As with every birthday, I spent some time looking back at my ‘fiscal’ year. Although it always boggles my mind just in realizing the passing of another year, this past year–my life at 22 years old–has been without a doubt the most cathartic year of my life, despite my mistakes and failures. If you’re curious, I would like to share this recap story with you, in hopes that my story might bring you peace, and, by the process of writing it down, I would be reminded and humbled by what I was able to experience; I’ve decided that I want to be steadfast in living in the truth that I’ve come to know dearly. Let me pray real quick: Holy Spirit, please guide me through this writing process. I want to be truthful, encouraging in attitude, and revealing of your glory. Amen.
Alright, before I begin, I want to explain and elaborate on the name of this blog–Moonlight Mixtape. Sonically, it’s something like this. It’s this nostalgic and sentimental state of mind where it’s lonely but peaceful; sad but warm. Its space is a warm summer night with the windows open and the summer breeze being felt on the skin. It’s dark but the moonlight is evident. In this space, thoughts wash in and fade away like tides, of memories bittersweet, profound, and sobering. I’ve grown fond of this feeling/mood, and I feel as though this state really resonates with me, though this head space may have initially been introduced to me through depression. The alliterating word mixtape refers to the concepts in hip hop, such as the sampling, distributive, and entry-level elements. ものがたり [monogatari], which means story, was a close second choice.
My struggle to write my story did not end at the intro, and I have spent hours wondering how to present it all. It wasn’t until realizing that I should break the story into its thematic parts that I started to feel the momentum to write again. I sought out for a organization tool and found a relationship mapping tool called Kumu:
And here it is, the summary of my life at 22. It’s complicated but it’s unapologetically me. The colour orange indicates categories of things I spend time doing, purple are for responsibilities (something will go wrong if I’m not there), blue are things that I do regularly, and arrows indicate some sort of cause and affect relationship. For example, my hobby in music led me to discover hip hop, through which I met Chris in organizing an event together, by whom I was invited to the church I now attend, which is where I met Tim, who has inspired to become a leader, which was a major reason in why I stopped doing drugs. This chart isn’t complete–or maybe it’s one of those things that can’t be–but it’ll do for the purpose of this blog series. Now then, I’ll start at the chronological beginning, with the story of my 22nd birthday:
I’m always pleasantly surprised by the elevation in my mood when the month of April comes around. In anticipation of and preparation for my birthday (which also coincides with classes being done and the summer being just around the corner), I guess I clothe myself in the awareness that “no one is going to be mean to you on your birthday”. I had been becoming increasingly ambitious in the planning of my birthday events throughout the years, and with the connections I had, I decided to host my birthday at a club last year.
It was a quite the grand idea, and I became more and more excited the more I thought about it. I would be the DJ, and I could play whatever I wanted, since it was my birthday. Soon enough, what had started out from wanting to celebrate my birthday with my close friends quickly turned into inviting most of my friends on Facebook, to its final form of becoming the somewhat official “End of exams party“. And if that wasn’t enough, I organized my rapper, DJ, and dancer friends to perform. I was ecstatic. I pictured music videos. I was in the process of negotiating free drinks. Yes, I was indeed orchestrating all of this, and to my great satisfaction, I achieved a 150+ going and 600+ interested numbers on Facebook. I have never felt so hyped up for something.
Well, the morning of my birthday rolled around with the familiar Vancouver rain that continued throughout the whole day. I think I took a bath, just because, and I couldn’t eat much that evening because I was feeling nervous/hype. I biked over to the venue, and started DJing.
Reality was that, by the end of the night, only about 30 people had come. I remember feeling pretty confused and embarrassed throughout the night, as reality completely mismatched my expectations. It was too bad because I kept waiting for a crowd to appear, so I didn’t even get super into my set or spend time with the ‘day ones’ that actually showed up. But in a way, what happened was kind of amazing. Like it’s definitely safe to expect about half of the numbers on Facebook, and this was beyond anyone’s expectations. What really disappointed me, however, was the fact that so many of the friends whom I really wanted there came near the end or canceled last minute.Needless to say, I was pretty bummed out for a few days afterwards. I stopped ‘dabbing’ since then, and I started to dislike the whole hype culture. I told myself that I would start to focus on individual relationships.
That’s what happened last year. And so, when the time came a few weeks ago for me to plan my 23rd birthday, I was set on the idea of being intentionally different. My manic wheels started to turn, and while brainstorming ideas with Edward, I proudly declared that I wanted to “invert the birthday trope”, which got a good laugh from the both of us. But in all seriousness, I was determined to plan a birthday/event that would be radically different, from purpose to outcome. I wanted to shift the focus from me to us; from celebrating myself to facilitating people coming together.
Although I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted the event to be, I knew that I wanted something that everyone would be able to actively participate in, so that no one would be left out at any point in time. I also wanted to create a space where everyone–including myself–would be interacting with each other, so that we would all be leaving the event with newly formed connections and friendships. As a bad example, I remembered how big birthday dinners would only let me talk to the 5 friends adjacent to my seat. I really didn’t want this, and I reviewed the importance of limiting the number of people attending. Another thing I stressed was the importance of being able to commit; there would be no hard feelings if someone couldn’t come, but because I think the quality of togetherness decreases when people drop in and out at different times, I wanted everyone to start and end together.
