Straight Talk Sunday
Welcome to the monthly series where I write about the ideas and inspiration behind the Spotify playlists I release on the first of every month. There tends to be a personal story behind each of these, so I’ve committed to some friends, readers and myself to use this space to practice leaving my ego behind to make room for vulnerability. It’s scary being so forthcoming on the Internet, where strangers, friends and coworkers alike all reside, but I keep coming back time after time because of the responses I get from people saying thank you for writing about things that typically aren’t talked about openly. Thank YOU all for letting me open up and get real through good times and bad, time after time. On we go.
As I was working on February’s playlist in January, things all seemed to come crashing down once again.
What I hoped would be a month of new beginnings presented itself as a month of unforeseen endings. If you’re able, bear with me through this story; it’s longer than the average. But at the end of it, I hope you’ll feel a closer connection to this music, to me, and to the theme of finding change and turning points when they’re least expected.
This month’s playlist is about energy.
2018 was a tough year for me; I’ve been eager for 2019 to come around. I’m hoping to start the year with some new energy. And apparently that was no secret. I heard from some people that this playlist immediately sounded different.
It’s about balance.
Energy with calmness. Light with dark. Male with female. Lost with found. Remembering with forgetting. Equality with inequality. Love with hate. New with old. Hope with fear. Strong with delicate. You can listen for the metaphorical meanings and make your own interpretations. But this was also about the most literal forms of balance. Hip hop, Baroque guitar. New finds, old favorites. New Justin Vernon, old Justin Vernon. (Really though, Justin Vernon appears 5 times.)
It’s about a prayer.
Because I heard somebody say that the best prayer sounds like ‘Godspeed’ by Frank Ocean. And the world today gives a lot to pray for. Many of those emotions can be heard in these songs. This prayer’s for you. For me. For all of us.
Here’s to 2019.
Note: if the playlist displayed is no longer of the current month, find the appropriate month at the link below.
If you’re not familiar with Brené Brown, let me do the honor of introducing you to a wonderful woman who has dedicated her professional life to studying courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy. Her book Daring Greatly taught me two important life lessons:
- “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”
- “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”
I look back at the version of myself who once wrote really honest Straight Talk Sundays regularly on here and I admire her openness and expressiveness. In the years that have passed since I contributed my thoughts regularly to this outlet, I fear the majority of that courage to be vulnerable has been lost. It feels tucked away and still not yet ready to come out fully. Perhaps someday. But for now, I’ve found the best way to express my feelings and emotions are through curating the creations of others in the form of monthly playlists (find November’s here and other months here). Today, in an effort to take one more step forward, I want to write about this month’s backstory.
The last month has been a challenging one. I’ve been dealing with some pretty debilitating health issues; I spent the majority of October either at home, in the hospital, or at doctors’ offices. I’ve had to take a good chunk of time away from work, which in itself has taken the courage to be honest with myself and put myself on the sidelines. I’ve missed my family. I’ve continued to miss my dad, who passed away over 8 years ago. I’ve missed a sense of purpose and accomplishment.
I haven’t been able to find much motivation to do many of the things I’ve always loved. It’s no secret that searching for new music is one of my favorite things to do, and I’ve spent a good chunk of my life finding pleasure in that. But I couldn’t find it in October, which is the month I use to put together November’s playlist. So this month’s playlist is mostly a collection of what I found from friends and some old favorites, accompanied by a few new findings of my own.
For reasons you can likely now understand, this month was certainly a more calming collection than some others. And it’s worth noting that these playlists are intended to be played in order as opposed to on shuffle. If you do listen in order, you may notice a sonic progression arranged a bit like that of a bell curve. It starts slow, it begins to get a bit more upbeat, peaks at the hip hop section I always save space for, then brings it back home with some slower arrangements, ending with two peaceful instrumentals and lastly a reminder from Andre 3000 and Big Boi to “hold on, be strong.”
There are songs intentionally placed next to each other that I feel were meant to be together. I imagine what a beautiful thing it would be if the artists could know what their song’s match is. To me, “I Miss You” (Branchez remix) fits perfectly beside another remix called “I Still See Your Face” by San Holo and Flaws, because don’t we all when we miss somebody? There are two Big Wild songs right next to each other, one that repeats “I do it for the love, I do it for the love” over and over again, the next repeating “show me love, show me love, show me love.” Chance the Rapper of course makes another appearance this month, and the song that follows is one he sampled in his song “Everybody’s Something” on Acid Rap. I have found myself asking the world to show me love and to remind me that “everybody’s somebody’s everything” throughout not just trying times in my own life, but also some pretty devastating times in the world around us. Just turn on the news to get a sense for what I’m talking about.
