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Washington, DC, United States
I don't write here nearly as much as I should, but when I do, I'll try to make it count for something.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Musical Musings: Best of 2013

The biggest advantage to being housebound for many many days over the holiday season is having a lot of time to explore every facet of the internet – and one of my favorite things to do on the internet around this time of year is looking at “best of” music lists. It’s always a catch-22 because while I absolutely love looking at other people/magazine/websites’ top lists, I always get infuriated with them too (like Pitchfork, who gave KANYE WEST the honor of best album of the year because they’re hacks).

Anyway, exploring all these lists always inspires me to create a top 100 playlist of my personal favorite songs of the year (which is hard because it’s difficult to keep it down to ONLY 100) but this year I decided to challenge myself further. Instead of just doing a crazy playlist (which you can check out on Spotify, if you’d like), I am forcing myself to bring it down to just 25! I attempted a top 10 but it was impossible. How do people even do that?

I genuinely love every single song on this list. Yes, Justin Timberlake is on this there, OBVIOUSLY and yes, so is Jay Z and Drake. But there’s also Daft Punk, Janelle Monae and Atoms for Peace. Hopefully you’ll find something on here that you discover and say, “Hey ain’t too shabby” or maybe you had already considered some of these tracks for your own favorite of 2013. I tried to keep it pretty diverse and I don’t think there are toooo many surprised in here for those of you who know me fairly well.

So let’s get on with it, shall we?

  1. Atoms for Peace, “Ingenue”: I could go on and on for days about how good this album was. Definitely my favorite for the year (or at least tied with Daft Punk and Foxygen). But this track in particular hooked me, right from the get go. Stays with you and every time I hear it, I’m almost hearing it for the first time.
  2. Irene Diaz, “I Love You Madly”: Stripped down and gorgeous. Sometimes the best songs are nothing more than the right voice and a guitar. And this song is so so right.
  3. Eleanor Friedberger, “Stare At the Sun”: I am obsessed with this woman’s voice. It’s so unique and strange and beautiful and every once in a while, the perfect song really brings out everything that’s great about it. I want more solo albums from her.
  4. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Sacrilege”: Another lady voice I’m obsessed with. Karen O is a BEAST with that wail of hers. But I love when it’s turned ethereal, like in this song, and you feel like you’re transported to a tribal world. Her voice belongs in another era.
  5. Foxygen, “San Francisco”: I cannot even tell you how hard it was to pick just one song off of this album. Foxygen is currently my favorite “up and coming” band and I really hope to see them live one of these days. I almost picked “In the Darkness” (which stayed in my head for months, after seeing Drinking Buddies) but “San Francisco” is the most infectiously 60s pop-like single off of this very retro album so I had to pick it.
  6. Janelle Monae & Erikah Badu, “Q.U.E.E.N.”: Personally I think Erikah Badu is crazy but man that loony lady can saaaaaang. The combination of her and Janelle (whose latest album is GORGEOUS) is just unstoppable.
  7. Daft Punk, “Instant Crush”: I feel bad that I put this all the way down in the 7th spot. I really do. While I had my doubts about this Daft Punk album at first (mainly because people wouldn’t shut up about it for months), it grew on me over time until suddenly it was on my regular rotation and I’d find myself dancing alone to it in my apartment (or, y’know, my office) all the time. I know I probably should pick “Get Lucky” (and hell, I almost did because I love that song no matter how overplayed it is) but this is actually the first song off of this album to make me go, “Hey wait a minute now, there’s something here!”   
  8. James Blake, “Retrograde”: I’m not convinced that James Blake isn’t a ghost. His music is not of this earth, I swear. But none the less, I actually believe that this is his best single yet. Sultry as usual with a somewhat harder edge than his music typically has.
  9. Charles Bradley, “Victim of Love”: My old soul flutters when I hear this song. I love me some Charles Bradley. Who knew that a guy who started off as a James Brown impersonator could make his very own awesome imprint on the musical world?
  10. CHVRCHES, “Recover”: Let’s all be honest. This band/song was this year’s indie (read: hipster) darling. I admit it. But I don’t care because this song is just so infectious that it deserves the attention.
  11. Thundercat, “Oh Sheit It's X": Usually not my type of jam but it’s so funky and retro. It makes me want to put on a pair of platform shoes, get an afro wig, and bust a move. Admit it… you’re listening to this right now and wanting to do the same exact thing.
  12. Drake, “Hold On, We’re Going Home”: Even I cannot believe I picked a song by Drake for my top 25 list. But like so many other songs on this list, it’s totally from another era. While “Oh Sheit It’s X” makes me want to bring out the platform shoes, “Hold On, We’re Going Home” makes me want to invade the 1980s club scene. Also this music video takes me back to a time when music videos were elaborate stories and not just big booty dancers or bearded hipsters crying into a camera. I mean the music doesn’t even start until minute 2:35 and I love it.
  13. Haim, “The Wire”: I was embarrassingly late in discovering this band. But better late than never! I dare you to listen to this song and not at least bop your head. If you manage to resist, you are a cyborg. Sorry you had to find out this way.
  14. Jay Z, “Picasso Baby”: I know I have a double standard. I don’t care for Kanye (though, truth be told, I don’t think he’s untalented; I just hate his verbal diarrhea). I loathe Beyonce. But man, do I love me some Jay Z. I always have and I always will. I can’t even really explain it. A lot of things I hate about Kanye are character traits that Jay Z has. Same with Beyonce. And yet, here we are – with me loving this track to death, right down to the lyrics, “I’m the modern day Pablo Picasso, baby.”
  15. Justin Timberlake, “Pusher Love Girl”: Guuuurl. I love this man. I still hate Jessica Biel for crushing my dreams. But honesty time? I wasn’t crazy about this album. It’s grown on me but this is one of the few tracks off the album that I have consistently loved from the first moment I heard it. I keep daydreaming that Justin is singing it to me, hrrrmmmmm…. Ahem. Yes. It’s a good track.
  16. Yo La Tengo, “Ohm”: More honesty? I didn’t even know they came out with a new album until like two weeks ago. Pretty sure it came out like 5 months ago. Pretty sure every music magazine made a big deal about it. I felt a little like Donna Noble when one of my nerdy music buddies mentioned it to me – all “Huh? What?” And yes, I just made a Doctor Who reference. Get over it. But back to YLT! Great album (as usual) and this is my favorite track off of it.
  17. TV On the Radio, “Mercy”: Oh, TV On the Radio. AKA the Ol’ Reliables. They are just consistently great and this track does not let me down. I’ll say that it’s probably one of their more accessible songs – far more palatable than some of their more static, experimental ventures – but still has the same level of mania their music always has. I just want to crowd surf when I listen to one of their albums.
  18. Phosphorescent, “Song for Zula”: What genre is this? Folk soul? Is that a thing? Because it should be, because it’s fantastic. The shout out to Johnny Cash doesn’t hurt either. I originally had this track at the #20 spot but decided to bump it up a few notches.
  19. Alice Smith, “Shot”: I read a review of Alice Smith’s album She that sums up everything for me: this is basically what would happen if Fiona Apple decided to put together a string of afro-funk songs. This song in particular has some great hooks and a truly fantastic groove.
  20. Disclosure & AlunaGeorge, “White Noise”: A club favorite of mine. I mean, I don’t go to many clubs, but I imagine this song would play at a lot of the types of clubs I’d frequent if I was the type to… y’know, go clubbing. I like Disclosure but I love love love AlunaGeorge. Her voice loans the right amount of emotional depth and power to this already very danceable track. Great stuff.
  21. Bonobo, “Cirrus”: Jazzy and fun. A song not afraid to be filled with joy. Fantastic beats. Great arrangement. Only reason why it’s not higher on my list is because it’s not really my breed of music so I have to be in the right mood for it. But man, when I am – blamo! My dancing feet take over.
  22. Beck, “Gimme”: My favorite of the three standalone singles he released this year. One of his techier, more experimental sounding tracks of late while still managing to keep a consistent melody and an interesting arrangement. That man proves over and over that he knows what he’s doing in the music department.
  23. Kurt Vile, “Wakin on a Pretty Day”: Lovely and languid. A breath of fresh air. Contemplative without overthinking it. Just a simple, beautiful song. Another favorite album of mine, by the way.
  24. Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, “We the Common People (For Valerie Bolden)”: Playfully political. Happily bleak. A real toe tapper about the bullshit we surround ourselves in. I heart everything about this song.
  25. Ariana Grande, “Honeymoon Avenue”: I adore this song for being such a throwback to 90s pop soul. Like Monica could have sung this, or Brandy – or hey, I’ll be honest, Mariah Carey. And hate all you want, but this song reminds me of listening to the radio on my bedroom floor with my cassette player and attempting to record my favorite hits off of whatever Top 40 station I was obsessed with at the time (probably 93.3 – San Diego’s most Top 40est station there is). This song makes me wants to think about my 8th grade boyfriend and practicing cheerleading moves with my junior high besties and rolling skating on the pier. Nostalgia is a powerful drug, my friends, and this track is chock full of it.

