Writer’s block.

It’s easy to retreat into a crab shell existence. Work is eight hours a day of sitting in front of a computer, answering a phone, enduring the berating of the entitled and the sob stories of the hopeless. Halfway through the day, I have my “lunch” break, when I invariably restore myself with a cup of coffee and some reading if I have no pressing errands to run. My commute is roughly forty minutes each way on a good day, but when anything from a one to ten minute gap between trains during rush hour is considered “good service,” there are rarely good days. I’m away from home roughly eleven hours a day if I go straight back to my apartment, and combined with the onslaught of polar vortexes, Netflix looks pretty damn tempting to fill the three or so hours before I try to sleep.

Lately I’ve noticed that I’ve suffered a fit of writer’s block. I’ve put off writing reviews until they pile up (perhaps the fault of Netflix and binge mentality, or my desperate attempts to finally get through tv shows like “Breaking Bad”). I’ve left stories in the brainstorming phase and told myself that I just had to wait for the right inspiration, the right mood music, the right shower that would bestow upon me all of the ideas lacking.

Mostly, though, I’ve found myself abandoning writing here, because I have had that obnoxious voice in my head insisting You have nothing interesting to say. The logical part of me knows this is silly on multiple levels, because the people likely to read this are friends who would read just about anything (thank you for being supportive), and if people abandon reading something, it’s not like I will know. But the longer you go without sharing a word, the harder it gets. The more you want to be perfect.

Winter’s probably the most stressful time for that sensation. We’re cooped up in our homes, sick of the cold and snow and ice and bullshit, but it’s still early enough in the year to feel the pressure of new year, new you, new regrets! Some stores already have bikinis out. The 14 Street-Union Square subway station is plastered in advertisements for Macy’s right now, with each inelegant, hideous, monochrome outfit draped over the slender, bored models with care. The only common theme seems to be that the poor girls are swamped in cloth, which doesn’t seem to matter since the crop tops show off their perfectly toned abs. (I accidentally wrote “ads” at first. Freudian slip.)

The other day I thought it would be an interesting experiment to write down every ad I saw out in the world. New York probably bombards more eyes than most, Internet aside. What did I discover? Well, that I forgot to look. I am so used to seeing naked people running on the beach (Equinox), women posing in lingerie (Chicago), and insistence upon change in order to love oneself (YMCA) that I no longer take it in consciously, intelligently. I absorb these messages, and many of them intrinsically make me feel like shit about myself. I spent more time looking at ads in a day than I do at my own face or words, and that is an alarming setup for self-sabotage, a need to retreat into the fiction that’s already been provided for me.

So this is my attempt to find the words again. To spend more time with my voice and build it up, to push back against the negativity of winter. I joined a gym for $10 a month, and even though I only go a couple of times a week, I am sure I will have stories to share, like how all the women who change directly in the locker room seem to wear thongs and nothing else for underwear. My friend Allison and I are trying to co-write a crime novel of sorts, and I will spend more time actually working on that rather than obsessing over who/what The Yellow King is in “True Detective” (aka the best show on television right now, making me a firm believer in the McConaissance). I entered a writing contest and had to write a romantic comedy about a limousine driver and “anger,” so I may share that when I inevitably fail to make it to the next round (not because I think I suck since I’m so rusty, but because I’m kind of a dude and have no idea how to rom com).

But most importantly, I’ll cut myself some slack. After all, the Oscars are Sunday, and that requires wine-infused hate-watching.

Short Story: Blood.

I’m sorry I haven’t posted any fiction in a while. NaNoWriMo was a very, very rough draft this year, so you were all spared those words. This is the first story I’ve finished since November. I was driven to write this after the atrocity that was the Bonnie and Clyde “television event” that consisted of lies that only made their story more boring. Stephen King has a fascinating novella called “1922” that has a brief but memorable depiction of a couple on the run, and I wanted to know more about them. Also, as I said in my recommendation of Tired Pony’s latest album, most of the songs, particularly “The Ghost of the Mountain,” stirred some plot in my mind. The influences meshed together in my mind to get me writing again, so there’s that little exercise for you. Enjoy!

Continue reading

Top Ten of 2013: Tired Pony.

1. Tired Pony – The Ghost of the Mountain

This is a surprise to absolutely nobody who knows me, I’m sure. I have a lot of friends who are fellow Snow Patrol fans, and their feelings on Tired Pony’s album vary. For me though, it hits all the right notes to be my album of the year.

As far as the music itself goes, I like that it’s a bit more experimental than The Place We Ran From. A track like “I’m Begging You Not To Go” can be delicate and acoustic, while “The Creak in the Floorboards” can have that ’80s-infused synth sound. Everything is rooted in melody, and all of the players on the album are talented enough that they can build an album full of ideas that are complementary enough to hold together.

On top of sounding good, the lyrics bring me back again and again. I suppose I am a writer, in the sense that I write things (like this blog), and I’m also an avid reader. I love the central conceit of these songs being about a couple whose past is steeped in blood and controversy. The title track reminds me of part of the Stephen King novella “1922,” in which a man becomes cursed after murdering his wife. His young son, who was his accomplice in the crime, impregnates his girlfriend and runs away with her, leading the pair to an ill-fated life of crime.

