Only the curious have something to find

Tonight I revisited the soundtrack to my 20s.

I’m not sure I could have previously pinpointed what that sounded like. But as Nickel Creek performed a variety of songs from their four main albums, I felt as though I was taking an audio tour of my past.

“The Lighthouse’s Tale” took me back to Saturday game nights during my senior year of college. We knew two albums were sure crowd pleasers: a mid-90s rock mix a friend made, and Nickel Creek’s self-titled album.

“This Side,” in hindsight, was the perfect song to carry me into that awkward year after college. The band released that album the month I would have started my senior year (had I not decided to finish early). Life felt foreign, indeed, on that side of graduation.

“When You Come Back Down” is one of several songs that remind me vividly of moving back to Alabama and finally chasing down my dream: a career in journalism. When I enrolled in grad school at Alabama, I wasn’t sure I would make it in this field. I had always been told I was a good writer, but I knew journalism was a competitive, intense industry. I realized how much I had to learn in my first semester, thanks to the Intro to Reporting class (a course I earned a B in, but now teach). I was terrified, but I was taking a chance I believed was worth taking.

It was hard to believe it would pay off during nights when I would lie awake, obsessing over how I could strengthen my resume and skill set in order to get a job. When I couldn’t quiet my mind, I’d return that self-titled album to my CD player. By track three, “Out of the Woods,” I would be breathing easier. By the song’s end, I would usually fall asleep.

My favorite band seemed to change with me, with instrumentals on each album exploring new territory (I love “Ode to a Butterfly,” but “Smoothie Song” and “Scotch and Chocolate” took my growing interest in instrumental music a step further). Every time “First and Last Waltz” begins, I remember again how it seamlessly transitions into “Helena,” showing how a voiceless piece of music can set the tone for what’s to come.

“Doubting Thomas,” and “Why Should the Fire Die?” as a whole, carried me further still. The album came out while I was working my first job. I knew journalism was the right fit–I loved it even more than I imagined I might–but I was also struggling with the adjustment that accompanies working full time and figuring out life on your own. The answers weren’t always easy, and the journey didn’t always look like what I expected.

“Reasons Why” has always encapsulated the struggle of those unmet expectations. There were nights, particularly in 2002, when I would play the song on repeat. It remains my official favorite song of all time.

When I first heard “Hayloft” on the band’s latest album, I was taken aback. It felt jarring in the context of both their previous work and “A Dotted Line.” But the song has grown on me, and seeing it performed tonight reminded me of how much Nickel Creek has matured in the 13 years I’ve loved their music. These songs and musicians have been the soundtrack to my growing up.

Nickel Creek, Alabama Theatre April 16, 2014

Destination / The Lighthouse’s Tale / Scotch and Chocolate / This Side / Rest of My Life / Out of the Woods / Ode to a Butterfly / When In Rome / 21st of May / Anthony / Smoothie Song / You Don’t Know What’s Going On / Reasons Why / Doubting Thomas / Elephant in the Corn / Somebody More Like You / Hayloft / The Fox

Encore: First and Last Waltz / Helena / Cuckoo’s Nest / Where Is Love Now

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Remembering what matters most

When in doubt, I turn to Nora Ephron for inspiration.

When in doubt, I turn to Nora Ephron for inspiration.

Tonight I spent three hours working on my book. Tomorrow I’ll grade this finish grading my students’ papers and begin the last month of the semester. Thursday evening I’ll attend a party to benefit one of my favorite nonprofits. This weekend I’ll spend 20-plus hours in yoga teacher training. And sometime, someday soon, I’ll rest.

I’m fortunate to be at a point in life when I get to delve into so many passions in so many different ways. I love teaching, writing, editing, volunteering and mentoring.

I also know this season won’t last forever. As it is, I try not to commit to anything unless I’m passionate about it. In the past, that’s meant saying no to some very good things in order to devote my attention to the issues that are most important to me. Now, that also requires me to consider everything on my plate and whether it’s an activity I should dedicate time to for a season or indefinitely.

