Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Best Books I Read in 2014

Photo Credit

For the last two years, I've been keeping a spreadsheet of all the books I have read. (The title of the spreadsheet is, you will be shocked to learn, "Books I Have Read.") This is perhaps the best thing I've ever done for my reading life. Not only do I keep track of title, author, and genre, but I also rate each book on a scale from 1-5, record in which month I read the book, and include a one sentence review to help jog my memory (I am really bad about remembering the majority of the books I read).

In the past 12 months, I have started (and finished) 24 books. (Two of those books were unpublished drafts written by dear friends for critique purposes, but I'm still counting them.) As always I wish I'd read more and, in 2015, plan to do just that. 

As for 2014, 2/3 of the books I read were written by women, and 3/4 of what I read was fiction (mostly novels, with a few short story collections thrown in for good measure). I was most surprised by the genre breakdown, but looking back it makes sense. I was so entrenched in writing my own novel in 2014 that I was curious/desperate to see how others had done it. A few of the books I read were for grad school or for teaching, but as I generally chose those books myself, there weren't too many duds. I was also in a monthly book club, which forced me to read things I might not have otherwise picked up, which is probably the single best reason to join a book club. (That, and an excuse to drink a lot of wine during meetings - very important.) 

Here are more details about some of the books I read and how I felt about them:

Gender Breakdown:
Books written by women: 17
Books written by men: 7

Genre Breakdown:
Novels: 16 (+1 unpublished draft)
Short story collections: 3
Nonfiction: 1 (+ 1 unpublished draft)
Poetry: 1
Graphic novel: 1

Most fun I had while reading in 2014: 
Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
The Vacationers, by Emma Straub

Most horrifying books of 2014: 
An Untamed State, by Roxane Gay
The Dinner, by Herman Koch

Most interesting book of 2014: 
Life on Mars, by Tracy K. Smith

Most disappointing books of 2014: 
The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes
Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson

Best books of 2014: 
An Untamed State, by Roxane Gay
The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood
(a re-read, because I was teaching it)
The Tenth of December, by George Saunders

Now it's your turn: 
What's the best book you read in 2014? What was the worst? What are you most looking forward to reading in 2015? What should I add to my to-read list? Do you have any reading goals for the New Year? I'm going to shoot for 35 books, which will ensure that reading is a priority, but not force me to devour books at such a speed that I don't have time to appreciate them.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Last Three Weeks

Hello! I certainly didn't mean to stay away from this space for three weeks, and yet my last post was published on November 19th. Here's what you missed.


Thanksgiving 


A bit of a bust. While my best friend from grad school, Erica, was in town for a week, my parents' flight from New York was canceled at the last minute due to mechanical issues and bad weather, and they weren't able to make it. I was very upset, as my parents never, ever, ever visit me (I'm always schlepping to New York) and also I miss my mom constantly, but I was able to drown my sorrows in tofurky and pie, so all was not lost. Plus we hosted a small group of lovely people, drank wine, and played a thousand rounds of Scattergories. Overall, I was thankful.

NaNoWriMo


If you recall, I was aiming to write one flash piece a day during the month of November. I was doing well for the first half of the month, and then I stopped. I wouldn't call it "giving up," or "failing," exactly. I was just sort of... done. I got a few good pieces out of the experiment, and a few horrible ones. And about half of the flashes I wrote were actually tiny scenes from the book I've been thinking about writing next, which was perhaps the greatest gift of all. At any rate, I felt like a winner.

The Next Book 


After compiling a few false starts, some fits and bursts, and all that flash into a document, my new book is already 5,000 words and counting. I'm at the stage where I hate every single word (naturally) but I do like the characters and the loose plot already, so I feel like I'm beginning in a good place. That's all I'll say about the book for a long time - I learned my lesson after the last one. (The lesson being: everything will change at least six times.) 

