A Special Message for Today

11 Sep

This morning I sat with my cup of coffee and watched the names of the victims of 9/11 being read at the World Trade Center Memorial. I saw politicians speak, and I watched the families of the victims gather together to mourn and celebrate the lives of their loved ones. Children, missing parents. Husbands missing wives. Has it really been a full decade since that day that changed the world?

As we continue to cope and wrap our heads around this tragedy and the passing of time, many people are speaking out, on Facebook, Twitter, the internet and media of all kinds. Nine Eleven: Never Forget. How have we changed as a nation? As a world? What does the war on terror took like today, as opposed to ten years ago? What are we as Americans to take from this, and how are we to proceed in a post-9/11 world? What has changed in all of us, and what has remained the same? What has been been lost, and what has been strengthened and preserved?

This afternoon I read one of my usual Sunday blogs, Cakewrecks. Cakewrecks is a blog about “when professional cakes go horribly, hilariously wrong”, written by husband and wife team John and Jen. I’ve been reading the blog for years, and one of my favorite features is the Sunday Sweets. Each Sunday, they post a bunch of gorgeous professional cakes that showcase the other side of the Cakewrecks- when professional bakers do a wonderful job, and create the gorgeous, fun, and stunning works of cake artistry.

This week, the theme was on 9/11. But rather than taking a mournful, solemn tone, Jen decided to make today’s Sunday Sweets about pure joy. Because, as she writes, it is “not because we don’t honor our heroes, or mourn their loss, but because joy and beauty are their own tribute- and we could all use a smile today.”

Go check it out: www.cakewrecks.com

Look at the colors! The piping! The adorable owl with the paisley wings! The fabulous “Up” cake covered in balloons!! The flowers, the donuts, the silliness, the life and love and just plain fun. And just try not to grin, even a little.

I love the message the author has put forward here, and I finally understand what I want to say for today- something that is important, and meaningful, and real. We are all sad today. But just for a few moments, go do something that makes you happy. Tell someone you love them. Call your mom, or sit outside in the sun with a glass of iced tea, or play with your dog. Because today, of all days, we are reminded of just how brief and precious the gossamer strands of our lives really are. And when we suffer a tragedy that snuffs out so many lives in an instant, we can truly understand the importance of celebrating and cherishing each moment we are given. And I cannot think of a better tribute than that.


Updates; Live Video of the Cold War Kids from Tulip Fest

23 Jun

*Apologies and Updates:Apologies to everyone for not posting in such a long time! I’ve recently had a terrible bout of migraines, which I had to go to the hospital for twice in the last month. For anyone that’s ever suffered through a migraine, you know they can be nasty stuff. Anyway, I’m now putting myself on a blogging schedule- look for new posts every Tuesday and Thursday! I appreciate anyone that takes the time to read what I have to write, and would love to hear any comments, suggestions or feedback you’re willing to offer. Thanks!!

And now, for the extremely long overdue purpose of this post: Tulip Fest! The Cold War Kids! I have to say I was really excited to hear that they were going to be at the Tulip Fest (held on May 8th) because they’re one of my favorite bands, and they were appearing locally, for free! Score.

It turned out to be a beautiful, crowded, sunny afternoon as my friend Craiggers and I perused the food stands and waited for the band to start. There’s nothing so wonderful summery as your first taste of fair/festival street food, like fresh squeezed lemonade or fried dough. The food is always pretty pricey, but it’s worth it to sit on the grass in the sun munching on a burger, thinking to yourself, “Ahhhh, now this is summer.”

As I expected, Cold War Kids were great, but I’m completely biased. The set consisted of about an hour’s worth of  the passionate, emphatic piano-driven indie rock that the Cold War Kids are known for. A smattering of their popular hits (Hang Me Out to Dry, We Used to Vacation, and their newest single, Louder Than Ever) that were enthusiastically received and sung along to, along with some lesser known tunes, and a few new songs they were testing out. After loudly singly along with the crowd, I ended the afternoon happy but hoarse.

With only a few songs left to go, the gorgeous early summer day turned rainy, and then into a downpour. (I was so proud of myself for actually remembering to bring an umbrella, which instantly broke as soon as I tried to open it. Figures.)

