Stop, drop and yoga (or sleep)

Yoga doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Recently an AL.com colleague, Social Media Manager Elizabeth Lowder, asked me to Snapchat a few poses for the company’s account. I selected five simple postures with end-of-day relaxation in mind. Enjoy!

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May 1, 2016 · 8:30 pm

Bend, don’t break

Camel for HellaWellaOver the years, I’ve had a few occasions to be interviewed by reporters, and let me tell you: Being on the other side of the notebook will leave you compassionate for your interview subjects. It’s both strange and flattering when someone takes interest in a journalist’s work.

My most recent experience, though, wasn’t focused on my writing: It was all about yoga.

Jennifer Dome King interviewed me about yoga poses that will alleviate pain in various parts of the body, and it was a blast. We met in Birmingham’s Railroad Park for a combined photo shoot and interview, and I love the results! (The camel photo is my favorite. That pose feels blissful to me.) Read all about it at hellawella.com. Thanks, Jen, for reaching out.

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Filed under Press, Yoga

Art shapes us. How has it formed you?

Triple Take BraggIt started with a text. My colleague John Hammontree (pictured above) messaged Edward Bowser and I in January, suggesting we collaborate on a podcast about books, music and movies and how they shape us.

John’s message was probably just that long, with few details. But it struck a nerve, and later that week we sat around a coffee-shop table to hash out what such a project could entail.

We recorded a test episode, which was a great way to confirm our hunch that we’d work well together–and that we needed to improve our audio setup. That took some time (and money) to figure out. Then we needed to book our first guest.

If we’re going to make something of this, let’s swing for the fences, we thought. We hit a grand slam when we interviewed Rick Bragg, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, bestselling author, writing instructor and magazine columnist. I’m delighted by the results.

You can read more about the podcast and stream the first episode here, or subscribe (please subscribe!) in iTunes. We intend to release two episodes per month, and we welcome suggestions for future guests.

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Filed under Audio, Journalism

We all have stories, and I believe yours matters

“Morris liked to share the books with others. Sometimes it was a favorite that everyone loved, and other times he found a lonely little volume whose tale was seldom told. ‘Everyone’s story matters,’ said Morris. And all the books agreed.”

I read “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” to my Avondale Elementary students during my final visit of the year. Once a week since October, I’ve visited them to encourage a love of reading. After the week’s book, I would distribute prizes–books!–earned by reading and completing a report on a book from their Better Basics-provided classroom library.

Two days after that classroom visit, I was to speak to a group of creatives about story at Birmingham Creative Roundtable. A light bulb went off: I should begin my talk with William Joyce’s book.

I’m passionate about story. That may be an obvious statement from a writer, but let me elaborate. I believe storytelling goes beyond the written word, beyond an oral tale. It shows up in nearly every aspect of life. Whether they were in photography, web design, branding, coffee or some other area, I told these creatives, storytelling is part of their work.

You can watch that talk in the video above, and work through your own story with guidance from this handout.

The event also motivated me to retell my own story. I focus more of my energy on telling those of others, and the about page of this site had become woefully out of date. I chose a career in writing as a child, and my motivations have been shaped by experience. (You can read more about that here.) Life as a storyteller is a step-by-step journey, and I hope my walk doesn’t end until I reach my grave.

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Filed under Autobiography, Journalism, Reading, Soapbox

The art of storytelling (and how to tell yours)

More to come soon, y’all, but I wanted to get this handout up for all those who I spoke with this morning. Thanks to Birmingham Creative Roundtable for the opportunity to share my story.

The Art of Storytelling

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Feminism and the things I’ve done for the first time, or, six months in review

My friend Amy turned to me, a double IPA in one hand and a tiara at the ready. We were two women at a bar on a Monday night, something she marveled at when I sat down. When she was 18, she explained, people didn’t believe she’d be anything other than a wife. She was smart, sure, and capable. But “wife” was the job title she seemed best suited for–merely because she’s a woman.

Amy’s 57th birthday was the next day. We are more alike than different, but decidedly not of the same generation.

When I left home at 18, my mom sat me down to deliver important instruction: You can always come home, she said. No matter what happens in life, you have a place here. That sort of support is the undercurrent of my life. Mom and Dad always believed I could accomplish whatever I dreamed of, including becoming a writer. I would be defined by who I am, not whose last name I carried.

It’s been six months since I parted ways with a man who I thought I would marry. For almost three years, being half of that particular couple was a significant part of my identity. I didn’t define myself solely as his girlfriend, but I was loved and loved well. It shaped me.

In the months since, though, I’ve tried many things for the first time.

