Monday, August 22, 2016

#8: Scrapbook my wedding goodies


Arguably my most achievable goal on my 30 Before 30 list, scrapbooking the items that Zack and I collected during our wedding and honeymoon(s) was no less important to me than any goal. I've always been a scrapbooker, although never to the expert-level of my Grandma Rosemary or Aunt Jo — they attend scrapbooking conventions and buy incredible accessories (paper tattoos?!?) and are generally just fabulously crafty ladies. Still, although my aesthetic is a little more...shall we say...hand-made, I've always loved crafting. When I was young, I set out to try and "invent" stuff with scraps of electronics my dad would find on his runs. I also spent a few long afternoons crafting a doll house out of cardboard, fabric and paint for my mom once, and sewed stuffed animals for my brother at one point (by hand — I still don't know how to use a machine, really). Listening to music and zoning out in a creative way has always been zen for me, so while I had been putting off this goal for a bit, once I dumped everything out on a table I really got into it.


This was the epic starting point — I had to extend the leaves on our kitchen table because this project was SERIOUS, y'all. What you see above is a huge collection of cards from friends and family, some accessories from the wedding, some calendars from 2014 (the engagement year) and 2015 (the wedding year), photos, and decorative items I picked up at Michael's to add some flair to the pages. Once I laid everything out, I decided that the light blue book I purchased would tell the story of Zack and my relationship in the beginning, and how we moved on to our engagement. I also decided to put the honeymoon items in that book, because the colors seemed more appropriate. Plus, this allowed the fancy silver-and-white book to be wedding items only.
A close-up of some of the cards, the tape (I used everything in both of those two rolls, and then some) and one of the fancy accoutrements from Michael's — the LOVE sparkly sticker.
Here we have a close-up of the calendars, the photos of Zack an me, the receipt for our marriage certificate and our boarding passes for Belize.
As I was putting some of the photos in the first book, I decided to give them "frames" by putting them on white card stock that I'd decorate with fancy sharpies.
The plan for this card stock was to make a plaid design out of Zack and my signature colors, pink and blue, but the stupid blue pen broke partway through the process.

That's the last time I shop in the bargain bin. STUPID PEN. (I tried to get focus on the tip which was all tilted here.)

Never give up!! I just did an all-pink plaid instead.



I added a bunch of labels to this page to give it some dimension, and just drew a frame around one of the pictures. I feel like "have fun with it" is the best advice for scrapbooking.


I had a lot of leftover letter stickers in all different fonts and styles, so I used those a bunch to spruce up the pages.
This gorgeous handmade "card" was crafted by my Aunt Faith and it was one of the larger items I simply couldn't cut up. It currently lives tucked inside of the more wedding-centric scrapbook, but I may even get it framed.
I got lazy taking photos of my work after a while (bad blogger, bad!) so this is the last one I've got. These were our Save the Date cards that I decided to collage together so you could see them from every angle. This kicked off the wedding-centric book, which featured all of the gorgeous cards we received. What I like to do when scrapbooking cards is tape the backs of them to the scrapbook page, but then leave the rest untaped so that if you want to read the inside of the cards, you can just pull the page out and have access to all of the messages. For anything with writing on the back, I just put it near the bottom of the page loose so it can still be pulled out later.

One thing I didn't photograph but I LOVED was a set of fancy tropical drink stickers that I used for my Belize honeymoon pages - they're multi-colored and glittery and FABULOUS.

I hope that if you've been putting off an arts and crafts project out of the fear of perfection (especially in this internet-friendly, document-everything age of super-crafters and Pinterest) this inspires you to just go for it! At the end of the day, my children and grandchildren won't care that this stuff wasn't done *perfectly* — they'll just be (hopefully) excited to share in the memories of their family.


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Sunday, July 17, 2016

#11: Go offline for a whole month

As "offline" as it gets. Me, my mom, and my brother at Big Bend National Park, circa 1999-ish?

I work in the tech industry, at a job that requires me to be plugged in and logged in every workday. So, when I plotted out this particular goal, my idea was never that I was going to move out into the mountains for a month and work on my novel in a cabin warmed by firewood (although if you'd like to fund such an endeavor, please feel free to leave a comment or wire money). From the start, my plan was to ban myself from the internet after I left work each weekday, and stay off of it on the weekends. I picked the month of June to try and tackle this feat, because now that I'm back to my team management gig, it's often tough to unplug at home.

At the start of this goal, the fear of missing out felt very strong. I swore off of Instagram altogether, and barely peeked at Facebook on breaks at work. I wondered at the life achievements I was missing my friends make, the cute baby and/or puppy photos that would go forever unseen. But after about a week of cutting myself off from constant social check-ins...I found I not only didn't miss it, but I was relieved by breaking free. There was nothing I felt like I had to compulsively keep up on, so I was allowed to just live my life out in the world.

My only book credit thus far lives in this here Rob Sheffield outfit.

Other than feeling less anxious about keeping up with everyone at all times, one of the greatest things I gained from this experiment was reading a whole lot more. I finished two books written by my latest authorial-obsession, Lauren Groff, and sometimes, as Zack was making dinner after I got home from work...I just sat. Yep, just sat on the couch quietly, doing nothing but breathing. This is very difficult for me to do, so by being able to simply sit, I found that I felt much more in control of myself. It was a comforting and refreshing feeling.

This has been a big part of my life over the last month.

In my free time after work (of which there seemed to be much more all of a sudden), I indulged in my new favorite things: reading Groff, listening to African Jazz vinyl, playing cards with my husband, and going to my boxing class. Occasionally, a friend or family member would ask if I'd seen the link they posted on my Facebook wall, and I'd have to shrug and say, "No, since it's Saturday I won't be checking again until Monday on a work break." And I discovered that this didn't kill me, and nobody disowned me for my disconnection.

I tried to keep my "rules" surrounding this goal loose so I wouldn't beat myself up for "failing." That's why I still allowed some social connection while I was at work, and why I didn't get upset with myself when, during the last week of the month, I had to go online in order to finish up some work (and went on some of my favorite blogs in the process). This has also instilled in me the freedom to institute this practice periodically from now on - one permanent change I made was to turn off notifications for most of my apps, so that my iPhone wasn't constantly forcing my next steps. I'll peek on Instagram at times, but it's less compulsory now. I feel somewhat freed from my electronics and accounts.

I've lost my footing a little in my newfound freedom, because in moving back to my old job I've had difficulty with balance. I'm hopeful, though, that I can return to this practice, or at least continue to be selective in how I spend my time (e.g. using my Calm app to practice meditation instead of Insta-stalking people I don't know). By disconnecting from the virtual reality of Teh Webz, I've been able to feel a lot more awake IRL, and it feels good.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

#15: Be debt free


Of all of the goals I set to meet before I turn 30, becoming debt free was arguably the most important. I've saddled tens of thousands of dollars in debt for the past decade (give or take a few years) of my life. This was primarily due to my student loans I had to take out to attend the University of Texas at Austin. Despite earning thousands of dollars in scholarships from my 4.0 high school GPA and extracurricular activities, I still ended up having to take on over $20,000 in loans for tuition, books and board, and my dad took on more than double that. By the time I started this blog, I'd just paid off that debt — in late January of this year, I was able to close out what I owed, and it was like an elephant that had been sitting on my chest finally decided to stand up and move on.

So, I expected that when I paid off the credit card debt I'd accrued (close to $10,000, almost 100% because of my wedding last year), it'd feel like a monster truck driving off of me or something. The freedom! The ability to save money!! I was looking forward to the relief — banking on it, really.

Now, here we are:  I paid my final payment towards my credit card about two weeks ago, a combination of selling some stock and pinching pennies to make it happen even faster than I expected to. I was hoping to be debt-free by 30, but when my husband suddenly showed a more proactive interest in saving for a house, I made it work faster. I found a way to be at 0, and in two more weeks, I'll get to put about $1,000 into savings for the first time in my life.

And yet — I have to be honest. My life doesn't feel drastically changed. I still find myself nervous about money, worried that I'll have to use my credit card for something again soon, bummed because I was hoping to put more in savings before having to buy a car (and this just simply isn't possible, my car has informed me, via its refusal to allow my air conditioner to work for more than 20 minutes at a time in the Texas summer whose heat index makes it feel like 104 every day). It still feels like I'm on the edge of falling into a debt pit again soon.

