Changing Course

There’s a “challenge” going around social media to post your senior picture, in honor of the Class of 2020 having to miss out on so many special senior activities (how that helps them, I’m not sure, but it’s a fun excuse to reminisce).

So, I dug out my yearbook.

And by that I mean I searched for 15 minutes and gave up because it’s buried in a box somewhere. I then searched on Google and found a .pdf version.

Looking at my class photo from 2007, it’s obvious that I’ve gotten rounder and now wear dorky glasses every day.

But, ideologically, I’m pretty much the same.

With life turned upside-down because of COVID-19, when I think back on those years there is one thing I’ve been mulling over: times when I quit.

In general, quitting is perceived as bad. Sometimes people associate it with failure or laziness. This might ring true in some instances. But other times it simply means changing course.

My sophomore year of high school I was captain of the lacrosse team alongside my older sister, Rachel. It was a fun sport that I began playing in 7th grade, but by the time my junior year rolled around, they implemented “rules” about April vacation.

Specifically, if you chose to take a vacation and miss practices, you would be penalized and would have to sit out games.

The idea of a vacation is that you get to (gasp) relax.

Schools have vacations for good reasons: to recharge, enjoy special moments with family, and to take a break from fast-paced daily life.

I participated in lots of clubs, played at least three sports a year, and prioritized getting good grades. My family took a vacation to Virginia and South Carolina every April and it was something I looked forward to all year. I needed that break.

So, I gave up being a captain and I quit lacrosse. I enjoyed two unforgettable family trips to the mountains of Charlottesville and the North Myrtle Beach seashore. I watched sunrises and learned about southern cultures. I ate ice cream and went fishing. I swam in the ocean and danced on the beach.

I don’t regret those two weeks at all.

You know what I also don’t regret? Quitting basketball my senior year, even though my childhood dream was to become a WNBA star. I collected basketball cards, played on teams year-round, and obsessed over every aspect of the game.

But during my junior year of high school I found myself on the varsity bench. I attended every varsity practice and every varsity game, every varsity team dinner, gave motivational speeches in the varsity locker room, and even asked to “swing” down to the junior varsity team just to get some playing time to keep up my stamina.

At the end of the season, my coach chose not to give me a varsity letter. Instead, she gave me a “participation” certificate, noting that I didn’t get enough playing time during games.

So, for my final year of eligibility, I quit and played ice hockey instead.

Starting a new sport as a senior isn’t common. I didn’t know all of the rules, had to learn the basics of skating (beyond nonchalantly gliding around a pond), and had to get outfitted. I wore some of my dad’s old equipment from his high school days and we bought the rest of my gear from a used sports store.

I fell on the ice. A lot. There’s even a specific story that I won’t recount in its entirety here, but let’s just say it involved crashing into the boards in a very humiliating (and public) way.

Ice hockey was so much fun and I never would have experienced it if I was too afraid to give up another sport that I had loved but untimely was unhappy with because I didn’t feel seen or valued.

Changing course isn’t easy. It often means letting go of perceptions of who you used to be.

In the years since, I’ve turned down jobs or job promotions if I didn’t feel like they were the right fit. I’ve moved across the country multiple times, lived in lots of unique dwellings, and learned new skills.

High school is often a time when people celebrate distinctions that come by means of paper—there are honor societies and honor rolls, class awards and, of course, diplomas.

But it’s the moments when my integrity was tested that I remember most. Would I keep engaging in an activity if I felt it compromised my values? Or would I boldly chart a new path?

Class of 2020, the best advice I can give you is: be brave enough to choose what kind of life you want to live—say “no” to some things, “yes” to others. Be intentional about it.

Something I said “yes” to my senior year?

Volunteering to serve as the school mascot. I dressed up in a ridiculously hot (warm, not attractive) suit—the Gorham Ram.

It was heavy carrying around that big head on my shoulders, dancing for the crowds at football games and pep rallies.

I sweated a lot.

But, if I’m going to be on the sidelines, I’d rather be cheering in way that gives me control, rather than waiting for someone to let me play.

You can ride the bench or you can dance for your friends. You can be miserable waiting for your moment to come or you can take control over your own narrative.


The world is forcing lots of conditions upon us all right now. The shutdowns due to the pandemic provide a time to think about who, exactly, we’d like to be once everything opens up again.

It’s never too late to change your life or alter some aspect of your identity. Your goal could be drastic or subtle. Maybe it’s taking more time to relax or shifting priorities or trying a new hobby.

Class of 2020, you’re missing out on many special memories—sports seasons, Prom, graduation ceremonies, and parties with your friends, to name a few. But you also have the ability to reflect, to choose to pivot, and to start a new chapter.

