Friday, December 14, 2012

A Portrait in Thirds

My eyes are leaking?

Crying is a much more accepted and typical part of life right now.  This is not a comfortable fact.  It's a strange type of growing pain, just far later in life than I thought it should be.  Perhaps this is the phenomenon known as a "quarterlife crisis," only it shouldn't be.  It's the regular adolescent trauma of self discovery, delayed by several years.  Arrested development, if you will, but this time it's for reals and there's no Jason Bateman to be the calm voice of sanity.

Emotions have always been verboten to me.  I eschewed them as a sign of the weakness I could not let myself show.  I was the poster child for the wall-builder, constructing my safe little oasis bricked up tight within a corner of my heart I had forgotten existed.  But the past few years I have been chiseling away at the grout, creating chinks then gaps then tearing down load-bearing beams.  I can successfully say that I have gone from pure robot to someone capable of emotional health.

But the part they always skip with emotional health is the necessity of pain.  Those walls were built to keep me from having to feel hurt or sad or even empathy.  I was me, and everything rolled off like so much water on bird feathers, fluffed out to repel any drop.  Since letting myself feel I have experienced life more sweetly, cherished moments and relationships I never thought possible.  But along with that comes suffering.  And that's what needs to happen.  Being healthy means being OK with the hurt along with the joy.  But it's difficult, especially when the pain chokes your chest and compresses your feelings.  And that's this week.  A week of pain and frustration.

A teacher perspective on the shootings on Connecticut. 

 I have never taught kids as young as my current students. Even though I am technically in "middle school,"  I am surrounded by children ages 10-12.  Most of my time is spent around the 10 year olds, and I will not lie.  It's... how to say this diplomatically?... not my favorite.  My specialty is older students (who thankfully understand sarcasm and culture references), I didn't go into elementary education for a reason, and I often struggle with connecting with these young students, students who need more nurturing love and care and attention.

Today my fifth graders were practicing musical numbers for their play about the American Revolution.  They sang jazzy tunes about taxation without representation while I read about how children had been shot, how an entire class was missing, how parents and teachers were trying to account for everyone.  And I couldn't stop my breathing from becoming labored, couldn't stop the immediate watering of my eyes.  Throughout the day, I tried to stay abreast of the news, but my reaction was the same every time.  It wasn't until I came home late that afternoon and read the full story that I broke down.  Alone in my living room, punctuated by Christmas lights and the glow of the computer screen, I heaved and sobbed and had the reaction I'd avoided for so long in my life.

 I felt small.  I felt hurt.  I felt tired of this, the second violent incident in as many days.  But I felt so grateful.  Grateful that it wasn't my school, that it wasn't my students.  Grateful for the realization that if that happened, I would do anything to protect my students--even the ones that drive me batty.  I pray that I will never have to do anything like that.  I pray that this can start dialogue, and that we can progress past bickering and stop this from happening. It's not a matter of no guns or more guns or right or left.  It's a matter of changing something.  A matter of regulation and accessibility--regulation of firearm use and accessibility of what the average citizen can attain.  Regulation of mental health and accessibility for those who need care.  And while I understand those who say this is not the time, I still feel the aching heart of the country, my own aching heart crying out for an end.

I guess you care what I'm wearing.

My mind was already wrung out before the shootings dumped on me.  I've followed Mormon Child Bride, the blog of Stephanie Lauritzen (better know as She Who Started the Mormon Women Wearing Pants to Church Day), for a little over a year.  I like it because she is snarky and honest and an English teacher, and we English teachers have to stick together.  And while I have definitely not agreed with everything she's posted--not all the poems she shares are that awesome, and I don't struggle with not having the priesthood--I have understood that she was coming from a genuine place, and I've respected her journey for that.

I haven't officially identified as Feminist Mormon, but I refer to myself as such in my mind.  I've lurked around the community, reading up on WAVE and FMH and so forth, and quietly formed my opinion on the matter.  I wish I could post all I've read, but I worry that it would misconstrue my own thoughts on Mormon Feminism.  Researching it has felt a lot like cherry-picking: yes, I agree with that one; oops, not quite that one; let's avoid this train of thought all together; oh yeah, I can totally get behind that!  The only thoughts I've found that I totally agree with are here, and while that post links to some great stuff, I still want to stress that it's not a wholehearted alignment I feel.  It's an understanding and kinship, one where I believe the spirit of the cause, if not the specifics, are just.

As far as this Sunday goes, no.  I will not be wearing pants.  But not because I think it's "ridiculous" or "evil" or "just those crazy feminists looking for an excuse to leave the church."  In fact, for the record, I understand where they are coming from.  Right now, the pants aren't to say 'let's have the priesthood' or 'let's be more casual.'  It's an attempt to bring attention to the inequality in the church culture, and I support that.  I would like to hear more from women in Sunday School and Sacrament Meetings.  I do think there should be more women speaking in General Conference.  I definitely think the Young Women program needs to be completely redone, and I do think that there should be more open discussion about the role of women beyond that of wife and mother.  We are amazing.  We are strong,  We have a divine nature, worth, and capability that is greater than we are ever told.  It isn't enough to just be told that we are righteous and blessed.  A basic principle of education is modeling,  Unless girls are told about and shown their potential and the many different facets it has, how will they learn self-respect?

Despite my sympathies for the movement, I will not wear pants.  Partly because a piece of me does believe this event has the potential to undercut the sacred ordinance of the sacrament.  Not necessarily intentionally (even though there are probably a couple women who are doing it in that spirit), but because the motion is created to cause upheaval, and I personally don't feel like I would feel comfortable doing it in that setting.

But a main reason for my discomfort is the choice of pants as a symbol.  NOTE: I do not think there is anything inherently wrong in wearing pants to church, and I do think that it is more about the respect in presentation than anything else.  I am far more offended when women wear foam flip-flops to church than when women wear pants.  But in this particular case, holding up pants as a symbol of the masculine reign, shoving that particular gender dynamic in the face for awareness, well.  That makes me uneasy.

My wrestle with feminism vs. femininity vs. what-have-you has been documented before, but I just want to reiterate.  I am not in the camp where feminism means being equal with men which means being the same as men.  I think that a large part of female strength and power comes in the differences.  And not just in how we can have children--there's also the differences in social and emotional dynamics that set us apart and give us value.

But it took a while for me to get to that point.  So much of my youth was spent believing that in order to be respected, I had to be unsexed.  I couldn't be overly girly or feminine.  I had to play by masculine rules--another reason for my detestation of the weakness of emotion while I was growing up.  It wasn't until far too recently that I learned to embrace myself, curves and skirts and attractiveness and all.

How valuable it would have been if someone had told me that I could wear dresses and makeup without trading in my self-respect and ambition!  I would have had such a great head start if I had come to terms with being strong and feminine at the same time.  So no, I'm not comfortable with donning pants as a symbol of male power.  Because I am powerful, whether I'm wearing high heels or sneakers.  And that's a message that I think anybody, males and females and everything in between, can benefit from.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

More Weight

I can never again make fun of Taylor for crying at the end of Apollo 13.  Not after I just spent the past two hours sobbing at this movie:

Man alive.  It was roughly two years ago that I finally decided I was allowed to have emotions, and I knew that it would be a strange, difficult road, but I never expected this.  I never thought that I would become the type of person who cries during movies.  And I don't even have any hormonal excuses!  Just pure, unadulterated connection with a beautiful work of art.

I read The Crucible as a junior in high school.  I had loved books before, but nothing had struck me to the core like Arthur Miller's words.  They kept me awake at night, pondering over implication.  The Salem Witch Trials, a topic I thought I had pretty well covered with my extensive Ann Rinaldi readings as a child, suddenly became a new experience, rife with the meaning of dignity and justice.  That started me on my love of American writers, led me to reading more postmodern works.  The Crucible defined my adult reading palate.   It sharpened my sense of talented writing.  And watching the movie again tonight, for the first time since high school, I was struck again.

Words are powerful.  They carry weight.  And the way we use them shapes us.

