To hellholes and back

I wanted to pull out my favorite parts of To Hellholes and Back: Bribes, Lies, and the Art of Extreme Tourism by Chuck Thompson to tell you why I liked this book so I sat down to flip through its pages again. Three hours later I was on page 77, devouring each chapter new. I should have underlined my favorite passages but instead was transcribing entire paragraphs and pages into my journal like homework, but happier. Chuck Thompson is FUN-NAY.

If you've ever, like me, done stupid crap while traveling - hopped in the pickup of strange men I met while they were machete-ing a snake to death on the side of the Mexican highway, or spent way more time with arms dealers and drug traffickers than my naive dumb ass ever should have let happen - then you will probably appreciate Chuck's approach to travel. Not that he was really out of line because STUFF JUST HAPPENS when you choose to go to places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo over, say, Club Med. The only exception possibly being when Chuck wrote of leaving his safari group and guides to wander through the plains alone. Whaaat? That chapter made my hair stand on end; I apparently fear lions more than I do Interpol.

The four locations he writes about are those he spent a year investigating solely because he was afraid of them. And, of course, maybe for reasons he wasn't fully aware of at first and needed a strong dose of travel-inspired reflection to tap into.

1. Africa
2. India
3. Mexico City
4. Disney World

There were surprises, none more unexpected to me than his reaction to Disney World. If a man who says, "And no, it doesn't make me un-American to have assiduously avoided setting foot in a fabricated dream patch plopped in the middle of a morally rudderless state of bogus elections with a half-baked citizenry who think absolutely nothing of supporting an idiotic fifty-year embargo of Cuba or taking the Camaro with the slave-days flag decals to the corner market for a pack of smokes without bothering to put their shirts on. So, Disney," can end up liking Miley Cyrus then none of us should presume to take anything for granted.


Lauging quietly to myself

About the topics of books I'm reading right now:

- Southern cooking
- Vegetarian cooking by my friend Lukas
- Espionage, intel, the FBI
- Country music


APTBS Part 2

A Place to Bury Strangers @ High Watt, Nashville

Hunters, the punk-flavored openers. Sadly I didn't get any good shots of singer Isabel Almeida crawling and/or writhing around on the floor. The only thing I didn't like about Hunters were Isabel's pockets hanging out from underneath her short jean shorts. I refrained from asking the bartender if I could borrow scissors and climbing onstage to snip off the offending two inches of fabric. It bugs me more than it should but I did not fixate because the music was too good for such triviality.

And then A Place To Bury Strangers came on.

Audio Source / Decibel Level courtesy of Logan Donaldson

Angels getting their wings / 0.02 dB
The Gentle Crackle of Rustling Fall Leaves / 10 dB
Careless whispers & sweet nothings / 20 dB
A disgusting, quaint ukulele cover of a Train song / 40 dB
"Normal" Conversation / 60 dB
That guy in a music shop that can only play "Smells Like Teen Spirit" / 85 dB
Orchestra / 98 dB
Electric Light Orchestra 100 dB
Assholes that rev their motorcycles at stoplights/ 105 dB
** Threshold of Pain reached**
Front row of most concerts / 110dB
Powersaws / 110 dB
Sleigh Bells / 120 dB
A Place To Bury Strangers / 130 dB
Gunblast / 140 dB
Perforation of Eardrums i.e. instantaneous, possibly permanent hearing damage / 160 dB

This is me staring at the empty stage hoping that they'd come back out (they didn't).

Part 1 here

Barista Parlor

East Nashville


Neill helps

Neill "helping" fold towels looks suspiciously like undoing all of mom's work.


Laughing quietly to myself

About how my friend was researching online for a new Glock to buy when he looked up and said he doesn't like the movie Kill Bill because it's too violent. Welcome to Tennessee, y'all!


It's Ontario, bro

Also in Canada last weekend

I met two people three days and 50 decades apart who were both born in Prince Edward Island but from Alabama. So that happens a lot, then?

The band Alabama closed the show after us onstage. There was a lot of Alabama afoot.

I realized again, it happens every time I go up there, that I really like Canada and mentioned this to my husband. He said, "You want to move AGAIN?" "No, I'm just saying we should get in on a Canadian time share or some shit." Spend a few quality weeks every year.

I don't know if something in particular provoked me or if it was just relative distance from America but I couldn't stop thinking politics. Quite literally, I laid in my bed and fumed.

1. Why is it "patriotic" to blame and villanize people from other countries for taking our jobs but perfectly fine for corporations to move their factories to other countries in order to pay people a fraction of what they would pay an American worker?

2. Why is it standard to complain about taxes and how we're being bled by the government but a-ok for our corporations to bank outside of the US and use loopholes to avoid taxes? Why wave your ham-handed fists at people desperate to work and survive and not the guy with four yachts who's doing much more to harm our collective good by giving back next to nothing?

