Saturday, December 31, 2011

Broke both legs, but I'll be just fine

Even when I was young, when New Year's Eve seemed only to happen elsewhere, I loved this holiday. Back then, the chance to stay up late was special enough. We watched Dick Clark's innocent countdown, and I imagined one day I would join the crowds underneath New York's falling ball. The hour between the East Coast's new year and Louisiana's always felt surreal. Which year was it exactly? Were we really so behind? Local TV stations sometimes staged their own countdowns, but the real thrill of another year passing always felt over by 11 p.m.

In junior high, I watched MTV's East Coast new year's specials with my best friend Ashley. We drank Welches sparkling grape juice and once thought we had made wine simply by adding wintergreen certs. We jumped on her brother's bed, claiming we were drunk. I spent Y2K alone, again watching MTV. My parents had friends. My brother had friends. I did not. I was 17 and cried until 10 p.m., at which point I just went to sleep.

My later new years were mostly drunken blow-outs. I kissed strangers. I kissed boyfriends. I kissed girlfriends. I overheard cat fights. I started arguments. I kissed some more. One night we ran down the street -- not drunk, but holding balloons -- then crowded into Portland's tiniest bar to listen to a 12-piece brass band sound the end of 2008. We couldn't stop smiling. The train ride home felt like a party, but I was already tired.

Last year I had my first proper adult new years eve -- dinner, Apples-to-Apples and a glass of champagne. The biggest commotion came when I sat on a toothpick. For the first time in a decade, I did not kiss anyone. We watched a countdown on a website called New Years Eve Ball. I went to bed before 1, happy, sober and ready to start a new year. That was the last great night I had for a while. For months after, I thought 2011 might be the worst yet. In many ways, it has certainly been the least static for me. I spent a good bit of the year stumbling, slouching toward whatever. But I also had a ton of fun, and when I look back on 2011, I want to remember these moments instead:

-- French Press adventures: We swam, ate hot dogs and other, more elaborate dinners. We kayaked and walked around painted hills. We built fires, told secrets, composed songs and made a thousand pictures. In short, we did it up all over the northwest.

-- Working out with a personal trainer: This seriously changed my life.

-- A's last month in town, though that was pretty bittersweet

-- Trips to the river, listening to Mariah Carey and Kid Cudi and drinking watermelon beer

-- Staying up all night talking to M at the Ace Hotel

-- Cabins!

-- Picnics, talking about rap, shoes and girls with L

-- Shopping and photo-clicking with K (plus watching Studio 60)

-- Coffee at L's in Iowa

-- Watching basketball with L in Chicago

-- Dancing to "All Night Long" with R

-- Fourth of July with my family

-- Cooking, learning about linguistics with K

-- Meeting/writing about Hugh's epic bike ride

-- 6 a.m. texts, learning how to say good morning again

-- A hot tub in perfect sunlight, soundtracked by wind chimes

-- Getting Lafayette!!

And finally, yesterday, the day before the last day, was totally perfect. The last day came quietly, in a room full of antlers, and I felt wholly different -- better -- than a year ago.

Friday, December 30, 2011

We never live long enough in our lives / to know what today is

Bobby Abrahamson 4

Bobby Abrahamson 2

Last week, on my day off, I went to follow a photographer around as he makes Type 55 Polaroid portraits of his neighbors. I had a blast. The experience really put me in a great mood for Christmas. Anyway, tomorrow it -- along with the story about the car-free family -- are running as centerpieces in the Oregonian. I only had two hours to write this, but check it out if you're inclined.

Bobby Abrahamson was tired of running away. For years, the photographer had been jetting to foreign countries, shooting a roll a day of landscapes or street scenes -- faraway pictures in faraway places. In June, he found himself with a new home in St. Johns and a plane ticket to South America. Just once, he realized, he wanted to stay.

The 45-year-old cashed in his ticket and began what has become a daily ritual, walking through St. Johns with an old Crown Graphic camera and a pack of expired film, making portraits of his neighbors. The 100 or so black and white photos show a neighborhood made up of the blue collar, the quirky and the buttoned-up. Of families and misfits, young and old.

"I wanted to make photos where you got to know the people," he says. "I wanted to start moving in closer. Home is a place of discovery."

