Nothing Is Ever How You Thought It Would Be

It’s me again, walking by my old school locker. ‘That used to the locker I shared with Susan,’ I think each time, and then I rush to my destination and start teaching history lessons again.

My personal history there, by my rusty locker, is of no real interest to anyone – just some portion of my brain which holds memory, thought, emotion, and evocation of these things, and keeps reminding me of them,  unwittingly.

I can’t help but think of my teenage self in those same desks I teach at, walking those same halls. And the memories which come back to me have helped me realize something about THEN me and NOW me.

I was SO WRONG back then.  Right? 

 

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Teaching At My Former High School, I’m Reminded of MY Time There Daily

Did I think I’d be thirty years old and a student teacher back at my high school? Not in the slightest. My best friend and I genuinely believed there was a chance we’d marry our favorite members of Nsync. We huddled together in relative seclusion, wrapped in our fantasy world.  Was that wrong?

Well, technically. I mean, neither of us is married to Justin Timberlake.

But I say we weren’t wrong at all. 

Our predictions were often way off as adolescents. Or at least, mine sure were.  I thought I was in love with a person who loved me back. But it was limerence, an alluring lie I told myself. I thought I’d be living by the beach in California at 25. But I was living in North Dakota helping take care of my mom when I reached that age. I thought I’d be married to a Mormon, have eight kids and still have time to be a best-selling author. So far, none of former are reality.

Everyone always tells me what an optimist I am. How rose-tinted my glasses are, how naive I can be, how  unrealistic my expectations of people are.

And I’ll often agree, wearing the label with the knowledge that yes, I am like that. Not the naivety, per say, but I can agree with being a bit too unrealistic .

Anything is possible, right?

And I think that’s true. Anything IS possible. But does  life often have other plans for you?

Yes.

You know that old adage – ‘Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.’

It is true. And a realization of life as something other than what I had in mind, due to circumstance, choice, choices of others, chance, God…..this is part of what happens when you reach adulthood. At least, this is how I’ve found life to be.

I think accepting the curve-balls, embracing the choices we maintain within some imposed limitations, and learning to love ourselves and others for for who we all ACTUALLY are is an important step to happiness and adulthood.

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Colorado Is My Home Now, Again

When I was a teenager – at the high school I still teach in every day – my friends and I would lament about how booooring Colorado Springs was. How conservative and closed-minded and ultimately booooring it was here. Was there ANYTHING to do? And oh, the slim pickings of date-able boys we moaned about ceaselessly. I couldn’t wait to move. California, Scotland, anywhere!

So we went to Scotland and thought it was, without a doubt, utopia. The guys were hot and like, so into us, yeah? Those accents! The stream of phone numbers and offers to date…wow, where had Scotland been all our lives??  Colorado Springs had NONE of this.

Fast forward a few years and my best friend and I were sitting around talking about how poor we were in Scotland, and how we missed the mountains. Oh, and Thanksgiving. We really needed pumpkin pie.

When I did move back to Colorado Springs, Scottish husband in tow, I was excited…for a few months.

Then it was the same old story, this time with a husband instead of my friend: it’s boring, it’s conservative, it’s just, like, totally lame. Time to move to Boulder. So we did.

And now we’re back.

And I’m seeing Colorado Springs through a lens which never would have been possible back then. I’m seeing it as a mom, as a working adult…as someone who now cares about good preschools and grocery stores.

I’m also seeing Colorado Springs with new eyes…the kind of eyes I refused to use when I lived here as a teenager and young adult. I’m seeing it as a place to settle down, a place to grow, and a place to raise my son.

And it’s like a totally different place.

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As I Raise Alistair, I Can Introduce Him To Places Where  My Love For Humanity Flourishes

Speaking to friends and relatives and therapists and folks beside me on plane rides, etc.,  I’ve come to the conclusion that while my experiences are my own, the sentiment is universal.

Life never turns out the way you planned it to.

What prompted me to write this blog post tonight? I was flicking through the radio stations and landed on ‘The Dance’ by Garth Brooks. I’m not even a country fan but I was listening and it evoked the thought of how even if we don’t know how things are going to turn out, the journey usually makes it all worth it.

Don’t live a life of regret, but don’t live a life of undue expectation on yourself or others, either.

