Let It Snow

This week started off with the promise of a bang. Unless you were living under a rock in the desert, you heard the proclamations of doom, destruction, and Snowmaggedon that, as of Monday, were supposedly bearing down on New York and its Northeast environs with all the force of Westeros (Note: Ask Scout if that’s an appropriate use of that reference. Also: Finally get around to watching Game of Thrones so as to get those references myself.). Workers rushed home early, residents stocked up on storm essentials (read: Whole Foods ran out of kale). In the truest mark of an impending urban catastrophe, the subway was shut down and, horror of horrors, the mayor confirmed New Yorkers’ worst fears: Food delivery bicycles would not be included among the emergency vehicles allowed to roam the roads. No Seamless tonight.

Don't. Panic.

Don’t. Panic.

Now the South gets a bad rap for its inability to handle what my grandfather used to call “that funny white stuff.” Just saying the word “flurry” can send people stampeding to the grocery store, relieving the shelves of enough non-perishable goods to withstand a minor nuclear apocalypse. Stampede is perhaps not the right word, since the whirling flakes can also have the effect of wiping people’s brains of all knowledge of how to operate a moving vehicle. Traffic slows to a crawl as people grip steering wheels with knuckles as white as the precipitation dusting the grass. One word of snow, and life as the South knows it comes crashing to a halt: schools closed, appointments cancelled, families gathered together with flashlights and hot cocoa as the unthinkable inches threaten to engulf their lawns.

Now my experiences with snow below the Mason-Dixon line were rarely this frenetic. I can count on one hand the number of times winter weather forced things to justifiably shut down: the Memphis Ice Storm of 2000, the Louisville Blizzard of ’08. On all other occasions, while the rest of the city freaked out — in Memphis, even a forecast of possible flurries was enough to bring the city to a screeching halt — my family remained relatively serene. My parents both grew up intimately acquainted with that funny white stuff: my mom in the hills of Pittsburgh and my dad among the pines of New England. Even my grandparents, the very ones who would threaten to cancel a visit if the forecast promised snow and declare conditions freezing if the temperature dipped below 70, were not unequipped to deal with winter weather: After 17 years in Pennsylvania, they had simply had quite enough of it. My grandmother was never a fan to begin with. She spent her childhood happily snow free in Atlanta, and so missed out on all the childhood delights that typically convert kids to snow worshippers. By the time she experienced the stuff as a young adult, there were no snow days, snowball fights, snowmen, or sledding expeditions of any kind. There were simply driveways to be shoveled and cars to defrost — not exactly the makings of a meteorological romance. Snow was an inconvenience to be dealt with as expediently as possible so as to move on with one’s life. She plowed through it for years, suffering (mostly) in silence, but as soon as the opportunity came to retire to a snow free clime, she and my grandfather jumped at the chance and never looked back.

Lee Harrow's feelings about winter weather, in a photo.

Lee Harrow’s feelings about winter weather, in a photo.

So as a kid, when snow came, I was taught to be, if not disillusioned, at least unfazed. Like every other kid in town, my siblings and I would camp out on our parents’ bed as school names scrolled by, granting our peers spontaneous holidays. We would watch the weather forecast like lottery numbers, waiting for those three magical words that would release us from alarm clocks and uniforms for one beautiful day: Louisville Collegiate School. And as we gabbled happily about accumulation and icy road conditions, my parents, without fail, would proceed to crush our dreams with a heavy dose of cold (if well-intentioned) reality. They would scoff at the one or two inches predicted, reminding us that this did not qualify as real snow. Unluckily for us and our classmates, our head of school agreed with them — a fellow Southern transplant from the oft-socked in state of Maine. And so time and again, while the rest of the city celebrated with snowmen (more brown than white), we would find ourselves stuck in geometry as our parents applauded Ms. Groves’s good sense. When she retired, we pressed our mom for details about the replacement candidates, wanting not educational backgrounds or previous positions held but hometowns. Please, we prayed to the recruiting gods, send us a head of school from Miami or Honolulu. A Georgian or Jamaican would do! We were elated when our queries were answered by a Louisvillian. Finally, we thought, somebody who understands the proper Southern reaction to snow! Imagine our dismay when he revealed that his last gig had been in Colorado, America’s Snow Playground, which had effectively conditioned him against Southern snow hysteria. And so, the streak continued.

This is all to say that, despite my Southern upbringing, I generally consider myself pretty level-headed when it comes to snow. Especially after spending my college years in Providence, Rhode Island, it takes a lot more than a flurry to send me into a frenzy. And I expected no less of my fellow New Yorkers, accustomed as they are to Northeast weather. So as the forecasts for this week first started to promise snow, I remained unperturbed. This was, after all, a city that dealt with winter weather on a regular basis. I had snow boots and a puffy coat, I didn’t have a car, I had survived the Polar Vortex intact. This should be no problem, I thought. But as the predictions started to take on a decidedly more doomsday tone and the city ground to a standstill, I started to wonder if I should be freaking out more than I was. Sunday evening, I roused myself from my cozy post-work Netflix nest in order to make a grocery run. I bought bread and milk, because apparently that is what one is supposed to buy before a storm. I made sure my various electronic devices were charged. I even filled up several water bottles, because that seemed like a storm preparation-y thing to do.