After the concert was over, Craiggers and I walked down to Jillian’s where alternative radio station 102.7 EQX was hosting a Tulip Fest after party with several smaller bands. If you’ve never listen to EQX, they’re in my opinion one of the best independent alternative radio stations around, and Albany is lucky to have such a great musical resource. Give them a listen. We only stayed for the first band, A Silent Film, but I was really pleasantly surprised. Most opening bands are mediocre, and my expectations weren’t very high. But even with a crowd of about a dozen and the distraction of bar patrons watching the Kentucky Derby, A Silent Film was outstanding. Their songs were tight and catchy, and the lead singer was charismatic enough to fill an auditorium, not just a near empty afternoon bar scene.

Thanks to my friend Craiggers for his excellent recording skills and the fact that he’s about a foot taller than me so he could see over the crowd to get a good shot of the band. Here’s The Cold War Kids, live at Tulip Fest, May 8th, 2011, performing “Hang Me Out to Dry”:

Of Poetry and Stress Relief

5 May

So I moved back home about a month and a half ago from Massachusetts, and now we are selling our house, which is just one more crazy life change among many in the past eight or nine months. This house is the house I grew up in, the house I’ve lived in for my entire life with my mom and my grandparents. Since my grandparents are both now deceased, my family has decided that our house is really too big and impractical for just two people (my mom and I). Take it from me: if you ever want to be massively stressed out, go sell your house. Between clearing out 40 years of stuff, preparing the house for showings, and open houses and, oh yeah, finding somewhere else to live, its been pretty nuts around the hacienda lately.

This is the house I grew up in, the house I went to when I was brought home from the hospital as a newborn, the house of my childhood, the house that holds all the memories of my grandparents who are no longer with us. It’s pretty rare for someone to get to be nearly twenty five and have never moved, but it’s true: this is my only house, ever. Sure, I went away, to college and the dorms and even spent a semester in Europe, but always I knew I had this house to come back to. I’m not going to sugar coat it- I love my house. I love my backyard, I love my room, I love my neighborhood, and I really don’t want to go anywhere else. So apart from the physical details of cleaning and organizing and packing, there are also all the emotional hurdles of saying goodbye and moving on.

It’s like I am being physically thrust into adulthood, sometimes kicking and screaming. The house of my childhood will be gone, the place I thought I would always be able to come back to will be inhabited by new people, making new memories of their own. So now I really have to go out there and find my own life and my own place, because the familiar nostalgia of your first family home isn’t there as a crutch. It’s  Adult time with a capital A, like it or not.

I had an entirely different blog post planned, but I decided that I wanted to share a few of my favorite poems. I wanted a few moments of beauty in an otherwise stressful week.

Poetry may not be everyone’s favorite thing, and I completely understand that. There’s a lot of poetry out there, and a lot of it is really, really bad. But amid the sea of the execrable and the mediocre, there is some beautiful, powerful stuff out there that makes it all worth it. Marianne Moore’s poem, aptly named “Poetry”, describes how I feel about the subject:


I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all
this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
discovers in
it after all, a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise
if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because
they are
useful. When they become so derivative as to become
the same thing may be said for all of us, that we
do not admire what
we cannot understand: the bat
holding on upside down or in quest of something to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless wolf
a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse that
feels a
flea, the base-
ball fan, the statistician–
nor is it valid
to discriminate against ‘business documents and

school-books’; all these phenomena are important. One must
make a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the
result is not poetry,
nor till the poets among us can be
‘literalists of
the imagination’–above
insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, ‘imaginary gardens with real toads in them’, shall
we have
it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness and
that which is on the other hand
genuine, you are interested in poetry.

Marianne Moore

Here are links to a few of my favorite poems:

1) \”Tonight I Can Write\” by Pablo Neruda : This is perhaps one of my favorite poems ever. It’s lovely, and melancoly, and perfect. It reminds me of being awake late at night and hearing the whistle of the trains in the distance. I am tucked snug into bed and I imagine that I am the only one in the whole word to hear that beautiful, mournful sound.

