Posts filed under Writing

When art heals


I love writing about art. I hate writing about my personal life. But sometimes they are inextricably linked.

Last week, I lost myself in Netflix’s new series The Haunting of Hill House. It started when I read this lovely Vulture review by Lindsey Romain, just ten days after I experienced the loss of my grandfather:

Nell’s monologue is long and a little bit silly, but I can’t deny the spell it cast on me, a person whose life — like the Crains — is stained by grief and mental illness. When a revived Luke tells Nell he doesn’t want to live without her, she responds with words so soothing, they brought me to tears: “There’s no without. I’m not gone. I’m scattered into so many pieces, sprinkled on your life like new snow.”

It’s fragrant language, bold in its message, and it won’t work for everyone. But sometimes grief is brash like that. Sometimes you need to wrap yourself in the comfort of forgiveness, in the broad-stroke melodrama that is life and loss and the enduring pain they conjure. Flanagan understands this, and has forged from the bones of Jackson’s work something personal, probing, and transcendent. Trauma builds walls around us, but The Haunting of Hill House shines a light on the exit.

I knew after reading this that The Haunting of Hill House would move me more than it would disturb me. So I watched the first episode, and then flew through the next nine over three days. Romain was right: The show is a profound portrait of grief. Through supernatural elements, it makes visual not only how deep and dispersing grief can be, but also how paralyzing and damaging the fear of losing someone can be. Some have argued that this adaptation, which is at its core about the stakes of loving fully, neutered the horror of Shirley Jackson’s original novel. But for me, it struck a nerve.

My favorite aspect of the series is how it frames its most tragic character, Nell, as the one who experiences the most joy. Plagued by depression since her mother’s death many years ago, Nell suffers from sleep paralysis and seeks help from a clinic. There she meets medical technician Arthur, who teaches her coping mechanisms and eventually becomes her husband. Nell’s vulnerabilities lead her to fulfilling love, a literal illustration of how joy, fear and sadness are not experienced in silos but are tightly woven together in our lives. That Nell would eventually lose her husband and take her own life, the series emphasizes, does nothing to dampen how brightly she shown in happier times.

I needed The Haunting of Hill House last week. I needed both its complexity and broad-stroke melodrama, as Romain said, to help me better understand my emotions after a devastating week for my family. The series helped me confront my uneasiness with how easily, how seamlessly, light and darkness seem to coexist. That may sound odd, but I’ve long believed in the power of art to tap into humanity and to teach us things about ourselves, and about life, that we can’t quite verbalize. For the past decade, art has been both a lens through which I view the world and, through writing, an outlet for communicating how I perceive the world.

Of course, it’s not always simple. In this polarizing cultural era, it’s become particularly tricky to navigate and consume art. The New York Times recently published a fascinating essay by Wesley Morris on this topic, exploring the trend of evaluating art on the basis of its morality rather than its nuanced artistic value. As with any time of progress, these are critical discussions; I remain firm in my belief that representation across art –specific stories about specific people– is of immeasurable worth. But ultimately, as Morris points out, evaluating art, “is partly about situating a work in the world, in your feelings, in your collection. It can take any form and go to any place…” In other words, art is personal.

I discovered my favorite album of 2018 on the way to the hospital to visit my grandfather several weeks ago. Feeling helpless, and with so much of our public discourse driving us apart, I found myself craving art that explores broad, universal themes like grief or compromise or kindness. On the recommendation of a co-blogger, I listened and was instantly drawn to extraordinary folk singer Courtney Marie Andrews’ May Your Kindness Remain, its title track a lesson for these times. Andrews is generous with her compassion across the ten songs, probing for connection with the listener. As NPR puts it, the album “is a collection of songs, borne from interactions with others, that strives for healing and empathy in the midst of division and discord.”

If that sounds implausible, I’ll leave you with this: Last week, a horror series helped me work through my grief. Art, as I was so beautifully reminded, can be a powerful, healing force.

Spring round-up: Home is where the adventure is

Six months in Doha? Impossible. I've spent the time:

Exploring Dubai (where my first Ski Dubai experience ended in an hour of me going around the ski lift):

Catching up with this talented rising musician who's performing at The St. Regis' Vintage Lounge:

Boot scooting at a Texas A&M Qatar fundraiser, where I wore subtle amounts of burnt orange.

Wandering the Museum of Islamic Art's Marvelous Creatures exhibit ...

... which wasn't nearly as trippy as witnessing Carnival in Venice ...


Celebrating my first Easter without family at a local church, where the kindest strangers helped me and a friend out of a sitcom-like parking mishap.

Crashing the British Embassy's birthday party for The Queen:

Surviving my first sandstorm (and subsequent trip to the ER for a swollen eye).

