O, What a Luxury

We all know that I have a terrible inferiority complex when it comes to meeting celebrities (even local ones).  “Will they like me?” I think.  “Can I trust myself to say something witty and endearing?” I think, sweating profusely.  “What if I’m not dressed nicely enough to impress them?” I think, from a dead faint on the floor.

It’s silly, and it doesn’t make much sense.  We’re all people, after all.  We’re all plodding through this wonderful, cruel maze that is The Human Condition.  Celebrities just happen to have a marketable talent.  Or are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.  Or are really, really ridiculously good-looking.  Or are hard workers.  Or some combination of all four.

The fact is, I can’t seem to remember any of this wisdom when faced with a real, live celebrity.  And thus I’m always surprised when they turn out to be nice, regular people.  (Of course, some celebrities are as appraising and arrogant as I fear, and those I choose to smirk about later: “It goes to their heads. It always, always goes to their heads. Heh heh heh.  I was right all along.”  But then again, plenty of people who don’t have their own TV shows are appraising and arrogant.)

So when Wednesday night found me sitting in the sixth row at a Garrison Keillor poetry reading, I knew I was in for it.  Here was a man whose voice I had literally been hearing through the radio for my entire life.  My parents own a boat on Lake Superior, and some of my earliest memories are of hurtling through the northern woods on Sunday afternoons, listening to Guy Noir or News From Lake Wobegon and laughing whenever my parents laughed.  Sometimes, uncomfortably full with the Happy Meals we had begged for for miles and miles (and which were somehow disappointing once actually opened and consumed), my sister and I would fall asleep in the backseat of the minivan to the sound of Mr. Keillor’s voice, and wake up at home.

Garrison Keillor is perhaps the most important public figure of all, in the Minnesotan mind.  He brought us–our church basement suppers, our bars and hot dishes, our passive aggression, our experience of being up at the lake or down on the farm or “in town,” our grandparents and parents and cousins–to the world.  And sure, we’re not always so neurotic as A Prairie Home Companion portrays us to be.  Nor always so poignant nor so musical.  But the spirit of the show is right.

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All of the sudden the poetry reading was over.  The wide sheets of paper Mr. Keillor had read from were scattered on the floor.  And Mr. Keillor himself was strolling down the stage steps, down the aisle, and out into the lobby, where, as he said, he would be happy to sign copies of O, What a Luxury and to chat.  Mom and I joined the growing line, squashed in between an older woman who exclaimed that she was “just wild for E.E. Cummings” and a young couple tossing computer jargon–discs and codes and bytes–back and forth like a softball.

Then we were at the front, and I silently handed my book to Mr. Keillor, deciding in a split second that perhaps I should just be quietly friendly and not attempt any conversation.  He looked up, though, and jokingly commented on my mom’s hair, and then turned to me with an “what do you have to say for yourself, young lady?” expression.

So I told him that I’m a recent graduate from the University of Minnesota.

“And what did they do for you there?”

“They gave me an English degree, but I’m still figuring out how to use it.  I’m trying to get a job writing or editing.”

“Are you a good writer and editor?”

“Yes.”  (Then, because that seemed too vain) “I mean, I like to think I am.”

“Send your resume to Prairie Home Companion, then.”

I’m going to end the conversation here, but note that there was some additional stuttering on my part before the exchange was over.  Perhaps also some gushing to my patient mother during the drive home: “I can’t believe Garrison Keillor told me to send in my resume!  I mean, it wasn’t exactly a promise of a job, but still.  I’m going to have to write a cover letter right away.  I think I’ll say something about listening to APHC as a kid, but I don’t want to ramble, you know, so I’ll have to be concise…”  You get the idea.

To conclude this saga, I think there’s a lesson to be learned: if we ever happen to develop a marketable talent; or are in the right place at the right time; or become really, really ridiculously good-looking; or increase our work ethic…in other words, if we become celebrities, let’s remember to be kind to stuttering recent graduates who ask for our autographs.  Because it will mean a lot to them.