I know.  Super deep.  But let's face it, I abandoned all pride the moment I started choking up while watching justice die as girls screamed about Goody Good with the Devil.  Ah well.  At least I'm not crying at chick flicks.  There's mercy yet.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Fawkes-y Lady

Happy Guy Fawkes Day!

Isn't my title punny?  It makes me chuckle.  I'm celebrating this November Fifth by watching V for Vendetta tonight.  Not super creative, but it's tradition.  I'm also wearing my Guy Fawkes shirt at work--it's underneath a professional button-up, but it's there.  And it's bringing me secret joy.  And that's all that matters.

Too lazy to take a picture, so this will have to do.  It's practically a self-portrait anyways.

I feel like I've been needing to write a follow-up to that last post.  To be perfectly honest, that post was always meant as a precursor--a way to announce my participation in Nanowrimo.  But then the announcement started needing in-depth explanation, and then the explanation took over, and by the time I was finished wallowing I was finished blogging.  After all, it was about ten thirty at that point, which is an hour and a half past my school-induced bedtime.

So.  Here's a rundown of what I've been doing to beat my defeatist nature. [Sidenote:  Beat the Defeatist sounds like it should be some kind of game.  Can someone who develops apps get on that?]

A few weeks ago, I decided I was tired of not being brave.  I had all these grand plans of what I wanted to do, and how I wanted my life to be.  I was talking about all the things I thought were amazing, all these jobs and experiences I wish I could have, but nothing was being done about them.  It became this grand game of comparing the life I had to the one I wanted, and it was impossible to win.  It's foolish to get in that mental competition.  The life you have and the life you think you should?  Without action, there's just no winning.

And then, like a bolt of some type of electrically charged weather, it hit me.  I was talking about all these things I wanted to do, things I wished I was a part of, but I was doing absolutely nothing about it.

"Oh, I wish I sung more."
"Oh, I wish I had more than slight skill in music."
"If only I wrote more regularly."
"If only I read as often as I used to."
"If only I got involved in my community."
"I wish I had the job I wanted."
"I wish I could just do this-or-that for the rest of my life."

And so on, so on, so on until the end of time.

So I finally decided to do something MORE than whining about what my life should be like.  I decided to work on making it the life I wanted.

Ways I am working towards what I want to be doing:

1) Participating in Nanowrimo.  For the uninitiated, that is where you write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November.  It's big.  And scary.  And any encouragement would be greatly appreciated.

2) Taking the GRE in Nov. 28th.  Also big.  Also scary.  Also containing math, my great nemesis.  Once again, any encouragement will be appreciated.

3)  Participating in a singing group and performing Christmas songs at nursing homes and hospitals around Seattle.  Even though this gives me uncomfortable choir flashbacks (repressing high school rage, repressing high school rage...), I think it's enjoyable.

4) Applying to grad schools.  I'm still trying to find the perfect program, but I'm feeling optimistic.  I want to get a Masters in Journalism, most likely in magazine work because I want to do media criticism.  Any experts out there with advice?

5) Heading up a musical program on Polynesia for my school's multicultural event.  I have never directed anything before.  To my drama friends--thoughts?  Suggestions?

6) Creating a poetry unit for the fifth graders.  This is just exciting, exciting gravy on the top of my to-do list.  Nothing helps me relax and notice the beauty more than poetry.

On my way to work, I listen to podcasts.  It keeps me from going insane from the commute.  One of my new favorites is the Nerdist podcast, which can be stellar if they are interviewing a person you're interested in.  The two I listened to last week were Conan O'Brien and Seth Green (I love my gingers), and they were delightful--ideal inspiration for creative people who want to succeed.  Both interviews made me believe that I could achieve success in my chosen field. Conan, because he was a proponent of finding balance between depression  facilitating creativity, using one to fuel the other but not wallowing; and Seth, because he was all about finding what you love and working as hard as you can towards that.  He noted that the previous generation could not imagine enjoying work.  A job was something you went to during the day, and then you tried your best to choke down unhappiness as you spent evenings with your family.  It's remarkable that we can profit from passion, and we should recognize the gift that is.

So those are my goals.

Be Brave
Work Hard
Be Kind 
Love What I Do
  Don't Whine* 
Be Grateful

The crazy thing is, since I've been trying to do this, I've felt... invincible.  Like I can do anything.  The fact that I am actually doing something to try and improve my life is weirdly empowering.  And it's spread to everything!  I'm more productive at my job, a better communicator with friends and family, and more willing to stand up for myself.  Who knew that becoming an advocate for yourself would be so great?  It's like I have a super power.  So watch out, here comes Assertive Woman.  Here to save the day and make her own life exponentially better--which will hopefully make other lives better.  Don't go thinking I'm totally selfish.  I'm just vowing to no longer live in self-pity.

* Or, don't whine too much.  Let's be realistic.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Those Who Don't Try

It's amazing how quickly negativity can get me down.

I decided I'm going to grad school.  Next fall.  I want to get a Masters in Journalism.  No, not education.  And no, I haven't had any journalism experience since high school.  Why do you ask?

I haven't tried to accomplish anything since high school.  No competitions, no real application or challenges.  The last time I went out on the line and tried working for something I wanted was when I was a senior, and I applied to be the English Sterling Scholar for my high school (something I achieved, by the way, even though in hindsight I think it was because only one other person applied).  I didn't put any effort into college applications, I never worked to get published or entered contests while in college, and now that I'm past university I thought I'd just ride out that life of mediocrity.

Too bad I don't want that.

I want a spectacular life, I want to work hard and feel pride in what I'm doing.  I want to be able to point to something and say, "There.  I did that.  And it was hard.  BUT I DID IT."

There are two things impeding me in this goal.

1) I am lazy.  Every time I want to work on something, there's this little part of my brain that starts talking about all the shows now available on Netflix, and how hard I've already worked that day, and how I need just a little break to restore my creative juices.  Next thing I know, I'm two hours deep into Mad Men and yelling about how Jon Hamm deserves all the things in the world.  All the things.

2) I am a defeatist.  As much as I try to think positively, and to constantly be reassuring (after all, I am freaking awesome), when the pedal hits the metal there's only one thing going through my head.  And that's how much I suck.  How big of a failure I am.  I can't write.  I can't sell myself.  I have no impressive qualifications or character traits that set me ahead of the curve.  When I look at the requirements for applications, and then look at myself, it's ridiculous.  I just see a person with a giant average sticker.

Oh, I see you have a B+ average.  That's adorable.  Oh, I see you wrote a term paper on Dracula and Feminine Sexuality.  That's a subject that's been heavily examined before.  You want to write articles?  The last thing you wrote for a newspaper was about your favorite pair of shoes?  Oh, that's just the cutest thing ever.  Now excuse me while I talk to this intern who has been ghostwriting for the New York Times, working in an inner-city school and has published several articles about the potential cure for AIDS.

I know that I have something to offer schools.  People.  Life.  But I have a serious problem noticing all the positives when I'm paralyzed by every downfall, frozen in place by my own inadequacies.  It's so much more comforting to never try and never fail.  

Friday, October 12, 2012

Chapter XII: Wherein TV and False Feminism Collide

I'm so ashamed.  I just wasted an hour of my life watching these:


And you know what?  I'm done.  This is it.  This is the final breaking point.  Get ready world, because the rant that has been stewing for over a year has reached a boiling point and is about to explode all over the shiny white stove top of your mind.

Let's discuss New Girl for a moment.  I'll admit, a year ago I was looking forward to this show.  I watched that first episode and laughed my face off.  And then I kept watching, but something was amiss.  It fell further and further in my esteem, and halfway through the first season I was already admitting to watching it with shame, trying to downplay the fact that I would pull it up on Hulu and spend those twenty minutes wondering what I was doing.  Here are my main two issues:

#1: Schmidt.

Yeah.  That's right.  Start with the torches, but I'm sticking to my guns.  While I'm happy that Max Greenfield has found a successful role (go Leo!), Schmidt irks me.  As a character, I find him overwhelmingly shallow, narcissistic, and distracting.  "But that's who he is!  That's the point of him!" you naysayers might yell at me.  Alright, fine.  I'll give you that.  That could be his character, and while it is a lazy character it is an existing one that performs a certain purpose in the structure of the show, so OK.  Take that one.

