So SO Much Better

VIVIAN: Elle, this isn’t some little sorority thing –

ELLE: Oh, I know, this is a big sorority thing.

This morning, I woke up to some of the most pleasing and surprising news I’ve heard in weeks.

The 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winners were announced: First, 60-year-old Indian child protection activist Kailash Satyarthi


Wait for it…

Pakistani education, childrens’, and human rights activist, terror attack survivor, and all-around hardcore take-no-prisoners chick

Malala Yousafzai. 

At age 17, she is the youngest Nobel Laureate ever.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Malala Yousafzai and Elle Woods together in the same sentence? Actually…looking at what I just typed, it is kind of weird. Kind of like that comic strip panel with the bikini girl and the burqa-clad woman passing each other on the beach. One is very real and one is very fictional, but both women stand up for their rights. Both represent the underdog, and fight tooth and nail with their words to get what they wanted. And what they got was more than they ever expected. They defied the odds and are indeed “so much better” than before.

I don’t want to share too many details of what happened to me this week that deterred me from posting too much, but suffice it to say that this victory for man(and woman)kind makes me put the petty issues going on in my own life into perspective. There are people out there – some real, some on our stages and our cinema screens – who deal with problems that involve more people than just themselves, or their immediate friends and family. There are problems out there that affect communities, cities, ethnicities, and even entire countries, yet living in the microcosm that we inhabit, we tend to ignore the seismic issues going on around us in favor of the unimportant phantom tremors of crap that make us roll our eyes, grit our teeth, and stamp our feet. As humans, we should all look out for one another, not as friends, not as relatives, but as members of the same species that deserve a chance at life, at love, and at happiness. We do not know how much longer we will be on this Earth, but we’re fucked if we continue to spend what time we have remaining using warfare to tear each other down, whether it be physical, virtual, verbal, or psychological. Genuineness and truth of the heart are values that our society suppresses, yet without our hearts we would not be able to function.

Literally. We would be dead.

So let’s learn from Malala, and Elle, and what the hell, Kailash Satyarthi too. Look at all they have accomplished, in less than 100 years of life, collectively. If we really put our hearts, minds, and spirits to it, think of it – we could live three times the lives we have, it terms of quality and output. We, too, could achieve greatness, reach our own goals, whatever they may be. Let’s spend our time wisely, loving, caring, and looking out for one another, opening our hearts to a greater good.

It is kind of a cool ironic twist. Just last year, I posted an entry with my thoughts on Malala and my hopes that she would win the Nobel Peace Prize. And now that it has indeed happened, that’s one more door opened, one more light turned on, one more ray of sunshine beaming down on the planet we call home.

Dear Malala: I don’t know what you’re doing right now, but I hope it looks (and feels) something like this:

(PS: Welcome, first visitor from Fiji. And yes, I did make that last gif myself, thankyouverymuch.


Ronnie in Retrospect, Part II

To those of you who didn’t read my previous post with this title, click here.

This doesn’t really fall under the category of book review, but after reading her book, I felt a kinship with Ronnie Spector.

I cheered for her when she had victories; I felt for her when she endured emotional pain, physical pain, mental anguish, and heartache. I’m not locked away in a mansion in the Hollywood hills, but in my normal life here in Madison, I tend to be my own prison guard and lock myself away from the world. Being alone has its positives: time to imagine, to reflect, to celebrate yourself, but if you’re not careful, the negatives can come out, leading you through dark paths and down steep slopes. When she had no audience, she turned inwards, which ultimately did more harm than good.

Mental illness is not an easy topic to talk or write about. Reading her words, however, made it seem more tangible and understandable. She writes about all the times she felt dark and all the circumstances that left her feeling that way. Though it was not discussed in depth, her sister Estelle also endured mental illness, of a different kind. It is fortunate that Ronnie was able to share these with the world; unfortunately, we’ll never read about the times and traumas of Estelle. I admire her search for herself, which continues to this day. She’s still got it, rockin’ and rollin’ all the way to the Hall of Fame as seen in her acceptance speech, but constantly navigating through the roles of musician, parent, friend, and person.

The biggest thing that I’ll take away from Ronnie Spector is the concept that you are not a bad person. She includes these words several times throughout her book. In times of failure, she asked God what she did wrong, citing her missteps and misfortunes: the downfall and breakup of the Ronettes, her attempts at a solo career, her failed marriage, her inability to conceive Phil Spector’s child, her failed attempt to reunite the Ronettes, and her troubled relationships with her family members. I would like to apply these words to myself.

