Friday, December 31, 2010

Whenever I drive from Chicago to Missouri, I always score my drive using the same pattern. I begin with a handful of cds I like (this trip it was Mark Ronson's Record Collection, Arcade Fire's The Suburbs, and random Girl Talk mixes), then peruse the radio for hidden gems (a college radio station, an 80's hour, etc.) and usually finish my trip with NPR. I think this method is effective for many reasons (the radio keeps me awake, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me keeps me laughing), but I had a small epiphany during my last trip home, and it was directly related to this formula.

It seems that if you listen to more than an hour of any classic rock station, you're bound to hear Bryan Adams or Bruce Springsteen at least once. Bryan Adams is probably less likely, as he has less commercial hits and more ballads, but "Summer of '69" is a frequent presence on southern Illinois radio. In addition to "Born to Run", "Born in the USA", "Dancing in the Dark", "I'm on Fire" (this isn't played that often, but I really love this song), and a lengthy list of other hits, "Glory Days" is also seemingly in constant rotation. Both of these songs have a wonderful karaoke bar quality to them, but more importantly, they represent the power of retrospection and regret.

As a carefree college student, I would listen to these songs as I drove up highway 70 and think about what crybabies these two working class tough guys were. So your high school band collapsed after one of your friends decided to get hitched. BFD. (You said so yourself that the band would never get far!) Your girlfriend split up with you because you left her standing on a porch forever. That's on you, Bryan. Although Springsteen had a little more credibility in my eyes (I have a soft spot for people from New Jersey...well, some people from New Jersey), I still didn't understand what there was to miss about high school. As a man in your thirties, shouldn't you be looking forward to the rewarding aspects of life that come with marriage and having a family? I know the song is comprised mostly of vignettes about other people, and that "Summer of 69" is really just an extended memory, but it was hard for me to empathize with these songs. As someone in their late teens/early 20's, I felt that the best times were ahead of me. Drinking at the VFW while reminiscing about things I can't change was pathetic, cliched, and light years away from the success college promised.

That being said, after this past Christmas, I listen to these songs differently. I don't consider myself to be more nostalgic than the average person, but my sense of tradition is freakishly potent during the holidays. For me, Christmas and Thanksgiving have always been the constants during an otherwise unpredictable year. With the exception of last Christmas, I have spent both holidays with my family almost every year. Something about eating the same food, with the same people, is a comfort that, for those few days, makes the rest of life melt away. Homemade Christmas cookies, the opening of a single gift on Christmas Eve, and presents tucked into stockings (yes, I am 26 and still have a stocking at my parents' house) are things I look forward to during the entire year. I know this is weird for someone my age, but I fucking love Christmas.

Well, I used to fucking love Christmas.

I knew that going home had the potential to be awkward; my parents are seriously considering getting a divorce and their ability to get along is directly proportional to how much stress surrounds a particular situation. In other words, I should've seen my visit as an emotional landmine months ago, but assuming that my parents' marital problems would be brushed aside in the name of Christmas, I went ahead and stepped on it anyway. Bad move. I came home on the 20th to find a tree only half decorated with lights, no plans to make cookies, and a house that was mostly empty. Between my dad's work, my mom's job, and my sister's internship, hardly anyone was ever there. (Nick was home occasionally, but spent most of his time with Sharon or at bars.) When people did get home, they ate in separate rooms, tvs blaring, and hardly spoke.

As the oldest child, I took it upon myself to bring my family together for the holiday, so I made dinner, decorated the tree while everyone was at work, and wrapped presents. I turned on White Christmas, went shopping with my dad for cookie supplies, and waited for the magic to happen. However, my plans backfired horribly, almost hilariously, when the tree fell over the morning of Christmas Eve. I woke up to find a massacre of ornaments (seriously--I found one Santa's arm about a foot from his body) and a pile of wet presents. I woke up my dad and spent half an hour cleaning up pine needles, picking up glass, drying presents, and trying to glue together a broken Baby's First Christmas. My mom made a brief appearance to complain about who put up the tree (my dad) and declare that this was "the shittiest Christmas ever" before going back to sleep.

