Monday, June 10, 2013

Monday Mix Tapes: Love is an Exquisite Kind of Pain

It's no secret that I think Jessie Ware can do no wrong. Because she can do no wrong. Here she is, performing "Confess to Me" with Disclosure on Jools Holland and perfecting the art of a bare midriff:

Speaking of women who can do no wrong, I think it's been a little too long since Lykke Li has made an appearance here. Never fear! She's featured on David Lynch's upcoming album, and it's slow and dreamy and just right.

And oh wait, I have another fantastic female vocalist to talk about: Eleanor Friedberger. I saw her at Empty Bottle here in Chicago last Friday—perfect timing, as I'm currently obsessing over her new album, Personal Record.

One of my favorites from the album is "I'll Never Be Happy Again," although nothing can top "Stare at the Sun," in my humble opinion.  But "I'll Never Be Happy Again" is the perfect track to lead into that one. It feels wonderfully dramatic and yet calmly realistic to me at the same time, and I love it. "After perfection, it's all downhill"; "Love is an exquisite kind of pain"—girl, I feel you.

Finally, here's a track from Quadron's new album, Avalanche. (Quadron = electronic soul duo, singer Coco Maja Hastrup Karshøj and producer Robin Hannibal of Rhye, another love of mine.) I listened to this album this morning while I got ready for work. Then I listened to it again while I wrote some Groupons. And then again while I made dinner. In other words, I like it a lot.

This one, "LFT" (Looking for Trouble), is in heavy competition with the track "Better Off" (featuring Kendrick Lamar) as my favorite.

Happy almost Tuesday! Maybe next time I'll feature some dudes. I think there are some men making music somewhere, right?

Sunday, June 9, 2013

A Big Open Book Between Us

“Some changes happen deep down inside of you. And the truth is, only you know about them. Maybe that's the way it's supposed to be.” — Judy Blume, Tiger Eyes

When I was a kid, my mother loved to take pictures of me reading books. Curled up in the recliner on Christmas morning, reading a new book while still in my pajamas; stretched out on a towel on Wrightsville Beach; laying across the floor at Grandma Hamm’s house. All with a book in my hands.

I didn’t realize just how many times she’d taken photos like this until I graduated from high school, and she gave me a present: A photo album that chronicled my life so far. All 18 years of it. And on almost every other page, I’d find these sorts of photos.

My favorite, though, is one that my mother didn’t take. That’s because she’s in it. It’s from 1995. We were at my Uncle Gary and Aunt Deborah’s house, probably for Thanksgiving. I love it because of our matching smiles, dorky glasses, and the way we both have one hand placed on the big book open between us. Mostly I love it because it says so much.

I couldn’t tell you what the book was, but I do remember the comfort, the safety, of being curled up next to my mom on a couch, reading a book. I’ve loved reading for as long as I can remember—even when I wasn’t technically reading, but as I listened to her as she read us The Berenstain Bears books, my brother Jay and I on either side of her.

It started with the Berenstains. Later, we had Laura Ingalls, Nancy Drew, and Trixie Belden. And then: Margaret. Steph. Deenie. Sally J. Freedman. Karen.

If you grew up in the 70s or 80s, you might have recognized many of those names. They’re all characters from Judy Blume books. By the time I became familiar with these girls, I’d outgrown the nighttime ritual of Mom sitting at the end of my loft bed, reading me Little House on the Prairie books or her old Trixie Belden’s.

But it was because of my mom that I did get to know them. And when I say get to know them, I mean exactly that. Like so many other young girls, I devoured Judy Blume’s books—always finding something in each protagonist that I would identify with so deeply, so intensely, I’d think, How did she know? or, It’s not only me!

Then, in high school, I snagged Mom’s paperback of Summer Sisters. I fell in love with it. I fell in love with Vix, the main character. I obsessed over Caitlyn, her “summer sister,” just like Vix did—and resented her, too. It felt real.

I’ve read Summer Sisters almost every single summer since that first reading. I took it to Wrightsville Beach, the summer after Mom had died, when it was just Dad and me. I sat on the balcony of our hotel reading it, just like Mom had sat reading books so many different summers when we had visited, all as a family. Reading it was like taking a vacation from my heartbreak. I didn’t feel sad or angry or confused. Everything felt right again.

I owe my mom and Judy Blume for that gift. From my mother, I have my love of reading, a lifelong comfort. When I want to talk to my mom sometimes so badly that my chest actually hurts, I can pick up a book and feel okay again—or at least not think about it anymore. And obviously, so many women have Judy to thank for writing the stories she has, for sharing these characters that so many of us can find ourselves in, even if it’s in a small way.

