The Dunce Cap: Week of Jan. 5, 2015

The Dunce Cap, Vol. 53: The things that used to mean so much to me have gone the way of dinosaurs – hopes and dreams and everything. (click on link to listen to mix via 8tracks or play above)

1. “Career Day” – The Format
2. “Silver Things” – Limbeck
3. “Her Words Destroyed My Planet” – Motion City Soundtrack
4. “Blacking Out the Friction” – Death Cab for Cutie
5. “Social Development Dance” – Pete Yorn
6. “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To” – Weezer
7. “Let Me Go” – Marvelous 3
8. “I Saw Lightning” – Telekinesis
9. “I Need My Girl” – The National
10. “Breathing Underwater” – Metric

Happy 2015, y’all! I’m still mostly listening to tracks from the past decade, though I admit I’m really hopping on the Swift train with the singles from her recent release. Just a few notes on these:

  • “Her Words Destroyed My Planet” has such a solid Veronica Mars reference in it; the whole track reminds me of being 17 and heartbroken and desperate to move forward (Justin Pierre’s near-yelp of “I’m learning to speak Japanese!” slays me every time), and it’s just great.
  • My sister and I are big Pete Yorn fans; I was 11 when I picked up musicforthemorningafter from Tower Records in Buckhead, and my father – tired of hearing it constantly – dubbed him “Pete Yawn.” His follow up efforts didn’t come close to his first record, but 2009’s Back and Fourth comes pretty damn close. “Social Development Dance” is a decidedly weird song – but I like it.
  • In September, Riot Fest brought an incredible line-up to Chicago’s Humboldt Park, including the likes of The National, The Hold Steady, Weezer, The Get Up Kids, Tegan and Sara and a whole slew more. It was, in short, fantastic. Ten artists played their seminal albums in their entirety, like The Get Up Kids’ Something to Write Home About and Weezer’s Blue. Somewhat surprisingly, the most captivating moment of the three-day festival was Metric’s showstopping finale; I caught the tail end of Metric somewhat on a whim and was bowled over by their haunting performance of “Breathing Underwater.” The studio version doesn’t quite do it justice, but it’s certainly a start.

Happy listening, and happy new year.

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The Dunce Cap: Week of May 26, 2014

The Dunce Cap, Vol. 52: But it’s as warm as saxophones and honey in the sun for you. (click on link to listen to mix via 8tracks or play above)

1. “Honk + Wave” – Limbeck
2. “Hey Julie” – Fountains of Wayne
3. “Let’s Get Drunk and Get It On” – Old 97’s
4. “Honey In The Sun” – Camera Obscura
5. “If She Wants Me” – Belle & Sebastian
6. “Far Away From Close” – Butch Walker
7. “In Ohio On Some Steps” – Limbeck
8. “Holiday” – The Get Up Kids
9. “Blue Moon” – Beck
10. “I Thought I Saw Your Face Today” – She & Him

Make It Better: Lo & Sons Bag Giveaway!

I took a job in late summer at a local magazine, Make It Better. Our mission is to be the most trusted and easiest-to-use magazine, website and community resource for Chicago’s North Shore. I write about the nonprofit sector, profiling philanthropists, charitable organizations and fundraising events. I also write a bit on the side for the other sections of the magazine, and I recently wrote up my first style story!

Now, I am no fashionista, but I am a subscriber to practicality and function, so when I landed a new job, I looked high and low (or, in this case Lo) for the perfect work bag. During a typical day, I don’t really get a chance to stop by my apartment. I leave for the magazine, lugging a combination of my laptop, tablet, notebooks, chargers, back issues – it’s quite the haul, and, when it’s warm, I’m balancing all of it on my bike. Most days, I’ll head to my second job or to the gym, and that’ll require a change of clothes, snacks, shoes… I needed a bag to accommodate most if not all of my needs, and I needed something comfortable and durable enough to take on my bike. Enter Lo & Sons.

Lo & Sons O.G. Bag in navy

I spent weeks scouring style blogs and fashion magazines and harassing friends about their work bags, and I ultimately decided upon the Lo & Sons O.G. bag. It was a purchase basically sight unseen, as Lo & Sons has no physical storefronts and thus nowhere to go see my purchase in person. I had to rely on the rave reviews regarding the company’s water-resistant, nylon bowling bag-esque design.

