m alive. I’m moving out to Minneapolis in like two weeks, which I’m very excited about. I don’t want to be home anymore. AK: And you’re doing school from there? DT: Yeah. AK: Oh, great idea. That’s so nice. DT: Yeah, I did not want to go back to Princeton. It wasn’t necessary. It sounds like the worst thing that one could do. And if I were to go back, I wouldn’t be able to do any music, which was basically the only reason I left my room anyway. And so, I would just sit in my room and stare at the ceiling for three months and then go home and have to live



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“We must admit that there will be music despite everything.” —Jack Gilbert, “A Brief For The Defense” “I had resorted to music to help deal with the hopeless passivity I had subconsciously nurtured, so it was music that shook me awake.” By PETER TAYLOR


was twelve years old when I discovered the blues, that great musical progenitor to which nearly all American music can eventually be traced. At that impressionable age, I already loved music, but I had no idea why. As far as I was concerned, people played and listened to music primarily to pass the time. An aspiring musician myself, I figured that the guitar I had just started learning to play would at most be a fun distraction from my homework or else a skill with which I could impress my classmates. I re-evaluated that narrow conception when I discovered the music of Robert Johnson. I first came across Johnson’s original rendition of “Crossroad Blues” on YouTube one night, seeking out blues artists who were nowhere to be found in my parents’ CD cabinet. Listening to Robert Johnson’s staple song, I found that the combination of his lone voice and bottleneck slide elicited feelings that my twelve-year-old self might have

described as an unknowable mix of fear and elation. Now, nearly ten years later, I recognize that I experienced a distinct emotion, one whose name or particularities are impossible to convey unless you put on “Crossroad Blues.” I began to understand that music was far more than just a pastime, noise for when you rode in the car or cleaned your room. Instead, it could be a conduit to those kinds of wonderfully cryptic feelings that Johnson’s record had inspired in me. My introduction to the blues was so powerful that it put me on a path to find those same kinds of emotions, whatever musical form they might end up taking. It took me a little longer to make my way to jazz. Not until I was fourteen or fifteen did I find the courage to brave the seemingly murky waters of long instrumental breaks too dense for my developing brain. This narrow description of such a broad genre will surely sound ludicrous to even a casual jazz fan: jazz can be everything from the laugh of Louis Armstrong to the regality of Duke Ellington to the frenzy of Dizzy Gillespie. Everyone I know agrees the world is burning. With so much



September 20, 2020



Rethinking Princeton Traditions Frosh traditions through the lens of a Zoom camera. By JANE CASTLEMAN


t 29,028 feet or nine kilometers above sea level, Mount Everest is the highest point on Earth. Thousands have tried to conquer the ascent to the summit. Hundreds have died trying. Armed with my laptop, blanket, and antibiotics, I was ready to embark on my Outdoor Action experience. I never expected to climb Mount Everest just months after turning 18, not to mention while battling a tonsil infection, but Outdoor Action made it possible through teamwork, determination, and a new appreciation for the great indoors. The simulation promised we were just like real-world climbers, forcing us to consider our health, weather conditions, and even restricting communication to walkie-talkies. Still, I doubt

summiteers track their health by watching a yellow bar slowly shrink (apparently my mental acuity was below normal), and I doubt Outdoor Action participants are able to pause the trip at their convenience. When stripped to its core values, Outdoor Action’s purpose is to prepare first-year students for their start at Princeton by providing them with a support network, illustrating the importance of collaboration, and fostering a love for the outdoors. Cynicism and sarcasm aside, the Mount Everest simulation appears to uphold these three pillars. Though it was through Zoom, I learned a lot about the 11 other students in my group, their interests, insecurities, and shared nervousness to begin our virtual first semester. And I wouldn’t have been able to climb Mount Everest without them either. No, really—each team needed a leader, physician, photographer, marathoner, and environmentalist, all of whom worked in tandem to

safely conquer the ascent. And while technically one could complete the entire curriculum from their bed (I can attest to this), we were encouraged to spend time outside and engage in “landfullness”, developing a connection with our environment. Along with Outdoor Action, a number of other quintessential Princeton first-year experiences moved to a virtual setting. The first was Princeton Preview, which transformed into a website packed with information, webinars, meetings with current students and professors, and even virtual tours. Still, the majority of the site was pre-recorded, pre-written, and mainly shows how far we’ve come in creating an online experience. Clash of the Colleges moved to the GooseChase app, where students from each college answered trivia questions and completed challenges ranging from “film your best T-rex impression” to “what are your goals for the semester?” The President’s