These moments with your families? The game nights, the video chats, the home-cooked meals? Those matter too. Enjoy them.

To quote the GHS Class of 2007 song (“Here’s to the Night” by Eve 6): “tomorrow’s gonna come too soon.”


When Musicians Die

Beyond his wit, writing chops and endearing voice, it was John Prine’s attention to loneliness that I’ve always found most captivating.

We all know that middle-aged woman whose husband has nothing to say; we can hear those flies buzzing around her kitchen. We’ve seen the veteran with a hole in his arm, trying to ease his pain with drugs. We’ve ached for the elders, the narrator and Loretta, whose kids are grown and gone.

Although I’d always heard some of his songs, I began listening to his music in earnest when I moved across the country after college and served as a backcountry trail crew worker in Idaho and Montana through AmeriCorps.

This was before smartphones (which wouldn’t have mattered anyways, as we didn’t have cell service), but I did have enough battery on my iPod to listen to a few songs each night in my tent before going to bed. I had to conserve that battery and spread it out over nine days.

When you are in a very remote place in the world and you have to damp down the campfire and say goodnight to the few other people who are also in that remote place in order to crawl into a small, personal tent, it can be pretty lonely.

As coyotes howled, wolves prowled, bats swooped overhead and the moon cast shadows across my polyester dome, I took comfort in a few minutes of Prine’s voice.

It was a reward for sledgehammering rocks and sawing logs in the hot sun all day. When he crooned about how it was gonna be a “long Monday sittin’ all alone on a mountain by a river that has no end” I nodded my head, even though I didn’t at the time have anyone who would “give me a kiss that’ll last all week.”

Two summers later, I was living in Portland, Oregon. By then, I did have a boyfriend but he lived 3,000 miles away in Maine. One warm night I walked to the bus stop, rode into Pioneer Courthouse Square, and caught the MAX Light Rail to the Oregon Zoo. I walked past monkeys and penguins and bears and there was John Prine, singing on a modest stage, calm as ever.

The flip side of loneliness, of course, is connection. In writing about silences and solitude, sadness and sorrow, Prine opened up all our hearts to the possibilities of connection—authentic relationships—encouraging us to imagine what could happen if only we were gentler, more understanding, more receptive to one another.

When a musician dies, many of us immediately send texts, fire off emails and post song lyrics on social media. We hunt for YouTube URLs—often clips from when the musician had sung about the afterlife.

We recall concert experiences and the first time we heard certain songs, reminisce about the feeling of holding their album or CD or iPod playlist in our hands. We share these sentiments almost out of desperation, pleading with others to see how much this person meant to us.

Look. Here’s proof. This person I never knew firsthand—he mattered to me, influenced me. He’s gone.

I felt this way when LeRoi Moore, the saxophonist for Dave Matthews Band, died after an ATV accident. I felt this way when Tom Petty floated off “into the great wide open.” I again was overcome with emotion this week with the passing of John Prine due to complications from COVID-19.

I can’t help but think of what kind of song Prine would write about the coronavirus. After all, this was a man who chose to point out all of life’s absurdities. He wasn’t afraid of contradictions; he embraced them.

It’s eerily poetic that someone known for an acute understanding of loneliness eventually succumbed to a virus that has quite literally separated the entire globe.

Still, I keep coming back to that summer night in Oregon when his raspy voice, aged by cancer, echoed out to the crocodiles and tigers, to salmon and bald eagles, to elephants and insects, goats and polar bears throughout the zoo.

During that one little performance he reached across continents and across species in such a genuine, yet goofy way.

As stay-at-home orders sweep across America because of COVID-19, everyone wants to know: when will life return back to normal?


What is normal? It’s too vague of a word. Look at Prine’s lyrics and you will find characters who are flawed and downtrodden, searching for happiness or ignoring its possibility.

Some characters lament about their problems to Dear Abby, some watch as their love turns to shadows on the banks of Old Lake Marie.

An adoring, chain-smoking grandpa wears suits to dinner and hammers nails in planks. A woman with “the mind of a child and a body peaking over the hill” just might be “the oldest baby in the world.”

A “whacked-out weirdo” sniffs undies.

Prine saw the isolation in abnormality, but the beauty in it, too. The characters who find love are unapologetic about their oddness.

When musicians die, the easy part is celebrating their lives—sharing their music, singing their lyrics, imitating their songs with covers and re-mixes. The harder part is incorporating their messages into one’s life. Facing your feelings. Deciding to change.

