Monday, July 31, 2017

"Beautiful Day"

31 July 2017:

"It's a beautiful day
Don't let it get away
It's a beautiful day" --U2, "Beautiful Day"

I was just sitting here feeling anxious about silly things and this song came on Pandora. About half-way through, I stopped and thought about the song itself. And then I had a memory...

My friend Bonnie, sitsin her apartment in Greensboro, hosting a bunch of us as we play some game (maybe Risk? it was Risk a lot!) after gathering for a grad-school potluck (translation: everybody brings something cheap, it probably isn't fancy, but it's still good).

Clear as day, I can see her in a kind of complete-image memory: she's shuffling cards and singing this chorus as it plays in the background. And we are all, in that moment, pretty happy. We are poor, always a bit (or a lot) stressed, but we have each other and we have our cheap potlucks and board games and laughter and music.

So much has changed since then, and Bonnie died at a cruelly early age, but that little memory reminds me to pause for a bit and stop stressing over little stuff. It's a beautiful day, after all.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Baby Shower

30 July 2017: "Everyone's here!" --my friend Cara, walking into her surprise baby shower today.

I haven't seen Cara, who used to be one of our lecturers, since her going-away party about two years ago. But she is back home (in PA) for an extended visit with her parents this summer and her family surprised her with this shower. She's a wonderful person so it as no surprise to learn that her family and friends are also wonderful.

Brenda (our department's amazing secretary), Cara, and I.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Baby Driver

29 July 2017: "He had an accident when he was a kid. Still has a hum in the drum. Plays music to drown it out. And that's what makes him the best." --Doc talking about Baby, in Baby Driver

I wasn't sure about seeing this movie, but Amy wanted to and I had heard enough about it to intrigue me. It is fun (if hyper violent, which isn't my favorite thing...) and weirdly charming. I also found myself wishing I could physically move through the world Baby does. Kid is smooth. And I love what the film does with the concept of always having (and, in fact, needing) music in your head.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Five Things Podcast

"That really had a profound impact on who I am in a big way because I constantly saw my mother doing social justice work as a lunch lady and I saw all of those cafeteria workers doing that because, you know, there was need in our community and there was injustice and things like that. And I saw those women right a lot of those wrongs. I saw my mother pay for children's lunches and I saw ladies slip them extra rolls or whatever, but doing it in a way that was never self-congratulatory or shaming or anything. So often, since then, in my own role in social justice movements, people have asked me 'What's the first act of social justice you ever saw?' and that was definitely in the lunch room." --Silas House, in a lovely interview on the Five Things podcast, talking about his mother's work as a lunch lady in his elementary school.

I met House back when he first visited Shepherd and kind of instantly fell for the guy. I mean, not in a romantic way, but in a "he is so amazing/wish he was my friend" kind of way. And this was after I had already fallen hard for his books.What he does in this interview encapsulates so much of what makes him compelling and admirable and makes his voice such an important one. Look at what he does there by linking lunch ladies with social justice: he takes working-class women and connects their basic decency and compassion--and their every day interaction with real people--with a term that the right-wing has vilified. Because what these women did was social justice. Because social justice is a good and (duh) just thing. 

This interview is so charming--the perfect companion for my morning walk. And what a cool concept for a podcast.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

"Foul Shots: A Clinic"

27 July 2017:

"...and the lovingly unlaunched
foul shots we’re talking about now—
the clinic having served to bring us
together—circle eccentrically
in a sky of stolid orbits
as unlike as you and I are
from the arcs those foul shots
leave behind when they go in." --William Matthews, "Foul Shots: A Clinic"

Kind of a quiet day here, one spent doing a lot of thinking about writing and not as much actual writing as I would have liked. But yes, that thinking is a part of the process. I know this. And I do feel on the verge of getting done what I want to get done by the end of the month (my continued, slightly irrational pursuit of a typed to-do list I made for the month of July). Anyway, this poem, which is a process piece that anyone who has worked at a skill can relate to, spoke to me today, so here it is, today's "listening" post.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

"For Moses, After He Learned to Say the Letter S"

26 July 2017:
"You learned to pronounce the 's' in 'sky.'
The ky has gone out.
Never again will stars twinkle there like diamonds.
No longer will we gaze upon the ky in the dwindling night before bedtime.
It's all right.
Our time in the ky was short and miraculous.
Who knows what new wonders the full sky holds?" --John Darnielle, reading a poem he wrote for his son and shared on The Hilarious World of Depression

(And because I heard the poem and didn't see it, I am guessing, almost certainly incorrectly, about the line breaks.)

Listen to the whole poem, which starts at about the 7:45 mark of the episode. Lovely and moving.

