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My End of 2016 Homework

I’ve been doing this end-of-the-year homework assignment, since Jamey Hatley suggested it in 2010, telling me: “I don’t think you realize how much you’ve done this year.” A lot has changed over the years, but still I wrap up each year with this homework, and now I know lots of people who are writing “have done” lists, rather than to-do lists.

Last year, I wrote that my resolution for 2016 was to do more of what I was already doing in 2015. Coincidentally, I think a lot of this year’s “have done” list lines up with last year’s.

1) Cooking at home was once more a priority. While I continued to bake my bread every week, and take it to gatherings, I also made beet humus and a few soups new staples. I spent a lot of mornings using my baking or cooking as a timer for a writing session. Throughout the year, I read The Food Lab, which is essentially a cooking textbook, and talked shop with co-workers who are legit chefs (i.e. they’ve worked in restaurants and been on The Food Network). I hoarded cookbooks from the library (books are a running theme this year, you’ll see), and planned a Mediterranean-themed small plates dinner for a friend, using pretty much every pan and dish I own in the process.

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2) I threw myself into my dream job, working at the library. Last year, it was a revelation to find myself anticipating going to work, rather than dreading it. I’d had so many temporary and seasonal jobs over the course of my career (film gigs, jobs around my school schedule), I wondered if my joy and pleasure with the job could be sustained in a regular full-time job. Plus, the library has always been my happy place. It was a busy, sometimes chaotic year. The branch where I worked closed for renovation and I worked at half of the 14 library branches in New Orleans! I joined a planning committee, organizing programs. The work I’ve done this year has touched on the skills I’ve gained from every other job I’ve ever held. And as my first year anniversary arrived, I was surprised that through all the ups and downs, all the of challenges and extra tasks I took on, I still loved my job. When I got back into my newly-renovated branch, I found myself pleased to go to work everyday, still.

3) I dipped into new and old dance styles. I went to a kizomba house party and a dance meditation session led by a belly dance instructor. I danced a little salsa, went swing dancing with friends, danced to a big band. I learned the National Dance Day choreography from New Orleans Dance Network instructors at the library. As always, I danced around my house.

4) And of course, there’s tango. For the third year, I helped organize the New Orleans Tango Festival, including a milonga on the Creole Queen riverboat (yes, while the boat was cruising). A lot of my jobs have included event organization and I brought so many previous experiences to the logistics for this event! The milonga on the boat, and the whole festival, went very well (check out the link above for the 2016 video).

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5) Finally, I got to San Francisco. I’ve been wanting to visit for a while. Last year, while flying to Portland for ValenTango,  I had layovers in San Francisco, so I got to see the city while landing and taking off there. It was so beautiful that I promised myself I’d go this year. And I did! I went to Nora’s Tango Weekend and had a blast, catching up with friends who come to New Orleans for our festival each year, and making new friends.

6)  Continuing the travel trend, I also went to the 5th Annual Cleveland Tango Bowling Marathon. This trip combined a few things for me. First, one of my oldest friends, Beth, had moved to Columbus for work. She’s gotten to see me dance tango a few times and wanted to learn more. Plus, I have family in Columbus, including one of my grandmothers, whose birthday was after the marathon. So, Beth and I had a fabulous few days in Cleveland: catching up, dancing and meeting new people. Then, we went back up to Columbus and I made dinner for my grandmother for her birthday before returning home. It was pretty much a perfect trip.

7) I got to meet Alexander Chee at the Tennessee Williams Festival, and Daniel Jose Older when he spoke at the library and then on the panel I moderated at the Louisiana Book Festival. I also got to meet R.L. Stine while he was in town for Bouchercon, and Chris Baty when spoke at Words and Music. Was pretty inspired by all these authors and their talks.

8) Speaking of that Louisiana Book Festival panel that I moderated. It was on the topic of anthologies, but was basicaly an unabashed excuse to get Daniel Jose Older, Jamey Hatley, Maurice Carlos Ruffin and Erin Wood together in the same room so I could eavesdrop on their conversation. It was a satisfying success.

9) And speaking of success… I got to witness the success of a lot of my friends this year. I hibernated a lot, but when I did get out of the house, it was usually to go watch a good friend read their work. In the midst of bad or heavy news, hearing about someone winning a prize or publishing a story or a book was something to really get excited about. I know this is my “have done” list, but this year, I do count celebrating the success of so many lovely writers as something I have done. A highlight, really.

10) Because there was a lot of bad news this year. We’ve all been reeling from the deaths of of icons who touched our lives. Nearby, a lot of people suffered in the Baton Rouge floods, including friends. On the personal front, a few friends have been battling cancer, one facing a terminal diagnosis. One of my grandmothers,  who I hadn’t seen since her birthday during 2012’s Grandma Road Trip, passed away this year. Another friend died unexpectedly just before Christmas. So grief has been a big facet of this year.

11) I felt genuine grief leading up to and following the election. But I also found my voice in the midst of that, or began to use my voice, I should say. For example: like many people, I regularly experience street harassment. I usually freeze up – literally going silent and shaking after I’ve quickly removed myself from the situation. But on election day, when I was catcalled, I pushing through the shaking and the instinct to go silent and I responded.

The rush I felt after speaking up for myself lasted for a while, and I hope it will remain to remind me to speak up. In the wake of our election, I’m having conversations as often as possible, trying to both listen and speak. For an entire 11-hour train ride recently, I did this, talking with person after person in the microcosm of the train, being transformed by those conversations and hopefully adding to the transformation of others.

12) I got a bit distracted at times, loving my job and grieving, but I wrote steadily through the year, determined to finish The Novel. For a majority of the year, I had a somewhat regular manuscript exchange with author Amy Conner and this exchange, as well as sessions with other writer friends, really kept me on track.

13) In fact, I won NaNoWriMo (after meeting Chris Baty, how could I not?) this year. This year’s 50K was about 8K new words on The Winter Circus and 42K words from a new perspective character for a zombie novel I started writing a few NaNoWriMos ago.

