Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Mad Not Mad

Here is a tape I wore thin in the 80s: Mad Not Mad by Madness. No, I didn't take this picture. I don't have the tape anymore, so I'm using Grooveshark for my dopamine fix. (Someone was selling the pictured cassette tape on eBay.)

So, it was 1985. My brother and I were hanging out at our grandma's apartment. Around the corner from her building was a store that sold office supplies, books, and tapes. If memory serves me well--haven't thought about it in over 25 years--my brother bought the tape at that store for a minuscule amount of money, perhaps even with some change left over after getting grandma ciggies at the grocery store next door. How come the tape was so cheap? You wonder as you sit at the edge of your seat awaiting the big reveal. Well, guess what? The tape was spun in its plastic case BACKWARDS. Well, how in the world could you listen to it? I can just hear the youngest of my readers scratch their heads. Listen up. All you need is a tiny screwdriver and some patience. We opened the cassette and re-spun the tape as it should have been done by the factory machines, put it back together, making sure each little screw was back in its place, stuck the tape in the cassette player, and voila.

Some side notes:

Repeatedly listening to an album full of beautiful songs with very literary political-personal lyrics will seriously aid you in learning English, especially if you're not a native speaker.

I think the boys from Madness hated the slick production here. But I think it's gorgeous.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Rice and Beans: The Perfect Meal

This is the century of culinary science, molecular cuisine, and other food fads. It may as well be happening in a parallel universe as far as this blogger is concerned. I had four meals today, three out of which were the same one: rice and beans generously sprinkled with crumbled queso fresco and chopped up fresh cilantro. (I put so much chopped cilantro on top, it may as well be a small salad.) I bet there's a scientific reason why I find this meal so satisfying. Anyone knows what it is?

Here is the recipe for my perfect meal. I make long grain white rice with a bit of salt and butter. No rinsing before or after. The beans are usually pinto beans from a can. I don't just empty a can on top of my rice; I always improvise a base out of whatever I have at hand. Today I sauteed some chopped onion, jalapeno peppers, garlic, and tomatoes, using sunflower oil, with a little chicken broth. Then I simmered that and the beans together after throwing in a bit of Goya's all-purpose Adobo seasoning. Also a bit of chili seasoning.

Rice and beans, a recipe I perfected solely for my palate. For my appetite first as a grad student and now a teacher at the very bottom of the pay scale at my university.

Rice and beans, my protein trampoline.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Songwriters and Poets

No posts since the end of August? I don't want to go into the red tape disaster that's slowly getting disentangled at my job. It suffices to say, a stressed-out blogger is an absent blogger in my case.

I'm now looking forward to the new album by one of my favorite songwriters, Paul Kelly. In the teaser song he's released via his various web sites, he alludes to the good old "Elegy XIX" by John Donne. Here's Paul Kelly, "New Found Year."

Monday, August 27, 2012

First Day of School

This past weekend was all about happily updating my syllabus for my composition/research class with "music, youth, and economy" as the overall topic. As I told my mom: this is the best part, because I get to fantasize about how great this semester will be, how my next crop of students will be eager to learn from me, and how I'll be an awesome teacher. And then the punchline: "Until my fantasy crashes against the cliffs of reality." There is a little bit of truth in that punchline. You could argue that I hit that cliff today, when a) the first of my classrooms was hot as a sauna, b) I found out that the campus bookstore was out of the main book for this course, and c) I still don't have my own office space. But then, a) if the classroom is still hot on Wednesday, I'll teach under a tree somewhere outside, b) I made PDFs of the required reading, and I'll keep doing that until the bookstore gets its shit together, and c) I mainly use the communal office space anyway, since that's where the printer, the copy machine, and my mailbox are. Onward!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Dopamine Flood

I recall writing how at some point circa 1987 I had an epiphany that there was no longer room for Madonna in my music world. That's actually pretty accurate, and it had to do with hearing Suzanne Vega. Suzanne and Madonna tended to cancel one another in teenage record collections in 1980s, as anecdotal evidence suggests.

