Movies, books, music, etc.

Thiiiiis post is what we call a cop out, also known as Day 4 in a five-day series: my shameless, self-indulgent list of favorites.

For posterity, a list of my top books and media, as of today, June 30, 2011 — lest I someday forget. I tried to keep it to five, but some categories were simply not to be contained.

TV Shows:

  • 30 Rock
  • Arrested Development
  • The Office
  • Gilmore Girls
  • Freaks and Geeks


  • Almost Famous (This movie solidified my desire to be a journalist. And a groupie. “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we’re uncool.” -Lester Bangs)
  • The Royal Tenenbaums (A dysfunctional family at its most beautiful. “I don’t think you’re an asshole, Royal. I just think you’re kind of a son of a bitch.” -Henry Sherman)
  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s (I can’t even began to explain the many things I love about this movie. “We belong to nobody, and nobody belongs to us. We don’t even belong to each other.” -Holly Golightly)
  • American Beauty (Kevin Spacey is kind of a creepy person, right? I don’t care. This movie is phenomenal. “I don’t think that there’s anything worse than being ordinary.” -Angela Hayes; “Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t take it, like my heart’s going to cave in.” -Ricky Fitts
  • Little Miss Sunshine (I think I might have a dysfunctional family trend going here. “He gets down to the end of his life, and he looks back and decides that all those years he suffered, those were the best years of his life, ’cause they made him who he was.” -Frank Ginsberg (on Proust)

Honorable mentions: Proof, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind


  • “To Kill A Mockingbird,” Harper Lee (My dad read this book aloud to my brother and me when we were Jem and Scout’s ages, respectively. Chapter by chapter, he made sure we heard good literature most nights for weeks.)
  • “A Wrinkle in Time,” Madeleine L’engle (My favorite book as a kid; I remember being soooo pissed at my fourth grade teacher when she didn’t believe I’d already read it when she announced we’d be reading it as a class.)
  • “The Catcher in the Rye,” J.D. Salinger (At 15 or 25, I still feel for Holden Caulfield.)
  • “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” Dave Eggers (Gorgeous writing. If you think your life sucks, this book may offer some perspective.)
  • “Pride & Prejudice,” Jane Austen (A book I shared a love of with my mom, and something I’m thankful for.)

Film Soundtracks:

  • The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson understands the impact of music in film. Highlights: Mark Mothersbaugh’s score, Nico, Eliot Smith)
  • Vanilla Sky (weird, weird movie, but Cameron Crowe’s hand in the soundtrack selections is evident. Highlights: Radiohead, R.E.M., that one song by the Red House Painters, and the obligatory Peter Gabriel selection)
  • Empire Records (so 90s, so my idea of what high school/college would be like. Highlights: Gin Blossoms, Cranberries)
  • O Brother, Where Art Thou? (This CD made me accept the fact that I love and adore folk music, despite years of rebelling against my parents’ taste in music. Highlights: Norman Blake, Alison Krauss)
  • (500) Days of Summer (True confessions: my first introduction to the Smiths. Highlights: Temper Trap’s “Sweet Disposition,” Meagan Smith’s cover of the Pixies’ “Here Comes Your Man”)
  • Garden State (my introduction to the Shins, before I completely burned myself out on them. I think I’m over Zach Braff but this is still an amazing mix CD on his part. Highlights: Colin Hay, the one Coldplay song I still like)


  • The Beatles
  • Death Cab For Cutie
  • Rilo Kiley
  • Guster
  • Modest Mouse


  • “Pictures of Success,” Rilo Kiley
  • “The Long an Winding Road,” The Beatles
  • “The World At Large,” Modest Mouse
  • “Bend to Squares,” Death Cab For Cutie
  • “Passenger Seat,” Death Cab For Cutie
  • “I Spy,” Guster
  • “Mona Lisa,” Guster
  • “The Sound of Silence,” Simon & Garfunkel
  • “The Circle Game,” Joni Mitchell
  • “The Good That Won’t Come Out,” Rilo Kiley

Songs This Second:

  • “Better Than Love,” Griffin House
  • “Talking in Code,” Margot & The Nuclear So-and-So’s
  • “Gagging Order,” Radiohead
  • “Moth’s Wings,” Passion Pit
  • “Comes and Goes,” Greg Laswell

If any readers have any more music by these artists, please share! Except Radiohead — I think I’ve got them covered.


