Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Fight

Someone asked me recently if I regretted the events leading up to my being laid off in 2014. My immediate, gut reaction was to say, "No." But I was wrong. I do have one regret.

I wish I had fought harder. 

When I say this, I don't mean in the final moments. I mean every step of the way.

I hope never to see the things I saw again. But if I do, I will fight again. Harder. Always.

-Cate-

 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Seminal Albums

When I was putting together last week's "New Year, New Playlist," I started thinking about not only the songs but also the albums that influence me the most. Some of them are, undoubtedly, unsurprising, but there are others that may make even those of you who know me best do a double-take. 

Although the list is much longer than what I'm presenting here, I've decided to choose the eleven that are most important to me (at this moment in time, at least)--you know, the ones I would take into exile with me. How did I end up with eleven instead of ten, you ask? Well, for one thing, these guys told me it's okay to turn it up to 11. For another, I started to panic and couldn't stand the thought of cutting one more from my list (although part of me suspects it would be Sheryl Crow, if I'm being honest).

Rather than do a write-up of each album, I'm simply going to list my favorite track and let you do your own exploring from there. These come to you in alphabetical order by artist, because any sort of ranking is impossible after the first three (No. 4, Confessions on a Dance Floor, and White Blood Cells). Enjoy!

- The Sign, Ace of Base (Favorite song: "Happy Nation")

- The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, David Bowie (Favorite song: "Soul Love")

- C'mon C'mon, Sheryl Crow (Favorite song: "Diamond Road")

- The Ghost Who Walks, Karen Elson (Favorite song: "Pretty Babies," and be aware that the album cut is much better than what you'll hear in the video)

- Always Got Tonight, Chris Isaak (Favorite song: "One Day")

- Songs from the West Coast, Elton John (Favorite song: "Original Sin")

- The Fame Monster, Lady Gaga (Favorite song: "Dance in the Dark")

- Confessions on a Dance Floor, Madonna (Favorite song: "Push," but some days I think it might actually be "Let It Will Be")

- Haunted, POE (Favorite song: "5 1/2 Minute Hallway")

- No. 4, Stone Temple Pilots (Favorite song: "Sour Girl," forever and ever)

- White Blood Cells, White Stripes (Favorite song: "This Protector")

-Cate-

PS I am aware that this list consists of only white musicians, all of whom are Western. It's not that I don't want to be more diverse in my listening--and reading, and watching--habits; it's more that these are such strong touchstones for me that I feel they're important to include on this list. But, as always, suggestions for broader listening are more than welcome!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

New Year, New Playlist: 2017

I had a tradition on my first blog, What We Covet, of starting each new year off with a playlist of music I intend to take with me throughout the year. As with the previous lists, the songs were culled from my current collection. Most aren't recent, but they certainly sound good to me, and that's really the goal of any playlist I ever make. They come to you in no particular order. I hope you'll check them out, if you're not already familiar with them. Enjoy!
 
***
 
1)  "Mile on the Moon," Sarah Jarosz

Jarosz is one of those people I would hate if she wasn't awesome, because she's stupid talented and already successful at a young age--things I would love to be. Her new-Americana song is both comfortingly familiar and fresh, and her solid education, undertaken at the New England Conservatory of Music, guarantees that her musicianship is impeccable.

2) "Joanne," Lady Gaga

No, this isn't Gaga's best effort ever, but it's a heartfelt tribute to her aunt Joanne, who died very young. It gets me in the gut every time, because it reminds me of my own aunt, who was also gone too soon. 

3) "The Spoils," Massive Attack feat. Hope Sandoval
 
If the vocalist here sounds familiar, it's with good reason: she's Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star, the group that brought us one of the most ubiquitous love songs ever, "Fade Into You." Sandoval brings her haunting voice to the table, and it perfectly pairs with Massive Attack's moody synth strings.

4) "Jimmy the Exploder," White Stripes

I am rarely not listening to the White Stripes in some capacity, but I was on a serious kick with them last summer, and this song, which opens their self-titled debut album, was a great, noisy part of the soundtrack of my life in August, as I expect it will be this year, as well.

5) "Long Goodbye," Dwight Yoakam and Michelle Branch

If you don't like Dwight Yoakam, you're wrong and we can't be friends. But also, I would very much like for Yoakam and Branch to do an album together. Is that so much to ask?

6) "The One," Elton John

I'm kind of mildly obsessed with mid-career Elton John right now--roughly his 1990s discography, starting with The One, from which this single came. This is the period when his voice really transformed and he started singing in a slightly lower, richer register than he did in the 1970s and most of the 1980s. That's the Elton John I turn to for comfort.

7) "Waiting," Green Day

I will never not have a crush on Mike Dirnt, and that's all I have to say about this song.

8) "If You Had My Love," Jennifer Lopez

Believe it or not, On the 6 was a good album, and I sometimes miss this side of J. Lo--before the super-fame and extreme contouring, but after she had proven herself with her excellent work in Selena, and while she still had some Latina flair.

9) "True Blue," Madonna

True Blue is a notoriously uneven album, which is undoubtedly due at least in part to the influence of Sean Penn, who was Madonna's husband at the time. And as overly sweet as "True Blue" the song tends to be, it's good, clean, cheesy fun. Plus, check out Debi Mazar as a backup dancer!

I invite you all to make your own playlist for the coming year, and share it with me if you're feeling confessional!

-Cate-

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Christmas Hiatus!

Hello!

