Sunday, March 28, 2010

Holy Week: The Biggest Tailgating Event of the Liturgical Calendar

Easter is my favorite holiday, and I say that meaning it in the sense of it's etymological meaning: Holy Day.  I definitely really enjoy Thanksgiving, as well- it's in the fall and it's got everything I love about Christmas without the stress (well, except for gifts). But Easter has become such a wonderful day for me and that's attributable mainly to 2 factors: the ever increasing knowledge I have of my own need for Jesus and the cross, and my growing participation in the Lenten season and Passion Week.
Lent and Holy Week are basically tailgating for Easter. You meet a lot with others who are gearing up for the same event to discuss it and eat good food, you abstain from doing some things (wearing the other team's color) and take up other things (wearing your own team's colors) to help keep your mind focused on what you're preparing for, and you think about your personal upcoming participation in this corporate worship service. I've done Lent on and off since I was a kid, but it's only been in the last couple of years that I've attempted to use the season to give up something so as to focus on Christ. And it wasn't until college that I started going to any Holy Week services. But I've found both so rich and meaningful in my Easter preparations that now I can't imagine this season without them.
Starting with Palm Sunday (today), we meditate on the last week of Jesus' time on earth. Examining what He did, said, and focused on is definitely fascinating, but what I've been thinking most about this year is in what ways I am the crowd that welcomed Him with wild regales as my King one day, and mere days later reject Him and try to kill Him from my life. Last year I plumbed much deeper into the Gethsemane prayer than I'd ever been able to understand before. It's so easy to tick off the story as rote memorization. But spending 40 days gearing up for this time has allowed me to dive a little deeper underneath the surface to start examining what Christ's death and resurrection really mean to me and my life, here and now. Some call it preaching the gospel to yourself daily- Lent facilitates this for me in a much more meaningful way than I normally can achieve throughout the rest of the year.
I love also the ebb and flow of the cadence of this time on the liturgical calendar- I love that I am walking through the story as it happens and experiencing the emotions as much as I can. Easter isn't really that joyful if you go in there thinking, "Well, duh. He rises. Haven't you read the end of this story?" But if you are experiencing the agony of the garden, Pete's helplessness as he denies, Judas' despair that results in suicide, the ethos of Mary watching her Son die, and mostly, the grief of watching your Savior suffer the extremes of physical and spiritual pain, when you wake up Easter and realize it's time to rejoice in His resurrection, it puts you in a much more celebratory mood! As a sidenote, that's one of the great tragedies of modern Christianity- we're so afraid to talk about/define sin, that we're castrating the breathtaking hope, joy, and grace that comes with the news that we don't have to live like this. Good news and salvation only mean something to people who understand what it means to live in bad news and bondage.
And more than anything, Easter is the one major church event that has kept it's focus on la raison d'etre: Jesus. The bunnies and bonnets have not tarnished the spotlight on Him the way Santa and retail therapy have on Christmas. This is the one day a year that remains unapologetically about Jesus and what He has done for me and you. And as corny as it is, I really love Him. I really love this Guy and I'm so excited to spend a week purposefully focusing on Him and the lengths He has gone to to be in relationship with me.
But anyways, I'm so pumped about this week. I've figured out that I will be taking communion 6 times in 7 days, kneeling for several hours, singing a lot, and reading a lot of Scripture. I can't wait! And for those of you who have never tried out this whole "tradition" thing in church, I'd challenge you to try it. Tradition should never be an end unto itself, but there's a reason people have being saying these prayers and having these services for hundreds of years.
Happy Holy Week!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Music When The Lights Go Out

This has been delayed this week because work has been crazy!! So crazy that I made it an early night and am going to go to sleep after I finish this. Suffice it to say, I've been listening to a lot of music as I've been slaving away on powerpoint and Jira.

