Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Christmas Hiatus!


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,


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.


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.


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.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Book (Buying) Ban

On 16 July, I declared to the world that I was going on a book-buying ban, and I asked everyone to wish me luck. Book-buying bans are, of course, unnatural to anyone with a preference for reading over anything else. But there came a point when I desperately needed to do something. 

This crisis was triggered by the state of the bookshelves I maintain at my parents' house. The bulk of my reading material resides there, far from my actual residence in Louisiana. It, of course, pains me to be separated from my books, but needs must. During my summer visit to Michigan, I became overwhelmed by the disarray and the fact that so many of my tomes remained boxed up in the basement, victims of both multiple moves and a lack of shelf space.

And then I went on a rampage.

Every single book I had access to came out and was stacked, sorted, and rearranged in the living room. Little Dog was so freaked out that she went and hid in my bedroom to avoid the chaos. I toiled for the better part of a week, until I had weeded out volumes I no longer wanted or needed, things I realized I would never read, or duplicates I'd collected over the years.

The bulk of those discarded books were either donated to the local library for their thrice-yearly fundraising book sale or shipped out to three of my friends who were fascinated by my stash and not averse to their own piles growing larger. This worked out in everyone's favor, which relieved me.

At that point I reorganized, reshelved, and reboxed as necessary. Things I had yet to read were all put out on the bookshelves so I would have easy access to them. The problem with this strategy was that I then came to the realization that I had a huge "to be read" stack. Big enough that I might possibly have enough to keep me going for the rest of my life. (As if that's even possible. Please.)

I blame my mother, who taught me to read when I came home disgruntled that I hadn't learned in school. I blame my father, who has never not bought me a book when I asked for one. I blame Visa, which company should have cut me off long ago when they saw how many transactions I was making at bookstores. And I blame myself, for not having the self-control to say, "No, I do not need to buy these seven books at once."

Hahahahaha, no. That last part isn't true at all. Vive les livres!

And yet. I was--and remain--absolutely serious about this. But I admit that I have broken twice so far. Still, two books in three and a half months is not bad. I am trying my best to focus on the books that are already at hand, and I hope I can stay strong.


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Adventures in Rejection: When Literary Magazines Die

In this wild world, where large publishing houses are closing or consolidating and small presses face huge hurdles to keeping their doors open, it should come as no surprise that literary magazines often fail. 

And yet, somehow, that feels like the worst rejection of them all.

It's one thing to see an individual poem turned down for publication. But when an entire lit mag tanks for whatever reason--lack of funding, low readership, the demands of the editor's day job--it hurts me. Even when an outlet has declined to disseminate my work, I like to see them succeed, because it means that other writers are getting exposure and that other readers are discovering new pieces that move them. If a lit mag shuts down, those opportunities are negated for everyone involved.

Is this because of a lack of interest from the larger public? Because no one has surplus funds to donate? Because the editors are being crushed at their other workplace (let's be honest: most people are doing this as a passion project, a side gig that is often thankless)? I can't say. What I do know is that it makes the literary world a less diverse place, and that is never a positive thing.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Updates, Links, Et Cetera

- Remember awhile back when I discussed the limits of nostalgia and how throwback fever is affecting current television shows? Turns out that Nathan Fillion, star of the much-beloved, much-mourned Firefly, is totally on board with me. Bless.

- There are plenty of fall offerings for adult arts programs at Interlochen, so check them out!

- Last month, the MacArthur fellowships for 2016 were announced. There are tons of cool people on the list, including Gene Luen Yang, author of  American Born Chinese, which is an excellent graphic novel.

- Here is a list of finalists for the National Book Awards.

- Bob Dylan was awarded this year's Nobel Prize for literature!

- The Louisiana State Fair starts soon. Hit it up 27 October - 13 November.

- Leaving Kent State, written by Sabrina Fedel (a fellow graduate of Lesley University's MFA program!), will be available in November from Harvard Square Editions.


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Who Are You

When I was in college, a classmate of mine turned to me, apropos of very little, and said, "You were a goth in high school, weren't you?"

I gotta tell you: in my head, I heard an actual record scratch. And then I turned to him and said, "What?"

Apparently I give off a certain vibe, because at least two more people have brought this up independently of each other over the years. There is also a popular idea floating around out there that I am the real-life version of Amy Farrah Fowler from The Big Bang Theory, possibly prompted by my fleeting resemblance to her in both looks and demeanor (I don't know; I've only seen like two episodes of the show). 

As a side note: when I was in the process of writing this post, my friend Melissa sent me a picture of Amy Farrah Fowler making a face because she has been in on this conversation since the first time someone compared me to that character:

And here is a picture of me:

Honestly, I don't see the resemblance.

At any rate, neither of these assumptions is correct, at least in my view. While it is true that I wear a great deal of black, I never did the pale skin/raccoon eyes thing, I wasn't a fan of Marilyn Manson with the exception of two or three tracks, and I wasn't part of the Hot Topic scene. To my knowledge, I've never undertaken a course of study in physics, nor do I havea doctorate. (It's just me and my lowly MFA over here. Wait, did I say lowly? I meant MOTHERFUCKING AWESOME.)

For the most part, I am just me: an amalgam of quirks and influences, personality traits and genetic materials. This is true of everyone else in this world, as well. Try as you might to label anyone, they will always find a way to subvert your expectations, whether it's the "goth" girl who has a soft spot for pop music or the "nerd" who appreciates sports as much as science. So don't go making judgments based on your interpretation of the evidence at hand. Just let people be who they are (unless they're jerks, in which case it's totally okay to gently recommend that they be less mean.)