Freelance 


This is the real reason I've been away from this space. I've been writing a lot for other places, and making some decent money in the process. I'm thrilled to report that we're ending 2014 on a slightly higher note as far as our financial life goes. (Though, to be fair, there was nowhere to go but up.) Here are some of the things I've written lately that I like best: 


Looking Ahead 


As 2014 winds down, life is getting a tiny bit slower - at least for a few weeks. The semester is over, so I'm not teaching again until early January (I got a Freshman Seminar section for the spring!), freelance is quiet, since most my clients are going on vacation, and we're not traveling anywhere for Christmas this year due to financial restraints. I'm looking forward to blogging more often and also to reflecting on last year and planning for the next one. In other words: more soon, for real this time. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Currently: Autumn Edition



First, I apologize for the silence on this blog these last few months. I hardly ever apologize for that sort of thing - this blog is, after all, a labor of love; I've always posted whatever, whenever, and it's worked out just fine - but I seem to be averaging once a week lately, which is an all time low for posting frequency. I don't see that changing any time soon, whether it's because I'm blogging so much for other people (the cobbler's children, etc) or because life is not exactly blog-worthy right now. Once a week will continue, at least until something really exciting happens and/or the powers that be add another hour to each day. 

In the meantime, here's what's currently keeping me busy. 

Watching: Thanks to Netflix, we just finished burning through season four of The Walking Dead, a show that never fails to raise my heart rate. (Literally. I make Nathan take my pulse during the especially scary scenes and it is pounding.) I generally hate scary things, but for some reason The Walking Dead is my one exception. I also really liked season 4. It reminded me of Lost, but in a good way. 

Planning: A Thanksgiving feast! Erica is visiting for Thanksgiving and so are my parents. This will be the first time I've ever hosted my mom and dad for a holiday. I've outsourced the turkey (obviously) and I'm really looking forward to visiting with friends and family, and eating all the Tofurky and pie I can stomach. It's a holiday tradition, after all. 

Running: I haven't run regularly since, oh, spring. It was a rough summer, and I was starting a new career, and I just didn't feel like it, to be honest. In fact, exercise has been a very low priority for months now, but I'm finally making a comeback. I'm up to five miles again, and I've been going to kettlebell and doing lots of yoga, thanks to my new membership at a great studio in town. And just in time - regular exercise is best way I know to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder, which has already reared its ugly head. 

Reading: Erica's novel-in-progress, so we can workshop it while she's here. Wolf in White Van, for book club. The Sense of an Ending, which I didn't really like, thanks to the ending (how ironic). 

Meeting: New friends! About two weeks ago, I got an email from someone who's been reading my blog since 2008. She happened to be passing through Wilmington and contacted me to see if Nathan and I were available for dinner - she and her husband wanted to treat us. We were indeed free, and it ended up being a really fun and memorable evening. I often feel like I write this blog for a a handful of friends, but I can tell via my stats that there are a lot of invisible folks who read along silently. Meeting one of those people was so fun and so rewarding, and now I imagine everyone who reads my blog is just as kind, generous, and sweet as our new friends. 

Eating: Oatmeal, made with almond milk and a spoonful of peanut butter. Best breakfast ever. 

Working: Freelancing is still going well, despite the lack of monthly updates, which I have clearly abandoned. I would like to write more about being a full time freelancer (especially when it comes to budgeting, scheduling, finding gigs, etc) and I will. If there's anything you'd like to know or are curious about, ask away and I'll do my best to answer. 

Writing: My bastardized version of NaNoWriMo is still going strong. I missed two days, but I'm sure I can make them up at some point. Otherwise, I've been writing all sorts of weird, tiny, experimental things (including a bunch of scenes from the next novel I'm tentatively planning to write!) so I'm very pleased with the experience so far. Only 11 more days to go! 

So that's most of what's been going on with me. As you can see, you haven't been missing much. Now I want to know what's been going on with you. What are you doing for Thanksgiving? What's the best thing you've read recently? What should I watch on Netflix next? Tell me everything! 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Mailbox at Wrightsville Beach


At Wrightsville Beach, a few miles down the road from Wilmington, there is a mailbox. For years, no one knew who put it there. (The mystery has since been solved, but I won't spoil it for you.) It stands on the sand, next to the dunes. The closest houses are located on an island across the water, a short swim away. Although no one from the post office comes out to the beach to pick up or deliver letters, and no one claims the mailbox as their own, it's always full. 


