The Reluctant Read

Have you ever read a book you were certain you would despise?

Someone forced it on you, for one reason or another—class or a kindly but pushy relative—and every ounce of you resisted. You took the loathsome lump of a novel in your hands and a frown unfolded from every crook in your body. Your mouth turned down at the sides, your shoulders slumped, your stomach boiled with an unpleasant acid, and you turned to page one.

Stupid, you thought. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Trite. Dull. Idiotic.

But, if you were lucky, something else started to happen. That relative of yours, who’s actually very intelligent aside from his prescriptions for your life and your reading habits, maybe have given you something good. You squinted your eyes at the page. The acid in your stomach slowly subsided, then transformed. Your dull aching dread became something light—a nervous, floating excitement—and suddenly, beautifully, you were hooked.

Watch out. A book like that can be dangerous. Afterward, you might find yourself irrevocably altered. You might return to that book, year after year, and find it like a lover you can’t quite bleach from your heart.

This week, I finally sat down to read Maile Meloy’s Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It, that grim frown of reluctance present even as I flipped past praise from The New York Times and one of my favorite and most respected authors, Richard Ford.

Cover of "Both Ways Is the Only Way I Wan...

The truth is, my reluctance to this particular work was born from my own embarrassment. Last year Ms. Meloy came to read at Vanderbilt, and though I enjoyed the reading, I was having a fit of awkward. It comes on sometimes, despite my best intentions at nonchalance, and there I was, fidgeting and unable to speak, when after she sat in the hallway outside the reading room, selling and signing copies of her book behind her plastic foldout chair. The book was around $15—a price I didn’t feel like paying at the time—and there I was in front of her, feeling the money drawn from my hands, and gasping out stupidly that I loved Montana, too! She signed it “For Liz, a fellow Big Sky fan,” and I left feeling outraged at my own jellyfish spine, convinced I would never read her book, more out of principle than anything else.

Over the next few months, I glowered at the book on my shelf. I felt upset when The New Yorker published her story “The Proxy Marriage” in May, and even more upset when I actually enjoyed it. When another story of hers, “Demeter,” was published in The New Yorker two weeks ago, I decided to bring Both Ways home for Thanksgiving break—not to read it, but to pass it off to someone else, so I wouldn’t have to look at it anymore. The book was abandoned to a countertop, and then my cousin—also a writer and reader—picked it up.

“I don’t know about that one,” I said, eyeing it narrowly as she flipped through the first pages. “Don’t blame me if it’s bad.”

But soon she had finished the first story, and over the course of the day, juggling her 6-month-old on her arm, my cousin read Meloy’s book. At 11 p.m., she was still reading. All I can say is that I was confused. When I went to bed around midnight, my cousin stayed up with the book.

The next morning I asked her how it went. Guess what? She’d loved it.

So I began to reconsider. After all, it was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. After all, my revulsion at the read was petty, idiotic, and nonsensical.

“You’ve got to read it,” my cousin said. “Really.”

“Okay, okay,” I said.

I packed it in my bag, drank a glass of wine as I waited in the airport, and flipped through the pages to the first story. Then I read the second story, the third, and the rest of the book over the next week.

Oh my Lord, was it good.

As George R.R. Martin once said, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”

For me, good fiction occurs when you are shocked into the consciousness of a fully realized character, in a fully realized situation. Good fiction opens us up to new identities. What’s so wonderful about Meloy’s Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It is that it allows the reader not just to have new experiences, but also to return to something recognizable—to encounter a long lost feeling—really a kind of subconscious tone of experience that’s been buried deep or glossed over by its banal surface. Her stories strike deep emotional notes subtly, gracefully, and with almost no visible artifice. It’s astounding.

As Curtis Sittenfeld put it in his review of Meloy’s collection, “They are people who act irrationally, against their own best interests — by betraying those they care about, making embarrassing romantic overtures and knowingly setting in motion situations they’d rather avoid — and Meloy’s prose is so clear, calm and intelligent that their behavior becomes eminently understandable.”

He goes on to say that her characters act with “a kind of banal, daily desperation”—perhaps that’s the feeling I recognized in myself, when reading her prose.

Every page I turned I heard myself apologizing to Meloy in my head—I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry—how could I have dismissed her, this?

At the same time, though, I’m happy with how things turned out. If you’ve hardened your heart to a book, and the prose stills find a way to maneuver through that tough casing, you know you’ve come across something great, something beautiful, that will be a part of you for a long time. Maybe forever.

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Posted in Authors, books, Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It, Life, Literature, Maile Meloy, Montana, New Yorker, Read Drunk; Analyze Sober, reading, Richard Ford | Comments Off on The Reluctant Read

THINGS: Pictures with Santa Are (kind of) Like Meetings with the Dean



Well, folks, the Christmas season is here! 
Now that we've all tolerated those fake made-up, commercialized holidays like Halloween and Thanksgiving, we can get to the real holiday we all look forward to: Christmas. 

Confession time: This is actually the first year I have listened to Christmas music before Thanksgiving. Usually this is my sentiment about the holidays, but I just couldn't resist the crooning of Michael Bublé and the cheeriness of "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." My sincerest apologies. 

