All work and no play …

I’m in the process of becoming trained as a yoga teacher, and the nine-month-long training includes writing a number of papers. I’ll post them here because, well, that’s what I do. The fifth writing assignment was a reflection on the book “Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are” by Brene Brown.

Earlier today I read a blurb for a New York Times story that grabbed my attention: “One of the biggest complaints in modern society is being overscheduled, overcommitted and overextended. Ask people at a social gathering how they are and the stock answer is ‘super busy,’ ‘crazy busy’ or ‘insanely busy.’ Nobody is just ‘fine’ anymore.” Because I was in the middle of five or six other things, I bookmarked the article to read later.

I’m a goal-oriented, driven people pleaser, and as a result I tend to overcommit myself. Many times those commitments are to good things, things I’m excited to do. But those obligations often steal my joy. I’m more focused on completing the task than I am on enjoying the process.

So as I read Brene Brown’s words about cultivating both play and rest, I was reminded of how quick I am to skew priorities. Much as Brown and her family prioritize sleep, time together, meaningful work and time to piddle, I recognize that my life is much more satisfying when those things take precedence. But I also keep a goals sheet that I refer to frequently.

These things aren’t necessarily counterproductive; most of my goals are directly tied to satisfying work. There was a time when I walked away from my lifelong dream of becoming a professional writer. After two years of putting that goal aside, I realized how much less myself I felt. Pursuing that work is an important part of me. f I were to emulate the Brown family’s “ingredients for joy and meaning” list, that would be near the top.

The danger is when I allow the work to crowd out other, sometimes even more important, ingredients. I’ve realized that in recent years, and my 30s have so far been focused on striving for a more balanced life with more thoughtfully drawn boundaries. Simultaneously, I’m learning that imperfection is OK. Perfection is a myth, a standard that isn’t humanly possible. By allowing myself to let go of others’ expectations for what I should do or who I should be, I’m better able to take ownership of my goals, my time and my life.

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GUEST POST: Coping privately while living publicly

In recent weeks, I have been  featuring a series of guest posts about depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses. My hope is to convey how many people face these challenges by providing a platform for others to share their stories. Today’s post is by Blake Ells, a writer, radio man, rock ‘n’ roll fan and publicist based in Birmingham, Ala. Learn more about him at or follow him on Twitter @blakeells. 
Should I write this? Should I not? The only thing that prevents me from sharing my story is that you’ve probably heard it. Having begun radio at 17 and being quickly propelled to eight-hour daily shifts on one of the largest sports radio stations in the country by the age of 22, I’ve never had much of a private life.

When I came home on July 1, 2008, and found half my things gone with no explanation, it was paralyzing. I didn’t eat for about 36 hours, but I still had to go to work, be on air, try to tell jokes. One of our co-hosts was on vacation that week, and I was having to fill that role. The starvation nearly made me pass out on air, and I was told I had to get someone to run the board long enough for me to go force something in my stomach. Coping with my wife leaving me was debilitating.

I lost 60 pounds over the next six weeks. I left my house to go to work daily, and I came straight home, daily. The first time I tried to leave for another reason, I had a panic attack that literally brought me to my knees.

I saw a doctor, but only with the intent of finally trying to solve a lifelong reflux disorder (which I still have). As I sat in the office, I saw a poster on the wall that listed ways to self-diagnose depression. “Not sleeping? Not eating?” Yeah. Yeah. All of those. So I told him, and he said, “I’m not particularly worried about your weird reflux thing because you’ve lived with that your entire life. I’m worried about your crippling depression.”

Over the next two years or so, I’d unravel the mystery of why I lost half of my silverware, I’d lose what I thought was my dream job and I’d have my house hit by the April 27, 2011, tornado. I stopped taking the pills (I was on Lexapro) because I was having to take on so many part-time jobs and side hustles to pay the bills I had been abandoned with that I couldn’t even stop to notice anything irregular about my own well-being. So no, I’ve probably not ever really recovered. But I’ve learned how to cope with it now on my own, and it’s not as frightening.

