Syracuse: The Playlist (But, first, Thoughts)

Syracuse: The Playlist (But, first, Thoughts)
Taken December 16, 2005, roughly fifteen seconds after I opened my acceptance letter. I remember the date because it had been a big day; I had cut, like, a foot of hair off earlier in the day, had a Christmas party at my house, and my best friend was with me when I opened my letter. It was a perfect end to a perfect day.

If you don’t know me (and even if you do) you may not know that I attended not one, not two, but three universities. Let’s just say I spent a lot of years “working through some shit”. Or, maybe, as my mother recently mused, I simply have a “restless spirit,” which was prrrrobably a compliment (?) and I definitely didn’t dedicate a full five hours to dissecting it with my therapist. 

I started my college career at Syracuse, and I knew from the beginning that Pretirement would include a pilgrimage back there.

Visiting was strange. For one thing, Syracuse is a weird blurry blip in my history for most people who know me now. They know I was there, of course, but what my being there actually looked like is difficult to imagine. Formative and fond as it was, I realized while Joe and I were walking around campus that I had created a sort of vault for my memories of Syracuse. No one I know has any context, even if I do decide to share them, so what’s the point?

Being able to show Joe around the places I ate and partied and had class – I was even able to point out my dorm room window – made me feel something I wasn’t expecting: relief. I hadn’t realized it, but it felt like his idea of me was incomplete as long as it was missing the context for that year at Syracuse.

So I’m feeling a little more whole today.

Secondly, the happiness I felt at going back to Syracuse was a little surprising. Not because I don’t remember it fondly, but because, most of the time, I don’t think about it at all (see: the vault analogy, above).

It made me think about all the things we minimize in our memories to make painful decisions seem easier.

Doesn’t it sometimes feel like there are rules about how we are supposed to feel about things that are over now? “Get over it”, “move on”, “forgive and forget”, “let it go”, “he’s just not that into you” – we are supposed to bury memories of the things in our life that don’t work out and, ideally, never think about them again. But, if you do, you should definitely pretend they never mattered. Sorry, but those are the rules.

Coloring complicated situations black and white in our memories steels our resolve. Those little system overrides make getting out of bed every morning possible, because they take lying awake, staring at the ceiling questioning every decision we’ve ever made firmly off the table. It’s what helps us trudge forward, and that’s a good thing.

The fact is, though, that my head is full fond memories of things that ultimately didn’t work out. It would be easier to tell myself, “I hated Syracuse, so I left.” But it isn’t true – I loved Syracuse. I love the people I met, the friends I made, the culture of the place, the things I learned. I even love the idea of the person I might be now had I not left. But I did.

My time at Syracuse was good. But, for so many big and little reasons, I couldn’t stay. And despite the little system overrides I allow myself, that is ultimately the truest and most constant decision I’ve known throughout my life:

“This is good, but I can’t stay.”

When something is good, we want it to also be right but, unfortunately, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. The reality of that is harder, and sometimes sadder, and it’s difficult for the brain to reconcile fondness with loss. So, we shut down happy memories of life’s failed experiments and rewrite them so we never have to question whether we did the right thing: “I left this place/this job/this person because I hated it/it was never right/I shouldn’t have been there in the first place”.

My question is: how is that better? Instead of merely accepting that the things that taught you hard lessons or forced hard choices may also have made you happy, is it really better to tell yourself that every place you ever left was a place you shouldn’t have been in the first place? Doesn’t that mean your head is eventually filled with faux memories of your own bad judgement? Who wants to feel like that?

Most things in your life won’t be forever things. Most of us don’t work in the same job all our lives. We don’t have the same friends all our lives. We don’t marry the first person we love. Do we really want to undermine all memory of those things – that is to say, MOST THINGS – simply because they didn’t last, when the inherent and perennial truth of the world is that so little ever does?

In case you’re waiting for it, here is your permission – to be grateful for opportunities, even if they were cut short due to circumstances within (or not within) your control; to be grateful for having felt loved, even if that love was complicated; to smile when you think about an ex; to miss steak even though you’re vegan; to wonder who you might have been if you’d made different choices (and to like the idea of that person). To know that a happy memory of your past is not an indictment of the person you are now. I hope you have tons and think of them often.

I resolve to practice reflecting more on the goodness of things than the rightness of things. To stop reducing life’s complications into pills small enough to swallow. To resist the urge to perceive every complicated feeling as a call to action. To ditch the idea of regret. To be able to appreciate the way things are AND the way things were. To keep knowing when things are good. To keep knowing when I can’t stay and being grateful for the good anyway.

How about you?

Well. That got serious. Here is my Syracuse playlist, which is the opposite of serious.

I Write Sins Not Tragedies by Panic! At The Disco

This album came out right as I went to school and this song was inescapable, because it seems that the opportunity to scream “god damn” with a bunch of drunk strangers is the Great Unifier (see: “Get Low” by Lil Jon and “Missed the Boat” by Modest Mouse).


Seetiyan (Sukhpal Sukh) by Rupinder Handa

If my year at Syracuse could be defined by anything, it would be the fact that I semi-accidentally joined a south asian dance team at the beginning of the year and dedicated my entire year to that. 

The team was the most difficult thing to leave behind when I transferred. Luckily, I stayed friends with my teammates over the last twelve years – two of them were bridesmaids in my wedding. 

I wish I had pictures or videos, but they are all on another drive. Maybe another time. For now, this is one of my favorite songs that we danced to. 


Faster by Third Eye Blind

I have been – for lack of a better word – “obsessed” with Third Eye Blind since the days I was listening to “How’s It Gonna Be” on my Fisher Price starter radio. 

My freshman year, I discovered that Third Eye Blind had put out an album in 2003 that NO ONE HAD EVER TOLD ME ABOUT. So, even though this album came out in 2003, I listened to it compulsively in 2006 as though it was brand new. 

The songs always remind me of sitting in my dorm room, listening to it over and over.  


Strange Condition by Pete Yorn

I brought a love of Pete Yorn with me to college, which I was grateful for when I met a new friend in my dorm on the first day because I heard Pete Yorn blasting out of their room while we unpacked. 

Also, Pete Yorn went to Syracuse. So, topical.


If Your Mother Only Knew by Rahzel

One fine evening while under the influence of an illicit substance, the specifics of which I will leave to your imagination, I was shown a video of Rahzel singing and beat boxing at the same time. And then I watched it again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. 


Sunday Drive by The Early November

File Under: Sad Songs I Love

This song and the next one are on here because I love them, I discovered them at Syracuse and they remind me so much of my time there that it feels strange to listen to them anywhere else, so I basically never do. 


Innocent Vigilant Ordinary by The Appleseed Cast

File Under: Sad Songs I Love 2.0


Give It To Me by Timbaland Feat. Nelly Furtado + Justin Timberlake

I was recently reminded by one of the aforementioned Bhangra teammates that we wore this song out. 

It’s still a bop.


Samson by Regina Spektor

Remember when people listened to entire albums as a comprehensive experience? That was fun. I bought this album at school and I loved every single song on it. It was hard to choose, but I picked this one because I love the updated biblical allusion and I find the writing especially poetic and sad and beautiful.


Somebody More Like You by Nickel Creek

Another album I couldn’t get enough of Freshman year. If the Regina Spektor album reminds me of spring, this Nickel Creek album always sounds like fall to me. I listened to it a lot as the weather got colder and while flying back and forth to family holidays, and it always reminds me of that time.