There are plenty of things about the Christmas season to look forward to. First, there's the fabulous launch of Black Friday. 
Just a note on naming things after colors: I've noticed that if it's named after a color, it's usually a disease. Black lung, Black Death, Black Plague, yellow fever, scarlet fever, jaundice, red measles, pink eye. Black Friday...conveys my sentiments exactly.
Here in America, we’ve decided it would be a good idea to make this madness last two days and put our laziness to work; I give you “Cyber Monday”! Next, you've got the longest marathon of tacky original movies ever (Thanks, ABC's "25 Days of Christmas"!) And then there are all the chaotic, traffic-filled shopping malls you love. Don't forget the joy of choosing a Christmas tree (if you haven't copped out and bought a fake one yet) and the entire festivity that is decking the halls. You get to again realize that you suck at cutting pretty paper and using Scotch tape properly. You’re blessed with the symphony of ringing doorbells as boy scouts and other small children walk miles to sell you popcorn and chocolates and giftwrap and other useless crap. And this year, on top of all of that, you have the joy of worrying about the end of 13pik in the Maya Long Count calendar!
            Don’t worry, guys. My archaeology TA is Mayan and she promised me that the world wouldn’t end.

Am I forgetting anything?
Ah, yes! The wonderful privilege of having your photograph taken with the one and only Santa Claus!

You see, though he is only one man, Santa has somehow found a way to be in every mall, town hall, and children’s store simultaneously. I don’t know about you, but I’m impressed. Such a skill would be priceless. I’m not entirely sure where in the parenting handbook it says to place your child on the lap of a complete stranger impersonating a 4th c Greek saint, but my parents followed the handbook.

I remember it being quite an ordeal. Mom would buy matching formal outfits for you and your sister. Matchy-matchy all the way! After at least 30 minutes of hair-doing and tights-straightening, Mom said you looked “so cute!” You turn to your sister and give her the let’s-get-this-over-with look.
Pile into the car! You’ve done this since you were born. But you can’t really remember. You were only, like, a baby then. And now you’re four, so it’s really different, you know?
Mom tries to explain what’s going to happen in her best Christmas cheer voice. You were too little to understand just how strange the entire concept was, so you just went along with it. Something about a picture, smiling, not pulling your sister’s hair this year, and Santa.
SANTA.
There was something in it for you: the wish. When it was your turn, you could tell Santa just what you hoped he’d bring you on Christmas morning. The pressure is on. What to say? You’d been making that wish list since last Christmas, and now you had to pick just one thing that you wanted the most?! Well, you had some time to think about it. You brought your list with you and mom can read it to you while you wait in line behind all those other suckers who think they’re the best kids there. Santa knows, guys. You’re all getting coal.
Your turn. Alright: picture? Check. Smiling? Check. Not pulling sister’s hair this year? Eh…Ok fine. Santa?
Yes! This is your moment, kiddo. You’ve waited since last year. Don’t freeze up. You’ve gotta say…uh… oh! That’s right!
“Mister Santa, can I please have a pink puppy?”
Phew. Alright, that went pretty well.

And there you have it! Evidence of your successful endeavor is later placed in a frame and set on the mantel for all of the weird relatives to marvel at on Christmas morning.
We're Santa's favorites

But now that I’m all grown up, I don’t get to tell Santa what I want anymore. I don’t take wear matchy-matchy outfits with Camille and have funny pictures taken with a stranger in a pretend beard and a red suit.

I’m a serious university student now. And university scholars don’t have pictures with Santa, they have meetings with the Dean, like I had on Monday.

It turns out that the Dean is quite like Santa in some ways. And meetings with the Dean, essentially elevator pitches, are kind of like taking a picture with Santa.

It’s quite an ordeal. Mom helps you choose a formal outfit. Preppy all the way! After at least 30 minutes of hair-doing and tights-straightening, Mom says you look “so cute!” You turn to your roommate and give her the let’s-get-this-over-with look.
Run across campus! You’ve done this since you were in middle school. It’s just a teacher conference of sorts. But you can’t really remember. You were only, like, a baby then. And now you’re nineteen, so it’s really different, you know?
The office assistant tries to explain what’s going to happen in her best collegiate cheer voice. You were too little to understand the entire concept, so you just went along with it. Something about forms you had to fill out, smiling, not pulling any funny business, and the Dean.
THE DEAN.
There was something in it for you: the wish. When it was your turn, you could tell the Dean just what you hoped she’d approve for you – a custom major called Cosmopolitanism. The pressure is on. What to say? You’d been working on this idea since last year, and now you had just one meeting to express the entire premise of the major you wanted most?! Well, you had some time to think about it. You brought your list with you and you can read it to you while you wait in line behind all those other suckers who think they’re the smartest kids there. The Dean knows, guys. Your majors aren’t as cool as mine.
Your turn. Alright: forms? Check. Smiling? Check. Not pulling any funny business? Eh…Ok fine.
The Dean? Yes!
This is your moment, kiddo. You’ve waited since last year. Don’t freeze up. You’ve gotta say…uh… oh! That’s right!
“Dean Bergquist, I would like to create my own major called Cosmopolitanism. I have all of the paperwork right here and I’d love to chat about proposing it as a departmental major.”
Phew. Alright, that went pretty well.

And there you have it! A beautiful, signed and approved form; evidence of your (hopefully) successful endeavor will later be placed in a frame and set on the mantel for all of the weird relatives to marvel at on Christmas morning.


Psych! I totally took a picture with Santa this year. Merry start of the Christmas season!
That's little, enthusiastic me in the bottom right!


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THINGS: Pictures with Santa Are (kind of) Like Meetings with the Dean



Well, folks, the Christmas season is here! 
Now that we've all tolerated those fake made-up, commercialized holidays like Halloween and Thanksgiving, we can get to the real holiday we all look forward to: Christmas. 

Confession time: This is actually the first year I have listened to Christmas music before Thanksgiving. Usually this is my sentiment about the holidays, but I just couldn't resist the crooning of Michael Bublé and the cheeriness of "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." My sincerest apologies. 

