September 29, 2013

An Example of the Various Ways 26 Letters (and A Few Numbers and Symbols) Can Be Combined

I don't know about you guys, but I have always been one of those ridiculous people who gets absurdly excited when I've just learned something that is completely and totally useless and irrelevant in any way, shape, or form. I've got more useless information stockpiled in my mind than I would ever care to admit, and I count myself as very lucky to run across a particularly frivolous fact before sitting down to write this blog. According to Mental Floss's blog (which is one of my favorite websites and a fabulous place to wile away the hours), the melody of Vladimir Putin's favorite Beatles song "Yesterday" came to Paul McCartney without any words. Until he could find the words that have since become the stuff of legend, he walked around his house humming, "scrambled eggs, baby, I love scrambled eggs," so he wouldn't lose the tune. (You can find the entire article, "11 Fun Facts about the Beatles" in the link listed below). It seems that genius and madness truly are separated by a very thin line.

Anyways, as promised, this is the first edition of our monthly newsletter thingamajig that will really do nothing but give you lot an inside look at how dreadfully delightfully uncool we are. Since this is the first go, it will be pretty experimental until we figure out what works and what doesn't.

What We're Doing
1. Scales. I sing scales in my sleep, I kid you not.
2. Writing/recording/writing/writing/recording. This is the fun stuff! It's such an incredible experience to see something that we created in our minds become a tangible object. We've truly been blessed to find a producer who is beyond talented and so passionate about his work. He has a gift for getting inside our mixed-up minds, finding the root of the song, and coming up with something that blows us away. We'll be hitting the studio again in a few weeks, and I'm getting more impatient everyday!
3. Scales.
4. School. For Beau and Braeden, September brought about the beginning of the school year. For me, it brought about the joy of reminding both of my younger siblings that I don't have any school to do because I have graduated and I'm taking a semester off. They grow less tolerant of this every time it's mentioned, but it's hard to hear their complaints over the fun of being free.
4. Scales.
5. Wrangling little monsters two- and three-year-olds at church. I love this age group. Their noise level is spectacular, their ability to love unconditionally is inspiring, and their enthusiasm and thoughtless expression of emotions are contagious. I never knew how much fun it was to build a tower of blocks and run at it, full speed ahead, with my arms flung out to the side and a battle cry on my lips. There is as much fun in the destruction as their is in the creation. Plus, their constant need for the answer to "Why?" make it even better. These kids will believe anything!

What We're Listening To
(I have to start this off by saying that the grammar fanatic in me wanted very much to revise this title and make it say "To Whom We're Listening," but the obsessive-compulsive desire for continuity and parallel structure won out. It took five minutes of great internal struggle before I could get on with this post.)
1. Paramore's self-titled CD. Beau and I have always been fans of Paramore and the band's leading lady, Miss Hayley Williams. It's impossible to dislike her, thanks to her magnetic, charismatic performances, her killer vocals, and her fiery red hair. She is the embodiment of a highly caffeinated energy drink, with all the charm of a red velvet cupcake with sprinkles on top. I just love her, and this album has made me love her even more.
2. Daughter. I happened upon this band very early one morning while I was on YouTube. I can't remember what songs led me to them, but I'm very grateful they did. Elena Tonra has the voice of an angel, and it pulses with more feeling than Ron Weasley could ever believe any one person could possibly feel. If you've heard of them, you are an honorary member of some lofty, enlightened club. If not, you have now, so go check them out.
3. Imagine Dragons. This band is the greatest. It's Time caught my attention, Radioactive gives me the desire to break through the windshield of the car and go all Rambo on a tree, and everything else is beyond criticism. A++++++++.
4. Ed Sheeran is the second ginger to make this month's list and will most likely be mentioned in every month's list. I love this guy. He's short, he's a Lego enthusiast, and his cheeks can turn the color of his hair. Don't get me started on him, because I will go and go and go and go.

