Inspo: Words on the street

As seen at a house show.

Just when I thought I’d seen every spirits sandwich board sign in the books, this one shows up.

Love this trend of showing recipes right on the product’s package. It’s hard to see from this pic but there’s an arrow and copy that points to the Triscuit topping. “Top with cottage cheese, peas and mint,” for example.

Brute is my new favorite word! Although, points deducted for “raw”…. eeee….

List-ish: Three binge-worthy, brain-candy dramas on Netflix right now

The request for a Netflix recommendation comes fast and furious (eeeeh?) in the winter.

I watch a ton of TV. There’s so much great work out there, how could I not? So, of course, when the inevitable Netflix (et. al) recc comes, I always prop up TV shows. I love being able to binge a whole series at my own pace (usually in a weekend… gah!).

However, I’m always doling out the same critically acclaimed titles: The Peaky Blinders, Fargo, Transparent, Vikings, Sherlock, Atlanta… These are shows I obviously love and think are worth watching. I enjoy that shows like 2013’s Top of the Lake entertain me while also making me think about social problems, like rape culture in this example. But I don’t think they offer an entirely accurate picture of what I would recommend.

In fact, this winter I have been drawn more toward mysteries and drama-for-the-sake-of-drama than ever before (they run the gamut of prestige, from Scandal to The Fall and The Killing to a cheeky lil’ British mystery from the ‘90s called Midsommer Murders that’s like Murder She Wrote meets Shakespeare meets whatever your favorite soap opera is). This is escapism in full effect, my friends.

Sure, something like critic-fav The Crown is striking in its stoic, scenic shots. But sometimes you just want to gasp.

These potential suitors will get the job done.

Dr. Foster

Show stats: British, 2015

The gist: Professional doctor, loving mother and committed wife suspects her husband is cheating on her and everything unravels disastrously from there.

Why watch: Seedy undertones and a surprise, unforeseen twist every episode. Oh-so compelling! A contemporary trashy novel with fabulous acting.



Show stats: Five glorious seasons, 2007-2012

The gist: A high-street lawyer (Glenn “Glenn Close” Close) and her protégé (Rose Byrne) become personally and professionally entangled, embroiled and — possibly — ended as they deal with cases only a maniac would take.

Why watch: Absolutely ruthless power dynamics on steroids. Its plot is as snaky as Patty Hewes (Close’s character). Non-linear narratives abound, making it entertaining but not impossible to keep up. It’ll remind you why the red herring device is so deliciously useful. Also, Rose Byrne’s outfits will make you excited to get ready for work. YES, even in the winter.


Show stats: British, 2013-now, murder mystery cop drama

The gist: A little boy is murdered in a sleepy coastal town and, of course, everyone’s a suspect.

Why watch: Evocative murder mysteries are always fun and this series has twists and turns even the most seasoned show watcher wouldn’t expect. It travels well into a third season, so it’s got a deep bench of episodes. You can chew on this one for a while.

Inspo: Bad bitch rock, reporting from the rental bottom line, and #relationshipgoals

Deap Vally

The voice, they lyrics, the sound, the look. I love it all and have their latest album on replay. I’ll let this LA rock duo speak/play/riot/peacefully-motha-effin-protest for themselves. Visit Chicago soon, OK?

And I am not ashamed of my mental state
And I am not ashamed of my body weight
And I am not ashamed of my rage
And I am not ashamed of my age
And I am not ashamed of my sex life
Although I wish it were better
I am not ashamed I am no one’s wife
Although the idea does sound kind of nice


“Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” by Matthew Desmond


This book is at once heartbreaking and genius. Fittingly, the author Matthew Desmond received a MacArthur “Genius” grant in 2015, a year before this book was published. “Evicted” is an investigative journalism-style book that profiles landlords and tenants in several Milwaukee neighborhoods, from the black inner city on the north side to the white trailer parks on the south side. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in social justice or the housing market. It’s a very informative look at why evictions are on the rise and how devastating they are for the families and communities they affect–one court ordered eviction and the payments and consequences snowball out of control. I love Desmond’s objective reporting; the landlords, who are as callous and cold as they can be forgiving, get equal play here to defend themselves.