There are plenty of things about the Christmas season to look forward to. First, there's the fabulous launch of Black Friday. 
Just a note on naming things after colors: I've noticed that if it's named after a color, it's usually a disease. Black lung, Black Death, Black Plague, yellow fever, scarlet fever, jaundice, red measles, pink eye. Black Friday...conveys my sentiments exactly.
Here in America, we’ve decided it would be a good idea to make this madness last two days and put our laziness to work; I give you “Cyber Monday”! Next, you've got the longest marathon of tacky original movies ever (Thanks, ABC's "25 Days of Christmas"!) And then there are all the chaotic, traffic-filled shopping malls you love. Don't forget the joy of choosing a Christmas tree (if you haven't copped out and bought a fake one yet) and the entire festivity that is decking the halls. You get to again realize that you suck at cutting pretty paper and using Scotch tape properly. You’re blessed with the symphony of ringing doorbells as boy scouts and other small children walk miles to sell you popcorn and chocolates and giftwrap and other useless crap. And this year, on top of all of that, you have the joy of worrying about the end of 13pik in the Maya Long Count calendar!
            Don’t worry, guys. My archaeology TA is Mayan and she promised me that the world wouldn’t end.

Am I forgetting anything?
Ah, yes! The wonderful privilege of having your photograph taken with the one and only Santa Claus!

You see, though he is only one man, Santa has somehow found a way to be in every mall, town hall, and children’s store simultaneously. I don’t know about you, but I’m impressed. Such a skill would be priceless. I’m not entirely sure where in the parenting handbook it says to place your child on the lap of a complete stranger impersonating a 4th c Greek saint, but my parents followed the handbook.

I remember it being quite an ordeal. Mom would buy matching formal outfits for you and your sister. Matchy-matchy all the way! After at least 30 minutes of hair-doing and tights-straightening, Mom said you looked “so cute!” You turn to your sister and give her the let’s-get-this-over-with look.
Pile into the car! You’ve done this since you were born. But you can’t really remember. You were only, like, a baby then. And now you’re four, so it’s really different, you know?
Mom tries to explain what’s going to happen in her best Christmas cheer voice. You were too little to understand just how strange the entire concept was, so you just went along with it. Something about a picture, smiling, not pulling your sister’s hair this year, and Santa.
SANTA.
There was something in it for you: the wish. When it was your turn, you could tell Santa just what you hoped he’d bring you on Christmas morning. The pressure is on. What to say? You’d been making that wish list since last Christmas, and now you had to pick just one thing that you wanted the most?! Well, you had some time to think about it. You brought your list with you and mom can read it to you while you wait in line behind all those other suckers who think they’re the best kids there. Santa knows, guys. You’re all getting coal.
Your turn. Alright: picture? Check. Smiling? Check. Not pulling sister’s hair this year? Eh…Ok fine. Santa?
Yes! This is your moment, kiddo. You’ve waited since last year. Don’t freeze up. You’ve gotta say…uh… oh! That’s right!
“Mister Santa, can I please have a pink puppy?”
Phew. Alright, that went pretty well.

And there you have it! Evidence of your successful endeavor is later placed in a frame and set on the mantel for all of the weird relatives to marvel at on Christmas morning.
We're Santa's favorites

But now that I’m all grown up, I don’t get to tell Santa what I want anymore. I don’t take wear matchy-matchy outfits with Camille and have funny pictures taken with a stranger in a pretend beard and a red suit.

I’m a serious university student now. And university scholars don’t have pictures with Santa, they have meetings with the Dean, like I had on Monday.

It turns out that the Dean is quite like Santa in some ways. And meetings with the Dean, essentially elevator pitches, are kind of like taking a picture with Santa.

It’s quite an ordeal. Mom helps you choose a formal outfit. Preppy all the way! After at least 30 minutes of hair-doing and tights-straightening, Mom says you look “so cute!” You turn to your roommate and give her the let’s-get-this-over-with look.
Run across campus! You’ve done this since you were in middle school. It’s just a teacher conference of sorts. But you can’t really remember. You were only, like, a baby then. And now you’re nineteen, so it’s really different, you know?
The office assistant tries to explain what’s going to happen in her best collegiate cheer voice. You were too little to understand the entire concept, so you just went along with it. Something about forms you had to fill out, smiling, not pulling any funny business, and the Dean.
THE DEAN.
There was something in it for you: the wish. When it was your turn, you could tell the Dean just what you hoped she’d approve for you – a custom major called Cosmopolitanism. The pressure is on. What to say? You’d been working on this idea since last year, and now you had just one meeting to express the entire premise of the major you wanted most?! Well, you had some time to think about it. You brought your list with you and you can read it to you while you wait in line behind all those other suckers who think they’re the smartest kids there. The Dean knows, guys. Your majors aren’t as cool as mine.
Your turn. Alright: forms? Check. Smiling? Check. Not pulling any funny business? Eh…Ok fine.
The Dean? Yes!
This is your moment, kiddo. You’ve waited since last year. Don’t freeze up. You’ve gotta say…uh… oh! That’s right!
“Dean Bergquist, I would like to create my own major called Cosmopolitanism. I have all of the paperwork right here and I’d love to chat about proposing it as a departmental major.”
Phew. Alright, that went pretty well.

And there you have it! A beautiful, signed and approved form; evidence of your (hopefully) successful endeavor will later be placed in a frame and set on the mantel for all of the weird relatives to marvel at on Christmas morning.


Psych! I totally took a picture with Santa this year. Merry start of the Christmas season!
That's little, enthusiastic me in the bottom right!


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Students React

Here is a video I put together that features student reactions to the election.


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Victory, on a different playing field

(NOTE: This post was originally published on Friday, November 9)

This past Tuesday, I excitably raised my beer above my head in celebration of victory. As I watched my team standing on the winner’s podium, I cheered and applauded. And as I surveyed a long season of “leaving it all out on the field” finally at its merciful end, I felt simultaneously inspired and perturbed.