What We're Watching
1. The Avengers. We are superhero freaks in this house, so anything that Joss Whedon created that includes Iron Man, Loki, and Captain America (Beau is his biggest fan, though I think that Iron Man is much more better* than Spangly-Butt Tight-Pants)is bound to be a hit with us. I think we've watched it at least a dozen times, and unlike Thor (which is also a fabulous movie that we all love), I paid attention to the whole thing, not just the first thirty minutes. (I like to watch them and pretend it's a short film called Loki.)
2. Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Iron Man 3, Iron Man deleted scenes, Iron Man bloopers, Iron Man behind the scenes. Ok, so what? I'm a big Iron Man fan. Sue me.
3. Sherlock. We've recently been introduced to the brilliance (and emotional trauma) that is British television. Feeling good, life going well, everything looking pretty nice? Don't watch anything offered to you by BBC. Run. Run. But seriously, if Robert Downey Jr. insists on being happily married, Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hiddleston are very nice consolation prizes.

What We're Reading
1. Harry Potter, or Emotional Trauma in Book Form by J.K. Rowling. Still no letter. Still waiting. Always.
2. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, or A Study of Emotional Trauma and Extremely Nonfictional Feelings for Fictional Characters in Fangirls by Stephen Chybosky. This book is powerful in a way that very few books are nowadays. It hits me every single time I read it, no matter how many times I've read it before, and I'm left speechless and feeling a bit confused in finding once again that Charlie is in fact not a real person.
3. The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare. Don't talk to me about these books. I still can't think about them.
4. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. This book surprised me and actually turned out to make the list of my favorite books. It's just weird enough to keep me turning the pages while driving home a very real point about something that I've yet to figure out. I'll get back to you when I do, though.

Well, to make up for the length of last week's post, I'm going to cut this one off. Enjoy your weekend, remember to tell someone you love them, master a new form of martial arts, and either be very grateful it's actually cool enough to wear sweaters or turn the air conditioner on and pretend it's not 80-something degrees.

Xx, L.

P.S. Here is the link for the article I mentioned above! Very cool to read.

*I am aware that "much more better" is not correct grammar, but quoting Capt. Jack Sparrow (the only real captain) has proved to be the only way to get some points across.

September 22, 2013

George Saunders's Advice to Graduates

I recently had the pleasure of coming across a lovely little article by The New York Times sharing the convocation speech author George Saunders shared at Syracuse University. While it is long past graduation season, it was a good read full of advice drawn from Saunders's personal experiences, touching on the importance of kindness and the trouble that comes from swimming in a river full of monkey poo. I liked it so much, actually, that I've decided to share it in this week's blog post. Not only was it interesting and personable, Saunders's speech really drives home how absolutely necessary it is to be kind in a world that is actively fighting against all acts of it. I've taken away from it a new desire to show kindness, and I hope you will too, no matter how little kindness the world has shown to you. Everyone you meet is fighting a battle of their own, and no act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.

"Down through the ages, a traditional form has evolved for this type of speech, which is: Some old fart, his best years behind him, who, over the course of his life, has made a series of dreadful mistakes (that would be me), gives heartfelt advice to a group of shining, energetic young people, with all of their best years ahead of them (that would be you). And I intend to respect that tradition.

Now, one useful thing you can do with an old person, in addition to borrowing money from them, or asking one of them to do one of their old-time dances so you can watch while laughing is ask: "Looking back, what do you regret?" And they'll tell you. Sometimes, as you know, they'll tell you even if you haven't asked. Sometimes, even when you've specifically requested they not tell you, they'll tell you. So what do I regret? Being poor from time to time? Not really. Working terrible jobs, like "knuckle-puller in a slaughterhouse?" (And don't even ASK what that entails.) No. I don't regret that. Skinny-dipping in a river in Sumatra, a little buzzed, and looking up and seeing like 300 monkeys sitting on a pipeline, pooping into the river, the river in which I was swimming, with my mouth open, naked? And getting deathly ill afterwards, and staying sick for the next seven months? Not so much. Do I regret the occasional humiliation? Like once, playing hockey in front of a big crowd, including this girl I really liked, I somehow managed, while falling and emitting this weird whooping noise, to score on my own goalie, while also sending my stick flying into the crowd, nearly hitting that girl? No. I don't even regret that.

