Sunday, June 26, 2011

keeper: all the news at the door/such revelry

Bon Iver, Bon Iver  

I didn't think that anything could top For Emma, Forever Ago.  The "my my my" chorus during "Skinny Love" made me cry so many damn times that I had to ban it from my shuffle for awhile.  I think the last time I heard it was the final straw--on a late Spring afternoon driving down Mopac Expressway in Austin, Texas, beer-buzzed (don't worry, I wasn't the one driving) and broken-hearted.  That whole album was about living and breathing with loss, and it became a big part of the evolving soundtrack of my twenties.

It's fitting that now there's renewal.  In this new album, the sadness is muted--replaced with melodies that are more tempting, a couple of intros near-epic, and words that are more hopeful about love in general.  In the middle of the track "Beth/Rest," he simply asks with no abandon, "Aren't we married?!"  The music is still haunting, still feels as rural and soft and full of gut, but the words are often almost giddy with childish fervor.

Check them out:

music to live by

Not too long ago I promised to update this site a lot:

The concept stands, and I'm not taking the site anywhere.  I just don't have time to pester people for lists (although, admittedly, I've still got two in my inbox that need to be formatted...shhhh).

In the meantime, I started thinking: am I satisfied with my own music library?  Itunes allows us to add items constantly--albums from friends, recs from the Internet, random songs that struck our fancy one day.  My library, according to the system's calculations, would require 7.5 days to listen to from start to finish.  A lot of it is crap that means almost nothing to me.  Some of it is music I have lived my twenties by.  So I'm going to start with "A" (which in my library happens to be A.C Newman's solo album "The Slow Wonder," a definite keeper) and weed out the lies.  Along the way I might spotlight some music here that I toss, or some that I keep.  On a Sunday morning with coffee and an allergy attack, here's my first stab at explaining the chance-y entries...

--Bob Schneider, "Lonelyland" and various singles: He's an Austin-based singer/songwriter who I think has gained a decent amount of fame elsewhere too.  The Schneider question in Austin is controversial.  He has standing gigs at some amazing smaller venues.  And apparently he once dated Sandra Bullock.  But half of the people you could stop on a street in downtown Austin will roll their eyes at the mention of his name.  Hardcore hipsters hate his music, which is one of the reasons I gave it a try (because I loathe hardcore hispters).  But, you know, it does....suck.  His voice feels forced all the time.  His lyrics are cheesey.  He looks like an asshole most of the time because he never seems to take his sunglasses off.  His latest single (off a critically-panned album that he had to release himself) reference the Tin Man and the Wizard of Oz...with no irony.  It's like Top 40 for twelve-year-olds.  So, here he goes...into my own personal musical dumpster.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

the found weekend

I kind of felt like I'd lost my voice over the past few weeks.  Moving back to Athens, Georgia, felt akin to re-settling unto an old creek that was at once both soothing and fearful.  Things were happening around me, this gentle rocking of a metaphorical ship, and I didn't have to speak much to illicit joy.  Meals eaten, glasses of wine clinked, and steps and steps tread in between a little house and campus.  This town welcomed me back with open arms, and for that I am grateful.  I knew that I felt different, though.  It was similar to reuniting with a lost lover you didn't expect to see again so soon.  It became clear to me, a few weeks in, that I needed to carve a new niche for myself--all around, with those I care about, and within my own heart.

This weekend I found my new voice.  Yesterday afternoon, a gathering of old friends turned into a re-discovery of sorts with the addition of my friends Michelle and David's tiny daughter Singer--who is three months old, a wide-eyed pudgy wonder.  

Cocktails and fish tacos carried us through to an impromptu dance party.  And I can't describe the feeling adequately, but I finally sensed that I had a grasp on my time here.  I have the most wonderful friends.  They are smart, and full of life.  And we are growing up every day.  I can piece together the collective wisdom, and it's a lot to draw on.