14) I read a lot this year, more than any other year since I’ve been keeping track. Books were my happy place. Almost half of my reading this year was comic books and graphic novels, which is a first. I read almost as many nonfiction titles as fiction. I read all of Liane Moriarty’s novels and many zombie-themed materials. I read several anthologies, one play, two screenplays and one book of poetry. I actually read more YA novels than adult novels, due to an ongoing conversation with a friend’s teen-aged son. I used to recommend books to him. Now, he tells me what he’s reading and we talk about the books once I’ve read them.

15) I conducted a mini reading project in preparation for one I’m hoping to do next year. I really enjoyed the Re-Reading Project in 2014, and I’ve meant to do another one. While I did re-read four books this year (one novel, one picture book, one graphic novel and one nonfiction writing book), that’s not the project I’m hoping to do next year. I’ll leave that one to be a surprise for now. The mini reading project was the Finishing Project. I had a handful of books that I started reading years ago and never finished. For instance, I read most of Misty Copeland’s Life in Motion (through page 228) while I was at the residency in 2014, but just now finished. I stopped reading Art Spiegelman’s MetaMaus on page 234, back in 2013. I suspect that one was timing, as I moved while I was reading it.  I read about 20 more pages before I decided wasn’t going to finish that one, this year at least. So ultimately, the Finishing Project only prompted me to finish one book, and to wrap up the ones I was currently reading. There are still six books I had hoped to finish, and maybe I will next year. But a weird thing happened while I was concentrating on finishing books – I read 30 books in December. Pretty much one each day.

16) One book I did finish this year was mine, The Novel, The Winter Circus. I buried the lead on that one, sorry. But after a year of hibernating and pushing off a lot of things for “when the book’s done,” my book is finished. There’s still a lot of steps ahead before it’s a published book that you can buy, but I’ve worked very hard to get right here, to The End.

Now I’m going to go celebrate.

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NaNoWriMo 2016

It’s been so long since I updated this blog. Not since the end of 2015, in fact, and here we are again, in the home stretch of 2016. But enough of that.

NaNoWriMo has meant a lot to me since my first time … in either 2007 or 2008. My memory fails me. So, even though I am nearing the end of a major new draft of The Novel that I’m really happy with (finally), I’m also starting a new(ish) NaNoWriMo novel.

Ish because I’m back to my zombie novel, which I always have a lot of fun writing. It’s almost an entirely new story because I’m adding a POV character. When I wrote the story originally in 2012 (…), I had a strong sense of my POV character and her group of friends, but hadn’t conceived yet of a bigger story. Years later, I started thinking about a second POV character and pretty recently a third. I’m working this year on the story of that third character, because it’s the most immediate for me right now.

So I have two projects to work on right now, with two different deadlines. I’m going to use my NaNoWriMo sessions as playtime. Pure creation, which I definitely need to tap in to regularly.

I forgot how satisfying the stats page is for a NaNoWriMo project, so I’m really glad I logged into the site this year to put in my novel info (I don’t always).

Here’s a short summary:

Day 1 – After work, I met up with friends at a coffee shop and wrote the first 591 words of this new POV character.

Day 2 – In two writing sprint sessions with a friend I met at a write-in last year, I wrote a combined total of 2,829 words today. I also read Daniel Jose Older’s Pep Talk, the first of this year. I saw him talk at the library last night, so that that’s some synchronicity in my motivation.

Here we go, Brave New Year….

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The Residency Road Trip Leg One: New Orleans to Atlanta

My last night in New OrLast night in Nola 8.23.14leans, I watched the Saints play the Colts at Pelican Bay with a few members of Peauxdunque. It was a great way to say goodbye (for now).

In the morning, I began the first leg of what I’ve decided to call the Residency Road Trip (like my Grandma Road Trip from a few years ago). I haven’t seen my family for more than 6 months, so I decided to head to Atlanta first and IMG_3548spend a few days.

I set off fairly early after filling up the car with everything I might need for the next month+. I’ve made this drive a few times over the years and usually it’s a headlong rush to get there. This time, I felt a lot more leisurely and some pretty cool things happened along the way.

First, in Mississippi, I made a new friend at a rest stop along the way. In the women’s restroom, of all places. Some of you may know that I’m not the biggest fan of birds (I saw Hitchcock’s The Birds waaay too young, plus relatives have had some as pets over the years). This first picture will give you an idea of how the Mississippi Restroom Incident began:

Just a handy reminder in case you forget where you are. Plus...

Just a handy reminder in case you forget where you are. Plus…

A lady had brought her pet bird into her stall, but he followed me around the bathroom. It was exactly like a scene from Jurassic Park, except an unseen lady inside a bathroom stall was reassuring me the bird wouldn’t peck me. I asked her if I could take a picture and she told me she’d take one of me with the bird.

I was thinking, “Um, no thank you…” and yet, this happened:New friend? 

“I’m glad you’re not afraid of birds,” the lady said. “I actually kinda am,” I told her. But you wouldn’t know it from this picture. Maybe this has cured me of my ornithophobia.

 

 

Later, in Alabama, I stopped for lunch at a place called The SThe Shrimp Baskethrimp Basket. I couldn’t resist the advertised “jambalya bites.” I’m usually pretty skeptical of any Louisiana foods ofjambalaya bitesfered elsewhere, but I was too curious to pass it up. I would’ve thought that if it could be deep fried, we’d have it in New Orleans, yet, I’ve never heard of such a thing. The waitress said she doesn’t eat spicy things, so she couldn’t tell me how they were. I didn’t find them terribly spicy, myself.

After lunch, I stopped in and saw Sis and her two boys, which was really good. I spent a few hours with them before getting back on the road to Atlanta. I’m excited to be here – looks like I’ll get to catch up with some old friends and dance tango while I’m here. I’ll let you know in the next Residency Road Trip post.