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Your Adverbs Are Literally Killing Me

It would seem that I have not published a true writing post in some time, and I would like to address that deficiency! Here, you will find my opinions about the use of adverbs in fiction (and, I suppose, in poetry).

If you've taken a creative writing class at anything beyond the beginning level, you have heard that adverbs are bad for your writing. But why is that true? Another adage that writing instructors employ is that old one we all get sick of hearing: "Show, don't tell." By combining this with the directive to avoid adverbs, we have our answer.

Consider the following sentences:

1) She walked swiftly to the edge of the field, breathing heavily.

2) She jogged to the edge of the field, her breath coming in short bursts.

Which seems more informative to you? The one where the adverbs are doing the work, or the one where the verbs and adjectives take the reins? If you think the answer is the former, you may need to reconsider your affinity for adverbs.

You see, "walked swiftly" could mean a few different things: power-walking, a slow jog, a panicked shuffle, and so on. Jogging, on the other hand, indicates a specific type of movement. This is why precise verbs are more important than modifiers, which are often vague.

The same is true in the second half of the sentence, where "breathing heavily" may mean panting, gasping, or over-filling the lungs. Replacing this with "short bursts" clarifies the picture for the reader.

Next time you're writing, keep this in mind. It will help you weed out weaker spots and improve your sentences!


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Little Things

Over the summer, I read this really excellent article about how awesome chapbooks are. It's called "Small Is Beautiful: The Importance of Chapbooks," by Michael Young, and it was published over at The The Poetry back in May.

It's been a long time since I read an article that I connected with so well. Chapbooks ARE beautiful, and they are something that not everyone understands. 

In poetry, the goal is often to see a full-length collection published. Officially speaking, "full-length" is anything over 48 pages, and you'll usually see them in the 80-100 page range. Some, but not all, publishers require--or at least hope--that a chunk of the individual pieces have already been published elsewhere, as in literary journals, in a sort of vetting process. Assuming one poem per page, that's a huge, time-consuming undertaking. 

But the full-length collection is not always the best route to take, as Young rightly points out. He name-drops William Blake, whose most famous works, Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, were both well within the chapbook range. This is a form that essentially allowed Blake to curate a streamlined poetic experience, with no concern about extraneous poems that might weaken his narrative arc (and make no mistake: narrative arcs are entirely possible to create in poetry collections). 

That is what draws me to the chapbook form. My first book, Miles, was a chapbook, and I remember spending endless hours paring down the pages, rearranging the works, and agonizing over any little thing that felt out of place. Having been 22 at the time, I was, of course, not particularly awesome as a writer, but even so, I feel good about what I was able to produce, and I am glad that I was limited to so few pages. And even now, I recognize that my poetry is stronger when the opportunity to ramble is removed from the equation.

So I would encourage you all to check out chapbooks, either as a reader or as a writer. You may find that they leave you with a stronger sense of who someone is as a poet, or that they give you the freedom to be precise with your own work. 


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

In My Room

In a previous life, I had an office that I loved. It was big and had incredible textured wallpaper. There was a conference table where I could spread my work out, and a desk in the corner when I was feeling anxious. It was quiet there.

Now, I still have an office, but it's much different: smaller, and meant for other uses than the one before.

From time to time, I have dreams about the office I lost. Every time, someone is trying take over that space, and watching that happen breaks my heart. Then I wake up, and I sigh. This should be out of my system after more than two years. Yet it remains.

The new one is good, though. It's easier to maintain, less likely to attract attention, and personalized in a way the other wasn't. Instead of wallpaper, I have putty-painted drywall. Instead of carpet, I have a rug from Target over cold tile. I also have Star Wars posters and board games, and a Halloween bucket that is only occasionally filled with candy. Crayons and markers abound. I have a drawer of nothing but different types of tape, and another filled with letters a group of us wrote to our future selves, waiting for the day when I'll redistribute them. 

This is an okay place. Truly. But it would be nice if I still had a portrait of Ezra Pound giving me disapproving looks whenever I slacked off. On the other hand, because I'm now on the second floor, no one tries to sneak up to the window to scare me.

You win some. You lose some. 


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

And Just Like That, I've Done It Again


Remember how I just got done talking about how I was going to be much, much better about not taking unintentional hiatuses? Obviously that plan is working out for me, and I in no way failed to blog for the past four weeks.

It wasn't the normal stuff this time--the depression, the anxiety. It was actual work that kept me from blogging, or doing anything much in the way of writing. Things got a little wackadoo in that part of my life, and in the interest of, you know, earning my paycheck or whatever, I decided it would be wise to focus on my job for awhile.

But I'm back, however temporarily. And it's good to see this text box again.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

American Success Stories

Although you're seeing this post sometime in August, I'm in the past, writing it on July 4, 2016, some 240 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. I mention this fact because it has a direct bearing on what you're about to read.

Earlier today, I had my iPod on shuffle, and Desi Arnaz's "Babalu" started playing. I'm a fan of I Love Lucy, and, having seen the entire series several times through, I can't help but know a few of Arnaz's more famous tunes, including this quintessential one. The song itself, though, isn't what interests me right now. Rather, Arnaz himself does.

He was what I consider to be an American success story. Born to a prominent family inn Cuba but thrust unexpectedly into straitened circumstances during a revolution, he found himself in Miama as a youth and then took up the business of entertainment. He of course met and married Lucille Ball a few years later, and the rest--as they say--is history. Everyone in America must know his name, or at least his face, by now. Not so bad for an immigrant, a non-native English speaker, and a man who dared to marry a white girl and (gasp!) flaunt their relationship on national television.