The reasons for evictions vary and poverty reaches its brutal fingers into all areas of a life that can lead to even darker places in the pit (addiction, disability, discrimination). The whole book relays brutal anecdotes of unfair housing and regulatory practices and organizations that portend to help but are often just a busy signal at the end of the line. That anyone can survive hanging on like this is incredible. I think it’s important we remember that although there are agencies that are supposed to help social problems like poverty, it’s more than often not enough–and the dominoes fall fast. We need to keep aware of what’s going on in these neighborhoods and why so we can make decisions that help across the board (ie. healthcare).

Read the whole book, but here are a few interesting insights on how women, and especially black women, are at a particular disadvantage in this cycle:

“Women tended not to negotiate their eviction like men did, and they were more likely to avoid landlords when they fell behind. These responses did not serve them well.”

“Belligerent as it was, Jerry’s [a tenant] confrontational response aligned with Tobin’s [a landlord] blunt and brusque way. Property management was a profession dominated by men and by a gruff, masculine way of doing business. That put men like Jerry at an advantage.”

“In Milwaukee’s poorest black neighborhoods, 1 female renter in 17 was evicted through the court system each year, twice as often as men from those neighborhoods and nine times as often as women from the city’s poorest white areas. Women from black neighborhoods made up 9% of Milwaukee’s population and 30% of its evicted tenants.”

Barack and Michelle Obama

Barack specifically called out his girl at the farewell address speech this week in Chicago. Through his thanks, he teared up, and knowing how soul matey this pair has seemed throughout his entire presidency, you know this was just another genuine example of feeling too. While their friendship, teamwork and equal relational status are all admirable qualities worth emulating in my own relationship, I have to take a feminist aside here and fist pump the prez. Growing up (Bill Clinton was president), it always seemed like men in power had wives as show horses or bargaining chips, never really as sidekicks. Plus, men didn’t cry. Not really anyway… But Obama’s tears on a center stage for his beloved reminded me how far we have come even in the last 20 years about what strong masculinity can represent. You can cry out with love for your wife and still be the leader of the free world—in fact, it probably makes you more trustworthy as a leader. More of this please. #mykindoffamilyvalues

Inspo: Ronda Rousey, Louis CK’s new year’s greeting, Joe Rogan’s dope philosophy, and words on the street

Ronda Rousey’s heart

Sure, she got her ass kicked swiftly and brutally by Amanda Nunes (who, whoa, will be fun to watch in the future), but Ronda’s still my girl. She’s a legend who put her sport on the map and single handedly proved that women and women’s sports can be top-billing, headlining acts. Big ups to her for getting back in the ring and not falling despite eating shot after punishing shot in this “comeback.” There’s quite a lesson to be found in the deja vu of this knockout and her last one–it’s like she learned nothing new about ducking in the 365 days that passed. Head up, though, girlfriend. It’s like poet Carolyn Forche wrote:

In our sojourn on Earth, we are presented a curriculum for the education of a human soul, comprised of lessons that seem mysteriously to repeat themselves as if not properly learned the first time, or as if they were lessons failed, but this curriculum moves in a spiral rather than a circle, never returning quite to the same instruction, and the fortunate few experience, I think, epiphanies in their late years, so that even failure is embraced and welcomed. It is a Samuel Beckett wrote: ‘No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’ The final realization might be that we ourselves wrote this curriculum within the depths of our being.

Louis CK’s new year’s greeting

Louis CK sent out an email to his fans a week ago with information about what he’s working on, highlights of new shows, and a brilliant dose of perspective delivered in perfectly imperfect Louis fashion. An excerpt here:

Joe Rogan’s new standup special

Ok, he’s easy to write off as the once host of Fear Factor if you know literally nothing else about him, but Joe Rogan is a really interesting guy. I like listening to his podcast. He’s naturally very curious and gives all ideas, all people a fair shot at sharing. The new special has several bright spots, like when he’s talking about getting really high on California weed and having this unexpectedly inspiring thought:

What if everyone is exactly the same? We’re just living life through different bodies. What if that’s the secret of happiness? Treat everyone as if it’s you, living another life.

If you were high right now, your head would explode.

Full special (including the punchline to this joke) is on Netflix now.

Words on the street

I really should start a compilation of wonderfully fun copywriting I see in restrooms. I love 85% of what I find, including this one in a new Columbus pho restaurant. It doubles as a phonics lesson for how to actually pronounce the word.

List-ish: My favorite things about 2016

Even in a Dumpster fire, there’s a lost shoe or perfectly capable discarded broom to be found.