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Vigilante Gift Shop – another Banksy/street art post

Last year, I wrote a giant post that mostly discussed street art in general and Banksy in specific. It bounced around a few topics that seemed related to me and was at least loosely connected – street art, Banksy, my volleyball teammates, my time in St. Petersburg, Russia with SLS. Before I wrote that post, I was lucky if I got 20-30 hits a day on this blog, but since then, I’ve seen a leap in traffic and searches like “banksy,” “banksy pictures,” and “robin banksy.” Most of the searches are pretty standard, though there was a few of “бАНКСЫ" searches and I did see an odd one recently – “gross vandalism art.”  Kinda intriguing.

Earlier this year, I revisited the idea of street art, particularly one of the images I’d included in that first post and the story of a friend of mine’s mural.

I’ve been meaning to write a true follow-up to the first street art post, because I stumbled on a lot of new information (and street art) since then. Where do I start?

Let’s start with New Orleans. In my first post, I linked to articles about Banksy’s visit to New Orleans and showed pictures of some of the work he did here. He mocked the “Gray Ghost,” who is a guy named Fred Radtke who paints over graffiti and street art. I’ve since found this piece that asks if there might be more than one “Gray Ghost,” if the Ghost has his own ghost. It raises the question of what distinguishes art from crime:

“Has its original intention been blotted out by Radtke’s approach, which some consider overzealous and unchecked that makes no distinctions between art and vandalism, or is he being unfairly criticized for what most would agree is a dirty job?”

Around the same time I first read this Gambit article, I found the website and trailer for Vigilante Vigilante, a film that looks at three men, including the Gray Ghost of New Orleans, who have made it their mission to “buff out” street art. Watch the trailer, it looks pretty amazing:

And of course, I found out about the documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop, about Banksy taking over the documentary a guy was trying to make about him. I’ve been waiting eagerly to see it. When our most arty theater, Canal Theaters, was under construction, I thought there was no way I’d get to see it on the big screen. Then, oddly enough, a friend discovered it was playing at the recently renovated and re-opened Chalmette Theaters. This theater, like most everything else in Chalmette, was destroyed during Katrina. And it wasn’t easy to figure out where this theater is or what the showtimes were, let me tell you. My friend and I and a co-worker all had to investigate and then, of course, I had to drive out in a rainstorm to Chalmette, not really knowing my way. Anyway, I’d do it all again because it was an awesome experience. It should be said that the Chalmette Theaters is open, but only just. When I first walked in, I obviously walked in the side that’s not yet renovated and open for business. It was a big empty shell. When I found my way out and inside the open side of the theater, everything was glitzy and great, still smelling of fresh paint. It was, for that surreal reason alone, probably the best possible place I could’ve seen Exit Through the Gift Shop.

I shared the theater with one other patron, a completely unexpected middle-aged white guy, which just goes to show my own expectations and prejudices. We said hi as took my seat a few minutes before showtime, but didn’t speak again through the movie. I loved that the opening included a shot of the giant “YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL” on the back of an abandoned building near NOCCA, on the river. Check out one of my pictures, below:

Abandoned building on the river, near NOCCA

The movie was absorbing and really smart. I only wished it had something about Banky’s visit to New Orleans. Anyway, I don’t want to give too much away by detailing everything that happens, but if you’re a geek for street art like me, it’ll be your thing. When it was over, my mind was reeling. Me and the unexpected middle-aged white guy walked out together and had a tiny conversation about what we thought of the film and I left feeling freaked out, amused and very excited about street art, about New Orleans (and Chalmette) and re-inspired by Banksy all over again.

You know, some people grumble that he’s sold out, is selling out, or has always been a sellout since it’s likely he’s an upper middle class British guy. And I wonder, sometimes. Especially when I read something like this short Artnet piece:

BANKSY DOES $200K BAND BACKDROP
Everyone’s talking about the Banksy-directed film, Exit through the Gift Shop, which showed at the Sundance Film Festival and tracks the antics of street artist Mr. Brainwash. Also getting some press: the London band named Exit through the Gift Shop, which has understandably benefited from some free publicity. The similarity in names was apparently a coincidence, with the band having been founded a few years ago out of the “midlife crisis” of band member, 41-year-old web developer Simon Duncan.

Call it a happy coincidence though. According to the Guardian, Duncan’s band started receiving “hilarious emails from someone saying he was Banksy,” asking for them to change their name. Soon, in return for changing his band’s name to Brace Yourself, a white van delivered to Duncan a giant new Banksy painting — “the size of a double bed” — depicting a grim reaper driving a bumper car, with the words “Brace Yourself” written on the front.

A Sotheby’s appraiser estimated that the work is worth a cool $200,000, and has taken the original into storage. Brace Yourself plans to play in front of a full-sized replica of the Banksy at a gig this week.

That’s kinda a big corporation move, to demand that somebody change their name because it closely resembles that name of your project. Yet, I guess Banksy wasn’t exactly demanding, he was asking, as the piece says. And, not only did he gift them with a $200,000 piece of art, he linked his name to their band and provided media exposure. I, for one, wouldn’t know anything about this band if not for a having read this write-up.

So, knowing I was going to do a follow-up, I did a couple of searches to see what’s going on currently. As always, I found some really cool stuff to read and look at. Like the Tumblr page that’s constantly being updated with pictures people have tagged. And the photos from Banksy’s tour of New York. And this piece about a “graffiti war” between Banksy and Team Robbo, who are going behind Banksy and altering his pieces. Kinda like Jenn’s mural being tagged by someone else, like I mentioned in my “Reconsidered” post. And this YouTube video, which is interesting in and of itself, because it might as well be a guided tour of a museum, except the curator is a kid explaining a “graff war”:

Which kinda brings me back full circle again. In my first post, I tried to find something to indicate whether or not Banksy had been to Russia, especially St. Petersburg, where I found a lot of amazing street art. Well, I found this great image from Russia, probably St. Petersburg, actually.

