Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Big Bang Boom CD

As promised, the Big Bang Boom CD is now available for purchase - and for only $11! It's parent-friendly kids' music... or kid-friendly good music... or something like that. Listen to some of the tracks here then buy your disc here. You can also download from my sidebar.

Support local music and protect the ears of the parents in your life - Barney knows they've suffered enough with other kids' musicians.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Obama on race in America

The blogosphere is buzzing about this speech. Why not take a half hour to watch it and make up your own mind?

Donate to commemorate

For the last few days, I've been thinking about our unfortunate anniversary today, five years in Iraq - five years since awful, intentional lies dragged us into a country that was no threat, five years of sacrificing thousands of our military men and women, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, for what? Easier access to oil? A grudge for Hussein's aggression towards H.W.? Sating W.'s desire to be a war president?

Congrats, Bushie. You've done a heckuva job.

So, how best to commemorate such a dark spot in American (and world) history? Donate.

We, the civilians of the United States of America, have been lied to, oh yes. Our government has treated us like idiots, they have abused the rights our Constitution has given us, they have trampled our privacy and they have plunged our country into massive debt to support their blood lust.

But as bad as it has gotten for us, we get to simmer in our outrage from the comfort of our own homes, while we begrudgingly pay $3.50 for gas on the way to pick up our dry cleaning. Meanwhile, the members of our armed forces are being horribly abused. They are being stop-lossed into more and more tours with almost no leave in between. They often lack appropriate training, are poorly outfitted and are completely dismissed upon their discharge, leading to the spike in vet homelessness, mental illnesses and suicide that we have seen in recent years.

I hope you are among the majority who agrees with me that this is a despicable war. But even more so, I hope you agree with me that opposing the war doesn't mean opposing the folks who are literally putting their lives on the line for our country, however misguided their missions might be.

The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) are working to support our military - to get them the equipment, mental and physical health care, and post-discharge support they desperately need.

Also on the IAVA site are links to other war-related charities that support a variety of needs for the troops as well as Iraqi civilians and military families.

What better way to commemorate this shameful anniversary than to support those who are most horrifically impacted by it? Let your money be your protest.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

New photos at Through the Rectangle

I'm pleased to announce that Rob has posted new photos on his site, Through the Rectangle. It's so hard for me to pick favorites but I do have a fondness for these flowers, and this cat... and the photo on the home page makes my pulse race a little.

This one is particularly pertinent given our sad anniversary tomorrow.

Writing pain

One of the questions I did answer while chatting with an amazing high school creative writing class (see parts 1 and 2 of the questions I didn't get to) had to do with whether I think it's okay to write about things that might be painful for others to read. I'd be curious to know what the student had in mind when posing this question - I certainly hope to not produce work that's so painfully bad, it's agony to be read, so I opted for a more topical interpretation of the question: it is okay to write about topics that are uncomfortable for the reader to consider?

We're taught from an early age to give a polite "fine" in response to inquiries about our state of being, and from there we spend our lives considering whether any conversation should include anything more substantive, particularly if it's negative, than that "fine." And then something derails our lives - abuse, the death of a loved one, mental illness, you fill in the blank - and we feel as though we are locked in a vacuum because no one's talking about how the same thing happened to them, how they experienced the same emotions.

Besides, who are we without our pain? Just as our joys and successes factor into who we are as whole people, so too do our disappointments and traumas... Could you fully describe yourself using only the happy moments in your life?

Kevin Powell (who people my age likely remember well from the first season of the reality show that set off the reality trend, The Real World) demonstrates this well in his poem Son2Mother. This is a short excerpt - I encourage you to read the whole poem here.

Mother, have I told you
That you are the first woman
I ever fell in love with, that what
I've always wanted in life is to hear
You say you love me, too?
That is why, ma, it has taken
Me so long to write this poem.
For how could I, a
Grown man, put words to paper
If I am that little boy
Cowering beneath the power of
That slap, the swing of that belt,
Or the slash and burn of that switch
You used to beat me into fear and submission?

Continue reading Son2Mother here.

The polite "fine" has its place at dinner parties and business meetings, but we do ourselves, and each other, a disservice when we hide behind it our whole lives.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Great question: Part 2

Hey! I was able to actually continue a series - this being a series dedicated to answering the great questions of an astute high school creative writing class. Read Part 1 here.

Q: Do you think writers are born or made? Which do you think you are?

A: I tend to think there's a blend of nature and nurture in most facets of who we are and how we live our lives - that our natural abilities can either be nurtured or discouraged - both the talent itself and our belief that we can make a living at it. I'm definitely better with the written word than math or hard sciences or even speaking (as the students I spoke with will likely attest!), and I've been lucky enough to have had a really solid education in high school and college as well as people who encouraged me (including my rocking husband who has made it financially possible).