And yes, I've already blogged about this podcast twice before.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

"Dover Beach," again...

25 July 2017:
"Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night." --Matthew Arnold, "Dover Beach"

Just got done listening to a couple readings of "Dover Beach," because I felt a need to close my eyes and hear Arnold's words. I've blogged about this poem before, five years and five days ago, when the terrible shooting in Aurora, Colorado happened. Here I am again, finding Matthew Arnold's words running through my head, this time as I wrestle with two, very different tragedies.

The first is the disastrous and cruel vote on health care that happened just a few minutes ago. I found myself crying as the news broke. People will suffer and die. It's that simple. This pain, anger, frustration, and sadness over our current political situation sits right below my chest--I can feel it physically sometimes. What to do in the face of such cruelty and disregard for common decency, as more and more comes at us every day? Arnold's words come to mind..."Ah, love, let us be true /
To one another!"

The second tragedy is no doubt smaller in terms of scale, but it's been three years to the day since my brother died. I went into today determined to focus on the good memories. Most of the time that works just fine. But at least for the next few hours, I find myself drawn to the sadness of it all. I look back and feel all over again the sense of impotence and frustration. What could we have done differently? What would have made a difference? And that sadness and frustration is no doubt connected to a Senate that just voted to strip away health care from millions and a president who offends every value I hold true. And here's the thing: my brother had good health care. And he still died of an opioid overdose. My heart breaks for all of those who will die without access to health care, specifically for mental health and addiction. What to do? Again, Arnold's words come to mind..."Ah, love, let us be true / To one another!"

Of course, as I alluded to when I wrote about this poem in 2012, Arnold's poem comes in for some criticism for what might be read as a retreat to insular protectionism and almost nihilism. But I don't think that's the only way to read it. Because if we are true to each other and really love each other, we will do what's right. We'll take care of each other and fight back against those dark forces pushing against us. It's all we can do.

Monday, July 24, 2017


24 July 2017: "I used to wonder what on earth I was going to do with my 262 plots my mother left me. I didn't have to wonder long." --Ruth Coker Burks, in the short film you can watch here.

I first heard about Burks in this StoryCorps piece. She's a remarkable woman and a model for us all.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Homecoming King

23 July 2017: “'Hasan, you gotta be brave...Your courage to do what’s right has to be greater than the fear of getting hurt.'” --Hasan Minhaj, quoting his father's advice to him.

Minhaj's entire special is well-worth watching: funny and touching.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

David Brooks Goes to Lunch...

22 July 2017: “Can I also just say that the sentence ‘Insensitively I led her into a gourmet sandwich ship' is possibly the funniest single sentence that has ever appeared in The New York Times?” --Dana Stevens on this week's Slate Culture Gabfest, discussing David Brooks' unintentionally hilarious recent column.

I got a lot done today: cleaned bathrooms, organized books in my office, finalized (!) my teaching materials/syllabi for the fall, and made lots of progress on my portfolio. This also means I spent a lot of time listening to good old podcasts. The Gabfest crew's discussion of Brooks' piece was a fun highlight.

Friday, July 21, 2017

"Shattering The Blue Velvet Chair"

21 July 2017: “Well, who else is gonna do it?...When I think back to those days I think of this ferment, this activity, in people’s kitchens and living rooms…[They were women who said] ‘We’re not gonna wait. We are going to recognize ourselves and each other.’” –Joan Larkin, in the latest episode of the Poetry Off the Shelf podcast. I blogged about a previous episode here.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

"You've Got to Hide Your Love Away"

20 July 2017:

"Everywhere people stare
Each and every day
I can see them laugh at me
And I hear them say
Hey you've got to hide your love away." --John Lennon, "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" (though the version I heard today was the fantastic one by Eddie Vedder)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Everything is Wonderful

19 July 2017: "Forgiveness is the spine of life." --Esther to Miriam, in Everything is Wonderful, a CATF play I saw today. It's a really fine exploration of forgiveness, redemption, and community.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Double-check those figures?

18 July 2017: "Thousands." --my niece, Krista, telling me how many guests she was going to have for her birthday party in November, when she turns 5. Love that optimism!