What's inside? Notebooks, scraps of paper, spare pens, and seashells. A hundred different handwritings, a hundred short notes. Exuberant hellos, confessions, conversations, lessons learned and shared. A lot of the passages mention the beauty of the beach, the strangeness of the mailbox itself. Many of the notes are about love, romantic moments shared on the shore. A few are sad, full of mourning, longing, regret. Paging through the notebooks feels like a glimpse into a world we all share, but rarely acknowledge. 


Yesterday, Nathan and I packed up a small bottle of fancy champagne - a gift from a friend - and headed to the beach to find this mysterious mailbox. I'd read about it online, but in all the times I've been to Wrightsville Beach, I'd never noticed it. Probably because it's all the way at the North end, as far as you can walk, and we usually head to the South side. Yesterday, we made an exception. You see, it was our 12th anniversary (and our second wedding anniversary) and a quest to find a mysterious mailbox seemed like a good way to celebrate. 




We drank the champagne, sat on a blanket, and read the notebooks out loud to one another. Then we filled a page ourselves, filed our secrets and hopes and lessons into the mailbox for someone else to find. I hope that when they do, they are spending the day with someone who makes them happier than they ever thought possible, who fills their heart with joy and their life with adventure. 


Happy anniversary, my love. Here's to many, many more.

Monday, November 03, 2014

How to Win NaNoWriMo Without Driving Yourself Crazy

It's November, and for those of us who love reading, writing, making goals, and undertaking challenges, that means one thing: National Novel Writing Month is here! (Or NaNoWriMo, as it is more commonly known.) 


NaNoWriMo has gained a lot of popularity over the years, and most people (at least in my bubble) have heard of it. Just in case you haven't, the challenge is simple: write a 50K novel in 30 days. While 50K is actually more of a novella, it's close enough - especially for a shitty first draft, which is what you'll actually be penning. NaNoWriMo prizes quantity over quality, which can actually be a good thing, especially if you're trying to establish a daily writing habit and/or conquer your own self doubt. 

I've won NaNoWriMo a total of four times - in 2004, 2006, 2007, and 2008. Since those are also the only years I attempted it, I'm proud of this record. While I believe NaNoWriMo is a great exercise, I'm not quite ready to dive into another novel just yet. On the other hand, I haven't written much of anything since I started querying agents, unless you count a thousand freelance articles and blog posts, which I'd really rather not. Thus, it feels like a good time to give NaNoWriMo another spin, but this time with a twist.

Amazing mug available here.

Instead of writing a 50K novel, I'm going to challenge myself to write one flash fiction for every day in November. While the daily word goal for NaNoWriMo novels is 1,667, my flash pieces can be anywhere from 100 to 1,000 words. This means that I won't reach the 50K finish line, but I will end up with 30 new ideas to play with in the coming months. Right now, that's exactly what I need. 