  • “The Con,” Tegan & Sara
  • “Transatlanticism,” Death Cab For Cutie (kind of tied with “The Open Door” EP and “Something About Airplanes”. Also, in retrospect, I really, really like “Narrow Stairs”. Gahhh.)
  • “Rubber Soul,” The Beatles
  • “Abbey Road,” The Beatles
  • “The Execution Of All Things,” Rilo Kiley
  • “Return of Saturn,” No Doubt
  • “Bookends,” Simon & Garfunkel
  • “Blue Album,” Weezer

A bucket list

Monday’s list consisted of things I want to do in Chicago this summer; today’s list expands into more long-term goals. Here are some things I want to do at some point in my life:

  • Take violin and/or fiddle lessons
  • Learn sign language
  • Run a 5K
  • Learn Spanish or French
  • Meet Tina Fey and/or Cameron Crowe
  • Finish a feature length screenplay (preferably one that doesn’t suck, which probably means I’ll have to write several)
  • Try improv
  • Take a sketch writing class at Second City
  • Try out for a roller derby team
  • Finish reading “Infinite Jest”
  • Teach multimedia journalism
  • Move to a major city
  • Write, direct and edit a movie/film project
  • Travel to Paris
  • Publish a book

I’ve already got my derby name picked out for when I don’t make the team. (Penny Pain, bitches!) In order to teach multimedia journalism I will probably have to spend a little more of my career being, um, a multimedia journalist, not to mention go to grad school. So, of these, that one’s probably the loftiest goal — even more so than writing a screenplay or publishing a book. But it’s fun to think about, especially for someone who’s still not quite sure what they want to be when they grow up.

What’s on your list? What can you already cross off?

Top Five Dream Jobs

Today is not only the 3 1/2 year anniversary of my first blog post; it’s also my four-month mark at work. That might not seem like a long time, but believe me, within the context of my company’s history, it kind of is. In the spirit of this, I present today’s list.

I found this list I made last summer of my Top Five Dream Jobs (having just re-watched “High Fidelity” at the time). I was getting ready to leave my job in Columbus and applying for every journalism and video production job in Chicago. Here’s what I came up with ten months ago:

  1. PR for a zoo or animal rescue organization
  2. Coffeeshop / bookstore owner
  3. PR for the American Cancer Society
  4. Film critic
  5. Accomplished screenwriter

I don’t think these were in order of preference because I’d way rather be a film critic than do PR for a zoo. These all still sound pretty good, but I have to say, I’m about a million times happier now at work than I was at my old job. And I think I’d rather be where I am than suffering through another PR job, no matter what it was. So, much like John Cusack choosing owning his own record store over being an architect or something, I think I can say I’m working at one of my top five dream jobs.

A week of lists

It occurred to me a few days ago that this week (tomorrow, actually) marks the 3 1/2 year anniversary of this blog’s start. Because I don’t trust myself to notice the date’s significance six months from now, I’ve decided to celebrate now, because that’s a long time to narcissistically chronicle one’s own life for all the internet to see.

This blog started with a series of lists (hence the old “Making lists of other lists” tagline you see up top) but these days most lists I post are music-related. So this week I’m going back to this format with a new list each day.

Today’s list is my First Chicago Summer To-Do List.

  • Eat a Chicago hot dog (I can’t believe this hasn’t been crossed off yet. Don’t even start with me, Dennis.)
  • Go to Taste of Chicago
  • See an outdoor concert (Iron & Wine, Millennium Park a few weeks ago!)
  • Go to at least three two outdoor festivals (I’ve got one down so far — Rib Fest two weeks ago; May Fest doesn’t count because I never actually made my way into the festival)
  • See what the zoo looks like without snow on the ground
  • Eat a pizza puff
  • Go to Hot Doug’s
  • Eat at a Soup Box while it’s also an Ice Box
  • Go to the beach (I’m not counting my brief Monstrose Beach stop)
  • Fireworks at Navy Pier
  • Bike in the city by myself (haven’t worked up to the whole “by myself ” part yet)
  • Go to Ravinia
  • Visit an arboretum
  • Architectural boat tour on the Chicago River (or other boat tour)
  • Go see a movie in the park (the park across from my house participates!)
  • Visit Happy Village bar & beer garden in Ukrainian Village
  • Picnic with Daniel Burnham and my roommates in Graceland Cemetery
  • Ride each L line at least one

There’s more that I know I’ve said I’d do that I can’t remember, but let me know if there are any glaring oversights.

