Friday, May 26, 2017

Be Alright

I keep all of my concert tickets in a Sex Pistols lunch box. My friend, Mary, bought it for me years ago when she worked at the Experience Music Project in Seattle. I thought it was a smart place to store my concert tickets. I'm missing a few from my earliest concerts but I have the ones that matter most: my first concert (New Kids on the Block), the first Lilith Fair, and the first show I went to as a teenager that involved one of my friends driving us rather than our parents (R.E.M at Nisson Pavilion). Tori, Patti, the White Stripes, Nick Cave, Run-DMC, Metallica - they're all here in this box. I like to flip through the tickets every now and then and relive a little bit of the magic of each show. I can usually remember who I went with (my brother on many, many occasions) and if the opening act was any good (if it was Whirlwind Heat, the answer is an emphatic "hell no"). I don't obsessively write down set lists so I can't recall all of the songs for each show but I'm sure somewhere out there on the interwebs, someone has done this for me. I could look but I'm good for now.

My first concert was a New Kids on the Block show at the Superdome in 1990. I was eleven years old and my dad went with me. Two years later we had relocated to Northern Virginia and my dad, not learning his lesson the first time, took me to see Def Leppard at the USAir Arena (remember that place?). It would be years before my dad and I would go to a concert together again (Santana and Rod Stewart at the Verizon Center for his 66th birthday). I assume it took him that long to get over the agony of listening to preteen girls scream and sing along with NKOTB. I'm surprised his ears didn't bleed that day. My dad is a great dad.

In 1990, the New Kids on the Block were my favorite band. I think I had a NKOTB themed birthday party the year before; the tickets were definitely a birthday present but I don't think the themed party was the same year. Each ticket cost $20 for seats in the 600 level of the Superdome. I don't think you can buy a bottle of water for $20 at a concert today. Jonathan was my favorite member of the band followed closely by Jordan and Donnie. I thought Joey was annoying and Danny was an afterthought. I knew all the words and the choreography and was probably wearing at least two items of NKOTB clothing at the show. I may also have been wearing my Debbie Gibson hat because I was freaking fearless when it came to fashion back then.

I don't remember the order of the songs they played or what "witty" banter happened but I remember being in love with being at a concert. I've been to a lot of concerts and shows since NKOTB and while they're each special in their own way, none of them will ever be my first concert. First concerts are the only truly pure experience that exist (probably). It was exciting and overwhelming and frenetic. Every teen girl there was so excited to see the band and sing along (and scream a lot). I'm sure I made my dad buy me a t-shirt (which I no longer have and did not need). I know I stayed up way past my bedtime and was exhausted the next day but it was summer so it didn't really matter. I couldn't wait to go to the next concert (I believe it was Huey Lewis & the News with my brother in Detroit). That first show hooked me in and I've never looked back. I have not gone to see NKOTB again even though they've done reunion tours over the years. My dad won't go with me again (yes, I've asked) so what's the point really? I don't think it would be as much fun to see the band today; it would be fun but a more adult, alcohol influenced kind of way rather than the pure fun of going to my first concert.

Going to see live music is one of my favorite things to do. I love going to any type of venue and I'll go see bands or musicians I don't know just to go. The show might not be great but I always enjoy the experience of being surrounded by other music fans enjoying themselves. That's the beauty of concerts; you get to hang out with a few hundred or thousand (or ten) music fans. A concert is a little community of souls, coming together over their shared love of what this person or group has created. How beautiful is that? I happen to like a lot of bands who appeal to multi-generational audiences so the crowd is always fascinating to be part of. My favorite example of this was the Green Day show at the 9:30 Club last October; it's shows like that one that make me happy to be a rock fan.

As I've been reading about the bombing at the Ariana Grande show in Manchester, I can't help but think about all those kids going to see their favorite singer live, possibly for the first time. I know the excitement they must have felt in the lead up to the concert, thinking about what to wear (is it a high ponytail or cat ears kind of night?) and planning with their friends, taking selfies throughout and singing along to each song. To have such a horrible tragedy take place at the end of what was a magical night for those who attended is heartbreaking. The loss of so many young lives is devastating.

For the most part, people have been responding to this tragedy in the way you would hope people would respond to tragedy, with respect and remorse and most importantly, sentiments of community and coming together. However, there are some notable exceptions including journalists who have made disdainful remarks about Grande's music as they cover the bombing. It makes me angry how some have felt the need to cover this story in a way that dismisses the things teen girls like as if it somehow makes them less important and this bombing less of a serious threat. Emma Gray wrote a great piece on this exact topic for Huffington Post; if anything, the fact that a concert audience made up almost entirely of young women, their mothers, and LGBTQ youth was targeted should tell you a lot about the world we live in and what hate looks like.

My hope is that these fans don't stop going to concerts. I want every single one of them to go to another show and another one after that and keep going. I want them to keep being part of the amazing community that is a live music audience. I don't want any of them to ever lose that feeling or be fearful enjoying what they love. I want them all to feel the magic that happens when the lights go down and there's that one second before the show begins where the entire audience takes in a collective breath before losing it when their musical idols walk onstage. That is magic.

I don't know many of Ariana Grande's songs but one of my friends posted this video on Facebook the morning after the bombing; it's fitting in a lot of ways.

