Turnmills to Fearless

I write a lot of things in my head when I’m just going about my day. I have for a long time, and sometimes a few jots end up on social media, but not much these days.

This week I returned to Mirabou State’s 2018 album Kingdoms in Colour. It’s all listenable, but track 3, Turnmills, hooks me every single time. It scratches an itch between Thom Yorke and Aphex Twin with maybe a louder pop sensibility. It is great on a car stereo or on my HomePod, but where the song really shines is on my noise-canceling headphones where I can hear the nuance of the samples layered with re-interpretation.

One of the things I love about electronic music is there’s so many beautiful synthetic sounds that are like head scritches for the soul.

I’ve queued the track Iris by TR/ST, from their upcoming album The Destroyer, Vol 2 to play next while I write this. It is much darker electronic, tapping into my memories of music that was much too loud vibrating my entire body in a smoke-filled, alcohol soaked club. Where Mirabou State is like a soothing balm, TR/ST is like Icy Hot. It’s not romantic, but maybe that’s where I am right now — where having contrary sensations simultaneously, being pulled apart by choice, feels like freedom. Stompy rhythm, unintelligible, sounds coming close and then somewhat submerged, bright overlays of retro synth. My hairs stand on end, and my heart feels lifted. It’s halfway to an ecstatic experience.

It’s easier to talk about music than much else.

Next track, Omnis Mundi Creatura by Helium Vola – a stompy dark track which was a favorite to fling my arms and dance furiously when I was a regular at Nocturna at Smart Bar/Metro in Chicago back around 2002 or so.

I was a assumed as a goth before I considered myself one. The title is a little flippant, even, because I’ve come to realize it is really only shorthand for understanding a larger subculture/philosophy if you have a sense of the music that surrounds it. I was reminded of this by a therapist leading the cancer caregiver support group I was in this past week. The fundamental misunderstanding that struck me was the assumption of pessimism, which is not entirely untrue except i the sense that I would call it more realism and a compulsive unwillingness to deny the truth of our inevitable decline and decay.

I’m trying to (note: next song, Dark Angel by VNV Nation) hold the truth of our human fragility in the same space that I hold the hope and curiosity that makes life worth living despite that. I don’t seek to deny the truth. We’re very good at propelling ourselves through our lives denying our fragility, and maybe that’s the way it should be, so we’re not anticipating the 20 story crane falling across the roadway we’re driving on an otherwise average day.

And that’s what I’m trying to capture, except my 20 story crane has not fallen yet.

Writing more of this would be too much. Too much of that soft-underbelly us dark souls are hiding behind our dark eyeliner and spiked jewelry. And my 30 minutes of writing is up.

Ending song: Fearless by VNV Nation

“I am not alone, I am not afraid, I am not unhappy
Such a stupid ritual to have to say to myself everyday
I’m not alone but I found my answer and set myself free, I’m not unhappy”

Set to Drain

I was one of the Six Troublemakers.

My senior year of high school was my second year of marching band color guard. If you’re unfamiliar, they’re the people in the marching band swinging around flags and other implements and running across the field all crazy-like. My first year I had nearly quit, but my instructor quickly turned from adversary to mentor, inspiring a fierce loyalty. My senior year, I was the only senior given too rookies to mentor, and both of them were difficult in their own way. I couldn’t tell you to this day if this was done to me out of a sign of respect or trying to get to me. Frankly, my paranoia from years of being bullied was pretty high.

There was a rumor going around that someone complained about or instructor being “too harsh.” Then there was the rumor that who our instructor wanted to be captain was overruled by the band director, who wanted the donor family’s kids to have dibs. Then our instructor was fired, our captains* showed up with “Captain” on both of their sweatshirts and six of us conspired to protest. We were defiant. We got together at one of the members’ houses and worked to sew our “ranks” onto our sweatshirts to wear at the next competition.

I was Sergeant.

It wasn’t about perceived rank, but more just pointing out what we thought was an unearned absurdity. Our stunt earned us being called out of class into the bandroom, where we were lectured (because we “threatened” the Captains), and the director looked at me and told me that the instructor I was defending didn’t like me and wanted me out in the first place. My response was that she told me that, and since that time we had become friends.

It’s true, me and some of the others actually hung out at her apartment.

Today was an incredibly rough day for me. As our guests were getting ready to leave for the evening, I had gone down to the basement to check on laundry to realize I had inadvertently drained the washer onto the floor of the room, where there is of course no actual drain. About an inch of water had collected in a pool, soaking a few boxes. One of our guests helped get stuff out of the way, and I wished them goodnight, and then set out for cleanup.

