December 31, 2012

Staff Picks: 2012

Remember my Staff Picks entry from back in November? Well, lest you think I only occasionally fantasize about working at libraries and bookstores and all the exquisite privileges that come with such a dreamjob, let me set the record straight with another Staff Picks shelf, this time for my favorites of 2012. 

I have looked at a few "Best of 2012" lists for the albums released this year and have been mostly disappointed. Does anyone actually listen to the Japandroids? And who is Miguel? Or Frank Ocean? It seems as though a lot of these lists have a vested interest in looking really eclectic and cultured (if sub-cultured), so they throw in garage bands and amateurish R&B to round things out. I was really surprised at the absence of certain really good releases I've heard this year. But this isn't a Best Of list, it's just my personal favorites from the year. So without further ado:

Adventures In Your Own Backyard by Patrick Watson

This is probably my favorite discovery of the year. Patrick Watson and his crew know how to deliver sweet little songs that are creative and layered. Favorite tracks: "Lighthouse," "Into Giants," "Quiet Crowd," and the title track, "Adventures In Your Own Backyard." I spent many hours grading this semester with this album as my soundtrack. I'm looking forward to listening to it under more pleasant conditions in 2013.

Loveblood by King Charles

King Charles may also weigh in as my biggest crush of the whole year. His persona is so bizarre (one critic referred to his look as a cross between a French duke and a root vegetable), yet it makes so much sense. He is like a crude Roi Soleil come to haunt us in the 21st century. The general reception of this album is mixed, so I'll just tell you what I think: it's a lot of fun. In fact, it's the album I wish Mika would have released this year. A lot of people want to pigeonhole King Charles into that painfully boring category of "indie pop," but I think the music is way too catchy for that. Favorite tracks: "Mississippi Isabel," "Ivory Road," "The Brightest Lights."

Break It Yourself by Andrew Bird

This is Andrew Bird we're talking about here. Trust me. Trust him. Favorites: "Danse Caribe," "Lazy Projector," "Near Death Experience Experience," "Lusitania" (love him most when he's whistling), "Belles."

Radio Music Society by Esperanza Spalding

I have yet to love any of her albums as much as I did her debut, Esperanza, but girl keeps making good music. Tracks like "Radio Song" and "Black Gold" set this album apart as being slightly more radio-friendly or generally palatable than previous releases. All the same, she hasn't lost my attention yet. Favorite tracks: "Crowned & Kissed," "I Can't Help It," and "City of Roses."

Love is a Four-Letter Word by Jason Mraz

It wouldn't even be fair to call Jason Mraz my guilty pleasure; I sincerely believe that he's talented and that, when he isn't trying too hard to impress the fan-base he created with the release of "I'm Yours" ca. 2008, he's a creative songwriter and an almost unmatched performer in terms of his energy and improvisational abilities. This album is not consistently brilliant, but it has so many moments that shine like little revelations. The whole tenor of the album has to do with the art of living abundantly, which we come to learn is almost indistinguishable from the gift of loving abundantly. Favorites: "93 Million Miles" (I seriously listened to that about a dozen times on the evening I purchased the album), "Be Honest," "The World As I See It," and "5/6." (Read my more extensive review of the album on Amazon.)

Born & Raised by John Mayer

To follow 2012's running theme of "Not my favorite by this artist," Born & Raised is far from John Mayer at his finest. But I'd be lying if I said anything other than that I fell in love with this album while driving by myself eastbound down I-80 through the fields of Iowa. John Mayer is one of those musicians I love all the more for his story. He was in a rocky place as he started working on this album, but you can tell that he sort of found his footing in the process of laying down these tracks. And somehow, as a result, I had an awakening of my own when I finally let this blasted little country album grow on me. Favorites: "Queen of California," "Something Like Olivia" (mmm, some blues), "Born and Raised," "If I Ever Get Around to Living" (this one reminds me of "83" from Room for Squares), "A Face to Call Home" (tears, okay?). 

Notable Mentions Because I Love These Guys and Want Their Music to Keep Being Wonderful:
The Absence by Melody Gardot 

The Origin of Love by Mika (c'mon dude, pull it together)

My favorite theatrical releases from the year.

Moonrise Kingdom
(Saw it with: darling Rebekah Allred)

Sweet little film from Wes Anderson. The children-and-birds-and-wilderness-and-Boy-Scouts-in-the-60s aesthetic really did it for me, and I loved Alexandre Desplat and Benjamin Britten on the soundtrack.

Beasts of the Southern Wild
(Saw it with: the venerable Patrick and Philip)

I wouldn't recommend it to just anyone. It had a sort of awful sorrow to it, but it was beautiful in its ugliness and I was moved.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
(Saw it with: Emily, the perfect friend for the occasion)

This book was wonderful and haunting to me as a teenager. Who knows what I'd think of it now, but I was a sucker for this movie all the same.

Wreck-It Ralph
(Saw it with: my amazing siblings Bradford, Sarah, and Dan)

So cute. I just loved this one because it was lovable. Also, it might be worth it to go see it just for the incredible Disney short that premieres before the film.

The Words
(Saw it: on its DVD release day with my family)

I'm a sucker for plagiarism as a metaphor. This is a smart film, and literary.

Les Misérables
(Saw it: on Christmas day with my family)

I love this story. What more can I say?

Notable Mention Because I Saw Only Half of this Film But Really Enjoyed it:
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Who are we kidding? I don't read. 

But actually, it's true that I probably didn't read anything published in 2012. So instead, I will leave you with my favorite book (which is also my favorite favorite) of the year in the hopes that you'll read it and be changed as I was:

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

I'll undoubtedly write about this time and time again on the blog, so suffice it to say for now that my year wouldn't have been the same without it.

Let me know if you heard, saw, or read anything this year that I should know about. May you all have the most wonderful ringing-in of the New Year with the loveliest people you know this evening. That's what I'll be doing.

December 24, 2012

O Magnum Mysterium

Having been raised in a Church that largely favors conceptualizing a loving and even familiar God and a Savior who is truly our friend, I have always been able to find personal peace and comfort even in times of the deepest and bitterest heartache. Sometimes it feels as though the holidays are when I most need to plead for that reassurance from on high that broken things will be mended, that all which is lost will be restored, that I was created to praise and to have joy (which might end up being more or less the same thing, when I think about it). 