The stark street portraits show subjects locking eyes with the viewer. Abrahamson rarely captures much of a background. The people are the place.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Best of 2011: Movies

These are the five best movies I saw this year.

1) Bombay Beach
Nothing inspired me this year the way this movie did. I would happily watch scenes from it every day. It's beautifully shot. It pushes the boundaries of documentary. And the characters are indelible. For a taste, check out this excerpt.

2) Weekend
Two men have one weekend together. This has the best aspects of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset with its own charm. Easily the sweetest, best gay movie I've ever seen. Somehow it's soft, subtle and beautiful, even with a cocaine and sex scene or two.

3) Beginners
Mike Mills' most recent film is quirky in a smart, enjoyable way that his wife's film (The Future by Miranda July) just wasn't. I think that's because underneath the bells and whistles, this is a sweet, pure story. I love the score, the acting, the plot development and the main character's illustrations.

4) Blue Valentine
When I was watching this movie, I found it totally cute and sweet. But I felt wrecked for weeks after by its doomed-love-is-hopeless message. Even now, nearly a year later, I can't hear the film's central song -- "You and Me" -- without a knot tangling inside my gut. Unlike the other movies in this list, I never want to see this one again. Too powerful.

5) Bill Cunningham New York
This movie is so charming, but it also handles some serious and sad moments with aplomb.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

See, our lips bend.

The year will soon be over, and I'll return to documenting other people. These last weeks become pretty navel-gazey for me. Here is one other, a list of all the books I read in 2012. My goal for the year was 24 books. [EDIT Anna reminded me of another book I had read, plus I read one more, so GOAL ACCOMPLISHED soundly].

Those magazines started to pile up, though.

1. Joshua Ferris - The Unnamed
I liked the first half, hated the second.

2. J.M. Coetzee - Summertime
Great structure experiment, really engaging and fun to read.

3. Kristen Hersh - Rat Girl
This surprised me in how well written it is. It's weird at times, but also (again surprisingly) optimistic.

4. Jeff Lumine - Tales from The Farm
Too quiet for me

5. Jay McInerney - Bright Lights, Big City
I'm glad I read it (finally), but I didn't think the second person was actually necessary.

6. Richard Russo - Empire Falls
LOVED IT. Would read it again, happily. Great characters, great plot, great details.

7. Tom McCarthy - Remainder
Great premise taken too far

8. John D'Agata - Halls of Fame
Very original and interesting, but ultimately too experimental for my tastes

9. Isabel Wilkerson - The Warmth of Other Suns
For this, I have mostly expletives. It is so good. Reading it felt very important -- both politically and personally to me. I learned so much about my own family and our region. BUT. It could have been 100 pages shorter easily if she didn't repeat herself so much.

10. Darrin Strauss - Half a Life
I heard this story on This American Life, so I thought it would be repetitive, but it was actually really interesting and well written. It's a quick read.

11. Karen Russell - Swamplandia!
So fun to read. Very imaginative, but still relatable. I definitely want to read it again after some of the details go foggy. Right now, it's still so vivid in my brain. I could have done without some of the near-the-end creepiness/ghost talk, but still, I really liked it.

12. Gabrielle Hamilton - Blood, Bones & Butter
The first two-thirds of this book filled me with such immense pleasure. I couldn't stop telling people to read it. I bought my best friend a copy. All I wanted to do was go home and read it. The last third totally ruined that feeling -- it's boring, off-topic and totally unnecessary. I'm going to forget it exists, though, and just concentrate on the giddiness I felt reading the beginning and middle.

13. Carsten Jensen - We, The Drowned
Epic, a serious masterpiece. It is so long, and it's and not a subject I'd normally be interested in, but it was absolutely worth the time. It's beautifully written, deftly woven and richly detailed.

14. Arthur Phillips - The Tragedy of Arthur
Really inventive. I thought it dragged toward the end, but definitely unlike any other book I've ever read.

15. Yann Martel - Beatrice and Virgil
I liked the play section best. Otherwise, it was very didactic. It tried too hard to convince me that it's important.

16. Myla Goldberg - Bee Season
I never really got into it. The voice is too precious, and at this point (though maybe this was not true when this book came out), spelling bees have been overcovered.

17. John Kennedy Toole - A Confederacy of Dunces
I can't believe I hadn't read it before. I loved every second of this book. It's hilarious, inciteful, vivid. A total blast.