Just like Ronnie said, despite my faults, my failures, my faux pas, and all the people who dislike me, I am not a bad person.

Oh, and be my little baby.



Dear Ronnie Spector,

Please come do a concert in Madison.

Baby I love you,



Let It Grow or Let It Go

As I opened WordPress on my iPad to start today’s (11:30 PM – crap) entry, the song to come through the earbuds amidst the chatter of the Saturday night crowd at Glass Nickel Pizza Co., is “Let It Go,” from Disney’s Frozen, AKA the best new song that everyone is (rightfully) going gaga over.

My Florida trip as well as the past 48 hours of being home without very much human interaction brought back my anxieties and fears, big time, preventing me from getting my work done (well, that and the fact that I left one of my textbooks in Florida and have to hunt down another copy at the library tomorrow). The usual fears; schoolwork, life, friendship. These are the anxieties that make me stare into walls, pick at a scab on my heel until it bleeds, pare my nails, and on the whole, take down my confidence.

Confidence is a tricky thing; it can help you reach your goals, but you shouldn’t have too much of it, only in moderation. Having a whole lot of inner confidence can help you shine on the outside, even when you don’t feel particularly positive. Knowing who you are, and what you love and why you love it, and allowing that feeling to emanate throughout your body, that’s true confidence and it’s tricky to achieve. Sometimes, people mistake a lack of outer effervescence for a lack of confidence or self-esteem, but sometimes you don’t need to assert yourself. It is okay to celebrate being you, because you are the best you that there is. When I doubt myself, it hampers my ability to function. But I just have to keep reminding myself to let it go, just like the song says, and focus on my power inside.

There’s a phrase that I heard somewhere along the line, what you focus on grows. It’s a corny phrase, and of course my dirty mind goes straight to the innuendo, but if you look at yourself in a better light, as a dreamer, a believer, a human…(now, “Under the Sea” is playing, so my thoughts are temporarily interrupted by singing sea creatures)..,okay, well the song’s not over yet, but grabbing back on to that previous train of thought, what you focus on does grow. The more I replay a scenario in my head, the bigger it gets. So if you just focus on being a good person, the positive attributes will grow and overpower the bad and sad thoughts, making them the plebeian, shoddily-made cloth finger puppets of your psyche rather than the complicated connections of bones, muscles, and tissues, that make up your essence as a puppet of your own design, controlled by all the processes that magically fit together to make a human being.

Taking a step back…sometimes that’s just what is necessary, to take a step back. Just today, A friend of mine posted a one-liner on Facebook that made me giggle, and I told myself “okay, I’ve gotta comment on this with a zinger.”

So I clicked.
And I thought.
And I waited for a thought to come to me.
And I started typing something…but then realized all the ways it could be misconstrued.
So I deleted it, and started typing something else…before retracting that.

Ultimately, I wasted about five solid minutes just staring at that dialogue box, “leave a comment” leering at me through the bared teeth of Facebook on iPad.

And I didn’t post anything.

Sometimes you don’t need to have your say on everything, mark your territory, get in the last word. If you have something to add, put it in focus and let it grow, or take a step back and let it go.

Exactly one post down was another keen observation made by another friend, and on that one, the appropriate response came to my mind fully formed, and took me mere seconds to post, without a second thought.

Now, that moment has come where I can’t think of anything more to say, so I’ll end this post for tonight with this message:

If you want to post a comment, do so, and let it grow.
If you’ve read this far and the moment doesn’t come to you, just press like and let it go.
I won’t be offended either way.


Care (Igan) for a Glass of (Lowder) Milk?

Today, for the first time, I looked upon these two faces through my computer screen, although I have been listening to what they’ve had to say for years.

So just who are this cheeky couple?

These are Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk. Most likely wonderfully fabulous alone, as a duo they are the stick of dynamite, the force that is…Kerrigan & Lowdermilk. (Oh, and by the way, Kerrigan’s on the right and Lowdermilk’s on the left. In case you were confused.

What do they do?

They write songs. Good songs. Great songs. Wonderful songs. Amazing songs.