How it feels in my car when I'm stuck on I-35.

I can't fully figure out why this is. I don't know if I'll just need to save up a few thousand dollars before I can feel like I can totally breathe, or if it's the fact that, despite trying to scrimp and save for a house now, I still allowed myself to make a few "I've had a rough week" purchases this past week from my achilles-heel shops (ModCloth, L'Occitane and VINCA). I'm definitely excited about my upcoming car purchase, even though that'll technically put me back into debt (but since this is a monthly payment, I'm not counting it in my student loan/credit card threshold of debt that this goal was about).

My new favorite wasting-time-in-an-app app.

I know my personality in general is typically pretty impatient, and so I'm thinking that the reason I don't feel completely lighter-than-air jubilant is because I want to suddenly have savings available to buy a house RIGHT NOW, and that's just not the reality. I still love my apartment on 6th street, so I don't know why I'm in such a rush — I'm hoping I can take a deep breath and continue to take each day at a time. And, I'm hoping I can be a little easier on myself since I did just achieve a HUGE accomplishment, and will be saving money starting with my very next paycheck! I'm just hopeful I can find a good balance in my life between saving for important things and being responsible, and occasionally treating myself because all we have is now. It's that humanoid life tug-of-war we all have to deal with, and sometimes a pair of giant donut earrings is OK, if it's balanced with a nice chunk of savings.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

#3: Take a weekend trip by myself


The last memorable trip that I took by myself was right after I got laid off from my first job. I was unceremoniously told that I could keep writing for the magazine “if I wanted” but that I could no longer rely on a monthly salary because it was too expensive for our publisher. This isn’t that story, so I’ll just say that I ended up driving out to Bastrop State Park and spent hours in the woods there, sitting on benches, writing in my diary and generally communing with nature (devastatingly, a few months later that same park was engulfed in flames. I felt really lucky I got to see it prior to the fires there.)

I am a firm believer in “me time.” It’s crucial for my own well-being that I get some time to myself to do whatever — read, write, watch Netflix, explore the world. Maybe it was studying in Germany in college, traveling around the country by myself, that showed me how important those kinds of trips could be, and how much growth I could enjoy from them. Maybe it was my summer in New York City, riding the subway on my own while blasting the Kings of Leon from my iPod (it was a simpler time). Whatever the reason, I’ve always loved taking a little adventure by myself, and so I took the opportunity to stalk Beyonce around Texas to also get some solo travel time and be my own boss.

The first stop on my Beyonce tour was in H-Town (coming, coming down). I took the 3 hour drive into my second favorite Texas city on Friday night, straight from my place of employment. I’d packed up all my necessities the night before, and given my husband and my dog tight hugs that morning. The drive was far prettier than my normal I-35 trek to Dallas, which is flat and fairly uneventful — there were cows, horses and goats galore, beautiful tree-lined throughways and some fun corner stores where I stopped for snacks and the bathroom. When I finally pulled up to my hotel, I could see the NRG Stadium where my Queen would perform the next night. It was literally right across the street, caddy-corner to the room I ended up in.

View from my hotel room

I was staying in the Crowne Plaza Hotel, and I pulled around the circle drive and gathered up all of my suitcases to take to the check-in desk. Sadly, I was re-directed to the building furthest from where I stood, so I dragged my bags back out to my car and drove over to the “Rio Grande” building. I don’t know if you’ve ever walked into a ghost town before, but that’s exactly how it felt as I entered the empty lobby of the building. Oldies played eerily from the lobby speakers, but there wasn’t a soul in sight. I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. Given this, I should have known better than to get on the elevator, but I had so many bags and the second floor just seemed too far away to drag everything up to my room. I climbed onto the creaky elevator, and as the doors closed behind me, I noticed that there wasn’t any certificate of authentication/safety posted in the claustrophobic space. Thus, my 60 second ride up to the second floor was filled with terror, as I prayed to the universe that the doors would open and I wouldn’t drop to my death (is that even possible when you’re one floor up?) That was my last ride on THAT elevator.

My room was quite nice, with a HUGE king bed, a lovely TV and a view out the window pointed directly at the NRG. I hung up my dresses, laid out my PJs, and hopped back in my car to grab a sandwich and ice cream for dinner. This is what you do when you’re staying in a hotel by yourself, you know. When I brought my dinner back to my room, I turned on HGTV and did not change the channel once during the rest of my stay in my hotel room. Even when shows I HATED, like Flip or Flop, were on, I left my Home and Garden friends playing in the background as comforting voices to accompany me on my stay.

My friends

When I woke up on Saturday, I ordered room service breakfast so I could speed up my getting-ready process. And what, you might ask, does a princess like me order from my fine room service providers? Why, frosted mini wheats, milk and orange juice, of course. (In all honesty, it was a pretty disappointing breakfast — they put about 5 wheat squares in my bowl, the milk tasted questionably room temp and the OJ was just fine.) This allowed me to head out for my first adventure of the weekend, a stop at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Zack and I had popped into this museum before and were quickly smitten with it, so I was excited to return and take it at my own pace. Sadly, what I discovered was that this museum (unlike some of the other fantastic ones in the city) really doesn’t change up its displays much, so I pretty much walked through the same stuff I’d seen the last time all over again. To make matters worse, this time I discovered that the many impressive dinosaur skeletons towering above me were almost all replicas, rather than the real deal. This stole some of the magic from me at first, but then I made it my mission to look close at the bones that were real and really try to soak in the pre-history.

I think this one was real, but I honestly don't recall now.

"Evolution is predictable. Usually herbivores evolve from carnivores..." THAT'S RIGHT FOLKS, I'm more evolved.

Another notable stop was a strange animatronic world of “Texas wildlife,” replete with a woodpecker that actually banged its beak against a tree and a skunk that moved threateningly when you passed it by. I liked the fact that you could experience this exhibit in a daytime AND nighttime setting, with different sounds accompanying each.

A panorama of the dinosaurs. I forgot to take many pictures elsewhere, obviously.

Around the corner from this spectacle was the Cabinets of Curiosity. In theory, this exhibit is great. It encourages interaction with the museum — you get to open up a vast number of drawers and see all kinds of different things, like arrowheads and jewelry and fossils and shells. Sometimes the drawers’ smells were overpowering and I closed them quickly, but in general I liked the mood of the place. That is, until I approached a series of drawers in the back corner of the exhibit. I started at the bottom, as Drake taught me to do, and to my horror, discovered a bird carcass. Just a dead bird, hanging out in the drawer. Yeesh, I thought, that’s kind of a miss. Then I opened the next drawer — bird carcass number two. NO FREAKING WAY, I thought as I shut the drawer. There’s no way these could ALL be dead birds…right?! I opened up each drawer in the series of 4, and EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. had a dead bird in there, sometimes two. I get that taxidermy is a thing, but c’mon guys!!!!! Such a cruel trick to play on a sad vegetarian.

Don't mind us, just some DEAD FREAKING BIRDS.

I tried to take a selfie with a horrified face by the entrance to the exhibit, knowing that I’d share my dismay on this blog, but I was caught by a security guard who wanted to be helpful and offered to take a photo of me. Not realizing that I was trying to make a funny face, after he snapped the first shot he looked at the photo, consternated, and said, “…let me try again.” He was trying to capture a more delicate-looking facial expression from me, I think, bless his heart. So, what I ended up with was something in between what I wanted and what he wanted.

A funny-turned-awkward photo op.

My favorite room, and last stop on my museum tour, was the room full of gems and minerals. I love looking at all the different textures, hues and consistencies. I find it very peaceful to just enjoy the items, and since I was by myself I could take as much or as little time as I wanted with each exhibit. Despite being alone, in fact, I found myself briefly concerned with how my fellow museum-goers would think of me if I moved on from a display too quickly, and then I snapped back to reality and realized, this is my time, nobody cares what I do, I’m the boss. So I was able to go straight to my favorites, which were mostly the displays of opal. If I could wear an outfit made of opal, I’d probably do it. It’s delicate and glittering, seemingly unreal — like something that would live alongside mermaids and unicorns.

Opal is tangible magic.

