Paper Folders

Creativity is not so much more than problem solving. - Cousin Becky

Part of the same family -- my aunt Susie is a wonderful quilter, my cousin Becky is a professional potter, my mom makes costumes and sets and other large-scale decorations. There is a lot of artistic or at least craft talent on my mom's side of the family. But I want to talk about my cousin Aaron and my uncle Jim in particular.

Uncle Jim has been folding Origami for a long time. When my family would go to Indiana for Christmas he would teach us, as kids, how to fold stars and boxes, and he'd make us rings out of dollar bills. When Aaron was old enough and got interested, Jim's interest also picked up. They joined a folding group -- IRON Folders (Indiana Regional Origami Network of Folders), and they occasionally go to conventions or to meet with the authors of origami books.

I wanted to get them to talk more about their hobby, since to me it seems sort of obscure. (I was not one of the cousins to pick up a profound interest or talent in it.) And Jim talked about how he didn't consider himself creative or artistic -- he is an engineer by trade. He just likes to fold.

He talked about a guy, Robert Lang, who was a physicist and well-known folder, who NASA contacted. They needed him to find a way to fold a large lens into a rocket so they could send it into space.

He talked about when my cousin Angie (Aaron's mom) was in the hospital. "For sanitary reasons, we weren't allowed to bring in any real flowers or fruit for decoration. But we could bring in paper," he said. Jim knows dozens of ways to fold flowers.

"I guess that's when paper folding became more important to me."


Albums of 2011

First, I have some off-genre, for me, albums that I like and wanted to mention. Note: albums listed: band - album - good song to start with/my favorite song depending.

Alabama Shakes - Alabama Shakes - Hold On ... This band reminds me of one you might see, unexpectedly, in some out-of-the way small town bar and, to your shock, realize that you really like them. My favorite lyrics, Hold On, "Bless my heart, bless my soul. Didn't think I'd make it to 22 years old."

The Roots - undun - The OtherSide ... this is a hip hop group. Talented lyricists, great sound. I think I'll do a lot of listening to them on into 2012.

Trombone Shorty - For True - For True ... Jazz musician from New Orleans. His sound really pops and drives. It's very catchy for a jazz album.

And now for the count down. (Where I'm from no one has pinkies.)

8) Adele - 21 – Someone Like You … Diva. I hope everyone has heard this woman’s pipes by now. I think it’s important to mention that she doesn’t over sing her songs. She makes them big, she’s stunning, and she’s not ridiculous – no Super Bowl national anthem singer (but she’s a Brit, so I guess she wouldn’t be). One of my favorite things about her is how awful her speaking voice sounds. Terrible accent. A cackle for a laugh. And a singing voice to bring the house down.

7) Grouplove - Never Trust a Happy Song – Love Will Save Your Soul … This is a great pop record. Accessible, upbeat, youthful with a touch of rebellion. The Peter Pan of the music world.

6) Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues – Helplessness Blues … This band is part of the big switch that has happened for me since 2008. I wasn’t in love with their first album, couldn’t really get into it. On the other hand, Bon Iver’s For Emma Forever Ago is one of my all-time favorites. This year, I’m into this album. Bon Iver’s … meh. I think the difference is that Fleet Foxes has brought a little heat, a little speed, and more cohesion to this album. And they’ve really figured out their harmony and their sound. Mitch and I got to see them at the Chicago theater, which was a highlight.

5) Big Deal - Lights Out – With the World at My Feet … The more I listen to this album, the more I like it. Musically, it’s really growing on me. I wrote a whole big thing on it, see here. It’s a very sexy album. Actually, when I was reading a review on it, I learned a new word: prurience – inordinately interested in matters of sex; lascivious. David Foster Wallace would be so proud.

4) Bright Eyes - The People’s Key – Shell Games … Bright Eyes is back. This album is great, comprehensive. Optimistic. Here’s a guy going from “death obsessed like a teenager. Sold my tortured youth pissing vinegar. I’m still angry with no reason to be” in Shell Games to “One for the breadlines. One for the billionaires. […] One for me. One for you” in the last song. And the wonky guy, whose voice runs through the whole thing talking about aliens and lizard people, comes on at the end saying “love, compassion, art, mercy.”

3) tUnE-yArDs - w h o k i l l – Bizness … This is a very strong third place. If it weren’t for my felt loyalty to the first and second, this one would rise to the top. Singer Merrill Garbus is a force: in music, confidence, feeling. Her songs are rhythmic and powerful, wrought with tension. I’ve heard her songs described as political, but it’s more of a personal politics. A white girl from Oakland trying to deal with what’s going on in her head and her surroundings – insecurities, incongruities, and stuff most of us don’t like to think or talk about. My favorite lyrics are in the song Killa, “I’m new kind of woman. I’m a new kind of woman. I’m a don’t take shit from you kind of woman.”

