Boy oh boy band

Written by hootenannie on December 7th, 2014

Half a lifetime ago, I was somewhat of a boy band aficionado. My childhood was soaked in New Kids on the Block, but things really picked up speed in the late 90s when we had so many options: Boyz II Men, 98 Degrees, Hanson, Backstreet Boys, and the ultimate, NSYNC.

I was obsessed with NSYNC. I knew every piece of trivia, every nuance to every song (remember when Justin dropped down the shaft and landed in a crouch and then did that chin-lift/smile at the camera and we all dropped dead of love?), and the fact that JC’s last name was pronounced “sha-ZAY.” When I was 17, Laura and I drove 5 hours to Denver for their show at Mile High Stadium, and after the opening acts (Pink and Sisqo), screamed like maniacs along with tens of thousands of other girls. It was their “No Strings Attached” tour – you know the one. The one in which they were lowered to the stage like marionettes? YES.

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When I went to college and became an adult in the eyes of the law, NSYNC dropped on the list of “things worth losing my mind over.” I realized that I probably wasn’t going to wind up marrying JC. Justin was going solo. Lance had been batting for the other team all along. Besides, at that point there was SO MUCH Shania and Faith and Martina and Dixie Chicks to listen to. I heard about the new groups – O-Town and Westlife and eventually the Jonas Brothers – but really, the boy band era was over for me.

But that phase couldn’t last forever. Because One Direction.

One Direction burst on the scene a few years ago with the kind of hooky, catchy, bubblegum pop appropriate for their fresh-faced, teenage selves. They spun on the beach and played in the waves with their arms spread and bounced a lot. They were babies. And I tuned them out. Sure, I knew their big songs from the radio – but I wasn’t paying attention. I certainly didn’t know any of their names.

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That was then. But this is now. HARRY ZAYN LOUIS LIAM NIALL.

Say what you will about my musical taste – but about a year ago, I heard “Story of My Life” and thought, “This is surprisingly good.” So I looked up the video, and found them all… adorable. Suddenly I was captivated by these guys – not in a predatory, pedophile kind of way (ew), but just because they’re incredibly likeable. They’re funny. They’re well-spoken. And despite millions of dollars and a mind-boggling level of fame, they’ve somehow managed not to go the way of Justin Bieber (that is, psychotic).

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I don’t want to marry them – I just want to cook them soup.

I think that what I like most about these guys is that with the exception of Harry (who between his style, charisma, and swagger is obviously Best in Show), I don’t think they were destined to be famous. They have average-to-good voices. They have average-to-good looks. They DO have fantastic hair, every one of them – but if they’d never had a stylist, they’d still look like they did before fame:

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But they had a chance at fame and jumped on it. What are the odds?

Recently, in an effort to ignore all of the horrible news in the world, I went on a YouTube binge and watched, um, A LOT of videos of these guys – because if you have a choice between depression and joy, please just choose joy. One Direction is so much better than fear and sadness and terrorism (no one can challenge that statement). Anyway, this “research” led me to some opinions – which I will share here in a bulleted list:

  • Their voices, best to worst: Liam, Harry, Zayn, Niall, Louis.
  • Their current hair, best to worst: Harry, Zayn, Niall, Louis, Liam.
  • Their style, best to worst: TIE BETWEEN ALL OF THEM. Good job, stylist.
  • Who I want to hang out with, most to least: Niall, Harry, Louis, Liam, Zayn.
  • Current favorite song: “Steal My Girl,” duh.
  • Sure, Harry is the favorite of millions of girls. But that still leaves at least several hundred thousand girls who find each of the other guys their favorite. So no one can feel sorry for any of them.

Well, if you’ve made it this far, you’re probably a 14-year old girl and my new best friend.  And if after all this you STILL can’t get behind One Direction, at least watch this cover of “Story of My Life.”

Okay, and fine – also watch this. It’s a nugget of fun:

The best and the brightest

Written by hootenannie on December 2nd, 2014

When I left the office last night, my inbox was down to 5 messages (a record!). When I arrived this morning, I had 181 emails.

 

Here was the original message:

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And then came the replies:

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Dozens of times.

Eventually, the sender of the original message realized her mistake and attempted to remedy it:

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No such luck, KATHY.

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And then The Enforcer stepped in:

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Because nothing commands authority like Bold Red Letters.

 

But the people would not be silenced.

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And my personal favorite:

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Because while you might be smart enough to get hired at a Fortune 500 company, it’s not a requirement that you understand how a distribution list works.