And so it begins: Monday evening, 5 p.m.

And so it begins: Monday evening, 5 p.m.

And then Juno descended. My roomie and I settled in with dinner and wine, and Frozen. We lit candles and read personal ads by people looking for a blizzard hook-up (a hilarious half hour before it started to feel creepy). I speculated about how I would get to work the next day (there are no snow days in the news biz) and when the subways would be running again. Every so often, we would peek cautious heads around curtains to survey the howling gusts and whiteout conditions the weathermen had promised. And each time, we were disappointed. We kept waiting for it all to start, finally going to sleep with visions of snow drifts dancing in our heads. But Tuesday, we and the rest of the city awoke to a measly 10 inches and a whole lot of frustrated commuters.

For as much media hooplah and hashtagged frenzy as preceded the storm, there has been an equal amount of post-storm outrage and mockery from people who feel the National Weather Service cried wolf and got them worked up for no reason: Newton’s Third Law of Social Media in action. The scientists tried to explain that meteorology is, at best, an inexact science — that their predictions were not as inaccurate as people are painting them to be, spouting off terminology about storm margins and pointing to the very real snowmaggedon that did affect the Boston area and Long Island. But New York, by and large, isn’t buying it.

via donuts741

Fool us once, shame on you. (via donuts741)

The problem, as I see it, is that as far as the reach of human technology has grown, Mother Nature is still unfathomably bigger. There are some things that cannot be quantified or simplified to an algorithm, and that makes people uncomfortable. In New York, this problem is magnified when a city that prides itself on being tough, unmoved by subway preachers or break dancers alike, completely loses its cool. And rather than admit that they got caught up in the snow frenzy, a trait they’re normally happy to ascribe to their simpleton neighbors to the South, they blame bad information and point fingers at the scientists who led them astray. In their hearts, New Yorkers aren’t any less freaked out by extreme weather than Southerners are: They’re just usually better at hiding it. The threshold for freak-out is higher here, true, but the emotions are the same. We don’t like to admit how vulnerable we are, that nature still has the power to scare us. It reminds us how small we are, how flimsy all this civilization that can be wiped clean in one fell storm. And New York, accustomed to being the biggest in most realms, doesn’t take kindly to that.

As for me, I’m happy to go back to being a snow worshipper. Juno robbed me of that for a moment, turning my friendly flakes into something to be feared. I lost touch with the joy my grandmother never understood, the hushed delight of watching an ordinary street be transformed into a white wonderland. Like Lorelai Gilmore, I am a firm believer that everything is magical when it snows. So let the ice coat my front step and the slush wash up against every corner: The snow never really bothered me anyway.

Scout’s Top 5 Comedy Specials to Help You Laugh Away Your Winter Blues

We are no strangers to Seasonal Affective Disorder here at Zelda & Scout (so sad…), and especially with Winter Superstorm/Snowpocalypse/Snowmaggedon/Blizzard of Doom Juno dominating our news feeds this week with its (luckily unfulfilled) promises of frozen destruction, we’ve both been feeling the winter blues as of late. When the weather gets Scout down, she turns to her good friend: Netflix. Whether you’re trapped inside by stormy weather or just counting down the endless days until springtime (it is coming, we swear), these five comedy specials will help you shake off the winter gloom. Laughter is the best medicine, y’all. Laughter, and chocolate.

Stand-Up Stance (Via LaughterKey)

Stand-Up Stance (Via LaughterKey)

Chelsea Peretti, “One of the Greats” – Writer, actress, comedienne, and general badass lady, Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Chelsea Peretti is one of our favs. Her special is one part deadpan humor, one part satire of the comedy world, one part epic motorcycle shots, and one part clown costumes. Seriously. Make sure you watch til the end.

Trevor on traveling to The US during the Ebola crisis (via OrdinaryAfrica)

Trevor on traveling to The U.S. during the Ebola crisis (via OrdinaryAfrica)

Trevor Noah, “African American” – Scout first witnessed Trevor Noah last year when he made an appearance on the Stephen Fry-hosted BBC Two Show, QI. The South African comedian has been making appearances on British and American television for a few years now, and in December he officially hopped across the pond to become a contributor on The Daily Show. His 2013 comedy special applies his trademark observational humor to his experience coming the United States as a mixed-race man who grew up during apartheid.