18. Ruth Reichel - Tender at the Bone
I'm so glad I read this after Blood, Bones & Butter because it is so much better. I wouldn't have enjoyed Hamilton's book nearly as much had I known this existed. Also, this doesn't have a bad ending. Really fun to read. I want to be Ruth Reichel's friend at any age.

19. Adam Levin - The Instructions
Possibly the largest book I've ever read. Carrying it around will invite stares. But I loved it. Reading it felt like reading the Bible to me, devotional. I wrote a lot of fragments down in my journal, and despite being so massive, I found it really readable.

20. Rachel DeWoskin - Big Girl Small
Totally hated it

21. Jeffrey Eugenides - A Marriage Plot
After the massiveness of The Instructions and the disappointingness that was Big Girl Small, I stopped reading books for a month or two. This was the perfect return. The characters felt so real to me, and I felt like I was learning something at every turn. It was well written in a way that does not demand to be noted -- it didn't inspire me into sighs and immediate underlinings the way his previous two novels did -- but rather it's written well in a way that makes the language beside the point. I never once found a sentence I didn't like, which left me to the business of just reading instead of critiquing. Totally fun to read and again the kind of book I'd easily read again after I've lost the vivid impressions I have of it now.

22. Dana Spiotta - Stone Arabia
I really liked listening to her interview on Fresh Air, but I didn't really like this book. There are parts I wanted to write down in my journal -- mostly meditations on memory or the way courting changes as you grow older -- but I never felt totally invested. I did read nearly all of it in one day, though, so it's a quick read.

23. Brady Udall - The Lonely Polygamist
Somehow this book was both complicated and simple. Though there are a lot of characters, the three most detailed are very alive and rich. It's a good story, entertaining and fast-paced. The end started to feel a little too dark and long -- and the ultimate end annoyed me -- but I still liked it.

24. Tea Obreht - The Tiger's Wife
I loved this so much. It's whimsical but serious, really well written and engrossing. The novel moves between three different stories/timelines, and critics have said she shifts just when each story gets good. That's true, but it made me so excited to keep reading so I could get back.

25. Tom Perrotta - The Leftovers
This was super easy to read and focuses on one of my life-long fascinations: The Rapture. I like a lot of the situations Perrotta comes up with, but his diction lacks something special for me. Some of the dialogue just seemed too easy. But I had fun reading it.

26. Hank Steuver - Tinsel
I really liked parts of this, but ultimately it felt like a long newspaper article to me. I bet it was really fun to report, so mostly I felt jealous reading it, but I didn't like the way Southerners are depicted as such an other. But I'm probably being sensitive. There were some really fun parts.

Monday, December 26, 2011

we keep on churning and the lights inside the house turn on

Here's a video I made for a story I have in the Oregonian next weekend. I had a hard time chasing after them to get footage of them biking, so the b-roll isn't great. But Vivianna was a great interview.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Best of 2011: Songs (1-10)

ONE - BEYONCE - 1 + 1
Nearly every time I've heard this song (including the 45 times in a row I listened after I first heard it), I have been blown away by the way Beyonce manages to make such a special moment out of a song so simple. Though the song's actual structure and melody aren't innovative (in the way that say "Countdown" is), this is a song for this specific time we are in. "We ain't got nothing but love." The sentiment isn't new ("Even though we ain't got money, I'm so in love with you honey"), but it's one that has persisted an unusually long time now. For much of our country, connections, relationships and love are the only riches people have -- and with job growth so slow, the only riches some can even hope to have. The country is in war or conflict or holding zones all over the place. Taking in national news -- political debates increasingly boiled down to polarizing impracticalities -- can feel like its own war. When I hear this song, I imagine a woman in this time, our time, caught in a whirlwind -- "Just when I ball up my fists" -- but mollified, protected by love -- "I realize I'm lying right next to you."

