The Admiration Society

Interviews with Interesting People

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My SXSW: Against Me!, Pitbull, 50 Cent, K-Pop, Lady Gaga, Butch County, and much more

I’ve been attending South By Southwest on and off for 20 years—since I was in high school and you could go get a music wristband at HEB after school for a whopping 15 bucks.

Obviously, a lot has changed. (Austin was practically traffic-free back then, at least relatively speaking.) But I had an amazing time this week, my first stint covering the festival for the Austin American-Statesman newspaper (where I used to work full time on the Metro desk) and its online arm, Austin360.com, along with a slew of incredible writers, photographers, editors, online producers, and more.

We all felt incredible sadness for the victims, families, witnesses, emergency workers, and community affected by the fatal crash on Wednesday night. For those of us awake and still working and enjoying music in those wee hours, confirmation of the two deaths was a huge, horrible shock.

Night turned into day, hearts were heavy, but the shows went on. Some victims are still in the hospital days later, getting an outpouring of support. Austin is a special place to be a music lover and live music supporter, even on the worst days.

Without further ado, here are links to, and excerpts of, what I wrote for the Statesman and Austin360 during SXSW music week. Plus some favorite photos. (My own band played SXSW too.)

MONDAY

The Statesman music team’s picks for the week: I’ll be scouring these again after the dust settles, looking for new music recommended by my colleagues. I already know I want to spend more time with a slew of female-driven bands on the rise.

TUESDAY

K-Pop Night Out thrills diverse capacity crowd

EXCERPT: "It’s universal," said Jackie Sue Guana, 26, of Austin. "The K-Pop community is growing — it’s awesome."

Guana DJs an occasional K-Pop night at Elysium and attended the SXSW showcase with regulars and friends from a local K-Pop DJ collective Demographics, which she helped start after struggling to find K-Pop in Austin clubs.

"We call it Demographics for a reason," she said. "It’s not just Koreans. I’m Hispanic. It’s very diverse—K-Pop is for everybody."

50 Cent struts through medley of hip-hop hits

EXCERPT: "Where were the special guests?" a friend wondered. Indeed, it was just Fiddy for the party, but he was ably backed by a six-piece live band, including an especially energetic drummer who added punch to even abbreviated dance jams like "Candy Shop" and "Magic Stick"—a natural medley because they are, essentially, one fun song with two different names. (If you prefer to drown out the standard-issue misogyny of some of the lyrics, the throbbing live bass helped, too.)

50 Cent arrived on stage right on time Tuesday night—zero introduction, zero hype—and went right to it, working both sides of the stage, getting the audience to bounce, wave, and fill in lyrics on the biggest hits. Some quibbles aside, fans got what fans came for: Curtis Jackson in strutting, megawatt-smile form. Here was the man who made 2003’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’—one of the most motivational mainstream hip-hop albums in recent memory—performing (at least a verse or two of) every jam: “In da Club,” “Patiently Waiting, ” “Many Men (Wish Death),” “If I Can’t,” “Poor Lil Rich,” “What Up Gansta,” “21 Questions,” “P.I.M.P.” and “Wanksta.”

WEDNESDAY

Against Me! SXSW set celebrates life on a night of tragedy

EXCERPT: Wearing skinny jeans and a sleeveless T-shirt with a photo of a woman’s breasts on it, the tall, tattoo-covered Grace started the show with her long red hair covering her face. But when she lifted the veil after a few songs, she flashed huge smiles, strutting and yanking on the microphone stand, reveling in the joyful energy of the crowd and feeding off the bouncing enthusiasm of new bassist Inge Johansson, formerly of the (International) Noise Conspiracy and Refused.

During one song, Grace reached out to the front row and took a young man’s face in her hands as she sang. “I love her so much,” he said, turning to friends behind him when the song was over. 

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No badge required: Buskers bring SXSW vibe to the streets

EXCERPT: On Tuesday night, solo drummer Rachel Jael had staked out one corner, banging away on white buckets and empty, upside down water cooler jugs. Jael, 24, is in town from Las Vegas for her second SXSW in a row. Why would she make the journey without even an unofficial showcase?

 “The people!” Jael said, as masses of music fans rushed past her in all directions. “That’s why I came back. They’re crazy and they’re the best part. If it weren’t for the people, there’d be no music.”

THURSDAY

Lady Gaga show part heartfelt inspiration, part gruesome spectacle

EXCERPT: "Don’t take my picture," Gaga instructed, moments after hurling sausage links into the crowd. "Just have a good time. The best part of South By Southwest is seeing people get lost in the music."

It wasn’t the easiest advice to take. Gaga arrived on stage Thursday night strapped to a roasting pole by black bondage belts. Not long after wiggling free, one of her many theatrical sidekicks, a woman named Millie, was straddling Gaga on a bucking mechanical bull and repeatedly vomiting green and black liquids onto the performer’s face, shoulders, and apron.

Some fans stood on their tiptoes to make sure they weren’t imagining things. (“Is the girl in black sequined hot pants really gagging herself all over Gaga?”) It was as repulsive as it sounds.

