Nicolas Jaar

Nicolas Jaar

A few weeks ago, I sat down to try to write about Nicolas Jaar’s Essential Mix, a piece of music that has blown my mind like nothing else has done musically in a very long time. The result was a 435 word email, excerpted here and sent just before walking to Pitchfork where, by the spontaneous grace of Carl, I got to experience Nicolas Jaar’s hypnotic set in person.

To quantify the extent to which this mix has transfixed me for the last two months, in late June, I drove from Anaheim to south of San Diego and back twice. 110 miles in each direction times four equals eight hours in the car in three separate days of driving. This two hour mix is all I listened to.

There was a day at work in early July when I listened to this mix three times, the last time spilling over into my drive home and then my 30 minute walk in the rain to meet friends for dinner. And then, after a lot of bourbon and arriving home from the bar at 2:30, I poured a digestif for my two friends, and we lay awake until nearly 5am, listening to the mix again, drifting in and out of sleep.

The Essential Mix is traditionally two hours of electronic dance music, broadcast at 1am on BBC Radio 1. Every DJ who is anyone has had an Essential Mix. This is unlike any that I’ve heard. There’s electronic music, but also classical, jazz, film scores, classical guitar, and Motown. There are weak points in the mix, certainly. There are points where you might be tempted to turn it off – Beyonce? really? – but I’d admonish you to give it a chance, particularly because just moments after the Beyonce bit, it goes to a place where I without fail turn the volume all the way up and put my head down (or back, if I’m driving) and let the music wash over me.

Pour yourself a glass of something and put on your good headphones. Get in the car and drive somewhere an hour out. Load this up on your phone or your iPod and go for a long walk somewhere quiet. Get lost for awhile.

“We continue…”



Nicolas Jaar


A Short List Of Things I Want To Do When My Cast Comes Off

  1. Wash my hair with two hands. Apply product, put it in rollers, and then pin up the curls.
  2. Jump in the lake. Or any body of water where I can be submerged over my head. Repeat until my toes look like raisins.
  3. Go to yoga. My balance will be totally off. There’s no way I’ll be able to do the things I was starting to be able to do two months ago. But push back into down dog or pull back into bow and feel my whole body extend in ways that are simply impossible right now.
  4. Give lots of tight, strong, two-armed hugs.
  5. Take an effing beach vacation. Or a vacation near the beach. Or a vacation involving me jumping off a sailboat or a dock or a pier.
  6. Eat ph? or some other noodle/soup dish that requires two hands.
  7. Wear jewelry. And my new, amazing vintage stockings. And dresses that I can’t currently put on over the cast or that I’m too afraid to snag with the cast.

“Gather all around the things that you love, I thought, and prepare to lose them.”

My horoscope for this week suggests that I take maximum advantage of the big opportunity that’s ahead for you, Capricorn: an enhancement of your senses. That’s right. For the foreseeable future, you not only have the potential to experience extra vivid and memorable perceptions. You could also wangle an upgrade in the acuity and profundity of your senses, so that your sight, smell, taste, hearing, and touch will forevermore gather in richer data. For best results, set aside what you believe about the world, and just drink in the pure impressions. In other words, focus less on the thoughts rumbling around inside your mind and simply notice what’s going on around you.

And maybe that’s what this broken arm is for: finally getting me to slow down and notice, appreciate, invest, and give back in ways that I’ve been too busy and distracted and heartsore to do these last few months.

Last night a new friend came by after work – I’d stayed home after a painful casting appointment and a couple of nights of bad sleep – and we took a long walk around my neighborhood. We stopped to look at statues in a park I’d never noticed. We were roped into a game of tag by a bunch of kids playing on the sidewalk. We walked by a new bike repair place and peered through the windows of a soon-to-be coffee shop. We kept an eye out for “my” ice cream truck after hearing a snippet of its signature music. I wouldn’t have taken that walk had I been able to ride, and we wouldn’t have had that visit if I hadn’t had my accident.

On Friday, a friend cut through my stubbornness and kidnapped me for the day. She and her 5 year old made me a futon nest, plied me with margaritas and The Muppet Show, and generally forced me to be still and engaged and present. It was a great day, pain and cast notwithstanding, and it wouldn’t have happened without my accident.