In a lot of ways, I was also hesitant to share this because at its core, it isn’t quite as dramatic of a personal triumph as some others. But the story is my own. Being surrounded by people and knowing that you’re able to entertain folks doesn’t mean you can’t feel alone. I still do. Often.

Would you be willing to share your experience with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts or other mental-health illness? Email me at cjATcarlajeanwhitleyDOTcom. I’d love to share your experience as a guest post.

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What I’m writing: August 2014

These are stories I wrote that were published this month.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: The Never-Ending Season: Devoted football fans are Finebaum’s business

finebaum 07This is a repost of a story that originally appeared in the July 2007 issue of Birmingham magazine. Dick Coffee Jr. hasn’t missed an Alabama game since 1946. Hunter Finch tells himself that Auburn players can hear his voice above the din in Jordan-Hare Stadium. UAB graduate Jeremy Harper says the least a fan should do is become a season ticket holder.

Paul Finebaum may not know these men as individuals, but he’s well acquainted with their kind. Read more “The Never-Ending Season” at

Riding the Rising Tide: Paul Finebaum’s career trajectory has carried him from newspaper reporter to ESPN commentator

finebaumWhen Paul Finebaum came to town in 1980 as a Birmingham Post-Herald sports reporter, he had little idea of where his career would carry him. After decades as a newspaper reporter, columnist, syndicated sports talk radio host and author, this month Finebaum will be part of the launch of ESPN’s SEC Network on both television and radio. Nearly simultaneously, HarperCollins will publish “My Conference Can Beat Your Conference,” co-written with ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski. The book focuses on the Southeastern Conference’s dominance and the 2013 season in particular. Read more “Riding the Rising Tide” at

2 a.m. at the Cat’s Pajamas: A 10-year-old chases her jazz club dreams

cats pjsIt’s 7 a.m. on December 23, and Madeleine Altimari is shimmying. In 30-second intervals, the girl attempts to perfect her moves, pausing in between for a quick drag from a cigarette. After each interval, she rates her work on a school-letter scale. She has yet to check off the day’s other rehearsal tasks: singing, scales, guitar.

Madeleine is two days shy of 10. Read more “2 a.m. at the Cat’s Pajamas” at

Dreamy Tunes: A year of powerful dreams influenced Orenda Fink’s latest album. 

orendaSinger-songwriter Orenda Fink’s music has often been marked by her spiritual influences. That’s been true in her solo work as well as when she has recorded with fellow Alabama School of Fine Arts grad Maria Taylor under the name Azure Ray. Fink’s latest album, “Blue Dream,” was inspired by dreams and spiritual exploration that followed the death of her dog, Wilson. The album will be released by Saddle Creek on Aug. 19. Read more “Dreamy Tunes” at

My Conference Can Beat Your Conference: Bragging Rights on the Gridiron

finebaum coverWho cares that the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Florida State University won the 2013 Bowl Championship Series college football championship? The Southeastern Conference ran away with the previous seven consecutive titles, saw a conference member finish second in the 2013 series and pitted conference members head-to-head for the 2011 title.

Does all of this sound like a foreign language? Then proceed to the next book review. But if your knee-jerk reaction to the SEC’s accolades is to argue that your conference is unquestionably the best, then bump to the top of your reading list My Conference Can Beat Your Conference: Why the SEC Still Rules College Football by Paul Finebaum and Gene Wojciechowski. Read more “My Conference Can Beat Your Conference” at

Want more? Visit my “What I’m writing” Pinterest board.

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GUEST POST: Be gentle with yourself

This week (or for as long as I have volunteers), I’m featuring a series of guest posts about depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses. My hope is to convey how many people face these challenges by providing a platform for others to share their stories. Today’s post is by Kristen Nielsen Donnelly, a researcher, teacher and PhD candidate at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland. A transplanted Philadelphian, she researches women and religion, deeply misses proper coffee and can be reached on Twitter at @klndonnelly

Five days.

I looked at the clock blinking in the dark. 4:05 a.m. My roommate was asleep, had been for hours. Me? I couldn’t sleep. Wasn’t able to and hadn’t been able to for five days. I couldn’t shut my brain off, couldn’t stop the building fear that everything was going to fall apart that had no logical explanation behind it.