Thinking of Arnaz leads me to Richard Blanco, another Cuban making his way in America in another, but still contentious, time. Blanco was born in Spain and brought to America by parents who, like the Arnaz family, were fleeing political issues. A civil engineer and writer by training, Blanco was selected to recite a poem at the 2013 presidential inauguration (Barack Obama's second time swearing in). This was an excellent choice for several reasons: not only did Blanco give a flawless reading of his "One Today," but he also represented the changing face of America. For Blanco is an immigrant, yes, and a Latino, but also a gay man. This was a truly monumental moment, and again, I consider Blanco to be an American success story.

In keeping with the artistic bent of these musings so far, I turn to Lin-Manuel Miranda, the nearly inescapable face of Broadway in 2016. While born in America, Miranda comes from Puerto Rican stock. And he is a man who has done a few things all at once: brought attention to musical theater, triggered discussions about American history among people who might not otherwise find it an interesting topic, and dedicated his stage to the showcasing of non-white talent. Moreover, he has gotten away with all of these things through a combination of talent and commitment, which are rare enough personality traits in the public sphere nowadays. What could make his American success story more successful? Maybe only getting his face on a Wheaties box.

You've surely noticed a trend here: each of these men is Latino.

I believe in inclusion. American culture overwhelmingly privileges white people and can be ridiculously appropriative, and diversity of any kind often seems to be an impossible dream. But the United States would not be what it is today without the contributions of people from every racial, ethnic, and sexuality-based background. Unfortunately, for each person calling for a wider variety of viewpoints and a higher level of tolerance or activism, we hear another voice full of vitriol and anger, blaming non-whites--and particularly immigrants--for the perceived woes of our society.

This is unacceptable to me. And it should be unacceptable to you as well. This is America. It's meant to be the land of the free. So why are we, as a nation, working so hard to suppress diversity? We need the white people, the brown people, the black people, the blue people, the gay people, the straight people, the Christians and Jews and Muslims and Democrats and Republicans and even the anarchists, probably. Because we the people are all people, supposedly born equal (or made so as immigrants) under the law.

I've only given three examples here, but there are countless more worth researching and promoting. Those breaking down barriers, crossing lines that represented certain death in the past, marching in order to make themselves and their brethren heard, speaking out when the opportunity presents itself, fighting for what they believe is right, working to recover what was taken from them.

In the event that you haven't looked at a calendar recently, I would like to remind you that it is 2016. And it is long past time to let everyone be heard, respected, and included, and I cannot stress that enough.


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Craft

Sometime in the Aughts, my mother dragged me and my sister-in-law to the home of a church member for a scrapbooking demonstration and sales pitch; this church friend worked for Creative Memories (RIP and then welcome back), which at the time was probably the biggest name in the scrapbooking game. 

Truly, it doesn't take much to get me on board with stuff like this; I'm a sucker for arts and crafts, because I want so much to be artsy and crafty, which I am mostly not, in spite of the eight trillion dollars my parents paid for me to take art classes at this awesome little place not too far from our house when I was growing up. So of course I was all, "Scrapbooking is fun!" And Mom apparently agreed, because she then spent a further eight trillion dollars on CM products. 

Flash forward however many years. I still have not become artsy or craftsy, even though I have all those adult coloring books and I attempt to crochet things and I worked (literally) three shifts at Joann Fabric before unceremoniously quitting because I had too much time to think about all the other things I wasn't accomplishing with my life while simultaneously accomplishing nothing with my life. And yet! I do make regular attempts to do scrapbooking-related things, whether that's actually making scrapbook pages or, as has been the case this summer, making cards. 

Crafting makes me feel more useful, somehow, because I'm doing things with my hands rather than sitting around staring at a computer screen. Even though I often make things that look less than ideal, it's still nice to create anything at all. I've even gotten into crochet, which my grandmother tried twice to teach me when I was growing up but never stuck. Even though my niece is, so far, the only person who has received anything I've made, she seems to be behind me one hundred percent, and that gives me all the motivation I need to continue.

Plus it's nice to channel my creativity elsewhere when I'm overwhelmed (or underwhelmed, as the case may be) by the writing process, or else awaiting responses from publishers. That way, I have something to occupy me that is non-detrimental and keeps my brain in that creative place. What could be better?


Wednesday, August 3, 2016

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

I am--sadly, and semi-unwillingly--back at work now, after having been able to take some time off. This invariably means that I ventured home to Michigan, as I have few other places I can (or want to) spend an extended period of time. But what do I do while I'm there? Sometimes this is a mystery even to me, as it's not unusual for me to realize I've been home for X number of days or weeks without having accomplished anything substantial. So this year, I've decided to take stock of my summer activities, mainly for my personal edification (because what is a blog, after all, but an exercise in navel gazing?).

1) Blogging
While it's true that I haven't done nearly as much with this blog as I could or should have, I did manage to write a few posts, which I sort of, um, had not done in the month or two leading up to the summer. If I could get paid for being a slacker, I'd be pretty rich by now, to be perfectly honest.

2) Retreating
I spent two and a half days of June at Interlochen Center for the Arts (in the northern part of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan) taking a course called Live Your Art Retreat and Creativity Incubator, taught by Holly Wren Spaulding, a Michigan native who is primarily a poet. I recommend both Interlochen and Spaulding for your artistic needs!

3) Shopping
I would not be me if I hadn't spent at least part of my summer buying (an absolutely necessary amount of) books. Of course, this also involves visiting local bookstores when I'm traveling, in which manner I was able to discover the used bookstore Landmark Books and the full-price shop Brilliant Books, both in Traverse City. I especially love Brilliant Books; the people who work there are incredible and warm in a way that only independent booksellers can be (and shout-out to them for giving me a free coffee mug).