3. I fully believe in higher taxes when collected by governments that take care of its people. I'm talking Sweden, Germany, and a host of other countries I'm not personally acquainted with. IT'S NOT COMMUNISM OR SOCIALISM if you can think what you want, say what you think, create what you imagine, study what you're interested in, and work in the job you're empassioned by. That's what I would term a healthy society, a social democracy.

I had a moment where I thought, "Oh, but Canada doesn't feel as diverse as I'd like," and then realized that maybe I was generalizing since I was on a small somewhat isolated island and ALSO: Canada wasn't as gung ho about African slavery as America. I'm bothered by the lack of "diversity" that is actually a sign of less slave trade? What kind of fucked up logic is that? I took it back (to myself, and now you).

On a less fumey note, the number of nice, nice people who said the following, sounding like sweet crosses between a scene from Fargo and a Kids in the Hall skit:

Jeepers creepers!

Holy moly!

Holy smokes!

Oh geez!

And finally, the teenaged boys in the row behind me on the flight out from PE Island to Toronto who were all up-talking like crazy but managed to sound endearing and not like abhorrent valley girls. One of them had never been out of the Maritimes (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, PE Island) and was goggle-eyed as Toronto spread out below us.

"Geez, everyone in Toronto has a swimming pool?"

"It's Ontario, bro."

Anne of Green Gables

I spent the weekend in Canada on Prince Edward Island, the source of inspiration and setting of L.M Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables book series which is exactly what I thought of and what every person said, "Anne of Green Gables!" when I told them I was going to PE Island. I haven't read an Anne book in a long time but my mind instantly conjured images of a lively red-headed girl in a white smock, a boy named Gilbert, and Anne's "bosom" friend, Diana of the raven hair. I thought maybe I was belatedly clutching onto the symbol of a place whose time had passed and that the island itself would be nonchalant about that claim to fame but no, not so. Lucy Maud Montgomery brought her island's land and character to readers all over the world and the island's 140,000 residents are proud of Anne Shirley.

I walked to one of the main streets in town from the hotel my first night there, turned onto Queen Street and saw the theater's banners for the Anne of Green Gables musical currently in its summer run. On the corner of Richmond Street the Anne of Green Gables store sold Anne-inspired clothes, food, bricabrac and books. I read that Anne books are required reading in Japanese schools and that Japanese tourists pour onto the Island to visit the Avonlea farm in Cavendish, some with their hair dyed red and in braids, Anne style, and I confirmed this today with a French-Canadian friend who used to live in Tokyo. I couldn't help feeling twinges of excitement as the van driving me and the band got further out of Charlottetown and closer to Cavendish and our destination, the Cavendish Beach Music Festival, right in Avonlea. "This is where it happened!" I thought.

Or didn't happen, since the books are fiction based loosely on LM Montgomery's life and people she knew in the late nineteenth century. But it didn't matter because I was young when I read those books and when I read as a kid, I lost myself in stories. It was real to me. It didn't matter if my mom was calling me for dinner a few feet away, the roof was being shredded by a tornado, the first floor on fire, with gutter rats nibbling at my heels. I READ HARD. And Anne Shirley was kind of a bad ass; she was always getting into trouble for being a spitfire with the kind of curiosity and imagination and action that bothers people who prefer the stolid status quo. I totally wanted to be her or be friends with her.


July 4

For the past seven years I worked on July 4 and cracked the occasional dumb joke about how the British company that paid us was keeping us from celebrating Independence Day. Then the company wasn't British anymore but we were still working and the Americans didn't bother either about the holiday, not that I cared much myself. That being said, it was sensational to be off this summer on July 4 in Nashville, eating good food at the Pharmacy Burger Parlor, drinking good drinks at No. 308 bar, trying to plunge people into the water at the dunking booth, and climbing on top of the roof of a paint company to watch the tippy tops of fireworks going off downtown.


Week off Pt. II

Week off

I have a week off from work. THANK YOU, JESUS as they say in these parts. I've done everything possible to tackle and anticipate ongoing paperwork so I don't do what I do on most days that I'm "off", that is, work all day and go out for food and drinks at night just to get out of the house. I now know that I've been successful at creating this week's space for myself but I had a panic before I left home for a trip earlier this week, panic brought on from fear that I wouldn't actually have a vacation because I had to have forgotten something.

Originally we thought about traveling somewhere this week, to visit Miguel in the Canary Islands, to Montreal, or Nova Scotia. The longer we researched and put off buying plane tickets, the more we realized - Matthew was the first to conclude it - that the thought of traveling was the problem. The best vacation I could possibly have now is to just be home, enjoying being home, being in this city.

