Monday, December 27, 2010

recession class

So there was a great article in the Times this morning about Hollywood and the recession:

Basic idea is that Hollywood has always defaulted to the upper-middle-class as its venue. Hollywood's "ordinary folk" are typically the relatively comfortable, happy-go-lucky suburban dream we all thought we were going to be. But lately it has gotten kind of sickeningly unrealistic. I went to see "How Do You Know," the new James L. Brooks comedy, with my dad last week. Funny as hell, and his characters are far from perfect. They're neurotically realistic. But their setting is not. Reese Witherspoon's character talks about "going to grad school" or "working a retail job to get by" after she loses her athletic career. In the meantime, she wears designer heels, lunches at exclusive hotspots, and spends her afternoons shopping at an organic foodmart. Not unless the scriptwriter just forgot to mention that she recently inherited a large sum of money from a dead uncle.

The sickest I ever got was watching last year's "It's Complicated." Everyone in that movie was just dripping with honey. The college-aged daughter drives a Prius and looks like a J. Crew model. The divorcee who owns a bakery sits comfortably at the helm of a multi-million dollar ranch property. The twenty-something married couple has an apartment that looks like Pottery Barn vomited over everything. I could go on. Almost every romantic comedy I've seen in the past few years has made me jealously enraged at the crater growing between what we all actually are and what we still want to try and see ourselves as.

I see it all around me, this desperate holding-on to the middle-class standards that we set for ourselves. It's elaborate birthday parties for kids. It's five-dollar coffees at Starbucks. It's fancified strip-malls...which, incidentally, are now failing. I work just a few doors down from a Neiman. It's a ghost town these days.

We're in line for a HUGE readjustment. Sure, some people still have money. But you people get on my nerves because you turn into uptight mongers who vote conservative, expect tax cuts, and end up caring very little about those beneath you. Most of us are struggling to get by these days.

This Christmas, I polled co-workers on their holidays plans. Most of us there are in our twenties, still in school. The majority of us stayed in Austin this Christmas, holed-up with cheap wine and Netflix movies, because we couldn't afford to miss work. Where we're paid just a step-ladder above minimum wage. To serve middle-aged spenders expensive foodstuffs. The real middle class is aging. The generation behind them--us!--is serving them lattes. Some of us have more education than they ever got. Does this make sense? Hell no.

Call us recessionistas. Or just call us resourceful. But I say we deserve a lot of credit, this generation Time magazine has deemed "the millenials." We have been given very little. We live in a world that looks nothing like we were told it would after college. We have been disappointed, let down, beaten up by credit card companies and budget cuts and hiring freezes. But we still stay informed, and we still care. We'll pour your latte, but we want better for ourselves. We have no disposable income, but we still manage to look good. Give us time, and we'll figure it all out.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Top 20 Songs of 2010

Music is one of my things. It helps to stabilize me. I search for great new songs like kids want ice cream. Paste Magazine, my culture bible, released their top 50 of the year. You can check it out here:

I wasn't satisfied. I needed to make my own list (although a few match up). And typically I would annotate it. But one of my newest resolutions is to be more assertive in all things life. So I'll start with this list. Here they are, and there are no qualifications needed.

20. Vampire Weekend, "Taxi Cab"
19. Best Coast, "Goodbye"
18. Josh Ritter, "Change of Time"
17. Robyn, "Dancing on my Own"
16. The National, "Conversation 16"
15. Lady Gaga, "Alejandro"
14. Cee Lo Green, "No One's Gonna Love You" (cover of Band of Horses song)
13. Delta Spirit, "Salt in the Wound"
12. First Aid Kit, "I Met up with the King"
11. David Gray, "First Chance"
10. Vampire Weekend, "Horchata"
9. Mumford and Sons, "Little Lion Man"
8. Joanna Newsom, "Good Intentions Paving Company"
7. The Tallest Man on Earth, "Kids on the Run"
6. Pheonix, "1901"
5. Broken Bells, "The Mall and the Misery"
4. The Morning Benders, "Excuses"
3. Laura Marling, "Rambling Man"
2. Beck and Bat for Lashes, "Let's Get Lost"
1. Band of Horses, "Laredo"

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

winter in my mind

Texas weather might be more inconsistent than the Obama administration (oh snap! and I'm a liberal, keep in mind), but I've decided to construct the Christmas season from the ground-up this year. Tonight it's cold, and I write to you with a warm Chai latte to the right and a pile of notes to my left. Winter is all about writing meaningful words. It's all about stories. I hope to have some good ones to share soon. In the meantime, I've got the Frank Sinatra Holiday station rolling on Pandora, hot cocoa in the pantry, and some pie recipes to try. And that's just for the first week of December.

Happy month of merry, folks!

public history 101

I ran across this article from the New York Times this afternoon:

Another piece of ruins has collapsed in on itself at Pompeii. This follows the news about a month ago that the alleged "House of Gladiators" (where men were said to relax pre-battle) fell to dust just outside the amphitheater. How can a ruin collapse? Good question. Everything at Pompeii at least partially collapsed almost two thousand years ago when Mt. Vesuvius rained its fire down on her. The crux of the Times article is really just the spawning of a debate in public history--save the ruins (which means pumping money to fund special preservation strategies) or leave them be?

The topic struck close to home because I toured Pompeii this past May. I spent an afternoon there (not even long enough to see half of what's there, to note). I ambled along with my friend Catherine for hours, tracing and re-tracing the confusing passageways, wincing as the stones underfoot jabbed right up through my Keds. (Yes, I was wearing Keds...the cute kind.) Pompeii is a beautiful mess, let it be known. It's iconic at this point, plastered on the pages of history textbooks, the subject of many a coffee table book, pushed by travel agents the world over. And in many ways it lives up to expectations. It is a pile of ruins, jagged and haphazard because the volcanic ash selectively preserved its image. Recognizable artifacts--frescos, statuary, and the like--are scattered throughout and serve as shocking reminders that what Pompeii really can offer are haunting glimpses into the life of a community cut short. Vesuvius lurks around every vista there, and on our journey the clouds bundled around it threatened torrential rain.

At the entrance to Pompeii, right off the Trenitalia platform, you encounter public history at its absolute worst. Stall after stall of souvenirs, all of them cheaply made, where pompous men will haggle with you until you finally decide to just run away from them. The food is gross and expensive. People rush around you every which way, you must protect your pocketbook, and the air kind of smells, to be honest. But the beautiful thing is that once you buy your ticket, that's all behind you. I turned to Catherine when we entered and asked, "Is this right?" because the entrance pathway looked way too calm and indiscreet to be the gateway into one of the most wondrous sites of ancient history remaining in the modern world. There are no souvenir stalls in Pompeii. There is no food to be had, just water available from some of the original fountains. There are hardly any signs. Without the headset (which I never purchase, because why would I want someone else interpreting what I see for me?), it's a maze that you have to give yourself over to. At one point Catherine and I ended up on a hill above the ruins, felt lost, and considered climbing down into a roped-off part (maybe too fragile?) and sneaking back to where we could hear voices.

My point is that even though the weather and the process of aging are finally taking their tolls on what's left there, something's been done right. History is allowed to be history there, untainted by the bright colors and intrusive guidebook-mentality we encounter at just about any historical site these days. Even the Vatican has give in to some of that.

I don't have a solution for Pompeii. Does anyone really need to have one?

Monday, November 29, 2010

real quick-like

My family tries. We all do. There's just some kind of ornery glitch that makes holidays feel a little tense, a little awkward, like a cross between a Saturday Night Live skit and PBS News. Le sigh. Highlights this Thanksgiving weekend? Apparently my 14-year-old cousin came very close to bashing his head on a rock at Mt. Bonnell. One of my uncles commented that I look like Keith Richards early in the morning. Really? Let me go out on a limb and say that I have some ex-boyfriends who would joyfully disagree with that one. What else. We ate a lot of food. Eleanor charmed, then screamed, then charmed, then screamed some more. She has eight teeth now, she's walking. Pretty soon we'll be sending her off to Harvard I suppose ;)

In other more interesting news, I may be featured on Slate magazine in the next week or so. More to come when I know details. And it's not an article I wrote! It's an article that may indeed include some thoughts I contributed (and will, I think, be quoted on).