"Jolene"- Dolly Parton: Let's start with the song that I cannot get out of my head recently. Growing up in East Tennessee gave me a natural aversion to really getting into Dolly's music as a young lass, since it just seemed so cliche to love her. But at the ripe old age of 22, I am willing to embrace Dolly in her full glory, especially after hearing her speak at graduation and seeing her in all her sassy Barbie-ness. This is truly a beautiful song, top to bottom, even if my friend Jolene doesn't care to be associated with the eponymous homewrecker. Such pretty lyrics and delivered with a guilelessness that makes it a true classic. And it's so damn catchy.

"Helter Skelter"- The Beatles: Remember how I said The White Album spawned musical genres? This is example numero uno. Say hello to beginning of hard rock. Very raw, great delivery by Paul, love Lennon's tag line at the end. And it really does sound like you're riding a roller coaster, so listen with that in mind next time. I've always wanted to say to someone, "You may be a lover, but you ain't no dancer."

"Blues in the Night" - Judy Garland: We've come to the moment. The moment I reveal my not so secret passion for Judy. Why you may ask? So many reasons, some I understand, some I need to pay someone to explain. But all you need to know is that she's my favorite singer of all time. Whether she's en vogue or out, I adore her. Thought I'd start my introduction to all that is Judy with a little known number from her. I think this is in "Girl Crazy," but it's an interesting performance because it's bluesier/jazzier than most of her work from the early 40s. She moves into the jazz and cabaret stuff during her concert years, but during the MGM years, she was most show tunes and big band. So this recording is interesting because she's using her MGM voice on a blues number. She really sings from the gut on this one, as per usual, but I still love it this performance every time I hear it. Great sing-along for the car.

"Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want" - The Smiths and She & Him: I was reminded of this track by the "500 Days of Summer" soundtrack (which is great by the way, totally a good investment). Definitely a lyric that we can all relate to. I'd recommend checking out both versions... Covers aren't always so great, but the She & Him cover is really great. The original has a resigned quality to it that makes it sound very emo and depressing. But the cover is sung from a more hopeful, begging place that sounds more like she's hoping that she actually will get want she wants. Compare and contrast- it's an interesting exercise.

"Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress)" - The Hollies: I defy you not to rock out when this comes on. Such a classic good old fashioned jam. And I really love the way he expresses his admiration for this chick... I'd love to be someone's long cool woman :). Great guitar licks, too.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Books Like Whoa: Jane Austen Already Died Once...