Every generation has its pure pop songwriter duo. For my grandparents’ generation, it was Betty Comden and Adolph Green who set the trend from the musical theater angle, coming up with the music and lyrics for one of America’s most beloved musical films, Singin’ In The Rain, and one of the most underrated, On the Town. The sixties and seventies launched Gerry Goffin and Carole King, who are responsible for “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman” and other songs whose original versions are solid gold classics, and are probably known to most of my generation as the songs most butchered by contestants on American Idol. And before you say that pure pop classics written by boy/girl songwriting are so last century, look who just won an Oscar: Kristen Anderson-Lopez and her partner/husband/newest EGOT-club member Robert Lopez, whose “Let it Go” from the popular Disney film Frozen beat out U2, Karen O, and Pharrell Williams for the coveted Best Original Song. Which brings me back around to my original topic.

I first became aware of the Kerrigan-Lowdermilk songbook in Israel, when a friend of mine decided to sing a song from a little musical called Henry and Mudge entitled “My Party Dress.” The fact that my friend was perfect for the role notwithstanding, the song was intriguing in its music and hilarious in it’s lyrics. I haven’t found a version on YouTube that I like, but basically it’s about a girl who talks and talks and talks, with unintentional humor, so much so that you often forget what the song is about (hint: it’s in the title). Of course, I set about memorizing the lyrics, which I still know, four years later; in fact, I performed it one night to some friends just for fun.

Then I realized…could there be more where this came from?

And the answer: yes.

K & L have not only written musicals about awkward children’s books I barely remember, but also original musicals for contemporary audiences, with songs that could easily top the Billboard charts if given to someone like Demi Lovato or Lorde or Michael Buble as a single. There’s The Unauthorized Biography of Samantha Brown, which I don’t know that much about other than its basic plot structure, but that I realize I need to learn more of, as one song from it keeps coming back into my mind: “Say the Word.” It’s a lovely ballad that is just as easy to understand out of context as in, and also works great for either gender and really just about any age. I wouldn’t put it in its own Masterpiece YouTube segment or anything, because there’s not really a music video for it, but you should hear it any way.

If I didn’t have a million things due by tomorrow, I would walk you through their website, their karaoke page, or their YouTube channel. But you should do that, and then leave a comment on this page telling me which song or theirs is your favorite, or which one makes you smile, or simply which one gives you the feels. Because, undoubtedly, one of them will.

Do it. Do it right now.

Then come back and tell me how it was, so the next time my head is not full of papers-cake-dinner-proposals-dramaturgy-life, we can share the magic together.


More Realistic Motivational Statements

Let’s get real here: motivating yourself sucks.

Motivation is tough. It’s not even the fact that I’m a PhD student; it’s still so freaking cold outside that I need a mountain of motivation to get myself out of bed, fed, clad, and off the couch every day. I managed to move from bed to couch at around 11 AM, but didn’t even leave the apartment until 5 PM. Granted, it was hovering around 0 degrees for most of the day, but I could’ve gone to the gym or something. Instead, I watched all the YouTubes, did all the crossword puzzles, watched blog stats, played Word Strips, and finally spent 2-3 hours agonizing over a dramaturgy project like a maniac before leaving the house to get Target and food.

Thursdays are always like this: I go to bed the night before thinking that I will get started on things on Thursday and not put them off until Sunday night. I spend the majority of Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday doing anything but work (social, tv, even cleaning the apartment), and then freak out Sunday night as I attempt to read several hundred pages while I hate myself for having wasted 4 days. Monday through Wednesday are pure torture as I spend every free waking moment working or worrying, only to breathe a sigh of relief on Wednesday night, promise myself I’ll do better next week…and then the cycle continues.

So far, I’ve only wasted about 70% of the day; I read and took notes on half a chapter for Monday. PROGRESS.

Motivational quotes are all over my Facebook feed, and they’re all just, so, trite. So, in a vain attempt to be creative on a frosty brain that is resisting the urge to resist doing work, here’s a list of realistic motivational statements.