“Nothing can be necessary that he withholds”

Written by hootenannie on November 3rd, 2014

Last Friday, I listened to Taylor Swift’s 1989 for the entire 9-hour drive from Denver to Kansas City. Collectively my favorite record I’ve heard in ages, it just might have the power to pull me out of athletic retirement and train for another half marathon. Running would probably be good for me, seeing as how these days I’m wound as tight as a guitar string one pluck away from snapping up and whipping you in the eyeball.

In the past month, I’ve been in a lot of airports – Denver, Minneapolis, Austin, Atlanta, Kansas City, Chicago, Rochester, and Baltimore, to be exact. Between work and my far-flung family and friends, I travel more than the average person – and I’ve found that the only way I can survive the aggravation of airline travel is to wear earplugs at all times. Not ear buds – I don’t want music. No, I want to drown out everyone and everything, even at the risk of appearing rude to my fellow passengers. Oh, you just introduced yourself? UNACKNOWLEDGED. You’ll get over it one day.

But despite the irritation, airplanes get me where I want to go – which, this weekend, was upstate New York for 24 hours. While I’ve been a bridesmaid more times than I have fingers, “godparent” is a new role for me – and there was no way I was going to miss Colin’s baptism. He is 6 months of chubby, flirtatious perfection, and I’m honored beyond words that his parents would choose me.

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When the service was over and the reception was in full swing, I stole away to the edge of Will and Miranda’s dock on Seneca Lake. Their property is beautiful – it’s been in Will’s family for generations – and I needed to be by the water. At the risk of sounding all woo-woo, water affects me spiritually. It cracks my hard heart wide open. It’s a shame that Denver is so landlocked.

There on the dock, I thought about the stories that the majority of my friends are living, and how different mine is turning out to be. I tried to tell myself that it’s okay, I’m okay, that not having a family of my own is actually far less complicated and I should be happy for the simplicity of my little life. After all, as some well-meaning friends have told me, it’s dangerous to love someone so deeply – because then you have so much to lose.

Well. I’ve never been divorced. But I’ve never been married. I have never lost a child. But I’ve never had a baby. Hope unrealized brings with it its own invisible grief, one that doesn’t fit into an obvious category, the kind that solicits cards and casseroles. Could it be that things that haven’t happened can hurt as badly as things that could?

Because it’s one thing for all of your friends to get married. It’s another when they start having kids. It’s entirely another when they decide to be finished having kids… and you’re not sure if you’ll even start.

I know, cue the sob fest and the weeping ovaries. Except.

Here’s what I’m discovering: joy is found in connection, and connection comes in all sorts of forms. I might not be a wife, but I’m a friend who can and will hop on a plane at a moment’s notice to fly across the country. I might not be a mom, but I’m an auntie, and a dog lover, and now a godmother. I’m a daughter and a sister. I’m a hard worker who cares about the well-being of the people I work with. I’m a writer and a wanderer and a hoper and a dreamer, and damn it, I want to be one who celebrates the things worth celebrating, even if they’re not happening to me.

And until those celebrations are my own, I’m clinging to John Newton’s words: “Everything is necessary that [God] sends; nothing can be necessary that he withholds.”

Given that, I’m really thankful that God has sent Foxy Brains and Colin Warder and Southwest Airlines and red wine and Taylor Swift.

The ramblings of an erratic woman

Written by hootenannie on October 27th, 2014

I’m becoming exceedingly private these days – at least when it comes to the bare-my-soul stuff. Even in the face-to-face presence of the people I trust the most, I find myself holding back – because just because I think/feel/act a certain way today doesn’t mean I’m going to think/feel/act the same way tomorrow, and how would I explain that?

In short, my emotions are drunk. (I am not.)

I guess I just don’t trust myself these days. I am convinced – convinced – that something is true (like, I WANT TO MOVE FAR, FAR AWAY) (MY LIFE IS HORRIBLE) (I HATE EVERYTHING), and then one day, like today, things feel different. Better. Calm. Until maybe it will all change again – which, it totally will. I am a fickle, persnickety nutcase.

There are a lot of factors contributing to my erraticism – things outside of my control that are pressing in and weighing heavy and making me feel unsure about the way my future might unfold – so you can understand why I am craving certainty. I love certainty. I want to marry it and have its for sure, locked in, done deal of a baby. (That was weird. Forget I said it.)

But in the midst of the uncertainty, there are some things I know for sure.