So I woke up this morning and put together a day that a younger version of myself would have scoffed at.  I made coffee, barreled The Platters through the speakers in the dining room, and commenced a deep clean of the house.  I simmered a homemade pasta sauce on the stove while I graded exams.  I've found a great deal of peace through cooking lately.  My domestic and introspective karma was rewarded, though, with a phone call that two old and very dear friends had made it into town for a surprise visit.  We spent this afternoon on the back porch of my friend Catherine's house with the grill lit and ice cold beer at our feet, sharing stories on what became a fairly perfect summer day.  

The thing is (and any of you readers who know me well already know this, I'm sure), I have spent A LOT of my life lamenting my own analytical nature.  And I've spent a lot of time pining away for things that the universe just wasn't ready to throw my way yet.  On a weekend like this, confident in the small things that make my life rich, I am at once aware of my own maturation.  

I write to you while streaming the new Bon Iver album, which I recommend with reckless abandon.  There's a light on my porch, a rocking chair, and so many words to write.  The rest of them I'll write in private for now.

Cheers to comfort in our own skins--

Monday, June 20, 2011

posting in song.

Days are too busy right now to stop and process much.  Someone asked me the other day, "Doesn't it feel good to be home?"  I answered "yes," but there are moments when Austin feels like back-home now.  I am a confused little nomad.  But embracing it.

This is the current anthem.  And it's joyful and fearful all at once.

Oh, the Mac.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Historical and literary homicide...

I know that sounds dramatic.

But it's the crime Woody Allen is suddenly very guilty of, via his new film "Midnight in Paris."  Despite having the most contrived-sounding title ever, I became convinced the movie must be good...since reviewers and critics were raving about its run at Cannes, and because I had so many friends who were excited about it as well.  We'd been conned.

I won't give away too much of a spoiler, just in case you still want to throw ten dollars down a metaphorical toilet and go see this.  But the basic premise of the story is that Owen Wilson's character Gil--an under-confident Hollywood writer who aspires to write the next great novel but knows full-well he probably doesn't have the chops to do so--starts traveling, nightly, back in time to the Paris of the 1920s (while Rachel McAdams, his fiancee, sneaks off to carouse with pretentious assholes in present-day).  Stupid to begin with.  Like some comedic take on "Inception."  But what's worse is that Allen has hired actors to PLAY Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dali, Picasso, Gertrude Stein...all of the artists and writers that lived in Paris in the twenties and created the works we still breathe heavy about today.  The actress who plays Zelda Fitzgerald pops on screen...and, not thirty minutes into the film, it's all dead in the water.  Who can play Zelda?  The bad mop of frizzy hair on this actress' head, combined with her annoying accent...geez, Allen, get a better casting agent if nothing else.  The guy who played Hemingway was so robotic and scripted that at first I thought the whole time-travel thing was a dream-sequence joke.

No such luck.  All these larger-than-life figures are played with very little gusto by actors who have probably never read or seen any of the work.  That might be a mean comment.

I don't care.  I'm an Allen fan more generally, but this was over-rated shit.  McAdams isn't even nice here, and...who makes her unlikeable?  My friend Catherine commented that a fifteen-year-old could have written this script.  Save for one hilarious line about one of Picasso's mistresses, I had to agree.

Hollywood should come knocking on my door.

In the meantime, I may commit a historical homicide tomorrow if I don't work out this lecture on the Old South properly.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Monday, June 6, 2011

Cultural moment: Bridesmaids

It's ironic to say that not since "Mean Girls" have I heard SO many women between the ages of eighteen and fifty raving about a movie.  Ironic because that movie was a breakout for Tina Fey, who wrote it and starred in it and thereafter became a household name.  "Bridesmaids" was written by her Saturday Night Live successor Kristen Wiig--the ONLY truly funny thing about SNL anymore and, like Tina, an example of how stunning, funny, and damn smart women over the age of 25 really are.  I can only hope she'll garner as much attention, or also her own show.

