Thursday, February 21, 2013


I remember being little, filling up ice cube trays to place in our ever-frosted freezer. The refrigerator door, which must have once been the color of ripe avocados, had browned over time - rust, grime, age - and sometimes, when I cracked the ice into our mason jar drinking glasses, I saw that same green-grey, freezing in pockets of air, Baltimore tap water and the taste of coolant.

I remember Baltimore in the bad things, like ice trays which needed to be emptied and refilled, and the young man who followed me to my grandparents' house asking for my name, and the houses like broken teeth on North Avenue, and the car door slams which sounded like gunshots, or were. I remember the purple-kohl sky of no stars and of street lights, and the smell of Fells Point in the summer; I remember dark, narrow alleys with flattened rats and urine.

And I think this, this is what people are afraid of.

I also remember the taste of French pastries, the delight of my grandfather as he drank coffee with cream, the moments when we didn't talk because we were caught up in a city with a voice and a sound like crying and singing. I remember my father taking me to harbor place - still relatively new - in my stroller, and I remember looking at buildings, my father giving them new life as he taught me history and architecture, romance and the stone whispers of the dead.

I remember going to the City Cafe with my grandmother, and as we ate mushroom ravioli she looked right through me and I was naked there in her love and in the sparkle of lights and glass.

Season tickets to Everyman Theatre - Thursday nights, my grandparents and I and professional actors who were beautiful and young and old and flawed and heartbreaking. Elderly women with tanks of oxygen and dyed wash and sets. A plastic cup of cheap wine, wood dust.

Pints of Ben and Jerry's, my stepmother and I wandering to the corner store for ice cream and girl talk, slugs sliming up the wall of our brick row home apartment, Ken Jackson's voice of smoke and sex on the radio, "Celery Stalks at Midnight."

My piano teacher, cursing and raging and filled with passion, and his beautiful piano which sounded like butter on silk. His orange cat, my stumbling Ravel; our search for truth and our too-long memories.

I remember the first time I went to the Single Carrot Theatre and saw a burlesque show - tassels swinging, real women with flesh - a little, a lot - in high heels, audience participation and giggling and revelry, a glass of Malbec, feathers on my neck.

And there were the days of pearls and gold dresses, New Years parties in houses filled with mosaics, Epiphany parties with cocktails and finger foods and bubbling lights on the Christmas tree, high school parties which smelled like mistakes, sticky sage and barley.

There was my hairstylist, wedged into a formstone row house, who knew my stepmother since she was small and who called me his diva and who handed out illegally burned CDs of Broadway musicals. A flapper's bob, Judy Garland on the wall, makeup like Marilyn Monroe.

There is the angel font, the cold softness of his cheeks, the place where my priest brought me into life, brought me into marriage, helped my grandfather find his peace.

There was my parents' wedding, red icing on the cake, silver sprayed leaves, a foundation which will not break. Bubbles, swing dancing, love.

Can this possibly be what we, in Columbia, are afraid of?

I want all of this, so badly, and I want it for my husband, and I want it for our future children. I want little Alice or G to be able to walk to the corner store, or to walk to piano lessons, or to walk to the park. I want Baltimore, here.

Living somewhere - choosing to live somewhere - should give that place life, not immobility, not inertia. When I moved to Columbia it was out of necessity, but why I choose to stay is out of a desire and a belief that there is something here which is urging us to let it grow. We have the people tree, cast forever in metal, but we also have a seedling of something more, something which can change and develop and surprise us, a newborn with deep purple eyes.

I've talked frequently about the restaurants I go to, and those are an element of my conviction that life in Columbia moves and adapts, and that I'm not the only one who appreciates it. After all, who can get a parking spot at The Ale House Columbia at happy hour? There's a demand, a real need, for new things, for excitement and life and zest, and restaurants can be a part of that.

But there's more, always, which grows. Which we must help to grow.

Life is wild and unexpected. Life explodes. Life is that which makes us wake up and get up and try again, and life is that which imparts shock and disgust and pleasure and licked lips and a feeling that there's something, out there, which is bigger than we are. Where we live, how we live, is that foundation upon which we build our dreams.

I wake up to a new Columbia every day. And I want it to be awesome.