FRIDAY

My band, Butch County, rocks the Girls Rock Austin unofficial SXSW day party AND KILLS IT. :) It’s my first time playing with the all-female band, and I had a total blast. A former bandmate came up to me afterward and man-squealed, “You’re the all-female AC/DC!” A 19-year-old girl also came up to me after our set and asked if I teach guitar. I tried not to hug her and burst into tears right on the spot. Such a special afternoon. Thank you to all the friends and family who came out, supported our band, and supported nonprofit Girls Rock Austin!

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(Butch County: fist-pumpin’, high-jumpin’, hangin’ with punk heroine Exene Cervenka of X.)

Pitbull gives it all he’s got

EXCERPT: Before launching into his 20th and final song, Pitbull instructed the crowd Friday night. “I want everybody here tonight to give me” — and he paused for emphasis between each word — “every! … thing! … they’ve! … got!”

Note to Pitbull: Too late.

From the moment the Cuban-American rapper walked on stage at ACL Live for the iTunes Festival, every single person in the Moody Theater — from fans to backing band to dancers to lighting technicians to Pitbull himself — seemed to be giving their all and then some. The show was a master class in nonstop energy.

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(Good thing they sat media in the rafters. Otherwise I would’ve had to jump on stage with Pitbull and show my Zumba moves.)

Lady Gaga surprises crowd during Zedd

EXCERPT: Gaga didn’t sing, but she strutted onto the Moody Theater stage to huge cheers, waved to the balconies, jumped up and down, fist up and long, white-blonde dreadlocks flying… . At her Stubb’s show, Gaga told the crowd she’d been going all out at South by Southwest. ”I haven’t showered,” she said. “I’ve been drinking a lot, eating a lot. I’ve been seeing so much music I forgot to get a manicure.”

SATURDAY

All-ages, daytime events help families, young fans enjoy SXSW

EXCERPT: “Get on stage! Come on! Everybody! All the girls!” The lead singer of Oklahoma City band Skating Polly would not take no for an answer, eventually coaxing more than a dozen kids onto the stage at Cherrywood Coffeeshop during Friday’s Girls Rock Austin party.

The young music fans danced, sang along, and made a spontaneous, scuzzy noise on the punk duo’s instruments …

SUNDAY

I slept, went out for migas and a Bloody Mary (my first alcohol in a week, since writing and drinking don’t mix for me), did laundry for hours on end, and hung out with my husband and kids. It was glorious. Life is good, and I am so grateful for this exhausting, inspiring, and hopefully unforgettable week! Thanks for sharing it with me!

@erinjwalter 

P.S. - For crying out loud, it’s been such a crazy week I totally forgot that last Sunday I wrote this piece about “meaning it” at SXSW. Every word is still true.

———-

Erin J. Walter is a writer, musician, mother, and aspiring Unitarian Universalist minister living in her hometown of Austin, Texas, where she serves on the board of Girls Rock Austin. Prior to joining Butch County, she played bass in indie bands Second Story Thief, The Personals, The Hidden Mitten, and Pocket Cat, and sang with the Blue Ribbon Glee Club and Regrettable Sweaters. Follow Erin on Twitter and Instagram @erinjwalter. Feedback welcome!

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SXSW: Here’s to Meaning It!

Many years ago, I saw Superchunk play Antone’s during SXSW. I went to the show with my own bandmates from The Personals, and we jumped and sang and got drenched in the kind of sweat that comes from the very best, most joyfully badass rock show.

After Superchunk’s set, we collapsed against a wall of posters and slid to the dirty floor, spent.

“That is what ‘meaning it’ looks like,” Adam, our frontman, said. “They fucking mean it.

And a mantra was born.

I thought I meant what I did before the Superchunk SXSW show, but now I had a name for it and a standard for what meaning it looked and sounded like. I had inspiration in my mind for when I misplaced my own umph. (Some other bands I think of when I think of meaning it: The Thermals, Lucero, Against Me!, Rainer Maria, Cyndi Lauper, Bikini Kill.)

When SXSW comes around, it’s easy to get bogged down in the traffic and the crowds and the Doritos. Some years I forgo the mania altogether. But on the years that I’m up for it, like this year, I am on a mission for one thing: meaning it. I am looking for more bands like Superchunk, in whatever genre. I am looking for more people who are in love on stage, so contagiously on fire that it makes everyone in the crowd want to up their game and create—art, community, friendships, noise, sweat, music. Meaning it is about creation in the very best way.

At the Ladies Rock Camp showcase last month, my camp band Regrettable Sweaters did a cover of Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl” (that we learned the day before the show). Early on in my yelpy performance [which you can see by clicking here], I interject some enthusiastic extra words. In the iPhone video, they sound like “a peanut!” or “the penis!” but what I said was, "I MEAN IT." 

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I totally mean it. [photo by Rudolfo Gonzalez, Austin American-Statesman, more of that great photo series here]

So, listen, y’all.

I know the music industry is not what it used to be to say the least. If there was ever a dream of getting “signed” at SXSW, I doubt it exists to speak of anymore. But you can still get “discovered” at SXSW. You can get discovered by other people who are passionate about music. You can do that 365 days a year in any city or town, or over the internet, but for a few days you can mean it in a very big way in Austin around other people who mean it too. That part is the heart of any music festival for me. (It was for my dad, too.)

The music fest hasn’t even started yet, and I’ve already discovered one band that means it. (No, it wasn’t Bieber.)

