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2015: The Year in Random Thoughts and Obsessions

For my yearly wrap up of 2013, I wrote, “All hail the return of the king – David Bowie – and the art of the music video.” And I included a link to his surreal collaboration with Tilda Swinton for ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’. Two years later and RIP, we’re talking and posting about how much we’ll miss Bowie. (My thoughts can be found here.)

Yes, the last year has been especially tough. I’ve lost friends and heard of marriages dissolving, read helplessly of terrorist attacks in France and the continuing assault on women’s rights in the U.S. Not to mention the masses of refugees desperate for safe havens and the innocent lives struck down by gun violence.

“Day In Day Out

Stay In Fade Out”

Yet, in the midst of everyday upheaval, small glories continue to reveal themselves. Glimmers of hope to remind us that we are not alone, that quite simply, wonders never cease. Here’s a small sampling of some of my favorite things from the world of popular culture:

lady story

Yes please! More stories about strong females. (photo taken at a shopping center in Sha Tin, by therockmom)

  1. Serena Williams tops my list for consistent awesomeness. What a joy to watch her match against Heather Watson at Wimbledon. I was with my daughters and nephews on a sunny summer morning, trying to explain the arcane scoring system. All of us cheered on Williams yet at the same time felt inexplicably proud that Watson could stretch her to three sets. Later in the year, the girls and I watched the marvelous doc, Venus and Serena, and although Williams didn’t get her Grand Slam at the US Open, we still knew: she is the greatest.
  1. In movies and television, we sought out strong girls and women and, even in the midst of the industry’s glaring inequalities, still found a few to shout about, namely: Kate (Emily Blunt/Sicario), Riley and Joy (Inside Out), Alex (Priyanka Chopra/Quantico), Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw/Beyond the Lights), Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska/Ida) and of course Rey (Daisy Ridley/Star Wars Ep VII). Recently I’ve had the pleasure of introducing my kids to The X-Files Season One and the complex relationship between Scully the scientist and Mulder the believer. As the new episodes remind us, the X-Files is just great storytelling.
  1. While I still can’t convince EO and YO of the wonders of Jane Austen, school assignments and various recommendations (not quite me shoving a book in to their hands and saying: read this! but close, lol.) have introduced them to classics by Harper Lee, Truman Capote, Joan Didion, F. Scott Fitzgerald and William Golding along with plenty of Judy Blume.
  1. And in the Department of Obsessions, I still can’t get enough of Castle, Mesut Ozil (COYG!), Maneki Nekos and Justin Beiber’s (lack of) facial hair. Say what you want, go on, I can take it 😉

    Imagine Dragons & phones

    The lights! The sounds! The… phones. Well, two out of three ain’t bad. (photo taken at Imagine Dragons’ HK show, by therockmom)

  1. Last but certainly not least, music! Live highlights of the year were Clockenflap in Hong Kong and Taylor Swift in Washington DC. For Swift, it was the girls, Grandma plus me and my dear friend and her daughter. We sat (and stood) in awe at Swift’s seemingly effortless command of the stage. She is a Force, thankfully using her powers for good, not evil. However, due to her dissatisfaction with Spotify, she’s not on my playlist of the year’s best. Instead I’ve included Ryan Adams’ version of ‘Wildest Dreams’, which was my favorite song of hers from 1989. His cover is just okay, kind of standard, sensitive RA. As I listen I realize that his whole take on 1989 has missed the point entirely. The point is that these songs were written by and about a young woman and her very specific experiences with the push and pull of desire. So a guy in his ‘40s? I don’t think he can quite capture what she’s feeling, that moment in time. As much as I love Ryan Adams, he could have given this project a miss.

I’ll finish here with the playlist – 25 songs from fantastic recent releases and a few new-to-me-this-year discoveries (KING, Sun Kil Moon). Interestingly, over half the songs are from female singers/bands and women-fronted bands. Not that I was aiming for that gender balance, it just happened, but I’m pleased nonetheless.

So much good music out there – listen, discover, enjoy!



Notes From Another Land

He sits on the back porch to smoke, because he’s not allowed to smoke inside. He has a comfortable chair and a radio out there – tuned to news talk – and a glass of ice water. His dogs like to sit in his lap. The smell from his cigarette sneaks by the back door, through the kitchen to where I’m sitting on the couch. I’d like to go outside and sit with him, but I hate the smell. These fumes have been with me since childhood, and they are of no comfort whatsoever.