Here can be a place of feathers and pearls, shined shoes, mosaics, tassels and cocktails and marriage.

Here can be a place where I can cross the street (as I did today) and get a haircut and style - but this time, with crosswalks and sidewalks and signals.

Here can be a place of theatre, where the older generation and the younger meet, as I hope they will with the Inner Arbor plan.

Here should be a place where I can roll my child along in her stroller and point out the good things, the strong things, the romance, and the legacy of Rouse.

Here will be the place where my children's grandparents can take them to see something flawed and beautiful, to eat something painfully delicious, to listen to the sounds of a city.

I have Baltimore in my soul, green ice cubes and all.

I have Columbia in my heart, because it is growing.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


It's a regular morning, so I've checked the typical websites, downed some iced coffee, and weighed myself.

Actually, I weighed myself three times.

I just recently bought my first bathroom scale - I'm going through Weight Watchers and didn't have access to a scale for weekly weigh-ins. I was very reluctant to get one; after five years of serious disordered eating, plus many more of over-eating, then guilt, then dieting, I knew that a scale could be a negative influence on my life. Yes, it's good to have a sense of what I'm eating and how it impacts my body - but the fear of slipping into old habits? Sometimes that's more powerful than my will to be healthy.

Sometimes health and weight are totally unrelated.

Part of me wants to be able to recapture the steely control over portions and calories, the little habits of saying I don't like foods I shouldn't have, the hours or days of not eating to achieve an ever changing goal, five more pounds. When I was entering adolescence, I was determined to reach 118 pounds - a weight you see all the time in dieting commercials, on a bathroom scale's shiny white packaging - while being 5'7". On me, with my wide rib cage and equally wide hips, 118 pounds is painfully thin. I couldn't see it then; now I can say, at least, that I know looking sickly and feeling starved have nothing to do with beauty, with health, with confidence.

After weighing myself, I checked Jezebel and saw an article, "Why Don't Women Say 'I'm Pretty?' Here Are Ten Reasons." An inviting headline, definitely, one that immediately brought up, in me, my own insecurities. I thought, why don't I say I'm pretty?

Why don't I think I'm pretty?

The article was more concerned with a woman's willingness to admit or assert attractiveness than with any particular internal debate. The women the author spoke to are portrayed as having a detachment from their personal assessments of their beauty - a sort of self-knowledge, economical, of what their outsides were like and were worth. And looking at beauty as a commodity, I get that - any woman who finds herself desired or ignored knows what garners attention, what is valuable. It makes sense, then, for a woman to see her physical appearance as not necessarily a part of her so much as a part of how she is successful, appreciated.

But the article missed something, for me, because it didn't really talk about weight - and how weight, frequently, is not only a yardstick for outward appearance. Weight is something we are not economical about - weight is deeply personal, totally public, and most often, a concern. It is a trial, an unwelcome and ever-present factor of how good, self-controlled, beautiful we feel.

My face is still the same face, albeit more rounded, as that pale, untested face of my early teens. My bones are still my bones - my feet still slightly crooked, my hips still broad, my ribs still poking out. Years of endless crunches have still left their mark on my upper abdominals. Nights of high heels and days of dancing have still left my calves thick and strong.

But I'm overweight. I don't see myself in the mirror. I feel like that fourteen year old girl, not quite fitting into my own body - and what she saw in glances and reflections and body dysmorphia is actually what I look like, now. It's not just a physical reality - it is a thought process which is as ingrained in me as my DNA.

I'm going on a brief vacation in a few weeks, and I can't tell you how many outfits I've tried, how many dresses that looked perfect on the hanger and odd on me, how many skirts and tops that seemed too large in the store and actually fit me perfectly. I'm ashamed to say that I hope I can avoid group photographs, candids, seeing myself in the glitter and shine of Las Vegas lights.

My greatest fear as a teenager has come true - and sometimes I can accept my weight, and sometimes I feel as self-conscious as I did when I was thin.

Why don't I think I'm pretty? I never have.

I've never been free of my weight.

This is not a pity-party post. I'm not begging for compliments, I'm not trying to induce in my readers any over-measures of sympathy. But what I am hoping to achieve, what I want to say, is that I think I'm not alone, here, and I think so many of us are so caught up in weight that we deny not only our outer beauty but our inner, not only the truth that we as women are all beautiful but that we are all worthwhile, all worthy of self-love.