When my bag finally arrived, I was ecstatic to discover it was everything I needed and wanted. It had more pockets than I could need, including a laptop sleeve and a tablet sleeve (though the former, sadly, wasn’t large enough to stash my giant PC), a sleek design, a patent pending internal strap system to evenly distribute weight and even a separate pocket for shoes. The bag (and its smaller counterpart, the O.M.G.) are both designed as gym bags – literally the Overnight (Medium) Gym bag – and they function, too, as travel bags, with an adjustable back panel sleeve to slip over luggage handles.

The long and short is that I am obsessed with mine. It was a very worthwhile purchase, and it’s able to meet all of my crazy travel needs. I loved my bag so much (and, honestly, I am not getting any benefit from this, another fawning review, other than sharing my opinion with y’all) that I pitched a story to the magazine on the best work bags. And I got Lo & Sons to agree to give away a bag to one of our lucky readers! Derek at Lo & Sons was so nice!, and the company was happy to provide one reader with the bag of her choice – whatever style, color, etc., she wants, provided it’s currently in stock. The contest is ongoing through the end of February.

The contest is at Make It Better’s site; you’ll find the link to the handy Wufoo page there. 

Check out how much stuff you can truly fit in the O.G. in the video below:

Want to win your own Lo & Sons bag? Enter at Make It Better’s site here.

Happy Thanksgivukkah!

CocoIt’s that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, when the blessed holiday of Hanukkah falls on the same day as Thanksgiving. And, like all good secular, suburban, last-minute Sara(h)s, I failed to delight in the sacrament.

I’ll blame it on circumstance – I just couldn’t find a menorah I liked enough, latkes require so much preparation, the Jewish deli down the block fed me lots of bagels and lox spread and matzo ball soup – but mostly I just couldn’t quite figure out what I wanted to do to recognize the holiday.

I’m in that age bracket where my sense of identity is constantly in flux, and spending another holiday away from home, newly domesticated, I’m forced to figure out which old traditions to adopt and which new ones to attempt. I haven’t been home to Atlanta in nearly two years, and I’ve been removed from the Keevan family Hanukkah rhythm for even longer, having spent a couple winters prior in San Francisco and Chicago. It’s a tradition I’d grown accustomed to – my mother’d make a big meal (usually spaghetti or pot roasts, my home-cooked Foom favorites), we’d settle in for some hot chocolate, light up the menorah and recite our version of the Hanukkah prayer.

To call it fondness is an understatement. I define my Jewish self based on those interactions at home: by my mother’s gentle and halfhearted adherence to spirituality, by the laughter, by the food I sometimes achingly crave, by the wax-stained countertops. And without the expectation of that celebration, I’m kind of lost.

B is a good sport; he tagged along on my hunt for a menorah and was supportive when I found the selections at multiple stores to be without. He tolerated my lighting of our 3-wick Bath & Body Works winter candle as I butchered the Keevan-version of the Hebrew prayer. And he partook in a breakfast or three of bagels and lox spread (though I think that was something he was happy to do). But it’s not the Hanukkah I’d so come to love.

It’s strange to feel even further removed from Judaism than I did in my youth. I’d drifted in and out of Jewish consciousness for most of college, vacillating between hyper-Heeb and apathetic agnostic. Religion didn’t need to be a part of my life once I left, as my core friendship groups weren’t centered around the campus Hillel. I abstained from High Holidays, regularly mixed milk with meat, ate bacon – yummy, yummy bacon. But I still felt Jew-ish.

I feel like the last bits of my Jewish identity are ebbing away to form something much more nebulous. I still get pangs of Jewish pride, but I feel that sense of self is being even more readily challenged. I don’t know who I am or, really, what I believe in. Not partaking in Thanksgivukkah felt, ultimately, like a loss. I couldn’t stand to settle for something less than perfection, and perhaps that was because I wasn’t yet ready to commit.

This has been a year of pretty serious commitment, marked by a series of firsts: My first big-girl job, my first apartment, my first steady relationship*. It’s certainly daunting, and I think I’m suffering from an existential crisis. Is it possible I’m enduring that ridiculous quarter-life crisis Buzzfeed seems so fixated on? Or is it as simple as knowing I don’t know anything about myself? Mostly, I think I’m just frightened to commit to something so intangible – jobs can be changed, homes can be relocated, boyfriends can be replaced, but beliefs are supposed to be more unrelenting. And I’m not sure what I believe in.