And then this great article on the English Russia site about the “Ukranian Banksy.” Some really great stuff, here. My favorite may be this one:

The "Ukranian Banksy"

And I think this is the best bit. It’d old news, but I hadn’t heard of it. The Cans Festival of public street art where spectators were encouraged to bring spray cans and wear clothes they didn’t mind getting dirty. I think every city should do this regularly. Would be really cool. Here’s my favorite of the pieces featured in the article:

Anyway, so that’s a lot of photographs and videos, just like the first post. I kinda get lost down the rabbit hole once I start talking about this stuff. I’ll leave you with my new favorite Banksy:

my new favorite Banksy

And some street art/graffiti images I’ve seen around New Orleans lately.

On the same building as "YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL"

Exemplifies our attitude in New Orleans, I think.

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Emilie 2009 Best List

This best list has been haunting me and scaring me for a while. There was sooo much going on in 2009 and I’m so eager for 2010 that it actually went against the grain to reflect about everything and somehow select my hits list.

Books were relatively easy. I read fewer this year (112) and the ones I did read were pretty astounding. The ones that I liked the best actually jumped out at me pretty quickly. Here’s a list of my 15 favorites in roughly the order I read them in 2009:

1. Lock and Key Sarah Dessen
2. Olive Kitteridge Elizabeth Strout
3. The Hunger Games/Catching Fire Suzanne Collins (can’t WAIT for the last book to release this August)
4. Cures for Heartbreak Margo Rabb
5. The Song Is You Arthur Phillips
6. Beat the Reaper Josh Bazell
7. Poor Man’s Provence Rheta Grimsley Johnson
8. Darling Jim Christian Moerk
9. What I Saw and How I Lied Judy Blundell
10. Dust and Shadow Lindsay Faye
11. The Beekeeper’s Son Stephanie Nash (manuscript, not available yet)
12. More of This World or Maybe Another Barb Johnson
13. The Girl She Used to Be David Cristofano
14. Something Missing Matthew Dicks
15. The Weight of Silence Heather Gudenkauf

I don’t normally go for short stories, yet I had two collections on my list this year. I don’t usually read a lot of mysteries, yet there are a few on my list – which does go to show that a lot of the books I read this year were recommendations and/or books I read in order to write them up. My notables would be Louis Maistros’s The Sound of Building Coffins, Toni McGee Causey’s When A Man Loves a Weapon and Clarence Nero’s Too Much of a Good Thing Ain’t Bad.

Again, I didn’t see as many movies in the theater this year, but I did manage to see quite a few. Not even as many as last year, however, some do stand out in my mind:

1. The Fall (oh, Lee Pace)
2. The Lucky Ones
3. Hurricane on the Bayou
4. Coraline
5. Fanboys
6. Phoebe in Wonderland
7. Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (best rom-com tie with…)
8. Star Trek
9. The Proposal (best rom-com, tied with Ghosts of Girlfriends Past)
10. Sunshine Cleaning
11. The Brothers Bloom
12. New Moon (okay, I just have to say it, I enjoyed it enough to see it twice)
13. Avatar
14. (500) Days of Summer
15. Couldn’t decide between Fame and Slumdog Millionaire because I liked both and had problems with both. Oh, I know! Dil Bol Hadippa!

Notables: Both Inkheart and City of Ember made me like the books they were based on better, which is a little backwards, I know.

TV was strange for me this year. I watched hardly any show when I was “supposed to,” and instead had catch up days (usually Sundays). And then, I also caught up on several t.v. shows all in big gulps via Netflix, including all 5 seasons of Lost in one single month.
1. How I Met Your Mother
2. Bones
3. Castle
4. So You Think You Can Dance (two seasons this year!)
5. Fringe
6. Dollhouse (so sad this has been cancelled)
7. Accidentally on Purpose
8. Survivor
9. Vampire Diaries (I read the books growing up and was soo worried, but this is actually a good show)
10. In Plain Sight

My super notables: Lost, The Tudors, and 30 Rock.

I went a little crazy with music this year. Even more so than last year. So much so that this is an impossible list. I limited myself to music I’d either added to my collection this year or had a new, special significance for me this year. Still, I could edit it a million times and never get it entirely right. But here’s some rightness:

1. How Do You Do Mouth and MacNeil
2. Let the Drummer Kick Citizen Cope
3. Ex-Girlfriend Syndrome Charlotte Sometimes
4. The Beast Angus & Julia Stone
5. Heartless Kanye West
6. Cold Cold Water Mirah
7. No Envy No Fear Joshua Radin
8. No You Girls Never Know Franz Ferdinand
9. Lemon Grove Avenue Mason Jennings
10. Coin Operated Boy The Dresden Dolls
11. Lady, Your Roof Brings Me Down Scott Weiland
12. Why D’ya Do It Marianne Faithfull (mostly cause I *really* heard the lyrics for the first time in my life)
13. Today Zero 7
14. Jungle Drum Emiliana Torrini
15. The Scientist Natasha Bedingfeld
16. I Told You So Carrie Underwood (and the version with Randy Travis)
17. If I Didn’t Care For You Amy Adams and Lee Pace (Mrs. Pettigrew Lives for a Day)
18. Jezebel Two Hours Traffic
19. Ain’t No Sunshine Kris Allen (Heartless and Falling Slowly)
20. Set Fire to the Third Bar Snow Patrol ft. Martha Wainwright
21. Blood Mother Fucking Asshole Martha Wainwright
22. Bang Bang My Baby Shot Me Down Isobel Campbell
23. Fuck Was I Jenny Owen Youngs
24. Everybody Knows Elizabeth & the Catapult
25. Marked Man Mieka Pauley
26. Bed Is for Sleeping Bonnie Prince Billy
27. Feeling Good My Brightest Diamond and Adam Lambert (two versions)
28. Falling in Love Again Christina Aguilera and Marlene Dietrich (two versions)
29. Bad Things Jace Everett
30. Bitter Heart Zee Avi
31. Cold Cold Ground Tom Waits
32. Black and Gold Sam Sparro and Katy Perry (two versions)
33. Gnossiennes No. 1 Erick Satie
34. Maybe Next Year Meiko
35. How My Heart Behaves Feist

