Twirl

Written by hootenannie on February 23rd, 2017

I used to be a dancer. I can hardly believe it myself, as these days any dancing is generally an alcohol-fueled error of judgment — but it’s true. All the way through high school, I was a (thick-limbed) ballerina.

One of the fundamentals in ballet is spotting, a technique used to execute turns without losing balance. By holding the head in place and focusing the eyes on a set mark, spotting allows for steady rotation of the body while delaying movement of the head until the last minute. When the turn reaches the point at which the dancer can’t physically keep the focus forward anymore, the head quickly spins and the eyes immediately reorient on the spot on which they’d been fixed before.

Like this:

Life can toss us around like a tumbleweed, can’t it? I recently told a friend, “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been!” and by the end of our conversation I found myself saying, “Actually, I think I’m the saddest I’ve ever been.” And both were true, at the same time, in the same set of circumstances. Maybe this means I’m like Anne of Green Gables, vacillating between “the wings of enchantment” and “the depths of despair.” Maybe it means I need more meds.

Or maybe it just means that being human can be a very disorienting experience. There are highs and there are lows, and there are winds that knock us off our feet and whip us around for a bit, and it can be difficult to remember which end is up.*

These days, I’m spinning like a trailer park in a tornado. Junk is flying around, and sometimes it feels scary — because this is dangerous, man. Someone could get hurt. I could get hurt.

But as I reel, I remember that the only way to keep from falling is to keep a steady gaze on what is true and will not change.

“You will keep in perfect peace
those whose minds are steadfast,
because they trust in you.”
–Isaiah 26:3

Stay steady. Stay true. Whatever you’re going through, whatever tempest has swept you up in its path, keep your eyes straight ahead. It’s the only thing that can turn a whirl into a twirl.

*I once heard that if you’re ever caught in an avalanche and get buried by the snow, you might not know which way to dig in order to reach the surface. Here’s what you do: spit. Gravity will drag that dribble toward the ground, and then you know to claw like hell in the opposite direction. Good luck and you’re welcome.

A question for Valentine’s Day

Written by hootenannie on February 14th, 2017

My favorite song of the last year is Brandy Clark’s “Love Can Go to Hell.” If you haven’t heard it, please give yourself the sweet, melancholic gift of listening — if for no other reason than Brandy Clark is one of the smartest writers I’ve ever run across.

But lest my love of this song make you think otherwise, my heart is pretty soft these days, in the rawest sense. Recent events have left me feeling exposed and vulnerable. No need to get into the details, but I’ll tell you this: I feel like a stray dog who has spent the past several years hiding under a garage to avoid being kicked, and when finally coaxed out by kindness personified waiting across the street, I got hit by a car.

[Awkward and abrupt sidenote:
Speaking of terrified dogs,
check out what happened last
night in my own backyard!]

I’m okay. I really am. Just sad — which, if emotions were college subjects, is sort of my major. Sadness is my wheelhouse. I’m well-practiced in it to the point that it actually feels a little bit comfortable (said the Enneagram Four). And I would rather my heart be soft enough to hurt than safe to the point of numbness.

Because after all:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.” —C.S. Lewis

So here is my question, and it’s not a rhetorical one. I am truly interested in your answers, if you’d be brave enough to share.

How do you keep your heart soft in a hard world?

Because I have to believe a soft heart is worth fighting for.

January running update

Written by hootenannie on January 31st, 2017

I ran a lot in January, and of course I kept track because I keep track of everything. Including trespasses against me.

My total for the month is 86 miles, and I’m proud of every single step. It’s tough to start running again after years away; when I started easing back into it in the fall, I could barely run a mile at a time. But I’ve just kept getting out there (or on the sub-zero days, in there to the gym) four to five days every week, and this past Saturday I ran 8+ miles like it was normal!

Remember that episode of Homeland when Brody finally emerges from a heroin-strewn cell in Caracas so weak he can barely function — but then there’s a montage of him going through 16 days of training with the Marines, and all of a sudden he’s back to being a badass?

THAT is what I feel like.