welcome, pre-read discussion, and other class meetings were done through Zoom webinars. Accompanying these Zooms was always the enlighteningdiscourse in the infamous class GroupMe, which is essentially a group of students live-tweeting each meeting in exchange for red hearts and clout. Though I appreciate Princeton’s effort in checking the boxes of our first weeks as college students, it is impossible to develop a class dynamic online. Imagine you show up at college, but everyone is locked in their dorms and is only allowed to communicate via social media or distanced meetups based on their dorm location. For me, GroupMe used to be an annoyance—notifications off, groups muted. Now, it is the hub of class activity and communication. On the surface, these firstyear traditions appear wildly different from their in-person counterparts, and on a physical level, that is true. However, the purposes behind these events

are partially maintained. Clash of the Colleges was still a competition between the residential colleges in which students participated in activities and still had a declared winner. Class meetings still informed us about the upcoming year, and students still read the preread (or still didn’t read the preread), exploring what it meant for us and for our futures. But when a tradition is forced into a 1366 by 768-pixel box and projected around the world to students sitting by themselves, its outcome will never be the same, even if it holds the same intentions. Moving my finger around a trackpad does not equate to hiking through the MidAtlantic wilderness for a week, even if I do so while watching an icon move up the side of an artistically accurate mountain. Listening to my peers share personal stories seems impersonal online, and although we’ve been going through this unique experience together, we could not be physically farther


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apart. In a world where we are constantly receiving new notifications, all just a click away, our attention is pulled in countless directions, incessantly sought after. Can any of these in-person experiences truly be replicated virtually? Is my classmate listening to me while I’m speaking, or are they actually finishing the next episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender? There is no way for me to know. Though we may technically be attending these events at the same time (except for those in different time

zones, those who are too busy, or those who just don’t care), the physical and often mental separation robs us of an apparent solidarity. Arguably the most important first-year traditions we are missing, however, are those not advertised by the university, not found on the orientation calendar, not given highlight videos or websites. They are subtle: moving out for the first time, sharing a meal with someone you’ve never met, living in a new environment of diverse perspectives and

histories. Though some students have been able to replicate these firsts, many of us are stuck in a wormhole between childhood and adulthood. The world is paused. But the wormhole affords us a moment to reflect. As such a historic institution, Princeton is no stranger to long-standing traditions, some centuries old. Given how old these practices are, it is even more important to question why we have held them so tightly for so long. Many Princeton traditions have been discarded or significantly changed since their inception, such as Nude Olympics or Cane Spree. Nude Olympics was exactly what its name implies, but it stopped due to injuries, excessive alcohol consumption, and disputes with local police. Cane Spree started as a duel between freshman and sophomores, after sophomores hazed freshman for carrying walking sticks (a privilege reserved for older students), but evolved into a friendly competition between classes, including relay races and a barbecue. Reevaluation of historic practices has also invoked institutional change, like allowing female students in 1969, or, more recently, removing the name of the School of Public and International Affairs. Looking back, we can see glaring problems in all of these actions previously excused by habit. Some traditions still exist today, or at least they did until March of this year, and

each incoming class anticipates their chance to take part. Commencement Week, marking the end of the academic year, stretches graduation into a seven-day celebration of the graduating class, including Reunions, the P-rade, and Commencement itself. The parade through campus, in ascending class year until the senior class joins for the first time, is a visual representation of how much Princeton has evolved since the oldest alum. Without a reconsideration of the history and ideals a university rests upon, it is impossible to make such progress, and although Princeton is far from perfect, we should continue to question habits that seem ingrained in history. As we enter into a new school year, full of exciting traditions that represent a long- standing institution coupled with a set of challenges unique to a virtual campus, we can consider what is worth and deserving of preservation. Eating club dues, for example, are a minimum of $8,900 (with exceptions for RCAs), and though they offer meals and perks, they introduce a financial barrier to many students, not to mention the social structures these clubs may unwittingly reinforce. As a virtual first-year student, I have yet to receive my eating club baptism (dancing in a sweaty, dank basement to a song I don’t like with people I don’t know). Maybe my cynicism is borne out of jealousy, but is it entirely misguided? Again,