I can say that the scale has little power over me now - looking at the glowing blue number is routine, but not ritual. But there are bits of my disordered past that appear, sometimes, like spectres of failure and doubt. Sometimes I check my weight; sometimes, I don't. But I'm always aware of the size of my jeans, how I used to be a size six, how those lovely dresses I got for Vegas fit, but not well.

Through all of this, I feel like I need to make a promise to myself - a promise I learned in therapy - to look in the mirror and say, I'm pretty. I'm beautiful. I'm a good person, no matter my weight, no matter my insecurities, no matter that pitiful little girl inside of me who still feels ungainly and awkward and starved.

I'd like to invite all of you who read this to do the same - female or male. I'd like us all to make a promise to ourselves, a pact of new beginnings. Because we are beautiful, and good. We can all be happier, I think, by looking in the mirror and seeing who we really are. Not a number, not a lack of perfection - just us, human beings, full of dignity and joy, drawn out of the dust into beautiful bodies and beautiful souls.

We are more than our weight. And I'm going to say it, now and for myself, without reservations -

I am pretty.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Words, Words, Words

I've always been a child of words.

I was that kid, there, between the tipsy soprano and the Casanova tenor, between martinis and speciality cocktails named the frigid orgasm and the drunken bachelor - there, between late night French fries and choral music. I was that child, a product of divorce and young parents, a being of choirs and organ recitals, an illustration of growing up too fast.

I was the quiet voice which silenced my adult friends - which made them say of me, she has an old soul.

Sometimes, my words failed me.

I think it is probably common for us to have memories of what we should have said - we go back, in our minds, to a moment when we didn't say enough, or didn't say it right, or couldn't speak at all. I know I have epic logs of conversations I might have been able to turn my way, silly things like teacher conferences, teenage embarrassments, times when I should have said something better and more powerful. And even smaller incidents - I remember discreet moments of when I needed to pay a compliment, or say a thank you, and being shy and awkward I let those necessary niceties slip.

I have, also, an inventory of what I will say, what must be said, when certain opportunities arise. Don't we all have a few speeches or quick twists of rhetoric stored up, just in case, just for that final moment when we've had enough? In my imagination, I dream up scenarios of climactic moments when I let it all go and use my words to rend the world.

Most likely, were these doomsday predictions to come true, I would be just as tongue-tied as I was in fifth grade when my teacher told my parents I was bad. But I have the words saved, files on a hard drive of neuroticism, to make me strong. To give me confidence, to give me the ability to engage in social interactions with pleasantness and benign smiles.

Blogging is not that way.

I have not posted in a while, mostly because my sister spent last week with me and I didn't spend a lot of time on the Internet. But the other reason - yeah, the real reason - is that I find myself stymied by anxiety, by perfectionism, by that same feeling of being rendered mute by staring eyes and adult expectations.

What if I have nothing to say?

No, that's not quite it - what if what I have to say is essentially meaningless?

I've written about a lot of things here, from my most-read post on bipolar disorder to recipes to Dr. Who to football, and some posts have garnered reactions. Some posts have not. It never mattered to me, really, because I knew I was writing for myself, just doing a private thing in a semi-public way. What mattered most was the writing. And with that in mind, I was able to explore topics which had deep meaning for me, and sometimes, to invite readers to find their own meaning in what I wrote.

And then I found myself thinking about the gaze of onlookers. I started wondering what people would like to read, what might be pleasing to one reader or another. And my words failed me.

I keep on coming back to writing being an act of failing, and it's still true. This moment of failure is completely my own, and so like me - I've been rehearsing blog posts as I do those imaginary conversations, never letting anything grow, living in a sort of blandness without poetry or passion. I think I am still the little kid at the Mt. Vernon Stable after evensong, full of spit and mostly too shy, too hopeful, too quiet when my insides were loud.

What was I afraid of, then? What would have happened if I had fully embraced just being a child, making mistakes - saying childish things, making childish demands? Who would I have been if I had turned my internal wit into something other than one-liners and quips, fortresses of big words and too-grown-up topics?

What am I afraid of now?

