24 May 2014

How Strange It Is To Be Anything At All...

Neutral Milk Hotel have been one of my favourite bands for years. The sound of Jeff Mangum's voice always pulls me back to those late summer nights of 2005, when I would turn up 'In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,' close out the till, gush buckets of water across the coffee-stained floor, mop up the gritty grounds with bleach and hot water, and wonder where the hell I was going to end up in 10 years...

I remember those days, feeling lost. Like I wasn't doing anything useful... like I wasn't useful.

And Neutral Milk Hotel gave me something, every night, a wisp, a thread that held my heart together, those nights when I hated myself for losing time, every night, to this goddamn mop bucket.

The band had already broken up, by the time I heard of them, so I never thought I'd see them live. Jeff Mangum, for some time, seemed like he might never pick up a guitar again. 

But then he did. And the band reunited. They came to Manchester last week. Back in 2005, when I wondered where I'd be in 10 years, I never imagined the strange answers that have become the true ones: in Manchester. Working at the BBC. Married. Or married, but to someone that - back then - I hadn't even met yet.

How unbelievably my life has changed. How strange it is.

The show was amazing. It made my heart swell. It made me so glad to be alive, in this time, in this place. How lucky I am to get to see Neutral Milk Hotel in the Albert Hall, a perfect venue for them, big and beautiful, with stained glass and a huge organ.

For the past few months, I've been involved in this contemporary theatre project, called "Summer." It's not a play, but it is a performance, and honestly, I'm not really sure what it is - except that it is about being alive and about just being.

I'm one of the performers, along with about 30 other people, who are all different ages (the youngest is 18 months old, I think, and the oldest person I've met in it is in her 70s).

This is Cristina. She's in Summer, too.

Rehearsals have been strange, but in a fun way - a lot of walking around and working out how to interpret the sometimes-strange instructions they give us ("Walk, sit, run, lay down, or jump in lanes. When I tell you, you can walk, sit, run, lay down, or jump in grids.). For the photoshoot, they threw water on us. It is sometimes a totally ridiculous way to spend an afternoon... you can read more about it on Creative Tourist.

All Quarantine ask of us is to be ourselves - and the performance is based around all of our personal stories & lives. Between the Neutral Milk Hotel show and Summer, I've found myself daydreaming a lot this week - going over memories of summers past, who I used to be (quite hard on people), and who I still am (quite hard on myself).

Jonti and I have been packing all of life into our evenings. Apart from Saturday rehearsals & work, we have seen 2 concerts (Neutral Milk Hotel & Benjamin Brooker) and a play. On Tuesday, we went to Aumbry, an amazing restaurant near Manchester. We had a five-course tasting menu, and it was stunning. One of my dishes was too salty, but apart from that, it was absolutely delicious and surprisingly unfussy food.

That night, Jonti and I talked about being friends to people and building friendships with people, and being hard on people and being hard on ourselves. He said to me, "With friends, there will always be moments of good will, and there will always be moments of ill will. There will always be moments of cruelty and moments of kindness. That's what we do."

How strange it is, how lucky I am, to be married to this amazing man, who has so much empathy that he sees even ill will, even from his friends, as part of the flow of life.

11 May 2014

Elfin Ears!

It's been another long while.

Sometimes, it feels like I have so much to tell you all about, I get overwhelmed by it. And I avoid writing it. And then more happens that I want to tell you. It's a vicious cycle.

I apologise. That's just a cliche. This cycle really isn't all that vicious. Because it's a blogging cycle, and really, it can't get vicious.

Since I last posted, my family came to visit me. The big six: my mom & dad, my sister & brother-in-law, my niece & nephew. It was really important to me that my sister saw Manchester, my new home. I've been in this town more than 3 years now - and I'm glad she's seen it.

It was 10 days of Dalal-Parekh craziness, made all the more fun with some extra Small action. Jonti's parents rented a massive cottage in the Lake District and took us out on some walks.

Looking over Lake Windermere in Ambleside.
Dramatic skies.

Alan, Jonti's father, took us all on a walk out to Rydal cave.
We saw bats. We think

There is a strange British obsession with horrible American foodlike substances. I suppose it's because things like aerosolised cheese can't legally be sold as food here. They brought Easy Cheese for Jonti's cousin Philip, and my friends Neil & Joe. Look how happy it made Joe.
Joe eating a gross thing
and very happy about it.

This trip was the first time my sister met my husband.

I still think that's a really strange thing. I never never thought I would have such a tale to tell.

I still feel bad that she wasn't able to be at the wedding. I know we're going to have another one in Atlanta. But I also know it upset her. And I can't fix it, of course, because it's happened.

