Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Moment in Song, v. 1 & 2

I don't mind being the one hundred billionth person to write about the power of music to transport you to another time or place. Good food can do it, like my previous rant about my grandmother's devil's food cake; how easy it is to conjure the red carpet, apricot trees and apothecary jars of 1552 Jacob Ave. exactly how it was only in my childhood? Or in Ratatouille, when Anton Ego takes a bite of exquisitely sliced eggplant and tomatoes, and is immediately a skinny boy with huge eyes in his mother's kitchen (when we saw this in the theatres, the kid sitting behind us whispered, "I feel like that sometimes"). So it is with music. Here are two examples at the forefront of my mind right now:

Bullet with Butterfly Wings, Smashing Pumpkins:

Backstage in Vanguard Theatre, in the Fine Arts building, in college. I'm on my hands and knees, painting a canvas backdrop that will be the focus image of the stage design for Working, a musical we're putting on, I'm guessing Spring of 1997. Is that right? I can't remember. Doug Cook, my good friend and theatre teacher (and freshman orientation advisor), comes into the backstage area through the door near my boss Tim's office. Doug is wearing his full-length gray Dickie's jumpsuit that he keeps in his office to put over his teacher clothes when there is painting to be done. He is singing, at the top of his lungs, "DESPITE ALL MY RAGE I AM STILL JUST A RAT IN A CAGE!!!" and the sound is echoing through the catwalk and proscenium.

Let's Get It On, Marvin Gaye:

Summer 2002, Dunn School, Los Olivos, California. It's Jansen Family Reunion week, and we're all bunked up on the campus of my Mom's school, having pool parties, making videos, getting on each other's nerves. For the first time since before things like this mattered, I am single. This puts me in the unenviable position of having to sleep on the couch in the living room of the house we have borrowed, while my sisters (and their boyfriends) occupy the guest room and master suite. Four or five of my male cousins sleep on the floor around the couch. This summer, their favorite thing to do is record the sound of their farts into Simon's computer. And also to clog up toilets by not flushing them for several days. My plumber uncles are not amused by this. These boys, however, find pretty much anything brown to be the height of hilarity.

Friday, the night before everyone has to leave, we have an impromptu dance party at Mark and Amy's house. It probably wasn't officially impromptu, Amy and I have the annoying habit of trying to PLAN things like spontaneous dance parties, but this one balmy night in August, it works. The less fleet-footed members of the family are outside, admiring the waning crescent moon through a telescope, while the rest of us are hoofing it in the living room to disco and r & b classics. This is the family that I grew up with, my mother's brothers and their wives and kids. My little grandmother is parked on the couch, clapping along with the music and cooing over particularly athletic feats of footwork. This is the last time I remember recognizing her when I looked at her face. The boys want to participate in the revelry but don't want to be caught doing anything as gay (the opposite of brown) as dance with the grownups, so they are just zooming around the house, sliding on the hardwoods in their socks. Beau ignores my beckoning, but Simon is willing to step up and boogie with me, and Brandon is, instead of dancing, posing in familiar bodybuilder stances. I put on Let's Get It On, the Jack Black version from High Fidelity, and my mom and my Uncle John take this one very seriously. He's flinging her around and dancing in swerving circles and Mom has her arms in the air and is swaying her hips. In one particularly inspired move, she reaches up and unpins her hair, and swings her head with a flourish, and Uncle John steps back as if he's lost his breath. I am envious of their friendship; every year she and I make great strides towards dissolving the structures of traditional mother-daughter confinements, but I don't know if she'll ever be, around me, the way she is so easy with her brothers. Aunt Paula is dancing with Brandon, and Amy and I are in the middle of the room, twirling each other under each arm like ballerinas.

Later that evening, I'm riding my mom's bicycle. It has been years since I've been on a bike, and just like the cliche, I'm suprised by how easily the motions come back to me, the act of balancing, braking, steering. The night is cool, the moon is near and bright, and I'm thinking about how seldom I am alone outside at night. I'm inclined to be a little bit spooked by this thought, and in a small way it makes me very conscious of my single-ness; ordinarily I would be walking home with Brandes. I keep thinking, I'm too old to be single, to start again! And then I consider my mom, and she's single too, and that idea and process was so unthinkable when it started and then it somehow became okay. And then it became the only life any of us could imagine. This is the week I have been told that my ex-boyfriend has died, and many larger thoughts of mortality and maturity and the future are looming. But for tonight, surrounded by the reality of family, I have never felt safer in my life.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