I want to lounge on the couch, feet up on the ottoman and a cup of coffee in my hand, having long meandering conversations that aren't cut short by urgenturgenturgent emails and phone calls. I'm going on a date to the Adventure Science Center, playing with my new drum kit, sitting in coffee shops blogging, writing letters, making mix CDs and writing postcards. I'm cooking dinner. Shit, I'm helping Matthew clean the house. I've done my own laundry once since February and cleaned never, which isn't exactly a complaint; it just shows how separate I am from my home. Yesterday I thought, "I really need to wash my hair. When did I last wash it, in South Carolina or Florida?"

Here's a worse question, one that Matthew has asked me, "Where's the girl I met?"

That girl took long walks and long breaks and had a pretty good sense of balance. I was well acquainted with the thoughts in my head then whereas now I forget most details unless I'm getting paid to remember: monetized memory. I used to give as much energy to myself as much as I gave to others. The loss of my habits and qualities was gradual and it is also, I believe, reversible. And nothing tells me that I need to give some attention to regaining these losses than the fact that I was on verge of tears earlier this week just imagining the prospect of having time to be me.


At the end of May I checked into a hotel in Los Angeles, a hotel where I've spent months and months of nights in the past. I have all my favorite spots to walk to from the hotel, the place I buy groceries for the minibar fridge, and the sales manager I hug when I see. I'm totally comfortable in this place. When I got to my room in May, I went out to sit on the balcony and put my feet up on the railing. After a few moments of staring into the trees I realized that it was a year almost to the day that I checked into the same hotel to kick off last summer's season of touring. Checking in then meant that I wouldn't be home for months. Now it's better - I'm usually home a couple of days a week - but what struck me most was that the date meant I had been going, going, gone for a solid 365. So this is what that feels like.


Last night I watched an episode of True Blood and struggled to follow the plot (see: the memory loss I was talking about) but was quite taken with a sexy new character Salome Agrippa. It wasn't just her classic Mediterranean profile or vampiric composure. It wasn't her seduction of Bill, Eric, and that actor from Law & Order: SVU. It was her line, "We always have choices." She actually said it twice and it felt like she was making sure that I caught it. I was also quite drawn in when she spoke in first person about Biblical events and had to hit pause, "MY GOD, living for 2000 years? Are you kidding me? How on earth do you remember everything that's happened?" But the thing about choices, and I know life lessons from True Blood may be a touch out of context but hell, I'll take it where I can get it, if we always have choices, am I choosing to be this busy? How can I choose to manage myself better? Or is this the best thing I can do right now for reasons greater than too bad I don't have time to walk around and sit under trees writing my feelings in a journal? Am I just being an adult?


This morning I sat on the couch with my feet on the ottoman and had a long meandering conversation with Matthew that led me to tell him how in sixth grade Sunny and I wrote promises to ourselves on the underside of the table we worked at in our classroom. I told him, "We took these promises seriously because, you know, we wrote them in marker." The two I recall are:



The Acorn was a shop in Hyde Park, the neighborhood we both grew up in, stocked with clothes for golfing and lunching at the country club.

"Have you ever bought clothes at The Acorn?" he asked.

"No, but I bought a few things at Ann Taylor Loft."

"Well, it was for work," he said.

When I was a kid, I had ideas about adulthood and who I'd be when I got here. And in many ways, I'm pretty damn close to who I wanted to grow into. Some surface details have been big surprises but I arrived here today fully through my character: following my emotions and intuition more often than being practical, taking risks, planning only as little as was necessary, and letting unexpected turns take me for a ride. I'm as happily anchored as I've ever been with a husband and city I love and want to stay in. He's a natural planner and that might be rubbing off on me a little. I mean, I'm the one who's glued to real estate listings and wants to buy a house. That's a FIRST.

The main discord at odds with who I imagined I'd be in 1987 and how I want to live now is that I'm just not tuned to be a workaholic. To be clear: I like working hard and I'm good at it. But at the expense of my mental health or my relationships, for long periods of time with no end in sight? No. That page is not in my atlas. A phrase I've been using way too much lately is "happy medium". The happy medium is somewhere between being stagnant and being burnt out and neurotic. My happy medium is a place where I'm learning and growing but not fractured. So that's what this week is, a cast. I hope you can sign your name on it.


Yes! Jess

I took this sign from a street corner while everyone else was at In-N-Out south of Santa Barbara after a show and had it propped up in the front lounge when they got back on the bus. Having now taken this photo I know that if I ever run for U.S. Congress, I already have a slogan and Rob and Jason's votes.


A few weeks ago I was walking through the loading dock of an arena in Birmingham, AL when a man with shoulder-length lank grey hair, chin stubble, and a Rasta bracelet told me to smile, sweetheart. I didn't recognize him but had the feeling that I should. In retrospect I think he was a local stagehand but something about him seemed familiar, like he was crew guy on Aldean's team who I'd forgotten over the six-week break from their tour. Aldean's crew and management are fantastic so I didn't want to be dick but I felt a surge of old, uncomfortable emotions associated with being told to smile that I tried to cover up.