I found this band unexpectedly yesterday, when I was determined to take a breather from the fest (which started last week with Education, Interactive, and Film). My husband, the founder/CEO of Tsugi software company, was speaking at two SXSW Interactive events. I figured I would spend quality time with our kids (ages 4 and 2), clean house, and rest up for music week (which I’m covering for Austin360.com and the Austin-American Statesman).

The kids and I dropped Patrick at the convention center and headed to church. Within five minutes I found myself in coffee hour, talking to a band in town for SXSW. Of course. Turns out the singer/songwriter/guitarist of the band, Ned and the Dirt, is our minister’s son, and at the end of the service she had the blues-rock trio from L.A. stand up and wave to the congregation while she invited everyone to her house for a backyard concert and potluck later that night. (Two things Unitarian Universalists love: music and potlucks.)

Now, it’s no secret that bluesy rock is not really my thing, but checking out new bands is. So is avoiding cleaning my house. I went to the party and got to see three guys who love their music, playing on a tiny back porch (complete with a step stool to help people awkwardly get into the house for drinks and snacks while the band was playing).

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Ned and the Dirt, from Los Angeles, playing an Austin neighborhood during SXSW14

I saw these musicians entertain the gamut of kidsters, hipsters, and oldsters. When neighbors walked or biked by, Ned called to welcome them to the yard, offering pizza and beer. The band had CDs and shirts for sale on a card table, and Ned’s stepmom (Kiya Heartwood, another great musician—it’s Austin!) walked around with a jar to collect tips (AKA gas money). Ned had a banner on “stage” with the band name and promoted merch in between songs. After the show, he hugged friends and family and headed straight to the merch table and talked to people there.

Again, this all happened in a backyard at 5pm on a Sunday. The band was nice to everyone, and I could genuinely feel their appreciation for the people who attended their rock-n-roll potluck.

"Is it normal for you to have to stand up and be pointed out in church because you’re in a band with a minister’s son?" I asked the drummer after the show.

"I haven’t set foot in a church in 10 years," he said, smiling. 

Regardless of the style of music, Ned and the Dirt are my favorite kind of band—the kind that works hard, has fun, lets it show, and gives its all on the road. SXSW can bring out the unusual and wonderful in people who care enough and are brave enough to connect their music, in person, to a bunch of strangers.

When I talked to Ned at church yesterday morning, his band had two unofficial SXSW shows on the docket, plus the party at his mom’s house. I woke up today, less than 24 hours later, and his Facebook status said this:

“I just can’t believe how cool Austin has been so far! Thanks to everyone that came to see us tonight, and if you missed it or just had too much fun tonight that you don’t know what to do with yourself then you’re in luck! We’ve been booked for FOUR more showcases!”

He gave the dates and times of the shows [Click here for those] and closed with, “I DON’T KNOW IF YOU CAN TELL, BUT I’M JUMPING UP AND DOWN WHILE TYPING THIS!”

We can tell, Ned. And I can’t speak for everyone, but I love it. I love the enthusiasm of a band enjoying itself. We don’t all have the energy or the means to play 5+ shows at SXSW—there are kids and jobs (or lack of job) and, well, life. But when you’re in a place in your life to play a zillion times a day, I say go for it. Play on the corner in the morning, in the club at night. Just play. Play and mean it. You’ll inspire the rest of us.

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For my part, I’ll be making my debut with a new band, Butch County, this week. It’ll be my first time playing during South By Southwest since my days with The Personals. Butch County consists of five badass women playing badass rock-n-roll. I could not be more excited for Friday—and you better believe when we get on stage, we will be Meaning It.

I’ll also be thinking of Superchunk and Bikini Kill and Ladies Rock Camp and Ned and the Dirt and all the musicians and friends who make the music community special. This post is for them. 

Here’s to everyone who’s out there making the music they love at SXSW this week—and around the world. And here’s to the music fans who come out to support those performers, those fans who save up the money, summon the energy, and brave the traffic, all so they can jump and sing and sweat and mean it just as hard as the musicians do.

Everybody, ROCK ON! May you be meaning it in your own special way, wherever you are.

———————-

Butch County plays the Girls Rock Austin unofficial SXSW showcase this Friday at Cherrywood Coffeehouse (show 11:30am-10:30pm, w/ Butch County 6pm sharp) and again on Friday, March 28 (9pm, Cheer Up Charlie’s). See you at the stage!

———————-

Erin J. Walter is a writer, musician, mother, and aspiring Unitarian Universalist minister living in her hometown of Austin, Texas, where she serves on the board of Girls Rock Austin. Prior to joining Butch County, she played bass in indie bands Second Story Thief, The Personals, The Hidden Mitten, and Pocket Cat, and sang with the Blue Ribbon Glee Club and Regrettable Sweaters. Follow Erin on Twitter and Instagram @erinjwalter. Feedback welcome!

P.S. - Here is the most I’ve meant something in a long time.

