Weekend Do: Guest Edition

July 29, 2011 § 1 Comment

It’s been a great summer having guest bloggers fill in while Pakou traveled and hearing more creative voices in this space. So this weekend do is brought to you by our guest bloggers. If you’re loud enough, they may even come back.

1. From Leah: Do read up on George Orwell’s classic 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language” for some keen insights into writing, speaking, and most importantly, thinking!

2. From Grete: Do enjoy a quintessential comfort-food favorite (at the first pizza place or the Shake Shack), walk an old rail line, and visit a one-of-kind exhibit,

3. From Laura: Do go to a local music festival (mine was the Darrington Bluegrass Festival) with friends.  Enjoy the local cuisine (mine was pork sandwiches).  Watch people make art all around you (dancing, singing, playing, drawing).  Sit five-to-a-car, middle back seat, on your way home.  Get the whole car to sing along spiritedly to Sufjan Steven’s entire Illinoise album.  Insert hand motions.  Love your life.

4. From Steven: Do listen to The Civil Wars.  I especially love their cover of The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.”

 

The Story of Our Lives

July 27, 2011 § 1 Comment

Three times this year I’ve attempted to watch a collection of short films that have suddenly turned dark, gruesome or just extremely uncomfortable. I suppose the brevity of the short film allows directors to pack in more violence than what feature-length film-goers could take in, but it’s still not what I want to see.

To make up for my disappointment, I turned to one of my favorite animated short films, The Danish Poet, posted below in two 7 min. increments (these have Spanish subtitles – you can practice your skills while you watch. Thanks, youtube, for all the culture you offer.):

It’s a (mostly) delightful story of how one came to be and all that could have gone a different way, all the major and minor happenings that end up changing not just your life, but the lives of those around you and generations to come. The poet Jacqueline Berger explores a similar theme in her poem below.

Why I’m Here

Because my mother was on a date
with a man in the band, and my father,
thinking she was alone, asked her to dance.
And because, years earlier, my father
dug a foxhole but his buddy
sick with the flu, asked him for it, so he dug
another for himself. In the night
the first hole was shelled.
I’m here because my mother was twenty-seven
and in the ’50s that was old to still be single.
And because my father wouldn’t work on weapons,
though he was an atomic engineer.
My mother, having gone to Berkeley, liked that.
My father liked that she didn’t eat like a bird
when he took her to the best restaurant in L.A.
The rest of the reasons are long gone.
One decides to get dressed, go out, though she’d rather
stay home, but no, melancholy must be battled through,
so the skirt, the cinched belt, the shoes, and a life is changed.
I’m here because Jews were hated
so my grandparents left their villages,
came to America, married one who could cook,
one whose brother had a business,
married longing and disappointment
and secured in this way the future.

It’s good to treasure the gift, but good
to see that it wasn’t really meant for you.
The feeling that it couldn’t have been otherwise
is just a feeling. My family
around the patio table in July.
I’ve taken over the barbequing
that used to be my father’s job, ask him
how many coals, though I know how many.
We’ve been gathering here for years,
so I believe we will go on forever.
It’s right to praise the random,
the tiny god of probability that brought us here,
to praise not meaning, but feeling, the still-warm
sky at dusk, the light that lingers and the night
that when it comes is gentle.

These stories–both on a personal level and on a national/ethnic level–are amazing, looking back at all the specific and intricate movements that brings one to the present. It’s what draws sci-fi writers to play with multiple worlds, the world that splits off at each new decision, exploring all possible outcomes. But I like even more the idea of telling your own story through the actions and inactions of others. It complements Jacqueline’s perspective in the end: your own story isn’t really about you.

Listen While You Work

July 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

At the start of a new work week, I like to have my “work” music in order. First I check over on Flowerchild Dwelling for her Music Monday mixes and then NPR’s First Listen to hear upcoming albums. Hana Alireza’s post on Good Tunes to Work to, Part 1 mentions the “state of flow” music can bring, and for that, I turn most often to the following:

1. I got to see Ludovico Einaudi perform live–it was an hour and a half of rest. To sit in a darkened theater, quiet and still, to sit in a roomful of people who have one focus and a thousand different thoughts, to follow this Italian performer up and down the piano was lovely. Listening to songs like “Nuvole Bianche” while I work can quickly bring me back to that feeling.