As I age, I also regularly reflect on my goals and priorities. I have a number of professional aims, and they’ve been adjusted through the years as I cross them off the list. (Yes, I keep an actual list. I doubt you’re surprised.) But my greatest priority isn’t my work, satisfying and necessary (girl’s gotta eat!) as it is. It’s more important to me to love well and devote my attention to those who I hold closest.

Perfect balance is an illusion, but I’m striving to dedicate the best of me to those people. That’s why I often disconnect from social media on the weekends and confine my freelance work to the week nights when possible. It’s also why I am beginning to, again, examine my commitments and determine which I may need to step away from.

I’m especially aware of that search for equilibrium when deadlines draw closer and my calendar fills with writing projects. Even when I have to settle for a carefully scheduled brunch or a short phone call between appointments, I must regularly remind myself that it’s the people, not the activities, that matter most.

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What I’m writing: March 2014

These are stories I wrote that were published this month.

Meet Birmingham magazine Managing Editor Carla Jean Whitley

Photo by Cary Norton

Photo by Cary Norton

Before rejoining the Birmingham magazine staff in 2006 (she was our fall 2004 intern), Carla Jean spent two years working at newspapers in Central Alabama. This University of Alabama graduate also works as an adjunct instructor at both her alma mater and Samford University. Although she’s a Birmingham native, she spent 15 years in Florida and earned her bachelor’s degree at Florida State University. --Read more “Meet Birmingham magazine Managing Editor Carla Jean Whitley” at

Take a Tour of the New Alabama Media Group Birmingham Hub

Today Birmingham magazine and the rest of the Alabama Media Group’s Birmingham hub moved into a new space in the Young & Vann building at 1731 First Ave. N.

Take a quick video tour of our new office, and read more in the stories linked below. –Read more “Take a Tour of the New Alabama Media Group Birmingham Hub” at

Keep Calm and Get Over Yourself

Photo by yours truly

Photo by yours truly

The countdown is on: My manuscript is due to my editor three weeks from yesterday. (EDITOR’S NOTE: For those wondering, that deadline has changed. Lots of work still to do!)

Although it’s been 11 months since he verbally accepted my proposal and nearly nine months since I received the signed contract, these final days are proving the most intense part of the book-writing process. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised; writers, like people in a number of other fields, are renowned for their procrastination tactics. Just earlier today, a former newspaper columnist told me she enjoyed having written, past tense. –Read more “Keep Calm and Get Over Yourself” at
Photo by Cary Norton

Photo by Cary Norton

David Magee may be new to Birmingham magazine, but he has a long career in both print and digital media—just look under “M” in your favorite bookstore. David spent a decade as an author, and he has also served as the managing editor of theInternational Business Times and assistant managing editor/digital of The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger. He is also Alabama Media Group’s statewide publications manager. –Read more “Meet Birmingham magazine Editor David Magee” at

Photo by Back Down South Films

Photo by Back Down South Films

Logan Dillard and Stephen Stinson knew they loved filmmaking. But it wasn’t until a school project that the pair realized their artistic passion could become their life’s work.

Dillard and Stinson became friends during their freshman year at Samford University, and though they shared a passion for the art, the duo had not worked together. That changed when Stinson enrolled in a music video class his senior year. Although Dillard wasn’t in the class, Stinson asked his friend to join him in identifying a Birmingham-based band for whom they could make a music video. –Read more “Telling Stories” at

Know Your Beer: Birmingham-area beer professionals have obtained an academic understanding of craft beer

ciceroneAttorney Melinda Sellers works with a number of beer manufacturers and distributors, but it used to be that the best way she could demonstrate her familiarity with the business was to tell them that her husband Michael is an owner of Good People Brewing Co. That changed in September, when Sellers became a Certified Cicerone. –Read more “Know Your Beer” at
Photo by Cary Norton

Photo by Cary Norton

A shadow is darkness, but you can’t have it without light. It’s appropriate, then, that singer-songwriter Preston Lovinggood’s second solo album, “Shadow Songs,” opens with high-fidelity takes of five songs from his previous effort, “Sun Songs.”–Read more “Out of the Shadows” at

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Maybe I’m a little behind

I ordered my first Mac laptop this week. It took a lot of deliberation; I had held off for years because I suspect that once I go Mac, I won’t go back. But in the past year, I’ve completed more freelance projects than ever, and I expect it’ll be a boon in my full-time and side work to have access to the industry standard for writing and design.