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Top 11 Reasons I’m Doing Ladies Rock Camp (even though I’m already in a band)

Off the top of my head:
1. To rock out!
2. To meet new rockin’ lady friends!
3. To learn a new instrument!
4. To get lessons in songwriting!
5. For the thrill of forming a new, all-girl band from scratch!
6. To keep building up the Austin women’s music community!
7. For the lunchtime performances and Q&A with kickass musicians!
8. For the thrill of writing a new song from scratch!
9. To perform at the most fun show ever, the end-of-camp showcase!
10. For a weekend-long break from being “Mommy!”
11. Because who knows what might happen!
12. To see returning friends from last year!
13. TO ROCK OUT!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I know I said 11, but that wasn’t enough.

http://www.girlsrockaustin.org/ladies-rock-camp/

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On Bill Cosby and listening to rape victims

TRIGGER WARNING.

"Who Wants to Remember Bill Cosby’s Multiple Sexual Assault Accusations?"

When my friend Emily first shared this article on Bill Cosby yesterday, I struggled and struggled about what to comment. Finally I just typed “Shit.” No one else has commented on her Facebook post yet.

I get it. It’s just too hard.

I slept on whether to share the article. Whether to write about it at all. I saw Cosby perform live in Chicago a few years ago, and like many my age, I LOVE The Cosby Show. So much. I was excited to hear he has a new show coming on TV soon. I was just talking with a friend yesterday about naming a band Cosby Decade.

I have been trying to stay away from most of these stories. I didn’t understand how Woody Allen or R. Kelly fans felt until I read the article above.

And then I read it. And then I read it again. Just to be sure I needed to share it. I do.

Again: “Shit.”

First of all, to those who know the other man I am about to talk about, I love you very much and I encourage you NOT to read the article I have linked. It’s painful. 

To everyone else: I share the Cosby story because I knew about some of these accusations against him and I forgot. And I am sharing the Cosby story because I knew someone just like how Cosby is described and worse. He was a pillar of the community, a family man, volunteer, mentor. He positioned himself as a role model — the person you turned to, for fun or for help — and then he drugged and raped people.

No one took one of the early victims, a child who came forward before I knew this man, seriously. So he went on to do these horrifying things for decades in secret.

When he was finally caught, there was video proof. I can only imagine the grief this meant for the victims. But it alsomeant none of us who had loved this man had to decide whether to believe the new, monstrous reports or the old, lovable image he had presented to the public, his family, and friends. 

He is in jail now for life. There are many others like him, in jail — and not.

I can’t say what I would’ve thought without the videos. Would I have been called as a character witness? Would I have been tempted to come to his defense? What would I have said? These thoughts still chill me sometimes. I remain a people person, but I am not quite the same. So many lives were changed forever by this shift in reality.

My hands shake as I type. I share this Billy Cosby story now because, while I have never been assaulted, I know in a very real way that these crimes are more than just “he said, she said.” And they affect everyone.

I’m not sure I’m saying the right thing. I’m not sure I should say anything. It sucks. I understand why real victims fear coming forward.

But I share this today because someday someone, child or adult, may come to YOU about their rape or assault. They may tell YOU. They may trust YOU. Please take it seriously.  PLEASE LISTEN AND DO SOMETHING. 

How many people are attacked after the first victim is ignored? One is too many.

Addendum: Friends are wondering what this means about the accomplishments of Cosby and other perpetrators. I don’t know. I don’t know if I’ll ever stomach the Cosby Show again. But that doesn’t feel like the important takeaway at the moment. For me, the takeaway is this: We must never let accomplishments or fame or facade cloud our view of the truth, diminish our support for victims, or halt our work for justice.

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I am going to be a minister.

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” —theologian and civil rights leader Howard Thurman

On our road trip today, my sister told me about the dream she had last night. “You were a minister,” she said. “You were sitting with a man who had committed a crime or was a prisoner, listening to him, counseling.”

I thanked her profusely for telling me about the dream. I have a variation on the same dream every day—when I’m awake.

I’ve told a few people one-on-one over the years, but I want to finally, very enthusiastically—still with major butterflies in my stomach—declare openly tonight: I am going to seminary. I am going to be a minister.*

OK technically, I am in the process of applying to seminary. And I’m in the part of the process where the many remaining essays and financial forms and whatnot are, for some reason, not writing themselves. (Write yourselves, important documents! Come on!)

Still, daunting paperwork or not, I am going to seminary to become a minister.

It may not seem like a big deal to everyone, but it’s a big deal to me.

*At first when I started this post, I wrote, “I want to be a minister.” But then I stopped. The voice inside me—the clearest one that always says, “Dance! Sing! Wear the peacock feather headband!”—insisted I be braver. “Don’t hedge,” it said. “Words have power.” So I changed that sentence a couple paragraphs above to this truth: I am going to be a minister. Deep inside, I know that’s what I already am. Few things make me “come alive,” as Howard Thurman’s quote above describes, like being in my church and being with people in community.


* * * * *

I told my 4-year-old daughter in the car yesterday. (Apparently the car is where important life decisions get discussed.)

"What do you want to be when you grow up, Annie?"

"Nothing, I just want to live with you, Mommy."

"Want to know what I want to be? A minister."

“What’s that?”

"The person who speaks on the stage at church.” I figured I’d stick with the basics at first.

"Then who will I sit with on Sundays?"

"Good question. I bet sometimes you could come up front with me, like when I read a story."

"I think I will sit with Miss Caroline from choir."

Perfect. Then it’s settled.