So after church today, I embarked on one of my favorite lazy weekend activities: leisurely prowling the shelves at my local Borders. For those of you who know me, it is common knowledge that I am a bookstore snob and will not deign to shop at B&N- Borders is definitely the way to go.
Anyways, I started in religion, shifted to history and then took the escalator up to fiction. I was looking for a couple of books that I'd read about: The Postmistress, Bloodroot, and Drood, for those curious about my reading predilections. The first 2 are still in hardback, so I was just going to visually inspect before I thought about buying it in paperback. As I looked around the shelves, my rancor began to mount. Amid wonderful treasures from the likes of Christie, Dickens, the Brontes, Chaucer, Updike, Ishiguro, and, yes, Austen, I found a startling number of "tributes," if they can be called that, to Austen characters, especially Elizabeth and Darcy.
Let's get this straight right off the bat: I am an unabashed lover of Austen- she has an ability to lovingly dissect the society and its stereotypes that well may be unmatched, as far as I'm concerned. I love how well drawn her characters are... but what I really love is her ability to depict flawed people who are still endearing and enjoyable. One of the things I least appreciate about modern and post-modern literature is the compulsion to paint these vile, unlikeable whiners and expect us to sympathize with them. I don't mind an occasional dose of it, but to regularly hit me over the hammer with humans without any discernible redeeming qualities is testing the limits of my patience. Austen can honestly show people who aren't perfect, but who have good sides as well. One-sided characters on either end of the perfect/flawed spectrum are boring and facile. I digress.
All this to say, Austen belongs to a special pantheon of literary demi-gods who need not be messed with, who need not be altered. Yet dozens of fangirls have taken it upon themselves to augment and tack onto perfectly sound endings by imagining the "life afters" of all the great Austen characters. Again, let me be clear. There's nothing wrong with wondering about what happened after the "happily ever after." There's nothing wrong with writing some of those imaginings down, maybe even posting it to a website of like minded fans who want to share their fantasies to a willing audience.
What I do have a problem with, however, is people publishing these semi-erotic adolescent fantasies alongside serious authors who have come up with their own characters, who have committed the time to develop their own craft, and who are not riding the coattails of literary genius to make a quick buck. Seriously, it's hard enough for hard-working authors to get published without having to compete with people writing fan fiction that has no place on the bookshelves in the first place.
You may say, "Frankie. Come now. Aren't you being judgmental? For all you know, these are amazing works of piercing and insightful fiction." O contrare, mes amis. I am sad to say that I wasted an hour of my life reading the first 100 pages of one of the more popular incarnations of these literary desecrations given to me by my well-intentioned mother (I'll spare the author the embarrassment of being mentioned). Leaving out commentary on the poor quality of the prose, the small portion I read was little more than bodice-ripping, panting pages involving Regency-era Darcy and Elizabeth pawing at each other premaritally and then revealing Darcy's dalliance with prostitutes and married women.
What. in. the. world.
The beauty and romance of Austen's work is the subtlety, the unspoken attraction, the intrigue. There is nothing less intriguing than paid-for sex against the wall in a tavern. It just makes me sad to see such wonderful characters commandeered for a sloppy, unsexy puppet show.
The bottom line is that it's my prerogative as an American consumer to not support this sub-genre of fiction. But it's a tragedy that valuable shelf space is taken by amateurs who are misappropriating characters in a way that's making Jane roll over in her grave. I mean, honestly. She already had to die once.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Hills Are Alive With The Sound of Music

My weekly playlist is back up in queue. Here's some of what I've been jamming out to in the last week:

  • "Pills for Sara" - The Winterpills: This is at the top of my playcount list right now. I really like the meditative quality of this song. It's a love song, but from a completely different angle. How many "I love you so much I can't help but enable your drug habit" ballads are there, really? On top of all that, totally catchy hook and really fun to croon along with
  • "Happiness is a Warm Gun" - The Beatles: There will likely be a Beatles song on nearly every one of these I do- if I had to choose a band that's the soundtrack of my entire life, it would have to be them, cradle to present. In recent years, I've really been appreciating The White Album. This is probably because my dad thinks it's way over rated and we didn't listen to it on constant rotation the way we did Sgt. Pepper, Rubber Soul, and Abbey Road when I was a kid. Anyways, while I agree that this isn't my favorite album they did, in many ways it is the most innovative for the time. This album has spawned musical genres... and I've really been digging this song recently. It's a pretty primal I-want-to-have-sex-with-you metaphor, but where it could have been trite and creepy, it's really pretty hot. But under no circumstances meditate on the fact that it was written for Yoko Ono. Trust me.
  • "I'll Be There" - The Jackson 5: So I need to preface this with the disclaimer that I, unlike seemingly the entire free press, have not forgotten the fact that while MJ was a musical prodigy, he was also victimized as a child which in turn made him a victimizer of children. He's absolutely not a saint or someone to look up to, just really talented. That being said, this is one of my favorite songs. His voice is so angelic and pure- and I love how earnest he sounds. There's no cynicism in this song, which is something that's hard for adult artists to pull off. I also really enjoy Jermaine's bridges- a lot of soul in his voice.
  • "Little Drop of Poison" - Tom Waits: This guy is crazy and great. The lyrics are thoughtful and unexpected- apt is the word that I want to use. I clearly don't agree with his worldview, but he's a master at expressing it in a clear and memorable way. Plus, who couldn't love that crazy gravelly voice? This song in particular plays to his strengths, and I can't think of many other break up songs that manage to convey the depth of emotion that goes along with love lost without a hint of cheese or whine.
  • "Chicago" - Sufjan Stevens: I can't overstate how much I love this song. It's basically flawless, from where I sit. Breath-takingly beautiful lyrics, sweet melodic delivery, universal emotions, and innovative blend of folk and orchestral instruments. The choral element at the end is just gorgeous. Plus, for those who are so inclined, the song is about Jesus coming to free us from ourselves (SS is a Christian who plays indie music, rather than a Christian music guy). Totally didn't realize this until about 50 listens in. A delicious nugget of meaning once I caught it.
For those about to rock, I salute you!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Am I Living Next to a Serial Murderer?

