So, Thursday night. Decemberists. And being outside. And enjoying Decemberists. And being outside.

These are my two homies from the Senegal study abroad. I don't know if you can tell, but these ladies are very happy to be in America. Also they have excellent taste in music. Which explains why we're all at this concert. Seriously, these girls SAVED MY LIFE in Africa. I owe them big time.
I don't know why I choose to surround myself with crazy people. I like them--I like them a lot. The two girls on the right are sisters. The girl on the left is a former classmate, and a friend of the sister in the middle, and a co-novelist with the girl in the sunglasses from the previous photo. Small world. These girls like the Decemberists, too. The sisters even have an accordion to prove it.
This pretty much sums up my view for most of the concert. We moved from sitting on a sheet off to the side to weaving our way through the crowd toward the center. It definitely sounded better from where we were, but I'm pretty much doomed to smell armpits for the rest of my concert-watching career.

It was around this time that I tweeted the following, and a friend replied:

I really have accepted my fate. Sometimes I still wish, though.
So, I pretty much coveted the guy in the cherry picker the whole time. Can you see how thrilled he looks? Maybe he needed to use the bathroom or something. Maybe he wanted to see his wife and kids. But I cannot comprehend his not wanting to be at a Decemberists' concert. He's clearly not watching the concert. He has the best view! I wish I had an explanation.
Okay, occasionally I would catch fun glimpses of the band members. I listened hard to the instruments, and often I wished I could have been able to see the fiddler or the bassist or guitars riffing with each other. The band seemed pretty cool. They made fun of crowd surfers and they bossed us around quite well. Huge crowds are hard to contain sometimes with all the free admission and beer and pot. But the band did a bang-up job.

Speaking of pot, I tweeted this observation. The same friend replied and further confirmed my luckiness that he’s my friend:

So I texted Francis, and asked what he did to his keyboard. He replied, "Tea. I did 'tea' to my keyboard." I visualized this, and it was a pretty vivid image, most likely because the contact high was SO FREAKING STRONG.

We met a guy named Dennis who came with a friend. He introduced himself and extended his hand to shake, but we sort of brushed him off.

After the concert, we went to Denny’s, where our waiter was named Moe, which was short for Mohammed, and he sounded a lot like Barack Obama. Coincidence? I think not. He was a one-man show. Not only did he wait tables, he also was the cashier and he might have done all the cooking, too. And we spent a fair amount of time doing Barack Obama impressions on the way home.

What we also did? Acted high. But mostly we weren’t acting. Except we had to tone it down in Denny’s because undercover cops were also at the restaurant. It wasn’t possible to stop giggling, and I think we managed to order all the breakfast items on the menu. And half a sampler platter. Poor Moe.

Okay, so that was fun.

Yet, I have a small complaint.

Go to this website, and scroll down to the rules about food and beverages. Is it clear on whether one can or can’t bring food into the park? It doesn’t say we can’t bring food into the park. I brought food, and when we got to the entrance, I found out that food wasn’t allowed. And maybe I yelled, like, LOUD, and maybe no one cared, but come on, people, at least provide a clear policy on such things. I can go to a concert in Central Park, NYC, and they’ll have similar rules: no coolers, no glass containers, no outside alcohol. I can bring outside food; EVERYONE can bring outside food. They encourage it. Yes, I know that Pioneer Park isn’t Central Park. But Pioneer Park also doesn’t have to worry about the kind of attendance Central Park does. Pioneer Park should be able to handle food. I stood in line for an hour last month waiting to see Yo-Yo Ma with a book, a plastic bottle of water, and a Chipotle burrito. Free concert, even. Everyone knows what the rules are.

So, Twilight Concert Series people, don’t make like you’re Stephenie Meyer or the writers of Lost and change the rules whenever you feel like it. Or if you want to change the rules, make sure such changes are also on the website. It’s not a lot to ask.

But, thank you for bringing the Decemberists to Salt Lake City. For free.