Albums – the year of the mix. I bought only a handful of c.d.s this year and when I did, they were almost always from the artist themselves. Here are a few I loved:

1. Early cut of the Dare soundtrack. – Just FYI, you won’t find this anywhere. My friend Dave is the music supervisor and let me keep an early cut he was working on when he visited me. Only about 4 songs remained when he finished the final version. But, it turns out that this early cut is an almost perfect soundtrack for the New Orleans-Baton Rouge trip I make regularly.
2. Fuel/Friends’ Twenty from Year Three Mix November 29, 2008 – Excellent music. Great for the Nola-Atl roadtrip, when I’m finishing up the desolate Mobile-Montgomery run and need a wake up.
3. The Devil Makes Three‘s Do Wrong Right – Got hooked in a friend’s car and went to two great DMT shows this year.
4. Elizabeth & the Catapult‘s Taller Children
5. Two-way tie: Wazozo’s Newton Circus and Hurray for the Riff Raff’s It Don’t Mean I Don’t Love You (both local). Hurray for the Riff Raff has a Daytrotter Session you should check out.

This year’s favorite performers (trying not to repeat artists from last year, who are unquestionably perennial in my book):

1. Angus & Julia Stone
2. Andrew Bird
3. Antony & the Johnsons
4. Bat for Lashes
5. Bonnie Prince Billy
6. The Devil Makes Three
7. Elizabeth & the Catapult
8. Emmy the Great
9. Florence and the Machine
10. Hem
11. Hurray for the Riff Raff
12. Madeline Peyroux
13. Margot & the Nuclear So-and-So’s
14. Neko Case
15. The Noisettes
16. Over the Rhine
17. Paper Moon
18. Sleeply Rebels
19. St. Vincent
20. Stars
21. Tilly and the Wall
22. Vitamin String Quartet

I should add that I had to rebuild everything on my computer around November of this year, when all was wiped from my hard drive (probably the fault of my copious amounts of music), so this year’s lists are even more special because they represent what I remember best, with very little confirmation. I’ll keep track better of the things I love in the coming year.

Hands down, the post that got the most attention here on the blog in 2009 was my write up of Banksy graffiti and street art in general. My daily hits have increased about 75% and remained steady since I wrote that post. Thanks for all the reads, everyone all over the world. My resolution is to find a good balance in 2010 in the number and quality of posts (2008 had more each month, 2009 probably had more interesting and focused posts). I hope you’ll resolve to comment more so we can have a conversation here on the blog!

Happy 2010!

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Guest blog

My friend Nick is so low-tech, but really funny and brilliant, so I kinda forgive him for it. He sends out an email newsletter to his friends and family all about his travels and adventures, which I’ve quoted from before. Well, it’s really hard to show how funny his newsletters are just quoting a little passage, so I asked Nick if I could just post the entirety of the latest one and call it a guest blog. That way, you get to know him a bit better and he has an excuse to read my blog. Ha! I’ll include one of the pics he sent, as well. My Fess Up Friday post will go up later.

If you’re in New Orleans, check out Nick’s poetry slam this Sunday at 8 p.m., at Dragon’s Den. It’s the Dead Poets Slam this week, so everybody should bring the work of their favorite dead poet, instead of their own. Show up at 7:30 to sign up if you want to read.

Here is the newsletter, with no further ado:

Hello everyone.

I’m playing hooky today. Was going to work a double shift with the mules, but decided to skip the first part of the double and write to all y’all instead. This was the best plan I could think of.

Well here we are at the end of the high tourist season in New Orleans. Jazz Fest wrapped last week, and the tourists who came down for the two-week shindig have gone their way back to their homes. In the next couple weeks, many others will follow them out. Everyone from wealthy snowbirds on their way back to New York and Chicago, to street kids who will hop the freight trains to the Pacific Northwest. Everyone is going to leave before the heat drops down on this city like a wet blanket and makes breathing feel like swimming.

I’m going to be doing some traveling myself next month (more on that in a moment), but for the most part I’ll be sticking around. Growing up in Florida, the thing I loved about the summer was that everybody left and we had the place to ourselves. I like that feeling. I’m looking forward to a summer in my new home, enjoying the peace and tranquility, even if I have to take three cold showers a day to keep my blood from boiling.

SATAN: The heat is conducive to a greater amount of sin.

Satan, do you actually need heat to generate sin in this town?

SATAN: …I see your point.

DICK CHENEY: The amount of sin in this city creates a haven that makes America less safe. I suggest—

Dammit, Dick Cheney! What the hell are you doing here?

SATAN: He’s my nephew.

Oh…

That explains…so much.

It’s a beautiful time in New Orleans right now. The light is soft in the evenings, the days aren’t too terribly hot yet, and everyone is in a kind of slow coma following Jazz Fest. Bartenders and musicians and everyone else who hasn’t stopped working for the last few weeks get a chance to breathe now. The city feels like it’s catching its wind. Even the River looks like it’s on its back as it continues downstream.

But I think I’m seeing a lot more beauty these days, and that has a lot to do with where I am right now internally. I finally started writing again. I wrote about five poems last month (first drafts, anyway), and am moving forward, very slowly, with the novel.

ERNEST HEMINGWAY: I wrote five books last month.

I also started working out, which is also helping me find my center.

ERNEST HEMINGWAY: I shot and field dressed a Cape Buffalo.

Ernie, this is not a competition.

ERNEST HEMINGWAY: I’ll wrestle you.

Wrestle Dick Cheney.

ERNEST HEMINGWAY: Done.

DICK CHENEY: Ow! OW! Get your terrorist beard off of me!

I’ve been having a really good run of late. The writing is coming along and the work is still highly enjoyable. I’ve been playing the guitar for almost a year now and am having fun with it, and twice a month I run a poetry slam here. This Sunday will be Dead Poetry Night.