I remember the teenage me, every day at work now. How she spoke, how she dressed,  how she talked. I can feel she is still a part of me. And I can see how despite how ‘wrong’ she was about the future, she was right, for that time and  place.

Everyone is a work in progress. As John Mayer says…..’I’m in repair….I’m not together but I’m getting there.’

High School: September 2001 versus 2016

I’m working at my  former high school for four months. I’m teaching all of these humans in the same desks I once sat in, fifteen years earlier. Doing so ruffles up  bits of memory not visited in years. Walking those halls in a different role conjures up endless thought.

First, a list.

Things I did as a teenager:

  • Role play Lord of the Rings in the woods of Palmer Park
  • Wear hand-made signs on my back to NSYNC CD releases
  • Use a wet finger to leave messages such as ‘Alana + JC 4ever’ in the dust on strangers’ cars
  • Hover outside the movie theater asking adults to buy rated R tickets for me
  • Buy pheromone wipes from The Icing and walk the mall hoping to attract boys
  • Play Barbie with my friend’s little sister’s amazing collection
  • Skip lunch to redo my hair and makeup in the school bathroom
  • Use public library computers to AIM with strangers
  • Ask my parents to drop me at Media Play for 3 hours so I could browse EVERYTHING
  • Drive aimlessly through town with friends to listen to CDs and ‘cruise Nevada’
  • Pass notes in class using code names and funky folding techniques
  • Stay up all night talking just to say we did and walk to breakfast in the morning

I’m not, well, proud of some of these things, and the list could get a lot less G-rated if  I dared, but it’s a snapshot of a space and time. My space and time.

Things I see teenagers doing today: ( Now, this is just at school and in front of ‘teachers’, so it’s not entirely comparable)

  • Plugging their phones in during class to charge
  • Sneaking looks at their phones when they think our backs our turned
  • Keeping their headphones on as accessories (simply off their ears during class)
  • Texting, snapchatting, taking selfies, hiding in bathroom stalls on their phones, etc.

But other than the obvious smartphone difference, which I’m writing about off the bat to get it out of the way,  the students remind me of the kid I was and the peers I went to school with. I don’t think fifteen years has changed the fundamentals of adolescence…much like my late 90s/early 2000s youth didn’t make 1980s teen movies any less poignant to me.

Every day, I see friends huddled at the same locker I used to use. They don’t hang up photos and redo their lip gloss there, however.  In between class chatter doesn’t seem as necessary, the socializing doesn’t seem as condensed, and the personalization of posessions doesn’t seem as common (decorated books and binders, anyone?) This  nuanced change is also probably because of technology – within our online worlds, we have our photos, our snippets of conversation, our personalized pages.

The athletes still wear their jersey on game days. But the pep rallies have gone…and in this, I think, lies a clue to what I’ve found to be the biggest difference between when I was a teenager and ‘kids these days’:

The primary difference is acceptance of a shitty world and uncertain future. 

I’m not insinuating our early 2000s pep rallies meant we were full of vigor and spirit…but in a trite sense, that’s how I remember us. Maybe we moaned about assemblies or tried to skip out them, but as a rule, they existed, and within them, we existed a cohesive group of peers. An us.

An us with a bright future, and little to fear.

Today, I taught a lesson about 9/11/2001. The students I taught were toddlers when it all happened. They accept it as the way the world was. When I told them about MY day on September 11th, 2001, I had their rapt attention. They gaped at me with some of things I said.

Fifteen years ago on September 11th, I sat in my high school’s computer lab, hearing bit by bit about the second plane hitting the Twin Towers.  As the bell rang, students spoke about it in the halls as we rushed to our next classes. My next teacher had a television, and we all watched with horror. By the end of the day, some of the boys were talking about enlisting in the military as soon as they turned 18. By the end of the week, half of the cars in the school parking lot sported American flags and United We Stand was written everywhere.

For those of us in high school on 9/11/2001, we recognize the feeling of the Before and the After. For those of us at school in April of 1999 when the Columbine shootings happened, we also felt the change of the Before and the After.

Today’s youth only know the After. And I feel bad for them.

Fundamentally, they are the same jumble of hormones and energy we all were, even if they don’t communicate the same old-fashioned way my friends and I did.

