What I Learned When I Crawled

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Not this past weekend but the weekend before (sorry…I’m a bit behind. Must be the cold weather? Anyway…) Matt and I decided to go to the First Saturday Art Crawl in Nashville. We had no clue what to expect, never having talked to anyone who’d been, but by the end of the night, both of us were so very glad we went. My only regret of the evening was that I didn’t bring my camera. There are some things (lots of things, actually) to which an iPhone camera cannot do justice. For that reason, I apologize for the photos in this post; they are not what they should be, and next time I’ll know better.

The concept for the art crawl is really simple: local art galleries open their doors to folks interested in local art culture. There’s a little bit of everything to see, from photography to oil-on-canvas to abstract to sculpture. You name it. The best part about the whole evening: it’s free.

Yep. We were able to spend time downtown touring some beautiful galleries, and the whole night cost us only ten dollars (typically that’s what you’d spend in parking downtown, but the meter fairies were on our side that night, and we lucked out and didn’t have to pay anything). We started out in the convention center. Neither of us had ever been there, and since that’s where we parked, we figured we’d check out Hatch Show Print first. The museum looks like an authentic production studio (maybe it really is? I should have asked), and some of the wood blocks were cut back in the thirties. There’s something nostalgic about seeing today exactly what someone would have seen back then. Matt and I particularly liked a Purity Dairy cow print for our kitchen. We love anything that comes with its own story. The original design for the print was intended to teach art students about the art of woodblock cutting.

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From there we took the (free) trolley over the to Arcade, which is where most of the action took place. The energy was almost overwhelming, so many people, so many galleries, so much to see. I didn’t know where to look first. So I didn’t. I smelled instead.

Matt and I didn’t spend our money that night on art (although we did see several pieces, like that cow, that we’d like to get pretty soon if they’re still available). No, we spent our ten dollars on the food. The Arcade is full of yummy local places to eat, and there’s a little bit of everything, like Greek food, pizza, doughnuts, and this place.

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I don’t know much about Sophie Isabella’s the Royal Wedding Cakes, never having been in need of a wedding cake in Nashville before, and typically they close at four on Saturdays. But they stayed open the night of the art crawl, and I was more than happy to indulge my cupcake habit there. Let me tell you: if you ever have the chance, you should check them out.

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I am a self-confessed lover of cupcakes (read more about that here), and I like to try new places every chance I get. So far Matt and I have developed quite a taste for The Cupcake Collection, but the cupcakes we had from Sophie Isabella’s were top-notch as well. They weren’t as sweet as the cupcakes at The Cupcake Collection, so if subtle is your favorite kind of sweet, these are awesome. Now, no more cupcake talk. I promise that’s not the only thing I think about.

Some people would probably say that I’m easily overwhelmed, that it doesn’t take a lot to Wow! me. Maybe that’s true to a certain extent. But the truth is that I’ve lived in places where culture and expression aren’t valued, at least not as much as they ought to be. I know what it’s like to crave a night of entertainment, interaction, and exploration, and those of us who live in (or near) Nashville have the opportunity, at least once a month, to realize that kind of night.

Being a member of the community means knowing what’s going on, not just politically and economically but culturally as well, and Nashville’s art scene is very much alive and kickin’. When stuff like the Art Crawl is made available to us, we owe it not just to ourselves but to our city as well to get out there and find out what’s happening and to support our neighbors in their attempts to put something beautiful into the world.

Have you ever art crawled? Do you have any tips for our next one (because we will DEFINITELY head back

When Around the Bend Doesn’t Matter

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Middle Tennessee is home. It always has been. Matt and I agreed a long time ago that we wanted to end up here somehow, and after a LOT of rambling around the country chasing Uncle Sam’s dream, we’ve finally managed to get here. While we’ve had the opportunity to live in different kinds of places (El Paso and Richmond, VA are vastly different, let me tell ya) and to visit a lot of places (Washington DC, Carlsbad Caverns, the Grand Canyon, New York City), both of us are glad to finally be home, couched in the foothills of the Smokey Mountains.

Having lived in Memphis for a few years, I know what it’s like to love a city and to want to claim it as your own. I dearly love Memphis and cherish all the time I spent there. Naturally I wanted to replicate the sentiment when we got back to Nashville, so I immediately set about developing a plan of attack. My mission was simple: find the places I could call my own, the places I would love and frequent. It’s taken awhile for us to get the opportunity to really settle into our exploration, but for the last few weekends we’ve finally gotten the chances I’ve been waiting for. And Nashville has yet to disappoint.

We started with an evening at Ugly Mugs.

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I’d read about this place during my search for potential favorite coffee houses, and it turned out to be pretty cool. Located in the East Nashville neighborhood, it is situated down the street from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams and The Wild Cow, a vegetarian restaurant (also super-tasty). Matt and I ordered our coffee (call me boring: I got a pour-over decaf), and Matt chose a drink called The Hoodie, a combination of cinnamon, honey, espresso, and milk. He always orders exactly what I didn’t know I wanted.

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It’s common knowledge that weekends are Live Music nights in Nashville (wait, that’s every night), and Ugly Mugs is part of the party. In the all-too-short time we were there, we heard three really talented acts. If I hadn’t been so excited to be there, I might have paid closer attention to their names, but I was so enthralled by the experience of being exactly where I wanted to be, exactly how I wanted to be there that I completely missed out. Sorry, guys. I’ll catch ya next time.