I don't want to be a disappointment. I don't want to disappoint myself.

I want what I write to have meaning.

I want to be myself, from science fiction to mental illness to every day silliness.

And I think I can do that. But I need to let that little girl go, because I can't go back and change my memories. I can't defend myself from injuries done so long ago - spiteful teachers, angry gossip, specialty cocktails - and I can't sit and plan a future in which I let all of that stored up fear and ire explode, well-articulated, on cue.

I just need to keep writing. And whether or not you agree with me - and goodness, I hope you don't all the time - I'm going to try to give my writing the full intensity of my opinions and beliefs.

I may be stuck, sometimes - but I need to move on.

No one will give meaning to my words but me.

Monday, February 11, 2013

A Choice

I really should be cleaning.

It's Monday morning, and I've already had more than my share of my new, chocolate coconut coffee, and the kitchen is calling to me with crumbs and drips and Staub frypans needing a good scrubbing. My sister is coming over to stay for the week, starting tomorrow, and I'd like the place to be as tidy as possible. But, as usual, articles online - faith, fame, feminism - are sucking me in, and I'm finding it hard to focus on my bleach and Tide detergent.

Jezebel has been crashing in Safari - that being my regular morning reading - so I turned my attention to CNN. On the front page was news about the Pope stepping down, articles about the Grammy Awards, sensationalist words about severe weather, and one little blip of opinion writing, "My Take: A Word to Christians - Be Nice," by Pastor John S. Dickinson.

Of course, this caught my eye immediately - I read a lot of online posts about religion, on CNN and on other sites. Already anticipating a firestorm of comments (which, on CNN, are almost universally negative) I clicked on the link with little hope for intelligent discourse.

The Internet has a special and inherent quality as a free and accessible podium for the common person to anonymously cry out her or his beliefs with no consequences, no circumspection, no need for politesse or courtesy. I see this not only on major sites like CNN, but on local news outlets, like the HoCo Patch pages, and on feminist sites, and on personal blogs. Comments come from anywhere and from anyone, sometimes addressing the original intent of the author, some skewing the source and turning one topic into a myriad of others. Often, on CNN, commenters turn to entirely fabricated grudges - a so-called war on religion, or an equally ridiculous socialist conspiracy, or the perennial favorite, America as a baby-killer.

Even typing those out feels silly.

But, silly or not, being online means that there are no rules - social boundaries are dismissed, no one is accountable, nastiness is the norm. Personal attacks are more common than intellectual inquiry. People who dare to use their own names open themselves up to what feels like an invasion, and anything from their grammar to their weight to their politics are targets for comments that sound more like schoolyard sniggering than adult debate.

This, then, is why I was surprised by the article mentioned above. Oh, sure, the comments were as nasty as ever - the first asserting the "war on religion" nonsense - but the content of the article addressed that immediately. It's easy to find pieces written by priests and pastors which focus solely on religion, but this particular article adeptly quoted scripture to talk not about faith, but about humanity. Boiled down to its most salient point -

What we believe is not our faith; rather, it is what we do.

This may seem like an unoriginal platitude, one with which we can easily agree and just as easily ignore. But I think the author hits on something truly important, something which we should remember when we enter into online dialogue. That, in fact, is what Pastor Dickinson is saying - the way we behave online, the words of hate, the diatribes of un-Christian ugliness, make our faith shallow, petty, a crutch for the worst of human behavior.

Calling yourself a Christian does not make you Christ-like.

My parochial primary school included mandatory religion classes, and I remember clearly, and with a smile, a lesson on piety. My priest, famous for his Bullwinkle impersonations and his yowling renditions of, "Jesus Wants You for a Sunbeam," folded his hands under his chin and nearly skipped across the classroom, shouting, "Look at me, I'm so pious!" Dissolving into giggles, my classmates and I were open to the message - piety is an action, piety is a practice, and piety is not, nor will it ever be, an excuse for bragging, for superiority, for bad behavior. Silly as my priest's mincing steps and fluttering eyes were, his lesson was a solid one - and I've already said it -

Religion does not make you a good person. Claiming a faith does not make you infallible. Loving a god and not loving your brother? That makes your faith a facade, a false testimony, a lie.