But their world-view is very altered from where I stood in my pre-2001 bubble. And in my pre-Columbine cocoon of safety at school, where nothing bad would ever, could ever, happen.

Now, it’s early September of 2016 and we’ve had to do a lock-down drill and a shelter in place drill at the high school I’m teaching in. These types of drills simply did not exist for me when I was there. The students roll their eyes at them, and huddle in the corner with the lights off, pretending there’s a shooter, and just….accepting the drill. Whatever. It’s part of life. And has been since they were babies.

So when I think about the fifteen years since I jaunted around my high school thinking I was hot shit, and I think about the students I see every day in 2016, I do notice the phones. I notice the changes in fashion, the changes in slang. That’s Teenage 101. That’s normal.

But when I see them faced with the world we now live in,  and their quiet acceptance that accompanies  it….I see the biggest change of all.

And I think it’s a damn shame this is the world we’re giving them.

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Apologies, but this is the only photo of me as a teenager I have in my WordPress archives except the Featured Image. Like I said, I thought I was hot s**t….

 

 

Scotland as home.

(Blog post Home: Part Two)

In 2003, internet cafes were a thing. So were calling cards and phone booths – sorry, phone boxes.

As a nineteen year-old American living in Edinburgh, reaching home to Colorado involved purchasing  a phone card from the newsagents and finding an open telephone box. You know, the red ones everyone gets excited about.

Only once you were in one and the door closed, you’d wish to be anywhere else. They smelled of urine, and that’s if you were lucky. After dialing about 100 different numerals by way of categories, pin numbers, etc, you’d sigh with relief (but inhale reluctantly)as you waited over a static-filled line for the endless ringing and ultimate, ‘Hello’ (from the other side).

This is how I told my parents I was engaged to Alex. I  stood in a disgusting phone box in the Grassmarket hoping my credit didn’t run out as I plunged into the rather  shocking news I was getting married to my Scottish boyfriend of five months, the one they’d never met. And then it was, “Oh, no, it  just told me I had one minute!” And then a beep, and then “Hello? Hello? Oh, I ran out of credit.”

And in a week, repeat.

Internet cafes were better for speaking to my friends in Colorado. Brevity was the key, however, as time ticked away. Here is an actual email I sent (all names omitted):

 

Alana <starlalorien@yahoo.com>

To

———@aol.com
 
09/29/03 at 11:23 AM
My life in four lines: Gossip, I moved, quick quip, ttfn!

Internet cafes, calling cards, soup in a cup, drink specials and being out until 4 am just about summed up the first part of my life in Scotland.

Something else was a thing for me back in 2003, as well: establishing who I was outside of my parents’ home. My best friend and I were on our own for the first time.  Baptism by fire, you could say. Out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Just, fire in general. It was hot, alluring and potentially dangerous.

But I LOVED it.

So much so, that when I settled in Edinburgh in 2004 on a fiance and then marriage visa,  Scotland slowly grew into the land where I learned how to be an adult. How to pay bills, rent flats, look for jobs, navigate relationships, and make my own decisions for the first time ever.

It is home to me because I lived there, but also because of who I became there.

The castles, the scenery and the history were amazing, but secondary to things such as going with my best friend to Pound Stretchers to buy linens for the first time in my life.  Or having Alex carry me over the threshold of our hundred year-old tenement apartment.

We’ve moved between Scotland and the USA numerous times: I’ve lived in the United Kingdom under five different types of visas ( BUNAC, fiance, limited leave to remain: marriage, and two separate student visas. )

