on compatibility and taste

I finished a book this week.  Aren’t you so proud?  Really, I finished a book in two days. It wasn’t the best story I’ve read, and it wasn’t the most captivating book I’ve come across. But how nice to still give myself over to someone else’s world, imagination, words.

The book is Juliet, Naked, by Nick Hornby. I first fell for Hornby before I knew it was him. Haven’t we all seen High Fidelity by this point? I cannot decide to this day if I would be head over heels for John Cusack’s character or be so annoyed with his pith that I’d kick him to the curb. (Which, really, is the story with every John Cusack character.) I loved the movie before I knew it was a book. Then I read the book. Are you surprised to hear me say that the book is better?  No, you’re not.  Anyway. Nick Hornby. British author. Writes occasionally for McSweeney’s, but is first a novelist. He writes accessible stories about relationships, people, disappointment, (un)requited love, and usually with some 180-gram vinyl thrown in for good measure

Juliet, Naked, according to the book blurb: “Annie lives in a dull town on England’s bleak east coast and is in a relationship with Duncan which mirrors the place; Tucker Crowe was once a brilliant songwriter and performer, who’s gone into seclusion in rural America-or at least that’s what his fans think. Duncan is obsessed with Tucker’s work, to the point of derangement…”

The title comes from a surprise-release of demos by Tucker Crowe, the artist about whom Duncan is obsessed. He took his savant knowledge and super-fandom to the intellectual extreme and now, by my best conclusion, teaches pop culture studies at the local university. Turns out that he has been sorely misled in his assumptions and conclusions about the songwriter’s life and whereabouts since Crowe’s self-imposed seclusion from the music world.  So you could say this book hit a little close to home.  What happens when we take the things we care so passionately about – an actor, a writer, a musician – and create a persona and a life for them so distinct, so specific in our minds that were any piece to be found mistaken or out of place from our constructed reality the entre Jenga tower of that person crumbles leaving a mere human? I sense this in my own resistance to reach out to the artists I focused on in my dissertation. What if they recognize nothing of themselves in my analysis, in my interpretation?  Does it matter?  Does the interpretation become false because the artist rejects it? Or is it still valid? There is some discussion about this in the book: when an artist creates something and, in a sense, turns it over, gives it to the audience, does it cease to belong entirely to them? Does it cease to belong to the artists at all?

Another interesting motif – what are nonnegotiables in relationships in terms of taste? Could I be with someone whose musical tastes differ really drastically from mine?  What do musical, movie, television, reading tastes say about us? For example, if someone I was interested in told me their favorite band of all time is Nickelback, would that tell me something concrete, tangible, almost enough to walk away right them?

When Duncan, because of his internet fame as a “Crowologist,” receives an advance copy of Juliet, Naked, the album of Crowe demos, he, like anyone starved of (what we have convinced ourselves is) a basic need, devours it, loves it.  Annie, on the other hand, with a bit of distance – emotional and psychological – from Crowe’s work (though she certainly has an appreciation for his songwriting), pans Naked. While we get glimpses in the early pages of the book that their relationship is stagnant, not happy, tired, it is their polar reactions to the album that seems to be the catalyst for their undoing. When Annie cannot understand how Duncan can find a better album in Naked than in the produced version of Juliet, it causes Duncan to second guess everything he ever thought he knew and felt about Annie.  (And really, likewise for Annie second-guessing Duncan, or more precisely, felt confirmed in all the things she had been trying to ignore.) I think the reader is supposed to feel frustrated with these characters. I think we are supposed to wonder how they can so quickly change their minds about another person based solely on one piece of musical taste. Intellectually, it’s supposed to feel trite. Infantile.  Shallow. But, honestly, I get it. Once, a guy I was otherwise totally into told me he couldn’t really stand The Decemberists or Iron & Wine because they were “too damn folky.” And that wasn’t a compliment. I couldn’t look at him with quite the same affection after that. In fact, that comment caused me question my judgment of him in the first place.