And I think there's a broader message here, because Christianity is just one doctrine of many, and there are more topics online than faith or religion. Whether or not you are Christian, whether or not you are addressing faith, there needs to be a renewed contract of courtesy and respect between authors, readers, fellow people. Just as I desperately need to get off my behind and clean my kitchen, we need to wipe away the surface layers of grime and find what I hope is the true nature of being human - listening, learning, loving one another. We need to reawaken our accountability.

I'm going to put aside the iPad for now and tackle the housework. But, as I scrub and launder and straighten, I hope to keep Pastor Dickinson's message in my heart - not just a message for the Christian in me, but a message for the very human woman who wants to make the world a better place.

Words, actions, computer keys, Lysol and bleach - every breath a moment to choose love.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Music Friday

I have never, ever liked rap.

I was one of those all too common obnoxious kids on facebook who listed my music preferences - from opera to jazz to choral music - with the caveat, anything but rap. Admittedly, I was being honest rather than trendy, as rap just didn't work for me; though I myself have a dirty mouth sometimes, the constant stream of foul language, set to predictable and over-produced beats, was just as much a foreign language to me as an unappealing example of, this is not music.

I think a lot of that comes from what kind of rap crosses over into mainstream pop music - a genre characterized by insipid and easily consumable comments on sexuality, drug use, the female form, violence, and waking up with a hangover. The rap you hear on a top forty station probably has very little to do with the real music that is being made, the stuff that doesn't make it to the radio because it is too new, on less affluent record labels, with more challenging approaches to both the content and the medium.

But it seems like the music world is changing, and changing for the better. The fact that I can turn on the radio and hear folk rock like Mumford and Sons (on Hot 99.5, no less) seems to be a sign that the kind of music that the general public listens to is diversifying. And singles like, "Ho, Hey," are making alternative music more accessible to a wider audience - and though that song, certainly, couldn't be classified as the epitome of alternative artistic achievement, it feels like a good start.

So, if alternative music is making new waves in the charts and in my head - why not rap?

I don't know how many of you have heard the song, "Thrift Shop," by Macklemore - it's been on 99.5 recently. I have to admit, the first time I heard it, I dug myself in a little hole, plugging my fingers in my ears and defending my stubbornness, repeating, that's not music. The bad words, the repeating notes, the deep voice - all of it said to me that I wasn't going to like it. That it was ugly. Another example of how rap didn't deserve my respect.

Ah, how easy it is to fall back on old opinions! How easy to deny change, openness, the spirit of exploration. How effortless, how sad.

Then, I got lucky.

A friend of mine showed me the music video for another of Macklemore's songs, "Same Love." There I was, with all of my clinging to the eighteen year old me, fingers halfway raised to ward off cursing and foreign rhythms, faced with something I didn't expect.

This rap was poetry. It was self-aware, conscious of its own message and of the rap world in general, conscious of what images it was conveying, conscious of the lasting and necessary efforts of music to make the world a better place. God, and it was beautiful, with a single female voice, pure, singing, and the simplicity of Macklemore himself telling a story which needed to be told.

I cried and cried. I watched the video again today and did the same.

Music is, at its root, transformative. I don't listen to music just to be entertained - it's not just background music, and if it is, it forms inspiration for me in my writing or cooking or dancing. I listen to music to change, to make life bigger and better and sadder, to figure out how my soul works. And that's what art is - art is a process, a holy communion between artist and observer, an exchange of ideas, emotions, the divinity of our selves. And it's an exchange of love.

I'm so glad that I have been able to feel that way about Macklemore. This song is an overt message of love, but I think it has also helped me to be more willing to enter into that relationship between musicians and their listeners, and be less inclined to close myself off to an entire genre. Yes, a lot of the rap on the radio really does center on the negative - disposable women, disposable income, disposable life - but not all rap is like that.

Here's the link to, "Same Love."

I think, if you're willing, we can enter into that communal, peaceful worship - music as the sounds of who we are - together.

Give it a try.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Boiling Point

Okay, so I had this beautiful post planned about Baltimore and my love of the city and our awesome win on Sunday. However, upon doing some reading to prepare salient details about the game and our team, I got so steaming mad that my lovely prose went out the window. So, this probably won't be a gorgeous post of gushing language and butterflies, but here goes.