But one thing that I perhaps haven't spent enough time doing is showing my reverence for something like the birth of Christ simply by acknowledging its incomprehensibilityits mystery. There are moments when I truly do awe at the miracle that is a falling snowflake, a warm embrace, a word tenderly spoken, or the irresistible magic of the lit-up Christmas tree in my childhood living room. My sense of wonder should be a hundredfold and eternity for the gift, genuine and sweet and everlasting, of a Savior who came to this earth to love and heal in ways that transcend my understanding.

This setting of "O Magnum Mysterium" has a way of, well, making me cry. And also reminding me that it really is a great mystery, this thing we call Christmas.

May you all enjoy as many beautiful things possible on this Christmas Eve.

December 21, 2012

Every once in a while, an amazing person decides to be my friend & stuff

Meet Philip. Actually, you already have if you read my last blog post. He makes delicious bread and figgy pudding and he writes poetry and plays bells of all kinds and actually has a favorite font and looks like this more often than should be allowed:

That hair. Right? 

If you can believe it, he also writes music. You should probably spend the rest of your day reveling in something (or seven things) he's created at his gloriously designed personal website.

In addition to the supernal privilege of knowing someone so full and genuine and lovely, I have the added bonus of taking meager part in awesome artistic collaborations with him.

You'll probably hear more about our post-classical minimalist indie-folk Americana world music duo in future posts, but know for now that we may or may not have come up with the concept for our band (Ampers&) and its first three album releases (to say nothing of our EP, of course) in the dead of night when I should have been writing a Swedish paper. Don't worry, this photo of me and Philip from ca. 2000 will definitely be included in the liner notes or as the cover of our collector's edition vinyl.

All of this is to say that you should probably listen to this song, Ampers&'s first demo, and think about what you're resolving to do in 2013 now that we know the world is most certainly not finished not even close because not every person has a home yet and not every star a song.

December 20, 2012

The Most Glorious

The Most Glorious Merry Wonderful Charming Perfect Heartwarming Christmas Party Ever is an event that took place on Saturday the fifteenth December in the year of our Lord 2012 in East Lansing, Michigan and/or our every-yearning, ever-brimming hearts.

First of all, a little fun holiday fact: if you ever want to, say, roast a goose for a glorious Christmas gathering of your own, be prepared to shell out $60-$100. (A message board poster sums it up nicely in her thread title: "Price of Goose - What Happened???" Each of those three question marks is necessary.) Also, if you must purchase said goose frozen because even the most specialized poultry shops don't sell fresh goose until the week before Christmas, prepare to wait three days for your goose to thaw.

Given that no butcher in East Lansing sees the value of carrying fresh duck or boar's head (I know, right?), Philip and I settled on chicken and hoped that we wouldn't lose any holiday brownie points for doing away with the traditional English main courses that would surely make our Old World-themed party a success.

Groceries purchased and Costas (sous-chef extraordinaire, come to find) in tow, we rolled up our sleeves and set to work. The cooks all enjoyed Angie's dark chocolate and sea salt kettle corn with no regard for our waistlines or the fact that a sumptuous repast was immediately forthcoming. Really, there was no proper response but to finish off the whole bag in ca. thirty minutes when its ingredients were (and I quote): Joy. Love. Exaltation.

Our night was off to a good start.

The menu for the evening ultimately included the following:

+ two roasted chickens, one dressed à la Barefoot Contessa with lemons, garlic, and thyme and the other stuffed with apples and currants and basted with a butter and apple cider glaze
+ roasted carrots and fennel
+ mashed sweet potatoes with a hint of honey and cinnamon

+ apple and currant stuffing (and who knew this would become the most indispensable dish of the night?)
+ green beans sauteed with bacon, onions, and red pepper flakes
+ figgy pudding (no, really)

This is to say nothing of our appetizers: the brie and baguettes, the vegetables, rolls, and dips brought by other partygoers, and the gougères prepared by none other than Allison (from whom we've come to expect nothing less than food that requires the rest of us to do some Wikipedia research beforehand). Also, Christmas isn't Christmas without sugar: chocolate cupcakes and apple and cranberry pie baked by dear, sweet Philip (the latter of which was sadly neglected all evening because the figgy pudding was just that good).

After dinner, we caroled at the spinet. Few things in life are sweeter to me than singing with these voices I know and love so well: Sarah, Dan, Philip, Costas, Allison, Victoria. We laughed. We cried. (No, really.) I read poetry aloud from the beautiful book Philip gave me: Christmas in Art & Song from 1879. He and I both did our best Linus van Pelt imitations in reciting the Christmas story from Luke, wrapped in a bright blue Snuggie so as to look like shepherds mild.

The Most Glorious Merry Wonderful Charming Perfect Heartwarming Christmas Party Ever somehow lived up to its name, and it reminded me that this season really is meant to be magical.

That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

December 11, 2012

Little ones

In T-minus twenty-four hours, I am leaving for Michigan to spend three and a half blissful weeks with nothing but Yuletide cheer in my heart and loved ones gathered 'round. My little brother is going home, too, only he'll be staying there next semester and leaving me all by my lonesome here in Utah. So, in honor of his departure and Christmas and all things that are wonderful and ridiculous about being siblings, here is an old photo I dug up over Thanksgiving weekend.

Me and Bradford, ca. 1997

Only in the carefree bliss that is childhood can white copy paper transform into a beard, and I guess it's okay to waltz around in your underwear no matter what the occasion. More and more, I'm coming to believe that Christmas has everything to do with children, even the silly ones and the trouble-makers and those who wonder if there is still a place for them in this world. A child was born in a stable in Bethlehem long ago to show us that miracles can be found in the tiniest, most fragile of bodies and in the humblest places. For that I am grateful.

I'm also feeling extremely blessed to know that I will reunite with my siblings (those dear partners-in-crime, those sharers in all tomfoolery) this holiday season. One of my brothers, Josh, is soon to be a dad for the first time. What better way to celebrate the joys of Christmas than to welcome another little child into this big, humble, messy thing we call our family? And hopefully someday he'll have brothers and sisters willing to sit in his lap and fully believe (maybe for just a moment) that he's Santa.

Yeah, that's what it's all about.

December 7, 2012

Instructions for living a life

"Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it."

―Mary Oliver

Said like a true poet.