Buying a Mac, as many of you know, is quite a commitment. They’re generally more expensive than PCs, so deciding to take the Apple plunge is a big deal. But then you’ve got to decide which model MacBook you want. The Air is light and sleek, but not quite as powerful as the Pro. The Pro is a beast with a fancy screen, but not quite as portable as the Air.

But these days, neither of the newest models come equipped with a CD drive!

And this is how I’ve come to learn that I’m a weirdo because I still use CDs. Don’t be mistaken, I’m also a big fan of the cloud; my Google Drive is perpetually teetering at 90 percent full, and I have to clean out my Dropbox frequently. I also backup files to a 1 Terabyte external hard drive. I’m drinking the Kool-Aid, in other words.

I also buy CDs. I receive them from record labels (still, although not as frequently as I once did), and I keep a bin of them in my bedroom closet. Although technology is generally pretty good to me (WordPress hasn’t failed me yet!), I’m not comfortable relying on it for my entire music collection.

So after much debate and a number of people telling me I should let go of the notion of a built-in CD drive, I made up my mind. The older MacBook Pro isn’t only cheaper, it’s also exactly the machine I want.

Because after all, I’ll need a way to load these guys onto my fancy digital devices.

My most recently acquired albums, including Nickel Creek's "A Dotted Line" (getting the advance review download wasn't enough! Gotta support one of my favorite bands), The Rolling Stones' "Sticky Fingers, Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers' "Rare Bird Alert" (featuring the Dixie Chicks AND Paul McCartney!) and Ruben Studdard's "Unconditional Love."

My most recently acquired albums, including Nickel Creek’s “A Dotted Line” (getting the advance review download wasn’t enough! Gotta support one of my favorite bands), The Rolling Stones’ “Sticky Fingers, Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers’ “Rare Bird Alert” (featuring the Dixie Chicks AND Paul McCartney!) and Ruben Studdard’s “Unconditional Love.”

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Write, write, write, write

I’m not being the best friend right now–and that’s hard for me. I love being able to swing by a friend’s house when she calls and says dinner’s on, or enjoy a mid-week girls’ night with another while her husband is out of town. But right now, I’ve got to hunker down and write.

My manuscript is due on April 7. It’s hard to believe! And there’s still plenty of work to do (isn’t how these things always go?). But I’m excited to be racing toward the finish. I’ve left the “I can’t do this!” phase, am growing increasingly comfortable in the “I can probably do this” phase, hope to soon move into “I can do this!” and can’t wait to get to “I’ve done it!”

In the meantime, I’m still allowing myself a few minutes here and there to write personal projects–including my semi-regular blog posts for Church Street Coffee and Books, where I’m documenting my journey as a first-time author.

The countdown is on: My manuscript is due to my editor three weeks from yesterday.
Although it’s been 11 months since he verbally accepted my proposal and nearly nine months since I received the signed contract, these final days are proving the most intense part of the book-writing process. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised; writers, like people in a number of other fields, are renowned for their procrastination tactics. Just earlier today, a former newspaper columnist told me she enjoyed having written, past tense.

Read more “Keep Calm and Get Over Yourself” at

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Be kind. Seek peace.

Two years ago, Annie Damsky and I sat at a table in Magic Muffins talking about yoga. I was interviewing Annie about opening Birmingham’s only yoga studio to offer classes for the whole family, Villager Yoga. As we talked, I told her that I was trying to develop my own “yoga addiction.” I had been practicing on my own at home for about six weeks, and was beginning to regularly attend classes at The Yoga Circle.

One year ago, Melissa Scott and I were in Chattanooga for the weekend when she mentioned an interest in leading a teacher training. “I’ll be the first to sign up,” I said. I had already contemplated teacher training as a way to deepen my understanding, whether I were to eventually teach or not.

Tonight, teacher training begins.