I am only a first-year student and do not know the complete myriad of traditions associated with Princeton and its campus, basing my assumptions solely off of the horror stories and wistful memories of alumni. Along with the possible disappointment of not experiencing the classic start to Princeton, the incoming class is also given an opportunity: to reevaluate what makes these traditions worthwhile, but also to reinvent them. Maybe the Step Sing will always be a Facebook Live event. Maybe Lawnparties will always be an $80,000 Zoom call. Or maybe, we can prove that college can and should be more accessible; that you don’t need a campus, just a laptop. Without a “way it used to be”, the Class of 2024 doesn’t have to be weighed down by the past while we build the future.

For Jane Castleman, the Nassau Weekly used to be an annoyance—notifications off, groups muted.


September 20, 2020


Despite Everything

to despair over and so little hope in sight, I have found myself at a loss for how to cope with my inherent, collective powerlessness. Isolated from my friends and unable to concentrate on some of my most fundamental passions, I find hope in little else but the music I queue up on Spotify. That said, I can hardly remember a time when music was not the most dependable constant of my life. Some of the first jazz that really grabbed me, then, was vocal jazz, where usually simple lyrics sustained the songs’ more complex melodies and chord progressions. Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, Nat King Cole: if there was an orchestra or big band playing behind a soft male voice, I was there. It took me just a little longer to graduate to the work of Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan and Nina Simone, the women who took the art of solo vocal performance to new heights in the middle decades of the twentieth century. But in the end, my messiah was Billie Holiday. I have already wondered at length why exactly I adore Holiday’s music so much. The tune I most distinctly remember falling in love with is her rendition of Cole Porter’s standard “Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall In Love).” At the time, I was caught up in both my adolescent sexual awakening and my looming fear that life would be as grindingly dull

as so many of my teachers and their curricula seemed to predict. Holiday’s pep and spunk brought to life lyrics of implied sexual proclivities that suggested, perhaps, life really wouldn’t turn out as bad as I feared. In fact, maybe it would even be kind of okay. Billie Holiday’s music gave me something to latch onto, something solid against which I could steel myself as I began to grow into my curiosities and their accompanying doubts. While French vocabulary words and the Periodic table came relatively easy to me, the beginning of high school made it difficult to hang onto the loveliness of the world Billie Holiday’s energy conveyed. The chaos of my life, albeit all too typical, seemed irreconcilable with the idealized notions I harbored of youthful mirth and maturation. Though I enjoyed the music I played and the books I read and the miles I ran after school, I barely managed to maintain friendships rooted in anything but an implicit brotherly camaraderie inculcated by our all-male school. Furthermore, I struggled to square my ideal of a purposeful life with the aimlessness I felt in the rigid monotony of my school. The music on my phone was the only constant antidote I could procure against such myopic passivity. For my first months with a car, I listened to Middle Brother’s folk-rock masterpiece “Blood and Guts” on repeat. Driving home from cross country practice in the early evenings


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of winter, I would sing along in a breaking falsetto to Taylor Goldsmith’s full-throated belt: “I just wanna get my fist through some glass/I just wanna get your arm in a cast/I just want you to know that I care.” Seeking passion in any form, I lost myself in the excessive and the grotesque that made that song so powerful. One early morning, however, driving to school in the graycold, one of the song’s quiet verses finally struck me: The older we get, the older we are I woke up this morning, driving my car And that is not how it’s supposed to be Am I killing time or is it killing me? The first time those words sank in, I remember having to pull over, but perhaps that’s the fiction writer in me, embellishing my life with fabricated details to construct a more compelling narrative. No matter: I recognized my own approach to life in those lines, going through the motions so thoroughly and so uncritically that I could hardly distinguish my commute to school from the respite of sleep I had just left. I had resorted

to music to help deal with the hopeless passivity I had subconsciously nurtured, so it was music that shook me awake. I kept “Blood and Guts” in mind as I began to re-evaluate my life. I picked up the guitar with a new ferocity and wrote innumerable poems of middling quality. Emboldened by my recent self-actualization, I engaged with people with a newfound confidence and ease that led to friendships that are still strong today. I even started dating, broaching new kinds of connections whose intimacies were as lovely as they were subtle. All the while, I was listening to the Avett Brothers’ “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise,” which told me to “decide what to be and go be it,” so I spent two more years in high school doing just that. Old friends graduated, and new friends turned up to fill the void. On the guitar, I had started learning simple acoustic folk that I would play in my room with a friend instead of with a band on stage. I got more out of my school’s classes and opportunities than ever before. My last few years of high school cracked open a degree of curiosity about the world that made me impatient to move forward, and I wanted to do my