Even though I'm not doing a traditional NaNoWriMo challenge, I do have some tips and tricks for anyone who plans to take on this challenge. You learn a thing or two after four wins, and I'm happy to share my hard-won knowledge with you. 
1. Find a pocket of time, and exploit it as best you can.  
These days, I do my best writing first thing in the morning, while the house is quiet and the coffee is fresh, so I'll be writing my daily flash pieces then. One year during NaNoWriMo, while working as a librarian, I got most of my writing done by shutting the door to my office, turning off the light, and using my lunch break to write. While eating my daily PB&J at my desk wasn't the most glamorous feeling, it paid off. The point is to find a time, and treat it as a doctor's appointment, or a college class. Show up every day, preferably on time. Pants are, of course, optional.  
2. Now is not the time to revise.  
One of my favorite quotes about writing comes from Gustave Flaubert: "I spent the morning putting in a comma and the afternoon removing it." While I'm one of those people who loves revision more than the act of actually writing, now is not the time to polish and perfect a sentence. Remember: quantity, not quality, is the name of the game. Plus, if I've learned anything about the novel-writing process, it's that only about 25% of your first draft will make it into your final revision - if you're lucky. Work now, and be an artist later.  
3. Check out the forums or the Twitter hashtags #NaNoWriMo2014.  
While reading the NaNoWriMo forums might seem like a form of procrastination, it can actually be quite motivating. One of the best things about this particular challenge is the community and collective energy of so many people attempting the same crazy goal at once. Knowing others are just as blocked and tired and out of ideas as you is strangely comforting. There are also fun challenges that can help you gain momentum in your book. Personally, I love writing sprints. Everyone starts at the same time and writes like mad for 20 minutes or so, then reports back with their word count. Sprints help keep me focused for short amounts of time, and the friendly competition of trying to write more words than someone else is fun.  
4. When it doubt, write a sex scene.  
Sex is one of the most revealing acts a person can engage in, and it's a great way to show your reader the essence of a character. I'm not saying you need to go full erotica (though I'd be happy to read that) or that you need to turn your sci-fi extravaganza into a bodice-ripper. But writing your way through a sex scene, as awkward as it may be, will help you see your characters in a new light, even if they do it in the dark.  
5. If you fall behind, don't worry. That's what Thanksgiving break is for.  
One year, I feel woefully behind in my NaNo novel. With only five days left, I had something like 15,000 words to go - a far cry from the 1,667 a day that once seemed so manageable. But I'd come so far, and I was determined to win, and so, the day after Thanksgiving, fueled by leftover tofurkey and pie, I cranked out 10,000 words and got back on track just in time. It remains my record for most words ever written in one day, but it's proof that if you're determined, ambitious, and riding the wave of excess calories, you can do just about anything.
I'd love to hear from anyone doing any version of NaNoWriMo this year. We can cheer each other on! And if you've got any tips I didn't cover, let me now. It's been a while since I attempted a month-long writing challenge, and some new tricks would be nice.  

Monday, October 27, 2014

Amish Paradise


See that bowl of rice there? No, it's not ingredients for a delicious and healthy dinner, or part of some new fermentation experiment. It's covering my iPhone, which took a spectacular dive into the toilet bowl this past weekend. 

In the past, whenever I heard about someone dropping their phone in the toilet, I shook my head and rolled my eyes. "HOW?" I wondered. Well, now I know. (For the record, I was playing a game of Quiz Up, went into the bathroom to check my hair, and fumbled, with disastrous results.) So many people have sworn by the rice trick, so I'm hoping it works. Mostly because there is no way I can afford a new phone right now. In the meantime, going phone-less has actually been a pretty nice experience. I'm no longer incessantly checking my email, my house is really clean, and I even started working out again, after a three week hiatus. I'm not sure if these things are connected, but I'm deciding they are, if only to make myself feel better about the whole iPhone-in-the-toilet thing. Here are photos of my clean house, as proof, and also because I highly doubt, at this point, that will I ever find the time to photograph an official tour of new place for y'all:



(UPDATE: Since starting this post, my phone has emerged from it's rice bath and appears to be working once more. Hallelujah! I promise to never play Quiz Up near the bathroom again! Also, if you are on Quiz Up, my username is TheNewChrissy.) 

In other news, my in-laws were in town last week. We haven't seen them since our wedding almost two years ago, so we were long overdue for quality time. I am lucky because I actually like my in-laws and enjoy spending time with them. They are very cool people who share a lot of our interests, so our conversations are always interesting and fun. They've got a little farm up north full of animals and vegetables, and Nathan's mom is my idol when it comes to gardening and making things from scratch. She brought us many jars of green beans and jam she canned herself, and I gave her some of the honey we harvested from our bees before we lost the hive. She also taught me to knit during the brief time she was here, and even though I always assumed I would never learn to knit (I'm not good at knots!) I managed to make this after just an hour or so of instruction:


Then again, she knitted this me this awesome circle scarf in one night, during her visit to North Carolina, while watching television. Clearly I have some work to do.


Besides destroying reviving my valuable objects and hanging out with family, things have been kind of quiet lately, which is good. I've been keeping busy with freelance projects and just started blogging for a yoga studio in exchange for a monthly membership, which I'm especially thrilled about. My back has been bothering me again, probably because my yoga practice has been non-existent these last few weeks. Hopefully this trade will result in a happier, healthier body, which is really the most valuable thing of all.