Deep Questions with Russell

Deep Questions with Russell

Russell Howard, “Right Here Right Now” – Russell Howard is one of Scout’s all-time favorite comedians. When she first discovered the British panel show genre, he was one of the guests she sought out most, scouring YouTube for his episodes of Mock the Week, uploaded from across the pond. She had the pleasure of seeing his rather raunchy and physical stand-up live last year (he ended the show dressed as a giant phallus, to give you an idea of the flavor of the evening). Should you not be lucky enough to witness his awesomeness in person, his 2011 special is a great taste of his style. Want more? All 9 series of his show Good News are on YouTube.

Mulaney understands not wanting to leave the house

Mulaney understands not wanting to leave the house

John Mulaney, “New In Town” – John Mulaney’s self-titled sitcom was a bit of a crash and burn — miraculously, Mulaney has yet to be officially canceled, but with a reduced order and abysmal ratings, it’s just a matter of time — but there’s a reason Fox gave it to him in the first place. Unlike his painful show (seriously, Scout couldn’t get past the second episode), the long-time SNL writer’s stand up is funny. Like, really funny. We highly suggest you give it a shot. You won’t be disappointed.

Home Depot, where childhood goes to die (Via silverrock)

Home Depot, where childhood goes to die (Via silverrock)

Donald Glover, “Weirdo” – Donald Glover’s got something for everyone. He’s an actor, he’s a rapper, he’s a writer: But first and foremost, he’s a comedian. “Weirdo” is filled with his patented memoir-esque, “it’s funny because it’s true” comedy. He turns everything from being an entertainer, to the Muppet Babies, to childhood trips to Home Depot into comedy gold. Now please go back to Community? We (and Abed) miss you so.

January Round Up

We can’t quite believe that January has come and gone already, making us 1/12th of the way through 2015. This has been a month of resolutions and retrospection, of tea and Netflix and hibernation. The first real snow has fallen, the temperatures have dropped, and we’re rocking the fleece-lined leggings like nobody’s business. We both made it home this month — Zelda for some brief post-holiday family time and Scout for the even briefer SAM launch party — and now we find ourselves staring down the winter months with nary a day trip in sight. All the more reason to hunker down with the things we love (see aforementioned tea and Netflix), stick some cheery music in our ears, and dream of sunnier times to come.

What We’re Doing: As tradition dictates, we started the year off with some resolutions (Zelda prefers to think of them as “exciting new adventures”) and introspection. Scout ranted about some pet peeves, and waxed poetic about why they bother her so much. We talked to the awesome ladies of SAM about how they’re turning folks into heroes, and proceeded to dissolve with jealousy at their road trip wanderings. We continued some series — from GRITS to Just Folks — and started a new one, touting the things that make this Home Away From Home not so bad after all. But more than anything, this month was about music: from bluegrass to our beef with T. Swift and lots of audible sunshine in between.

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What We’re Listening To: We’ll be straight with you: January sucks. It’s cold and grey and damp, with no holidays in sight to liven up the gloom. So this month’s playlist was a much needed dose of Vitamin D, full of sunshiney beats and pick-me-up lyrics that brighten our short days and long nights. And while Zelda’s birthday may have been last month, January presented us with the most beautiful present of all: a new album from our favorites, Houndmouth, and an upcoming tour that will include our 15th (collectively) time seeing them. Are we obsessed? Maybe. Do we care? Not in the slightest. Until March, you can find us listening to the two singles that have dropped so far, and watching this California dreamy music video on repeat.

What We’re Watching: Zelda and Scout are both big fans of YouTube, and all the education, inspiration, and hilarity its creators provide. So as members of this wonderfully wacky community, we were positively kvelling over “YouTube Asks Obama,” in which Hank Green (one of our favorite humans), GloZell Green, and Bethany Mota showed mainstream media how it’s done, asking thoughtful questions about real issues, and also finding out which super power the leader of the free world wishes he had. The whole thing is well worth a watch. And bonus points for the fact that the interviewers included not just one, but two women of color. Take that, cable news.

We also love: Zelda is gearing up for award season by attempting to see as many Oscar-nominated movies as her wallet allows (her favorites so far: Boyhood, The Imitation Game, and The Theory of Everything). Scout is super into FX’s anti-rom com sitcom “You’re the Worst.” And we both couldn’t be happier that “The 100” is back, and renewed for another season! Now excuse us while we dissolve into a puddle of anxiety over the fates of our favorite post-apocalyptic teenagers.

What We’re Reading: We love the banjo. We love how it sounds. We love how it looks. We love the people who play it (ahem Scott Avett…). But we didn’t fully appreciate the depth and complexity of this instrument until we read Jenna Strucko’s in-depth, multi-dimensional analysis published by our favorites, the Bitter Southerner. (We’re particularly tickled by the fact that the interview took place in Louisville’s own Clifton Center, where Zelda once performed Alice in Wonderland and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Stories for another time.) Strucko, with help from the Carolina Chocolate Drops, uses the instrument and its rich history as a lens to look at stereotypes and oppressed narratives of the South as a whole. We’ll never look at this five-stringed wonder quite the same way again.