But here's something I do regret. In seventh grade, this new kid joined our class. In the interest of confidentiality, her convocation speech name will be Ellen. Ellen was small, shy. She wore these blue cat's-eye glasses that, at the time, only old ladies wore. When nervous, which was pretty much always, she had a habit of taking a strand of hair into her mouth and chewing on it. So she came to our school and our neighborhood, and was mostly ignored, occasionally teased ("Your hair taste good? - that sort of thing). I could see this hurt her. I still remember the way she'd look after such an insult: eyes cast down, a little gut-kicked as if, having just been reminded of her place in things, she was trying, as much as possible, to disappear. After a while she'd drift away, hair-strand still in her mouth. At home, I imagined, after school, her mother would say, you know: "How was your day, sweetie?" and she'd say, "Oh, fine." And her mother would say, "Making any friends?" and she'd go, "Sure, lots."

Sometimes I'd see her hanging around alone in her front yard, as if afraid to leave it. And then they moved. That was it. No tragedy, no big final hazing. One day she was there, next day she wasn't. End of story.

Now, why do I regret that? Why, forty-two years later, am I still thinking about it? Relative to most of the other kids, I was actually pretty nice to her. I never said an unkind word to her. In fact, I sometimes even (mildly) defended her. But still. It bothers me. So here's something I know to be true, although it's a little corny, and I don't quite know what to do with it: What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded...sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.

Or to look at it from the other end of the telescope, Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth? Those who were the kindest to you, I bet. It's a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I'd say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than try to be kinder.

Now,the million dollar question: What's our problem? Why aren't we kinder? Here's what I think. Each of us is born with a series of built-in confusions that are probably somewhat Darwinian. These are 1) we're central to the universe (that is, our personal story is the main and most interesting story, the only story, really); 2) we're separate from the universe (there's US and then, out there, all that other junk - dogs and swing-sets and the state of Nebraska and low-hanging clouds and, you know, other people; and 3) we're permanent (death is real, ok, sure...for you, but not for me.)

Now, we don't really believe these things-intellectually we know better-but we believe them viscerally, and live by them, and they cause us to prioritize our own needs way over the needs of others, even though what we really want, in our hearts, is to be less selfish, more aware of what's actually happening in the present moment, more open, and more loving.

So the second million dollar question: How might we DO this? How might we become more loving, more open, less selfish, more present, less delusional, etc., etc.? Well, yes, good question. Unfortunately, I only have three minutes left. So let me just say this. There are ways. You already know that because, in your life, there have been high kindness periods and low kindness periods, and you know what inclined you toward the former and away from the latter. Education is good; immersing ourselves in a work of art is good; prayer is good; meditation's good; a frank talk with a dear friend; establishing ourselves in some kind of spiritual tradition; recognizing that there have been countless really smart people who have asked these same questions and left behind answers for us.

Because kindness, it turns out, is hard. It starts out all rainbows and puppy dogs and expands to include, well...everything.

One thing in our favor: some of this "becoming kinder" happens naturally, with age. It might be a simple matter of attrition: as we get older, we come to see how useless it is to be selfish, how illogical, really. We come to love other people and are thereby counter-instructed in our own centrality. We get our butts kicked by real life, and people come to our defense, and help us, and we learn that we're not separate and don't want to be. We see people near and dear to us dropping away and are gradually convinced that maybe we too will drop away, someday, a long time from now. Most people, as they age, become less selfish and more loving. I think this is true. The great Syracuse poet Hayden Carruth said in a poem written near the end of his life that he as "mostly Love, now."

And so, a prediction and my heartfelt wish for you: as you get older, your self will diminish and you will grow in love. You will gradually be replaced by love. If you have kids, that will be a huge moment in your process of self-diminishment. You really won't care what happens to you, as long as they benefit. That's one reason your parents are so proud and happy today. One of their fondest dreams has come true: you have accomplished something difficult and tangible that has enlarged you as a person and will make your life better, from here on in, forever (congratulations, by the way).