If we want to honor Prine’s legacy we should be mindful that loneliness will continue to persist even once the quarantines are lifted if we don’t reach out to fill all those metaphorical spaces between us, which he worked so tirelessly to expose.

Only then, after weathering tumultuous storms, will we be able to find our own special rainbows to sit on.

“In spite of ourselves.”

Photo and video clip by Emma Joyce | June 22, 2013

Drinking the Water of DMB: A Reflection on Being a Fan

Geeks come in many forms. Sometimes they play video games, sometimes they’re mathletes, and sometimes they stay up late at night reading message boards and commenting on threads as setlists are updated from their heartthrob band.

I was an Ant. For the uninformed, an Ant is a loyal follower of DMB. Ants gather on to discuss everything from tailgating to guitar selections to Dave’s wine label. But to understand why I was an Ant you must first understand my high school graduation present.

I had grown up listening to the band and in high school I declared that if I “died tomorrow” my biggest regret in life would be having never attended a Dave show. I had no idea what was in store…


My graduation party was held in my family’s small brown barn in southern Maine. My two older sisters surprised me with a very large box. Upon opening it, I found a smaller box, and inside that box was a smaller box, and so on, until finally I held in my hands an envelope. The envelope contained tickets to a DMB show in Mansfield, Massachusetts that summer. I was shocked and ecstatic as any 18 year-old would be.

Before the Massachusetts concert, however, my sisters pulled a second surprise on me—a remarkable, over-the-top surprise (I have pretty amazing sisters). We were on vacation in Chicago. We got on a train. I was told we were going shopping. Then I noticed there were people on the train who had Dave shirts on. I thought, hey, these people are cool. Little by little, clues started to emerge right in front of my eyes but I was oblivious. I had no idea we were headed to a DMB show until my sister finally placed the tickets in my hands as we got off the train and approached the stadium.

I could probably write a book about my memories from different DMB shows—if I remembered them all—the idiosyncrasies that happen for each venue, each night, each group of people present. I’ve pushed our car out of the mud at the site of Woodstock; I’ve hugged Boyd Tinsley; I’ve seen Willie Nelson as an opener at Fenway Park. But what I value the most, above any specific anecdote, is the pure happiness that I have felt when anticipating a concert or dancing barefoot on the grass or hearing a favorite or rare song.

What is this fascination with falling in love with bands? What is it about the obsessive nature that takes hold—be it for a Beatle, the Dead, or Dave? It’s optimism. It’s hope. It’s youthful ambition and idealization. It’s believing that each show will bring not only new experiences, new friends, new songs…but that each show will somehow shape our identities. The live experience presses upon us in a way that no studio-produced album can.


Throughout all of college I attended shows every summer. I took road trips and camped out and even went as far as writing a math paper about the probability and statistics of guessing DMB setlists (I got an A). But after college I found myself swept away into other experiences—I traveled and picked up jobs and attended graduate school and found I couldn’t commit to summer shows. I also faded away from my identity as an Ant online, ceasing to check in on a regular basis.

As I explored more of the country and progressed further into my 20s I started to learn firsthand more about the kinds of things the band sings about—love, loss, freedom, pain. I met people outside of my bubble. I challenged myself and the world challenged me back.

So now here I am—a person who holds a full-time salaried “grown up” job. In three weeks I will see DMB for the first time since 2010. It will be my 12th concert. I’ve been digging out my paraphernalia and I’ve found myself “coming back” to the band. I’m being sucked into this wonderful world of youthful hope, except this time it’s paired with the insight that can only come with time spent and miles traveled.

Is it a little silly? Sure. Is it meaningful? Of course. We all go through a natural ebb and flow of interests and obsessions. If we didn’t, well, we’d be lacking a very essential ingredient to what makes life so damn rewarding and worth living: passion.

My dormant profile still lives on. It’s been a little lonely but like any old friend, it’s good to catch up and reminisce. For those who understand where I’m coming from, my handle is emmalovesdmb. It’s true; I do.


I’ll dig with it…honoring Seamus Heaney

Beloved Irish poet Seamus Heaney passed away today, and I’m reminded of my senior year of high school when I first read one of his poems. The lines and words of “Digging” have stayed with me all these years. I identified with Heaney’s admiration for men like his hardworking, potato farming father. For me, guilt has always lingered with that respect…a feeling of inadequacy for not earning one’s living by the spade, but the pen. Heaney’s reverence for the rural, for regional history, and for the common man remind us all that the poetry of life is found right in our backyards, in the hands of our fathers.

Gratitude to Heaney for his insight, his cadence, and his beauty.