Quadrupling my knowledge of sports with my first handball game, equestrian competition, tennis tournament (at which David Beckham made an inexplicable appearance) and club "football" match. I'm as surprised as you are:

Searching for ways to channel my overseas experiences into writing (stay tuned), and coercing my Houston editors into letting me write from afar, including this profile of a savvy local boutique owner and this defense of my favorite movie of 2014:

Being enamored with this guy's insanely good solo album:

Applauding this parody that smartly tackles rape culture:

Coveting these:

Missing this:

Digging this (unbelievably, May 25 marks 10 years since this creative force won "American Idol"):

Anticipating a trip to this fascinating country next month.

Standing by my best friend of 15 years on her wedding day, and getting ready to join the festivities for another in a few days ...

... and feeling humbled by new perspective, new challenges and new friends, one of whom anonymously gave me this oddly endearing housewarming gift (identify yourself!):

*Post written to the sultry tune of Little Big Town's "Girl Crush," the non-controversial song that sparked the most ridiculous non-controversy earlier this year. 

Following my arrow

Photo by James Joel Harris

Photo by James Joel Harris

In the four years since I launched this website to kickstart my freelance career, I’ve had the privilege of writing alongside some of the sharpest, most creative people in Houston and elsewhere. They continuously inspire me and humble me, and sometimes they even let me call them friends.

Over the past few months, I've been working with a fantastic local web designer to redesign this site. I had hoped a fresh site would give me a boost of motivation - that it would energize me to expand my freelance network, explore new forms of writing and grow as a writer. But not soon after we perfected that lovely Houston skyline above did I receive an offer from my company to really grow. In Doha, Qatar.

I could write about how grateful I am that this opportunity not only came my way, but did so at such a pivotal time in my life, when, in true millennial form, the questions have seemed to outweigh the answers. I could reflect on how touched I've been by the sweet send-off my friends and family have given me these past few weeks. But writing about my personal life has never been gratifying to me; instead, the most fulfilling way to express myself has always been through the things I choose to write about and the way I choose to write about them.

I write about people because they’re my favorite puzzles to solve. I review songs and albums because the best music elicits in me the purest emotion. I dissect those silly, wonderful, entertaining pop culture nuggets because, strange though it may sound, to a varying degree they all help inform and challenge my convictions about life. My favorite writing experiences are those that force me to think critically about that unexplainable glue that binds us as human beings - and in turn, I learn more about myself.

So that’s my plan for the next two years in Qatar: Show up, work hard, absorb. Look for that glue and find new ways to write about it. Grow. And, as this ballsy chick from Texas would say, follow my arrow wherever it points:

*Post title inspired by Kacey Musgraves' recent quirky tour stop in Houston. She covered "No Scrubs" - need I say more?

Posted on October 11, 2014 and filed under Writing.

Winter round-up: It's February?

The only things I remember from this whirlwind of a winter are a trip to NYC (for a Communications Executive Council conference and Paul Rudd), buying my first home, and ringing in what’s shaping up to be a pretty sweet year.

Somewhere in between, I did some writing:

I hope to be back in writing mode as soon as I figure out this whole homeownership thing. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with:

Happiness don’t drag its feet.
  • This new (to the U.S.) beauty:

And this overdramatic but partially true New York Times post on the end of dating. Funny and sad, no?

Nashville Scene’s 13th annual Country Music Critics’ Poll

It never gets old - I’m thrilled to be a part of Nashville Scene’s annual Country Music Critics’ Poll for the third year in a row. Ninety-three journalists and bloggers from across North America submitted ballots and shared their perspective on the state of country music in 2012. I can’t say I agree with all of the final rankings, but to be in the company of those who write for The New York TimesRolling Stoneand Entertainment Weekly is something surreal.

Better yet, I’m humbled that one of my comments was chosen to run right alongside theirs:

Check out the full coverage below:

Posted on January 17, 2013 and filed under Music, Writing.

Summer round-up: Music, wine and eighth birthdays

It’s been a lovely, chaotic summer – the best kind. Here are a few gems that caught my eye (and ear) over the past month or so:

This wine:

…from a winery on the outskirts of this incredible city:

(I spent a little over a week in Switzerland, Florence and Venice last month. Needless to say, it was an inspiring trip.)

This anthem from the Zac Brown Band’s action-packed new album,Uncaged (give it a listen and you’ll understand what I mean):

This funky, new-ish song by British group Graffiti6:

This kick ass and deserved title that Houston just nabbed. And yeah, we already knew we were the coolest. Why?

I’ve never seen a city where people blend more gracefully than Houston.

This surprisingly moving performance by tenth place finisher Erika Van Pelt (at the Idols Live concert I caught in Dallas):

This crazy-cool local band that I was jazzed to interview for Houston magazine.

This Kelly Clarkson cover of my favorite band’s breakout single:

…and finally, this wonderful milestone that Country Universe –my country music home– recently hit. I couldn’t be  more grateful to have found my way into the CU family three years ago.

Posted on August 3, 2012 and filed under Round-Ups, Music, Writing.