A Salute to Vienna

Having suffered through a few early morning wake ups in a row, all I wanted to do after work today was lounge on the couch and wait for SNL.  So be it.  I’ve brought pillows and blankets from my bed.  I have technology–laptop, phone, remote control–within arm’s reach.  I have Old Dutch pretzels.  I have a water bottle for the inevitable moment when I start to shrivel from the saltiness of the pretzels.  Ruby is at my feet chewing the squeaker out of her stuffed skunk (that’s an odd sentence).

On TV is, of all things, A Salute to Vienna.  It is “a music and dance gala concert showcasing the musical heritage of Vienna.”  And I’m enjoying it immensely, even though I’ve already forgotten enough German that I can only listen dumbly.

Photo credit: salutetovienna.com

Photo credit: salutetovienna.com

Every so often, as they tend to do, the PBS folks break in and ask me to donate sixty dollars so that programs like this might remain on television.  Their cause is a noble one, but I have to say that they should consider changing tactics.  Instead of politely, humbly asking for our money, perhaps they should try threats.  Like, “if you don’t call in RIGHT NOW the principal soprano will appear in your living room and blast a high C until you produce your wallet.”  Or, “Remember your little three-week Keeping up with the Kardashians marathon last summer?  Gee, I would hate to let slip about that to your friends and relatives…”

Beyond inspiring brilliant fundraising strategies, A Salute to Vienna is making me remember when I was in Vienna myself a few years ago.  Particularly, when friends and I stood in line for hours in order to get 4 Euro parterre seats for the Magic Flute at the Vienna State Opera.  Despite parterre translating to “standing room in which you may fight over velvet-topped railings to lean on.  Tough luck, Holly.  You should have worn more comfortable shoes.”, it was a beautiful night in a beautiful city.

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Heck, maybe I’ll cough up that sixty dollars.

“Embarrassed”

About a year ago on this blog, I wrote,

” … In which I decide that breastfeeding in public is gross.  I was taking the minutes at a division meeting, grumbling to myself over the sad fact that professors simply think themselves to be above Robert’s Rules, when suddenly the professor at the next table, who had been holding her five-month-old on her lap for the past half hour, stooped to grab a large scarf from her bag.  Before I could avert my still-scarred-from-too-much-TLC-in-high-school eyes, she draped the scarf around her shoulders and over the baby, and began the feeding as if there weren’t fifty other people in the room.  Gross.  I realize that it’s not fair that you should have to be a pariah just because you have an infant, but still.  Gross.”

I’m ashamed now that I held such an opinion.  And I’m even more ashamed when I think that because of misunderstanding people like me, perhaps that breastfeeding mother was made to feel embarrassed, as if she were doing something wrong.  She wasn’t.

This explains it best:

Poet (and mother) Hollie McNish performing her spoken word poem “Embarrassed.”

Friday Favorites 4

This Milk-Bone marketing fail:

IMG_1591I discovered this beaut in Target today.

For the Fido who is watching his waistline.  Bring him home the low-cal treat he really craves.

And if the caloric statement isn’t enough to make you pause and raise your eyebrows into your hairline (it was for me), the grammatical error surely is.  Because unless that happy Beagle’s name is Mini and she is the owner or creator of the portion controlled Milk-Bones, there should be no possessive involved.

This meme:

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I cannot explain why Nigel Thornberry’s head placed on any body never ceases to be hilarious.  It is simply so.

This daily dose of literary magic:

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Every single day of the year, The Writer’s Almanac website posts a poem and a series of “this day in history” stories (mostly related to writers).  I’ve been an email subscriber for a few years now, and so my daily literary comfort arrives in my inbox at precisely 12:45 a.m.  If you choose, you can listen to the recording (on the W.A. website or via iTunes podcast) instead of reading the page yourself.

Garrison Keillor, lord of radio, narrates.