Speaking of yoga, I'm headed there now. More soon! 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Rhode Island Reunion

Last week, we spent five glorious days in Rhode Island, visiting old friends and even older friends, eating all the vegan food, soldering tiny robots, and contracting one epic hangover. It was pretty wonderful. Here are some photos. 

L: the view from B's family home in Portsmouth. R: the cliffs and water at Squiggly Island.

Right before my dear friend Erica moved to Rhode Island and left me bereft in North Carolina, she gave me the best birthday present ever - half a plane ticket to come visit her for UNCW's Fall Break. Thanks to my $99 US Airways companion ticket, Nathan was able to come too. We arrived on Wednesday night and immediately ate a delicious meal, drank a bottle of wine, and passed out. 



The next few days were spent doing All The Things. We took a day trip to Boston, visited the Mapparium and the outdoor art on the Lawn at D, ate more food, worked for a few hours in a campus student center while Erica met with her students, went to a mini Maker Faire and learned how to solder and also saw 3D printers in person, saw the movie The Skeleton Twins in a tiny, adorable theater, walked around Brown Univeristy's bookstore, went to an art exhibit at RISD, and visited Erica's new library, which is tiny and quaint and has an actual, still-in-use card catalog (be still my former-librarian heart!). It was a lot to pack into just a few days, but we are nothing if not ambitious. It helped that we were fueled by a lot of delicious food. Also, Providence is now one of my favorite cities of all time. 

Lawn on D art! L: skywriting, as seen through an app I downloaded. R: giant swings!  For swinging!

L: quote from the Mary Baker Eddy museum that I liked. R: CARD CATALOG.

The only thing better than visiting Erica in Rhode Island was the fact that two of our best friends from undergrad also live in that tiny state, which meant we got to spend the weekend with them, too. (We went to their wedding last year, you may recall.) And because the Northeast is so small (especially compared to, say, Texas) our friends Nicola and Joe from UNCW came up from New York City for the night. At this point, we were all crashing at a family home right on the bay in Portsmouth (see sunrise photo above) and it ended up being two days of drinking, dancing, wigs (it's a long story), grilling, drinking, board games, and drinking. Oh, and laughing. I don't think I've ever laughed so hard, so much, in my life. 

MFA reunion! 

Nathan and I returned home on Monday night, and for the first time I didn't feel worn out or exhausted or slightly depressed, as I usually do after a big, exciting events. Instead I feel buoyed, energized. I'm not going to lie - the last few months have been a tough transition and quite lonely, especially because most of my friends who are going through the same experience aren't here with me. This weekend, I was reminded that I do indeed have a community, even if I don't see them every day, and that I'm not alone, even though it often feels that way. The fact that we can sit around a coffee table, drinking wine and laughing so hard we cry, no matter how much time passes, how many sublets we've burned through. how much debt we've shouldered, or how many rejections we've received is a really wonderful, important, and necessary feeling. 

And don't even get me started on the friends we were able to spend time with from undergrad, people who have been in our lives 14 years and counting. If there's anything this weekend showed me, it's that we've been lucky to form amazing friendships, and we're good at keeping those bonds strong. May they never falter. (And may I never have a hangover like that again.) 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Review: An Untamed State

From the very first paragraph, An Untamed State by Roxane Gay grabbed me and would not let me go. I read most of it during a six hour car ride to Asheville, and I apologize to my coworkers for being weirdly anti-social, looking up from my book only to occasionally gaze out the window with tears in my eyes. Erica compared this book to a pirate's plank, and I almost don't even want to review it anymore, because her thoughts were so on point. I will try to add something anyway, because this is the kind of book I simply can't keep quiet about. 

An Untamed State tells the story of Mireille, a Haitian woman born and raised in America, who is kidnapped and held for ransom while visiting her wealthy parents in Haiti. The story opens with her abduction, and it does not hold back - not in those opening pages, not in the ensuing chapters, and not when describing, in precise and stunning detail, the horrors she is subjected to by dangerous, ruthless men during her 13 days in captivity. This is not a book for the faint of heart and I actually sent my book club an official trigger warning after I finished it, as I had chosen the book before realizing just how graphic it was.

