Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Poetry Slam Tuesdays: From the Wild First Surprising Ones

Prayer for a Marriage
by Steve Scafidi, for Kathleen

When we are old one night and the moon
arcs over the house like an antique
China saucer and the teacup sun
[via here]

follows somewhere far behind
I hope the stars deepen to a shine
so bright you could read by it

if you liked and the sadnesses
we will have known go away
for awhile—in this hour or two

before sleep—and that we kiss
standing in the kitchen not fighting
gravity so much as embodying

its sweet force, and I hope we kiss
like we do today knowing so much
good is said in this primitive tongue

from the wild first surprising ones
to the lower dizzy ten thousand
infinitely slower ones—and I hope

while we stand there in the kitchen
making tea and kissing, the whistle
of the teapot wakes the neighbors.

Monday, January 28, 2013

I'll Text You

Like many people, I have a love-hate relationship with texting.

I love it, because it means I can “talk” to my Aunt Deborah multiple times a week, even if only for a brief moment, even if one of us takes a day (or longer) to return to our conversation.

I hate it,
because any given conversation with any person could go on for days, with no obvious conclusion, just a trailing off at some random point.

I love it, because awkward silences no longer exist.

I hate it, because awkward silences perpetually exist.

I love it, because I can avoid actually talking on the phone but still talk to someone by returning his or her call with a quick text. This means, I am available to talk, sort of, but not by actually talking.

I hate it, because if I call someone and he or she doesn’t answer, I know that it’s likely I will get a text reply within five minutes. This means, I am available to talk, sort of, but not by actually talking.


It’s rare to meet someone now and to have him say, “I’ll call you.” I try not to smirk as I think, “You mean you’ll text me.” There are no more rules, like “wait two days and then call”— because we can text, now, and it's not that big of a deal, and who’s going to call anyone anyway?

Sometimes, if only rarely, that person actually calls. Isn’t it sad that this is a surprise?

And isn’t it wonderful?


Texting is the best. Texting is the worst. I find that there’s not much in between. You can be witty. You can be flirty. You can say everything and absolutely nothing with an easy “☺”. Or at the very least, you can pretend to yourself that you are being witty! Because even if you got a standard, polite "haha" or "LOL" afterward, you can stare at your phone and smile, thinking, I'M HILARIOUS.

With texting, I can be really direct. I can easily type out exactly what I mean, and be done with it, rather than stutter around the point like I might if we were talking.

But then there's the constant possibility of the mixed messages.

A simple period placed at the end of a statement can change the entire meaning of a message. A simple wink or a smiley face turns what might have been read as a passive aggressive, maybe even shitty comment into a “just kidddddding!” (Wink, wink.) And in my mind I’m thinking, I’M NOT FUCKING WINKING RIGHT NOW. BUT I DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW THAT.

Or maybe I really am winking! YOU’LL NEVER KNOW!

And isn’t that even weirder, the thought that I am WINKING at you right now, right as you are reading that message?

If we all winked as much in face-to-face contact as we did over text messages, shit would get weird, really fast. My girlfriends and I would never have a real conversation, because we'd be too busy with all the winking and the LOLing and the haha-ing.

Anyway. I might have typed, “ok”—but was that it? Was there a smiley face after it? A wink? Nothing? Well, ok then.

But here’s this: Ok.


That doesn’t mean ok at all, now does it!

I could just as easily have sent the same message by saying:


But then again, maybe I really did just mean: Ok. That's it! Ok.

Ugh. Isn’t this all the worst? I don’t even know what I meant anymore. Can’t we just talk? Ok? Smiley face?


I blame my mother for my issues with texting. As a high school English teacher and the self-appointed GRAMMAR POLICE, she had no patience for bad grammar, even in pop songs. Uttering phrases like, “That sucks” or “Whatever” or “My bad” in the presence of my mother was a more reckless move than dropping an F-Bomb.

Can you imagine how she’d feel about all this shit?

LOL. OMG. “hahaha” OBVS. TOTES.