Any tracks you totally disagree with? Anything you would add? Let’s dish!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Lou Reed: You Just Keep Me Hangin' On

Have you ever had SO many things that you wanted to blog about that you don't even know which one to start with? I considered giving yet another update on my life and how my family is holding up. I considered posting about my recent holiday blues. I considered posting about all the crock pot successes (and failures) I've had in the last month or so. I considered posting about a recent Huffington Post article I read about Russell Brand that I have quite a lot to say about (and will touch on for certain another time). But eventually the topic that won out for me... Lou Reed and his recent death.

Before I go on what will surely be the sickest, most gush-tastic post on how much this man has influenced my extreme love of rock 'n' roll, I want to say that Lou Reed was not only a great artist. In a lot of ways, he has shaped how I look at music and how I connect to it. I know in the grand scheme of things, especially given the crap year that I've had, this probably shouldn't shatter me as much as it has but few artists have truly touched me as much as he has.

Now, onto the really gushy shit. I'd stop reading now if you don't think you can handle it.

To explain why I love Lou Reed so much, I think I should start by saying that White Light/White Heat was the first tape I ever stole from my oldest brother Patrick, whose musical choices were worshiped by me at a very young age. Now like all music nerds and Velvet Underground lovers, I grew to kind of romanticize this album, but if I have to be completely honest, I didn't love it at first. It's fairly experimental and I was eleven years old when I swiped it. I'd like to sit here and say that even at eleven, I was so much of a music snob that I could appreciate a song like "The Gift" (which, if you are unfamiliar with it, is a tale of promiscuity, jealousy, and a tragic death).... but let's be serious. I was still pretty much obsessed with Madonna and The Bangles at that time and WL/WH isn't exactly the best transitional or accessible album to pick up for a young kiddo.

However, that being said, I became hopelessly obsessed with "Here She Comes Now". I would play it over and over again. Years later, when I'd make mixed tapes for prospective boyfriends and best friends and well, any goddamn person who would let me, it was a song I pretty much always included in there (even though its meaning is relatively ambiguous), regardless of the theme of the mix or why I was making it. When I was in college and a member of what was probably the worst chick band to ever exist on this planet, the first song I ever wanted to learn (well, after "Hey Jude") was "Here She Comes Now". To this day, it's still one of my favorite songs. And as the years of me listening to that song went by, I listened to the whole album as well, many times, until one day I realized how much I had grown to love the whole thing. I don't even know when it happened. But one day, when I was like fourteen years old, I was listening to"Sister Ray" when no one else was home. I turned that sucker up as loud as I wanted and bounced on and around my bed like a maniac for fifteen crazed euphoric minutes, knocking over a lamp and banging my knee on my nightstand. That's what Lou Reed did - he made you feel the music in your gut, in your bones, in your toes, in your fucking blood until you have no choice but to fall into it.

This was music that had no interest in being polished or studio perfect, in placating the masses. It was music that was only interested in making you get lost in it – or maybe even find yourself. But beyond that, it is music that made you realize that it can be more than some catchy tunes with a killer hook and a happy finish. Lou Reed said a lot of amazing things during the 71 years he graced us with his presence but one of the best things he ever said was, “I don’t believe in dressing up reality. I don’t believe in using makeup to make things look smoother.” He believed in getting dirty, expressing truth at all costs, and shoving those truths right in your face. He gave voice to people who were angry or sad or damaged and didn't know how to express it. He was one of music’s glam movement pioneers who gave a community of transgenders a place to fit in – not because it’s OK to be different but because it’s OK to be whoever the fuck you want to be, especially if you’re loud and real and throwing your proverbial (or not so proverbial) crotch at authority. He believed that every single goddamn second of life was important and meant something. He understood hopelessness but he didn't accept it as a reality that anyone needed to live. This all comes through in his music, in his voice, in his words, in his poetry. 

Transformer is one of the most perfect albums ever recorded but for me, it was the rawness and pain and flawed beauty of Berlin that made me really see Lou Reed for the first time. I could go on and on about his time with the Velvet Underground – a band so important to the world of music, it practically birthed other legendary artists like the New York Dolls and the Pixies and Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Sex Pistols and the Stooges. However, when all is said and done, Berlin is and always will be Lou Reed’s masterpiece. After receiving some mainstream adoration for his hit single, “Walk on the Wild Side,” everyone expected him to take his new popularity and run with it. But Lou, as always, was never interested in creating music that was comfortable or expected. He wanted to bear his soul because that’s the only way to produce art that’s worth anything and he didn't care if it sounded pretty. And while Berlin was never quite appreciated in its time nor was it any sort of commercial achievement, I like to believe that he was always proud of what he created there – even though it’s widely known that the harsh reviews it received eventually took its toll on him. Yet, despite the years of under appreciation, Lou Reed was finally able to realize a dream and perform his masterpiece - his rock opera - the way he had always wanted: live and with an entire 30 piece band. I always wished I could have seen one of those shows.

In the end, he was a man who lived hard for a lot of years and eventually realized how much he wanted to stay here, living and creating, for as long as possible. He probably lived longer than he ever thought he would or any of us believed – but that doesn't make his death any less heart wrenching. People get so lost in what they think they should do with their lives and then sometimes you run into a person who just opts to go out there and fucking do it. Really, it’s easy to convince ourselves that we’re not capable of doing this or smart enough to do that. It’s so easy to just get comfortable and put our dreams and desires on a shelf “for another day” even if that day never comes. But a person like Lou Reed can teach us all a lot of lessons about daring to be different, to be brave, and to be expressive. He understood the importance of literature and words but as a means to live, not as a means to escape – and I’m the sort of person who has always been far too comfortable with the concept of escaping from life. Listening to his music, even for a moment, challenges me to… challenge myself. And isn't that the testament of true art? I’ll always be grateful that he brought such diverse and emotionally complex music into my life and opened me up to a whole world of artists who would give me a swift kick in the ass, which is something I truly believe everyone needs from time to time.

And on that note, I’d like to close this post with my favorite song from Berlin, the closing song, which to me is also the quintessential Lou Reed creation – sad, tragic, pain stricken, challenging… the sort of song that gives you a sense of disquiet but somehow also provides a sense of therapeutic relief. It’s also appropriately named and expresses my current heart ache perfectly.