It’s not that he held me back. He supported and encouraged me at every turn, celebrating my successes and striving to understand things he didn’t. After the first yoga class I taught, for example, he offered detailed feedback that I employed the next week. I believe he is as much a feminist as I am. But it’s easy to become comfortable in relationship, and sometimes I would opt for our regular routine over something different. If anything, I tried fewer things because I was comfortable.

At 34, I have a well-defined sense of self, but I also recognize that I’ve got plenty of life to live and learn. So when my regular routine vanished, I tried new things–and held onto several things I gained from that relationship. (Yes, I still watch the UFC.) I’m fortunate to be reminded by the women and men in my life that my individuality matters, that I am capable and that being a woman is a wonderful thing.

New things I tried this year (mostly post-breakup):

  1. Visited rural Texas. On purpose.
  2. Tinder
  3. Discussed Tinder with Pat Conroy (yes, really, and no, he isn’t on it. He’s married, silly.)
  4. Played on the company kickball team
  5. Joined a gym
  6. Started hiking kind of often. Ish.
  7. Danced in the dark
  8. Mixing first-person storytelling with reporting
  9. Switched to cruelty-free beauty products
  10. Bought my own symphony tickets
  11. Bought tickets overseas
  12. Traveled across the country on almost no notice
  13. Experimented with weekly podcasting
  14. Began teaching a weekly yoga class
  15. Filmed a yoga video

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Filed under Autobiography

Sounds of the season: My five favorite Christmas albums

I’m something of a grinch. I admit it (and appropriately, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” is my favorite holiday cartoon). Parades and the hoopla around holidays leave me grouchy.

It’s probably not surprising, then, that I’m not one of those people who flips to the all Christmas music, all the time station as soon as it cranks up for the year. I don’t love most Christmas music. But the Christmas music I love, I really love. Like, move-me-to-tears-and-take-me-back-home love.

Today AL.com has a short essay I wrote about one of my favorite Christmas albums, the simply named “Christmas” by the group Alabama. As I prepare to spend the holiday with my dad’s family tomorrow and my mom’s family on Christmas day, my five favorite Christmas albums (listed in no particular order) will accompany me:

  1. Alabama “Christmas”
  2. Amy Grant “A Christmas Album”
  3. Red Mountain Church “Silent Night”
  4. Over the Rhine “Snow Angel”
  5. Vince Guaraldi Trio “A Charlie Brown Christmas”

There isn’t a Sunshine State line in “Christmas in Dixie,” the Alabama track that debuted in 1982 and anchored the band’s 1985 “Christmas album.” Although the album released while we still lived in Alabama, I associate it with gathering around the tree in our suburban Florida home. We would often crank up the air conditioning to balance a blaze in the fireplace, decorating the tree in shorts and T-shirts and running outside to unseasonably warm weather with to play with whatever gifts Santa bestowed. Read more “Alabama’s ‘Christmas’ album has called me home for 30 years” at AL.com

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Filed under Bits & Pieces, Listing, music

The sound of solitude

Beginning at age 4, my nightly tradition became reading a book while listening to music. I may have set a sleep timer on my 1980s clock radio, or perhaps I let the Top 40 sing me straight through till morning. I don’t recall now. But as far back as memory will carry me, music was the background to my life.

That changed several years ago. I found myself switching to public radio or silence for my post-work commute; I’d had enough stimulation throughout the day. When I got home, I left the radio, iPod and iTunes idle.

Quiet took music’s place.

My evenings are instead filled with the sounds of my cats’ meows, a train rolling down the tracks miles away or the clatter of my fingertips across the keyboard. Podcasts provide occasional company and information, particularly when I’m in the middle of a hated task like folding the laundry.

I thought this was the result of years of music writing. I dabbled in the genre starting my freshman year of college, and after years of reviewing I needed a break. It’s fun to be the first among your friends to acquire an album and declare a band the Next Big Thing, but it becomes exhausting. (And I know people who are much better at than I am!) Frequently, I longed to listen to The Beatles instead of whoever was coming through town next. Silence seemed an apt response as I moved away from the music beat.

There may be truth to that. But tonight, as one of my best friends and I decided to take a break from social media, for the first time I realized that may be as much a factor.

I’m addicted to information. I surely check my email a hundred times a day. Typing in “fa” for Facebook or “tw” for Twitter before letting my browser complete the rest is almost a tic. During a recent magazine subscription purge, I narrowed the list to 10 must-have mags (and that was as deep as I felt I could cut). Social media, however, can serve as a bullhorn rather than a means of discussion. And I’m tired.

So I’m taking a break. It’s something I’ve never done before; I’ve been on Facebook since 2004, Twitter since 2008. I believe in their value. (Just last week, Facebook alerted a couple of Pennsylvania friends that I was in New York City when they would be, as well. I’m glad for the impetus to get together.)

