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Back to Beirut, I Weep

 

As years pass by, I’ve grown frighteningly familiar with dividing myself in two, scrapping a bright, rich culture for the vultures to feast. Sitting here in this café, I’m once again watching “Back to Beirut”, an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s documentary series, Parts Unknown. He visits the Lebanese city, eating whatever is put before him, talking to whoever crosses his path, and enjoying the atmosphere that never seems to stop vibrating. I keep thinking this is a silly idea; I’m in public, and knowing my probably overly emotional self, I’ll start to get tearful.

 

There is imagery of the city immediately. Less than twenty seconds in, Bourdain narrates, “There’s no place else even remotely like it.” I called it, I start to slowly well up. Oh my god, I pause it. I’m not really feeling the whole sitting-in-a-café-sobbing vibe right now. I don’t think the sandal-and-sock wearing macho-bro sitting next to me would want to deal with it either.

 

The first time I heard Bourdain was heading back to Lebanon, I had the same, expressive reaction. Scrolling through Facebook, an article popped up. Frantically, shivering with excitement, I click. There was a video, a trailer for the episode. Butterflies in my stomach, tears already making their way, I click. Tears. More tears. Not even just specks on my face. I mean, sure, that’s how it started, but then it became blubbering, overflown with waves of chills, all within about 10 seconds and lasting much longer than the 30-second preview.

 

My unquestioned whiteness in appearance has built a wall between my two sides; a war within myself that echoes stereotypes of a perpetually war-ridden Middle East. The struggle to acknowledge the privilege of my whiteness but allow myself my own heritage is never-ending. There is no interrogating my race, my blood, because it just is. Should I have to justify it? Should I even feel like I have to justify it? Is it really even that big of a deal? I mean, it’s just half of me; I’m not full blooded. Or is it worth figuring out because, hey, half actually is quite a lot? Maybe I should give myself more credit. But then again, living in a fucked up world where whiteness is rewarded and everything else is sub-par or even sub-human, I am intensely privileged. Is there a way to acknowledge that without suppressing half of myself? Is there a way to embrace my Lebanese blood without dismissing my privilege? I want to take responsibility, but should that necessarily have to come at the cost of losing something within? I don’t know.

 

Watching the trailer for “Back to Beirut” was like the triumph of finally untangling your earbuds after they’ve been sloshed to the bottom of your backpack. Yes, underneath all of the other cluttered crap you’ve compiled over the months. Though, the triumph for me was a feeling of solace. I had to do a double take. I look like the people who graced my screen. Wait… I look like those people??

 

The relief I’ve gained from seeing my face reflected in those before me is immense, and for now, that’s kind of the only confirmation I feel like I need. Answers to all of my questions may never rise to the surface and be clear as day. I still don’t know how I should walk the line. Though, I have begun to find placidity in having questions. Not knowing isn’t always inherently a bad thing. To be unsure and lost is fine. I guess I’m at least out there fishing around and trying to figure it out?? I don’t know, maybe I’m just trying to make myself feel better about it.

When everything went wrong, you're keeping my head on

A love letter to some of the people I admire most, a second home, and the band whose music is a constant reminder of both

 

The sky was as black as the asphalt we tread. The road rolled out underneath us, passing towns and cities, headlights bleaching the highway as we soared atop the thread that kept those places connected, intertwined. This vessel is a beating heart filled with music that could never be loud enough. These people have permeated every part of my being, these lyrics are steeped in their essence. This city and these suburbs have become so familiar over the past two years, but “familiar” just doesn’t seem to be of justice. Buffalo has become a haven I call home with people who make that so.

 

Whenever I miss these friends, I listen to Arkells. I think of the drives we’ve had, I think of all the good food we eat, the places we go (even if that is Walden Galleria Mall like… a million times). I remember how lucky I am to have them in my life, the privilege of seeing each of them grow into fantastic individuals who will change the world for the better. Arkells are an audible symbol of somewhere I always feel welcome and loved, wanted and accepted. Somewhere surrounded by people who push me to be better, try harder, and excel in every facet of life.

 

In just a week, I’ll be surrounded by these people once again; I will make a pilgrimage to some of my closest friends — my family — the ones who are synonymous with the music. From far and wide, we will be together and I still can’t wrap my head around it no matter how many times it happens. And to top it off, we will be seeing this band, all of us in a setting I may not be so lucky to ever experience again. I will honor those moments with everything I can, for they will be some of the best that will ever come my way, just as they always are.