Besides being just, well...hilarious, this movie is the single best commentary on adult singledom that I have ever, ever seen.  Kristen's character is the solo among the marrieds and the coupleds, the one still trying to convince herself that she's fine "just being friends" with her lovers (a funny turn by John Hamm, to note) and that her best friend's impending nuptials don't bother her even in the slightest.  She dumps on the nice guy, of course, and tells everyone off in all the wrong ways.  Any woman worth her salt has been there, though--those moments when it's hard to see past your own despair over love.  Kristen's character overcomes them slowly, realistically, with lots of bumps along the way.  In other words, the way things really happen.

Go see it.  It's a cultural movie moment because: it's the bachelorette movie that doesn't go to Vegas; it makes fun of rich people in all the right ways; the majority of the major female characters are over the age of 30; there's some crazy-funny Wilson Phillips nostalgia that will blow your mind; and the cutie Irish cop who fights for Kristen's affection will maybe give you all faith in the male race again (he did for me).

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Dissertation Camp.

Your faithful blogger is under the weather it seems.  I guess the cross-country drive finally caught up with me.  (And the late nights, and too much wine, and the frenetic writing schedule...ah hem...)

Week's roundup:

-My friend Christopher is part of a dissertation-writing mini-club (which is nothing like a mini-vacay, sadly) that meets at various coffee shops and writing nooks in the general campus area.  Usually it's three or so history folk around a table.  I shunned it at first.  Then I joined one day.  And I worked.  Because it turns out that having someone across the table from you kind of holding you accountable...makes you work.  Brilliant, huh.  (I bet Christopher didn't appreciate me suggesting, from across the table, that he moisturize his dry skin...but you know, that's what friends/writing colleagues are for.)

-Baking genius-turned-entrepreneur Jessica Rothacker, who I am lucky to call a friend, is in the last stages of opening her farm-to-table cafe here in Athens (called Heirloom).  She and her husband Jordan (who is also working his ass off, to note) gave me a tour of the place yesterday afternoon, plus fed me impromptu shrimp and grits in the brand new kitchen.  It's coming together beautifully, and they should be ready to open in about two weeks. It's the refurbished (oh, and how so!) Amoco station on Chase Street.  Jessica's plan is to serve exclusively local and regional fare--the meat, the vegetables, the fruit...everything will be what's fresh (and you can get your drink on, too--I was sitting around with them yesterday while they worked on the beer list).  Athenians, watch out for the open sign!

-My syllabus for the summer is available at:

Check it out if you're at all interested in what my eighteen students and I will be conversing about on these hot summer afternoons.  Speaking of that...yeah, it's gross.  I forgot how much humidity hates me and my hair.

-Maybe, just maybe, I had a teensy emotional breakdown because I miss my family, and because there's so much going on.  Maybe I did.  And maybe some amazing friends held me up and made sure I didn't stumble.

This morning I'm chugging orange juice, popping Dayquil, and attempting to finally have at least one day within which I'm not constantly moving.  Amen, amen.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The thing is done.

This is what the back of my car looked like early Monday morning right before my dad and I pulled out of Austin.  We drove in separate cars to Shreveport, and at 7am on Tuesday I hugged him goodbye and started down I-20 like so many times before.  Highlights of the drive?  Not many.  A man at a Chick-fil-a in Meridian, Mississippi, tried to hit on me with this line: "Honey, I do a lot of teachin' and preachin'."  I knew I was back down South.

I write to you from my favorite coffee shop here in Athens, Georgia (Jittery Joe's at Five Points).  It's summertime in a college town right now--everything is as slow as molasses.  It's bloody hot, my legs hurt from walking everywhere again.  Things look the same here.  It's comforting and scary all at once.  But I have felt the warmth of the arms of good friends around me.  And we're catching up, settling in again.  Last night I finished off a bottle of blueberry mead with my friends Kelli and Chelsea.  Translation?  I have no complaints.

School starts a week from tomorrow.  I've got a huge office on the third floor of LeConte Hall that I need to fill with books and coffee cups.  Updates to come on all of that.  I cannot wait to meet my students.

In the meantime, you Austin folk, you know who you are...log on to and book yourself a plane ticket.  It's nice here, and you should come see me.