We love you, Lou. You better keep making waves where ever you are right now.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Love and Survival

Sometimes the best inspiration for writing a new blog post is reading another blog which hits you in all the right spots. This happened to me recently when a dear friend of mine wrote this and it really connected with me. The power of the written word is something else. I’ve been writing a lot lately, short stories and letters and journal entries. It’s been really therapeutic and while a lot of these things will probably never be shared with the general public (sorry, readers), they have really helped me to grasp some perspective about my life right now.

The fact is this: I’ve been feeling fairly self-pitying lately but I’ve been trying to cover it up with a thin layer of bravado and comic relief. That’s kind of my MO – don’t feel things completely. Put on a happy face and shimmy around the house to some big band tunes and forget your woes. Buy things that make you happy (even if you can’t afford them). Watch a lot of TV and read a lot of books and get lost in the fantastical. Go for long walks on the beach with your dog – staying up late enough to see the sunrise and making sure you catch the sunset as well. Find complicated recipes to try out. Hang out with your friends and stay distracted – always stay distracted.

But eventually… eventually you have to stop moving. Eventually you have to look life right in the face and deal with what it’s giving you. Eventually you have to stop the smiling and the laughing and the dancing and the strolling. Eventually you can’t run anymore. I’ve never been good at that bit – the stopping and the dealing. The consequences for this flaw are varied – but whatever the results have been, they’ve rarely been good.

So here I am. Staring into the eye of the storm. Forcing myself to stop and letting it sweep me away. But really, who’s to say that’s a bad thing?

I’m going to be really nerdy for a second but bear with me and I’ll try to make sense of it all.

Recently, as a means to distract myself (please note above section of post), I have been watching a lot of a little show you may have heard of – Doctor Who. I had never watched this show before now. I’d resisted it for a long time for a number of unimportant reasons but then finally decided to give it a chance because there were enough episodes to keep me occupied for a while and because it seemed like a complete farce and I am a huge fan of escapism, especially in times of distress. Now, that being said, I took to this show quickly and completely. At first I thought it was just because, as previously stated, I’m pretty nerdy and this sort of thing tends to appeal to me. I mean, two of my favorite shows in the world are Battlestar Galactica and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Doctor Who, I figured, should be right up my alley.

I breezed through the first four series (and I mean starting when it was brought back in 2005 – none of that crazy quirky overly British stuff from the 70s) and I was utterly captivated. Every episode kept me not only on the edge of my seat, but touched that part of me – the part I know that I get from my dad – with an itch to just…. fly away to somewhere new. (Also, David Tennant is a complete babe, so there’s that.)

However, the more I watched, the more I realized that there had to be something else that I was connecting to. I mean, I tend to get obsessed with shows sometimes for reasons no deeper than pure entertainment value (New Girl, I’m looking at you) but there was something different here. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it for a while but eventually it hit me: somewhere between the third and fourth series, I realized that the recurring theme of humanity’s continued crazy impossible absolutely mad ability to survive despite everything standing against them… there was something beautiful in that. Sometimes the need to survive brings out the worst in us – an ugly side that this show does not shy away from – but the instinct itself isn’t evil. It’s just who we are if you strip everything else away, if you break us down to the most basic part of ourselves. We survive when we shouldn’t. I think of things like the Crusades, the Holocaust, the atrocities in Sierra Leone, the Civil War – and it amazes me how despite everything that human beings are put through (and put themselves through), they just keep going. Isn’t that something? Isn’t that maddening? The resilience of the human spirit is probably the most awesome thing I can think of.

I suppose all this got me thinking about what it means to be human and the legacies that we leave behind. My mom has been emailing me a lot recently about our ancestors and our family’s history and it’s been great learning about my mom’s house (outside of Florence, in Stia) and how it was built by my ancestors in the early 1800s, by three brothers who had lost so much of their family and friends to the Black Death. They had survived but then what? What would be their mark in the world? That house – and after about two hundred years, it’s still standing. It’s still surviving.

And really this all comes down to the one thing that keeps floating in my mind over the last couple of years: how do we continue to survive when our bodies give out on us, when our souls are gone? I guess I’m getting a little existential here; I hope you can forgive me. It’s hard not to get lost in spiritual complexities when death is literally following you everywhere you go. I just can’t help but wonder what it all means and how it all matters and if parts of ourselves really stay behind when we appear to vanish.

I have to be honest here and I hope that people don’t get terribly offended when I say this but I do think there is a good chunk of the population that wants to have kids because they feel like if they have a physical piece of themselves in the world, they’ve left a contribution that will continue through time forever. Something about that has always seemed kind of disturbing to me but I guess it just keeps going back to that natural instinct… to keep surviving in one way or another. But in what other ways can we do this, as a species, as communities, as soul-bearing vessels? I think it’s more than leaving patches of DNA behind. I think it’s the non-physical imprints that we leave behind that truly stand the test of time. That first smell of Autumn – like… woodchips and cinnamon… that smell will always make me think of fall trips to the Cape with my dad and collecting leaves of red and orange and my mom’s fresh baked biscotti with vanilla-laced hot chocolate. Otis Redding is wonderful in so many ways but I love him as much as I do partially because listening to his music takes me back to a time when my parents were happy and danced in the kitchen while my mom was baking ziti and filling the house with warmth. There are a million other examples and I guess my point is… we never really leave, not completely. Parts of us continue to survive, in the way that we love and care for each other and create memories even when we don’t even realize those memories are happening. Our ability to love – that’s what makes us amazing creatures. Love and survival and connecting to one another. Even when we’re gone, our imprints remain forever – it is borderline magical. It’s magnificent. It’s awe inspiring.

And yes, my friends – these are thoughts that have come to me thanks to Doctor Who so I guess I owe the creators of that show a debt of gratitude!

Essentially, it’s nice to know that when our bodies go – as well as the bodies of our loved ones – and it feels like we have nothing left to hold on to… there are pieces that will stick around even if we can’t always feel it. Sometimes in tiny drops. Sometimes it’ll come in waves. But it’s always there, underneath the surface. So today, it’s okay to face the storm and feel the pain and the sorrow and the anger and the indignity of it all because who knows when the next wave of joy and beauty will overtake us? Could be tomorrow so we have to keep on moving until we meet that wave again – and survive another day, and maybe create a few more memories to leave behind.  

Monday, August 26, 2013

Medicinal Cinema

Spending time with someone who isn't able to speak (or easily communicate in any way) can be difficult. Throw into the mix that it's someone you love and you're used to being able to speak to about almost anything for hours on end... then there's a whole new level of melancholy. Partial paralysis takes out the option for playing cards or checkers. There are no karaoke nights in our horizon or drinks & tamales at Ponce's. No late night strolls on the beach or Motown singalongs next to a roaring bonfire. No more surfing lessons or running around the backyard with Lee and a water hose (yes yes, I'm the meanest doggy owner/mom ever).

There's just us and an ocean of silence that cannot be remedied. I come in with homemade pudding, with books to read my father while he rests (I've gotten halfway through the Adventures of Kavalier and Clay), with news about the Red Sox continuing to be awesome, with Miles Davis playing in the background as we take naps together. All of these things, however, on some level... I think they remind him of what he can't do. He can't feed himself. He can't play music anymore. And being read to? He's supposed to be the dad, not the child... Perhaps I was reading too much into it but it's clear that he is pained and I'm trying to find ways to show that he's not weak, he's not an invalid - that we all need help and we all need to lean on someone at one time or another. So I found the one thing my father and I have always shared, have always bonded over, have always loved: film.

We have watched Goldfinger and Carmen Jones and Roman Holiday and His Girl Friday and one of my dad's personal favorites, In the Heat of the Night. Cary Grant was the first thing to make my dad smile since he's woken up - and maybe it was fleeting and maybe if I hadn't glanced at him at the exact right moment, I never would have seen it at all but it was there nonetheless.