Even if I had known, I still would have asked my book club to read it. I am asking everyone to read it - including you, dear Reader - because as dark and disturbing as this novel gets, it is also beautiful, raw, honest, and necessary. The things that happens to Mireille, the compromises she makes, the strength she draws on, and her fight to survive, make for an incredible story, sure. But it's also more than that. For too many women, it's a story they've lived. It's a commentary on sexual violence, class warfare, and privilege. It's the best kind of fiction, because it's true and not-true at the same time. 

While the violence in the book is the primary, immediate plot, there's a second story that is just as intense and beautifully told - the love story of Mireille and her husband, Michael. During Mireille's captivity, she attempts to find solace in her memories of the man she loves, the father of her child. We get the story of their courtship, their early marriage, their family life, the challenges they've faced and overcome. These scenes were necessary, not just as a place for the reader to rest and recover, but because they balanced the book so beautifully. Horror and hatred and violence on one hand; love and family and pleasure on the other. Is there anything more true than that? 

Read this book, please. It will haunt you in all the right ways. 

Thursday, October 09, 2014

The Airstream Dream

Photo Credit

Like everyone else on the Internet, I'm obsessed with the tiny house movement. I've ogled the photos, shared the infographics, pared down all my worldly belongings, and already started the process by renting a (slightly) smaller home. A few weeks ago, after a particularly depressing night spent calculating our various debts and interest rates, Nathan and I realized the answer to both our financial woes and our desire to have the smallest footprint possible: an Airstream trailer. 

Here's the thing: I want to own a home, because landlords (even the great ones!) are kind of a drag. Nathan and I are DIY, can't-leave-well-enough-alone people, especially when it comes to our immediate surroundings, and tempering these urges as renters is a constant battle. On the other hand, why am I stressing about paying off credit card and student loan debt, just so I can take on more of the same? I think this brilliant Onion headline speaks for itself: 


Exactly. Which is why we've decided to buy an old Airstream trailer with actual cash that we have actually saved up, take a few years to renovate and rebuild it, and then move into it as our permanent residence. No mortgage. The freedom to pick up and move whenever we want. And a lifestyle that forces us to cut away anything we don't absolutely need, freeing us to focus on what matters. It's the perfect solution. 

Right now we're still in the daydreaming stage. We obviously have a lot to learn and a long road ahead of us, but that's okay. The very beginning is actually my favorite stage, because it's all about inspiration, motivation, and pretty photos. If you think living in an Airstream trailer sounds terrible - small and cramped and uncomfortable - check out some of the photos I've been pinning like crazy and see if your mind isn't changed. (Click photos for original links.) 


One of the reasons we've settled on an Airstream, in particular, is because we both love the curved ceilings. They're architecturally interesting, and when committing to such a small space, you better make sure you like looking at it. I also love the idea of hidden drawers for storage, like under this adorable couch. 


Personally, I've never understood the allure of having a giant master bedroom. I spend very little time my bedroom, and that little time is spent in the actual bed. So a room just big enough for a nest of blankets and pillows - and maybe a dog - sounds ideal. 


This kitchen appears to have more counter space than our current house, so that would be a pleasant adjustment. Even though I've gone minimalist in many areas of my life, my kitchenware is still a little excessive. Luckily, we have a few years before I need to make any difficult decisions. 


I love all the different kinds of wood in this one. It's probably the least "modern" of the trailers I've pinned, and I think that's why I like it. It looks so cozy! 


If I could just buy the Airstream above and move in right now, I would. 


I like Airstreams that have the bedroom at one curved end, and a dining nook at the other. Couch and kitchen go in the middle. This Airstream is probably the prettiest one of all - click the photo and it will take you to a full tour, but beware: it might make you want to throw away all your treasured belongings and move into an Airstream trailer, too. That's okay with me. We can be neighbors. 

As I've said, this is a dream that's still a long way off (it will be at least two years before we can buy a trailer, and then who knows how long it will take us to renovate it) but having a goal, even one so far off, feels good, motivating and exciting - a far cry from how I usually feel when I think about our financial future, which is how I know it's a good choice for us. 