We also love:  This beautiful essay, which marries our love of musical theatre to our quarter-life angst over pursuing “artistic careers” and our cognitive dissonance about living in New York, and this peek behind the curtain at how iPods become iPods and why prunes are so 2008.

Bad husband? Morning sickness? Pie makes everything better.

Bad husband? Morning sickness? Pie makes everything better.

What We’re Eating: Finally, a Hallmark holiday we can get behind! This past Friday marked National Pie Day, which is now officially our favorite day in January. We celebrated with some traditional apple and a viewing of Waitress (or rather, as many clips as our work schedules allowed). And Zelda bought herself a present, which will allow her to begin research and preparations for that other festive occasion: Pi Day.

Saving lives never looked so good. (via SAM)

Saving lives never looked so good. (via SAM)

What’s On Our Wishlist: We have mad respect for the SAM ladies. We’ve also got mad respect for their style choices: Their merch is hella cute, and we want all of it. All. Of. It. (Scout bagged a couple of t-shirts and some rocks glasses at the launch party, and Zelda may have already ordered a hoodie and a pint glass…) Check out their website for SAM tanks, mugs, and more! So much cuteness for a good cause.

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A Cow on the Roof of a Cottonhouse, or How I Learned to Love Bluegrass

Lawd, lawd, bring him dead or alive

Open on a chain gang. Low warbling voices begin to rise over the sound of pick-axes and splitting rocks. With this sequence of sounds, I’m back, twelve years old in my den watching the sepia-toned Mississippi fields of the Coen Brothers’ finest film (in my personal opinion, anyway…though the Dude does abide…) fade into view on the screen.

o-brother-where-art-thou

The beginning of O Brother, Where Art Thou? is one of my favorite film openings, and I think about the openings of films more than the average human. Sometimes I even put on my headphones and walk out the door to a specifically timed playlist to make my commute “montage worthy.” The point is that the quality of the opening is hugely dependent on the music chosen. When I hear the low voices of those prisoners, something stirs, and I know this film is special.

One evening as the sun went down, and the jungle fires were burning

Fade away from the chain gang and we meet our unlikely heroes, scurrying through a field as a new song, much less ominous, accompanies their escape. The swift tonal change establishes these three as different from the haunting men of the chain gang. Their outlook is brighter, skipping guitar to the prisoners’ solemn gospel chorus. The original Odyssey has a lot going for it, but what that hero’s journey was missing was the perfect soundtrack. In O Brother, this is remedied.

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The Coen Brothers transform the many adventures of Odysseus into a modern epic tied together with song. The film weaves music in with the dialogue and uses it to guide the story — tying together a narrative of politics, race, and a single man’s search for redemption. More than just background, though, the Coens establish the soundtrack itself as an important character in the story. (I find myself attached to movies that do this, and to musical theater for the same reason.) O Brother is entertaining, to be sure. It’s funny and tragic and rich, full of complex characters and historical themes. But the music in this film also dipped deeply into my personal narrative, introducing me to a part of my heritage that I’m not sure I would have come to love as much without this film.

Who shall wear the starry crown, good Lord show me the way

I never had conventional musical tastes. My early childhood was peppered with Motown, Sinatra, and 90s country music. Of course I had my run-ins with the music that makes a millennial a millennial (you know — boy bands, the Spice Girls, that foray into alternative rock, and of course Taylor Swift), but I was always that person digging through my parents’ old vinyl and CD’s begging to listen to a certain album that I loved for no explainable reason. For me, music is always about memory, with certain sounds tangled up in certain events or periods of my life. Maybe that’s why I was drawn to songs of the past. As I listened to them for the first time, I was imprinting my own memory on them, while also connecting with the memories of those who came and loved them before me.

I bid farewell to old Kentucky, the place where I was born and raised

See that was the strange thing about the music in O Brother. Even as I heard it for what I knew was the first time, it didn’t feel like a new discovery: I felt like I was supposed to know it, that it was part of my identity, already in my bones. And maybe I’m getting melodramatic, but my deep connection with this movie, even at a young age, moved something within me. The blend of traditional folk and bluegrass music was something I didn’t know that I loved, and O Brother, Where Art Thou? delivered it to me in a convenient package of George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson lit up in warm greens and browns, trekking the backroads of Mississippi during the Great Depression.

Hand Train - O Brother Where Art Thou - Filmgrab

O Brother is a story of the power of music to move people and bring them together. It’s the story of a hero learning who he truly is through the power of one song. And as I got swept up in the epic, it brought me together, filled a hole, slotted a puzzle piece I didn’t know was missing. When I heard the fiddles, the banjos, the mandolin riffs that accompany this piece of cinema, I experienced a strange sort of nostalgia, a déjà vu for events that had never happened. A feeling overwhelmed me, a yearning for a place — for unpaved roads that wound up the Appalachian Mountains, for the smell of freshly baked sourdough bread, for the laughter of my mother and grandmother stringing green beans into a plastic bag on the deck of an old houseboat. I recognized myself in this music, and I knew it was part of me, important to my soul.