New people

Foster. Foz Man. Fozzie Bear. Whatever you call him, my newest nephew was hands-down the cutest, happiest baby born in 2016. Welcome to the world, fellow Pisces love bug bubby wuver boo boo. <*auntie kisses*>

That combover!

Old people

This ol’ flame. Justin and I got back together, got engaged, and, I don’t know, became grown-ups at the same time in the serendipitous way that only revelatory love can engender. He’s my number one and I am his. I understand and respect what that means now in a way I just couldn’t before.

Those eyebrows!


After one seriously ridiculous (fun, but ridiculous) bender — a type of night that had become troublingly familiar — I quit drinking. I’ve been sober for eight months now. Best decision I’ve ever made for myself. For so many reasons. In my latest Mildly Depressed: The Podcast episode I talk about how I did it, why I did it and why I’ll likely never drink again.

That shitshow!


Though we’re still getting to know each other, Chicago has smitten me with its concrete charms. Oddly enough, the thing I keep talking about it the public transportation. I l-o-v-e that I can walk to whatever I need in my neighborhood, and when I need to travel outside it, my adventure is only a bus or train ride away. There’s so much life here and it’s exciting to be woven into the fabric of such a feracious city.

It was hard to move from central Ohio, a place that had supported and loved me so well, a place where all my people lived and a bright future was imminent. But to borrow a phrase from years past, YOLO. Bravery has its rewards and I look forward to reaping more of them this year.

Those hot dogs! (Get a pack of cigs with your processed meats. Chicago is the realest.)

Kate McKinnon

She’s the new Will Ferrell. So goofy. So smart. So original. The way she nails impersonations but adds her own comedic twist (just like Will as Janet Reno in Janet Reno’s dance party). Gah! I just love her. In a downer of a year, she made us all laugh, and that wasn’t easy. Give her all the movie deals, 2017!

Those accents!


Runners up: watching Simone Biles, Nasty Women everything, visiting Dollywood.

Inspo: Words at the zoo, “Rush Oh!” and special little snowflakes

The Lincoln Park Zoo lights

John Muir was a naturalist. An archivist. A tree-hugger.

In fact, he found so much purpose in these roles, he founded the Sierra Club.

He also said this: “When we tug at a single thing in nature, we find it attached to the rest of the world.”

He viewed going out in nature as a way to “wash your spirit clean,” but can it wash our conscience? What do we do with the discomforting irony of seeing nature — primal-puncturing-jaw-to-the windpipe, moved-by-the-moon nature — in cages?

Well, we put lights on the structures around these cages and pat ourselves on the back for the job well done. We hold our mittened hands together and give thanks that we have to strangle no living thing to live free. Not anymore.

But it’s still kind of awkward to see the lioness 20 feet away drowsy eyed and dreaming of pate from a jar or a seal clinging to a plastic plant as if it were food, unable to spear a bite.

Or maybe he was just playing. 

To not be so depressing — we are seeing holiday lights after all! — I decide to find pleasure in how the animals adapt to their sanctuaries, how they make them feel like home.

It’s like when we go to a hotel and claim the bed near the window and take all the pillows off but two; because that is most similar to where and how we fold into one another every other night.

The gorillas are my favorite for this. They are so smart and full of attitude.

Chest thumpers.

Ball scratchers.

Hand holders.

Nest builders. They form little individual mattresses of leaves and sticks on which to lay. If anyone can appreciate needing to make a space for oneself, a private place to put a head about to dream — it’s a human.

Other things about them are familiar, too. And away we tug, attached to all of each other.

The writing of Rush Oh!

It’s hard to imagine how a book can be both brutally sad and giggle-inducing, yet here were these reviews, saying “Rush Oh!” was exactly such. It’s the fictional memoir of a daughter of a whaling family in Australia’s Twofold Bay. Loosely based on a real family, it recounts the haunting 1908 whaling season.

Here’s my favorite passage example of how the author, Shirley Barrett, nails this uncommon voice.

I learned a lot about whaling too? Who knew I would find it so interesting, especially the personalities of the Killer whales who helped the human hunters (the Killers got first dibs in the water’s depths before the carcass gassed up to the surface). Turns out there’s a real museum dedicated to these cetaceans and this incredible, dichotomous era of violence and cooperation between man and beast at Australia’s Twofold Bay. One more thing to add to the bucket list!