Wednesday, November 17, 2010


reading: Stieg Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Because I want to see what all the fuss is about. Because some epic twist of bookfate placed all three books in the series in my hands yesterday, for free. I'll take it. Because now I'll be able to see the Swedish film adaptations and the inevitable American film adaptations (my brother-in-law is convinced that Hollywood will tap tiny Ellen Page for the part of Lisbeth...I think he's probably right).

listening to: Pheonix (French band recently made pretty damn big through their inclusion in Wimbledon promos) Pandora station, featuring: Radiohead (re-discovering them is always moving, over and over), The Postal Service (who will remain forever underrated, even though they were around experimenting with electronica and melodramatic lyrics long before all these latest indie darlings), Mumford and Sons (current fave song = "Winter Winds"), etc., etc.

waiting for: the FedEx dude to knock, so I can get mah new phone. One of the fancy Droid-things. I hope I can figure out how to work it. Byebye, chipped, slobbered-on, cracked-up Blackberry.

drinking: coffee, of course.

dreaming of: a sunset in Roma, a finished dissertation, some people I love.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

recommendations at random

Tonight ends a week that flew by in a mad rush of obligations. Good ones, mind you. On Monday I went with my dad for a fly-by-night roadtrip back to Shreveport. I spent that evening at my best friend's house, surrounded by her babies, red wine (for us, not the babies), and a warm blanket. By Tuesday night, I was back here at home in Austin dealing with a technological crisis--the loss of my trusty laptop. My dad bought her (I think she was a her) for me back in the Spring of 2008, and since then she's been my constant companion--through the coffee binges of comprehensive exams, the perils of research, more of hours of procrastination that I'd care to count, and, lately, the tedious task of dissertation writing. Thanks to the Geek Squad at Best Buy, my documents are safe. And thanks to an amazing friend, I'll be back up and running soon. Friday I bid a weekend farewell to my sister, who jumped up to DC for a getaway weekend with the husband. And, yep, that left me as sole caretaker for an 11-month-old. Single parents everywhere, I want to buy you cookies. And hire you nannies. The little munchkin is my world, she lights up every second, never fail, but 4:55am wakeup calls wreck havoc on someone not used to rising much before 8am...umm...really ever.

Spending time at the house with her was comforting, though. I bummed around in old pajamas and performed a story-hour for her. We ate banana cookies and clapped a lot. In the evening after she went to bed, I caught up on book and music recs. And now I share them with you.

Alan Hollinghurst, The Line of Beauty--This novel repeatedly shows up on "top books of the last decade" lists, so I found a copy for six bucks at Half-Price (shout out!) on Lamar and gave it a go. The plot descriptions don't let on, but it's a coming-out story at its core--a witty, and often erotic (which is why the BBC rushed to make it into a mini-series), tale of a gay man society-jumping in Thatcher's Britain. All 1980s and coke references, part satire of wealth and part art history tutorial, the book is ultimately a cautionary tale. Love lust, but don't let it overtake you. Love beautiful things, but don't let them drive you. Enjoy yourself, but take care of yourself too. The language is efficient, sophisticated, sometimes clipped. Couldn't put it down, read by the light of a dim lamp one night as not to wake others...that hasn't happened in a long time.

The Weepies, album Say I am You--I stayed away from them at first, because they seemed WAY too much the new darlings of the indie crowd. But, alas, the buzz is correct. Soft voices, straightforward lyrics, the whole album feels like a lazy Sunday morning with coffee and crossword puzzles with a jilted lover. Weird, huh? Not if you're me. "No amount of coffee, no amount of time, no amount of whiskey, no amount of wine...nothing else will do. I've gotta have you." How can you beat that?

First Aid Kit--Teenaged sisters-singers from Sweden. I can't even properly describe how ethereal their music is. Listen to "Ghost Town" and "I Met up with the King"--better yet, watch the videos on youtube.

More soon.


Friday, November 5, 2010

hanging out in the woods with The Decemberists

Again, huh? That's what roughly 60 percent of my close friends will ask after laying eyes on this post. Yes, again, The Decemberists beckon the dark, the dank and lovely, the haunting narratives of nineteenth-century history...and beckon me to them one more time as well.

I fell in love with Colin Meloy's voice during a walk in the woods in March of 2007. I used to go hiking at the State Botanical Gardens of Georgia, just on the outskirts of Athens along the Oconee* River, with a dear friend who always understood that I wanted to walk behind him. I took the band along with us in my earbuds. The dampness of the woods, the twisted turns of roots in the ground, the faint cackles of birds all seemed appropriate for Meloy's darkly lovesick vocals. On one particular occasion I managed to twist my ankle about halfway through the walk. Ashamed to admit how much pain I was actually in, I walked through it, wincing for a good mile before I fell prey to a good sit on a log. And the song "Red Right Ankle" cycled through the playlist in that instant. Seemed perfect. Felt perfect.

I have followed them through three tours now, the climax of which was their theatrical presentation of The Hazards of Love onstage at the Tabernacle in Atlanta. With that album, they made a rock opera for the indie crowd. Meloy is a lover, a coward, a hero, a gangster, a chimney sweep.

On January 8th, 2011, they'll unveil The King is Dead. In celebration of the upcoming release, they've offered a free download of a B-side called "Down by the Water" (featuring the haunting Gillian Welch, to note). Just go to their website ( to get it.

*correction know who you are

Monday, November 1, 2010

time travel

It's been the theme of my life this past week. No, I haven't gone crazy, and no, I'm not building a time machine in our back bedroom. We do have a digital robotic vacuum cleaner though.

My dad called me a few days ago and asked me if I'd seen the "time traveller" video on youtube. Okay. My father doesn't introduce stories gracefully or...sufficiently. What he was attempting to tell me about was the video that went viral recently involving the 1928 Charlie Chaplin film The Circus. Some filmmaker in Ireland freeze-framed a shot of an old woman walking past Grauman's Chinese in the movie's premiere footage. He claims she's holding and talking on a modern cell phone, and that must mean she's a time traveller (I mean, duh). Well. I watched it. Admittedly, it's freakish looking--one of those black and white images that ends up looking creepy because someone told you it's supposed to be creepy. But if you have a right mind (which I pride myself in often, given my troubling genetic pool), then it's easy to rationalize. Old-fashioned hearing aid, crazy lady talking into some random object...anything. Got it, check. None of this is the point. That day, I went to lunch with my dad and humored him for a bit about the topic. Then I saw and seized a perfect opportunity to try and learn something new about the man that raised me. I asked him where he'd go, if he could go anywhere back in time. Here's what he said, almost verbatim:

"Well...I guess the real answer is that I'd go back to Boston at the time of the American Revolution. You know, see how the people actually wore, what they seemed like. Understand what this country actually looked like back them. I'd just walk the streets."

I didn't expect that one. Not from him. Maybe from me, self-professed history dork for life. But what I realized deep in my gut, listening to him say that, is that he and I have more of a common thread than I had ever believed...and we share it with most Americans. It's an innate sense, a pulling force, a need, to mine the past for the answers to who we are. What else made me think about this? Halloween of all holidays. Kids love it, for sure, but most adults who celebrate Halloween use it a a chance to dress up as a character that they feel projects some part of their own internal monologue. That's why so many people dress up as historical figures, I think. Three of my friends were Frida Kahlo this year. Where did that come from? But they're all artistic, smart woman who, I'd imagine, admire the artist's individuality, spunk, and tragic narrative. Call me cynical, but I do think we all secretly hope to be part of some epic, haunting narrative. It's like the Irish guy trying to scare us with 80-year-old movie clips. The historic is often the haunted.

One more thing. My dad just revealed to me on the phone a few hours ago that he knows the location of several VHS tapes of my childhood. My sister's fifth grade graduation. A trip we took to Colorado when I was ten. I told him I wanted to watch them immediately. Will it be a little strange to see myself so long ago? Yes. The past scares us because it's a truth (often quite beautiful) that can no longer be argued with.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

it's too hot to be October

Um, yeah, what's up with this Indian summer? The fall seemed to be creeping in rather steadily over the past few weeks, but today's sun reminded me that nothing is for sure in the South. I think we'll be wearing shorts this Christmas.

Don't think I'm not celebrating my birthday week and not just my birthDAY. we go. Today I shall eat a lot of ice cream, be as lazy as can be (which will be difficult given that I'm due at work in an hour), and lament my youth a little.

I miss my Georgia. Because the country roads there are starting to look a little like the photo above right now (especially further North headed into the Carolinas, which also have my heart). I remember one partiular autumn drive up through the Carolinas and into Richmond, Virginia. I had a red scarf wrapped around my throat when we arrived, fighting the brisk, cold air. That afternoon I stood on the banks of the James River with the burnt colors around me, and life seemed really, really good. Le sigh.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

the art of losing

I've had two close friends lose a parent this month. Both are handling it beautifully, with grace and elegance, but that doesn't change the pain. It's a sting, more than a jolt really, one that dulls over time but sticks in your gut like a parasite, always pulsing, always reminding. It's sharper when the person who died was too young to be gone just yet, as in both of these cases.

I know sometimes I still wake up in the quiet of night with the shivers, angry and begging the universe to bring my mother back. I'd become God's debtor to be able to speak with her again. Yeah, that never, ever goes away.

How many losses are there in this life. Certainly at a point in adulthood we all come to terms with the realization that every beginning IS a beginning because something we loved had to end. This time of year its the season changing that reminds us of renewal, of how resilient the human mind and heart really are. The smell of pumpkins and spice has made me weepy lately, a reminder that summer turns into autumn, and there are some things I've had to leave behind. But the chill in the air, the briskness in my step, also reminds me that there is so much to love, so much excitement everyday.