During the Fourth of July holiday weekend, my mother insisted that we go to South Haven to explore the (used and new) bookstore Black River Books, which she had stumbled across back in May and thought I would like, which I did. Later in July, she took me to the Lansing branch of Schuler Books and Music (new and used), which is borderline overwhelming but also fun.

Because I also found places elsewhere in the spring, before I came home, I'd like to mention them even though they weren't part of my summer vacation: Cottonwood Books (new and used) in Baton Rouge and 1/4 Price Books (used) in Houston, which are both interesting and useful places! Many thanks to Kristi for recommending Cottonwood and Emily for recommending 1/4 Price.

4) Researching
While I didn't engage in any classroom- or instruction-based professional development for my job (although Live Your Art gave me some good ideas for my paid work as well as my writing!), I did make an effort to do some reading that would further my understanding of and ability to perform my job in Louisiana. Any time I found an article online that might relate to my position, I would read it and make notes on especially relevant things so I could share this information with my coworkers. 

I also read a legal history of censorship and indecency law called Not in Front of the Children. It had been a textbook of mine in college; at that time, we employed only the first third or so of the book, and I was excited to finally finish it all these years later, since it relates to what I do.

5) Crafting
Sometimes, I come up with these crazy ideas about getting crafty. This almost always ends badly, and I'll be writing a post about it soon. Stay tuned.

6) Snuggling
My dog resides with my parents out of necessity (I am not allowed to have pets where I live). I miss her stupid, cute little face all the time when I'm away, so I take these vacations as an opportunity to overload myself with puppy time. We play. We watch movies. We take naps. It's incredible. I wish I could spend every day with her.

All of this makes me sound like I stayed busier than I did. For the most part, I sat around or slept or caught up on some of the movies I missed earlier by not having much money for the cinema. I also saw Niece and Nephew, of course, and played a prank on my brother (which I regret approximately zero percent); I may be *cough*adklfjeiwndfk*cough* years old, but some things never get old.

I'll wrap this up by saying that I don't intend to sound like a schoolmarm, but I'm genuinely curious: how did YOU spend your summer? Let me know, if you're so inclined.


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Dear Joanne

I have very clear memories of the night Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released. It was July 2007, and I was home for the summer. My mother had pre-ordered a copy from Border's (RIP), and she sent me and my father to pick it up. Being a big-box store, there was a ton of floor space. Yet no more of it was available, and bodies spilled out into the lamp-lit parking lot.

Dad stared at the crowd, confused by the spectacle before him. "What is going on here?" he asked me.

I swept my hand around, indicating the throng engulfing us. "This is pop culture."

The moment was an important one, I think, both for me and Dad. As far as I was concerned, it was unspeakably exciting to be present for a historical literary moment. Meanwhile, Dad finally had some insight into what I had been doing with my life (both as a creative writing major and a pop culture semi-scholar). It was tinged with sadness, though, as THE TIME had come: that instant where every devoted fan realized that this was the last time we would tear through the pages of a Harry Potter book in unbridled anticipation of how his story would turn out.

Or was it?

Since that night, the series' author, J.K. Rowling, has been expanding the Hogwarts universe at a regular clip. We've witnessed the arrival of Pottermore, her interactive online community; although the book itself was released in 2001, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is coming to a theater near you this November; The Tales of Beedle the Bard, an important piece of the Deathly Hallows puzzle, was given its own standalone book in 2008; Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, not written by Rowling but based on a story she wrote, lands on the West End stage this week to be followed the next day by a published version of the script; and revelations about Ilvermorny, Hogwarts' North American sister school, have come to light via Pottermore in the past month. 

I understand that Ms. Rowling has spent a great deal of her life immersed in the world of Harry Potter. (She is hardly alone in that, as her rabid fan base has proven.) But I also understand that she is in danger of failing to move on to other artistic endeavors, which we know she is capable of doing--witness The Casual Vacancy, as well as the Robert Galbraith/Cormoran Strike novels. And this is one of the deadliest activities in which an artist of any variety can engage.

Leaving aside the appropriative issues surrounding Ilvermorny and North American wizardry (I am looking in your direction, stereotypical assumptions about "mystical" Native Americans), which are distinct from the ongoing additions to the Potterverse, I think it would behoove Rowling to take a break from Harry James and his friends. There are so many other stories to tell, and I for one am interested to see what else she can give us.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016


I started with good intentions. I wanted to blog about writing and books and sometimes pop culture. But now, it's turned into something different. 

Writing and books and pop culture are still my main topics, of course. But I've also branched off into discussing my mental illnesses, etymology, and occasionally life in general. While I try to keep my more political topics relegated to my Tumblr account, this site serves as something of a catch-all for the other things I'd like to discuss. 

Believe it or not, there are times when I don't want to talk about books anymore. I think that's how I end up getting off-topic. And I also think that this is okay. Sometimes it's better to write anything at all rather than constrain myself. So I'm going to keep exploring these tangents in my brain, and I hope you'll explore them with me.


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Social(ly Avoidant) Media

Do you ever get the feeling that you're consuming too much?

This question could apply to a handful of things: too much food, too many resources, too much awful news whenever you happen to stop on CNN while flipping through channels. But in this case, I'm talking about consuming too much social media.

A few days ago, I was cruising through Instagram when I realized there was someone I wanted to follow but hadn't found yet. Looking her up was simple, and with a single click, I was subscribed to her feed. During this process, I noticed a striking number: 99.

This woman followed only 99 other Instagram accounts. I, meanwhile, was following over 600. 

The difference in these two figures spurred me to action. I realized that those 600+ accounts would live without me. Although I didn't shut down my Instagram account--I love it far too much to let go--I did unfollow just under a third of the people or businesses on the list, clearing out anyone I had clicked on for truly specious reasons. It was satisfying to see their names go from green to gray.