As we move toward the insanity that is Christmas season, I'll be taking a few weeks off to travel, wrap presents, and--of course--visit my dog (and I guess my family, too; whatever). 

I hope your holiday season is wonderful and not stressful. If this is a trying time for you, don't hesitate to reach out to someone, whether it's me (I'm always available via e-mail!), a friend, or even some caring strangers. 

Silver bells and all of that,

-Cate-

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Election Year Lessons for Young Adults

It's taken me awhile to get to the point where I can respond to the results of this year's presidential election with anything other than revolutionary fervor, but I'm ready now. (Make no mistake: the anger is still very much alive in me, as I am one pissed off nasty woman.)

If you're anything like me, you were raised to be polite, not to discriminate, and to treat everyone with respect. But on 8 November, half of our country seems to have forgotten those lessons, and now we are facing institutionally-approved rudeness, bigotry, and disrespect from our neighbors or family members. This, undoubtedly, is a difficult upheaval to endure.

But sometimes, the world is going to disappoint you. It's better to learn this lesson as a teenager than an adult, because it comes at the best possible time, so I speak now to the youth of the nation.

The upcoming transfer of power is a scary prospect, yes. And yet. In a year or two, you young people will all be able to do something powerful, something American: you'll be able to vote. In this way, you can participate directly in our representative democracy. Until then, there are so many things you--and the adults in your life--can do to ameliorate the situation we're facing.

Volunteer your time, your enthusiasm. Find an organization you think will further your cause and ask them how you can help. Or if that proves to be difficult, given your busy and sometimes stressful lives as students with extracurricular activities and college applications to worry about, simply offer assistance to your classmates and peers and listen to them when they need to be heard. Hug them, tell them you love them, make sure they know how valued they are in the community.

At the same time, don't be afraid to reach out and ask for assistance. This is the moment when we need to come together, raise each other up, and prove that love is stronger than hate. That will sometimes seem impossible, but the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had some excellent advice on that front. He paraphrased a passage from Isaiah, saying, "If you can't fly, then run. If you can't run, then walk. If you can't walk, then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward."

We will accomplish our goals through doing good things for our countrymen, and in time, we will be able to fly like the bald eagles who symbolize our nation.

Stay cool. Stay safe. Stay awesome.

-Cate-

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Adventures in Rejection: Writing, Merritt Tierce, and Reality Checks

Once in awhile, an article comes along that resonates so profoundly I have to share it and add my own thoughts. In this case, it's Merritt Tierce's September article for Marie Claire, "I Published My Debut Novel to Critical Acclaim--and Then I Promptly Went Broke."

Tierce is the author of Love Me Back, a novel that was well-received by critics and blurbed by the likes of Roxane Gay. According to Tierce, she sold around 12,000 copies in two years, which was not enough to earn back her advance. Now, she is struggling to pay her bills and is suffering from self-doubt and lack of writing time while "hustling" freelance pieces to the best of her ability. Tierce has no desire to work in academia, which she is qualified to do but might tear her even farther away from family and writing.

This is the stark, terrifying truth of life as a writer in this day and age. Even when the acceptance letters arrive and the publication contracts are signed and the galleys are approved, there is no guarantee that your book will find any sort of success. If you primarily write poetry, your audience is exponentially smaller and the chances of earning money from your work are so slim as to be nonexistent. To date, I have made somewhere in the neighborhood of $250 total across ten years of actively seeking out publication.

But those of us who are serious about it--that is, the craft of writing--have accepted these facts, as unsavory as they are. If you are very lucky, you will see a handful of novels or poetry collections published in your lifetime and perhaps win some awards. If you are less lucky but still diligent, stories, essays, and poems will appear in any number of print or online literary journals, and perhaps even be anthologized. Even if you take steps toward publication, you may be able to achieve little more than one or two placements.

Do I dream of winning a National Book Award, being touted as the next Sylvia Plath, or being legitimate enough to have someone like Nikky Finney blurb me? You bet your ass I do, and if any writer tells you they don't have similar (hopeless) aspirations, they are lying. But for the sake of my own sanity, I have to shelve those fantasies. If I didn't, I would descend into despair with each new rejection letter and give up hope altogether. And I've worked too long and too hard to abandon the written word. 

I commend Merritt Tierce for telling the truth, and I wish her all the luck in the world. Her struggle is that of most writers, and I don't want that for any of us.

-Cate-

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

On Perfection


Am I perfect? Hell, no. 

If this unfiltered picture of my feet with flip-flop lines and cracked nail polish isn't evidence enough, here's another example: I ate pineapple with a knife last night because I haven't gone out to buy plastic forks (real flatware requiring too much effort for my life). And yet another example: I called AAA awhile back to ask for help with a flat, as I could never be bothered to learn how to change a tire myself. And those are only two instances. Extrapolate out and feel your brain melt from the sheer amount of failure.

However, no one feels my shortcomings more keenly than I do, and I know when I have done wrong. Because I have an anxiety disorder, my brain quite literally will not allow me to stop thinking about anything I have done to fuck up. But also know this: what may seem like a character flaw to some--my chronic inability to keep my mouth shut on occasions when something is really, truly problematic--is an asset, in my view. 

Without it, I would be unable to determine which people are toxic and which are worth fighting for, and I would be unable to live with my own self for the shame of having stood idly by. Whether the situation is political, professional, or personal, I am--not proud, exactly, but certainly willing to face the consequences of this quirk of mine. Whether I inspire or infuriate you, I don't think I could ever be anyone else.