Next week: A discussion of my summer music list, "Brandy", and why I need to borrow someone's convertible for a day or two. If you haven't seen the new Guardians of the Galaxy movie, take the time to do so before next week; there will be some discussion of the movie although I will try to refrain from spoilers as much as possible.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Tell me about yourself...

Back in April, many of my friends and some of my co-workers told me to take my time and take a break. Don't rush into a job search. Let the stress of the last year (it has been a stressful work year) go away before diving in to find a new job. Their advice: Do fun things! Binge watch tv shows you've been meaning to watch! Read all of the books! Travel! Bake things! I did try to follow their advice to some extent. I did fun things (and still do fun things). I've read a ton of books and have baked at least one thing per week. I did binge watch tv. As a matter of fact, I'm still binge watching shows and have developed a somewhat questionable love of the show Kitchen Nightmares. I can't explain it; Gordon Ramsay's yelling at disaster restaurant owners and chefs soothes my soul. 

I received a far amount of advice about what I should do next. These suggestions ranged from the obvious yet unrealistic ideas of opening my own bakery and opening my own record store/bakery to the ridiculous (courtesy of my father) of moving to small town, opening a weird store, and helping the local police force solve crime. We were watching a Hallmark mystery movie at the time so my dad has an excuse for this one (all Hallmark mystery movies have this plot structure). It's also been suggested that I should start my own consulting firm (I think I'd want to consult on how not to be a jerk but I'm not sure if there's a market for that) or that I should sell all of my possessions except my car so Pumpkin and I can go on a massive road trip, doling out sage advice (me) and being adorable (her). I love all of my friends.

I appreciate what my friends were trying to do by encouraging me to take my time before rushing into my job search. I worked for my last company for almost 11 years; that's a long time and it's rare these days to stay at one organization that long. I didn't do the same job that entire time (thankfully) but I "grew up" there. A lot of professional firsts came to me during my tenure, most of which I am very proud of and thankful I experienced. I agreed with the idea of needing to let go of the event and the organization but not with the idea of not moving forward with my search. I am my father's daughter after all, and if you know my father, you know that the man cannot sit still for any amount of time. I have the same problem. Neither of us can do nothing for long periods of time so the idea that I would take a break seems alien to me. Doing fun things and reading and baking only fill the time for so long. I need to have more purpose, more meaning in what I'm doing. So I dived in.

I did all the things one is supposed to do when beginning a job search. I updated my resume, created an "All-Star" profile on LinkedIn (this is not that challenging by the way), and I reached out to people in my network to let them know I'm looking. I signed up to work with the career coaching organization my previous company offered; the reality of the movie Up in the Air hit the moment I got that folder with all the information on the next phase of my career. I won't say too much about my coach except this: I love a list but people aren't lists.

I've attended about ten webinars through this coaching service on various aspects of the job search. Some have been helpful, particularly around writing a positioning statement (live a value proposition for you as a qualified worker), tips for handling the "why did you leave your last company?" question, and coming up with an interesting way to answer the dreaded "tell me about yourself" question. These areas can be awkward to discuss and as I'm prone to awkward, it's been helpful to have a professional review these items and provide feedback. Other times, it's a struggle to sit through. There are only so many times I can hear the question "Do I really need a LinkedIn profile?" before realizing I'm not the intended audience of many of these webinars. It's been good to look at this as a process since I love a process and I love a list. Each step in the process is one step closer to not having to fill my time with these webinars or getting more attached to canceled Gordon Ramsey shows.

I'm not the first person to compare the job search process to online dating nor will I be the last. You have to talk about yourself and why you're awesome and why they should pick you all the time potentially while wearing clothes you bought for this occasion so you look professional and trustworthy (I'm looking at you black jacket). You have to prove your value in a way that isn't as clear cut as online dating. You could met or exceed every qualification for a position and still not get the job. It's very possible searching for a job is worse than online dating. The idea of rejection in dating doesn't sting nearly as much as the idea of rejection in work. I'm extremely proud of what I've accomplished in my professional life; I've had the opportunity to create engaging and powerful content, deliver training to lots of people, and help hundreds of people start their careers off on the right foot. I helped build part of the business; that's not me exaggerating, that's fact. It pains me to think that I won't be selected or that I'm qualified but not in exactly the right way or whatever else could come up because I know myself and I know what I'm capable of doing. None of these feelings are helped by the fact that the hiring process is excruciatingly slow. It can take weeks to hear back about a position...and that's if the company replies at all.

It's also incredibly isolating. I'm not saying that I don't talk to people anymore but my day isn't filled with the dailiness of going into an office. It's filled with me, my computer, and a cat who doesn't understand why I'm home all the time. She has cat things to do and I'm in the way. Her current question: how many Radiohead albums in a row is too many?

I'm lucky to have wonderful friends and family who are being supportive and helpful during this process. They've helped me connect with other people who might be good contacts for me to have (because networking is the only way to get a job these days...apparently) and have gotten me out of the house when I need to get out of the house. They check in to see how I'm doing. They send me funny pictures of cats and ideas for other businesses I should open (apparently, they think I'm made of money). They're keeping me sane and keeping me motivated. I know it's a process and the process will eventually end. I'll find a new job and all will be right in the world. I know this...I only wish it would end faster. That's all. And Pumpkin does too. She has so many cat things to do. 