I was happy to see all of them - my niece and nephew are growing up and that's awesome and weird. But more than anything, I was really glad that I got to see my sister. I feel like I broke that secret pact we made when we were little, that pact where we said, "I promise I will not let you miss anything."

We didn't make a pact. But I still feel like I broke something.


They flew out on a Tuesday morning - and that night, Jonti & I went out to see Mark Z Danielewski do a Q&A. Danielewski is the author of House of Leaves, a book that will change how you think about books in a good fun theoretical ambitious critical excellent way.

He's the kind of writer who attracts PhD theses like banana-eating attracts mosquitoes. It was a strange Q&A, as his fans lined up to ask him questions about how obscure French theorists inform his work. And he answered with grace and intelligence, shifting from an incredibly theoretical question to a profoundly human answer. He said things like, "When people ask me how I know a book is done, all I can tell them is that ... it's when the story starts to eat itself."

I loved this night. Benjamin Judge & Dave Hartley have written fuller reviews.


We had lovely weather for the Easter holiday earlier this month. Jonti & I tried to go for a countryside bicycle ride, but we failed at that pretty miserably and ended up pushing our bikes up a seriously steep hill on an A road, riding along another A road, and eventually realising we had no idea where the track we were supposed to be heading toward started. It wasn't a total wash, though - we sat in Mossley park, in beautiful sunshine, warm and bright & we read our books and had a lovely picnic.

The next day, Katherine decided to drive us out to the beach! We went out to Formby and had *another* picnic! I know. Two picnics in two days. I'm totally spoiled.

I feel that because I grew up in landlocked Atlanta, I'm still kind of a kid at the beach. Water, the seaside, sand, seashells - these things are all still really surprising to me. Yes, I spent two years living in Sydney - but I didn't spend much time at the beaches. In my experience, most of Sydney's beaches were too busy & the water was too full of used tampons.

Katherine and Jonti walked ahead of me, as I constantly stopped to pick up seashells. Muttering to myself, "Oh, that's a pretty one... I wonder what animal this is??... This one has a hinge... Oh, neat." Occasionally, I yelled. "JONTI! WHAT'S THIS ONE?"

He would slowly walk back to me, take the shell from me, and quietly say, "I don't know. It's just a shell."

He spent his childhood coming to Formby regularly & he's totally over the shells. So's Katherine. But I took a whole bunch home and washed them and I'm going to keep them forever. Well, probably more like for awhile.

Near Formby beach is a red squirrel sanctuary. Red squirrels are indigenous to Britain. They have been losing habitat and food to the invasive species known as the North American grey squirrel... in other words, because of squirrels that are from where I'm from.

It makes me sad, because I love grey squirrels. I love their bushy tails and their awesome jumping skills. When they stand up on their hind legs, they look like they're wearing little white shirts. I love them. But here, in the UK, they are a bad thing. I was hoping that red squirrels wouldn't be as cute in real life as grey squirrels, so that I could go on loving the hell out of all the grey squirrels I see in Manchester. For cuteness.

But then, I saw three red squirrels in the woods near Formby Beach. And oh my god, they are even cuter than grey squirrels. They have elfin ears, y'all. They are smaller than greys, and they have wispy little bushy tails. THEY ARE GINGER. They are the best squirrel. I dare you to find a better squirrel.


We've been going to see lots of music lately. Sounds From The Other City (SFTOC) is a Salford-based music festival, with loads of Salford pubs and music venues hosting all-day gigs. This year was SFTOC's 10-year anniversary. They made decorations & party hats out of posters from previous years.

SFTOC provided an excellent excuse to see a bunch of venues I wouldn't otherwise have seen, like Salford University's Peel Hall. Gorgeous entryway.

It was a really fun day, and though I really only 'discovered' one band that I really like from it, that band is so metal awesome, they've made me wonder whether I am at heart truly just a metal fan.*

They are Sly and the Family Drone. They are two drummers, who are proficient & work together to play across each others' drum sets at the same time, as well as a mixing desk of some sort (played by one of the drummers) & a dude making strange noises through a harmonica fitted to a microphone. A video on Youtube will not give you the experience of watching these guys. They are some new kind of music, like metal-jazz or something, and they are super awesome. They played just outside this strange teepee or cut-up tent or whatever it is with cool light projections all over it.

We also went to see Future Islands the other night, on the recommendation of Miss Laura Barton. Have y'all already heard of Future Islands? They were a great show.


Oh, and I've been working a lot lately. I left my contract at the BBC to go freelance and get back into production, and I've been working fairly solid since then. It's an exciting and scary time to go freelance again - but I think I'm ready.


And I'm keeping some news in my back pocket, so I can post more than once a month. Promise.


*Probably not.