Savory breakfasts will always be better than sweet, and breakfast at home will always be better than breakfast out. Laughter is jumper cables for the soul. Also, puppies. Lori McKenna’s “The Luxury of Knowing” is the best song in the world. A breakup is like a broken arm – set it, and then don’t mess with it. No one – not a single one – can have a thick, glamorous side braid like Princess Elsa. Food looks most appetizing when on a white plate. One should never buy a car brand new. It’s better to have done things you might regret than to have always just played it safe. If tempted to buy something pricey, sleep on it. Being impressive will get you far, but being liked will get you further. The best things in life are not things – unless, again, those “things” are puppies.

And though I’m not fully there yet, and HARDLY an authority, here is what I suspect:

We should work for 8 hours, play for 8 hours, and sleep for 8 hours.
We are not defined by what we do, but by who we are.
It’s all going to be okay.

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Neighborhood pest

Written by hootenannie on October 14th, 2014

I’ve been walking Foxy after dark these days. I know, I know – but just because the sun is going down earlier doesn’t mean she needs any less exercise.

Last night, walking through crunchy leaves, I rounded the corner and noticed a man on the porch of the house I was passing. He was frantically trying to unlock his front door. When he noticed me, he turned around and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

“I heard you coming. I thought you were a raccoon.”

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Well boogedy boogedy.

Best Cousin Ever

Written by hootenannie on October 5th, 2014

I met my friend Nicole several years ago at the wedding of mutual friends. We bonded over gin & tonics, and stuck close together since we didn’t know many other people there. In the four busy years since we met, we’ve managed to get together a few times a year for drinks and gossip – and for being someone I see so infrequently, she’s still one of my favorite people.

A few weeks ago, we were texting back and forth, just catching up on life. Nicole mentioned that she’s dating someone, that she’s had a recent career change, and that since I’m single and fabulous (obviously), she wanted to set me up with her cousin. I trust her judgment of men, so I gave her the green light. She said she’d make the introduction.

Fast forward to this weekend. Nicole and I had made plans to meet for brunch, and as we texted about the time and place, she mentioned, “I know Chris wants to meet you too. Can we work him into the plan?” So on Saturday morning, I walked to Sassafras to meet Nicole and her cousin.

Nicole is the kind of person who sets everyone at ease, and Chris immediately struck me as the same. Conversation between the three of us was easy and pleasant, and I had the thought, “Everyone in their family must be so nice.” Nicole told me that Chris had moved into her house, which sounded kind of fun – because as a woman, what better roommate to have than your male cousin? He could reach the top shelf in the closet and lift the heavy things. They even bought new couches together – a true sign of a combined life, probably because Nicole is sweet and generous and wants him to feel at home, I thought. Chris told me that ever since moving in with Nicole, he’s become a runner; Nicole and all of her friends are marathoners, and if he wanted to join that group, it made a lot of sense to me that he would take up the same hobby.

Admittedly, I had never known cousins this close. It sounded like they do everything together, which felt a little odd. But just because I’m not as tight with MY cousins doesn’t mean that others couldn’t be – so I just accepted the fact that they’re best friends and ate my eggs.

Chris was good looking and interesting and quick to smile and so, so nice. But I wasn’t really feeling any kind of vibe between us, which was fine since we were all just having a casual brunch anyway. I was happy to have found a new friend, if nothing else.

About an hour into conversation, I realized I hadn’t heard about Nicole’s boyfriend yet. So I turned to her and asked, “Hey, aren’t you dating someone?”

She looked at me blankly. “Dating?”

Pause. Wrinkled forehead.

And then, with a quick shake of her head, like she was trying to rattle her thoughts into place, she gestured to Chris and said, “I’m dating Chris. This is CHRIS.”

And in that moment, all of the air sucked out of the room.

I looked down at my plate. When I lifted my eyes, Chris and Nicole were staring at me completely flummoxed. There was no getting out of this one, no way to gracefully play it off. Time to face the music.

“I’m sorry, I’m so confused,” I awkwardly blubbered, the red creeping up my cheeks. “I… I…”

“Oh my…” Nicole broke in, eyes wide, the realization suddenly all over her face. “Did you think this was my cousin?”

And we all died. Right there in our chairs, every one of us died a thousand deaths. I don’t know that I’ve ever laughed so hard – while simultaneously wanting to, you know, crawl underneath the table. While Nicole had been introducing me to her boyfriend, now she knew I had been SCOPING HIM OUT FOR MYSELF. No wonder I wasn’t feeling a vibe – the only vibe at that table was between Chris and Nicole. Who are not cousins. I wanted the chef to hit me over the head with a frying pan; please put me out of my misery.