I will never be fast. I’m not a gazelle. I’m more like a pack mule, slow and steady, with meaty haunches. But a mule can travel far — and “far” is my goal. I’ve got a marathon in May in mind.

Consolation and New Year’s resolutions

Written by hootenannie on January 5th, 2017

Over the past month or so, I’ve woken up several times in the middle of the night with a sudden panic that I’ve left Foxy outside in the cold. I sit up straight and call her name, scared to death that she is [morbid alert] frozen to death out in the yard. And each time, I’m relieved to find that she’s right there by the bed. Of course she is.

My lifelong propensity towards anxiety paired with a winter that’s already more extreme than the entirety of the 2015-2016 season is doing dismal things to my brain. It’s not so much the temperature as it is the wind chill, and it isn’t so much the wind chill as it is the darkness.

Winter in Minnesota, man. Only the strong survive.

But regardless of how I feel about the weather, I find myself living in Minneapolis for my second January. Take four degrees and subtract them from zero, and that’s the temperature at this very minute – and it doesn’t even seem all that unreasonable, given the stiff and hypothermic potential. My survival strategy is to just keep living – and in January, I’ve decided that life will be made up of only two things: working, and running on the treadmill.

It happens to all of us at the start of every new year, doesn’t it? Making resolutions, resolving to re-solve what we’ve deemed wrong about our lives. As usual, I’ve decided that the root of all that’s wrong with my life is not, in fact, my fallen nature, but the circumference of my thighs. My re-solution? To run.

To run a freaking marathon.

Ha. That was actually my New Year’s resolution – to run 26.2 miles, twice as far as I’ve ever run, twice as far as I’ve ever wanted to run. Annieeeeeee. Why must your goals always be so extreme??

But since then, some thoughts.

First, last week I listened as a wonderful dinner companion shared about the Ignatian method of discernment called Examen, a prayer-fueled mindfulness that involves the idea of consolation and desolation. Each night, one is to review the events of the day and pinpoint the moments that were consoling (life-giving, inspiring, connecting) and the ones that were desolating (draining, despairing, isolating); in other words, consolation is movement toward God, and desolation is movement away.

As patterns begin to emerge, the idea is to orient one’s life toward consolation as a way forward. It’s not about making the “right” concrete decisions or checking items off a list, it’s about moving toward the things that stir us up and send us out, strong, tender, and present.

A few days later, I listened to an episode of Steve Wiens’s podcast in which he makes the case for “change that actually changes you.” So much of what he said parallels the idea of Examen. You should listen to the full episode, but for now, I’ll share the simple daily prayer offered by Steve at the end: “God, I want to experience life in all of its fullness today. Please lead me there.”

Do you feel how different this way of life is from our crazy New Year’s resolutions, those hard-hitting, full throttle plans that we think are going to turn our sorry ass luck around?

At the Christmas dinner table, I told my sister-in-law Ashley that I am thinking about training for a marathon, but that I’m nervous that if I commit to it and say it out loud that I won’t actually be able to do it and then I’ll be a total garbage person failure. She said, “I guess that you’d need to know that the process of reaching the goal would be just as worthwhile as achieving the goal itself.”

This morning at the gym, I ran for 45 minutes while staring at a poster in front of the treadmill that said, “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” That’s a preposterous notion, really, since we can and do fail all the time. So I changed it in my mind to, “What would you do if you knew you might fail, but you’d kind of like to give it a shot anyway?”

Here’s the truth about today: I’m glad I ran for those 45 minutes. I feel awesome. That run felt like consolation. I want more of that feeling.

Here’s another thing that’s true: I was not well in 2016. The quiet stress I experienced during the first half of the year wreaked havoc on the second, health-wise. I had an eye infection that lasted for two months. I got shingles. My body harbored infection, I was sick over and over again, and I couldn’t sleep. But in November, when I started getting back into running after years of not running, I started to feel better. The beginning of 2017 finds me quite well, physically. I credit much of this to running, which is reason enough to keep doing it.