September 20, 2020

education justice by using it as a starting point for a lifetime of learning. I knew there was a broader world beyond me, but I had no conception of what it might contain. I decided to take a detour before college to live in Bolivia, participating in a generously funded gap year program that promised I would learn to see the world and myself in an entirely different way. Moreover, I was excited to get past my solipsistic little self into a world whose wonders a boyhood of listening to music had promised me. When I got to Bolivia, the writer in me finally began to understand Toni Morrison’s go-to advice to her writing students: “You don’t know anything.” I realized how I had spent my life up to then in a bubble of luxury and privilege, where so many of the struggles I had met had been results of personal or cultural constructs rather than simple facts of life like I had presumed. Away from the mechanized oasis of a Nashville private school, now I could more purposefully and genuinely interact with the world at large. I volunteered with a water justice organization, learned to cook, started speaking Spanish, and began conceiving of life in a manner previously unimaginable to the suburban counterpart of my past. All too familiar with the college essay trope I’ll call the “mission trip confessional,” I still fail to discuss what I learned while abroad without lapsing into horrendous clichés. Throughout

the summer after my return home, I rambled about environmental catastrophe and capitalistic exploitation as though they were lofty concepts accessible only to the most thoroughly trained minds and souls, which surely included my own. Looking back, I’m sure I just sounded like a caricature of a graduate student at Berkeley in the sixties. Nonetheless, I knew I had changed, but I couldn’t articulate how. My only real solace, then as before and still, was music. This time, my soundtrack was Calle 13’s “Latinoamérica,” a song extolling the beauties and griefs of Latin America to which I had listened nearly every day on my year away. One day in July, I was driving with my high school girlfriend, with whom I had stayed together throughout my year abroad much to the detriment of our relationship. I put on the song, hoping to use music to explain to this non-Spanish speaker what I had otherwise failed to clarify about the tender disdain and rugged love I held for the world. Residente rapped about the beauty of “los versos escritos bajo la noche estrellada” (the verses written beneath the starry night) or how “aquí se comparte, lo mío es tuyo” (here, everything is shared, what’s mine is yours). As the song crescendoed, the background singers chanted how “yo canto porque se escucha” (I sing because I can be heard). I pulled over to the side of the road, letting myself go in a massive fit of

tears that I can only ascribe to a paragon of classical catharsis. Sitting in a car on the side of the road and still sobbing, I turned up the song even louder. “Listen,” I asked my girlfriend whose arm was around me while I tapped the dashboard along with the percussion. “It’s like a heartbeat.” What a way to confront the rhythm that unites us all. Going to college for me was hard. I struggled to transition back to the sanitized world I had been so excited to leave, even if I was returning to an apparently upgraded version. Furthermore, it took a long time before I began meeting anyone who shared my interests or desires, my dreams or frustrations, and I still clung to my mistaken assumption that my high school girlfriend—my first true love—would one day solve all my problems, even if she couldn’t do so right then. So often in my first semester, I sat in the stairwell outside my room, singing songs and playing the guitar for the rest of the dorm to my peers’ approbation and censure. When I wasn’t throwing these staircase concerts for imaginary audiences on Saturday nights–when everyone else was out partying on Prospect Avenue–I was throwing myself into ancient books and new music. Whenever I confronted my doubts, I had The Head and The Heart to reassure me: “And I know that you feel like you’re not getting what you need right now / But give it a night / Wait for the light.” Otherwise so unsure of