My mother died in 2002, right when I was just taking off my texting training wheels. I wonder if she would text now. While I like to think she’d stay fairly savvy with changes in technology, I just can’t imagine. She’d proofread every text! She’d likely be personally offended if I didn’t capitalize an “I” or forgot an apostrophe.

My bad, Mom.


But seriously, all this texting is getting out of hand.

Will you call me?

I probably won’t answer, but I’ll text you back as soon as I can.

You probably won't text me back, because you just read this and now think I'm insane.


Monday Mix Tapes: In Which Dirty Projectors Cover Usher & I Forget Everything Else that Happened, Ever

Chicago may have turned into a strange,wet place where it THUNDERSNOWS and then magically shoots up to 50 degrees, but whatever! I don't care, and this is why.

Dirty Projectors covered an Usher song.

Seriously, this happened, you guys, and it was AMAZING:

I think now I'm supposed to start talking about how I've listened to nothing but the new Local Natives' album, Hummingbird, all week, and how the songs "You & I" and "Ceilings" and "Three Months" and "Columbia" completely devastate me, but I really can't think straight.

The Dirty Fucking Projectors just completely killed an Usher Raymond song.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Pedway

Underneath downtown Chicago, there’s a system of tunnels that stretches across roughly five miles of the city. This is the Pedway, where tens of thousands of people walk each day, to and from the office to the train and back again, maybe stopping in Macy’s or at Au Bon Pain before getting on the Red line or the Metra, or before walking up to earth, where the city is alive above.

Until I worked in downtown Chicago, I was completely unaware that this underground world existed. On any given day, I can get off the train and stay underground, winding through this system of tunnels, all the way until I get to my office building. From there, it’s only an escalator ride up and a quick glimpse out the windows to see the real world before I take the elevator to my office floor.

Usually, even when the weather is at its worst—and in downtown Chicago, worst really can and does mean exactly that—I hate taking the Pedway the entire route to or from the office. I feel like a rat in a maze, following the herds of people bundled up in their winter coats, a dull mix of fur-lined hoods in greys, blacks, and browns. (When did we all receive the memo to be drab and colorless in the winter?) We all take our turns through one revolving door after another, until we make it to our train station or the steps leading up, and out.


It’s Sunday, which means I’m not downtown and don’t have to worry about my commute. I’ve been cooped up in my apartment all weekend, sick. Today, finally, I felt better, and was eager to get out of my apartment, and back to the real world. I was antsy to get outside, even though the view from my window was gray and bleak: snow turning to freezing rain, and barely any one walking down the street.

So I ventured outdoors for the first time in two and a half days, carrying my garbage and walking sideways, slowly, down my back steps, afraid I was going to fall. I made it to the last step, and then, walking around the corner on the sidewalk, promptly fell flat on my butt in a patch of ice. The garbage bag fell out of my hands and I cursed to myself, looking around to see if anyone had seen. There was no one around. I tried to get up and slipped, again. As I clutched the neighbor’s fence and pulled myself up, I still felt embarrassed, even though I was positive no one had seen me fall.

A minute later, as I was scraping the snow and sleet off my car, a couple walked by, bundled up and clinging to each other, maybe for warmth, maybe for balance, maybe for comfort. It was probably all of those things.


In the Pedway, it seems, everyone is alone. And maybe that’s why it depresses me to walk along with the masses down there: We’re right there, in Chicago, but yet we’re not. It’s a means to an end. We’re underneath it all.

Last Thursday, leaving work, I reached the point in my Pedway walk where I have a choice: I could go one more level down, and take the Pedway all the way to the Blue line (as I had done that morning). Or, I could head outside to Michigan and Lake, and deal with the cold the rest of the walk. I paused, only for a second, and headed to the revolving doors leading outside.

I didn’t have anyone’s arm to cling to, and it’s much more likely I could fall in a slick patch on the sidewalk. But outside, the city was still lit up and beautiful as ever. I played a new song on my iTunes and turned it up, loud.

It was cold, but it didn’t feel bleak. I was right there.