I've said it many times and I'll say it again: film has the ability to transform us, to shake us, to move us, to make us feel things that we need to feel. Film has always been one of those things I've turned to in dark times and good. Singing in the Rain? Breakfast at Tiffany's? Pretty much ANYTHING by Julie Andrews? Even The Sound of Music, which I admit became a lot less happy go lucky for me when I got older and realized what that movie was really about. Or - and I cannot stress enough in saying how much joy this movie has brought into my life over the years - The Princess Bride, the only flick in history to make this stone cold cynic honestly believe that maybe true love isn't the most lame sounding thing in the whole world.

How can movies do that? How can they make me feel like life is okay when life itself is telling me something entirely different? How is it possible that after the horrific year - well, the last two years really - that I've had, watching Audrey Hepburn running through the rain, desperately searching for Cat, can make me cry tears of honest joy? How can I be laughing when my world is falling apart just because Dick Van Dyke is singing about chimneys? I am a strong believer in the idea of escapism, that's why. Sometimes it's all I have to keep on standing, to keep on hoping, to keep on breathing.

When I was a kid, before I moved to the east coast and settled into life here and I was growing up in San Diego, I can fully admit that I didn't have a whole lot of friends. It wasn't really until I was twelve or so that I actually started socializing with kids my own age - playing little league baseball, joining the pep squad (yes, that knowledge is a freebie, enjoy it), and eventually trips to Fashion Valley and even to L.A. for late night flicks at the Cinerama on Sunset Blvd or Tijuana for weekend getaways (which were mostly just for the delicious food and inexpensive housing options). Before that time, it was just me and my movies - and my dad. My closet friends were Audrey Hepburn and Howard Hawks and Diane Keaton and Harrison Ford. They were my heroes, my trailblazers, my soul mates, my court jesters. My dad understood - it was the same for him - so I was happy to spend my weekends on the couch with him getting lost in another story, another world, another galaxy and we never needed to blather on and on about how these pictures made us feel because we just both got it. And I feel like only a special kind of person really gets it.

Cinema is magic. That's all there is to it. It made a lonely little nine year old girl feel a little less alone in the world, even for a little while. And it has alleviated current tragic life circumstances enough to make my father smile for even half a second. How can you call that anything else but pure magic?

Life is still turning. Things haven't changed. But at least I know that there will always be a place that my dad and I can go to where the sky isn't always falling and reality fades to black for at least a couple hours.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Our Worth

Mary Oliver once wrote, about approaching death:

"When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real

I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world"

How do any of us really know the impact that we have made? How do any of us know how much we really matter? It's all relative any way - our definitions on what makes one matter. I guess we all matter, we all make an impact - no one comes into this world and then leaves it without touching someone, somehow, for better or for worse.

It's all the pressure we put on ourselves to accomplish this or accomplish that. Anyone who read my last blog post probably knows that I've been struggling with this - living a life that matters, living a life that's mine. I've fallen into this weird loop of living for everyone around me and not for myself. But I don't want to get into all that again. The thing is, now that I recognize that in myself, what's next?

I am currently in the middle of watching a person I love fall out of this earth, losing his body to disease, and to say that this is the most painful time in my life would be beyond an understatement. To say that I'm in a bad place right now would be the same. But - I am surrounded by family, constantly receiving words of love and encouragement from friends and colleagues alike, and I have the California sunshine embracing me in its warmth. Pretty soon I will need a lot to heal - I am  trying to prepare myself but really, you can never prepare for anything like this. However, it's good to know that when the darkest days arrive, when I'm in my worst moment, I will have people there ready to try and pull me out of it if I drift too far away.

Is that the way you measure your worth? By the love you have gained and given? If so, I guess in one way, this year has been great - because it's helped me see that I do have a lot of love in my life, even though it doesn't feel that way most days.

So what now? I'm sitting in limbo. I'm on the edge of something I can't speak out loud. I can see its face. I can hear its name. It's so close and I don't know how to make it go away - because there is no making it go away. You can't stop a storm. You can't stop the world from turning. It's what you do with the time you've got left - that's what it all comes down to. Thinking beyond this moment in time is too hard so simply being here and living is all we can do.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Thirty Spiral

Sometimes it’s weird when I think about the end of my 20s. Nineteen year old me steps outside of my body and looks at 29 year old me and it’s hard to believe I’m not that same kid who lived in a house with seven people, living off of spaghetti, cheap vodka, and Marlboro menthol lights. I journaled regularly, I traveled, I went to a different concert almost every night, and I was open to just about any new experience life threw at me. I was convinced that I was going to save the world. I knew where I was going, and I knew how I was gonna get there. Life was nothing but a series of open doors and it was up to me to decide which ones I wanted to walk through.

It’s ten years later, and if I have to be perfectly honest, I feel like most doors are being closed and locked and I’m just standing here without any keys.

I don’t want to get into all of my sorrows but I’ll say that this has been a troubling few months for me and it’s getting hard for me to stay focused on the things I want to do. I don’t volunteer much these days and I attribute that to a) my exhaustion and b) my lack of motivation for pretty much anything outside of trying to keep my head above water – which I kind of feel like I’m barely doing most days.

And then there’s that 30th birthday looming over me. I never thought I’d be that person who wrapped up all my hopes and dreams in that stupid number. I never thought I’d care about turning 30 – it’s just a number, right? It doesn’t mean anything, does it?

I have a lot of friends who happen to be older than me and it’s difficult to communicate around them what it feels like for me, turning 30, because I feel like it’s just indulgent whining and it’s always met with, “30 is nothing!” or “You’re still young.” I suppose that’s all probably true, but the fact of the matter is, I wanted to be in a certain place by now. I admit it – I have targeted expectations for my life and I feel like I haven’t met them. Ten years ago, work was such a low priority for me. Not to say that I didn’t care about work – more like my focuses were firmly placed in enriching my everyday life with art and community activism and nature. And I’m so far away from all of that. I always believed that by this point in my life, I’d be living in some flat in a different country – probably Italy – with a not-too-stressful job, having casual dinner parties and regularly visiting vineyards in the countryside. Or at the very least, I thought I’d be on the West Coast, which I’ve always considered my real home, watching the sunset against the Pacific Ocean every night and going on weekend adventures to Mexico because why the hell not.

My life looks very different than how I’d always imagined it but not completely unsatisfying. It’s the people I have in my life that make it worthwhile – work friends who are always down for happy hours & roof top lunches filled with laughter; the Clacker folks who keep things interesting, always; Rachel, Jeff, and Mike, who I don’t get to see often but still my second family; the Club Dumas, who inspire me beyond all reason, even when they are not with me; and even my Virginia guys, who are all living their own separate lives in all different directions but still provide me without some of the best memories from my post-college days.

The problem is… I’ve stopped and looked at my life and I feel like I am living it for all of these people and not for me. My life has become less about what I want to do with it and more about doing what’s best for those I love. There’s nothing wrong with that, theoretically, but I don’t even feel like I have a life of my own anymore. I’m a spectator, watching everyone else move forward, while I’m in the world’s longest rut, trapping myself in a world that I don’t truly want to be in. But what does one do when she need to make a drastic change in her life? I guess the answer would be to summon the bravery to take a risk.

But would changing everything I know about my life really make me happy? What is happiness really? How does a person really achieve that? I don’t know the answers and so I’m stuck, just watching everyone – and I just keep wondering how does everyone have it figured out and I’m still flopping around, confused and scared? I’m not even content. I’m restless. I’m restless and bored and sick of sitting down – I want to jump on a plane and just take off, someplace, somewhere, sometime, without plans or itineraries. I want to wake up every morning knowing that I am doing exactly what I want to be doing and feeling so happy that I’m contributing something that matters to this society. I want to welcome art and music into my life – not to look at it and hear it, but really be immersed in it somehow.

