Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Feculent Mall

This one is for Molly who, years ago, dubbed the old Crestwood Mall as "The Feculent Mall."  After being impressed that she not only knew the word, but also its Latin origin, I concluded that it was a rather snooty assignation from a young Pardon-Me-While-I-Go-To-The-Galleria gal.  As a non-mall goer, I was not really in a position to nullify her judgment...but in earlier years, I had whiled away some long days with toddlers in the Food Court and roaming around the wide open spaces, so I had some emotional ties to the place that I didn't want taken away. 
Turns out, The Prescient Molly saw the handwriting on the wall.  Either that, or she spread the "f" word around town and single-handedly ruined their commerce.  After a painfully long and slow migration, the mall officially closed its doors last month.  Photographer Dan Wampler has assembled a massive set of photos that present a "Beautiful Ruin."  (OK...technically they're a form of digital art and not straight up, honest-to-goodness photographs, but nevertheless...)    He saw more beauty in this dead, empty, lifeless place than I ever saw in it when it was alive and active.   I can't help thinking that the curators of The City Museum should come and rescue a few of these artifacts and work their magic with them.   
Here are 10 of Wampler's 103 impressive images. 


Follow this link to peruse the entire set in high resolution: 

(HT: Josh Anderson)

Monday, August 26, 2013

Music Monday: The Civil Wars

In a fitting atmosphere of drama and angst, The Civil Wars highly-anticipated sophomore album, The Civil Wars, hit the airwaves this month.  I was hoping to be half as enthralled with this album as I had been with their first full-length recording, Barton Hollow.  The retention of the soulful, talented, and renowned Charlie Peacock as producer, led me to expect a similar offering. 

At the risk of alienating die hard fans (of which I was one of the first!), I'm sorry to say I am singularly disappointed.  After streaming the album in its entirety several times over the span of a couple weeks (to give it time to grow on me), I have no intention of purchasing this recording. 
I wonder if I had been given the opportunity to hear it apart from the context of relational drama between the duo, if I would have heard things differently.  I don't think I would.  The elements that I found so compelling on Barton Hollow are simply missing.  I've attempted to quantify and articulate what has been lost from then until now:
1.  JOY - Barton Hollow's tunes and lyrics were often serious and weighty, yet the album exuded joy, playfulness, and an energy that seems entirely absent from the latest offering.  From This Valley is one of my favorite of their live performances, but even that track is lackluster.  Listen to this live performance, then gauge it against the recorded version. 
2.  PURITY - John and Joy's scaled-back acoustic sound has been replaced by synthesizers, whining electric guitar, and track 4 (Dust to Dust) has a distinct musak quality that completely negates the potential power of the lyrics.  Both John and Joy's vocal capabilities are masked by the over-wrought, over-produced instrumentation.  Compare that sound to this stripped-down version of the first song they wrote together (and the one that was the catalyst for my falling in love with their music):

3.  HONESTY - This album is almost absurdly angst-ridden.  The first had a raw honesty in the lyrics and even in the emotionally-compelling, pleading vocals, but this one drips with what feels like false, staged, overly-intentional, affected emotion.   Joy's voice dominates and is a primary factor in the "join us in our misery" feeling.   Two people who are not even speaking to one another cannot...CANNOT...make exceptional music together.
I don't know whether their separation from one another is the result of a petty squabble or legitimate irreconcilable differences.  Joy is quick to talk publicly about the silence between them in seemingly honest, yet measured, ways...which could result from authenticity OR from a desire to capitalize on the drama to boost curiosity, publicity, and sales.  Meanwhile, John Paul appears to be lurking reluctantly in the shadows...either remaining wisely quiet about the dispute OR else indulging in a hearty pout.  I don't know.  All I DO know is that the breaking of their relationship has affected more than the two of them personally.  Part of their appeal was the chemistry between them which undoubtedly contributed to their musical cohesiveness.  The rift distorted their creativity, despite Joy's belief that it produced it, and I can tell you that at least one fan and hearty proponent feels the loss.

Friday, August 16, 2013

For Want of Wit

Note to self: vigorously avoid all criminal behavior that might lead to solitary confinement.