By tomorrow, this mix of sleet and freezing rain will turn all the sidewalks into a giant skating rink. It’s likely I might fall down again. I might have to take the Pedway all the way from the train to the office. I’ll be wearing a fur-lined hooded coat and boots like the rest of the masses. It might seem a little bleak. I might feel a little alone, surrounded by strangers doing the exact same thing.

But that’s okay. Above us, the city waits.

Can You Spare a Quarter?

I do not wish to squawk about being hit financially any more than I would squawk about being hit physically. I need money, badly, but not badly enough to do one dishonorable, shady, borderline, or 'fast' thing to get it. I hope this is quite clear. —Ernest Hemingway, in a letter to Alfred Rice, 1948 (Selected Letters, p. 655)
Last Saturday I was walking to the train, thinking, like I often do, about how much money I had in my checking account. I was waiting for $100 to come in for a freelance job I'd been working on, and doing quick math in my head about how much spending money I'd have until next pay day if that didn't come through beforehand.

I was feeling a little sorry for myself.

I shoved my hands deeper into my coat pockets and looked ahead down the block. There he was, the same guy I'd been seeing recently outside the California stop. I was far enough away that I couldn't hear, but could see, what was going on—two people walked past him, as he leaned forward, sticking his hand out slightly. They walked faster, without looking at him. As I got closer, I saw him notice me.

I could feel change in my pocket as I got closer to the man, and the train. I saw the dirt on his face. He looked at me: "Could you spare 75 cents for the bus?"

I only had a quarter in my pocket. A quarter, and a penny. I put the penny back in my pocket, because it felt like an insult, somehow, to give this man a quarter and a stupid penny. What would he do with a penny?

"I have a quarter," I said, and handed it to him, feeling guilty. He saw me put the penny back in my pocket.

I walked through the doors at the train stop, pulled out my CTA card, and got the green message to enter. As I walked up the stairs to the train, I remembered seeing that same man digging through the trash can last week. Maybe he could have used the penny after all.

Once the train arrived, I got a seat and looked out the window, feeling ashamed of myself. Before the train even made it to the Western stop, a man walked through the doors from the car ahead. I kept looking out the window and waited for it.

"Ma'am, could you spare a quarter?"

I looked away from the window, and up at him.

"I'm sorry, I can't."

I could, but I couldn't, because I had a paycheck coming soon, but all I had left in my pocket was a penny.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Monday Mix Tapes: She Had a History, But She Had No Past

Just in time for Monday Mix Tapes, Pitchfork decided to utterly thrill me with Pitchfork Advance, its "new immersive music streaming platform designed to emulate the classic album experience." Similar to my one true love, NPR First Listen, at Pitchfork Advance all you geeks like me can listen to pre-release album streams! That's right: pre-release album streams! (Say that five times fast and see how weird you feel.)

Anyway, it's off to a grand start, with the new Toro y Moi, Yo La Tengo, and, the one I'm most excited about, Foxygen's We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic. It's currently in the running for my new favorite album title, along with currently being my favorite album of the year. Yes, that's right: my favorite album of the last 14 days.

Here's a favorite, with a perfectly weird video to match:

Also, "there's no need to be an asshole, you're not in Brooklyn anymore":

Enjoy it here until January 21!

In other exciting music news that has nothing to do with JT or Destiny's Child—and not just because I'm pretending I wasn't momentarily ecstatic about both of those things—there's another new Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds' song, and it is just as weird and awesome as it's supposed to be.

"I got a foetus on a leash"; yes, you are hearing and reading that right:

Finally, I find this new Low song to be a pure delight. I also love being undeservedly smug when something is described as a "tear jerker" and I don't tear up in the slightest. I mean, I get it, I'm listening to the same song you all are, but these vocals just sound too damn sweet to make me feel sad.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Writing Experiments: Working Up the Courage to Humiliate Myself

For the last five days, I've been thinking incessantly about how I can best humiliate myself.

That sounds insane, so let me explain: I read a lot of writing about writing. As in, writers talking about the writing process, and in particular a lot of the do's and don'ts of writing personal essays. The New York Times has this section in its opinion pages called Draft, which I suspect is a huge snooze for those not interested in writing. It's the opposite for me, obviously.