Happy half birthday to The Sleeper Hit; if my blog was a college student it’d be getting ready to graduate.

New music for the road

The King Is Dead

I’m working on a giant post about the trip I just took to Ohio, but in the mean time I wanted to write about one of my favorite parts about going home: the long drive back. It’s funny, I always dread it because it’s not much to look at, and I spend most of it cursing Indiana and its barren scenery. But I tend to remember just in time that I’m being given a chance to listen to music in the best possible circumstances, on a solitary drive with nothing to look at and nothing to do but really listen to lyrics, feel their intended sentiment, to get to know music deeply. Not like when I’m working or reading on the train and my mind’s elsewhere. This is my time, the time I make for music.

This is beauty.

You might remember that before I made my move here, I asked friends to burn me mix CDs to listen to on the way out. Then, when I was home in December, Brittany burned me an eight-hour personalized compilation to listen to the whole way back to Chicago. All this awakened me to my enjoyment of diving in to music on the road between Chicago and Caldwell, and back again.

Before I left Saturday I loaded up my slowly dying iPhone with the new Decemberists CD, “The King Is Dead,” and a couple other new-to-me albums I’ve picked up recently. I’d given the Decemberists CD a couple listens and liked having it in the background, at least.

My first exposure to this band was “The Engine Driver,” a song that kind of haunted me, in a good way. I used to listen to it on repeat for a while there a couple summers ago; I always meant to get the rest of that CD but never did. I’ve only got one other (whole) CD of theirs, “The Crane Wife”. I like it a lot, but I just kind of had favorite songs from it on steady rotation.

“The King Is Dead” is beautiful and engaging from start to finish. There are a couple themes: war, and the changing of the seasons. The whole thing just really flows well. It’s also got this folk-ish, buegrass-y sound I’ve really been getting into over the last year or so, in the way of the Wailin’ Jennies and that Jenny Lewis solo album I’m obsessed with. My brother compared its sound to the Gin Blossoms and as soon as he said it I heard it, too. I really want to look up the lyrics to “The Kind Is Dead” and read them in order.

Brandon and I saw the Decemberists a couple years ago during their “Hazards of Love” tour. They played the whole album straight through (it was a concept album) and I’d never seen anything like that before. Mostly I remember the set design was gorgeous. I wouldn’t mind seeing them again since I like this new stuff so much.

It made for good, sunny day driving music and I listened to it two or three times on the way in. I have a feeling listening to it in the future is going to remind me of going home; it’s funny how we can trace back music to where we heard it first, or sometimes just a memory of some random time we heard it. I was talking to someone about this a while ago, about memories tied to songs (sometimes inexplicably) and one instance sticks out in my mind.

In 2007 my friend Leah and I drove down to see another high school friend in Virginia Beach. It was right after that bridge in Minneapolis collapsed that summer, and we were driving through this long, underwater tunnel to get to Norfolk. We were listening to “Transatlanticism” by Death Cab (the song, not the CD), which I heard a lot around that time, but now when I hear it, all I can think about is being underwater in my mom’s suddenly claustrophobia-inducing car with Leah, trying not to think about that bridge collapsing under its own weight, and all the pundits talking about how shaky our nation’s infrastructure is. She and I didn’t say a word to each other, just listening to that powerful, intensely beautiful sweeping song, until we were on the other end of the tunnel, when sunlight never seemed more welcome. I told her I’d been terrified the whole time, thinking about that bridge, and she said she’d been thinking the exact same thing.