After I was exhausted at the Science museum, I touched base with one of my oldest friends, Merritt, who now lives in Houston and works at the Museum of Fine Arts. He swung by the Science museum so I could leave my car in the garage, and we headed to a really cute little cafe in his neighborhood that would easily fit in in Austin — the waiters had piercings, tattoos and all the hair colors of the hair rainbow, the patrons looked young and hip, for the most part, and there was delicious food to gobble up. I opted for a salad as I caught up on Merritt’s life and vice versa, and I was so pleased to see my dear friend find such passion for his work. He seemed to radiate happiness, which is such a fulfilling thing to experience alongside your friend. And despite having worked shifts the previous 6 days at the museum, Merritt was not only willing, but exited to show me around the MFAH after lunch.

It pays to have a friend at the museum. With his credentials, Merritt was able to grant us both access to the two special MFAH exhibits — Sculpted in Steel, and High Society. For the former, we walked through rooms of vehicles-as-art:  art deco automobiles that were sleek and gorgeous, if perhaps a bit impractical (looking at you, van with MOVABLE 4-LEGGED CHAIRS INSIDE). The colors were vibrant, the materials inside luxurious, and the instrument panels mimicked that of an airplane. Plus, I finally got to see a Bugatti up close and understand what Britney Spears has been singing about all this time!

Merritt was most excited to share the works of portrait artist Franz X. Winterhalter, and when he walked me through and gave me the background story on him and his brother Hermann, I could totally understand why. Before we even got to the exhibit, back at lunch, Merritt was explaining to me how Franz was enlisted to paint the portraits of royalty, which got me thinking — did royalty want to look exactly true-to-life, or similar to today, would they want to appear a bit…enhanced? Merritt was pleased with my train of thought and explained that this was why Winterhalter was so popular among royalty — his subjects looked like themselves, but definitely more refined and beautiful. He was one of the original photoshoppers, people!!! He also helped to create the desire for a haute couture culture, because his subjects wanted great focus on the clothes they were wearing. There were so many subtleties about his work — the fact that he had Queen Victoria looking directly at her subjects, where Prince Albert was looking at the Queen; how to recognize when he was in love with his subject (which happened at least twice in the exhibit we saw). It was just marvelous stuff, and reminded me how much I enjoy art when someone who is knowledgable about it can explain the background to me.

Me and Merritt. I'm making a goober face because I accidentally turned the camera to face the other way while I was trying to take our photo before.

After we completed our journey into the past, Merritt dropped me back at the garage and I drove back to the hotel. I relaxed for a little while, watching more HGTV, and then started to get myself ready for the main event, my own queen, Queen Bey. I donned my Ivy Park sports bra and jersey, and then waited for my dear Katie to appear so we could drink champagne and get to it. When Katie arrived, Mrs. New Mom had to do some pumpin’ before we left, so she sat in the big chair by the window and simultaneously drank her champagne LIKE A BOSS. I ended up drinking the lion’s share, e.g. I was in high spirits by the time we arrived inside the NRG, and also I was craving pizza RULL bad.

Giving Bey my MONEYYYY.

We grabbed our pizza and made our way down to THE FLOOR. What’s that? You can’t believe we got floor seats for Beyonce? Well, quite frankly, neither could we, but thanks to our local barbershop, Birds, we had a chance to enter-and-win two floor passes so we could breathe in as much of Bey as was possible. Birds awarded each of us a ticket, me for dressing head-to-toe in Bey gear, Katie for appealing to their hearts with her baby dressed in an “I Woke Up Like This” onesie. We kinda killed it.


The winning entries, replete with Bey song title usage.

What happened next was kind of a blur. We missed most of DJ Khaled because we wanted to hit the restrooms one last time before the show. We made friends with a woman sitting next to Katie who was also a mom, so they talked mom shop and then loud music blared from the speakers and video came up on the giant screens. Everybody freaked out, but then it turned out to be an ad for Ivy Park. Cool, cool, I’m wearing IP, all good. Then another video played, we freaked out again, and THAT turned out to be an ad for Lemonade (as if we all hadn’t already downloaded it, c’mon.) Another video — another Ivy Park ad. Despite cries from a gentleman in the row behind us who declared, “NO NOT THE FUCKING FLOWER AGAIN, C’MON!!” I think we all respected the self-advertising at the Bey show. When you’re Bey, you can use your time as you please.

When the lights finally dimmed, I screamed like a woman possessed. No exaggeration: I found a red welt-like thing on my throat the next day from screaming as hard as I did. In retrospect I feel a LITTLE bad for the people around me, but from what I can remember in the haze of everything, they were shrieking, too. How could you not? One of the most powerful women in America flashed on the giant box screen in front of us, declaring her presence.

Beyonce is a superstar, so the aesthetics — the spectacle — of her live performance are top notch. The costumes are jaw-droopingly gorgeous — black bodysuits with wide-brimmed hats, gold-encrusted bodysuits that pay homage to Michael Jackson’s Super Bowl look, stunningly sparkly white jumpsuits with lace, a fur coat and a cowboy hat (for “Daddy Issues,” naturally). The giant, rotating box of a video screen that allows Bey to project herself, either as she is or with effects and filters. Aerial dancers swinging on ropes and metal boxes. A lipped stage that allows for water to be brought in at the end of the show, so Bey and her dancers can kick it up and out to her fans, baptizing them, helping them be reborn.

The Queen

But with all of the gorgeous spectacle, the root of what Bey has done is what makes her live show so compelling. It is the strength and beauty of her powerful voice, the specific images she chooses to represent on the screen behind her, the community she has built around her. As a white woman, there were words, phrases and imagery in the show that did not belong to me, so I left them to their rightful community. But what I did draw from was the power in womanhood, the strength to move through pain. The desire to lift each other up and let everyone thrive.

The happiest ladies

“Freedom” is one of my favorite songs from Lemonade. It is a song that has a specific and separate meaning outside of my white womanhood that I respect and stand behind, though I do not experience it. For me, it also helps me with my eating disorder, with my internal prison of anxiety that has locked me up for so many years of my life. When Beyonce sings, “I’ma keep running, ‘cause a winner don’t quit on themselves,” I am set free of my internal restraints, of the physical restrictions the Western world tries to place on me and on everyone. I draw power from it, and it moves me for what it is to me, and what it is so far beyond that.

The power of songs like “Freedom,” “Formation,” “Sorry” and “Don’t Hurt Yourself” balanced well with the pure joy of singing “Drunk in Love” and “Survivor” in a sea of thousands. With a set list of 31 songs plus multiple musical interludes (including the Prince version of “Purple Rain” blasting over the NRG speakers, with the tour box lit up purple, which almost brought me to tears) it’s hard to “summarize” the show. Honestly, I sort of wouldn’t want to try, because this is something to experience. It’s the community, the physical vibe you experience when you attend the church of Bey, that makes the whole thing transcendent.

Katie and I stumbled out of the venue with the rest of the concert attendees, and chewed on what we’d been through aloud, trying to process the imagery and feelings. Mental photographs flashed through my mind — the dancers smiling widely as they got to two-step for “Daddy Issues;” the fierce, guttural screams that punctuated the end of “Freedom;” Beyonce’s coy smile as she pointed to lucky fans in the front row, saying, “I see some familiar faces;” the confetti that floated like snowflakes to emphasize “Party;” Bey kicking water like a happy child out onto her fans as “End of Time” melted into “Halo.” By the time we got back to my hotel room so Katie could pump before she got on the road, we were dazed, half-zombies. I fell asleep dreaming of rain drops and confetti.

Also we MADE IT ONTO BEYONCE DOT COM!!!! "You" is Katie, "Me" is me.

The next morning, I got up as early as I could muster and drove to Shipley’s for some doughnuts and coffee. I had no idea what I was doing at the drive-through, since I’d never been to Shipley’s before, so I’m sure the car that eventually pulled up behind me was filled with eye-rolling regulars. I hurried along and tried to order 2 doughnuts plus what I thought was 3 doughnut holes, but when the girl at the checkout said, “3 bags of holes?!” I was like “OH NO NO just one thank you.” The coffee was meh, but the doughnuts were delicious and a perfect treat before I hit the road for my four hour journey to Dallas. I only stopped a couple times, and got really lucky with the bathrooms (clean! private! yay!) When I finally pulled up in front of my mom’s house that Mother’s Day afternoon, I was exhausted but relieved. I gave my mom a big Mother’s Day hug, and dragged my stuff inside and was greeted with doggie kisses from her two terriers.

