If you have ever been my roommate in hotel, dorm or apartment since 2015, you will already know this: my morning alarm is “Hotline Bling” by Drake. At first, the song choice used to be an inside joke with myself. I selected the song with a wink, or so I thought. Throughout the years, however, “Hotline Bling” has turned into something more like an anthem and less like a jingle. It is constant, always there, always loud enough to wake me from slumber.
A few days ago, I cleaned and listened to one of my favorite new podcasts, “A Piece of Work.” It is genius and brief. There are ten twenty-minute episodes in which Broad City co-star Abbi Jacobson goes to MoMA and explains the art to her friends. The most recent episode I listened to was one about an artist named James Turell who creates these rooms full of shifting light.
Right in the middle of that podcast, just as I was sweeping the last bits of dust off my floor, I thought my phone was malfunctioning. “Hotline Bling” started playing. I didn’t remember setting an alarm. Then, Abbi’s narration resumed. “Hotline Bling” was a part of the episode, not a random reminder on my phone to wake up.
Apparently, the backgrounds in the music video for “Hotline Bling” are all Turell-scapes, illuminating Drake’s cheesy dad dancing.
I got hooked on “A Piece of Work” again because my old roommate Lola and I went to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on a lazy long weekend afternoon. The time that I have left in Boston is the most finite it has ever been. I try to fill a bucket with the weight of things I have left to do.
I want to go swimming, to see the giant globe at the Mapparium, to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and to ride the blue line to the Wonderland stop just because of the name. I want to perform a poem at an open mic night, to fail in front of strangers.
Lola and I were stunned by the centerpiece of the museum, a palatial garden courtyard, outlined by large symmetrical windows. One of the most peaceful, mesmerizing things we could do was stare at the middle. Somehow, the designers of the building got the light of the courtyard just right. Although it was the middle of February, we were surrounded by sun. We were like mosquitos hovering around a lightbulb. The center was magnetic.
One of my friends from the Arava Institute, swung by Boston for a few days to visit his sister before returning to Israel. Jake is originally from Dallas. I’ve always felt a warm weather, non-East Coast hometown camaraderie with him, even though Tucson isn’t that close to Eastern Texas. Jake asked me, “Did you ever notice how the light in Boston is different? How the sun here lays lower in the sky than it does in other places?”
I did not get it. Not at first. But when I walked outside the next day and looked up, I realized he was right.
I went to Shabbat dinner at Northeastern’s new rabbi’s house. I want so much out of my spirituality that sometimes it feels like I’m squeezing a rock while pretending it’s a lemon. However, the dinner at Rabbi Becky’s apartment was gratifying.
For the week’s Torah, Rabbi Becky shared a midrash on the Jews at Temple Sinai. He described how the ancient Israelites prepared themselves a glorious feast to pray to G-d, but realized all they needed was prayer and light to sustain them. The food became irrelevant. This story, at first listen, could have seemed overly acetic but I liked the message. The light can fill us up. (Maybe the moral of all of this, in actuality, is that I should have bought a seasonal affective disorder lamp four years ago.)
At the end of the meal, Rabbi Becky doled cards with different words on it, asking the Shabbat dinner guests to pick three randomly and talk about their significance. My cards were hope, serenity and bliss. I could not help but think about the way Jake talked about the low sun in Boston, how I found the peace in staring at the sky and noticing that Boston is different, Boston is soft, Boston is pastel.
What does home mean? Home is longing. Home is a place with sunsets I miss. In most of the past few years, I stood stonily next to friends snapping iPhone photos of a sunset. “Not an Arizona sunset,” I would huff. I miss the distant skies so physically, so loyally, that sometimes I forget to look up and notice the air above me that implies one day, I will ache for Boston too.