This has been a physically and emotionally difficult week, and will likely be a physically and emotionally difficult summer. There have been and will likely continue to be nights where I’ve cried myself to sleep out of anxiety, frustration, pain, and loneliness. I also know that my physical and emotional pain are so minimal in the grand scheme of things.

But that doesn’t diminish what I’m feeling right now: profoundly grateful for everyone who has reached out, expressed their concern, offered a shoulder to cry on, sent flowers or funny mail, gotten me out of my house or back in it, and generally reminded me that love isn’t binary, that family isn’t defined by blood, that community isn’t bounded by physical space, and that what you put out into the world will be repaid tenfold if only you’re brave enough to let it.

2/3 Book Challenge: Let the Great World Spin

Those who saw him hushed. On Church Street. Liberty. Cortlandt. West Street. Fulton. Vesey. It was a silence that heard itself, awful and beautiful. Some thought at first that it must have been a trick of the light, something to do with the weather, an accident of shadowfall. Others figured it might be the perfect city joke – stand around and point upward, until people gathered, tilted their heads, nodded, affirmed, until all were staring upward at nothing at all, like waiting for the end of a Lenny Bruce gag. But the longer they watched, the surer they were. He stood at the very edge of the building, shaped dark against the gray of the morning. A window washer maybe. Or a construction worker. Or a jumper. Up there, at the height of a hundred and ten stories, utterly still, a dark toy against the cloudy sky.

So opens Let the Great World Spin.

I heard about the book from a Diane Rehm Show podcast in 2009. It was a hot summer day, and I was walking around Foggy Bottom transfixed by the author reading his fictionalized account of Philippe Petit‘s walk between the Twin Towers.

In some ways, this book reminded me of Netherland, and in others, A Visit from the Goon Squad. The interwoven stories hinge on two events: Petit’s 1974 walk, and the trial of a prostitute. These events dance around the periphery of the life of an uptown Jewish doctor’s wife grieving for the death of her son. An African-American woman who has also lost her sons takes in the children of the prostitute, dead in a car accident shortly after her trial. A woman tangentially involved in the accident feels responsibility for the death of the priest who had befriended the prostitute, and seeks out his brother, the one-time john of the prostitute’s mother, left behind in prison. It’s a complex and emotional book, wonderfully written, and deserving of the National Book Award, though I’m not sure what makes a book National Book Award worthy.

I copied these lines down weeks ago when I first finished the novel on a hot Sunday when I needed a laugh more than a cry on my friend’s couch, her cat next to me, feeling absolutely alone, gutted in the same ways that I was when I finished The Wild Palms:

I walked in the woods, around the lake, out onto the dirt roads. Gather all around the things that you love, I thought, and prepare to lose them.

This is the seventh of at least 15 books that I plan to read in the next year for my friend Mark’s 2/3 Challenge.

Oh hey, broken arm!

(Let’s see if I can do this without hitting any weird key sequences. I’ll leave whatever random things I come up with as is.)


Yesterday started out as a really ideal city 4th, and ended up as a pretty miserable one. I had the day off, as did most of the city, so I headed to the beach with a friend, as did most of the city. I loaded my bag up with “margaritas”, snacks, sunscreen, and trashy historical fiction and biked up to Montrose Harbor, where Karen and her friends met me for a few hours of sand and sun and cold cold lake. We had a delicious cocktail, sought out emergency hydration, met up with other friends for dinner in Lakeview, and generally made the most of a lovely, if overly hot day, parting ways happy and sun-tired around 6:30.

I headed back to the Lakefront path for my 9-10 mile ride home. It was cooler by the lake, and even with all of the pedestrian traffic for the fireworks, I expected it to be an easier ride than the stop and start and potholes and radiant heat of the city streets. And it was exactly what I expected: †otally packed in some places, totally fine in others. Lots of people not paying attention.

I came up behind one of these groups of people, called out “ON YOUR LEFT”, and just as I went to pass, one of them swerved to her left. Her rear wheel must’ve clipped my front wheel, and we both went down. She got up, asked if I was OK, then rode off with her friends.