Survival is weird.


Are we all over the “YOU ARE NOT A SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE” retort yet?

Ugh, we should be.

Listen, you can find yourself to be special and not be entitled. You can recognize that a snowflake is one of millions but also, that when fallen into a snowy drift or peed on by a dog alongside millions of its fallen brethren, it is not so special. But does that lessen any of the fact that it has its own, made-just-for-it, swirling, spiked design?

That can still be freaking cool (it is!) and appreciated while admittedly part of a bigger picture in which one’s own personal needs or identity hold, well, a snowflake-size worth of importance.

From water to water ye shall return!

What seems more “special snowflake-y” in attitude is actually calling someone else a “special snowflake.” When someone else’s self-awareness or individuality personally offends you, I’d say you appear to be the one with deep, unwarranted entitlement issues.

The hypocrisy of the bully is never ending, though.

So to that statement, “You are not a special snowflake!”, I happily give a smile and a middle finger.

And, oh, what do you know? Look here! Staring back at me from my one finger salute to your self-righteous poo-pooing of my self-worth is my own, made-just-for-me swirly design.

I’m special snowflake af!

Inspo: Gift giving, Joan Didion, and Words on the Street

Christmas gifts

I love the holidays! Any holiday, really.

Christmas is second only to Halloween in my book. It’s so sparkly! The best part, though, is the gift giving, which has become infinitely more fun since I became an aunt.

Right now my niece and nephews are in the sweet spot, that cusp of kid-ness, where they’re young enough to want things that are completely ridiculous but adorable and not self-serving or angsty.

Ie., I shelled out big time this year to buy my third-grader nephew a fluffy blue dragon toy he keeps talking about that animatronically blows fake fire to toast a fake plastic marshmallow on a fake plastic stick. Heavy duty batteries not included.

How many more years will he want something so innocent, so sweet, so dumb? How many more years will I be able to afford pricey Christmas gifts for the growing number of babies on my Christmas list?

Not long. So I have no shame. I love their little faces when they see they got what they wanted. The world will kick ‘em around a bit and forever soon enough.

My niece is into glitter and guts, which I adore. She wanted a doll that is a scientist, so of course I obliged. My sister teamed up with Santa to get the doll accompanying accoutrements for when Dr. Doll decides she wants to have it all.

Ie., baby stroller and party outfits.

To go with her science doll (which also came with a robot so it was hard to top), I got her this book by illustrator Rachel Ingotofsky.


It’s a charming, colorful and robust ode to the ladies who have made big impacts in science and engineering, like Jocelyn here.


I heard about the book watching this Broad and High episode that featured Rachel. Makes me want to get myself InDesign and Illustrator for Christmas… Hmm…

Joan Didion on self-respect and a notebook

This presidential election’s results were pretty brutal, and I tend to close myself off when I’m angry, thus, I’ve been in a state of introspection the past few weeks. Finding a way to lose with power led me to this essay by Joan Didion.

I’ve always been a fan of her writing, and this essay is one just one example of her capability to transform a new idea fresh, waving us over to look at it from her new-found vantage point. She wrote “On Self-Respect” for Vogue in 1961. Another Vogue writer who was supposed to cover the same topic flaked last minute so Joan wrote this to an exact character count.

I’m so glad she took the opportunity to save the space from being converted from editorial to ad. Decades later we’re still reading it. Here are some gems:

People with self-respect have the courage of their mistakes. They know the price of things. If they choose to commit adultery, they do not then go running, in a access of bad conscience, to receive absolution from the wronged parties; nor do they complain unduly of the unfairness, the undeserved embarrassment, of being named corespondent. If they choose to forego their work—say it is screenwriting—in favor of sitting around the Algonquin bar, they do not then wonder bitterly why the Hacketts, and not they, did Anne Frank.

To have that sense of one’s intrinsic worth which, for better or for worse, constitutes self-respect, is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent.