Below is one of my favorite poems of all time. I dedicate it to Christopher and Michelle, and to myself as well, as seasons change and losses settle over us like winter coats. The times of renewed strength are always right around the metaphorical corner though, ready to surprise us and love us. They usually come in the form of people, people who make us smile and start over.

ONE ART [Elizabeth Bishop]
The art of losing isn't hard to master;
 so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster.  
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster of lost door keys, the hour badly spent. 
The art of losing isn't hard to master.  
Then practice losing farther, losing faster: places, and names, and where it was you meant  to travel. 
None of these will bring disaster.  
I lost my mother's watch. 
And look! my last, or next-to-last, of three loved houses went. 
The art of losing isn't hard to master.  I lost two cities, lovely ones. 
And, vaster, some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent. 
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.  
--Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture I love) I shan't have lied.  
It's evident the art of losing's not too hard to master
 though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

the lost art of letter writing

As autumn settles over me, I'm reinvigorating some colder-weather habits that I love.

I'm making my Starbucks runs for pumpkin-spice lattes (they only taste right between October and December, in my humble opinion) several times a week. I've unpacked the fall wardrobe, which for me mostly consists of skinny cardigans and multi-colored scarves. And at night, now, I read--something, oddly enough, I only really do as colder weather sets in. In the summer and the spring, books are daytime business for me. Oh, and, lower temps...always means a transition to red vino as my drink of choice. Spices things up.

This autumn, though, I have a new tradition developing. Letter-writing. Before three weeks ago, I hadn't written a proper letter in years. I'm talking, years. Maybe not since I wrote my summer camp friends back in high school and promised them we'd be soul sisters forever (yeah, that happened).

I've been sort of interviewing people around me as of late. Do you write letters? Would you? Is there beauty in it? Everyone seems to agree that they WISH they "had time" or that "people still did that kind of thing, because it's so romantic."

It is romantic. It's lovely. And it does NOT take that much time, folks. It's a lost artform, I think, that in an electronic age people need to work to revive. I found this great article from Newsweek:

I was thinking about how few of us even see each others' handwriting anymore. How we form words on paper, says more about our personalities that what we wear or what we eat or any other random gauge people use these days to set themselves apart. Exchange letters--real, several-pages-long, story-telling letter--with someone, and you will know them better.

Cheers to the letter! Let's bring it back to life, so that our children and grandchildren can find our words in old trunks and between yellowed bookpages.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

good afternoon, aunt lesley gave me a mohawk

greetings from the brownlee-asseff-reed homestead.

eleanor took a bath in the sink one night recently. because she was being too feisty for me to let her stand in the tub. her punishment? a hawk, which she's rockin' here.

on the agenda:

-e just moved into her permanent room. she's next door to me, so it's kind of like i have a 10-month-old roommate. um, gone are the days of drinkin' mah beer and blastin' arcade fire in my bedroom. oh well, i guess i'm an adult now. or a baby, come to think of it. anyway, joan and i are in search of purple-themed decor. it's coming together.

-writing has intensified as i attempt to complete the first full rough draft of a dissertation chapter. god help this girl.

-my 26th birthday is three weeks away. i need pretty much a new version of everything. internetz, feel free to just have a mind of your own and send me shit from amazon.

-i need to have my own website. i'm sick of being out-cooled by people who do ;)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

summer fades

Alas, my summer began with a jolt back in May. It seems like a lifetime ago already, but on May 19th the lovely Catherine Anderson and I embarked upon a journey over the rail lines of Italy. (Thank you, Trenitalia, you're wonderfully efficient.) That trip changed me, over and over, like a flood that has ebbed and flowed even since we returned. The courage I mustered to strap that backpack on...well, it washed away a weaker version of me. The stronger person is forming, tentatively, like moth's wings dancing on a ball of clay.

There is a certain tangible sadness in watching the summer fade away. The wind changes scent, becomes mustier, promising the chill and the colors of autumn. I'm watching people settle into the sighs and light sweaters. Vacation photos have long been shared. The laziness of the heat, well, it's no excuse anymore. Certainly some music must be retired because it's saced for the summer months. Some dreams now slumber until this season comes around again. Bless you, summer. Thank you for a thousand tiny gifts, some which I hope grow to see you again next year.

Monday, July 26, 2010


My new blog will be dedicated to music reviews of brand new stuff, but before we get there...I thought I'd post my most current summer playlist. Get it all.

1) Neutral Milk Hotel, "King of Carrot Flowers, Pt. 1" (In the Aeroplane over the Sea) [Some of the best lyrics ever written, I venture. "And this is the room/one afternoon I knew I could love you." Melt. Too bad it's such a short song.]

2) Phoenix, "1901" (Wolfgang Amadeus Pheonix) [Yep, you heard this playing over the Wimbledon promos..."folded, folded, folded!" The energy in infectious.]

3) Passion Pit, "Little Secrets" (Manners)

4) Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, "Hot Summer Night" (self-titled) [Enough said.]

5) Beck and Bat for Lashes, "Let's Get Lost" (Eclipse soundtrack) [Don't judge. These soundtracks are stellar. And this is one of the best song's of the year thus far.]

6) Fleet Foxes, "Ragged Wood" (Ragged Wood) ["Come down from the mountain--you have been gone too long."]

7) Little River Band, "Cool Change" [Anthem-esque classic. No laughing.]

8) Stars, "The Last Song Ever Written" (The Five Ghosts) [One of the best albums this summer...mellow, haunting. They'll be Austin in November!]

9) 22-20s, "Ocean" (Shake/Shiver/Moan)

10) Laura Marling, "Rambling Man" (I Speak Because I Can) [Her voice is old-soul, but she's so effing young. One of the best songbirdish albums this year.)

11) The Morning Benders, "Excuses" (Big Echo) [These guys came outta nowhere and claimed a lustful following quickly. This song is pure, soft sex! "You tried to taste me/And I taped my tounge to the southern tip of your body/Our bones are too heavy to come up/Squished into a single cell of wood/Wooooood ... woooooooood/And I made an excuse/And you found another way to tell the truth/I put no one else above us/We'll still be best friends when it all turns to dust."

12) Bon Iver, "Skinny Love" (For Emma, Forever Ago) ["Mah-ma-my-my"...makes you want to hum along. This album holds up like a steel drum. One of my favorites.]

Saturday, July 24, 2010

epic letter to myself

Greetings from my new address.

I'm finally officially settled in Austin, Texas, inhabiting the back bedroom of my sister's beautiful bungalow. My brother in law is a much-accomplished political scientist, so the bookshelves here are overloaded with heavy works by the likes of Chomsky. There's a precocious cat wandering around; she answers simply to "Kitty," has oddly human-like emotions, and seems to think she runs this place. Eleanor, my niece, learned to sit up on her own today. She's all chunky cuteness and "ga-ga's." And Joan manages it all with grace and clarity. In other words, I'm home. I feel grounded and clear-headed for the first time in a long time.

When I turned 25, a friend of mine said to me, "You'll have it made now. 25 is when it all started to make sense, for me. You'll begin to understand that your destiny really is your own making, and that no one is going to do it for you." Well into my 25th year, I'm realizing how right she was. My latest thing is that I've squeezed out all the room I had in my gut for hesitation.

I realized that when you remove that gnawing of worrying about what others think, you enjoy all of your days and moments infinitely more. I think a lot of worry, for all of us, comes from hiding things away or wondering if others are as well. I'm moving forward unashamed of the tapestry of happenings that put me here, that made me who I am at 25, unabashedly forthright about the questions I have. I'm looking for the answers, but I'm doing it the fun way.

Too deep for a Saturday morning? Sue me.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

the new blog

I'm branchin' out, y'all!

Follow this link [] to check out my newest space. I decided recently that a) blogging is important to me, and it's about damn time I actually try to widen my audience by focusing on a singular topic and b) music plays too big a role in my daily life to not place myself in its world somehow, even in a small way.

Check it out, you know you want to. Intro's up!

Friday, July 16, 2010

where I came from

This coming Sunday would be my mother's 63rd birthday! So my weekend is in honor of her...umm...okay, I'm not gonna lie, that probably means some whiskey toasts, some Corona by the pool, and also leaving no carb behind. She'd approve of all of this. I promise ;)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

the South in song

I was recently challenged to compile an "ultimate songs of the South" playlist. And...unsurprisingly I went kinda crazy. This is the rough list. At some point yesterday I had to STOP working on it because there are real deadlines floating above my head.

Here goes--a few are even annotated.

Bessie Smith, “Backwater Blues” (1927)—Flood story, makes you cry unless, have absolutely no heart or aren't southern...enough said.

The Carter Family, “My Clinch Mountain Home” (1929)—Historiography has taken away the romantic myth of the Carter family as untouched wild things, but every time I hear this song, I can visualize Ralph Peer sitting dumbfounded in the Bristol studio as the family let it all out.