But here's my main issue--Schmidt is the fan favorite.  Schmidt is apparently the star of New Girl, sparking press galore and even landing an entire book.  I've even heard some of my male friends express a desire to be just like him, and that's what gets my rile up.  Why?  Why would anyone exalt and emulate a man who has a douche jar, bases his values in expensive clothing and accessories, and who builds up a personality in persona rather than substance?  I understand the (slight) humor in that character, but when it goes into admiration it goes too far.  Men, you can do better than that.  You can be strong, substantial, interesting.  Schmidt behaves badly and his badness is acknowledged, but then he is inevitably rewarded for it.  This system denies him any sort of growth, and who can blame him?  If his behavior prompts the pretty girl to sleep with him, his roommates to validate him, etc., there is no reason for him to progress and change as a person.  And as someone who believes that life is about constant improvement, constant betterment, that's more than frustrating, that's offensive.  Talking about offensive,

#2:  Zooey Deschanel and her views of femininity.

I used to like Zooey.  Back when she did the wry, slightly sarcastic, slightly (very slightly) "quirky" characters, I thought she was interesting, and a new voice on the scene.  But when New Girl came out, she embraced the cuteness and made that the whole of her identity.  Which is good and dandy, but when she starts trumpeting herself as the new brand of feminism (as done through her website, articles, and episodes of her show), that's where I take umbrage.

Let's quickly dissect that aforementioned episode of New Girl to get at my point.  In 1.11--"Jess and Julia"--Zooey's character faces an obstacle in the form of the awesome Lizzy Caplan, who plays the girlfriend of Deschanel's roommate.  Caplan is a successful lawyer who wears tailored suits, works hard at her job, and is less comfortable with her emotions.  All of which, naturally, means she is lying to herself and betraying her gender.  The main conflict involves Deschanel and Caplan fighting over their ideals of womanhood, with Caplan as the big, mean woman who is too tough and trying too hard to be like a man, and Deschanel as the adorable one who is true to her femininity through baking, gossip, crying and frilly dresses.  This all ends in a huge yelling match where Deschanel gets Caplan to cry and talk about her feelings and admit that she is just faking it to be more successful, and then they have a happy knitting party.  You know, to signal that all is well in the female realm.

This bothers me.  Why are the only options the career wench and the little girl?  Why must women choose between emulating men and emulating infants?  Not even infants, but some hyper-sexualized version of every feminine stereotype there is?  There is something fundamentally wrong with that scenario.  But don't worry, Mindy Kaling will fix it.  Or will she?

Mindy Kaling and The Mindy Project: Indulging the Myth

First things first:  I think Mindy Kaling is a BAMF.  Is she the gossip-fueled, slightly silly, clothes-whoring sparkly-obsessed stereotype?  Yes.  But she freely owns up to it.  AND she has goals and works ridiculously hard to achieve them, and I can't possibly begrudge her that because that's rad.  And yet.  Somehow, her show fell so flat so fast that I can barely contain my shaking rage at what's going on over there.  NPR has an excellent, slightly more positive view on the show than I do, but they hit on a good point: the main character is unlikeable.  And I don't see that changing anytime soon.

As it stands, the character of Mindy is a shrill, overly critical woman who expects life to be a fairytale.  She expects her men to be handsome, financially secure, mentally sound, and to put up with her shallow beliefs and emotional tantrums over the slightest of obstacles, whether it's job difficulty or the wrong frozen yogurt flavor.  Which is such a non-issue, considering that yogurt places LET YOU TEST FLAVORS, that I could hardly believe that made it through the writers room, let alone became a minute and a half bit on the show.

So yes, as a character Mindy has some serious tweaking to be done.  But I think the main fault is that fairytale dream of the show, or the belief that a character who pictures life as a romantic comedy will get what she wants.  Or deserves to get what she wants.  Part of this frustration lies at the source.  Romantic comedies are a terrible model for love.  They teach that true love is instantaneous, that people are meant to be, and that happy ever after is an easy and painless possibility.  They preach that love can fall on your doorstep without any effort on the part of the receiver.  That Mr. Right will find you and stay with you, no matter if you are a whiny, entitled princess who does nothing to improve herself.  In fact, the more you stick to your childish emotions and beliefs, the more deserving you are of love because you are somehow more pure and unjaded than the rest of the world.

How is this tolerated?  Love does not work that way, and the audience should not be expected to root for a protagonist who operates under these assumptions.  And yet, in both existing episodes of The Mindy Project, Mindy acts like a spoiled brat and expects cheers from the viewer.  Look how brave she is to be uncompromising in her expectations!  Look how wonderful she is for yelling at her co-workers!  How amazing it is that she can so seamlessly fake the girl her date is looking for!  It's remarkable.

Here's what truly disturbing about these shows--they are being lauded for their bravery.  Both of the showrunners are women, and the media is abuzz about how these two shows (and HBO's Girls) are paving the way for feminism, casting new light and new possibility on women as a whole.

Quite frankly, if those shows are the model of how a woman is supposed to behave, I'm ashamed of my gender.

I'm ashamed at us for not expecting more.  For not demanding more.  According to these shows, if you are not actively working towards marriage, changing yourself for the opposite sex to make yourself more appealing, and unapologetically indulging in your girlishness without having to face any consequences for emotional outbursts or childish dreams, then you are doing it wrong.  Which is selling us short as a gender.  Feminism is not about sexualization, it's about making yourself better.  It's about the opportunity to rise to whatever is possible for you.  So kudos to Mindy Kaling, Elizabeth Meriwether, et al for being successful showrunners, but don't drop the ball now that you are there.

Women do not have to adhere to the two extremes of the overly masculine career woman and the soft little girl in pigtails.  There's an entire rich spectrum of possibility out there.  When I think of women who successfully lived up to their potential, I think of women who oozed confidence, who carried themselves with a self-assured charm.  They range from the pretty femininity of Audrey Hepburn, the strong sensuality of Lauren Bacall, and the roguish self-reliance of Katharine Hepburn.  They were not all the same cookie-cutter type of woman, but they are all connected in their level of comfort with who they were.

And that is what we need to be idealizing, ladies.  We need to stop being OK with being talked down to, with having our roles minimalized and placed in neat little boxes.  We need to stop conforming to these ideas and expectations.  Our sense of worth is not defined by how men see us.  We don't need to be sex objects or placed on the pedestal of innocence and purity.  The fight is about equality, which is essentially freedom.  Freedom to be accepting of our bodies and our personal ideals.  Freedom to be accepted for whatever personality we have.  Freedom to work if we choose, to love if we choose, and to live how we choose, according to our own standards.  So if Zooey truly loves cupcakes, awesome.  But don't call me less of a woman if I don't.  Don't tell me that my relationship is faulty because I didn't know Taylor was the one from the first moment I saw him.  And on the flip side, don't tell me that I'm selling myself short by being married, by not working more or pushing myself towards different careers.  Let me be confident in my own abilities, and I'll do the same for you.  But dear women, make sure your goals and dreams are yours, and not dictated by books or movies or TV shows.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Blood and Rice

Two current inspirations:

1) American Vampire, written by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, and Stephen King.*

I think Skinner Sweet was modeled after Sawyer from Lost.  I am totally OK with that.

I read this today while holed up in the local Barnes and Noble.  WOW.  I was completely giddy for hours afterward.  I mean, come on.  A comic with epic, murderous vampires and a dual Western/1920's Hollywood setting?  Cowboys, flappers, mysterious Eurocracy and gruesome monster violence?  It's like they downloaded a list of things I love.  Reading Amvamp was the kind of comic book experience you dream of--the experience of feeling completely connected to the story, eagerly flipping ahead, breathless to see the next panels because you just can't wait to find out what in the world will happen next.  Scott Snyder has been a hero of mine since Batman: The Black Mirror made me want to write comic books, and this definitely kept up that tradition.  Sometimes my favorite art pieces are the ones that set me on fire, that make me want to go out and write and create.  After finishing this, I just wanted to sit and write for hours.  What a sensation.