To be honest, that's why I decided to start updating this blog again. There is so much beauty in the world. I imagine I see only a fraction of it, yet it's more than enough to amaze me. Sometimes to the point of tears or prayers or poems or whatever praise I can muster. What I write here is just my way of sharing, of expressing my gratitude, of saying "Look, here, the world has a sweetness and a loveliness; partake with me."

Yesterday I paid attention.

It was the last day of classes. Our little band of humanities students were charged with doing their end-of-semester creative presentations. One by one (or sometimes in smiling little groups) they would make their way to the front and, without any pomp and circumstance, share with us.

And I was astonished.

One girl read aloud an original beat poem and owned it. Another showed a gorgeous video of a dance she'd choreographed. Three of the students decided to make Jackson Pollock-inspired baked goods. (Who knew abstract expressionism could be so tasty?) Many others, humbled by the experience, sheepishly showed their paint-splattered efforts to imitate Pollock on a canvas. A peppy little quartet in ties sang us to Coney Island. One boy, normally so quiet and unassuming, played a really stunning rendition of "Norwegian Wood." His best friend in the class sang the Beatles, too, in a gorgeous and assured baritone that I think surprised everyone. A sweet girl who normally sits in the back came forward to play a song on the banjo―an instrument she just started learning over Thanksgiving break.

The sense of camaraderie in the room was palpable, at least to me. I felt a love and a warmth that I wouldn't have expected to feel for this motley little crew with their cramped penmanship and their endless barrage of questions about points and grades and all like that. When we got the numbers out of the way, though, and we just started sharing and singing and clapping and being, we could see the beauty in each other. And what a glorious thing to behold. 

So here I am, telling about that irresistible salt shaker beat and those prickly banjo fingers and all the globs upon globs of paint and wondering if it's even possible for the universe to run out of poems.

November 30, 2012

Finding Eden

Whenever I have had a long day on campus, I find myself amazed time and time again at the renewing effect of simply stepping outside to walk back home. If I'm lucky, the darkness won't have totally settled in just yet. The peaks of the mountains have a bolder outline as the sun first sets, but little by little they become more blue and mysterious and even mythical. Squaw Peak juts out jagged (and almost arrogant, really); the mountain ranges to the south and west are straight out of an Impressionist painting with their creamy pastels, soft around the edges; and of course, Timpanogos to the north: strong, sculpted, assured, snow-capped more often than not. It's easy to forget that campus is a little mountain of its own; it isn't until I start the steep descent back down into the city that I remember we're that much closer to the sky than the rest of Provo. The sidewalk just across the street from my office offers a breathtaking view of the city lights, the dimensions of the neighborhoods below, Utah Lake, and the faraway peaks to the west. Like a well-worn melody, it never gets old. I am always in awe when I take the time to look. There is a certain comforting familiarity to be found in these mountains, so constant in their presence and so dear to me for everything they've come to mean.

A pulsing realization has come to me in layers over the past six years. I will never forget the first time I traveled back home to Michigan. I had only been in Provo for about two months, but it was a long two months without my family or any of the comforts and familiarity of home. The occasion was a production of Children of Eden at my old high schoolit was my sister's senior year, and thus her last year performing in a musical at the beloved Tibbit's Opera House. Dad picked me up from the Detroit airport that Thursday evening and we raced straight to the theatre to catch the beginning of the show. As if the situation weren't inherently fraught with enough emotion, the play itself followed the heartbreaking narrative of the human race, starting with God, His relationship to Adam and Eve, their relationship to Cain and Abel, and so forth. The whole show was a cycling of generations, of patterns of curiosity and rebellion that finally give way to sacrifice and lovethe painful kind of love that only a parent can know. The kind of love that asks you to let go. All the while, the children of every generation continue the search for Eden, which is ultimately a search for home. When you think of the Creation and the Fall in those terms, it seems like we're almost programmed for nostalgia: that primeval longing for a sweet Edenic homecoming. Needless to say, I was already reduced to a puddle of tears by the time I was able to hug my sister for the first time in months at the show's end. I went to all three nights of performances. I knew I needed to be instructed in how to cope with homesickness, which is perhaps one of the central struggles of the human condition and definitely the biggest thing I was facing at the time.

My sister Sarah and me on opening night of Children of Eden

It's really no surprise that I had such a tender and powerful experience in returning home that first time. What I wasn't expecting was a Provo homecoming almost just as sweet: the minute I returned to my cramped dorm room, I received a call on my desk phone. My newly acquired group of friends and my sweet-natured boyfriend were all but screaming on the other end of the line, asking me to join them in the cafeteria for Sunday dinner. The love was palpable as I stepped into the Morris Center. I was greeted warmly with hugs and kisses and proclamations that even my paltry three days' absence had left little holes in their weekends. I was missed. I was loved. And somehow, Provo had already become another home.

Imagine what six more years of making this place home might do to my heart. The friendly mountains. The familiar contours of the oft-walked streets. The tunnels that still ring with Sunday carols sung with friends. That kiss atop the bell tower. The temple, shining like a beacon in the night, on whose grounds I've so often sought solace and cried freely. The classrooms I've been instructed in. The ones I've taught in. The whiteboards that might still bear a smudge of mine, maybe a fingerprint. That hill at the park by the Riverwoods where I have stargazed with the dearest of souls. The concert halls where I was lucky enough to perform. That parking lot where I used to practice the foxtrot with a special boy. The inconspicuous little look-out point on Y Mountain where I have gone to cry, to advise, to let off sky-lanterns, to celebrate. The Marriott Center, where my heart caught on fire more than once at devotionals, basketball games, music and dance performances. The drives down to Springville with nothing but Eric Whitacre between me and the smeary sunset. The quaint glow of Center Street on a summer evening. The big hearts and warm hands I've come to love.

I could go on. Chances are, I will do just that in the coming months of saying my goodbyes to this place. But this is less an elegy for my Provo days and more a celebration of that lesson I started learning as an eighteen-year-old Eve torn from everything I'd known: that I needn't wait for Eden. There are bits and pieces of home glowing all about me in the pattern of the stars or the constellation of freckles on a face I love. Home is a kind of warmth. And it just might be a mountain reaching up into the darkness in search of its own heaven.