2) The Joy Formidable - The Big Roar – Cradle … This band goes big like the album name suggests. The first time I heard them, I knew they were good in a way that doesn’t wear out with the number of listens I give them. I’m confident in their staying power. The album boasts a full complex wall of sound, the kind I can get lost in. I’ve noticed that when I put their songs on a mixed CD, people tend to shut down a little. They’re not, maybe, for the faint of heart.

1) King Creosote and Jon Hopkins - Diamond Mine – First Watch … This album is number one for me based on the strength of the first song. One of my favorite things is taking a nap or sitting in a room by myself and being able to hear the activity of people nearby – cooking, talking, washing dishes. That’s what this song sounds like, the voices of people you might love. The sounds of having them near you without actually having to interact with anyone. And then a slow and breathtaking piano melody plays on top of those sounds. The first couple of times I heard it, I felt like I could cry. It struck me as so beautiful. The rest of the brief album (only seven songs) is good too. Merry Christmas, everyone. I wish I could hear you close to me.


Lights Out

I was planning on doing a “Best Albums of 2011” list, and I still might, but there’s an album that I’ve been hung up on recently for reasons that have little to do with whether it’s “best” or not. So, hang with me, I’ll write through this one and then maybe I can get to the other incredible stuff that has come out in 2011.

It’s an indie guy/girl duo from the UK that, this year, came out with their first record; it's called “Lights Out.” The band’s name is Big Deal. They have a pretty and sleepy sound composed of their two voices, an electric, and an acoustic guitar. The first song of theirs I heard (“Chair”) was on NPR. Alice Costelloe sings, “You don’t trust me to sit on your bed, put me on a chair in the corner instead. You don’t trust me. […] Only want me for my lungs, only want me for the songs I write about you about how I like you.” The male half of the duo, Kacey Underwood, is Costelloe’s guitar teacher and a bit older than her. That fact and the implied possibility that she is singing about (while singing with) him colors my whole listening and interpretation of the album.

These aren’t really love songs, and they aren’t raunchy sex songs, but they are somewhere in between. And they seem to come from the perspective of a young woman on the verge of independence who has fallen for an older man. In the song “With the World at My Feet” she sings, “With the world at my feet, and the stars in my reach. But you won’t be with me. You won’t be with me.” And in “Talk,” “It’s okay, I’m just a kid. It’s okay. I’ll get over it.” It’s that voice and perspective that has hooked me on this thing. It has shocked me a little bit how well these songs have resonated with me, recalling emotions and frustrations from late high school/ early college. I feel like they capture part of my experience that I’ve never heard voiced before.

I talked to a friend, showed her the album, and she confirmed my feelings – And first, I should say, we’re talking about that chunk of years when hormones are going, bodies are pretty much grown, but we are still teens mid adolescence. She said that she remembers feeling an impossible barrier between her and being taken seriously as an adult and partner. I think part of this came from her social and relational inexperience compared to the people who were attractive, older men. (And I don’t mean senior gentleman or anything like that. I’m talking about guys two to six years older, which, at the time, was a big deal.) The guys our same age, with the same experience, often looked about like they did in middle school and just had no shot against the dreamy elusive relative juniors and seniors. Costelloe in “Cool Like Kurt” sings, “Take me to your bed. Don’t take me home. I want to be old. I want to be older.” Which impresses me in its honesty and really hits me because I recognize that lack of tact, and really, of intention. She wants this guy, but she may not even like him. Again in “Talk,” “All I want to do is talk, but seeing you fucks me up.” He doesn’t sound like great company, anyway.

But that’s why I like this album. They get the tension right: the conflict isn’t so much over unrequited love. There was never much love in the first place; it’s a collision of hormones, power, and the struggle to be taken seriously – which is more difficult for women and adolescents.

There’s a charming nostalgia to “Homework,” “Can’t do my homework. Can’t concentrate. It’s ruining my grades. I can’t think straight.” (My friend: Oh, it definitely affected my grades.) And creepy carnal undertones in “Swoon,” “Always hungry, I’ve waited so long to feel your touch. […] Do my bones show enough for your love?” This album bends around feelings of passion, inadequacy, helplessness, and newness so completely that I remembered emotions I hadn’t thought of in years. I felt rueful (again) for having them in the first place and also grateful that somebody had captured them in such a lovely gritty simple medium.

And while I’ve seen relationships work and flourish that have started from these beginnings, most end. “You don’t have to say it’s done. I know. I know.” And she gets over it.