I had always been … shall we say, intense. Throughout childhood and adolescence, I had carried this need to keep busy, creating lengthy projects for myself like copying song lyrics into endless notebooks so that I would never have to be alone with my own thoughts. I feared falling asleep; those moments between the light going off and actually falling asleep were torture and a therapist had told me to start talking out loud to put myself to sleep. And that worked. Until I went to college and couldn’t talk. And the creeping fear of failure and panic that I couldn’t shake and hadn’t been able to shake, had only barely been able to keep at bay, erupted.

And I hadn’t slept for five days.

I laid awake analyzing every moment of the day, the week, the year, my life. I cried thinking of interactions I had had with people years previously, feeling shame at how I reacted or did not react. I convinced myself that no one would ever love me. I mean, how could they with all these apparent and concrete flaws? I berated myself for not being “enough:” not being disciplined enough, not being skinny enough, not being friendly enough. You name it, I felt it.

It was paralyzing.

I had contemplated suicide several times during my adolescence, actually creating a plan only once. I ended up confessing to my mother that I just wanted “the voices” to stop. Alarmed, she took me to a therapist who told her I was suffering adolescent angst and would grow out of it.

But the voices were really my voice. My own self-shaming voice which never shut up and by the time I hit day five of sleeplessness that October of freshman year, I knew I had to find a way to shut it up.

Once the dawn began creeping through the windows that final morning, I crept down to my resident director’s room, figuring that she could at least tell me what doctor to go to who could give me sleeping pills or something. I needed my brain to stop whirring and I needed to sleep. Through tears and hiccups, I told her a lot of what I just told you. She lovingly made me tea and let me sit in her living room until the local doctor’s office opened. She made an appointment for me that afternoon and drove me to it, telling me the whole time that I was brave.

I did not feel brave.

I felt broken.

I had been raised to be strong, you see. A true product of the Northeastern Corridor, I had absorbed the cultural message that strength meant never letting them see you cry.

That day was the start of a journey to understanding that as one of the most damaging lessons we ever learn.

The doctor in that sleepy Kentucky town was lovely. He listened and asked some gentle questions. At the end, he looked me squarely in the eye and said, “You have an anxiety disorder. Your brain doesn’t work properly and you’re actually unable to handle stress. This isn’t your fault and you’re not broken. You just need some medicine to help you. There is no shame in that. In fact, taking the pill is brave.”

That was 13 years ago this autumn. Since then, I’ve been on a fairly high dose of Zoloft every day. I’ve had a few foolhardy attempts at taking myself off of it. That didn’t go so well. It’s gone hand in hand with therapy at times, and that therapy has gone hand in hand with learning to let others into my pain. To learn to vocalize the fears instead of letting them fester, to learn to give myself grace and to extend it to others, to learn that tears can be holy and to learn that brokenness is usually the root of strength.

My mental health is in balance right now, but a tenuous balance at best. Keeping that balance is a daily struggle and will be forever, I have learned. I have coping mechanisms–podcasts have replaced talking myself to sleep, for instance–and the people I do life with know my journey because, honestly, the pill isn’t enough on its own. They know that I can’t always process stress well and that I tend to take personal interactions personally. Bless them, they put up with a lot. I hope I’m worth it.

Several years ago, I had a period of intense personal trauma and a friend took me out for coffee. As I poured out the eruption of anxiety in my head, she grabbed my hand as tears filled her eyes. “That’s a lot, darling. Be gentle with yourself as you wade through it. Be gentle.”

So that is my plea to you, reader. If some of my story rings true, be gentle with yourself. If none of it does, then I hope you will be gentle with yourself in whatever battle you’re fighting. Be gentle. Fighting for your health does not include beating yourself up. You do what you can each day and at the end of it, take a deep breath and realize that tomorrow is a new day where the battle may be easier. It may be harder, true. But the day after may be easier. And if you can find hope in that, then be gentle.