2. And right after Ludovico must come Helen Jane Long, naturally. Listen to “Porcelain” below.

3. And when I need a bit more driving force to get things done, I put on Escala’s cover of “Palladio.”

Happy working.

 

Twenty-five (part 2)

July 22, 2011 § 1 Comment

This week I’m a quarter of a century old. I’m celebrating my day of birth in Uganda as it marks it’s 25th year of war (see part 1 of this post here).  I have heard many stories of how the war has impacted the lives of the students I work with, but I have also met beautiful people full of joy. Although life is hard here, it has also been really simple. It makes me appreciate small things, like having long mornings. This weekend, celebrate the small things with me and spend 25 birthday morning minutes doing the following:

1. Lie an extra 5 minutes in bed after the alarm snoozes. It’s a nice feeling to know you can turn your head over to the cooler side of the pillow and close the lids for a bit longer.

2. Take 28 seconds to pour water in the tea kettle and select the tea of the day. I like my tea with a bit of honey.

Good tea with good friends.

3. As the water heats up, dance around in your pajamas for 7 minutes, 32 seconds.

4. After the sing along, sip your cup of tea and read a chapter from Tina Fey’s Bossypants. Goodness I love this woman. She’s so funny! She’s Greek, a mother, a doer, and a bossy lady who likes to get things done. I’m reading her book right now and I literally laugh aloud each chapter multiple times. Below is an excerpt from “The Mother’s Prayer to Its Daughter,”  or listen to her read excerpts here. Take 9 minutes with Tina.

First, Lord: No tattoos. May neither Chinese symbol for truth nor Winnie-the-Pooh holding the FSU logo stain her tender haunches.

May she be Beautiful but not Damaged, for it’s the Damage that draws the creepy soccer coach’s eye, not the Beauty.

When the Crystal Meth is offered, May she remember the parents who cut her grapes in half. And stick with Beer.

Lead her away from Acting but not all the way to Finance. Something where she can make her own hours but still feel intellectually fulfilled and get outside sometimes And not have to wear high heels.

What would that be, Lord? Architecture? Midwifery? Golf course design? I’m asking You, because if I knew, I’d be doing it, Youdammit.

5. Lastly, spend 3 minutes loving on those around you. Call, email, hug, or just say I love you. It’s never unnecessary to say so.

If the Shoe Fits

July 20, 2011 § 2 Comments

When it comes to shoes, I admit I’m somewhat oblivious to them, contrary to the stereotype of women. But during this busy week, it’s been hard to maintain oblivion as I’ve stumbled over pairs of shoes littering my hallway. Finally, I took the time to put them away. Even for a non-shoe-fetish person, I still own an absurd number of shoes. I’m not sure how this happened.

It reminded me of two scenes in the British sitcom Coupling by the brilliant writer/producer Steven Moffat. In one, the men complain about women (“Why do they have so many shoes? Do they sprout rows of additional feet while we’re asleep and gallop around the streets at midnight?”), while a parallel scene features the women complaining about men.

“They’re overdressed toddlers needing dinner. There are empty bottles in the fridge, and the whole place smells of feet,” complains one woman.
“Not enough shoes,” says another.
“What?”
“Not enough shoes. Their feet get sort of marinated and smell.”

Enlightenment. The tables have turned, and my question is now: why don’t men have more shoes?

Life magazine’s slideshow tracks the oddities of famous footwear trends from both men and women in the last 80 years, everything from converse sneakers to combat boots.

And the poet Charles Simic contemplates the self-revealing nature of what shods our feet in his poem, “My Shoes.”

Shoes, secret face of my inner life:
Two gaping toothless mouths
Two partly decomposed animal skins
Smelling of mice-nests.

My brother and sister who died at birth
Continuing their existence in you
Guiding my life
Toward their incomprehensible innocence.

What use are books to me
When in you it is possible to read
The Gospel of my life on earth
And still beyond, of things to come?

I want to proclaim the religion
I have devised for your perfect humility
And the strange church I am building
With you as the altar.

Ascetic and material, you endure:
Kin to oxen, to Saints, to condemned men,
With your mute patience, forming
The only true likeness of myself.

At least Paolo Nutini knows what makes everything alright:

The investigation continues.

The Expectations Game

July 18, 2011 § 3 Comments

Guest post by Steven Grahmann.

I can’t remember the last time I went to a movie without knowing almost everything about it, even whether or not I would like it.