A good number of these songs were played in yoga classes that I’ve gone to as frequently as I can throughout all of this. The practice has brought me calm, community and strength. My confidence in my physical balance has been compromised throughout this journey, and while challenging, achieving different poses in yoga classes has helped me rebuild that a bit. Often led by this wonderful teacher who happens to have a phenomenal taste in music that I borrow inspiration from, I’m reminded in class to be courageous and embrace my own imperfections. And I take this next quote from Brené Brown quite literally: “When I see people stand fully in their truth, or when I see someone fall down, get back up, and say, ‘Damn. That really hurt, but this is important to me and I’m going in again’—my gut reaction is, ‘What a badass.’” So I fall, I get up, and I keep working on my badass self. And for what it’s worth, I’m having fun finding badass new songs for December already, so I think I’m making progress!
There’s more in there, but I want to leave some for you to find or interpret on your own. With that, if you’ve listened to the music, thank you. If you’ve read these words, thank you once more. And if you’ve read these words without any judgment, thank you the most. Thanks for letting me share my feelings, my imperfections, and giving me the space to be a little courageous. It’s uncomfortable! But I hope you can hear a little more if and when you choose to listen to this and perhaps be reminded to be courageous and intentionally make space in your life for something you love as I have for music and writing. The title of Song 35 is for you.
Cover art sources that I could find: TylerSean and Emily Carstens
Straight talk: I’m a pretty anxious person. As I fear many young professionals can attest to, we live in a pretty stressful environment. Technology has totally changed the traditional way of living: constant access to email on your phone may unofficially encourage working around the clock, social media has enabled whole new levels of FOMO, and the average American thinks of their phone every eight minutes. Eight minutes! I could keep going, but you know all of this stuff, and you probably feel it too.
In an effort to deal with the anxiety this creates for me, and as I noted in my last Straight Talk Sunday, I’ve spent a lot of 2018 focusing on investing in myself.
One of my favorite days of the year is January 1st because you’re encouraged to sit down and think about what you want to focus on in the upcoming year and set goals accordingly. I love carving out the time to figure out what I want to get better at, think about what gives me energy, and find a way to hold myself accountable to doing those things.
All that said, the problem I’ve found with setting new years resolutions on January 1st is that they rarely last throughout the year. I also fundamentally disagree with the fact that one should only consider what their resolutions should be once a year. So I’ve switched my focus from annual resolutions into monthly resolutions.
The theme of my resolutions is almost always to better myself. Note: while I’m currently working on boosting my confidence and reminding myself daily that I’m a badass who’s doing a great job at this whole life thing, I also think it’s worth recognizing that there are always ways to keep improving. For example, I think I’m doing really well at work, but I know that I’m terrible at setting boundaries, taking breaks, and managing the high-stress environment that comes with a career in sales. So what happens if I hold myself to goals and activities to get better at each of these things?
For me, that led to three goals I want to focus on this year:
- Get better at managing stress and anxiety
- Make time for things that give me (and others!) joy
- Develop skills that I am passionate about
Having defined those, I set monthly intentions that aim to fulfill each of these. Here’s what I’ve done so far :
- January: Meditate 5 times a week. Meditation is a way to achieve relaxation and stress reduction by focusing your attention and eliminating a constant stream of thoughts and worries that may be causing unnecessary stress. I’ve found this to be a really effective way to control the voice in my head and become more aware of the present moment.
- February: Read before bed 5 times a week. Similar to meditation in some forms, I find reading to be relaxing, educational, and a great way to focus on a different narrative than a constant stream of thoughts and worries
- March: Run 50 miles. In the past year or so, I’ve gotten really into running. Not only is it another way of managing stress, it’s a way for me to get outside and see the beautiful city I live in. 50 miles was a relatively arbitrary number that seemed stretchy but achievable and would set me up to be in good enough shape to run a half marathon at a decent pace in early April
- April: Write 5 handwritten letters. I’ve grown up in a family that appreciates snail-mail. I still receive letters and postcards from my mom, who grew up receiving letters from her father when she moved away from home. The joy I get from receiving a handwritten letter is something I hope to always be able to experience, and I hope by putting time into this, others get to experience a similar joy
That’s as far as I’ve gotten. Future months are not planned out yet, but given I have set principles and themes that they’ll tie to, setting the intentions is relatively easy and fun.