I do, however, believe in being grateful for the opportunities and experiences that shape us, so I can take a moment to celebrate that spirit of Thanksgiving. It’s been a huge year for me, and I have so very much to be grateful for. I’m too often one for schmaltz, so I will try and keep it short n’ simple this time around. Here’s what I am thankful for:

  • EmploymentI realize I am exceptionally lucky to be gainfully employed in my career field. I stumbled into a journalism job, and it allows me to write everyday. Self-expression, y’all. I also have the unique pleasure of serving and occasionally managing in a delightful little restaurant with people I can stand to be around. Can’t ask for much more.
  • Family. I couldn’t have expected two years ago, hell, even last year, that this would make my list, but I’ve been changing my tune as of late. Between a relationship with my family that can only be described as “under construction” and a relationship with B’s family that can be categorized as “complicated,” family remains a strange conceit. But it’s wonderful to have a place to go to for holidays, to spend Sunday night spaghetti dinners with, to call for rides home and to begin to understand familial love again.
  • The Bear. Of all the things to be thankful for, this guy, he tops my list. I tell him sometimes that he saved my life, and while it’s trite, it’s also true. I don’t want to air all of our lovey-doviness on this forum, but suffice to say, I love him.
  • Freedom and flexibility. My full-time j-gig allows me to work with a great deal of flexibility, both from home and with a great deal of say over content. I’m awful young to have that sort of agency, and I’m creating opportunities to write about the things I’m passionate about, even if it’s not from the most ideal perspective.
  • Friendship. The opportunities for friendship lessen as I grow older, so the ones I still get are nice reprieves. Trivia Tuesday, Hangouts with Hanna and the like remind me of all the good in the world.
  • The Barenaked Ladies. Because.
  • Coca Cola. Some things never change.
  • Financial freedom. I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, wealthy. But I finally make enough to live comfortably within my means. And that’s enough for now.
  • The future. And the fact that I still have one.

Finally, I am thankful to you, the reader, the friend, the World Wide Web visitor. A long post, I know, and great kudos to you if you read ’til the end. If you did, please also check out this story I wrote for the magazine on the proliferation of Molly. I’ll owe you one. And a Keevan always repays her debts.

Happy Thanksgiving, folks, and happy Hanukkah to you. Wishing you a happy and healthy holiday season.

*I couldn’t find quite the adjective to use here. For any longtime readers, you may recall I was in a serious relationship for the great majority of college, and the rest was marred by the devastation I felt after its demise. I consider this one different in a lot of ways, not the least of which that this is exceedingly healthier, happier and generally more mature.

The Domestication of the Dunce Cap

BRockTHE BEAR, who I’ll henceforth just call B, is a bit shy and a lot private, so I’ve been reluctant to go into too much detail on our relationship. I will say this—we’re as happy as clams. Chubby, couch-lounging clams in blissful cohabitation.

We’ve become the picture of domestic perfection, settling into an easy pattern of slow-cooked dinners and casual Netflix binge watching, and it’s a strangely unexpected lapse into adulthood. B’s become something of a culinary artist – his tuna burgers are absolute masterpieces – and I’ve become an amateur housewife, culling home decor and design suggestions from the likes of Real Simple and Bon Appetit to fashion a real home in our cozy apartment. I’ve got myself an apron now, a cute Anthropologie number with Scotties adorning it, and a matching pot holder too, and I like to imagine a not-so-far-off-future where I don it with matching heels and a choker of pearls.

Our life is an interesting snapshot into suburban young adulthood. We’re not quite grown yet—B’s still got a semester and change left in his physics program, and I’m still settling into a professional workplace—but we’re trying on adulthood for size. We live a good distance from the city proper, and, although it’s readily accessible by public transit, it’s a hassle we avoid more often than not. Instead, we frequent the joints in close proximity, including a great taqueria, a fancy pantsy hip bar, an acceptable sushi place and an absolutely delectable Jewish deli, and we spend the large majority of our evenings on the oversized sofa laying claim to roughly 67 percent of our apartment. It’s not entirely surprising, as I still work too much, holding on to my restaurant job in addition to my daytime magazine gig, and B is commuting to school three+ times a week. We’re easily exhausted and particularly lame, but I’m finding myself enamored with our lifestyle. It’s a pretty simple happiness, and it’s lending itself well to growing up right.