Somehow, this particular win had me more enthusiastic than any in many a moon. The happy, vicarious experience of watching eleven – perhaps even as many as twenty-five – men emerge victorious had faded, now being duplicated (perhaps even topped) by the efforts of an Army of One, or an Army of All, depending on your view of the American electoral process. For someone who grew up clinging to every hit, strikeout, touchdown and interception, it was an experience at once familiar and foreign, comforting and distressing. It was – to put it in stark, perhaps even devastating, terms – mature.

In short, I felt old.

Two days before Barack Obama stood in the front of the nation, proclaiming himself once again Our President-elect, I watched my Giants lose in wretched fashion to the Pittsburgh Steelers. And as Ben Roethlisberger took a merciful knee, rendering all hope of a positive outcome false, I made a quick, efficient decision: to move on with my life.

No doubt, important things were left undone. I was hungry, for example, so I walked downstairs, went for a walk, and picked up some Thai food. I then retreated to my dorm room, set up a plate and some napkins on my desk, and devoured my curry-flavored dish. And Good Lord! – disappointing football outcome be damned – was it delicious. The spice was excellent, the naan fried to perfection, the peppers crunchy, the chicken well-prepared. Once I was done savoring every bite, I wiped my face, logged online, and checked the latest projections on Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight blog, before finally winding down with a book in bed.

I’m not yet twenty years old. Since I was five, I’ve derived much of life’s pleasure from the athletic achievements of superhumans I’ve never met, and likely never will. I’ve jumped up and down, and I’ve cried, and I’ve screamed, and I’ve moaned, and I’ve written, and I’ve been silent, just because a few men did or didn’t do something I could never and will never do even on my brightest, most spry day. I’ve experienced incomparable elation in Super Bowl victory, and three shameful, hiding days away from school in playoff defeat. I’ve won and I’ve lost with my teams. I’ve lived and I’ve died with their successes and failures.

So, as I stood in front of my television at one-thirty in the morning, beer in my hand, listening to MY President explain why he was the right choice, and why the right things will happen moving forward, I couldn’t help but feel…different. And the same. Sure, I had hoped for this outcome for quite a while, and I was delighted to see my prayers manifested in reality. But the elation was nevertheless distant, like a feeling felt long ago. Which was strange and unsettling, because it hasn’t been all that long since one of my teams did what I had hoped and prayed they would. Just three years ago, the Yankees won the World Series. Just last February, the Giants won the Super Bowl. And just now, the experience of watching the victories of my youth was being replicated, one word at a time. My vision and my hopes were coming to life, through the mouth of a  man I will never meet, and whose rhetorical talents I will not match even on my brightest, most articulate day.

We tend to use sports as a microcosm for life, as a prism through which to view the world around us. The quarterback is a field “general,” the conquering of insurmountable athletic odds as a reason for hope and inspiration. Finally, as I watched President Obama speak, I understood why my father looked so devastated (more devastated, mind you, than after any of the hundreds of sporting events I had watched with him) as he watched the Florida Supreme Court finally declare George W. Bush the winner of the 2000 Presidential Election.

Back then, I had asked him “What’s the big deal?” I cannot recall if he had a good answer to this question. All I know is if someone asked me the same question after last Sunday’s Giants game, I would have responded, without hesitation, that the deal was not very big at all.

But if someone approached me as President Obama stood in front of the winner’s podium, and asked me why I was so excited over a victory that aligned with my first vote, I would not hesitate. 

I’m not always proud of my country, I’d say. But I am right now.

I know now what it feels like to be a patriot.

And guess what? Being a patriot doesn’t feel all that different from being a fan.

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An Open Letter: Stir the Drink, Vanderbilt

Dear Hustler Staff, Vanderbilt students and their administrative overlords:

There’s another side to this alcohol and Greek Life debate.

All around Vanderbilt’s campus, students rant over lunch with friends, and behind the closed doors of their dorm rooms. They go on and on, expressing dissatisfaction with new University policies regulating alcohol consumption and Greek Life, worried the policies are suffocating a social scene that helps to make us not Duke, and not the Harvard of the South.

And yet, we are not heard. Why would we be? After all, five more freshmen found themselves in the emergency room this year than last. So the real concern – as the Hustler posited two Mondays ago – must be whether or not Vanderbilt students “have a drinking problem,” or if we are all “just pre-gaming the hospital.”

Over the last year, the administration has alchemized BYOB wristbands, benevolent University police officers and – incredibly – beer pong into precious commodities. Never mind that for many, the most pressing question has become whether hospital waiting rooms will soon become more reliably entertaining than Vanderbilt fraternity parties; our student media – and the administration they are tasked with covering – feels the need to explore the possibility that we’re all really just a bunch of immature drunkards incapable of carrying ourselves responsibly.

Sure, Vanderbilt’s traditionally top-notch social scene, facilitated largely by alcohol consumption and almost entirely through Greek Life, is this school’s true strength and cash cow, as well as what differentiates it from the Ivies many of us turned down.

But because, as the Hustler reported, an innocent little freshman at a big, scary fraternity party accidently chugged a Natty Light mixed with dip spit, got sick and passed out on alumni lawn – yes, this actually happened, and yes, I laughed too – drinking must be evil, and fraternities even more so.

Because that same freshman wasn’t politely asked to please stop puking on our chapter room floor, and was instead “physically thrown out of the party,” (gasp!) the brothers and sisters of Greek Life must be the villains here – rather than the victims we actually are.

There aren’t many outside of Kirkland, let alone on Kensington, who are asking the questions the Hustler posed. There are even fewer who believe that the administration is anything but misguided in their continued assault on alcohol consumption and Greek Life. Vanderbilt never misses an opportunity to tout itself as a top educator of young minds, or its newest bunch of saps as the best, brightest – and you better believe it! – most beautiful group of students in school history. But, if we’re all so prodigious, why is our frustration neglected? Why is the unpopular argument treated as the righteous one? Why is the one thing – other than a degree – that interests more than 40 percent of us (as well as the one thing that motivates freshmen to slog through months of rush and pledging) marginalized?

