Malick preview, new Civil Wars, a story slam + sour milk cake

Last night I stayed late at work for a focus group, which meant I didn't get home until nearly 10 o'clock. As I was unfolding my bike outside BART for the final ride home, I was surprised to realize a stranger had stopped to help me hold it stable as I hooked my two panniers on the back. I thanked her, saying something like, "I'm OK," and then realized she was still standing there, holding the handle bars. So then I asked her how her day was, and we chatted briefly before going our separate ways.

When I still walked to BART from work in the days before my bike, I sometimes stopped in for a latte at Caffe Trieste. One day, an elderly man who proved to be a jazz musician, struck up conversation with me, and I stayed to drink my latte at his table. It was gloriously mundane, our talk, yet also a kind of ideal version of what can unfold from "how was your day?" I must have confessed to avoiding some tedious task at work, for we eventually wound up discussing procrastination and the merits of just diving into something you don't feel like doing. One time I stopped by the day or week of my birthday, and B.J. insisted I take $5 to buy myself a drink. When he wouldn't take the change, I kept it and used the rest to buy some yarn and notecards at a thrift store. He later died from some kind of cancer, but I'll always remember our short, but unhurried conversations.

In some ways, both they and last night's exchange are like stones you could store inside yourself and still draw warmth from anytime you happened to draw out the memories and gently tumble them against your fingers.

For good or bad, many creative outputs are probably far less enduring than such gemlike moments, but I'm a bit hopeful my latest two pieces for Her.meneutics (a two-part series on singleness) hold up better than usual.
:: events ::
  • March 2: local band Thao and the Get Down Stay Down (recently featured on NPR's First Listen) play Great American Music Hall, with opening bands that include Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside. I found Thao's new album a mixed bag, prompting equally strong like and dislike by turns, but I really enjoyed hearing Sallie & co. when they opened for Wanda Jackson last year.
  • March 9: The Relatives play Bimbo's. The just got a very nice write-up in the New York Times, which situates their resurgence in a broader trend of "young crate-digging producers" resuscitating the careers of long-forgotten bands.
  • March 11: The Moth story slam, which I believe is the first such event in SF (Moth slams take place in other cities, too). Theme: secrets (you have to prepare a 5-minute story to deliver, including a conflict and resolution). 
  • March 20: Josh Ritter plays the Fox, and you could win tickets for two by entering Book Passage's short-story contest. Stories must involve a musical theme or concern music and cannot exceed 2,500 words. How to enter.
    Also that night: Ivan and Alyosha's show in the Mission, which I hope to catch (see below).
  • April 11-13: Dark Star Orchestra residency at Great American Music Hall.
  • May 12: Buddy Miller plays Great American Music Hall; tickets on sale Feb. 24.
:: visual art ::
:: reading/food for thought ::
  • My friend Susan Isaacs wrote a piece for Donald Miller's Storyline blog this week that I really liked. Titled "What's that big thing God wants you to do," it's a reflection on inspiration and calling that packs in a lot more wisdom and nuance than one could get in many similar pieces. Pieces like this could so easily be a bit fluffy and superficial, but I really thought she packed a lot in.
  • I found this a thought-provoking take on "platform" and its construction, from an editor at Intervarsity Press. In it he wrestles with the new book Platform from publisher Michael Hyatt -- which basically talks about current expectations and methods for marketing yourself and your work. I appreciate some of the questions Zimmerman asks. Part two of Zimmerman's series.
  • When does talent shield you from breaking the rules? This reflection on the recent suicide of programmer Aaron Schwartz is a thoughtful meditation on risk-taking, ethics and the way perspective changes over time.
  • From the Paris Review archive: 1967 interview with John Cheever. I'd never heard of him until I confessed disappointment with the stories of John Updike to Dana Gioia a few years back. I love Updike's prose (which it's almost criminal to read silently), but the narratives left me cold. Dana recommended I read some Cheever. I have lots of short stories left to read, but Cheever's certainly proven more memorable than Updike. Some favorites so far: "The Enormous Radio," "The Day the Pig Fell into the Well" and "The Housebreaker of Shady Hill." If I read any more Cheever on those evenings when the sun sets well after my return home from work, it will be a good summer.
  • Coffee-lid design probably doesn't consume your thoughts unless one works badly, but the Wall Street Journal had interesting article on one design that highlights the beverage's smell better than many lids. and other inventions on display at the Crunchies Awards.
  • Musical ability has been linked to cognitive improvement in other areas, such as reading (note that this speaks more of musical training than talent, per se, implying that music lessons pay off even if you're not that good).
:: tunes ::
  • Several months back when NPR did one of their seasonal music previews, a song called "Be Your Man" wooed my ears with its joyful, multi-part harmonies and driving rhythm. The song was from a band called Ivan & Alyosha, which apparently had no full-length album out at the time. Now they do, and NPR Music brings the whole thing to First Listen. My ears are very, very happy.
  • New Civil Wars music: Despite cancelling their tour a few months back, the duo is still working together, Paste reports, and collaborated with T. Bone Burnett on the soundtrack to a food-related documentary called A Place at the Table, due out later this month.
  • NPR has a nice assessment of trumpeter Donald Byrd's career, that looks at his commitment to education -- particularly ensuring the presence of black voices in music departments that were often mostly white and focused on European music. One of his breakout hits from the 70s was the album Black Byrd. Hear the title track.
:: food ::
  • I can't remember if I've shared this here before, but do you ever have your milk go bad before you've drunk it all? If you're inclined to toss it out, why not make cake instead? I've served this simple sour-milk spice cake at several events, and it's always a hit. (Note the tip on making sour milk if you don't have any on hand.)

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