When did I stop being that person that took chances? I know that as an adult, you have to make sacrifices. You have responsibilities, and they are real and you have to reshape your life somewhat to meet them. I see friends with husbands and wives and mortgages and babies and I know that I don’t want those things because while I am so happy for them for having the things that make them feel complete, I honestly just see them as giant anchors taking away even more of my life choices. But then I get caught in a spiral – if I choose to turn my back on these things, what’s going to happen in another 30 years? I am probably about the most independent person there is, but I’m actually starting to wonder… when I’m old, and all of my friends are in their family bubbles, am I going to be sitting here, still alone? I hate myself for even caring about this. I hate myself for letting the fact that I’m turning 30 transform me into this person I’ve never been. But I can’t turn my thoughts off.

The uncertainty in my family right now is also contributing to all of these fears and it’s also making me questions a lot of things in my own belief system. I have two strong feelings that are constantly fighting each other right now: living life to the fullest, because life is short versus what’s the point of it all? It’s playing a lot of crazy games in my head right now and it’s making me feel kind of like I’m going crazy. I wake up one day, thinking that I’m going to make the best of a horrible situation and the next day, it takes everything inside of me just to get out of bed and get through the day without crying every ten minutes.

Naturally, being me, I’ve decided to put all of my “feels” into a playlist because music has always ALWAYS been the one thing that I can count on to pull me out of the darkness. Music is the best therapist I’ve ever had. So, I pulled up my iTunes, and created a group of 30 songs (because I’m nerdy like that) which all represent a lot of what I’m going through right now and I’ve been listening to it a lot. I’ve also been reading some of my old journals and flipping through pictures from college and high school, considering that maybe there are pieces of younger me that I can still incorporate into 30 year old me’s life.

For now, the journey continues, and I’ll try to get through it the best I can without losing the best parts of myself.

And I suppose I’ll close with my “30 Songs for Turning 30” playlist, in no particular order:

·         “Under Pressure” by Queen & David Bowie
·         “Forever Young” by Alphaville
·         “Hang On” by Dr. Dog
·         “Home” (from The Wiz) by Stephanie Mills
·         “We Use to Wait” by Arcade Fire
·         “A House Is Not a Home” by Field Music
·         “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” by The Beach Boys
·         “God” by John Lennon
·         “There’s Never Enough Time” by The Postal Service
·         “Where Have All the Good Times Gone” by David Bowie
·         “Shake It Out” by Florence + The Machine
·         “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” by Arcade Fire
·         “Beware of Darkness” by George Harrison
·         “Here Comes a Regular” by The Replacements
·         “Just Do You” by India.Arie
·         “How It Ends” by Devotchka
·         “Light & Day / Reach for the Sun” by The Polyphonic Spree
·         “Stand By Me” by Otis Redding
·         “I’ve Gotta Be Me” by Sammy Davis, Jr.
·         “Some Days Are Diamonds” as sung by Amos Lee
·         “You Only Live Twice” by Nancy Sinatra
·         “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” by Nina Simone
·         “Supply & Demand” by Amos Lee
·         “Inner Revolution” by Adrian Belew
·         “I Shall Be Released” as sung by Nina Simone
·         “Hungry Heart” by Bruce Springsteen
·         “That’s Life” by Frank Sinatra
·         “This Is the Day” by The The
·         “To Build a Home” bye The Cinematic Orchestra ft. Patrick Watson
·         “You Get What You Give” by New Radicals

Much love,


Friday, May 10, 2013

"Little Things Mean A Lot"

Today's blog post is inspired by my beautiful, amazing friend Lindsay and her absolutely delightful blog Smells Like Sunshine (which, by the way, was nominated for an AWARD for how awesome it is). I don't post nearly enough and sometimes it's hard for me to come up with new and fresh topics. Part of the problem is that I write so much for work and now school again that when it comes time for "personal" writing, I go blank. What do I write that isn't just more of the same ol' same ol'... or even worse - and even more pathetically - what do I write when I'm pretty much not being told what to write? Yikes, amirite? What kind of journalism grad am I?

But wonderful bloggers like Lindsay give me hope that maybe JUST MAYBE... I can keep this blog going. So that's what I'm going to do.

As previously posted, most of my friends will be out of town this week. Plus I have limited funds anyway, which is why I opted not to go out of town this weekend with my friends. So this is going to be one of those weekends where I actually have very little distractions preventing me from doing the following:

*Cleaning my apartment, which is a total sty
*Looking up fun new recipes to try (I've got a chicken summer salad that I am dying to make)
*Making a dent in one of the three books I'm reading right now (I swear I'm going to finish Dance With Dragons one of these days)
*Maybe visiting the record shop and get a couple of new goodies?? (I'm jonesing for some old folk albums because sunshine always puts me in the mood for some old fashioned folk. Margo Smith, anybody? I need some of her in my life right now.)
*Starting to set up my yardless backyard (with chairs, potted plants, hanging lamps!!!)
*Going on a journey around Meridian Hill Park with Lee and hoping that he doesn't steal anyone's lunch this time
*Taking myself to the movies - and yes, I will be seeing The Great Gatsby, duh

My brother wanted me to come out to Woodbridge again to hang, but honestly I'm exhausted with making my lazy ass travel out to the boonies every weekend. So this is going to be the Weekend of Natacia (WoN) where I only do things that I want to do. I think I've earned it - classes have ended, I have no work to take home (knock on wood), and my family is currently enjoying a period of stability (GASP!) - and thus I am taking some time for me.

Is it sad that I'm really really excited about cleaning my oven and folding my laundry? Yeah, probably.

Oh, back to the Great Gatsby - words cannot convey how excited I am for that movie! Have I mentioned how much I love that book and how many times I've read it? But really, mention it because early this morning I was horrified to learn on Twitter that Levar Burton has NEVER READ IT. Mr. Reading Rainbow Himself has never read one of the greatest novels of our time?! Is anyone else horrified? I'm horrified. I think I may have to write a letter to him about this travesty. A tweet is not enough.

....Though he did praise Carey Mulligan and since I have a huge girl crush on her, I mean, maybe I can forgive him or something.

Still a travesty, though.

Whew! Lindsay, how do you do this so often?!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Quiet Times & Little Changes

So here I am – again, after far too much time – but as it turns out, grad school sucks up a lot of time. However, as much time as it sucks up, I do need an outlet… lest I start randomly bursting into tears or becoming hysterical.

My first semester of my current program is at an end and I am happy that I a) survived and b) stuck with it. I am, however, taking a break on classes over the summer – I need some time to decompress and really assess how my schedule will work in the fall because this spring was brutal and I need to make some very serious lifestyle changes.

It’s difficult because I want to be with my family and friends all of the time – but I can’t. I’m learning that. Things cannot stay the same. I tried to maintain my life the same and all that did was make me feel constantly stressed out all. My sleeping has become increasingly erratic and my headaches have returned. My stress eating is off the chain. But I mean, I don’t want it to seem like I’ve been miserable – I love my program. Plus, I’m getting to know my new neighborhood (Columbia Heights/U Street, what what) and I’m kind of falling in love with everything from the dog parks to the 11th street district to my new favorite coffee shop, the Blind Dog Café. Lee and I are settling nicely, and I’m really digging how much more space I have in my new apartment. I’m even – gasp! – having people over occasionally!!! So I have a few things to be grateful for and happy about.

One thing that I do really miss is the movies. I haven’t been in forever in months. What has become of me? However, the upside: this weekend, the Great Gatsby comes out in theaters and I’ll be there watching it, even if it means taking myself on a date. With most of my friends gone this weekend, it’ll be a good opportunity to just… relax. And I plan on doing just that.