Q: Are there any people who dislike your writing and how do you respond?

A: There are two kinds of dissenting voices (at least, when it came to responding to my former News & Record column): the rational people who just don't agree and the crazies who are clearly more invested in being ugly than in having a debate. For the first group, I reply with the most comprehensive and thoughtful argument about why I disagree as I can. I really appreciate thoughtful disagreement and work to nurture relationships with people who offer them. As for the other group, sometimes I just ignore them (if I think they're really not worth my time) and the rest of the time, I reply with the calmest, most rational response I can muster. Nothing annoys people like that more than failing to get under someone's skin.

Q: What makes writing your passion?

A: The whole thing is pretty amazing to me: that we can rearrange existing words and share a unique thought, feeling, perspective, story... Writing is an excuse to learn about anything, explore any area of life, and most of all, writing is a medium through which we can connect to one another even as the world seems to become less friendly, even as we each seem to be further retreating into our own private lives. That I could rearrange words in a way that someone else finds meaningful or thought-provoking is one of the greatest thrills I can imagine.

Q: Did anyone in particular inspire you to be a writer?

A: Not really... so many authors have inspired me, and many people have been supportive of me (I count myself very lucky in that way). Madeleine L'Engle did change how I thought about writing, though. I heard her speak when I was a kid (maybe around 10?) and she talked about getting into the story and letting it lead - sometimes, it takes you to unexpected places, but the job of the author is to record what's happening, not force things to happen...

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Getcher Bang hot off the presses

That's right: Big Bang Boom's first album is finally ready for purchase! This is the latest project of the ever-so-talented Chuck Folds (long-time Greensborians may remember him from Bus Stop) whose other current projects are Rubberband and Chuck Folds Five.

If you haven't given Big Bang Boom a listen yet, now is the time. My favorite on the site is Why Can't I Have Ice Cream?, but there are songs on the album that seriously rival it. Okay, so it is kids' music but I promise that you don't have to have kids to enjoy it - which is kind of the point. A lifelong musician like Chuck really doesn't want to listen along as his kids listen to Barney... and nor should you.

Download now or, if you're more patient than me, wait for the actual disk to come out. Chuck recommends the latter because, as he says,
1- It sounds better! Digital download purchases are mp3's which are lower quality audio files.
2- You get the cd with the cover art, liner notes, etc...something you can hold in your hand.
3- You can easily put the cd in your computer and make mp3's for your mp3 player (yes, you can make a cd from the mp3's as well but see #2 above)
4- It helps us more as digital download stores take fees off the top of those purchases.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

OK hate speech

As in Oklahoma... as in state rep Sally Kern... She calls it free speech - I call it an example of the kind of person who doesn't deserve a leadership role in our country. I hope her constituents are listening, too.

Sign an open letter to Kern here.

Thanks to Interstate Q for the post.

Their Eyes Were Watching God - reflections

So, it took me a little longer than I expected to reread Their Eyes Were Watching God - I was pleasantly sidetracked by rereading (ironically enough, given my general reluctance to reread anything) a childhood favorite, Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. (As a long sidenote, we picked this up for our eight-year-old nephew for Hanukkah and I offered to read it alongside him... it was interesting how differently it struck me as an adult - how scary the story is, unrelentingly scary - and how thick with religious undertones, though no particular religion... at least, no particular monotheistic religion. I'm looking forward to hearing what my nephew thinks of it...)

But with a box of tissues and stubborn unwillingness to answer my phone, I took the book and my (now finally ended) cold to bed one afternoon and plowed through it. As with my first three readings of Their Eyes, the book hit me differently this time...

I was in high school the first time I read it, and was a romantic with seriously unhealthy tendencies (particularly when it came to romance) so I was primarily swept away by Janie and Tea Cake's romance - they had found true love, their soul mates. Sure, they hit one another, and sure, Tea Cake did some questionable stuff but such are the complexities of amore, I thought.

In subsequent readings, I was lost in Hurston's language which is often breathtakingly beautiful.

She pulled the horizon like a great fish-net. Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulders."

In those readings, I lost the romance in my anger at Tea Cake.

Perhaps it's being older... perhaps it's being (slightly) less judgemental, but this time, I didn't feel like I had to defend Janie or Tea Cake - I just had to join them. I missed the language for being lost in the story, discovering love with Janie under the pear tree; running away with her to Joe Starks, then sitting uncomfortably in his store; falling in love with Tea Cake and loving him despite his human shortcomings...