"What?" I said, forcing a smile.

"I've seen you walking around and you need to smile more. Enjoy life. Enjoy your job!"

He said something about always having positive energy and prodded me to agree with him. I mumbled, "Yeah, positive energy," and got out of there before he produced a bongo and started singing but I was pissed, at myself and him. For reasons I wasn't entirely sure of, I'd let him tell me how to be. I'd agreed to let him boss my face around. My stomach hollowed out and my skin went hot and as I was walking away I sent Matthew texts.

"Some fucker just told me to smile."

"And of course it was an know-it-all old man."

This has happened many times before but not recently so I wasn't prepared. It's always annoyed me but it feels much worse now. Being asked what was wrong as I walked down the hall in high school was an easy fix: "Nothing! Why? Oh, that's just my face." In college in Ecuador, men on the street told me to smile and I went through a phase of baring my teeth like a rabid dog, a grotesque imitation of a smile. The older man pattern began to show itself in Seattle when I was a bartender. They were usually middle-aged or more and often sailors or construction workers and it was in a divey Irish pub where we were allowed to cut people off and kick them out and tell them to fuck off if necessary. Most of the bartenders were tough bitches - shit, I was scared on my first shift - and in no way should the customers have expected me to smile if I didn't feel like it or kiss their asses in any way so I told them as much.

And that is when I started noticing that I've never been told by anyone female to smile more. Always and only men.

In Birmingham last month, I wondered why it's been so long since I've faced this and why I was subsequently so caught off guard. I can't remember ever being told on Idol to smile so either I smiled more or people knew me better and didn't expect that, both of which are very possible. The Aldean stagehand didn't know me or what I do as he watched me walking through the loading dock that day. Then I thought of something that ratcheted up my anger: I SERIOUSLY FUCKING DOUBT THAT HE'S TELLING ALDEAN'S MALE TOUR MANAGER OR PRODUCTION MANAGER TO SMILE.

There is no way. No, those guys have jobs to do and a lot to manage and be responsible for and may not be concerned with spreading joy and light as they move from one task to another. They have to work hard! But I'm supposed to entertain some dude's desire for levity? Oh, hell. Aldean's managers are great at their jobs and I've seen them smile and laugh when something makes them laugh; the rest of the time they're busting ass, all business. I don't think that has anything to do with whether they enjoy life or their jobs or if they're clowns in their off time. Nor do I think the absence of a smile signals negativity. Absorption, contemplation, concentration: take your pick. Anyway, it's not really that guy's business.

Not that I said any of this to the stagehand, of course. I'm still out of practice and the thought still burns me. What do I say? I don't want to get mad or defensive. I want to just calmly, swiftly shut him down. I don't want to agree and play along. I'd love to make him think and I'm definitely not opposed to making him feel stupid. Any thoughts?



Ever since moving to Nashville I've wanted to do a photo project of the signs on Jefferson St. but haven't yet made the time to to walk the street and document the awesomeness so I have just one right now. This below - for Munchy's - is the original, the first sign I saw in the neighborhood when I was in Nashville for work before we moved, driving around with no idea of where I was. That time, and often since, I was compelled to read it out loud in a voice deeper and more male than my own. It's almost a growl. If I'm driving with Matthew, he'll chime in.



LOL Lyrics

A friend gave Matthew a giant rap and hip hop mix which we've had in the car and the first time we drove around Nashville listening I was cracking up, hard. A few choice lyrics that really did make me laugh from Wallpaper, Spank Rock and Tyga are below. When I listen closely to the whole songs though, and pay attention to all the words, I get bummed out because they're often misogynistic and stereotypical. Peaches, on the other hand, I LOVE. She, too, is crude but she's creative and sticks tired old gender norms up her a-double-s.

"Get chicks at the farmers' market / white girls buy produce / take them home, make them drink Grey Goose / white boy wasted / glue stick pasted / stupid faced-ed" - Wallpaper, STUPidFACEDD

"Did a full strut / when we pulled up / she said she like D's / I said Deeeez Nuts" - Spank Rock, Loose

"I got ya grandma on my dick" - Tyga, Rack City

"You think that it's a synch / to get up in my ginch" - Peaches, The Inch

Note: I've never felt older than when I just Googled ginch. I was pretty sure I knew what it meant due to context clues but I wanted to be certain. And yea, I was right.