To put it bluntly, people are racist.

The laws may have changed, may be changing; our schools are integrated, though still, I would say, unequal; we drink out of the same water fountains, and we eat in the same restaurants. But here we are, with those basic advances and acknowledgements of certain civil rights, and as I read sports articles about the Baltimore Ravens I am faced with this ugly truth that people are full of hate and spite, and that a lot of that involves race.

Crime is not new - crime in professional and recreational sports, in particular, is as pervasive as it is entrenched. Recently, discussions (I'll say discussions, when I mean uninformed, rage-filled online diatribes) of Ray Lewis's criminal history have abounded, and I can understand why - we will never know what really happened thirteen years ago, and perhaps, though the criminal justice system did its work, people are left unsatisfied. And it's easy, really easy, to look at someone famous, on a different team, from a different background, and find as many ways as possible to tear them down. Part of that is competition, sure - but in this case, I think there's a lot more at work.

Because most of those people discussing Ray Lewis's past? They mention his skin color. They mention his faith in God, mocking it. They mention Baltimore as a black city, as a city filled with crime. And they say that we shouldn't really have won - that it was some kind of fluke, that the 'Niners should have had a fifth quarter, and that football is screwing over the white guys, somehow, because a predominantly African-American team doesn't really deserve to win the Super Bowl.

Because black people can't really be that good at football.

Because all black men are thugs.

Because a black man's faith is just a lie.

Because a black man's pride and passion makes him a sissy - makes him not strong, but weak.

Can you imagine living your whole life believing these things? And I'm not talking about overt racism, necessarily, but the every day kind - the kind that lives in the above statements, making them the fundamental truths of a poisoned society. It's the racism that sounds so reasonable, relying on past experience and concepts of propriety and masculinity. It's a racism that becomes a part of someone's identity as an American, or as a man, or as a sports fan. It's sickening, and it's everywhere.

Just as an experiment, I think I'll turn those previous statements on their heads - tell me if this is familiar.

"Young black athletes are making it harder for white athletes to succeed, because the NFL and college sports practice affirmative action, which must be wrong."

"The faces I see on the street scare me - they look menacing and brutish. Strong, athletic black men, like the ones who play football, are threatening, too. They must come from a life of crime."

"The way black people worship God is different from the services and prayers I know. I feel like they make a lot of noise and get really emotional. That's not the way I worship. It seems fake to me, off-putting."

"I don't think men should cry, and when I see athletes overcome with emotion - like Ray Lewis in the postseason - it makes me uncomfortable. And somehow the pride he has in his team and talents shows that he is too emotional, and that he's just a weak man, not to be taken seriously."

What makes me sad is that these statements could easily be brushed off as part of the reality of modern life. People have taken offense with affirmative action - and it is okay to disagree with the policy, of course, but so many of us use these social endeavors for equality to disregard the actual talents and skills of African-Americans. It's as if saying, affirmative action, is the same as saying, African-Americans aren't really good enough, but white society pities them. Do people not hear what they are saying? How horrible, how nasty, how limiting.

People worry about crime. Makes sense - crime is not good. But crime has no color. Crime, different crimes, might be economically based, but it's pretty clear that people are going to break the law no matter what they look like. We've got an economy which is the result of rich, white collar crime, and we've got a penal system which is the result of poor, drug-related crime. It's all crime (though I would argue that a lot of the punishments regarding drug-related crime come out of some pretty ugly legislation) and skin color really, really doesn't matter.

People make fun of Ray Lewis's faith. And, to that, I say - how dare you? Lewis's praise of God before and after a game has got to be one of the most harmless, and perhaps beautiful, examples of faith. And no, it's not decorous, and it isn't silent, and it's messy with tears and laughter - and it is real. Being raised in an Anglican church, with strict rules of how God should be worshipped, I am delighted to see someone praise God so openly, genuinely, wildly. And, if Tebow can make such a huge deal of his faith, why can't Lewis?

Why can't men be emotional - and again, it's not a white thing, a black thing, an any color thing, when men are or are not expressive. What gets to me is that people are using Lewis's honesty, his love for his brothers, to say that he must be "womanish" - making him seem less powerful, less of a man, less of a valid and valued athlete. People are taking away his agency, his ability to have feelings and strength. And why? Why? Why is it necessary to make Lewis out to be both a thug and a wimp?