20 Totally Made Up Realistic Motivational Statements/Suggestions/Stuff/Things

  1. This one is from my dad – the best way to confront a crisis is head-on. Except if that crisis is a speeding car coming in your direction.
  2. Don’t tear out your hair; nature will do that for you.
  3. Nobody is grading how clean your apartment is, so cleaning it can wait. Unless you’re having it shown, in which case, clean like a crazy person for 30 minutes. You will feel so much better, and ready to work after a short break.
  4. Shakespeare didn’t write all of his plays in one sitting, you don’t have to either.
  5. If it’s on TV, chances are it’ll be on again. If not, it’ll be on the Internet. If it’s really important, like the Olympics or the Oscars, just wait for the BuzzFeeds, they’ll edit out the boring parts.
  6. If you actually get stuff done, you’ll be able to concentrate on beating that game and know that you earned that time.
  7. Move to a different spot on your apartment. You will be able to see yourself in a different light.
  8. Think of someone really successful. They are most likely slacking off right now, so if you do your work right now, you’ll be one-up on them in your own mind.
  9. You know how much you hate that person who’s gotten all their work done and is now bragging about it? Beat them to it. Works every time. And it’s even better when you tell that person “oh yeah, I just did nothing all day,” secretly knowing that you did, indeed, do the exact opposite.
  10. Pretend like there is a bomb in your apartment and if you can hit that “I’M DONE” button (aka “save” or “send”) before a certain minute/hour, the bomb will be destroyed and you will have saved the world. Yes, THE WHOLE ENTIRE WORLD. You’re Buffy.
  11. Make that an actual button. Have your mom/dad/sister/friend’s number programmed into your phone, and when you press “save” or “send” simultaneously press your phone and then tell them about it. But check the time first, and calculate time difference.
  12. Make dinner or a yummy treat and race against the oven timer to get your work done.
  13. So many amazing things were invented by unmotivated people. Think of how much you could do in a motivated state of mind.
  14. If you miss that TV show, there will be no consequences. There are always consequences to not finishing your work. Nobody likes the c-word.
  15. Tell yourself that if you don’t do your work, you will end up living in a dollar store shopping cart with an needle full of cocaine in your arm and stray, rabid cats licking your bare feet. That is a scary, scary thought.
  16. Think of someone who told you that you couldn’t do something. Do your work to spite them. Let hate fuel your rage, and channel that into doing your work.
  17. Heat up soup or make coffee or something, then challenge yourself to get something done before it cools. Cool = failure.
  18. Someone else, if given all the work that you have to do, would throw up their hands and call it a day. If you can even do a little bit of it, congrats – you’re not that person.
  19. Remember – somewhere else, someone is being arrested, being stoned to death, getting dumped, giving birth, getting divorced, getting a shot, starving, lost in the woods, locked their keys in their home/car, or has twice as much work as you. Revel in that for a moment, then do your work.
  20. Just fucking do it. Just go over there, not here, not on the couch, over to the desk, and fucking do it.

There’s Nothing from the Twenty-First Century

Yes, this is the line that Anna Kendrick says in Pitch Perfect after she looks at the Barden Bellas’ set list. I never thought I’d agree with that assessment, but I’m coming around to the idea.

 Anna Kendrick in Pitch Perfect Movie  Image #5

The twentieth century brought us Frank Sinatra, Elvis, the Beatles, the Supremes, and basically most of what we consider pop music today. As a child of the twentieth century who is growing increasingly scared of some of the strange music of the past 13 years, I’m tempted to just shake my cane at the whole industry. As I’ve started going to this ballroom dance class, I can’t help but imagine some contemporary pop songs as background music. “Somebody I Used to Know” would be a lovely contemporary accompaniment for the quickstep, and you could do a fantastic jive to “Cowboy Casanova.”

So, here’s a quick countdown of 10 songs from the 21st century that capture the essence of “contemporary,” “pop,” and “music,” and what makes them so great.

2003: Eminem, “Lose Yourself”

I wasn’t really aware of this song when it came out, but what I also wasn’t aware of was that this was the dawning of 2000s Eminem, vs. 1990s Eminem. 1990s Eminem was an angry, sadistic man, but in the 2000s, he started manning up, coming into his own as an artist and as a person. “Lose Yourself” was the first step, written and released for the movie 8 Mile in late 2002 but skyrocketed to popularity in 2003, coasting all the way to the 2004 Oscars and winning, the first rap song to achieve this feat. Before “Lose Yourself,” I was one of those “anything but country and rap” people but this song exemplifies R-A-P (rhythm and poetry) in its cascading verses and positive message.

What dance it would accompany: Solo – club jam or jazz. For a couple – not many, maybe a Viennese waltz or a reaaaaally energetic foxtrot? If I were to ever go into boxing, martial arts, bungee jumping, or gain superpowers, this would be my theme.