Would you be willing to share your experience with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts or other mental-health illness? Email me at cjATcarlajeanwhitleyDOTcom. I’d love to share your experience as a guest post.

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GUEST POST: It’s OK to not be OK

This week (or for as long as I have volunteers), I’m featuring a series of guest posts about depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses. My hope is to convey how many people face these challenges by providing a platform for others to share their stories. Today’s post is by Jessilyn Justice. Jessilyn is a copy editor at Alabama Media Group, a regular contributor to Venn Magazine and Birmingham magazine and, most importantly, a dear friend.

This November will mark 11 years since I attempted suicide. I was in seventh grade, barely 13 and so lonely despite my friendships that I thought it would be easier to swallow an entire bottle of Tylenol than face my schoolmates. 

I’d struggled with darkness for probably two or three years before that night. For someone so talkative, there would be days at a time where I wouldn’t say anything at all, taking in my surroundings and evaluating how much I believed everyone else liked me.
All I remember from that night was the stomach ache from hell and waking up in the hospital with my mom helping me drink barium for the CAT-scan, regaling me with tales of Curious George having to drink it so they could see the puzzle piece he ate.
The hospital diagnosed it as a ruptured cyst, and I don’t think I came clean to my parents until four or five years later.
By all outside appearances, I shouldn’t struggle with depression: I have a strong family life, good friends, a job in the career I want to pursue, but that doesn’t stop the anguish of not having the fortitude to climb out of bed in the morning to face the world again.
I cut myself for five years, hiding the wounds under clothes, though the scars are still visible to this day. When I was 18, I got a tattoo meaning “for I have been set free, liberated, unchained and unleashed,” and then I snapped rubber bands against it to the point where it swelled.
I’ve been in and out of this routine, in and out of counselors’ offices and the church pews.
I have a hard time seeing what other people see and me, and that’s when the darkness starts to edge its way back in. All through college, I was afraid to admit my struggles, afraid my ultra-Christian university would judge me for backsliding into a story that was supposed to be a testimony for how God can heal. I was so afraid that as a Christian, I shouldn’t be experiencing depression, that if I truly believed in what I said I believed, that God would grant me this magical peace and happiness about my life. I was afraid to admit to the darkness, fearful of the judgement of other Christians.
But then I discovered that talking about it helps, that there are many people — close friends, even — who’ve experienced the same thing. Depression attacks people in different ways, and having honest conversations about it can only lead to you conquering your own battle.
Someone close to me told me something revolutionary a few months ago: “It’s OK to not be OK.” It’s OK to admit you’re struggling, it’s OK to admit you hate your life. It’s not OK to be rude and take it out those around you, blaming them for your situation. But it is OK to look at your life, identify your unhappiness and seek ways to be healthy.
Would you be willing to share your experience with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts or other mental-health illness? Email me at cjATcarlajeanwhitleyDOTcom. I’d love to share your experience as a guest post.

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I am depressed and I’m happy

I burst into tears as I answered the intake questions for UAB psychiatry. “I’m sad, and I’m having trouble getting up off the bathroom floor to work, and I think maybe I need help—and maybe the fact that I’m crying is proof,” I said. The man on the other end of the line quickly identified a psychologist he thought would be a good fit and scheduled my appointment.

I had been self-identifying my depression for 16 years before I placed that call, and before my first appointment ended, my therapist affirmed my diagnosis. “It sounds to me like you have a family history of depression, likely caused by a chemical imbalance but exacerbated by circumstances. I also think you have seasonal affective disorder. Does this sound right to you?” I loved that she gave me space to disagree, but I didn’t need to. Her words—and the treatment that followed—offered freedom.

In the years since, I’ve been on a small but important personal mission to help break through the stigma associated with mental-health issues. It’s hard to say what would have been different if I had sought help earlier. I’m not 100 percent confident in saying that the stigma was all that held me back. But I’ve always been scared to admit imperfection, even when flaws are beyond my control.