To lack it is to be locked within oneself, paradoxically incapable of either love or indifference. If we do not respect ourselves, we are on the one hand forced to despise those who have so few resources as to consort with us, so little perception as to remain blind to our fatal weaknesses. On the other, we are peculiarly in thrall to everyone we see, curiously determined to live out—since our self-image is untenable—their false notions of us. We flatter ourselves by thinking this compulsion to please others an attractive trait: a gift for imaginative empathy, evidence of our willingness to give. Of course we will play Francesca to Paolo, Brett Ashley to Jake, Helen Keller to anyone’s Annie Sullivan: no expectation is misplaced, no role too ludicrous. At the mercy of those we can not but hold in contempt, we play roles doomed to failure before they are begun, each defeat generating fresh despair at the necessity of divining and meeting the next demand made upon us.

Didion’s essay “On Keeping a Notebook” is another one of my favorites. Rediscovering her work has led me to dust off the old habit of recording things I see every day in a notebook. I can do whatever I want with it, since notebooks are not a precious thing, like diaries or journals. Throw it out or laugh at it or use it in later days as a resource for story ideas, plot twists or character traits.

You can read it and get inspired to start your own here.

My notebook. Page 1. I love that Didion has always been her own woman.

Words on the street 


As seen on my walk home. A greeting from the door of Four Sided in Chicago.


At Mariano’s. “Clash of the Pot Pie-tins.” The scenes this phrase led my imagination toward made grocery shopping much less terrible.


I’ve seen more and more branding in bathrooms this past year or so. This little reminder at the Cards Against Humanity office in Chicago proves words are never a waste of space.

Inspo: Atlanta the TV show, a new book, and Leonard Cohen

Coconut Crunchos

I’ve been watching Donald Glover’s TV show for FX, “Atlanta,” through our Roku’s Crackle app, and I’m hooked. Donald Glover’s funny but it’s always been clear he’s also an artist, and “Atlanta” is a testament to his creative powers and their show-stopping ability to play with the topic of race. The first season’s one-off episode of commercial and radio parodies was my favorite. This Coconut Crunchos commercial brilliantly takes on the abuse of power and racial double standards in this country. It had my jaw on the floor. 

“A Man Called Ove” takes a train ride

On a scale of one to already bought a conductor hat, how excited am I to know train rides are a thing?

Choo mother fucking choo!


I knew Amtrak existed and you could ride the train places. But hot damn I didn’t not realize how fun it was and how many places you could travel to with a beautiful view along the way!

I’d like to just live on a train now, please.

Justin and I were coming back to Chicago from Lafayette. We rode the Hoosier State Train. Tickets were cheap, the white tablecloth breakfast was delicious, and I got to imagine I was a sassy little lass in a wool peacoat and matching cloche hat heading somewhere out west to take care of a sick, mysterious great aunt but, unbeknownst to me, was embarking on the adventure and romance of a lifetime, and also was someone just murdered in the caboose?!



So, what I’m saying is, really, everyone won.


It was the perfect setting to dig further into the new book I’m reading, “A Man Called Ove,” by Swedish author Fredrik Backman.

I have a feeling Ove wold have loved this Sunday morning train ride, though he never would have admitted it.


The story is about a suicidal old grouch, his new neighbors, a tough cat, and redemption.

I’m about halfway through and my favorite part about the book has been Backman’s writing style. It’s brief and funny with paragraphs like these sprinkled throughout. His way of writing about love and anger feel new to me, but they’re so right. That’s always what makes reading so fun.

jm-ove-anger jm-ove-love-quote

Leonard Cohen

Bird on the Wire

Like a bird on the wire,

like a drunk in a midnight choir

I have tried in my way to be free.

Like a worm on a hook,

like a knight from some old fashioned book

I have saved all my ribbons for thee.

If I, if I have been unkind,

I hope that you can just let it go by.

If I, if I have been untrue

I hope you know it was never to you.

Oh, so sad to see so many brilliant artists move on. You know it’s gotta happen sometime, but it still hurts. Leonard Cohen was such a wonderful introvert and I am so grateful he occasionally came out of his hard shell to share his lonely, soft inner world. May he rest in peace — finally. And may you listen to one of his last interviews with the New Yorker.

Inspo: Smart activism, Abbi Jacobson, a zinger of a description, Planet Money, and quotes on success

“Ask For Angela” PSA posters

Today in Excellent Examples of Proactive Activism!

Check out this sign posted on Twitter from a bar bathroom in England. A county council started the Ask Angela campaign to help combat sexual violence on a local level. It offers women a code word to say to a bartender to help them get a ride home, no questions asked.