May’s Super-duper Song Review: “Baby” by Justin Bieber

I had heard of Justin Bieber over a year ago. I’d seen pictures, listened to soundbytes. I’m not one to predict the staying power of any 21st century artist or musician, especially if his testosterone switch hasn’t flipped on yet, but am I EVER SO GLAD to be living in the era of this phenomenon, the “fever.” How can you not love him, his angelic voice, his wispy hair? His smooth dance moves? All before puberty, ladies and gentlemen. Can you imagine what kind of magic will unleash once thicker fuzz appears on his face? Until nearly two months ago in Africa, I did not know the power of this man-boy until a throng of fellow female college students started singing his songs. What a mighty blessing that was. Now, I will never forget him.

One of his timeless classics is “Baby” featuring Ludacris. It is one of the most enigmatic, soul-transforming chef-d’oeuvres that has ever been created. EVER.

Let me show this to you in a fancy, new window.

First, this song is sad. BUT LISTEN TO THE SONG! It has a fast beat and the melodic phrases go up a short scale then back down the scale. It intends to stimulate brain activity, like Mozart. Think of the beginning of  “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” as the notes ascend then descend. The remarkable thing here is that Justin is not performing as a string section of a chamber orchestra. He’s doing everything WITH HIS VOICE, with much aplomb!

You know you love me, I know you care
Just shout whenever, and I’ll be there
You want my love, you want my heart
And we will never ever ever be apart

Can you feel the confidence? I would be beside myself, completely lovestruck, if someone told me what I know and what I want. Why, yes, I DO KNOW that I love you. And it’s great that you know I care, but I wonder if you know what I care ABOUT? YES, YOU. Well, of course I want your love and your heart. I was beginning to think the era of the mindless woman submitting to the domineering man was gone, but fortunately this song is restoring that mentality to full force.


Um, Justin, where are you? You said you’d come.  What am I supposed to think when I call for him and he doesn’t come? How does he distinguish between what I want and what I will get? HE DOESN’T. EVERYTHING IS SO SIMPLE: IT’S THE SAME FOR HIM. Is he setting conditions for eternal togetherness? I want his love and his heart, therefore, we will stay together forever. That’s all it takes. That’s what I’ve done wrong all these years. I should have wanted a beautiful 16-year-old boy’s love to ensure my life’s happiness.

Are we an item? Girl, quit playing
We’re just friends, what are you saying?
Say there’s another and look right in my eyes
My first love broke my heart for the first time
And I was like…

Uh, oh. Showing insecurity, are we? VERY INTERESTING PROGRESSION. I love how one can experience such a wide range emotions and experiences in this stanza. IT’S OKAY IF HE DOESN’T REALLY KNOW IF HE’S IN A RELATIONSHIP, BECAUSE NOBODY REALLY “KNOWS” THAT KIND OF THING, ANYWAY. Uncertainty, just-friendship, doubt; shock from finding out there’s another love interest; falling so hard for someone that he becomes the victim of a big-time high-school jilting. This perfectly captures the high-school adventure of crushes and heartache, but I can’t really feel sad, because the tune is so happy, at least within the half-octave range it provides.

Baby, baby, baby oooh
Like baby, baby, baby nooo
Like baby, baby, baby oooh
I thought you’d always be mine (mine)

One of my favorite things in high school was when people called me “baby.” Nothing made me feel more like an adult or more accommodating of my desire to be independent. What I also appreciate here is the anguish I feel in the “oh”s and “no”s, like he’s going through a type of denial–an important part of grieving–in the loss of his very first love that he absolutely truly thought he would love and be together with forever and ever and never mind that he’s dancing like an elf and making weird faces, because THOSE are DEFINITELY NOT reasons to break up with somebody.

Baby, baby, baby oooh
Like baby, baby, baby nooo
Like baby, baby, baby oooh
I thought you’d always be mine (mine)

Apparently, the suffering is so deep, this part of the chorus needs repeating.

Also, not a coincidence this video is shot in a bowling alley. It’s a place where lots of teenagers hang out, and it incorporates the metaphor of the strike. Which either could mean striking out or completely scoring. And whatever kind it means depends on individual situations. Way to integrate relativistic philosophy into a song. IMPRESSIVE.