I’ve learned that things I thought were simply part of my personality were actually symptoms I didn’t have to live with. (Did you know it’s not normal to cry at least monthly for no apparent reason? I didn’t.) Taking a small, daily dose of an anti-depressant isn’t a big deal; as one friend noted, if I were diabetic I wouldn’t aim to get off of insulin. That shift in perspective is significant, and the symptoms of depression seem to show up when I lose perspective. Twice-monthly therapy appointments have helped me build healthy coping skills. Rather than believe the lies I tell myself, I’ve learned to articulate them to a friend. Although I still face insecurities (hi, I’m human), I know how to deal and don’t let them define me. When I hear how ridiculous it sounds, negative self talk loses its power.

Sertraline and therapy have been a regular part of my life for the past two years, and people find it difficult to believe I am actually depressed. My therapist says I’m in remission, for lack of a better term. Friends say it takes strength to admit when you need help. Although I agree, I wouldn’t have phrased it that way at the time. I simply knew I couldn’t walk through my depression alone.

Depression can be debilitating, but it doesn’t have to be. Let people into your life, and ask for help when and if you’re able.

Would you be willing to share your experience with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts or other mental-health illness? Email me at cjATcarlajeanwhitleyDOTcom. I’d love to share your experience as a guest post.


Oasis Counseling

UAB Psychiatry

Alabama Psychiatric Services

National Alliance on Mental Illness


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Upcoming events

The coming week will be a whirlwind, and one for which I’m grateful. I’ll be selling copies of “Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How the Swampers Changed American Music” at a number of events around central and north Alabama, and I’m excited to have so many opportunities to do so.

Aug. 10, 10 p.m.-midnight: Join me and The Audiovore’s Lee Shook for a two-hour discussion of Muscle Shoals music. The show airs at 107.3 FM and can be streamed at

Aug. 12, 6 p.m.: Fultondale’s free Movies in the Park, featuring a screening of the documentary “Muscle Shoals” and a performance by the Kerry Gilbert Band. Thanks to Alabama Media Group’s Sara McCarty for this great event preview: “Fultondale’s free Movies in the Park series to feature special screening of of ‘Muscle Shoals’ music documentary”

Aug. 14, 6 p.m.: Muscle Shoals Chapter of Credit Unions (private event) I’m looking forward to speaking to this group, which I’m told includes a number of musicians.

Aug. 15, 6 p.m.: Birmingham Arts and Music Festival Muscle Shoals Tribute at Avondale Brewing Co. I’ll be selling books while listening to the music of Bad Brad and the Sipsey Slims with the Legends of Muscle Shoals, including David Hood, Kelvin Holley and Will McFarland

Aug. 16, 11 am.-2 p.m.: Coldwater Books in Tuscumbia. I hope to see friends from the Shoals area at this charming bookstore.

Aug. 19, 7 p.m.: I’m excited to sign copies at Church Street Coffee & Books–and this event will be fun for people who already have the book as well as those who don’t! Carrie Rollwagen will interview me about the book in between sets of live music (covering some of the area’s iconic songs, of course). The shop will also serve free whiskey sours. Thanks to Village Living for including the event in the paper’s August issue: “Signing for Muscle Shoals history book coming to Church Street this month.” 


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A reading to-do list

Lately my life is even more about reading and writing than usual–and let’s be honest, that’s a dream come true. Sometimes people ask why I do so much (full-time magazine editor, freelance writing and editing, teaching, yoga, etc.). But all of these activities tie back in to my greatest loves: reading and writing. Although yoga may not be an obvious connection, it helps me disconnect from the over-active to-do list part of my brain–which in turn leaves me feeling more creative and open to new ideas. It’s a beautiful cycle.

Thanks in part to a schedule made even busier by a number of upcoming book events, I’ve recently started a to-read list (in addition to all of my other lists–did I mention I’m type A?). I’ve got a number of reading and writing assignments due in the coming weeks, and this list has helped me keep my priorities in line. It may seem a bit silly and intense, but it’s working for me.

I wanted to read “The Mockingbird Next Door” by Marja Mills as soon as possible after its release, in large part because of the national conversation regarding whether or not it was written with Harper Lee’s knowledge. (For what it’s worth, I don’t think Mills could have written the book without consent from the Lee sisters.) But I had to finish “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brene Brown before yoga teacher training (barely made it), and reread “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” before my Harry Potter book club met (success).