Summer is so freaking exciting! Things to look forward to in the next few weeks: my summer playlist/long-form discussion of the song "Brandy", a summer kickoff "Lazy Movie Weekend", my 38th birthday, and my 20th high school reunion.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Tell me that part about Metallica again...

A few comments:
  1. No one has perfect hair rolling out of bed at such an early hour. No one.
  2. Metallica and the Offspring shouldn't be used comparatively since they're not in the same genre. Punk and metal are cousins. What good comes of comparing cousins unless your family is mean spirited and horrible?
  3. Christopher was always the wrong choice. Always.
I saw a rerun of this episode the day after I saw Metallica live and thought it was a sign from the musical gods that I needed to write about Metallica this week. What I find most infuriating about this particular clip is Christopher's immediate jump from an adult conversation (one he started about marriage and their relationship) to a childish dig on a band he doesn't like but Lorelai does. A band he probably doesn't think girls should like and therefore, because Lorelai does like said band, she is irrational and wrong about all things not just her choice of music. A woman can't possibly like Metallica. Or Black Sabbath. Or any other loud, aggressive music. Christopher is the worst.

My enjoyment of heavy metal music is one of those things people find amusing about me. When I say "heavy metal" I'm talking about more mainstream metal not the dark, dark stuff some people enjoy but you get my point. When this particular topic comes up in conversation or via the blog, people laugh. I remember a conversation with a male friend that went something like this:

Me: I saw Black Sabbath on tour last summer. It was an odd show; Ozzy looked like he was wearing pjs and he occasionally shuffled around the stage like he didn't know where he was. But the music was solid.
Him: You went to a Black Sabbath concert?
Me: Sure. I hadn't them live before so why wouldn't I go? I've also seen Def Leppard a few times, Metallica, and KISS. (Side note: we can argue levels of metal later.)
Him: Really? That just so weird. You're wearing a sweater with pineapples on it.
Me: I'm not sure what my pineapple sweater and my enjoyment of any type of music has to do with one another. I also really enjoy The Ramones. Is this problematic for you?
Him: I just imagine you like girl bands and I don't know, Beyonce. Girls like that type of music. You probably only like metal because you thought a guy would like you more. 
Me: (Pauses...scene in which I punch guy in the throat flashes in front of me as well as my favorite Clue quote.)
Me: As much as I love when guys explain music to me, we should probably go back to talking about work. There's less of a possibility that I'll punch you in the throat if we talk about work. 

(I'm not friends with this person anymore.)
I have a long relationship with Metallica. I grew up in the suburbs and my brother is a metalhead so I was destined to enjoy them. I've listened to this type of music since I was at least 9 years old. My brother is one of my earliest musical influences. It's from him that I learned about Metallica, Motorhead, Megadeth, GNR, Anthrax, Black Sabbath, and all the bands in between. He's also responsible for my spiral into hair metal bands. Face it, hair metal is a gift from the heavens and we should all just admit how much we love it and move on. He's my regular concert buddy when these shows come to town. We've seen Black Sabbath, Metallica, KISS, Motley Crue, Alice Cooper, and Def Leppard together. We are super critical of opening acts. We try to predict what the encore will include (we were half right for Metallica this week). In addition to the music itself, we have very dynamic conversations at shows about things like the psychology of the mosh pit. My brother is my favorite person. 

I've seen Metallica in concert twice (2009 and this past Wednesday). I own four of their albums. I know the lyrics to many of their songs. I follow them on social media. I sat through Some Kind of Monster, the mildly ridiculous documentary about the time the band went through group therapy while working on a new album (and Dave Mustaine from Megadeth probably cried off camera). According to James Hetfield's welcome at the show on Wednesday, I'm part of the Metallica family. And the Metallica family doesn't judge...probably.

Metallica is one of those bands that has always been in the my musical mix; sometimes they move to the front, sometimes they're the background while I enjoy other things. But they're never not there. I was thinking about this at the show this week. There is one song that is always front and center for me when I think about my relationship with Metallica. That song is "One."

My brother had a television in his bedroom when we were kids. He watched a lot of MTV and I remember watching videos with him on the rare occasion I was allowed in his room (we're six years apart) so he was a teenager at the time and I was annoying. In 1989, when "One" debuted, he would have been 15 and I was 9. The song is from the album ...And Justice for All. This album was the first Metallica album to reach any sort of commercial success; they were mostly an underground thrash metal band before this. It's also a fiercely political album; there are songs about the environment, censorship, and inequality. "One" was the considered an antiwar song (which I'll get into in a few minutes) and has the distinction of being the first Metallica song to get a music video. In case you haven't seen it:

There are three versions of the video: the above version (the original, long version), a shortened version, and a version missing the scenes from the movie. The original, with the film scenes, is the one I saw in 1989. The film scenes are from an 1971 antiwar movie called Johnny Got His Gun based on the novel of the same name. The film centers around a young man named Joe Bonham who goes off to fight in World War I and returns home as a quad amputee who also lost his eyes, nose, and ability to speak. He remains conscious of what's happening to him but unable to communicate with anyone. The film goes between hospital scenes and flashbacks of him with his family and in battle (and one where he imagines himself part of a freak show). Eventually, he remembers Morse code and begins to send an "SOS" signal to his nurses and doctors and repeats "kill me" over and over again. No one listens to him and he's left alone to an unknown fate. The film wasn't particularly successful, although Jimmy Carter used to show it to members of his cabinet when he was governor of Georgia, but became something of a cult classic after Metallica used in the "One" video. The band eventually bought the film rather than having to pay royalties every time they used the footage.