JERRY GARCIA: Groovy!

By which I mean, you can only read the work of dead poets.

JERRY GARCIA: Oh. I was thinking of something else.

The last month has been a blur. I’ll try to cover everything as best I can. But I’m in a good place, and the last stretch of time has been very good to me. Here are some highlights…

MUSIC, MUSIC EVERYWHERE:

French Quarter Fest went down in mid-April and Jazz Fest took us into May. I actually prefer French Quarter Fest, because it’s in the middle of the Quarter, it’s less crowded, and it’s free. All local acts, too. There’s something to be said for being able to walk through a massive music festival on my way to work.

This town is an embarrassment of riches for a music lover. On any given night, you can hear music that sets your head on fire. I can tell you about standing on the stairs at the Saturn Bar, with Debauche ripping through a set of Russian hooligan songs (see photo), the crowd in the small room stamping their feet in time, and the guitarist being so buried in his song he doesn’t even notice he cut his finger and is spraying blood all over his guitar. At the end of the song, he tapes his finger up and keeps playing until the Zydepunks come on and launch into a punk rock version of a Mexican wedding song and the whole room bounces like it’s on springs.

And I can tell you about going out on a Friday night and seeing three bands that blow my mind, one after the other, from the Jazz Vipers on Frenchman Street to Zazou City and their gypsy jazz/tango fusion at Mimi’s, to local blues legend Little Freddie King, swinging a whole crowd of sweat soaked dancers in a funky little bar called BJ’s Lounge, five doors down from my house.

And I can tell you that there’s no way to stop any of this. The Spotted Cat, my favorite live music venue in the city, closed its doors last week. It will reopen shortly as Jimbeaux’s, though no one knows exactly what to expect. The club closed with a big second line parade to send it off; a jazz funeral for The Cat, with the Treme Brass Band leading us around Frenchman Street while the crowd sang “I’ll Fly Away” at full volume and the grand marshal waved the umbrella and Uncle Lionel pounded the bass drum and danced with a woman in a red dress at the same time, and you just knew that when the place reopened, it was going to be okay. The music was always going to have somewhere to go.

VISITORS:

There have been plenty of tourists here lately, and since I make my living on that, I’ve been more than happy with it. They come down, and maybe they don’t tip too much because the economy has them on their heels, but they do take the rides, and they do feed the mule carrots, and I get to spend my day at work outside, far from a computer screen or office lights.

I had a realization recently that all of my favorite jobs have had one thing in common: I was working outdoors. I’ll need to remember that.

I’ve had other visitors, too. People who give me an excuse to show off the city some more, and even to see things I haven’t seen since I moved here. My friends Joel and Beth came down from Chicago and treated me to a tour of the Honey Island Swamp.

There’s something about having people visit. They become these little time capsules. When I haven’t seen someone for a while, I immediately go back to where I was the last time I saw them and observe the distance between then and now. A few weeks ago, my old friend Suzy visited me from Austin. I’ve known her almost eight years. The last time I saw her was August of 2006. It’s staggering to look at what’s gone down between then and now, and yet, there we are, having dinner and still close, and it occurs to me that each friend I have is a bridge, something that holds another part of me together, that keeps me from shaking loose who I’ve been, and reminds me that, whatever I may not like about who I was at the time I met them, I was good enough to find a way to bring this person into my world.

I think these are the things that hold us all together. They do for me, anyway.

PRESS STREET:

I want to share a moment from the last month with you. Press Street is the street that separates the Bywater and Marigny neighborhoods. It has railroad tracks running along it, and when a train goes by, it can make me late for work, or make me wait to go home. That’s part of the deal. But for some reason, I find Press Street impossibly beautiful. It is more beautiful than it has any right to be. Train tracks. Vacant lots. Warehouses, empty and otherwise. But I love how it’s this big empty expanse in the middle of a city, this strange little no man’s land where you can stand in the middle of nothing and talk to someone you’ve run into while the train makes you wait to go home.

Here’s the moment. I’m coming home around sunset, and I get to Press Street and the ice cream van goes by. I buy an ice cream and sit and eat it under a tree by the railroad tracks in this big empty space, with the river and the Huey Long Bridge in the distance to my right, while the soft light plays with the church ahead of me on Dauphine Street.

I have moments here, almost every day, where I’m so happy I can hardly believe it. That’s one of many.

TRAVELS:

I’ll be hitting the road for about a month starting at the end of May. I’m headed down to Florida to pick up my grandparents’ car, which I will drive up to Ohio for them, stopping to visit some friends in North Carolina, then spend a few days in Dayton. From there, it’s up to Detroit, then out to Boston, around Maine and Vermont, and over to Cape Cod for a few days of relaxing at my friend Lili’s family home on the far edge of the country. From there, drop down into New York and New Jersey to see friends and family before flying to Chicago to catch up with everyone in my old home. Finally, I’ll take a train called The City of New Orleans back to my new home.

If you are in any of these places I’m going, I’d love to see you.

For now, I’ve got a couple more weeks of working, writing, and enjoying my city. And it does feel like my city now. I recently figured out that I’ve moved somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty-five times in my life, but this is the first time I’ve lived anywhere and not thought at all about where else I’d like to be. This is Home. I expect to be here for quite some time.

I think that’s a good note to close on. I’ll send all of you some dispatches from the road. Maybe traveling will light a fire under me to make these updates a little more frequent.

Until then, I hope you are all doing as well as I am, and I look forward to crossing paths soon. Thank you for being part of what holds me all together.

All the good songs,

Nick

Debauche

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Fess Up Friday (the short hair edition)

That’s right, I have chopped off my hair for Locks of Love, the official summer hair cut. When I get a pic I like, I’ll maybe switch it out so everybody can see. I’ve gotten “Amelie,” “retro,” and “babydoll” as comments, if that gives you any idea.

Wasn’t sick at all this week, but I did somehow lock myself out of my bedroom while I was in my pajamas. Thank goodness for those painters and their paint knife after my letter opener broke.