It’s a different approach to the way I read, but it’s working. And I’m simultaneously being pointed toward other books that I own but have yet to read; for example, in Mills’ book, the Lee sisters talk to her about Paul Hemphill’s “The Ballad of Little River,” among other books that relay Alabama’s history. I love Hemphill’s “Leaving Birmingham,” and own but have yet to read several of his other works.

Between writing my second book (due far too soon!) and powering through my ever-growing reading list, I’ve decided I need to take a two-week vacation: one week to piddle and read whatever I feel like reading, and a second to write, write, write. I’ve got the vacation days, but I’ve got to clear my calendar of events in order to make this dream come to life.

Recently acquired:

  1. The Art of Creative Nonfiction by Lee Gutkind
  2. Nick Saban vs. College Football by Christopher Walsh
  3. Season of Saturdays by Michael Weinreb
  4. Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle
  5. Songbook by Nick Hornby (one of my all-time favorite books in a snazzy new edition)
  6. Muscle Shoals Sound Studio by yours truly
  7. The Hideaway by Lauren K. Denton
  8. The Brewmaster’s Table by Garrett Oliver
  9. The Oxford Companion to Beer edited by Garrett Oliver
  10. The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills
  11. Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
  12. Deadline Artists edited by John P. Avlon, Errol Louis and Jesse Angelo 

Recently read:

  1. The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills
  2. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
  3. The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown
  4. This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
  5. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
  6. The Public Library: A Photographic Essay by Robert Dawson
  7. The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

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What I’m Writing: July 2014

These are stories I wrote that were published this month.

Tour This Town

vulcaningSure, you know that Vulcan keeps watch over the city, that the Birmingham Museum of Art has one of the largest municipal art collections in the southeast and that the Alabama Theatre is historic. But how much time have you spent really getting to know the city? Read more “Tour This Town” at

Musical History: The four towns that comprise the Shoals area are jam-packed with music and activities

shoals“Muscle Shoals” is the buzz again, thanks only in part to the eponymous documentary that debuted at Sundance Film Festival in 2013. The film recounts the area’s musical roots, which date back to the late 1950s. It became a hotbed for the recording industry in the 1960s and ’70s, and at one time claimed a higher ratio of hits per recording sessions than any other music industry town.

Now, bands such as The Civil Wars, The Secret Sisters, The Bear, Drive-By Truckers, Jason Isbell and Birmingham’s own St. Paul and the Broken Bones boast ties to the area, and their success has returned northwest Alabama in the national spotlight. But they’re only part of the reason to visit the Shoals region, which includes the cities of Muscle Shoals, Florence, Sheffield and Tuscumbia. Read more “Musical History” at

Family Band: Dead Fingers solidifies its sound even while adding a new band member and a baby to the mix

Big Black DogDead Fingers released its eponymous album in February 2012. But in some ways, the band’s “Big Black Dog” could be considered its debut.
“When we made that first one, we weren’t really a band yet,” explains Kate Hollingsworth, who formed the group with her husband, Taylor Hollingsworth. Read more “Family Band” at

Snapshot in Time: A Birmingham 100 depicts people who influence the city’s culture 

a birmingham 100When photographed in black and white, a portrait is more tightly focused on the subject’s essence. Props and accessories can fade as facial expressions become even more critical. The viewer is often left with an intimate understanding of the subject.

That effect is prominently displayed in the photography project “A Birmingham 100.” Headshot photographer Kenwyn Alexander has spent months creating images and video interviews of 100-plus Birmingham-area residents in an effort to capture what he believes is the essence of the city: its people. Read more “Snapshot in Time” at

Friendship: Expectation vs. Reality

friendshipEmily Gould has built a career as a blogger for her own Emily Magazine and Gawker, as well as the part owner of Emily Books. She is also author of the memoir, And the Heart Says Whatever. With her first novel, Friendship, Gould turns her eye toward the spectacle of female adulthood friendships.