Why does Vanderbilt seem so eager to abandon half of what makes it whole, as well as a significant part of what made it the school we all chose over so many others?

As far as we’re concerned – and maybe this makes us naïve – any institution asking its members to fork over $60,000 annually (and quite a few more shekels in Greek Life dues) should give a damn what the willful saps think of what they’re paying for.

And right now, we’re unhappy. We wonder why Vanderbilt seems intent on moving the party to the pregame. Our frustration mounts when we hear university administrators say things like, “The pre-gaming issue must be and will be addressed.” Pretty soon, we think, there might not be any party at all.

We find ourselves perplexed why, all of a sudden, these same administrators (as well as a stable of rookie Vanderbilt police officers) seem like they’re out to get us.

We can’t understand why the status quo from a few years back – 17th in the nation academically, first in Greek Life – required tinkering, or how a student body once almost uniformly content became anything but.

We’re also increasingly under the impression that this University is much more concerned with the bottom line than the undergraduate experience. And we believe that a lot of what makes Vanderbilt great is being pushed aside, only so the school can remain not sued, and off the front page of the New York Times.

Ultimately, we wonder if our opinion really does count. We’re already here, after all. The most recent tuition payments have already been made, and – no matter how much dissatisfaction swells – the next ones will be too. So, it doesn’t much matter if we’re upset. It doesn’t much matter if an administrative tsunami of reform and regulation has receded with much of what we know and love about our school in tow, or if it will eventually return to wreak even more destruction.

Because, in the end, there will always be countless others eager to buy what Vanderbilt is selling, a never-ending line of saps happy to help the university creep up the rankings and rake in the dough.

Still, we continue to worry that, even as our school improves on paper, it threatens to become something much less in reality. 

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A Top 5 Calendar of Nashville’s Festive Christmas Freebies

For my entire life I’ve been that jerk. The one that blasts Christmas carols in July. Practically skips right on over Thanksgiving. Relies on Christmas socks as the only source of warmth come chilly months. Still prays for snow despite living in TN. Indulges in all of the Holiday goodies (no calories at Christmastime). Counts down to this infamous day as of December 26th each and every year. Some may call me the anti-Scrooge. A Cindy Lou Who of our time. What I think is that I’ve simply always taken a bit of a liking to the big man himself. If you haven’t noticed, Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick is a pretty loyal fan of the list. He’s got one super important list under his belt every year. Checks it TWICE. Mr. Claus is a man from my own heart. Which is why I continue to be the first in line to partake in any form of Christmas cheer. With finals season consistently overcasting my annual Christmas glee, I’ve decided to finally discover what a true Nashville Christmas is all about… while still saving some dimes for a little gift bearing come the big day. I’ve made my own little list, and you should too! Who knew Music City had so many festive (and free!) events throughout the holiday season? Mark your calendars and start checkin’ em off – A Top 5 Calendar of Nashville’s Festive Christmas Freebies

5. It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas Everywhere You Go

Saturday, December 1st 2:00 PM at the Frist

Kick off the 25 Days Until Christmas with some old-fashioned Christmas tunes. Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music “Suzuki Strings” will perform traditional Christmas favorites as well as classical pieces. The show’s comprised of 50 gifted violin and cello students all between the ages of 5-13. The youngest of talents serenading you with some of your favorite classic carols will certainly help set the mood for this holiday season.

4. The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers

Friday, December 7th Downtown Nashville

This season marks the 60th Annual Nashville Christmas Parade! Festivities include a tree lighting ceremony at 6:30 sharp at Public Square, followed by fireworks, and the big parade! The parade will begin at LP Field, cross over the bridge, and march all the way down Broadway. Not committed on the whole shebang? Sit back for some dinner and drinks on Broadway and luckily the show will come to you.

3. City Sidewalks, Busy Sidewalks, Dressed in Holiday Style

December 8th & 9th on Franklin’s Historic Main Street

In it’s 27th year, “Dickens of a Christmas” continues on Main Street in Franklin. Transformed into a page ripped right out of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, the street bustles with characters in full costume, horse-drawn carriage rides, street performers, Victorian food, all ending with a sing-a-long that Sunday night. A few hours of time travel is guaranteed to be an afternoon well spent.

2. Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly Fa-la-la-la-la…

December 10th 7 PM at the Belmont Mansion

The Belmont Mansion is transformed every holiday season into a beautifully decorated Victorian-style Christmas heaven. There is no better excuse to bear witness to the mansion’s stunning displays than “A Camerata Christmas” show. The show features holiday chamber music with vocalist Kathy Chiavola and fiddler Tammy Rogers-King. Throw on your holiday best and dash over to the mansion for a beautiful and exceptionally classy sing-a-long.