So yeah, I never listened to Madonna Ciccone's albums after True Blue.

Dopamine remembers that album--it always remembers early-to-mid 80s pop. I'm listening to True Blue now, as it rains so hard that there's a flash flood warning, and I'm cleaning the room that's Nick's and my bedroom and also my office. Tomorrow I start teaching again.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Latest Tesla Craze

It's about the fact that he never got rich as much about his inventions. In the 21st century, Tesla gets reinvented as Edison for and of the 99%. Discuss. Thanks to Sven Clem Cvek Šubrak for this link. Or: the fascination with Steve Jobs dies with the man, but Tesla lives on.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Food Food

Today I bit into a piece of bread with mystery meat pate of Croatian provenance. (Pure nostalgia food that I brought home from a recent visit to Cleveland. I could find this pate in Chicago, but I don't tend to go looking for it. It always waits for me in my brother and sis-in-law's house in the most rock'n'roll city in Ohio.) While eating this delicacy, I was watching a video clip from the campiest Yugoslav horror comedy of the 1980s, Strangler vs. Strangler. Why that film was not recognized in Cannes or by the US Academy of Moving Pictures (or whatever the Oscar thing is called) I will never know. According to the IMDB, it did get some love at the Chicago International Film Festival, in that it was shown there in 1985. While watching the said clip, I managed to hurt my jaw, some joint up there on the upper right side where the jaw meets the skull.

That made me think about my poor choice to eat a big piece of white bread made out of genetically manipulated wheat, I'm sure, with the salty, non-nutritious nostalgia pate spread on it.

A few hours later, I was getting hungry again, but this time I felt the urge to eat some fish. Off to Pete's on my trusty old bike. Once there, I couldn't decide between salmon and tilapia fillets. Got both.

Once home, I proceeded to fry up that salmon (a half-pounder, enough for two servings, 4 bucks, can't beat that), later ate half of it with a side of grits mixed with goat cheese and topped with boiled (really briefly) arugula. But before all that, I cut of up one of tilapia fillets into little cubes and ordered it to marinate in my freshly squeezed lime juice. It obeyed, what else.

Jalapeno peppers fought back, as if they were not happy to join diced tomatoes, onions, and chopped cilantro along with lime-juice-treated tilapia for my ceviche. They, the jalapenos, kept biting, leaving their capsaicin in the pores of my skin. It's still here. But guess what. It feels kind of good. Just a good, warm, tingling sensation.

Baby, baby, close your eyes now...

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Live at Quenchers

Vedran shot these on 8/10 at Quenchers and posted them on youtube.

"Up on the El"


To Vedran and the rest of the friends who made it: many thanks!

Some Conceptual Changes

I will go ahead and begin using this blog not just for random musings, but for announcements as well--to announce a show or a publication or a reading. I believe people can sign up to follow this blog by e-mail pretty easily. That means they'll get my spam only if they really want to take the time to sign up. That's only fair, isn't it?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Friend's Gift to Herself

Sometimes (only sometimes) Marxism can't explain things. Here's one. Material conditions determine everything. But do they? Take these two types of material conditions:

1) When I was in my early 20s, I was a refugee, moving from one small apartment to another with my impoverished family. I was attending Belgrade University and later the Center for Women's Studies and most of my meals consisted of a slice of bread with some kind of a spread on it, usually jam. (A slice of a real loaf, granted, not the wonder bread nonsense.) I couldn't travel--I had no money and no legitimate passport. I had no job other than occasional tutoring.

2) Now, in my late 30s, I can afford a small apartment in Chicago where I live with only one person, my husband. We have enough food, sometimes we even eat out or order in. I can't travel outside of the US at the moment, but soon enough I will be. Meanwhile, I fly to a different US city for an academic conference about twice a year now. I have a brand new Ph.D. Some say that, as a grad student, I lived below poverty line, but compared to my early 20s (and late teens and mid and late 20s as well), I am rich. In the fall, I'll have my very first full-time college-teaching job.

