Pentatonix + Madison Square Garden = Best First Concert (Ever!)

A clear stage, superimposed with technicolor moving images. Five musicians, each talented in their own unique and, to be honest, mind-blowing ways, dressed in outfits that coordinate but don’t match perfectly. A New York crowd already primed for a good show, thanks to openers Citizen Queen and to Rachel Platten. All coming together on a Thursday night at Madison Square Garden: iconic, legendary concert venue.

All signs point to the MSG stop on the Pentatonix World Tour being nothing short of E P I C.

All signs were so, so freaking right.

Note: photo quality will not be the greatest; we weren’t close enough!

Note: photo quality will not be the greatest; we weren’t close enough!

It was while I was in Mexico that I got this random urge to listen to Pentatonix’s music. This isn’t necessarily out of the ordinary for me — I’ve harbored a sideline fandom for the group for years, and every once in a while said fandom spikes. I was watching their YouTube videos and of course the ads for their World Tour were just…right there.

I didn’t think it was realistic, to be honest. I’d never been to a concert, much less one for a group I adored, much less one at Madison Square Garden. I just assumed the tickets would cost $100+, I could look at it and laugh at how silly I was for daring to dream, and keep crying over how beautifully produced their music videos are.

I mean really. This is just unfair. Plus they sound like angels.

Obviously — that’s not what happened (LOL). I guess I have some preconceived concert notions.

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But enough about the backstory. Let’s talk about the story.

First things first, the opener for Pentatonix is this five-member a cappella group called Citizen Queen, who, from what I could tell in my post-concert research, kind of burst onto the scene in December with a cover video of Ariana Grande’s “No Tears Left to Cry,” and are now killing it as the opening act for Pentatonix.

They brought so much energy onto the stage and were so joyous and just…listen, this word kept running through my mind all through the concert, which was “high-octane,” and I was like, Ugh, Karis, don’t use that in your post, it’s so clichė, but at the same time it really feels like the best word.

The energy on that stage, the joy, the sheer desire to be there and happiness about it and borderline disbelief but also determination to fully crush it: this is what it’s about.

And that’s what I got from Pentatonix’s set as well. There was this moment, right after Kevin Olusola finished doing an omg-holy-cow-wow celloboxing (watch the video, for real) solo, and as a crowd we were losing our COLLECTIVE MIND because I just…I don’t have the words to describe what it was like to watch that in person.

But anyway, the point is, after he finished and the whole stadium was erupting in cheers and applause and it just went on and on, he just sat there for a second and just…took it in. And it dawned on me: this is a big deal for them.

Which, like, I should’ve known, right? I, concert novice that I was, recognized how exciting it was to go to Madison Square Garden for a concert. But I just looked at this group, who’ve been together eight years now, who have released multiple albums and won Grammys and traveled the world performing, and assumed: they’re living their dream. They’ve done it all, and there’s nothing else they want to do but haven’t yet.

And I was wrong. I mean they said it, multiple times. Kevin and Scott (Hoying) both told the crowd later just how mind-blowing it was to be able to perform in that space. And Matt Sallee, the newest member of the group, mentioned how when the group was first created and were performing on the competition show The Sing-Off, he watched them and thought about how he wished to someday sing with them.

So there he was. Last night. Performing with them. At Madison Square Garden.

And I just…it hit me. So hard. So beautifully. Getting to this point for this group, it’s taken a lot of hard work — I mean, they’ve been at it eight years!

But they did it. So…it made me feel like I can do it, too. It made me feel like, yeah, sure, I’m not where I want to be with my writing yet. But that doesn’t mean I’ll never get there.

It’s a beautiful feeling, to be able to take hope in someone else’s success, rather than despair. Usually when I see others’ success, whether that’s in writing or acting or art of any other kind; or in being really talented in a field I have no interest in, even, it bums me out.

Not last night. Last night it lifted me up.

And one more thing.

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Rachel Platten performed as well. Her set was just…can I say refreshing? Can I be clichė again? Rachel danced around that stage like it was hers, like she didn’t care what anyone thought and never had, and I found myself thinking — I want this energy. I want this confidence.