The video terrified me when I first saw it. Imagine being 9 years old and watching this. First, it's in black and white which is scarier than color film (it's the way light casts shadows in black and white). Then there's the war imagery, the guy hidden from view, the horrible dialogue from the film. It's a lot to handle. This is also the era of long-haired, scary looking Metallica. They all looked dangerous (yes, we can argue they still might look a bit dangerous). Metal is a very physical form of music and they all fit that part so well. James Hetfield and Jason Newsted (this was his first album with the band) were particularly creepy; they both looked like horror movie villains.

Then there are the lyrics. Now as a 9 year old, I was probably not paying as close attention to the lyrics as I do today but here's a sample:

Verse 1:
I can't remember anything
Can't tell if this is true or dream
Deep down inside I feel to scream
This terrible silence stops me

Now that the war is through with me
I'm waking up, I cannot see
That there's not much left of me
Nothing is real but pain now 

Or maybe you're more of a verse 3 kind of person:
I cannot live
I cannot die
Trapped in myself
Body my holding cell
Landmine has taken my sight
Taken my speech
Taken my hearing
Taken my arms
Taken my legs
Taken my soul
Left me with life in hell

Even if I wasn't paying close attention back then, there are some lines that jump out and my 9 year old self would have heard. Let's not forget the chorus: "Hold my breath as I wish for death/Oh please God, wake me," not exactly the stuff of pop music (which is what I was listening to at the time). I didn't understand why my brother would like such scary things but he did. I didn't understand what it was like to be a teenager and the feelings of alienation and suburban ennui that marked the life of one. Metallica is defiant and that's appealing. They're loud and angry (also appealing). I wasn't a teenager so I didn't get it. I understood this about music later but at that time, I was a little kid who thought it was scary.

Of course, once my brother knew I was scared of the video he would use the information to his advantage, calling me into the room when it was on and singing the lyrics every now and then. Such is the job of a big brother. My fear didn't stop me from being fascinated by the band. I remember borrowing (stealing) my brother's cassette tapes and listening to them when he wasn't home. When other Metallica videos would come on MTV, I'd watch them even when my friends wanted to change the channel. I was hooked but I would never, ever admit it to my brother. I continued listening to my boy bands and pop stars until finally one day, I gave up and embraced my love of all things heavy metal and punk and loud. I credit hair metal for getting me over boy bands; why listen to NKOTB when you can listen to Poison? It was logical at the time.

So there was no boy I was trying to impress because at 9 years old, I didn't care about impressing boys. One day, I saw a really scary music video and I was never able to get it out of my head. I embraced the scary and became a lifelong fan. That's it. I know it's hard to believe that girls and women simply like things because we like things. Our job is not to sit around and think about all the ways to impress a dude with our love of some band. If I did that, I'd have spent more time in my life asking guys to explain Enya and Kid Rock to me than doing anything else, including sleeping. I have zero time for that. I'd rather spend my time listening to "Harvester of Sorrow," my fourth favorite Metallica song, and contemplating the psychology of the mosh pit.

This photo doesn't do the red light on the crowd justice. It was a super cool effect.

Clue meme

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Lazy Movie Weekend: We can have fun, but we cannot be wild

Friends are important. I've written about this a lot here on the Island and in my professional life. As I posted on the Facebook this week, sometimes you realize that you need your "let's ditch touring colonial homes to go to Myrtle Beach to dance and meet boys" friends and sometimes you need your "I'd slice open the belly of a tauntaun to protect you on Hoth" friends. Sometimes you need both (and you should always plan on being both at some point in your life). One of the most challenging things about friendship, to me at least, is distance. We don't live in a world where people stay in the same place their whole lives (most of us don't) so we don't live down the street from our best friend or even in the same city or town. We may find new friends as we move and settle elsewhere but it's never the same.

I'm lucky that one of my oldest friends (I've known her since the 7th grade) still lives in the area so I always have a partner in crime, but my closest friends, my girls from college, are all over the place. That point was driven home a few weeks ago when I visited Ocracoke. I don't know how many times Kelly and I discussed how we wished we lived nearer to one another. Alas, that is not the way life is currently working.

This exact theme is at the heart of this weekend's Lazy Movie Weekend. It's one of my favorite movies of all time and is about friendship and new beginnings and whether or not it is appropriate to do modern ballet at a beauty pageant (the answer will be revealed below). The girls in the film are all about to go their separate ways after high school and want one last adventure. Yes, friends, I'm talking about 1989's Shag the Movie. This movie has everything: Myrtle Beach, an Elvis-esque teen idol, a dance contest, perfect hair, and Scott Coffey. Let's put on our Shagging shoes, grab a few beevos, and have the most fun watching Shag the Movie.