This book:

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I’ve read a great deal of literature concerning Nicholas and Alexandra and their family.  I’ve been fascinated with them since a young age, and have consciously tried to learn everything I can about their story.  That being said, it took me longer than it should have to get around to reading Massie’s take, especially since his biography is one of the most frequently cited.

I’ve included Nicholas and Alexandra in my favorites because it is such an exhaustive account of N&A’s childhoods, their reign, the Russian Revolution, their abdication, and their deaths.  Massie has a talent for writing about immensely complex events and people using plain, approachable style.  I like that in a biographer.

There were some things I didn’t like so much, however.  Firstly, Massie’s determination to dramatically point out every bit of irony, coincidence, and “if only.”  Secondly, the lack of attention given to the grand duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Anastasia, and Maria.  I realize that since they weren’t able to inherit the throne, they were considered less important than their brother, but that’s exactly what has always made the grand duchesses fascinating to me: four beautiful, intelligent, über sheltered young women, murdered for no reason other than that they were the daughters of the former emperor and empress of Russia.  It’s the worst part of the tragedy.

This movie:

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I had not read the book.  I was unprepared for Anna Karenina’s sudden and violent end.  I shrieked aloud and immediately felt that the English major gods were ashamed of me for not having known what was coming.

Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice, Atonement) is one of my favorite directors, but I was happy to see him take greater risks with this film than I’ve seen him take before.  At the end of the film you will feel (A.O. Scott (NY Times review) says it best):

“Dazzled, touched and a bit tired. But, really, you should feel as if you had been hit by a train.”

Lap Swim Musings

Thoughts I have while swimming laps:

1. Remember when I used to be afraid that there was a Great White shark in the pool and that one day it would emerge from the shadowy corner where it’s been lurking for the past two decades and get me?

2. But that can’t happen.  Right?  Right?

3. “Hey Ho” is playing.  I will now hold the kickboard so I can keep my head above water and listen.

4. How many times has my mom lapped me now?  Five?  Does the lifeguard know she’s a triathlete?  Maybe I should tell him so he won’t judge me so harshly for my comparative slowness.

5. I should probably get a serious swimsuit.  The red with blue polka dots was funny the first day, but now I think people half expect me to head for the kiddie pool instead of the deep end.

6. My word I’m tired.  My word I’m going to grip the side and rest while pretending to watch the clock as if I’m taking a scheduled rest.  But really I’m going to rest until I stop panting like a winded rhino.

7. My word I thought I was in shape.  Why is this so hard?

8. I think I’ll have some chocolate when I get home.

9. A small piece of dark, though, because that’s Dr. Oz approved.

10. When did Dr. Oz start running my life?  Oh, when he said that the lotion I was already using was the best kind of lotion.  That was when I decided we must be on the same wavelength.

11.  Maybe two pieces of dark chocolate.

12. I wish I could do a flip turn.  The polka dots must be holding me back.

How I imagine I look while swimming

How I imagine I look while swimming.

How I actually look.

How I actually look.

On My Own: Minnesota Orchestra Musicians Edition

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In my teens (particularly in high school), I never would have gone to something like this by myself.  I would have wanted to be with my family or with a group of friends.  Not because I feared crowds or for my general safety in public, but rather because I would have wanted to look like I belonged, somehow.  Like I was the kind of successful person who had back up, who had peeps, who had voluntary companions.

In my twenties, I’ve discarded this particular security blanket.  I have studying abroad to thank for that, and a certain icy roommate who seemed to either think that I was a swamp monster or entirely nonexistent.  That sort of treatment, rather than crushing my spirit–cue Oprah monologue–forced me to be independent, self-confident, and to chuckle to myself at the horrendous awkwardness of the situation.

An example of my claimed immense self-growth: a few evenings ago I went to a concert by myself.  I drove to Minneapolis (though I’ve always liked driving); ran up on a curb while attempting to park on a smart, residential street; and walked along Lake Harriet until I reached the band shell where the Minnesota Orchestra Musicians would be performing.