Here’s the copy:

“Are you on a date that isn’t working out? Is your Tinder or POF [Plenty of Fish] date not who they said they were on their profile? Do you feel like you’re not in a safe situation? Does it all feel a bit weird? If you go to the bar and ask for ‘Angela,’ the bar staff will know you need help getting out of your situation and will call you a taxi or help you out discreetly—without too much fuss.”

This is a really smart move. I wonder how many women have used it or at least been reassured by knowing they are in a venue that will help them if they feel uncomfortable. Although, the campaign probably needs a new code word now since it’s gone viral…


Abbi Jacobson’s new book

I met Abbi Jacobson (aka Abbi from Broad City) last week at Harold Ramis’s alma mater (aka Senn High School in Andersonville).

“Met” is a strong word. I paid to hear her “In Conversation” with former Chicago writer (and badass) Samantha Irby about her new project, “Carry This Book.” It features Abbi’s illustrations of what she imagines famous people and characters carry in their bags. It’s bright and smart and a reminder to not overthink everything.


The best part of the evening, which was brought to us fangirls by Women and Children First book store <finger snaps>, was hearing how Samantha and Abbi met.

Janeane Garofalo (!) had gifted Ilana and Abbi a copy of Samantha’s book, “Meaty,” after appearing on an episode of Broad City. Janeane had heard Samantha at a reading in Chicago and was blown away. Abbi says she, too, was sucked in immediately by Samantha’s bold, funny voice.

Abbi imagined these essays could be a really funny TV show, so she emailed Samantha asking if the pair could meet next time Samantha was in New York. Abbi wanted to pitch her idea.

So basically, Samantha just had every under-the-radar writer’s dream come true, and what did she do?


“Yeah, when I’m in New York,” Samantha recalled thinking sarcastically. “We can get a green juice.” *

After six months of nada, Abbi had to spell out via email who she was (kind of a big deal). Samantha says she hates this story because it sounds like she thought she was too good for what Abbi was throwing down. But in reality…

“I was eating Lean Cuisine over my sink,” Samantha said.

That was last year, and now these two are working on a show pitch based on “Meaty.”

Later in the evening Abbi talked about how supportive Amy Poehler had been of her and Ilana before Broad City broke. These stories will be urban legend on day in the network of the sisterhood’s most talented.

#yasqueens all around.

* (quotes may not be exact. I was too excited to take notes. Also, who are you, my editor?)


That one perfect line

I can’t take credit for finding this one. It was spotted by a buddy of mine. (Actually, while we’re on the subject, that buddy and his kickass artist wife recently put together a book about her Aunt Doll, who is the kind of character writers only dream about. Check it out here. Yes, it’s really called Salami Dreamin.) Anyway, this Rolling Stone writer’s description about Scott Walker made me snort laugh out loud. It’s so good. You can totally picture this monster. I love when writers find new ways to show you an archetype instead of telling you someone is one.



Planet Money’s Wells Fargo coverage

Speaking of stereotypes, I’m just as guilty as the next human of making them, which is why I liked this recent episode of the Planet Money podcast so much.

It made me rethink how I look at the Wells Fargo employees who were fired for creating fake accounts for customers.

They were making these fake accounts because the pressure was so intense from the bosses to reach a quota every day. Many of these employees were young professionals, fresh out of college, competitive, eager and ready to do anything to prove themselves.

Usually those are great attributes for an employee but in a culture that placed numbers above people (colleague, customer or otherwise), it increasingly led to ethical bankruptcy. Once they were fired or let go, either for not succumbing to the pressure to commit fraud or for suffering from the physical side effects of the job stress, some of these young employees were blackballed from getting another job in the financial industry by Wells Fargo.

I have more empathy for these employees now. Isn’t that a young professional’s worst fear? How can we approach the conversation of work life balance better in our higher educational systems? If we didn’t place such a high value on financial and professional success, would corruption come as handedly? How can we better help whistleblowers in private institutions locked safely behind a vault?

It’s worth a listen, as is this followup about the shady U5 form and how Wells Fargo is blackballing ex-employees.


These quotes about success in art

Two goodies from this old but always great interview with Cheryl Strayed.

