Category Archives: Love letters

Fly dove, sing sparrow, give me Cupid’s famous arrow

I read a wide variety of genres, but there’s at least one thing you can count on: If someone writes a memoir that touches on a life experience that intrigues me, I’ll read it. So when I heard about Amy Webb’s “Data, A Love Story,” I quickly requested it from my local library.

I’ll confess, I’ve read way too many dating books. When I was in college, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” “I Gave Dating a Chance,” “Lady in Waiting,” “When God Writes Your Love Story” and other such titles were the topic of the day. I read them all (and then some!), and I was left confused by their advice. Perhaps as an indirect result, I didn’t date much in college, even though those were prime years for meeting and getting to know lots of different people.

Other books I’ve read out of curiosity; often, if a book hits the zeitgeist, I’ll pick it up so I know what everyone is talking about. (No, I haven’t read “Twilight” or “50 Shades of Grey.”) So 2005 found me breezing through “He’s Just Not That Into You” and frequenting the often-pink-adorned 306 aisle in the library. That year also introduced Dr. Henry Cloud’s “How to Get a Date Worth Keeping,” and as I read it, I realized I needed to take some drastic steps to shake up my dating patterns (or lack thereof!).

So I signed up for match.com.

I used online dating sites on and off from 2005 to 2012, when I met my boyfriend on match.com. I never really thought I’d meet someone special on the Internet, even though “You’ve Got Mail” left me half-expecting an email from Mr. Right to show up at any minute.

I wrote an essay about the experience for Birmingham magazine, which ran in the February issue. I also finished reading “Data, A Love Story” this week, and as I closed the book, I fought the urge to get out of bed to email the author. I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all formula for finding a relationship, but online dating was good to me (and to Webb, also–from the early pages of her book, readers know she ultimately found her husband online. Her specific journey to that point is compelling, if at times intense. And heck, I can relate to being intense! She’s just math-focused, and I’m more of a liberal arts gal.).

Like Webb, I got to share my particular success story with readers. It’s probably the most personal piece I’ve ever seen in print, but the response I’ve received so far has been great. If you’re contemplating online dating or merely curious about it, I hope you find this useful.

As for me, I’ll spend Valentine’s Day counting my blessings with the man who I met through Internet.

I told a friend last week that I met my boyfriend on match.com, 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 Match.com a Chance” at bhammag.com.
Today’s subject line comes from “Gimme Gimme,” one of my favorite songs from the musical “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”

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I’d call myself so very lucky just to have some company to share a cup of tea with me

One of the things I’ve most regretted about my time in college is that I didn’t date more while I was there. When else in life do you have a group of people around at all times, with so many opportunities to get to know one another? Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite happily unmarried at 31. I’ve learned a lot about myself in these intervening years, and I’m very happy with my dating life. But in the past, when I’ve started dating new people, I’ve often mourned the lack of context that is typical in post-college life.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons “You’ve Got Mail” has continued to captivate me after all these years. I saw the movie in theaters when it was released in 1998, and I’ve watched it so many times since that it’s one of the few films from which I can quote line after line. Without fail, Kathleen and Joe’s romance grabs hold of my heart.

I’m a sucker for the written word, and I love watching these two fall for each other in large part via email. (In 1998, it didn’t occur to me that they were essentially having an e-affair. I guess that’s the beauty and naivete of the Internet not yet being ubiquitous.) Their words reveal their character, and they gradually come to know and trust each other.

I learned something about online dating from that movie, I suppose, although it wasn’t centered around a dating website. I’ve tried several such sites, and in fact I met my boyfriend through match.com. And just as “You’ve Got Mail” reminds me on every viewing, I’ve learned that you can tell quite a bit about someone from his words. But of course, “real life” context (as Kathleen and Joe get quite a bit of in the movie) sweetens and deepens that sense of understanding.

The 10th #bloglikecrazy prompt was to rewatch a favorite movie and write about a lesson it’s taught you. I didn’t have time to rewatch “You’ve Got Mail” this weekend–there was football on!–but boy, do I love that movie. The subject line is a lyric from “The Puppy Song” by Harry Nilsson, which plays during the film’s title sequence.

