Tuesday, December 21, 2010

10 Best of '10 Part One: Albums

One of my absolute favorite parts of the winter holiday season is reading "best of the year" lists in newspapers and magazines. But as much as I love being reminded of all the great stuff pop culture brought us over the past year, the lists can also depress me a bit, because I realize how much I've inevitably missed from the past year. If you're not a professional critic getting paid to do so, it's damn near impossible to catch every great album or movie, and so I present my list asking people to keep that in mind, and also to remember that I'm positive I've forgotten something amazing that I saw or heard in January or February. So here it is, the list of my favorite 5 albums that I remember from 2010. (Movies to come soon.)

Albums:

5. Halcyon Digest, Deerhunter
I had a cold the first time I listened to this album, but I think that's only one of the reasons I associate it with Nyquil. The music is so deliciously mellow and trippy that it's easy to miss the nostalgic lyrics. Halcyon Digest feels like a journey from the top of fluffy, idealistic clouds to the depths of a syrupy ocean, but it never wears you out.

4. Volume Two, She & Him
While we're on the topic of mellow music, how could I not mention She & Him? Zooey Deschanel's bittersweet voice on tracks like "Thieves" ("And I know/ And you know too/ That a love like ours/ is terrible news/ But that won't stop me crying over you") is enough to sell me on anything the duo puts out, and M. Ward's instrumentals and singing on songs like "Riding in My Car" make Volume Two a successful paradox: an album about heartbreak that can put me in a cheerful mood.

3. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye West
I've always liked Kanye's music, but after hearing his new album, I love it. Every song on the album is shape-shifting-- especially tracks like "Monster", "Power", and "Hell of a Life", which are both self-aggrandizing and self-critical. The huge sound on the album works because the themes Kanye addresses are mostly personal and very real. The album has the best of both worlds: it's a big, exciting production on the outset, but it's clear listening to songs like "Runaway" that Kanye really stripped himself down to make his best work yet.

2. Interpreting the Masters, Volume One: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates, The Bird and The Bee
I'm a total sucker for covers. Sure, there are a lot of crappy ones out there, but when it's done right, hearing a new take on old classics can be even more exciting than listening to a brand new song, because the new artist is changing the way you think about the old song. (Some covers that did that for me, just for fun: "Happiness is a Warm Gun" by The Breeders, "I Can Hear Music" by She & Him, "Just Like Heaven" by The Watson Twins, "Fell in Love With a Boy" by Joss Stone, etc.) The Bird and The Bee gave Hall and Oates' greatest hits a face lift, putting more depth and jazz into the instrumentals and adding crisp, flawless female vocals. Whether you're Hall and Oates' biggest fan or have never heard of them, it's a great album on its own.

1. Crazy For You, Best Coast
"I lost my job, I miss my mom, I wish my cat could talk. Every time you leave this house, everything falls apart." Those lyrics from "Goodbye" pretty much sum up the stoner lovesick desperation that is Crazy For You. Best Coast channels girl-group era beach-y pop, but it definitely has a strong sound all of its own. Singer Bethany Cosentino's downright soulful voice demands to be listened to, and you'll be glad you did.

Honorable Mention: Pink Friday by Nicki Minaje
Nicki Minaje terrifies me, but in the best possible way. The way she can switch up her theatrical voices so quickly and effectively on songs like "Roman's Revenge" and Kanye's "Monster" make me concerned about her mental stability, but much of the rest of Pink Friday could use a little more of the crazy. Minaje showed such creativity and spark in some tracks, and I can just hope that she can keep that uniqueness going instead of submitting herself to the role of yet another female R&B star, instead of a true female rapper. The world already has Beyonce and Rhianna, and they're great, but what we don't have is a female Kanye West, and that's what Minaje could be.