Speaking of growing up right—the picture above at left is an homage to a photo I discovered tucked in an album from B’s youth. In the original, he’s barely a toddler, all towheaded and spectacular, straddling a hippopotamus statue. The best part is his face: He’s mimicking the hippo, his mouth wide, his eyes closed tight and crinkling in the corners, a hypnotic roar audible even in the decades-old photograph. It is the cutest photo I have ever seen, ever, even in a digital sea of corgi dedication sites and carefully choreographed Suri Cruise fan sites. We celebrated our anniversary recently and paid a visit to Starved Rock State Park, and, at my behest, he reenacted the pose. The result is here, ripe for all sorts of mocking and d’awwing and Photoshopping.

The simple fact is that we’re happy. I’ve had my doubts with lasting happiness in the past, and it’s remarkable how much brighter life becomes when there’s someone true to spend it with. Without dedicating too much time as of late to writing for fun, I’ve yet to determine how this newfound domestication will impact my writing here. I think it’ll likely be a lot more Instagrammy—I’m sure y’all love filtered photos of food as much as I do—but not really, though I expect there’ll really be some shared recipes, some fashion tips from the truly unfashionable and more than a few desperate requests for home design advice. But I’m still me, so I’ll still fangirl over Pretty Little Liars and fawn over Jess Day’s exquisite wardrobe and conduct an in-depth analysis of Miley’s newest music video, and I’ll not lose my gentle cynicism. I’m just happy to report I’m happy.

As always, thanks for reading.
Happy (almost) weekend.

The Girl

The Dunce Cap: Week of Nov. 4, 2013

The Dunce Cap, Vol. 51: I was out of your league, and you were 20,000 underneath the sea. (click on link to listen to mix via 8tracks or play above)

1. “All Time High” – The Holidays
2. “Video Games” – The Young Professionals
3. “True Affection” – The Blow
4. “Blurred Lines” – Vampire Weekend
5. “I Knew You Were Trouble” – Rixton
6. “Coming Home” – Butch Walker
7. “Hate It Here” – Wilco
8. “New Years, Old Years” – Marc Scibilia

Back in the Saddle

To be honest, folks, I don’t know that I can do this anymore.

(Pauses to allow the chorus of encouragement)

But really. I spent just over a year virtually off the grid, swathed in the stench of day-old coffee and anxious brow sweat, only reappearing occasionally to issue a blogosphere screed about my lack of a career path. I was doing very little writing of any kind, aside from scribbled (and oft-rottenly misspelled) names on coffee cups. And now, for the first time in nearly two years, I have a position that requires me to wax poetic on a daily basis. And I’ve found that, at best, I’m out of practice. At worst, I’ve lost the touch entirely.

I love to write, and my job, while an incredible opportunity, doesn’t allow me to do a lot of free flowing prose. So I have vowed to write, everyday, something. My dear friend Scott is a great proponent of writing as much as possible, on every platform. As such, I hope to do a bit of writing here, perhaps, too, on a few different media sites, and I’m confident I’ll get my groove back. There’s a lot I want to say: I want to talk about politics, music, literature, film. I’ll try to keep my Pretty Little Liars fangirling to a minimum – I just can’t help it -, but I sure as hell will talk about Robin Thicke, and maybe not quite in the way you’d expect. And I’ll talk about the things that are of actual importance to me too. I think I have a lot to say still; the trick will be finding my voice again.

So maybe give me a chance, and keep reading. I hope to have something interesting to say.

Happy Thursday, happy new year, l’shana tova, and the best of evenings to y’all.

Birthday Cake Song

Hey, folks and slowpokes.

I just logged into WordPress for the first time since April, and I found a draft lounging in my post queue. It wasn’t of particular length or substance, but I am admittedly so vain that the idea of any of my thoughts languishing in the blogosphere pains me greatly. Thus:

“This week marked a particular personal moment in my own Julian calendar, wherein I transitioned from Taylor Swift to Jimmy Eat World. Truth be told, I felt it necessary to mention both Swift’s “22” and Jimmy Eat World’s “23,” as if mere name-dropping would notify the audience of my name day last week. So, there, my return!, albeit one with a poor pair of cultural references to declare

Happy belated birthday to me!