Is this superficial? Is it a matter of tastes? Or do these things that matter actually tell us something real, meaningful, true about ourselves and other people?  The book was really a fast and light read, but I wondered if it was about me in some ways – I spent two years writing and thinking about things similar to Duncan’s character. Have I lost a simplistic understanding and appreciation of the art and craft itself? Have I lost the ability to relate to the artists themselves on a human level? (My answer to both of those questions is I don’t think so. I hope not.) But even more it made me wonder about compatibility – in matters of tastes and favorites, where is the line? How different can those things be and two people still find compatibility?


Road Trip days 7-11 1/2: Eating well in ATL.

Sorry this post is a little out of order. I had some photo issues.

After a kickin’ good time in Madison, I headed east to Atlanta, (but first I had to go through Tennessee, into Georgia, back to Tennessee, and finally into Georgia to stay, causing me to doubt my GPS, not for the first time).  I stayed with my sister, who is a student at McAfee School of Theology, and works for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Between classes and work she was already plenty busy; she had also volunteered to help with Vacation Bible School at a local church, so needless to say the theme of this stop was less sibling sleepover and more, sleep, eat, and Mad Men. I made it through the last 11 episodes in 2 days. or 2 and a half.

When I arrived Saturday, I barely dropped my things before Emily whisked me off to Raging Burrito in Decatur (cool points times infinity). This leg of the trip was off to a delicious start. I didn’t get any pictures of the food (sorry, not sorry), but here’s my sister:

The next morning afternoon we went to Rise N Dine by Emory for brunch. Nom nom nom.

I made dinner on Monday evening: Pioneer Woman’s Tofu Lettuce Wraps (I added a can of black beans), sweet potato fries, and this delicious pie:

On Tuesday, I met a couple of Atlanta Socialites for dinner at Flip Burger. I thoroughly enjoyed the cold smoked salmon burger, french fries, and the S’Mores milkshake (for charity). And yes, I felt sick afterwards. Worth it?

The last truly notable meal took place early Thursday morning at a barely-marked location along the railroad tracks. This doughnut:

I wasn’t hungry until well after I arrived in South Carolina and it was practically dinner time. I’m not sure if that was in the good way or not.

Road trip days 12 or so

I’ve been a little MIA.

But not really, you know?

I’ve had my iPhone almost as much as normal, if not more so.

But until right now (11:56 a.m. EDT, Monday, June 18), my computer has been securely tucked away in its place in my backpack, right where I packed it Thursday morning.

And I have a couple of phone calls I need to return.

I’ve been here:

Beaufort, South Carolina. Life feels slower here. My friends live on a cul-de-sac. They walk their dog at night with all the other families of dog walkers. We sleep in, we cook real food, we read books. This is my sixth or seventh visit here, and one thing I remember about my visits other than the reliably good conversation and beautiful sunsets, and cute daughters, is that here I read books faster than I do in my normal life (at least books I’m not otherwise required to read).

So, it’s been slower, and I’ve been slower. But I’ve got pictures and a few stories. One picture I’ll spare you is of my painful and really strange-looking sunburn from our day at the beach on Saturday. It was a perfect day – no clouds. A perfect day for pale persons like me to get ridiculously burned. Occupational Hazard.



On the art of reality television?

Here’s a road trip revelation for you:

It’s probably a good thing I don’t have cable. I would watch an embarrassing amount of embarrassing television. I can get ridiculously sucked in to House Hunters, and it only fuels my tendencies toward misanthropy. The couples almost never choose the most obvious, rational, smartest choice. And yes, occasionally there are singletons on those shows, but let’s face it, they make me much less angry than the couples. In fact, one afternoon, while in Alabama (road trip day five, for those keeping track), I spent the entire afternoon hanging on the couch watching House Hunters. The first episode I watched featured a couple with a $400,000 budget in St. Louis and they could not be satisfied. Two of the three houses they refused to see all of because of end-all deal breakers two rooms in. I hated the wife. Okay hate is a strong word. I don’t know her. But she was stupid. The second episode was the quirky hipster pixie in Seattle who wanted a fixer-upper. She bought a true fixer upper. The first two tasks were to 1) get rid of the rats, and 2) add a ceiling to a couple of rooms of the house. I loved her, and was pretty sure she’s related to the Bloggess – she had a taxidermied squirrel for heaven’s sake!