I ALSO LOVE HOW MODESTLY DRESSED JUSTIN IS IN THIS VIDEO. I know he is sparing my eyes from his rippling muscles and he wants me to focus on his boy-choir voice and that army dog-tag necklace. Because he happens to know how much I respect the military and have a weakness for men in uniform, plus, since he’s engaging my mind with the composition of the song, his conscientious dress only serves to make me smarter. He’s freaking brilliant.

For you I would have done whatever
And I just can’t believe we ain’t together
And I wanna play it cool, but I’m losin’ you
I’ll buy you anything, I’ll buy you any ring
And I’m in pieces, baby fix me
And just shake me ’til you wake me from this bad dream
I’m going down, down, down, down
And I just can’t believe my first love won’t be around

May I take this moment to compliment Mr. Bieber’s lip-synching abilities. ALWAYS SO SMILEY!

What is the color of desperation? It’s called Justin Bieber. I LOVE how he encourages emotional awareness, despite his denial. He’s in pieces, and he needs the girl to put him back together. BUT she also wants him to shake him, which you would think defeats the purpose of the Humpty-Dumpty repair, but he’s having one of those falling-down dreams, which means he’s losing control, and he needs the girl to help him gain control. I LOVE how specific he gets with his promises: I can shout WHENEVER, for me he would do WHATEVER. His level of commitment completely blows my mind, especially when he expresses that he wants to buy me anything, ANY RING. I LOVE the idealism he has, and this definitely reveals my ignorance of Canadians, because it seems that they propose or betroth or declare everlasting love well before they graduate from high school. It is because of his idealism that he’s in disbelief.  BUT, he’s also really good at being able to tell what his love interest knows and wants. This song is TIGHT.

YET, this song does imply a little bit of optimism with “first” love. There will be others. And you’ll most likely be dumped by them, too. This song prepares people for reality!

And I’m like
Baby, baby, baby oooh
Like baby, baby, baby nooo
Like baby, baby, baby oooh
I thought you’d always be mine (mine)

Baby, baby, baby oooh
Like baby, baby, baby nooo
Like baby, baby, baby oooh
I thought you’d always be mine (mine)

Has anyone ever considered the effect of using the word baby for nearly half the words of the refrain? It is a serious jolt to the brain. It establishes a certain expectation in the listener, a point of focus. I now turn my head whenever someone says “baby.” This song is a great conditioning tool if you ever want stop thinking your name is whatever people normally call you.

Luda! When I was 13, I had my first love,
There was nobody that compared to my baby
and nobody came between us or could ever come above
She had me going crazy, oh, I was star-struck,
she woke me up daily, don’t need no Starbucks.
She made my heart pound, it skipped a beat when I see her in the street and
at school on the playground but I really wanna see her on the weekend.
She knows she got me dazing cause she was so amazing
and now my heart is breaking but I just keep on saying…

What I love about rappers’ interludes is how they introduce themselves. This particular section demonstrates the power of girls over boys. And, it’s sort of dirty if you try to connect certain ideas to teenage boys, so I will probably just skip this part. But yes, teenage boys are capable of feeling the drug-like effects that girls have on them. It’s fascinating how boys are really truly the victims throughout this song. Girls should really feel empowered and in not any way degraded by this song at all.

BUT the rapper and Justin Bieber have matching dogtags. Not the least bit ludicrous.

Ooh! Dance-off! These dance circles are universal, and it’s important that all the cool and able dances show off their moves in the center, and it’s especially important that somebody in the circle knows all the words to whatever song is playing at the time. BELIEVE ME: IT DOES HAPPEN. Just ask Africa.