So what would an event like this actually look like? Well, an example I came up was having all of us play Minecraft while listening to my music. This would allow all of us to play, interact, and adventure together in a single space, and at the same, I would be able to share and reveal myself through the playlist I’ve curated (which was another aspect to the event I realized that I had really wanted–I’ll expand more on this later). Other examples were escape the room, grown adults playing at a play ground, or even a discussion panel led by me, but as usual, money, time, and resources were constraints.
As I outlined the details of my event, I started to envision my birthday as a platform for facilitating the experience of community, relationships, or maybe even a movement that encouraged these things. I wanted this to be experimental, fun, weird, and built off of everything I had learned from the past year. And this last part was crucial in motivating everything, because the truth was that I had changed completely since last year. I wanted to celebrate the healing, grace, love, direction, and support that was given to me. One of the most tangible example of this is me quitting weed, which will be a year on May 22nd (in 2 days!).
I wanted to use the spotlight I had–because birthdays have more obligation power over people than anything else–to really show everyone who I was, what I had been through, what life meant to me, and the relevance and influence of Jesus in my life–because this was so undeniable to me. Again, I wasn’t really sure how to do this in practice, but my question was: how do I show others who I really am? I thought maybe going all the way back with baby pictures, or sharing my music and the stories that were part of each track. It would surely be a challenge, but I really wanted to practice effectively sharing myself, thinking of the methods and resources.
In a way, all of this would be like a testimony. And I liked idea of my birthday being a testimony. I mean, it’s honestly crazy. I’ve become so different in how I think, how I feel, how I look at the world, how I response, where I look, and why I do anything. I’ve overcome so much of my own shame, fears, and doubts. I wanted to share all of this.
So to summarize, I wanted my birthday to bring people together, and I wanted to use the sharing of my life as a model, example, and catalyst to create a space where we could really try to reach each others’ hearts, and understand on a deeper level that we all ultimately need and want the same thing. And lastly, I wanted something that whatever everyone contributed, whether it was a writing, drawing, or whatever, could be complied into a tangible reminder that this had happened. The event would be something among a presentation, slam poetry, counselling group, discussion panel, LAN party, or what have you. Yeah, it became kind of conceptually overzealous.
But this conceptualization of what I wanted my birthday to be was incredibly special because it’s something that I’ve been working towards for a while. You see, when I had started producing music just about 2 years ago–catalyzed by psychedelics–this ‘grand’ idea of being an artist manifested deep inside me. I understood it as the process of bringing something from my world into the world of reality. And while seeking out how I could share my feelings/art with others, I realized that ultimately, I wanted to give people an experience. At its root, I wanted to connect with people by presenting them an experience curated by me, so that at the end of the experience we might stand on the same page.
I started this out by producing music to bring the places and head spaces I resided into life, to convey myself to the listeners. But in wanting these experiences to be accurate and intimate, I realized that I had to be there and be part of the art, forming somewhat of a performance aspect. And communication would be my performance, so to speak. Continuing down this road, I realized the importance of a multi modal experience. That’s why music videos exist; it’s more immersive. I thought I take it a step further by presenting a whole experience, where I lead some friends through a bike course (at night with the moon out), with music playing, and just enjoying the experience together.
This year, Young Life in particular showed me how to be intentional with relationships with the intention of sharing life together (I know that sounds weird). Once it clicks, so much trust comes from this. Expanding on my artistic desires, I’ve since come to realize that sharing life together, then, is the ultimate art experience, and a community is just the regularity of that. Although communities are everywhere, with the right intentions, everything changes. And church (at least mine) does community perfectly. It’s honestly one of the most beautiful places I know. It restored my trust, it healed me, it shows me how to love. It’s building relationships that are meant to share life together.
As of writing, my birthday had already happened. The result? Kind of disappointing; people were late, people had to leave early, people didn’t bring their laptops, people had already ate, and so on. I was frustrated because I thought I had made it clear in the event description… oh well. But it is what it is. I can’t force people to give me their time and attention. All I can do is show people what I think is good. And plus, I couldn’t turn people away for not meeting my expectations. In the real world, navigating through all our differences and shortcomings is what makes a community thrive.
But it’s really okay. I know my intentions are exactly where I want them to be. I can build upon this experience, and it can only goes up from here. Most of all, this post is enough. Being able to derive these intentions are enough. Being able to express it is enough. Having communicate this with you is enough.
I’m still looking for practical experiences that can bring people together. Maybe I’m looking for team building exercises. Or better yet, maybe sharing life together is the ultimate experience of bringing people together. Wow. Am I stupid for just realizing this? … I think not. I think this makes me appreciate God’s intentions even better.
If you’re still reading this, thank you for taking the time to do that. I hope it was a fun read. As always, feel free to give me feedback contact me! FYI, there will be two more posts for this series, in exploring what had happened in between the two birthdays. As far as birthdays go, last thing I’ll says is:
Random music recommendation