That Damn Blue Jacket

RIP observer extraordinaire, Bill Cunningham

 

I never saw him as a photographer, and I still don’t. That probably sounds like a diss, but in fact it’s quite the opposite.

 

Bill Cunningham was a walking brain. He was a brain that never stopped finding pieces to the puzzle. He seemed built for discovering commonalities that should’ve been obvious to the rest of us, but they weren’t. We were all locked into our own bubbles and lives, but Bill was out there with keen eyes and a finger on the shutter.

 

On my way to the Museum of Modern Art one day in 2014, I glanced to my right and saw that damn blue jacket on the corner of 54th and 5th. I didn’t even need a double take, that iconic coat says it all.

 

Frantically, I ran across the street while rummaging through my bag for a business card. I approached him and told him I loved him. He smiled at me, asking if he knew me. I handed him my card, volunteering to be an extra hand at any time. He laughed, told me to keep it, to give it to someone who was “actually important.” He then abruptly ran off, madly snapping images of someone down the avenue while I was still mid-sentence. But I really didn’t mind; he was determined to add a piece to his puzzle, and I couldn’t expect anything less from the Mr. Bill Cunningham.

Between Love & Hate

my really Emo and Gross ode to The Strokes

 

Your phone buzzes incessantly, piling up messages from friends, “HOLY SHIT”, “THEY’RE BACK” and other exclamations of eagerness. You’re filled with a strange mix of excitement and panic. The immediacy and urgency have you bursting at the seams. You blast your radio, you wait. Open up a tab, head for the Fader or Spin, hope it’ll pop up on your newsfeed or dashboard. The list goes on. This is definitely applicable to any band or artist you strongly connect with, but there’s something untouchable when it comes to them.

 

Very little is comparable to being a Strokes fan. Lately when they’ve released new material it’s not super expected. Thanks to their most recent albums Angles and Comedown Machine, expectations for an Is This It regurgitation that so many oddly desire have been crushed. We no longer accurately predict what will come out of our speakers once we hit play; no calculation, no foreseeing. We hear rumors, even band members will spill info here and there. We might think we’re prepared but we end up far from it, both objectively and emotionally.

 

Getting into my friend’s car the other morning, listening to XMU and waiting for Julian Casablancas’ guest spot, it felt like a new era. It wasn’t even just about hearing the new tune ‘Oblivius’. I mean, it partially was because I actually really enjoy it, but it was something larger than just that singular song. One new song might mean two new songs, which might mean three new songs, so on and so forth. It gives us hope for more music, it gives us something to look forward to and something to hold onto. And hearing tracks Julian specifically picked to share? That was something just so incredibly special. It was like the thrill of digging through a chest in your grandparents attic, filled with memories and items they held so dear. I felt a warmth I haven’t since seeing The Strokes live almost exactly two years previous.

 

No doubt that music helps bring people together. I’m personally thankful to countless musicians for creating friendships with people all over the world, but there’s a camaraderie with Strokes fans that I’ve never experienced with any other fanbase. Attending one of their gigs is something I’ve been privileged to experience more than once, and I wouldn’t take any of it back for the world.

 

Your feet aren’t touching the floor because you’re being squished so tightly against others. You’re drenched in sweat that mostly is not yours, and you’ll reek by the end of the night. It sounds disgusting and it is, but you honestly couldn’t give a shit, because guess what? You’re fucking seeing The Strokes. Everyone is screaming their hearts out. There isn’t really a better atmosphere (if we’re being honest, a One Direction concert hits pretty close to this in terms of energy. Yes, I did just compare a Strokes gig to a concert of the boyband you love to hate, just to hate. Don’t knock it til you try it). But really, I’ve never been in a more enthusiastic crowd. People are eager to push to the front, which is usually annoying, but you literally just do not care. You go with it, you vibe off of that electricity. You turn to the person to your left whom you’ve never met before, to your best friends, or your significant other. And guess what? You’re all just fucking beaming. Seeing this band live creates a sense of euphoria that just absolutely glistens.

 

On another hand, Strokes shit-talk never ends; we’re not always so grateful. Even if you’re not an ardent fan, the ever-so-popular query of “Will they ever fucking properly tour again?” has probably slipped out of your mouth once or twice. It’s not fair to have such expectations, but of course the questions still continue (and I admit, I’ve been guilty of it as well). But then when they pop up, you’re absolutely enamored. Even if not with the music itself, you’re still strongly thankful they’ve released something new. That they’ve come together, dusted off their instruments, and lifted the curtains.

 

As Strokes fans, there will never be a time where our feelings settle. This band has always, and will always fill our hearts in a way that no other band can match so precisely.