1. I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas

Nashville’s Most Famous Christmastime Tradition: Opryland’s “A Country Christmas

One seasonal spectacle that I have not yet laid eyes on is the infamous display at Opryland. Since moving down to Nashville I’ve heard year after year that I simply must go see the beautiful light displays at Opryland and this year I’m finally going. Be warned that Opryland offers an array of Christmas goodies – some of which are quite pricey. There’s a lengthy list of DreamWorks Animation events – from a holiday Shrek Feast and an ice show to a Shrek-themed scavenger hunt – providing many ways to splurge if you’re treating some little ones to a day out. The older crowd can indulge in a dinner show featuring Grand Ole Opry member Lorrie Morgan or take a seat in the Grand Ole Opry House for a delightful night with the Radio City Rockettes. For those looking for a festive freebie, like me, venture out to Opryland and stroll around the grounds. From the inside out the Opryland Resort glimmers with over two million Christmas lights. Outside rests a dazzling Nativity Display, with lights and narration of the Biblical story. Inside features Holly Jolly Town Square – a flashback into Christmastime in the 1950’s. Walk around and visit all of the shops within the square, located in the Ryman Exhibit Hall. Still craving a little nonsense Christmas fun? DreamWorks Animation offers a free showing of a Holiday Shrektacular – fun for the family or just a goofy group.  With full-fledged Shrek costumes of the cast and an indoor snowstorm throughout the performance, this is one show I refuse to miss. Whether you plan to spend the day or just a few hours, Opryland at Christmastime is a tradition that is the Number 1 Must See this holiday season. I plan to get my Winter Wonderland fix whilst down here in the snow-less South through the gorgeous Christmas trees and light displays of Opryland. The resort is brilliantly transformed for the holidays and this Nashville tradition is the festive Christmas freebie that simply can’t be missed!


Posted in a christmas carol, belmont mansion, blair school of music, camerata christmas, christmas, festive, franklin, freebies, frist, nashville, nashville christmas parade, nativity, opryland, rockettes, ryman | Comments Off on A Top 5 Calendar of Nashville’s Festive Christmas Freebies

green thanksgiving pt. ii

happy thanksgiving, everyone!:)


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A Lil Taste of Nashville’s Top 3 Hot Chicken Joints

Music City. Nashville has a big title to live up to as the ultimate country music center of America. What else is this crazy little town known for? The FOOD. Moving down here I was excited to indulge in all the Southern goodies…the pulled pork on Broadway, the swanky restaurants in the Gulch, the hipster hangouts of East Nashville, and the classic biscuits of Loveless. One little specialty I just recently took a bite of? Nashville’s infamous hot chicken. Mmmm all of the buttermilk marinated, cayenne pepper fused, fried, heart-attack-on-a-plate deliciousness that anyone can ever hope to feast on. Served with a piping hot basket of fries or on white sliced bread, mild or the hottest of hot, any chicken lover can find a Nashville hot chicken dish that’s to die for. Join me in my excursion through the most finger lickin’, mouth scorching, and infamous hot chicken joints in town – A Lil Taste of Nash’s Top 3 Hot Chicken Joints.

3. Servin’ it up right in Hillsboro: McDougal’s Chicken

Wall to wall decorations – frames, local mementos, deer heads, Vandy gear, memorabilia, collectables – walking into this place is a cluster of Nashville’s past and present. Located right in Hillsboro, this one draws in the college crowd by the flocks. Best-seller? Their small basket of fried tenders and fries tossed in their most famous “Honeybee” sauce

2. Servin’ it up in Midtown: Hattie B’s

Hattie B’s is the newest hot chicken shack in town. However don’t let the trendy ambience deceive you. These guys don’t mess around. When they describe their best-selling dish, their “damn hot” chicken, the spiciest on the menu… they mean HOT. Walking in, the staff was mid-experimenting with an even hotter sauce. In tears. Chugging milk. We, too, tasted this madness and can assure you they continue to outdo themselves with each new spice level they create. Think you have the guts to stomach their Damn Hot? You should probably think again. Consider this a warning.

1. Servin’ it up for Generations: Prince’s Hot Chicken

This hole-in-the-wall located off Dickerson Pike is considered the pioneer in Nashville hot chicken. The legend behind hot chicken lays in the story of original owner, Thornton Prince. Passed through generations, this story’s retold now by his great niece, Andre Prince Jeffries, who currently manages the restaurant. According to the story, Prince was a bit of a womanizer and one morning his girlfriend decided to serve him up a little piece of revenge – an incredibly spicy rendition of her fried chicken dish. Prince allegedly liked it so much that he made his own creation and started dishin’ it out at his restaurant. Now decades later, Prince’s is known to be the best hot chicken in town. I promise you it is definitely worth the 20 minute trek from the heart of downtown Nashville to take a bite of their simple yet mouthwatering hot chicken breast sandwich, served with seasoned fries, ketchup, and pickles. You have to taste hot chicken just one time and Prince’s is absolutely hands down the place to go.


Posted in food, hattie b's, hot chicken, mcdougal's, music city, nashville, prince's, top 3 | Comments Off on A Lil Taste of Nashville’s Top 3 Hot Chicken Joints

Your Guide to a Green Thanksgiving

my first vlog entry! some tips on how to enjoy a cruelty-free (or limited) Thanksgiving. happy thanksgiving y’all!


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PLACES: Pluto Is (kind of) Like My Junior High Experience


This Tuesday, I had the privilege of attending a lecture given by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson at Vanderbilt. (…And by privilege, I mean I waited in 38-degree weather with about 200 other people for an hour. But it was worth it!)

In case that name means absolutely nothing to you (don’t be embarrassed – I didn’t know who he was either before this week), he’s the guy who officially demoted Pluto.




Ah, Pluto! My favorite little dwarf planet (it prefers “little people planet,” please). I remember the fateful day in 2006, the first day of 8th grade for me – gotta love them awkward years – when dearest Pluto was stripped of its honors as the ninth planet in our solar system. I’ve always been small in stature myself and Pluto was that one planet with which I could connect. Apparently I wasn’t alone. Tyson himself wrote a novel entitled The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet.

Now, I’m not about to call the awkward junior high phase  “America’s Favorite School Years.” But I will admit that there are some striking similarities between this little person planet and my middle school experience.

Firstly, as Tyson pointed out in his very entertaining lecture, while Pluto’s demotion was mourned by all, “Pluto’s happier now!” “Pluto is now a big fish in a little pond,” Tyson stated.