Although Mellow Mushroom has exited Austin (boohoo!) they still exist in Texas, so our Mother’s Day meal was pizza from this most delicious of pizza joints, and then we headed home to relax and chat before bed. I got a chance to walk the terriers with my mom, and it was just such a special treat to be with her, since I don’t get to make the 3-plus hour visit to her as often as I’d want.

The next day, I had to do some work from home, but I still had a chance to watch The Price is Right with my mom and spend as much time as we needed getting dressed. My mom dressed IMPECCABLY, in an on-fashion basketball jersey with a coat, grey skirt and cool sneakers. I threw on my Ivy Park outfit again (with a different colored sports bra) and off we drove to the AT&T stadium in Arlington. We had to make a pit-stop at Target, since the AT&T folks don’t allow purses in the stadium (!!!!! what!!!!!! how and why!!!!!) so we had to get some clutches for our valuables, since we didn’t have pockets in our outfits.

Another day, another Ivy Park situation

We got a little lost on the AT&T grounds (y’all, it’s a goddamn maze. There’s the baseball stadium right there, as well as Six Flags, so it’s just rows on rows of parking lots and bleh.) Luckily we’d pre-paid for parking, and our lot was super close to the stadium so once we dropped the car we were inside the stadium gates in minutes.

Mom was kind enough to let me wait in the merch line so I could get my hands on as much Bey merch as I could afford (the silk tour jacket being the pièce de résistance), and then we headed inside to grab drinks and our seats. We had a really solid vantage point, and I was glad to experience the tour both on and off the floor, because it let me see Bey up close, and then pull back to see the effect of all the dance moves and theatrics.

The tour pins, which now live on my jean jacket.

Mom was smart enough to bring a pair of binoculars (the idea was her husband, Scott’s — good move!) and so she was able to spy on the stage for us, noticing when there was movement by the back stairs. We actually got to see all of DJ Khaled’s performance, including guest spots from Bun B and O.T. Genasis, and he got our hearts pumping before the long wait for Bey to appear. From my new vantage point, I could see that the video screen Formation box actually had SECRET PANELS, so mom and I giggled as we watched various workers sneak in and out with drinks in their hands (I’m thinking for Bey to sip on, but who knows). We watched the Mamas (Bey’s backup singers) take the stage and shake fans’ hands. Finally, after the same ads that did not fool me twice, it was time for take 2.

People have asked me what the differences were between the shows. While the set lists were almost the same, night 2 allowed me to really be in the present moment. Whereas I was just a living, breathing adrenaline rush night 1, on the second night I felt more awake dancing with my mom, complimenting new friends we made in the crowd.

I knew the Prince tribute was coming, and I didn’t warn my mother. You see, she is the biggest Prince fan I have ever known. Prince was a part of our family for as long as I could remember, to the point where I recall scolding my mom when I was probably seven years old for playing the sexy music while Edward had a friend visiting the house. This annoyed her, and in retrospect it should have because I was being a little seven-year-old prude. But anyway, I knew that the screen lit up purple was going to be a moving moment for my mom, and I didn’t want to spoil that. Little did I know, Bey had a special surprise just for us. For the first time on the Formation tour, Beyonce covered a Prince song herself — the heartbreakingly gorgeous, “The Beautiful Ones.” I stood there, shocked, and rubbed my mom’s shoulders as she sat in her seat and wept. Bey did an impeccable job — there’s video circling the interwebs, but it doesn’t do Bey justice. She KILLED this cover, with tears streaming down her face, and then still transitioned into the interlude of “Purple Rain,” which caused my mom to weep harder. This is a moment of my life I will never, ever forget.

The scene during "Purple Rain," with phones lit up like starlight around the stadium.

“Freedom” hit harder night 2 as well, because my mom knew that this was my “get back in the ring” boxing song, and so she felt the power of it in the same way I did, which connected me to her, too. Whereas in Houston, Bey gave heartfelt thanks to the fans who’d been with her from day one, spreading the love she feels for her hometown, in Dallas she was our cheerleader, our strong big sister telling us that it was all gonna be OK. She was supposed to be singing “Halo” as her closer, and the fireworks and special effects were running as if nothing was different, but Bey insisted, “I’m supposed to be singing but I’m gonna talk.” She went on to talk about seeing Michael Jackson as her first concert, and thinking at the time, “I want to do that.” Then she said, “I wanna say to all of the young ladies, I am you and you are me and you could be on this stage one day. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. All you have to do is dream and you will make it a reality for yourself. Thank y’all for this beautiful night.” I just got shivers reliving this moment, because it was exactly what I needed to hear from a woman who has given me so much inner strength over the past few years.

My mom and I were in total awe leaving the stadium, and we just jammed to Lemonade as we waited out the traffic and headed home again. I had an early wake-up the next morning to drive back to Austin, straight to work (where Zack would adorably meet me, running towards me for a hug). But it was all so very worth it, because I got to celebrate womanhood and femininity with three of the most important women in my life. We all need memories, dreams, hopes and wishes to hold tight to for those days where we feel down, less-than, bummed out by our current lot in life. That is what the Formation tour has done for me — the whole trip around Texas, really. It reaffirmed that life is good and people are good and we’re all in this together.

My mom and me

P.s. This needs it’s own special comment because I’m now in love with this vlogger: prior to seeing Bey’s tour, right after Lemonade dropped, I tried to find as many reviews of the album by black women as possible so I could educate myself on the deeper meanings of the record. One of the favorites I came across was from a woman based right here in Austin, Texas — Evelyn from the Internets. What I didn’t know was that Bey was watching, too, and so Evelyn ended up in the Formation tour!! I mention this because I have since started watching as many of Evelyn’s videos as possible and they are charming and hilarious, and you should watch them, too.

Friday, April 29, 2016

#19: Try Boxing

I made a discovery Thursday night:  I SUCK at boxing. Well, maybe not the act of punching itself, but all of the floor work you’ve gotta do to build your muscle and make your punches effective? SUCK. As I was filling out my entry paperwork for my trial class at Austin Boxing Babes, I’d selected the box that said my health was “Good.” In retrospect, “Fair” or below would have probably been more accurate. I was hoping that the running I’d been doing pretty consistently, along with elliptical and other cardio work, would make the warm-up exercises we’d do easier on me. I was fearing that the cold that’s lingered since I returned from Coachella over a week ago was going to impact me. I was dreading that feeling I got back in middle school, when I was trying out for volleyball and felt like I made a fool of myself, crying in pain as we did relays back and forth on the smelly gym court. We started out easy enough, with jumping jacks. I found myself keeping up easily, and felt excited — like, maybe I’ll be a lot better at this than I thought! We moved to front-kicking leg lift-type deals, and I was still hanging in. When our trainer said we were going to do squats, I had concerns, but I actually did OK (I didn’t go low, but I was able to do all the reps). Then…we partnered up. I was partnered with a very thin, short, and young-looking girl (maybe in middle or high school herself), and she seemed sad not to be paired with the friends she’d come to class with. I couldn’t blame her. At the direction of the trainer, we locked ankles and began doing sit ups — with our arms at our sides. I was used to cradling my neck and head when I did sit-ups, so what at first was a fun challenge quickly became a literal struggle. We had to do 30 or 40 sit-ups (I can’t remember how many now), and on the last 5-10, I found my body shaking under the struggle to get up high enough so I could continue high-fiving my buddy. Uh-oh, I thought. This is getting harder.

The next partner activity was for one of us to continue doing sit-ups while the other did burpees. I’d always heard this term before and thought it was disgusting, but I didn’t know what a burpee really was, so I asked the trainer to demonstrate. Oh. Oh, ok. It’s a leap into the air, a drop from a standing position into a push-up stance, a push-up, and then a jump back up to standing. In laymen’s terms: It’s actual, literal hell-on-earth torture. My partner, blessedly, offered to do those first while I had to continue doing sit-ups, waiting for her to hit 15. I was barely moving, mentally and physically becoming more and more distraught. When we switched, I found that I was more crawling into the push-up position, going from a standing position to a crouch, throwing one leg back and then sort of awkwardly walking the other back, then basically walking both feet towards my hands and standing. I did jump, though, I’ll give myself that. I wasn’t keeping a good count of how many reps I did, so I basically judged by the women around me — when they swapped, I swapped. From here, we had to bear crawl across the floor while our partner stayed propped on their elbows in a plank position. I’m guessing I looked like a dying soldier on the battlefield, dragging my body across the dirty gym mat more than what anyone would consider “crawling.” After this, we did push-ups, bicycles with our feet in the air, planks, sideways-twisty moves, and other activities where we were laying down but somehow I still couldn’t catch my breath.