Other Favorites: The Suburbs by Arcade Fire; Talking to You, Talking to Me by The Watson Twins; We Are Born by Sia; Lungs by Florence + The Machine, All Day by Girl Talk, Man on the Moon, Volume II: The Legend of Mr. Rager by Kid Cudi.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Few Things I've Learned

Esquire Magazine has this great segment where a celebrity of some sort has a list of random things they've learned over the years, ranging from the clever to the inane to the poignant. (Here's the url to one from the late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner: http://www.esquire.com/features/what-ive-learned/ESQ0102-JAN_STEINBRENNER_rev_?click=main_sr) Ever since I first read one from Jack Nicholas a few years ago, I've been mentally keeping track of my own little pieces of wisdom. I recently realized that I will most likely never become a famous person that classy men's magazines will want to interview, so I've decided to post some here, just for the halibut.

Everything is cyclical. The only thing permanent is change, but eventually things will change back to the way they used to be. You'll just be in a different position in the cycle.

When someone is being awful to you, just be polite as hell, and not even in a sarcastic way. Those around you will admire it, and nobody ever regretted not losing their cool.

When unsure about food you're cooking, just add Tapatio or Siracha. The worse it tastes, the more spice you should add. Even if it gets too spicy, at least you can blame the meal's failure on that, instead of your cooking skills.

People like to hate on the media a lot, especially entertainment media. But media is neither good nor bad; it just is. The media started as soon as humans could draw pictures in caves-- it's human nature to try to frame events and communicate it with other people. TV and the internet can be used for a lot of great things, and a lot of subpar or even horrible things, but no single part of the media should be pointed to as a reflection of the media as a whole.

Life gets a lot easier and more interesting when you get to the point where you can catch most cultural references.

The best things I picked up from either of my parents weren't the things they constantly told me to do, but the things they taught by example. I don't even think they realized they were teaching them; they were just being themselves. Being a good parent really means just being a good person.

You should take life seriously, but don't take yourself seriously. Here's the difference: an artist should be able to lose himself completely in his painting, then laugh at how ridiculous he looks with paint splattered all over his face.

Every time I walk down stairs, all I can think about is that eventually I'll have to walk back up them. Which brings me back to my point about things being cyclical.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Cruzing Back Into Things

I'm finally back in Santa Cruz!! After what felt like an endless summer, I'm now moved into my new apartment and starting classes. Everything's been going exceptionally well, and that's almost scary to a cynic like me, but I'll go with it. In what is probably my most diary-esque post to date, I think I'll share a list of 5 of the best things that have happened since being back in SC, in no particular order:

1. The Big Cut
Cutting your hair as short as I did is a bold and drastic move for any girl, but I feel like in my case, the new do is even more monumental because my hair has been a huge part of my identity, for as far back as I can remember. As a little girl with perfect ringlets, old ladies were constantly complimenting me by saying things like "Most people would have to pay a lot of money to look like that!" But behind the scenes, my parents struggled to maintain it, sometimes resorting to horse shampoo or Sacramento ethnic hair salon King of Curls, which more than one person has since suggested is actually a drug front (they have a van with their name painted on it. What could a hair salon need with a van?). As I got older, people liked to tease me through elementary and middle school, and I think a defining moment in my life was when I chose to join in and laugh at myself, showing that it wasn't a big deal and earning respect. In high school I was glad I didn't look like every other flat-ironed girl around, but sometime in my first year of college I finally started toying with the idea of making a change. For a while I thought dreads were the way to go, but eventually I decided to go for the bold, clean, slightly bad-ass look of short on the sides and longer on top. What made the cut even more fun was that I only told two people my plan to go short beforehand; that way I got shock everyone else. (My friend Jazmine looked at me for a good five seconds before recognizing me and yelling "WHAT?!") I also got to donate my hair to Locks of Love. Whoever gets a wig made out of my hair is in for a wild ride.

2. I Love (Haunted) Lamp
So I got this lamp at the Salvation Army store for nine bucks, and now I can't stop telling people about it. It's perfect, old-fashioned and decorative and slightly broken, and it fits in well in my nostalgia-inspired room. But because I bought it second-hand, I'm afraid it's got some creepy baggage. The first night after I got it, it kept turning on and off by itself as I was trying to fall asleep. Now I unplug it when it's not in use, but I still think it's the coolest fucking lamp ever.

