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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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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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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I’m more than I appear

One of the challenges that accompanies my depression is that I often tell myself, and believe, lies. Among those is that a man will choose me based only on my appearance.

I don’t know where I got that from. I know it’s not true.

But when things go wrong in romance, I often trot out that lie and use it to flog myself. When my boyfriend broke up with me earlier this year, I did just that.

It’s a silly reaction, and not only because I know it’s untrue. I also tend to like my appearance. I could recite my flaws for you the same as any woman (or man, I suppose), but when I look in the mirror, I’m happy with what I see.

I’ve never been a fashionista or particularly savvy with makeup, but I have long believed that when you feel good, you look good (regardless of what you actually look like). And so when a girl friend invited me to join her for a mall makeover just weeks after the breakup, I quickly said yes.

The resulting makeover gave us fodder for a Jezebel column (the plan all along), but it was also an educational pick-me-up. One of my best friends was particularly thrilled with the results, I think because she recognizes that your outward appearance can reflect how you feel inside.

Mall Makeovers

Carla Jean’s Beauty Routine: My daily routine combines a bit of Southern expectation with a more relaxed attitude toward appearances. I usually apply BB cream, mascara and lip gloss at a minimum. On days when my reporting job requires me to meet with prominent people, I usually go for a full—but natural-looking—face. I’ve also become comfortable walking around town in sweaty workout clothes and no makeup, in large part because I’m a yoga teacher on the side. Read more “Mall Makeovers: Going Cruelty-Free in Birmingham, Alabama” at Jezebel

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Filed under Autobiography, Insecurity

Where can you buy ‘Birmingham Beer’?

ABC 33/40 – Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

One of the questions I’m asked most frequently is where my books are sold. (This is a good problem to have. In fact, I’d say it’s not a problem at all.) There are plenty of options, including your local bookstore (even if you’re not in Birmingham, your favorite shop can order it for you), the national chains (same story) and the usual online retailers.

But in the Birmingham area, there are several additional places you can pick up copies of “Birmingham Beer”:

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2015 concerts

  1. Glen Hansard, Iron City, Feb. 2, 2015
  2. Triumphant Trumpet: Tamberg Trumpet Concerto, Haydn Trumpet Concerto and Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4, Alabama Symphony Orchestra with conductor Carlos Izcaray, Alys Stephens Center, Feb. 13, 2015
  3. Punch Brothers, Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, Feb. 27, 2015
  4. Authentic US presents an evening with Josh Vasa and Sanyasi, Desert Island Supply Co., March 21, 2015
  5. Wye Oak with William Brittelle, Alabama Symphony Orchestra Classical EDGE series, Alys Stephens Center, March 26, 2015
  6. The Music of John Williams from the Movies of Steven Spielberg, Alabama Symphony Orchestra, Wright Center, Samford University, May 2, 2015
  7. Garth Brooks with Trisha Yearwood, BJCC Legacy Arena, June 13, 2015
  8. The Watkins Family Hour with Secret Sisters and Buddy Miller, City Winery, Nashville, Aug. 1, 2015
  9. Taylor Swift, Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Oct. 24, 2015
  10. Chris Thile, Alys Stephens Center, Nov. 2, 2015
  11. Damien Rice, Iron City, Nov. 15, 2015
  12. Jeffrey Butzer and T.T. Mahoney perform “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” Saturn, Dec. 20, 2015

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Filed under Autobiography, Listing, music

Here I go again on my own

Whitesnake might not be exactly the best soundtrack for this moment, but I’ve got that refrain running through my head just the same. Today is one year and two days since the publication of my first book–and four days shy the publication of my second.

This moment snuck up on me. How, I’m not sure. I began research for “Birmingham Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Magic City” days after I submitted the manuscript for “Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How the Swampers Changed American Music.” And to be honest, it’s not a path I would recommend! Perhaps that’s not something I should admit in such a public forum; I think it’s been a worthwhile experience. But it means the past couple of years have been a whirlwind.

Earlier this week I received my first media request for this new book, and realized it was past time to update my media kit and add a “Birmingham Beer” page to my website. Two days later, and I’ve already seen three media appearances.

I’m lucky, I know. Yes, I work hard, but I don’t think hard work alone results in these opportunities. My first book fell into my lap, and the second came along while I was in the midst of writing the first. When people ask what’s next, I get to respond “taking a break!” I never could have dreamed that taking a break from writing books would be a treat.

So here I go again. I say it’s on my own, and in some ways that’s accurate. Writing is a solitary endeavor, and I’m the only person sure to show up at every one of my book signings. But I couldn’t do it without the people who lived the story of Birmingham beer. This community has been eager to share its story with me, and I had a ridiculous amount of fun writing it. This–and so many other things!–also wouldn’t be feasible without my community of friends and family. That was the best part of my first book, and I’m excited to celebrate with these people once again.

5things beer

I spent much of the past year researching and writing the history of Birmingham beer. Time and again, people have said to me, “That must be a pretty short book. Birmingham didn’t have beer until, what, 2008?”

And there’s some logic to their inquiry. Of Alabama’s current breweries, the oldest is Good People, which sold its first beer on July 4, 2008. But—as the owners and staff would be quick to mention themselves—they are standing on the shoulders of so many who went before them. —Read more “Five things you probably didn’t know about Birmingham beer” at AL.com.

The Homewood StarLocal author Carla Jean Whitley will launch her newest book, Birmingham Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Magic City, at Alabama Booksmith on July 27.

The book is a part of The History Press’ American Palate series and explores the history of breweries in the Birmingham area, from 15 years after the city’s founding to some of its newest craft breweries. –Read more “Birmingham Beer history book to launch at Alabama Booksmith” at thehomewoodstar.com.

015-CarlaJeanWhitley-Twitter

Carla Jean is one of the first people I approached about being on Birmingham Shines because I know how much she loves Birmingham.

We decided to time her appearance on the show to coincide with the release of her new book,Birmingham Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Magic City, which will be available for purchase starting July 27, 2015. –Read more “Carla Jean Whitley: On writing, on Birmingham” and listen to the podcast at birminghamshines.com.

See all press here.

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Filed under Autobiography, Birmingham Beer, Books

A super simple yoga sequence for relieving workplace discomfort

One of the beautiful things about my job is the freedom to work from home. But I’ll be honest: When I choose that option, I don’t exactly optimize it ergonomically. I’m usually sitting on my couch or in an arm chair, bent over a laptop. My head droops to meet my computer screen, and my shoulders roll forward.

I know better.

A few minutes of yoga can bring my attention back to my posture while working out some of the kinks created by this setup. During a writing frenzy Friday, I stepped away from the computer and onto my mat for a few minutes to address those very issues. This super simple sequence takes three to four minutes and offers significant relief.

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