I’m so rarely in my car anymore, but when I’m going to Ohio and back I find myself imagining myself as this beautifully sad, independent traveler with an often melancholy soundtrack. I give myself over entirely to the music as if I’m acting out a scene from my own personal indie coming-of-age drama. Then I look down and realize I’ve got chicken nugget crumbs all down the front of my coffee-stained hoodie and I’ll remember I haven’t taken a shower that day. That’s when I have to stop to laugh at myself, at my own seriousness. It’s humbling.

Music is so ingrained in my life, intertwined with my own human experience. Guys have informed me I’ve killed bands for them and Lord knows guys have killed bands for me right back (O.A.R. and I will never be the same). But all I know is, should I ever go completely deaf, part of me will cease to exist. And that life is too short to listen to music you don’t absolutely love.

That said, I highly recommend “The King Is Dead” and probably you should pick it up immediately. Maybe now I’ll actually make the effort to hunt down the rest of their stuff.

State of sway

Also, this was one year ago this week:

It’s still by far one of my favorite videos that I’ve made. I never did properly blog about that trip across the country but having this video to remember it by makes up for it, lack of dancing abilities (on my part) be damned. Also, I can’t wait until my hair is that long again.

Here’s the original “Where the hell is Matt?” video to put ours in context:

A formal affair

My company hosted a fancy thing the other night at which cocktail wear was requested, and I decided to combine two of my favorite film fashion moments for the occasion. I took two parts Holly Golightly…

Elbow gloves, cigarette holder, fake diamonds

… and one part Penny Lane:

Shiny blue dress, blonde curls

…And ended up here:

It's go-time

It’s fun to have a prop. However, it led to me getting more comparisons to this than Audrey Hepburn:

Minus the puppy killing

And my friend Tyler insisted that I resembled Lady Bird Johnson, which I hope was influenced primarily by the elbow gloves, because she was not an attractive woman:


Death Cab For Cutie, “You Are a Tourist”

I heard this song a couple months ago and I wasn’t crazy about it. The lyrics seemed cliche and it sounded too different from what this band usually does and I couldn’t get behind it. I was afraid my love affair with Death Cab was coming to a close, going the way of Weezer and so many others before them. But I’ve been listening to it a lot lately and I’ve pretty much done a 180 on my original opinion; this song is beautiful, and there’s more to it than a repetitive refrain. Now I’m obsessed. I almost bought the CD on iTunes the other day but I’ve decided to wait to see if the library gets it in.

Death Cab’s coming to Chicago Aug. 25 and today I decided I’m going to be there. Any Ohio folks interested? Come visit me and see an awesome show, all at the same time. It’s a Thursday night, but you should do it anyway.

Death Cab For Cutie, “You Are a Tourist”

This fire grows higher
This fire grows higher
This fire grows higher
This fire grows higher

When there’s a burning in your heart
An endless yearning in your heart
Build it bigger than the sun
Let it grow, let it grow
When there’s a burning in your heart
Don’t be alarmed

This fire grows higher

When there’s a doubt within your mind
Because you’re thinking all the time
Framing rights into wrongs
Move along, move along
When there’s a doubt within your mind

When there’s a burning in your heart
And you think it’ll burst apart
Or there’s nothing to feel
Save the tears, save the tears
When there’s a burning in your heart

And if you feel just like a tourist in the city you were born
Then it’s time to go
And define your destination
There’s so many different places to call home
Because when you find yourself the villain in the story you have written
It’s plain to see
That sometimes the best intentions are in need of redemptions
Would you agree?
If so please show me

This fire grows higher
When there’s a burning in your heart

Walking with a ghost

Today I was walking to the library to pick up some stuff I had on reserve when suddenly I thought I saw my mom. Long-time readers may find this odd since my mom died three years ago, which is exactly why I found it so strange and stopped in my tracks on Michigan Avenue. It’s a good thing I wasn’t crossing a street.

Every once in a while I’ll see someone who looks like her, and it’s the strangest feeling. It’s only happened a handful of times, but I remember each one vividly because it just absolutely knocks the wind out of me. Standing in line at a Marshall’s in Columbus, eating dinner with Brandon at an Applebee’s in Zanesville, and suddenly it happens. It’s such a surreal roller coaster of raw emotions that plays out in milliseconds, where in an instant I am altogether shocked, elated and utterly devastated.