Last night I dreamed that there was a tornado downtown. The triangular black cloud was streaming along the streets, and buildings underneath were burning. I was with my dad and my Uncle Larry, and I said I wished I had my keys, so we could just go hide at work, since we weren't safe in the car. Then I looked in the backseat and my purse was there, with my keys. Dad said, "Let's just go to your office, " and I said, no, it's just a trailer, it's not safe. Let's go to Hatch, I still have a key. So we went to Hatch and Dad and Larry went in to get the kitties and hide somewhere secure, and I was just trying to disarm the Hatch alarm. Apparently they'd changed the code since I left, and it kept just beeping at me. I could see many different codes written in pencil in Jim's handwriting on the wall behind the alarm pad, and kept trying them, and was sort of wondering why the cops hadn't come by now. Then I realized probably alarms were going off all over downtown because of the tornado.


So, I have a hypothetical for you.

Let's just say I've been wandering about in this career-ennui haze. Maybe for years. Hypothetically. I didn't really have a career goal in college (majoring in Art with a concentration in Creative Writing, just to give the career counselors something to roll their eyes at). I wasn't working towards anything, and I'm sure that's why I slowly fell apart as a college student. Then I went to Hatch, and it was a very safe place for me. Some days were so much fun, and some days were so awful that I have probably blocked it. But it was easy to stay there for seven years, and to not think about it too hard. Then I did the hard thing and left and went to the gym, and we know how that ended. Now I'm here at the magazine, and I don't know where this fits in the grand scheme of things.

And now, hypothetically, what if a family friend with a healthy estate at his disposal came to me and offered to make an investment in my future? If his exact words were, "Perhaps Delaney should consider self-employment. Is there something she would simply love spending the next thirty years doing? I might be able to help." This is the only thing I've been able to think about for three days now (hypothetically), and WHAT does it mean about me if I can't come up with a SINGLE thing that I would simply love spending the next thirty years doing? Where have I gone wrong from the little girl in third grade who listed among her dozens of career goals: firefighter, chef, mother, ballet dancer, writer, cat trainer, unicorn, architect.

The first thought that floated through my brain was that maybe he'd just pay my bills so I could stay home and raise a family. I know this is not what he meant by this offer, I'm just handing this over as an example of how warped my brain has become. This is a particularly fine example, because as you well know, I have no IDEA if I want to raise a family, at least any time soon, so why would that be my immediate response if I were to be financially independent? Psh.

Every idea that comes up (or gets suggested to me), I immediately find a flaw. The long-discussed bakery idea? I don't want to have to get up before dawn every morning, and bakeries are risky anyway. Event planning? How long would I have to do that before I started making a profit? Catering? What, and ruin all the fun I have cooking for my friends and family every week? Writing? Um, that is just so unstable, and the only writing I feel prepared to do anymore is blog about why I'm never going to have affairs with douchebag singer-songwriters. Chad suggested I start a dogwalking/kennel/dog park kind of business, and my answer to that was the same as what I tell my mom every time she suggests I be a teacher: I get too attached and sensitive. If anything went wrong, or if there was some situation I couldn't control, it would just break me. Can't work with kids or animals.

The ugly reality of it is, I'm lazy, unfocused and unmotivated. I want to make a lot of money without having to work very hard. I am sure if there was something I was passionate about doing that I wanted to share with the world, I would work hard at that, but until I figure out what that is (is that ever going to happen?), the idea of just picking something and going for it makes me feel panicky, and sort of like I want to cry. I don't know if I have the discipline to be self-employed, unless my responsibilities were to make menus of a week's worth of meals and play solitaire... hypothetically.

And another thing is, I can thank my parents for instilling such a sense of fairness in me that I can't justify taking advantage of any opportunity without making sure my sisters are offered the same. Just because they got their shit together long before me, it is ok for me to take this baffling act of benevolence and run with it, without counting the M & Ms and making sure J & C each get an equal number as I?

My mom says it's helping her to focus her thoughts (she's sort of in the same place as I, scarily enough) to list the things that she knows she DOESN'T want to do. She's started that list for me: no office jobs, no strict time table but deadlines are ok (because my adrenalin doesn't start pumping until it's the midnight hour), no dress code, no coworkers hanging over my shoulder, but some kind of social aspect so I don't feel isolated. Nothing dull, routine, uncreative.

I would add to this something that is just a reminder to myself, because in my weakened state I have considered it lately: I don't want to work in the service industry.