A recent post from Susan Shapiro is the reason why I can't stop thinking about how to humiliate myself. It's called, "Make Me Worry You're Not O.K." and in it, she describes the first assignment she gives her students in feature journalism classes:

Write three pages confessing your most humiliating secret.

Thank Jesus she wasn't one of my journalism professors. One of the worst—and of course, best—experiences I had with journalism class humiliation was the professor who would read aloud our essays to the entire class, not caring at all to mask the sarcasm oozing out of his voice during the sections he found particularly pathetic. So I can only imagine the levels of my anxiety were I asked to write three pages confessing my most humiliating secret to a new professor.

But really, it's genius (and probably why she's been assigning it for more than 20 years). As she says:
It encourages students to shed vanity and pretension and relive an embarrassing moment that makes them look silly, fearful, fragile or naked.

You can’t remain removed and dignified and ace it. I do promise my students, though, that through the art of writing, they can transform their worst experience into the most beautiful. I found that those who cried while reading their piece aloud often later saw it in print. I believe that’s because they were coming from the right place — not the hip, but the heart.
I can't stop thinking about it. Of course, I have written my share of personal shit, but I've never been ballsy enough to write about the worst of the worst, in a sense.

Recently, I wrote an essay that terrified me: It was scary to put the words together; to admit certain feelings I had felt; and above all, scary to draw any sort of conclusions about what had happened. I shared it with exactly three people, who gave me positive enough feedback that I braved submitting it.

Not two days later, I got my rejection email.

I started to go through my usual rejection routine—feeling like a fraud, feeling like no one will ever publish anything I write, feeling like the whole, incredibly personal thing I had agonized over was a bunch of shit. (Dear God, are all writers as fucking sensitive as I am?)

So I said fuck it. Maybe I'll submit it elsewhere, maybe I won't. Or maybe I wrote something that I was brave enough to share with three people, and three people enjoyed it. And maybe that's enough.

Either way, the rejections aren't going to stop me from an attempt to humiliate myself. Again, and again.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Poetry Slam Tuesdays: Help Yourself, Motherfucker

To kick off the first poetry slam of 2013, I figured it was a perfect time to get back to one of my favorites, that old asshole Bukowski.

Here's a favorite:

small talk
by Charles Bukowski

all right, while we are gently celebrating tonight
and while crazy classical music leaps at me from
my small radio, I light a fresh cigar
and realize that I am still very much alive and that
the 21st century is almost upon me!

I walk softly now toward 5 a.m. this dark night.
my 5 cats have been in and out, looking after
me, I have petted them, spoken to them, they
are full of their own private fears wrought by previous
centuries of cruelty and abuse
but I think that they love me as much as they
can, anyhow, what I am trying to say here
is that writing is just as exciting and mad and
just as big a gamble for me as it ever was, because Death
after all these years
walks around in the room with me now and speaks softly,
asking, do you still think that you are a genuine
writer? are you pleased with what you’ve done?
listen, let me have one of those

help yourself, motherfucker, I say.

Death lights up and we sit quietly for a time.
I can feel him here with me.

don’t you long for the ferocity
of youth? He finally asks.
the asshole, the poet. [via flavorwire]
not so much, I say.

but don’t you regret those things
that have been lost?

not at all, I say.

don’t you miss, He asks slyly, the young girls
climbing through your window?

all they brought was bad news, I tell him.

but the illusion, He says, don’t you miss the

hell yes, don’t you? I ask.

I have no illusions, He says sadly.

sorry, I forgot about that, I say, then walk
to the window
unafraid and strangely satisifed
to watch the warm dawn

Monday, January 7, 2013

Monday Mix Tapes: L is for Lion (Babe), Locals, and Laura

Because I truly cannot think of a better way to kick off Monday Mix Tapes in 2013, I'd like to start all this off with a big, sexy ROAR.

No, really:

In other non-lioness news, after hearing two great new singles from Local Natives—first "Breakers" and then today, "Heavy Feet"—I realized that I really needed to listen to their previous album more. Maybe I'm not the only one?

