contentment: the ultimate writer’s block

You know how people tend to gain weight once they’re in a happy relationship? Or how Ryan Adams made bad music after he got sober?

Well, being content made me a neglectful writer.

I’ve wondered about this before. Do artists need to be depressed/angry/sad/hurt/high to make good art? I don’t think of my blog as being in the same category as your favorite album, favorite Impressionist painting, favorite novel. But, like so many artists, I do find that being in a particular mindset motivates me to write.

I want to approach my blog like work, so that I will be more disciplined and consistent, but I also want to give myself freedom. Because I do write for a living. It’s vastly different than what I write here, but it’s still writing. And writing is hard.

Recently, I was talking with a friend, who is a vastly better writer than I am, about writing and how I didn’t want to approach my blog like it’s a LiveJournal from 9th grade. But he argued for the diary approach to blogging and reminded me not to undervalue my experiences. He told me there will always be at least one person who relates to your story.

Then I listened to “Spill Your Guts”, an episode from The Allusionist, which is a podcast that I’m convinced was specifically designed for me to nerd out over grammar history lessons. The episode featured the guys from Mortified, and was about writing diary entries. They talked about the historical impact of diaries, as well as the funny patterns they’ve discovered: teenagers using LOL in their diaries, people assigning gender to their diaries, or addressing them with only Russian names. But also the importance of a diary as personal memoir.

So, why am I rambling about diaries and art and how writing is hard (boo hoo)? I’m getting there.

journal

If we aren’t real-life friends, or just haven’t spoken in the past year, you are probably wondering what led to the contented non-writing phase. And the main thing is I’m in this awesome, healthy relationship. That’s definitely not the only thing (because you don’t have to be in a relationship to be happy). I’m also excelling at my good (but boring) job, get to see my family more, have awesome friends, love living alone, and have a cat who stopped shitting on all my stuff (mostly).

But that relationship thing. When people ask how it’s going, I tell them, “I never knew what it was like to be in a relationship that didn’t feel like work most of the time. That was easy and loving and fun and meaningful.” This man is kind and lovable and he plays the fucking banjo. He doesn’t critique me or judge me. And when, early in our relationship, he asked if I wanted to come over and just read together, I thought, “THIS IS ALL I’VE EVER WANTED.”

He also encourages me to write.

So, I’m going to give myself the freedom to write some LiveJournaly posts, but will also commit to being more disciplined. In an effort to be more consistent, here are a few new “columns” I’m going to try:

  • Rank City, in which I rank whatever the fuck I want, such as stray cats
  • Beer/brewery reviews
  • Food/restaurant reviews (because I cannot keep reading the awful shit on Columbus Underground)
  • Book Reports, in which I write you a book report

And I will return to the music and feminist topics that weigh on my chest, making their presence known, much like Boo does after a long weekend away.

boo

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music mondays: record store day

I will begin this post with an assessment (fine, judgment, whatever) of The types of buyers you may observe on Record Store Day:

Old dudes who are still kinda cool.
Probably bought: Phish New Years Eve 1995

Old dudes who live in basements and are hella creepy.
Probably bought: Metallica

Scene kids.
Probably bought: The White Stripes and secretly bought that Twenty Pilots album shaped like Ohio.

Clueless girl.
Probably Definitely bought: T Swift 1989 (I wanted to grab this from her hands and just say “NO. GO HOME.”)

Mid 30s single friends who are mostly concerned with where brunch will be later.
Probably bought: Built to Spill. The hip friend may have picked up Run The Jewels. The non-hip friend secretly bought Mumford and Sons.

Late 20s girl who came alone and is trying to discreetly eat a donut in line (AKA me)
Definitely bought: Otis Redding’s 50th Anniversary edition of Otis Blue, Ryan Adams 7 inch, and in a last minute decision, Dolly Parton’s bluegrass album.

rsdI’ve participated in Record Store Day in the past, but this was the first year I ended up waiting in a line, unexpectedly. I wanted Otis Blue and had plans at 10am, so decided I’d go to Spoonful Records in downtown Columbus before that. I knew Spoonful was having a food truck and giving away some stuff, but honestly, I didn’t expect the line around the corner that I found myself in at 9am. I (correctly) assumed they wouldn’t have many copies of Otis Blue (3, I think) and wanted to make sure I got one. Most likely, the three records I did buy would have been there on Sunday, but, it’s about the day, right?