There are plenty of people who work just to work. No restaurants would get cleaned, no garbage would get picked up, no water meters would be read if everybody got to have a career doing something they loved (I know that was a blanket statement and I'm sure there are exceptions to all those jobs, I'm sure there are people who love doing those things. I'm just saying, for the purpose of argument...). So who am I to be asked if I want to follow my dreams for a living, and to just sort of shrug and say, "I don't know?"

I will say this: I'm serious about not wanting to ruin the things I really enjoy by having my livelihood depend on them. Baking for Rumours is showing me that, like a mirror in front of my face. So instead of having an answer to the question, is there something I love that I want to do for the next 30 years, I can only say, I want to do something for the next 30 years that makes it easy to also do the things I love. So where does that leave me now?

Hypothetically, I mean.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Durio zibethinus

Ever watch No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain on the Travel Channel? We watch it, a lot, and really really enjoy it. Austin bought the first season as a wedding gift for his brother. Anthony travels around the world, and the focus of the show is mostly food. On the Indonesia episode, which I haven't seen but Austin and Charles have watched at least twice, he eats durian. Durian is a fruit native to Southeast Asia, and is famous for having a "distinctive" odor but a sweet and delicious flavor. The descriptions of how it smells range from gym sock to turpentine to pig shit to "flowery." (That "flowery" description must have been a mis-translation, from what I can figure.)

Naturally, Austin wants one. So this weekend we roll out to the K & S Market on Charlotte (we actually went to the one on Nolensville also, but it's not very good, don't bother, Nashville) and search the produce section, which was (to Austin's disappointment and my relief) durian-free. We did locate some durian-flavoured pudding, and threw that in the basket. Then, as we were desperately combing the aisles for saffron and green cardamom seeds (no luck on either, btw), there, in the freezer section, was a cooler full of frozen durians. Oh, the joy on my Birthday Boy's face. Durian comes home with us, rests on the kitchen counter like a threatening porcupine of looming stench. While frozen, it didn't smell like anything but market freezer. After it had time to thaw, Austin and Charles took it outside (on my orders) and started to hack into it. And I'm telling you, people, it was worse than even described.

I hid inside while they ate, forbidding them to bring it into the house, but I guess Charles thought this was prank-worthy. They came in, later, and I was wailing about how I could smell it on them, and it smelled like it was everywhere, and Austin licked my arm and I had to scrub it to get the scent off. I was demanding that they light candles to clear the air, and then Austin comes in carrying the half-eaten durian shell holding a lighter to it, saying, "It won't light." They had brought it in and I believe Charles wanted to hide it somewhere that it would take me a few days to find. This is hilarious, right?

And then last night, we went to Family Dinner at Carmen's and there was ANOTHER durian in her kitchen! I immediately bellowed for Charles, who knew what I was yelling about as soon as I saw my face, and boy did he look proud. "For Austin's birthday!" Right. They took it on the porch and let everyone have a chance sniffing and tasting. I am glad to know that my reaction appears to be that of the majority.

I am starting to think that durian is like a rorschach test of the olfactory system. You smell what you want to smell. I smell burned hair and, very specifically, the mold that grows in a tupperware container that originally held buttered rice but has sat out on the counter in the hot kitchen for five days. Nick said it smelled like a garbage disposal, and Nikiah said it smelled like pink medicine. Carmen took that one step further and said it smelled like amoxycillin after she had thrown it up.

As far as the taste, I just didn't go for it. Sweet like a mango, but probably more like papaya or passionfruit, neither of which I care for. But with a texture of rather firm cream cheese, with a bit of stringiness like pineapple. I suppose the taste could be very appealing to some, and certainly not utterly repellent to most, but I can't imagine that much of the world's population can even push past the smell to bother seeing if it tastes good. I myself cannot. As said in Ratatouille, "Once you muscle past the gag reflex, all sorts of possiblities open up." Those possibilities are, as far as I'm concerned, unavailable to me.

Friday, August 10, 2007


Watch Me Abuse the Conversational (Parenthetical) Aside

So after WAY too many (2) Dr. Pepper's with dinner, and possibly too many (4) blueberry vodka drinks (best friend; also nemesis) at the Mercy Lounge last night, I have some thoughts. Tonight's show was Cory Branan and Ben Nichols, touring under the moniker Brew City Tour III, meaning this is the third time this Particular Circumstance of Cory and Ben on stage together, trading songs, has crossed through Nashville. Ben Nichols is the lead singer of Lucero, Cory is a singer-songwriter from Memphis-ish, but not the douchebag type, as he likes to say. This pairing is dangerous on a very basic level. There are some bands who REALLY appeal to boys, boys respond to them, boys buy their music and wear their shirts. And there are some artists who have an exclusively female following, girls learn all the words, girls write blogs about them. What happens when you put one of each on stage? At the same time? It really starts to stir up some much larger questions, about music, and musicians, and what they mean to us, and fidelity, and the future, and the type of people you (I) want to be.