That she conveys this -- an anger, a fear, a trust bubbling below the surface -- with such a controlled tone and a beat that barely varies (it's hardly even there) is just proof of her talent. Atlanta singer-songwriter The-Dream wrote this song, under a different name, for his own second album. He also wrote most of "Single Ladies," so his talent is one that really finds magic with Beyonce. He leaked his demo sometime this year, and while I think his voice is great, the juxtaposition of his intended version with Beyonce's underscores for me how much of the power of this song is Beyonce's vocal talent. Take, for example, the cell phone video Jay-z shot of her rehearsing before she performed the song for the first time (on American Idol). For my money, she is the aught's most consistent (and evolving) pop star. Hundreds of listens after that first 45-spin run, this song still makes me cry. And even though I wasn't in love this year, when she sings "I don't know when I'm gon' die, but I hope that I'm gon' die by you," I feel exactly what she means.

(plus the original, plus Lil Wayne's SFTW cover)
Because this was the most unavoidable song of 2011, I get that music bloggers are going to lash out against it. But I love the lyrics, and I loved dancing to it. It was covered and remixed every which way, which I think is one of the great themes of the year. The communal-nature of the Internet, where we all can somehow exist in one space, has taken music back to the share and sample like crazy nature of the 1960s. Somehow, this song felt like it belonged to all of us. And even though it was everywhere all of the time, the lyrics made Rolling the Deep feel personal, too. We could have it had it all, indeed.


After a dark February and March, this song became my daily devotional. Holcombe's sweet voice, beseeching, "Repeat after me: I won't stop loving" made me hopeful for some future I wasn't always sure would exist for me. I love the line, "Don't laugh 'cause there just might be a soft curve in your hardest line." For me, this song is pure and beautiful deliverance -- not to mention catchy and backed by a gorgeous and smart video.

I spent many an hour at the gym, biking or running faster because of this song's furious cadences. That snare running below his smooth voice!


I love the pacing, the lyrics and the build-up in this sweet song about imagination and youth. It's pretty cinematic sounding, which is why Ryan and I made a video inspired by it.

This dark, cold and synthy song is catchy and dance-y. It's also somehow accessible, despite being sung by one of the weirdest voices -- that operatic warble!! -- of the year.


This song is stuffed full -- with lyrics, with samples and horns and drums and synths. THIS is Beyonce crazy in love, and though it's teeming, it never feels dizzying. For me, this song is Pavlovian -- if it's on, I can't not dance. I've danced in my kitchen, in the car, in the living room while my cat eyes me warily. The video -- somehow even crazier than the production -- is my favorite of the year (tied with Rihanna's "We Found Love").

The first 30 seconds of this song kill me. This song is probably the shortest on the list, and even its 1:36 includes multiple seconds of silence. But that line -- why don't you call me what we both know I am -- says more than enough.

This song, a woozy seductive reimagining of Ray Charles' I Got a Woman tucked behind some French, soundtracked many a rainy Portland day for me. So dreamy.

I love Frank Ocean's voice. On this song -- a tale of meeting a girl and smoking novacane -- he sounds his best - sexy, mysterious, lonely and new.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Best of 2011: Songs (11 - 25)

11. Lil Wayne - Six Foot Seven
This song has the best one-liners of any rap song this year ("Woman of my dreams, I don't sleep so I can't find her," "Paper chaser, tell that paper, 'Look, I'm right behind you,'"). My favorite is "Real Gs move in silence like lasagna." Wayne doesn't tell many stories with his songs anymore, and that saddens me, but he is still the wittiest rapper working. Run all that over this frenetic, "Day-O" sampling beat (thanks to "A Milli" producer, Bangladesh!) and you have a song so joyous it had me dancing 12 months of the year.

12. The Weeknd - Wicked Games
For me, this song is "House of Balloons'" center. It sets up the themes, the sound. In some ways, it's the least risky -- "Glass Tables" is weirder and more innovative, sound-wise -- but I like simple when it's done well. All said and done, this was the song I returned to most often from The Weeknd. Abel Tesfaye's a belter, a hook-maker. And here, that all comes together perfectly.

13. Youth Lagoon - Afternoon

Much of Youth Lagoon's album is sad, a quiet unraveling and study of his anxiety. This song is bouncier, happier, the kind of song you want to listen to at sunset as you drive. The lyrics -- about a metaphorical demon -- are just as sad as the others, but what stays with you after hearing this one is the oh oh ohs, the beats that sound like whistles, at the song's end. And they are pretty dang joyous.