I used a squeegee from Daiso, a bucket, some towels, a mop, and a Muchkin branded flexible pitcher used to pour water over a baby’s head in a bath. After about 35 minutes of work, I had gotten the mess down to a single wet layer on the concrete. I thought about the story – likely apocryphal – of my Appalachian grandmother in the middle of winter, her husband away seeking work, chopping wood for the wood stove in the dead of night, to keep the family warm.

I figured I wanted to get an axe tattooed on me ASAP. Even ask for it as a gift, because I don’t have that kind of free money right now, too be honest.

I told Jon and he said that he didn’t want me to aspire to that – to the struggle. I said I aspired to the fortitude she had. I look at what the women in my family have done and survived, and my survival is thanks to their survival and sacrifice.

I know it has come at a cost.

Failure is not an option.

I know the pressure of late is starting to get to me. The flooding of the basement is evidence of that. My fatigue is making me sloppy. My attempts to offload some of the tasks I need handled have been unsuccessful, leaving me to feel like I’m fighting alone, even if it’s evidently not the case.

The thing is, for me, there is no question that I need to sleep, but that when I get up, there are things I must do. They aren’t just things that would be nice, they are set in stone. They are essential. They are uncompromising. They have to be done, and to be done right, most of the time, I want to be the one doing them. Whether I’m sick, or sad, or injured, the list of things that must be done does not go away, and my need to do them (or make sure they get done), does not go away. It is a mandate. What is good, what is right, what is just.

And my knees buckle. My basement floods.

I push myself to exhaustion because I want to wake up to see that the day is fresh and there’s nothing left undone. I push myself to exhaustion, because in my life I’ve never really trusted anyone else to do what I do. It is how I survived, even if I never wanted the job I’m so damn good at when I’m not falling apart.

I know how to survive, but I’m not sure if it’s a way to live.

To Venus and Back

I was finished with my first year in art school when I moved out of the dorm into my own apartment with another person from my dorm. It was in a neighborhood that had not been gentrified yet, and myself and my fellow art students were the vanguard. Three months into my lease, having not purchased any apartment insurance, I came home from my job at the MTV department in the Viacom Entertainment Store to find them boarding up my windows.

There had been an electrical fire that turned all but what was behind the closed bedroom doors into a bubbled and charred mess.

I stayed at a friend’s apartment a few L stops away until I wore out my welcome listening to The Bends. (It was probably more that I left one of the roommates waiting on a sketchy doorstep for too long.) I sent an email to some of my friends letting them know my situation – essentially homeless.

And.

A girl from one of my summer classes responded that I could stay with her at her parents house.

I had been relatively un-jaded and expected such charity to be a given, as that such charity was what I was taught. I have come to realize that beyond the obviousness of her welcome being beyond magical (she had a preternatural ability to anticipate needs), it was one of the many times in my life that in the face of disaster I have been buoyed by the grace of others.

I managed to find another place with my roommate not far from where we had initially landed, but it took two weeks, and my mother draining her savings. By the end of the school year I was transferring out of art school to go to a proper liberal arts college to get a respectable degree and a summer job working at Sam Goody and Urban Outfitters.  Both experiences granting me an enhanced music selection with a venerable discount.

From the Choirgirl Hotel by Tori Amos was assaultive. The cover art disturbed and fascinated me. It’s Tori Amos, lying on a giant flatbed scanner. It looks exactly what you’d expect of a woman pressed against a flatbed scanner in 1998. The beautiful, tinkling piano that marked her previous albums started to recede into a heaviness.

When To Venus and Back came out I loved and hated it. We had  promotional copy that we played on heavy rotation. It felt more familiar than Choirgirl, but also muted, dissociated. Like the last sip of a bottle of generic Robitussin before you start having a histamine reaction. Before you realize that everything actually sounds the way it’s supposed to, and what’s the use of dissociatives if you dissociate naturally from years of untreated PTSD.

I find both Choirgirl and To Venus and Back to be my favorites after all these years. I admit I stopped following her work closely as I started to favor more electronica, dark wave, EBM and goth. Those albums still hit me in the right way. The song Datura reminds me of a few things, mostly, though, the garden outside of my studio apartment that seemed to have purposely planted datura inoxia in the flower beds. When I would come home from work, usually around 10pm or so, the streetlights illuminating their night-blooming white trumpets, the orangey scent would carry me the last block home. And I’d smile appreciating how deeply beautiful, and literally intoxicating and poisonous, those blooms were.

Datura proliferates, and is considered a weed, and its toxicity, among the other things, would have seemed to exclude it from a garden breaking a street into two parts. The intersection of Malden and Sunnyside. Its presence in the time I spent in that apartment stands out twenty years later.

I was living in that apartment when I went to Massachusetts and then visited NYC for a party during a Thanksgiving weekend twenty years go this November.