  • I own this movie on VHS. Because of this, I had to take it to my parents' house to watch since they still have a VCR. My mother thoroughly enjoyed this because she loves the music. Fun fact: she was a freshman in high school in 1963, the year in which Shag is set.
  • In addition to Phoebe Cates and Annabeth Gish, 80s teen movie queens (for Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Mystic Pizza, respectively), this movie featured the next generation of some very famous families including Bridget Fonda, Page Hannah (sister of Darryl), and Tyrone Power, Jr. This was a super big deal in 1989.
  • "Every damn thing has to happen when you're in a damn hurry." Luanne (Page Hannah). Luanne is arguably the most quotable character in this movie and that is saying a lot. 
  • Best beauty advice ever: don't wear dark lipstick. Followed closely by the rule of not letting any of the other girls drive her car. Mrs. Clatterbuck was a smart lady. 
  • Girls "kidnapping" their friends is a thing and it always will be. At least in this instance, Luanne, Pudge, and Melaina are planning something fun for Carson rather than say, making her go to breakfast in her pajamas or accidentally killing her with a jawbreaker (see 1999's Jawbreaker for more details on how this last one worked). Come to think about it, we should just stop this practice immediately.
  • I can't think of anymore Southern names than Melaina, Carson, and Harley. Hearing their names makes me want to say things like "I'm just sayin' is all" and "I mean" and throw a "y'all" in at every possible opportunity. 
  • Can we bring back the fashion of this movie? Maybe not all the halter tops (although they all look adorable on these ladies) but the dresses and the skirts and the shoes and the cigarette pants. We all need these back in our lives. Even Vogue agrees with me.
  • Does anyone have one of those nail polish dryers? I mean, I would never get a gel manicure again if I had one of those. A hair dryer is not the same.
  • Carson: I think eyeliner is trashy. Melaina: I wear eyeliner. Carson: Well, it looks good on some people. Only true friends can have this type of dialogue.
  • How many times does Luanne say "Melaina" in an exasperated way in this movie? I lost count and we're only 20 minutes in.
  • Places like the Pavilion just don't exist anymore. I'm not saying this is why the world sucks but it's possible it's part of the reason. The look on Pudge's face when she sees it for the first time is my proof.
  • "Why can't girls ask boys to dance?" Pudge (Annabeth Gish) is my favorite of the four girls. I suspect I'm halfway between Pudge and Luanne if I was deciding which girl I would be.
  • We already missed the "meet cute," if you consider throwing a condom full of beer at their car a meet cute so enter Buzz and Chip. If those aren't 60s guy names I don't know what are.
  • "I got news, you're gonna lose." Melaina to the trashy girls Suette and Nadine (I lied those are the most Southern names of all time). Melaina decides to steal Nadine's man and win Miss Sun Queen instead of Suette. Melaina is a force.
  • Big Bob is literally the guy your mother told you not to date, including the car and inability to understand the word no.
  • Shaving cream and tissues - this is what they do to get back at Melaina? I don't get it.
  • "This is the most fun." Pudge although this phrase is used throughout the movie and I've said it at least six times since I watched the movie on Tuesday. It's my new favorite way to describe everything.
  • Pudge and Chip dance. He tries to tell her he's a bad dancer but he's a liar. If this movie doesn't make you want to learn the Shag and the Madison, I can't help you.
  • I know everyone is supposed to be all abuzz over Buzz (see what I did there?) but Chip is the only game in town. I love Scott Coffey; he is my biggest 80s holdover crush. If you've never seen Shag, you may remember Scott from Satisfaction (the one with Justine Bateman and Julia Roberts and they're in a band and Liam Neeson is awkwardly involved) or maybe Mulholland Drive. He's a director now. Check out Adult World for a taste of his directing abilities. Anyway, I love Chip. He's sincere, dorky, polite,  clueless, and he can dance. He's perfect (and he aged well).
  •  No Melaina, you should not do modern ballet to the tune of "Dixie" while waving around a Confederate flag. I don't care that this is 1963 and you're in South Carolina; it's still a terrible idea. As Luanne says, "Modern ballet is trashy." You should recite Scarlett's "Yankees in Tara" speech instead. It's much more dignified as a talent for the Miss Sun Queen pageant. 
  • Remember when people got discovered at things like beauty pageants and dance contests? Simpler times with no Ryan Seacrest.
  • Of course, Carson calls Harley (her fiance) because she feels guilty about flirting with Buzz. Of course, Harley has to come Myrtle Beach. 
  • Jimmy Valentine! If he's not a mini-Elvis I don't know who would be considered that. The actor also appears in one of the only Gywneth Paltrow movies I can tolerate. His teen idol is awesome, exactly what I imagine the life of a 60s teen idol is like. 
  • Luanne trying to make Melaina feel better about the one piece bathing suit: "You, Melaina, you are a flower of the South."
  • "Holy pajamas." Chip's reaction to Suette's trashy modern ballet routine and a wonderful phrase. 
  • The house party! Melaina basically makes Luanne invite Jimmy Valentine over and then things get out of hand and everybody gets knee-walking drunk (you know what I mean). Of course, this leads to Luanne and Harley becoming a thing, Carson and Buzz disappearing on a boat, and Pudge and Chip falling asleep in a bathtub. You know, like every party you went to in college.
  • Chip's comment about falling in love but not having to because he met Pudge and he could just write to her instead is the most heartbreaking moment of this entire movie. Pudge, you're my girl.
  • And then morning comes. As does the maid to tell everyone that the Senator (Luanne's daddy) is on his way. Additionally, we have to deal with the end of the elaborate "where's Carson?" ruse and awkwardly discuss how her having sex with Buzz makes her "wild." I guess it makes her "wild" in a 1963 kind of way.
  • Harley's logic about getting married and not calling off the wedding is the worst logic I have ever heard about getting married ever. He is every bit a proper Southern gentleman.
  • Note: Never follow Melaina's advice when it comes to boys. It will only lead to hurt feelings and no partner at the Shag contest.
  • I love the sequence with Chip and the Senator. It's earnest and endearing all at the same time.
  • The Shag contest is the best part of this movie. Pudge and Chip and "Stagger Lee." I said before and I'll say again, if this movie doesn't make you want to dance (even if you're terrible like me), we can't be friends. The video is below for you to cherish as I do.
  • Carson: Luanne, why don't we just go up there and say "This was our last weekend together, and we didn't feel like going to Fort Sumter and touring goddamn colonial homes. We wanted to go to the beach and meet boys and go to wild parties and dance." I mean why can't we tell them the truth? Exactly, Carson, why can't we?
  • Of course every movie has to end with the singing of your high school anthem because that's how movies work. At least they all look absolutely lovely while singing it.