2) Jiro Dreams of Sushi

I watched this while eating my delicious homemade mac n' cheese.  As if I could feel worse about the amount of dairy I was ingesting.  Thanks for rubbing it in, Jiro.

Jiro is 85 and is works every day in his 3-star Michelin-rated restaurant.  I can't even imagine being alive at 85, let alone still working.  But Jiro's not content to just work, he is continuously pushing himself to raise the quality of his sushi.  This documentary follows him around his restaurant and interviews his sons, local food critics, and Jiro himself to get at the heart of his incredible talent.  It's a gorgeous film to watch. Slow-paced, sustained and smooth, Jiro complements the simplicity of the food it's discussing.  I personally loved the classical music used in the film, the concertos and etudes and Philip Glass works that highlight the ancient art of food preparation.  

But what really struck me was the work ethic.  Jiro has worked with sushi for the past 75 years.  Seventy-five. Yeah. I haven't even been working as a teacher for one full year, and I'm already looking to expand my career repertoire with more new and exciting job options.  Why?  Why can't I just sit, breath, and focus on honing a craft?  It's said if you do anything for 10,000 hours you become a master at it.  I'm sure seventy-five years would do the same.  Is it possible to have that dedication?  I get so frustrated with the easily distracted nature of our society.  Admittedly, I am the worst offender on that point.  I have this sick need to be constantly entertained.  But what good does that do for me?  Do I really need to 'multi-task' so badly?  No.  There is dignity, respect in working hard and concentrating on a task.  And I'm ready to commit to slowing down, breathing, and focusing.  To working on that constant growth.

*This is a very, very mature comic.  Not for teens or the faint of heart.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Dancin' the Night Away

This week I survived the official first day of school.  It was a day fraught with terror, but completed with my own unique brand of reverence and ritual.

The old?  Forcing down a breakfast of scrambled eggs on toast, fighting a stomach tight with nervousness.  From my first day of Jr. High as a measly twelve-year-old, I've been cursed with this near-manic excitement and apprehension at school's start.  Back then it was worries about whether my teachers and peers would like me.  Would they accept me?  Will I get lost?  How will I know where to go and what to do?  Now, it's concern over whether my students will warm up to me, and if the other faculty will be nice.  And whether I'll adjust to the schedule of a new school, whether I'll know when to dismiss classes and where the students will go.  So basically, will they accept me and will I get lost?

The new?  Going to a concert the night before school starts.  This is the second year in a row I've done it, and I think I might try to keep up the habit.  It's a nice way to keep my mind off the upcoming day.  My excitement for the music at night staves off the vomitous butterflies of nerves during the day.  That sense of
excitement/anticipation is basically the only thing in common between this year and last.  Since I'm a sucker for year retrospectives (I often look at every day in comparison to the year before.  It helps remind me of how well I'm progressing in life), let's compare, shall we?

August, 2011.  The artist?  Death Cab for Cutie.

I miss chubby Ben Gibbard.  Come back!

I was so looking forward to Death Cab.  And musically, the band did not disappoint.  It was just too bad everything else did.  This experience marked the beginning of a long four months that continuously and harshly proved to me that my time in Utah was over.  I might have been there, but I was not a part of it.  Last fall helped me understand how expired milk feels--my presence in Utah was also a nauseating, unwanted one, an act in me taking up fridge space in a place I was no longer needed.  And let's throw in smelly and lumpy, just for the sake of the metaphor.

It didn't help that I was so nervous about seeing Death Cab, full of terror that I might run into the ex from a nasty break-up.  I had planned to go with a bunch of guy friends, dudes that could offer a good support system. Instead the only guy that showed up sucker-punched me with the presence of his summer girlfriend.  Seeing a band you love while your friend and his semi-significant other are canoodling beside you sucks.  Especially when your own canoodler is 1000 miles away.  If anything deserves a fail label, that does.

September, 2012.  The artist? My friend Amber's band, Varnish.  Check 'em out.

This year I traded the back of an awkward stadium general admission for the intimacy of a tiny bar.  I think it's a good indicator of my life this time around.  Maybe it's not as outwardly glamorous, but the events around it are genuine, filled with peace and belonging.  Like the previous year, I was walking into a concert experience (essentially) by myself.  But rather than sit around the edge feeling uncomfortable, I chatted with people.  I rocked out to this band headed by a woman who had an intense commitment to music, to her identity, to her life. The authenticity of the experiencewas through the roof.

So that progress-o-meter?  Doing well.  This year has been streets ahead so far.

Random Segment: What's Making Me Happy This Week

On my beloved Pop Culture Happy Hour, the final segment is always a small focus on what is making each cast member happy this week.  And, for the first time in a while, I actually have something that is not the podcast itself that is making me happy!  Win?

Two years ago, I would obsessively watch the True Grit trailer.  It was a sure-fire cure for the blues.

I'd like to introduce this year's contender for the most happy-making trailer.  A trailer that feeds country and funk and snark and gore.  A trailer with history and anachronism.  Mostly the latter.  A trailer made for me.  A trailer made as a precious gift for you.  A trailer for the masses.  Without further ado, I present: Django Unchained.

I may or may not have just watched this five times in quick succession.

I regret nothing.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Notes and Nemeses

When I left my last full-time teaching gig, my students made me a binder full of letters and pictures from all 200+ of them.  And might I say, if you haven't had a bunch of adolescents write about how great you are, you should find a way to make that happen.  It's great.  And hilarious.  Tonight, in a fit of teacher nerves and need for validation, I flipped through those recorded bits o' wisdom and ridiculousness I inflicted upon them.  As someone who is all too susceptible to the curse of the demon nostalgia, all too familiar with the painful backward glance, this was a bittersweet experience.  I really loved my kids last year.  I can't believe that a few short months can take a bunch of strange, remote looking teenagers and make them all unique personalities that I cherished.  Even the terrible personalities were part of a fond remembrance, if only for the craziness I went through with them.

One of my favorites was this one:

While I have no clue where his weird, anti-environmental message is coming from, the last section of the note contains two of my legacies from that year.  1 - introducing them to the 'alot,'  and 2- that every no name paper turned in killed a puppy.

At the time I was a little confused by what appeared to be a sort of backhanded compliment.  Thanks, I guess?  I thought I did OK in the public setting?

Well, shows what I know, since that little snot-nose was right.   One year later, and where am I?  Teaching at an "independent," a.k.a. private, school for gifted and talented children.  And you know what?  I'm loving it. 

OK.  So Fact: I haven't officially met the kids yet.  But I've talked to a few parents, and they seem almost overwhelmingly supportive.  Also, Fact: I don't think I've ever seen such a friendly, open and relaxed staff.  Usually I feel lucky to find one person to talk to at staff meetings, but here I can strike up a conversation with anyone I sit by.  It's one of those dream faculties where everyone respects each other and is working as a team to benefit the student.  Imagine that!  Working so that your students are getting the best education possible! If this is a dream, I certainly don't want to wake up.  Here's hoping it lasts.  I've got a feeling it just might.

However, in the interest of full disclosure, there is one downside to the job.  I have a new nemesis.  The classroom bulletin board.

Hello, SATAN.

Ugh.  The staples.  The creativity.  The cutting out of construction paper and spatial planning (definitely not my strong suit).  How I hate it so.

So be warned, bulletin boards.  You're On Notice.

Cat's Hit List
1. Ferris Wheels
new addition! ------> 2. Bulletin Boards                        

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Brought to you by the letter 'L'


That's all I'm going to say.  Just that one word.  What images does that create?  What pens, papers, sticky notes and iPhone apps does that summon?  What tasks, goals, or dreams do lists encapsulate for you?

If only I wrote lists as neatly as this one

Like my dear Kate, I love making lists.  Many times, when I am sapped of any "real" creative drive, when I feel like paragraphs and commas are just too difficult to even begin to think about, I will make lists.  I will use my very favorite M dash (or a hyphen, which does in a pinch) and write a word or two, then press enter and on to the next.