The RSD anniversary edition of Otis Blue includes both mono and stereo LPs, and a replica-style 45 featuring “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” and “I’m Depending on You.” It rang in at $45, but because Otis and I have history, I shelled out. And I have no regrets. I heard the opening brass on “Ole Man Trouble” and knew I’d bought something special.

I don’t think I was born in the wrong decade in terms of musical taste. Because, while I love soul and Motown, I also love synth pop and hip hop, and in 2015, I get to have it all. But, what Record Store Day often does is give me a glimpse into what it was like to anticipate a new LP coming out–going down to your local record store and hoping they hadn’t sold out already. MP3s make everything instant, and we lose some of the magic when we don’t have to break the plastic seal on a new record. Vinyl might be a trend for some, but for the rest of us, it’s classic, and we’ll keep buying if you keep pressing.

breaking the cycle: thoughts on NYT “medicating women’s feelings” article

At the end of February, an op-ed came out in the New York Times called “Medicating Women’s Feelings.” You’ll probably want to read the article before continuing on. I’ll wait.

I’m so thankful for this article. Americans are scared to talk about mental health. I think many are also scared of women, especially “emotional” women, and I’m going to keep calling bullshit on that, as Julie Holland did.

“Women’s emotionality is a sign of health, not disease; it is a source of power. But we are under constant pressure to restrain our emotional lives.”

Women are told not to be so sensitive, then not to be so bubbly. At work, have original ideas but don’t be aggressive about them. It’s confusing. As for many women, learning to understand my emotions and the way the world thinks of them has been a journey. For a long time, I was terrible at thinking through the levels of my emotions and expressing them to the people around me. Honestly, I’m still not great at it sometimes *cue side-eye* but I’m learning that my emotions have value.

2011 was a difficult year for me. Through family moves, deaths, a breakup, and a job ending, I felt everything dear was being violently ripped away from me. I was left in a very dark place, where I was quick to snuff out any light, content to sit in the cage of sadness I had built for myself. Then, in 2012, after talking with my parents, friends, doctor, and counselor, I decided to begin a low-dose antidepressant in conjunction with counseling.

I didn’t tell too many people, even close friends, when I started taking an antidepressant. But, I’ve realized since then that it’s not something I want to keep in the dark. The dark is where shame lives and grows, and I am not ashamed of who I am or the steps I chose to take to become who I am.

In her article, Holland says that more women than men are prescribed “psychiatric medication” and “are nearly twice as likely to receive a diagnosis of depression or anxiety disorder than men are.” I hate that those statements are true, that too many women are being numbed by over-medication, labeled with a misdiagnosis, and separated from society in yet another way. And, at the same time, many women and men with mental health issues go un-diagnosed.

Medication isn’t always bad. I was happy with my decision to take an antidepressant; I believe it helped me function and made it easier to sort through all the emotions I had, instead of being weighed down by only feeling sadness. After a year, I began to wean off the antidepressant, and let me tell you, it’s hard to come off. But I wanted to be back in the world fully. I felt I had to re-train the parts of my brain that had been numbed for so long. I had to remember that extremes don’t have to be bad and that feeling deeply is one of the most human things about us.

“We need to stop labeling our sadness and anxiety as uncomfortable symptoms, and to appreciate them as a healthy, adaptive part of our biology.”

I believe Holland when she writes this. For me, medication was part of my journey to accepting my emotions, but it doesn’t have to be part of everyone’s experience. As women, we are emotional and sensitive beings, and it is a strength. Feeling is not weakness. Emotional responses are not weakness. They are human. They are vital.

music mondays: breakfast in fur

This Breakfast In Fur album came out at just the right time. I’d been searching for some dreamy pop to listen to and found myself simply returning to Teen Dream because #beachhouseforever. But also because I wasn’t finding anything new. Enter Breakfast in Fur’s first LP, Flyaway Garden.

bir

I came across them while browsing for new releases, so well done, internet. The album is pretty short, coming in under 40 minutes, but it’s the perfect pick-me-up for this mood-killing cold we’ve had in Columbus. Flyaway Garden opens with “Shape,” a toe-tapping track about holding on to a feeling and moment. But the music is smarter than the lyrics may sound. The layers build up into a well-crafted tumult of head-bobbing sounds.