Billie Holiday, “Strange Fruit” (1939)/
Nina Simone, “Strange Fruit” (1965)—Two versions of the most lyrically bold (and hauntingly beautiful) song about racial injustice in the American South.

Hank Williams, “The Log Train” (1952)—This was Williams’ only truly autobiographical song, a dirge-like tribute to his father’s days running lumber on Alabama’s rail lines. There must be a dozen different stories about his relationship to his father. I read one claim that he wrote this song on a visit back to Alabama in early 1952, perhaps because he was so moved by the memories; that story matches up with the date on the original demo, but who knows if he’d sat on the song for years or not. It wasn’t officially released until 1982, but the song has become a bit of a cult classic among Williams’ devout fans. I love it because it’s his voice at its rawest but perhaps also at its calmest. In just a few lines, it’s the story of a family living day by day.

Ray Charles, “Georgia on my Mind” (1960)—I like Willie Nelson’s 1978 version as well, but this is the classic.

Sam Cooke, “A Change is Gonna Come” (1964)—That the song was released posthumously makes it even more powerful.

Bob Dylan, “Stuck in Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” (1966)—The way Dylan’s voice lifts up on the word “again” in the chorus makes me so happy; I can’t even explain why.

The Band, “The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down” (1969)—“He was just eighteen, proud and brave, but a Yankee laid him in his grave.”

Dolly Parton, “Coat of Many Colors” and Loretta Lynn, “Coal Miner’s Daughter” (both 1971)—If there was a “narrative songs about dirt-poor but loving Tennessee families who produced famous singing daughters,” well…okay, you get the point.

Vicki Lawrence, “The Night the Lights went out in Georgia” (1972)--Southern gothic at its best (and by “best,” I certainly mean grittiest). Corrupt cops, “backwoods southern lawyers,” promiscuity, family violence…once you read the lyrics, it’s almost too much to take. My mom loved this song, and of course when I was little I had no idea what the story actually entailed. But whenever Lawrence sang “The judge in the town’s got bloodstains on his hands,” my little body cringed and I imagined that his hands were actually bleeding. Reba McIntire did a cover of it in 1991, but the original holds up better.

Neil Young, “Alabama” (1972)

Ike and Tina Turner, “Nutbush City Limits” (1973)—Her hometown (apparently, though, barely incorporated) was Nutbush, TN. The lyrics are simple—she’s describing life in a pinprick southern town. “Church house/gin house, school house/outhouse”…come on! Maybe that’s southern history in a nutshell. (Pardon the pun.)

Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Sweet Home Alabama” (1974)

Outkast, “Rosa Parks” (1998)—The crazy thing is that I’ve heard this song play at weddings in the South, and some of the adults dancing to it have no clue as to what exactly they’re dancing to. That may be a phenomenon in itself—how Outkast became a wedding reception favorite.

Erykah Badu, “Southern Gul” (1999)—“I’ve got a dirty way, cause I’ve got a dirty mouth.” And she even “likes her tofu fried.” This is an unabashedly satirical little tune about the modern, southern black woman.

Allison Krauss, “The Scarlet Tide” (2003) –Krauss is always good, but here she’s absolutely haunting. It’s a woman trying to justify her husband’s absence. She’s smart, she understands the economic woes and politicking that are irrevocably connected to the Civil War, though—“swindlers who act like kings and brokers who break everything.” As the listeners, we get a sense that her husband isn’t coming back, that the blood trickling down through the mountain is going to make her a widow, no longer a bride.

Zac Brown Band, “Chicken Fried” (2009)—The more I listen to this, I think it’s not only great country-pop, but it’s also lyrically beautifully. “It’s clear when love is grown in southern ground” and “let freedom forever fly”…that’s timeless stuff.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

summer in the (smaller) cities

So, I had to face facts. Post-Italy, my bank account looked like a Filene's after a clearance sale. In other words, totes empty. So my summer is unfolding with small-time grace, as I shuttle back and forth from Louisiana and Texas and learn from my family and friends here. Summer fun on the cheap? Beer, affordable whiskey (mixed with ginger ale, although Sprite and Coke combinations also work in a pinch), patio time, matinee movies, mini-dance parties, and days in the sun. By a pool, on a lake, on your damn sidewalk, the sun will save your day. Oh, and impromptu photo sessions are fun too. Shout-out to my Uncle Jerry for the above gem.

Shouts-outs, in fact, are also due to:
-Vintage Wine and Spirits, Shreveport's coziest, loveliest wine bar. It's on Line Avenue. Go. Happy Hour = 3.25 glasses of top-notch Italian vino.
-The fantastic Chaos of Monroe, Louisiana; they hosted me this past weekend as I visited my friends Chris and Allison Huff, in from Atlanta. The rockstar Vince Chao is a music collaborator of the Huffs'; his beautiful wife Anna Beth (AB) is a budding interior designer (see her blog here:, it's eye-candy). They have a magical porch where many beers were consumed and many new friendships made. A great Fourth!
-Barton Springs Pool in Austin, Texas, for offering afternoons of sun and swimming (in cool natural springs) for $3 a pop.
-Starbucks, for finally giving up; they now offer free wireless.
I was just thinking this afternoon about how many GOOD people are in my life--family, friends (old and new). Thankful, I am.


Monday, July 5, 2010

talkin' bout my...

I saw an ad the other day for a new ABC television show called "My Generation"; apparently, it's faux-documentary style, a back and forth of footage of one group of high school friends as they traverse the decade between 2000 and 2010. It's set in Austin. The premise is that the group is reunited at age 28. Of course, none of this is very original. What happens to people? Who followed their soapy, over-talked dreams, and who didn't? Who got knocked up, married, divorced, went nuts, etc.? But it intrigues me because this might be the first blatant attempt to fictionalize MY generation. I'm a couple years off on the 2000 graduation date (I matriculated in 2002), but sure as hell I was the generation who followed Britney Spears in her prime (what was anyone thinking?), watched 9/11 unfold on a classroom screen, cared whether Joey and Pacey ended up together (and if you don't get that, you're fired!), and went off to college with so much promise in my gut that anything seemed possible. The second Bush was in the White House, but other than that life seemed like it might be pretty manageable. Who knew, eh.

Whether or not the show lives up to its hype, or makes me feel nostalgic, thinking about it also made me think about how we all process change as the years roll by. No matter the specific "generation," we all have that decade (AKA, our twenties) that sort of defines us. How we enter the world, how it surprises us, how we find the people who we want to CHOOSE instead of them choosing us. After college, anything is on the table. But we have to put it there.

There's a scene in the show's promo in which the group jumps, fully clothed, into a pool. Cheesy, yep, but also a little moving. I think it's supposed to represent a moment of unabashed joy--a moment that, despite receding hairlines and dashed hopes and re-start buttons, these people can find again. Who would want to be 17 again? Not me. But to recapture the joy of 17 in your late twenties? Score.

This morning I randomly read a page of a Pablo Neruda poetry collection I have by my bed. The line was "I love the handful of earth you are." That's how I feel about the people who stay in my life. They're not perfect, because no one is. But I love them just because I love them (to paraphrase Neruda), without pride or show or having to defend my choices. I didn't have a very good high school experience; I was the nerd, the cast-out. Much of it was my own doing. But as I've come into my own, and approach my tenth reunion, I realize that the most important development of my decade has not been an event but a process of accepting change and learning to love.

Talk about change. My sister Joan and I used to regularly lounge around painting our nails red and dissecting my latest man-drama (because, um, there pretty much always is some); now she goes to work, I try to work, and her precious daughter crawls around on the floor. There's a quarter of a century between me and Eleanor. She'll have a whole different story to tell--culturally, politically, just in the every day of her

Above, there we are--two totally different generations, just a' rollin' around in a heap on the carpet, giggling.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

first impressions.

The summer is unfolding as a catharsis, in the shape of huge moth wings.

On Monday, Jenna (my first official Austin friend!) and I jumped into Barton Springs at about 3pm. You'd think the water would be warmed by the Texas sun; no, it's freezing. I kind of felt like I was completely letting go as I jumped in.

I'm learning my way around here, slowly but surely. I'm reading a lot, and the writing is coming easier. Amazing what a completely clean slate will do, eh?

Austin is officially home for now. Still, I find myself surprisingly excited to go spend a few more days Louisiana-way. I'm a LA/TX girl.


Friday, June 25, 2010

first step.

Ack, life happens fast! I'm headed out today for the first-stage move to Austin, TX. (Final push is July 10). So...for anyone who does care (and bless you a million zillion times if you do!), we're talking a bit of a blog hiatus as I get organized. But then maybe it'll be more exciting than ever...?


Monday, June 21, 2010

summer solstice dance party.

FYI: Today, June 21st, is the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere. It's officially summer! It's the longest day of the year; supposedly crazy shit can happen on this day. So be careful. But also dream big. William Shakespeare called today "Midsummer"; in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," he wrote, "Whatever is dreamed on this night, will come to pass." Many cultures believe that it's the most magical night of the year, in fact.