Come lay your bones on the alabaster stones, and be my ever-loving baby

O Brother and its soundtrack opened up a brave new world to me: bluegrass and traditional American folk music. I wasn’t satisfied with just one CD: It had kindled a spark, and I wanted more. When I was 12, I went with my mother to the Down From the Mountain concert when it came through Louisville. I may have been the youngest person there by a couple decades, but I loved every minute of it. My mother also gave me Patty Loveless‘s Mountain Soul, which would prove to be the second missing piece of my musical heart. After a foray into the country pop so prevalent in the nineties, Patty returned to her Pikeville roots on this album, and it came to define a certain era of my life.

The songs spoke to me. “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” is hauntingly beautiful, and every mention of the places my mother had talked about growing up brought my heritage, what it was and what it wasn’t, into clearer focus for me. “Pretty Little Miss” takes me back to my first car and driving back roads with the windows down.  

obrother

And then there was “Soul of Constant Sorrow.” I had already learned to love Dan Tyminski’s vocals in the O Brother arrangement of this traditional song. But in Patty I discovered something new. The bones of the song were the same, but she made it her own, adding her own unique link to the chain of people who had loved and arranged and sung those words. I loved that. I loved that the same song could be passed down for so long, changing keys and voices but never losing its core. This concept is a huge part of the Bluegrass tradition, a musical heritage evolving from generation to generation. People may sing the same words, but they make them mean such different things.

Some glad morning when this life is over, I’ll fly away

Once I found Bluegrass, I couldn’t escape it. Luckily for me, the popular music industry was similarly enamored, and the early aughts brought a plethora of New Americana options to my eager ears. Maybe I was in the right place at the right time, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so much of my favorite contemporary music — bands like the Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons — is clearly linked to the music of my ancestors. They are Appalachia’s musical progeny, no less a child of the mountains than I am.

18-crossroads

I have a theory about the O Brother soundtrack. In my opinion, the album is way more important to the direction of popular music than people give it credit for. In fact, I’d argue that it is directly responsible for the Americana revival that has dominated so much of popular music for the past decade and a half. Now some people may disagree with me (Zelda has her qualms). But the fact of the matter is no album did so much to bring Bluegrass into the homes and ears of so many. It was named Album of the Year for a reason. And maybe that reason is that, like me, people recognized something of themselves in the guitars and banjos, the twanging vocals and gospel harmonies. This is the lullaby of America, the music this country grew up on. No other music is so wholly ours (with the possible exception of blues and jazz, but even they have roots tangled up in this tree).

From the first notes, I knew this was my music. It was my mother’s music, and my grandmother’s, and my great-grandmother’s before that. And in making this film, the Coens did so much more than create an entertaining couple hours of film or a creative twist on a classic tale. They took me home.

My latest sun is sinking fast, my race is nearly run…

 

GRITS: Leslie Jones

This article is part of our series “GRITS: Girls Raised in the South,” in which we profile some of our favorite Dixie ladies and the things that make them awesome. Got an idea for a fabulous femme we should feature? Shoot us an email at zeldaandscout@gmail.com! (Alliteration optional.)

leslie-jonesName: Leslie Jones

Born: September 7, 1967, Memphis, Tennessee

Profession: comedian, writer, and current cast member on “Saturday Night Live”

Reasons she’s awesome: When we are feeling lost and confused about the directionless state of our lives, people like Leslie Jones make us feel better. The 47-year old took a long and winding road to her current success as an edgy comedian, quick-witted writer, and all around badass. Born in Memphis (one of Zelda’s former hometowns), Leslie was an army brat, so her family moved around a lot (she even spent a chunk of her childhood as a Southern transplant in New York, but describes Memphis as home) before eventually settling in Los Angeles. Leslie is the literal personification of the term “baller.” She went to college on a basketball scholarship, first at Chapman University and then at Colorado State. It was in Colorado that she got her first taste of her future profession, when a friend signed her up for a “Funniest Person on Campus” contest. Which she won.

leslie-jones

But like we said, the path from that first contest (1987) to SNL (2014) was long and bumpy, full of road blocks and detours. Although Leslie has said “When I walked off that stage I had all the intentions of being the next Eddie Murphy,” the reality proved more difficult than she expected. She worked as a radio DJ, a perfume salesman, and a justice of the peace, at UPS and Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles. There were lots of fits and starts — bombing at the Comedy Story and then puking in a back alley, opening for Jamie Foxx and getting booed by the crowd. Slowly but surely, though, she started to get more recognition, scoring TV cameos and commercial spots. Comedy festivals, the It’s Pimpin’, Pimpin’ tour, and HBO’s Def Comedy Jam followed, and in early 2014 she got the fateful call asking her to join the writers’ room at SNL.