We're Not Gonna Take It: Ending Sexual Harassment at Gigs and in Nightlife

 

There are no cultures in which music is not an integrated part of life in some way. Live shows in Western culture are an immensely important outlet for passionate music fans of all identities and ages. Gigs are spaces where people can dissolve the stresses of every-day life and get involved in a collective emotional experience, building a sense of community. While being involved in something larger than the individual self, participants are also fulfilling themselves personally; they are feeding the fire of devotion and adoration they have towards a specific artist or group. Dishearteningly, within live music settings, sexual harassment and assault against marginalized people, particularly women and intersectionalities within that identity, is not uncommon. These events should be safe spaces that everyone can feel comfortable, without worry of being violated. Slowly but surely, more collectives working towards bringing visibility to these inappropriate acts are being created, and musicians themselves are crafting tools for victims and bystanders to utilize to halt sexual harassment. People attend concerts and nightlife to experience live music, which should absolutely never allow for the physical, psychological, and emotional toll of being sexually violated.

 

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Girl Almighty: The Importance and Validity of "Fangirling"

 

A “fangirl” is typically a younger female who is a committed and passionate fan to whatever or whomever is the object of their affection. Common assumptions that come along with the label include, but are not limited to, the misogynistic oversimplifications of being incredibly emotional, hysterical, and foolish. These lazy stereotypes fail to acknowledge the complexity of young girls and women as human beings, dismiss their intelligence, and boil them down to two-dimensional parodies of themselves. Western culture labels young girls and women alike with this stigma unfairly; it is a blatant example of how deeply sexism is rooted and emphasizes our patriarchal society. Female fans deserve far more respect than they currently receive, and in no way should “fangirl” be associated with qualities that belittle and only perpetuate sexist ideals and stereotypes. There is life-altering significance for females who experience a “fangirl” stage; it assists in the development of sexualities within theoretical safe spaces where the girl is in full control, as well as aids in developing fundamental life-long friendships.

 

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2014: A Year of Revolutions (in collaboration with Zainab Hassan), for The Zine Is Dead

 

2014 was a year in which the people's right to protest was persistently exercised around the world.

 

In the USA, #BLACKLIVESMATTER is among the most prominent, and it is still powering forward.

 

The roar of Ferguson protesters has been heard and echoed globally, with protests of support in counties such as France, Australia, and India, just to name a few.

 

The amount of anger the Black community has for the countless brutal murders and the institutionalized racism within this country is immeasurable, and rightfully so. Solidarity among non-Black folks is on the rise as people finally open their eyes; we must help push the voices and stories of the Black community to the top. We must let them speak, not speak for, or over them. We must stand behind them firmly.

 

These photographs were shot over the course of one night during Millions March New York City. For protesters here, there was definitely an emphasis on Eric Garner, as he was killed in one of the five boroughs of New York: Staten Island. One specific and main route started at Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village, headed up to 34th street, and back down and through to the police headquarters near Foley Square. Over 20,000 people attended. After that main route, some groups stayed, while others marched on and shut down both sides of the Brooklyn Bridge. Even after that, many went on marching through Brooklyn for hours to come.

Outside Lands Music Festival, for Altamont Apparel

 

Outside Lands Music Festival is easily the best weekend of the year. It includes music emanating from every corner, countless mouthwatering food vendors, and people-watching unlike anywhere else. There isn’t a place I would rather be, or a place I would rather photograph. It is a time where people come and let their stresses melt away. Thus, the festival is a haven for those interested in observing and capturing the simplicities, complexities, and amusements of human emotion and action.

 

Some of the musical highlights this year included The National, Foals, and Sir Paul McCartney (although that last one is pretty self explanatory). Frontman of The National, Matt Berninger, hopped into the audience whilst still singing and let the crowd completely devour him. Guitarist and vocalist Yannis Philippakis of Foals ran down the center divide of the crowd to the sound booth, and back again through the crowd. Philippakis then crowdsurfed twice, all while still playing his guitar. Paul McCartney’s performance was overwhelmingly legendary, playing classic Beatles material and some of his own. He also brought two girls from the audience on stage that wanted his autograph as their first tattoos; he wrapped his arms around them in an embrace to write it on their wrists, which he claimed was “the only way to get the angle!” and left the crowd in a roar of laughter.

 

Held in one of the greatest cities in the world, San Francisco, Outside Lands is one of a kind. The combination of live music, good local food, and people-watching are immensely complimentary of one another and makes the festival an adventure that must be experienced.

 

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