I’ve also been keeping up with the Kardashians (see what I did there?) in their infinite rerun schedule, and, while I’m not proud of it, I will at least admit that I watch and am completely fascinated by the Jenner-Kardashian situation. I cannot quite put my finger on why I find myself captivated by this show, but couldn’t sit through a Real Housewives episode or that new Eastwood show. Okay, I did watch a couple episodes of Mrs. Eastwood, but that’s all I could take.

I was thinking about it while driving through a bit of Atlanta (road trip days 10-11), and I’ve decided that I am drawn into the Kardashians’ world because of their authenticity.

Hear me out.

Yes, on one level, I tune in for shallow reasons; they are beautiful people spending lots of money and saying silly things. Clearly, the train-wreck factor is at work here. It’s hard to look away.

But the more I watch, the more I get the sense that the people I watch on this show are the people they are, through and through. At the end of the previous season, when we all knew Kim & Kris Humphries’ extremely short fairytale wedding had come to an end, but we watched her slowly realize the inevitable, I got the profound sense that she wasn’t duping us. Her own celebrity had duped her. She thought love is as real as the diamond is big and sparkly, and commitment as eternal as her ball gown is extravagant. She really thought that was love. And when she started to accept the reality, she was heartbroken. This is not how life is supposed to work itself out. Most people will probably judge me for what I’m about to say, but here it is: I felt bad for Kim Kardashian, and identified with her. We could not be more different, but when I watched her I resonated with her painful acceptance of a life gone not according to plan, and the heartbreak of reassessing where she was at age 30, and reconciling that with where she thought she’d be.

Same with how these people work out their expectations in other areas of their lives, and in other relationships.

Yes, I get it. I know that the Kardashians are ridiculous. I know that it is silly to pay attention to famous people who haven’t earned their fame. (What does that even mean, anyway?) And I know that reality television is a dangerous drug. But I watch it, I’m fascinated by it, and that is why. To sugarcoat it, we are, in fact, in this thing called life together, right? And famous, beautiful, ridiculously wealthy people are humans too.

Oh God, now this post has devolved into some pathetic defense of a t.v. show I mostly love to hate. Hate to love. Something.

I switched over from E! the last couple of days to (finally) get caught up with Mad Men, the drama for the intellectual, jet-setting type. Right. As I was watching the middle episodes from the current season, I was struck by distinct parallels between cultural obsessions with families like the Kardashians and casts of characters from the likes of Mad Men. I’m not sure if there is a single character on Mad Men that I genuinely like. (Right now, maybe Joan, but I have my doubts about her as well.) On the whole, these are not good or nice people. They sleep around, they drink constantly, and by most accounts, lead fairly empty lives. And yet I cannot stop watching.

Is this fixation the same? Is it the train-wreck effect only with a fictional story? Is the fact that it is fiction make it somehow more excusable, even acceptable, to observe these people be mostly terrible people to themselves and each other? Is the fact that it’s fiction not “reality” television automatically validate it as “art”?

Does any of that matter? Do we need philosophical reasons to legitimize what we choose to watch or DVR? I don’t know. I really don’t.

So, here I am. I love the Kardashians. I love Mad Men. I love House Hunters.

But please don’t make me watch Glee.

road trip, days four through seven – detour through space country

The end of my first full week of the trip went slightly north, but still decidedly Southern, in Madison, Alabama, just outside of Huntsville. In fact, most of the time spent outside the house was in Huntsville, so there’s that. I visited my college friend Stefanie and her husband Drew. I dressed in purple and held some flowers in their wedding – seven years ago – thanks for making me feel old, guys. Also, they have a doll of a daughter, Eliza Wren, who is about 10 months old. Like most baby-toddlers her age, she is curious about everything, and into cords, electronics, phones, laptops – everything she shouldn’t grab for she does.  Though, surprisingly, she didn’t try to rip my nose ring out of my head, so good on her for that. Within about five minutes of me being in their house she was reaching for me and wanted to study me and snuggle. Clearly I am okay with that.