Her tantrum reminded my dad that the family hadn't bought my mom her "big" gift yet, so we headed to Coach to buy her a wallet and purse and ran a few other errands. I met a friend for lunch, and when I got home, my mom was pissed. She wanted to know where we'd been, why my dad wasn't buying groceries for the Christmas meal, and why we didn't answer our phones. (I had called her and left her a message letting her know we were out, but I guess that was overlooked.) She yelled, swore, declared that she was leaving, and cried for about an hour. I tried to comfort her, but it was difficult because I was 1. pissed off and 2. really confused. According to my sister, my mom had made these outbursts a pretty standard occurrence in the Powers house, but this was my first exposure to them. (I've been receiving "he said/she said" phone calls for months, but nothing this crazy.)

After everyone ate Chinese food for dinner in front of their respective tvs again, I tried to generate some excitement about the Christmas Eve gift opening. My brother left after my mom's freak out, so I texted him our plans to open the customary one gift around 9. I didn't hear from him until 11, and the weight of overall unenthusiam crushed me. I know that reading this, missing out on the Christmas Eve tradition doesn't seem like a big deal, but it was to me.

Somehow I managed to get through Christmas and the rest of my visit. I found myself using any excuse to get out of the house ("I think we're out of milk!") and absorbing as much satellite tv as possible. Without knowing it, I had adopted the coping mechanisms of my entire family, and I didn't realize this until my drive back to St. Louis. As I was pulling out of a Culver's in Springfield, "Glory Days" came on. While I initially wondered why more songs don't use harmonicas, I found myself looking back on all of the wonderful Christmases past. I thought about spending a day making frying pan cookies and seven layer delights, laughing at Grandma's creepy singing Mrs. Claus (long story), and waking up to my sister's incessant knocking and yelling on Christmas morning. Then I thought about this Christmas, and how I woke up before everyone else, quietly placed the presents in piles, and had a cup of tea. There was no yelling, no breakfast, and no stockings. Just polite thank yous and lots of tv.

Monday, September 20, 2010

This weekend, I saw The Flaming Lips for the second time. The first time I saw them was a couple years ago at the Pageant, and it was easily the best show I've ever been to. Not only was their set full of my favorite songs, but it's impossible not to sing along as confetti is shot out of cannons and aliens dance on stage. Basically, I imagine it's like the best trip anyone on acid has ever had.

The show this weekend was in Columbia, outside of the Blue Note. I had the option to buy tickets to the STL show, but since Saturday was Andy's birthday, I wanted to go all out! I'm really glad I did. It was also the first outdoor concert experience for both of us, and it couldn't have been better.

Although the show was incredible (they closed with "Do You Realize?", Wayne rolled around in his infamous plastic bubble, and a topless chick spent half of the concert hanging out of her window), I still managed to do some people-watching.

Here are a few of the archetypes I noticed on Saturday:

1. The Bouncer. The Bouncer has an inherit sense of concert justice that will not be compromised. He (or she) maintains order by ushering drunk people away, ensuring that everyone can see the stage, and intimidating people who are acting like assholes. The Bouncer by us looked exactly like Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons and successfully guided loud, drunk girls away from us, lectured some frat boy on the logistics of crowd surfing, and politely but firmly chastised anyone blocking our view.

2. The Know It All. The Know It All has an overwhelming, yet pretentious love for the band. He (or she) feels compelled to predict the set list, reflect on how this experience is different than "the time I saw them at ____," and balk at anyone having an unproportionate amount of fun. The Know It All will sing along, fist pump furiously, and use any down time to spew useless facts. The Know It All on Saturday was a Michael Cera-ish hipster. Maybe this is why I had the urge to fight him, Mortal Combat-style.

3. The Ignorant Slut. The Ignorant Slut is dolled up, drunk, and has no idea why she (or he) is there. They doesn't know anything about the band, but spent hours getting ready and has consumed enough Miller Lite to have a good time. He/she doesn't care if half of their beer ends up on your shoes, or that they has no idea what the fuck is going on. The Ignorant Slut by us was wearing fake feather eye lashes (which were frankly kind of fabulous), and kept asking "What is TFL?" as her friends gushed about the show.