Me, approximately (Photo by Valerie Abbott)

Once we were finally done with our floor warm-ups (about 20-25 minutes into the workout), I stood up and immediately felt lightheaded. The room wasn’t spinning, per se, but it definitely wasn’t standing still, either, and I tried drinking water to help myself get a grip. This did not help, unfortunately, and more upset my stomach than anything. I was partnered with a more experienced girl to help wrap my hands for shadow-boxing, and as she was wrapping the long length of cloth around and around my hand, wrist and fingers, I felt myself become more and more dizzy. I couldn’t tell if it was purely out of exhaustion from the most intense workout I’d half-assed my way through in forever, or a combination of that and still recovering from a cold that made it harder to breath than normal, or even an added layer of a panic attack (which I hadn’t had in weeks, thanks to a new medication) — whatever the causes, I knew I needed to sit down or I was going to pass out, vomit, or poop myself (maybe all three? Exciting!) I said to the stranger wrapping my hands, “Sorry about this, but can I sit down while you do this? I’m feeling light-headed.” She said, “Of course, I felt the same way when I started.” She talked to me about my Apple Watch and some other stuff — bless her heart, she was trying to distract me with small talk, but I was probably super pale-faced and losing it. The hand-wrapping didn’t help, either, because it was making me claustrophobic. After she finished, I put my head between my knees and my wrapped hands on my temples, trying to take deep breaths. After a couple minutes of sitting there, feeling sorry for myself, the trainer came over and checked in with me. I said, “Sorry, yeah, I just have anxiety actually and I think I’m - I didn’t think it’d be an issue, but I’ll be OK, just need to sit for a minute.” The trainer said, “OK!” and headed back to class, and her reaction made something in me snap.

As I caught my breath and got my footing, I realized — it WAS going to be OK. I was 29 years old participating in a voluntary boxing class. I didn’t need to cry or quit. And that’s when it happened — Beyonce popped into my head. From her latest album, a line from the track “Freedom” started playing in a loop in my head: “I’ma keep running ‘cause a winner don’t quit on themselves.” Yeah, it was embarrassing that I’d sucked so much at floor exercises. But the true defining action, in this moment, wasn’t whether someone would remember how much I sucked or make fun of me later — it had nothing to do with anyone but me. The defining action was, would I try again? Would I get back in the ring? Would I keep going? “I’ve got to try again,” I told myself, and stood back up and headed onto the mat.



This may seem like the obvious choice to a person more self-confident and less afraid of mistakes than I am, but this was a milestone for me. I’ve never enjoyed activities that are difficult for me, or that I’m not good at right away. Flash back to the volleyball tryouts — the very next day, I approached the coach and said I was removing myself from the tryouts altogether because volleyball wasn’t for me. I remember the coach laughing, but not fighting me on it. I think about how violin never came naturally to me, exactly, so I would dread practicing because I just wanted to be GOOD, already, right now! Academics came naturally to me, so I’d always relish in my straight A’s and my studiousness. But if it wasn’t easy, I was quick to dismiss it as something I just wasn’t into. Now, flash forward to Thursday night. I promised myself that, if after a good try (no fewer than 10 classes), I wasn’t genuinely loving boxing, then fine, I could try a different sport or exercise routine. But I had to at least try to make sure it wasn’t just that it was hard and I wasn’t good.

When I got back out on the mat with my wrapped hands, the trainer welcomed me back and quickly taught me a jab, a cross-body punch and a hook. I was able to memorize the moves in about two minutes, and suddenly I found myself putting on boxing gloves and heading to a body bag with a new partner. THIS was what I came for — letting it rip on that body bag was so satisfying, and while I have no idea if my stance was correct the whole time or if I was executing the moves accurately, I gave it all I had, taking little breaks when I got tired to get water and reminding myself to breathe. 

My partner was in the middle- or high-school crew that I’d stumbled upon, and I asked if they’d all signed up for classes together. She said she’d started with a friend and then all of their friends joined up, and then the other four girls in our group started talking to her about class (they hate woodworking, apparently, because the room is really hot). Later in our drills, when we were supposed to punch the bag as fast as we could, I encouraged my partner as I held the bag for her, saying, “Picture this is woodworking class, or your teacher or whatever!” She laughed and punched on.



After our bag drills, we did some stretching and cool down exercises, and when everything was over the trainer came and gave me a high five and we talked about next steps. Mine are simple:  I’m going to buy at least 10 classes, and give this thing a try, and once I’m physically better at it, if I still don’t find myself passionate about it, I’ll move on. But for now, I find myself fascinated by boxing, and sore the day after in all the right ways — a soreness that indicates growth, in my muscles, in my head, and in my heart.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

#23: See LCD Soundsystem With Zack


I met my husband at a music festival five and a half years ago — the same music festival where I saw LCD Soundystem for the last time before they broke up. After enjoying a riveting performance that opened with "Dance Yrself Clean" and ended with "Home," I picked up a CD copy of This Is Happening from the Waterloo Records tent and blasted it in my car the rest of the weekend. I had no idea that the band I fell head-over-heels for in that moment would break up a few months later; I had no idea the guy I feel head-over-heels for the next night would be the man I'd marry. When Zack and I made "the five year bet" — when he bet me that LCD would reunite within five years, and I said it wouldn't happen, and if it did I had to buy us tickets to their show and if it didn't he'd buy me tickets to any show I chose — I didn't realize how much significance five years would have for us. Before that landmark anniversary hit for the day we met, we were married. And *just* before the five-year anniversary of their breakup, LCD reunited.


The first song Zack and I bonded over was a love song — LCD Soundsystem's "I Can Change." It featured throughout our relationship, quickly becoming "our song." I had a bunch of Austin artists cover the song as a Valentine's gift to Zack once; he had local cover band All My Friends play it in our living room when he proposed. It was the song we danced to as our first dance at our wedding. I thought we'd never have the chance to see LCD play it live, and then — the announcement. The band was back. James Murphy had new music. They were going to Coachella. We hardly thought about it, it was just decided — we'd return to the California desert, sleep on the ground, and see our band.


We showed up at the main stage during Of Monsters and Men's set, almost four hours before LCD was scheduled to play. Bit by bit, we made our way to the railing on the left side of the stage — we were stuck behind the VIP section, but as close as GA could get on the left side and it felt right. We tuned out talkers during M83's solid set, watched bros live their best life during Ellie Goulding, jumping up and down together in a hug-circle, and then suffered through a couple making out right by our feet to get to what we'd yearned for — a disco ball, a ton of instruments, and a bunch of substitute teachers playing heart-wrenching dance music.


"Us V Them" gave us a chance to mock the VIP'sters chattering in front of us with arms crossed, letting us define our fandom outside of their hip be-seen/scene attitude. "Daft Punk Is Playing At My House" made me think of my brother, and how that song used to make me feel closer to him when I'd play it on my college radio station. And then, I collapsed. Holding onto the railing, I melted, just briefly, as the bloopy synths of "I Can Change" rang out across the field. When I pulled myself back up, Zack gripped me tightly, his arms surrounding my shoulders, and he didn't let go for the entire six minutes as we sang to each other in disbelief. And that was just the third song.


I don't know what it is about LCD Soundsystem that gets me on such a deeply emotional level. I think it's partly James Murphy's self-reflective lyrics, his admittance at a desire to be accepted and appreciated, but his simultaneous ability to laugh at that vulnerability. It's definitely the emotional attachment I have to the music with my friends — with Zack, and my dear Melissa, who I called twice during the set so she could experience it with me (just like she did for me at the final MSG show). Zack and I got to leave everything on the dance floor at this show, so to speak — it was a set list that would have made our local cover band, All My Friends, proud, filled with B-side jams like "Get Innocuous!," "Tribulations" and "Yeah." But it had all of my favorite hits, too — "Dance Yrself Clean" and "Someone Great" and "Losing My Edge" and "Home." Murphy really kept himself to his no-talking policy, opting instead to play as much music as possible, and I think that speaks to how much he missed his band, too. He just wanted to hear as many of his favorites as possible, just like us.