I just need to get accepted to grad school. The kids and the illnesses and the holidays and lots of Everything Else have slowed down my application process, but so help me, it is happening. Hopefully this fall. My family comes first, but we all know the time for me to focus on my big dream is almost here. I’m getting my ducks in a row.


* * * * *

Now, I expect the obvious question: Why ministry? There is, of course, an obvious answer: to wear a robe to work.

The real answer would take way more than a blog to discuss. The very short version: I believe the world needs spiritual leaders, for everything from leading civil rights movements to helping individuals live life with meaning and joy. I imagine using my natural gifts like writing, music, public speaking, connecting people, and expressing love for the good of a community and the world. I see my experiences with grief and loss as an opportunity to help others heal. And so on. Feel free to ask more any time.

I have been sitting with my call to ministry for about five years. I remember waking up one day in Chicago as if I had always wanted to be a minister—I just forgot to tell myself or anyone else. It’s been a long, slow, intentional, emotional journey of coming to accept, then embrace, this, and now to simply find it a fact of life. I am aware, of course, of the great pain that is inflicted in the name of religion (to say the least). But my own experience is of religion and spiritual counsel at its best, and I will share that with people who seek it.

Some FYIs: 1) Ministers start by getting what’s called a Master of Divinity degree, and I am applying to schools either in Austin or that have low-residency programs I can complete from here. My family is busy with work and school in Austin, and that won’t change. 2) If you’re curious about my faith, Unitarian Universalism, you can learn more about the denomination here and my local church here. 3) I also recommend Kate Braestrup’s memoir, Here If You Need Me, about her work as a chaplain for search-and-rescue workers.

I want to say a very big thanks to my friends and family all over the spiritual spectrum—from atheists to traditional or conservative theists—who have been supportive and openhearted about my decision, including the woman who said recently, “I already think of you as ‘my minister friend.’” I am also thankful to the clergy in my life, including the handful who have said, “Oh no, you don’t!” when I told them I wanted to join their ranks. (Those reactions have brought much-needed realism and skepticism to my natural enthusiasm and optimism.)

Above all, I am profoundly grateful to my husband, for supporting my dreams though our religious backgrounds and interests differ (and while he is very busy with his own work).

There are many ways to live out a call to ministry, including but not limited to church work, nonprofit leadership, community organizing, and chaplaincy in a hospital, hospice, prison, the military, or in law enforcement. Many of those intrigue me, and I hope that attending seminary will help me form a clearer understanding of where my talents, experiences, and passions are most needed. (For example: William F. Schulz, former executive director of Amnesty International, was also a UU minister.)

There is so much more to tell, of course. I just needed to get an honest start going today.

I cannot imagine the challenges of the path in front of me. But my heart is full, just knowing I’m on that path, and to be able to tell you about it. I’ll be drawing on friends’ wisdom, strength, love, and so much more along the way. You all inspire me.

At the moment, I hope you’ll wish me luck on the paperwork. Paperwork is, to use one of my own minister’s terms, “a spiritual stretch” for me.

Much love,

Erin

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A love letter to my body*

*Tonight, in my women’s career/creativity group, we took about 15 minutes to write love letters. They could be to anyone, from anyone. Some of us wrote imaginary love letters from our husbands, from the perfect middle school crush or holiday fling, or from a parent, living or deceased. They were all fantastic. I chose to write a love letter to my body.

Like many women, many people, I am in a perhaps lifelong, mostly behind-the-scenes process of working to embrace my body just as it is. I wrote this letter in a swimsuit and towel tonight, as we were taking a break from celebrating the new year in one group member’s hot tub. I didn’t expect this, but I cried as I read my letter aloud to the other women. Before I even got through page one, I choked on a sob.

It was a powerful experience for me. I feel good about what I wrote, and I’m not going to overthink it. I wrote this fast, so I’ll share it fast. Here it is, 15 heartfelt minutes of my guts on the page.

After taking photos, I typed it up so you don’t have to struggle with my handwriting. Some of you may prefer to read it typed below; others may prefer the photographed scrawl. I hope I find a good place to read it aloud again someday. In the meantime, feel free to share this with anyone for whom it might resonate.

To deep, unapologetic love,

Erin

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A love letter to my body

1/8/14

I love you. You started so small. And now … 

You have run two marathons, more half marathons.

You rode two MS150s, Houston to Austin, a city to another fucking city, a century ride, to your job and back, so much riding, and all in less than half your existence. Remember, dear body, you only learned to ride at 19.

You dance, even though some say yours is not the body for dancing. (Who says? Society says? Please!)

You belong, you would be better appreciated, in another era. I go to art museums and I see paintings of you and I think, “People got it back then.”

Dearest body, I want you to know, I get it now. Today. I get it. I love you.

You make me possible. We can go to church together and debate the soul, the spirit, but there is no doubt: you are real. You are dynamic. You have and are getting shit done.

Yes, I remember: You have climbed Long’s Peak. You have walked seemingly endless trails through the night. You have hauled basses and amps larger than you, been crushed by waves—held under and still made it up for air—on rafts over whitewater.

You have also said no, recoiled, shrunk away from temptations, errors, at the last minute. Thank you for that.

You have kissed unexpectedly, embraced with your everything. You have made love real. You have given life—grown it, tended it, birthed it, held it, fed it, all of it. Without you, my body, so much would be nothing.