2004: Dido, “White Flag”

Dido’s been around for awhile, but “White Flag,” I feel, gained her a lot of mainstream fans up against the likes of Christina Aguilera (whom she lost out on the Grammy Awards to for “Beautiful,” another heartfelt slow song but a bit hackneyed and obvious) and Avril Lavigne (whose “I’m With You” was also nominated that year, but sounds better when anyone but Avril Lavigne sings it…there’s a Josh Groban version out there which is spellbinding). It has echoes of Sinead O’Connor’s classic angst anthem “Nothing Compares 2 U” but with less of a fatalistic outlook; its message is one of strength and resilience. The haunting cello makes an excellent counterpoint to the higher notes, and Dido’s voice is just angelic.

What dance it would accompany: Solo – ballet, modern. For a couple – perfect for a rumba or a waltz, but a tango would be intriguing. When I hear this song, for some reason, I think of a commercial for a jewelry line or a perfume or something with a lot of white and possibly fur.

2005: Shakira, “La Tortura”

At this point in her career, Shakira’s had some major English-language hits like “Whenever, Wherever” (which would make for a hot samba number) and “Underneath Your Clothes” (…yeah, I’ve got nothing) but “La Tortura,” a collab. with Alejandro Sanz, is the epitome of sexy and provocative Latino music but not quite Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights provocative. I’ve heard both the English and Spanish versions, and though the English version received more buzz, I’m more partial to Shakira singing in her native language. (Speaking of Spanish, bienvenidos to my first visitors from Peru, Chile, and El Salvador!) With “La Tortura,” Shakira provided a stepping stone for other Latino/a artists to break into mainstream American music, adding some much needed flavor, as most bubble-gum brands lose over time. Good job building bridges Shakira!

What dance it could accompany: Solo – jazz, belly dancing, flamenco. For a couple – what couldn’t it accompany? Salsa, cha-cha, samba, quickstep, an energetic waltz even. Definitely one of the sexier songs of the decade.

2006: Natasha Bedingfield, “Unwritten”

Ah, “Unwritten.” The song that I loved so much I made it part of my screen name. Both the American and UK music videos are amazing, and this song is just the most uplifting, stereo-over-the-head, positive songs I’ve ever heard. It’s not too difficiult to sing and makes a rather banal karaoke choice, but it just fills me with sunshine. I used to have a rule that if the song comes on the radio while I’m driving, I couldn’t change the station, and if it comes on my iPod, I couldn’t skip it. Those days are gone now, but it’s a replica of a simpler time, a better time. Wait – that was freshman year of college for me, so maybe I’m better in the present.

What dance it could accompany: This is the only song on the list that isn’t really a song to dance to, other than maybe the gospel side-to-side clap.

2007: Justin Timberlake, “LoveStoned”

“The One That Got Away” is a Katy Perry song, but it could probably be about Justin Timberlake. He is indeed the one that got away…from the 1990s boy band scene. Pretty much every mainstream 1990s group was yesterday’s news when the 21st century hit; N*SYNC, 98 Degrees, O-Town, Backstreet Boys, Hanson, and the Spice Girls just missed the boat, among many other smaller, forgotten groups, but other than Posh Spice (who only retained her fame by marrying David Beckham and just being generally gorgeous 24/7), only Justin Timberlake seems to have emerged unscathed. In fact, his career is getting better and better. No longer is he Britney’s ex with the awful hair; he’s a sex symbol, viral video star, and is a better actor/comedian than half the current SNL cast. Seriously, Lorne Michaels, just put him on the payroll. “LoveStoned” is not his biggest hit, and maybe not even his best hit, but it took him off the Bar Mitzvah circuit and onto the 21-and-over nightclub floor. The instrumentals plus Justin’s massive octave range blurs the line between teen heartthrob and dashing gentleman, two qualities that have made Justin Timberlake the star he is today.

What dance it could accompany: Solo – club jam, hip hop, breaking, something a la Fosse jazz. For a couple – salsa and cha-cha, most def., but could work for a quickstep, a foxtrot, or a tango.