I'm reading Catcher in the Rye. (I'm about midway through.) And I think my gauge for what really has a lot of weight is screwy right now. I mean I think most people would go by Maslow's hierarchy, roughly, in weighing which things are most important. A situation in which someone's in need of food or safety is heavier than one where someone's bored, for example.

But what's getting me this time through reading this book is how nobody will have a drink and talk with Holden. He asks a couple cab drivers, some ladies in a bar, a kid who he's helped tighten her roller skate. Nobody says yes. That's bothering me. That feels like a big deal. He's kicked out of school, he gets beat up a couple of times, he manages to hire a prostitute, but it's irking me more that he really has this one simple request that he can get nothing for.

I was watching Sex and the City last night, season four, on my laptop, and I decided that what happened in that episode was the saddest thing that happened in the entire series. Or at least the saddest line.

Charlotte and Trey are married and live in a gorgeous expensive Park Avenue apartment. They are in the first stages of a divorce. House and Garden Magazine has come to do a feature on their apartment, and Charlotte is thrilled. She says that when she was a little girl she used to put on her mother's pearls and look through H&G magazine.

For a while it looks like Trey won't even show up for the picture, that's how bad things between them have gotten, but at the last minute he does. They take the picture, and Carrie's (as narrator) voice-over says that little girls in their mother's pearls will be watching this magazine thinking Trey and Charlotte are the perfect couple. The camera pans in on their faces, and they smile.

I'm telling you, to me, this is worse than Carrie being left at the alter (spoiler alert?) or Samantha getting breast cancer.

I blame Holden for his catching kids from falling off that crazy cliff all day long.


Language Inflation

I'm trying to keep it under control.

I try to avoid exclamation marks out of fear that once I start, it will be hard to stop. I'm sure you've seen people in the throws of exclamation mark abuse. They send you texts with four of them regarding coffee and three emoticons (even if you barely know them). I feel deadpan using periods with these people.

I too want to seem excited and nice. I want my text and email recipients to like me. (Please, like me!) But if I use these things when I'm just being friendly, what am I supposed to do when I'm excited? I don't want to get into double- and triple-mark territory, I just don't. It's the gateway drug to writing in all caps, using smiley faces with five mouths, and using expressive punctuation to the point it completely overwhelms the message.

I'm fitting this all under language inflation:

When I write emails at work, I feel compelled to end them with "Thanks,". Even if they haven't done squat for me and I'm not in the least bit grateful. So how am I supposed to differentiate between that and when I am thankful?

Thank you so much!!!!!!!!!

Really thanks.

I sing your praises and laud you above all other.

Maybe you find this boring. It is a language thing after all, and that isn't known for getting libidos working. But what about the age-old conundrum of knowing when/if to say "I love you?" The hesitancy to is, in part, because of language inflation. I don't want to say that unless I mean it. Because if I say things that don't mean much, I lose the power to express myself to others. And it will take wheelbarrows full of kind words to buy a loaf of bread.


Occupy Something

For most of my life, it was only in gas prices that I could see the effects of government policy or economics. It's incredible how that has changed.

I have a job because of the stimulus package: I work with research grants, and a portion of the package went towards research. More money up for grabs meant more grant applications which meant they needed more people to edit these grants. Which ultimately meant that I got a job after four-months unemployment. Of course, my job runs out sometime next year because that money has about run out.

I read about unemployment, underemployment, and enormous student-loan debt. I've already been unemployed and underemployed, gone the better part of a year without health insurance. My college-educated friends feel lucky holding jobs as baristas and receptionists. My grandparents don't understand why post-grads are moving back in with their parents.

I have friends who lost their house in the housing market crash.

And I read about the Occupy protesters, and I wonder if they have the same experience as me in that politics and economics all of a sudden undeniably applies to their lives -- that strain of finding out I am not insulated -- or if what I'm feeling is just a by-product of growing up.

What I do know is that being struck by relevant economics is fascinating and stressful. I'm lucky enough to still be at a point where I feel optimistic, like I could still maybe follow those dreams they told me to follow when I was in middle school.

For now, it reminds me of being in DC for the 2008 presidential inauguration. After the ceremony, I made it to a bar with a friend. On the news we saw the mall filled with two million people. I remember thinking, "That's here. This is us."


The New Meaning of Feminism

My work offers free counseling, one of the counselors was explaining to me the approach that they like to take. “We use feminist theory in our counseling,” she said. “We work a lot with empowerment and believe that while a lot of harm and damage comes because of relationships, it’s also in relationships where people can find healing.”

I’m on board for the relationship stuff, but this is the second time since I’ve been in Chicago that I’ve brushed shoulders with bona fide feminists, heard them talk about empowerment, and been completely lost.

