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November in Five Songs
One part song recs, another part travel diary
Welcome back to This Month in 5 Songs. I started this list while I was jetlagged as all hell while abroad, but now I’m finishing it up back home, jetlagged in the other direction. And although “travel diary” is mentioned in the subtitle, it won’t be a vacation recap by any means. You know me: just ramblin’ thoughts.
Last week, I went abroad for the first time since 2019. Going to Asia carries a lot of meaning for me, and while I feel an uncanny level of comfort and safety there, I also feel a heavy weight, a sense that I’m totally out of my element as someone who appears outwardly Asian but is so undeniably American. (Yet, when I’m in the US—my home—I feel like a stranger, too.)
Being in a new place always forces me to think critically about my life in a new context: my privileges, my pain points, my routines, my identities, my place in this huge, huge world. This particular trip revealed a lot to me about who I am right now.
Over the past few years, I’ve felt a lot of shame around how far I feel from who I used to be, especially post-pandemic. When I was younger and first able to afford to travel, I was addicted to the idea of getting away to find myself. But as the world re-opened and I look back on what I was really craving in those few isolated years, I find myself wanting more and more to stay put in order to nurture myself and my sense of community on the ground.
I know I talk a lot about acceptance here. It’s because it’s something I struggle with deeply. I tend to think that whatever it is I want right now is an early sign of stagnation and the beginning of my journey as a crotchety, grumpy adult who’s impossibly stuck in their ways.
What I always ultimately land on is: a desire for balance. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to experience new places as a tourist with a passport that unlocks so many corners of the world without question. I know this is a privilege. But I’m also trying to integrate the idea that being right here, right now without any grand plans doesn’t mean I’m forfeiting adventure. Growth and self-knowledge are still accessible even in everyday moments and non-novel experiences. That, too, is a beautiful thing.
This list features a few songs I discovered while abroad. It’s always fun to hear English music being played in another country, just nonchalantly streaming through the speakers of a cafe or shop or hotel lobby, and learning of a new band or song I would’ve never known about.
I think this song says a lot about how I used to live my life: keep moving, keep moving. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. This dancey and upbeat track shows that it’s just one of the ways of living and coping. (Also, this video is really cool and beautifully shot).
02. 🎵 Shell by Ethan Tasch
An idea I’ve really struggled against instead of trying to accept that I’m not who I was 10 years ago, 3 years ago, 6 months ago. I’ve held onto this unprovable self-story that my pandemic hangover has been more drawn out than others around me… because it pains me to think that this is just who I am now. But this idea that “I’m a shell of myself” still implies that I am supposed to wake up and return to a version of me that lived in a completely different context instead of working with who I am now.
I also love how playful this video is in contrast to the lyrics of the song… I feel like sometimes we just have to approach ourselves with lightness to begin unpacking it all.
Another song that’s been on my radar recently that hits home about how easy it is to view myself as this stagnant, unchanging being—that my actions and thoughts are “so typical of me.” I really love the end where the band is going a little wild and repeating the line, “I keep running back” over and over again. They’re probably talking about an ex or something but to me, this feels like escaping back to an idea of my former self, as if that’s what’s going to break my spell.
When I first listened to this song, the line “Why do I always get stuck on the past, want to go back?” was the only one I truly heard. When I listened again, I was particularly struck by, “All of my recollections […] / I look fine in projections / Even if they're not true.” …Whoa.
This song feels like it should be part of an indie movie soundtrack, underscoring someone on a long train ride, watching the scenery speed by through the window. If you’ve seen the Pixar movie Soul, you’ll also know what scene I’m talking about—where sometimes, the beauty of being human is just feeling the breeze on our skin or seeing an acorn fall off of a tree. It doesn’t have to be more grand or complicated than that.