And, as it turns out, Blink-182 was, by my cursory interactions, wrong, and people do sometimes like you when you’re 23. This comes as a bit of a relief, as I’ve seldom questioned the wisdom of Mark, Tom and Travis, and they’ve yet to lead me astray. There was little celebration, as per my request, lu -“

And that’s where it ends. I don’t find it all that surprising. Finishing any task remotely related to writing has proven quite a feat for me as of late. I’m killing myself to live, effectively, working like a madwoman so as to create a sense of financial stability. And it seems to be working. At 23, I’m struggling less with money, with identity, with sense of self, with boy problems, with the ins and outs of daily existence, than ever before. I have a stable relationship and a quasi-stable home life (distance truly does make the heart grow fonder), the potential for improvement, challenges, confidence and an unfettered optimism that change is a good thing. I’m finally feeling more like myself again. I’m gregarious and funny, personable and sharp, traits I haven’t seen in myself in years.

Last year, I promised the summer of my renaissance, but I repeated mistakes whose lessons I’d sworn I’d taken to heart, and I found so many new vices (cops. cops. cops.) I nearly declared myself a sinner. This summer, this has been the one. I pass the rare spare time I’m afforded with Bear – The Man of the Hour, The One, Mr. Wonderful – bettering myself and my circumstances, vowing to really begin my life as an ad-ult (am I putting the right em-phas-is on the right syll-ab-le?). And I’m actually doing a pretty good job, I think. It feels like things may turn around, and I’ll be able to retire my dunce cap once and for all.

Thanks for reading, y’all, and happy (re)birth-day to me.

About a Girl 2: Electric Bugaloo

They* say happiness writes white, but so, too, does depression. And in my particular case, depression has cast me less a writer and more as a glorified morning kicking post and coffee maven. I’ve spent the last six months in a state of hibernation, hiding a fluctuating girth behind a kelly green apron, losing my penchant for language to punctuated small talk and impatient throat-clearing.

As summer transitioned to fall, I found myself at an impasse, and I scampered fearful down the path of least resistance. I like to think I’m hesitating, suffering The Great Crisis of Conscience of Your Early Twenties, but mine seems to be lingering. I’m hiding, really, crippled by that nagging fear that I just can’t do it, the great intangible “It” that haunts my unupdated LinkedIn profile like the great white specter of failure. I graduated Northwestern, or sort of kind of finished up, and couldn’t summon the courage to move forward. I live in the same town I went to school in, working in and around town, my nametag stitched to my chest and my big, ever-so-egotistical mouth a reminder that I have yet to exceed expectations.

There’s a lot I’m still coming to terms with, my Identity and Self-Concept and Ideas of Forward Motion constantly percolating. I think I’ve finally realized I’m too old to blame my critical failures on anyone but myself, but I’ve long built my sense of self upon this victimized approach. I’ve blamed my circumstances on the shittiness of the last few years, but I suppose I’ve perpetuated so much of the heartache by consistently choosing the wrong path. I’ve made the wrong move and the laughably misguided choice at nearly every critical fork, and growing up has proven far more tenuous and distressing than I could have possibly anticipated. It should be easy to make the choice to progress, forward motion being the default mode for the human passing of time. And, yet, I practice regression, contenting myself with minimum wage paychecks, piling bills, encroaching creditors, far more afraid of the prospect of change than of the staid settlement of curtailing my dreams.

So, I guess, any state of continuance is contrived as a poor means of keeping you from your dreams. If you fall too comfortably into any sort of emotional stability, you’re bound to amble from one day to the next, unaroused to any higher or even changed level of affectation. I think that’s where I am: I’ve contented myself to an emotionality that reaches toward – but fails to grasp – happiness. Each day is relatively similar, excepting the bow arbitrarily chosen to hold my hair back. The bright spots in my week – the occasional customer compliment, the visits from The Bear, the solid and sweaty runs – do little to raise my overall demeanor, and so I stay, rooted to my inability to seize the day.

I suppose this, in my way, is a reintroduction, but it’s, as per usual, unstable and relatively undefined. Nobody likes you when you’re twenty-three, and nobody likes you much when you’re not fulfilling your potential and sloppily sliding from paycheck to paycheck, embittered by circumstances you’re too scared to change. And, yes, it’s been said before, here so many times before, but this, this has to be my year. There’s more potential here, now, than ever before, and I have this support system constructed by two of the greatest people I’ve ever known. So, here, I pray, happiness or unhappiness or boredom or exasperation won’t write white, but, instead, will write as something approaching progress. There’s got to be something better than this, a sequel of Electric Bugaloo proportions.

Welcome back, thank you for reading, and, as always, okay.

*90s alternative rock demigods Harvey Danger