We live in an increasingly digital world, and every time we open up a device with an Internet connection, the amount of content we are likely to see skyrockets. That can't be good for us, operating as we are in an environment that bounds from one topic to another in mere seconds, and that's taking only television or online news into account. Add in Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram, among others, and you have endless ways to suck time away from your family, friends, or projects. 

While my account is still active, I have quit using Twitter for this very reason. The number of links offered up in the span of only a minute is dizzying; the Twitter feed is in constant motion. Even if I could speed-read, I doubt that I could get through all of the content available for my amusement before a new day began and the process started all over again. That's some Sisyphean shit right there.

I've even stopped paying close attention to the links available to me on Facebook. I may be interested in a wide variety of topics, but trying to read every article about each of them means giving up other things, like writing time. And I'm not about that life.

But more than anything I've mentioned, I'm curious about how we got to this point. Even though we have more news available than ever, which helps marginalized groups make themselves heard, there's a paradox at work: it's difficult to discover those voices precisely because there is such an abundance of media at our disposal. When did we decide that we must play into the hands of distraction in such a way? And what can we do to scale it back to the point where various media and social media outlets bring us together rather than contributing to the fractiousness we're experiencing right now, both in America and around the world?

These are the questions I'd like answered. Meanwhile, I'm happy that I axed so many accounts on Instagram. This way, I get to see more content that actually means something to me or might prove inspirational.


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Way to Treat Your Books

Any person who is a relatively serious reader knows that there is only one way to treat a book. But a problem arises when no one can agree on what that way is.

In the past months, I've learned some interesting things about the various approaches my friends and family members take to the act of reading. Take, for example, my mother. When she gave me my birthday presents, she discovered that she had accidentally left a price tag on a book. She hastened to remove it, though I told her the price didn't matter because I love a good book deal. But she responded in a way I didn't expect: "I hate when there's a sticker on a book."

I've known my mother quite awhile now--all of my life and half of hers, to be precise. And yet, I never could have told you that she has this quirk. Only a few days earlier, a similar situation had arisen with my father, who took pains to explain that the crease on the cover of a book he'd borrowed from me was not his fault--a charge I hadn't made against him in the first place, as it happens. That's when he informed me that he strives to treat my books with care because they are mine and not his.

While I appreciate the consideration, I was a little surprised by this information. I'm not overly gentle with my books in general. If a spine cracks, I don't get upset. Although I use bookmarks much more frequently now, I used to dog-ear pages all the time, particularly in college and grad school, when I wanted to leave myself visual clues as to the amount of reading I had left to do. I don't know how many books I've highlighted over the years, and not always for class; sometimes I do it to revel in the brilliant turns of phrase I've found.

My friend Sharon, on the other hand, is one of those people who can't stand the plight of "mistreated" books. She made a Facebook post awhile back about a particular moment on Gilmore Girls, writing, "This episode is why I hate Jess. He steals Rory's book and THEN WRITES IN IT. WHO DOES THAT CRAP? THAT'S NOT HOW YOU TREAT BOOKS, YOU HEATHEN! ESPECIALLY SOMEONE ELSE'S BOOK."

This rant of hers led to over twenty comments from various people. While I concede that it's rude to write in a book that isn't yours without permission from the owner, I disagree that the act of writing itself is unacceptable. As I pointed out to Sharon, making notes, underlining, and highlighting passages is normal behavior among scholars and (certain) book people.

I suppose the adage, "Different strokes for different folks" applies here. In my case, I'm less inclined to mark up a book that is rare or vintage, and for reasons unknown, I am averse to highlighting hardcovers. Meanwhile, you will never catch Sharon doing any perceived harm to a volume. And these are simply two different ways of showing appreciation for the words you're consuming.


PS The images intersperse throughout the text are photos of my own copy of Fahrenheit 451, which I have had for approximately 15 years. With each re-reading, the spine weakens a little more and I fall in love with a new line or paragraph. Someday, it will succumb to the ravages of time and use, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

What's In a Name? Or, the Charlotte Hornets Debacle

I'm big on the meanings of names. Not in a hyper-Dickensian, Aged Parent kind of way, but in a practical, "Hey, that's interesting" sort of manner. You may recall that I wrote a two-part post about my own name back in 2014, for example. And so it should not come as a shock to anyone that I have very strong feelings about the history of the Charlotte Hornets, North Carolina's only NBA team.

Way back in the mid-1980s, construction began on a new arena in Charlotte that was to be called the Coliseum. The building was a sort of salmon pink, and it was elliptical in shape. Odell of Charlotte was responsible for its design. George Shinn used the Coliseum to convince the NBA to place a team in North Carolina, and that's when the Hornets were born. They went on to play their inaugural season in 1988.

Not so many years later, in 2002, the Hornets pulled out of Charlotte and moved to New Orleans without changing their name. It's not completely unheard of for a team to move; one need look no further than the NFL's Rams, who started in Cleveland, moved to Los Angeles, decamped to St. Louis, and have now returned to California. But in this case, the name change seemed imperative. 

Because the Hornets moniker didn't come from the mascot playbook, like a spartan or a warrior. The Hornets were part of North Carolina history, after a fashion.

Charlotte, which is in Mecklenburg County, was named for King George III's bride, a German princess called Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz at the time of her marriage and later Queen Charlotte. During the American Revolution, when colonists were busy rejecting the authority of King George all along the eastern seaboard, General Lord Charles Cornwallis declared that Charlotte the town was "a hornet's nest of rebellion." While in modern times Charlotte is referred to as the Queen City, North Carolinians clearly never forgot what Cornwallis had to say, and that is how the basketball team got its name.