"Gonna sell those tickets advance, baby / an immense gig up in your pants, baby / the tent's so big in your pants, baby" - Peaches, Tent In Your Pants

"I think your mac needs a lot more ram / be my Moog and I'll twiddle your knob / be my corn and I'll nibble your cob" - Peaches, Hit It Hard

I'm a little ambitious / and I want my wishes / so I gotta fuckticious / Sid Vicious / doing all my dirty dishes" - Peaches, Bag It

"You can pat my ben / pat my ben / pat my ben-a-tar" - Peaches, Stick It To The Pimp

Hoff sighting

Hoff sighting in a LA promoter office yesterday. This post is dedicated to Neil Rinden, with whom I recently had a text conversation based on the premise of someone overdosing on Zoloft while pregnant with siamese quadruplets fathered by David Hasselhoff. I DON'T KNOW, I THINK I WAS TIRED.


Let's talk about taxes

"I wish I brought gold stars," our new tax accountant said. She was sitting in our living room, going through my piles of paper, receipts that were scanned, blown up to 8x10, and separated by category. "You're so prepared, you're making my job easy." I wasn't sure I heard her right but wanted to hug her, just in case.

This time last year my stomach was a mess of nerves from letters we got from the IRS and emails from our tax accountant. We owed XXXX to the state and XXXX to the feds, totaling approximately XXXXX more dollars than we had in savings. We signed paperwork pledging our intention to begin the government payment plan at a frightening interest rate and called the IRS to make sure we were doing everything correctly - their letters are dense and minimally readable to us, two fairly literate people. The woman on the phone warned us. We'd get snowed, she said. It'd be better to take out a bank loan and pay the bank back over time than owe mounting sums to the government. I wanted to puke.

But we were so lucky. Yes, we'd moved across the country from a cheap state (KY) to an expensive one (CA) thinking that it would be better for my job. We'd decided that it was worth my husband quitting his job, not realizing how hard it would be for him to get another library position, and we were paying far more money in rent and insurance and just about everything except for gas since we walked (me) or skateboarded (Matthew) to most places in Oceanside. We were lucky because even though we'd blown our money, tax season was just a few months before my work season so within a few months we'd be able to start turning my paychecks over to the IRS to get out of debt. This was by no means a fun process but it was doable because I earned the majority of my income in the summer. With most jobs, that would have been impossible. Of course, the job I have now caused the problem in the first place.

The only time in my life I've known exactly how much money I made was when I had a fixed salary publishing job. I was the representative for our union there for awhile and signed off on paperwork lobbying for tiny raises, amounts like $10 a week that didn't affect anyone's lifestyle or livelihood. Drinking money, we called it. At every other point, I worked for cash or several jobs at once and the yearly total fluctuated wildly so I just always lived within my means, whatever those means were. Without a clear concept of how much I made or needed to make, I just lived simply and saved enough to do things I wanted without worrying. I realize now what an enviable position that was even if I was never rich. I always got a small tax refund back at the end of the year and didn't give it much more thought.

In the past few years, however, a series of misfilings and underreportings kicked off my tax problems. Without directly causing the problems - I didn't know not enough taxes were being withheld and didn't know important documents hadn't been sent to me to file - I still wasn't savvy enough to catch anyone's mistakes. I'd had friends tell me to start tracking deductions but I never quite understood what that meant and how much it would benefit me so I continued to hum lalalala in my head while they gave me advice. I do have to take responsibility for being that willfully ignorant. When the IRS letters started arriving in the mail, I panicked. I was stressed and felt stupid and in that state fled to the self-help aisle in Barnes & Noble.


This book reminded me a lot of something I would be terribly embarrassed to buy. I had to take off the jacket cover because I couldn't bear to see Stacy Kaiser smiling at me, head cocked to the side with her perfect hair, perfect eye make up, perfect teeth. Perfect grown up, unlike me. The book's blue binding, stripped of its cover, sat on the bookshelf next to my bed and I looked at it from time to time and thought about how I should read it. I tried, once, and walked away aggravated. I'm not saying it's a bad book; I didn't read enough to fairly judge it. I just wanted to unlock the secrets of taxes not take a quiz on whether I was a "fully loaded" adult overall. I donated the book to Goodwill and went to the public library where I checked out J.K. Lasser's 1001 Deductions and Tax Breaks 2011: Your Complete Guide to Everything Deductible. Woo! Down the street to Pierview Coffeeshop I went to drink a gallon of coffee, read the entire book, and type up ten pages of notes.

When we moved to Nashville I got the name of a local tax accountant who's familiar with music touring from the business side. I'd been saving receipts all year: moving expenses, business purchases, health care, phone bills, charitable donations. The weekend before she made her house call to us - An accountant who comes to you and then fills your ears with praise? Yes please! - we went through everything and got out the scanner, printer, paperclips, highlighters, and post it notes. Then we waited with a certain amount of dread. Helene showed up, sat on the couch, and spread everything out on the ottoman. She asked us good questions and gave us good info. When she left, I had a moment. "She gets me. She gets us!" It was more or less ridiculous. What wasn't ridiculous is that we broke even and Helene charged us less for her work than her initial quote. Because I made her job THAT EASY, I'd like to think. Thank you J.K. Lasser, maybe next time How To Be a Grown Up.