Growing up in Baltimore, most of the faces I saw were black. And it never occurred to me, never, that there was anything wrong with that. It never entered my mind that I should pity, mock, fear, my friends, neighbors, fellow congregants. So when I see this awful stuff, and when it's said with such calm, such expectation of acceptance, I boil.

We won the Super Bowl, and we feel pride. And people might wish it had gone otherwise - but can the racism. Stop it.

America needs to be better than that.

Friday, February 1, 2013


I wake up with music in my head.

Sometimes the pre-coffee soundtrack is ridiculous and inexplicable, such as the mornings when I have some vaguely avant-garde combination of Taylor Swift and the Teletubbies giggling me into wakefulness. Other times, it's the last song I listened to before I went to bed - anything from the Subway sandwiches jingle to Johnny Flynn and Laura Marling's "The Water."

Today, as with many days, it was Mumford and Sons.

I tried to put it off - I've been up since 7:23 (and God knows why I wake up at that exact time every day), cleaning, putting away laundry, getting ready for dinner with my grandmother and a romantic evening after with G - and listened to the Lumineers' eponymous album and Fun.'s "Aim and Ignite." I watched some Ravens footage; I hung up G's shirts and sang along with "Si, mi chiamano Mimi."

But now, at 1:00, when the dishes have been washed and I've reached that moment of not being busy, of having nothing between me and my thoughts, I'm listening to Mumford and Sons' "Babel." I can't help myself.

Something about this music - the sounds I wake up with, the notes I sing in the bathtub, the words that linger as I live my normal life with G - is so overwhelming and beautiful that it seems like these musicians live in my heart, a secret, a holy ritual, a partaking. I don't know if I can put my finger on that magical thing which makes Mumford and Sons take root in my soul; maybe it's the banjo, maybe the brass, maybe the raw sound of voices, but it seems like those are all ingredients that make up a perfect recipe of sadness and desire.

Sadness and desire. That sounds about right.

Life throws a lot of those two emotions at me - maybe I'm not alone in that. Recently, I've been faced with both due to family situations. We all go through periods when family or friends intersect with our lives in surprising and not entirely welcome ways, and we all move on, let go - or at least pretend to, busying ourselves with the routines of daily life.

But it's those moments of being unoccupied when Mumford and Sons sneak in, when all of the chores are finished, and I know I need to write, and I don't know what I can write about because all of me is the banjo and the horn and an unadorned voice, sadness and desire. It's that moment, right before I open my eyes, when I'm aware, distinctly, that something is wrong. I hide it, put that wrongness away, until I'm on my fifth cup of coffee and face the prospect of writing and start up my iTunes and there it is, there they are.

There I am, living in my world of opposites - folk rock and jingles, top 40 and children's programming, longing and loving; I'm living in a world where the most heart-wrenching music is the most stunningly beautiful.

And that's okay. It has to be.

We wake up and get about the business of being alive. We do the things that aren't that exciting, like taking out the garbage and cleaning the drains, and we do things that make us happy, like spending time with family and lovers and friends. We are busy. We put things away.

And then, in glimpses, in reflections, in cups of coffee, in the quiet dim of snow, we live in moments of Mumford and Sons' shocking truths - that we are the product of our sadness and desire. And that our busy moments, then, are made more precious by the depths of our souls, our capacity to feel and do more than one thing at a time, our love for those around us and our deep regrets. Our affection, our resentments; our joy, our mourning.

It's our ability to smile, to cry helplessly happy tears, to give hugs, and the underlying and undeniable fact that parts of us make sounds like a music which is unrestrained and bare.

I've been at this post for an hour, and like all things, I must put it away. I'm going to hop in the tub and drench myself in candy-scented bubbles. I'll use the shampoo I only use for special occasions; I might treat myself to a rub-down with shimmering lotion and a few spritzes of my favorite perfume. I will make myself busy.

I will go to dinner, taste the tropical fruits in sangria, eat ceviche, love my grandmother. I will go with my husband to the Inner Harbor and see light on the water and hold hands.

I will keep going, and I will smile.

I will have voices of truth in my head, singing.