I'm sure there are others I'm leaving out of this list, but these were definitely the most prominent concert-goers in the 3x3 space where we spent most of the show. Overall, I had a great time. Not only did I get to see possibly my favorite live band ever, but I hung out with friends from college, and had a much needed slice of Shakespeare's pizza (with wheat crust, of course).

As Comic Book Guy would say, best. weekend. ever.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

In lieu of the blog I planned to write about The Remains of the Day and my three-day stint as a juror, I decided to post about something even more boring: goals.

I'm not sure if this inspiration is a result of the start of the school year, a time when beginning new and sharpening your pencils for success seems contagious, or if I just need to have something in print to make sure I follow through with my plans. (I think it's a little of column A, a little of column B.) I don't have any outrageous aspirations, but there are a few things I would like to accomplish in the next year:

1. Get an "A" in all of my certification classes. I don't think this will be challenging, but I'm only taking 200 level classes right now. For me, the issue isn't the material, but rather having the time to read, study, and find the energy after work to do anything but watch tv. I'm enthused now that I'm finally working on the education component of my teaching certification, so hopefully this excitement will translate into good grades. Also, if you know me at all, you know that I enjoy bragging rights, and being on the Dean's List would be pretty amazing.

2. Learn to sew. I'm not looking to turn into Betsy Ross, but I would like to be able to hem pants, take in a dress, sew on a button, etc. Being freakishly frugal, I hate taking things to tailors, and it would be nice to be able to buy something and know that I can take it up an inch or two, or make a thrift store find fit me.

3. Make my room into a Kelly-friendly, unique space. I've started this process, now that I have a desk in my room, but eventually I'd like to paint the walls, hang all of my records, and get a twin bed into my room/our guest bedroom. I'm sick of staring at the Anthropologie website and coveting their bright quilts and vintage-inspired drapes. I'm determined to make my room the adorable place I know it has the potential to be!

4. Write more. This is a goal that comes up annually, but I'm really going to try. I need to be less focused on a finished product and put more emphasis on writing something, anything, when I want to.

5. Keep growing out my hair. Did you notice that I saved the easiest goal for last? I feel like I'm six months away from the Bridget Bardot bed-head hair I've always wanted, and no amount of pictures of Michelle Williams' cute pixie cut is going to change that!

Overall, these aren't huge goals, but maybe that's because I'm saving those for later. Buying a house, starting a teaching career, and moving still seem far away, regardless of how much I prepare for them. Let's see how successful I am with these baby steps. :)

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

This post is more than a little overdue, but I have excuses. During July, I rushed Bollo to an emergency animal clinic, finished my first certification class, dealt with numerous family visits, and discovered that summers are unfortunately just as busy as the rest of the school year. Needless to say, I'm glad that it's August.

Anyway, because of the aforementioned craziness in my life last month, I did little to no reading or writing. Actually, the most creative thing I've done recently is rearrange my office, which, although productive, is kind of depressing. I did read Sloane Crosley's second collection of essays, How Did You Get This Number, which was as funny and wonderful as her first book, but it also had the same eerie flavor of familiarity. She writes about spending time in Paris (I was just there in March), the death of family pets (this was particularly poignant when I thought I had almost killed Bollo), and the discovery that a perfect relationship was, well, not perfect at all. The title comes from this last essay, which chronicles the start and end of her relationship with a great guy...who already had a girlfriend. I'm sure that most women of a certain age, who fall prey to charming yet aloof men, have experienced this (as I did in college), but the fact that Sloane Crosley, a cute, smart, and hilarious woman is a victim of such douchebaggery made me feel pretty good about my spotty dating history.

Although I sometimes suspect that Crosley is putting up a front of humility or normalcy, How Did You Get This Number was genuinely funny. Plus, she can really turn a phrase. I was impressed with her writing before, but her descriptions of Paris, love, and even apartment-hunting were sharp and unique.