As I look back on each of these months’ intentions, they’ve each helped me manage stress, bring me joy, and develop skills that I consider to be worth investing in. And because of that, I find myself carrying these things over into future months as much as possible. It’s April, and I still try to wake up and meditate on most days of the week, I read before bed almost every night, and running is a part of every week for me. These are things I truly enjoy, making them much more than just “one and done” activities.
The reason I share all of this is because I truly believe I’m not alone in finding being an adult in today’s world to be fun, but also really stressful. I have a great job, am surrounded by wonderful, smart and successful friends, and live in a fantastic apartment, but I’d be lying if I said I feel like I have it all figured out. I often question whether I’m on the right path, if I’m in the right place, etc. I don’t envision myself finding out the answers to those questions overnight, so I’m incredibly intentional about taking baby steps to manage stress and invest in things that give me energy. It’s on me to figure out what those things are, set intentions to do them, and to hold myself accountable. And the best way I’ve found to do that is in this process of monthly resolutions or intentions.
I hope this is helpful if you find any of these feelings to be familiar. I’d encourage you to join me on this monthly journey and share with me what you’re working on. If it helps as a starting point, here are three quick recommendations:
- Find your focus — figure out what your goals are before picking monthly intentions
- If you’re into reading, a couple books I read recently and recommend:
- If you want to start exercising more frequently, I’ve copied a cardio playlist I created and continue to update. I also recommend testing out podcasts while exercising; that was a game-changer for me. Some good ones to start with are How I Built This, 30 for 30 Podcasts, and The Moth.
Thanks for reading, and leave me a note or send me a tweet me @sunsetrearview if you do or are interested in doing something similar! Would love to hear your goals or intentions!
When people in my life these days who didn’t know me during Sunset’s peak years find out that I have a blog, they often seem surprised. “Do you still write for it?” “How do you have the time?” I get these questions frequently, and for a long time now I’ve had to answer with an ashamed “no,” quick to follow up with praise for the amazing team of writers I have who do just about every bit of work for the site today. As I venture back into writing, I wanted to share some thoughts on where I’ve been since the days when I posted on here every day.
I’m a little scared to say this, but to be totally honest, for the past year or so, I’ve been thinking about shutting the whole operation down. I’ve written many a pros/cons list about it, but I’ve never been able to get the pros to outweigh the cons. Sure, it stresses me out when the site goes down and I haven’t the slightest idea how to get it back up. The cost of maintaining the site isn’t insignificant. And I haven’t been able to make time to write as I’ve been working really hard to build my career. But staring back at me from atop the list of cons is something that’s hard to put into words, let alone a bullet point: this site is a big piece of who I am, and frankly it’s a big piece of what got to me where I am.
So where am I?
Well, I don’t really want to bore you with a long, drawn-out story…yet. So here are a few bullet points about where I am, physically and mentally. Because if you’ve been a reader of this site, you know I’m not one to hide my feelings.
- I’m 30, living in San Francisco
- I’ve built a good career since moving out here. I’ve worked at a startup, at Google, at an ad tech company, and now at Pinterest, where I lead a team of 10 salespeople
- I’m a very proud aunt of 5 (soon to be 6!) little kiddos
- Nearly 8 years after losing my dad, I still struggle most days with the sadness that comes with losing a parent
- To cope with that, I’m investing a lot of time in myself. What does that mean? I spend the majority of my time outside of work running (just ran my first marathon this year!), reading, learning about a bunch of things that interest me (more to come in future posts), meditating, taking time to be grateful for a lot of things in my life, listening to music that I love – new and old, cheering on my sports teams and exploring places around the world
- And I’m feeling pretty ready to get back into writing
So maybe you haven’t been a reader of Sunset in the past. In that case, you may be surprised to see me talk about my real emotions. Yeah, it’s been 8 years and I’m still sad. No hiding that shit. But honestly, I wasn’t always that willing to openly talk about my feelings on here. I used to simply use this platform to write about music and what I heard. I didn’t include anything about what those songs made me feel or why. Until one day I’ll never forget.