It feels like Zack and I have experienced a true full-circle moment in our lives and relationship now. Truly, Friday at Coachella felt like a peak life moment. I'd been nervous leading up to the festival — maybe it wouldn't be fun, maybe I'd feel self-conscious the whole weekend surrounded by pretty California models, maybe I'd be far too in my head to live in a moment I'd dreamed about for so long. But I had nothing to fear. With James Murphy at the helm, and my husband on my arm, I truly had all I needed.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

SXSW 2016 - A Retrospective

Having a panic attack is kind of like this:  you’re doing some kind of mundane activity, like showering, or driving, or sitting in a meeting, or trying to fall asleep, and you think you see a tiger out of the corner of your eye. You try to look away, or pretend it’s not there, but your body and brain shift into fight-or-flight response. You tense, you spiral into stress, you feel certain you’re going to die if you don’t escape right away. Except — there is no escape, because the tiger isn’t real. It’s a thought, in your brain, and no amount of logic or left-brain coercion can break you out of the feeling that you’re doomed, so you turn white and feel like you might pass out. For me, at least, this is what a panic attack feels like.

Dissociating is kind of like this:  you’re reading a book, and you can picture in your mind exactly what the main protagonist looks like. You seem them navigating through the world. You can sometimes sympathize with their emotions, but you are always sort of floating above them, observing them but not fully experiencing what it is they’re going through, not really seeing through their eyes or living in their skin. Except it’s actually you you’re floating above, not a fictional character; it’s your own eyes that seem to not quite belong to you. You keep yourself distant from your own lived experience because the trauma of really feeling what you’re feeling seems like too much to bear, so your brain protects you by keeping you distant. This is my experience.

Having an eating disorder can be like this:  you give a presentation at work, and your boss tells you that you did a good job, but to make sure that you keep your bullet points on your slides shorter next time. Despite getting mostly positive feedback, you feel down about yourself, and this manifests itself by you thinking, “Ugh, if only I spoke three more languages, nobody would ever think anything I do is wrong! Why can’t I just get French down, already?!” Except instead of languages, you think you need to lose some magical amount of weight, because this will make you “perfect” in the eyes of other people, and you will no longer have to live in fear of failing someone and being abandoned. Equally as disjointed as thinking you need to learn more languages, but far more damaging depending on the actions you may take following the thoughts. This is just a slice of the life you might have with an eating disorder.

This is a weird way to start a review of a music conference, I know. But here’s the thing — if you live with anxiety, with a panic disorder, with an eating disorder, as I do, this colors much of your life experiences. These things don’t define me, but they are a part of me — a part I’m working very hard to overcome or cope with in various forms and fashions. But they are also the reasons why music is so crucial for me. Around February each year, I get to feeling a bit down. I went to college with the idea that I was going to make it in a creative industry. First, I thought film might be for me; then, radio. I finally settled on music journalism, and this choice really defined my path through college and in the years after I graduated. Hell, it’s still what I try to do in the in-between hours of my life (when I’m not at my day job). But while I continue to hustle to some degree, I’m not nearly as involved in music journalism as I used to be, when I was running a blog solely focused on music and regularly supporting local Austin bands through concert attendance and showcase curation. So by the time it’s been almost a year since the previous SXSW conference, I forget why I even bother. I feel overwhelmed by the massive amounts of artists coming to town, and a part of me wants to curl in a ball in my bathtub and stay in my apartment until the storm passes. But every year, I slowly work my way as far as I can through the artist lineup (yep — literally band by band, alphabetically until time runs out. This year I made it to the mid-J’s!) And every year, either as a birthday gift to myself or through the magic of music mag connections, I end up with a badge so that I can jump around fairly easily and consume more live music over the course of 4-5 days than I do the rest of the year. This year was my 10th year attending the festival, and this year more than ever, it felt like SXSW saved me.

The rest of my review will be split into days. My hope is that, whether you were there or not, you’ll be able to feel like you were, standing right next to me, doing goofy white girl dances right alongside mine. It won’t be a full retrospective, exactly; but rather a sort of quilt of memorable experiences woven together in what I hope will be an engaging and interesting fashion. If nothing else, I hope it turns you on to your new favorite band, and I hope that makes you feel less alone and more understood in this crazy, random, fucked up and beautiful world.

TUESDAY

WEDNESDAY

THURSDAY

FRIDAY

SATURDAY

SXSW Day 1 - Tuesday

TUESDAY, MARCH 15

In my quest to conquer the SXSW 2016 artist list, Boraj (pronounced kind of like “Borahg”) was one of the first bands I really fell in love with. This year in particular, I found myself very bored by what I’d call “standard American indie rock” and/or “standard American indie folk rock” music, which made me especially drawn to anything that felt different. I wouldn’t claim that Boraj really lands THAT far outside of my normal musical tastes — they make sweeping, gorgeous music that feels like what nature would write in its winds and oceans and mountains, sort of like Sigur Ros, but from Chile and with lyrics in Spanish rather than Icelandic. With only two chances to see the group’s first-ever performances in the US, I begged Zack to try to get into their Tuesday night gig with me after we got off of work. With no credentials, I really had no idea how difficult a task this might be. Luckily, the first magic of SXSW ’16 kicked in this night — by paying the cover price of $10 each, we were let into Friends Bar before anyone with badges or wristbands, making it inside in plenty of time to get comfortable and make new friends.

Before Boraj started their set, I noticed a young woman with a cool backpack taking notes in a spiral notebook standing in front of me. She had a septum piercing and hair in pigtails, and something in me said, “Say hi!” So I asked who she was writing for, and she laughed and explained she was just taking notes for herself because she was a college radio DJ and wanted to remember things to say on her next show. I immediately felt a connection with her, since I had been a college DJ for 4 years. “Oh man, that’s how I learned about all the music I know now!” I told her. “ME TOO!” she said. We swapped stories about our favorite artists, and she wrote her radio show info in my phone so I could tune in to her next show (Monday nights, 7PM MST — look for the “False Friends” show by DJ Tijeras here.) I got to watch her hug her favorite artist at the showcase, a girl named Natisú who dressed in black skinny jeans, boots and a loose, silky button-down shirt — so much like my good friend Melissa that I had to take a photo of Natisú on stage later and text it to my pal, informing her that her style was being copied by a rock star from Chile.


Boraj themselves were so completely charming and fabulous. There were sound issues in the room that made it difficult to hear the vocals (a shame, since haunting harmonies are one of the cornerstones of the music) but in the end it didn’t matter because the band was so thrilled to have an audience, and they looked like they were having so much fun. In that live setting, the Sigur Ros comparison disappeared a little bit, and instead Boraj reminded Zack and I of one of our favorite local acts, Little Lo — a band of friends making music they believe in together, because it’s fun and they’re talented and they want to create. After the band’s energetic set, we stopped the lead singer to congratulate him on a fantastic show, and he asked us again and again if we really liked it, needing to feel that reassurance to make sure he could really believe it. We freely gave our praise, feeling so happy to be a part of the moment.

I like to find new favorites at SXSW, since there are so many bands to see and fall in love with. But sometimes, you gotta put on that comfy sweater and your favorite sneakers. That was what led Zack and I to the Nomad Bar for my last show as a 28-year-old-woman — we wanted to be assured a good time, so we wanted Oberhofer. Oberhofer are a band I first learned of in 2010, when my insanely talented and super cool friend Pooneh Ghana recommended we try to catch them at the CMJ festival (the same festival where she introduced me to my beloved Drums). We never did, but two years later, I finally got to see Brad Oberhofer and company open up for Matt & Kim (and, quite frankly, totally overshadow the headlining act with their far more genuine presentation). Time Capsules II took over my life for a while, and then I got to stalk the band a little at SXSW 2014. The set list this time around was pretty similar to the one two years ago, but I am NOT complaining. Oberhofer have so many wild, fun pop rock songs that swell and burst open at just the right moment, so an encore — or four — of tunes like “Earplugs” and “Away Frm U” are always a blast. The highlight of the group’s Nomad set was a song I really had to dig around the internet for — titled “Dead Girls Dance,” there’s this haunting jam of a song that the band plays with a long instrumental part that allows Brad to wander around the venue for as long as he feels like — in this case, he physically exited the venue, walked out to the patio (presumably), and as I stood there watching his band furiously attack this song, I suddenly felt something on my leg. I looked down, half-annoyed, to see that it was Brad Oberhofer, crawling his way back to the stage through an unassuming crowd. Once he made it back to the stage, his guitar got caught on his mic stand, almost toppling it to the ground, but he was able to right the stand and himself without missing a beat. He was handed a shot of something clear, downed it, but promptly spit it out like mouthwash. At some point earlier in the set, he’d broken a guitar string, but instead of taking time away from the show to fix it, he expertly tuned his guitar to be able to play the “Away Frm U” riff — an impressive feat — and kept right on with the show. This 10-minute series of events put a huge smile on my face, and I head-banged through the rest of the set, feeling very involved in the process and connected with the band and myself.