Baby, baby, baby oooh
Like baby, baby, baby nooo
Like baby, baby, baby oooh
I thought you’d always be mine (mine)

Baby, baby, baby oooh
Like baby, baby, baby nooo
Like baby, baby, baby oooh
I thought you’d always be mine (mine)

I’m gone (Yeah Yeah Yeah, Yeah Yeah Yeah)
 Now I’m all gone (Yeah Yeah Yeah, Yeah Yeah Yeah)
Now I’m all gone (Yeah Yeah Yeah, Yeah Yeah Yeah)
Now I’m all gone (gone, gone, gone…)
I’m gone

One of the last stages of grief is acceptance. Contrast the “no” with the “yeah”s at the very end of the song. Compare the agony of Justin Bieber in this song to that of T.S. Eliot’s in a couple of lines from the Waste Land:

No: “I will show you fear in a handful of dust” and Yeah: “these fragments I have shored against my ruins.” SO MUCH ALIKE! I’m pretty sure Justin got most of his inspiration from T.S. Eliot. That’s just one more reason to love this song with all my heart and soul.


May’s rating scale:


More mediocrity!

Medially mediocre

Trying too hard!


I’m Supposed to Be Studying for a Midterm

I’ve been away from Africa for about the same amount of time I spent there. It’s weird. It’s just weird. You get used to seeing people every day for five weeks, and then all of a sudden, they’re not there anymore. Not to the same degree. I mean, the circumstances were unique: Senegal, close quarters, same exposures to culture and language and weather and disease. The same long hours on a bus or in a classroom or the same walk to and from the boulangerie or cybercafe. We all had the same cravings for familiar foods and cold drinks and English anything. A lot of American anything, for some of us. A lot of us came back with stronger convictions or different perspectives. I came back feeling indignant about a lot of things. It’s just weird. Pringles. The sprinkler systems at BYU. Small talk. Mental illness. Child abuse. I came back cussing more and wanting to argue more, about anything. I was on a date the other night, and I bit my tongue to keep from countering everything the guy said. And he was a nice guy, super nice, but I wanted him to stop saying wrong things. I still like talking about Africa to anyone who will listen. People who’ve been there with me, people who will probably never go. People who have maybe distanced from themselves the human parts of humanity. Who knows. I don’t know. I can’t let it go.

It seems silly, but I miss being able to walk into the hotel room next to me and plop myself on a bed and feel comfortable talking about anything. After a long day of long-day things, I miss that kind of decompression, the difference in what I cared about. What I think about. What I want to change.

Just weird. Seeing people out of that context is weird. Not that I’ve seen very many people, but I think about them all the time. All the time. I’ve tried to maintain the friendships I forged there. I’m grateful to have them, to be able to share, to have a way not to forget. I’m back to a school-work routine, but nothing is the same. I’ve wanted to hang on to so much from those five weeks. It’s constantly on my mind, all the stories and laughter and colossally hard times.

So much has happened in the last seven months. I’ve come to accept some pretty hard facts. I’ve learned to let some things go, and putting certain things on that list was not the easiest thing for me to do. Africa is not on that list. Other things are, and I’m finally okay with it. I’ve stopped arguing about those things. They pass; time fades them. It looks different, more manageable, like it’s supposed to be forgotten.

It’s becoming less weird.

The Opening Line of an Email Today

A few drafts of entries hide, latent, outside the public’s purview. They discuss mostly my French experience in Africa, and I wanted to focus mostly on the African experience, the human experience, the life stuff beyond the school stuff.

It’s hard to separate the two realms: I spoke, read, and wrote French in Africa. We took tests and turned in papers in that language. I’d rather just forget the grades from my study abroad, because–although they’re not horrible–they don’t reflect the breadth of my experience there.

Somehow,  I was able to channel the spirit of the adventure–my reason for being there–and focus that energy into some of my schoolwork. And it resulted in the opening line of an email that made my day today:


Comment allez-vous?  Savez-vous que je vous ai donné un A pour votre projet anthropologique?  C’était magnifique, ce que vous aviez écrit.

So, I’m happy I did well on the anthropology project, which was about families. I enjoyed writing it; I appreciated being able to express some of the things I learned that were important to me.  I’ll push away the thought that I must have BUSTED on the exams to earn the overall grade. That thought is a little bit depressing.

One thing advanced French classes have taught me these past six months is that grades cannot define me. It’s such an easy trap to fall into, and I’ve let it create doubt in my abilities as a student, a scholar, a writer. I’ve let it “degrade” me (sorry, pun, and I’ve also recently watched Wit again, which also plays with the word so it’s fresh on the brain) and undermine my identity. I still might write those entries, just because they outline some breakthroughs and personal growth that didn’t necessarily result in an A.