leslie-jones, colin-jost, saturday-night-live, weekend-update

Leslie was promoted to featured cast member in October 2014, breaking several barriers when she did. At 47, she is the oldest cast member to ever join the show, and her addition to the cast marked the first time in the show’s history that more than one African-American woman was included in the ensemble (Sasheer Zamata being her lovely cohort). Leslie’s comedy is ballsy and unapologetic, sometimes eliciting controversy for her refusal to shy away from uncomfortable subjects. But she also brings palpable glee to her performances. This is a woman who has worked hard at her craft, practicing and struggling for decades. Now, she has arrived. And every time she steps on stage, you can tell she’s having a damn good time.

leslie-jones, back-home-baller, saturday-night-live

Quintessential quotation: “I’ve always been crazy. I never knew I was funny. I just thought I was insane.”

Favorite clips:




Just Folks: The Ladies of SAM

Today we have a a very special Just Folks, featuring our friends and fellow Kentuckians at SAM (Sharing America’s Marrow). Sisters Alex and Sam Kimura, and their good friend Taylor Shorten, are about to set out on a year-long adventure to register bone marrow donors across the United States. Over the next twelve months, they will visit all 50 states, holding “donor jams” in the hopes of getting 50,000 people swabbed and registered to be potential bone marrow donors, and to educate people about just how easy, and important, donation is. To celebrate the beginning of this awesome year, we asked them a few questions about their lives, their project, and their ultimate road trip.

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From left: Taylor Shorten, Sam Kimura, and Alex Kimura

For those not in the know, who are you and what exactly will you be doing for the next year?

We are saving lives! Seriously though, we have a goal to register 50,000 potential bone marrow donors in 2015 in all 50 states. We’re loading up our van, Maggie, and hitting the road — stopping at universities, concerts, festivals, businesses, and anywhere in between to swab people.

Where did the idea start?

It started in a booth at the Olive Garden. Going back a little farther, Sam got sick in 2010 with severe aplastic anemia, a life-threatening bone marrow failure disease, and was told she would need a bone marrow transplant. Alex, her sister, wasn’t a match. She felt like she had failed as a big sis and decided that if she couldn’t save Sam, she would find someone else who could. Luckily, Sam started to respond to an alternative treatment and manages her illness to this day. But after going through that ordeal and learning that thousands of others are left without a cure simply because there aren’t enough people on the registry, the SAM girls decided they needed to dedicate their lives to changing this. It was officially decided, over bread sticks and endless soup and salad, that the best way to get the word out across the country was to get face to face with as many people as possible. And thus the tour was born.
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Sam & Maggie

There are a lot of ways you could have raised awareness for your cause, so why a road trip?

Like we said, we felt this was the best way to share our story and to reach a goal like 50,000 people. I mean, we’ve already pretty much depleted the Kentucky market (kidding…kinda). But it is also a way to share an adventure as sisters and a best friend. We feel so lucky that all of us have this chance to live life to the fullest in so many different aspects. After a time when things were much more uncertain, we’re looking forward to having this time to get closer to each other, and to be able to reach out and inspire others.

What has the community response been like so far?

Louisville has been amazing. Since we really got on our feet in September, we’ve signed up over 3,600 potential donors…that’s about 80% of our goal for Kentucky. We feel very lucky to have such a good support system in our hometown as we set out across the country.

Who are your heroes?

Alex: Sam
Taylor: Oscar Romero
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Sam and Taylor, ready to kick blood cancer’s ass

What does it take to become a bone marrow donor?

Joining the registry is really simple. It only requires a short consent form and a painless cheek swab; it takes about 5 minutes. You can find out about bone marrow drives near you through groups like Be the Match or Delete Blood Cancer. And even if there is no registration event near you, you can go to deletebloodcancer.org and sign up online! Totally free!

What will each of you bring to the table for this project? 

Sam: Director of Communications. People in the survivor community reach out to her all the time. Sam gets us connected to people and communities. She also has a fresh eye and keeps our social media on point.
Alex: Executive Director. Alex has the ability to see everything from every angle. It’s kind of creepy how much she can think about and process at once, which is why she oversees this project and makes sure everything goes off without a hitch. Not one.
Taylor: Director of Development. Taylor is in charge of organizing and promoting the drives and making sure that there is at least one event set up whenever SAM hits a new city. She’s also good for general weirdness of the group. And Spanish.

Will you be documenting this adventure? How can people follow your trip?

We will be documenting! A lot. We’ve got lots of cameras on board and will be recording weekly video diaries for all you fine people following us. You’ll be able to find that on our website, sharingamericasmarrow.com. There are also some other projects in the works, so who knows — maybe you’ll be seeing a SAM doc on Netflix one of these days.