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Filed under #bloglikecrazy, Autobiography, Love letters

Dear Birmingham

Birmingham and I went through a rough patch at the end of last year. That happens at some point in most relationships, but it was a first for my eight-year love affair with this city. I sometimes wondered if the city still cared about me or the people I love. It was a tough few months.

Something changed in March, and I knew we would get through it, together. But some time before then, the very cool public radio program State of the Re:Union (incidentally, based in my hometown) visited Birmingham to record an episode for its second season. In each place they stop, the producers ask residents to write letters to the city. Some writers read theirs aloud for the program, and others are published online when the episode airs.

I wrote my letter to Birmingham during my rough patch. I was hurting and couldn’t bring myself to write about it in a very personal way. But I knew that, no matter what was ahead for me, I love this city and always will. The result, published in full on SOTRU’s website, is a tribute to the Magic City, the place I call home and a city that will always hold a piece of my heart.

Dear Birmingham,

You are beautiful. I know that’s a message you’ve heard a lot lately, from the spray-painted graffiti that has appeared on overpasses and walls, and its echoes in newspaper columns and Facebook groups. It’s a message you should repeat to yourself, day after day. Cling to its truth.

Continue reading on SOTRU’s website

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Here we rest.

Last night I went to a toga party, anticipating a silly but otherwise simple celebration of a friend’s 29th birthday. I didn’t realize the night would also mark likely the last time this particular group of friends was together. A dear friend is leaving for two months in Spain, and she doesn’t know what awaits her after that. Another friend is departing for Atlanta. A couple at the party is moving to Zambia. Another friend recently found out he’s a year from a move to Utah.

People seem to leave Birmingham in their early 30s, especially if they’re single. As I said to a friend during last night’s celebration, Birmingham offers so much to do–but most people do it in pairs. It’s been hard to watch friends leave, and in the past few months, it’s also challenged my relationship with my city. I’ve spent many days feeling adrift and wondering about my place here.

I don’t have all the answers, and I guess even those answers could shift throughout life.

But I know this: On April 27, I boarded a plane to New Orleans hours before storms were set to hit Birmingham. We had already been pummeled by an intense thunderstorm that morning, and meteorologists were predicting a much worse afternoon. But as many of my fellow Alabamians have written in the days since, we’re accustomed to tornado weather. We know where the “safe places” are in our homes, and we prepare accordingly. It’s rare to get really worked up over a storm, though; I can only think of two times a tornado has touched down near me in the last eight years.

April 27 was different. My boss sent me a text message that night and told me to turn on the news. Entire neighborhoods and cities were demolished by tornadoes. Tuscaloosa, Cullman and Birmingham–the Alabama cities I’ve called home–were all hit hard. The death toll rose rapidly. I listened to Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox on national news, and later Birmingham Mayor William Bell. I nearly cried when I heard Mayor Bell’s voice.

And I was a week from returning home.

The tornadoes didn’t come close to my house; the morning storms wreaked havoc eight miles away on the neighborhood where my favorite coffee roaster is located, and the evening storms demolished neighborhoods on the west and north ends of town. Still, it felt wrong to be away. I wanted so badly to be back in Alabama, to see that my friends and coworkers were OK. I knew I would have been sitting at work, checking the news obsessively, instead of sitting in New Orleans, checking the news obsessively. But I yearned to be with my people. Alabama is where I belonged.

If you’re going to be away when your home city is struck by a natural disaster, though, New Orleans is perhaps the best place you could be. People were incredibly gracious and understanding. The next night, I attended a private dinner at the New Orleans Presbytere. The exhibit “Katrina & Beyond” depicted both the science of hurricanes and the stories of New Orleans and its people during and after Hurricane Katrina. After dinner, we were invited to write messages to either New Orleans or the world on our hands, to be photographed for Robert X. Fogarty’s “Dear World” project.

I knew almost immediately what I wanted to write. “Here we rest” was Alabama’s original state motto, and is the title of Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit’s newest album (which I’ve listened to obsessively since I got it, and which I fell asleep listening to the night of the tornadoes). Alabama has been my place of rest since I returned on Feb. 28, 2003. And when I returned from my week-long trip, I had never been so happy to see my home.