Either way, here they are, standing on some train tracks (cause of course they're standing on some train tracks) singing "Airplanes":

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the former bassist, Andy Hamm, is of no relation to me. (Thanks for the fun facts, Wikipedia!)

Finally, Laura Mvula has been getting a lot of attention on some of my favorite music blogs (see here and here), and with obvious reason. So, since today I'm apparently in the mood not to post songs actually talked about today—but seriously, listen to her song "Green Garden"—here's her previous single, "She":

Happy Monday! Here's to another year of Monday Mix Tapes! I KNOW you're all excited.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Forget It, Baby, Just Let it Be

I think I've caught the New Year bug. You know, the one the first week in January, that beautiful time when you can tell yourself, with utter conviction:

This year, I'm going to do it! I'm going to do all those things I planned to do last year, you know, until I sat on my ass for hours and hours watching Breaking Bad in its entirety.

It's in the air. It can't just be me, I know it. Why else would I suddenly have so many yoga and gym membership deals to write at Groupon? Why else would my Gmail inbox be packed with emails that say things like, "Resolve to Reinvent (Your Closet, Your Lifestyle)"; "New year, new skin!" and "The Exercise You Should Do Every Day in 2013"?

Like I wrote last January, I really do think there's validity in taking this time, post-holidays, right at the start of the year, to think seriously about goals for the coming year. Last year, I was thinking not only about what I wanted to achieve—more, better writing; a healthier lifestyle (shocking, and so original!)—but also about revisiting old habits and remembering not only things I liked, in general, but what I liked about me. 

I have to say that it took pretty much the entirety of 2012 to figure out the latter part of those goals. And, while I didn't write as much—or maybe better put, didn't achieve as much with my writing—as I'd hoped, I actually did something far more important. I got back to being me. That may sound completely cheesy and ridiculous, but it's true. Now, sometimes "me" is a confusing concept. Sometimes I'm not the biggest fan of myself. Sometimes I don't know who the hell I am at all, quite frankly. But as long as I can honestly say to myself, or the cat, or whoever: I'm doing the best I can, and I'm staying true to myself while doing so, well, I think I'm doing okay.

I beat myself up a lot over the last year thinking about this blog in particular, feeling disheartened with it, feeling disheartened with myself over the lack of posts. I had reached a point where I was feeling rather silly about the whole thing, thinking, What am I writing any of this for, anyway? What's the point? 

Finally, the other day, I figured out the answer.

I'm writing it for me. That's the point! That was the point all along. Writing and posting on this blog, no matter how silly or how embarrassingly in-depth I discuss a song, or a mouse, or whatever, it's me, writing and putting myself out there. And while I mean it when I say it's for me, I'd also be lying if I said it didn't make my damn day any time someone tells me he or she read a post and enjoyed it, or discovered a new song because of it, or whatever.

I guess what I'm getting at is this. While we're all caught up in a time of New Year's resolutions and goals, while I spend an entire weekend running around my apartment cleaning like a madwoman and doing yoga and trying to read everything at once, that it's also a good time to remember the beauty of just being present. Of not feeling silly because I wrote something personal, published it on the Interwebs, and no one said anything about it. Of not worrying about what bills need to be paid. The beautiful feeling when I stop thinking about all the things I'm not doing, or should have done the day before, and instead think: Today, I drank a smoothie. I did two loads of laundry. I wrote this. Today I felt happy. 

That is something. That is enough.

My brother Jay got me this crazy, awesome book for Christmas called Be Here Now. It's about the transformation of Dr. Richard Alpert into Baba Ram Dass, through a spiritual journey that involves yoga, meditation, and probably a fair amount of LSD. So let me end all this with a passage from this trippy book that I never knew existed until I received it as a perfect surprise on Christmas day.

You don't have to have 
that urge    that desire
that unfulfilled

Just let it be
Be More

What's holding you back? Your thoughts, huh?
You've got to give them up
Just ego planning
What are you doing?
Planning for the future?
It's all right now
But later? ...................... FORGET IT BABY

That's later
Now is
Are you going to 
or not?