I was having a conversation with my boss at my very first job out of college. He asked me about Sunset and my vision for it. After hearing my ambitions, he told me quite simply that he didn’t think I was going to be able to achieve them. Umm…what? My heart sank. Truthfully, I was offended. I was putting so much time and effort into this website and, just like that, he had the right to tell me it wasn’t going to work?
But I let him keep talking. He said that without injecting my own personality or emotions into the site, there was nothing to separate my blog from every other music blog on the Internet. I shared with him my fear of exposure, particularly as a female writer. He wasn’t entirely insensitive to that, as he understood that at the time it was a bit scary to put a picture of your face on the open web (I’m aging myself a bit here), but was able to convince me of the benefit of making your true self visible to the people you’re writing for.
Truthfully, it was a major turning point in my life. He was right. As soon as I put my personality into my writing, it began a conversation. I became connected to other writers, to readers, and perhaps most importantly to myself. Eventually, Sunset became about a lot more to me than just finding new music and writing about it. It became an outlet for me to share my feelings, which ranged from excitement to extreme sadness when returning to writing after my dad passed away in 2010. But the more I put out there, the more I heard back from people who were reading. People understood me, and on many occasions were able to sympathize and/or empathize with me, which got me through a lot of hard times. They celebrated with me when an artist I had been writing about began to “go viral.” They encouraged me to keep going, keep writing, and keep investing in the site.
When I interviewed for my first role at Pinterest, I remember being asked what I’m most proud of in my life. I loved that question, and it was an easy one for me to answer. Sunset. It’s something that I worked really hard to build. Among many other things, it taught me the importance of never giving up, of teaching myself new skills when I’ve felt challenged, and of investing time in myself and my own dreams, because even if they’re not what pays my bills, sometimes they’re everything I need outside of what pays the bills.
So as I’m sitting here in my apartment on a Sunday evening, reflecting on my weekend, my life, and where I am today, I realize that I owe it to myself to keep investing in this website and, in return, in myself. Because I’m pretty damn grateful for this website and all of the opportunities it has given me. It’s a part of me. And I hope it’s a small part of you. Or at the very least, that it’s been able to give you the smallest bit of joy, because at the end of the day, that’s what this thing is all about.
More to come from me later, but for now, will leave you with a short playlist of some of my favorite songs I’ve collected and written about over the past 9 years of writing for Sunset.
You may or may not have heard of this #100HappyDays campaign that’s going around. I first heard of it after noticing that a friend of mine from work had posted two days in a row on Instagram. I wasn’t used to seeing her post all that often, so immediately took note of her increased posting and this mysterious “#100happydays” hashtag that she had tacked onto both pictures. I asked her about it, and she sent me to the website, where I learned about this really simple concept of posting a photo every day for 100 consecutive days of something that makes you happy. Include the hashtag #100happydays, and if you make it through all 100 days, you’ve succeeded at something that over 70% of people fail to complete because of a quoted lack of time. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try it out, and hopefully my friends and followers on Twitter wouldn’t get too annoyed of this daily post.
Fast-forward 43 days: here I am. I’ve managed to post a picture every single day for the past 43 days of one small thing that’s made me happy. I’ve suffered a minor panic attack, and have learned ten important things about myself. Hit the jump to read about it.
Straight Talk: I’ve only been able to post to Sunset 5 times in the last month. And truth be told, I was shocked when I counted five posts…it seemed like I only posted once in the last month. (Shout out to all the other members of the SunsetFam who kept the machine running while I was out.)
I spent the past two weeks on vacation, and before that it was a total grind at work. Today I want to tell you a story. It’s about what I’ve learned about life, passions, and motivation.
(While I’m at it, it just so happens that I’m listening to a song called Punga by Klingande that is mostly instrumental, but there are few words you hear in the song say “I want to tell you a story.” It’s cool if you read into it as ironic, but I think Klingande actually inspired me to tell a story. Klingande and a couple other things I’ve realized over the past few days.)
*If you care to listen rather than read, I recorded myself reading this. Please bear with the emotions in my voice at times and the loud noises in the background in the middle. Such is life, right?