STRAYED: My definition of success has been developed over many years full of both successes and failures. My trajectory has not been failure, failure, failure, then success. The successes have been there all along, and all along, there’s also been a steady stream of rejections and disappointments. I imagine this will always be the case. It’s the writer’s life. It’s true that Wild’s reception, in particular, has been rather breathtaking, but it hasn’t made me measure success differently. I keep faith with the work. Wild would be the book that it is regardless of how many people read it. I’m very sure about that. When I say, “Success is a pile of shit somebody stacked up real high,” I mean it’s folly to measure your success in money or fame. Success in the arts can be measured only by your ability to say yes to this question: “Did I do the work I needed to do, and did I do it like a motherfucker?”

WILL HINES: Spend your days in love with what you’re doing as much as fucking possible, and thank the stars for your chances to do that. Be nice and honest and brave and hopeful, and then let it go.


Notes-ish: Knoxville, Tennessee and Dollywood

I didn’t realize I had any expectations for Knoxville until I got there and realized it wasn’t what I thought it was.

Knoxville is spread out but small. One-note but diverse. Naturally beautiful but mechanically ugly.

Our second show on the road was at a small pizza shop in a strip mall just outside Knoxville. Great food, fun people, etc.

The next day, a friend recommended Lunch House for breakfast.

Lunch House is cash only and still has signs up stating that shoes and shirts are required for an exchange of food and money. This implies that enough barefooted and/or shirtless people show up frequently enough to warrant a sign about the whole awkward thing.

Roller-rink-yellow and liquid-ketchup-red walls and tables loudly accent humble art of idyllic country settings in Salvation Army frames. The food was outstanding, with not one but two biscuits and gravy served as a side to my ham and cheese omelet.

In the Midwest that biscuits with the business would have been its own stupid $7 meal. So obviously the south has its upsides.

After breakfast we drove about an hour to Pigeon Forge. This drive allowed for ample viewing of the mountains and the foliage hanging peacefully between life and death.

The billboards about heaven and hell and eternal damnation sprinkled in between took the life and death contemplation from thoughtful reverie to disconcerting reality.

But alas, when one is in creationist country one must chalk all that talk up to local culture if one is not to get increasingly annoyed by its unfortunate timing and mountain-view ruining. I think they’ve just got their guns out hard—literally and figuratively—because it’s election season.

There was certainly a tension in the air, which may have been in my head because the closest I get to believing in a sacred heart is when I feel my own liberal bleeding one.

Regardless, I physically tightened everytime I saw the name TRUMP, because it wasn’t just a a sign or two cutely placed in someone’s front yard. It was, like, a giant handmade road sign the size of a tent. Shirts “playfully” threatening violence against our other potential future president for sale underneath (shirts shipped from China I’m sure).

Those sublime mountains can start to feel domineering and claustrophobic after a while if you don’t feel totally comfortable below, trapped in a red state that has no foreseeable future of turning blue unless you choke it.

Traveling during the 2016 election, I guess much like the 2016 election, has a very unique set of pain points.


We are heading to Pigeon Forge to see the Queen. Not Mother Mary or Beyonce but close. The one and only Ms. Dolly Parton.

And we did see her. Literally everywhere. Even the gas station miles away had a framed photo of her from her spiky hair years (inspired by Cher I’m guessing) near its cash register.

The town in which Dollywood is located is everything you think it is and it is perfect. Cartoonish in its colors and outrageousness, it features not one but two Christmas supply stores—nay, warehouses—as well as a car lot called Big Boys Toys, a restaurant called Rebel Dish, and an As Seen on TV outlet.

My favorite retail option was a massive building called Sexy Stuf. So sexy they’ve already slipped out of the extra f for you. Its giant sign included an illustration of Cupid in a big heart. From the outside, Sexy Stuf was a cheesy light-hearted display of sexuality that seemed to avoid fully addressing the mystery and complexity of it. A nod to the fact that it happens but we don’t really need to talk about it, y’all. Which reminded me, fittingly, of what makes Dolly Parton so appealing to me and a larger portion of the American population.

Also, I’m really regretting not hitting up the As Seen on TV store. Could have really used a Wonder Wallet and Woof Washer.

Lunch House. If you go and the front’s packed, don’t worry. There’s more room in the back.
The Lunch House.
Yes, please.
All you need.
‘Till next time.
Required listening for driving into the Dollywood parking lot before you catch a trolley to the entrance.
omgomgomg. Not pictured: My dumb smiling face.
Was referencing “bust” at a theme park for Dolly Parton, who has one of the most famous bust lines north AND south of the Mason Dixon line, part of the joke or an innocent happenstance? This happened a lot to me here. I couldn’t tell if I should be laughing or not.
As expected, Dolly’s image was everywhere here. It’s so fun. Right beside this theater front is Dolly’s tour bus that you can go into.
The wannabe designer in me had to show you these color combinations. So many pinks and purples! Color crush for real.