14. Fleet Foxes - The Shrine/An Argument
This is by far the weirdest song on the album, so for my first few listens, I skipped over it. When I did listen, I kept getting stuck at "Sunshine over me no matter what I do." For a line that seems so sunny, it sounds so sad. Eventually, I came to feel both meanings -- usually at once -- as I listened. Sunshine, when you don't want to feel it, can be painful ("In the morning waking up to terrible sunlight ... when you talk you hardly look in my eye"). But by the year's end, that line felt hopeful, if still urgent. I love the turns this song makes, and, as always, I love Fleet Foxes' harmonies.

15. The Head and the Heart - Lost in My Mind
This is just an old-fashioned, foot-stomping alt-country revival of a song. I love the harmonies. I love the beat. I love the lyrical concept (along with the line, "Put your dreams away for now"). On many late-night drive homes, I sang this song as loud as I could, my rallying cry of 2011.

16. Lana Del Rey - Video Games

Ryan and I liked this song long before we knew there was a video or controversy or snobbery about her. I think it's ridiculous that in 2011 people are surprised to find someone may have been manufactured. Her plastic surgery lips are her own business. Personally, I just like this song. It's haunting, dark and pretty and thoroughly modern in its imagery.

17. The Vaccines - Wetsuit
This album reminds me of the early days of Interpol. This song is my favorite, mostly because it sounds like being 28: "We all got old at breakneck speed. Slow it down, go easy on me."

18. Drake - Marvin's Room

In this thoughtful, somber song, Drake gives voice to the late, drunken call to an ex. For most rappers, this moment would be reduced to one line -- and it'd probably be a drunken text -- but Drake is unlike other rappers. He expands the moment into a meditation -- on lost love, on his own life failings, on what it means to need someone "to put this weight on." Somehow he also squeezes in gender and race relations.

19. tUnE-yArDs - Powa
Her voice is just so special. I feel like she is most in control of it on this song.

20. Lil Wayne - How to Love
This sounds unlike any other Weezy song. The lack of frills makes Wayne sound more genuine than he usually does. I don't love hearing auto tune, but it's just barely there. The song is so plaintive and straight-forward. On it, Lil Wayne raps over a slow bass line about a woman who has had a lot of moments but none that were real. This perspective is new for Wayne, too. He usually has some choicely misogynistic words for women. With his next singles, he was back to old business, but I'm grateful for this respite.

21. The Weeknd - Coming Down
Abel Tesfaye's voice sounds especially beautiful and urgent here. As with other Weeknd songs, this one starts slowly with Tesfaye's voice at a sultury almost-whisper. Then, at "Ihe party's finished and I want you to know," the song explodes with a desperate beauty. This album, and this song especially, is, sonically, the sexiest I heard all year.

22. Adele - Someone Like You
I've had to stop myself several times this year from sending a note to someone saying "For me, it isn't over." Who didn't get all choked up and nostalgic with lost love listening to this?

23. ROSTAM - Wood
This is so soothing and pretty.

24. Drake and Rihanna - Take Care
My favorite aspect about music in 2011 is the way musicians keep building on each other’s work. Crack-addled (yet still clear somehow) Gil Scott-Heron wrote “I’ll Take Care of U.” Then Jamie XX pushed it forward with his remix. And now Rihanna and Drake are spinning it still further forward with this track, a song about "dealing with a heart (you) didn't break," about dating someone whose past comes with them.

25. Unknown Mortal Orchestra - FFunny FFriends
Music blogs call this song krautrock, kaleidoscope and psychadelic. I don't have words for it, but the first time I heard it, I wanted to hear it again. And again. And again. I thought it was something old, maybe dubbed from a cassette tape in the midwest somewhere. But it's new and from Portland, and I love it.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Best of 2011: Albums

I've been making best-of-the-year lists since 2003. This week on my blog I'll unveil my favorite albums, songs and movies from this year. First, the albums:

1. The Weeknd - House of Balloons

This album is so dark and creeping, but Abel Tesfaye's sweet croon is like a north star guiding you through that darkness. I love the way the first song, "High for This," builds so that by the time it's over, you're already deep into Tesfaye's world without really knowing how you got there. The songs are catchy, innovative and perfectly paced. And though I don't inhabit most of the worlds he describes, listening to "House of Balloons" pretty much always has an emotional effect on me.

2. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues

Robin Peckhold is a little younger than I am, but I feel like the lyrics on this album perfectly sum up what it feels like to be 28 right now. The album is beautiful -- at times sweeping, at times quietly pensive -- and searching. It sounded right soundtracking my sunny days just as well as it did the foggy ones.

3. James Blake - James Blake

The silence on this album -- and there is a lot of it -- somehow feels both full and empty to me. This is the album I wanted to hear when I was sad, as if I could pour myself into Blake's many pauses. I admire what he's able to do with dubstep, but the songs I like best here are the ones that sound like snippets of gospel songs. The first 30 seconds of "Why Don't You Call?" sounds like a perfect little demo to me. I always want to hear them again.

4. Youth Lagoon - The Year Of Hibernation
I get that the sound of this album might not be for everyone. He recorded it by playing the original bedroom recordings in a garage and recording them again. That means the album can sometimes have a tinny, far-away sound to it, but underneath that is some very honest and beautiful songwriting. I love the lyrics of "17" and the way "Montana" builds so steadily until it erupts. I love the way it feels to listen to "Afternoon" while driving around during the fall. Nearly all of the songs evoke something purely cinematic, and I pretty much never grew tired of hearing them.

5. The Vaccines - What Did You Expect from the Vaccines?

I don't necessarily think the Vaccines are doing anything innovative here, but I just love listening to this record. I came back to it all year long, always finding a new favorite song. I listened to it at the gym, driving through the suburbs, cooking dinner in my city apartment. It's somehow dark and infectious at the same time.

6. Drake - Take Care
It took me a while to get into this album. I preferred his early, yearning mixtape. But "Take Care" has so many good songs and shows Drake really expanding his style (On "Thank Me Later," he often recycled through the same repetitive rhythms). And he is still rapping about subjects that no one else talks about. He's innovative, and I hope he pushes himself to keep experimenting.

7. Tennis - Cape Dory

This is so fun to listen to. A lot of the songs sound the same -- lyrically and sonically -- but I like those themes and sounds so much it doesn't bother me (plus it's such a short little album). The lyrics have a few little gems ("shifty wind that gusts and dies"), her voice is great and I usually feel pretty happy listening.

8. tune yards - w h o k i l l
I don't think this album is as innovative as it's praised for being. Merril Garbus admits that she modeled it after the music of the Ba'Aka pygmies in Central African Republic. Having been there and listened to their vocal polyphonies, I can say tune-yards' songs really do sound a lot like them. But she pushes them further, adding more drama and more layers, and I think her lyrics are at times really great (See: My Country). But the real secret weapon here is that voice. I thought she was a man for her whole first record, but it's mostly impossible to tell where that sound is coming from. She has such an incredible and powerful range. Really fun to listen to.

9. Beyonce - 4
For my money, she is the most interesting, consistent and talented pop star recording. She tries all kinds of sounds on this album, at times stuffing songs with a dozen samples and genres. Whatever she throws at the wall seems to stick; 4 churned out hit after hit this year. And she somehow does that without sounding like she is trying very hard. She is so good it feels effortless.

10. AgesandAges - Alright You Restless
Like the Tennis album, this one is comprised of songs that sometimes sound just like the one before it. But it doesn't sound like any other album I heard this year, so I'll forgive it its repetitions. I love all the voices, the church-like joy of the songs. There's not a dud on here.

Honorable Mentions: The Roots - Undun; Frank Ocean - Nostalgia, Ultra; Cults - Cults; Dirty Mittens - Heart of Town

Uptown, downtown, a thousand miles between us

West Monroe Louisiana

West Monroe Louisiana

West Monroe Louisiana

The night before we left, we wound up going over to Freddy Joe McVay's house. He is the youngest of the McVays -- a clan of five kids who lived across the street and one house down from Roy. Freddy talked to us about watching people fight in the street (Chatham was nicknamed Hell Street back then) and about learning how to mow yards under Roy's tutelage. He also showed us his shoebox full of pictures.

After we interviewed him then packed all our gear up, I went back in to say goodbye. I noticed a pair of photos on the wall -- he and his wife, naked except for a Confederate flag wrapped around them. They were posed in an old washtub. A sign -- "still hitched" -- hung off the side.

"These are some racy photos y'all have up!" I said. Without a lick of embarrassment, he said, "Oh, we took those up in Arkansas!"

