JT Now & Forever

This title ^ was the name of a playlist I had on my first iPod. Fact.

Like most women of a certain age, I’ve had a thing for Justin Timberlake since long before I knew what “having a thing” even meant. The mid-1990’s were stupid with boy bands, and while Backstreet Boys and 98 Degrees had their appeal, I was always an NSYNC girl at heart.

(Though, full disclosure: I was more a JC Chasez fan in the early days, back when JT was just “Justin” and JC was the tall, dark-haired need-I-say-more one. See: center below.)

Tearin’ up my heart

Guys.

But JT fully won me over in the post-NSYNC years, with his solo albums and SNL appearances, to the point that when he was bringing sexy back in 2006, oh it had already been brought-en.

I’ve seen FutureSex|LoveSounds described as one of the best pop albums of the last decade, and I won’t argue with that. I mean, let’s just: “Sexy Back” might be THE dance anthem of the late 2000s, and “What Goes Around Comes Around” is one of the best breakup pop songs OF ALL TIME.

Folks.

So, clearly, I’ve been excited about this new-album buzz in the weeks leading up to today. From the cryptic social media announcement, to “Suit & Tie” (which I actually liked. Get off my back.), to his latest SNL host-slash-musical-guest-aganza — I’ve been all in.

Which makes it all the more tragic for me to admit … that when I listened to the new album on Spotify today … I didn’t really love it. Nothing will change my love for you, JT, but I’m a little underwhelmed. (But, to be fair, is that what they said to Michael Jackson after Thriller? Even a little bit? …well, after Thriller was Bad, so. Dammit.)

So the entire 20/20 Experience doesn’t live up to 7 years of expectations. At least one song does. And does and does.

“Mirrors” is so effing catchy and kitschy and awesome, I may or may not have listened to it on repeat in my car tonight. (And I mean… active listening.)

It feels like the perfect little love anthem for teenagers everywhere — prime material for a big ol’ power sing-along in your bedroom, over-emoting while gripping a hairbrush (or in your car, while gripping the wheel).

It’s the kind of song you can’t help but do a little “youth group clap and sway” to. Church kids, you know the move. The one where you clap, nod your head, and stomp on the downbeat. My God is mighty to save…he is mighty to save… (Anyone?) That song has a similar cadence, actually. So yeah.

“Mirrors” even slam-dunks the power-pop clichĂ©s with the slow clap a cappella chorus at one point. C’mon. Say what you will about he whole album, but. This. Song.

So. I’ll stop gushing and just leave you with the chorus lyrics, just in case you want to have your own sing-along moment in the privacy of your own car. Seeing them in print only highlights the cheese, sure. But a little cheese never hurt anybody…especially when it’s on some nachos that look so, so good in a tux.

Feel free sing along. I won’t tell if you won’t.

Cause I don’t wanna lose you now
I’m lookin’ right at the other half of me
The vacancy that sat in my heart
Is a space that now you hold
Show me how to fight for now
And I’ll tell you baby, it was easy
Comin’ back into you once I figured it out
You were right here all along
It’s like you’re my mirror
My mirror staring back at me
I couldn’t get any bigger
With anyone else beside of me
And now it’s clear as this promise
That we’re making two reflections into one
Cause it’s like you’re my mirror
My mirror staring back at me, staring back at me

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Rainbows & Ends

This is a post about happy accidents. Changed plans. Taking a risk on something new. Knowing when you’ve reached the end.

So, then, where to begin… I’ve been mulling over this post for a full month now (anecdote #1 took place on April 22, a month ago exactly), but I haven’t been able to let myself sit down and write it until today. I was waiting on the right timing. And here it is.

On April 22, Matt and I were on our way home from a wedding in Memphis. I was driving. Matt’s iPhone GPS app was navigating. And, as I will go to my grave insisting, I was following every instruction from the automaton voice perfectly…right up until it told me to turn around. Because one of us (Me? Matt? Effing Siri & her big mouth?) had led us 30 minutes off course, on what was already a tired and rainy 5-hour drive.

I broke down (me, not the car), at some rest stop between here and Tennessee, half sad because I was sure it wasn’t my fault (it wasn’t! Effing Siri…), and half sad because, as I whimpered to Matt, “Now I have to go back to real life…” after a perfectly wonderful weekend. But I pulled it together and back on the road we went, tears dried and GPS audio muted.

On our way toward the right direction, Matt looked to our right and noticed a rainbow. Two rainbows, actually. One of them the brightest I’ve ever seen. (No hyperbole for the sake of the story, here. It was incredible. It looked fake. It was glowing.) I slowed down so he could snap iPhone pictures out the car window, and I had to roll my eyes at the happy ending moral that was writing itself for me:
Sometimes you have to drive off the path to discover where the treasure is.

///

That got me thinking: if it weren’t for a series of at-first-unfortunate events, I might never have been driving back from this wedding at all…

Jennie & I were freshman year roomies at Drury — but we weren’t originally supposed to be. Mid-summer before college began, I’d been assigned to a different hall, and Jennie had been assigned a swimmer student-athlete as a roommate. Through some unplanned switch-a-roo-ing on both our parts, we ended up with a new roommate assignment after registration day: each other. I remember the phone call from my admission rep telling me the new situation, and how I was a little bit apprehensive to hear she was from Memphis. (What if this stranger — from a Big City — didn’t like me? She wouldn’t know anyone else at first…and what if she thought I was a nerd? [She would. I am.] What if she liked bad music? Or was mean or messy or loud? 18-year-old me had some strict priorities…)

But I remember another phone call, the first time I talked to Jennie. Something about the smile in her voice (and the simple relief in discovering we both dislike scary movies…) put me at ease. And on a rainy day in August 2002, I met the bestest of friends. It’s funny to think that one random change of plans has ended up shaping so much of my life and led to so many good times and adventures — including her wedding in Memphis one month ago.