I was most definitely not OK. Blood from abrasions dripping from my hand, elbow, and ankle. A suspiciously tender wrist. Ripped grip tape and a wobbly front wheel. A couple of guys saw it all happen and took care of me, calming me down, encouraging me to take off my helmet and Garmin, letting me use their phone, helping me to water, then locking up my bike when I couldn’t manage the lock myself. Shane was going to come get me but I was by Navy Pier, so it would’ve been basically impossible to get to me so close to the beginning of the fireworks. I left my bike downtown and took a cab home – the driver didn’t charge me and offered to wait and take me to the ER as well.

And so I spent four hours in the ER at Rush, taking ridiculous photos on my phone to document the process. I had a tetanus shot and a pregnancy test and at least three rounds of xrays. They hung my arm from the ceiling †o make sure the ligaments were properly aligned before putting it in a splint. I cried when they compressed my wrist to start the splinting, but declined morphine when offered as I had to drive home. I figured that if my sister could give birth without drugs and I could have my cervix dilated without anesthetic, I could do this. I joked that I was red, white, and blue for the holiday. This is the third time I’ve broken my left radius, and the location of the break might require surgery to make sure the joint heals properly.


I left the ER sometime after 1, exhausted and in pain, wanting nothing more than ice cream and my bed, preferably in that order. I found the latter and a Vicodin. I took the rest of the week off. Today was spent calling the insurance company, calling the orthopedist, waiting 2.5 hours to get a referral, drowning my sorrows in a sundae at Margie’s, and napping in a drug-induced haze.

So now I’m scraped and bruised from shoulder to ankle, and I’m in this giant stupid splint until I can see the ortho on Tuesday and find out what happens next. I’m devastated that most of the things I’ve loved about summer in the city so far – biking, the lake, biking to the lake, yoga, taking photos – are no longer options, at least for the foreseeable future. I can’t pin up my hair or zip up some of my dresses. I can’t ride from Chicago to Milwaukee, and while I’ll still be able to go tubing on the river in Indiana, it’ll be with a plastic bag on my arm.

And I hate that I’m doing all of this on my own. The last time I broke my arm, I was in a new relationship, and the way he cared for me in the days and weeks following the accident cemented my feelings for him, as well as those of my family. This time I sat in the back of a cab alone. In the ER alone – though friends offered to come join me. In the interminable waiting room at the clinic alone. At home alone. I’ve played the role of caretaker in my relationships – and have taken the reciprocal care for granted – to the extent that I don’t know how to ask for care or to be cared for. The cab driver teased me that I was probably too proud to let him help me, take me to the hospital. He was right.

At least I have vicodin and AC and a long weekend.

Ask me how I really feel

2/3 Book Challenge: Runaway

Runaway has lingered on my nightstand since November, and I can’t rightly explain why. I’m an avid reader, but I read in cycles – a hundred pages in the bathtub, then nothing for a week or two. Two thick magazines on the plane, but no more than one short story a month. It’s easy to lose the subtlety and flow of a story, particularly when spread over a few months.

That is what happens. You put it away for a little while, and now and again you look in the closet for something else and you remember, and you think, soon. Then it becomes something that is just there, in the closet, and other things get crowded in front of it and on top of it and finally you don’t think about it at all.

The thing that was your bright treasure. You don’t think about it. A loss you could not contemplate at one time, and now it becomes something you can barely remember.

That is what happens.

And Runaway is subtle. This review by Jonathan Franzen captures the beauty and challenge of Munro’s writing – it focuses on small but compellingly human stories. Nothing happens on a historically momentous scale, but the stories she tells are full of those small events that feel historically momentous: meeting a stranger, deciding to leave, making a promise, learning the truth, falling in love, remembering.

The thing about life, Harry had told Lauren, was to live in the world with interest. To keep your eyes open and see the possibilities – see the humanity – in everybody you met. To be aware. If he had anything at all to teach her it was that. Be aware.

This is the sixth of at least 15 books that I plan to read in the next year for my friend Mark’s 2/3 Challenge.