While I stayed with the Justices, we spent a lot of time relaxing, watching HGTV, and eating well. I barely got my stuff unloaded before we were off for what Drew promised to be the best BBQ in Huntsville. Turns out the owner/cook is from west Texas and the BBQ was some of the best I’ve ever had. Nice treat.  Thursday Stef, Eliza, and I joined two of Stef’s friends for girls’ night at a Mexican place. I refuse to compare it to Texas Mexican food, but it was still pretty great.

Friday, we went to Lowe Mill, an old mill (how’d you guess) in Huntsville that has been converted to multi-use space – mostly artists’ studios and shops. There’s also a record store, a theater, and a couple of little restaurants.  They do concerts throughout the year, and on Fridays in the Summer there are free concerts “on the docks”. We took some food and drinks, baby in the stroller and enjoyed some music by Shovels & Rope, and some delightful weather.

After enjoying some CSA-sourced veggie pizza, I hit the road towards Atlanta (where my GPS took me from Alabama, through Tennessee, into Georgia, back into Tennessee, and into Georgia to stay) where I arrive at my sister’s place for a few days; isn’t she pretty?

Road trip day three, aka Pork Chops, Tortilla Chips, and Queso.

On the last full day in Hattiesburg.

So, sometimes you accompany your friend to the roller skating rink in Petal, Mississippi, for church family $1 skate night. Only sometimes none of the church families show up and the two of you decide not to stay and skate with the townie middle schoolers. On the way home, the two of you pass by a local taco/burrito establishment and decide to pick up some chips and queso on the way home to make dinner. While in said establishment you also decide you need some salsa. The employees decide that the appropriate amount of chips to accompany the order of queso and salsa ought to feed a family reunion. You get charged enough to feed a family reunion. It’s a good thing the chips and dips are so damn good, or you’d stew all evening over the pricetag. (And the refusal of the employees to laugh at your friend’s and your hilarity.)  “What in the world are we going to do with all these chips?” you and your friend ask.

Here is what you do:

1-1 ½ cups tortilla chips, crushed into small pieces
½ tablespoons curry powder
½-1 teaspoon cumin
¼-½ cups shredded cheese (we used Italian blend, whatever is fine, I’m sure)
salt to taste
1 egg
1 healthy dash Worcestershire sauce
1 small dash sesame oil
minced garlic, to taste
4 porkchops

1, Heat oven to 350 degrees
2. Combine chip crumbs, curry, cumin, salt, and cheese in large bowl.
3. Mix together egg, Worcestershire, sesame oil and garlic in another large bowl, with a fork.
4. Coat each porckchop with the egg mixture until well coated.
5. Press each porkchop into the tortilla chip mixture on each side until well coated.
6. Place porkchops into coated baking dish. Bake until done – about 25-30 minutes.

After you eat the porkchops, which will be delicious but difficult to finish because you ate so much of the chips, queso and salsa, you watch lots of HGTV and judge people’s ability to make decisions, and feel sad that wives on these house-buying shows make all women look bad.

So you think you can drive

I had intentions to update on days three and four, but it’s getting late, and my friends have dvr in the guest bedroom so now I’m tired and watching So You Think You Can Dance.

I arrived safely in Madison, Alabama just in time for some delicious BBQ. Tomorrow I will update with a recipe I’m tentatively calling So-You-Got-Way-Too-Many-Tortilla-Chips-With-Your-Queso-And-The-Restaurant-Employees-Totally-Didn’t-Find-You-Funny-Porkchops.

For now, enjoy this lovely little doodlebug, my friends stefanie and drew’s little Eliza.