Lawnmowers and wedding ponchos

Blogger just redid its format so I can see all the drafts of posts that I've started without publishing or deleting over the years and I just found this line from November 2009: I may be in denial but I still refuse to believe that I need a binder to plan a wedding. God, I'm stubborn sometimes. Enough people tell me I need a binder and I will steadfastly refuse to buy (into) it. My wedding was a still screaming success but that binder represented something much larger to me, as do lawnmowers.

I can't remember ever consciously thinking about lawnmowers but when we rented this house in Nashville with a yard and Matthew mentioned buying a lawnmower, I FLIPPED. I instantly hit a wall of hatred for lawnmowers and I straight-up refused to buy one, or at least a large, loud, gas-powered one. "Fuck lawnmowers," I believe I put it. Because I'm not completely irrational, I admitted that our house is attached to a yard, a yard we'd been thinking would be awesome for Patsy, and that it needed to be mowed but I would only consider a hand-pushed rotary blade mower. Or scissors. "I will get down on my hands and knees and cut every blade of grass in sight with scissors before I buy a big lawnmower."

Matthew was intrigued by my vehemence and probed at my reasoning: Was it the expense? The environment? The noise? Did the lawnmower represent the suburbs and I was recoiling out of some sort of urban principle? No, yes, yes, and yes again. I don't care for big yards. If I'm going to have a yard, I'd prefer some trees, flowers, vegetables and rocks to keep it from being so grassy. And if I do have a lot of grass, I'd prefer to also have some sort of grazing animal who keeps that shit in check. Note: Patsy has been grazing. She bites at the grass with an OCD-like tic when she gets excited but then she comes inside and pukes so the positive is outweighed by the vomit. In the end we didn't get any lawnmower because our landlord gave us the number of a guy who will cut the lawn for us. Matthew's allergies have kicked in so badly here that he can barely breathe at times and I'm rarely home so this is the best option for now.

Now, back to weddings! Everyone knows that when I got engaged, I dreaded all the fuss. I was extremely self-conscious about telling people at first because the news often elicits a lot of squealing and "let me see the ring"s and it made me uncomfortable. If I were in a rom com, I would be the friend of Jennifer Aniston who rolls her eyes and smokes a lot of cigarettes. Mandy once likened me to Miranda from Sex in the City. My close friends all get it and buffered their comments like this, "I know how you are but I'm soooooo excited for you!" And that was just fine. People who don't know me quite as well have told me not to be "too cool for school" and that I'm "trying" to be some way. I can usually brush it off or explain myself but every now and then it totally gets to me and I've cried to Matthew, literally tears rolling down my face, that I'm not trying to be anything. I'M BEING MYSELF. Ask my mom. I was like this in f'ing preschool. I declined her offer to go to Disney World when I was ten. Sometimes I wish I knew how to be more gushy. I wish I loved costume parties, board games, team sports, and lawnmowers but I just don't.


Sara gave us a framed photo for our wedding, a photo of a fence. Handwritten in cursive underneath is something along the lines of tearing down our heart-fences and how we will not be safe but we will be saved. We didn't put it up in our Kentucky home but it hung in the hallway in Oceanside and it's in our bedroom in Nashville. I sent her a photo of it the other day when I was lying in bed looking at it. She wrote back and said she was happy I liked it, that she thought it might be too cheesy for me when she bought it. "Even I let the cheese in sometimes," I wrote back.

Two of my friends were recently engaged. I heard about Casey first and I pretty much started jumping up and down and had to call her because I was in Tennessee but if we'd been in the same city, it's possible that I would have squealed right in her face. How's that for a turn of events? I'm really, really happy for her. A bit later I called her back and left a long message on the topic of engagement photo shoots and how so many people not only do them but seem to find themselves picnicking in their shoots. I'm guessing, but I doubt most of these couples ever go on picnics until they get engaged and the next thing you know they're sitting on a blanket in a field, cracking up, holding hands, and feeding each other grapes. Because Casey's sense of humor is similar to mine, I think her and Bob's engagement picnic would be hilarious so I offered to fund the shoot. She hasn't gotten back to me on that. She did, however, send me an incredible photo the other day. A few months back we had a long, protracted Facebook exchange on the subject of ponchos when I bought a poncho on impulse and was still grappling with the implications. Yes, ponchos have implications. Casey was all for the poncho even though it was vaguely reminiscent of the baha circa 1995 and when she got engaged I said I'd get her a wedding poncho.

WELL, THEY EXIST. Who am I to make jokes about a wedding poncho? Or bridal cape as this Etsy shop calls it.