That's the inherent beauty of lists.  They're clean.  They're straight-forward.  They keep the thought without betraying the emotions behind it, which was my modus operandi for the majority of my life.

Here are some of the lists on my mind right now.  Yes, it's a list of lists.  Let's call it meta, and follow me down the rabbit hole.

-Good books that are also good movies
-Authors I love
-TV shows I need to watch
-My weekly menu
-What I want to be when I grow up [current #1: comic book writer]
-Present ideas for Taylor's birthday
-Top 5 concert experiences
-Movies based on books where the movies are better than the books
-Favorite Provo bands
-Members of my Man Basement
-Top 5 worst movies I've seen
-Future grad schools
-Which people still need thank you notes
-Good band/album names
-Books I want from the library
-Favorite parts of Seattle
-Items I'd like to buy when I have all the monies (or to receive as gifts)
-People I am friends with
-People I want to be friends with
-People I don't care for
-Qualities I have
-Qualities I wish I had [curly hair and an Irish brogue.  And a puppy?]
-Places I want to live when I grow up
-Ways I will exercise that, let's be honest, will probably not ever happen, but would be cool
-Top 5 future vacation destinations

All of those things, floating in the gray matter creases of my mind.  Squished between wrinkles and oozing out of the cracks.  If you see a random "Boston!", "Andrew Bird" or "Muay Thai" trickling out my ear, don't be surprised.  Where else does that tidbit have to go with all the other list items competing for space?  Let's just hope that I can remember it soon, and then maybe implement some organization up there.  Maybe one of those filing cabinet systems that are all the rage.  I'll add it to my wish-list.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Route 66 Kicks

Taylor and I are infected.  Full-on possessed by the virus known as the travel bug.  While we are usually home bodies who love our apartment and city, every month or so we get restless.  Our feet itch to move somewhere, our eyes get bored with the familiar landscape and complain, wanting to see new things.  What whiny bodies we have.

While we love traveling far and wide (as our recent vacation proved), we are also advocates of the good old fashioned road trip.  There's nothing that compares to you, the car, a sack full of sunflower seeds, an ever-changing view and some great tunes.

Those tunes have been a source of some contention... no, let's say slight disagreement... between Taylor and me as we've honed the art of our road-tripping.  While I think there's nothing better to cruise to than Elephant by the White Stripes, Taylor hates Jack White (I KNOW!) and thinks the perfect road album is Jimmy Eat World's Clarity.  Gag.  What-the-I-don't-even.

Luckily, we've found some albums that we agree on.  Road music that represents us both pretty well, and that perfectly complement the wide possibility and endlessness of asphalt.

Songs for the Deaf - Queens of the Stone Age

This is usually the first album we listen to when we get on the road.  And it's PERFECT.  Taylor introduced me to QotSA, and it might have ruined other music for me?  Because it's awesome?  Because it combines interesting musicality, harmonies, hypnotic rhythms, and turns it all up to eleven in a way that shouldn't work but totally does?  Seriously, they are so interesting to listen to and punch you in the face with such awesomeness that all other music sounds precious afterwards.  Like, 'aw, look at the cute little chord trying to be a song.  Maybe when you're older.' 

Sorry, weird rant there.  Anyway, this album was designed to fit the drive from LA to Joshua Tree, so it was created to be road music. And boy howdy does it deliver!  It's perfect for long, twisting roads through deserts at break neck speeds, while adding this sense of urgency and making you feel completely unconquerable.  Like I said, perfect.

 One Fast Move or I'm Gone - Ben Gibbard and Jay Farrar

Another classic desert drive accompaniment, this album adds a literary epic-ness to your journey.  All the lyrics are taken from Jack Kerouac's "Big Sur" and set to music by Ben Gibbard and Jay Farrar. The result is this sprawling album that sometimes makes you feel invincible, like there's nothing but sky and tumbleweed and you, ruling all you see.  But other times it brings your mortality crashing down, reminding you that you are a wandering vagabond with no home, no love, and no reward in Heaven. Much more appealing than it sounds, I promise.

After listening to that I always try to sneak in Mermaid Avenue by Billy Bragg and Wilco, just to even out the Uncle Tupelo-does-Americana dynamic.  But somehow it never works, because Taylor always suggests Rilo Kiley, and who am I to say no to that?

More Adventurous - Rilo Kiley

I can't even express how much I'm in love with Jenny Lewis.  I love her.  I just do.  It's a thing, and it's not going away, so there.

Rilo Kiley is my favorite, and this is my favorite Rilo Kiley album by far.  It's great, because it has their folksy semi-country songs, but blends them with pop sensibilities (courtesy of Blake Sennett's guitar).  Honestly, this is a meal of an album.  It's rich, and filling, and satisfying.  It has the variety a mix CD without the trouble of making one, which is a relief for the lazy vacationer in me.

Demon Days - Gorillaz

Somehow, we always end up with at least one Gorillaz album on the trip.  Apparently, if I choose the album it's Plastic Beach, and if Taylor chooses it's Demon Days.  I think we listen to Demon far more often, which is fine by me.  What a great, dancey album.  If you don't awkwardly wriggle in your seat, trying to shake your groove thang, something is wrong with you.  Really, you should get that checked out.

Transatlantacism - Death Cab for Cutie

This video captures the essence of driving in Washington.  The horizon, the stillness, the soft evergreen of evening.  I love it.

This album goes into the surreal side of road-tripping.  The quiet, introspective times.  It's when we've been on the road awhile, and now we're just driving.  No conversation, just holding hands and listening to Ben Gibbard.  I might be reading, Taylor might be staring out the window, but this music holds us together.  When "Passenger Seat" comes on, it's a vision of our future.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Take the Cannoli

Ridiculously jet-lagged.  Gulping diet Coke and forcing awakeness, I was just about to crawl into pajamas and prepare for a slow slide to sleep when Taylor got a phone call.

Cut to two hours later.  Our kitchen was filling with the scent of salmon and crusty bread, homemade pasta and freshly made meat sauce--all prepared by our pro-chef friend.  My friends, this is the definition of luxury.  Having gourmet meals made in your home.  I highly, highly recommend.  

But the best part of the evening?  Gathering in the living room, made damp and humid from the bodies and the cooking and the overcast summer air outside.  Clutching plates full of authentic Italian food, only to be lost in the world of a New York fueled by mob politics and intrigue, courtesy of the Corleone Family.  

We watched in silence, a rarity in this apartment.  But with some movies, talking is impossible.  With some movies, you have to pay attention, you have to pay respect.  You have to honor the shots, the script, the music.  The spot-on casting and the loveliness of nuance.  You have to quietly sit back when it is done, eyes alight and mouth contentedly smiling, knowing that incredible stories and worlds are still out there.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

High and Dry

I was watching The Newsroom today when an interesting thought hit me... oh, you haven't seen The Newsroom yet?  Really?  That delightful new concoction from Aaron Sorkin that mixes cynicism with wild, patriotic optimism?  The TV show about a news show that wants to be fair, and thorough, and actually return to the state of honest journalism that has been sadly nonexistent in recent years?  That show starring Jeff Daniels and Sam Waterson and Emily Mortimer and Alison Pill (who was my favorite part of Scott Pilgrim) and Dev Patel (who I've hoped would do something to redeem his last appearance in the worst movie ever).  You know.  That show.*

Anyway.  Back to my evening and the inevitable exciting-ness therein.  As I was watching the second episode of The Newsroom, this aching started.  This slow burn spread from my sternum, burrowed though ribs and lungs and settled into a white hot point of despair right between ventricles and arteries and whatever necessary tubes lead to the heart.

I want to have a job I care about.  I so, so desperately want to have a job I care about.

There's a reason I haven't been writing a lot lately,either here or privately.  It's because while life is going great, and while I love being in Seattle and adjusting to being married (surprisingly easy, actually) and having new friends and new experiences, there is this constant drag on my spirit.  My job has been the greatest source of strife for me over the past few months.  Every day, I wake up soulsick, knowing that I have to drive and drive and then sit and sit, trying to fight apathetic teens and over-zealous parents, teaching a test I believe is fundamentally flawed, all while struggling against a broken system.  I hate it.  I HATE IT SO MUCH.