3. Hitchin' a Ride
Hitchhiking is fairly common in Santa Cruz, especially among students. I only partook in it a couple times last year because I was a scared freshman, but this year I'm making up for lost time. I've met some really nice people, but the best were some monks I met who were on their way to the Porter Squiggle to give a yoga presentation. We chatted about how Western culture has ruined yoga by turning into a purely physical thing so that money can be made from it. It was a blast. I'd write more about the whole concept of hitchhiking, but I'm saving that for a possible upcoming CHP feature.

4. The Gift of Words
I love Bookshop Santa Cruz, probably too much. Whenever I'm on Pacific Avenue, I make whoever I'm with stop in and take a look around with me, and more I often than not I walk out with a purchase. Naturally, I'm a fan of theirs on facebook, and occasionally they hold contests to win free books. A few days ago, they asked people to post their favorite John Stewart moment, in honor of his new book. I posted a video of him slamming CNBC, and the next morning there was a message in my inbox saying I had won a free book. SWEET! I was so excited, you would have thought JK Rowling had announced an eighth installment in the Harry Potter series. But what can I say? As I've showed before in this blog, I love books.

5. Nineteen
Did I forget to mention that today's my birthday? It's been a pretty fun day so far, and I'm having dinner with a lot of my friends tonight, some of whom I haven't gotten to spend much time with since we've been back here. I have a feeling that nineteen is going to be a good year for me-- sophomore year is so much easier than freshman, and I feel like I have a better life outlook than I did a year ago. As I told my BFF Jesse on the phone at 12:02 AM, "Eighteen was a bitch year. Nineteen is gonna be great."

Monday, September 6, 2010

Reading Into Things

I started repacking today in preparation for my return to Santa Cruz. In general, getting my stuff together is a lot easier now than it was last year because I've learned to edit my belongings more effectively-- for some reason, I used to think that I wouldn't survive my freshman year of college without my eighth grade diploma tucked somewhere in the bottom desk drawer in my dorm room. But it's still difficult making rational packing decisions when it comes to a huge portion of my belongings: books.

Put crudely, I fucking love reading, and I love reading anything-- magazines, newspapers, blogs, my little brother's school essays-- as long as it's not a textbook, I generally don't mind looking through it. But books (novels, short stories, and especially creative nonfiction) are an obvious favorite, I think because they're long enough to form a memorable emotional and intellectual connection with. And once you form such a connection with something, whether it's a human being or a story, you don't really want to leave it lying around in your garage, do you? Imagine forcing your aunt to sit in between cobwebbed boxes of your old childhood toys, waiting for you to come home over winter break and hang out with her. It's really not the way to go.

Yes, I realize that the physical books aren't nearly as important as the words written in them, so maybe it doesn't matter what I do with them as long as the stories live on in me, or something like that. But I like having the actual books around, because each one of them meant something to me. Just like pictures remind me of good times with friends and family I don't get a chance to see all the time, books remind me of all sorts of things. I see a Christopher Buckley novel and remember going to my favorite used bookstore years ago with my dad. I know I'm not likely to pick up The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsanytime soon, and displaying it in my room certainly won't win me any cool points, but it signifies an impassioned argument I had with my high school boyfriend, who scoffed at this supposed "chick lit". I see Joan Didion's Where We Were From and think about how much I like living in California, despite all its problems. If I had to pick any one concept to believe in completely and wholeheartedly, it would be belief in the written word, belief that writing and reading can and often does change people. Yes, I have some books that I prefer to others, but how can I choose to leave behind anything that means that much to me?

