Crossing the Stone Wall

Highway to Mt. Lemmon

The winding road up…

Way back in October–which strangely enough feels like it was two years ago instead of only two months–my husband and I went home to the desert to watch my sister-in-law get married to a great guy (an upcoming post, which I promise will be worth a read). Being in town for only a few days, and maneuvering our schedule to include some down time, we found ourselves with a (mostly) open Friday afternoon. Racking our brains for something to do, I got the bright idea that we should drive up nearby Mt. Lemmon. My husband was game, so we jumped in the rental and off we went. Little did I know the adventure before me.

As we drove up Catalina Highway towards the foothills, I snapped pictures on my phone, almost compulsively. One of the things I miss the most about the desert is the mountains. My hometown is bordered by four different ranges that align pretty closely with the cardinal directions, so no matter where you look or where you are in town, the mountains are an ever-present feature on the horizon. I must say that this is something that is severely lacking in the harbor of Charm City. As a result, the prospect of actually being on a mountain was more than a little exciting to me.

Sonoran Desert vista

Desert vista seen from the foothills of Mt. Lemmon, AZ.

It was a gorgeous October day, with clear skies and surprisingly cool temperatures for the area. As we began to climb in altitude, I was enthralled by the towering saguaro cacti, the brushy creosote, the spiky palo verde trees, and the sweeping rocky hills. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that the desert is without its beauty. It is a rugged place and every single plant and animal, of which there are many, is there because evolution has engineered them to survive in that environment.  Sometimes stark, it is none the less gorgeous. And it is more colorful than most would imagine. They’d had a pretty good monsoon season this past summer and I was amazed by how green everything looked.

Dead saguaro cactus

The still-standing ribs of a dead saguaro cactus.

After a brief stop for pictures of the view back towards town and of the impressive cacti in the foothills, we climbed back in the car and headed towards Windy Point. Now I’d been to Windy Point many times since I was a child. There is a parking pull-off there with an amazing view and there is a long  and wide rocky outcropping that extends far beyond the low rock wall meant to keep tourists from falling off the edge.

I had been past this wall before when my husband and I were dating, almost a decade ago now. We made a similar mountain pilgrimage together and let me tell you, I was petrified. Every step past that little wall, no matter how stable and secure, was met with shuffling feet, strong feelings of vertigo, and a bit of terror in my heart. It was a miracle that I got any distance past that wall–mostly due to my husband obliviously striding along the edges with a firm grip on my hand. That was my experience ten years ago, but on this day it was the last thing on my mind as we climbed out of our car and crossed the road to the stone wall.

Man climbing over rugged terrain.

Climbing the outcropping at Windy Point.

Taking care placing my feet, I continued to snap photos like a stereotypical Japanese tourist. But my hands weren’t shaking and my breath wasn’t shallow. Not yet conscious of the change in my reactions I forged onward, capturing some wonderful pictures of my husband as he climbed ahead of me.

mountain vista

Impressive view as we move towards the edge.

As we neared the edge, it finally occurred to me how much this sort of thing used to freak me out. And like Wile E. Coyote realizing he is walking on thin air, a little of that old fear started to come back to me. But I had been doing so well, so my husband came back and took my hand.

Crossing the crevice

My brave husband crosses a deep crevice.

He led me gently to the closest edge, I squeezed his hand and looked down… and down… and down… a long way down. I was nervous and a bit shaky, but I gave that drop a good hard look and then we cautiously stepped back. Then he went back to his impression of a mountain goat and I made the startling realization that my breathing was… well, normal.

I looked back to the stone wall and realize how far away it was. It was like something changed in me. I was cautious and vividly aware of my surroundings, but I wasn’t afraid. I was a little bit amazed at myself, but I tucked that realization and the feelings associated with it into my back pocket, and continued my exploration of the outcropping.

Rocky terrain with a low stone wall in the distance.

Looking back towards the stone wall.

If anything I became more adventurous after this, climbing higher and higher and further from that silly wall. I began getting closer to the edges and soon, I was leading my husband, instead of the other way around. And it was… exhilarating? Fantastic? Empowering? All of these words would apply, but none of them truly capture the way that I felt. It has been a hard year, one that would get a lot harder only a few days after these pictures were taken. But this day burned into my memory bright sunshine, rushing wind, a mountain under my feet, and the best day I think I have had for a very long time now.

Looking down without fear.

Looking down without fear.

I’ve been saving this song for months now, waiting for a little personal victory that I could crow about. But every time that I thought to myself, if this pans out I’ll put this song up, things would always fall through. And I’ll admit that during my mountain climbing this song–or any song–never entered my mind. I was too caught up in the moment, which is really saying something for me. But looking back on the experience, I’d say it is the only song that fits.