For years, Bev Tunney and Amy Schein have faced New York City together. They met while working in low-level publishing jobs. But they became best friends when Amy moved into her tiny Brooklyn apartment below the BQE, and Bev stopped by to keep her from feeling lonely. Read more “Friendship” at

Birmingham Batch

batchThese days it seems you can get anything delivered to you via mail. Monthly boxes of makeup, clothes, pet treats and more are all the rage. But Nashville-based company Batch twists the idea in favor of promoting a city’s local artisans. Each box includes food, beverage and other items, locally made. Read more “Birmingham Batch” at

Get in on the Secret

secretBirmingham’s discovery music festival returns the first weekend of August, when music fans will again take to downtown venues to hear music from their favorite and soon-to-be favorite bands. The 2014 Secret Stages lineup includes 60-plus bands spread across seven stages: Das Haus, Pale Eddie’s, M Lounge, Matthew’s, Harold and Mod (all ages stage), Miller Lite Outdoor Stage on Morris Avenue and the VIP lounge at Parthenon Event Center. Read more “Get in on the Secret” at

Meet Birmingham magazine Account Executive David Phipps

David PhippsDavid Phipps gained plenty of sales experience before he came to Birmingham magazine, most notably at Black & White. And so this University of Montevallo grad was a natural addition to the Birmingham magazine team when he joined in June 2014. David lives in Highland Park with his calico cat. Read more “Meet Birmingham magazine Account Executive David Phipps” at

Meet Birmingham magazine Editorial Intern Morgan Taylor.

University of Alabama journalism student Morgan Taylor is spending her summer as part of the editorial team at Birmingham magazine. Morgan’s background already includes experience with The Tuscaloosa News. Got a question for Morgan? Email her at mtaylor@bhammag.comRead more “Meet Birmingham magazine Editorial Intern Morgan Taylor” at

From reviewer to author

Muscle Shoals Sound Studio coverI was recently part of a group of readers who were assessing recent reads and recommending a variety of books. A dozen people curled themselves around cups of coffee in the second-story nook of my local bookstore, eager to hear what upcoming books the booksellers would suggest.

Some of those gathered—including me—were equally excited to share the best books we’d read lately. But as the conversation grew more analytical, I was taken aback by a realization: Soon, readers could be assessing my book. Read more “From reviewer to author” at

And then, of course, there’s this: Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How the Swampers Changed American Music

Want more? Visit my “What I’m writing” Pinterest board.

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The big city calls and your daughters are smiling in the windows of apartment buildings

As we took in the sound of Gabe Witcher’s bow dancing across the strings of his violin and Greg Garrison’s carefully chosen plunks of the bass chords, I was overwhelmed again by Punch Brothers’ debut album, “Punch.” When I reviewed the album at the time of its 2008 release, I spent six weeks obsessing over it before putting it aside for three months. The music is absorbing, and I needed a beat away from its introspective content.

I had wanted to play this album for my boyfriend since we began dating two years ago; he’s an audiophile and a classical music fan. I knew this album would sound fantastic on his speakers, and I suspected the composition, which takes cues from classical music and jazz, would grab his attention.

After the recording ended, I noted that my interest in attending Alabama Symphony Orchestra performances–particularly the masterworks series–was likely influenced by this album, and most certainly by its primary composer, Chris Thile. Before meeting Put, I attended a handful of ASO special events. But I had never been to what I thought of as a “proper” symphony performance. I wasn’t sure if I’d like it, but I wanted to find out. (Put took me to hear the ASO perform one of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies during our first few months dating. I’ve been hooked.)

In other words, “Punch” was a game changer for me. But it certainly isn’t the only album that holds that distinction. Caedmon’s Call’s “40 Acres” was the first album to make me realize sometimes the best songs aren’t on the radio. It took a while for it to click, but “Abbey Road” was the album that kickstarted my Beatles fan-dom. I don’t know what made me hear the album differently than the first five or six times I played it, but once it made sense, I couldn’t get enough.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, and I know I’m not alone. I want to know: Which albums have been game changers for you?

Today’s subject line comes from Punch Brothers’ “Blind Leaving the Blind: Third Movement.”

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