I occasionally go through phases where I value non-fiction more than fiction because I want fact, the truth of the world. But Their Eyes are Watching God is a great reminder that truth and fact are often not the same thing.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Great question: Part 1

Last Thursday, I spent a class period with an amazing high school creative writing class. I've always stayed pretty connected with my high school self (as in, I remember all too well what that time in my life was like, not, hopefully, that I haven't evolved in the decade+ since then) and so have always had a special place in my heart, and special set of sympathies, for teenagers. Of course, I often don't get teenagers - life and the way people experience their teen years does change ever so rapidly. But the creativity, playfulness, sarcasm and angst displayed by this group felt so comfortable to me, so very familiar.

The list of questions the students put together for me is a study in thoughtful inquisition - really interesting questions that I was really excited to answer. But there were so many of them that most went unanswered in the little talk I prepared. So, in an ongoing series of posts, I intend to answer the rest. I hope my regular readers will enjoy it as much as the students who opt to stop by.

Q: Do you think that good writing has been replaced by popular fluff that appeals to the masses?

A: I think that there are lots of reasons people write and lots of reasons people read, and that sheer entertainment is a valid reason for both. My guess is that the ratio of fluffy entertainment to well-informed non-fiction and meaty, rich fiction isn't so different than it used to be... but with more and more books being published, and the democratization of writing with blogging, and with fewer people actually reading, it might be harder to wade through to more substantive writing. But there are so many amazing contemporary authors: Jhumpa Lahiri, Michael Pollan, Anosh Irani, Salman Rushdie, Marsha Mehran... on and on...

Q: How do you organize your thoughts while writing?

A: I'll let you know as soon as I figure that out... organization is an abiding preoccupation of mine - it's damn near a hobby, really. I'm forever reorganizing, rearranging. For shorter works, I tend to write in layers: first thoughts go down then I revise and rewrite in the document until I like what it says, with notes to myself piling up at the bottom. For longer works, I've been using OneNote lately, a program that works like an actual notebook with sections, pages, subpages, etc. It can collect anything - Web pages, other documents, spreadsheets, images, notes - and is easily searchable. Right now, everything goes in there... now, remembering to look back at that is an entirely different story...

Q: When you walk into a room, do you first observe the condition of the room or the people inside the room?

A: People, always people. People are more interesting to me than just about anything else... and I think it's important to meet the world head-on, looking people in the eye. I think it's a friendlier way to approach life and it shows confidence - it can even build confidence when there's not much to show.

Q: Which is more important in persuasive writing: style, content or wit?

A: I think there's probably a perfect blend of style and content out there - style to engage people, giving the writer an opportunity to be persuasive, and content so that once the reader is hooked into the piece, there's a worthwhile argument to offer. It is in making a worthwhile argument that wit, in terms of being on the ball, comes into play. Wit, in terms of humor, is a bonus, but plenty of successful writers have shown us that it's not essential to persuasion (see George Will).

More to come!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Eating in Asheville

Life does have a way of blowing by, but before our lovely meals become distant memories, I wanted to do a post on where we ate in Asheville last weekend.

When we came into town, we went straight to 12 Bones - it's only open on weekdays and only for lunch, so it was our one opportunity. We were hopeful when we pulled in because the usual line wasn't snaking through the parking lot. As it turned out, the line was snaked through the restaurant proper - so much for a small crowd at a late lunch. As usual, the BBQ and ribs were amazing, as were the sides. Unfortunately, the crowd meant we had to sit outside, which would have been okay (despite the cold and the low oil in the table heater) if some folks hadn't let their kids use the outdoor seating area as their personal playground (while the parents dined inside). I'm guessing one kid is still having nightmares about the glare Rob gave him when he decided to springboard off the table we were eating at - the kid kicking up dirt a few feet away would have had a similar terror had he been paying attention. As we were leaving, the kids were throwing stones at random cars in the parking lot. Yeah.

That night, though, made up for that weirdness in spades. A new joint has opened in Biltmore Village, in a building that was most recently a biker bar. The before pictures they had for our viewing pleasure showed amazing imagination in turning that run down hole into what is now Stovetrotters. Stovetrotters is a wild place with lots of big dreams - I encourage you to visit their Web site to learn about some of the wine dinners, culinary vacations and more that they've got going on (or, in some cases, will have going on soon). As a straight-up dining experience, though, we summed it up as a fine dining where you feel comfortable slouching.