And then she stopped. And she told us that less than two hours before then she’d been sobbing backstage, sure she couldn’t perform. And then she performed this most beautiful song, “You Belong,” written for and about her newborn baby, and I…it was so beautiful. She told us, “You do not need to be perfect to be loved,” and I gasped (yes, really, and dramatically) and leaned back in my seat, crying.

After she shared with us the backstory of her incredibly popular “Fight Song,” and then when she performed it, I just…I bawled. I was trying to sing along, but I was crying so hard I couldn’t even do it.

I feel broken so often these days, guys. I feel like I’m wading through mud carrying heavy burdens on a back screaming in pain. I feel like I can’t do it.

And that set reminded me: push through it. Carry on. Fight on. There are people fighting with me, cheering me on. I have the strength to make it — or I wouldn’t have made it this far already.

Yes, life is hard. Guys, it’s so hard. Just when it seems like things are getting better, something hits me again and it’s like…how do I even deal with this? Where do I go from here?

Forward. Onward. Upward. Always.

Fight on, lovelies. If Rachel Platten can do it, if Pentatonix can do it, if I can do it, you can do it, too. Give me a holler if you need to chat — here, or Twitter — or talk to a friend or a therapist or sit down (or stand up, I don’t know what kind of movement your dream might entail!) and get it done. Let’s all get it done.

Mourning New York, Forcing Myself to Look Ahead

Leaving felt so natural, and I barely cried as I drove away; yes, even as I snapped one final photo of the Empire State Building through my side-view window, I didn't feel the pang.

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In fact, I did tear up a little; but I'm pretty sure I was just forcing it. I knew I was supposed to be crying...mourning...grieving...and even though I couldn't feel those emotions naturally, I tried to make myself. To assuage the later pain. 

Didn't work.

The later pain, when it came, wrecked me. It stole my breath and left me curled in a ball under my covers, unable to appreciate the fact that I'm in Italy, because all I could think about was how I'm not in New York

I look at pictures on Instagram and my heart shudders. I read about the broken subway in the paper, and I'm overcome with nostalgia. Every time I close my eyes, my eyelids are imprinted with the sight of my Brooklyn apartment, which I can't believe I left.

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It was a beautiful apartment. Spacious, light-filled, with a balcony (!!!) and two wonderful roommates. It had a big living room where I used to sit to read the paper, write some articles, watch TV, a kitchen with two. separate. sinks, and my roommate, Rachel, quickly became one of my best friends.

The night before I left, Rachel and I went out to dinner together. We toasted to my future, stuffed our faces with pizza, and laughed about Jane the Virgin.

And all the while, it wasn't real. The fact that I was leaving this city I loved with passion, the people I'd grown to depend upon, the sidewalks and routes that had become home to me...it wasn't real.

It took a few weeks for it to really sink in, and when it did? It struck with a viciousness I hadn't expected.

I've described it as a physical ache. I miss New York so much that sometimes I feel nauseous. I miss it so much I'm surprised I don't get a spontaneous nose bleed.

New York was...the city that captured my heart. People used to ask me why I loved New York. It's dirty, they would say, or too fast-paced, too mean a city. It'll chew you up and spit you back out, wrinkled and broken. I would shrug and tell them the simple truth: that it was home.

When I stepped out of the rented car on my first adult visit to New York, back in 2013, I just felt this overwhelming sense of belonging. Like I understood the city, and it understood me, and we just made sense together.

After that moment, I made it my life's mission to get back. And for a beautiful two years, that's where I lived.

Do you think you'll live in New York forever? my friends would ask. They didn't; they had plans to eventually move to California, or the suburbs. Yes, as long as it makes sense, I responded.

How was I to know it would stop making sense so soon?

I sometimes fear I'm a rat abandoning ship too early. I look at all the times over the years I've moved or quit a volunteer job that was draining me or switched to a better-for-my-health job, and I think maybe I'm a quitter. But at least I wasn't going to quit New York.

Except I did.