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everything, I was certain that if I pondered it all alongside the music, I might find some of the answers I sought. Things started to make a new kind of sense when I began to seek out my own path, instead of just grasping at whatever was thrust before. I took more courses, made new friends, and learned more about the world and myself. I told people about my heart, and they listened and understood before they told me about theirs. I adjusted more and more as the year went on, so well that I eventually began to thrive. When life seemed to be better than ever before, I realized that I had fallen in love again and not just with a new person. I also fell back in love with the wonder of a world and a life both as beautifully terrible as they are terribly beautiful. In celebration of this, my new girlfriend and I would sit in our rooms and sing each other our favorite

songs, sharing our unique perceptions of the wonder of the world. The sharp precarity of pain that defines so much of the world never disappeared for me, but it did blur for a while. For the first time in a long time, I was remarkably happy. At the beginning of my sophomore year, I reconnected with a loving girlfriend, several great friends, and promises of possibility and hope of how I might engage with the world and, if I worked hard enough, maybe one day even leave it a better place than I had found it. If you had asked me then what vision I myself would have harbored for a better world, I would have referred you to any of my favorite songs and their endless expressions of grief and gratitude and possibility. It was a little too good to be true. This new happiness wasn’t a tidy ending, just the next chapter of a big life that’s still only just beginning.


September 20, 2020

Throughout my second year of college, I tried reconciling this absurdity with itself, leaving me frequently overwhelmed. I was confused by the messiness of this world, a place at once so bright and so dark that it is, by its very nature, unfathomable. The closest I’ve ever found to an explanation comes in the conclusion to Walt Whitman’s masterpiece, “O Me! O Life!”, where the poet suggests, “Answer / That you are her—that life exists and identity / That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” With all due respect to one of our greatest American poets, he neglects a crucial part: the great musical score of that “powerful play,” whose ragged melodies guide us along as we stumble through our scenes. Somehow, music redeems even the maddest universal discord by giving it a shape, something to cling on or stare at or point to and say, “That’s it. That’s why.” But sometimes it takes just the right song. In November of last year, some friends and I went to see Sara Bareilles perform in Philadelphia. Halfway

through her show, the singer announced to her adoring audience that she would sing the song “Orpheus” off her newest record Amidst the Chaos. My hand was interlocked with my girlfriend’s when she leaned over to whisper into my ear, “This is my song for you,” before nestling her head into the crook of my shoulder, where she remained for the rest of the concert. Loves may come and loves may go, but love will never desert us. If I ever need a reminder, I can just put on “Orpheus,” where Sara Bareilles wants to “somehow make a meaning of the poison in this place.” She doesn’t pretend to have a real answer to the madness inherent to existence. Instead, she just prays, “I hope my love was someone else’s solid ground.” For me, it certainly has been and surely will continue to be. Wherever she may be, I hope she knows that. I have remembered each of these moments and many others over the past six months, during which we’ve wept for unjust deaths, become enraged by the incompetence our highest leaders, and reckoned with


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a warming and burning world, all of which is catalyzed or exacerbated by a globally threatening disease. In this time of upheaval, I struggle to recognize even the most familiar as I continue to grapple with a seemingly unceasing force of suffering. Cornel West reminds me, however, “you’re only as strong in your hope as you are in your wrestling with despair.” Last year, I had a moment of hallucinatory clarity after exiting a late-night Lyft back to campus from the movies. The world, I suddenly realized amid the early morning chill, was incomprehensibly grand and thereby rife with wonder and possibility. Enthralled to the depths of the night, I soliloquized to my friend over voicemail about how lucky I felt that this world existed, and how we, of all beings, got to live in it, but I hung up the phone disappointed. My words had failed to express any real meaning but were instead just brief variations around some unidentified theme. Then I realized that the only sufficient conduit for my joys would be all those lyrics and melodies I had relied on for as long as I been able to articulate my feelings.

Hoping to approximate the stars in their apparent galloping across that New Jersey night sky, I roamed for another hour, singing to the sleeping campus. Then I woke my girlfriend with a phone and asked her to meet me in the courtyard, where we danced in the rain. I am writing now to remind myself that I never left that world. This new one I was thrust into six months ago is actually the very same one I already found so normal and so surreal. This world is equally full of beauty and wonder and sorrow and decay and, perhaps most of all, paradox: contradictions whose constant overlap only heightens the joys of goodness or exacerbates the pain of grief. But in the words of Denis Johnson: “That world! These days it’s all been erased and they’ve rolled it up like a scroll and put it away somewhere. Yes, I can touch it with my fingers. But where is it?” Even now, I hope I can still find “that world,” whatever it may be. I just have to look a little harder. Right now, I’m searching for it in the connection between you and me, as I try with these words to encapsulate

my lonely little heart and pass it on to you. But in the end, I will always find it in plinking pianos or rollicking saxophones or my quavering voice, all tender and aching to be heard. Jack Gilbert was onto something when he wrote that, “We must admit that there will be music despite everything.” Notice, however, that the poet frames this affirmation as a challenge, calling upon all of us to realize that, amidst even the grandest and most inconceivable chaos, we can always find some solace as long as we can call a tune to our lips or to our hearts. This is that “everything” Gilbert refers to, this massively overwhelming world that we all too often doubt we can bear. Yet here we are, both despite and because of its madness. We are alive, and we endure, even if sometimes our only guide is a song.