New Orleans, of course, is a fine city with its own historical significance. But the team had no business parading around Louisiana with its original appellation intact. Meanwhile, Charlotte's replacement team was called the Bobcats. Not a bad mascot, as far as that goes, but lacking all of the character of its predecessor. Lucky for all of us history buffs out there, the Hornets returned to North Carolina in 2014 with their name and team history intact (alas, their bangin' original logo was replaced with something more modern and streamlined). The replacement team in New Orleans has a mascot more appropriate to that state: the pelican. 

I do hope that we have all learned our lesson from this arena-hopping time in Hornets history. Because names can be extremely important, and not just when you've chosen to take the stage name of Holden McGroin.


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Why I Disappear Sometimes

If you're a regular reader, you may have noticed that I went radio silent for about six weeks from late April to early June. Normally, I would post a sentence or two about an impending hiatus. This time, however, I said nothing, because I didn't plan this break.

In the course of a typical blogging day, I try to write at least two posts, if not three or four, so I have a buffer zone in case my life gets hectic and I can't find the time to blog for a few weeks. So what you read may be a month old by the time it posts to my front page; this is why my more topical entries are often a bit out-of-date. And that's exactly what I did during the last go-round. The problem is, I stopped writing sometime in March.

I meant to blog in May. There were no matters so pressing that I could not find the time to do so. Instead, a crushing sense of futility descended upon me, and I gave up for a minute.

Given my anxiety and depression, this is not an unusual phenomenon. However, I work at overcoming it because I can't check out on my entire life. I have a job to do, appointments to keep, bills to pay. Yet something is bound to fall by the wayside, because the act of surviving can sap my energy to the point where all I want to do is hide under the covers.

This is why I disappear.

I call it clamping down: streamlining my activities and conversations to the point where I communicate with only a few people and do very little beside hope that no one will knock on my door and ask for something I'm not prepared to give.

At this point, I can't promise that I won't disappear again. At some time in the future, it will strike again: that weight. But for now, I'm back. Even if I don't have much to say, I'll keep writing. And I hope you'll keep reading.


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Missing Piece

It started in April.

I had taken three puzzles to Louisiana, each a thousand pieces. At first, I thought I was just going to put a single one together to pass the time when I couldn't concentrate on reading or a movie and didn't have the motivation to go out.

By the time I wrote this post (on June 12th), I had completed twelve more. 

This isn't normal behavior for me. I tend to do puzzles only when I'm extra-anxious, because they allow me to focus on something other than the things rolling around in my head, with the added bonus of bringing order to a little corner of the world.

At the outset, I wasn't aware of how bad my anxiety had gotten. But subconsciously, I must have known, because I felt compelled to take pictures of each project, which were consequently date- and time-stamped by my camera roll, as if I was documenting the duration and frequency of the attacks.

Looking back, I think that the inevitability of reaching my *cough*sputter*cough*th birthday contributed to this, as well as some situations at work. So why, then, have I continued past my birthday and into my summer break?

Whatever the case, the thirteenth puzzle was an unlucky one. Mom and I worked diligently to finish it one afternoon only to discover that a solitary piece out of the thousand was missing. Appropriately, it had disappeared from an image of Sherlock Holmes. Maybe he's the only one who can solve this mystery.


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Spot the Difference

When I finished my undergraduate degree, a professor of mine gave me a copy of Lorine Niedecker's Collected Works. Years later, knowing that I am no fan of Emily Dickinson's but that Niedecker's work is influenced by and at times strongly resembles Dickinson's, that same professor asked me if I had disliked Collected as a result. It was an interesting--and valid--inquiry, one that I was able to answer truthfully by saying that I in fact found that I enjoyed Niedecker's work.

Having recently come across the volume in question, I wondered what it was, exactly, that attracted me in Niedecker's poems but repelled me in Dickinson's, and I think the most honest response is that there isn't necessarily a strong set of criteria. Sometimes, it's just a gut feeling that you have.

Here's another example. I love Quentin Tarantino's oeuvre, and my experiences with him began in high school prior to the release of Kill Bill, which was the first Tarantino film I saw in real time rather than on DVD or (gasp) video. But when Inglourious Basterds came along, I hated it with a force that surprised me. To this day, I cannot fully articulate what made me dislike it so much. The acting was superb. The editing was impeccable (RIP Sally Menke). The production values were unimpeachable. Yet there it was: I couldn't stand the thought of a repeat viewing. When Django Unchained premiered, I worried that perhaps I had lost my connection with Tarantino's craftsmanship and would despise it as well, but I was pleasantly surprised when Django proved to be at turns hilarious, haunting, and heroic. 

What, then, was the difference between Basterds and Django? I can't even say. The former simply felt wrong to me, just as Dickinson's poems always have. 

The reading, listening, and viewing experiences are, for the most part, deeply subjective. This is the easiest way to explain my quandary. Yet I continue to find myself shocked when people I meet profess their undying love for Emily Dickinson. What is the difference between us? It's nothing more than a matter of personal preference.


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Cost of Mental Illness

Mental illness is expensive.

I recently had to find myself a new mental healthcare professional, after moving to Louisiana for work. Although she will, of course, remain nameless, I will say that I like her so far.

The problem is, she's so damned expensive.

Because she is a medical psychologist rather than a psychiatrist, and because she works alone rather than in a group office, she does not accept insurance, so all of my visits are paid for out-of-pocket, $125 at a time. For one harrowing stretch--the intake period--I was paying this amount weekly, but now it's monthly. There is my monthly supply of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, which are largely covered by BCBS but also require a certain amount of copayment; I'll call it $20 for the sake of argument. 