The song I am referring to is Walk the Moon’s I Can Lift A Car. It is a the story about discovering that the life you once knew is ending, but then finding out that there is another part just waiting to begin. The singer is uplifted and empowered and finds that he is capable of things that he never knew were possible. The imagery in this song is truly commanding. I especially love the way the vocals in the chorus are divided between the four band members. The effect is more echo than call and answer, but there is something about it that is simply wonderful. It is infectiously uplifting and I am convinced that this song is the perfect encore material. It just begs for audience participation.

Just the thing for rediscovering yourself on the edge of a windy cliff.

I Can Lift A Car by Walk the Moon

(All photos in this blog entry are property of Anna Kresmer and subject to the same Creative Commons license as the text of this blog.)

Advertisements

Lennon’s Last Interview

I don’t usually like to reblog stuff here. I prefer to write my own material and give other people the freedom to do the same. But for anyone out there who is interested in the amazing nature of 20/20 hindsight, then you should go read John Lennon’s last print interview, which Rolling Stone published in December 2010 after letting the audio tapes languish for 30 years. The interview, recorded exactly three days before Lennon’s death in 1980, is a stunning look into the mind of the man just before he ceased to be.

The most poignant quote is this:

[Speaking about the media and their styled image of him] “They only like people when they’re on the way up, and when they’re up there, they’ve got nothing else to do but shit on them. I cannot be on the way up again. What they want is dead heroes, like Sid Vicious and James Dean. I’m not interested in being a dead fucking hero…. So forget ’em, forget ’em.”

Looking back on historical figures and events with the knowledge, vision, and mindsets of the present–and the conflicts that are inevitably created between them–has always fascinated me. It is the lens used by all historians view history with–whether consciously or unconsciously. It is the mental filter that makes the saying, “History is written by the victors,” so empirically true. But only when you are aware of this internal conflict can you really be moved by history. Its complexity, its beauty, and its tragedy.

And it is interviews like this one, where you are reading the exact answers that Lennon gave to specific questions, that you can really see through the reverence that so many began to show towards Lennon after his assassination. You see the man as he was–or as close as you can get–you see the human, not the martyr. The musician, not the ad campaign. And that is what makes this interview such an interesting (and arresting) read.

John Lennon: The Last Interview 

Pennsylvania Recharge

Continuing with this year’s theme, my life is a freaking whirlwind. So much to do and never enough time to do it in. For that matter, so much to write about and even less time to sit down at the computer. It’s the same old excuses with me these days, my poor neglected readers. But it hasn’t been all bad and I promise I’ll fill you in on some of my recent adventures… eventually.

For the moment though, I am carefully blocking it all out in favor of my impending journey into the backwoods (relatively speaking) of Pennsylvania. My husband and I are heading up there for a little unofficial grad school reunion with some dear friends. It’s going to be a positively jam-packed weekend of sleeping in, cooking, watching movies, talking until we can’t talk anymore, and (most importantly) laughing. Who knows what kind of shenanigans we might get up to? Oh yes, dear readers, it’s going to be nothing but non-stop action. Hell, we might even go to a bar!

And you have no idea how much I am looking forward to this. I can’t even put into words how much I need this. These are some of my favorite people in the world, who for all intents and purposes became my family while I trudged my way through grad school in the frozen wilds of downtown Boston. It’s going to be glorious and it is putting me in mind of some party music. As you would expect, I am the defacto DJ at these shindigs and I am already combing my collection for appropriate tunes to share.

In that vein, I leave you tonight with Polite Dance Song by The Bird and the Bee. This lovely little California synthpop duo really knows how to pour on the irony. I particularly love the contrast between the lyrics and subdued sound of Inara George’s vocals. This is a band that I really love and honestly they deserve far better treatment from the likes of me. But while you’re waiting for me to write something more substantial on this pair (good luck with that by the way), why don’t you check out this video?

Polite Dance Song by the Bird and the Bee

Perspective

I don’t even know where to begin. The last two weeks have been my best and worst weeks of 2012–specifically in that order. I got to spend several days in my hometown, watching people I love get married, bonding with my family, and climbing mountains (literally!). It was the best, most gratifying, and least dramatic visit home I have had since leaving the desert in 2007. And it was all shot to hell within an hour of landing back in Charm City… the less said about it the better, but practically everyone I know in this town is currently trying to get their feet back under them again–a process which is still in progress. (How’s that for vaguely ominous? Pretty good, huh?)