I don’t know if I’ll run a marathon this year. But at the risk of feeling stupid later, I’ll say it anyway: I’m going to try. I’m going to follow this training plan day by day, as far as I can take it, and give it everything I’ve got.

Maybe it will result in the torturous achievement of running 26.2 miles all at once, or maybe I’ll find that running 26.2 miles via multiple runs spread out over a week is a pretty cool accomplishment, too. Last week, my new friend Barnabas said something like, “What if running 15 miles 10 times is just as big an achievement as running 26.2 once?” I like that. When we drop our rigid expectations, the world opens up to us (the most Oprah thing I’ve ever said); success can take so many different forms.

(But I really am going to try for a marathon.)

I hope 2017 finds you experiencing life in all its fullness and moving toward consolation, New Year’s resolutions or none. And if you’re dying for a getaway, please come visit me in Minneapolis. I have a brand new furnace.

img_2594b

Secret Santa [NEW SONG]

Written by hootenannie on December 21st, 2016

When I was a kid, my parents never told me that Santa was real. Quite the opposite, in fact: I was always explicitly told that Santa Claus is NOT real. That guy at the mall? Just a man in a costume — and no, you can’t go sit on his lap.

After all, Jesus is the reason for the season — and don’t you know what you get when you rearrange the letters in Santa? SATAN. Just kidding, my parents weren’t that conservative. But when it came to ol’ Kris Kringle, they were always straightforward and no nonsense.

Which is maybe why I’ve always found the idea of Santa to be so… creepy. You mean to tell me that a bearded stranger man is going to climb on my roof — click click click — slide down the chimney, and tiptoe around? He sees me when I’m sleeping? HE SEES ME WHEN I’M SLEEPING??

Nuh uh. No ma’am. I want no part of this.

Here’s a new song, “Secret Santa,” recorded in Nashville a few weeks back with my buddy Jeff Harper (all talent), and dedicated to my fellow holiday cynics. But I do hope it makes you a tiny bit happy, if for no other reason than I made it up in my head while walking through the Minnesota woods, laughing out loud like a madman.

If you’re craving a 2015 throwback, we recorded “Holly Jolly Melancholy Christmas,” too.

And finally, in lieu of a picture of me with Santa, of which there are obviously none, I give you this gem from my friend Duane. It’s just so perfect.

Happy holidays! Always stay awake!

santa

Gilmore Girls characters, ranked from worst to best

Written by hootenannie on November 18th, 2016

In anxious anticipation of next week’s release of the Netflix special Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, I give you my ranking of the series’ characters, worst to best. Not mentioned is the wretched “La la la la laaaaaaa” soundtrack, which would fall somewhere between Mrs. Kim and April.

Kirk
Dean
Taylor
Morey
Mrs. Kim
April
Lane
Jackson
Logan
Richard
Doyle
Babette
Christopher
Miss Patty
Sookie
Luke
Rory
Jess
Paris
Michel
Emily
Lorelai

Disagree with my ranking? I want to know how you’d list them! (Just don’t tell me you’re a fan of Kirk — or Dean, that sad sack.)

dean

The morning after

Written by hootenannie on November 9th, 2016

In an effort to distract myself from the early polls, last night I watched “Believe,” a 2013 documentary about Justin Bieber. Before you deem this an unpatriotic use of my time on the evening of an unprecedented election, remember that based on Trump’s non-existent qualifications, Bieber has a shot at being president someday too.

Given the option, I’d choose Bieber.

At 3am, I was still awake, gutted and reeling from the outcome of the night. A few despairing texts with friends were exchanged – but ultimately, I was alone with the thoughts in my head, thoughts that amounted to a single line from Justin Bieber’s song “Baby,” over and over and over: Shake me ‘til you wake me from this bad dream.

I have never been overtly political, especially online, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t think deeply about the issues and have strong feelings about candidates – candidates on both sides of the aisle. I’m generally a left-leaning moderate, tempered by the fact that I’m a staunch capitalist. Whether on the presidential or the local scale, I have voted Republican, Democrat, and Third Party.

(Let it be known that I have never voted for anyone representing the Legal Marijuana Now party. Cool name, though – straight to the point.)