Usually it’s a middle-aged woman with short hair and hoop earrings, maybe wearing a blue jacket like hers. This time it was a tourist with a small, red leather backpack and a sweater tied around her waist, walking into a store on the Magnificent Mile. I almost made a move as if to follow her inside, kind of like when you think you see someone you know but it turns out it’s someone else and you laugh at yourself for almost running up to say hi. Except sadder.

Even though it really messes with my head when it happens, it’s not entirely unwelcome. For the longest time after my mom died, I never dreamed about her. My dad did, and I burned with envy as he recounted dreams of long conversations with her. When I finally did dream about her, months after, she never said a word. Sometimes she would have a new family, sometimes she was sick. Often she was sick. I’d usually forget in the dream that she was dead and waking up from that felt a little like losing her all over again, on a very small scale. It could really ruin your day.

When I started going to grief counseling, I began dreaming about her almost every other week. I knew talking about her was causing it, but she was showing up sick less and less frequently. I’d dream about the first summer I worked at the hotel, and packing my lunch in the morning with her in the kitchen getting ready to leave for the library. We’d say little of importance, but when I woke up, it seemed like nothing could ever be more important, and I’d struggle to remember every detail as they slipped away. It was still a jolt to realize I’d been dreaming but it was kind of like how my dad would describe seeing her — it was like she was visiting.

A couple of months ago she was there and at some point, something triggered in my brain that I was dreaming. I knew that she was still dead and not really there, yet I found myself begging for it not to be true. “Please let this NOT be a dream,” I said, convinced I could make it happen. And even though it obviously didn’t, having that kind of lucidity made me savor the moment more. Even if just for a little while.

It very rarely dawned on me in a meaningful way that my mom was a cancer survivor for 17 years. It was a thing that I knew, but the weight of it failed to impress upon me most of the time. My parents must have really downplayed the seriousness of her situation around me and my brother, which probably spared us some trauma and/or years of therapy. I remember I found her wig once, years after she went into remission, stowed away in the upstairs bathroom closet. When she casually told me what it was, that actually got through to me. I should’ve been more grateful more often for the time she was mysteriously granted, but it’s hard to convey that to a four-year-old, I guess.

This week one of my editors asked me to cover a cancer survivors celebration at a local hospital. I hate to say it, but I had to think about it for a couple days. I’m not bitter, I’m just unsure of how I’m going to act there. But I’ll be there regardless. I might be sorry I went but it’d be a shame to be too afraid to go because of how I might feel afterward. Especially when that’s nothing compared to what the people they’ll be recognizing have been through. So, remember me on Sunday afternoon if you think of it.

…Happy Friday! Right? You’re welcome.

Hope everyone has a good weekend.

An on-going list

Christina and I had an inside joke for a while about this guy I kept seeing  downtown, mostly on the red line, and then one time outside my office building. I declared him the mysterious boy from the train, and he was frequently reading interesting things and had buttons of good bands on his backpack. I imagined him being a grad student at DePaul, maybe a graphics design student or an architect. Christina would coach me on actually saying something to him that would not make me seem like a crazy person approaching strangers on crowded trains, and finally I promised her the next time I saw him, I’d do it, no matter what I was wearing that day, or if he had headphones jammed in his ears, or any other uncontrollable circumstances.

Unfortunately, the next time I saw him was in the elevator at work, and he quickly went from being the mysterious boy from the train to the way-less-mysterious boy who works at my company. On my floor.

It was fun while it lasted, I suppose.

When I was in a long-term relationship I used to think about what I could have been doing if I was single; then, when I was single for the first time in five years (for more than a couple months, anyway) I did those things. A lot.

  • Stay up late watching shows and movies any guy would abhor? Check.
  • Live in an apartment by myself and be fine with it? Check.
  • Stay out all night with my friends? Check.
  • Drink an entire bottle of wine/eat half a box of donuts by myself with absolutely no shame? Check.
  • Move to Chicago and not give up that dream like I thought I would? Check!

I have no intention of stopping said things (with the exception of moving out-of-state) but this has gone on a while now.