Hong Kong - London - Houston

Hong Kong   –   London   –   Houston   (photo by therockmom)

It’s my turn now. Time to fly half way round the world to be with my Dad who’s been diagnosed with cancer. Time to make the trip that I’ve seen countless expat friends make to their parents: for dementia, for heart attacks, for Alzheimer’s, for Parkinson’s. When we do get the call – and we all will – we hope we’ll get back in time. We hope we’ll have time, to make up for all that we have lost.

I knew this day was coming. I thought I was prepared, but I don’t think you can ever prepare for your parents getting sick. And when you’ve chosen a life overseas the situation somehow seems more desperate. It takes me a day and a half to get there – 34 hours door to door – and I can only stay one week.

The lady at the rental car place reminds me how to get on the Beltway. I leave the airport and head east on a gray Sunday afternoon. Though I’ve been coming to Houston for 25 years, I don’t call it home. My Dad moved here when I was in college. And if it weren’t for him, my stepmom and their friendly neighborhood Mexican restaurant, I would feel nothing familiar or welcoming about the place. Houston the city is flat, flat, flat. There are only a few pockets of beauty here: the forests around The Woodlands or the bayous and coastline on the way to Galveston. But otherwise this place is prairie flat and industrial ugly. There’s no other way to describe it. Driving on 610 toward the shipping channel, all I see are tired strip malls, freeways, storage units and paint-faded apartment complexes: immediate move-in, no deposit required.

It’s rainy and cold on my first day. My Dad is still recovering from surgery but he’s more active than I thought he’d be. We watch the local evening news where the lead story is about a 15-year-old Clear Lake girl raped and killed in a Satanic ritual. The 17-year-old boy arrested for the crime claims he sold his soul to the devil. He told his accomplice that if he wanted the same for himself, he would first have to kill this girl. The teenagers carved an upside-down cross in to her stomach. This story will play for the rest of the week while I’m here, and I’m reminded why local news is only good for sports and weather.

I drive my Dad all over Pasadena, to two different doctors, to the Social Security office, to the barber and the grocery store for prescriptions and milk and steaks. He is my radar detector, my driving instructor, pointing out every county constable or city police cruiser that could give me a ticket. He knows instinctively when my speed inches one mile above the limit and he warns me so. Watch your speed, he says. It makes me smile. He gives me directions blocks and blocks before I have to turn. I indicate I’m going to turn well before I normally do, to make him feel better. We listen to Country Legends and Sports Talk on the radio. For the sake of our relationship, we haven’t discussed politics since W’s second term. So we talk about Johnny Manziel’s NFL draft prospects and the newly-named coach of the Longhorns. He tells me why the chemical plants have to burn off waste through their smokestacks.

In the parking lots, I sense a direct correlation between the size of a person’s truck or SUV and the level of fury at the current administration. Drivers express their anger in bumper stickers: Reclaim America! Stand and Fight! Don’t Believe the Liberal Media! There are a lot of big trucks, a lot of bumper stickers here.

We drive by tire stores and Salvation Army shops, nail salons and taquerias. On a stretch of lawn outside the post office, there’s a picture of Obama with a Hitler moustache and IMPEACH in big, block letters. Last month they were calling him Satan. Make up your minds already.

I wonder if people would feel better if they lived somewhere more naturally scenic, prettier. Where there was something beautiful on the horizon, and not just power lines and the flares burning at the chemical plants.

Maybe I’m reading too much Joan Didion, maybe I should give the place a chance or at least agree to disagree with their politics. Maybe it’s the shock of mortality, hitting me like a drunk driver on the access road. Whatever it is, it’s tough. It’s tough to be here, but it’s good to be here, with my Dad. I try to keep my emotions in check. I play with his dogs. I talk to my husband and my siblings on the phone. I go shopping at Target. I take photos, of chemical plants. And late one night, while I’m sitting on the couch watching a movie, my Dad comes out of his room for a snack and a smoke. He’s in the mood to talk, so we stay up until 2:30am and we talk – about religion, the Catholic Church, about why he stopped going after he divorced my Mom. He says he still likes the ceremony, the liturgy. His wife was raised Lutheran. He says, you know Lutherans are just bob-tailed Catholics.

It’s been a week of difficult news and a long road to come, but he still has his sense of humor. He still stays up with me.

Texas, oh Texas.

Texas, oh Texas. (photo by therockmom)