I’ll be back, I’m sure. The aforementioned friend and I are taking a step back during the Advent season, intentionally drawing boundaries with social media in hopes of creating more space in our lives. Many posit that it takes 21 days to form a habit. Accurate or not, we’ll see where we are at the end of these 22.

“The capacity to be alone is the capacity to know enough about yourself and who you are, and be comfortable enough with that. That way, when you are with another person, you’re not trying to make that person into somebody you need them to be in order to buttress a fragile sense of your own self. You can actually turn to a person and see them as another person, and have a real relationship with them.” —Sherry Turkle in “Relearning How to Talk in the Age of Smartphone Addiction.” Our discussion of this article is what led Heather and I to take this break.

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Filed under Autobiography, Reasons why

I screamed so loud but no one heard a thing

My relationship with Taylor Swift began with yoga, coffee and a break up.
imageI met Brooke at a yoga class in June. She approached me after I taught and bubbled over with enthusiasm and encouragement. Later, I asked a mutual friend why she seemed so familiar.

Right. Because she’s on TV and we had exchanged a half-dozen work-related emails over the years.

Brooke and I met for coffee weeks later, and our friendship quickly moved from yoga to heart issues when she asked how I prepared for teaching.

“Well, my boyfriend of three years broke up with me two days prior to the class you took,” I said. “When I planned that session, I focused on maintaining an open hear even after heartbreak.”

Brooke teared up. Her best friend had recently called off their relationship, she said, and Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” became her anthem in the aftermath.

We shed tears in that suburban coffee shop and declared our friendship cemented. And Brooke insisted I buy Taylor’s “1989” as soon as possible.

By that afternoon, I asked a coworker to take a coffee break with me because the one-two punch of “Wildest Dreams” and “How You Get the Girl” bad me welling up at the office. After we returned from that coffee run, I looked up the 1989 tour. I needed to be there.

My therapist OK’ed a bit of retail therapy in the wake of that break up. She said I was doing well, but it was fine to brighten my day with purchases within reason. I took that to heart, refreshing my makeup routine and subscribing to a flower CSA. On that June afternoon, I didn’t think twice about dropping $118 to see Taylor Swift, alone, in Atlanta.

image

It’s been nearly five months, and “1989” is an album that I return to repeatedly. I suspect fame has increased Taylor’s maturity, and there’s much I relate to as a result. The album creates a safe place to process the often-heavy emotions that accompany life and loss. In fact, the dichotomy of Taylor’s upbeat pop and the more nuanced lyrics is exactly why I (think I) prefer her version to Ryan Adams’ beautiful, mournful cover album (and I’m an RA fan girl).

Tonight I’ve donned my red-lip classic look and set out for the Georgia Dome. It’s a pilgrimage second only to seeing Paul McCartney years ago, another show that carried such emotional importance that I didn’t beauty to go it alone. Tonight I’ll sing, dance and cry in a dome filled with thousands of other people who have been moved by this music. Tonight I’m going to party like it’s 1989.

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Filed under Autobiography, Love letters, music

She needs new faces, she knows the high stakes

This summer has been filled with stress and change, some of it positive, other elements less so. I’ve been seeking positive ways to ease those adjustments: subscribing to a flower CSA, attempting to increase the number of yoga classes I take per week, setting aside more and more time for reading.

Today, inspiration struck.

A song playing over the sound system at Urban Standard reminded me of the Dixie Chicks, and so I spent the rest of the day listening to “Taking the Long Way” (an album I’m still infatuated with, all these years later). I tweeted about my music of choice, and later noticed the band’s account had favorited that tweet. So I clicked through to the band’s Twitter profile–and remembered they’re touring Europe this spring.

Then I did what any normal person would do. I hopped on Ticketmaster and bought a pair of tickets to see the Dixie Chicks in Birmingham, England.

A coworker giggled as I narrated the purchase. (“I don’t even know how much I just spent! How do pounds convert to dollars?”) Several people have already asked if I purchased tickets in the wrong Birmingham by mistake. (I didn’t.) Now, I’m daydreaming about my first-ever European trip.

One of my greatest regrets is giving away tickets to see the Dixie Chicks on their “Fly” tour. My sister and one of my best friends went, while I spent the weekend on a ministry retreat to one of Florida’s least appealing beaches. Fifteen years later, I’m correcting that mistake.

I’m not yet sure how this plan will come together. I’m not positive it will. I have to figure out airfare, lodging in multiple cities, what I want to see and do in England and whether I can justify the expense. Oh, I need to be sure my passport hasn’t expired! But I have time–the show isn’t until April. As many reasons there are to travel abroad, why not make the impetus for my first such trip a concert? It’s something I’ll look forward to for months to come–and likely won’t forget for years afterward.

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Filed under music, Travel