Unless you’re really into flutes, I will suggest you skip “Lifter,” but “Setting Stone” is another standout track from the album. The song features band founder Dan Wolfe on vocals. He took a vocal backseat on most of the album, but his bristly voice works perfectly over the slightly frantic sound of “Setting Stone.”

You guys might be aware of my inherited love for Neil Young (thanks dad) and BiF does a trippy and strange cover of “Cripple Creek Ferry.” I doubt my dad would enjoy the cover, but I am interested to know why they picked that track to cover, and of course can’t resist the dreaminess of their version.

Thank you, Breakfast in Fur, for making me feel like one day it will be warmer than 10 degrees outside. The album is on iTunes and streaming on spotify.

music mondays: 2014 favorites

As my friend Jackie pointed out, I’ve been a bit of a negligent writer recently. But since it’s still January, I don’t think it’s too late to wrap up what I was listening to in 2014. So, here is some of my favorite music from last year that I didn’t write about yet.

2014 was a year for many people to find their voice. In particular, women started to speak out against the injustices and violence committed against them. Alynda Lee Segarra has been making music with her band Hurray for the Riff Raff for a few years now, but 2014’s Small Town Heroes was the band’s major label debut. My favorite track, and the one I think was most relevant in 2014, is “The Body Electric.” Segarra has been quoted as saying she wrote the song in response to the 2012 Delhi gang rape that resulted in the death of the woman. This song is Segarra’s version of (or response to) the classic murder ballads she became so tired of hearing. It doesn’t need much explanation.

I’m going to ruffle some feathers by not claiming Run the Jewels 2 as my favorite hip hop of 2014, but I do what I want. Scotland’s Young Fathers provided my windows down summer driving music. They also shocked a lot of people by winning the Mercury Prize, beating FKA Twigs and others. Young Fathers is a three-person group, and while all the members are Scottish, one was born in Liberia and another has Nigerian parents, which gives their music an interesting edge. In a way, I think Young Fathers could be a good “gateway to hip hop” group. They are so heavily influenced by rock, trip hop, and world music, it’d be easy to find something you like. “Low” was my favorite track from their album, Dead.

Like many others, I spent the way-too-fucking-cold February and March of 2014 listening to Angel Olsen‘s Burn Your Fire for No Witness on repeat. Too hard to pick a favorite, so just watch this whole set.

It was a bummer when Mark Kozelek of Sun Kil Moon decided to be a dick to The War on Drugs last year, but Benji was still one of my favorite albums of 2014. Yes, that Benji. benjiKozelek claims he wanted to give a lighthearted title to his album because it was so dark and sad and pretty much all about death. Nice try, Mark. You may be predisposed to like the opening track, Carissa, if you’re from Ohio, but it remains an incredibly relatable, albeit dark, song.

So now I have to give love to The War on Drugs. Not only did they put out one of my favorite albums of 2014, they also were one of my favorite live shows. Lost in the Dream has this awesome 70s/80s dad rock sound that I found so welcome in 2014. If you weren’t having solo dance parties to “Red Eyes,” you’re a dummy.

For my full list of favorite music from 2014, check out my spotify playlist. Happy listening.

music mondays: skip t. swift and listen to these women

Apparently 29 year old married men are having countdown parties for Taylor Swift’s new album, and I cannot sit idly by. So I have finally returned to music mondays to offer some alternatives to 1989.