November 22, 2012

Of Mothers and Motorcycles

My guess is that there are few reading this who aren't also my friends on Facebook. Yet I can't think of a single reason in this whole wide whimsical world why not to re-post this insanely awesome vintage photo of my mother being "mad, bad, and dangerous to know" (a phrase once used to describe his majesty Lord Byron and, thus of course, the highest of compliments). 

Yes, folks, I am her daughter. And so happy about that.

November 16, 2012

Things I may never understand about the culture I live in

*Nota bene: I don't necessarily hate these things. I especially don't hate you if you happen to like any of them. I just don't understand them.

Including but not limited to:

1. Pinterest
For those of you who have already heard me rant about this, my apologies. But can we all come to terms with the fact that there is no such thing as a "Pinterest craft" or a "Pinterest recipe"? It's just a craft! It's just a recipe! From what I understand, the website doesn't generate any unique content; it only helps you find and organize existing information on this here world wide web. When I search for a recipe online using Google, I don't make the resulting recipe from and then tell everyone, "Yeah. It's a Google recipe. I found it on Google." Why should it be any different for Pinterest?

2. Twitter
It's like Facebook statuses. Without the rest of Facebook to go with it.

3. Late-night talk shows
Too many men who think they are too funny for their own good. I just don't get it.

4. For that matter, most comedy TV
I've tried watching The Office. Not that funny. Also, Arrested Development; it just makes me uncomfortable. I don't watch Modern Family or Community or Parks and Rec or 30 Rock... can't do it. Nope. (I admit, though, my own taste in TV is not necessarily aesthetically or morally superior: I love Law & Order, Criminal Minds, I Almost Got Away With It, Storage Wars, and virtually anything on Food Network. So it's okay if you don't understand me, either.)

5. Twilight
And/or the recent preoccupation with vampires in general. (Why is everyone watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer again? Wasn't that show cancelled almost a decade ago?) But people who make a point of hating Twilight are almost as annoying as those who unabashedly love it, so I won't say anything more on the subject.

6. Keira Knightley and everything she represents
Remind me: Why do we want to be transported back to the Victorian Era? And why must Keira Knightley be the one to take us there? (And ugh, why was she cast as Anna Karenina? There are other actresses for period films, y'know.)

7. Memes
Don't get me started.

8. Ranch dressing
Okay, to be fair, that's a mystery of the ages. Moving on.

9. Calling everything "epic"
I'm pretty vocal in picking a bone about this. Things that are epic: Gilgamesh, The Odyssey, the Earth's creation, etc. Things that are not epic: the bowl of ice cream you ate for breakfast (even if you put Nutella and peanut butter on it), the trick you did on your skateboard, the Ultimate Frisbee game that went down last night, the "fail" you supposedly had by slipping and falling on the ice on your way to class, or anything else that isn't "heroic, majestic, or impressively great."

10. "Fail"
I already alluded to it in #9. This one just gets on my nerves.

11. "Legit"
This one isn't nearly as offensive as the previous two. Still, I dare you to say "legitimate" any time you are tempted to say "legit" and see what happens.

12. "I'm not gonna lie..."
Good. Shouldn't it be the default not to lie?

13. Mumford & Sons
Actually, I can level with this one a little. I'm known to love me some indie/folk from time to time. I just don't think Mumford & Sons are doing the best out of all the folkers out there. The lead singer's voice is kind of weird. And all of their songs sound the same. (Funny thing: I listened to a track called "The Boxer" from their most recent album to make sure I was willing to include them on the list. Just as I began thinking, "Wow. I actually really like this song," I realized that it's a Simon & Garfunkel cover. Case in point.)

*Nota bene: There is a lot of contemporary music that I can't stand. Mumford & Sons doesn't even begin to top the list. They at least have some talent and some soul. I mostly included them because everyone is all, "OMG THIS CHANGED MY LIFE" and, as the title of this list suggests, I just don't get it.

14. Crocs

A mystery to everyone. And yet, they continue to plague our society.

15. People who "love to read,"
but really they just read Twilight and fan fic. Or worse yet, Twilight fan fic.

16. "That awkward moment"...
when there wasn't an awkward moment and you didn't write a complete sentence to describe it.

17. "Stalkers"
Because, apparently, anyone who says hi to you or is your friend or looks at a picture that you posted on Facebook (presumably for the purpose of being looked at by others) is a stalker and is creepin' on you.

18. Why it's perfectly socially acceptable to incessantly text while you're at lunch/dinner/a party/living real life
Umm, rude.

19. Diet soda
Umm, gross. Aspartame is bad for you! And it leaves a nasty aftertaste. (YES, YOU CAN TELL)

20. "Poor college students" with Macbooks
If you're eating Ramen for dinner every night, chances are, you can't afford that Macbook. Get a normal computer and splurge on a PB&J for dinner.

21. Cats
I love 'em too. But I feel like everyone else loves them in a different way. All of a sudden. Why so many cats? Seriously. Why is that a thing?

Wow. That was therapeutic. Did I leave anything crucial out?

November 12, 2012

Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow

After my perfect autumn Thursday (and aren't Thursdays already kind of autumnal in their own right?) came a Friday that brought winter with it in full force. What started as a sweet, drizzly rain in the morning quickly escalated to winter wonderland-status faster than Burl Ives could have narrated it in song. I was expecting to feel rather annoyed with this drastic change in weather, as fall is my favorite season after all, and why should I have to scrape ice off my windshield in the morning nearly two full weeks before Thanksgiving? Also, I'm known to have some pretty embarrassing pratfalls when campus gets icy. Also, turns out my black suede boots aren't waterproof (I know, I know, I'm not sure this should have come as a surprise to me). 

But, y'know... I have an awful lot of cute scarves that beckon me from their little bin in the corner of my closet. To say nothing of the knitted berets. And my sweaters, they are so inviting. Putting on my black wool coat that afternoon was like greeting an old friend. There was something incredibly peaceful about sitting in the office watching the cold flurry happening outside my window. Before long, I was downright enthusiastic about the wintry day, and even more so about the wintry night ahead. I left campus long after sunset, but the darkness hadn't fully settled in. The combination of clouds and fallen snow and streetlamps and reflected light made the sky an exquisite shade of mauve. It was a little eerie, admittedly. Mostly magical, though.