It's not a difficult job.  It's just mindless, and soul-sucking, and my branch is run by people who have absolutely no business being in charge of anything.  I'm lucky that I have an out soon, and that come August I start an excellent job at an excellent school.  But right now I'm stuck in the middle of this disaster.  It's a strange experience, witnessing a workplace fall apart.  I feel like I'm watching the tail-end of a year-long decline at my company, watching the students and teachers abandon ship one by one, and anxiously waiting for the time when I can put on my life preserver and jump off.
That's why it's difficult for me to view people that feel so strongly about the importance of what they are doing.  I am self-aware enough to know that I'm driven by passion, that I studied a field that could feed that need and that I'm quite skilled at to boot, yet here I am.  Drowning in the after tow of life-progression blues.  Trying my best to survive these two months until maybe, just maybe I can feel some drive and inspiration again.  Until I can float atop the waters, soaking in sunlight, rather than being sucked into the riptide.

*It's also that show that has some salty language, so if you have sensitive ears maybe it's not quite the show for you.  But may I recommend the first four seasons of The West Wing?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Post 2: Electric Boogaloo

Alright, so yesterday I learned about Taken 2.


That's a thing.


For some reason, hearing it existed and watching the trailer filled me with this strange and powerful rage.  All I could think was 'Why?'  Why is that a thing?  Don't get me wrong, Taken was ridiculously fun, and I thoroughly, oh-so-thoroughly  enjoyed watching Liam Neeson kill people in inventive ways for two hours.  That was neat.  But when did it become necessary for any movie that makes $60 million* to automatically have a sequel?

I know.  There's nothing new in complaining about the number of sequels, prequels, remakes and reboots clogging the film industry these days.  But Taken 2 was the straw that broke the camel's back.  I snapped.  I just couldn't take it anymore.  My soul collapsed, and I cried for the lack of creativity and originality in today's pop culture.  I despaired for our generation and for the future, stuck in the mire of endless, brainless media loops.

Luckily, good choices were made last night, and I ended up watching The Big Lebowski.  As I watched the Dude and his pratfalls, the ins and outs and what-have-yous, everything changed.  The world had color.  I remembered that as long as this world has the Coen brothers (and people of their ilk, like Rian Johnson and Christopher Nolan and Dan Harmon and Neil Gaiman and Scott Snyder and..... now I'm getting carried away), we'll be OK.  I watched the Dude with pure delight, marveling at how such a story came into existence.  Feeling victorious because it was made.  Because it was awesome.  Because it abides.

* Ok, I know Taken made more than that.  But Ghost Rider 2? Piranha 3DD?  Wrath of the Titans?  Who asked for these?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

"The Time Has Come," The Walrus Said

After three months of perfectly coordinated work/school schedules, Taylor and I are operating at different times, which means I finally get some alone time in the apartment.  Oh yeah!

On the flip side, it also means I don't have anyone to work/cook/make myself look decent for.  Which is awesome, but also a throwback to College Cat, who lived for months on tortilla chips. J-Dawgs, and whatever food Ashley would make.  It was a glamorous life.

ANYWAY.  The basic point to that exposition is to say that tonight, I felt no urge to actually 'make' food, but my hunger was driving me to do something.  That, and a tomato that had to be eaten, led to this:

If you think this is gross, TOO BAD.  It was delicious.  And full of tasty subtext.

And all of a sudden, I was transported.  Zapped back to a simpler time, when I read Harriet the Spy ad nauseum, made endless tomato sandwiches despite my aversion to mayonnaise, and carried around a little red notebook festooned with exclamations of "Private!"  and "Keep Out, Under Penalty of Death!"

Do you remember Harriet?  It was amazing.  That book was hands down my favorite as a child.  I spent most of my six-year-old life jumping over fences and lurking around my neighbor's backyards.  I meticulously wrote down everything I saw.  Unlike Harriet, I did not live in an exotic city.  I did not have eccentric hermits or family groceries in my neighborhood.  Instead, the notebook was filled with tidbits like "Mr. Gove moved his tramp to mow the lawn.  Why?  You can mow around it.  Also, he looks old," or "Oops, Mrs. Kirkpatrick caught me.  But she gave me cookies!," or "The Murray's dog is really friendly, so I wonder why they keep such a big fence around it.  Every time I sneak in, he just wants to be pet."  Such ground-breaking observations.

I could go on about how I was one of the first to see the movie, at good old Gateway 8 in Bountiful.  Or about how incredible Harriet is as a character--how's she's snotty, and honest, and funny, and so self-assured and resolute about her life.  She wants to write, and nothing will deter her.  And it's amazing.  Or I could discuss how Ole Golly is basically the perfect sage figure, so full of wisdom and truth, the perfect life guide. Or I could make more deep and emotional ties to my own childhood, admitting that the depression and loneliness Harriet felt as she was tormented by her peers mirrors my own elementary experience, and how the fact that she did not change herself to fit in, that she managed to be strong whilst being ostracized gave me hope in my own future.

Yes I could talk about all those things.  But as I could not do them justice at the present, I'll just say that Harriet the Spy is a wonderful book, one that I think you should definitely read if you haven't.  Yes, it's a kid's book.  But it's smarter, and tougher, and more honest than half the books out there.  And it's vastly more enjoyable.  Just saying.

So that book, plus tomato sandwich, equals bliss. Trust me.  You won't be sorry if you do.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Quote Dumps and Philosophies

A while back, I read Travels With Charley, by John Steinbeck.  I really, truly loved that book.  You know the feeling when you read a book, and you can tell that it's changing you?  Where you read it, and every page tingles because you're connecting with the text in a lasting, meaningful way?  That's what happened.  Reading it was an experience in personal philosophy making.  A tangible, recognizable extension of personal canon.  Within the first ten pages, I knew that I had found a favorite book, one that immediately joined such elite tomes as Dracula, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and Fugitive Pieces in my All Time Favorite Books Ever List.

When I read it, I was borrowing a friend's copy, and it drove me crazy that I couldn't underline my favorite passages.  Yes, I am one of those people who "desecrates" their books.  Here's how I see it: in Judaism, the Rabbinical studies of the Torah are considered so sacred and beautiful that they take on new life as part of the Talmud, a book that is studied and revered on the same level of scripture by certain sects.  Now, I'm not saying that my comments and interactions with the written word are that enlightened.  But I like the idea that books take on new layers and dimensions as they accumulate discussion.*  Reading a used copy of a book, one that has previous markings, always makes me pay attention to lines I might have skimmed over.  Even if the only interaction is a long-forgotten inscription in the front cover, the fact that this was an ancient gift colors my reading, makes me look at it in a way where I try to see the value that made that book so important to someone that they would share it with another.  So yes, I write in my books.  It helps me remember why they are important to me, and lets me make similar connections with others.

Sorry.  Tangent over.  Anyway, I couldn't mark up that copy, so I was left to frantically type the quotes I loved in my phone (naturally, it was the only thing I could count to always have on hand, as I sometimes didn't have a notebook near me when I was reading).  I didn't want to lose those quotes when I finally bought the book, so I'm putting them here as a method of safe-keeping.  And so that perhaps someone else will read this under-rated treasure, and it will spread to the masses!  Revolution!  Or, at least, I'll have someone else to geek out with me.

So, without further ado, some of my favorite Steinbeck moments:

"I was born lost and take no pleasure in being found."

"How myth wipes out fact. ... I am happy to report that in the war between reality and romance, reality is not the stronger."

"A man with nothing to say has no words.  Can it's reverse be true-- a man who has no one to say anything to has no words as he has no need for words?"

"The American tendency in travel.  One goes, not so much to see but to tell afterward."

"What I found was closely intermeshed with how I felt at the moment."

"But to get to be people they must fight those who aren't satisfied to be people."

"This used to be a nation of giants.  Where have they gone?  You can't defend a nation with a board of directors.  That takes men."

"In those days there was no world beyond the mountains."

"A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike."