Friday, December 16, 2011

On my way to you, old county, hoping nothing's changed




Talking to Sean Purvis in front of his boyhood home really reminded me why I want to make this documentary. He talked to us about watching the older generations drink coffee and debate the Bible. He told me about the time Roy sold a song to the Judds but then couldn't find anyone to help him record it. Sean talked about Roy with such dumbstruck awe --- "Her poems were like something Edgar Allen Poe or Shakespeare did, and I was just blown away," he told me --- that I left our interview re-energized to tell this story. Sean talked about a Delhi that no longer exists. It's a town he worries no one will remember because no one has written it down, collected the memories. He was just a boy when Roy was already in his 60s. The people who really knew Roy have mostly passed.

Sean did remember one person who was a contemporary of Roy's. Miss Irby is at the nursing home still, he told me, so Aubree and I headed over there to meet her. She was a Jehovah's Witness who used to get into debates with the devoutly Christian Roy. By the time we met Miss Irby, though, she could barely form full sentences, let alone whole paragraphs. She couldn't stop touching me. She pet each one of my fingers, telling me how beautiful each one was. Then she kissed my hand and my neck before rubbing a snotty tissue over my hands. I kept thinking she was having a moment of clarity when I asked her about Roy. "He's up there, and ..." she'd say before trailing off. If she remembered Roy, she couldn't tell me. But when I stood to leave, she clung to me in the most sincere and sweet hug. Her smile was one of the widest I've seen.

Sometimes I feel like all the things I want to know about Roy are trapped -- in unfindable documents or in brains I can no longer access. But meeting people like Sean, who was so honest and simple in his love of the town that reared him, pushes me to keep searching.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

rock me in the cradle in them old cotton fields back home




On Monday morning, we met Archie Lee Harrell, a man about my grandma's age who also grew up in a poor, sharecropping family. He owns a few acres behind his house now. He showed (and shared with) us the most delicious satsumas, kumquats, peppers, persimmons and pecans that he grew back there. He is a humble man, raised with four other kids by a single mother, and he remembers watching Roy sleep on a bag of cotton in the fields. All the sharecropper's kids did that, Archie said.

When Archie dies, he wants to be buried in his khakis. It's who he was, what he wore nearly every day of his life. People should be able to makes those kinds of choices for themselves, he told us, which is why he got into it with a preacher who told Roy to wear a dress. Roy left the church, and judging by the look in Archie's eyes when he told us the story, Archie never forgave the preacher.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

We'll take the highway; I'll see you in between


I'm waiting in Little Rock, Arkansas, now to head home after a few whirlwind days in Delhi. I'll post later about the trip, the documentary and all the funny things my grandma said to me. But for now, I'll just share this moment that Aubree captured just before we hit the road this morning. My grandma let me video her making biscuits. Then we sat at her tiny table and talked about what I've learned over the past two years. More soon ---

Thursday, December 8, 2011

the way good love can take leave of you

Middlesex pillow

I found him like this, sleeping on the book we would have read together. I never imagined myself owning a cat, but I am grateful for his rhythms, the way his paws knead me awake just before 6 every day. When I find myself again like this, it is nice to have him sleeping, purring warmly nearby.

Sufjan Stevens - Redford (for Yia-Yia & Pappou)
James Blake - Why Don't You Call Me?

Especially if you love as I love
falling to the earth. Especially if you're a little bit
high strung and a little bit gutted balloon.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The blues will never go out of fashion

"the word 'parrot'
is not the right woman for you, hard to hold
and too much red"

[LISTEN] James Blake - Give Me My Month

Monday, December 5, 2011

we are drifting back and forth between each other

Ryan and I wanted to practice making music videos, so over Thanksgiving we enlisted a few friends to create one for Youth Lagoon's song "17."

Saturday, December 3, 2011

I've been walking in the same way as I did

Delhi, Louisiana

This time next week, I'll be in Delhi, La., working on my documentary, "Roy." My cousin Chris is joining the crew this go-around to work sound and to get some ideas for scoring the trailer (and if I have my way, the whole movie!). I started officially shooting for this two years ago over Christmas break. The movie is starting to take shape, though we still have a lot of unanswered questions. Look for a trailer and kickstarter page to go live after we return. In the meantime, follow our film page on Facebook -- -- to see updates from the road.