I think I don't just miss the city, I miss the person I could dream of being while I was there. I miss the fast-talking, no-crap-taking, power-walking, laughing girl I was when I first got there, the girl I dreamed I would be again in a few weeks, a month, perhaps a year.

Because those people who told me New York would chew me up? 

They weren't wrong.

It is a hard city. It's frantic, and it's massive, and getting from one place to another is a job in itself, and there's little room for screwing up. 

It's a hard city, and it wrung me out and hung me on a line to dry, and I couldn't get back up. 

So I left. And I miss it every day, with nearly every breath. It's constantly on my mind, how much I miss it, how much I want to be back.

But.

But I can't be back. Not right now. The truth is, I can't function the way I did for the last year I lived in New York. I was working 40+ hours a week, plus 6-12 hours of commuting, plus either in a deep depressive episode or else trying to add 15 hours of freelance work, plus having a social life, plus reading, plus sleeping, plus this, plus that...I just couldn't do it. I couldn't afford it, financially or emotionally.

I want to keep looking into the past. I want to keep my eyes trained on New York and plunge ahead speedily with the single goal of getting myself back there. But that's no way to live.

So, as hard as it is, I'm forcing myself to turn my head and look forward. I've decided that I'm going to live in Columbia, South Carolina, for at least the next year. I'm going to commit to a job, an apartment, a cat, a church, a community. I'm going to pour myself into that life and those people and not treat any of it like it's second-best, because right now, it's best. It's the best place for me, and it's the best I can do, and it's my best option, and so it's not second-best. It's first-best.

I'm going to rejoice and "bloom where I'm planted." I'm going to keep my eyes ahead on the horizon, and if it never changes from Columbia, or if I move and travel and have myriad adventures, or if I'm shortly back in New York, I'm not going to look back at what I've given up. I can't afford to keep beating myself up over the past.

Yes, I miss New York. Viscerally. 

But I'm not going to let that stop me any longer.

And Hungary Makes 23...And Never Enough

Listen, I've got to be the most competitive person out there...got to be, because if I'm not, I'll fight whoever is until I win. Aha! I win! 

See?

Anyway, I get competitive about the smallest things, because I end up finding my self-worth in the smallest things. And I know that my true worth is found in Jesus and his love for me...I know that. I just don't always understand or believe it, ya know? 

So I look for worth in other things. I look for worth in how much I stand apart and stand out from others; in middle school, I feared I didn't have a personality, feared I was just a living, walking, talking carcass, so I found my worth in doing things and being things that made me stand out.

One fact about me that isn't true for a lot of people is that I'm an MK. A TCK. A kid who grew up in a foreign land. That sets me apart, makes me special, you know? Not everyone can say that. 

And one special thing about the land I grew up in is that it's incredibly easy to travel from there to other lands...so I've traveled a lot.

The view from our apartment in Hungary, Country 23.

The view from our apartment in Hungary, Country 23.

In fact, as of this past weekend, I've visited 23 countries on three continents. 

If I look at it objectively, that number is big. Impressive, even.

When I look at it subjectively, it's not big enough, not impressive enough. It's too small. It's the one thing about me that makes me stand out from the crowd, and it's not enough. To be really spectacular, I would have to have visited 30 countries by now! I would have to have been to more countries than my parents and grandparents, I would have to have been to all the continents and done all the things and be recognized in the freaking Guinness Book of World Records for most countries visited at a young age.

That's never going to happen. 

My chances at being a prodigy get smaller with every year that passes. At this point, I don't just mean a traveling prodigy...I also mean a writing prodigy. A humor prodigy. A friend prodigy. An anything prodigy. 

I want to be the best, because I believe that if I can achieve the peak of something, I will finally have earned back my years of consuming oxygen and expelling carbon dioxide. 

So my mom and I went to Hungary last week. It's about a 3.5 hour car ride from Trieste, and we stayed in a small, cheap little resort town during the off-season. We ate at the restaurant across the street from us and were disappointed by how much sugar was in the pastries at the No Sugar Caffe and Bar. We swam in thermal and mineral waters and a large Hungarian man massaged my back. It was lovely. It was a personal record, 23 countries in 24 years. 