Some of you have seen my apartment... it's heinously overpriced, but it's cozy and in a coveted locale. I live in Arlington (the Lyon Park neighborhood of Clarendon, for those of you in the know), which is yuppie heaven. On any given Saturday, you will see a sea of dogs and brunch advertisements, and no children. There are a proliferation of Starbucks and gyms, and the only nights I can find a parking spot in my neighborhood are Thirsty Thursday and TGIFridays.

My particular little nook of the Clarendon hood is an interesting offshoot of this teeming mass of young professionals on the prowl. On the outside it looks like any other non-descript condo park that was built in the 60's, but it's surprising homely once you get past the parking lot. There's a little lane that comes down from the car park and my apartment is off that path, with my tiny yard covered in pretty trees and bushes. All the apartments open onto the walkway, and therefore each other, separated only by stoops. The distance from my door to the one across from me is about 20 feet, so you can imagine that you grow to recognize everyone on the "block" fairly quickly. Especially since it's a really quiet block so, if and when you pass each other on the path, you are the only ones there and you are awkwardly forced to acknowledge each other.

There's a grouping of grad students at the very end of the way- they have parties sometimes, but the guys always offer to help me carry my groceries or trash if it's a big load, so they're on my good list. They also haven't drunkenly banged on my door in the middle of the night like other neighbors I've had, so that's really all it takes for me not to report your illegal habachi to the condo managers. There's a really sweet Asian couple across from me who don't speak much English but smile a lot. There's a cute boy caddy corner from me who I flirt with at the mailbox and a single gal next to him who I chit chat with sometimes. And I just realized that the couple with the cat at the beginning of the path go to the same church I do! I'm trying to figure out how to communicate that to them without looking like a stalker. Not sure there's a good way to do that... so I guess they may never know.

Suffice it to say, you can tell that we all know who our neighbors are. So it has not escaped my notice that the apartment next to mine has been vacant since I moved it. At first I lived in constant (at least when I thought about it) dread about who would move in, since the wall are so thin. I worried it would be   some grad student studying the jazz flute or a family with a screaming baby or an old man who kept C-SPAN on blast 24/7. But as the months went by and no one moved in, I stopped worrying about it so much. The people who moved in above me weren't too loud and only had the occasional party. The family on the other side of me was freakishly quiet. I reasoned that anyone who would move into the unit would be as unintrusive as the rest of us. And there was the bewildering blizzard of realtor's signs... in the six months I've lived here, there's been 3 different listing companies. Yet there still were no signs of life in the unit, no showings I ever heard, nada.

Until Snowmageddon. Now, I went to stay with my aunt for the blizzard because I knew they would get dug out more quickly and I didn't want to be snowed in by myself for that long. When I left, there was the latest realtor's sign up and the usual lack of any kind of action from the apartment. When I returned a week later, the sign was gone... yet there were no footprints in the snow leading into or out of the apartment. I wondered if the owner had given up.

Over the next week, I began to notice odd sounds coming from the shared wall. They've continued since then and sound like weird rattlings of a hammer on pipes. They happen at night, in the morning, in the afternoon- not obnoxious, but peculiar. I monitored the snow drift to see if I had new neighbors coming and going that I just hadn't seen, but the snow in front of the door remained untouched and immaculate. I have yet to see any kind of move-in activity, but I've noticed sounds like opening and closing doors from that side of the wall. From all of these clues, I've come to the conclusion that this can mean only one of three things:

1) Whoever is listing he unit is allowing their slacker brother to rent for cash under the table for below market value. The brother is keeping a low profile because he doesn't want the guy who sells him his pot to get made by the narcs when he's coming and going from the apartment.