2008: Leona Lewis, “Better in Time”

While we were suffering through country boys on American Idol, Simon Cowell was churning out stars across the pond, and Leona Lewis was one of them. Most people thought she’d be a flash in the pan, and in truth…she kinda was, and sounding very similar to Jordin Sparks didn’t help her case, but she had several hits, most of them severely overplayed (yes, I’m talking to you, “Bleeding Love”). “Better in Time” was an after-thought and underrated, a subtle response to “Bleeding Love,” in fact, I wasn’t even aware of it until much later. But it’s living proof that the torch song still reigns, and every time I hear it, I think the same thing: it does get better in time.

What dance it could accompany: Solo – nothing really, maybe some Martha Graham-esque modern. For a couple – anything slow, like waltz, rumba, or even quickstep. Apropos, Ms. Lewis has amazing hair.

2009: Jay-Z & Alicia Keys, “Empire State of Mind”

This unlikely but fantastic pairing set 2009 (and 2010) on fire with “Empire State of Mind (Part 1)” which some said was a response to Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” – or maybe the other way around. If this song had been around seven years earlier, I think it might’ve replaced the national anthem. This late-night tune celebrates the Big Apple, Jay-Z’s sometimes nonsensical rapping notwithstanding, but Alicia Keys provides killer vocals and the music video is stunning. Let’s hear it for New York!

What dance it could accompany: Solo – modern, or a slow club jam. For a couple – much like the previous entry, anything slow (waltz, rumba, quickstep). This song will always remind me of getting off the Chinatown bus on a solo trip to Manhattan (it was randomly playing on the bus’ radio at the time), and even more of the end of that trip, where my aunt got stuck in Midtown traffic and in order to make my bus back, I had to jump out of her car with my backpack and rolling suitcase, and run several blocks, including through Times Square, at sunset, and seeing the lights of Broadway brighten as I ran. I was out of breath, but managed to watch the remainder of the sunset from the bus window.

2010: Lena Meyer-Landrut, “Satellite”

2010’s hit is another trip over the Atlantic, but this time to Germany. Well, actually Oslo, Norway, aka the location of the Eurovision Song Contest in 2010. Long-described as a “musical trainwreck,” not many have made it out of Eurovision and enjoyed a lively career, with the obvious exceptions of ABBA, Katrina and the Waves, and Celine Dion. But 2010’s winner, German teenager Lena Meyer-Landrut (now known as just Lena) provided a refreshing pop treat with her rendition of “Satellite.” At first, I was disappointed, due to her winning over some of my personal favorites, Albania (Juliana Pasha, “It’s All About You”), Armenia (Eva Rivas, “Apricot Stone”), and of course Israel (Harel Skaat, “Milim”), but once I actually listened to the song, I was like…this is just precious. It straddles the line between adorable and obsessive, and is one of my favorites to do karaoke. It’s fun and bouncy and just so lovable. Surprisingly, even with her follow-up hit “Taken By A Stranger” (which got her close to winning Eurovision again the next year) and her cover of En Vogue’s “What A Man,” Lena hasn’t taken off here in America, and not even that much outside of Germany and its neighbors. Guess it takes a lot to overcome the Eurovision Curse.

What dance it could accompany: Solo – club jam, dance-around-in-your-underwear. For a couple – an energetic cha-cha, or a fun jive. I love you Lena, but you really need better PR people. If Ylvis, PSY, and One Direction could cross over, surely you can?

2011: Adele, “Rolling in the Deep”

Another song that kind of annoyed me when it first came out but then grew on me to the point where I will sing it in the shower at the gym (the acoustics of the tiles make it fill the space very nicely) and will not give you the pleasure of judging me. I’m too old for that, screw you, I do what I want when I want and it’s not hurting nobody. The previous year, Adele had begun her world takeover with “Chasing Pavements,” another song that kind of annoyed me, but like “Rolling in the Deep,” it grew on me. Even though she hasn’t released much new material other than “Rumor Has It,” “Someone Like You,” and “Skyfall,” what makes her fresh in my mind is her versatility. Her young voice has so much old-school soul, yet “Rolling in the Deep,”  “Skyfall,” and “Rumor Has It” are so different that it could very well be three different but equally talented singers. (sidenote – when I heard “Rumor Has It” for the first time, I did not know who sang it, but said “Adele would make an awesome cover of that one”…and then I found out that it was Adele. Whoops.) Adele is, as Christina Bianco correctly puts it, “the reigning British queen,” and many, like me, are anxiously awaiting her forthcoming album. Take that, Kate Middleton!