It’s not that I’ve never heard the word “empower” before, and I know it means roughly “to give power to”. But what that looks like in the context of counseling or the context of society is lost on me.

On the other hand, I’m realizing that feminism refers to a very particular set of beliefs and theories, many of which are not tied to sex or gender. Coming from Whitworth, where the average student says, “Feminists are… people who are angry,” this is a bit of a shock.

I’ve considered myself a feminist, but I really am just a female who thinks things and talks about them. Which, I guess, is not the same thing.

I have to go read some books or something.


a stolen computer and a cavity.

Please forgive my silence. My computer was stolen about a week ago and I have not seen it since.

I took home a laptop for work today. My main purpose was to use it to finish my grad-school application but I decided to put it to better use and write a little something here.

I work in a non-profit organization for teenagers. That much must be abundantly clear due to the subject matter of most of my posts.

I had a training a few weeks ago. The trainer/coach smiled alot. She represented a well known organization that works with non-profits in the educational field to improve their success.

She spoke uselessness.

aka- she used phrases that don't mean anything. For example, she looked at me and my co-workers and said, "you are giving the tools these children need to pursue their dreams and shine among others." smile smile smile.


I was so grateful I had a cavity filling a half an hour before her motivating speech. Half of my face was numb and without the ability to show expression. The lack of enthusiasm may have disappointed her, but it allowed me to facially express exactly what I was thinking.

She told us that we needed to give the children more leadership in what they learn. They must make the decisions. They must tell us what they want to know. smile smile.

But... what if they are looking at us and asking us what they need to know? Are we supposed to shrug and say, "well, I've been instructed to listen to you."

The trainer's reasoning behind giving students more leadership in their education was due to the drastic decline in American academics/success compared to India, China, etc. (India has more children in the Talented And Gifted program than America has children.) The trainer was adamant that Americans must raise their standards and become strong competitors with other nations.

When I studied in France I took a test. I received a 13/20. A French student congratulated me and told me I received a good score.

That experience in the French education system leads me to this question: what if our education system/model breeds erroneous entitlement rather than humility and an understanding that we don't know it all? Teenagers don't know what they need to know or could know, nor do educators have the ability to quantify knowledge in neatly compacted percentages. We inflate A's like we do our national ego and utopic expressions.

Other nations with increasing economic value expect children to speak when asked to respond, respect the actions and intentions of their elders, and study study study. Their job is not to lead, but to learn.

I am a mere observer, but it seems as if Americans need to decide if they want to focus on their children's ability to feel important or if they want them to be future competitors in the world's economy.

They way it's structured now they can't have both.

Cookies and Tongs

Here is something that John Guthridge emailed me:

"There is a tray of cookies in the coffee shop with tongs for picking them up off the tray. A little girl goes up to the tray, picks up the tongs, puts her finger on each cookie while deciding which one to take, then grabs one with her hand, lifts it up a little, picks it up with the tongs, hands it to herself and eats it.

I don't think she understood the purpose of the tongs."


Tilted Kilt

Mitch and I ate at the Tilted Kilt the other day. We realized after entering that it was the pub version of Hooters. All the servers and hosts were female and wore boots,a short plaid skirt, a push-up bra thing, and a ... blouse? a white half-shirt that was open in the front and tied around the rib cage. (We're talking bare stomachs, which I thought was unkind. I'm thinking the outfits weren't designed by a woman.)

And what surprised me about this whole experience -- I have never been to a Hooters or a strip club or anything like that -- was how cheesy it all was. I had thought it would be scandalizing. Like all these lewd women would be the moral equivalent of pustules, or even have physical pustules. On their face.

Or, you know, there's the whole genre of stories where a woman has to sell her body for the sake of her starving children or because it's snowing. The scantily-clad establishment being the symbol for everything that is wrong and tragic in the world.

And instead I thought, "Come on, really?" First, the push-up bras. Everybody gets a bang out of breasts being lifted. It's like boobs are trucks and the whole world lives east of Union Blvd.

I thought I would be saddened or outraged or something, but instead I found it kind of silly. I mean, pubs do fairly well with short bearded men in T-shirts tending bar. I don't quite understand TK's business strategy. The place was mostly empty. There was another couple at a table behind us. The man was watching TV and the woman would frequently look at the ceiling. There was a very fat man sitting at the bar by himself yelling at the football game and heckling the bar tender. Otherwise it was quiet.

Tilted Kilt is pretty close to the adult version of Chucky Cheeses: not the classiest of establishments, pizza's lousy but you can drink beer, and not strictly something to worry about. A little sub par, but whatever.