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Filed under Autobiography, Love letters

The weight of words

Reading material is piled on my bed, and the stack seems to have grown each day this week. It’s that time of month, I suppose, as new magazines account for nearly half of my to-read-nowish list. Esquire arrived yesterday, I picked up New York magazine’s Reasons to Love New York issue earlier this week and the Oxford American’s Southern music issue takes time to digest. I’m also overwhelmed by books: a collection of essays sent by a friend, a chef’s memoir, Flannery O’Connor nonfiction that I have been dipping into at a leisurely pace.

I know how I’ll spend my Christmas vacation.

I spent this morning discussing the value of words with a dear friend. Beginning next month, Cory and I will lead a writing and letterpress printing workshop, which we’ve titled The Weight of Words. The eighth-grade girls in the workshop will write essays of belief, and we’ll end the workshop by letterpressing small posters of their six-word thesis statements.

Cory and I are letterpress aficionados (she’s a printer, I’m a collector of sorts), and we were both drawn to the art form in part because of the literal weight it gives to words. Even if you don’t ink the press’ rollers, this form of relief printing leaves a mark on the paper. The care required to set the type and the impression it makes on the paper are an appropriate homage to the written word.

We left our planning session energized, eager to share our love of art and writing with these young girls. And as I continue to plow through my ever-growing stack of reading material, I’m grateful that others share their words with me.

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And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make

Nashville’s Lightning 100 dubbed July 26 “McCartney Monday,” and the mid-day DJ filled the lunch hour with all Paul McCartney, all live versions, all by request. I stopped my car and texted the request email when I heard this, then sat in my car in front of the restaurant where I was meeting a friend, hoping to hear my request. When “Helter Skelter” came up third (after “Venus and Mars Rock Show” and “The Long and Winding Road”), I danced in my seat and celebrated my song being played. I felt like a teenager who finally got to tape her new favorite song from the airwaves.

And that’s how I felt throughout the Paul McCartney concert that night. That’s the power of The Beatles’ music: It brings out that pure, simple love of a good song. There’s plenty to digest, lyrics to think through, guitar solos to pick apart. But it’s also just good music in a way that even a child with a penchant for Top 40 can recognize.

Paul seemed to enjoy the music as much as the thousands of fans gathered for his first-ever Nashville show. He and his band calmly, quietly walked on stage, but they immediately kicked up the rock with “Venus and Mars Rock Show.” Several songs in, Paul said he wanted a minute to take it all in. He slung his Hofner over his shoulder, stepped away from the mic and gazed out into the crowd as we went wild. Paul McCartney was taking us in.

The mood remained exuberant as Paul and the band switched from Beatles tunes to Wings songs to his solo material. The set was carefullly paced, with an interlude of quieter, piano-based songs (“The Long and Winding Road,” for one) followed shortly by tributes to John Lennon and George Harrison. As Paul played “Something” on the ukelele, the band returned to stage and kicked in, a moment so overwhelming it brought tears to my eyes.

There were several moments that brought me near to crying: “Blackbird” and his brief discussion of the American Civil Rights movement. The crowd sing-along during “Hey Jude.” (How cool to say that, for one night, my voice joined Paul McCartney’s!) When he spotted a fan whose sign asked him to sign the tattoo of his Hofner on her back, then brought the crying, shaking woman on stage to do just that, I wanted to cry and hug her.

There was also a lot of laughter. The screen behind the song showed Beatles Rock Band footage during “Got to Get You Into My Life.” Paul is still a showman, posing for the thousands of cameras every several minutes. When he flashed a thumbs up or winked, you could see the same boy doing that 40 years ago. He brought a young Mexican fan on stage for “Get Back.” The boy didn’t speak much English, but he sang it–and had no problem shaking his tush to the beat. I couldn’t help but laugh during the pyrotechnics of “Live and Let Die,” (I could feel the heat from the nosebleeds!) and my cheeks hurt from smiling (while I shook my own little tush) during “Helter Skelter.”