What dance it could accompany: Solo – not sure, I’ll go with modern. For a couple – something standard, like a quickstep or a Viennese waltz. Yeah, not much of a dance track, but there is never not a good time for this song.

2012: Kelly Clarkson, “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)”

The waitress from small-town Texas turned American Idol has arguably had the most successful career among her fellow alumni, along with Carrie Underwood and Jennifer Hudson. She suffered some career hiccups with the epic disaster of From Justin to Kelly and the poorly-chosen (but still popular) lineup for My December but came back to her sometimes lovable, sometimes frightening self with hits like “All I Ever Wanted” and “My Life Would Suck Without You.” “Stronger” has a rough,tough rock-n-roll appeal but also could be the soundtrack to an exercise class for moms. It defines “power anthem” without being too “girl power!” and that’s what makes it all the stronger. Good on you, Kelly.

What dance it could accompany: Solo – um, club jam, hip hop. For a couple – a fun salsa or cha-cha. Plus, the music video’s pretty neat and it’s just such an empowering song.

2013: Ariana Grande, “The Way”

Ariana Grande has been on my radar screen since 2010, when I was working on 13 The Musical in Israel, and had the soundtrack imprinted into my brain, a soundtrack that included vocals from a young and practically unknown Ariana Grande. After spending her teens with the gang at Hollywood Arts on Nickelodeon’s Victorious, Ariana spread her wings to fly solo. Not every baby bird can fly right off the bat, and she fell flat with the jokingly lame “Put Your Hearts Up,” which even she herself admitted should have never happened. But she got right back up with “The Way,” and with comparisons to Mariah Carey, took to the sky as more than a pop star wannabe but a vocalist with style and gymnastic ability not heard since the days of…well, Mariah Carey. The video ruffled some feathers for its not-so-squeaky-clean content, including a kiss, but in the grand scheme of music these days, it was relatively tame. I predict a long and successful career for Ariana Grande even if she is kind of annoying on Sam & Cat, her new Nick series which lacks the fun of Victorious and the maturity of iCarly.

What dance it could accompany: Solo – hip hop club jam, any day of the week. As a couple – seriously, just about anything fun and fast: salsa, cha-cha, rumba, samba, even a lively waltz.

I just spent about two and a half hours writing this. I clearly have my priorities in the right place.


אין סוף (Without End)

I normally wouldn’t do something like this, but something recently made me want to reread a book I’ve already read. I originally read it for a project for which I didn’t even end up using it, but it stuck in my mind all the same. I haven’t thought about this book for awhile, but when I remembered it, I knew I had to get a copy and read it again. Astonishingly, the library didn’t have it so I had to order it through ILL, and since it’s due tomorrow, I should probably write something about it now. It’s one of those hidden gems of literature that says little (90 pages, exactly) but says a whole lot. It’s a novella entitled Bubbeh by Sabina Berman.

I continued eating grapes and talking, mocking the congregation and their Amens, while laughing with amusement at my own cleverness, all with the same mouth, a mouth that was very big indeed that day. And my grandmother, absorbed in her own thoughts, continued putting the pieces of the broken plate together.

Suddenly I felt sad. I stopped talking. The water continued running out of the tap into the sink.

Finally my grandmother said: “Close your eyes.” I squeezed my lids shut.

“What do you see?”


“And in that nothing, do you see a light?”

I concentrated. Beneath my eyelids in that darkness something like a yellow and white dust shimmered, a light.

“Yes,” I said. “But I always see that.”


I thought. That light didn’t seem extraordinary in any way.

“Yes,” I said, “always.”

“Always,” my grandmother repeated. “Well, that light is God, and it has many names.”

– Sabina Berman, Bubbeh, page 30

Bubbehor La bobe in Spanish, is a first-person account of the author’s relationship with her grandmother, “bubbeh” (which means “grandmother” in Yiddish). This true story takes place in Mexico City in the 1960s, but Berman’s grandmother comes from the “old world” of WWII-era Eastern Europe.