Despite these two sets of contrasting material conditions, my creative process is much the same. Ideas for and realizations of poems, songs, and prose pieces come to me in waves, and the content is not that radically different either. Yet the world is a different place in many ways now. (That's why you also always need some Freud along with your Marx.)

Of course, I'm pushing this critique of the Marxist theory merely as a stylistic/rhetorical trick. Ta-daaa!

But the point is that certain things do influence your creative process much more than the relative poverty/riches you live in. Basically, it boils down to time. If your workload is more than full time, and plus you're a parent, you simply don't have the time (I imagine) for ideas to pop up, brew, and get realized.

Here's what a writer friend I've known since our early-to-mid 20s, whose free time is very limited, has just started: http://simplecreativeyear.wordpress.com/ She will spend 5 minutes each day doing something simple and creative and she'll document it on her blog. It's her gift to herself for her 38th birthday, but she might not realize that it's also her gift to all of her friends and admirers. Happy birthday, and good luck, KS!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Hitsville UK Cover

This is the first track for the project "Uspavanke za Stashu/Lullabies for Stasha." Stasha is my baby niece, a superb product of Zorica and Marko Jankovic.

This track is of course by The Clash, written by my favorite troubadour Mick Jones.

Stay tuned for more songs in the coming days! All recorded at home, typically in one take, plus vocal overdubs. That's the plan.

"Zemljo moja!"

Panson and I hosted Sven Cvek and Clem Choubrac during their second ever visit to Chicago. As a result, we present to you the video for "Zemljo moja"!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Advice Column

In the summer of 2001, I ran into an old childhood friend while I was walking around my hometown of Borovo Naselje. This guy was my play buddy when we were very little. Even after we each found different buddies, we remained friendly, all throughout the first 17 years of our lives. Then the war started (in 1991) and I fled, while he became one of the youngest volunteers in the Croatian army. What kind of a military tells a 17-yr boy, "yeah, don't flee this hell, don't go to back to high school, but rather, grab this gun and kill and be killed"?! He didn't get killed, but he did get hooked on all kinds of drugs. I believe heroin was the drug of choice in the military then and there, but that's not so important.

I don't think my buddy ever finished high school, and he lived on the pension checks from the military--retired at 27. I was able to piece together that much out of his monologue that summer of 2001 when we ran into each other, and then went for a drink at a nearby watering hole. He did most of the talking, and a lot of what he said was horrifying. Killing old ladies ("collateral damage"). Him trying to kill himself by deliberately walking in minefields all over Bosnia, where he fought wars for 3 years.

He had an ambition to volunteer for youth peace groups in our town, but he never got around to that. I wonder if he'd still be alive had he had gone into that kind of activist volunteering. All I know is, he died around the age of 30.

I probably remember most often what he said about romance, in fact, I'd always remember that in the years since the summer 2001, while listening to romance complaints by friends. My friends' complaints always boil down to: 'I desperately want romantic bliss and yet I constantly get disappointed (sooner or later).' Those same friends typically are always either dating or actively, systematically, pursuing someone. It reminds me of how they actively, systematically, pursue professional success. But an approach that works in the professional world doesn't seem to work in the romance department. What I've observed is this: you're much better off if you spend time just being alone, having fun, at peace with the fact that romance is uncontrollable.

"I've been happily in love before. I'm not in any kind of love now, but I'm not worried. I've been there before, and so I know it can happen again." That's what my war veteran buddy said. He was in many ways a ruin of a human being, but his head was clear about that one thing.