My favorite book so far this year: Pulphead by John Jeremiah Sullivan. I found it at Parnassus Books, an independent book store in Nashville opened by Ann Patchett and Karen Hayes, and until these essays I had no clue I was so interested in Bunny Wailer, Christian rock festivals, ancient cave paintings in Tennessee, Tea Party marches, strange and violent animal behavior, the One Tree Hill house in Wilmington, DE, Michael Jackson, the questionable death of a census worker in Eastern Kentucky, long-lost Blues recordings, or the forgotten work and possibly repugnant personality of French German naturalist Constantine Rafinesque. Oh, and Axl Rose.

Athens of the South

Before Nashville was Music City, it was called Athens of the South because it had more institutions of higher education than any other Southern city in the 19th century, the first public school system in the South, and an educational leader who aimed to bring the classics to Tennessee via the study of Greek, Latin, and Philosophy. When the time came for the state to celebrate its 100th birthday in 1895, Nashville had an expo and built an exact replica of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece, minus the ruins. Today it stands in Centennial Park.

Laughing quietly to myself

About how I sat on the couch yesterday and teared up because I loved the song Matthew played for me on vinyl. When we got back from the bar last night, I did some research and found out it's a cover from MIAMI VICE. I am forced to admit that the song, Crockett's Theme, originally by Jan Hammer, covered by FPU then remixed by Tiga, a song (FPU version) I was already starting to think of as my song might be best accompanied by a shot of Don Johnson walking down the beach in a white blazer and lavender pants.


Laughing quietly to myself

About how I thought I was texting Matthew but accidentally wrote our van driver in Scranton and 1) called him baby and 2) told him that the more I thought about it the more I liked the idea of vacationing in Canada. "I don't even know your name," he said after reading the texts aloud to everyone in the van. Thanks, Phil.


Matty does stuff like this.


California and back mix

This time last year I thought about putting together a mix called Coast Highway. We were a few months into our California year and I was spending a good amount of time driving up and down the Coast Highway and I-5, playing music in the car and thinking about how scenery affects my choices. In footwear: I was regularly wearing flip flops even though I don't like flip flops. In music: it got sunnier to match the relentless beam of Southern California light. I still adored the darker stuff but it was harder to connect to in such proximity to so many stoned surfers. On our drive back towards Ohio and Nashville in December, I considered but didn't follow through on making an I-40 mix. And over the many times I've driven between Cincinnati and Nashville these past three months I've thought, "Okay fine, now it's the I-65 mix, are we doing this or not?"

This mix is all of that. I don't know how to describe its character except as snapshots of wildly different landscapes and highways and (mental) states through music. To drive in California is awfully different than in Tennessee. In California the drivers are aggressive and they are assholes but they're good at what they do. SoCal is a car culture. They drive fast and you have to get used to it but once you do, you know what to expect and it's all good. Note: so California of me to say "all good" like that.

In Tennessee, the drivers turn corners and into driveways with the speed of a snail but the rest of the time they are ERRATIC. Highway drivers cut lanes, many at a time, with no provocation, no blinkers, and without the space to do so. The only predictable element is that there seem to be no agreed upon rules. I was on a rant about it when Matthew told me, "Well, you know Tennessee only started requiring driving tests in 1998."

"WHAT? There are a bunch of old people on the road who've never taken a driving test?"

"No, there are a bunch of 30-year-olds on the road who've never take a driving test."

"That explains so much."

Hello - Lionel Richie feat. Jennifer Nettles - Lionel gets back to his Southern roots. Just go with it.

Future Starts Slow - The Kills - Inspires some of the best seated-in-a-car-dancing I've ever done.

Dark Allies - Light Asylum - Makes me want to beat my fists on my legs, head bang, and throw myself against a wall. My dream house has a room with padded walls.

We Have Everything - Young Galaxy - "Help me forget all the worry worry, just split the sky and free me to be golden" = cross-country driving optimism.

The High Road - Broken Bells - The high road is hard to find. Or is it?

Midnight Rider - Patti Smith - I was sitting at a Burbank train station when I finished Patti Smith's book Just Kids and my impulse was to turn back to page one and read it again. I started re-listening to her music then and haven't stopped.

Baptized in Black Light - Kenna - I like referring to Kenna as my boyfriend or as our "brother husband" when Matthew is within earshot. I am sort of kidding.

Celestica - Crystal Castles - Speaking of Mormons, I associate this with palm trees and the Mormon temple on the side of the highway near San Diego. I think this would come as a surprise to the Canadian duo.

Ok - Beastie Boys - The Beastie Boys are in my personal hall of fame and I listen to them on every single highway I ever have, and ever will, drive on.

B.S.E. - Young Galaxy - Intoxicated by reinvention. Intoxicated by transformation. Yes.

Look at Miss Ohio - Miranda Lambert - "Miranda" and "Lambert" are two of the new words I've learned since working in Country music.

10 Mile Stereo - Beach House - We bought the Beach House CD Teen Dream from a record shop in Carlsbad just after moving to California.