I don't know about y'all but I'm going to go call some of my friends, learn all the choreography (by the great Kenny Ortega), and find some wonderful party dresses. That sounds like the most fun.

Going out image
Pudge & Chip
Scott Coffey
End of the movie 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

A Cottage by the Sea, Part Two: Islands are nature's circles...or something

I visited Ocracoke Island for the first time in September 2006. One of my dearest friends, Kelly, asked me to be her maid of honor and the wedding was on Ocracoke. Don't know where Ocracoke is? Neither did I at the time. It's part of the Outer Banks in North Carolina, an island only accessible by ferry. It's the island where Blackbeard died and is known for figs (the Fig Festival is in August). If you were a fan of The Lonely Doll books as a child, the author, Dare Wright, was also known for her photographs of Ocracoke and set one of the Edith books on the island (the one where Edith and the bears go on a holiday). At the time of Kelly's wedding, I had just relocated to Virginia following Hurricane Katrina. Leaving New Orleans (where Kelly and I met; were were roommates in college) was simultaneously the best and worst decision I have ever made. New Orleans is the only place I've lived that I've felt was a home; such is the life of a military child. It's the most vibrant city I've ever been in. However, I know now, and probably knew then, that if I stayed much longer I would never have moved forward in the way I needed to. I probably would have left later, a bit more broken from what was going on in the city.

A month before the wedding, I started my new job working for a start up ed tech company, moving into the first of many roles I would fill for the company over my 10 years there. I started as a support team member, one of those roles that is both incredibly rewarding and incredibly soul-crushing at the same time. There are only so many polite ways to ask a person (who is paying for a service you provide) if their computer is turned on or if they've clicked on the very large button that says "send" (you know, the one staring them in the face at this exact moment). This would all come later; at that moment, the moment where I drove my car onto the ferry to Ocracoke for the first time, I only knew I was enjoying a new adventure, getting to know my co-workers, and finding a place to live that was not the guest room at my parents' house. I was slowly dealing with the stress of Katrina: the evacuation, the three month "exile", the nastiness I encountered on the road as I worked to bring in a class for the university, the garbage pile outside my apartment that grew and grew and grew, the punch to the gut every time I picked up an application and read another essay from a student who lost everything. I had no real support network left in New Orleans but I had started the slow process of building one in Virginia (a process that would take a long time and I would argue, is still ongoing).

All of this was swirling around in my brain when I boarded the ferry the first time. Of course, Ocracoke has the ability to remove the mainland from view very quickly and not just because you eventually can't really see Hatteras from the island. Cell service is spotty at best so it's easy to disconnect because it won't work anyway. It was nice to be able to focus on my friend and the wedding and nothing else. It had been at least 2 years since I'd seen Kelly but, as I knew we would, we fell into our jokes and stories and friendship the way you do with your best friends. It was the perfect event to end 2006 (so to speak). I didn't get to experience all of Ocracoke on that trip but I completely understood why it was the perfect place for the wedding and why Kelly and her family continue to come back.

I didn't make the connection between 2006 and 2017 until I was driving down NC-12 earlier this week to catch the ferry for a return trip to Ocracoke. As I passed the pun-tastically named houses and dinosaur and pirate themed mini golf courses along the way (no, I didn't stop at either although I wanted and yes, they are separate mini golf courses), I realized that the last trip to Ocracoke was at the start of a new part of my life and this trip is at the actual end of that new start. The universe has an incredible sense of humor. As I wrote a few weeks ago, I'm currently experiencing the life of a chick lit novel heroine so what better thing to do than to read way too much into something AND go on a trip to an island which is the actual premise of dozens of novels within this genre?

I can, because I'm me and I'm female (and we do this sort of thing all the time), read a lot into this.  I have successfully completed phase one of being the quintessential chick lit heroine. This phase includes wallowing, binge-watching Netflix shows, baking for no reason (or to make the people in your life happy), crying, and a trip to a winery on a Monday. Completing phase one allows me to move on to phase two: the connection phase. This phase always coincides with a journey of some form and during this phase, the heroine reconnects with people she doesn't often see in person (like Kelly and the rest of the group in Ocracoke). Additionally, the improbable events will begin any day now. Improbability in chick lit novels usually leads the heroine directly to phase three where the pieces begin to fall into place and the new path is forged by our plucky heroine. Improbability takes some time; I could be in phase two for awhile.