Well since the bomb dropped, I’ve been trying to collect my brain cells while watching the dust settle. Things will get better, I know they will. It’s just that sometimes it feels like the extreme juxtaposition of wonderful and devastating has made this new reality that much harder for me to take.  But–as I’ve been repeating to myself a lot lately–it is what it is.

So I’ve been spending the last several days striving  to keep my perspective in all of this. It hasn’t been particularly easy, but (as usual) it got a bit easier when I stumbled upon my current theme song. If you’ve been around the last year and have been paying attention, you know that I change them quite often. And my latest addition to that illustrious list is It’s Nice to be Alive by Ball Park Music. Courtesy of this adorable little indie rock group from Brisbane, Australia, with a lead singer who looks remarkably like a teenaged David Tennant, the song shows a refreshingly innocent sense of humor in both the video and their lyrics. Somehow they manage to keep things light in what could have been a rather existential song, proclaiming “You are alive! Isn’t that great?!”

So here’s your daily dose of perspective, folks. Please enjoy!

It’s Nice to be Alive by Ball Park Music

Whatever gets you through the night

Holy smokes! My life currently resembles a working case study in insanity. It feels like I am swimming upstream these days with a whole laundry list of stuff to tackle trailing behind me, which somehow never seems to get any shorter. Between taking on a load of extra responsibilities at work, prepping for 2 plane trips and 1 road trip, staring down the barrel of another birthday, valiantly (read: vainly) trying to get/keep my house clean, and desperately trying to find time to write, I am beat. And with the changing of the seasons literally happening as I type, I know that if I am not careful, I could have a really bad Fall… and don’t even get me started on the upcoming holiday season. It doesn’t even bear contemplating. *sigh*

What can I do but keep moving? For now at least, it is full steam ahead around here and in light of this I would like to present to you a little playlist. I think I’m going to call it my Holy Crap! Mix. If it has a frenetic beat and some unstoppable energy–mixed liberally with a sense of desperation–then it belongs here. Please enjoy!

Whatever Gets You Through the Night, John Lennon

(Probably the closest thing to disco he ever did, but don’t be discouraged!)

Excuse Me Mr., No Doubt

(My very favorite. Gwen Stefani will mess you up!)

I Hear Noises, Tegan and Sara

(From my favorite Canadian twins. When I am frustrated and tired, I literally can’t play this song loud enough. )

Forever Yellow Skies, The Cranberries (Live in Detroit, 1996)

(Blistering guitars and drums not withstanding, just watch lead singer Dolores O’Riordan’s blur of an arm as she plays rhythm guitar.)

Paper Romance, Groove Armada

(Rather awkward video, but amazing song.)

Out of My Head, The Black Eyed Peas

(The moment I hear that base line, I literally breathe a sign of relief. Best sonic release valve I know.)

This is a list destined to grow. If you have any suggestions for additions, please drop me a comment and let me know.

Confessions of a music snob (3)

Okay, what I am about to reveal is something that could potentially strip me of all my music-snobbery cred in one fell swoop. I have absolutely no right to criticize anyone else’s tastes in music because… well, I guess I should just come right out and say it. I am a closet raver. Shocking, I know. I’ll understand if you need a moment to recover from the massive bombshell that I just dropped on you.

Breath in. Breathe out. Okay, everybody still with me? Good.

Now in my defense, I did say closet raver. I have never indulged in the most iconic aspects of raver life. I have never dropped acid, experimented with black light body paint, and I haven’t messed around with light sticks since I was probably about 12 years old. In fact,  I have never actually even been to a rave…. unless you count that time that I went to a party with my host teen in Enger, Germany. It was in an empty barn with tons of beer, tipsy German teenagers, and positively booming techno music blaring from huge speaker stacks. But that wasn’t my idea and technically I didn’t know we were going to anything that could even vaguely be called a rave thanks to the language barrier. Plus I was only seventeen. Nothing counts when you’re seventeen, right? So I have never been what you would call a practicing member of the scene. And I think that given my introverted tendencies (along with the fact that I am no longer seventeen), it is fairly unlikely that I ever will be.

But if I ever put up a list of my biggest musical guilty pleasures, somewhere near the top would have to be a lesser known music subgenre called Happy Hardcore. One of the definitions on urbandictionary.com pretty much nailed it with this description:

A genre of electronic music that became popular during England’s rave movement. Characterized by a processed 4×4 kick, breakbeats, baselines, and high strung synths and vocals, happy hardcore is the staple of any candy kid’s listening experience. Drum & Bass also originated from happy hardcore and now are (ironically) anathema to one another. Where happy hardcore is known for it’s happy, almost cheesy, lyrics and sounds, Drum & Bass is a much more aggressive, hard-edged sound that is a much harder pill to swallow, so to speak.