So I want you to know this: I love you. I love you TODAY. NOW. More than I have ever loved anyone. I mean it. Because you make my life possible, and that is impossibly beautiful.

Dear body, I look back on every time of my life and remember my thoughts, that “I used to be thinner.” That “I used to be younger.” That “I looked better then.” But if I think that every year, then you know what that means, dear body? It means you were always beautiful, always loved, even if you didn’t feel it then, even if I only felt it when I looked back and compared.

I see it now. I get it. This means you are beautiful today, this year, now, in this moment. I will not wait until next year to look back on you and love you. I see you now. I love you now.

Thank you for all that you make possible for me—which is everything.

-erinjwalter

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"Most of all I want you to know:" A year-end appeal from Girls Rock and me

Dear family and friends,

As some of you know, this year my life was profoundly impacted by getting involved with nonprofit organization Girls Rock Austin. If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll take a minute to click and read this short, fun news article about it.

I write to you tonight to share my love for Girls Rock (of which I am now a board member), and to ask for your support. 

Even if you’re not in Austin, perhaps you share my passion for community work or you know a woman or girl in Central Texas who could benefit from Girls Rock programs. There are several ways to help:

1) Make a donation in the next 28 hours—and it will be doubled! We have one day left in a year-end matching-gift campaign. Every dollar Girls Rock raises before the clock strikes 2014 will be matched by a foundation grant, up to $2,500. We are less than $500 away from that goal. (The fact that our goal is relatively small should give you a) an idea of how small we are and b) an idea of how big an impact even a small donation can make.) http://www.girlsrockaustin.org/donate-today/

2) Spread the word to women and girls in the Austin area! GRA is only a few years old, and while we’ve made a life-changing impact on hundreds of girls and been named “Coolest Summer Camp” by Austin Chronicle critics in 2013, we are still unknown to most Central Texans. Let your friends know about us, via word of mouth or social media. They’ll thank you for it! www.girlsrockaustin.org 

3) Volunteer at a camp or make an in-kind donation. We especially need meal and snack donations for camps, which can come directly from restaurants, from financial sponsorships, even from Target, Amazon, or other gift cards you don’t need. Contact: girlsrockatx@gmail.com 

Most of all, I want you to know this:Girls Rock Austin is about so much more than music education. It is about teaching girls and women they can do anything they put their minds to, and giving them a community of mentors and peers to support and inspire them. Many Girls Rock participants attend on scholarship, including girls from the foster system. Our board and three-person, part-time staff have been working hard all year to raise money to send young women to camp so they can have the empowering, transformative experience that I (and hundreds of others have) had. 

If you can give today, that would be SO ROCKIN’. And I hope you or a girl or woman in your life will join us for a camp in 2014. 

Donation link again:http://www.girlsrockaustin.org/donate-today/

Wishing you a happy, healthy new year!

Rock on,

Erin Walter, The Admiration Society

@erinjwalter on Twitter, Instagram 

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Pickles & Kickles Omni-Awesomeness

Yes, I know it’s been posty-post post post over on my kid blog, Pickles & Kickles, lately. Well, between Intro to Potty Training for Kickles, and Pickles being home for a couple days with a fever—plus their dad being out of town for work—the past few days have been TONS of the kids and me together, mostly at home, often with no one to appreciate their antics. No one except me, of course, and the Internet.

Some recent excellence:

1) Pickles made this pillow at her preschool. MADE IT. She stitched everything except her name.

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The pillow was supposed to be my Christmas present but she was too excited to wait. That’s my girl! I am famous for running up to my uncle, breathless, as we arrived at his birthday party in the very early ’80s and exclaiming, “Uncle Steve! Uncle Steve! We got you a birthday present! It’s a surprise! IT’S PANTS!” LOVE the pillow. Best (early) Christmas present ever.

2) Kickles’s big thing right now is patting for you to come sit next to him. Patting the couch sweetly so you’ll come sit next to him and read him all the Elmo books. Patting the bed so you’ll come sit next to him and watch Elmo with him. Patting the training potty to show his Elmo doll how to sit on it. It’s super sweet—especially since he’s so TODDLER HULK SMASH SMASH most of the time. 

Yesterday we were outside playing in the backyard, trying to let the feverish Pickles get some rest. One of the highlights of our backyard is the plastic rollercoaster that our neighbors bequeathed to us before they moved back to L.A. We miss them. We love the rollercoaster. So cool, right? (Never mind the dirty rainwater and leaves.)

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Kickles rode it once and then started patting for me to sit on it and ride. Like this: pat pat pat. Big soulful eyes in my direction. Pat pat pat. (I’m demonstrating here because he wouldn’t leave his patting hand still long enough for a photo.)

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What was I gonna do? Not ride it? 

I don’t think so.

I didn’t actually sit, of course. But I straddled it and let him push me down the coaster. (In other news, time to redo my nail polish.) 

Next time you see Kickles, keep an eye out for the patting. Like most adorable things that kids do, these moments are heart-explodingly awesome and painfully fleeting.