But the best, most overwhelming moment of all was the show’s conclusion. The band segued from “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)” into “The End,” with Paul changing several of the “love you”s to “we really love you.” It was a celebratory cap on a special night. And as they shredded those guitars and the awesome graphics from the conclusion of Beatles Rock Band played, I literally went weak in the knees. There was one of my favorite musicians–the one who I wanted to see more than anyone alive, and who could only be topped by the band that made him famous–playing one of my favorite songs, a song that makes me stop and take it in even when listening to a mere recording, from one of my favorite albums of all time. There, in the room with me. I’ve only known and loved these songs, from the band that revolutionized music, for three years. How lucky am I to have a lifetime ahead with them?

Set list:

  1. Venus and Mars Rock Show
  2. Jet
  3. All My Loving
  4. Letting Go
  5. Got to Get You Into My Life
  6. Highway
  7. Let Me Roll It
  8. Long and Winding Road
  9. 1985
  10. Let ‘Em In
  11. My Love
  12. I’m Looking Through You/Tequila
  13. Two of Us
  14. Blackbird
  15. Here Today
  16. Dance Tonight
  17. Mrs. Vanderbilt
  18. Eleanor Rigby
  19. Ram On
  20. Something
  21. Sing the Changes
  22. Band on the Run
  23. Obladi, Oblada
  24. Back in the USSR
  25. I Got A Feeling
  26. Paperback Writer
  27. A Day in the Life/Give Peace a Chance
  28. Let It Be
  29. Live and Let Die
  30. Hey Jude
    First encore:
  31. Day Tripper
  32. Lady Madonna
  33. Get Back
    Second encore:
  34. Yesterday
  35. Helter Skelter
  36. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (reprise)
  37. The End

Reviews:
The Tennessean
American Songwriter
Nashville Scene
Spinner

My life with The Beatles:
“It’s so hard to reason with you,” a tribute to “Please Please Me” and enduring Beatlemania
“All we are saying is give peace a chance,” or how the Beatles saved my friendship with Adam
“It’s a thousand pages, give or take a few,” and several hundred of them are about the Beatles
“I’m writing you to catch you up on places I’ve been,” in which the Beatles make the drive to New Orleans oh-so-much more bearable
“How do I feel by the end of the day?”–better with the Beatles.
“The more I think about it, the more I know it’s true” that the Beatles make me happy.

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Filed under Autobiography, Love letters, music, Travel

It’s not the spark that caused the fire

Baking always makes me think of Candace Bushnell.

The Sex and the City creator spoke at my college senior year–before TBS syndicated and cleaned up the show, years before I saw it. My friend Apryl was assigned to escort Candace around campus. (That’s so Apryl.) As you would expect, talk turned to relationships.

As you would expect if you know Apryl, talk eventually turned to my relationships.

Let me give you a little background: Although I am certainly not the world’s most active dater now, I was even less so in college. But for some reason, I thought cooking would make me a more marketable woman. I made biscuits when guys came to visit us in the dorm. I brought carrot cake to the guys who stood in line for our block of football tickets. (That made me really popular; I saved their thank you message on my answering machine for as long as I could.) My roommates and I hosted dinner parties for as many as 15 people. We concocted a menu to complement a murder mystery night my senior year. We once offered Easter afternoon lunch for all our friends who didn’t leave town for the holiday.

Haven’t we been taught that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach?

I’m not sure how she brought it up, but Apryl and Candace got to talking about my cooking. She’ll never find herself a man if she keeps that up, Candace said. Tell her to lay off.

I laughed off Candace-by-way-of-Apryl’s advice. The show, while entertaining, didn’t exactly depict what I was after.

Still, I’ve been a little sensitive about cooking for people–even my girl friends–ever since. In recent months, I’ve rediscovered that hours spent in the kitchen are almost as therapeutic as hours spent reading or writing. That’s something I do for myself–because I think it’s important to make time for things I enjoy, because I think treating myself well (and eating good food) is a worthwhile pursuit, because cooking allows me to clear my mind and focus on whatever music I’m playing way too loud.

And despite Candace Bushnell’s advice, recently I’ve resumed cooking for others–sometimes even men. There are lots of ways I show that I care about my friends, and sharing food and time is one of them. In the years since Candace evaluated my love life, I’ve learned something important.

I’ve learned how much I value being myself.