*If you want to learn more about these theories, I highly recommend The Talmud and the Internet by Jonathan Rosen.  It completely changed my relationship with text, and strengthened my respect for Judaism.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Near, Faaaaar

So, as I bet 98% of you could tell from the title, I saw Titanic for the first time last night.

And while I hate James Cameron, and wish he would burn a fiery death in flames of fire, it was actually very enjoyable. Emotional moments, the 3D was an excellent touch (what? WHAT? Did I just say that?), and the nostalgia factor alone was nearly overwhelming. I came out of that movie with a lot of feelings. An uncomfortable amount of feelings. My husband already wrote a beautiful post about his experience, so I won't even pretend to go there. Instead, I present:

Things that I wanted to do after seeing Titanic :
  • Constantly sing "My Heart Will Go On." Either on a big grassy hill, or into my hairbrush while staring emotionally into a mirror. And most definitely with wild, gesticulating arm motions. Note: both are actual things I did repeatedly when the movie first came out.
  • Post pictures of Leo DiCaprio (circa 1998) around my room and incessantly talk about how dreamy he is. Maybe even giggle a few times.
  • Watch What's Eating Gilbert Grape and moan about how talented Leo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp were before they sold out. This desire was compounded by trailer for Dark Shadows they showed before the movie. Oh jeez. That movie looks ALL KINDS of terrible.
  • Read Ghost's I Have Been, my favorite YA book about the Titanic. My old copy is worn old and thin with multiple readings.
  • Find a boat and scream 'I'm king of the world!' Duh.
  • Have one of my male friends ask me for romantic advice, because the girl he likes is unattainable/stupid/withholding/a fetus/a crone/blonde/threatens his masculinity/ won't stop talking about this other guy she's dating. Whatever it is, I'll just pat his shoulder and wisely say 'there, there. A woman's heart is like the ocean.'
  • Buy new eyeliner. Thanks for the inspiration Billy Zane. ZING!
  • Go swimming.
  • Ask Bill Paxton how to recite lines like a block of wood. Really, his talent for it... it's uncanny.
  • Spit in someone's face. And learn to spit actually.
  • Go Irish dancing. Be far too full of bravado.
  • Speak only in over-the-top cliches for three days.
  • Talk about the quest for unobtainium. Wait, wrong movie.
  • Find someone I love and spend the rest of forever together. Hold on, too real! Also been there, done that. Um..... have a torrid affair whilst on a cruise?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Bird Songs, pt. 2

It had been three years. Three years since I'd seen him live. But last night, all that was remedied. Last night, I sat in the presence of Andrew Bird again.

I have to admit, I was a little nervous. Last time was so incredible, but I'd changed. The music had changed. What if it wasn't as good? What if the larger venue and the passage of years made me lose some of that connection and glory from the last concert?

Well, good news. As soon as he started playing, I was transported to that same ethereal plain. I was lost. I was ridiculously giddy and yet superbly at peace. I was the music's, and it could do whatever it wanted with me.

Honestly, I loved every moment of it. It's the strangest thing--hearing Andrew Bird live completely transports me. Every time, there's these moments where I feel completely transcendent. The combination of the layers of sound he creates, his incredible voice, the beautifully designed set and lights--it's heavenly. Listening to him, I have these strange moments where I feel like I'm one with the world and nature and that everything falls into place and moves to the rhythm of the earth. It's profoundly peaceful. Odd? Maybe. I'll give you that one. Inspiring? Incredibly so.

Here's some favorites parts of the concert, with videos stolen from other performances.

-I melted into a puddle when he announced "Why?" as the second song of the night. So early? What? YES.

When he does that live, I..... I don't know. My brain short circuits. It races around the theater ceiling a few times and then explodes. It's awesome.

-This was the first song with the live band (go Dosh!), and it was unexpectedly delightful. One of those cases where something I didn't love on the album becomes a new favorite. It felt like a party onstage.

-But my personal highlight came the first time he pulled out his guitar. That lovely, golden glowing guitar that I covet in my dreams. That might have been good enough, but then he stepped forward and said "Here's a little song called 'Measuring Cups.'"

It's my favorite Andrew Bird song. He never plays it live anymore. And at that moment, that ridiculously perfect moment when he did, I almost wept.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

It's The Livin' and Learnin'

Sometimes, I am deeply unsatisfied.

Not with the essentials in life--those are quite nice--but with certain particulars. Namely, my job.

Now, don't fret. All is not lost. My tutoring gig is not the exquisite torture it once was. In fact, it's quite survivable now, thanks to some endearing kids that somehow manage to make me chuckle. But reason number one? Listening to this song every day on my trek to work:

That always boosts my spirits. And not just because DBT's singer slightly reminds me of my dear friend Al, but because it reminds me that "nobody told me that it'd be easy/ or, for that matter, it'd be so hard/ but it's the livin' and learnin'/ it makes all the difference/ it makes it all worthwhile." Sometimes I need to hear that, set to upbeat guitar chords. Sometimes I just need to know life sucks, but you deal with it.

Especially when I've been plagued with the yearning that's been haunting me lately. You see I want something.

That. That's all I want. I want my own space, a space I can fill with book posters and writing tips and rules on the wall. A space with my handwriting on the board. A space where I can put my bookshelf filled with books for my kids to borrow. I'll even put my John Green novels on there, despite the fact that the students will trash them, because I love the stories so much that I know it's more important to share them than it is to keep them pristine. That is, as long as they come back to me in the end.

Speaking of which, that's what I want more than anything. My own students. My own minds to fill with my own lessons. My own teachings echoing around a classroom that I design and I control. My own classes with students that are my responsibility--report cards, conferences, keeping after class, encouraging comments in red ink. Keeping them after class to say I know they can do better. Watching their knowledge grow from day to day. Watching student interest and behavior morph. Observing the frantic stretchings of adolescents as they struggle into adulthood, as they take on their own ideas and beliefs.

I miss that. So much that it's a constant gnawing in my stomach, that proverbial ache that won't go away. I'm a teacher. And I want my classroom.

Non-related side note for all those who made it to the end: Yes, I got married recently. My friend Luke took my bridals, and posted some on his blog. You should go there and check it out. A) I look awesome, B) Luke is a freaking wizard, and C) He referenced the White Stripes. Could it get any better? All right. Requisite marriage talk over.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sentimental Reasons

I'm about to do one of those things I swore I'd never do.

Talk about my relationship. Intentionally. As in, that's my sole purpose for writing today.

And I think that's appropriate. After all, I am getting married in 20 days. (!!!). (!!!). I signed a lease yesterday for our future home. This thing is happening. So it's OK to let on that I am quite fond of the fellow I'm committing to. Right? Right.

It has been insane up here in Seattle. One might even say insane in the membrane. Yep, I'm owning that one (after all, don't you know I'm loco?). Anyway, what with Taylor's school and my quite-terrible-to-me work schedule, it's felt like we have been running around all the time. Constantly working to make time and finish everything on our to-do list. Working to get the next month all planned and settled. And it's been productive, and exciting, but it's suuuuuucked.

That's why this last Friday was the most beautiful day. Since it was my day off, and Taylor doesn't have school that day, and we had no appointments or errands, we spent all day with no stress. No hurrying. Nothing. Glorious.

My favorite moment came later that night, after the movies and dinner and walks, when we got to experience (for the first time in a long time) the beauty of being separate, but together. That wonderful moment where we didn't have to entertain each other. We just wanted to be in the other's company, but not worry about "doing" something.

So we read. Curled up on the couch, legs folded into each other, lost in our own worlds. He read Gadamer, I read Fugitive Pieces. Both of us were caught up in the study of language and how it defines reality. He looked at it through a lens of theory and philosophy, while I relished poetical narrative. We swapped snippets of text like forkfuls of food, chewed and digested bits of books that enhanced the flavor of our own meals, returning to individual reading with new perspective.