Where I met Jon.

 

Superunknown

I was working in the kitchen earlier today, and Jon was in the parlor, laying in the recently installed hospital bed, listening to Neil Young. Searching for songs of comfort is such a personal thing. I can’t listen to the “Music Heals” special days that they run on KEXP, regardless of the theme: addiction, mental health, or more relative to Jon’s current experience, cancer. I have found that what other people find soothing, I can find grating or triggering. I’ve seen some shit, I guess.

Lady Gaga figured heavily in my recovery from trauma 10 years ago. “Just dance, it will be OK.” It was my anthem. It was my “power song” while training for a half marathon. I’d turn it up and it soothed my soul in a way not much else could. One of these days I’ll request “Just Dance” during a “Music Heals” day and wait feverishly for it to be played on KEXP. There’s a few DJs that might indulge.

Tonight I started with Soundgarden’s Superunknown. Chris Cornell’s death a few years go hit me harder than I ever anticipated. I wasn’t a Soundgarden super-fan. In my teens, I don’t think I would have ranked them in my top five, but I think that Chris Cornell was perhaps like someone that I saw all the time, never talked to, but knew somehow we could see each other. Great music, great art does that. The modern parlance is to “feel seen.”  Maybe I didn’t want him to see me – maybe I didn’t really want to see him.

After all, what gutted me the most was that I thought he had beaten the monster. He had survived when so many others had not. Beaten is incorrect – I mean – he was still struggling for sure – but he had that beast under control. Managed. Until he didn’t. Like Anthony Bourdain, the raw openness of that pain experienced was such a burden for them and also touched and saved so many people.

I don’t know exactly why I’m going on about this right now. I’m laying on a makeshift foam bed, on the floor, listening to Soundgarden while my husband drifts off in the other room, recovering from intense surgery, taking our next steps towards treating his cancer tomorrow.

Make the music loud. Make it encompassing. Tell the truth. Let us know we’re not alone. Let us continue the fight when those who have been beaten down have left us.

The Endurance of the Bugaboo Frog

Bugaboo Frog Instruction thumbnail
Bugaboo Frog instructions

(Original post: Bugaboo Frog Stroller Manual)

I’m not a blogger these days, as I’m too busy doing a thousand other things between caring for kids and having a million other distractions. However, I’m impressed that over all the years, my posting of the manual for the Bugaboo Frog has endured as the most read post this site has ever seen.

This is a testament to the ubiquity and sturdiness, but also the absurdity of time and money new parents (including myself) put into items for our newborns only to have them endure long past the stage where they are necessary. I ended up with these instructions, not for myself, but for a friend. I had actually bought a new Bugaboo Bee that, now my kids are mostly bipedal, is with another family. That one didn’t seem to have the endurance of the Frog, for whatever reason, and I actually changed the wheels twice due to a recall. Such recalls are what prompted me to buy new for so many things, but hindsight reminds me how much of that was to placate anxiety.

That being said, if I had advice to give to a parent looking for the gear that you will use a maximum of 3 years per child, but maybe just even 6 months, it would be to utilize neighborhood and community resale, gear exchange and freecycle groups, and splurge on the little extras that make things easier.

Heres’ an example of some things that didn’t break the bank, and were great accessories for the first few years:

Bottle Bag

Bottle bag – A bottle bag was indispensable , even after we were done with bottles. It’s good for breast milk if pumping away from home, it’s good for bottles on the go, for sitters and childcare, and of course it can be used as a snack/lunch bag when you’re done with bottles. I like the quality of SkipHop stuff in general, and you can often use other cool packs to keep it chill. Find the Skip Hop Insulated Breastmilk Cooler and Baby Bottle Bag here.

Stroller Organizer

Stroller Organizer and Cupholder – I found that so many strollers did not have helpful caddies for going around town, so I ended up with a couple organizers and cupholders. There are many to choose from, all around the same price point. This one has the features I like, including many pockets, places for beverages, and easy off and on to the stroller. Find the Stroller Organizer as here.

Diaper Bag

Diaper Bag – Everyone has their idea of the perfect diaper bag, but for me you can’t go wrong with LeSportSac. They’re so easy to wash, so lightweight, and so cute, that with their ripstop fabric, these things endure like crazy! I used mine for both kids, and now it’s on to another family. I can’t recommend the LeSportSac Classic Ryan Baby Bag enough. Find it here.

Diaper Wallet

Diaper Wallet – I really don’t know how I got around without a diaper wallet. It was a good thing to have stashed around just in case you needed to make a quick change, light enough and small enough to throw in a bag, even a re-usable grocery bag for a trip to the store. If you get one diaper changing item, the SkipHop Pronto is a classic in design and function. Find it here.