This afternoon I had an Abba attack. You read that right. It happens every once in awhile; I inherited this tick from my mother. She used to sing "Fernando" to sing me to sleep at night. My uncle walked into Starbucks today as I was blaring my ears out; I said to him, "I don't know how I'm going to work this Abba energy out." He replied, "Maybe it will help if you talk about it? When did it start?" I told him, about five minutes prior. He laughed and had no solutions.

My favorite?

Don't go wasting your emotions. Lay all your love on me.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Work it.

First off, cheers to all the fathers out there. This morning I presented my own father with another one of the silk Hawaiian-print shirts he loves. I gave up trying to persuade him against them long ago. Whatever makes him happy, eh.


In 1994, John Berendt, a self-professed “Yankee” writer, pulled Savannah, Georgia, into the national cultural consciousness with a (literal) bang; Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, often mistaken for a novel but purely NON-fiction, is the sexually-charged tale of a murder allegedly committed by a member of Savannah’s elite circle. Anyone who reads the book, though, quickly realizes that far more important than the trial that Berendt documents is his overall literary interpretation of the city as perhaps the most southern place on earth. Berendt is not a historian (and I say, thank God in this case), so he doesn't really contextualize his work within any broader cultural, political, or economic claims about the South. He doesn't have to. Presenting a cast of beyond-eccentric characters, Berendt proposes that Savannah is a city lost within itself, isolated and forever caught in the gardenia-scented, gin-soaked mores of a mythic Old South that other places have fought to erase. He presents the one picture southern historians don't want to see. There is no progressive narrative here, and no one's even got a progressive agenda up their seersuckered sleeve. It's not a post-civil rights South, which is the South we all want to believe that we live in now.

Berendt is clearly the outsider in his own story, a willing carpetbagger; he, in turn, attracts Savannah’s odd-ducks like flies on peach juice. Some of them want to flaunt their peculiarities as if those oddities were sparkling tiaras (for a few, they actually are!), to show an intruder like Berendt that they can thrive only in a place as untouched as Savannah. The city might still be shrouded in a less-than-pretty past, but at least it allows individualism to flourish. Right?

Hmmm. If we are to believe that Savannah is actually Berendt’s southern gothic Savannah, then it is a place where blacks still stay away from whites for the most part, where the police will turn an eye to wealthy men driving with cocktails at the helms of their Cadillacs, and the hypocrisies of homophobia still thrive the way they did in, say, 1954. The best-written character in this book is the one we're sure is no-part fabrication; "The Lady" Chablis, who befriended Berendt and showed him the ropes around the city's seedier nooks, is very much a celebrated (black) Savannah Drag Queen whose mouth is as dirty as a bucket of mud. But she also takes stock in her status as a southern "lady." How does this place operate, with the gentility of a dusty noblesse oblige living next door to the elite's worst nightmares (i.e. conversing about sex, conversing about same-sex sex, having both, you get the point)? It just does, Berendt insists, and Savannah patriots don't want any help from the outside. Questioning anything would mean addressing bigger problems--racism, class-ism (it exists), raging poverty and persistent random violence.

I think Berendt writes out real stories the way that historians often should. Without the albatross of footnotes, as a writer he's able to present a sequence of events the way his mind has processed them. A few facts might be tweaked, but they're tweaked to make the story fuller, more visual, more compelling. It's emotional. I would rank Midnight in a top-ten list of works of southern history (and then I'd take unending flack from my colleagues, and maybe be expelled from the field altogether), but there's one thing about it that really bugs the hell out of me. And it bugged me even more during this most recent reading.

So Savannah residents fear change, huh? They fear outsiders? They also don't WORK in this book. Berendt is told at the beginning of his visit to stay securely within the city's main borders. So I understand why he doesn't, say, visit the paper mill nearby on the Savannah River. But did he really not encounter anyone who worked there? Because I'm pretty sure that even in the 1990s Union-Camp (formerly Union Bag, later International Paper) employed thousands of locals, both black and white. Lots of folks who work part-time in the city's flourishing tourism industry also pull hours at the mill.

Even more surprising is that Berendt doesn't discuss the industrial side of Savannah at all. Not one word. Didn't he smell the sulphur in the air? Paper mills in places like Savannah can be smelled from the highways; residents get used to it, but outsiders notice it right away. Anyway, I'm not going to dwell on his omission. My point is that the city's industrial leaders, and workers for that matter, pretty much demanded the help and guidance of an outside world starting in the 1970s. That's what the entire second half of my dissertation will be about; Ralph Nader sent it an investigative team in the summer of 1970 to test the Savannah River for pollutants and help residents gain the upper-hand against Union Camp. The elite that Berendt writes of? Yeah, the Old South-ers turned their heads. But workers, and some families who'd seen their drinking water darken, and fishermen and tree farmers in the periphery...they sure as hell wanted help to fix raging environmental problems. They had the gusto to address racial concerns as well. Imagine that (ironic voice)! A group of black workers filed a discrimination suit against Union in the 1980s...and won.

But Berendt's book confirmed the graying prophecy of main-square(s)-Savannah. In a way, he kind of lets those old white boys win. Without the smokestacks, it makes sense that Savannah could be an island. But with them...well, hello modernity and its problems. I guess that's where I come in.

End scene.

I still love the book, for the recond.

[ the 1997 film adaptation. It's directed by Clint Eastwood, and it's John Cusack at his khacki-clad best.]

Friday, June 18, 2010

Email is the new letter/a phone call is the new lunch date?

Hey, I'm just as guilty as the next person when it come to facebook. It's part of my life, daily. But I haven't read anything, until this, that so eloquently sums up the social changes the website has wrought.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

the pursuit.

Summer days are long, and allow for much pondering. I had tea yesterday with a dear, dear friend who has offered me important guidance at transitional points in my life. She and I spent awhile discussing the value of expanding and nourishing the internal monologues we have within ourselves. And I realized something. For years of my adult life, I've given myself flack for the analytical nature of my own thoughts. It's time that I stop. Sharon helped me understand that those of us with the will and the ability to analyze ourselves, learn from our mistakes, and build the narrative map of our own lives...well, we're the lucky ones. A life unexamined, well, what would be the point of that?

I was also reminded of a conversation that I had with a friend back in Athens a few months ago. We sat on a couch and, for hours, I kid you not, ate grapes and tried to answer this question: "Will we ever be able to know, for sure, what's going to make us happy?" An empty bowl and two headaches later....we came up with a resounding "no." What makes you happy today, in this moment, that's so easy to understand! Dreams are also easy to conceptualize; in fact, they're often the beauty in the everyday. The problem lies in expending too much energy obsessing over our future selves. I can say with confidence that quite a few things that I thought would make me happy even three years ago are no longer on my radar at all. Hell, there are things I longed for three days ago that now seem like islands floating out in the abyss.

So what's the pursuit of happiness, then? I think, more than anything, it's understanding how we process our lives. It's an intimate, personal thing, coming to feel happy. It's the ability to maintain and control ourselves even amidst chaos. It's confidence. It's an understanding that life can throw us anything at all, anytime it wants. It's the knowledge that we've become the best we can be in this moment. Don't those moments feel damn good?

I think it's kind of exciting to NOT know what will attract us in the future. I adore surprises. I say, bring it on.
For the hell of it, here's a list of the things that make me really happy, right now: homegrown tomatoes (this is their peak season, they're so juicy, and you can center any meal around them), afternoons of writing (some days more fruitful than others, admittedly), iced coffee, snatching up new reads at Barnes and Noble, early evening jogs, facebook messages from friends (old and new), music exchanges, v-neck t-shirts, ball point pens, fresh notebook paper, the smell of gardenias, and organizing my photos into albums. Here's a rec, too: Sharon and I shared a pot of my favorite tea of all time, Angel's Dream. It's a blackberry and maple blend, good hot or iced. Buy some here:,1004.html.
Catch ya laterrrrrr.

Monday, June 14, 2010

musical summer.

Music is energizing me this summer more than ever before. I'm discovering great new stuff everyday, blaring it in my car in the sunshine, and drawing inspiration from it to write. Sending recommendations out into the world is a great joy of mine. So here's the first of what I'm sure will be many summer playlists to come...

1) Vampire Weekend, "Diplomat's Son" (from Contra)//off their latest album, which takes some adjustment but is just as fantastic as their debut. This song has some particularly addictive beats and background vocals.

2) Deer Tick's cover of Sean Kingston's "Beautiful Girls"//No joke. John Macauley's voice is incredibly gruff, the band's sound best described as grunge-y folk. This cover is random and odd, but wonderfully so.

3) Passion Pit, "Eyes as Candles" (from Manners)//I'm angry because their shows in Austin this summer are already sold out! This song has a strange tinge of an 80s pop on its edges, love it. Crazy-catchy chorus..."Why do I always need to need you when, when you're fleeting?"

4) Eric Hutchinson, "Rock and Roll" (from Sounds Like This)//Had this recommended to me recently; immediately liked Hutchinson's gentle guitar/thoughtful lyrics.