Monday, July 17, 2017

"The Pool and the Stream"

17 July 2017: “Architecture and its details are in some way all part of biology. Perhaps they are, for instance, like some big salmon or trout. They are not born fully grown; they are not even born in the sea or water where they normally live. They are born hundreds of miles away from their home grounds, where the rivers narrow to tiny streams. Just as it takes time for a speck of fish spawn to mature into a fully-grown fish, so we need time for everything that develops and crystallizes in our world of ideas.” --Alvar Aalto, quoted in this episode of 99% Invisible

I finished listening to this one this morning on my walk. It's a fun and charming episode, connecting modern architecture, swimming pools, and skate boarding. Give it a listen.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Big Sick

16 July 2017: “I am completely overwhelmed by you." --Emily to Kumail, in The Big Sick.

Man, did I love this movie! And that line made me swoon a bit because that's what it's like when you are really into someone new, right? (And I am such a softy...) But seriously: see this movie!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Jane Austen Tea Party

15 July 2017: “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you." --Darcy to Elizabeth, Pride and Prejudice

Today my friend Carrie and I led a discussion of Jane Austen at a library fundraiser. The above passage--on lots of people's "favorites" list--came up during the discussion. To tell the truth, I was a bit nervous going into the event, not knowing what to expect. But I should have expected that the people of this cool little town would show up with their A games, and they sure did.

Friday, July 14, 2017

"If We Were Vampires"

14 July 2017:

"If we were vampires and death was a joke
We'd go out on the sidewalk and smoke
Laugh at all the lovers and their plans
I wouldn't feel the need to hold your hand
Maybe time running out is a gift
I'll work hard 'til the end of my shift
And give you every second I can find
And hope it isn't me who's left behind" --Jason Isbell, "If We Were Vampires"

Heard about this song on the latest episode of Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs (the episode is actually about Ben Folds' "The Luckiest") and the hosts' lovely personal reflections on it convinced me to have a listen. It's an absolutely sigh-worthy song even if it makes me a bit (or a lot) envious about relating to it only in an aspirational sense.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Catching up...

13 July 2017: "I gave a snake a bath." --my friend Bethany, talking about her adventures working at a pet store. That's a sentence I will never say.

Catching up with her tonight put a nice stamp on an otherwise quiet day.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

"We are not scared..."

12 July 2017: "We are talking about our lives here. When the NRA issues a public call to their constituents inciting violence against people who are constitutionally fighting for their lives, we don’t take that lightly. We know that we are not safe. But we are not scared, either.” --Funmilola Fagbamila, BLM LA

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

"Like Castanets"

11 July 2017:

"Across the Mapocho
Santa Lucia
Barrio Bella vista
San Cristobal
Across the Mapocho
La Moneda
La Casa de Neruda

And on the cable car I climb
Up to the sacred virgin shrine
This city's smothered in the smog
The snippy-snap of wild dogs
Like Castanets" --Bishop Allen, "Like Castanets"

Two Bishop Allen songs in a week? I know...not a lot of variety, but as I find myself plugging away at my portfolio for promotion (to full professor--yikes!), I also found my feet doing some serious bopping and dancing (chair-dancing, of course) as this fun number played in the background--especially once the lyrics above start. It's a perfect little mellow summer song, I think--also perfect for doing sort of mindless yet important paperwork on a hot summer day.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming

10 July 2017: "Can't you just be a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man?" --Tony Stark, to Peter Park, in Spider-Man: Homecoming.

I don't normally go for super-hero movies, but I always enjoy Spider-Man films. I was talking with my friend about this today (after we saw the latest one) and I think it's because of who Spider-Man is--just a nerdy kid from Queens...just a "friendly neighborhood Spider-Man," as the cliche explains.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

20th Century Women

9 July 2017: "I thought we were doing just fine, though, just me and you." --Jamie, to Dorothea, his mother, in a very sweet moment in 20th Century Women.

Feeling that usual Sunday-evening malaise coming on, I decided to watch 20th Century Women, about which I had heard so many good things. It's a lovely movie--and yes, Annette Bening deserves so many awards.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

"If you have to be a floor..."

8 July 2017: "If you be a room, be a room where people dance. If you have to be a floor, be a dance floor." --Nate DiMeo, in this lovely yet bittersweet episode of The Memory Palace.

Friday, July 7, 2017

"Butterfly Nets"

7 July 2017:

"Up & up you go
For to steal the secrets of the heavens
Will you share them with me
My bright & brilliant spy?

Should you be blown back
Know that i will always run to greet you
Still surprised to catch you
Every time
Still surprised to catch you
By & by & by & by --" --Bishop Allen, "Butterfly Nets"

Thursday, July 6, 2017

"when you have forgotten Sunday: the love story"