(Never underestimate the Internet’s talent for giving even the most obscure concepts substance… as well as its talent for dishing out grammar errors). It is almost impossible to take Happy Hardcore seriously. It is like pure bubblegum on helium… and meth. But just try to keep a straight face imagining people dancing to it. It will make your day, I guarantee it!

And #1 under this heading (for me at least) is a German techno pop princess known as BlümchenFalling somewhere between an electro pop Britney Spears and a one-woman mash-up of the Spice Girls, Jasmin Wagner–better known by her stage name–was the queen of the German pop scene from 1995 to 2001. A native of Hamburg, she had a string of top 10 hits in her own country and in parts of Western Europe. Despite recording a bunch of her songs in English under the name Blossom, she never seemed to make a dent in the States, which is why you have probably never heard of her (Oops! Crap, music snobbery rears its ugly head once more).

I only discovered her through one of my undergrad German language classes circa 2000 when on one fateful day my TA decided to pop in a collection of German music videos. I laughed so hard that I knew I’d found something worth seeking out. And when I mentioned it to my techno-obsessed buddy, he loved her immediately and proceeded to feed me as much of her material as I could take–he was always generous when it came to acquiring and sharing media, especially in the carefree days before Napster was taken down. Suffice it to say, I was set-up in short order. And Blümchen quickly became my top pick for studying and grading papers (I worked as a TA for an astronomy professor at the time). To this day, whenever I am faced with a tedious or repetitive task that requires only half of my brain, I always reach for the techno. It continues to be a real lifesaver.

If you are still reading this after finding out about my dark (read: cheesy) secret, then kudos to you! Now you get a treat. And yes, it really is a treat. You’ve earned a taste of some classic German Happy Hardcore in the form of three videos. The first is the now infamous video that started me down this rabbit hole: 1998’s Ich Bin Wieder Hier, which roughly translates to I’m Back. This steam punk gem features a dirigible, WWII fighter pilots, and a flying whale. I am dead serious. A flying whale. If you watch only one of these videos, watch this one. You will not regret it.

Ich Bin Wieder Hier

Next up is the club gem Kleiner Satellit, aka Little Satellite. Featuring random dogs in an inflatable raft, some hilarious use of green screen tech, and the over-all appearance of vaseline smeared on a camera lens, this video is peculiar to say the least. But the song is infectious.

Kleiner Satellit

And my last pick, which is probably my favorite of her songs, is the hyper-actively upbeat and super positive Heut’ ist Mein Tag, which translates to Today is My Day. The video director’s use of sudden film transitions almost warrants a seizure warning. And the gratuitous use of cg fairy dust is a little distracting at times. But who can argue with a spontaneous dance mob on the streets of what looks a lot like Miami? No one, that’s who. Enjoy!

Heut’ ist Mein Tag

So now that my dirty little secret is out, it’s your turn. Are you a clandestine Happy Hardcore freak, too? Or do you have a skeleton in your closet that is equally embarrassing? Spill it!

The Great Detour of 2012

By Spyder_Monkey (Own work, modified data from Open Street Map) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

For the past two years, commuting and (let’s face it) life in general in Charm City has been seriously disrupted over the Labor Day Weekend by drag racing. Yes, you read that right. Drag racing. For some ungodly reason (most likely tourism dollars), the city decided that it would be a good idea to close down all the roads in the heart of the city (making an already natural bottleneck 3 million times worse), cut down more than 40 huge and aged trees along the route (in 2011), put up acres of bleachers, and invite a whole bunch of indy stock car drivers to drive at screaming high-speed through the city while tourists watch. Buses are rerouted all over the place, the lower part of the city is practically cut off from the upper portion, and locals flee the city to escape the insanity. I have yet to meet someone who lives within the Baltimore/D.C. Metro area who actually is happy about this situation. It wouldn’t be so bad if the darn thing was truly successful, but thus far it has been plagued with mismanagement, low ticket sales, and a general lack of enthusiasm from what appears to be the city at large.

Apparently, I’m not a fan. Could you tell?