2\”The World is Too Much With Us\” by WIlliam Wordsworth : This is such a classic. Just read it- in a busy hectic world, you can’t get much better than Mr. Wordsworth to remind you where your perspective should be.

3) \”No Second Troy\” by William Butler Yeats : Exquisite. Yeats’ description of his “modern day Helen” gets me every time.

Do you have any favorite poems? Or small moments of beauty that you cherish when everything else can be difficult? Share them with me. I would love to hear them.

The Interview Suit

26 Apr

Side note: This woman looks entirely too sassy and confident in her suit.

Last week I had an interview, so it was time to break out the “interview suit”. Basic black pants, fitted black blazer, dressy sleeveless top underneath, moderate height black heels.  At some point after graduating college, nearly everyone gets some variation of the interview suit (with obvious adjustments for the guys).

So I’m standing in front of the bathroom mirror getting ready, and:  gulp.! Major moment of insecurity! I totally felt like a little kid playing dress up. I’ll be twenty-five in about a month, and still, every single time I have to wear a suit I feel like a five-year old clomping around in their mother’s high heels and seven-sizes –too-big blazer.  You know, the one that has shoulder pads sizeable enough to block an incoming linebacker.  A fevered little voice in my head wondered what the hell I was doing and whom I possibly expected to fool into thinking I was the sort of competent, experienced businesswoman who would wear such an outfit.
Does that feeling ever go away?
I guess that part of my discomfort goes back to my basic preconceptions about the business world versus the quote on quote “creative professions”. I always knew that I wanted a job outside of the business community, away from offices and cubicles and meetings and those ubiquitous signs over the microwave in every single office break room requiring you clean up after yourself, because, by God, “Your Mother Doesn’t Work Here!!!” I knew I wanted to do something creative, something stimulating and intellectually fulfilling, and based on what I could gather, going to work at an office every day seemed as soul-sucking and dull as a squat grey cubicle.
“I’ll never sit behind a desk all day!” I breezily proclaimed back in high school, before I was ever faced with the vomit-inducing reality of paying bills on minimum wage.
I guess this is all a part of growing up, and becoming comfortable in your own skin, whether you’re wearing jeans and a faded t-shirt or a Prada suit. It’s also about what you’re willing to become comfortable with, what you’re willing to adapt to, in terms of attire and perhaps more importantly in terms of your profession and your life.
I read something really hilarious today that I think perfectly encapsulates this dilemma. It’s a quote from Tina’s Fey’s “The Mother’s Prayer For Her Daughter”, which appears in her new book “Bossypants”:
        “Lead her away from Acting but not all the way to Finance.
where she can make her own hours but still feel
fulfilled and get outside sometimes 
       And not have to wear high heels.

      What would that be, Lord? Architecture? Midwifery? Golf course design?

      I’m asking You, because if I knew, I’d be doing it.”

I knew I loved Tina Fey for a reason.

The In-Betweens

23 Apr

My name is Amanda McDowell, and I’m twenty-four years old, turning twenty-five in about a month and a half. In the past seven months, I’ve landed a job, moved to Massachusetts, rented my first apartment, lost my job, hunted for work in an unfamiliar city, dealt with the death of my grandmother, moved back home to New York, and begun to launch a career as a writer.

It’s been a difficult, important, crazy learning curve of an experience, and it has led me to begin this blog.

This blog is for where I am right now- this blog is for the In-Betweens. The In-Betweens are past college, but before an established career. It’s the, “Ok, I’ve graduated, now what?” time. It’s your mid-twenties self, that elusive changeling sandwiched between the gawky undergrad ready to take on the world with a nearly endless supply of enthusiasm and complete lack of experience, and the older, more settled person with a family and responsibilities.

Join me as I try to establish myself as a writer, while also being able to pay my bills! I’m bound and determined to disprove that cruel joke that goes “Hey, I have a humanities degree, would you like fries with that?” (In case you’re wondering, these jokes are the sorts of things that make English majors weep into their oversized textbooks.)

I’ll talk about books, food, music, culture, and more. I’ll be talking about my life: what I’m up to, where I’ve been, what’s been impressing or inspiring me, and all the bumps along the road in my own personal “writes of passage.”