6 July 2017:

"—And when you have forgotten the bright bedclothes on a Wednesday and a Saturday, 
And most especially when you have forgotten Sunday— 
When you have forgotten Sunday halves in bed, 
Or me sitting on the front-room radiator in the limping afternoon 
Looking off down the long street 
To nowhere, 
Hugged by my plain old wrapper of no-expectation 
And nothing-I-have-to-do and I’m-happy-why? 
And if-Monday-never-had-to-come— 
When you have forgotten that, I say, 
And how you swore, if somebody beeped the bell, 
And how my heart played hopscotch if the telephone rang; 
And how we finally went in to Sunday dinner, 
That is to say, went across the front room floor to the ink-spotted table in the southwest corner 
To Sunday dinner, which was always chicken and noodles 
Or chicken and rice 
And salad and rye bread and tea 
And chocolate chip cookies— 
I say, when you have forgotten that, 
When you have forgotten my little presentiment 
That the war would be over before they got to you; 
And how we finally undressed and whipped out the light and flowed into bed, 
And lay loose-limbed for a moment in the week-end 
Bright bedclothes, 
Then gently folded into each other— 
When you have, I say, forgotten all that, 
Then you may tell, 
Then I may believe 
You have forgotten me well." --Gwendolyn Brooks, "when you have forgotten Sunday: the love story"

I heard this poem first thing this morning, listening to this audio version, and kind of took my breath away. You see the ending coming--the title gives it away--but it builds and builds through accretion of detail as this feeling of inevitable loss competes with a sense of hope. The speaker is holding onto the idea that her beloved will not forget these Sundays--she can't imagine that he would--but she's also imagining just that. And the fact that it's a war poem adds more layers of complexity. Stunning.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017


“These are the words that Amanda used. But even at the time none seemed to fully capture the feeling Amanda has about her child and her child’s death. Those feelings were larger than the concepts could contain. They floated in and around her, a great indistinct mass of pleasant and painful sensations.” –Alix Spiegel in the first episode of the latest season of Invisibilia.

This bit comes towards the end of the episode—a fascinating discussion of rethinking the entire idea of emotions—as Alix reflects on a grieving mother’s complex emotions years after the loss of her little child. It also serves as a lovely reminder of what makes language both exciting and limiting. In fact, though I have just started the season today, I think it might be quite interesting to someone interested in deconstruction—the way language creates thought and meaning, etc. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Master of None

4 July 2017: "I don't even know if it's about her. I just--I miss that feeling. When we were together doing all that stuff...I felt really connected to somebody. And it felt good. Now I just feel fucking alone." --Dev to Arnold, in the last episode of Master of None.

Oh man, this season of Master of None was just amazing. I can't say enough about it. Tonight, I finished it up watching the last two episodes, those focusing on Dev's relationship with Francesca. They are sweet, funny, stunningly romantic and heartbreaking. What a great example of art that is so very specific yet, through that specificity, taps into something universal. The way the tension builds and builds in the penultimate episode but doesn't resolve...that's life, isn't it? And Dev making lists in the finale to help him get over her? Well, as a compulsive list-maker, let's just say I could relate.

Apparently, Aziz says they might be done with this series. If they are, I get it. I am just grateful for the 20 episodes we got, especially these last ten.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Firefly therapy...

3 July 2017:

"When I saw you standing there on the street
I found myself by your side
I started wanting you again
There's just no way to hide from that old
Loving You feeling again
It's really got me reeling again
It only seems to stop to start all over again with you." --Roy Orbison and Emmylou Harris, "That Lovin' You Feeling Again"

Feeling a bit out of sorts tonight, so I sat outside as it cooled down, watching fireflies, listening to my iPod, and just thinking. Emmylou's music, particularly her duets, kind of hit the spot.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

"It is so beautifully written, it sings itself"

2 July 2017:

"The song opens with the line 'I may not always love you.'

Forget for a moment the audacity of beginning a love song with that phrase. Consider what it means when hitched to what follows:

I may not always love you,
But long as there are stars above you,
You’ll never need to doubt it.
I’ll make you so sure about it.

We see two people here, together, at this moment and what they have is profound, and as long as the universe exists, whether or not they remain together, she will know the depth and strength of his love.

Why? Because he needs her...

'God Only Knows' is, at the same time, a mature proclamation of love and another desperate plea. And it’s a distillation of what much of Pet Sounds is about: the sense that if we surrender to an all-consuming love, we will never be able to live without it. And, though we’re uncertain that the reward is worth the risk, we yearn to surrender."

Today's entry is a combo listening/reading post, I guess. I was feeling Sunday-afternoon-serious-and-contemplative and stumbled across this perfect close reading of one of my favorite songs. I remember as a kid, the first time I actually thought about that first line and went "huh?" And then I listened more closely and admired the turn it takes, even if (as a kid) I didn't quite get it. I think the piece's writer has got it here: it seems so foolish to hope for/in love, but we kind of can't help ourselves and just want to risk it and beat those odds.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Blueberry picking...

1 July 2017: "This is fun." --my friend's daughter, while we were blueberry picking earlier today. It is really nice to have some kids around every once in awhile, especially cool kids like my friend's. They help you see things anew, you know?