Then there was the genetic analysis, which led to the revelation that I may be metabolizing my medications too quickly, which makes them less effective, and that I may suffer from a deficiency of a certain B-vitamin. At this point, the doctor recommended something to address this, which costs approximately $63 per month.

So let's review: if I see my doctor every four weeks and take all of my pills according to the label directions, I'm spending around $208 per month--gas to the office and insurance premiums not included--in order to stay relatively functional. That's $2496 per year, or about ten percent of my pre-tax income, simply because my brain is incapable of balancing certain chemicals on its own.

This number hurts.

It doesn't hurt only me. It also impacts millions of people around the world who cannot afford the mental healthcare they need, and it affects loved ones who have to watch their friends and family members suffer. It has an effect on society, both in economic terms--employees may be unable to work due to their mental illness, or people may not be able to get a job at all due to lack of resources and care--and in terms of stigma, which can be pervasive and brutal and lead people to leave their mental illness unacknowledged or unaddressed for the sake of "fitting in."

Because there are still people out there--legislators included--who believe that depression is a matter of being weak-willed. "What do you have to be sad about?" they ask, even though anyone who has ever been there knows that this is not the way it works, not even a little. And there are companies out there making billions of dollars from medication that could prove to be lifesaving but is sometimes difficult to obtain due to a dearth of mental health services in some areas. 

These issues don't affect me nearly as much as they do some people, and it makes me incredibly frustrated knowing that others have to go without this basic care due to financial constraints or societal issues. I suppose my point here is that we should be taking mental healthcare more seriously as a country--or better yet, as humans--and offering the support that others need and deserve. It may not lessen the financial burden, but it can certainly raise a person's spirits to know that they can discuss their very real issues with someone without judgment.


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Randomness

Do you ever feel like there's no way to explain your life, not because it's a mess but because strange things just happen to you on occasion? That was me in February, when OF COURSE TSA checked my bag the day I was traveling with three random books and some canned okra. (Side note: I felt vaguely like a criminal for transporting okra across state lines.) But here's the great thing about the randomness: you can absolutely use it in your writing.

We all know the old adage that "truth is stranger than fiction." This is why I encourage you to tuck these little incidents away for future reference, when you may need a bit of comic relief in your novel or even simply a bit of characterization. Why NOT write about the girl who packs okra in her suitcase? Maybe there's a good, solid reason for it. Or maybe that's a wacky thing this character does because she's afraid of eating anything that hasn't been canned. Either way, there's a story in there somewhere.

So embrace the randomness next time it happens, and see where it leads you. 


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Limits of Nostalgia

In the past year or so, there has been a rash of pop-culture nostalgia infiltrating our screens--both large and small. Four examples that come to mind quickly are Ghostbusters, Girl Meets World, Fuller House, and the Star Wars franchise (which is, admittedly, more of a perpetual thing). Although we have yet to see what Paul Feig will make of his all-female Ghostbusters reboot, there have been mixed responses to the other examples given here.

Anecdata seems to indicate that Girl Meets World is a hit among fans of its (literal) parent show, Boy Meets World, which ran from 1993-2000, and reviews from the series pilot reflect this, even if the viewers ache for the original series. The Force Awakens is widely beloved, with a 93% fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes, and is approaching the billion-dollar mark in gross profit. Fuller House, meanwhile, is a different story.

Initial reactions have not been positive. CNN refers to it as a show that "recaptures the magic of the original" (Full House, 1987-1995) "if you remember that Voldemort practiced magic, too." Entertainment Weekly, meanwhile, gives it a C-minus, calling it "lazily constructed kitsch." 

What is the difference between these projects? What makes one piece of our pop-culture history ripe for reworking but another fail miserably? Maybe the people involved. Maybe the premise. Maybe the expectations of the fans. Or perhaps it's that we have hit the point where we are saturated with nostalgia. From the odd '90s fangirling on Tumblr to the woman who lives as though she's in the Victorian era, we as consumers find ourselves inundated with images from the past, and it's easy to get fed up with revisiting past events and phenomena. 

So remember this next time you start to consume this particular brand of entertainment. If it doesn't feel right to you, it means the project has hit a nostalgia wall and it's time to move into the present, or perhaps even the future.


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Alan Rickman

If I delayed my Scott Weiland post out of laziness and my David Bowie post out of scheduling conflicts, then I delayed my Alan Rickman post out of sheer denial, but here it is.

Not only was he Hans Gruber, Colonel Brandon, and Severus Snape. He was this deeply intense presence, one with a voice made to be heard and a head made to be tilted just so. He was the kind of actor who made you want to view his performances again and again for the sheer pleasure of discovering each nuance you hadn't noticed before, and if his Harry Potter cast mates are to be believed, he was a genuine, caring man off screen and off stage.

The world has lost what we hoped was an inexhaustible source of creative generosity, and not just because we loved Snape (Snape, Severus Snape): because Rickman touched something inside all of us, whether we expected him to or not; he was just that great.


Saturday, February 6, 2016

IT'S HERE, 2.0

Gods in the Wilderness is now available for purchase! If you're interested in ordering a copy, please see Amazon or my publisher, Pink. Girl. Ink. Press.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

David Bowie

The Thin White Duke. Ziggy Stardust. David Jones. 

He had several names and many more faces throughout his career, but most of us knew him as David Bowie. Whether your first exposure to him was as musician Bowie or actor Bowie depended partly upon your parents' willingness to subject you to Labyrinth as a child and/or your own musical awakening during high school. As for myself, I came to his work through my favorite band, Stone Temple Pilots.