Maybe it sounds strange; I don’t care at all.
You can’t choose where your heart calls you (though you can supress it). And my heart led me to Scotland, which led me to Alex, which led our son, Alistair.
With Alistair’s dual citizenship, I feel even more tied to the place which I love.
When Alistair turned two, surrounded by his Scottish grandmother, uncle, aunt, cousins and friends, I made a wish it wouldn’t be his only birthday spent in Scotland. I can look back  on videos and see where Alistair first learned to talk in Edinburgh…with a Scottish accent. His first friends were  in Scotland -Winston and Alex – his little soft-play mates, fellow pebble tossers, play-group goers, and hand-holding buggy buddies as we walked up the street. He won’t remember those tender moments, but I’ll never forget them.
From simple streets, less than glamorous flats, days in and out of menial jobs to stressful universities and suburbia…and countless bedtime routines with Iggle Piggle and ‘cleaning your teeth,’ the years have passed and adulthood has blossomed.
I’ve known Edinburgh single and partying.
I’ve known Edinburgh as the place where I fell in love and got married.
I’ve known Scotland as my first train ride, my first time abroad..most of my travel firsts.
I’ve  known Edinburgh as a mom going to playgroup.
I’ve known Edinburgh as a graduate student spending all day in the library.
I’ve known Edinburgh as my home, where half of my family and friends reside.
I think the place where you ‘learn to adult’ will always be a home. I think the place where you have your first child will always be a home.

I think the place you find love will also always be home, and if you love the place as well….then you are doubly lucky. 

Dear 31,

Dear 31,

Your predecessor haunted me. It followed me for months:

3-0

three oh

30

thirty.

It screamed at me from writing homework – reflections and recollections and every single unanswered everything in my real life or fake life or would-be life or could-be life or should-be life or might-be life; it deafened me to new sounds.

I walked through Scotland’s haze with a ringing in my ears and a coffin in my back pocket.

30.

The drama pronounced itself in both circumstance and surroundings: I lived out my  grown-up dream of a creative writing degree in the city just a decade before I’d lived out my growing-up dream.

I pushed my toddler in a pram down the same roads I’d drunkenly stumbled through in the past. I came home in the evening to diapers and literary theory and a husband who’d just a decade before been sweeping me off my feet but now collected the dust of our stagnant relationship.

Panic overtook me in the most privileged guise imaginable; a married white woman,  mother to a healthy child, living in a European capital to pursue an arts degree, was having a case of existential malaise over the loss of a number, of a decade, of time.

I freaking loved my 20’s.

But then 30 came, and it went. And with it, the crisis.

Because 31, you taught me more than any other year of my life. I’ve never felt more like ME than any other year of my life.

Yes. I loved the freedom of my 20’s, the laughter, the chaos, and the possibility. But yes, the burden of unfulfilled potential still haunts me. The weight of choice still keeps me up at night. I often wonder how anyone sleeps, knowing the impact of each minute gesture. The power of our choices.

But 31, you’ve taught me those aspects of my personality aren’t a crisis, but the state of my soul, regardless of age.

The state of my soul has never been been more grounded in reality. In clarity. In understanding.

My 20’s were fun, but I lived in world of black and white. Eithers and ors. Nothings or everythings. Certainties.

Turning 30 wobbled me, spun me around on my axis, and landed me in a position where everything is a shade of grey.

And I’m fine with that, now.

I get it.

Life is colorful, but it’s never black or white.

The water of life is murky, and seldom clear, but refreshing nonetheless.

31, you’ve shown me I know who I am. What I’ll never be. And who I’ll always be (for better or worse).

Thank you, 31.

 

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Photo courtesy Unsplash

Dear 31,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home. Part One.

Scotland, 2013:

I rarely walked down Balcarres Street in the daylight. The number 23 bus took me directly  to my Edinburgh flat.

The night buses dropped me off on Morningside Road, a main thoroughfare, though still shuttered  and empty after nightfall (save a few pubs).

The 10 minute walk from Morningside Road was dark and residential. Pavement wound past a graveyard and adjacent to a mental hospital. Just up the hill sat the old asylum turned college, now an abandoned, wooded campus frequented during the day by hikers.  But at night, blackness.

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The woods on the hill in our Edinburgh neighborhood.

As my family’s year abroad neared an end and I prepared to finish my degree, I’d walk down this road with earbuds in and music loud. It took away much of the creepiness. John Mayer’s Paradise Valley is one of the albums of my Year of Writing Creatively (the other being, in all seriousness, Katy Perry’s Prism).

Mayer’s song “On the Way Home” resonated with me, especially with our Scottish adventure coming to an end. A sample lyric reads:

“The summer’s over, this town is closing.
They’re waving people out of the ocean.
We had the feeling like we were floating.
We never noticed where time was going.
Do you remember when we first got here?
The days were longer; the nights were hot here.
Now, it’s September; the engine’s started.
You’re empty-handed and heavy-hearted.
But just remember on the way home….
That you were never meant to feel alone.
It takes a little while, but you’ll be fine:
Another good time coming down the line.”