5) Spoon, "Don't You Evah" (From Ga Ga Ga Ga)//This song IS summer for me. Windows down, sunglasses on, mouth the words in sync with blatantly narcissistic nods of your head. This is also dedicated to little Will Berry, that precious 3-year-old in Athens, Ga., who replies to his mother (my dear friend Franny) with this phrase sometimes: "Don't you evah!"

6) The Decemberists, "Summersong" (from The Crane Wife)//A given. I mean, come on..."I taste the summer on your peppery skin."

7) Yo La Tengo, "Here Comes My Baby" (from Fakebook)//This song will make you want to dance down a street...and if you're me, it'll make you want to dance down the street toward a cute little dude who's singing this to you!

8) Broken Bells, "The Ghost Inside" (from Broken Bells)//Continue to be obsessed with this band. I missed their show in Athens, sadly, last week. But I heard it was amahzin!

9) The Corrs, "Summer Sunshine" (from Borrowed Heaven)//Gotz no shame in loving The Corrs; my friend Brian is the most dedicated Corrs fan EVER (I have no statistical proof, of course, but I'm pretty sure I'm right) and gifted me all of their albums last year. This song is incredibly joyful...and it's well-constructed pop.

10) Band of Horses, "Ode to the LRC" (from Cease to Begin)//BOH oldie but goodie..."The world is such a wonderful place, la de da de da!"


Saturday, June 12, 2010

(More than the) Second time around

Today I began my--and I'm guesstimating here--seventh reading of John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I came across it when I was twelve (not long after it was published, in 1994), and my mom watched wide-eyed as my little eyes soaked it up in a couple of sittings. Murders and the sultry heat of Savannah, cemeteries, hoodoo, prostitutes...basically, this novel is a late-twentieth century take on the Southern Gothic; that my twelve-year-old self was already processing the pitfalls of the southern myth versus the southern reality...well, I don't think it shocked anyone. Least of all my mom. My mind may have developed some of its social skills a little later than others in my cohort, but the literary chasms of my brain sprouted wings by the time I made it to the third grade. So we'd stroll through Barnes and Noble (still a haunt of mine) on Saturdays, and any book that struck mah fancy...well, she humored me.

This one stuck with me, through high school, then through college. I would have had no way of knowing the significant role it would play in my writing career and research. Kind of like the print that hung above my mother's desk while I was growing up; I didn't realize until last year, after I began my dissertation research on the Savannah paper industry, that it was of the Hermitage Plantation (the property that Union Bag and Paper built their mill on in 1936). The symbols of a New South built, literally, on the ashes of the Old...watching my mother work in her wood-panelled office all those years. Oh, irony. Now it's my bread and butter, unraveling the narrative of a modern southern economy whose denizens still hang so much of their symbolisms, their politics, and even their diets, on the images of an older order (that are simultaneously nasty and beauitfully mysterious). I've yet to decide if Savannah really is the hothouse that Berendt writes of; but my indecision tells me that it must be pretty damn close.

Maybe this seventh reading will open even more metaphorical windows and doors. I'll let ya know.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A travelogue...made of people.

[My favorite photo from the trip; our feet in Venezia.]

It was Brook Silva-Braga’s 2007 documentary A Map for Saturday that set this recent trip in motion. (Sadly) little-seen outside of a self-selected twenty-something set, Silva-Braga’s film is a year of his own life on film, more truly raw and humble a travelogue than you’ll find in any written form. In it, he offers that traveling is like piecing together a map for the eternal Saturday; waking up to a whole new world everyday. He follows other “extreme long-term travelers” as they jump from one youth hostel to another in the world’s most beautiful places, touching each others’ lives and journeys along the way. It’s a messy existence, emotional and oft-surreal, but it’s proof that it’s never too late or too difficult to jump far beyond the lines we all draw around ourselves. It’s the kind of inspiring montage you can really get behind; hear these travelers talk, see them sunburned and joyful, or sometimes tearful, and you’ll know immediately that there’s a whole world you’re missing from your couch. I watched it on a hot summer evening last year, and by the end I was sweating and crying into my beer, both with possibility and the anger that I’d never had the notion to take myself anywhere. It would take almost a year from that point to gather the guts (well, and the funds) to take a journey. A few weeks ago, my beautiful friend Catherine and I flew from Atlanta and landed in Rome, set to circle through Italy in two weeks' time. Two weeks, we quickly realized, was not nearly enough time. So we grasped every minute, good and bad--the fatigue and the joy, if you will, tired feet and too many beers, the smiles and the tears as we encountered places and people we never imagined.

And, you know what? Silva-Braga is right. Americans spend most of their time gathering money to buy things they never have time to use; isn’t some of that money better spent on collecting experiences? Travel doesn’t have to be a four-star, save-up-for-three-years kind of thing; it can be, actually, the here and now. There are people out there to meet, to learn from, and infinite venues within which to do it. Here are a few of our experiences.

At a cafe in Napoli, third night of the trip. We met up with Catherine's brother David there, and his lovely wife Meg (pictured below). I wish we had a photo of our Napoli hostel host; Giovanni opens his home (nestled in a 700-year-old apartment building) to roughly twenty young strangers every evening. He made us feel safe in a city that isn't cozy. Napoli is old and stunning, but it's also scarred--by graffiti, crime, and a frenetic bustling.

Here's the crew we made in Firenze. Three Americans, two Canadians, one Brit, and one Aussie. We were all staying at the same hostel--a place called Emerald Fields; on the way from the train station, Cath and I joked that we didn't quite know what to expect with a name like that. And we'd already been attacked by bedbugs once on the trip (no comment). But we found that Emerald Fields translates to "hostel miracle"; we lived out some of what Silva-Braga's film is all about. We gathered on the back patio, shared wine, and within a few hours the group was cemented in a way that only this kind of travel allows. Everyone arrived there from different places, and we were the only ones traveling in a pair. These travel-warriors were all on their own, for months at a time some of them, and they inspired me in ways I won't even attempt to put into words. I fell in love with Florence. It, and these people, stole a piece of my heart that I gladly give up.

This may be the most representative photo of me ever taken. I look exactly like my mother here. I'm bleary-eyed and caffeine-deprived, first thing in the morning. This was my first cappuccino in Italy, by the way. (in Sorrento)

We were, with great joy, reunited with part of the Florence crew a couple of days later in Roma. We made plans to meet up at the Trevi Fountain at 4pm on that Saturday. Catherine and I reveled in how cinematic that sounded. And we wondered if it could actually happen. It did. Here's us with Keven, almost the very moment of the reunion.

At the Piazza of the People in Roma, second-to-last night of the trip for me and Catherine. Post-dinner, but before the bulk of the vino. Patricia, Keven, myself, and Juan (from Colombia, via the UK); Catherine took this spontaneously and loves it. I do as well. It's us caught up in a moment we probably couldn't even have imagined would mean as much as it does. At least for me. These are moments, memories, that I hope to keep with me forever.

Such smiles!

Catherine and her sister-in-law, Meg; this was back in Napoli. We drank, ate dinner, and then stumbled about in the city as it lit up at night.

Venezia! One thing I loved is how many dogs (with owners, no worries!) roamed about on the cobblestone streets. I love this photo because it captures, more than I've ever even seen in myself before, pure joy. To be winding through the narrow streets of Venice, stopping to buy scarves and eat gelato, Catherine by my side...well, it was picture-perfect.

Amy and Dan, last night in Florence.

No comment?

Mask-shopping in Venice.

We went to Pompeii for the third afternoon of the trip. It was hot, my feet hurt, but walking through the ruins was a singular kind of experience. Like being inside every world history textbook I'd ever had plopped in front of me at school. As we were leaving, rain broke into the sky; Vesuvius lit up in this blue/green gloomy light, and I cried a little.

One of the thousand reasons I fell in love with Florence.

Lazy late afternoon in Roma...with a lot of beer. The light made the pictures that day look blue.

Beginning of the trip, in Napoli, so we had tons of energy. But this photo sums us up rather well; we were a little team for two weeks, trudging through, raising our arms in excitement more times than I could count.

Sharing sites with people, those intimate moments of travel during which your mind and your entire heart might be confronted, tested...well, that's surreal. Share them with people you JUST met, and it'll blow your mind. For me, it's proof that there is such a thing as synchronicity, some kind of force that brings the right people together in the right moments.
See you all back out there soon. I'm just getting started on my map for Saturday.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

In brief: Hemingway on planes and trains, and Annie Lennox

A mini-study in surprises!

One) I was pleasantly surprised to see that most international travelers still carry books with them. Actually, really surprised. One would think that with all the Nooks and Kindles and Ipads...well, old-school, bound-up stacks of real paper might be deemed too bulky by many. I've even had such a thought recently. After all, the airlines pretty much charge you for every centimeter of space you breathe in these days.