I came home to a cozy apartment: my blanket, my legwarmers, Seinfeld reruns on TBS. Some friends ended up joining me for my snowed-in evening. We played chess, listened to bossa nova, and ultimately wished our power would go out like the apartment complex next door so that we'd have an excuse to light all the candles and snuggle up against the elements.  (Okay, that might have just been me. I had similar fantasies just before y2k.) We turned out all the lights and used a flashlight while playing parlour games. (No, seriously. We took our cues from this hilarious Wikipedia list.) Sometimes my life really is that good. 

Once everyone had ambled back to their own dwellings around 2 a.m., my roommates and I stepped out onto the cold stone balcony in awe of the fact that it still wasn't dark. The sky was still dimly lit up in a tawny pinkish purplish hue. The frosty matte finish of the sky made the sparkle of the glistening snow crystals all the more stunning. We opened our blinds to let in that cotton candy light glowing ambient and quiet. I fell asleep on the couch in total peace.

I woke up to this picturesque little scene outside my living room window on Saturday morning. I felt like I was in a snowglobe, surrounded by a certain fragile beauty. I was filled with gratitude. Everything I had to do that day seemed at least a thousand times more enchanting with this as my backdrop. I could read a novel! (I could write a novel!) I could write a letter! I could write five letters! I could tidy my room! I could take a nap in the company of sugarplum fairies! I could grade papers, and even that would be magical because that tree outside looks like a giant snowflake and isn't the world just wonderful?!?!

What I did instead was probably the best thing of all. I made a hearty beef stew. While I was chopping vegetables and waiting for the meat pan to deglaze, I danced around to Ella and Louis in my leg warmers and a pirate hat leftover from my Halloween costume (Captain Hook, for the record). I twirled and I sang and I marveled in this life that is mine. 

The snow really is magic.*

Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong,
"I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm"
(aka my Saturday kitchen soundtrack)

*I added a handful of that magic snow to my stew and, needless to say, it's the most delicious batch I have made to date.

November 9, 2012

Staff Picks Shelf

Yesterday was a perfect fall day. My sweater was just warm enough against the slight chill, the leaves were crunchy underfoot, the air smelled faintly of earth and cinnamon, the light was dim and moody. I nobly achieved all most of what I set out to do in the afternoon: grading a batch of papers, sending out some important e-mails, moseying on over to the administration building about registration, going to the bank, pretending I'd showered, etc. Both the student at the registrar's office and the bank teller asked me about my upcoming Thanksgiving plans, and I was able to respond with all the joy in my heart that I'm going home to Michigan. I played John Mayer's Born and Raised (an album I came to love somewhere in the middle of Iowa on a summer roadtrip) as I took an evening drive to the Orem Public Library. I donated $20 to the library in exchange for their letting me keep all my checked-out materials an extra two or three weeks. (It's a wonder they haven't revoked my library card after lo these four years of nothing but overdue books.) I'm glad my Barefoot Contessa cookbook still wasn't due for another week or so; I've been meaning to try her rosemary white bean soup and caramelized butternut squash, just to name a couple. In the courtyard between the fiction wing and the audiovisual wing, I saw two young children racing down a hill on their stomachs. The stars are coming out much earlier now that we're not saving daylight anymore.

One of my favorite things about the library is looking at the Staff Picks shelves. A mysterious library worker named Eliot (whom I have yet to meet and/or thank in person and/or marry) has changed my life more than once with his recommendations, not the least of which was my haphazard decision to pick up The History of Love from off his shelf in early 2010. (Please go read that book if you haven't already. Just do it. For Eliot.) As I passed those beloved shelves last night, each of them beckoning me and tempting me to read something notforschool, I had a thought: What would I pick? If I had the exquisite privilege of being a librarian with such a shelf, what would go on it? Obviously, my choices would change over time to reflect mood and season and new discoveries. But what would I choose right now

I have given this a little thought and have decided to let you in on it. Since I am known to check out (and subsequently return late) books, DVDs, and CDs from the Orem Public Library, I will give a handful of Staff Picks for each category. The unifying theme is "me right now" (which is, more or less, autumn).

1. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë 

Moody. Dark. Romantic. Wuthering. It's everything you want in an autumn read, really. The protagonist is a volatile orphan named Heathcliff who falls in love with his childhood friend Catherine. He lives on a lonely estate in the moorlands called Thrushcross Grange. I'm not sure it gets more decidedly autumnal than that. I have really sweet memories of reading this on a cool Saturday morning in November 2010, wrapped in a comforter and daydreaming about hot cider. Yeah, it's that kind of book.

2. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I recently read this book for the second time and was amazed at how much I enjoyed the experience. Gatsby isn't just for high schoolers! Who would have thought? Seriously. It's for everyone who loves beautiful, lyrical prose and a story that captures the spirit of a bygone era. To say nothing of the fact that the novel really is suited to autumnal weather and all it represents. Read more about it in my GoodReads review.

3. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco 

Monks. Monasteries. Murder. Need I say more? The novel is long, but it is well worth your time. Bonus points if you have a fireplace in front of which to enjoy this historical murder mystery.

  • Honorable Mentions for Books: Pale Fire, The Big Book of Soups & Stews

4. The Secret Garden (1993)

This movie was a major part of my childhood. I watched it again last week for the first time in years. I marveled. I cried. The cinematography is gorgeous, the themes are timeless and beautiful, the music is haunting. You will fall in love when you watch it. I'm not even sure with whom or what: Dicken? (I'll admit, I had a crush on him as a young'un.) The fanciful wonder of childhood? The world in all its beauty? Probably all of the above. Just trust me, you'll fall in love.

5. Annie Hall (1977)

Always a winner in my book (er, DVD player). A non-linear love story, both funny and heartbreaking in real ways. Per usual, Woody Allen really delivers on the witty dialogue, creative technique, and memorable scenes. Something about the 1970's academic sensibilities and the New York City setting make this a good choice for a Saturday afternoon in autumn.

6. Dead Poets Society (1989)

The New England boarding school milieu practically begs you to watch this in the fall. Look at all those matching crimson sweaters! Also, this happens to be one of my favorite films of all time. You really can't beat a story about a group of boys who go out into the woods because they want to live deliberately, to "live deep and suck out all the marrow of life"in other words, read poetry. And live it. (Umm, marry me today?)