I’d climb up to our fourth floor flat and turn off the music…eventually.

I cried when I said goodbye to every place which made our/my time there…home. They were  never big things- the university campus, the church building, the friends I’d made – which brought out the tears. My tears were in the details of home. 

The Morningside Parish playgroup. ( I’d never park Alistair’s buggy in the foyer again.Sob.)

Continue reading

Nocturnal Reminders/ Existentialism

I’m a nocturnal being. I come alive at night once everyone else is asleep in their beds, or laying around looking at their phones in the dark. I come alive, but it just happens to be I’m usually sitting alone in my living room.

This can be a good and bad thing. Night is when I do most of my writing (even evidenced by the timing of my blog posts, which are, admittedly, unplanned rambles most of the time).  Night is when I act on whims (such as applying to graduate school and subsequently moving with my family to Scotland to study creative writing).*

*We didn’t move at night. I just apply for things at night.

The darkness also brings out nostalgia. This tendency is also well documented on my blog. But before this blog, there was another one. Some readers my age may remember…. LiveJournal. A good half-decade of my life is documented within its pages, the rambles and dramas of a teenager with a phone line and AOL.

I sometimes lurk back there in the wee hours, taking a look at what I was doing on this day in a certain year. Laughing at myself. Cringing. Struggling to remember what on earth I was going on about.

Tonight I looked at ten years ago, in 2005.

I worked at a daycare in Scotland and was taking an Open University course in Existentialism, which helped form my love of the particular branch of philosophy. Ten years ago, I was contemplating this passage from Nietzche in my journal:

“How, if some day or night a demon were to sneak after you into your loneliest and loneliness and say to you…..

‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything immeasurably small or great in life must return to you-all in the same succession and sequence…the eternal hourglass of existence is turned over and over, and you with it…how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life and to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?”

A decade ago, at 21, I thought I knew it all. My entry reads as smug in my recollection of life, as if two decades of breath brought with it the wisdom of the ages. I thought yes, I’d love to live my entire life over again, Nietzche. That’s how happy I am with it. Ha.

Much changes between 21 and 31. I don’t approach this proposition with the same confidence I did back then, on the cusp of adulthood and with zero responsibilities but my own daily happiness.

I love to reminiscence on those feelings, but the jolt I felt reading this tonight reminded me I should try to live my life with the same fervor I lived life ten years ago. So that if I were, as Nietzche proposed, forced to relive my entire life over and over again…I would have tried for my joy to outweigh any languishing, to seek laughter over tears, and to find happiness in the present.

Having this reminder laid on my soul tonight brought up many emotions, and most of them good.

We should all strive to live lives we can be proud of;  but those lives are made up of days, and those days are made up of moments.

And if we had to live those moments over and over again, wouldn’t we want to enjoy them?

You only get one shot.

Peak Experiences

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Near Monterey, California, 2013

I chased my one-year old through the sand as he toppled over, laughed, and stood back up again, rubbing sand in his palms and licking it off his lips, taking in each new sensation. We stood near the rough surf,  but far enough so Alistair didn’t fear the crash accompanying each wave. Instead we looked on in awe, together. Just us on this secluded strip of beach behind our cheap motel, far enough off Highway 1 to be deserted at 10 am. Certain logistics of our mother and son road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles on the Pacific Coast Highway were fraught with difficulty. The cheap motel didn’t provide cribs, so I had to buy a pack-and-play. Caring for a toddler alone on such a long drive involved frequent stops, diaper changes, outfit switch-outs and forays into grocery stores for fruit pouches.

But something happened to me on that drive. We wound through coastal towns and over historic bridges, beside beach-side campgrounds and through high, twisting cliff tops. Alistair didn’t say much at his age, but I never felt alone. I sang music at the top of my lungs, stopped to take photos and take in fellow travelers. I listened to the birds and the seals and the wind.