Revisiting Nicole’s text, I realized that she had never said her cousin was coming to brunch – she said Chris was coming to brunch. And isn’t it just like a girl to make that mean whatever she wants it to mean? We then relived every twist and turn of the conversation up to that point, all of which added up to a weirdly intertwined cousin relationship, including a trip to Mexico – which I assumed was a family vacation? We laughed so hard we cried. And maybe I just cried.

Chris and Nicole say they’re going to get T-shirts that say “Best Cousin Ever.” As for me? I’ll go with “Moron.”
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More

Written by hootenannie on September 29th, 2014

“Do you find the tension between seeking contentment and desiring more, difficult? I do, certainly.”

Those were the closing lines of an email I received last week from a woman who has lived more life than I – and just like that, she so concisely distilled my entire life’s dilemma. Perhaps you relate?

Contentment in its truest form is a beautiful thing, and worth cultivating. But personally, I can easily confuse contentment with complacency – an artificial version of “satisfaction,” keeping my dreams and desires in the OFF position.

Contentment should never be at the risk of betraying one’s heart.

I used to feel a little sheepish that I (still) love the song “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid – but not anymore. Why shouldn’t I love it? The lyricist, Howard Ashman*, perfectly articulates the honest acknowledgement of restless desire, regardless of how much one has – which is actually quite profound.

I want more.

When’s it my turn?

Contentment and wanting more seem to be in direct opposition of each other – and like my friend Joey recently said, “I think that for some people, it’s honestly just harder to be happy.” And if it hadn’t been 10 in the morning, we would have clinked whiskey glasses.

The trouble with wanting more is that we’re never satisfied. The beauty of wanting more is that it cracks our lives wide open – for better and for worse, but ultimately for better. It’s like when you love someone. Loving makes you vulnerable to pain. Loving means there’s a lot to lose.

Loving can make you afraid. But being loved means you don’t have to be.

I don’t know that any of this makes much sense, and I don’t know if I even mean for it to. All I know is that I want MORE – and I’m not talking about the material things (although I’d definitely take another pair of Frye boots if you’re offering), but just… more. Life. Depth. Beauty. Freedom. I don’t want to play it safe – because this is what Mary Oliver calls my “one wild and precious life.”

What if there’s more for me? What if there’s more for you?

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(Once on a trip to Texas, I forgot pajamas. I raided the Target sale rack, and obviously chose this.)

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*From what I’ve learned about Howard Ashman (and trust me, I’ve obsessed over the man), I so wish I could have met him. His work on The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin is some of the best musical storytelling there’s ever been. Watch this short clip, and try not to fall in love with him. And then watch this longer clip and witness Jodi Benson sing like a laser beam.

Writing as light

Written by hootenannie on September 23rd, 2014

The darkness of this world has been weighing me down and sucking me under, cinderblocks tied to my ankles. You know what I’m talking about; all the news is bad. Every day is full of incessant sound bites, ISIS and Syria and Ebola and child abuse and gunmen hiding in the woods. It’s enough to give even the most stalwart a panic attack.

My heart has been beating more rapidly these days, and my fingers have been twitching. It’s not that I’m necessarily afraid for myself (although perhaps I should be). But at a very physical level, this world is not a safe place – and yet here we are, living complicated lives that slap against others’ complicated lives like BBs in a pinball machine. Life should come with a warning: Brace yourself – this is gonna hurt.

Which is why this weekend meant so much to me.

I was invited to attend a workshop called the Art of Songwriting hosted by the Nashville Treehouse. It was fairly last minute, and I had to rearrange some pre-existing travel (to Seattle – which is a trip I’ll need to make up soon). But the writer in me has been in need of some TLC (not this) (or this), and it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I’m so glad I didn’t.

Fifteen women gathered for two days, and we had a chance to share songs, share stories, co-write, and learn from each other. It could so easily have turned into a competitive game of comparison – because shoot, these ladies could WRITE – but somehow, everyone seemed to bring their most authentic self and check any ego at the door. I was shocked. It was beautiful.

As I drove to the Treehouse, I made a conscious decision to shut the door on all of the darkness and stress and jam it with a folding chair.

And sometime during those two days, full of freedom and light and encouragement, it occurred to me that jamming the door is nothing new for me. I’ve been a professional door slammer since I was 14 (just ask my parents) – but in the last couple of years, I’ve been jamming it in the wrong direction. I’ve been doing it to my writing. I’ve blocked it out, said no, curled up in the dark closet where it’s “safe,” hoping that the boogeyman doesn’t find me.