Apparently, I am one of those delicate souls who was not cut out to endure the rigors of long hours with no companions besides hunger, cold, and sleep deprivation.   I am no Corrie Ten Boom (as if you and I didn't already know that...). 
At 6pm last night I found myself locked in a 4' x 10' hallway that leads from our office to the bathrooms.  Everyone else had already left for the day, not only from our office but from the adjoining offices as well.  It took about 2.3 seconds to assimilate the reality that I was going to be in that hallway for 14 or 15 hours. 
My immediate reaction was to plead with God to send someone back to the office to retrieve something they had forgotten.  After about 3 minutes sitting on the cold tile and realizing that, rather than absorbing any of my body heat, it simply transferred its chill into my bones, I decided to take things into my own hands.
In my mind, I instantaneously morphed into the female incarnation of MacGyver.   I am resourceful!  I will not be stuck in here all night.  I WILL find a way out.  First, I hauled a not-so-sturdy cabinet out of the bathroom and climbed onto it...in my handy dandy pencil skirt (feel free to be impressed)...removed one of the ceiling tiles only to discover that above that drop ceiling was...a REAL and SOLID ceiling.  A cruel trick, if you ask me, but there it was. 
I was not going to be that easily deterred!  My next attempt was to disassemble the sink faucet for a "tool" that would allow me to carve a hole in the drywall so I could reach through and unlock the door...I figured it would be worth footing the repair bill.  Needless to say, that didn't work either.
I proceeded to forcefully and successfully extract the access card sensor from the wall, hoping that if I severed a wire, the alarm would trip and someone would come to investigate.   Since the alarm hadn't been set for the night, that effort was to no avail.  Either that, or I didn't sever the right wires.
As my options dwindled, I began accepting my dilemma and plotting how I was going to get through the night.  I did get through with my sanity intact by:
*   Wrapping my freezing cold legs in layers of toilet paper, mummy style
*  Layering paper towels on the cold tile for a "bed" (a complete failure in shielding me from the cold tile!)
*   Singing through the Trinity Hymnal
*  Doing my leg exercise routine
*  Singing through the Genevan Psalter
*  Doing my arm exercise routine
*  Singing through the Coverdale Anglican Psalter
*  Playing hopscotch on the perfectly placed tiles
*  Singing through Les Mis and Phantom of the Opera
*  Walking the space in figure 8's
*  Reciting every poem I've memorized since I was a wee child
Finally, I gathered a host of paper towel packs and built myself a REAL mattress that kept me off those cold tiles...and I slept.   Sort of...in fits and starts, with additional heat-inducing physical exertion in my wakeful moments (lunges, pushups, jumping jacks...yes...all in my lovely and versatile, handy-dandy pencil skirt). 
This space is isolated in the middle of the building without natural light, so I had no way of marking the passage of time...until 5:30am when my I-phone alarm clock began going off...behind the locked office door.  I had been telling myself it was probably only about 3am, so that was a welcome sound...ONLY 3 HOURS LEFT!  I cleaned up my "mattress" and "blankets" so no one would see how ridiculously I had made it through the night, but that meant I had to stand, walk, and squat for the final 3 hours. 
By the time my "rescuer" showed up, I was shivering and aching from head to toe...BUT I WAS SANE.  Well, at least equally as sane as I had been at 6pm last night and that felt like an accomplishment to me!  What a wimp.  Imagine if it had been a Friday night!  I think perhaps that would have irreversibly altered my psyche.
I looked my More-Than-A-Little-Amused-Though-Not-Entirely-Unsympathetic Boss in the eye and declared, "I'm cold, I'm hungry, I'm tired...and I'm going home!"
I was decidedly more thankful for the car heater and bun warmers this morning than I've ever been before and I intend to spend the rest of the day soaking up sunshine until I'm warm down to the bones.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Different Take on Social Justice

Yesterday, I linked to a post written by a young man with Down syndrome who offered his simple, yet profound outlook on his life.  It was beautiful.  You can read it here if you missed out. 
Today, I am posting the article written by his brother.  It is eloquent and equally as profound. 
The grandest and most spectacular acts of social justice often seem to occur in foreign lands and involve the improvement and preservation of thousands of lives, but the most meaningful act of social justice in my own life occurred much closer to home. It succeeded in saving the life of only one.
Some 17 years ago my parents were confronted by a physician who wanted to discuss the fate of a soon-to-be-newborn baby. It had recently been discovered that this baby would be born with Down syndrome, and the physician assured my parents that there was still time to abort. Today it is estimated that 60 percent to 90 percent of babies with Down syndrome are aborted, but for my parents this was never an option. My younger brother Joey was born on Aug. 9, 1995.
Reflecting on this act of social justice invokes a reflection on the importance of not only my brother’s life, but of the right to life itself. When my parents chose life for Joey, they knew that many trials and challenges lay ahead, but they were able to embrace the possibility of difficulty and accept whatever God had in store for them. They could not have foreseen the immense love and joy Joey’s presence would create in our family and our community in the coming years. Living and growing up with Joey has given me a rare perspective on the value of life. Over the years I have watched him sculpt the very foundation of our family into one of profound patience and tolerance, and he continues to influence the way I interact with others inside and outside the family. He is a testament to the effects of social justice, and I cannot imagine the void that would be left in my own life if my parents had not recognized the value of Joey’s.
The invariable aspects of human-kind define who we are as a people, but the unique and subtle differences by which we are individually defined make us who we truly are. As I reflect on how much Joey has changed the way I see the world, it saddens me to think of all those whose differences not only cost them their lives, but also the opportunity to change the lives of others. Without diversity our world would be stagnant and our thoughts without purpose, for it is often through our differences that we are able to enrich the lives of those around us. While it is true that my parents’ act of social justice saved the life of only one person, it served to transform the lives of countless people in my community, whose world would be a little less bright, less full, were it not for Joey.
- The National Catholic Review

Monday, August 12, 2013

Musical Monday: The Staves

I pointed you to The Staves back in January 2012, but their more recent recording, Dead & Born & Gone, merits another mention.  If you like The Wailin' Jennys or Red Molly, you won't be disappointed with The Staves.  These gals sometimes incorporate an unexpected modern flare into their songs that is reminiscent of The Roches.  Listen and enjoy!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


When You Are Old
by William Butler Yeats
 When you are old and gray and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep.
 How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.
 And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face among a crowd of stars. 

"Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it."

Photo creds: Tom Hussey

Monday, August 5, 2013

Music Monday: Jay & Molly Ungar

This album, with the Ungar/Mason folk duo and flutist James Galway, is easy and pleasant from start to finish.  This piece, A Roving on a Winter's Night, is representative of the album: A Song of Home - An Irish-American Musical Journey.