Many years ago, when MTV Unplugged was a (glorious) thing, STP had their own episode, and part of it ended up cut from the broadcast, though it lived on in bootlegs, pre-iTunes but post-Napster. This was a live cover of "Andy Warhol." As soon as I learned that David Bowie was the original artist, I booked it over to the store and snapped up a copy of Hunky Dory. That was the day I fell in love.

Bowie speaks to adolescents in particular because he was weird. This isn't a bad thing, but it's the most accurate word for him. As the saying goes, he let his freak flag fly, and with every iteration of himself that he presented to the world, he touched some misfit somewhere, from the streets of London to suburban Detroit and everywhere else around the world.

I was fortunate enough to see him live in concert in January 2004, during my senior year of high school. He was touring in support of Reality and played at the Palace of Auburn Hills (home of the Detroit Pistons). The seats weren't great, but I was as enthusiastic as I've ever been, and with good reason: that show remains the best performance I've ever seen, even 12 years later. I also feel lucky, because time proved that this run of dates made up his final trip around the world as a touring artist. 

At the concert, I bought a poster that I've had ever since. It's lived with me in Michigan, in North Carolina, and now in Louisiana. Right before I left home to come here, I went on a rampage through the house, desperately trying to locate said poster; I knew I couldn't live without it, because I feel like it's part of what makes my space my own.

He's been watching over me since I was a teenager, and I hope he never stops. 


Thursday, January 21, 2016


You know that Ben & Jerry's flavor, Half Baked? Of course you do, because it's the best possible combination of stuff: delicious ice cream, chewy brownies, and sweet cookie dough. It's everything your grandmother ever told you not to eat (heyyyy, raw batter), but it works. The problem is, not every half-baked idea turns out to be as genius as Half Baked.

But I encourage the examination and occasional pursuit of half-baked ideas in writing. This is why: you never know what idea you may be able to extract from that blog post/poem/short story that will serve as the catalyst for a new piece, or what great turns of speech you can lift and drop into a newer, better project. 

Who knows? Maybe someday your half-baked something will turn into the next Half Baked, and then people all over the world will know your name. The truth is, you never have to tell them that the situation began in a dire way.


Saturday, January 16, 2016

Scott Weiland

In what I would perhaps call the least surprising turn of events ever, Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots, Velvet Revolver, and an underrated solo career was found dead on his tour bus in Minnesota the day after I went on my holiday hiatus. As far as I'm concerned, most celebrity deaths are sad but inevitable--we all grow old and die, or fall victim to freak accidents, or what have you. And I would tend to include Weiland's death in that category, except his life's work had such an impact on me that I feel compelled to comment on it now.

Some of you are undoubtedly aware of my long-standing fascination with Weiland. He served as both role model and cautionary tale to many, and among my many connections on Facebook, a handful mourned the loss, citing STP and Weiland's voice as essential to the soundtrack of their lives. Two of my friends made sure to text me and ask if I was all right after receiving the news, and two others made contact with me to discuss the event.

Personally, Weiland left a long trail of destruction behind him, and in some cases, he did so professionally, as well. This is not a news flash in any way; Weiland was probably as famous for his struggles as he was for his music. Yet people have been lining up to eulogize him: the front page of was basically one big Scott Weiland tribute site in the week following his death, Craig Jenkins over at Noisey wrote an excellent article about Weiland, and Billy Corgan also had kind words to share.

I don't think I can add much of anything to the conversation, having been only a fan and not a contemporary or even acquaintance of Weiland's. But I can say this: to me, Scott Weiland's voice sounds like home. Maybe it's because he and I both grew up in the Midwest, and so I literally hear the speech patterns of my people in his singing style. Or perhaps it's because I've been a fan since I was 14 years old, which amounts to about half of my life.

In the absence of any meaningful contribution, I'll leave you with this, one of my favorite Stone Temple Pilots songs and a testament to Weiland's vocal ability:


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

New Year, New Playlist: 2016

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) "Victor," Prinze George

Last summer, I worked for a company that had a corporate playlist, so no matter which of their stores you entered, the soundtrack was the same. This was, far and away, the best song I heard during my time there.

2) "Devil's Whisper," Raury

"Devil's Whisper" was a staple for me when I first arrived in Louisiana because I heard it somewhere within days of arriving and it would not leave my brain. Raury's habit of melding rap, pop, and something else entirely makes him a fresh, standout voice.

3) "All Night Long (All Night)," Lionel Richie

This one kept popping up on Pandora at work, and it makes me want to dance (very poorly, because that's how I roll).

4) "You Rock My World," Michael Jackson

For a number of reasons, Michael Jackson's latter-day output doesn't get the kind of respect his '80s material did, but I think this song--which is more chill than some of his dance jams--is catchy enough to warrant inclusion on this playlist. (Plus I can't resist Chris Tucker's role in the music video. It's a must-see for all Rush Hour fans.)

5) "Anytime," Brian McKnight

A few months back, it occurred to me that I need more Brian McKnight in my life. In fact, EVERYONE needs more Brian McKnight in their lives. Start here, and then start back at one.

6) "Season of the Witch," Donovan

Technically, this should be a Halloween, not a New Year, song, but I don't care because a) Donovan, b) Donovan, and c) Donovan. I rest my case.

7) "Respect," Aretha Franklin

My mother sent me a wreath to decorate my office this past Christmas. I decided to call it Awreatha Franklin. And so here, in honor of Aretha AND Awreatha, I give you one of the greatest recordings she (Aretha, that is) ever made.
8) "Hypnotic," Zella Day

This song is honestly not that great (compared Day's other output), but it's catchy as hell, and it gets stuck in my head on the reg. Thus I share it with you.

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