It wasn't enough. 

It will never be enough.

The truth is, nothing will ever be enough to fill the void in my heart that's desperate for purpose and value. Nothing human, nothing physical or material, nothing temporal.

I know in the depths of my heart that the only way to feel like I'm truly fulfilled is to turn to God and find my worth there. The only one who have fulfill me is the one who created me.

I just don't know how to get to that place.

So I travel. I write. I try to make people laugh and get likes on Instagram and subscribers on YouTube. I do everything I can.

But it'll never be enough.

I want to be the best. Will being loved and created by The Best ever satisfy me?

It has to.

On the Dreaded Move Down South, and My New Love of Clouds

I don't know about you, but I've never really appreciated clouds as much as they deserve.

I just never really noticed them. They were there, I assumed, and occasionally would dump rain upon me and I'd duck my head and scramble as my broken-down, cheap umbrella flapped in the wind, but that was about the extent of my relationship to clouds.

I think I can easily blame this on New York City. It's just such a city, you know? Either you're in Manhattan, with tall buildings blocking sight of the clouds, or you're in the outer boroughs and so intent on what you're doing and taking in the architectural beauty that you ignore nature.

That's what I have a tendency of doing; ignoring nature in favor of the man-made structures that astound.

I have this theory, though, that it's just as easy to worship God through urbanity as it is through nature; because the ultimate creator of everything is, in fact, the God who inspires men to build; it's just in architecture it's more indirect.

But that's off-track. I just, I have a thing for buildings. I adore them. 

So, yeah. Buildings catch my eye. I could write a thousand odes to the beauties of architecture, the wonders of the metropolitan, the glories or the urban jungle. I never thought I would find myself writing about clouds.

It's just that there's so much more space down here, you know? I can drive for miles without leaving the city. The buildings are short and the roads wide and half-empty, and my eyes drift upwards, to the sky, and there...there are the clouds.

Remember that game we played as kids, where we lay on the grass, shaded our eyes with our hands and pointed out the clouds? We used our imagination to create parallels between the clouds and something else we knew, so instead of just seeing a cloud we saw Snoopy, or a sandcastle, or that man from church.

It's a great game, and it's most kids' first introduction to what it means to appreciate what's up in the sky. I have fond memories of playing that game, laying in the sun while my skin baked, breathing in fresh air and soaking up Vitamin D.

I think, somewhere along the way, I forgot about that game. I forgot to look up at the sky and wonder at what the clouds are doing. They're so simple, you know, and there are so many bigger things to think about — there are so many work-related things to stress over and catch-up dates to plan and packing to dread. There is just much to do that does not involve staring at the sky.

That's a pity, isn't it? 

I've said it before, but things seem to move at a slower pace in the South. And they're bigger. There's more time to take in the sights, and one of the sights I've been loving has been that of the clouds. Do me a favor, y'all, and the next time it's light where you are, glance up. Look at the clouds. Snap a photo. Send it to me. Let's talk clouds. 

And let's talk about how it took the thing I feared for two years — leaving New York, moving back to the South — to get me to notice and appreciate my new favorite natural phenomenon. It's just...isn't that the way it always is? You fear something, you dread it, you name it the Bogeyman, monster under the bed, Boggart in the closet, and then when it happens, when life throws you in the direction you never wanted to go, you find something you adore. 

I love New York, and I miss it, today for the first time with a fierceness that surprised me. But I had to leave. I put myself in a box in Brooklyn, and I had to jump far away in order to get free. And I'm so excited to be heading to Italy this week, so exited about all the adventures I'll have there. I'm excited to come home and see what home holds for me the second time around, where I end up, what God has in store. 

The life I was living the past few months in New York was strict and rigid and inflexible. I'm so excited to have flexibility again. So excited get to rant and rave about something new, something unexpected — something like clouds.

Let's adventure, shall we? Look at the clouds, and while we're at it, see what else we notice that might have been hidden before.