Sweet Disposition - The Temper Trap - When I play the drums, my practices will probably be a lot like this video.

Goth Star (Pictureplane Cover) - HEALTH - Last.fm tagged this as "witch chill". HAAAAA. There should be a Mad Libs specifically for music genres: just add "chill", "wave", or "gaze" to your noun of choice.

Lick the Palm of the Burning Handshake - Zola Jesus - "I love the feeling when you hear a song that is so overwhelming and powerful it makes your veins hurt. I'd like to write one of those songs one day" - ZJ

Toledo, OH


Carrollton, KY

Carrollton, KY


Long John Silver's is not actually a good idea for a road trip.



I was telling someone from the label about my feelings for Lionel Richie, how they've surged over the last three months since seeing him twice in Nashville. "I was never not a fan but now I think I LOVE him," I said, "I can't even believe how excited I was to see him sing at the Ryman. I totally fanned out." "I know," she said, "I feel the same way. He seems like the nicest person."

"This is how he smiled when I saw him at the hotel," I said and stood from the chair I'd been slumped in. I walked past her but kept my eyes locked on hers the whole time, a huge smile plastered from ear to ear. "It looked genuine, too."

"Do you remember the video for Hello from the eighties?" I asked. "That's what I keep thinking of. That's Lionel Richie to me."

What makes me laugh about Hello the video from 1984 is the suspension of disbelief, that Lionel as teacher can sing his love for his blind student right there in the middle of class or the school hallway and no one gives a dang. He paces and broods and creeps around and makes silent prank calls to his student's home while she reads braille in bed WHEN HE'S NOT SINGING IN EVERYONE'S FACE ABOUT IT LIKE A CRAZY MAN. And he has the same exact hair as the object of his affection. Her bangs-on-mullet are slightly longer, that's it. The saving grace is that she loves him back and sculpts his likeness in clay, her blindness notwithstanding. Without this sculpture he'd be just a horny love-struck teacher on the verge of getting cited by the administration.

Also, it's been 18 years and his hair overall is shorter but his mustache is exactly the same as it is on the album cover that I got in the mail today.

"Hello? Is it me you're looking fo-or?"


Waking up in New York

Laughing quietly to myself

About how at 5:30 am I asked a security guy at the Today Show where the coffee is and he said, "This dirty ass shit?" and held up the cup in his hand. "This shit sucks, I'll be honest. Right this way." AND GOOD MORNING, SIR.


Afterstorm light

It was a sunny day that turned grey and by the time I left the house in late afternoon there was a full-blown lightning storm, the kind of storm that stands your hair on end to see the electric crack at the end of the street. We hurried down the sidewalk in the rain, pulling our shirts and jackets closer, huddling into ourselves. By the time we got home the storm had passed and the night sky was falling, pierced by light only in places.



I was totally going to keep it on the down low that yesterday was my birthday. Matthew pointed out that since I'm back on Facebook that might be hard (good point) but he didn't tell me that he'd already texted Rob because Rob would NOT miss the chance to embarrass me. Nothing embarrassing to a normal person happened but since I'm bashful about being born, it was plenty: everyone I work with pretended like they didn't know all day until they'd gotten a chance to buy cake and balloons and when I was lured onto the bus by someone who acted like she was upset and needed to talk, I climbed aboard holding a case of spring water only to be met by everyone singing and laughing at me. Then I tried to blow out the trick candles and wished I'd showered or changed my clothes from the night before since I was being filmed. It was super sweet.

The night before, as we were driving to Wichita, I talked to Sara on the phone because her birthday is the day before mine. We always laugh about her idea that even if birthdays don't seem like a big deal, there might be a tiny part of us that is disappointed when there isn't a parade in our honor and that the Mayor doesn't declare some sort of holiday. She called a few minutes before midnight and said that we should always talk to each other during the transition from March 15 to 16 and pass her birthday off to mine. "Your float is slowing down and dropping to the back of the parade and mine is taking the lead," I said to her. "Shit, I think your float just crashed into the bleachers." She disagreed and said her float parked safely so we argued about that for awhile.

My birthday ended up being a very busy, very hectic day. After things calmed down around dinnertime, I finally made it inside to the locker room to take a shower. I took a second to check Facebook and saw all the messages from friends so I took a few photos of myself to post on FB and say thanks. Someone asked me if I'd had a good birthday and I said, "Yeah, it wasn't bad. It was good." I've had worse. The Maryland potato chip debacle and the three-hour flat on the side of the highway spring to mind.

Patton Oswalt's take on why we should only celebrate 20 birthdays per lifetime here.


Old and new

This photo is so Nashville to me. Crumbling building in foreground surrounded by neglected lot, barbed wire fence, and debris spilling out of doorways. Upscale building in distance, part of The Gulch, the first neighborhood in the South to get LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Neighborhood Development certification for green building, new urbanism, and smart growth.