So, I’m doing better with cutting down on my t.v., though I did watch AI and I have to say that, all respect to Danny Gokey, but the voters got it right with Adam and Kris. And Kris! He totally showed Adam up, which I didn’t think was possible. I had just been saying that though I love both “Heartless” and “Blame It on the Alcohol,” both songs were pretty silly performed live on AI. A lot of posturing and rough negotiating with all of the synths or whatever. And as if he heard me, Kris performed an acoustic “Heartless.” Whoa! Freaking whoa! And not only was it just a freaking great arrangement, it also demonstrated how amazing the lyrics are (that was clear in the original, but with a stripped-down version, they just jumped out at you). So even though I was unfortunately wrong with the top 3, I was spot on about the top 2. And you know what? Kris could win this, he really could. And Adam’s gonna have an amazing career no matter what, so it’s all gravy.

But you know what I’ve been overdosing on this week? Reading! I read 3 young adult books in like 2 days. The last, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, I read pretty much straight through last night/this morning. Thought I’d read a chapter as I was trying to fall asleep and got so consumed with the story, just had to know what happened, that I read until I finished at 5:31 this morning. And of course, it’s the first in the series and of course the next isn’t coming out till September. Oh, how will I ever wait to find out what happens next? Somebody send me an ARC! So even though my site says I’m reading, The Song Is You and that is true, I’m usually reading like five or six things at once. But The Hunger Games. Seriously, read this book. It is inventive and brutal and gorgeous, about a future society in North America that sends 24 “tributes” from its 12 districts to fight until only one survives. I love how some of the best characters in these brutal future-society books (think John Marsden’s Tomorrow series) are kick ass girls like Ripley and Barbara.

The socializing – I’m still doing quite a bit of that. Drove up to Baton Rouge for an “Electric Ladies” lunch celebrating David Madden (see pic) and went to Bud’s Broiler for the first time and the Insectarium. Overall, however, I’m doing pretty good at saying no to invitations (sorry!!!! I promise I’ll be less of a hermit soon!!!).

But that’s enough about how I’m failing to use my time wisely. Let me update you on all the progress I’ve made.

New words:

5.10 = 1,547 (3 scenes)
5.11 = 3,179 (2 scenes)
5.12 = 613 (1 scene)
5.13 = 558 (1/2 scene)
5.14 = 599 (2nd 1/2 scene)

But it’s not all about new words. I actually generated a significant amount of new words and scenes since last October, in preparation for filling out the parts that needed more. I have one complete draft and lots of loose material to work with. So the greatest part of the work I’ve been doing has been splicing the new work and the old material together, or editing. So, how’s this for linear thinking – I made an enormous jump and I have about 180 pages “done.” I’ll continue with my splicing and hope to have a few days or a full week at the end to do one more pass to make everything connect and work the way I’d like it to. Makes the book sound like a machine, doesn’t it?

During all the test runs I’ve taken it on, the book is performing well. Just like a top-end sports car, purring and growling enthusiastically, just revving up to show off what it can do. A friend recently asked me how the writing was going and for the first time in a long time, I didn’t sigh and shake my head and offer a lot of excuses. I grinned and chirped, “Great!” And meant it. That feels so good.

Toni sponsored a book-giveaway on my blog. Someday I’ll be more democratic with my book-giveaways, but this time instead of making y’all work for it, I gave the books to people I knew would love them. So the copy of Allison Brennan‘s Sudden Death went to Pam Gauxtreaux and the copies of Toni’s first two books (they’re gonna be re-released this summer under new titles) went to Kristin Sanders.

So, to conclude, a few items that grabbed my attention this week:

This is a GREAT idea (Amazon to reprint books).

This makes me incredibly sad (Coconut Beach).

And this is fascinating (Dan Baum, New Yorker, a story told on Twitter).

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Fess Up Friday (First)

So I decided I just couldn’t NOT post at all this month. I’m going through blog withdrawal and that’s a bad thing for me to focus on instead of the book. Therefore, I will do a Fess Up Friday edition through the month and let you know where I’m at with the book and with my promise to give things up in order to focus.

I’ve been doing very badly with the less t.v. and socializing, first off. As you will see below when I post pics from Bustout Burlesque last night (I’m updating on Saturday, though this post will be dated Friday). And I watched the season finale of Dollhouse, am completely wrapped up in that (Mr. Whedon, I understand everything and I’m STILL confused. Can’t wait for that DVD with the “Epitaph One” episode). Though, it will probably help that most shows are going to be on hiatus soon. And willpower, there is always that…

So for the first two days of the month, my intense period of work, I was insanely sick. A stomach virus or food poisoning, that was never officially determined. So, I didn’t get much writing done and that was pretty disappointing cause I’d been all geared up to attack. It lingered, even after I felt much better, for quite a few days.

However, I’m doing very well with the book. Have been writing the new scenes I needed, getting a handle on the new edits and I made a major breakthrough with a specific major character who’s been bugging me for a few years.

Also, I came up with a great answer for the, “So how close to finished are you?” question. Wanna hear it? Okay. Ahem. Ahem. “The writing process is not a linear one, so it’s difficult to say how close to the end I am.” I’m working every day and I still feel like I’m closer to done than I allow myself to believe on a day-to-day level. We’ll see what my answer is next Friday, if it will be a more linear-minded one.

And now your pictures. Bustout Burlesque is a regular show that will next be at House of Blues July 10th (though I didn’t see it on the calendar yet when I just looked). I definitely recommend going, it’s good old fashioned vaudeville. And yes, nudity. But also jokes and magic. And no matter your take on girls getting nekkid, it’s really hard not to appreciate their personalities and athleticism. I was lucky enough to sit practically on the stage at a reserved table and can I just say (i.e. rub it in) that backstage at House of Blues is pretty fun and interesting. So you see why I gave up working for the night to go. Forgiven? I forgive myself.

I’m pictured with Foxy Flambeaux and Praline DuPree in one picture, then with Athena.