But I didn’t start this entry with the intention to hold a huge bitch fest about the Grand Prix, a lovely headache that we get to deal with for 3 (Three!) more years. Instead, I want to talk about how from now on I am going to associate Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young with this ill-advised and thoroughly obnoxious event. Now I’m sure you’re curious to find out what the heck a folk rock supergroup from the 1960s–best known for their use of beautiful and elaborate vocal harmonies–could possibly have to do with indy stock car racing. Well, when you put it like that, very little. But they will forever be connected in my mind with traffic jams and what is sure to go down in history as The Great Detour of 2012

Lrheath at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

The week leading up to the drive home on Friday, August 31st had already been an interesting juggling act for my carpool. Between the bus situation, the ever-constricting road closures, and the fact that many of my colleagues are blind and therefore not drivers, led to a daily changing cast of characters in the car. But so far things had gone well, due mainly to flexibility and a willingness to be picked up muchearlier than usual. And now it was time for one more long commute homeward.

The car was packed to the gills, with bags in the trunk and crowded knees and shoulders all around. Personal space was reduced to a fond memory, but everybody made it a point to remain cheerful and endeavored to refrain from poking their neighbor with an errant elbow.  Our driver had considerately thought ahead and packed one of her favorite albums by CSNY to make the trip home more enjoyable. While not everyone in the car was necessarily familiar with the band, I was pleased with the selection–you didn’t grow up in my house without hearing Suite: Judy Blue Eyes at least a few times. We pulled away from the parking garage and began to make our way along the circuitous route that would hopefully lead us all home. Making our way South around the football stadium, we swung out to the west and began making our way slowly down a West Baltimore street in stop and go traffic. Our intention was to get on to the only main artery that was heading north, and we were making ponderous progress towards this goal while listening to the sweet harmonies and folksy guitar chords. Despite the tight fit in the back seat and the frustratingly slow progress we were making up the street, everyone was in fairly good spirits. Snarky comments were flying at the blockheaded antics of other drivers around us and I seem to remember a great deal of laughter among the group. We knew that traffic would be snarled and we all settled in to make the best of the situation.

It was about 45 minutes into the commute (longer than it usually takes to get everyone home on a normal night) when our driver–the undisputed queen of route tweaking who is always on the look out for a way to avoid one more stoplight–spied a nearly empty side street. It was too good an opportunity for her to pass up and hoping to find a quicker way to the main artery, she eagerly turned up the street. Happily cracking jokes and already enjoying our second listening of Ohio, little did we know that impending doom was upon us. At first, everything seemed fine. There was still traffic on the street, but it was all moving drowsily along… until we came to a three-way intersection that left us no option but to turn left. This presented a slight problem because (of course) we wanted to turn right. There was nothing we could do but obey and hope that we could detour again farther along the road.

Well, to make a long story slightly shorter, the answer turned out to be a big, fat NO. Unlike many old cities on the East Coast, Charm City does have the luxury of roads laid out in a grid… in parts of the city. The rest is subject to the kind of haphazard sprawl that rivals even the likes of Boston, which many claim is laid out according to old cow paths (a much contested controversy, by the way). Combine this with the city’s penchant for one-way streets, and you’ve got the potential for some real messes during rush hour. Not only did our innocent little detour send us in the wrong direction, it undid almost all of our progress of the last hour. The real kicker is that we literally had to retrace our steps on the exact same route we had originally traveled. Our driver was beside herself with embarrassment, but everyone put on a brave face. The laughter may have taken on a more desperate edge, but what could you do other than get out and walk several miles north? So we all smiled and nodded and somehow managed to make it through the rest of what turned out to be a near record-breaking commute (only topped by the winter of 2010 when 3 feet of snow pretty much brought the city to a standstill for a couple of weeks).

But the funny part is that during this insane journey through the half-crippled city is that a collective hallucination took place within the confines of our car. We listened to that CSNY album from start to finish at least 6 times. Our driver lamented her negligence in bringing only one CD to share. Several of us with iPhones cursed ourselves for not bringing the necessary cords and wires to hook them up to the car. And for reasons I still can’t explain, not a single one of us remembered a little thing called the radio. No, my dear readers, instead of thinking outside the box (or in this case the CD player) we just kept listening to this album on repeat as if it was the only option left to us in a post apocalyptic world gone mad. It wasn’t until we were within 5 minutes of my house (I am the second to last drop-off) that my driver looked over at her stereo and sheepishly pressed a button. Both of us breathed a deep sigh of relief as the sounds of NPR came over the speaker system and then shared a slightly demented laugh over our amazing feat of short sightedness.

I think it is safe to say that for the rest of my life I will probably associate Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young with detours and traffic jams. And because it was the song that just seemed to keep playing, I have for you CSNY’s rocking version of Woodstock. Originally penned by none other than the awe-inspiring Joni Mitchell, who was Graham Nash’s significant other at the time, this song helped define a generation of young people looking to change the world. Somehow tying it to a legacy of pollution-spewing cars and frustrated drivers seems a bit less impressive. Oh well, either way enjoy!

Woodstock by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young