That, over anything I've experienced in the impossible beauty of our relationship, made me relish the thought of marrying Taylor. It sums us up perfectly. We are not alike. Taylor and I are more dissimilar than anyone I thought I'd end up with. We don't listen to all the same music, we don't relish all the same foods, we don't enjoy all the same activities. And yet we complement each other perfectly. Our likes are close enough that we can fully appreciate the differences. We both like music. We both like food. We're both intelligent (in my most humble and correct opinion). He helped me appreciate Dave Grohl, I helped him embrace Indian and Greek food. Our approach to intellectual situations is not the same, and yet we respect and enhance the other's opinion.

We're like two parallel lines running close beside each other and sometimes crossing as we influence outlooks, creating this looping track of infinities.

And that's how it's going to be. Forever growing, forever progressing. Forever challenging each other to see the world in a slightly different view. It has been difficult, and frustrating, and everything in between, but trust me when I say IT'S WORTH IT. It's nothing I imagined, but it's better than I thought I could hope for.

In short, I'm looking forward to the many weekends to come.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Ink and Paper

I visited you this weekend. While I was home--home for two whirlwind days full of wedding planning and first visits to a beautiful, sacred place--I couldn't resist spending some time with you. I saw you every night, packed up demurely in the corner of my room, or stacked haphazardly in bags on the floor, and I had to let you know how loved you were.

So I unpacked those boxes, removed tape and peeled up labeled tabs, surrounding myself with stacks of wisdom and truth. Gently, I freed you from the precarious Jenga confinements of your cardboard prisons. I ruffled your pages and caressed highlighted words. Fanned out covers and re-read earmarked corners. Built walls around myself, walls of myth and lecture, poetry and essay. Basked in the constant waves of language as they swirled around me, feeding through eyes and ears and lips, filling my mind and spirit.

And then I packed you up again. I liberated a few sad souls, souls whose words I could not live without any longer, stuffing Billy Collins and The English Patient in my backpack. But as for the rest, you were delegated back into the shadowy corners. Left to dream of that glorious day, not too far off, when you will breathe on shelves doused in sunlight, the delicate touch of fingers on your spine and exhalations of wonder on your open pages.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Take Time

I have to brag for a second. I made some incredible foods last night. Taylor and Alex (the woman I live with) get home late from class on Tuesdays, so I've been practicing being domestic and making them dinner.

Last night I made salmon and asparagus. And it was delicious. And looked even BETTER than this picture, stolen from Red Lobster:

Yep. Mine was waaaay better.

One of the refreshing things about the latest move to Seattle has been having time. I feel like the past few months (or years) I haven't had time to stop, breathe, and relax. Life was full of papers and readings and lesson plans. Now I have far too much time on my hands, and I'm rediscovering some things. A love for cooking. A desire to start making music again. This insane, driving need to create.

But it's a weird conundrum. I like wanting to be creative, since I haven't really felt the pull to make something for myself in a very long time. I'd have small flashes during school, but so many other things took precedence. How can I work on something for myself when there are other people's opinions that I must read and regurgitate? How could I explore my own abilities and ideas when I needed to fit into the syllabi of so many professors?

That sounds more bitter than it should. I LOVED school, and I LOVE learning--it's my very favorite thing to do. It's just odd to have all this freedom and not really know where to begin. So I guess cooking dinners is a good start. Naturally, since food is among my very favorite of favorite things.

Being around the house, cooking for Taylor and sometimes watching Alex's kids (she has two) has also made me so insanely grateful for the women who stay home to raise kids or be housewives. It is not an easy road at all, and I have so much respect for the women who dedicate themselves to making home a sacred and beautiful environment. They are doing a truly important work, and it's difficult to juggle all the different aspects that go into creating a happy home.

That being said, I am glad I'm not at that stage yet. I've been looking for work, and today I interviewed to help tutor at a nearby school. And it was amazing how great it felt to be back in the classroom. For the first time in a while, I felt like a completely whole person--more real, more functioning. Discussing lesson plans and writing strategies with another educator brought peace to my soul. It's reassuring to think, 'oh yeah. That whole life goal you worked at for the past few years? Totally paying off. Good call, you. Teaching is the bomb dot com.'

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Dying to be Noticed

If you haven't read anything by John Green, you are a bad person.

Really. You should probably fix that right now. RIGHT. NOW. Stop reading my blog (which should hint at the seriousness of this situation. I love my blog, and actively want more readers). Turn off your stupid computer. And drive to the nearest library, or even better, bookstore and grab some of his books. My very favorite is Paper Towns, closely followed by An Abundance of Katherines. So check him out, if you please.

Sorry about the extreme fangirlness. It was prompted because I just finished his newest book, The Fault in Our Stars. And it was beautiful, and inspiring, and hilarious and sad, all without being too cloying or obvious. That's one of the things I love about John Green. He writes grand romances, interesting literary observations, and coming-of-age stories, but you don't realize that until after you finish the book. Because it doesn't scream "X TYPE OF BOOK" in your face. When you read, you're just completely immersed.

Take Stars, for instance. I suppose it's a cancer book. But, as it correctly identifies in the story, it's not a cancer book. Cancer just happens to be one of the problems that the characters are faced with. But it's not a Problem with a capital P. It's just a problem. It's just life. It might even be Life. Considering I finished the book fifteen minutes ago, I don't think I'm qualified to assign capital letters quite yet.

And I don't have to. Contrary to what you might think, this blog post is not a review. I'm not going to analyze Stars, or dissect the characters, or discuss how well-placed the literary allusions (Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, TS Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Ginsberg, and more!) were. Instead, I'm going to make this post about me.

Surprised? You shouldn't be. Once again, the fact I'm blogging is a testament to my self-absorbedness.

There was one question/quote in the book I particularly liked. For those who will read (all of you, please?), you might not want to read the quote. Unless you are OK with me ruining that moment of the book for you. Also, there is a swear. I refuse to edit it. Be warned.

As noted by Hazel, the protagonist: "I thought of my dad telling me that the universe wants to be noticed. But what we want is to be noticed by the universe, to have the universe give a shit what happens to us--not the collective idea of sentient life but each of us, as individuals."

Sigh. I love that. I love that even more within the grand scheme of the book.

When I was little, I wanted to be famous. As far as I knew, this was an absurd and unnatural desire. On several occasions, when I talked about that Great American Novel I wanted to write, or the Oscar I would win, my mother would look at me with bewilderment. She'd shake her head softly and say: 'You're the only one of my children who has wanted to be famous. That's so strange.' Or something to that effect.

Looking back at that urge now, I can identify what is was--a need to validate my existence. We all want to be loved, to be adored, to be lauded as intelligent and kind and wonderful. As a kid, I thought the only way to get that was through universal fame. Luckily, that fame didn't happen.

Which is almost so much better. Because now, with the wisdom that comes through such extreme age (sarcasm there), I recognize the kind of fame I wanted is more curse than blessing. I can, and DO, have that love and acceptance through simpler measures.

I can feel the small ways that the universe has acknowledged my existence. I receive love, often undeservedly, from my family, my darling man friend I'm engaged to, my friends, even near strangers. I have a warm corner of the world to call my own. I have acceptance, from others and, more importantly, from myself.

The beautiful thing about that little turn of events is that it's a two-way street. You can't curry favors from the universe without desperately noticing the wonders it holds. In pondering the many ways I've been individually recognized, I stand in awe. Along with having wonderful people around me, I'm also surrounded by that universal beauty. I live in a gorgeous city, one that constantly surprises me with a new glory every day. I know, and actively miss, such intelligent and interesting people back home in Utah. Luckily, I'm meeting and interacting with some pretty entertaining and talented folks here as well.

And then you start thinking on a grander scheme. This world holds SO MUCH. This is a world that has Andrew Bird, the Coen Brothers, Cormac McCarthy, Shakespeare and Coleridge and Beardsley and Emerson and the Beatles and the ancient Greeks and van Gogh and Beethoven and Thai food and Ella Fitzgerald and the X-Files and all things bright and beautiful. And sometimes it seems like they were all created solely for me. I suppose there is an argument out there that could say they were. Something discussing reality and consciousness.

But that's not the point. The point is that this universe is pretty amazing. As are the moments when that truth hits you, straight in the face, and your heart swells and bursts with the miracle of it all.