I’ve been hanging out with myself more lately in the last couple of weeks and I think it’s been good for me to take a step back from a lot of things. While I don’t feel less stressed necessarily, I feel less… pressured. If that makes any sense.

I guess the catch is making sure that I'm not actually taking so much time by myself that I end up completely alone. I have a history of this and then I get a little too comfortable in the silence.

For now, I think I'm on the right track and I'm feeling good about where I'm at. Now to get back on a decent diet track....

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Contributing to Joy: Why It's Challenging but Necessary

OK, so it's been a REALLY long time since I've posted. Like two months or something? First of all, I want to apologize, I swore I wasn't going to do this again... but let me try and explain myself.

I want my blog to be a place of positive reinforcement - both for myself and others - but over the last couple of months, things have been rough in my world. I don't want to go into great detail about everything but I will just say that my father's state of health has worsened, school has intensified, and work is... well, work is (as always) very time consuming and stressful. Truth be told, I haven't really had a whole lot of positive things to say lately - I was in a serious funk, which I tend to fall into from time to time. My "funks" sometimes last for weeks, maybe months, and they involve me not really want to interact with people and also being super sad all the time. The worst thing about when I get like that is no one can really pull me out of it. I have to be ready to pull myself out. I'm sure this is frustrating for my friends - even though they'll never admit it - because there are few things worse than watching someone you love fall into misery while all you can do is just stand by and watch it happen.

But good news! I am out of my dark period, and feeling better about things. Spring is in the air in DC (finally, after winter flat out REFUSED to get the fuck out for a long while) and I am seeing good things in front of me. A recent dinner with my advisor really helped me out, she gave me some sound advice that really struck a chord in me: "Strive to succeed but don't be afraid to fail and don't live in your fear. People fail sometimes, and it's OK. The world won't end."

And that's the rub because I am always TERRIFIED of failing and of letting everyone down. My family, my friends, my boss, my colleagues, my professors. I put an unbelievable amount of pressure on myself and then I hate myself for not being perfect at everything. It's crazy, and I know it's crazy, but what can I do? I just need to give myself a fucking break already. I know I keep saying that and I'm sure if you go back and look at my other blogs I've probably said this same thing over and over again but it's so hard not to fall into that pattern over and over again.

Anyway, while things definitely have been rough, they haven't been all bad. My dad has started chemotherapy and radiation and the doctors are very optimistic about his chances. He didn't want to go this route, treatment-wise, and fought it for a long time (and in fact is still bitter that he's doing it now) but I think he realizes that he wants to live long enough to watch his kids and his grandkids grow and succeed. He wants to get married and live with his new love for as long as possible. He wants to be a really old man sitting on his rocking chair on the back porch, watching the Pacific ocean waves crash against the sand at dawn. And I'm so relieved! He's fighting to live and thank God for that.

School has become more manageable once I got serious about it - in the sense that I was feeling overly confident in those first couple of months, thinking I could handle it all and keep the same lifestyle I've had over the last few years. And just so you all know, I cannot. For one, classes aren't cheap and I'm not rolling in cash. For two... and this is the big one.... I just don't have the time. I just flat out don't. I can't do a bunch of happy hours. I can't party all weekend. And frankly, I don't have the energy to stay up all night reading because I decided I wanted to have a late night dinner with friends. The amount of reading I have to do for my law class is outrageous and good lord, will I be happy when it's fucking over (which will be very soon) but that's the way it is and I need to accept that. And my excess time will decrease with each passing semester.

Though, at the same time, I cannot isolate myself because when I do that, I become sad and lonely. So it's all about finding a balance and hopefully I'll get better at that.

Also! I am moving from Logan Circle to Columbia Heights. A slightly bigger place (though not as nice, with no hardwood floors and no dishwasher and no W/D in the unit) closer to most of my friends in the city. Closer to my gym. And right down the street from Satellite, 930 Club, Town, and Nellie's. In fact, I timed it yesterday, and it takes me approximately 7 minutes to walk to that awesome corner of U Street. Holla! That could be dangerous for me - my love for gay men, live music, and alcoholic smoothies knows no bounds.

So things are looking up. Fun projects like painting my new apartment (which wow, how are my friends awesome enough to want to help me out with this?) and planning a charity event to raise money for Whitman-Walker's AIDS Walk are helping me to be creative and stable in their own ways.

And now... I have finally posted something on my blog. I'll end it with a quote from the amazing Roger Ebert, who lost his battle with cancer this week but will always always always be an inspiration in my life:

"I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn't always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out."

Much love, you guys.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

How Lena Dunham & Girls Are Hate-Mongering

Usually, I really love HelloGiggles.

<insert Natacia is a hipster joke here>

Honestly, I think it's so nice to have a website that is devoted to happiness and cuteness and positivity. It's so refreshing. I also think there's something to be said for a group that says, hey you can wear flowery dresses and get fancy manicures and eat piles of candy and still be a "feminist" and a strong woman. I hate when women judge each other on how they SHOULD be acting in order to be independent and progressive - and goddammit, if I want to wear a dress with a peter pan collar with baretts in my fucking hair, so be it. Don't tell me that if I do that, I'm not being woman enough. I can do whatever I want.

That being said, the below HG article really enraged me:

 It's not just because I don't care for Lena Dunham. The point that they're making here is that Hanna (the character that Lena plays in the bullshit that is HBO’s Girls) may not be traditionally pretty but using that as a reason to hate her is completely ignorant. Sure, OK, I'll totally buy that and had this article just left it at that, I would have just let it go. But the fact this chick has the nerve to say the ONLY criticism that the media (or anyone) has against Dunham is her looks - that's what really gets my goat. Lena Dunham could look like fucking Mila Kunis and I'd still think she’s awful. She comes off as a “voice of a generation” - MY generation, to my absolute horror - and her show is just a parade of overly privileged, obnoxiously affluent, hateful, selfish, self-important, pseudo-intellectual, mean-spirited, distasteful, culturally-dead city brats who like to constantly play victim when they’re cushy lives get even slightly disturbed. Oh, and they also lack any diversity, despite the fact that they live in FUCKING NEW YORK CITY. I cannot express to you how tired I am of hearing people rave about Lena Dunham and her show but what I hate more is the people who have the audacity to act like this horrible, disgusting show is an accurate representation of how “real” women are in this day and age. In the beginning of the first season alone, there was a “hilarious” scene in which some asshole fuck buddy has sex with Hanna in what is essentially a fantasy that she is an 11 year old he snatched off the street and is now raping. Another scene features a blasé attitude in regards to the matter of abortion – and no matter what your stance is on the subject, I feel like it’s a topic that at least deserves some fucking respect when addressing it. Oh, and the priceless scene where Hanna’s parents tell her she is going to be cut off financially and she plays the victim and disrespects her parents so thoroughly that I’m STILL shocked she didn’t get slapped.

I honestly don’t understand the appeal of watching a show so hateful. It’s worse than reality TV somehow. It’s like the producers of that show – ahem, I’m looking at you, Apatow – combined the public’s love of reality TV, hipster culture, and twee intellectualism into one ugly mess. It’s horribly exploitative without any real commentary. It’s shitty comic timing. It’s hip quirkiness that is totally all about how hip it’s being. Yeah, the characters are all completely unlikeable but that’s not new. Seinfeld is, I think, one of the best sitcoms to come out of TV’s history…. and let’s be honest, none of those four people where “likable.” However, that show succeeded because while the characters were kind of selfish jerks and they never really learned from their problems, the show itself wasn't angry – and the unlikability of the characters is acceptable because (for me, anyway) it doesn't revolve around self-entitlement and just all around shameless trust fund-grubbing. I think the worst part for me is how these girls use their money – wealth, by the way, that they are not earning in any way, shape, or form – to support their dreary, self-involved lives but have no interest in using this wealth to actually IMPROVE their own lives or (GASP!) give back to anything or anyone. It’s reprehensible.