That said, here’s the second entry on my go-to recipe list. Frank Stitt’s Southern Table is probably the prettiest book I own, and sometimes I turn the pages just to stroke the glossy food images. (On the subject of being yourself–I told two friends tonight that I have learned to embrace the fact that I’m not cool. I think that sentence embodies my uncoolness.) But here’s a great thing: Although many of the book’s recipes are fancy, delectable creations, and many take the time you would expect from such masterpieces, his cookies are beautifully simple. I make shortbread cookies so often now that I think I went through a five-pound sack of flour in just a month or two.

And a bonus? Since they’re so easy, it’s easy to bake cookies and bring ‘em into the office. I’ve got a bag full on my desk right now, and shortbread with a cup of coffee is the perfect antidote to the stress of deadline week.

Shortbread cookies

Makes 3 to 4 dozen

These cookies are so tender they collapse on your tongue and so buttery a couple seem like just enough–though I usually have to have three. They are the ideal accompaniment to custard-type desserts.

3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat the over to 350.

Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. Sift the salt and flour, then add to the butter mixture, mixing until just combined.

Form the dough into a log about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap the log with plastic wrap and chill for three hours to overnight. Freeze for up to 2 months.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator, remove plastic wrap and slice dough into 1/4 inch disks. Place on an ungreased baking sheet 1 inch apart and bake until the bottoms of the cookies just turn golden, about 10 minutes, turning the sheet 180 degrees after 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely.

Variation: After removing the dough from the refrigerator, slice as above, then roll each disck into a ball. Moisten a thumb and press into the center of each ball. Fill each indentation with high quality raspberry or other fruit preserves. Bake until slightly golden, 10 or 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.

–Frank Stitt’s Southern Table, Frank Stitt

(I’ll point out that you don’t actually need a stand mixer for this. I’m sure it would make your life easier, but I mix the ingredients by hand and it’s just fine.)

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Filed under Autobiography, In the kitchen, Insecurity, Love letters

Time will tell you, baby, what you can’t hear now

(I was just showing Elisa ridiculous entries I have had saved for years–literally, years–and she decided I should post this one. “Because it’s adorable,” she says. “It so seems like Carla three years ago–more tentative and wanting so badly to be spontaneous!” So, here. This is from May 29, 2005, at 9:38 p.m.)

You know how there are certain things in life – characteristics, I guess – that just sound like something good to be?

(Or is that just me?)

I think it sounds “cool,” somehow, to be a risk taker, to be spontaneous. And as much as I’d like to paint myself as an exciting person, I just don’t think that’s me.

A friend made a bet with me the other day, a bet that required me to do something a touch daring. He was confident that the bet would pay off in my favor and I’d be $20 richer.

Though it’s a tiny example, it started me thinking. Being uptight and structured is part of my personality, and it’s deeply ingrained.

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It’s OK when there’s nothing more to say to me

I’ve got to make a confession. Instead of writing (or rather, writing when someone isn’t paying me to do so), I’ve been cooking and watching CNN. This election stuff has its hooks in me.

So now, old notes from September 2007. I carried these around on scrap paper for months, trying to mold them into something cohesive, but it never happened.

I don’t need a man to rescue me. I’m not a damsel in distress, or a trophy wife in waiting. I’m self-sufficient (or at least, that’s what I tell myself). I can manage on my own.

But I want a white knight to save me—or if not to save me, exactly, to root me on, to be my “easy silence.”

… 

There are so many conflicting ideas of who a 26-year-old woman should be. Lately I’ve been hyper-aware of other people’s expectations of me—or what I think their expectations are—and have quietly become more determined to grow more and more into who I am.

I guess I’m in a very psycho-analytical place right now.

…more to come…

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Let go of the worry, there’s so much nobody understands

“We are all shipwrecked. All castaways… One day we all wake on the beach, our heads caked with sand, sea-foam stinging our eyes, fiddler crabs picking at our roses and the taste of salt caked on our lips. … And, like it or not, it is there that we realize we are all in need of Friday to come rescue us off this island, because we don’t speak the language and we can’t read the messages in the bottle.” –Charles Martin, When Crickets Cry

Something I read this afternoon reminded me of this quote. Although my mom loved this book, I was really dissatisfied with it… all of it, but this one passage. Something about this paragraph resonates…

Now, I’m going to listen to some Ryan Adams.

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