We are introduced to the grandmother as a woman who “lived tidily,” in Berman’s words. So tidy, in fact, that she has committed suicide by drowning herself in the bathtub, thereby eliminating the need for a traditional body-washing. Backtracking, we see the author as a little girl, moving into her grandparents’ house alongside her newly-divorced mother. Berman uses this opportunity to uncover the secrets of this mysterious, ladylike woman, with a faith in God that is foreign to her. The generation gap between mother and daughter is quite clear, with Berman’s mother’s aggressive and abrasive nature clashing with the grandmother’s more reserved and traditional ways. The more time that Berman (and the reader) spends with her grandmother, the more and more we see the beauty of the grandmother’s reticence and her unshakable faith in God despite having survived the horrors of war alongside her husband. The grandmother says very little herself, preferring to be dutiful to her husband yet maintaining a queenly presence as she introduces the Sabbath and the Jewish holidays to the author. After the author describes her grandmother’s funeral, she returns to the opening image of her grandmother’s death, which takes the reader by surprise even though it was revealed at the very beginning.

What really moves me about Bubbeh is Sabina Berman’s style of writing. The text is translated from Spanish to English but the words are so smooth, you’d never know. The way that Berman catches every detail, all the colors of the room, each crease in her grandmother’s wrinkled face, provides a rich context and a place where you can settle in and embrace the simplicity of faith and familial love. The undertone of her grandfather’s taste for secrets and Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed adds a nice through-line that brings the story together, especially for the grandmother; although grandmother does not read and study like her husband does, she has some secrets of her own.

This story reminds me of my own mother’s mother, my grandmother Mimi. She was also a woman who spoke very little, especially in her Alzheimer’s-ridden final decade, in contrast to her own mother, who died shortly before I was born, whose outspoken nature made her the very image of a family matriarch. In contrast, my grandmother ruled with a different sort of nature; it would be incorrect to say “ruled,” as her equanimity (and unfortunately, failing mental state towards the end) kept her a silent queen, always present but not needing to make her presence known.

To most people, a person who prefers to keep things to herself is perceived as anti-social, cold, afflicted by either a deep sorrow or a negative attitude. But my grandmother was none of those things; she let her love for her children, grandchildren, and religion speak for her. In her younger days, she was a red-headed firecracker from New York City who traveled across the country between the wars to seek her fortune as an accountant in California, who always knew what she wanted and went for it. Upon marrying my grandfather and having children, this chapter of her life was completely shuttered; a locked file cabinet, never to be spoken of again. Even though she never lost her gleam, her luster, her zest for life, she concentrated all of her efforts on being a dutiful wife and mother. Like Berman’s grandmother, my own grandmother had a vast trove of secrets, some of which came out to my mother, and some only to me. Although after her death we found many artifacts of this life, we were unable to piece together a narrative; there were so many missing pieces. Some of my grandmother’s secrets are lost forever. I guess, in a way, by doing this, she cemented her reign in our lives and in our minds. She wanted us to have pleasant memories of her, as sweet, caring, and kind without fault. Without raising her voice or speaking her mind, she got her way, even after death.

My favorite passage is this one, on page 33-34.

I’m in the big bed, as fluffy as a cloud. A long, white bed. My grandmother covers me up to my chin with the goose-down comforter, and she sits down on the edge of the bed. The bedroom is in shadows.

My grandmother leans over to peer into my eyes. It’s an ageless moment. I’m eight years old, perhaps six or even four. Once more my grandmother becomes that tall woman whose profile extends upward, covering the cathedral’s golden clock. Her black eyes penetrating my eyes. Her face, as white as the moon’s reflection in a pond. The pond, my face, illuminated by her own. She passes her hand from my forehead down to my cheeks, half-closing my eyelids.

Her measured voice, distant and close at the same time: “Do you see that light?”

With her index and ring fingers, she taps the comforter on my chest. I hardly feel the pressure.

Yes, that greenish-white light, inside me.

Ayn sof,” she says, scarcely breathing the words.

Everything is like a secret. What my grandmother is now entrusting to me is, in face, a secret.

Ayn sof,” I reply very quietly.

Years later I will learn that Ayn sof means without end in Hebrew. It will take me even longer to fully comprehend that this is one of the names of God. I will be astonished at the simplicity with which my grandmother has asked me if I see that light and at the ingenuousness with which I answer simply, yes.

I will forever be curious about the things she didn’t tell us, things she didn’t leave clues to, and things she didn’t want us to know. Maybe someday, something will surface, but for now, these things – people, places, events, and how she really felt about them – are hers alone, her travel companions in the next stage. Sabina Berman’s Bubbeh is a testament to those lost memories and is something that should be treasured and read by anyone who is need of a reason to believe.

La bobe

This book review has been brought to you by the library of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the scary heavy winds outside.