Somehow, I missed my photo op with Kitty Twist, who also performed last night.

Last is the featured performer, Sugar from last season’s Survivor with Foxy and Praline. Enjoy.

Now, back to work.

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A catch up

If you follow me elsewhere (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, or even [gasp] real life), you might’ve heard my plea recently for you to enforce a May 1st deadline for my book. Like the heroes that you are, you responded with threats, promises, treats, condolences, coffee and chocolate.

I never intended to be done May 1st. Instead, I was practicing with a deadline. The first draft of the book got finished when I cut off almost all human contact, locked myself in my house for 10 days subsisting almost entirely on Rockstar Energy Drink (I’m plugging it in the hopes that they’ll send me a free supply for my new deadline) and vegetables suggested by Steph. I had to finish that book, there was simply no other option. A lot of crap resulted, but a lot of sleep-deprived genius also happened. Okay, some sleep-deprived genius, a respectable percentage when you consider the vast amounts of crap.

I’m a lot closer to finishing this book than I allow myself to believe on a day-to-day basis and around the new year, I set myself a deadline of June 1st. So this is my for realz deadline and I hope you won’t feel punk’d, I really did need your help for the dress rehearsal. And I continue to need your threats, promises, treats, condolences, coffee and chocolate. Not to mention Rock Star and veggies.

In return, I pledge to:

-spend less time playing with music
-watch less t.v.
-refuse most of your offers of recreational activities
-take on the least amount of freelance work I can
-ignore this blog and all of you as much as possible.

But only for one month.

With any luck, there will be only one blog post for all of May and it will happen somewhere around the 30th and will say something along the lines of: We won! The book’s done!

And then I will sleep and spend time returning your calls and begin the process of sending the book to its new interim caretaker.

So, for perhaps the last time for a little while, here’s some stuff I’ve noticed recently:

Seth Grahame-Smith is inventive, crazy cool and now rich.

I’ve been saying for years that we needed this.

Stephenie Meyer rocks – sold 16% of all books last quarter and reminded us all what a writer with a fan base is capable of. In case we forget, I’m sure there’ll be another reminder from her soon. Perhaps a spin off featuring J. and R. (aka N.)???

Just to prove I read other things besides MediaBistro, passenger lands plane.

This is a bad idea, but makes a great point about the length of AI.

Wonder if you can get carpal tunnel of the thumbs from texting. Or heart attacks from the bills.

Angelina will star in movie(s) based on Patricia Cornwell’s series.

Ron Howard defends Angels&Demons. Hasn’t the Church figured out they’re the only reason anybody cares about this movie at this point? Audrey Tautou gone? Me too. Though at least it looks like the mullet’s also gone.

I have two desks, too. Have for years. It’s a good idea. If you count Cheers, I have more like three.

Note to self: Don’t marry another writer. Or at least make sure you can communicate very, very well before you do.

The Soloist. I dug the long music/color sequence. Admired the chutzpah of Joe Wright. Had other issues, but not that particular one.

‘Bout to be kicked outta Cheers, gotta run. Cheers.

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Gotta talk about it…

Okay, so they need to rename American Idol “The Adam Lambert Show with Friends.” That’s incredibly rude to say, especially considering that the other four contestants are hugely talented. But it is true. Kris blew me out of the water with “Ain’t No Sunshine,” and Allison Iraheta is solid every week, doing her thing. But who can top Adam’s showstoppers?

If anyone else wins, it will be primarily because they’ve had to raise their game so much to match Adam and surprised everyone.

I mean, take a look at this latest, “Feeling Good.” Simon nailed it when he said that complaining that Adam is too theatrical is like “complaining that the cow moos.” That’s exactly what Adam is, theatrical and not afraid of it. He plays with whatever material he chooses to tackle, collaborates with the house musicians, packages himself and the performance in an always-memorable way. You have only to see his entrance on those stairs to feel like (and I’m borrowing a Paula-ism, but it’s true) you’re watching an Adam Lambert concert (event) rather than a talent show. I mean, was that a white satin suit he wore tonight? He was the exact opposite of Ryan as he stood next to him. Not many men can make eyeliner, falsetto and impeccable fashion sense as masculine and sexy as he can. I guess it’s the swagger.

Speaking of that falsetto, I must say that it is incredibly hard to hit the note Adam hit at the end, hold it as long as he did and then maintain that level of control when you’re coming down quietly. You don’t have to know anything about music to know that, but I know just enough to say confidently that it’s hard and not everyone would be capable of it. When the hell did he breathe?

I suspect the final three is going to come down to Adam, Kris and Allison. Although I enjoyed Matt Giraud tonight, I think he’ll be the next to go. Then Danny Gokey next week. He did well tonight, even with Jamie Foxx right in front of his face, but he’s a bit bland for me. I’ve heard folks predict that it’ll come down to Adam and Danny and that may happen. But my money’s on Adam and Kris at the end. Unless people assume Adam’s gold and don’t vote – the judges’ save is gone now, so he’d be toast. I highly doubt that’ll be the way of it.

Let us see. Only Adam (and Kris’s “Aint’ No Sushine”) could’ve made me watch again after Alexis and Megan left.

[4.28: This is ridiculous, but I was curious. The high note lasts at least 8 seconds with the controlled notes coming down lasting another good three or four before he can even think of breathing and surprisingly, the breath isn’t a loud heaving one. So hard.

I compared the different versions of “Feeling Good” I personally have after listening to Adam’s like 5 times straight through today. Recently heard an awesome cover from the Dark Was the Night charity album by My Brightest Diamond which owes a lot to Nina Simone’s version. While Adam’s version is not original – those edgy opening notes gave away his debt to Muse – he cut their 3:20 cover down to a 1:59 version that didn’t suffer for it. AND, that high note? His own, entirely. Muse’s is quieter and less showy. Gorgeous, of course, but not anything as oh-my-f’ing-gawd-how-did-he-do-that as Adam’s.]

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