How can people get involved?

There are a plethora of ways! If you’re interested in helping us set up a drive at your local university, business, place of worship, etc., you can email any of us through our website. You can also feel VERY welcome to donate money that can get us one mile farther on our journey to save lives. And of course, get signed up on the registry! You could be the one person in the world that can save a patient’s life. That is the coolest ish ever.
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Are there any destinations you’re particularly excited about?

We are going nuts about the West. We just picture ourselves chilling in our van cooking outside and spending nights under the stars. We’re all ready to take on the hippie versions of ourselves. And we’re getting weirdly stoked for Savannah, Georgia, as well.

You’re going to be on the road and away from home for a long time. What are some of your go-to homesickness cures?

We will be watching The Office pretty consistently. We’re also fond of dancing through rougher times. Taylor Swift seems to be a good choice this season.

Who’s the best driver? What about the best navigator?

Alex. And also Alex.

What’s on your ultimate road trip playlist?

You can actually listen along with us every week via our website. We’ll be posting a new playlist every week with what we’re currently listening to. We’d describe it as eclectic with a few surprises thrown in.

What snacks are a must for those long hours in the van?

Alex will eat roughly 1 million oyster crackers over the next year. We are trying to maintain our forms even on the road, so the van is loaded up with some healthy food and some chocolate. Hopefully those two will balance each other out.

What’s your favorite way to pass the time on the road?

We mostly just say words. We’d like to consider ourselves novice wordsmiths. We will say them until they lose meaning. People would probably hate more than 30 minutes in a car with us. Also Alex likes show tunes.
To find out more about SAM and to follow their adventures over the next year, check out their website! You can also like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter and YouTube. And be sure to check out their super cute merch — every hoodie, tank, and pint glass helps support their journey.

Welcome to New York?

We’ve written before about our love for “1989,” Taylor Swift’s poptastic fifth album and one of our top picks of 2014. I am an unabashed lover of this record. I’ve danced around my kitchen to “Shake It Off,” struggled not to sing along to “Style” (and its mash-ups) on the subway; I’ve even taken Buzzfeed’s “What Part of Taylor Swift’s ‘Blank Space’ Video Are You?” quiz (Romantic Dinner, if anyone was wondering). But there is one song on the album that I just can’t get on board with. When it pops up on my shuffle, it always elicits a skip and, a rant. This song is so full of inaccuracies, so blatantly tone deaf and out of touch with reality, that I can’t even let the catchy beat lull me into ignorance of the lyrics.

Ms. Swift is the same age as I am, and most of the time I find her surprisingly relatable for a giant pop star (I mean, the girl trolls Tumblr with the best of them and even buys Christmas presents for her fans. What’s not to like?). But as a 25-year old female leading a far more typical young urban lifestyle than Ms. Swift, a fellow transplant to this fair city, when this song comes on I find myself not singing along but yelling into my iPhone that she JUST DOESN’T GET IT! So in an attempt to rid myself of these negative feelings and start the year free of Musically Induced Indignant Trauma, I present to you: “‘Welcome to New York’ is Full of Lies: An In Depth Textual Analysis.”

Let us begin.

taylor-swift, welcome-to-new-york, david-letterman

Bring. It. On. (Via CBS)

Walking through a crowd

The Village is aglow

Right off the bat, we got trouble (right here in New York City). I know of exactly zero 20-somethings who can afford a closet in Greenwich Village, much less a swanky double penthouse a la T. Sweezie. The Village, much like the Upper Sides (West and East), is a foreign land to which I venture once every six months at most, and then only for Julius happy hour and the magical $3 gin and tonics it promises.

Kaleidoscope of loud heartbeats

Under coats

Ok, Tay, so far I’m with you. New York is largely a city of transplants, where the huddled masses flock in search of excitement, glamor, fame, fortune, romance, and all the other bright shiny things the movies have promised us. We come from all over and get absorbed into the great throbbing cacophony of millions. Each hoping that we will be the one to rise above the scrum and emerge glittering and triumphant. Also, I enjoy the phrase “kaleidoscope of loud heartbeats.” +1.

Everybody here wanted something more

Searching for a sound we hadn’t heard before

Here we have more problems. For the most part, I don’t think people come here searching for something they haven’t heard. They come searching for a sound they know, one they’ve been raised on — in movies, in TV shows, in musicals, in songs like this. They come seeking a New York they think they know because they read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn or watched all six seasons of “Sex and the City.” And it’s when they arrive and discover that the siren song bears little to no resemblance to gritty reality that the problems start.

taylor-swift, welcome-to-new-york

Sepia: Official sponsor of fantasy lives everywhere (Via USA Today)

And it said

Welcome to New York

It’s been waiting for you

Welcome to New York

Welcome to New York

(repeat)

This is where we get into real trouble, and the crux of my issue with this song. My dear Taylor, unless you are a multi-million pop sensation with model looks and four number one albums, New York has most definitely not been waiting for you. More to the point, it doesn’t give a shit.