On the way to Italy a few weeks ago, bleary-eyed and marginally claustrophobic as our jet took off, I felt oddly comforted by the sight of paperbacks, bends in spines and all. Hell, I'd planned to watch movies, drink complimentary chardonnay, and doze off at intervals. Here, these other coach-folks were planning on tackling Austen above the Atlantic, or some Dan Brown, and one person even Joyce! Oh, how I underestimate all of us. All this business about it being doomsday for the printed word...I cry rubbish. People aren't giving up their tactile experiences so easily, nor, apparently, their literary ones.

I made it through only about five pages of Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast (some might call it "minor Hemingway"?) on the plane. The language is slow and almost lust-y, like molasses, unlike most of work; it wasn't until I'd come down from the high of the trip that I was able to give it real attention. I sat in the (surprisingly empty) dining car of an Amtrak train, inching through Alabama, my journey almost over, and soaked the words up. If I were a poet, I would write a sonnet about Hemingway on a train.

Two) I harbor no shame in loving Annie Lennox. She's outdated, of course, remembered now mostly in hazy, boxy images of shaved heads and red lipstick (basically, she's a mental montage of the 1980s). People forget the pop sensibilities of her work in the 90s. Americans do, anyway! Imagine my surprise when, on a stroll past the Forum on our last day in Rome, I hear strands of "Walking on Broken Glass"...louder, louder. My walking companions must have imagined I had a seizure. I skipped ahead, elated, mouthing the words like a kid with a hairbrush-microphone. The song was coming from street speakers, set up for some sort of event, but there it was...unabashed, in broad daylight, one of the best pop songs EVER...

"Take me from the wreckage, save me from the blast//lift me up, and take me back//don't let me keep on walkin' on broken glasssssss....ooh ooh..."

Back in the real world (which I call anything that is not Italy right now), I'm in gelato-withdrawal, and I'm trying to write a little bit every day. Summer is in full-swing, of course, which means high humidity indexes and burning sun around here. Texas will be even worse. Or better, however you perceive of sun.

More to come...

Friday, June 4, 2010

The return

Rather unceremonious for everyone but myself, I know, but my return to the states from Italy Jaunt 2010 has wrecked me for the better. So much to write about, and so much to tell. Most of it will come out over beers with close friends in the next few weeks. Some of it will make it here, some to pieces of paper that will then become lost most likely. All in all, a life-changing two weeks that will infiltrate every tiniest part of my life for the foreseeable future. Photos to follow, including a mini travelogue.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Pure joy.

My niece in a recent giggle fit. This is the kind of pure joy that makes life beautiful. Her smile erases every worry in my head...and makes me feel confident that there's a lot of good around us. I had to share.

Excuse the poor video quality. I filmed it on my phone while we waited for take-out :)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

One more thing for now: Rock your socks off (because it's sandal weather anyway)!

Allow me some ceremony with this. Humor me.

I offer you my official "anticipation of the full-blown summer" playlist. Now, now, of course I won't be looping these fifteen songs over and over again for the next month (though my most recent roommate would argue that I very well might). But it's a perfect sampling of the stuff that has rejuvenated me lately. These are the songs I've belted out in my car, to the chagrin of both my passengers and, this past weekend, fellow drivers along the I-20 corridor. Some of it's new-ish, some just new to me, and a few are shameless throw-backs.

I recommend all of these full albums, so Paste Magazine-search them, or itunes-them up for further research. Here's what I got:

1) Broken Bells, "Your Head is On Fire" (Broken Bells); This may be one of the first occasions in MY music history that I've caught on to a great new band just as they're strikin' it up pretty "indie big." The whole album is delicious, but I love how this song breaks down/re-starts at 00:41. They're on tour right now; Athens folks, they're at the 40 Watt on June 11th (have an ice cold PBR Tall Boy for me, puhlease).

2) Band of Horses, "Our Swords" (Everything all the Time); This is a song from their first full-length album four years ago, so yep, it's kinda old news. But I saw them play a couple of weeks ago, the show was excellent, and this song surprised me live because I never cared about it on the album. Lyrics are a bit morbid (no big shock there), but in that peppy way that BOH gets away with. Of note: They are on tour, obviously, and they're promoting a new album, Infinite Arms (out this month)!

3) MGMT, "It's Working" (Congratulations); This album has been uber- and over- reviewed already, so I won't say much is odd! The ambient-push is a bit overdone (one song is even called "Brian Eno"), but the surfer/mildly psychedelic asthetic is, overall, really pleasing and pleasantly different. The whole damn thing feels like an ocean wave settling over you while you're a little lethargic. I had the good furtune to see them on tour last year, and I loved how elegant they seem in person. Their performance was calm and confident, reaching crescendos at just the right moments. Can punk-y be elegant? Yes.

4) The Whigs, "Automatic" (In the Dark); My dear friend Frances (Franny) and I are no less than obsessed with these Athens rock darlin's; we've followed them around Athens, as well as lamented because now they're doing well enough to NOT play in Athens as much. This is off their new album, which we saw them introduce at the 40 Watt in April. Believe this: their stuff is good, but it's even better live. See them if you can; you'll be at a real-live, limbs-flailing rock show.

5) 22-20s, "Ocean" (EP--Latest Heartbreak); British band that opened for The Whigs in April. Franny and I had perfected NOT arriving at le 40 Watt until 11pm; hardly any headliners take the stage there pre-midnight (which has, historically, made for some hungover Fridays). We missed the 22-20s play, but luckily we ran into them outside during a cig break (or, "fag break"); Franny must have a radar for British accents. These guys were so jovial, and just so damn nice! We took copies of the EP. It's wonderfully solid, a smooth rock sound, with some bittersweet lyrics enlivened by killer vocals. This is my favorite song so far; "waves of words, waves of sound"...who wouldn't love that. Their full-length album, Shake, Shiver, and Moan drops in June, I think, and they're on tour in the US through the first part of the summer (check their website), mostly in the West and Midwest.

6) Laura Marling, "Rambling Man" (I Speak Because I Can); Brit theme going here I guess! I randomly ran across a song of Marling's a while back and, quite honestly, paid little attention. I remember thinking it was too morose. I guess I heard the wrong one. Also, apparently she was originally in the line-up of Noah and the Whale, a band I've very recently grown to love. What scares me is that Marling is only effing twenty years old! The lyrics on the this album are mature and maybe even a bit haunting (in this song, take this gem to chew over: "and the weak need to be lead/and the tender i'll carry to their bed"), but her voice is young and hopeful.

7) Neutral Milk Hotel, "The King of Carrot Flowers (Pt. 1)" (In the Aeroplane Over the Sea); Here's a shameless throwback. This band is infamous for basically disappearing a few years back; I won't go into all the conspiracy theories. My lovely friend Brittney introduced me to this album a few years ago because she knew I needed a musical education. Turns out, these guys were originally from Ruston, Louisiana (where I went to college; sleepy town at best), before re-forming-up in Athens. I feel this weird connection to them, and I just love this song.

8) Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers, "Anthem of Our Discovery" (self-titled debut album); This hails from 2005, but Kellogg has been brand new to me over the last month (a joyful thanks to my roomie Brian for introducing me). Most of his stuff is perfect for hot summer afternoons and rolling the window down. This song has a catchy melody; it's pop, I want to say, but the gut-wrenching honestly of its lyrics aren't lost in chords at all. I latched on to this one over the past week, replaying it in my car as I floated down I-20; it's about a woman leaving, I think, so maybe my brain connected it to the bittersweet feelings I had about leaving Athens.

9) The Tallest Man on Earth, "Kids on the Run" (The Wild Hunt); The name is a moniker for the folk musician Kristian Matsson, who's 27 and hails from Sweden. This particular album just debuted, but from what I can tell, this guy's had a following for awhile in the states. His voice is gravelly, lovely, ancient-sounding. You have to hear it to understand. Sometimes it reminds me of Delta blues music, and sometimes it sounds like nothing I've ever heard before. I would give mah right arm to hear him play live.

10) Josh Rouse, "Summertime" (Subtitulo); Enough said. Short little song, great beat, makes you wanna drink some lemonade and be nostalgic. Rouse is a new favorite of mine; to note, he's got a brand new album out right now (El Turista).

11) The Morning Benders, "Excuses" (Big Echo); The third album on this list that either has a picture of an ocean ON its cover or references some kind of wave or ocean. Obvi I need to get to the beach. Amalfi Coast in two weeks? Score. Every one of my music guru-y friends in Athens has recommended this album over the past few weeks. Love this track. "We'll still be friends/when it all turns to dust," and, even better: "We are so smooth now."

12) Modern Skirts, "Soft Pedals" (All of Us in Our Night); This song is a little dirty, not gonna lie. It's about makin' some love. It also happens to be the top staple at their live shows. I've seen these dudes at least half a dozen times now, and they never disappoint. This album could be my ultimate Athens playlist just in itself.