Do you think you could live in an Airstream trailer or a tiny home? Have you lived in one before? How small is too small? Where will I put my KitchenAid mixer?  (F and M, I know you have and don't worry - I'll be emailing you a thousand questions when the time comes!) In the meantime I'll keep pinning my heart out and slowly paying off debt. 

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Girls Rock NC and the Power of Music

This past weekend I went on a short and much needed adventure to nearby Carroboro, a small town less than three hours from Wilmington. K, D, and I had tickets to the Girls Rock NC 10th Anniversary show, which I'd been looking forward to for months. What is Girls Rock NC? From their website
Girls Rock North Carolina is a non-profit organization in central North Carolina that empowers girls and women -- through creative expression -- to become confident and engaged members of our communities. We accomplish this by focusing on the"three Cs": creativity, confidence, and collaboration.
GRNC's biggest program is Summer Rock Camp for Girls, a one week summer program in which girls form bands, write original music with their peers, attend workshops, and perform their songs for a community at a concert at the end of the week.  
In other words: the coolest thing ever invented for teenaged girls. Learning about Girls Rock NC and seeing so many of the young attendees at the show Saturday night was probably the first and only time I've ever wished I could be 14 years old again. And that's saying a lot. 


The day was great from beginning to end. We stayed with some friends of K and D, who were kind and generous and made us a delicious breakfast the next morning before we headed back to Wilmington. We rocked out during the Saturday afternoon showcase performance, featuring girls who were camp alumni. We ate at a small bar near Cat's Cradle, where the concert was being held, and convinced Sally to drive over from Winston-Salem to meet us for dinner. Sally, like the majority of my MFA friends, left Wilmington post-graduation, so it was wonderful to see her and catch up. And then K and D and I went to the show, and I'm really not sure how to put that particular experience into words, but I will try. 

We saw three bands, mostly because we didn't want to give up our spot at the very front of the stage to see what was happening on the smaller stage in another room. This ended up working well - there was about thirty minutes in between bands, which was just enough time to get another beer, use the restroom, and gush about how great the performance we just saw had been. Mount Moriah was fun and lovely, and Ex Hex completely owned the stage.  And the final show of the night was none other than The Julie Ruin, Kathleen Hanna's new band. Needless to say, it was the performance the crowd was most excited to see. 


If you don't know who Kathleen Hanna is or why she's important, I highly recommend the documentary The Punk Singer, which you can watch right this very second on Netflix Instant. Basically, she's sort of the mother of the riot grrl movement, a feminist icon who paved the way for female performers by not giving a fuck. She's powerful, unapologetic, talented, and really, really fun. I first fell in love with her in college, and to this day Le Tigre is one of my top three favorite bands. The Julie Ruin has a similar sound - fun, energetic, and full of the same pro-women messages. Plus did I mention we were right up front for most of their set? Simply amazing. 

But that wasn't the best part. The best part was the crowd. It was about 75% teenaged girls, girls who'd been to rock camp, girls who were just discovering feminism for the first time, girls who had only begun to glimpse their own power and potential. Watching them scream for the bands on stage, sing along and dance to the music, hug one another in sheer joy and excitement, made me so goddamn happy, and reminded me that music can change a person's life. I remembered when I was that age, discovering Ani DiFrance for the first time, and how her lyrics and her story helped me take my first steps toward feminism. Listening to Ani's songs opened my mind to options I didn't even know I had. Watching as that moment I knew so well unfolded for a new generation was more than powerful. It was a privilege. 

At one point, between songs, Kathleen Hanna spoke directly to the girls. "I know a lot of you wish you were alive in the 90s, that you feel like you missed out on something. But you need to understand that back then, it wasn't so great. No one listened to me, no one believed in me, no one paid attention to what I was doing. You're lucky to be alive now. You're lucky that this is your time." I'm paraphrasing, of course, but you get the idea. It was a great message, for the girls and for me. 

Another great message I heard and loved was part of an awesome Girls Rock tradition. Someone yells out, "Hey girls, what's your instrument?" And the girls shout back, loud and proud: "It's my voice!" 

It's my voice. Damn straight it is. 

(And if you think Girls Rock is as awesome as I do, please consider donating to the cause. It's definitely worth a few dollars.)