You guys. This was the video that played before a really cool live show about rare and majestic birds. This video could very well be a spoof of American values from SNL. I have counted zero people of color in the whole thing and I love that it’s about the freedom of the birds… birds that we could then go gawk at in their tiny cages afterward. The strangest part about the experience of watching this in public was that no else thought it was remotely cheesy enough to clap for our sort of laugh about afterward. That’s when I knew I wasn’t in the Midwest anymore. This was normal viewing down here. It was so surreal. America deserves some new propaganda.

Dolly’s body and hair are Pamela Anderson-esque in their fakeness and potential for body issue/ beauty standards conversations. I usually scoff at this obscene level of beauty manipulation, but on Dolly it’s charming. Girl wears her male gaze so well! Maybe because it seems so clearly to be her decision and joy to look that way and be an object of obsession. She doesn’t come off as desperate. Ever. Maybe that’s because that body type seems kind of old school? It’s a little ridiculous now, categorized as a 10 out of 10 with Doctor’s Help edition. It’s not just part of the show, it’s the show itself. That body is just a branding tool. An identification marker. Which doesn’t make it seem dangerous, either to the most sex-shaming conservative nor the most sexy-shaming progressive. Or maybe it’s not a big deal to me because she’s older. She’s sweet and cute and safe and not one more thing my own body has to live up to. Her shape is so unattainable, it’s OK to not attain it. I don’t know. I haven’t figured this one out yet.
If you go to Dollywood, you would be a fool out $65 if you did not go see the Dolly museum. It’s a veritable shrine to Ms. Parton.
See? Shrine of stuff.
My love for Dolly is about much more than her music or upbeat attitude. It’s personal. I too was born countryside with a strong case of wanderlust. I think anyone born different in a place where survival matters most can identify with her journey.
Dolly’s super quippy. There’s so much wit on her she’s constantly dusting her shoulders off. She’s smart but she uses that Southern humility trick to get you underestimating her at first. Busty waters run deep. But she’s also full of shit sometimes, which I love. Maybe she doesn’t know she’s full of it, but anytime you speak in Pinterest quotes for a living you’re kind of full of it right? Dolly seems mostly genuine though and that’s what makes her so appealing. She’s Christian but loves the gay community that loves her right back. She’s country mouse who can hang with city mouse without seeming like she does’t respect herself. She works her tail off but knows how to have fun too. She talks in bullshit but also with brilliant and comforting insight. She’s special.



It was interesting how masculinity was addressed in such a feminized theme park. One of the roller coaster rides we went on was all about being a volunteer fire fighter and how being a fire fighter was such an honor. No doubt, but it was an odd choice for a roller coaster ride theme… unless you consider that that’s a huge value down here–committing yourself toward your community’s idea of the greater good and being an unquestioned hero for it. Also, it was cool to see giant manly men in Dollywood shirts with butterflies.
It’s fun to get little peeks into the movie industry. The writer in me liked seeing the old scripts for movies she’s been in.
As much as I adored this experience of Dollywood and will go back the next time I’m in the south, it’s so funny to have been to a whole amusement park based on a real person–a person who is still alive no less. I don’t know… do you think that could happen today? Could there be a Kanye park? It just seems so unnecessary and dated now. Because we can just Google all this. And, beyond celebrity, we all have our own mini shrines to ourselves on Facebook or social media now. Fame is not what it used to be, which is part of why this museum is so fascinating. Seeing old TV clips of her performing and photos of her with every celebrity from the sixties, seventies, and eighties seems like such a piece of American history. A type of history that will never happen again. Fame is fractured now and all of us get a tiny piece of it. Before, people like Dolly were how you consumed it. The fourth wall for fame hadn’t been shattered yet. The public looked on, didn’t participate. Dolly was grandfathered into this level of velvet painting stardom. That social underpinning alone makes this amusement park worth seeing.
Bottom line though. Dolly seems cool as fuck. True to herself. Open-minded and kind… That’s all this country girl wants too.