3) Last but not least, I had promised everyone a Pickles’s Church Christmas Pageant Fashion Report. Without further ado, on Sunday morning she wore:

- Long-sleeved, long-pant, long-underwear-esque Spiderman (“No, Spidergirl!”) pajama outfit

- brown boots

- plastic Spiderman (“Spidergirl!”) mask, which was worn in the car seat and as we walked into First Unitarian Universalist Church but then removed to make room for … 

- sparkly angel halo; and

- white angel wings.

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Oh, but wait! There’s more! My favorite part of the whole outfit is that, when I suggested she add a skirt or something so she wasn’t just wearing superhero longjohns, she came downstairs with the following on top of the SpiderGIRL uniform:

-filmy black shorts with gold sparkly flecks, with both her legs in just one of the legs of the shorts, leaving the other leg of the shorts to flap in the back like a tail or a butt cape.

That’s what I said: butt cape.

I don’t think she did it on purpose, but it really makes the whole outfit. You can see just a hint of it above.

Pickles was a “wise person” in the Christmas pageant. You know, an angelic SpiderGIRL wise person. She was off to the side of the three main wise people, but as the pageant organizer said, “We can have as many wise people as we want.” I love my church so much. And Pickles wasn’t even the first superhero in this year’s pageant. A young Batman was on stage in the earlier service.

As our minister said, "No one can really be sure if any superheroes were at the birth of Jesus. … It’s unlikely, but we can’t be sure." :)

—-

Parenting has been an ass-kicker this week. I’m exhausted and it’s only Tuesday. But it has been worth it for moments like the ones above. More moments will replace them shortly, so I’m glad I have this blog to help me remember.

INSERT ONE ANGELIC SPIDERGIRL HERE*:

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*In last year’s pageant, Kickles was the much larger of TWO baby Jesuses. (Jesi?)

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"It was a dark time." The story behind our bright, sparkly Christmas tree

Whenever people see our Christmas tree – fake, white, glittery, pre-lit, tacky or cool, depending on your taste – they always say the same thing. “It’s so you!” And that’s true. It’s me. It’s us. I can’t imagine us having any other tree.

But I didn’t buy it. It was a gift. And there is a story behind it that is real, raw, anything but fake. It is the story of another mother’s love—of struggle and strength. It is a story, as my husband says to our kids, about how “family takes care of each other.”

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I wasn’t sure it would be OK to share the story of our tree, so first I emailed my Aunt Deb in Tucson to ask for her permission and her memories. She wrote back:

“I’ll have to ask Adam if that is okay with him.” Her son is private about his illness, she wrote. “If he says it’s okay, then I’ll write you what I remember, which truthfully, is very little. The one thing I truly remember is sitting in my bedroom and hearing Patrick and Adam laugh. I had not heard Adam laugh in months and it made me cry.”

Of course, I read that email and wrote back immediately: Please don’t give it another thought. I won’t write anything. I didn’t mean to bring up sad memories. Back in Austin, I kicked myself.

But then she wrote me back again. Adam says it OK, she said. “He thinks it’s a happy memory of us coming together.” That is definitely how I’ve long thought of it.

Here is how Deb and I remember.

Deb: “It was a dark time, Adam was in the middle of his leukemia chemotherapy treatments. When I heard that you, Patrick and Eileen were coming [to Tucson] for Thanksgiving and you would do the cooking, I was thrilled! Then, I thought to myself, maybe they are coming to say goodbye to Adam because he is going to die.”

Erin: That hit me in the gut. “We were not at all coming to say goodbye!” I emailed her. “We were coming to cook so life could be easier for you.” That’s the truth. Adam had leukemia. We understood that chemo was taking its toll on him and his devoted mom, and we wanted to come give them a traditional Thanksgiving meal in the midst of all the pain and illness. But I don’t ever remember thinking he would die. He was young—early 20s—and I couldn’t imagine him not beating the disease. I look back now and realize I was so naïve.

Deb: “I spent many a 4 a.m. planning his funeral. It was wonderful when you got here, because I didn’t feel so alone.”

Erin: Patrick’s sister Eileen is a great cook. Patrick loves spending time with her, and is generally happy in the kitchen. We all had our jobs on that trip: They would cook; I would put up the Christmas tree for Deb. One thing: the family is Jewish. But if Deb wanted a Christmas tree, Deb was getting a Christmas tree. I first became aware of the saying “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” at the Weiss house. It’s on a painting or pillow somewhere. I didn’t have kids at the time. I had no clue—still couldn’t possibly understand—all Deb had given as a mom and how hard Adam’s disease and treatment were on her.

Deb: “When we pulled out our white iridescent Christmas tree I remember you oooing and ahhhing over it. Right then and there I decided to get you one. I wanted to spread some happiness and joy when there hadn’t been any for a while.  Adam was extremely quiet all during his illness.  We didn’t talk much about anything. I was his caregiver and he was my patient.  I would distribute pills and he would request food.  I would take him to medical appointments, and he would spend all day and night sleeping in his room. Once y’all arrived, there was life in the house again. Happy voices. I have 3 favorite memories.  1. The sound of Adam’s laugh.  2. You decorating the tree in your bathing suit.  3.  Eileen being so proud of her moist, delicious turkey.  I felt some relief, some respite that there were loving people here in the house, laughing and living.”