(I’ve also never smoked marijuana. Honestly, I can hardly believe it myself.)

In the case of the year 2016, I cast my vote for president based on the conviction that (and please read my tone here to be steady, not hysterical) Donald Trump has shown himself to be an arrogant, sexist, racist, xenophobic, homophobic demagogue who, given his attacks on [name any vulnerable community], being endorsed by the KKK, and his pending rape trial (okay just a tiny bit hysterical), is utterly unfit for the presidency of the United States of America. He represents hatred. He represents greed.

And now he represents our country.

Like many of you, I am astonished; I was naïve enough to believe that this would never actually happen. This morning I sat with my friend Stacey on the front porch while our dogs played in the yard, and we didn’t know what to say.

To my African-American nephew, all of my friends of color, my LGBTQ friends, my Muslim friends, my immigrant neighbors, my fellow women, and every child who is watching this burning wreckage, I am with you. My marching orders are to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God, none of which are passive. But I have often been passive. I am so sorry.

Onward, arms linked. We are in this together, now more than ever.

All the shingle ladies

Written by hootenannie on October 25th, 2016

I’m sure you’ve been on the edge of your seat, just dying to know WHAT ON EARTH has transpired since my last blog. Here’s the answer:

1) I had to replace my entire HVAC system.
2) My abdominal pain turned out to be shingles. Because I am 72-years old.

The first thing makes me want a drink. The second thing means I can’t have one. A big old SIGH to all of it.

But despite it all, I recently told a friend, “I think I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.” And in that moment – not spectacular or special or particularly noteworthy in any way, just a regular moment – I really meant it. This fall has been so good to me. I’m well-rested, working only part-time (and loving it), taking the dog on so many walks, and peppering my schedule with life-giving people and events. It’s quiet a lot of the time, but it’s okay. My life is lacking nothing (except skinnier thighs, but what a stupid thing to let ruin my contentment).

On my birthday back in August, I realized that I only get a good year every three years (22, 25, 28, 31). This year, 34, I’m due. I’m happy to report that the pattern continues.

I don’t know what happens next or how long this particular day-to-day will look like it does right now, because I don’t know that my current circumstances feel all that permanent. But I’m grateful, and I want to remember it, shingles and all (except not the shingles).

Old enough

Written by hootenannie on October 8th, 2016

I only slept for five hours. When I woke, it was to a frigid house and a dull ache in my lower right abdomen.

Foxy was on the bed with me, curled up like a coyote, snout tucked beneath her tail. While she’s welcome on the bed, she usually doesn’t choose to be there. She’s independent and she needs her space. We’re a lot alike.

This morning, I was glad to find her on the bed. I wasn’t alone. I was freezing and weirdly in pain, but I wasn’t alone.

I picked up my phone and typed it in — abdominal pain lower right side — and it spit out the answer, the authoritative answer: Appendicitis. Go to the hospital immediately, it said. It will burst within 24 hours, it said. Once it bursts, it’s too late. You are dead, it said.

Appendectomy cost, I typed. I found a story about a Reddit post in which the bill for a 20-year old guy totaled $55,000. “I guess I’ll never afford that wallpaper,” I thought. Mentally subtracting my very high insurance deductible from my bank account, I decided that before driving myself to the hospital, I should try drinking some Metamucil, which I stock in my cupboard because at some point, I became old enough to stock Metamucil in my cupboard.

I got out of bed and put on a down jacket and wool socks. Why was the house so cold? I made my way down the stairs and into the kitchen. Two rounded teaspoons of orange powder in a tall glass of water, then down the hatch. Within 30 minutes, I felt fine.

Appendectomy averted.

But the furnace. The furnace wasn’t working. The thermostat read 50 degrees. I texted Dane next door and asked him if he knew anything about furnaces, and he said he didn’t, but came over to look anyway. We took the panels off the machine and looked inside with flashlights — for what, we didn’t know.

I found a big cricket dead beside the furnace, and then realized it wasn’t a big cricket but a tiny mouse. Not an insect. An actual mammal with bones. How long had it been there? Did whatever killed the mouse kill the furnace, too? I grabbed it in a dryer sheet and threw it in the dumpster.