I haven’t felt inspired in a long time to write a Straight Talk Sunday, because I never want to force these posts. They’re very personal and take quite a bit of confidence for me to actually put out to the world. Frankly, they’re often a bit sad, and I hope that’s okay, but it helps me to get through hurdles in life by writing about them and getting my thoughts out on “paper.” So today there’s something I’ve been thinking about that I think is worth talking about, partly because I need to think through it, and partly because I think it’s a theme that can extend to a lot of us out there. It revolves around the idea of working to live versus living to work.
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve found myself feeling this level of stress that I don’t typically let get to me. The reason is clear: I’ve been transitioning into a new role at work and I’ve somehow managed to say yes to enough projects that while I’m in the office, I’m running from meeting to meeting, hardly finding the time to go to the bathroom. And then I come home and keep working to prepare myself for the next day’s meetings and presentations. Weekends are spent working, preparing for the week ahead. And somewhere in there, I make myself find time to post to Sunset, because at the very least, I find that enjoyable and rewarding. It has left me with no time to sit and relax or spend time with family or friends. The bigger problem, though, is that I’ve started convincing myself that with time, it will pass.
Every December 31st, I find myself turning to the person next to me and saying “can you believe, that come tomorrow, we’ll never be able to say that it’s [insert current year] again?” It happened again this year, and I found myself remembering what it was like to say it was 1992, 1997, 2003, and then realizing that this year will mark my four-year college reunion. Suddenly I felt old as fuck. And I realized that I needed to create some of those cliche new years resolutions that I try to do every year, but there was something that stuck out to me that I really needed to do.
Straight talk: life has given me lemons. I’m saying this after a great weekend spent with family, so it might seem unexpected, but as I sat down after it all, I felt this wave of emotions roll over me. And as I sit here writing this, I’m thinking to myself, “Lydia, don’t do this. Your family will read it and wonder what’s wrong with you — why can’t you just see the good in things and be happy about it?” The thing is, though, I’m an incredibly happy person. It’s incredibly rare to find me without a smile on my face. And it’s all genuine, too. This world has been pretty damn good to me. I love my friends and family. But damn, these lemons can really eat away at me at times.
What hit me today is that all of us are held to expectations. We’re expected to go to school, we’re expected to find jobs; each of us is held to something, whether it’s from your parents, your friends, society…it doesn’t matter. As somebody who lost a parent over two years ago, I’m think I’m expected to be okay. Nobody set a date or a time for me, but I’m pretty sure that people expect me to have formulated a positive viewpoint on life moving forward. And frankly, I have in a way. There are days when I’m okay, and I can tell myself that life goes on, and my dad would want me to be happy for him and live life to its fullest. But beneath that, there’s still a pit in my stomach when I think about the loss. My dad was my mentor, and the absence of that is something I haven’t quite been able to get over, even two+ years after the fact.
Hit the jump to continue reading…
It’s no secret that I love a song with a good piano section in it. If you were to get a dollar every time I said that on this blog, you’d likely be a rich fool by now. I hope it doesn’t get too repetitive when I write about it, but it probably does. The thing is, though, that can really make a song for me. I came across this cover of John Cale’s “Fear A Man’s Best Friend” by ANR (Awesome New Republic) today, and the piano melted my heart immediately.
I started to ask myself today why it is that I love piano in songs so much. Is it that the sound pleases my ears more than any other instrument? Perhaps. But I think it’s got more to do with the memories it brings up in my mind. I started taking piano lessons in Kindergarten with this incredibly kind old man named Louis Pizzolato. I’m not even sure if that’s how you spell his name because he was always referred to as Mr. P. He was a white-haired man, very old (never knew just how old, but appeared to be in his 80’s or 90’s), and he always had a bucket of candy in his office. To call it an office might be an extreme, because really it was a room next to the cafeteria at my school that could fit an old man, a piano, some candy, a couple shelves of music books, and a kid eager to learn. Nothing more than that. The lighting was always dim in that room, maybe because the window to the outside was about 6 inches by 6 inches, if I recall correctly. There were two other rooms just like this one, one on both sides, but I never knew much about those rooms. The most I ever heard was that those piano teachers rotated in and out a lot. They didn’t stick around for long. Mr. P, on the other hand, was there day in, day out, for years.
[Hit the jump to continue reading]