Then, suddenly, I was 29 years old. Zack took me to Kerbey Lane Cafe, a 24-hour diner chain local to Austin, and we ordered chips, queso, and a brownie sundae to ring in my new year. We talked about moments in the shows we’d seen, mused on the characters filling the diner and standing outside of it, and winded down, prepared to dive into a badgeless SXSW the next day — my first in 10 years. I contented myself with the great experiences we’d already had, and felt hopeful that we’d make the most of the conference. I had no idea how great it was going to be.

SXSW Day 2 - BIRTHDAY

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 16

I woke up on my 29th birthday to the sound of my phone buzzing. I groaned, not eager to start my day at 9AM. Without a badge to my name, the plan was to just camp out at a free day show that didn’t require credentials. When I peered to see who was calling, I realized it was the publisher who has hooked me up with credentials for SXSW in years past. I figured at this late stage, he was probably calling to say he wouldn’t be needing help this year. Instead, when I checked my messages, I discovered that he was asking if I needed a badge, and if I’d like one for anyone else. It was a birthday miracle. I couldn’t believe my luck. I called him back, thanked him profusely, and just like that, Zack and I were festival-ready. In exchange, all we had to do was get banners to a couple showcases and tweet coverage for the week. Zack took care of the first banner drop-off that same morning on his way to pick up my Dairy Queen ice cream cake while I got ready.

After collecting our surprise-badges, Zack and I headed to the showcase we’d initially planned to camp at for the day — the lineup was simply too good to pass up. We had high hopes for a day of good music, but we didn’t know we’d discover half of our favorite acts at the Beehive showcase at Swan Dive.


Entering the venue was like coming across an old friend after a long time apart. Swan Dive is where I’d hosted a few of my own showcases in the past, and it was comforting to enter the space, with its padded silver booths and old-timey chandeliers. A forgettable psych rock band was making noise on the inside stage when we arrived, so after a few minutes we headed outside to find a spot for Honne. This wasn’t a band I was particularly interested in seeing — all of the ones I’d wanted to see didn’t start for another hour — but they were a not-unpleasant way to pass the time. It’s another one of those groups that does the sort of soulful pop that Sam Smith does, with a white singer whose voice is OK and probably got him some solos at his school’s choir or something. It’s fine. But let’s fast-forward through Honne, through the massive line for free Eastcider (a delicious beverage made extra-sweet when free on your birthday), and jump to the first band I enjoyed.


Freedom Fry has a horrendous band name. I’m just gonna put it out there. When I came across them on the SXSW artist list, I might have even rolled my eyes, assuming this was going to be a group of cross-armed hipsters from L.A. looking to be ironic. However, when I hit “play” on “Rolling Down,” I was immediately won over by the sweet folk music that met my ears. Then, when the next song, “Friends and Enemies,” came on, I was impressed with the band’s depth — this was a totally different musical style, reminiscent of LCD Soundsystem's minimalist dance music. When I did more research and discovered that Marie Seyrat (1/2 the band) was French, I appreciated that the irony of the band’s name went deeper than I’d expected. Live, Seyrat and her band are sort of understated. They’re not boring to watch, but they just sound great and kind of let the music speak for itself beyond that. It’s easy to dance to the music and get swept up in the pretty melodies. In the theme of “musicians dressing like my friends,” I took a picture of Seyrat and sent it to my pal Emily, who also likes the desert-wear trend of long necklaces and ankle boots. The only song that fell flat was a Nirvana cover — they translated part of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” into French, and turned it into an understated disco. It didn’t really work. But when you’ve got a song like “The Wilder Mile,” with whistles and tambourines and clap-alongs, who needs a cover?


I was nervous to leave the spot we’d carved out in front of the stage, knowing Aurora had a really big following, but Zack convinced me that we HAD to check out New Yorkers PWR BTTM, so I begrudgingly headed to the inside stage. On my way, I passed a woman who I thought might be Aurora, and said, “You’re so wonderful, you’re gonna do great, good luck!” She smiled and sort of laughed and thanked me. I felt pleased with myself. Spoiler alert — it was Aurora’s backup singer, not actually her. I KNEW she looked too different! I’m still glad I wished her luck, because backup singers don’t get enough love.

PWR BTTM is NOT a novelty act. They’re not a “shtick.” They are the real goddamn deal. As we all become better about accepting gender fluid and genderqueer people, I think the idea that a guy in a dress is a gag will disappear and we’ll just accept that people represent themselves in the way they feel best, and that’s awesome. So here we have two people, covered in glitter and paint — Ben Hopkins towering over the mic in a sweet floral day dress, and Liv Bruce sitting behind the drum kit in a crop top and light-wash jeans — exchanging snarky-but-loving remarks and sharing self-deprecating humor with the audience, who then suddenly break into power-pop songs with forceful, driving drums and wicked electric guitar riffs that take your breath away. There is something so energizing about sharing a real moment with other humans who are baring their souls in a very relatable way, and to top it off, Ben and Live are so talented that you feel simultaneously in the presence of friends, and in the presence of greatness. I think my favorite line from their songs is from one called “Serving Goffman,” which seems to be about the state of humanity and the reality that we’re all just kind of figuring things out. During a breakdown in the song, Liv sings, “What’s your favorite color? Do you need to borrow my bike? Do you have a lucky number? Do you like the movies I like?” This flashback to the things that mattered in friendships when we were all younger and not yet prejudiced is so pure and lovely — it gets me every time.

I loved PWR BTTM so much that we decided NOT to leave their set early, as originally planned so we could go get a good spot at Aurora. So, as soon as their last chords rang out, we rushed to the outside stage, which was already jam-packed with people. Still, we were able to carve out a little space and get a good sightline on the Norwegian songstress. This is the point at which I realized I’d encouraged her backup singer, and felt briefly embarrassed, but then convinced myself it was OK because I hadn’t called her Aurora so for all the backup singer knows, I knew who she was and was just cheering her on. And she was fabulous in her own right, so I’m glad I did and so THERE! Anyway. When people asked me to describe Aurora to them, I said, “She has the gesticulations and unique style of Sia, but the musical harmonies and sweetness of First Aid Kit.” I’d say that seeing her live definitely confirmed my description was accurate. At 19 years old, Aurora is impressively self-possessed — she is living in her own world, storytelling from inside of it through her music. For her show at Swan Dive, there were quite a few issues with the sound system — her mic wouldn’t work, the monitors weren’t balanced, weird sounds bellowed out of the speakers. When the latter happened, Aurora would close one eye and widen the other, making herself look almost like a cartoon character. This wasn’t a put-on, though; she is so genuine, and that is so endearing.


When she finally got started, Aurora’s voice was sweet and powerful, weaving in and out of the tracks her talented band laid for her. In that first performance, I remember the song “Warrior,” when I first noticed a buff, tatted, bearded gentleman singing along passionately — an unlikely fanboy, if one based assumptions on appearances. I remember “Running with the Wolves,” swirling and moving with a driving rhythm. I remember when Aurora apologized for being as small as she is (I’d guess 5’5”?), promising, “I’ll do my best to grow.” I remember when she said, “I’m going to take off my jacket because I actually saved my armpits yesterday! Woo!” I remember when she noted, surprised, “Oh! That’s the guy I met on the plane yesterday,” pointing to a tall gentleman in the center of the audience. I remember when she thanked everyone in the crowd who was “…wooing, and clapping, and making noise.” The energy seemed to feed her, and by the time we made it to her closer, “Conquerer,” we were all dancing like we were in The Breakfast Club, in the library during the dance montage, breaking out our ‘80s moves. I knew then that I wanted to see this show again as many times as I could, because Aurora won’t be playing small stages much longer. I was smitten, bewitched — a fan.