So, in conclusion, Marissa Ross – rest assured. Lena Dunham’s looks are the least vile thing about her. In fact, I happen to think she’s a fairly attractive looking person. It’s her view of the world that is ugly. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Forgiveness & Personal Growth

Recently I experienced the official end of a friendship and it was a somewhat surreal experience - mostly because of the things that this person told me, airing out hateful grievances that quite honestly came out of nowhere. However, that's not really what this post is about. It stinks when a break from someone is messy but such is life. What really stuck in my mind was discussing with a group of friends my inability to let people go even when they have done something reprehensible and one of my friends telling me that people are often better than the worst thing they've ever done. It's a phrase I've heard before but somehow I haven't been able to get it out of my head since she said it.

I've started wondering what my line is, if any. It's an odd thing because I can be a highly critical person - sometimes as a joke and sometimes for real - but I have the fundamental belief that all people have the capacity to be more than what we see and more than even they think they are. I can forgive a person for just about anything because we're all fallible and I want to believe that if I did something "unforgivable," that there would be someone there who might still believe in me anyway.

I suppose where things get sticky is when it's quite obvious that a person has no interest in changing or growing or honest self-reflection. I think at a certain point, the groundwork of a person is what it is - such as their values - but I also think that a person should be learning more about himself every single day. We never finish growing and that's the beauty of life! Also? I have a level of respect for someone who accepts that they don't have all the answers and is constantly looking for more of them.

Essentially I think just about everyone is worth the effort. Even the people I walk away from... I honestly hope they have a person who sticks around and tries to help them be better versions of themselves. It's just the emotional and psychological toll that some relationships take in my life that I can't handle and sometimes we have to be a little selfish and think about our own self-preservation.

In truth, I'm lucky to be surrounded by such a rich and diverse group of friends. I feel like not everyone has this luxury. I know when things get hard, I'll have people to lean on... I just like thinking that I can provide that level of comfort and peace to others as well.

In the end, I don't think people are built to be alone and I feel like they should have freedom to make mistakes without ending up alone. Measuring our own capacity for forgiveness, tolerance, and acceptance is what makes us exceptional beings.

....Too uplifting for a rainy Monday morning?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Confessions of a non-traditional Catholic: Deal With It!

So today I had someone say to me, "You celebrate Lent? You don't seem religious." And I started to contemplate what that meant and why it bothered me so much. I thought about what being religious actually means to me and how it impacts my everyday life. I never really responded to the person's comment, I kind of laughed and felt awkward about it, which is very strange for me because I'm a pretty opinionated person and almost never shy from getting on my soapbox. So why was I clamming up all the sudden? I have a theory.

The problem with being religious in this day and age, particularly being Catholic is there are so many negative associations. I feel like if I tell a person that I’m Catholic, there’s an instant backlash. People think they know exactly who I am when I talk about religion: they think I’m a bible thumper, they think I don’t believe in logic or science, they think I’m ultra conservative. A lot of times, people throw at me all the horrible things that the Catholic Church is responsible for, as if I personally committed these atrocities. I honestly don’t think I’m exaggerating in the least when I say that I imagine this is how Germans must feel when people bring up the Holocaust. I mean, I’ve actually had people yell at me about the Inquisitions. (Also, I’m not going to sit here and act like I’m blind to the type of evil people are capable of – or the evil people will commit in the name of God or whatever else they believe in. But the Inquisitions ended over 200 years ago. Surely there are at least more recent things to be outraged about?) And hey, what can I say? Christianity has a dark past and people today still use it for purposes of oppression and violence. I would say, however, that every group has a dark side and people who are willing to twist it in order to gain power... but I can recognize that while this is very true, the Catholic Church in particular has been very successful with that and has the bloody hands and body count to prove it.

Now, that being said, I would like to fully explain my relationship with God and just put it out there. Do I think there is an old bearded man in the clouds, passing judgement on all of us from his sky kingdom? I can't say that I do. Do I think if I follow a strict set of guidelines, I get to go to heaven and all those suckers out there who are having lots of pre-marital sex (or non-marital, for those with no interest in that institution) and stealing and cheating on their spouses are heading to a fiery pit for eternity? Nope. I think that's all too easy and life is far more complex than that. So in that sense, I am a terrible Catholic.

However, I think that the universe has a balance to it. While I don't believe in the traditional physical concept of God, I do think that there is a spiritual force that watches over us - not judges, watches. I believe that force created everything around us. I believe that when we die, all of our spirits are finally at peace and maybe they go... somewhere? I can't stand the oppressive idea of some people going to this glorious kingdom and some people burning for eternity. It sounds so hateful. I like to believe all the hate in a person's soul dissolves at the point of death and there's a clarity that the living cannot achieve. This, I admit, is mostly wishful thinking but honestly, what is wrong with that?

This world can be so cold and unforgiving sometimes and we all need our own way to cope. I find comfort in believing that something greater is out there, that this force - that God - put us here for a purpose. I don't think that purpose is mapped out for us at birth or that our lives are predetermined but I do believe there is a reason - maybe even many reasons - for everyone to be here. Also, as cheesy as this sounds, whenever I see, let's say, a sunrise against the Pacific Ocean... well it's difficult for me to believe this is all just some happy accident. Perhaps there is some ego involved in that but I cannot chalk up an entire planet of life and beauty to just a bunch of random molecules just deciding to get together.

Now understand that I'm not saying that I don't believe in science. I've just never really understood why people feel like those two things have no place in the same world. I am a reasonable, logic-based human being. But I also have a spiritual side that craves a deeper relationship with the world.

In addition to all of this, I love the community and warmth involved in attending church. I do believe there is some wisdom to be found in the Bible, even if you have to dig through a lot of judging and wrath to find it. I even enjoy the rituals involved, for the most part - but I think that comes from my strong desire for structure and plans.... though maybe my need for structure actually originates from my connection with Christian rituals? Who knows?

All I do know for sure is that my faith really makes me feel at peace when life throws obstacles my way. Would I ever push that on another person? Never. I don't even like it when I see other people doing that. I also don't find it healthy to use faith as a crutch or your only source of comfort. But there is no denying that it makes my life richer and makes me accept tragedies better when they come around.

I am still pro choice. I still don't care for Christian rock bands. I still drop F bombs like it's my job. I still have the urge to punch assholes in the face. And yes - I have sex without marriage! GASP!!! So maybe I'm not the most stereotypical Christian out there, but hey some people might argue that's not so bad.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Weekend of Mental Health

There's something to be said for the power of positive thinking but what happens if that doesn't quite work? Lately I've been on this optimistic kick (which I'm sure my readers may have noticed by now) but some days it's really hard to pull my head out of the dark clouds. I went to bed in a grumpy mood on Friday and whenever I go to bed feeling shitty, I wake up the next day feeling the same way.

So I got up on Saturday. Then realized how much stuff I had to do. Then felt the stress headache creeping in. And then I realized that I was doing all of this to myself. The old Natacia would have wallowed and questioned why the universe can be such an asshole.

But that was the old Natacia and I refuse to let that negative lady control my emotions anymore. So I took a step back, I canceled all of my social engagements, I got a lot of work done and I took a mental health weekend. I took care of myself because in the Year of Natacia, I am going to put myself first more and stop obsessing about how my every move effects the people around me.

I did a lot of reading, including the entire Sunday Post. I made a big pot of chili, which turned out GREAT (and I will post once I recall everything I put in it). I caught up on my favorite sitcoms. I started outlining my trip to South America next winter to visit a dear friend who has been placed there for the Peace Corp. I had two fabulous phone dates; one with my mom and one with my beautiful and wise friend, Crystal.