You walk into Stovetrotters looking straight into the open kitchen, which is set up behind the bar. We got our first little thrill when the chef looked up from what he was doing to greet us as soon as we stepped inside. The place is small, so a little loud, but that added to it feeling comfortable for us. The waitstaff was warm and knowledgeable and gave off the distinctive feeling that they are in it for the love of the place as much, if not more, than the paycheck. The food was excellent... though, for the sake of full-disclosure, I do have to confess it wasn't the best meal we've ever had, but it was way up there and the dedication of the staff makes us believe that they will only get better with time. After all, they've only been open as a bistro since December.

Over the course of our meal, we chatted with the owner/pastry chef, the chef, and our waiter who is also the sommelier. We witnessed staff members teasing one another then hugging and a waiter give the chef a high-five after tasting the special for the night (by then, we had finished eating but I had to know what the waiter was so excited about so he brought us a little tasting plate of a pecan-crusted mahi with a sour cherry compote over risotto - we instantly understood the high-five).

I know, those are silly little things, but for me and Rob, they all added up to the best overall dining experience we've had - comfortable, warm, friendly, delicious - and we had a three-course meal with wine for just over $100 - can't beat it!

The rest of the weekend was rounded out with places where we've eaten before but were eager to return: Salsa's, the first place everyone mentions when dining in Asheville (crazy delicious Carrabean/Latino flavors piled high - go very hungry but plan to wait in line), Blue Mountain Pizza in Weaverville, a pizza joint with a gourmet's soul and bohemian clothes, and, never to be missed, the Chocolate Fetish where you won't regret trying anything but must have the sea salt caramels.

Just some thought for food...

Monday, March 03, 2008

Anti-drug ad

At the aforementioned Claypool show, Rob and I had an idea for an anti-pot ad that might actually work...

Toward the end of the night, a couple of hippie chicks were dancing next to us, we're guessing stoned out of their gourds, waving their little arms and swaying around, throwing in moves that were reminiscent of Walk Like an Egyptian but without the Bangles' sultry sex appeal. It was truly painful to watch.

That's it - they're the ad. Sure, you can smash eggs and deflate teenage girls and try to scare kids from trying weed, but show them that they could easily look way less cool than they think they look, and I think the campaign will be more impactful. After all, almost no teenager can relate to ruining their short-term memory but every teen can relate to the quest for coolness...

Claypool in Asheville

It is, indeed, time for another Claypool concert report!

This past Saturday, Claypool was back at the Orange Peel, a club that ranks among our favorites because there's really not a bad spot in the place. We were waiting out the pre-show on a bench in the corner and had a pretty decent view of the stage when the opening act, Secret Chiefs 3, came one. We didn't stay seated long, though. I wasn't totally turned on when I heard their music on their MySpace site (I like my readers too much to send you to their official Web site - that thing is all but unnavigable). But live, they were (mostly) able to pull their seriously eclectic sound, produced by seven people on stage and featuring influences including Indian and Irish (that we heard - I can't begin to decipher the influences list on their page), into a really compelling set.

But Claypool, our ole pal Claypool... according to an interview with Mountain Xpress, Claypool wanted to mix it up a bit for this show:
We’re working up a bunch of old material right now that people are going to be very surprised I’m pulling out,” he says, including “some stuff that’s never been able to be performed before.”

And how. The show was unlike any other Claypool experience we've had which first made us wonder what he was partaking of during his off-stage breaks and later made us wonder if Gabby LaLa, who was notably missing, is the den mother who keeps the boys from straying too far from the sheet music. Don't get me wrong - we love Gabby LaLa's artful Theremin dancing and electric sitar strumming, but Claypool, saxophonist Skerik, drummer Paulo Baldi and percussionist (including vibraphone and marimba) Mike Dillon put on a hell of a show.

They were kind enough to grace us with some crowd sing-along favorites, like D's Diner and Whamola, but true to his word, they also played some unexpected ditties, like Fisticuffs (a Primus song, no less), Highball with the Devil, Buzzards of Green Hill, Cosmic Highway and oh so many more... and, with all the riffing and improvising they did, I'm not sure than any song lasted less than ten minutes, including an extended dueling drum bit in the middle of the set (with his floppy hair and no holds barred performing, Dillon sometimes closely resembles Animal from the Muppets). All told, their set was two and a half hours of fancy music fun.

As a side note, though Claypool did his usual costume changes and then some (new to the mix were a judges robes with a powdered wig and some sort of Genghis Khan looking warrior mask), the rest of the guys were outfitted in these queer (dictionary definition, people) red turtle necks with little snowmen all over them, the kind of thing only a woman who shops at Cold Water Creek would wear seriously... did they lose a bet to Claypool? I suppose we'll never know...