I then stood for an hour and a half at the back of the band shell’s lawn listening and periodically patting the head of my standing neighbor’s small black dog.  I enjoyed the music, and the general splendor of being near a great mass of water and seeing the occasional bright-sailed sailboat race across it.

Photo credit: Jana Freiband

Photo credit: Jana Freiband

The only discomfort involved in the outing–aside from when I jumped the curb with witnesses–was that when it comes to classical music, I hardly know what I’m hearing.  There a movement has ended, there the sound is building … that’s about the extent of my knowledge.  I greatly admired the young woman near me who had her eyes closed the entire time and was softly swaying her body as if in a great, music-induced trance.  I would have done the same, hoping for epiphany, but bad things tend to happen when I close my eyes.

You can see me in this photo!  It's tough, but if you look straight back from the man sitting center in the green shirt and Twins baseball cap, I'm the girl turned sideways with an orange-ish scarf on and a bun in my hair.  It's a little embarrassing that I'm not even watching the concert in this photo.  But hey--maybe I'm petting the dog?

You can see me in this photo! It’s tough, but if you look straight back from the man sitting center in the green shirt and Twins baseball cap, I’m the girl turned sideways with an orange-ish scarf on and a bun in my hair. It’s a little embarrassing that I’m not even watching the concert in this photo. But hey–maybe I’m petting the dog? Photo credit: Jennifer Simonson

Truthfully, until I arrived at Lake Harriet, I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into.  I knew it was a Minnesota Orchestra concert, and that it was free.  But I didn’t realize that these were the Minnesota Orchestra musicians who have been locked out of the Minnesota Orchestral Association since October 2012, following a labor dispute.

Good for them for continuing to perform, despite the lack of steady salary.  Good for them for refusing to let their orchestra become anything less than the world-class group it’s always been.

After the concert was over, I pushed my way to the front of the band shell where buttons and t-shirts were being sold.  I grinned hugely as I bought my button and pinned it on, so much so that the woman at the table asked if I was a musician myself.  No, ma’am.  It just felt good to support a cause again.  Not good as in, my word, I’m such a Good Samaritan, but good as in, my word, even though I’m by myself, I’m part of this large group of happy people who love music and come to listen to it and buy buttons to support it.  What was left of my trembling high school self shrank three sizes that day.

If you’d like to learn more about the Minnesota Orchestra Musicians, their cause, and their upcoming concerts, here‘s the link to their website. The Star Tribune write-up of the Lake Harriet concert and the current lockout situation can be found here.

Ole and Lena and a Salute to September 11th in Moberg Park

The marching band clicks off a warm-up in the park across the street.

Barb and I watch from the window, commenting on this flag twirler’s blue hair, that one’s skinny jeans

(which keep the eighty-five degree temperature contained around the skin of his calves)

(a vacuum seal of sweat and leftover summer tan)

Closing time, Gordy retells an Ole and Lena joke for me:

“Ole and Lena are sitting in a restaurant, surrounded by young couples in love … ”

The veterans come marching up the street, hiding their limps and holding high the colors.

We watch them come, as the saxophone players wet their reeds the trombones utilize their spit valves the flutists shuffle but are prim and ready

and the band director’s neck muscles tense and his arms begin to raise

The veterans have arrived at the gazebo without incident.

The EMTs fall back

Folding chairs whine as the crowd rises to honor the flags, but mostly the veterans.

“one young man says to his young lady, ‘pass the sugar, Sugar.'”

The band director waves his hands in mysterious signals.

And suddenly, miraculously, the Star Spangled Banner plays.

“Another young man says to his young lady, ‘pass the honey, Honey.”

I put a hand over my heart, a trick I picked up at Gopher football games because I never had a hat to take off like the men.

“Lena says to Ole, ‘why don’t you ever talk to me like that anymore?'”

A few cars, stopped at the Schmidt Oil stoplight, direct honks toward the flag,

and somehow, they fit in with the song as it ends with an untimely squawk.

“Ole replies, ‘pass the tea, Bag.'”

The band director shudders visably, but we clap and clap.