I attended a small, Christian private school from 2ndgrade through 8th grade. My graduating class was the largest in the school’s history: 28 people. Whoa there! Gettin’ crazy. I was the class artist, one of three musicians, and, well, everyone was the class brainiac (SRVCA was pretty nerdy back in my day).
I’m going to take a minute to brag here: the same year Pluto got kicked out of the solar system, I won 1st prize in the 8th grade science fair.  My project was about how fast different chocolates melted depending on their percentage of cocoa. True confession time: I did the entire project the night before. Take that, teachers! And I now hate science. (I’m an English major, dreading the physics lab Vanderbilt requires me to take next semester).
I was a big fish in a 28-person pond. Pluto was once 1 of 9 planets. Now it’s 1 of only 5 dwarf planets in our solar system!

Next, the majority of the time that the scientific world has known about Pluto’s existence, it was thought to be something it’s not. Discovered in 1930, Pluto was originally classified as another planet in our solar system. I’m not really a numbers person, but here’s how I got to that conclusion:
            2006 – 1930 = 76 years
            It’s been 6 years since 2006, so we’ve known about Pluto for 82 years.
            76 years of incorrect assumption / 82 years of known existence = 92% (majority)

For the majority of the time that the world has known about my existence, I was expected to be a math/science kid. Growing up, I dreamed of being an architectural engineer or a cardiovascular surgeon (Imagine my mom’s enthusiasm when I announced I wanted to be a writer and a musician!) Born in 1993, Emma was originally expected to continue with her trajectory of advanced mathematical and scientific thinking.
            I changed my mind in 8th grade (just like Pluto!), so
            2007-1993 = 14 years
            It’s been 5 years since 2007, so I’ve been alive for 19 years.
            13 years of incorrect assumption/ 19 years of known existence = 74% (majority)

Thirdly, there is decreasing discussion of Pluto. Nobody really wants to talk about the little planet anymore. Teachers won’t tell their students about it in the same way they did back in the day because it is no longer a major point of the solar system. And for many Americans, it is undoubtedly still a sore subject (I can tell you first hand that there were numerous outbursts from frustrated Pluto-activist audience members on Tuesday).

Let’s be real: nobody really wants to dwell on the memories of junior high years. It was awkward. Voices got squeaky, people grew (or didn’t), the cool kids hung out at the mall, your mom had to drive you on “dates,” and, worst of all, dances were awful and weird.  There are those occasional moments in the rest of life when you reminisce on the horrors of middle school, which everyone who’s ever been 12 has inevitably encountered. But that’s it.

There is one final way that all of our junior high experiences are like Pluto. One of the most fascinating things that I have ever learned about space is that when you look out into space, you are literally looking into the past (yes, that inspirational scene in “The Lion King” is actually Simba’s dad talking to him from the past). This is because of the time that it takes light to travel; essentially, this conundrum means that we are looking at old light. While Pluto is not that far away from us, so its light we perceive in telescopes isn’t that old, it is still in the past.

And aren’t we all grateful that statement is also true of our middle school dances?


Oh yikes, buddy. 


Happy Thanksgiving!  


(Just in case you're still in the hell that is junior high, this is for you - ignore everything it says. Lies.)

Posted in awkward, environment, junior high, middle school, PLACES, Pluto, social norms | Comments Off on PLACES: Pluto Is (kind of) Like My Junior High Experience

PLACES: Pluto Is (kind of) Like My Junior High Experience


This Tuesday, I had the privilege of attending a lecture given by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson at Vanderbilt. (…And by privilege, I mean I waited in 38-degree weather with about 200 other people for an hour. But it was worth it!)

In case that name means absolutely nothing to you (don’t be embarrassed – I didn’t know who he was either before this week), he’s the guy who officially demoted Pluto.




Ah, Pluto! My favorite little dwarf planet (it prefers “little people planet,” please). I remember the fateful day in 2006, the first day of 8th grade for me – gotta love them awkward years – when dearest Pluto was stripped of its honors as the ninth planet in our solar system. I’ve always been small in stature myself and Pluto was that one planet with which I could connect. Apparently I wasn’t alone. Tyson himself wrote a novel entitled The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet.

Now, I’m not about to call the awkward junior high phase  “America’s Favorite School Years.” But I will admit that there are some striking similarities between this little person planet and my middle school experience.

Firstly, as Tyson pointed out in his very entertaining lecture, while Pluto’s demotion was mourned by all, “Pluto’s happier now!” “Pluto is now a big fish in a little pond,” Tyson stated.

I attended a small, Christian private school from 2ndgrade through 8th grade. My graduating class was the largest in the school’s history: 28 people. Whoa there! Gettin’ crazy. I was the class artist, one of three musicians, and, well, everyone was the class brainiac (SRVCA was pretty nerdy back in my day).
I’m going to take a minute to brag here: the same year Pluto got kicked out of the solar system, I won 1st prize in the 8th grade science fair.  My project was about how fast different chocolates melted depending on their percentage of cocoa. True confession time: I did the entire project the night before. Take that, teachers! And I now hate science. (I’m an English major, dreading the physics lab Vanderbilt requires me to take next semester).
I was a big fish in a 28-person pond. Pluto was once 1 of 9 planets. Now it’s 1 of only 5 dwarf planets in our solar system!