As much as I hate to admit it, I opened an online dating account a few months ago, even though I was unemployed and had no business trying to date anyone. I don’t want to put down online dating because at least one good friend met her perfect boyfriend through it and an acquaintance met her now-husband, but it’s not really the route I wanted to go. But there I was, post-New Year’s, fresh off a break up with my friend from back home, feeling sorry for myself. Maybe you know how that goes. Ugh.

Honestly, the best part of my online dating experience was filling out the profile questions, because I am so self-centered that I actually enjoy filling out questionnaires about myself. I tried really hard to make references to things that someone I would like would have to get, and basically re-created this post I once wrote about the listed qualities that would make up my version of the perfect guy (with the exception of the “Lost in Translation” put-down, as I’ve since come around to it).

I sat back and waited for the responses to pour in. The result was almost as humiliating as the time Stacey and I went to that radio station-sponsored man market last summer. The few messages I got were generic and boring, and when I went to the author’s profile page there would inevitably be something offensive, racist, perverted, and/or an affinity for John Mayer waiting for me to discover it. Deal-breakers abounding, to say the least. It was entertaining for a week, then quickly became discouraging.

I abandoned the site shortly after, although occasionally still would receive a hastily typed proposition from another poor sucker who can’t spell. This week I got one last piece of strung-together nonsense from another guy with another ridiculously cheesy user name and it sent me over the edge. I logged in for the first time since winter and deleted my account. Failed experiment officially over.

Aside from that brief relationship with the guy from back home that ended in December, I’ve been single since Brandon and I broke up. And, well, he’s marrying somebody else next month. I know it’s not fair to compare our completely different post-break-up lives, and I don’t regret what happened between us — but despite the fact that I’m the one who broke up with him, he’s got a lot more to show for it. His life is way more figured out.

May mine at least be more interesting. I don’t mean that as harshly as it sounds, it’s just that I know I don’t want to be the one getting married now at 25. That’s never been what I’ve wanted, and that’s why I’m not married to him today; I just want to meet someone interesting this summer, and not through an online dating site, or speed dating, or at a singles mixer.

Also, upon recent reflection, I’ve got a few requests to add to that list I made:

  • I want someone who likes what they do. If he doesn’t like what he does, he should be instilled with the ambition to change his situation.
  • I want someone who is a writer, and who appreciates, admires and is inspired by good writing.
  • I want someone who loves music furiously. That said, I am hereby instating the Death Cab Rule*: my own take on my friend’s Social Distortion Rule, a guy can’t like Death Cab more than I do. If he does, he’s bound to be even more miserable than I am.
  • I don’t want to date anyone who liked “(500) Days of Summer” a little too much. That’s got to be another sign of trauma that I can’t compete with.
  • I want someone who’s nice to both kids and dogs. And waiters.
  • I want someone who makes me laugh so hard sometimes I can hardly breathe.
  • I want someone who’s a little bit of an asshole. This is a tricky one, but if I’m honest with myself, it’s true. To me, the appeal of Mr. Darcy is that he’s an asshole to nearly everyone except Elizabeth; I mean, he’s horrible to her at first, but she wins him over. I want someone who’s kind of an asshole to everyone but me. This is going to horrify Christina, who is already concerned about my preference of Jess over Dean and what this says about my psychological state.
  • I want someone who’s in it to the exact extent that I am — no more, no less. That’s the delicate balance that always seems to mess things up. Someone always ends up falling a little too hard, a little too fast, and the other one gets scared. The whole thing unravels before half of the couple knows it. It’s not a good feeling to be on either end, but it happens, every time. Personally, I think it comes down to that old Woody Allen line about not wanting to be part of a club that would want someone like him for a member.
  • And most crucially, I want someone who loves the pickles delis always serve you along with your sandwich, even though you didn’t ask for them because you hate pickles and you’re tired of throwing out piles of unwanted, revolting pickles every year.

I think that’s it for now. With the way this list keeps growing, I’m undoubtedly setting myself up for some major disappointment. But I guess that’s where compromise comes in, when it really comes down to it.

*I don’t think I need to add Rilo Kiley to this equation because I don’t think guys relate to Jenny Lewis’s particular brand of self-loathing the way we do. I could be wrong about that.