Ben Nichols is the Pied Piper of boys with tattoos. I have said this many times in trying to identify and categorize this bizarre scientific occurence: when Ben Nichols talks, boys listen. They memorize lyrics. They bellow along while pumping their fist in the air, with their other arm slung around the shoulders of the boy next to them, whose fist is also raised, clamped firmly around a PBR. If Ben Nichols said, "All you boys out there, with your tattoos and trucker hats and scruffiness, go jump out the window," that venue would be, almost immediately, emptied of hairy legs, and there would be a mess on the sidewalk for the CSI people to deal with. I have been around boys and boy culture my whole life, what with my gigantic big hairy family of men with broadswords, and then all the boys I collected in high school and college, as a den-mother-type who made them study and break up with girls who were bad for them. And I have never seen boys respond, en masse, to a leader, a messiah, a raconteur, the way they respond to Ben Nichols. Lucero are like Uncle Tupelo, but dirtier, with whiskey running through their veins, cheap beer pouring from their fingertips like conductors of drinking songs. The difference is Ben Nichols.

And then there is Cory. I've written about him before, on my old blog, and I don't want to cross over into gushiness or worshipfulness or whatever. He has become my friend after years of just being a fan, and for this I am grateful. I can sum it up this way: Cory writes the words that every girl, in her heart of hearts, has waited her whole life to hear a man say to her. And her dad doesn't count. This is a dangerous talent, fraught with risk and bad omens. This man exists, he writes poetry that doesn't always rhyme, he says brave things and dirty things and things that make you catch your breath and shake your head like you've been slapped. He's right there, in front of you, don't you want to just sit down on a stool sort of off to the side and wait for him to come off the stage, towards you, and take your hand? He could say those things to you, you know he has the words, this could be the moment. Wait for him, watch sideways as he puts his guitar down and fusses with his hair for the millionth time, don't make eye contact with the dozen other girls on that same side of the stage with obviously the same intentions.

I've been mentally mapping out a blog for a while now, about Things I Wish I Didn't Know. (The subheading is "Dad, please think before you say these things out loud to your daughters.") And I think what made it come up in my mind in the first place is a sort-of starfucker kind of issue... is it better for performers to be remote and distant and to fulfill all my hopes and dreams in song, or do I really want them to sit down next to me and start talking?

What am I going to do, take him home with me? Because he strings the right words together in a cadence that suits me? Take him Home, where The Boo has been sleeping for hours now, The Boo who will get up early and ride his bicycle and take care of our demanding and hilarious pets? No. I'm not going to do that. Even writing about it seems destructive, the way I was in college, when I would write cheating poems, just begging to be caught and punished. Last night I said good night, I walked out the door, I put these thoughts together on the way home, and I brushed my hair before going to bed so I wouldn't smell like smoke in the morning.

and here is my policy on Bailing: if you have plans with me, and those plans change, please tell me. This is not difficult. I am a text messaging fiend. Send me a text that says "I'm not coming" and I promise you, I will be fine with that. If I already bought you a ticket, I might give you a little bit of shit about that. But mostly, I'd rather just know that you aren't coming than have my calls and texts ignored. Suck it up, be straight with me.

And remember the good karma request of a few weeks back? It didn't work out. It was a job interview, I'll tell you that now, and I found out this morning that I didn't get the job, and I'm really disappointed. So there, I'm looking for a job, if you think of anything. And I'm glad I've got my girl Brandy here with me now to gossip and keep me distracted and this bad news is not going to ruin my weekend.

P.S. The Mercy Lounge, one of my favorite venues, is failing at their half-assed attempt to be smoke-free. There are a couple of shitty signs hanging up on posts, and otherwise no structure, no enforcers, particularly not John Bruton, lighting up in a fog at the bar. I mentioned the smoke-free rule to several partakers tonight, one of them even asked me if I worked there, and I don't care what that implies. I'm the bitchy schoolmarm, whatever. It sure would have been nice to come home tonight without having to wash all my clothes. What a violation of personal rights.