  • Honorable Mentions for Movies: October Sky, Big Fish

7. Early in the Morning, James Vincent McMorrow

This whole album is gorgeous and haunting. McMorrow's voice is tender and reveals an old soul. You really can't go wrong spending an autumn morning with him. I especially love "Hear the Noise that Moves So Soft and Low," "This Old Dark Machine," "Early in the Morning, I'll Come Calling," and "Down the Burning Ropes."

8. Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes

If God hadn't invented autumn, Fleet Foxes would have. Their music has all the moody nostalgia you could ask for: melodies that respond to your ancient memory, that sing to you from the dust. I could likewise recommend the record Hopelessness Blues, but their self-titled album was my first love and it features unmistakably autumnal songs of longing such as "Blue Ridge Mountains," "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song," "Oliver James," and... oh yeah, all of them. Fleet Foxes are a staple in my collection, but they are especially suited to this time o' the year.

9. Live at Blues Alley, Eva Cassidy

Eva Cassidy is one of those musicians with an aura of mystique from having died too young. She was not able to develop her career as fully as many of us would have liked, but this live performance recording from just before her passing is a true treasure and something to have in your collection if you like blues or folk or jazz or beautiful voices and souls. Notable autumn tracks include: "Tall Trees in Georgia," "Fields of Gold," and "Autumn Leaves." If you're anything like me, some of the songs on this album will really stick in your ribcage.

10. Portrait in Jazz, Bill Evans Trio

Bill Evans is one of those musicians who can break your heart and restore it again in one fell swoop (I'm always big on that). His music was my inspiration as I started writing my November novel. (!!!) "When I Fall In Love" is especially me right now. I'm always falling in love. With everything. And Bill understands.

  • Honorable Mentions for Music: Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, anything by Bon Iver (who are we kidding?)

There you have it: a few seasonal favorites of mine that have been following me around of late and inspiring me. So, tell me. What's on your Staff Picks shelf? (No, seriously. I'd love recommendations. And it's kind of a fun thought experiment for a sweet drizzly morning like this.)

November 2, 2012

Literary Abandon

Starting things is really hard. 

So is finishing them, come to find. 

For the past two years, I have counted myself among the ranks of those who participate in National Novel Writing Month, which takes place every November. (Learn more about NaNoWriMo here.) Brave souls, those who take up the dizzy deed of writing a novel in one month. I'm sad to say that I have yet to surrender myself wholly to the "Thirty days and nights of literary abandon!" that characterize true dedication to the cause. Instead, it turns into about thirty minutes of literary abandon in which I write a chapter, remember that I'm not James Joyce, and then allow a sort of despair about my own mediocrity to wash over me and blot out any chance that I will be 50,000 words sadder and wiser come December. "Literary abandon" becomes just "abandon." As in, giving up. Leaving my novel behind in the dust. With tumbleweed a-blowin'.

That's not to say that the stories ever go away. They live and breathe in my conversations with close friends. They duel with my unconscious at night. They nestle into my back pocket on my walks to campus and dangle from the rear-view mirror on evening drives. They send me Christmas cards and always call on my birthday. Stories are such lively companions, and loyal to boot. They don't easily forget.

So why would I ever abandon such a lovely thing as a story? Two main reasons: 
1) I'm a grad student. I'm busy and stuff sometimes I guess. 2) Writing scares me.

The first "reason" is more like a pretty lame excuse. The second at least has the advantage of tugging on your heartstrings for a few moments before you realize it is equally lame and that I just need to get over my fears of vulnerability and mediocrity and judgment and realize that, while my novel may not be even 17% as literary as anything I read for my grad school seminars, it is a valuable intellectual and emotional exercise. Maybe even vital. I can't just sit back and notwriteanovel so that no one can ever accuse me of producing a shoddy novel. I have to get to the point where I would rather be a bad novelist than notanovelistatall. (In saying this, perhaps I am doing a disservice to ten-year-old Richelle, who indeed wrote novels aplenty about an impoverished girl named Rosaline. Maybe my creative genius peaked at a young age.)

This year will be different. I can feel it in my bones. The same obstacles still threaten to deter me, however, so I'm trying to cut them off at the pass. I have been telling anyone and everyone willing to listen that I'M GOING TO WRITE A NOVEL THIS MONTH! Chances are, more than one of my friends have rolled their eyes, thinking, "Sure. Why don't you send me a moon rock while you're at it?" By and large, I have been blessed with beautiful, gracious friends and family who are eager to see me take this on. If you are one of those lovely people, thank you. You are my sweetest stories, all of you.

So to kick things off, I thought I would take a trip down memory lane and reveal the opening paragraphs of my 2010 and 2011 attempts. The first was going to be called Traces, and the idea was that everyone carries some kind of grief or burden with them that is mostly hidden but occasionally surfaces in brief moments of vulnerability; everyone wears traces of their own stories. I meant to write about a few seemingly unconnected characters and let them kind of become tangent lines to each others' lives in a big web of human grace. Last year's story... well, that is an entire post waiting to happen. For now, I will let these first lines speak for themselves.


Jane could never figure out why her parents had decided to name her Jane. Didn’t they know that it rhymed with plain? Not to mention stain, feign, pain, et al. As a child, she used to wonder how many people at that same moment were slamming a car door, drinking cherry Kool-Aid, or wondering why the very notion of infinity didn’t scare everyone into the oblivion. (Unfortunately, mortality and its finiteness didn’t seem too bright a prospect either.) She reassured herself that maybe if people all around the world were engaged in the same activity at the same time, nobody would ever have to be truly alone. She had no reason to feel alone at the time. Yet for some reason, she persisted in her favorite activity: play-acting as though she were an orphan. When her mother handed her morning bowl of oatmeal, Jane would secretly pretend it was gruel. She didn’t know what gruel actually was, but she knew it was eaten by the likes of great orphans like Oliver Twist. She imagined it looked a lot like oatmeal and tasted like grasshoppers. Something about pretending to be an orphan made Jane feel less guilty for being lonely. 


The binary opposition between fiction and fact is no longer relevant: in any differential system, it is the assertion of the space between the entities that matters. Paul de Man

Is this her?”
Michael’s eyes widened in disbelief and horror as the medical examiner pulled back the sterile white sheet to reveal a pallid, lifeless version of his wife lying on a cold metal cart. Her skin was gray, her lips dried and pursed in an expression unique to the dead.
That’s her,” he said, more to himself than to the woman with the clipboard. “But… how… you said she was murdered?”
I’m so sorry to put you through this, Mr. Hutcheon. The police are actively investigating the circumstances surrounding your wife’s death. We do believe it was a homicide.