OK, I can.  It was Sneakers.  Remember?  Probably not.  It was a 1991 heist movie with Robert Redford and River Pheonix (RIP) and Sidney Poitier and Dan Aykroyd and that guy from Groundhog Day who goes “Ned? NED?”  The tagline was, “We could tell you what it’s about, but then we’d have to kill you,” and I loved every uninformed minute of it.

Nowadays I watch every trailer, read every review, and look at every Rotten Tomato score before I even get CLOSE to donning my Free Popcorn T-Shirt and walking into the theater.  Remember the Super Bowl?  I think the Packers won or something.  But me, I was interested in something else:

Speaking of Super 8, I went to see it last month on opening night, but I probably shouldn’t have.  My expectations were so high (A JJ Abrams homage to Steven Spielberg starring what looks like the kids from Goonies and Coach Taylor from Friday Night Lights? WHAT?) they were scraping the ceiling, and those theater ceilings are really high.  So when the movie was merely good, I was sad.   My expectations were so much better than the actual thing, I honestly would have been better off staying at home and basking in them.

Flip the coin, and there’s Cars 2, another movie I read up on like a madman – and one that critics seem to be getting bona fide pleasure in ripping apart.  Me, I’m a Pixar fanboy.  In my opinion, it’s the best art house out there.  This is true:  I went on to their website a couple months ago, found out that there is a janitor position open at their offices, and applied.  No call-back.  So after reading the scathing reviews of Pixar’s latest, I was expecting to hate it.  BUT, in the back of my mind, I was thinking I’d love it because everyone else hated it.  And guess what?  I loved it!  How messed up is that?

Does the access to information about art (of which I willingly and greedily take part) color my opinion of that art, to the point that it’s not even my opinion anymore?  I would like one time to go to a movie, watch a TV show, even read a book, with a clean slate.

One of my goals this summer is to just that.  I’m going to watch a movie that I haven’t read a single review, watched a single trailer – even had a single conversation – about.  I’ll do the same with a book.  Maybe if I’m good Pakou and Abi will let me guest blog again so I can tell you the results.

Anyone want to join me?

How to Unwind

July 15, 2011 § 7 Comments

If time were measured by naps, this week would be five years in the future. Or something. Let’s just say there were naps aplenty. If you need an Up, Up, Up type of blog post to get you energized and going for your weekend, this is not it. This is one for unwinding, avoiding, resting, neglecting, ignoring, sleeping, and general do-nothingness. Let’s cover the basics:

1. Sprawl on your floor. The best unwinders deeply utilize the floor, whether carpeted, rugged, or grassed up if you’re more organically minded.

2. Sip something. It takes minimal effort and relaxes you. Locally brewed beer is the preferred drink (I’m digging the Eastside Dark Lager of late, for Wisconsin locals). This can be alternated with summer fruit smoothies and winterish hot chocolates and Wendy’s Frostys if you’re on a budget. Caution: don’t drink so fast that bathroom duties interrupt the sprawling.

3. Treat yourself to good music. The two sisters who make up First Aid Kit became a widespread hit when they covered a Fleet Foxes song (another “huzzah” for youtube glory). To begin, listen to First Aid Kit’s  song “In the Morning,” which, like all their music, has lovely harmonies, good storytelling, and so much Swedishness about them.

Nathaniel Rateliff  had me at “Brakeman,” which he played at his Daytrotter session, and the love continued with the song, “Shroud” below. The video itself is also an unwinding treat, with the camera wandering and loosely covering its subjects, the feeling that you are sitting in this bare room with these quirky people and their hats and their toe-tapping, people who would sprawl, drink, and unwind with you.

While we can’t all be in an English pub tonight listening to Louise and the Pins live, we can still enjoy their good music, especially as it features one of my favorite folk artists–Laura Marling. Louise and the Pins is just the latest in the good folk music coming out of the UK, along with Johnny Flynn, James Vincent McMorrow, and Mumford and Sons.

4. My friends, the variations are endless. Unwinding can be done alone or with an elite group of people who are also in the mood for unwinding. Any environment can be manipulated to be conducive to unwinding. Massages are preferable, but hard to come by. Light food is acceptable as is reading aloud, puppies, movies with happy endings and feel good values, and the occasional thunderstorm. To be a professional unwinder, you may need to take the whole weekend.

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