Instead of heading inside for Lily & Madeleine, who I’d really wanted to see, I got nervous about having a good spot for our second Oberhofer show, so we remained outside and found a spot nestled near the stage. This allowed us to do some serious crowd watching. First, I asked the tall, skinny guy in the hat if he was a photographer for Oberhofer specifically, and he said yes. I mentioned that I’d seen him at Nomad the night before, and he asked if I was a fan of the band. I said yes, worked in that it was my birthday, and he seemed unimpressed so we kinda stopped chatting after that. I spotted Brad Oberhofer heading to the stage, and so did a gentleman with a bro-ish appearance about him, who apparently knew the band’s namesake because he yelled out to him and got a hug from Brad in return. Later, this same gentleman threw some free KIND bars into the crowd, so I’ll forgive him his bro-ish-ness. He obviously has good taste in music, at least.

Brad went to the back of the stage, where there was a box and a chair. He tested the box a bit with his foot, and then the chair, and sort of studied them side-by-side before deciding against the stack-and-climb plan he was clearly hatching. His bass player’s eyes widened and he said something to the effect of, “Yeah don’t do that, man.” It made me wonder what his band members had seen him do before.

Then I watched Brad smile wide when he spotted a young woman with a septum ring sitting by the side of the stage. Clearly a friend of the band’s, he gave her a warm hug and then played a little riff just for her as a warm-up. It was a very sweet moment, and I felt almost intrusive in getting to witness it.

The setlist was pretty much the same, but the show was even wilder. During “Dead Girls Dance,” Brad grabbed, his mic and stand, and moved it out into the middle of the crowd. We parted, very much like Moses and the Red Sea, and he played a riff before heading to the back of the venue, climbing up a wall and onto the top of a shed. He started clapping, causing the audience to clap along, and then a security guy snatched his guitar and helped him back down — I’m not sure what Brad would have done without the presence of this bouncer-like figure, but I’m partly glad we didn’t find out. Brad came back to the stage, mic stand still in the crowd, and jumped up on his drummer’s set before jumping off, losing his balance, tumbling backwards and off the stage onto his back on the ground — and turning that into his next move, wriggling along the ground until he made it back to his mic stand in time to sing the words of the jammy “Dead Girls Dance.” You just never know what you’ll get with Oberhofer.


After their set ended, as Zack and I were exiting Swan Dive, I passed Brad in the narrow hallway that connects the inside and outside spaces. I said, almost frantically, “Oh my gosh that was so great, you were so great! Thank you so much!” I was almost taken aback with how quietly — almost meekly — Brad responded, “Thank you.” He was smiling, but he had never seemed shy to me until that moment. I wondered after if he felt trapped in the hallway, or if it was hard for him to accept praise as it can be for me, too. I thought about his lyrics, which examine death and the endings of things and the hollowness you can sometimes feel in interactions. I hoped he felt that my compliments were genuine, and that he could review them later and trust that he’d done a good job. I want for him to feel confident and proud. He works so hard and puts so much of himself, emotionally and physically, into what he does.

After a quick interlude picking up the banners Zack had dropped off earlier in the day, and some delicious cheese pizza from Pizza Hut (don’t judge me it was my birthday damn it), Zack and I plotted our next moves. We’d picked up a FastPass to get in to the Thao & The Get Down Stay Down show later that night, but when we examined the different lineups that could pull us to a thousand different venues, our choice was clear:  we wanted more Aurora, and we wanted to see what I’d call one of my most anticipated SXSW artist discoveries, Coast Modern. The latter were a band with just two songs published, but those two songs were so strong that we just had a feeling we’d be fans. Boy, is that the understatement of the century.



We arrived early at Maggie Mae’s Rooftop, thereby catching the end of a forgettable indie pop group. There was this weird empty pit that had formed in front of the crowd, keeping the audience a good eight-to-ten feet away from the stage. I wondered about the phenomenon aloud, and a guy in the audience laughed, “Someone needs to break the barrier!” I quipped back, “I’ll do it, I’m not afraid! I’m just tall so I don’t wanna be a jerk!” We waited till that other band’s set was through before getting central and close, and as the four Coast Modern lads set up their gear, I made a friend with a social media marketer in the crowd, who laughed with me about being 29 and feeling old now that bands are much younger than we are.

I was worried about Coast Modern. We’d experienced this with Jungle before — a band has one or two really great songs, and the rest all blend together into an unidentifiable mass. I feared that this would be the trap this Californian group would fall into. One of the things that immediately saved them from this fate in my mind was the drummer, Steph Barker. Though she is not an official band member, she is so energetic and fun to watch that she added a whole new layer to the sound and a fantastic vibe to the set. The same could be said for the other non-permanent band member, bassist Micah Jasper — even though I couldn’t make out the lyrics the first time around, I knew he and permanent modern-coaster Luke Atlas were screaming SOMETHING fun on the track “Comb My Hair.” Really, at any given moment, you could be watching any of these kids rocking out and be pleased with what you saw. The man with arguably the biggest job, though, was Coleman Trapp, the lead singer of the band who ONLY sings at live performances. Without an instrument to hide behind, this is a task solely for the commanding. One of the reasons I’m so obsessed with the Drums is that Jonny Pierce OWNS the damn stage. He dances like a possessed alien robot and it’s fucking magical. In what turned out to be his first official Coast Modern performance, Coleman was a bit more subdued than my favorite frontman, but he wasn’t undeserving of the job. He had a chill confidence that made you feel you were in good hands. The band ended on their two singles, “Animals” and “Hollow Life,” and while the other songs in their set are strong, these are powerhouses. They have a groove that, as one Twitter fan put it, is “…the optimal BPM for body rolls,” and their catchy lyrics speak to that sense of feeling disconnected but wanting connection so strongly it can hurt. By the end of this first set, I hadn’t yet realized that this was going to be my diamond-in-the-rough discovery of SXSW. I knew I’d had a good time, and I hoped the band had, too.



Before Coast Modern had set up and played their show, Zack had spotted Aurora walking around and asked if I wanted to go meet her. “No,” I said shyly, “I really don’t want to bother her.” However, as I was standing there alone in the middle of the dance floor, as it were, while Zack was off grabbing some water, I noticed the Norwegian songstress just as she’d walked past me and back behind the stage. I vowed to myself that if she came back the other way, I’d say something, and just a moment later, she reappeared, swinging her jacket around and looking a bit aimless. I leaned in and made eye contact, and said, “Hey Aurora, you’re just so wonderful, you were so great earlier today, I’m so excited for your show.” She smiled wide, held me by the elbows, and said, “Thank you!” She gave my arms a quick squeeze, and headed off to wait for her set with her band.

So, when it was Aurora’s time to take the stage again, I felt more connected than ever to the singer, and even more excited to hear her play in a venue with what I hoped would be better sound than earlier in the day. Unfortunately, the same sound issues that plague SXSW on the whole delayed Aurora’s set again, so that she had to start 10 minutes late. She was so apologetic throughout her set about this, but let me tell you — I can’t remember the last time I was in as supportive a crowd as the one who showed up for Aurora that night. The applause roared out between every single song, and really came to a peak after she sang “Running With the Wolves.” Aurora had been a little less free at the start of this show because I don’t think she could hear herself in her headset or monitors, but this was the song when she started to dance with spellbinding hand gestures, and I think the audience felt that she was easing back into herself and feeling more comfortable. At the end of the song, we all cheered our approval in a huge wave of appreciation, and she seemed almost moved to tears, putting her hands to her face and saying, “Thank you, thank you,” over and over again because there was really nothing else to say. This wave of energy carried us all into “Conquerer,” and this was the moment that got me and made me a lifer for Aurora:  during the lyric, “Open ears, their eyes are open/Makes me call for you,” as Zack is my witness, Aurora pointed at me, and we shared a smile, and for the rest of the song, happy tears formed in my eyes. You see, that small gesture from another human being made me feel understood, like we both knew that we were in on this secret we were sharing, and that she knew that I got what she was trying to say with her music. If nothing else, it was recognition that we appreciated one another, and we both sang and danced like the sun wouldn’t rise in the morning, and who cared if it wouldn’t? It was the best possible way to finish off my birthday — apart from a huge slice of ice cream cake and a cuddle from my loving husband back at home.