///

So that brings us to today, as I’m thinking about the decision I made last week to quit The Skinny Improv. There are no hard feelings, there is no Big Reason, just the simple fact that after 5 years of performing, it’s time for a break. My time at The Skinny was a happy accident in its own way. I’d taken a couple of classes and done a few small shows, but in fall 2007, after almost two years, I was starting to feel a little disenchanted. Like maybe this dream just wasn’t for me. I almost didn’t even go to the workshop where I found out about performance intern auditions — which were happening the following day. Fast forward a few months later, and I was on mainstage full time (thanks to some well-timed exits of other well-loved performers), and I was happier than I’d ever been in maybe my whole life.

But now I’m ready to say goodbye.

Last weekend I told people that it felt a little like graduation day… I’m reluctant to leave but eager to see what’s next; nostalgic and warm-fuzzy over the faces and spaces I’m about to leave behind.

Kristen Wiig’s final night on SNL was Saturday as well. It ended in a little graduation sketch with Arcade Fire singing “She’s a Rainbow” with Mick Jagger just offstage. Again, no hyperbole for the sake of the story… but when I watch the goodbye clip below, I get a little emotional. For two reasons:
1) I worship her & this show. Plus I’m a total schmaltz, and I just love a well-played poignant moment. It’s perfect.
2) I’m not Kristen Wiig (yet, you guys. Yet.) but I am grateful to know what it’s like to perform (and work. and fight. and make up. and laugh. and laugh and laugh.) alongside your (got-your-back) friends.

This happy ending moral is harder to accept: you can love something but still have to let it go. If you never step off your path or change your plans, you may never find new dreams. Or old friends. Or rainbows.

“I think you should follow your dreams. Why not?”

Following dreams. Following ideas. Following funny fellows on Twitter.
Hold on, it’ll all come together…

“That’s the great secret of creativity. You treat ideas like cats:
you make them follow you.”

Today I found this quote from Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing in a post on good books about writing via brainpickings.com. I found it entirely delightful, and so I posted it on Twitter — which in the early days I would describe as my internet scrapbook of cool ideas. This Twitter archive came in handy later today, when I wanted to remember the exact day that I discovered John Mulaney…

See, I got to see him do stand-up tonight (along with Vanessa “it’s pretty cool and stufflikethat” Bayer) at MSU, and it was everything I hoped it would be. I wanted adorably nerdy jokes with some comedy writer inspiration mixed in. The evening did not disappoint. (I even got to ask an overzealous-audience-member question about what it’s like to write “Stefon”…)

Thanks to the magic of the internet, I can trace my J.M. discovery to the exact moment of origin:

///

This was almost 2 years ago. Wowsers. Tried (and failed) to find the video clip of his Weekend Update appearance online. Apparently NBC is real concerned with preventing copyright infringement of obscure episodes from 2010.

How could you not love this face?!

At any rate, I remember watching an adorably unassuming, super-smart commentary from this kid (who turns out to be an SNL writer who’s just a year older than I am…ego smash…), sitting next to Seth Meyers at the Update desk. He wasn’t a character; he was just this guy basically doing a monologue of his witty observations, with a big smile on his face (see also: living the dream).

So fast forward to 2 years later, and I’m as obsessed as ever with SNL and the idea of comedy writing. Whenever I bump up against someone living this kind of life, a little alarm goes off inside of me: I want to go to there. This idea has been following me around forever, like Ray Bradbury’s cat. (You heard it here first: If Jenksie ever gets a sibling, I’m naming her “Ray Bradbury’s Cat”)

I couldn’t stop gushing about it. To my friends after the show. To myself on the drive home. To mom on the phone, then to my boyfriend, and now to you guys.

 

Mom gets credit for the title quote, which warmed my heart more than she can know. I think sometimes my parents don’t know what to do with me…with my big dreams and my unrealistic expectations and my highs-and-lows, crashes and bursts…but instead of her usual dose of pragmatic advice peppered with motherly warnings, she just simply told me what I needed to hear:

“I think you should follow your dreams. Why not?”

(Right?)

She also reminded me how I used to love telling jokes to our preacher when I was preschool age. I was painfully shy for the first 20-or-so years of my life…and young childhood was the extreme. I remember hiding behind mom or dad’s legs whenever people tried to talk to me at church, but I’d totally forgotten that the one exception to my sheepishness was performing. If I could make someone laugh, then shyness be damned! Bring on the STAAAGE!!! (*little girl Carol Channing voice*)

Even now, I get a little sheepish when I talk about this. I feel like I have to qualify it somehow, explain that I’m not just another anybody who wants to be famous. But then I stop myself. Because that’s silly. When someone with pre-med aspirations says, “I want to be a doctor,” I don’t think they immediately feel like they have to apologize. We might go, “oooh! That’s going to be tough!” or make some joke about student loans, but we don’t doubt that it’s a worthy goal, if they can do it. (And I feel like I could do it… Write comedy, that is. Not be a doctor. Blood. Ick.)

Here’s how I tried to explain my post-show feelings to Matt:
When I was little, I didn’t believe much in Santa Claus, nor did I get all excited over photos with Mickey Mouse — but I imagine that this is the feeling of wonder that most kids experience while in the presence of their superheroes. Here is this magical thing that I love, and it’s RIGHT THERE, and it’s real… Mid-explanation, I started to feel silly again. But his answer, more sincere than it may seem on a computer screen, was perfect: “Well, I’m glad you got to sit on Santa’s lap.” And so am I.

So come along, metaphorical Ray Bradbury’s Cat. Keep following me around for a little while longer. We’ve got lots of stuff to do.