We got back into L.A. after dark and with a crashing reality I sat in a gas station parking lot booking a hotel on Priceline. I GPS-ed my way through Los Angeles traffic to the hotel, adjacent to a shopping center with a parking lot the size of small town. Alistair, as usual with hotels, was beyond excited. I felt elated but wasn’t sure why. My exhausted body wrestled an over-tired toddler and worked out a major calf cramp from being in the car so long. But I got Alistair to sleep right away and I sat alone in the darkness of the hotel room in bliss.

The road trip had been magical. I felt renewed, more in touch with myself than in a long time. Infinite possibilities stood before me. I could do anything. Life was amazing. It didn’t matter how a messy life existed back in Moorhead,  waiting for me. In that moment, all was clear.

I’ve since learned what I experienced on that day in April of 2013 : a peak experience.

Abraham Maslow, of the hierarchy of needs fame, described peak experiences as occurring when a person “feels himself, more than other times, to be the responsible, active, creating center of his activities and of his perceptions. He feels more like a prime-mover, more self-determined (rather than caused, determined, helpless, dependent, passive, weak, bossed). He feels himself to be his own boss, fully responsible, fully volitional, with more ‘free-will’ than at other times, master of his fate, an agent.”

Maslow also said, “Think of the most wonderful experience of your life: the happiest moments, ecstatic moments, moments of rapture, perhaps from being in love, or from listening to music or suddenly ‘being hit’ by a book or painting, or from some creative moment.”

I’ve been considering my own dedication to the experience and pursual of peak experiences recently.

Everyone who knows me would probably agree I’m a sensation lover, a novelty seeker, and an experience-minded person, sometimes to the detriment of stability or comfort. But comfort, to me, is stifling. (In one sense of the word, that is; comfort can have different meanings.)

There is a song by American Authors which I don’t particularly love, but these lines always stands out to me:

“I guess I’m going home,

’cause all my cash is gone,

I spent it all trying to feel alive.

Go big or go home…”

The rest of the song eludes to the singer being adventurous, sleeping when he’s dead etc. So he’s….going big, yay! Oh wait…he can’t anymore. He’s going home.

And that, I feel, is the struggle. I don’t want to give in to the status quo. Life IS too short for that. I’ve been lucky enough to live with few regrets (but some I’m still trying to work through, such as moving my entire family to North Dakota after college).

Maslow speaks of being hit by a book as an example of a peak experience. This can happen for free at your house. It’s certainly happened to me (Harry Potter, seven times over). I’ve felt this even more through my life over movies.

I remember leaving the movie theater -Tinseltown- at age thirteen after watching Good Will Hunting. I cried in bed that night, feeling so ALIVE. I was never going to be a math genius – but when Matt Damon drove down the road to get Minnie Driver, I realized I could come from my own version of Southie and be anything I wanted to be and go anywhere I wanted to go. Life stretched before me.

(I could list movie examples all day. For example, I still can’t listen to Secret Garden by Bruce Springsteen without feeling the same deep emotions evoked from the Jerry Maguire movie soundtrack…..)

Another ‘free’ peak experience I’ve been consistently hung up on is love. Maslow would concur love invokes incredible peak experience potential. Some of the times I’ve felt most brave, most myself, and the most clarity is regarding matters of romantic love and maternal love for my son. When I started dating my now-husband Alex, I felt I practically floated through life. I was riding a cloud of elation from his flat to my flat, and the town we lived in took on a character of its own. Edinburgh, Scotland will forever equal LOVE to me because of this connotation. The city doesn’t provide clarity to me the way Maslow’s peak experience theory would suggest, but it does evoke the emotion of the true peak experience which occurred there, when I fell head-over-heels for Alex. I just get off the plane there and feel like a better version of myself.

I’m not a drinker, a smoker or a drug taker. When people say they get ‘high on life’ , though, I understand what they mean. Because life is where the genuine ecstasy comes from. It can be hard, and sometimes life feels like lurching from one doldrum to another with some tragedy and unfairness thrown in. But peak experiences can be sought and lived, and they make life out of day-to-day living.

I want to live a life full of peak experiences. I urge others to do the same.

( And what’s healthy for the soul is healthy for the mind and body, too.)

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One of my first and most profound peak experience occurred while traveling to California with my best friend our first year of college. This adventure seemed epic enough to warrant its own blog post, Where Dreams and Hobbits Come True….

P.S. Here’s a better video than the American Authors’ one about the same kind of thing (if you like EDM) :