In the midst of writing this post, I realize something that I can't believe I didn't see before. This sentimentality isn't just about books. It's about, big surprise, me not wanting to leave behind anything that shaped who I am today, which has been somewhat a theme in my life lately. It's not even that I liked a lot of the things that shaped me, but for some reason I'm not ready to forget about them. All this time I thought I was so smart to be feeling so passionately about books, but maybe they're yet another symbol of the things I can't take with me. I'm not really sure. It's late, and my thoughts are all over the place, and I don't think my writing is as concise as it could be right now. But, you know, I wouldn't even know what good writing was if I didn't read so much.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

And The Wheels Go Round and Round...

“My life is just a series of embarrassing occurrences.” This was the text message I sent to my roommate Jazmine after nearly falling onto a bearded gentleman’s lap while on a moving bus. Her reply: “jajajaja”. For the culturally ignorant, that’s Spanish for “hahahaha”.
This never would have happened before I chose to attend UCSC. Well, the embarrassment certainly would have found a way into my life wherever I went, because that’s just who I am. But the gaffe wouldn’t have taken place while on public transit, because I never was in the habit of taking the bus until I came to Santa Cruz.
At first, the prospect of sharing a moving vehicle with hoards of strangers was both enticing and terrifying. (My inner monologue: I hate when girls wear nylons as pants like that. I could count the number of teeth that man has on one finger. Hey, I love that band on her iPod! Is that woman pregnant or just fat? Better offer her my seat just in case. Oh, I hope the guy with the high-waders that just got on doesn’t sit next to me. Shit, she has the same bag as me. Wait, is this my stop or the next one? I can’t hear what the driver just said, hopefully it wasn’t important. Can you sit in the wheelchair seat if there aren’t any disabled people on, or does it have to be available at all times? I wish these poles were lower. Etc, etc, etc.) But eventually I grew accustomed and it became just another part of my day—although I still find the people-watching priceless. And being a part of an ever-shifting group of people who all share the same goal of getting somewhere, although always different places, gives me an odd sense of both community and isolation. From one stop to the next, you are with a highly specific and highly random group of people, and this group is ephemeral and will never be brought together again. That’s why tripping on a bus is simultaneously mortifying and not a big deal—on the one hand, yes, you just fell in front of a crowd of strangers. But everyone is busy getting somewhere, so no one has time to laugh.
That night wasn’t the first time I humiliated myself on public transportation, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. I’ve tripped, slid, and stepped on feet more times than I could count, but probably the worst thing to happen occurred on my way to sushi with some friends during the first quarter. The bus was crowded and I was standing up, enjoying some gum. Actually, I was probably enjoying it too much, blowing bubbles ever other half second. As sometimes happens when one gets overzealous with these things, I ended up accidentally spitting the gum out of my mouth. Not a huge deal, except that it landed right onto the lap of a girl sitting near me. And here’s the biggest catch: she didn’t even notice.
And there I stood, faced with an ethical dilemma: do I tell the oblivious girl chatting with her friends, or do I leave the gum for her to find later? In reality it only took me a few seconds to decide, but as the weight of what had just happened sunk into my psyche, I swear I aged about ten years. Just as gum sticks to jeans, I realized that this occurrence can never fully be scrubbed out of me. I can go on to live a great life, finding love, accomplishing things, winning awards, but as I look out at the audience before starting an acceptance speech for whatever it is I win, I will know, somewhere in the back of my mind, that I am nothing more than the idiot who spit her gum on someone on the bus.
I ended up telling the girl, and reaching down to get the gum from her knee, and this gum, because it was old and well-chewed, actually didn’t stick. Looking back, I see that this was a small miracle. I really don’t know how many apologies I would have had to give if the gum stuck, or how much guiltier I would’ve felt. As it was, I was able to get off at the next stop, feel the chilly evening air against my skin, laugh about it all with my friends, and go to dinner. And that girl probably went home and washed her jeans, getting rid of my germs and making the memory fade. And that bus went to the Metro Center, changed route numbers, and got a whole new cast of passengers. That’s the nature of buses, and of life—nothing’s permanent, and yet the feelings will always last.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Freakin' Out