Photo credit: Chisago City Heritage Association

Photo credit: Chisago City Heritage Association

Wedding

I have never seen my friend Tim look so happy.  That moment everyone talks about–when the groom first sees the bride start down the aisle–happened just as everyone said it would.  Tim looked as if he were about to cry, explode from happiness, and faint from nervousness all at once.  I almost burst into tears just to see it.  A small edit: I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone look that happy.

Children, that’s the look your partner should have on your wedding day.

The wedding was in a church in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.  I drove from Minneapolis with two friends, and drove from Sauk Centre to Fergus Falls with those same two friends plus Ben.  He still goes to Morris, the lucky dog.  It was a long three and a half hours in the car, punctuated by a visit to Keith’s Kettle for lunch.

Keith’s Kettle is advertised via billboard for about one-hundred miles of highway, and every billboard features a color photograph of Keith himself, smiling and pink-faced.  It has long been a goal of mine to pay a visit to the famed establishment, and now I have.  My chili was actually fairly delicious, if you’re looking for a recommendation.  And we saw Keith himself, greeting diners from the front desk.  He was wearing the exact same polo shirt he wears on the billboards.

When we arrived in Fergus Falls, we piled into the church bathrooms to change.  I called dibs on the shower stall, and was able to shimmy into dress and heels with relative ease.

Then we found the groomsmen, two fellow Morris graduates and former Pine Hall (my freshman dorm) residents, and were brought in to hug the groom before we found our seats.

It was a beautiful, beautiful ceremony, draped with white tulle and navy silk.  I fumbled a little through the rock version of “Amazing Grace” (rather unlike the solemn Catholic version), but that was largely overlooked.  Tears were shed again (in case you’re looking to tally) when the bride and groom distributed roses to their parents and grandparents.

The reception began with an announcement asking guests not to clink glasses in order to get the bride and groom to kiss.  We at table five, self-dubbed the “kids’ table” (made up of a smattering of Tim’s friends from elementary school, high school, and college) hid our disappointment and politely obliged.  A half hour later, the mother of the groom came by our table to say hello and to tell us quietly that if we clinked, she would pretend she didn’t hear.  So we clinked and cheered at the resulting kiss.  An hour later, the bride walked by and told us quietly to clink again.  Not wishing to deny the bride anything on her wedding day, of course we complied.

After cake was eaten and another round of hugs swept the hall, we piled back into the Prius for the ride home.  King was with us now, squished between Ben and I in the dreaded middle backseat.  It was just like freshman year.  We played twenty questions.  King and I sang about the ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall until Evan made us stop.  We talked endlessly about how happy Tim and Morgan had looked.  And how much older they had looked, suddenly.  How impressively distant from the rest of us unmarried, freshly independent, jobless folk.

As we passed illuminated billboard after billboard plastered with Keith’s welcoming grin, I could almost believe that we had been on just another Perkins run in Alexandria, and were now on our way back to campus.

Photo credit: SR Photography

Sidenote: best wedding photograph I’ve ever seen.  Photo credit: SR Photography.

Friday Favorites 3

This song:

You know that song “Mirrors” by whats-his-name former *NSYNC lead?  The song that is played three times an hour on every radio station in the country, including those stations typically reserved for classical and/or talk?  That song has been stuck in my head for the past three days.  This afternoon I even invented an elaborate system which involved showering with the door partly open so that Mac could blast “Mirrors” without suffering steam damage.