Erin: It had been four years since my dad died. Holidays have never been the same without him. He used to keep a list of all the widows he knew, especially military widows, and call them all—just go down the list and call every single one—on holidays. After he died, I did my best to honor that in my own way, reaching out to friends. I remember being outside at Deb’s pool, hot as hell AZ in November, calling friends in my bikini. (Ah, the pre-baby bikini days.) Finally I came in from the pool and put the tree up, still wearing my swimsuit and towel. Patrick and I had never put up a tree before. I wasn’t a fan of going tree shopping. I don’t like the pressure to find a tree the whole family agrees on, nor the logistics of getting it home, putting it up, cleaning the needles. I like Christmas fine, but tree acquisition was never my thing. Putting up this tree for Deb though? I could do that. I could happily do my job.

Deb: “I should also tell you about how I first acquired my gorgeous tree.  I had celebrated Christmas growing up, Rob had celebrated Hanukkah.  For a few years after Adam was born we celebrated both, but I felt hypocritical and decided to only celebrate Hanukkah.  Many years later Rob and I were at Target.  We were doing general shopping when I saw from afar this beautiful, gorgeous white iridescent artificial Christmas tree. Growing up, because my Dad had worked at a lumberyard, we always had a real tree.  So, there I was, mesmerized by this thing of beauty, just staring at it.  Rob must have seen me and the look on my face, because the next thing I knew my tall, very Jewish husband was lifting this 5-foot box and putting it in our shopping cart.  ”Really????” I asked. “Yes, I can tell you love it”, he replied. I started crying. It wasn’t a thing of the past, it was mine, all mine. A new tradition for me and my family.”

Erin: I felt the same way when we returned to our apartment in Chicago and—surprise!—I received an email receipt saying Deb had bought us the same tree. I was blown away. It was just what I would have dreamed of, if I’d ever dreamed of a tree. I emailed her on that day: “Thank you thank you thank you! What a sweet, thoughtful, meaningful, lasting gift. We love you!” The white, sparkly tree gains meaning for me every year. I look at it and I think about how Adam eventually made it through, as did our best friend Ryan, who went through chemo around that time. We have lost other loved ones since, and we miss them, but not these guys. Their treatments worked. They are healthy now. Patrick has so much fun visiting his cousin in L.A. on business trips now, and he got to stand up in Ryan’s wedding this summer. I got to take his bride out for karaoke. Cousin Adam’s wedding is coming up next. We are so, so thankful.

And we have gradually made the white tree a family tradition—first getting its three parts assembled in 2007, then assembled and lights plugged in in 2008, then ornaments added in 2009, and so on. Now in Austin for our third Christmas, it has been in each holiday card, a photo of our growing family (Patrick, Annie and pregnant me one year; then Patrick, Annie, baby David, and me; now all of us so grown up in 2013) with this magical, glowing thing behind us.

We invite beloved nearby grandparents, aunts and uncles from both sides of the family to come over for taco dinner, old Disney and Raffi Christmas records played on my childhood Fisher Price player (still works!), and tree decorating. The decorating has become it’s own family tradition for us in Austin. Annie and I get positively gleeful about unzipping the big red bag every December. 

Understandably, cousin Amanda didn’t feel as excited about the original white tree when she returned from college that 2007 Thanksgiving.

Deb: “When Manda came home she hated the tree, and possibly still does. ‘We’re Jewish!!!!!’ she cried. I explained to her that I had always celebrated Christmas as a kid and Rob had bought it for me and I was going to use it whether she liked it or not.  A few months later she phoned me and told me she had heard the Sheryl Crow song ‘If It Makes You Happy’ and thought of me and decided that if that tree made me happy it was okay.  She even has bought me a few ornaments for it.   I tell her that she will probably marry a Christian and have a tree in her house and although she’ll never admit it, she will want it one day.” 

Erin: I can imagine Deb and Amanda joking about that. They have a close, special relationship, as do Deb and Adam. And even from two states away, this one-of-a-kind aunt-in-law of mine has been one of my most heartfelt, hilarious, and helpful supporters since I became a mom. The tree is just one, especially bright example. 

I got a text from a neighbor this week. “Christmas lights! Go, Currys!” it said. I wrote her back to say thanks but we left them up from last Christmas. I’m all about the low-hanging fruit this time of year—leaving the lights up, seeing Santa at a low-key church event instead of the mall, sending MLK Day holiday cards (or maybe none at all), skipping the big parade altogether until my toddler is old enough to not give me a heart attack in a crowd. Last year we told the kids we were going to Austin’s famed Trail of Lights, then took them for a walk on 37 1/2 Street, the one with houses with tons of lights. The kids were happy and so were we. That’s enough.

We don’t need to go “all out” to get in the spirit. We come home every day and see the white sparkle in the window.

Thank you so much, Aunt Deb.

Thank you to the Weiss family and my husband for letting me share this very hastily whipped up remembrance. We decorated our tree two days ago, and I wanted to hurry up and get the story out there.

Adam Weiss, we love you! We are so glad you are well. You too, Ryan Brown. Words cannot express it.

Whatever religion you believe in or not, at its best, the holiday season gives us time to spend with family, reflecting on our blessings, giving to others, and dreaming about the new year. Our “fake” tree gives us a real place to do that each year.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and here’s to a healthy and happy 2014!

XOXO