The writer in me finally began to understand the Nassau Weekly’s go-to advice to Peter Taylor: “You don’t know anything.”


September 20, 2020

standstill by christien ayers

i’m here but i’m standing here just a mile from the charred fuselage: rebel forced into sudden silence, she’d sing for us hymns of the unborn still under His rigid eye. i left a trail of wrinkled receipts spending evening prayers and birthday wishes on big guns and fighter jets— pixie dust custom-made for us, and so came this sudden invention: Fourth of July firecrackers dipped in sour wine made for idle dreams spoiling his repair i don’t want to be a father you couldn’t stand to be i don’t want to be a father you never had to be.



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with my parents again. AK: Yes, I do need to leave my parent’s house. As much as I love it here. DT: Yeah. No more of this. AK: And what else? Tell me about your soon-to-be-released EP. I’m so excited. DT: Yeah. So the EP, that’s a thing that I’ve been doing. The first song I wrote for it was the last piece of music that I wrote at Princeton. And I went into one of the practice rooms and recorded it on the piano. It’s the last song on the EP, and

it’s also the EP’s namesake. The EP is called “Poem,” as you may know. AK: Yes, I do know that. DT: And so I wrote that and then school made us go home, and we left in January, February, March? March. Right. So I guess it only took me a month to start actually doing it. But I started with that song and then it kind of went from there. And it took me four months, a very sporadic four months. So I would say, if you condensed the time I actually worked on it, it was probably two weeks. Because, like, I think I went for about two

months not doing anything. AK: Yeah, I wanted to ask about that. For me, my adjustment to like, being productive and doing the things I love when I first got home was slow. Even though I very much wanted to write and paint and do all these things in quarantine, it was hard, and I think this is something many people felt when they came home from school back in March. How was the transition for you? DT: Yeah, I guess for the first two months or so, I spent half of my time on school and half my time doing absolutely nothing. And so there wasn’t

really any, like, music going on. I was lucky because I was in my collaging in architecture class. So, I was still making visual art for class, which I ended up continuing to do after the class ended. AK: That class sounds so cool. I want to take it. DT: Yeah, I think it’s a really excellent class. It really taught me a lot about art-making, I guess. Yeah. A lot about randomness, and just like, not actually deciding what you’re doing or how you do it, which is how I approach music. AK: You’re calling them random, but from an outsider’s

perspective on Instagram, your collages don’t seem that way. They’re like, beautifully structural. I would have thought you planned everything out beforehand? DT: It’s a lot of moving things around until I like it, and then just pasting it, and then continuously doing that until I think it’s done. AK: For collaging, that’s methodology though! That’s awesome. So you had this poem, which inspired the first song? DT: Yeah, the song is called “I Wrote You a Poem.” All four of the songs on the EP are I-You


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statements. So like, I love you. I… blah blah blah… you. And yes, that song is in fact about a poem that I wrote. It’s, it’s a whole thing. I guess the first step is that I wrote a poem about my life, about things that I was experiencing. And then, based off of that, I wrote a song about it, because I was kind of using poetry as a means of communication with people when I should just have had conversations with them, which was not the way to go. But I did do it. And so naturally, I wrote this song that inspired the rest of the EP, I think. Very exciting. AK: Are there excerpts in the song from the poem? DT: No, that would have been a good idea, had I planned it out well enough. Only the title appears in the song, and the title of the original poem was “We Are A Book of Poems.” And so