Sorry for the laundry list. Not sure if this post is really saying anything. I guess the point is I'm progressing! Which is lovely and gives me hope that this whole self-improvement thing isn't just a passing phase.

Yesterday my mom told me, "Sometimes you have to say 'fuck it and smile" - and by the way, that is the first time my mom has ever dropped the F bomb on me NOT in anger so that was pretty cool - "because life is too big and too short to be mad about things you won't even remember in 20 years."

So on my dry erase board in my kitchen, I wrote "fuck it and smile" as a reminder. It's a good advice. New mantra, anyone?

What do the rest of you folks do to pull yourself out of a funk? I'd love to hear!


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Analysis of the American Dream

I know it’s an age old debate – the American Dream and what it means. People have been debating over it for at least the last 80 years. It’s actually something that’s troubled me since the first time I heard the term used, approximately 14 years ago in my sophomore year AP English class during a heated discussion about the Great Gatsby. The book is a favorite of mine and features several characters, all with a very different and distinct idea of what the American Dream means to them and what it says about our own lives. I have to say, however, that after years of thinking about it and reading various text on the subject and, you know, living my life… I think that the American Dream is just a big festering trap. But let me elaborate.

First of all, I want to say that I come from the perspective of a person who does in fact love her country. Interestingly enough, I tend to have two types of people in my life: the highly patriotic types and the ones who are highly critical of how this country’s system works (or doesn’t, really). I hate copping out and saying I’m “middle of the road” but honestly I feel like I am. I love America for what it could be, for its potential, for being my home, for giving me the rights that so many of us take for granted. However, I recognize that parts of our system are broken, that our priorities are messed up, that our capitalistic way of life diminishes the chances for those who are struggling and builds up those who are already abundantly wealthy, that the American Ego has gotten completely out of hand – particularly in regards to our relations to outside parties and our imperialistic attitude. So I can see both sides of the coin and I agree with both perspectives. Therefore, when I criticize the supposed “American Dream,” please know that I am not saying this lightly and I am not saying that it is a reflection of my total dissatisfaction with the United States.

This topic recently came back into my mind when I was watching the movie Cosmopolis, starring a surprisingly competent Robert Pattinson as a billionaire mogul and financial analyst who rapidly loses his fortune through the course of a day due to faulty analysis and starts questioning his whole way of thinking. It’s a fantastic case study actually, despite being the least cinematic film imaginable and being very abrasive to start with. I recommend it to anyone with a lot of patience and a passion for the subject matter and/or old school Cronenberg. In this movie, Pattinson travels through New York City (in the not-so-distant future) by use of a stretch limousine with inconceivable amounts of luxuries. He picks up a few passengers, makes some stops, and finally gets to his destination, which is his family barber for a desperately desired haircut. During all of this, his billions are crumbling and there are many discussions in regards to the strengths and weaknesses of capitalism. On the outside, Pattinson’s mogul is cool and soulless – a chilling vessel, not even a man, but simply the personification of entitlement. However, crackling beneath it all, there exists the flame of self-loathing burning inside of him. You can interpret this movie in so many different ways but to me it really brought home the concept of the American Dream and the materialism involved in it. Though, it takes it a step further, which is finally where I will reach my point: it’s not even JUST that it’s materialistic; it’s that even when it’s achieved – or when you believe you have achieved it – it is very likely that you’ll find you’ve crawled through the desert towards a fresh spring that was never there in the first place.

The American Dream is our salvation, right? It’s what should motivate us! It’s why “all those foreigners want to become card-carrying members of this great nation” (a direct quote from a right wing reporter friend of mine). It’s what makes this country so great – the simple idea that, and I quote, “…life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement.” (James Truslow Adams) It’s the idea that even if you come from nothing and you work hard, then you will be prosperous in one way or another, because don’t misunderstand – it’s not simply FINANCIAL prosperity that this Dream offers. No, Adams further said, “It has been much more than that. It has been a dream of being able to grow to fullest development as man and woman, unhampered by the barriers which had slowly been erected in the older civilizations, unrepressed by social orders which had developed for the benefit of classes rather than for the simple human being of any and every class.” And this was written in the 1930s. Just mull that over for a second, you guys. UNREPRESSED BY SOCIAL ORDERS. I mean, at least he didn’t have the nerve to mention race in there but it’s heavily implied and as a black woman, I find that borderline comical. No, actually, just straight up comical. Yep, we’ll go with that.

See, the problem is this: the American Dream is no more than a very poetically worded distraction, a smoke screen – at least now, in the world that we are currently living in. In MLK Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, he acknowledges the hopes of a better tomorrow and yet the severity of the times we are in. Granted, a lot has changed since then but there is still a lot of work to be done, both financially and socially. There have been significant strides towards equality, but not as much as many of us may think. Dr. King is an inspiration not just because of the seeds of hope and brotherhood (and sisterhood) he planted but because he knew we weren’t there, that the “American Dream” is something that we should all strive to create. Women still make less money than men. The war on women, in fact, still rages on. There is a serious disconnect between our country's "1%" and well, the rest of us. There are areas of the U.S. that have many of the conditions of third world countries. And race relations? Well, folks. I'm glad I'm not picking cotton or using black designated bathrooms but as a resident of DC and a neighbor to Baltimore, I can tell you that true racial enlightenment has not yet arrived.

The concept of the American Dream, more often than not, is used to promote flag-waving, blind patriotism (which is one of my biggest pet peeves and perhaps a post topic for another day), and the misconception that this country is something that it's not. It also breeds a sense of failure and class/race wars. Any person, theoretically, who works hard every day of their life - to the fullest of their potential - should succeed, regardless of where they come from or their lack of silver platter opportunities?

Granted, success means something different to just about everyone. To me, success is found in cultivating meaningful relationships and making a positive difference in the world. To someone else it's money and power. To another person it's creating a happy family unit. To many of us, it's all of that. The American Dream tells us that these are things we can all grasp - if we work for it. But what happens when we do what we're told and we never reach the proverbial pot of gold? What about those people who can't manage to crawl out of the slums that have been abandoned? What about our homeless citizens who don't know how to pull themselves out of their tragic life situation? What about the people that get lost in the judicial system and are tagged as unfortunate blots to the rest of our pristine society? Oh I guess they didn't work hard enough. And screw second chances! No dream for them. They only get cold, cruel reality.

And you know what? I think we all deserve better than that. Let's own what this country is, flaws and all. Let's admit that sometimes hard work pays off and sometimes it doesn't. Let's admit that some of us have obstacles that society has put in our way that can be insurmountable. Let's admit that some of us are born into a life of endless possibilities because of our race, financial status, the powerful friends we keep. Let's admit that there is no collective dream, that it's out of reach for so many of us. Let's admit it but not accept that it has to be this way forever. So much progress has been made and so much more can happen. I see it around me everyday. We are getting there - we are getting to that ideal. People want it - as a society, we crave that equality and the same opportunities as our more privileged counterparts.

Yesterday, there was a blog post in The New Yorker that basically said that the reason why people have been so appalled about the possibility that Beyonce may have lip-synced "The Star-Spangled Banner" is because, and I quote, "[The lyrics are] aspirational, they’re soaring, they represent a vision of American power that is mostly obsolete. It’s not the fiction of Beyoncé’s performance that angers us, but the fear that underneath the pomp and idealism our political leaders are con men, telling us a story about ourselves that may not be true."

It's time to wake up. Let's open our eyes to the truth but let's have heart that we can be better and we will be better. However - and I fully believe this with all my heart - real change won't happen if we're not willing to let go of old ideas and move on to new possibilities.