October 30, 2012

In Defense of Jackson Pollock

How do you start a conversation about Jackson Pollock? Well, usually, you don't. Most people have little more to say on the topic than, "A kid could do that." Now, I'm neither an art historian nor a painter myself, but this flippant comment still gets on my nerves. I always feel like I need to rush to Pollock's defense. It's not that way! Don't you see? Here we reach the point at which I run out of useful things to say. For a long time, I have intuited that there is a reason to defend abstract expressionism as legitimate art. Being able to articulate why is an entirely different story. Usually, these kinds of conversations (all forty-five seconds of them) end in a futile tug-of-war in which the other person is content to leave the deeper aesthetic questions to the snobs and I am content to be the snob. So I'm wondering: Is there any way to talk about this that doesn't end in a stalemate? 

We took up this battle anew today in American Humanities. I say "we" not because I was lecturing but because Dr. Soper and I were likely the only ones in the room truly convinced that ranking Pollock among the greats is not simply a frantic attempt to legitimize what students perceive as a conspiracy to include certain art in the curriculum for no other reason than to be challenging or self-congratulatory. Questions of what belongs in the so-called canon and why could take up pages and pages, but suffice it to say for now that I do believe that most artistic works and figures are taught time and time again for more than political or arbitrary reasons. Contrary to what students think, we don't read Anna Karenina just because it's long and we don't listen to Beethoven's Ninth just because it's long. There are aesthetic reasons to hail these as masterpiecesaesthetic reasons that are sometimes hard to understand without having engaged them thoughtfully, the way you do when you study... oh, say, comparative literature or music history. As someone who has only really studied art history insofar as it intersects with literary history, I am probably ill-equipped to take up this question. But I have a sympathy for all serious artistic endeavors, so it should come as no surprise that I'm becoming a Pollock apologist.

To be fair, there were a paltry two students in class today who were willing to take up the mantle alongside us. Surprise, surprise: both of them have previous training in visual art. One girl made a particularly moving comment about how she used to be skeptical re: Pollock, but she gained a new appreciation for his nuance by virtue of trying to copy his style. She couldn't, she said. Her colors often bled together in unflattering ways, and her efforts to mimic Pollock's casual abstraction always looked childish and unbalanced compared to his. Here we return to the major question at stake: What is it, then, that makes Pollock's work more than just amateur paint-flinging?

I myself confronted this question as I silently absorbed Dr. Soper's lecture and its reception among our little band of undergraduates. At one point, he asked the students to compare Pollock's Autumn Rhythm (a favorite of mine) with Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich's Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog. As the students were chatting in their small discussion groups, all I heard were murmurs to the tune of, "Umm. How are these two alike at all?"

Hipsters having a look-see at Jackson Pollock's Autumn Rhythm

Caspar David Friedrich's Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog

In all fairness, I couldn't exactly figure out why the professor would juxtapose these particular images. It became more clear, however, as he talked about how the Friedrich painting is a representation of a man beholding immensity and perhaps contemplating his own smallness, whereas the Pollock painting implicates each viewer himself as a "wanderer." That is to say, the hipsters in the photo are actually experiencing what we imagine Friedrich's tortured Romantic subject is experiencing. Each of Pollock's paintings is like an immense landscape to be beheld; part of their impact, in my opinion, derives from their sheer size. I saw a few Pollocks in person at the Centre Pompidou in Paris a few years ago. At the time, I wasn't as converted to the cause of abstract expressionism, but I will say that standing in front of the paintings inspired a humility and awe in me I had not expected just from looking at reproductions in textbooks.

My general sense is that TA's, like children at the dinner table, are best seen and not heard. I could count the number of times I have commented in class this semester on a shop teacher's hand. Today, I couldn't help myself. The students were awkwardly squirming about, hoping that Dr. Soper would just move on and not ask them to make the seemingly impossible leap from representational Romantic art to what still looked to them like a colossal mess that only Pollock's mother could love. My comment was about one of the aesthetic tenets of the Romantic movement: dynamic organicism. The idea is that the world has an energy we can only access through our best energy: imagination. It seeks to dethrone scientific "certainties" as the privileged method of understanding the world and instead posits that maybe things really are unknowable and that our best access to the chaos inherent in the natural world is through previously disregarded senses like intuition, imagination, and creativity. Isn't there something dynamic about that massive landscape stretched before Friedrich's wanderer? My thought is that Pollock, though his paintings are physically large-scale, may be presenting the kind of chaos we see as we look closer. Didn't you have that experience while looking through a microscope in high school biology? That unsettling sense that things so small we can't even see them actually contain vibrant, squiggly universes? 

As I searched to figure out what small universe might be represented by the Pollock painting, I came up with the fibers of a sweater: scratchy and haphazard if you were to look closely enough. Perhaps a better image is invoked by the painting's title: Autumn Rhythm. Doesn't it look a bit like the casual pattern leaves and twigs make on the forest floor? Or the hopelessly beautiful tangling of bare branches as you look at a grove of trees in late fall? It may not look like there is a deliberate design, but it is composed all the same. There is rhythm. There is balance. There is movement.

Movement. I couldn't help but think of the kinetic energy of a conductor during a musical performance. His movements sometimes seem abrupt and jagged, at other times soft and lyrical. The New York Times did a pretty cool story about music and gesture that you can read here. To express some of music director Alan Gilbert's thoughts on the role of a conductor, the NYU Movement Lab did a motion capture of Gilbert's directing that visually illustrates how his conducting patterns trace through the air.

What if you were to make a composite image of all these movements from a given performance? My guess is that it might look a little Pollockian. The idea here is that there is a reason a conductor does more than just tap out the meter like a human metronome. Something in all of that lyrical movement both structures the performance so that it comes to us as a measured and calculated thing of beauty and inspires a kind of emotion or energy that the musicians draw from. (Choir and orchestra members, am I getting this right?) At the core here is the idea that the order of a song—or ultimately, of the universe—does not come from a grid-like code. There is more to the story. And I think good ole' J.P. is just trying to show us in his own way.

So why are Pollock's "disasterpieces" good art? Because they invite you (perhaps even demand you) to personally experience them, they are conceptually compelling, and they represent a Romantic worldview (one that I am partial to, of course) that humbly acknowledges the seemingly chaotic vibrations that structure our reality. To say nothing of the fact that he was kind of a stud.