there’s a lot of levels of “poem” going on in it. AK: That’s provocative. A lot to work with there, I love it. So, I have yet to hear the songs on this upcoming EP. However, “Billionaire House Party,” your last single, was all I listened to for a week. I don’t know if you could see where people were listening, but many-a-listens were coming from my location. I really loved it. It’s very catchy, very baroque and decadent. DT: Thank you. Yeah. There are a lot of like, art references. It’s very—there’s a lot going on. That one is kind of like the other side of the coin for “I Wrote You a Poem,” where, I guess the first half of the school year, instead of dealing with things, I was just like kind of furiously making self-portrait after self-portrait after self-portrait. And that was just how I was coping. And

so that’s basically what’s going on in that one. Yeah, and “Billionaire House Party” is also basically everyone’s Princeton experience. AK: It really is! It’s very Bacchanalian. That’s why it resonated so much for me. It’s like, you’re surrounded by so much pressure, and all these rich people. DT: Super rich. And so intelligent. AK: Yeah, I like that song a lot, and I also think it’s very fun musically. I’m excited to see how the EP responds to it, shows that other side of the coin. You mentioned that after writing “I Wrote You a Poem” you took a break. When did you decide to make a whole EP? DT: So, for years now I’ve been talking about releasing an album, and it just hasn’t happened. Since last summer, I


Volume 42, Number 6


have more songs that I will never release than songs that I’m going to release– songs that I’ve written and finished, which is really annoying. But like, when I don’t like them, then it’s just not going to happen, you know? So after “I Wrote You a Poem,” I had another song that I was working on, and I kind of realized that I always write in the first-person, and I’m always addressing someone, a “you.” Or is that second person? Yeah. Like, that’s just how I write music. And I realized that in these two songs that I had written, I was mostly addressing myself, which was really interesting. So I was like, okay, so apparently I’m writing as if there’s a disconnect between myself and then another me, which is now “you.” And so I was like, well, that sounds like a set of songs that I could write. Yeah. So it

ended up as a collection of really dark and kind of twisted love songs to myself, that are kind of dealing with the experience of losing yourself to yourself, you know? It’s where the “I” and the “me” become different people, which is something that I’ve been dealing with. AK: Yeah, I actually know what you mean. It’s that feeling of understanding the external projection of yourself, and how that relates to your “real self” I guess. I know what you’re saying. I like that you address these songs to yourself. It’s so much better than addressing them to like, some ex-lover that doesn’t deserve them. DT: I know. Which I will say I have done. AK: I mean, but that’s art! Do you feel like quarantine has had an impact on the music? Like, if you were to look back on the

album, would you be able to see influences of your feelings about being in America in the time of COVID DT: I think that we have all had to spend a lot of time alone and with ourselves recently, which means that I’ve thought a lot about myself, and also this past school year and feelings that I have felt. And for me, putting this out, putting the EP out, I’m trying to move past these feelings. Like it feels like just something that needs to end, you know? It feels like when it’s out, I’m kind of free of all the things that I’m talking about in the EP. Unfortunately, I think as far as it being influenced by world events, it’s kind of an incredibly selfish EP all about me, and nothing else. And so I don’t know if you’ll hear anything of that sort influencing it. AK: And what’s the album


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cover? Is it a piece of art that you made? DT: Yeah. So it’s a picture of me that I took this fall. This year I took a lot of pictures of myself. So like when I was at school, a lot of head swings to try and get some motion blur. There was a lot to choose from. The central song– although I guess it’s not central technically because there’s an even number of songs…There were going to be five songs, but I decided the EP was complete in four. So the song that would have been the middle song, which is the third track, is about the night that I realized that there was a sort of disconnect. And so in this image, there’s a line where I’m saying, “I stumbled into my room, flipped on the light, looked to my left, and there you were, and you looked back.” And so this album cover image is supposed to be the process of me looking back,

looking to my left. And, yeah, I just found this picture that I had accidentally taken on my phone that was like really close up of, like, some fabric. And I just put some filters over it and then put it on top of this photo. And I thought it looked cool. And so, that’s the cover. AK: And it’s a nice cover. How do you feel like your art and music have intersect and played off of each other? Because I see a lot of intersections and connections. DT: So certainly this fall and with “Billionaire House Party”, that song is, I think, the equivalent of all the little chalk drawings I did of myself. They’re the same thing, dealing with the same emotions and stuff. I think that this EP doesn’t necessarily have a parallel in any art that I’ve made, unfortunately. But also at the same time, because I’ve been making this music in the past