My father, the farrier
My father, the farrier


Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

-Seamus Heaney, “Digging” from Death of a Naturalist. Copyright 1966 by Seamus Heaney

Introducing the Presumpscot River Project

I am excited to share that for my final graduate multimedia project (thesis) I am exploring the Presumpscot River in southern Maine. I grew up within the Presumpscot’s watershed–the river is about a five minute drive from my parents’ home in Gorham and the Little River, a tributary, runs through our backyard. I will be posting updates as I canoe the river, learn about its history, and make connections to the greater ecosystems of which it is part!

Presumpscot River Project
The Presumpscot originates in the Sebago Lake Basin (lower right). I have already been exploring the river and mapping out a canoe route, along with partner Kyle Joyce.

Listening to where you live

A lot of people claim to know “what” Portland is, as if the city’s identity can be boiled down to certain characteristics: eclectic, weird, colorful, contradictory, creative, independent. In some way or another we’ve all been believers; we’ve worn skinny jeans and grown mustaches. We’ve drunk the Kool-Aid (Stumptown and Ninkasi).

While it’s true that such traits can be found within many people here, the fault lies within the belief that these things are definitive. When I moved to Portland from New England I brought assumptions along with me. In my idyllic version of west coast living, I’d do yoga at sunrise every morning; I’d wear overalls and garden after class; I’d learn to brew my own beer and dance along the banks of the Willamette with a tambourine.

Then I got here and realized: man, I actually have to work. And wait for the bus in pouring rain. And deal with all the normal things that every human being has to. Like rent money, washing dishes, and the reality of living in a basement.

The problem is that we all have a crush on Portland. Like any doe-eyed teenager, we want to see only the letterman jacket (in this case, suspenders). We twirl our hair and giggle and gaze longingly with dreamy eyes, all the while missing the really important moments and the most valuable aspects of people.

iPhone pic: the city
iPhone pic: the city

Today while riding the bus downtown, I didn’t see there was a man named Enrique aboard whom I had met one night. We had only talked for about 15 minutes while waiting for the bus. But he recognized me on this second meeting and simply said, “Bye, Emma” as he got off the bus.

I looked up, surprised at hearing my name. I remembered the man, his small smile, and a vignette I had written after that night:

4th of July in the City

Tomorrow I’ll meet a man named Enrique while waiting for the bus. Enrique will tell me about his family back in Guatemala. He will tell me about his various jobs at restaurants, and how he works seven days a week. He’ll tell me about his dad who died of cancer and of sending money home to pay his medical bills as he died. Enrique will tell me that he lives just beyond the McDonald’s on Barbur Boulevard. I’ll watch his jagged gold tooth (front, right) move up and down as he smiles and asks if I speak any Spanish.

But today, a holiday, the stranger I meet on the street is not Enrique and this stranger asks,  “Do you have spare change so I can get drunk and blow myself up tonight?”

The gems of any city can’t be found in a brochure or travel guide. I’ve come to realize that the world at large has got Portland’s identity all wrong. Portland isn’t so great because of the bikes or the brews or the trees or the art. It’s great because it’s a city filled with daily interactions so small and so powerful they’re easy to miss, yet impossible to forget.

The Other Portland

I realized that it has been far too long since I have blogged for my own website! Over the course of this past year I have lived in a variety of places. I worked as a Multimedia Director for a residential, children’s summer camp in Maine, where I got to bunk in a cabin and play many games, while serving as the videographer and assistant photographer. I then moved to Portland, Oregon, where I am enrolled full time in a graduate program for Multimedia Journalism at the University of Oregon. Last September I also began an internship with Ecotrust, a nonprofit that is dedicated to creating a more resilient economy through initiatives that seek a triple bottom line approach of environmental, economic, and social wellbeing.

I have been enjoying many of Portlandia’s famed sites and am trying to make the most of this urban experience! I recently got my inner-hipster on by attending a People’s Choir event at a bar called the Waypost. Every month a group of fun-loving singers gets together to belt out tunes…and the best part is that these events do not require strong vocal chords. The night I attended was sponsored by TEDxConcordiaUPortland ADVENTURES! and you can read more at this blog post.

Photo Credit: George Mihaly
Photo Credit: George Mihaly

Poem Takes 3rd in Contest

My poem “Antelope Island on July 4th” has won 3rd place in Portland Public Library’s Adult Poetry Competition in honor of National Poetry Month (April).

Click here to read: Antelope Island on July 4th










Photo credit: Portland Public Library

A New Chapter…

I am excited to share that I’ve been accepted to graduate school at the University of Oregon to study multimedia journalism. I made this video as part of my admissions essay…check it out!