New York was getting along just fine before you got here. Your arrival barely registered, the teeniest little ting of the triangle in an orchestra of 8.4 million. New York is not warm, and it’s definitely not fuzzy. It is cold and impersonal and impatient. No matter what pond you came from, this one is bigger, and you have to fight tooth and nail to make the tiniest scratch of an impression. For a lot of people, this is what makes the city so invigorating — the sense of accomplishment. If you are able to achieve survival here, not to mention some degree of success, you’re branded for life as tough, resilient, a New Yorker. For me, I think it’s why I had such a hard time adjusting; sure I had lived in impersonal cities before, but it’s much easier to write off rudeness and indifference when you can chalk it up to a cultural or language barrier.

We believe this is Taylor's version of "urban gritty," Oh you sweet summer child.

We believe this is Taylor’s version of “urban gritty,” Oh you sweet summer child.

It’s a new soundtrack I could dance to this beat

Forevermore

The lights are so bright

But they never blind me

It’s at this point in the song that I want to give Taylor the benefit of the doubt. Contrary to her reputation as our nation’s premiere singing diarist, her songs, even the confessional ones, represent a degree of fiction. They are tailored and packaged (especially on this album, her most pop-heavy to date). This is the Instagram version of her life — carefully cropped, filtered, edited, and captioned with an “oh I just dashed this off” witticism, which you actually spent fifteen minutes agonizing over, trying to pick the right emoji. Maybe somewhere there is a Snapchat version of “The Life of Taylor,” where it’s cold and wet and she doesn’t emerge from the gym looking like a glamazon. But if that is the case, wouldn’t it actually be more of a service to convey that honesty to her listeners, rather than setting up unrealistic expectations that just make us mere mortals feel inadequate?

When we first dropped our bags

On apartment floors

Took our broken hearts

Put them in a drawer

Everybody here was someone else before

Here is where Taylor begins to win me back. There’s a lot that’s daunting about moving to a new city, but there’s also something incredibly exciting about detaching from your old life, starting over, and writing yourself a new narrative. A location change is an opportunity to symbolically put your old self away and start with a fresh canvas. But in my experience, those past selves have a way of jiggling their drawers open and demanding to be reckoned with.

Don't mess with a stoop kid.

Don’t mess with a stoop kid.

And you can want who you want

Boys and boys and girls and girls

I will give New York this: When seeing a break dancer dressed as Batman on the subway or a man walking down the street with a cat perched on his head doesn’t rate a glance up from your book, the acceptance level for individuality is pretty high.

Welcome to New York

It’s been waiting for you

Welcome to New York

Welcome to New York

(repeat)

If I may propose a more accurate chorus: “Well, you’re in New York. It barely notices you. New York before you was New York, and will stay New York. Yes, you’re in New York. But that’s nothing new. Lots of people are in New York, and when they leave it’s still New York.”

On the platform the people come and go/talking of rents they wish were low.

On the platform the people come and go/talking of rents they wish were low.

Like any great love

It keeps you guessing

Like any real love

It’s ever changing

Once again, back on board with Ole Swifty. As Kathleen Kelly taught us, this city is always changing — a constant ebb and flow of landmarks and figures, store fronts and their patrons. And no matter how long you live here or how diligently you explore, there will always be something new and unmapped around the corner. You can never know all of New York, because by the time you knock at that last doorstep, at least 70% of them will have changed.

Like any true love

It drives you crazy

image

Either way, you dance it out. (Via Refinery 29)

Again, 100% on board. If there’s one thing New York does, it’s drive you crazy, in both a good and a bad way.

But you know you wouldn’t change Anything, anything, anything…

False, false, false… This is where we go off the rails, careening over the side of the bridge and into a fiery abyss. If I’ve managed to stick it out this long, right here is the moment when my finger makes a swift (pun…ok, yes, totally intended) about face to the “next” button. First of all, there are SO MANY THINGS that I, and every other human I have encountered, would change about New York. But second, and more importantly, love does not mean denying the existence of any and all flaws. It doesn’t mean falling into complacency and accepting the status quo, ad nauseum, emphasis on the nause(a).

Love, true love, means acknowledging the dirt and the smells and the darkness as well as the bright lights. It means seeing the whole picture, not some fictionalized fantasy simulacrum. And it means making an effort to make those things better.

So welcome to New York. It’s exciting, and it’s hard, and it’s great, and it’s awful. It will crush your soul and fill it with joy, sometimes within the same hour. It has not been waiting for you. It is so much bigger than that. But maybe you’ve been waiting for it.

Mic drop. We out.

Mic drop. We out.