Of course, the plot isn’t laid out clearly, but I think that is to the music’s benefit. The story is as much in what is said as what’s between the lines, as questions are raised about love, madness, and longing. Being unapologetic fiction, the tale could go anywhere, and I look forward to any future chapters.

Top Ten of 2013: Editors.

2. Editors – The Weight of Your Love

I’ve been into Editors for roughly eight years, which surprises me as I just now did the math. Back in those experimental days of college, I’d snatched my heart back from Interpol and given it over to Bloc Party, and I was expanding my post-punk revival horizons. “Munich” and “Blood” were my jams. The Back Room was perfect, and then An End Has a Start stood on the shoulders of that record to become even better. And then In This Light and on This Evening came along, and I didn’t care for it as much. I wavered.

And now here they are with The Weight of Your Love, shrugging off the synths and sounding like themselves again. This isn’t about going back to their roots or rejecting their previous album so much as expanding to make some really fucking good rock tunes. “A Ton of Love” has such strong R.E.M. vibes that I was surprised from the first note. Tom Smith has an incredible, deep voice, but to hear him go falsetto on songs like “What Is This Thing Called Love” is a delight, especially when he shifts his pitch back down, going from vulnerable to strong as ever. Goosebumps. I find everything about this album compelling, from the music to the lyrics to the gorgeous artwork that pairs with the record and each single.

Sometimes you just need a band to sound like a group of guys playing instruments to remember the magic of how simple the essence of music is. To me, Editors are transcendent.

Top Ten of 2013: Foy Vance.

3. Foy Vance – Joy of Nothing

I’ve been a big fan of Foy Vance for years. I dragged friends to New York’s annual Craic Fest to see him, and when they were a little frightened by the first act, LaFaro (who rocked my face off, personally), I insisted they stay. Foy didn’t make it on the stage until about midnight, but wow. Worth the wait and then some. At this point, it had been years since his debut album had been released. It would be years until Joy of Nothing. He had nothing new to promote, no connections to shake down, and still he packed that room and sent people singing out into the streets in the middle of the night.

Joy of Nothing has a bit less of the overt soul and blues that Hope contained, but the tragedy and triumph have made their way into the lyrics instead. It’s almost strange to listen to this album because I’ve now seen the guy live a few times and have gotten used to the fantastic singalongs that mark his shows. (“Church without the boring shit,” as he once remarked.) “Guiding Light” in particular is a staple of his performances, lasting for minutes after he has left the stage and bid the audience goodnight. How could that possibly translate? Well, Ed Sheeran’s presence on the song gives it an air of audience participation, but his voice is also notably delicate. It’s clear he treats these words with respect. As should we all.

If you need further convincing, then here you go: Foy had the balls to ask Bonnie Raitt to be on his album. Singing backing vocals. Nicely done, sir.

Top Ten of 2013: Manic Street Preachers.

4. Manic Street Preachers – Rewind the Film

As a lady with a particularly liberal mindset, I went through a phase of really loving the hell out of Manic Street Preachers. These Welsh rockers were just the right amount of shouty, loud, glamorous rock with abrasive lyrics. Then I got a little mellower, Nicky Wire was a bit too much, and I just stopped paying attention.

Enter Rewind the Film. My God, what a beautiful album! The guest appearances of Lucy Rose, Cate Le Bon, and Richard Hawley accomplish that rare feat of enhancing a record rather than stealing the spotlight. Here these fearless rockers have allowed themselves moments of quiet, nostalgia, and even fear as they assess themselves in their middle age. There’s little aggression to hide behind, and that proves that the Manics have managed to build a legacy that will go beyond their politics. I signed up to review this album, and I am so glad I did. Each listen gives me a new insight and appreciation for my position in life.

This is an album for age. Allow yourself to feel older and wiser. Or less wise. To miss, to love, to lose. To know that there is much more ahead.

Top Ten of 2013: Lissie.

5. Lissie – Back to Forever

I don’t have anything against most pop music, but when it comes to my favorites, I like a bit more honesty. Building on folk and rock roots, Lissie isn’t afraid to take a bit of that pop in through her beats or keyboard embellishments while still staying true to her tequila-drinking, plaid-wearing, guitar-rocking self. Thank all of the gods you can name that there’s someone like her out there just being herself, as the song “Shameless” above so gracefully demonstrates.

Catching a Tiger, her debut album, came out when I was working for Nielsen writing trivia questions about British television ads. (Yes, I got paid for that.) At the time, Lissie was pretty big over there but not so popular here in her native land. Still, those thirty second clips were enough to inspire me to get into her music, and I’m glad I did. Back to Forever feels more cohesive and more about adult life than the nostalgia of her previous album. There are some real rock anthems (“I Don’t Wanna Go to Work” and “Cold Fish,” particularly), but there are also moments of extreme vulnerability. She’s a complex woman, and I think this album is a great demonstration of what that means in the modern age.

Also, on a purely personal level, I am so grateful for the song “Mountaintop Removal.” As a West Virginian by birth, I often feel that people ignore the problems in the state, particularly at the hands of the almighty mining industry. To hear an artist actually express concern in a song is incredible and moving. Rock on, Lissie.