Unquantifiable stuffs. You know.

A Midsummer Dream

“Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.”

–Prospero, The Tempest

So, the Shakespeare Festival was fun. The play was quite good, and I’ll probably not write a lot about it. It pleased and amused me. The drive was exhilarating and I sang along to my iPod, and the roadwork along I-15 didn’t even annoy me.

Click on the rodent to see what I did after the festival:

Or, check out the slideshow.

I tried to decide whether I would have enough time to do some exploring, since I was already in southern Utah, and since it’s the summertime, and I was feeling rather energetic today. Still. The play finished around 4:45, and it would take about three hours to go home, and I needed to finish a paper for class and clean my apartment for cleaning checks tomorrow.

Cedar Breaks National Monument wasn’t even 30 miles away. I headed east on Center Street in Cedar City and the let the winding roads take me into the sky. Occasionally as I climbed, I would look at the valley expand below me and the height triggered my acrophobia, so I would try to refocus on the road. But then I’d always look back at the valley. I liked the thrill.

You guys, Utah is so beautiful. Today was one of those rare days I wish I had a car just so that I could bounce around the state and feel (especially) small against this great big magnificent world. A surreal backdrop on the grandest stage. Floating in a false consciousness.

And then there’s the price of gas.

Today was absolutely worth it, though.

Love Triangle

Utah, I’m so proud of you for topping this list:

Of course, there are the concerts in New York. But I’m not there. I’m here, in Utah. I’m going to have fun here. I’m going to be present with folks here, make friends here, love people here. It’s the least I can do.

This week:

Shakespeare Festival down in Cedar City to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Um, Harry Potter 7.2 (DUH)
Hopefully dinner with some Senegal friends if  one doesn’t get chosen for jury duty
Hanging out with people
Llama Fest down in Spanish Fork
Possibly, a date
Possibly, a bike ride

Utah, how about you and I try going steady, and we’ll see where things lead. Don’t get fresh, though.

More Non-homework Things

So, I was browsing through Bookslut and found this article, which is an interview with the guy who was the instructor of my beginning memoir-writing class at Gotham Writing Workshops. I took the class back in the fall of 2006.  He’s the one who gave me this feedback.

Maybe I’m going to try to go back to a little writing again. I’m not sure how to do that.

That is all.

Knee-Jerk: A Few Wonderings

“Whether the photograph is understood as a naïve object or the work of an experienced artificer, its meaning–and the viewer’s response–depends on how the picture is identified or misidentified; that is, on words….But one day captions will be needed, of course. And the misreadings and the misrememberings, and the new ideological uses for the pictures, will make their difference.

“Central to modern expectations, and modern ethical feelings, is the conviction that war is an aberration, if an unstoppable one. That peace is the norm, if an unattainable one. This, of course, is not the way war has been regarded throughout history. War has been the norm and peace the exception.”

–Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others

I have been working my way through this essay for the past year. I’ll pick it up at random and catch a paragraph or two, and if I’m lucky, these moments will coincide with the phases in my life when I’m angry at particular aspects of the world. War photography and photojournalism that captures human suffering: How do viewers react to/experience it? (How) Do their feelings change as this form of expression evolves? What effects does the photographer intend? In what ways do s/he and the audience share a conscience?

“God does not demand that we give up our personal dignity, that we throw in our lot with random people, that we lose ourselves and turn from all that is not him. God needs nothing, asks nothing, and demands nothing, like the stars. It is a life with God which demands these things.

“Experience has taught the race that if knowledge of God is the end, then these habits of life are not the means but the condition in which the means operates. You do not have to do these things; not at all. God does not, I regret to report, give a hoot. You do not have to do these things–unless you want to know God. They work on you, not on him.

“You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is necessary. But the stars neither require nor demand it.”

–Annie Dillard, Teaching A Stone to Talk

I wonder about God as a photographer, if what I see in the world requires anything of my conscience. I wonder whether captions are necessary, or if the experience itself provides sufficient commentary. I wonder how much of the experience I am in control of.