Mystery critters:

Ruby–who has only just learned to whine when she has to use the outdoor facilities (before she simply followed one of us around with her ears perked)–and I discovered a mystery whilst patrolling the yard yesterday evening.  Sidenote: Ruby is a dog, not my human younger sister.  My real human younger sister only whines when I talk to her during Pretty Little Liars.  Anyway, some kind of animal was up in a tree clipping sizeable branches and letting them fall to the ground.  There was already a scattering of green-leaved sticks when Ruby and I arrived on site, and a few more fell as we peered up to catch a glimpse of the creature.  No luck.  The foliage was thick enough to hide it, and it quieted once it spotted us.  Was it a squirrel?  But I’ve never seen a squirrel prune branches like that, unless it’s beginning to build a nest for winter and planned to gather the clippings later?  Was it a bear?  I’ve seen a treed bear before.  For a split second I thought maybe a pet monkey had escaped from somewhere and was about to flash down at me, teeth bared.  But perhaps that’s not it either.  If any zoologists care to comment, particularly if you can support my monkey theory, I would be grateful.

This book:

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I would like to dispel any rumors involving the feature film Cheaper by the Dozen, starring Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt.  The movie is, in fact, based on a real-life family, but only so far as both the real and the fictional family had twelve children.  The real-life family, the Gilbreths, were quite different than Steve and Bonnie’s in every other way.  The parents, Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Sr. and Lillian Moller Gilbreth, were pioneers in the field of motion study around the turn of the century.  And the book–written by two of the children–details the uniqueness of a large family governed by notions of efficiency.  Think French and German language records played in the bathrooms.  The book is heartwarming and very funny:

“Dad himself used to tell a story about one time when Mother went off to fill a lecture engagement and left him in charge at home. When Mother returned, she asked him if everything had run smoothly.
Didn’t have any trouble except with that one over there,’ he replied. ‘But a spanking brought him into line.’
Mother could handle any crisis without losing her composure.
That’s not one of ours, dear,’ she said. ‘He belongs next door.”

Weddings:

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I’m attending my first tomorrow.  I mean, I was a flower girl for my aunt and uncle’s wedding when I was five, but all I remember about that is enjoying the swish of my beautiful dress.  Tomorrow two of my friends from college marry.  I will be wearing lipstick. I will likely cry.  I will likely make a fool of myself on the dance floor.  But I’m so excited that I doubt I’ll sleep well tonight.

This blog reader:

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Okay, guys: this is cool and something you should look into if you, like me, keep tabs on about twelve different blogs.  To get set up, all you have to do is make a free account with Feedly, enter the URLs of the blogs you read, and then the day’s postings appear right on your Feedly.  No need to go to each individual website.  I use Feedly on Mac and as a mobile app, and both are user-friendly and frankly pretty slick.

This TV show:

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When I was in high school and everyone else in the nation was watching The Office, I wasn’t.  What was I watching instead?  Survivor, House Hunters, probably some Disney Channel.  The commentaries on the Chronicles of Narnia DVD.  I don’t know what was wrong with me, either.  I’m on the bandwagon now, however, and happy to be here.  Kevin and his squinty-eyed one liners are my favorites.

The Good Universe Next Door

You know that E.E. Cummings line everyone quotes?

“listen: there’s a hell
of a good universe next door; let’s go”

That’s it.

It’s a funny line, because at first you think maybe he’s talking about heaven. Or Heaven. What’s funny is that if so, he’s referring to heaven as “a HELL of a good universe.”

All funnies aside, I think what E.E. Cummings meant was not heaven. Or Heaven. But rather some sort of transcendence that might be compared to heaven. Not even a transcendence. Perhaps a withdrawal into the more beautiful parts of ourselves.

I felt something like that today. I had spent the most of the afternoon watching season 3 of The Office, waiting waiting waiting for Jim and Pam to get together. And then I played with Ruby. Actually, I threw her ball as far as I could and then vaulted into the truck bed to hide. I didn’t peek over the rim until I could hear her snuffling close to the back bumper. I laughed at her entire back end wagging, her ears down in surprised delight. Then I watched part of Inception, but discovered halfway through that I was not, in fact, in the mood for Inception. Finally, I wandered to my laptop and began to write on one of my long pieces.

And for a split second, it was strange to be writing, to be deeply immersed in some worthy creating after the paltriness of the day. For a split second, it was as if some small bit of subconsciousness were waking up and whispering, “About time you got back. Do you remember this?”

Of course I did. My own hellofagood Universe.