When young, we're anxious, understandably, to find out if we've got what it takes. Can we succeed? Can we build a viable life for ourselves? But you-in particular, you of this generation-may have noticed a certain cyclical quality to ambition. You do well in high school in hopes of getting into a good college so you can do well in the good college, in the hopes of getting a good job, so you can do well in the good job so you can...

And this is actually ok. If we're going to become kinder, that process has to include taking ourselves seriously as doers, as accomplishers, as dreamers. We have to do that, to be our best selves. Still, accomplishment is unreliable. "Succeeding," whatever that might mean to you, is hard, and the need to do so constantly renews itself (success is like a mountain that keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it), and there's the very real danger that "succeeding" will take up your whole life, while the big questions go untended. So, quick end of speech advice: since, according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving, hurry up. Speed it along. Start right now. There's a confusion in each of us, a sickness really: selfishness. But there's also a cure. So be a good and proactive and event somewhat desperate patient on your own behalf. Seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines energetically for the rest of your life.

Do all the other things, the ambitious things-travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop)-but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. The luminous part of you that exists beyond personality-your soul, if you will-is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare's, bright as Gandhi's, bright as Mother Teresa's. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, shares its fruits tirelessly. And someday, in 80 years, when you'er 100 and I'm 134, and we're both so kind and loving we're nearly unbearable, drop me a line, let me know how your life has been. I hope you will say, "It has been so wonderful.""

I know this entry is a bit longer than the others, but I truly hope you've found as much enjoyment in reading this speech as I have, and you will begin today to be kinder and kinder until we're all so obnoxiously kind no one can stand us. Go out and be grand.

Xx, L.

September 15, 2013

Happy Birthday, Braeden!

Tomorrow, our sweet little brother (who isn't so little anymore) will be turning 13, and we can say is, "How?!" It seems like just yesterday he was the rambunctious two year old who enjoyed climbing on top of the piano and playing loudly and enthusiastically with his feet, or the strong-willed (read: mule headed) four year old who had a denim baseball cap he wouldn't take off for anything, not even to sleep, or the outgoing five year old who knew every single NASCAR driver by name and could spout off their times and their wins and whether or not he thought they were sissies.

Everything about our brother, from the first day Mama and Daddy brought him home, was pedal to the metal. He came here talking, and Lord knows he's going to spend every single waking-and sometimes sleeping-moment of every single day talking, whether or not anyone is actually listening. He has filled our home with laughter, love, and conversation for almost thirteen years, adding generously to the chaos and keeping the insanity level right on the peak of explosion. Whether he's toying with yet another Percy Jackson theory or arguing Loki's case with extreme bias and prejudice, he is one hundred and five percent into whatever he's doing. He is enthusiastic, optimistic, and easy going, balancing out the two of us with innate skill, and has a sense of humor that leaves us in stitches, as well as penchant for not wearing pants.

He takes everything in stride, including a physical disability that left him struggling to keep up with other kids his age. Instead of letting it slow him down, though, he got creative, and he truly showed us what it means to be a trooper. He has dealt with the pain of his disability as well as the aggravation of having two older sisters with the patience of a martyr, something that truly leaves us in awe. Never once has he complained about sitting for hours in a recording studio while we work. He adds to our excitement, he helps extinguish our fears and doubts, and from the very beginning, he was our number 1 fan. Mama often says that none of this would have been possible if he had been anything like the two of us when we were younger, and while that it true, we'd like to take it a step farther and say that none of this would have been possible without him. Thank you so much, Braeden, for your unswerving loyalty, your dogged determination to be optimistic and upbeat, your patience, your encouragement, your enthusiasm, and your creativity. You are such a wonderful young man, and we are beyond blessed and grateful to be your older sisters, even if we don't always act like it. Thank you for letting us into your world and sharing your passions for superheroes and demigods and video games. We might have been able to survive without in-depth knowledge of NASCAR drivers and Percy Jackson conspiracy theories or your complete and total dedication and cooperation in proving Loki's goodness, but we wouldn't have wanted to. You are our little brother, but more importantly, you are our friend...even though you won't sit with us in church.