Ocracoke did not solve my problems but it was the break I needed. I have spent far too much time in my apartment over the last few weeks. More importantly, this trip provided a few of the things I desperately needed at this exact moment in my chick lit heroine life:
  • A road trip - literally nothing is as good as driving along scenic routes listening to music and having an Icee at 10:22 am.
  • Conversations that were about everything but also nothing. Kelly and I had so much to catch up on and may have retold some stories more times than needed. I would have to ask the others if this was annoying or charming. I'm going to guess charming.
  • Planned for Kelly's next artistic project...seashell and driftwood art. There is definitely a market for it in the Outer Banks so really the only thing left is to come up with a delightfully punny name and harvest raw materials. We were able to create a list of possible items Kelly should create: jewelry, wine racks, name plates for beach houses, spice racks. Everyone helped with this part. Kelly now needs to let the shells speak to her, as one does.
  • Learned the importance of appreciating YouTube video humor from a 12 year old. The 12 year old and I also agree that Rocket Raccoon is the best and that super hero movies where the super heroes are too "super hero-y" are the worst. 
  • Considered the possibility of my next art project being a book entitled The Feral Cats of Ocracoke. There's an audience for this book somewhere.
  • Laughed a tremendous amount.
  • Went to the beach. I'm not a huge beach person but it was incredibly satisfying to walk along the beach. Kelly was able to start collecting her shells so now it's just a matter of time before her sea art is the next great thing. I also got slightly sunburned despite my wearing sunscreen so the world is working in the way it is supposed to. 
  • Discovered that skinny jean shorts are a thing. Imagine the most hipster dude you can conjure in your brain, hack the skinny jeans off just above the knee, add an ironic statement beard, and the beach night out equivalent of a deep V-necked shirt (so a collared version) and you have the one person I never thought I'd experience while visiting an island in the Outer Banks. 
  • Began planning our 40th (we're so old) birthday trip. This was countered by being asked, not carded, but asked if we were over 21 at dinner one night when we ordered beers. Only Kelly and I were asked so there's that. We've identified a large number of things we don't want to do so we're off to a good start. So far the list of possible trips includes: the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, somewhere in Canada, and my suggestion of a trip to Mexico to visit Frida Kahlo's museum. We have work to do.
Sometimes you have to revisit a place in order to truly move on to whatever is next in your life. That is the lesson of this phase of chick lit heroine living. That's how you get closure.

The first photo of my book project - they look like Pumpkin's less pleasant cousins.

Some inspiration for Kelly - I feel like the fish/mermaid plant holder would be better with a topiary in the shape of a mermaid or fish head.

I am not participating in Record Store Day this year for reasons. Happy 10th Anniversary to RSD!! You can relive my past RSD adventures here or go out and make your own by visiting your local record store today.

Friday, April 14, 2017

You're Doing Everything Wrong: British Baking Show Edition

It's no secret that I watch reality television. I have, over the years, enjoyed The Real Housewives of New Jersey (although I don't want it anymore), Project Runway, Project Runway All-Stars, Face/Off, RuPaul's Drag Race, Food Network Star, Iron Chef, and The Real World (through the New Orleans cast so 1999?). I watch a lot of Food Network shows which are not really reality tv but they all take place in the chef's homes so I feel like they fit into the category. Is it weird that we all know what Giada's kitchen looks like or that we know where Ina keeps the serving platters in her house? Probably but it's best not to think about it too much.

I've never been into shows like Teen Mom or anything involving a Kardashian. Big Brother, The Amazing Race, and Survivor don't appeal to me at all. I absolutely can't get into The Bachelor although I loved Rock of Love, the show that followed Poison front man Bret Michaels on his quest for love while still living his rock and roll lifestyle. There was something so beautiful and completely bananas about that show. Like a lot of things that existed in the early 2000s, Rock of Love came to us at exactly the right time for what it was. We will never, ever recapture that moment...which is absolutely, 100% the right life choice for us all.

Reality television is a lot of things: voyeuristic, funny, sexist, exploitative, sad, heartfelt, creative. Most of the time, it's great escapist fun. Some of the time, it's dangerous and harmful. Reality television creates great villains and even better heroes. We all become #TeamSomeone at some point in our viewing life. People typically refer to reality television as a "guilty pleasure" because they're embarrassed to admit to watching it. I've written about this before; I hate the concept of guilty pleasures. I don't believe we need to apologize for the things we enjoy or hide our interests because someone considers them too lowbrow. The things we enjoy, from music to books to television to movies, make us the unique and interesting people we are.

With the exception of the Jersey housewives and old school Real World, the reality television I tend to watch are competition shows, specifically creative competition shows. As a creative person myself, I feel like these types of shows help inspire my own work. Cooking and baking shows are great for picking up techniques and new ideas for how to make different recipes OR they make you hungry enough to bust out the old baking pans and create something new. While not entirely devoid of the "drama" of placing a variety of personalities in close quarters for weeks at a time, most of the shows I watch lack the table-flipping, hair pulling antics of members of any Real Housewives casts. There's usually a villain but that villain still likes the way you drape a skirt or make a fruit tart.