I called an HVAC repairman, and he showed up in the afternoon. I left him in the basement. Later, he called me downstairs. “What I’m about to tell you will make you want to tell me to get the hell out of your house,” he said.

The furnace is shot. I need a new one. They recommend also replacing the AC unit at the same time, especially since my AC unit is already over 20 years old, on its last legs. I thought about telling him to get the hell out of my house. When he gave me the estimate, I stared at him, and then said, “I want to curl up in a ball on this basement floor.” He laughed. I didn’t. It’s more money than I’ve ever spent on anything, even a car, save this house itself.

But my house is so cold.

I almost did it. I almost signed on the dotted line, which would have guaranteed me a brand new HVAC system by Tuesday. But at the last minute, as the salesman was walking around my house counting and measuring the windows in order to file the permits, my defeated, slumped shoulders straightened up.

If I’m old enough to stock Metamucil in my cupboard, then God knows I’m old enough to have learned to seek a second opinion, and probably a third. I’m also old enough to know that money is just money, so even if it’s worst case scenario, well, oh well. I’m old enough not to panic at a financial gut punch. I’m old enough to look a man in the face and let him know that I will not be pressured into anything.

And if I’m that old, then I’m definitely old enough to sit at my dining room table at 8pm on a Saturday night just typing out the events of the day.

screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-8-20-18-pm

My favorite words, via Emily McDowell

Catching up with Little AP

Written by hootenannie on October 6th, 2016

Raise your hand if you’ve been reading this blog since 2008.

[Hi Mom. Greta, of course. Hey there Valerie Morby!]

If you’ve been here for a while, you might remember the time that a 13-year old girl from Virginia googled her own name — which happened to be Annie Parsons — and landed on this site. A blog post later, she was cemented in Hootenannie lore as “Little Annie Parsons” — my very own Muppet Baby!

Well, you know what they say about time.
– It heals all wounds.
– It changes things.
– It’s money.
– It marches on*.

*The only applicable phrase, in this case.

Little AP is now TWENTY ONE years old. After our one and only meeting at a P.F. Chang’s in Nashville in 2009, we kept in spotty touch over the years — but I recently thought, “This is dumb. I want to catch up with that little sparklebug.”

APs at P.F. Chang's in 2009

APs at P.F. Chang’s in 2009

So here she is — back for your reading delight. And I mean it: this girl is absolutely delightful. You’ll see.

:::::

Little AP! Oh my goodness, I’m so glad to connect with you. First of all, happy 21st birthday a few days ago! WHERE HAS THE TIME GONE. The last (and only) time I saw you, you were what, 13? Sunrise, sunset.
I am so glad to connect with you, too! And thank you for the birthday wishes. It’s so weird to think that it’s been 8 years since Google brought us together, but it’s definitely been an amazing 8 years.

So, first things first. I must know: have you ever learned to use chopsticks?
Yes! If I remember correctly, you gave me a crash course in chopsticks when we met at P.F. Chang’s. That’s the first time I really got the hang of it.

Proud of you. Now that that’s out of the way, we can actually dive in. A lot has happened in your world since we last spoke. You’ve obviously graduated from high school (I hope). Did you homeschool all the way through? What are you doing now?
Yes, I homeschooled all the way through high school! After I graduated, I got to start working for the theatre education program where I had been a student in high school. The program has been evolving and growing so much over the past few years, and now I get to teach theatre to kids and direct plays and musicals with youth actors. It such a fun, rewarding job. I’m also slowly wrapping up an education degree which I’ve had simmering on the back burner for a while. Other than that, I get to dabble in a lot of awesome stuff like costuming, comedy improv, music, and enjoying life with my family.

The current Little AP - what a beauty!

The current Little AP – what a beauty!

What are you really excited about these days?
I’m getting pretty excited about the numerous chances to get festive over the next few months. Birthdays, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas… I walked into a store the other day where they had both their Halloween and Christmas stuff out at once, and I flipped my lid. I know that we can throw around words like “commercialism” here, but I don’t care. It’s October and I’m excited for Christmas.