Happy birthday, Braeden. We hope that you have the greatest of all days of birth, a party that reaches Asgardian standards for food and fun (hopefully without any errant bilgesnipe showing up uninvited), and all the Lego sets you can manage to put together perfectly. The day you've been waiting for has finally arrived: double digits! ;D

Loads of love and lots of lipstick-y kisses (because what else are sisters for?),

B + L

September 8, 2013

Hello, September!

Wow, what a month! August is always a whirlwind for us, between school starting and birthdays and the one thing we've all been waiting for: football season. It's finally here, and even though the first game didn't go exactly how we might have wanted it, we're still bleeding red and black and believing that the Dawgs can come out on top.

That being said, we wanted to take a minute and share what's been going on with B+L. We started out the month in the studio, and we're both in agreement that there was no better way to kick off August. There is a sort of giddy, long-lasting energy that comes from making music, and I can truthfully say I'm beyond addicted to the rush. We get to hit the studio again in a few weeks, and we're working as quickly as we can to get new music finished so all of you can hear it. It's a long, sometimes frustrating process, and we apologize for the wait! Please be patient with us and know that we're trying to get the best sound and the best product to share, because we firmly believe that you guys deserve only the best! So many people have been incredibly supportive and encouraging throughout this adventure, and we hope to continue sharing it with you. We'll be partnering with some really incredible, talented people, getting involved in things we're passionate about, and seeing some exciting stuff come to fruition. I can't wait!

After our time in the studio, we all gathered around to watch the Teen Choice Awards, looking forward to seeing One Direction and Paramore play (and didn't Hayley absolutely kill it?!). We did get to see them perform (and Harry Styles twerk), but we also got a big surprise: Ashton Kutcher's speech. I've always been an Ashton Kutcher fan, promising Mom over and over that no, he's not really like Kelso in real life! But it wasn't until he got up and spoke about working hard, staying humble, and how important intelligence is that she really believed me. He surprised us all, to be honest. He said things that should be said more often but are just glossed over. We're growing up in a generation where working hard and being smart are not cool, and that's really sad, because there is so much wasted potential. We're fed television, music, and literature that have less substance than cotton candy. We're told to look up to people who glorify taking off their clothes and partying instead of doing something that matters. We're told that "swag" is more important than self-respect, class, or brains. We're told that we are too young, too inexperienced, and too immature to care about what's going on in our society, a society which is only as strong as its weakest link. We are encouraged to sit idly by, sated on reality television and bubblegum pop music, while other people run the world. Why is that popular? Why is that considered the social norm? Why are we content with living like this?

Ashton went on to say that "the sexiest thing in the entire world" is being smart. "Life can be a lot broader when you realize one simple thing-and that is that everything around us that we call life was made up by people that are no smarter than you. And you can build your own thing. You can build your own life." He finished off his speech by saying, "So build a life, don't live one, find your opportunities, and always be sexy." I think that's an incredibly powerful way of looking at life. What could be more satisfying than living a life that I built? Plus, being sexy is one of my goals, because awkward, hopelessly ridiculous, and socially inept really aren't working for me.

Just kidding. I rock awkward like nobody's business.

A week after being inspired and challenged by Ashton Kutcher, we went to St. Simon's to celebrate Beau's 16th birthday (woohoo!). We spent the entire day downtown, eating cheeseburgers and more frozen yogurt than any self-respecting human would ever admit. I have yet to achieve my goal of taking a five gallon bucket into a yogurt shop and filling it up, but man. Those large cups are pretty dang close to a bucket, and we filled them up, since it was a special occasion and all. All in all, it was a successful weekend. The only problem is that Beau now thinks she should be able to drive all the time. Needless to say, I'm going to go gray very early.

We hope you've all had a wonderful August and are looking forward to September as much as we are (goodbye, 100 degree weather, hello, sweaters!). This year has flown by, and while there have been some bumps in the road, some really great things have come together, and it is our belief that the rest of the pieces of the puzzle will fall into place. Oh, one last thing: we've decided that once a month, we'll be putting out a debriefing of sorts, letting you know what we've been up to and how much time we've spent fangirling. Maybe there should be a disclaimer, because we're really not very exciting, but who knows. Stranger things have happened.

Stay sexy, my friends.

Xx, L