Last night, I had the absolute thrill of meeting Judy Blume. She finally made a movie out of one of her books, Tiger Eyes. Out of all of her books, she had to make a movie out of the one I never read! The movie played at a theater nearby last night, and Judy Blume was there for a Q&A session following the screening.

She was wonderful. She was down to earth, kind, and full of joy. She choked up talking about how meaningful this story was to her. She talked about her son, Larry, who directed the movie, with such love in her voice. When the Q&A was over, even though she had made a comment about how exhausted she was from all of her traveling and weekend’s events, she still stayed and talked to the people (mostly women), who were lined up waiting to meet her. My favorite was the woman, probably my age or younger, who was standing behind me, clutching a beat up paperback of Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself. She’d had her mother FedEx it to her so she could have Judy sign it.

As for me, I stood clutching Mom’s now very worn paperback of Summer Sisters. I nervously handed it to one of my lifelong heroes and asked her if she would sign it, telling her it had been my mother’s.

Judy flipped to the title page and sort of raised her eyebrow at me before she started to sign. “You must have been pretty young when this came out.” Then she laughed. “And I was 60!”

It was a quick moment, and nothing extraordinary. But to me, it was extraordinary. Like this wonderful writer (and person) wrote in Tiger Eyes, “Some changes happen deep down inside of you. And the truth is, only you know about them.”

No one but me knew that at that moment, I felt as content as I did sitting on a hotel balcony reading my mother’s old paperback. No one but me knew that for just that quick moment, meeting Judy Blume, I felt like I could almost hear my mom laugh again. Almost. And it was enough, almost.

I think of Davey, the protagonist of Tiger Eyes, so distraught over the death of her dad, but yet still so strong. At the end of the movie, she dives in the ocean and swims. You know she’s going to be okay.

Thanks to a little help from Judy Blume, so many of us know the same.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

How Much Was Mine to Keep?

"And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep." ― Kurt Vonnegut

Last week, the editor-in-chief at my job called all of us in for an announcement. As I walked toward the cafeteria with my friend Logan, we joked that this was it. They must be announcing layoffs. I lined up against the wall with a pit in my stomach as I looked at the managers, and waited for them to start talking. I told myself I was being negative, but from the looks on everyone’s faces, I knew it had to be grim.

What we learned that morning was far worse than that. My coworker, 26-year-old Bobby Cann, had been killed the previous evening riding his bicycle home from work. As others cried—some quietly, some loudly and openly—I felt like I was folding into myself as I bit the inside of my cheek and forced myself not to do the same. As we all walked out of the cafeteria, the collective stunned silence was unbearable. People who had walked in late had bewildered looks on their faces. “What is it?” they asked.

I tried to answer, but could barely get the words out, the tears coming as soon as I spoke.

"Were you close with him?" someone asked, and I shook my head no.

[Memorial for Bobby, via here]

When I got back to my desk I felt sick. Someone—an oblivious coworker, I could only hope—was laughing. Everything just kept going on. But yet it didn’t. Everything felt off.

Meetings were canceled. Emails were sent. But there were still things to write, things to do. We all just kept going on.

Finally, work was over for the day. I got on the bus, surrounded by so many others, just trying to get home from work like I was. Just like Bobby had been the evening before. I felt deeply sad. Because I did not know Bobby well—no more than smiling at him as we passed each other in the hallway, or making small talk in the office kitchen—I doubted my own feelings. Why did I feel so angry? So sad? So sick about the whole thing?

As soon as I got home, I flopped on my bed and stared at the ceiling. I stared at the ceiling until I couldn’t bear it any longer, and then I grabbed my yoga mat and unrolled it. To be able to concentrate on breathing, exhales and inhales, felt like such a gift. Once it was over, I laid motionless on the mat, sweating and breathing heavily. I didn’t realize I had been crying until I stood up, several minutes later.

Finally, I allowed myself to feel all of the emotions of the day. A young man had been killed by a drunk driver, and it was tragic. I might not have known him well, but many did. So I felt sorrow for his family and friends. I felt pissed off at the drunk driver, another person close to my age who, with one horribly stupid and selfish mistake, had stolen a life and in turn ruined his own.

I felt glad to be alive. I felt selfish at the thought. I felt.

I felt.

In honor and memory of Bobby Cann, Groupon is running a campaign with Active Transportation Alliance to raise funds for more protected bike lanes in the city.