"Everyone looks retarded once you set your mind to it." — David Sedaris

FREAKS. They're everywhere. All you have to do is log onto facebook or hop on a bus and you're likely to encounter at least one. But what exactly is a freak? It's not merely someone with an unusual fashion or crooked nose; it's more than that. And there are a lot of different types of freaks. There are the "eccentric", "fun" and "bitchy" guys (read: closeted but obvious homosexuals) who can be fun in small doses but ultimately leave you wanting less. Then there are the girls who look like "unusual, exciting hippies" from a distance, but the closer you get the more you realize that the most unusual thing about them is their scent, and when I say "unusual", I mean disgusting. And of course, there are the kids who believe that human interaction is secondary to making sure they never get a grade as low as an A-. You can usually recognize this particular brand of freak by their facebook status poking fun at their roommates for not knowing the Pythagorean Theorem.

So yes, this world is full of freaks. There are even some people in the world who are of the mind that everyone is a freak. Although it's true that all individuals have their own little quirks, I don't think that constitutes freakdom. The universal trait that all freaks posses, as far as I can tell, is that they're all incredibly under-aware of themselves. A true freak would never designate themselves as such, because that would break the pure, innocent, enthusiastic freakish magic.

This, I tell myself, is what keeps me from being a freak-- I'm hyper-aware of myself. Yes, I'll wear long striped socks with shorts, I try not to give a shit about what people think (and am somewhat successful), I can completely loose myself in my iPod and not talk to anyone for hours, and my hair- well, that's another blog post completely. But what separates me The Freaks is that I'm aware of my quirks, and I'm definetely aware of others' quirks, and I like to think about and analyze and laugh at them. Freaks don't do that-- analysis, along with bathing, are simply beyond their grasp.

As fun as I think it might be to truly not know about society's expectations and the way in which I and others break them, I've realized that the one of the things I love most in life is thinking about why people do the things they do, and observing people act and react. Eavesdropping is as good as TV for me, and irony is my best friend. So go, freaks, and wear your skirt/leggings/Sketchers combinations free of worry. I cannot be one of you, but know that I will always love you. Never change, and never wear deodarant. Unless, maybe, you're on a crowded bus with no open windows. Seriously.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

My Goddamn Blog Post, for Chrissake

I just found out that JD Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye, Franny and Zooey, Nine Stories, and Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters, and Seymour: An Introduction passed away on January 27th at the age of 91. I can say with absolute certainty that he was my favorite author of all time, Catcher in the Rye being my favorite book, and I geuss the strongest emotion I have about the whole thing is regret that now I'll never get to tell him what an effect his writing has and continues to have on me. That sounds silly because he was an extremely famous author, and hundreds of thousands of people read him every year, so why would my personal opinion matter to him? It probably wouldn't, especially considering how much he loathed attention and ego, but that's still how I feel. So I geuss I'll do the next best thing and let other people know how important Salinger's books are to me, and maybe it will inspire whoever reads this to give them a try.

I first read Catcher in the Rye in the sixth grade, after randomly finding it on my parents' bookshelf (it was my father's copy). By all reasonable standards, I was too young to read a book that involved prositutes, heavy drinking, serious depression, and a shitload of swearing, and I really only understood about half of it, but I loved it because it was so violently different than what I was used to reading (Beverly Cleary and the Harry Potter series). Holden Caulfield was highly cyncial and saw right through social norms, and I immediately connected to this realism that I definetely wasn't getting from my friends at Catholic elementary school. I had always felt a little different from everyone else I knew, a little isolated, as I'm sure a lot of kids do, and this book became my savior, because it showed me for the first time that others experience this. I now reread Catcher at least once a year, and every time I get more out of it.

Salinger's other books all touched on other favorite topics of mine: the problem of being spiritual or artistic without ego getting in the way, society's preoccupation with appearances, relationships among siblings, etc. They're all great, but if I had to reccomend any one of them after Catcher in the Rye, it would be Franny and Zooey, which I ironically just reread last week, before I knew that the author had died.

For lack of a more creative way to end this post, I'll give one of my favorite Salinger quotes: ""An artist's only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else's."