But the only way to scare off the monsters is to bathe them in LIGHT. And that’s what writing is for me: pure luminosity.

I had forgotten. But this weekend reminded me, and I’m grateful. Kim and Paulette, thank you for hosting us – and Abby for this beautiful video!

The Art of Songwriting Sneak Peek from Nashville Treehouse on Vimeo.

Grace and potatoes

Written by hootenannie on September 8th, 2014

In the last month or so, I’ve been having a quiet mental breakdown.

I say “quiet” because it’s not like I’m falling apart. I’m waking up and exercising and getting my work done. I painted a wall in my living room the other day. I’m meal planning and taking Foxy on walks and meeting friends for drinks and boarding airplanes and generally just taking care of business.

But every night, I climb into bed and stare at the brick wall across the room, the one that sold me on the house – because hello, charm. But in these nighttime moments, it’s felt like a metaphor for something going on in my soul, something that I struggle to name but have been feeling on a daily basis.

I’m up against it.

I’ve just really been up against it these days, you guys – that desperate feeling that sneaks up for no real reason and with no real warning and tells me that the hard things are never going to get better, and that the things I desire aren’t worth hoping for. I wonder if my days have any purpose. All it takes is one quick trip down the rabbit hole that is Instagram to look at dozens of other people’s worlds that appear more lovely than mine, for a dozen different reasons that really aren’t worth listing, and I’m hit with that same old question: does my life matter at all?

I don’t mean to be dramatic. This isn’t a cry for help or a plea for people to validate me (that would make me embarrassed). But I just wonder if I’m not the only one who sometimes feels this way – futile and insignificant, like I should do more or have more or be more.

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Recently, I stood with my friend Becca over her garden in Minnesota, and she confessed that this year she and her husband had neglected the potatoes that they planted, not doing any of the things that they “should” have done to guarantee a good crop. But even so, their garden has produced dozens of pounds of beautiful, perfect potatoes.

“I look at my garden and I see grace,” she said. “We didn’t do anything to deserve potatoes. But we got them anyway.”

And then she picked some fresh strawberries and gave them to me to eat.

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I’m in the weeds these days. Some are there by my own negligence, some despite my best efforts – either way, they’re messing with my perfect little plot. Because when the things you hope for just aren’t happening and the things you despise just won’t go away, at some point you just want to throw up your hands.

But could it be that there is something good growing underneath?

I think that’s what grace is: the generosity of good things, whether or not we’ve earned them, whether or not we choose to acknowledge that they might be developing.

September

Written by hootenannie on September 2nd, 2014

Well, hello September.

I’ve made nary a murmur in this place for over a month. You want to know why? It’s a little thing called a J-O-B. I went back to work on August 4, and that was that. Because listen, I don’t care how much you love your job – going back after 5 weeks off is rough. August was rough. August was hot. August was a slog, retraining my brain to think in terms of “way too many details” and “never-ending emails” and “calendar deadlines.”

But here we are, August behind us, and September ahead. It’s my sincere intention to write more in September – and I think that maybe that starts tomorrow. For today, let’s play catch up.

In the month of August, I walked hundreds of miles. There are times in my life where my workouts are more than mere walks, but for August, I stuck to hoofing it. As you can see, my “bike to work” days were few and far between – that’s another thing that’s going to change in September.

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Something else that I’m committed to for September: sticking to using cash envelopes. I need financial accountability, and cold hard Benjamins (okay, Jacksons) seem the best method for right now.

Here’s something we need to talk about: awful TV shows. In August, I watched True Detective and House of Cards. And then I felt so hopeless about the human race that this weekend I binged on season 4 of Friday Night Lights just to renew my faith in humanity (or at least the television version thereof).

I’m realizing that I do not want to consume stories in which I hate every single character. I do not want the good guys to be bad guys. I do not want to immerse myself in narratives with no element of redemption. I don’t care if “the character development is amazing.” I don’t care if “the acting is incredible.” I really, really don’t care if “these shows are a more accurate representation of real life” – because I have to believe that real life includes a lot of good, even if it’s intermingled with the hard.

This month, I’ll be spending time in Boston, Minneapolis, and Seattle – some pretty great places.

Since I last wrote, I had a birthday and so did Foxy Brains! My tiny puppy has turned into a full grown 1-year old dog, and I couldn’t love her more.

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Summer is winding down, fall is on its way, and thank goodness – because sheesh, I am in need of some newness. I hope today somehow feels new for you.