Despite my recent penchant for creative non-fiction, this week I'm reading The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. I plan to write a proper review, since I finished Never Let Me Go (also by Ishiguro), loved it, and promptly forgot to gush about it on my blog. Until I nail down a schedule for posting, I'm sure these entries will continue to be sporadic, but I'm trying. August brings the start of school, two more classes for me, and hopefully another trip to the lake, so I'm not making any promises, but I can guarantee more excuses.

Monday, June 28, 2010

This past weekend, during a long, much-needed excursion to the lake, I finished I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley. Although I was initially skeptical about the reviews for this book (can anyone be "as funny as David Sedaris" or have the endearing nerd humor of Sarah Vowell?), I couldn't put it down. A large part of my attraction to these essays was how familiar they seemed. A disastrous maid of honor escapade? Been there. A terrible job in a small office that made you question your college degree and self worth? Done that. Being an awkward, too-skinny, frizzy-haired mess of a kid? Take a look at my 3rd grade class photo.

That being said, I kind of hate Sloane Crosley. I don't genuinely hate her, but I dislike her in the way that women abhor Christina Hendricks for being naturally gorgeous or Tina Fey for making binge eating seem cute and normal. I hate her because she's managed to take all of the unfortunate, albiet funny, things that have happened to her and make them entertaining. Basically she's lived my life and produced a wonderful piece of creative non-fiction, whereas I've struggled to keep up a blog and wonder when I'll get the inspiration to write something worth reading.

When I write, I'm always frustrated that I don't have some great experience to chronicle, and yet, Crosley wrote a whole book about losing her wallet, getting locked out of her apartment, and other mishaps and minutiae. This book was inspirational in that it made me realize how much essay fodder I've acquired in 26 years. I don't have to wait to backpack across Europe or have kids or change the world; I just need to elaborate on my own life.

Sure, I'm a little surprised that this realization came from a book that used the word "Turdgate" more than once (I guess you'll have to read it for this reference to make sense), but I'm glad I was able to get more than a laugh from I Was Told There'd Be Cake. I recommend this collection to anyone who enjoys the hilarity of everyday events, baking (specifically chocolate and pear tarts or sugar cookies), and witty prose.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

After almost two and half years of neglecting to post to this blog, I've decided to start contributing again. A lot has changed in my life since 2007, and I think new news warrants new posts. Unfortunately, it's not the same "I'm married!" or "I'm pregnant!" news that's congesting my Facebook feed, but it's exciting for me.

The biggest change is my life right now is that I'm "back in school," a la Jerri Blank. Although I didn't exchange sex for money or steal televisions in the interim, I did miss going to class. When I was hired at SLU, I planned to take advantage of the amazing tuition remission benefit and work towards my teacher certification. My first class started last week, and I'm already on my way to becoming the overachiever everyone hates. (I kid, of course!) Actually, most of the people I've talked to seem really nice and mature, unlike the juniors from last semester. No one tries to text during lecture or complains about reading a 1-page short story (seriously, how can you be so lazy that you can't even read flash fiction?), and they all wear the tired look of someone who's been at work all day. I love it.

Another significant change is that I'm no longer the selfish, dog-less girl I once was! Andy and I have Bollo, a 10 month old bloodhound, and he's a slobbery, affectionate, and all around awesome dog. The puppy phase was terrible (besides the inherent cuteness of a small dog with huge ears), but now that Bollo's almost a year old, our house is in better shape and the smell of Febreeze is mostly absent.

We also moved from the shady loft apartment in Tower Grove to a cute gingerbread-style house in St. Louis Hills. Thanks to my craigslist stalking, we found an adorable place with a cool landlord and we can walk to Ted Drewes! I love having a yard, and more importantly, being able to walk through my neighborhood without the fear of getting mugged.

Some less significant things have changed (my hair color, the amount of money I owe on my car), but overall I'm really happy with my life in St. Louis. I never thought I would say (or type) that, but in the words of Liz Lemon, "things are looking up for ol' Kelly Powers!" As a result, I'm hoping that this blog will include less lengthy complaints and more funny stories, observations, baking successes (or failures), and book reviews. Here's to the new blog, (sort of) the same as the old blog!