few months, I haven’t actually made any art that doesn’t deal with current world events, and the Black Lives Matter movement and etcetera. A lot of my recent artwork is responding to the world. Oh, and COVID. I’ve only shared about half of it, maybe less on Instagram, simply because I don’t necessarily think my voice is necessary in that discourse, you know? So I just have it. But that’s all I’ve done. Yeah. And so the music and art have interacted a lot less recently. AK: So would you say that your music is kind of the place where you’ve been reflecting back on your personal self, isolated from what’s going on in the world, and your art is a response to your environment? DT: Yeah, absolutely. And sometimes those are the same thing. But right now they are not. AK: They are not. Very, very




number one, I’m excited

for the Poem EP to be out so I can do something new and get over it. And I’m also excited for people to hear it

cool. Ok, tell me something you’re excited about? DT: You know what I am excited about? Well, number one, I’m excited for the Poem EP to be out so I can do something new and get over it. And I’m also excited for people to hear it, because I think it’s interesting musically. Like, there’s a lot going on. I am going to get a guitar soon and I’m going to learn the guitar, because I need a new method of songwriting. I just feel like I want to. And I’m hoping that at least whatever I do next, musically, it doesn’t have to be so much about myself. I’m really sick of writing about myself. It’s getting super old. I feel like I know so much about myself now. AK: It’s good. You went through an exploration of your identity and it’s just a phase in your progress as a person and an artist. I can certainly

relate. I’m vain. Whenever I write something, it’s always just about my life with slightly changed names. DT: Yeah, yeah. I agree. And maybe what I want to do going forward is be more subtle about it. Like, I’ll write about other things. It’ll still be about me, but other things too. Because this album is not subtle. AK: Maybe you could talk about your reasons for doing it for yourself, and not always putting everything you make, either music or art, into the digital world? DT: Let’s see. The music that I don’t put out… it’s usually just because I don’t like it. I’ve been kind of lax about what I put out in my past. There’s some, like, pretty bad music you can find by me out there. So recently, I’m just trying to be more strict with, like, what I release. So, there’s

that. And in terms of, like, how personal something is, I also don’t hold back. I’ll basically put anything out. It just depends if it’s high quality or not. But like, art that deals with things that I don’t necessarily have a say in... making that art is helpful, but it’s complicated. Because I always want to be able to just, like, make stuff, but right now it feels like I shouldn’t, which is fine. And so I don’t. And when I do, I do. But when I do, I don’t put it anywhere, unless I think that it’s actually going to add to something, you know? And I’ll think about it, and I’ll look at it. But it doesn’t have to go anywhere. AK: Yeah, sometimes it can just be for you. And I think that’s an important thing. Do you think you’re going to set up your space in an apartment in Minneapolis? Will it


September 20, 2020


become a studio, essentially? DT: Yeah, yeah. Definitely. AK: I love that. DT: Yeah, it’s like one room, it’s very small. It’s going to be very eclectically decorated because we’re not really buying any furniture. It comes technically furnished, but like rugs, for example, I’m just getting out of my basement. So we have a random assortment of rugs. It’s going to be a weird space. See, I really need to change location because all the music that I’ve made other than “Billionaire House Party” has been from my childhood bedroom, and I have just bled that. All meaning is gone from that place. It’s already out there in some capacity. It may or may not be in a high quality capacity, but it’s out there. And so I think a change of scenery will be good. Because I like writing about where I am, whatever that means. AK: So does place very much influence your work? DT: Yeah, well, so, obviously one’s environment influences their life very strongly. So everything in the EP is Princeton me, looked at through the eyes of Minnesota bedroom me, which is weird. AK: It’s the disconnect! Speaking to your two selves. Yeah.

DT: Yeah. And like, multiples of me. So I don’t know, I still don’t know if I did this on purpose. There are quite a few contradictions if you really listen to the lyrics, just throughout the entire EP. And there are also specific “you’s” that really sound like they should be other people, and sometimes, they kind of are other people. And so, it’s not like every single time I say the word “you,” it’s talking to me. But, it kind of is like that. It’s just sometimes multiple people. There’s a lot going on. And I honestly haven’t really sat down and gone through it and thought about who this music is about, because I don’t want to! So just say it’s about me.

Unfortunately, I think as far as it being influenced by Anika Khakoo, it’s kind of an incredibly selfish EP all about the Nassau Weekly, and nothing else.

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