I cannot adequately express how excited I am. As promised, I was (I think) the first student to register for training. Melissa has been an incredible teacher and friend for the past two years, and I am thrilled to learn from her and support her.

But perhaps more importantly, I’m excited to allow myself this experience. My to-do list is especially full right now, with a number of projects both at and outside of work. I feel as though I could work all weekend and not accomplish all I’d like. These are the moments when I especially need to slow down, take a deep breath and put the world back into perspective.

I’ll spend the rest of the weekend aiming to do just that, and will return to my mat for these intensive sessions eight more times between now and November. I can’t wait to see where this path leads.


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What I’m writing: February 2014

These are stories I wrote that were published this month.

21 Reasons to Love the City: Birmingham, how do we love thee? Let us count the ways. From the city’s increasing shopping options to our distinctive music venues, it seems there’s always a new reason to love life in Birmingham. (With Jessilyn Justice and Katherine Owen)


(Photo by yours truly)

The old Birmingham Chamber of Commerce slogan “It’s nice to have you in Birmingham” found new life in 2013, thanks to the Magic City Mural Collective. The group of artists formed to inject color into the city. Its first project was painting that slogan on a wall facing Woodlawn’s 55th Place South. Read more “21 Reasons to Love the City” at

Band on the Rise: St. Paul and the Broken Bones will release its first full-length record this month, but the buzz has been building for a year.

St. Paul and the Broken Bones (Photo by David McLister)

St. Paul and the Broken Bones (Photo by David McLister)

If their careers continue along their current trajectory, this time next year I won’t be able to interview Paul Janeway and Browan Lollar over a cup of coffee.

It’s not that they wouldn’t be up for it. These are down-to-earth guys. Their schedules may be busier in the future, but heck—they played 170 dates in 2013 and still found time for a two-hour chat at Urban Standard. And it’s not that their publicist is difficult; Jim Flammia was a dream to work with in scheduling this interview, even as release dates were altered and meetings rescheduled. Read more “Band on the Rise” at
14161032-largeI told a friend last week that I met my boyfriend on, and her reaction caught me by surprise: “It seems like that’s how everyone meets these days.”
Maybe I shouldn’t have been taken off guard; my boyfriend and I are one of three couples in our social circle who met through that online dating site. Murray and Shayne met in 2011, became engaged 10 months later and were married in May 2013. (You can read their story in the winter/spring issue of Birmingham Weddings and Celebrations.) Holly and Brad met in 2012, rented a house together in 2013 and became engaged six months later. And Put and I have been going strong since our first date on Sept. 3, 2012. Read more “I Gave A Chance” at

Get Healthy

What have you done for your health lately? Regardless of your answer, the University of Alabama at Birmingham hopes to help. Read more “Get Healthy” at

Motivating Women

14161060-largeAcademy Award-winning actress Geena Davis may be best known for roles in such films as “A League of Their Own,” “Thelma and Louise” and “Hero.” But when she visits Birmingham this month, the actress’ work for gender equality will be in the spotlight. Davis has a long history of activism in the field, and in 2007 launched The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which works to increase female characters in the entertainment industry and reduce stereotyping in the field. Read more “Motivating Women” at

Still Life with Bread Crumbs: Taking a new path at midlife

medium“Rebecca Winter” remains a household name, thanks to the iconic photograph “Still Life with Bread Crumbs” that catapulted her art career into the public eye. But Rebecca Winter, the person, has changed significantly in the decades since she captured that domestic image of her kitchen counter after her husband and son retired for the evening. She’s no longer married, for one. And it’s been so long since she made a significant sale that she can no longer afford the upscale Manhattan apartment that contains the kitchen immortalized in that famous picture. Read more “Still Life with Bread Crumbs” at

Writing Checklist: Research, Planning and Kittens

CJ2There are a lot of mental and psychological gymnastics that go into the book-writing process, at least in my experience. I’ve written about those a fair bit since I began documenting the process of writing my first book. But I haven’t written as much about the nuts and bolts of writing. Read more “Writing Checklist” at

Want more? Visit my “What I’m writing” Pinterest board.

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