2) A ghost, sprite, or phantom of some kind has taken up home in the apartment. This would explain why a reasonably priced unit in this highly sought area has remained on the market for so long. But considering our noticeable deficit of old crones or local talk of an old man who eats children, this seems like an undesirable neighborhood for malevolent spirits.

However, I've become pretty convinced that the last option is the correct one:
3) The owner is a serial killer who has commandeered the property as his own personal slaughterhouse. This would explain the odd clanging noises, the constant change of realtor (don't want any one of them to get too suspicious- or they could become victims, take your pick), and the length of time it's been on the market... the buyers can sense the death that pervades the property. Additionally, the unit is right next to several large dumpsters for body and/or evidence disposal, and the central location allows him to hunt from a wide range of local neighborhoods.

So, gentle reader, if you decide to come visit me here in our nation's capital, be advised that there is a high probability that my mysterious, seemingly non-existant neighbor is a serial murderer, and since we have no clues as to what he looks for in his victims, you could be his next target. I'm clearly not his type or else I'd be in dumpster by now. That is a relief, at least.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Please Don't Stop the Music

I've recently discovered the "Celebrity Playlist" podcast... and now it's confession time. I have a serious love of commentary. Whether it's over a movie (good or bad), a documentary, or, in this case, celebrities talking about their favorite music, I love listening to people talk about things. It's some sort of weird derivation of my thirst for knowledge- it may be useless knowledge, but knowledge nonetheless. And maybe knowledge's uselessness is in the eye of the beholder...
In any case, as I listened to Drew Barrymore pretentiously opine about obscure bands from Nepal and Quentin Tarantino revive my interest in the Jackson 5 (more specifically, The Jacksons, as they were known in their CBS years), I started to think about all the songs I love and how much I enjoy making mixes for people. I'd love to make my own radio station and have people listen the music I enjoy- in particular, I would love to share why I enjoy those songs.
Hence, every week or so, I will post a few songs that I've been enjoying recently or for a long time. I get a lot of my new music from friend recommendations, so hopefully you'll get some good music ideas, too.

In the last couple of weeks, there's not been a central theme to the songs I've been listening to... this is mostly attributable to the fact that I got a new computer for Christmas which reset all my play counts. I've been trying to get all of my music to have at least one play, so I've been jamming out to everything from early rock, to jazz, to modern indie, to oldies, etc. Anyways, here's a few songs that have come up a few times.

  • "Mockingbirds" - Grant Lee Buffalo: One thing I've realized is that "weightiness" in music to me equals ethereal vocals and strings. This song definitely has that, plus great lyrics.  What I really like about it is the almost yodeling quality that his voice gets on the first few choruses and then the rich baritone that it mellows into towards the end. Very contemplative... I like to listen to this when I'm on a walk 
  • "Night and Day"- Fred Astaire: Everyone knows and loves Fred as a dancer, and rightly so. But his voice is severely underrated- it has a frankness and gentle melodic sensibility that may make it seem facile, but that belies the underlying richness of his ability to interpret a song for its full meaning. Anyways, his interpretation of this crazy romantic classic is absolutely breath-taking. Really beautiful.
  • "99 Problems" -Jay Z: So I'm not a huge hip-hop fan outside of stuff to dance/work out to, but this  has sold me on this guy. Really interesting mix of music layers and hilarious/relevant lyrics. And I can now proudly declare that I've got 99 problems, but a man ain't one. 
  • "Oh Darling"- The Beatles: Here's one of my all time favorites... actually, since The Beatles are my favorite band and this is my favorite song by them, this is theoretically my favorite song. It's McCartney (I've been in love with him since I was 6) completely JAMMING in the most angst-tastic unrequited love song ever- sooo passionate and soulful. I seriously love this song- and seriously love belting this in the car.
  • "Paint It Black" - The Rolling Stones: For those of you who play Guitar Hero, you may know this Stones classic already- I can totally kill the bass. So groovy, so blues-ey, so rockin'. This is how I like the Stones- when they're just a good ol' fashioned blues band. I have to turn myself before my darkness goes...
So that's the first installment of what I hope will prove to be many playlists for you, gentle reader. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Top 10 Reasons Why I Love the Knoxville Airport