13) Kings of Leon, "I Want You" (Only by the Night); Alright, so I know this band sorta sold themselves out this past year. Arena show? Questionable at best, and trust me, I went to one of them. Franny and I paid a bunch of money to see them, then spent even more on over-priced Bud Light (yuck). Their songs are better enjoyed with a (reasonably-priced) brew in a darker, sweatier venue. At least to me. I'll never stop loving them no matter what they do. Anthony Followill's voice is an oozing of lust and sex and everything raw. This song reminds me of how languid summertime can be, and also how confusing our desires can be.

14) Madeleine Peyroux, "Dance Me to the End of Love" (Careless Love); jazz singer born guessed it, Athens, Georgia! But that's neither here nor there for this. I recently discovered this album very randomly and fell in love with her. It's dance-able, or....even perfect for cooking dinner to. While you shimmy.

15) Bob Dylan, "I Want You" (off Dylan and the Dead); This mix needed a classic. I've never heard a more honest, sweet, energetic Dylan song.

[Above is a view of the Amalfi Coast...where dear Catherine and I will be lounging in a couple weeks' time. I am REALLY thankful, and beyond excited. xoxo]

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Hauling and bawling.

The thing is done.

On Sunday morning, I bawled my ever-lovin' eyes out as I watched the stocky Athens skyline disappear in my rearview mirror. I was, very appropriately, listening to a Modern Skirts album (plug: for they are the BEST local band that still PLAYS locally on a regular basis). And it wasn't the kind of farewell that you let completely shake you to the bones, because Lord knows I'll be back for visits. My dissertation will require such. But it was the realization that it won't be quite the same anymore. I don't live there now. I won't be driving back headed home anymore.

None of my friends allowed me to get too emotional about them, thank goodness. They're smart folks, who touched my shoulders and reminded me that I'll see them soon, talk to them often. So that became my motto, stolen from a Stephen Kellogg song I blogged about a couple of weeks ago: "See you later, see you soon." I wish I could have let go a little more with them, though; no one wanted me to, but alone on my porch...I did. While packing as well. The crying might have been heightened by the amount of pollen in the air, but as I threw my suitcase and shoeboxes in the car, I randomly bent over in a near-convulsion. I needed a catharsis, and so I took it however I could. I can only hope that those people who mean the most to me know it. I think they do. I will miss everyone. And there are a couple of people who I will miss so much that it may ache. Just because I'm so used to seeing them in my life, each day, so easily.

Leaves? I had to turn you over.

I woke up this morning, though, feeling rather renewed. All of my belongings are streamlined, organized. How often does that happen? Score! I'm in Shreveport temporarily as I transition, and within a day of arriving, I made a new friend and heard from some old ones I love. I've started writing, both on my dissertation and on some fun new stuff. On Mother's Day, I'll be with BOTH of my sisters (and both are brand new mothers). My Italian adventure is two weeks away. And on the other side of that...a new chapter. Life as a Texan. So blogging will probably go on hiatus until June. And this page might even get a facelift (I hate that metaphor...why did I just use it?). Is Texas the South? Is Austin a bunch of mini-Athens strung together? I don't know yet, but I think I'm gonna find out.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Self-fulfilling processes.

Twelve pages into this book I found myself wondering what the hell its title meant.

So before I went any further, I looked it up. (Paraphrasing, much of this is courtesy Wikipedia) The title is actually an isolated reference to W. Somerset Maugham's retelling of a fable of sorts. Here's how it goes: A merchant in Baghdad sends his servant to the marketplace. The servant comes right back home, frightened, and tells the merchant that in the marketplace he was terrified by a woman, whom he recognized as Death, and that she made a threatening gesture towards him. Borrowing the merchant's horse, the servant then escapes to Samarra (miles away), where he believes Death will not be able to find him. The merchant goes to the marketplace and finds Death, inquring as to what happened. She says, "That was not a threatening gesture, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra."
And hell if I didn't still have a hard time understanding the reference. More on that in a minute.
But first, I have too admit that reading this book was like paying a metaphorical debt. A dear friend handed it over almost two years ago, insisting I read it because of its literary parallels to Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road (one of my favorite books). Though written in 1935, roughly twenty years prior, Appointment is, like Road, a biting send-up of suburban life in America. For some reason, I never made it to the first page back then. A recent search of my car revealed the aging paperback, under a seat, untouched and suddenly goading me like a cranky crying child. I owed it to my friend, and to myself, to fulfill the recommendation process, if you will.
And, as per always, the universe had a way of plopping the right words in front of me at precisely the right time. This book may not be super well-known, but hopefully it's a thing of cult knowledge; perhaps it's wisely pulled from musty university shelves once in awhile. O'Hara's characterizations of middle-class anxiety, human lust, and the day-to-day finaglings of relationships are more pitch-perfect than anything I've read recently. It's like the Great Depression-era version of Slate Magazine's "Dear Prudence" column; it's all the dirty little things we think and (these days) sometimes say. Back then, I don't think a lot of middle-class folk actually spoke frankly about things like condoms, masturbation, drinking problems, or mob activity in public. But O'Hara goes inside the heads of several twenty- and thirty-something couples to uncover the narrative that's there, even if the words aren't being spoken. Plus, the great thing is that one of his couples DOES speak these things, at least to each other.
They're the main show in this Philly suburb--Julian English, a ladder-climbing car man (Cadillacs), and his lovely, hyper-sexual wife, Caroline. It's Julian's downfall that O'Hara pieces together. The scary thing is that I didn't realize it until the end; in the meantime, the characters that dance around them are so colorful, so full of life, so multi-faceted that the reader may even muse that this very dark piece of work might have a happy ending. There's no real plot, just a series of ambling scenes that at times reminded me of parts of James Joyce's Dubliners. In other words, it's just like life--no linear plot, just the plotting along punctuated by successes and failures.
There's a young boxer named Al Grecco, but that's not his real name. He also delivers boxes of liquor and knows everyone's secrets--who's cheating on who, who's been at the roadhouse outside of town, and who owes who money. There are college girls who dance brazenly at the country club, and the men who've bagged them but no one knows. No one is virginal here, but everyone's trying to keep up appearances. The characters who grow are the ones who realize that the scary, secret thoughts are actually okay (and they learn to be honest about them).
Julian and Caroline navigate their neighborhood, their families, their social status...all with a booze-y wit that eventually catches up with them. Peeks into Julian's psyche reveal that their relationship is largely based on sex, and after an unfortunate situation at the country club's Christmas party, Ju (as she calls him) is forced to confront the breakdown of all of his veneers--his marriage, his friendships, even his smile.
O'Hara weaves Julian's history (and Caroline's) in with almost everyone else's along the way. Their observations of the crew are everyone's observations. Random thoughts pop up fluidly in the text, perfectly: Those two people slept together once, and it didn't go over well, so that's why they're awkward around each other now. That man's wife is cold, prudish, so he has to cheat. That girl isn't very attractive, but she "goes all the way" for ya, guaranteed! In other words, O'Hara writes all the stuff we float through our social situations thinking, or at least wondering about. (Not to say that these are observations we should run around verbalizing, but it sure is nice to live in a world in which the people around us acknowledge a mutual humanity!)
What Julian has to realize is that the easiest and most human emotion is often negativity; navigating away from that, to very purposefully love yourself and someone else, well that's the answer.
Here's the crux of the thing, and the tie-in with a servant at Samarra: Julian English starts to doubt himself. Bigtime. He wonders if he loves his wife at all. He wonders if he loves anyone, really. Like a little boy searching out trouble in a cookie jar, he goes on a bad-decision binge. Caroline is not innocent, but she is confused. Instead of speaking frankly, Julian moves to sacrifice his marriage very purposefully. In many ways, this is because he fears that recognizing the legitimacy of it will lead to heartache. There are so many baited moments in this book, breathless windows, within which these characters have the damn chance to speak the truths. To say, for example: hey, I don't know what's going on, but I'm worried, me, love me, let me know you. But those moments are missed. Just as a lot of us miss those moments everyday; the smartest among us take as many of the chances as we can, or when we miss them try to make them up later.
The servant headed to Samarra because he was scared out of his mind. Instead of seeking counsel within himself or with others, he ran for the hills. And in doing so, he sabotaged himself like a self-fulfilling prophecy. I called this post "self-fulfilling processes" because I think we're all trying to learn how NOT to be that guy hanging out in Samarra.
Huge moral here? Sometimes you have to forget the crazy, negative thoughts that swim around you. Sometimes people just need people. If you worry too much, or push yourself too far into your own might just create a prison of your own damn design. Sometimes it's the moment that matters, and you've got to seize it up.
I LOVED this book. I've already let that aforementioned friend know. I'm sure there are copies of this on Amazon for like five dollars; you should order one. It's a quick read, but it's so honest and refreshing as to leave a real impression.
[Cheers to all on a lovely, warm Sunday. I'm full of food and champagne. I've gotz to get back to packin' up! Oh, and I do promise that the next book reviewed will be more upbeat. I've read quite a few satires lately...need to shake this up and diversify!]