Next, the majority of the time that the scientific world has known about Pluto’s existence, it was thought to be something it’s not. Discovered in 1930, Pluto was originally classified as another planet in our solar system. I’m not really a numbers person, but here’s how I got to that conclusion:
            2006 – 1930 = 76 years
            It’s been 6 years since 2006, so we’ve known about Pluto for 82 years.
            76 years of incorrect assumption / 82 years of known existence = 92% (majority)

For the majority of the time that the world has known about my existence, I was expected to be a math/science kid. Growing up, I dreamed of being an architectural engineer or a cardiovascular surgeon (Imagine my mom’s enthusiasm when I announced I wanted to be a writer and a musician!) Born in 1993, Emma was originally expected to continue with her trajectory of advanced mathematical and scientific thinking.
            I changed my mind in 8th grade (just like Pluto!), so
            2007-1993 = 14 years
            It’s been 5 years since 2007, so I’ve been alive for 19 years.
            13 years of incorrect assumption/ 19 years of known existence = 74% (majority)

Thirdly, there is decreasing discussion of Pluto. Nobody really wants to talk about the little planet anymore. Teachers won’t tell their students about it in the same way they did back in the day because it is no longer a major point of the solar system. And for many Americans, it is undoubtedly still a sore subject (I can tell you first hand that there were numerous outbursts from frustrated Pluto-activist audience members on Tuesday).

Let’s be real: nobody really wants to dwell on the memories of junior high years. It was awkward. Voices got squeaky, people grew (or didn’t), the cool kids hung out at the mall, your mom had to drive you on “dates,” and, worst of all, dances were awful and weird.  There are those occasional moments in the rest of life when you reminisce on the horrors of middle school, which everyone who’s ever been 12 has inevitably encountered. But that’s it.

There is one final way that all of our junior high experiences are like Pluto. One of the most fascinating things that I have ever learned about space is that when you look out into space, you are literally looking into the past (yes, that inspirational scene in “The Lion King” is actually Simba’s dad talking to him from the past). This is because of the time that it takes light to travel; essentially, this conundrum means that we are looking at old light. While Pluto is not that far away from us, so its light we perceive in telescopes isn’t that old, it is still in the past.

And aren’t we all grateful that statement is also true of our middle school dances?


Oh yikes, buddy. 


Happy Thanksgiving!  


(Just in case you're still in the hell that is junior high, this is for you - ignore everything it says. Lies.)

Posted in awkward, environment, junior high, middle school, PLACES, Pluto, social norms | Comments Off on PLACES: Pluto Is (kind of) Like My Junior High Experience

Write High and Edit Sober

Hey there literature lovers,

Guess what? Last week Colorado and Washington legalized recreational marijuana use. I bet you knew that already.

Whether you agree with the new laws or not, the precedent of substance-inspired prose was set a long, long time ago….


Posted in Authors, denis johnson, drugs, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, fiction, Hunter S. Thompson, jesus' son, Life, Literature, marijuana, writing | Comments Off on Write High and Edit Sober

Election Results!

In case you’ve been on Pluto with Future for the last few weeks, let me give you a recap on some of the highlights of the 2012 Election:

  • Barack Obama won the presidency (and not only did he win, but he also he won all but one swing state).
  • Tammy Baldwin became the first openly gay person elected to the Senate.
  • Mazie Hirono became the first Buddhist elected to the Senate.
  • Tulsi Gabbard became the first practicing Hindu elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • Maine, Maryland and Washington voted to permit same-sex marriage.
  • Minnesota voters rejected a ban on same sex marriage.
  • Colorado and Washington voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

From the results of the election, it is obvious that our country is becoming more diverse and more accepting.  People from different races, religions, and sexual orientations are becoming leaders in our country.  Social “norms” are being broken and redefined to give people rights that they deserve. Bill O’Reily even claims that the “white establishment is now the minority.”  Although this is far from the truth, America’s traditional values are changing.  And this change could be great for the hip hop community in many different ways. Based on the results of the election, if America continues with the amazing growth and change I think that hip hop will also change for the better, becoming more accepting itself and become accepted as an influential genre.

If you’ve been reading my posts, you’d know that the legalization of marijuana has been a topic that I’ve covered. And yep you heard right, weed has been legalized for recreational use in Washington and in Colorado.  When I wrote my post about weed and hip hop a few weeks ago, I never thought something like this would happen so soon.  In fact, in my first draft I wrote, “Marijuana will probably not be legalized anywhere in the U.S. anytime soon.”  Boy was I wrong, but what does this really mean? And what effects will it have on hip hop?  People look down on hip hop because of its drug related content and a lot of this content is in reference to marijuana.  If marijuana becomes recognized more as a recreational drug similar to alcohol or tobacco, the marijuana content in hip hop might become more acceptable.  Minorities who have been disproportionally affected by the criminalization of marijuana will be relieved of this burden.  This includes many rappers and hip hop artists including Wiz Khalifa, T.I., Nelly, Soulja Boy, Rick Ross, Lil Scrappy, Snoop Dog, DMX, Jadakiss – the list could go on and on – who have been arrested for possession and use of marijuana.  If marijuana ever becomes legalized and accepted on a federal level, it will protect the reputation of the artists and the art of hip hop.

             In a previous post, I wrote about how Frank Ocean’s bold move to publically announce that he is bisexual could change the face of hip hop.  As the nation becomes more accepting of homosexuality, hopefully hip hop will too.  Same sex marriage is currently legal in nine states and the District of Columbia, but it is still a hot topic around the country just as Frank Ocean who is openly bisexual is accepted in the hip hop community, heterosexuality isn’t a complete norm.  Just as America is and has been dominated by straight white males, hip hop is and has been dominated by straight black males.  In both cases it’s going to be hard to break the stereotypes that have been reinforced for years, but both America and hip hop are taking strides to change.

            America and hip hop are simultaneously changing. What happens in American politics can have big effects in hip hop as seen above.  Hip hop is not just a music genre- it’s a lifestyle, community, art form and so much more that changes and grows just as the country changes and grows.  As America becomes more accepting of things and ideas outside of the norm, I believe hip hop will become regarded as more than music that degrades women and badly influences the youth, but instead a respectful art form. 

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