I flew in and out of Knoxville this past weekend and the contrast between McGhee Tyson and Dulles International was startling. To paint a picture for those who have never had the pleasure of traveling in the monument to 60s architectural majesty that is Dulles, it has 2 daily garages that require an underground moving walkway to transport you all the way back to where they are located (approx. a mile away). And if you forget if you are in Garage 1 or Garage 2 and go to the wrong one, you have to go all the way back to the terminal to get on a different walkway to get to the right one. Trust me on that one. This isn't even touching the fact that it cost $17/day to park in these inconveniently located behemoths.
To exit this airport takes hyper vigilence and an innate sense of direction, because if you make a wrong turn down a signless corridor, you may have walked a half mile before you realize you're on the wrong side of the building. The wise will risk looking like a stalker and follow someone who seems to they know where they're going. And once you have managed to exit the terminal and make your way all the way back to your car and find a parking pay machine that accepts credit cards and navigated your way out of the complex, you are faced with the ugly truth that you are still about an hour away from the city on a good day.
All of this is to contrast the simple beauty of the Knoxville airport. McGhee Tyson, I never truly appreciated you until now, and for that I apologize. Here are the top 10 reasons it's the best place to fly in and out of:

10. You can walk around the entire building in less than 10 minutes- it has only 2 floors and is approximately the length of small strip center. There are only 2 baggage carousels. They live right next to the exit doors and car rental counter. For all their snootiness about Southerners being ignorant, a shockingly high percentage of Yankee airports have not managed to master this small act of logical arrangement.
 9. They finished work on the airport several years ago, but it still looks brand new: clean and unworn. I have never feared catching hepatitis or finding an abandoned child in the bathroom.
 8. The daily parking garage is located 20 feet in front of the front doors. It costs under $20 to park for the weekend. To park next to my office downtown, it costs $25/day.
 7. The "food court" consisted of a single Ruby Tuesday for a long time. But I am happy to announce that as of this year, there have been 3 additions: a Cinnabon, a Starbucks, and some frozen yogurt place.There is also an array of jerky to be had in the gift shop.
 6. On a heavy traffic day, you can be in either downtown Knoxville or Farragut in 30 minutes. On a heavy traffic day in DC from my house, I can be sitting on the interstate entry ramp 3 miles away.
 5. There is one concourse with one terminal that is divided into 2 areas: to the left, you have gates 1-6 and to the right, you have gates 7-12. It is literally impossible to get lost once you are past security, barring blindness or dementia. (though it is a virtual hedge maze compared to Chattanooga and it's 5 gates)
 4. The longest I have ever waited in the security line was 10 minutes. And that was because an old lady fell down in front of the metal detector. If you set-off the metal detector, the woman who pats you down will call you "honey."
 3. The terminal has a gigantic wall of windows that are lined with rocking chairs of all sizes and little old people with their grandkids sit and watch the planes fly in and out.
 2. There is a 50-50 chance that the entire plane will sing "Rocky Top" when you land in Knoxville; there is an even higher chance that someone will throw their trucker or cowboy hat in the air when they get off the plane.
 1. The city of Knoxville spared no expense in installing a beautiful river rapids feature that runs the length of the concourse. And they capped it off with a piddly statue that is shorter than me at the end of it: a smiling, standing mama bear holding her anemic cub. When you see that statue, you know your home. (if you've been to Townsend, you have a pretty good idea where they commissioned those bears to be carved)