Intellectually, of course. His process alone is fascinating to consider: He would place his canvas on the floor so that he could walk around it, work with it, and examine it from all sides. He imagined himself as part of the painting. At the same time, he believed the painting to have a life of its own, and he tried to respect its inherent contours. Sometimes he felt as though he hadn't been true to the rhythm of a given project, so he would trash it. "It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess," he said. "Otherwise there is pure harmony, an easy give and take, and the painting comes out well." He respected art as a kind of living thing that takes shape as the artist engages it. I admire and respect his perspective a great deal.

When it comes to naysayers, perhaps there is little more to say than this, Pollock's elegant response to a contemporary critic: "Abstract painting is abstract. It confronts you. There was a reviewer a while back who wrote that my pictures didn't have any beginning or any end. He didn't mean it as a compliment, but it was."

October 23, 2012

Properties of Light

Sometimes I write poetry. More often than not, this happens in bursts of organic spontaneity: a thought or an image makes an indelible impression on my mind heart, and I feel keenly the artist's unique privilege and burden of capturing that momentpreserving it for myself like a fragile flower in a glass dome or a delicate seashell that comes to represent an entire summer afternoon spent on the beach in lazy, dizzy childhood glory. If someone else should happen to read that poem and see in it a glimmer of light, that is nothing short of a miracle. 

One such poem came into being on a spring evening two years ago when a friend and I went to see a jazz combo perform at the Orem Public Library. My friend, he was a poet in every sense of the word: a writer, a thinker, someone who believed in books and souls and living freely. Perhaps I should thank him for the creative energy I felt that night. Or maybe it was the humble evening light, glowing quiet and dusty on the stained glass windows behind the performers. No doubt the music itself was inspiring: jazz is thrilling and beautiful for its improvisational qualities. I pulled out the little black notebook I carried with me at the time and began weighing words, feeling their contours, and writing them down as they came to me. My inspiration was a sweet little memory of evenings I used to spend in the back of my family's station wagon watching the sunset and imagining it as a glorious palette, smeared and blended by the bristles of treetops clustered along the road and behind cornfields. 

"Cosmic Painters"

On long drives down US-12 in the evening,
I used to imagine
treetops as paintbrushes
coloring the canvas of the Midwestern sky:

pink for cotton candy,
orange for Michigan campfires,
streaks of purple for moments I felt invincible.

Now I see these same hues pierced by the jagged mountaintops,
bleeding watercolor over the Western expanse.
Now I see

pink childhood,
orange lazy summers,
purple fragile moments.

In those colors I taste
a forbidden nectar,
painfully sweet,
robbing me of my verdant garden,
my paradise,
my place.
I ask out loud:

            Who paints the desert sky?

The poem is perhaps more interesting for its ideas than for its poetic qualities. I really did face a certain crisis of place when I first came to Utah six years ago. The mountains were glorious to me, but they forced me to reevaluate how I think about space. One thing I've noticed in my time living here is that you can just be driving along, slightly perceiving that you are on an upward incline, and within moments you'll be perched above the valley, viewing it from a totally different vantage point. That layering of heights and perspective is just not a feature of the Michigan landscape I grew up in. There, everything is framed by trees. (And oh, how I love those trees.) Here, the mountains give the world colossal, imposing edges. I distinctly remember so many times my freshman year just looking up because there was a reason to. Looming above me were mountain ranges whose distance from me I could not accurately gauge. (This is still true for me: is Y Mountain in our backyard or in a land far, far away? It's hard to know.) Sometimes those mountains made me feel small; other times, the sky seemed more tangible and the world more knowable as clouds shrouded the peaks, almost close enough to touch.

My poem specifically deals with a loss of home, using the sunset as a metaphor for how I perceive the world. My Michigan self (which is, incidentally, my younger self) had developed my own set of origin myths and explanations for why the world operated as it did. Moving to Utah (and becoming an adult, incidentally) sharply re-contextualized these questions for me, and the answers just aren't as simple when you're a twentysomething. I've since learned to rejoice in this fact. What good is being a twentysomething if you aren't daily confronted with existential crises? No doubt much of the world's art owes its creation to these kinds of crises and uncertainties. If I were to write a similar poem now, my focus would shift from the sunset to a related question of light.

One of the first differences I noticed between my home state and my current desert dwelling was the character of heat. In Michigan, as in most of the Midwest and stretching east to the Atlantic, the summer heat is imbued with a tangible, sticky humidity. The air here in Utah is much more arid, and the heat, rather than oppressively surrounding you as it seems to in a humid climate, bears a more direct relationship to the sun. Standing in the middle of a parking lot on a hot July day in Provo, you could likely bake into a potato chip on the spot. The sun is a force; you can feel it pulse and burn. Step into the shade for a moment and you might forget it's a blistering 100 degrees back in that exposed parking lot. This same phenomenon is what makes the light here seem very vertical, beaming down on us from a precise location above, like a revelation. Compare this to a place like Sweden, a place I love, a place where the light is horizontal and diffused. 

I've heard that photographers and filmmakers love Scandinavia for its Nordic light. I love Scandinavia for all kinds of reasons, but that's another story. I'll admit, Utah afternoons are not my favorite. The light is so imposing and greedy, like it knows it's a gift to us. But in the evening, it is something altogether different for me. I can't count the number of times I have walked out of my office on campus or the library as the sun is setting and found myself breathless with wonder and full of gratitude. The sun (that superstar) sinks behind the mountains to the West and suddenly, its light has edges. As I look out my bedroom window upon the mountains to the east, I can see the play of light and shadows. The light has dimensions. It slants and spills over the mountain's edge. This phenomenon is especially stunning in the autumn months, when the mountainsides are covered in blushy pinks, bronzy yellows, and rusty oranges. The evening light is rosy and golden and dynamic. It glows. There are few things sweeter or holier to me than catching a glimpse of this slanted light, suspended in the air so briefly before darkness takes over.

Experiences like those not only inspire me to write, but beg me to do so. Heaven knows I only respond to this call a fraction of the time, and it's time for that to change. So here I am, sharing shards and fragments of my slanted light as it comes to me in fleeting impressions and vibrant moments that are nothing short of poetry itself.