You’ve always been a big reader and lover of stories and the arts. Right now, today, tell us your favorite
– book: Right now I’m reading the massive Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, which is quickly becoming one of my favorites. Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce is also an all-time favorite.
– movie: Austenland, because it is ridiculous and delightful and it always puts me in a good mood.
– TV show: Ah! Too many. Let’s say Poldark.
– song:I Feel the Earth Move” by Carole King (a staple of my solo karaoke parties when I’m driving).
– musical: The tragically short-lived Tuck Everlasting.
– podcast: I don’t get to listen to it often, but I love Good Job, Brain, which is a super funny/smart pub trivia podcast.

I want people to know that you’re an amazing artist. Where can they see your work? And will you draw Foxy?
Thank you so much! Art is something that I’ve loved for a long time, and I recently decided to share my work more courageously. My art blog is the creatively-named anniedrawsthings.wordpress.com, and I recently joined Instagram, where I’m also @anniedrawsthings. The pieces that I post are a mix of character designs, illustrations, drawings based on books and TV, on-location landscapes, and anything else that happens. And I will totally draw Foxy!

foxy3

I fainted. I am dead. Are you kidding me?? You captured her perfectly! I AM FRAMING THIS. Thank you! Hyperventilating, actually. This is my favorite thing that has ever been made! (Sorry, Hamilton.)

[pulls self together]

Wow. Okay. What do you love about living in Abingdon?
Everything. Seriously. It is such a vibrant, gorgeous place to call home, and I am in love with it. If I had to pick one thing, I’d say that I love being a part of such a tight-knit small town community while still having access to so much amazing local theatre, art, music, food, etc. There are a lot of unbelievably talented and kind people around.

What is something that you know you’re good at? What is something you would like to be better at? (Sorry for the dangling prepositions – I just can’t stand the thought of saying, “What is something at which you would like to be better?” Gag me.)
Ooh, this is a good/tough one. I have a pretty good memory, but I’d like to be better at using it for things other than trivia and song lyrics.

Who is someone you really admire?
I’ve always admired my sister Katie for being a generally wonderful person, but recently she’s started taking a botany class and pursuing her love of plants. Her hikes and field journals are so cool, and she has all of these awesome stories about the history behind local plants. If we’re talking famous people, I’d have to go with Julie Andrews, for obvious reasons.

I like that Katie and Julie Andrews belong on the same level. High praise for Fräulein Maria!

Do you have a bucket list? Name something that’s on it.
Travel is a huge item on my bucket list. I actually have a sub-bucket list of places I want to visit. Rome is on the top of that list, closely followed by pretty much everywhere in England.

What are you learning these days? Something deep and spiritual, or something surface level — it matters not to me.
On a deeper/spiritual level, I have been learning a lot about peace and surrender in this past year or so. I’m a worry-er and a people-pleaser by nature, which has led to over-commitment, stress, and a lot of tears. Recently God has put me in a million everyday situations where He has taught me to say no when I need to and trust that I am still loved, valued, and on the right track (and you’ll have to excuse my passive voice there). So much freedom has come from that.

On a surface level, I’m directing a show right now that has a lot of fight choreography in it, so I’ve been learning how pretend to stab people and fall down without getting hurt (much, I’m a wimp).

STAGE STABBING! That is so cool.

And finally, in the spirit of fall, are you a fan of the Pumpkin Spice Latte? I am not. But that doesn’t mean that all APs have to be anti-PSL.
I’m going to say something kind of shocking here: I have not had a Pumpkin Spice Latte yet. I just started drinking coffee regularly this year (my folks got a Keurig for Christmas and it became way too easy to get hooked), so this is my debut Pumpkin Spice Latte season. I’ll have to give it a try and get back to you.

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Can you handle it? She’s grown up, and awesome, and there’s no one I’d rather share a name with.

If you’re looking for a more mature Annie Parsons, obviously go to her. I’m still upset about Zayn leaving One Direction.