However, the relative politeness of a Food Network Star contestant is not even close to the actual politeness of everyone involved in The Great British Baking Show (only called this in the US because Pillsbury owns the trademark on "Bake Off" here - fascinating). I'm late to the GBBO (as the cool kids call it, I'm sure) game but I'm not disappointed I joined in. The show began in 2010 and has been credited with a resurgence in baking, particularly traditional baking, across the UK. PBS broadcasts the show in the US and the last three seasons are currently available on Netflix. I just started season three last night. If you've never watched the show here's the way it works: 12 (although this has varied over the seasons) home bakers compete in a 10-week baking challenge. Each weekend, the group goes through three challenges: Signature (their "best of"), Technical, and Showstopper. The technical challenge is always wild; judges (Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood through the season I'm watching) provide a recipe to showcase technical skills. The recipe is often missing information like baking temperature or time. The bakers have to use what they know to figure it out. Additionally, many of the technical challenges are items no one has ever heard of or they've heard of but never seen. This challenge is my favorite.

This is my favorite cake of the 2 seasons I've watched.
The constant, and what I love most about this show, is how nice everyone is. From the judges to the presenters to the contestants, everyone is absolutely lovely. The contestants don't try to sabotage one another (although there was controversy over the Baked Alaska Showstopper challenge in the first season I watched) and they help each other out when they can. They seem supportive of one another in a highly stressful environment. The presenters, Mel and Sue (in the seasons I'm watching), are hilarious and provide the right amount of sass and encouragement to contestants. They're like a funnier, bawdier Tim Gunns. Even the judges, Paul Hollywood (of icy blue eyes and particular taste in everything), and Mary Berry (just freaking delightful), are polite...even when they're providing a less than positive critique. Mary Berry (I have to say her whole name all the time) is the kind of person that you don't want to disappoint and it's exciting to see the reaction of a baker when she praises them. They're all a little in love with/afraid of Paul so that's fun to watch too. One of my favorite Mary Berry compliments was to Ruby (I think): "That's bit of alright." I want to say that all the time in a British accent when someone does well. It sounds so good.

The politeness is just one of the things that sets GBBO apart from the other reality shows out there. The other two elements of this show that astound me are that bakers go home during the week and they get to practice. Unlike pretty much every reality competition series I've ever watched, the bakers get to go home each week. This makes a huge difference in their demeanor and their behavior. While they may be in a foreign environment to bake, they're not completely cut off from their support networks. It makes a huge difference in the way each person handles stress; they stress about the challenge not missing work or being away from loved ones. It creates, at least as I view it, a level of focus on the challenges that I don't think I've ever seen on other reality competition shows. What's also interesting is how they balance home responsibilities and being in the competition. They go about their normal lives between weekend challenges so they go to work, take their exams (there's always a young baker still in school), and care for their children or grandchildren. They have time to relax between being in the stress of the tent (the "kitchen" is a tent in the countryside complete with cut away shots of lambs and's enchanting).

They also get to practice. According to several articles I read about the show, bakers are given information in advance for the Signature and Showstopper Challenges. This allows them time to practice in between weeks. Practice is important, especially when you think about what they have to create for the Showstopper Challenge. Getting ingredients right, construction techniques down, and flavor profiles in line makes all of the difference. One of my pet peeves with most competition shows I watch is that it seems like none of the contestants watch previous seasons before they show up for theirs (I know this is untrue but come on). Contestants always seem completely unprepared for what's about to happen to them; that's not the case on GBBO. While there are surprises and mishaps, the bakers always seem to know what they're up against even when they have literally never heard of the recipe they're asked to make for a technical challenge. I truly believe it's the ability to practice that helps with this. They're comfortable with what they're doing and they make beautiful and delicious baked goods.

Did I forget to mention there's no prize? There is a prize, a beautiful cake stand presented by Mary Berry on the finale episode, but there's no monetary prize for winning the show. Bakers spend more money to be in the show than is probably worth it since they have to practice and send samples to producers in advance. Several of the show's winners and finalists have gone on to great success in the baking world, writing cookbooks, opening bakeries, and even doing spinoff shows so they obviously benefit from being on the show. However, I've never gotten the sense that any of them are on the show for this reason. They're on the show to do something they love: bake. I can completely understand.

So while I believe we are doing everything wrong when it comes to reality competition shows, I would not change any of the other shows for the world because it would take a bit of the specialness away from The Great British Baking Show.

As I dive into making a coconut cake this weekend, I'll keep Mary Berry in mind, "That's a bit of alright."

Frances & the finale Showstopper
GBBO cast 
Mary Berry

Sunday, April 9, 2017

DC Days: Dots, Pumpkins, and Obliteration

I had the opportunity to see the Yayoi Kusama exhibition Infinity Mirrors at the Hirshhorn this weekend. If you're able to get tickets at any point during the remainder of the run here in DC, do it. Take off work, shirk adult responsibilities, and go see this exhibit. The exhibition is traveling to five additional cities after the Hirshhorn run.

My favorite room was "Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity" - it was one of the most beautiful experiences I've ever had in a museum and it only lasted 20 seconds. Kusama's obsession with dots is one I can get behind. 

All photos shared below were taken by me or my friend Emily, who joined me for the exhibition. This exhibit is best experienced visually so I'll stop with my commentary and share the photos. 

Phalli's Field (1965/2016)

Love Forever (1966/1994)

 The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away (2013)

Love Transformed into Dots (2007/installed, 2017)

 Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity (2009)

All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins (2016)

The best photo I took all day - it's of the ceiling.
The Obliteration Room (2002) - Visitors get to participate in this room by placing dots all over the room.