Monday, June 11, 2012


Me: leaning against a railing that surrounds a tree & some flowers on Montrose & Walcott in Chicago, (re)reading A Megaphone. A group of women (older than me; not sure how much, I'm bad at age-guessing) approaches the car parked right in front of me, they start getting in. (A big car, I want to say it's an SUV of some kind, there's four women.) One woman goes, "What's the book about?" "It's about women poets around the world and how they're struggling. And yet plowing on." Most women already in the car, the one talking to me says: "It's a thick book." "Well, the whole world is in it. Well, half of it." Already in her seat (next to the driver), she goes, "Okay, bye!" I had a feeling she was done with this conversation before I even said anything.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Revolutionary Throwback

One of the best protest songs ever written, if you ask me, is "Elegance" by Prefab Sprout. Coming soon: more on this song, and more songs chosen by others.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

In Anticipation of Coriolanus

I'm a sucker for film adaptations of Shakespeare's plays that combine modern settings and Elizabethan English. So in anticipation of Coriolanus, which I plan to see while it's playing in movie theaters in Chicago, I did some research and found out that Belgrade plays the role of ancient Rome. Well, not ancient, since they moved the action to modern times. And we're probably not supposed to think it's Rome. Now I really have to see the film.

According to a Reuters article written from before the shooting began, "Most of the filming will be done in the Serbian parliament building and other locations in Belgrade, which offers settings from the Roman era, a medieval Serbian state and buildings destroyed by NATO aircraft during the 1999 bombing of then Yugoslavia."

Also noted: it's Ralph Fiennes's directorial debut. What happened with directors practicing their craft by making short, low-budget quirky films they show at film festivals before their first big bite and an international distributor? If you're a star of the screen and stage, you can now just plunge into a big project like this?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Winter Holidays

If people ask me whether I'm stressed out, I say, not particularly, but the truth is, I don't know how to spend a day without feeling tense for a part of my waking hours and my dreams. If nothing else these past ten days, I'm angry that I can't seem to get over this mild, but persistent cold that keeps itching my throat, keeping me up or waking me up in the middle of my sleep.

Probably in order to relieve this daily and nightly stress, my brain sends me back to winter holidays from decades ago, when for two weeks, from 21/31 to mid-January, I masterfully, completely--relaxed. I'm talking of course about 1980s, my elementary school years, especially the first half. All those winter breaks have merged into one long film reel of images and sounds of my childhood room.

The plastic tree, the same one every year. "New Year's fir" is the precise literal translation. Not just a tree, a fir. And no Christmas. Different kids celebrate different traditional religious holidays with their families, or, like my family, don't have a religion, so the holiday we all have in common is New Year's and of course Day of Children's Joy, 12/31. But even the Day of Children's Joy is not a big deal to me, except that there are no classes, and you go to school in order to get a package from the fat man in a red, fur-trimmed suit and a matching hat, and a white beard and mustache, the man we call Deda Mraz (Grandpa Frost). I don't remember ever actually believing Deda Mraz was a real person, so I must have figured out very early on that this is someone dressed up for a performance, and that the adults in our lives buy us presents, and that's okay. And it's not even the presents that are very important to me. December 31 is exciting because it's the beginning of my winter break, two weeks of my solitary rituals.

I wait, patiently, for the dusk. Turn on nothing but the string of lights on the tree, stare for a while.

Then turn on the reading light by my bed. Sometimes I read a book cover to cover in one day, like Sue Townsend's Adrian Mole Diaries. Sometimes a book takes a whole break. Sometimes it's a book of stories, a story a day. Or a book of poems, which then makes me write my own poems in a notebook.

My sounds come from the old record player, with its small wooden body and speakers, and the records I associate with winter the most: The John Lennon Collection with a lyric sleeve, 45s by Yugoslav bands Grupa 220 or Rani Mraz. Although I normally dance a lot to records during the rest of the year (at home alone; with friends in their rooms; during my twice-a-week ballet classes; at my school's dance parties), during the winter break I play the records and just sing along quietly, sitting or lying still. Side A until the silence of the final, wide groove. Either the needle snaps back on its own, of I have to slide it back. I flip the record to side B, careful not to drop it, careful not to scratch or grease up any of the grooves. Put the needle back on. Drift away with the melodies, lending the imperfection of my voice to the voices of those sensitive men writing songs about Peter Pan.

No one is sick. The adults in my life are not fighting, and they and the rest of the world are letting me have my solitude and my sweet leisure.

My brain sends me these images of stillness, soothing quiet, and spare but warm and colorful lighting.