I have been meaning to write about Lowell for a few weeks now, but finally got the extra motivation I needed, thanks T. Swift! Lowell’s (Elizabeth Lowell Boland) debut album, We Loved Her Dearly, came out in September and I’ve been swimming in its beats since then. In a world where you can barely escape “Shake It Off” for more than 24 hours, it’s refreshing to have seriously good pop music that’s also about something.

lowell

The quick backstory on Lowell is that she was briefly a stripper before quitting to pursue music. Her song “I Killed Sara V” (her stripper name) is about leaving that self behind. It starts out a haunting, pretty track, then moves into a deceptively more upbeat confessional. I realize a 6 minute track isn’t the best intro, so maybe skip that one initially.

Her love anthem “LGBT” champions all forms of relationships and calls out everyone for their biases and discrimination. “I Love You Money” is my favorite to crank up and sing along to while driving, even though it’s a little weird to shout about loving money. But, the song is actually about Lowell kicking out a customer at a strip club.

Lowell’s debut has its highs and lows, but overall it’s a fun album that displays range and cohesiveness, the balance of pop sugar and human depth.

My second recommendation as an alternative to Taylor Swift is Jessie Ware’s sophomore release, Tough Love. You’ll have to switch your mindset a bit, as Jessie is really more an R&B artist than a pop singer, in my mind. But thank God for someone still making R&B in 2014, amirite?? Tough Love isn’t as solid an album as Devotion, but it’s definitely no sophomore slump.

The obvious stand-out is “Say You Love Me”, co-written with Ed Sheeran, but it’s actually not my favorite track. “Keep On Lying” has this unusual sound, with a beat that almost sounds like muzak, but it works. The song I keep returning to is “You & I (Forever)”. It’s a pretty classic R&B/pop song, but when the alternative is “All About That Bass”, I have no problems with classic.

Both albums are available on spotify. Happy listening!

breaking the cycle: congrats Malala!

Many have been waiting for Malala Yousafzai to win her Nobel Peace Prize, and this year the committee gave it to her. She’s only 17, but since she was a child, Malala has been a champion for education, in particular for girls. If you don’t know Malala’s story, this article has some background info.

Below is a short documentary from 2009 about Malala and her family, and their fight for education.

 

it’s time to retire the cat lady jokes.

Seriously. This line is washed up. It’s old news. Sometimes it’s hurtful. Mostly, it’s a bad joke.

I have been the butt of the cat lady joke plenty of times. I’ve even wondered if I should just embrace it. Yes, I have a cat. Yes, I live by myself with said cat. Yes, I also have a phone case with a hologram of cats on it. But you know what, I bought it because it was $10 and ridiculous and I was in a season when I needed something silly to look at every day.

One of my coworkers decided to adopt a feral kitten that’s been living near her home. I overheard some other coworkers recounting how they’d warned her not to take all the kittens since, “ya know, don’t wanna become one of those crazy cat ladies.” This is a grown woman with adult children, a husband, a home, and she kicks everyone’s ass at work. Take in one stray kitten and suddenly she’s reduced to being a cat lady.

I could argue that no one makes jokes about being a “dog lady”. But that’s pretty silly logic. Dogs, cats, what difference should it make? At the root is a deeper issue, one that is wrapped up in all the other titles a woman hears when you call her a cat lady.

Loner. Loser. Failure. Ugly. Weirdo. Single. Dirty.

Google “cat lady stigma” and you know what comes up on the first page of results? The Wikipedia page for “spinster”. That’s right. Because even Wikipedia knows that at the root of calling a woman a cat lady is shaming her for her singleness. As my coworker story points out, singleness isn’t always a player in cat ladydom, but I’d argue it’s a founding factor in the characterization. Maybe I should say caricature-ization.

Do me a favor and think twice before you call a woman a cat lady next time. Consider what hurtful names she might hear instead, thanks to the negative stigma culture has created for those of us who find ourselves to be both female and cat owners.

I adopted my cat when I had roommates and a boyfriend. Now I have neither, but I still have my cat. And I’m pretty damn happy. I wasn’t trying to fill some void in my life when I got my cat, and I’m not trying to do that now. I mean, he’s a fucking cat. But that’s a major part of the stigma, that women are buying cats because they can’t keep a partner and want to fill a void they feel. Hey, maybe that is true for some women, and I hope their cat provides some comfort to them. Or maybe they’re just allergic to dogs.

My point is, let’s move on from the cat lady shaming.

boo