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For our next excursion, we ventured into yet another neighborhood of note. The Germantown historic district has received a lot of the TLC kind of attention over the last few years, and now it’s a reasonably quiet hamlet nestled in the middle of metro Nashville. I went there, initially, for one reason: The Cupcake Collection. A few months ago I had the chance to sample their strawberry lemonade cupcakes, and man oh man, I couldn’t wait to get my paws on some more.

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This time I tried the plain lemon cupcake, and as I knew it would be, my yearning for spring was fueled by the sour sweetness. Memphis has Muddy’s, a bakery I dearly love, and their cupcakes have been my favorites for years. But The Cupcake Collection gives them a run for their money. Being a cupcake fiend I’m stoked to have something so scrumptious so close.

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As entertaining and delicious as our adventures have been so far, I have to say that the most impressive part of them has been what they’ve shown me about myself and the life I want to live.

When you can honestly say you love your own life, that you wouldn’t trade it for anyone else’s, then you know you are truly blessed. And I wouldn’t. I have come to realize over the last few weekends that even though my life may not always be ideal, it is mine, and it is the life I love. Sure, there are things I’d like to change, and things could always be better. But they could also be worse, so that’s something. Looking at the places I’ve been and the opportunities I’ve had, the people I’ve met and love, the people who love me, I cannot imagine any other life but this one. Being able to see things from this perspective has given me a greater appreciation for experience and the lessons to be learned from it. It has inspired me to focus not so much on where I’m going and what’s around the bend, but on how I am going to get there and who is going to go with me. Of course, a cupcake every now and then doesn’t hurt.

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I know I’m not the only person who’s had these ah-ha! moments (at least I hope I’m not). So tell me: where are you going? How will you get there? And who will you take along for the ride?

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The Group by Mary McCarthy

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This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Mary McCarthy’s The Group. Set in the 1930s, the book follows the lives of eight girls as they enter the real world after graduating from Vassar. Think Mona Lisa Smiles meets Mean Girls but wittier and with more biting social commentary.

It’s fairly easy for us to look back with mild condescension on previous generations as being stuffy and overly conservative. However, McCarthy’s depiction of life for the women in The Group is far from what we might consider prudish. McCarthy deals with birth control, infidelity, homosexuality, sex, and, of course, love in no uncertain terms. Readers are reminded of the decade in which the story unfolds only by way of the characters using graduation years as identifiers (i.e. Vassar ’31), making it easy to forget that the story was not written more recently.

One girl’s sexual awakening, another’s struggle with her tortured artist husband, and yet another’s jaunts around a much more accepting sexual climate in Europe reinforce the cliche that times change, but people don’t. We watch as the girls struggle to maintain the social class perpetuated by their parents, but we also learn that the only girls who are truly happy seem to be the ones with the simplest lives, the ones who have strived more to be themselves instead of concentrating so forcefully on being different from their mothers, which has really made them just the same.

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I don’t mean to suggest that the girls always got along well with one another. College was a tumultuous time for many of them, and cattiness, apparently, is an unavoidable biological (it seems) disposition from which even Vassar girls cannot escape. The struggle for the position of authority as well as membership in the desirable group begins early for the girls, and it never really ceases, although it does become more of an undercurrent than a preoccupation.

I first learned of The Group through the book club at Parnassus Bookstore. It was chosen for last month’s book club read because of its anniversary, and I was immediately intrigued when the hostess talked about having read it for the first time when she was in college. She then, reluctantly, admitted that she wasn’t even sure how she got her hands on it, as it was considered more than a little risqué, even in the ’60s. Call me captivated. I love a good banned book as much as the next girl. I jotted down the title and author and quickly moved on to the next book on my stack, which happened to be 11/22/63 by Stephen King. Coincidentally (or not, if you’re into that kind of thing), Jake, the narrator, also makes reference to The Group (his girlfriend reads it), though no one comments in detail on its content. It will suffice to say that King’s choice of literature for Jake’s girlfriend is deliberate and appropriate. (If you haven’t read 11/22/63, I also highly recommend that book but for completely different reasons.)  So I eventually made my way down to the library and checked out this copy:

They just don't publish books like this one anymore. This well-thumbed copy has belonged to several different libraries and has been "annotated" in crayon on the first few pages.

They just don’t publish books like this one anymore. This well-thumbed copy has belonged to several different libraries and has been “annotated” in crayon on the first few pages.

I was not disappointed.

Coincidentally, Getty Images recently launched this picture collection of women in leadership and professional positions in an effort to inspire us to change the way we think about women in general. If you haven’t had a chance to browse the photo gallery, I suggest that you wander on over to their site and do so. It’s totally worth it. But I think it’s equally important to remember that efforts to change the perception of women and their capabilities have been ongoing, that women have, for decades, been trying to overcome the obstacles placed in their professional and personal paths. I don’t mean to be a gender crusader here, but in honor of Mary McCarthy’s The Group, I think it’s relevant and appropriate to give a nod to those who went seeking change before us.

Have you had a chance to read The Group? What did you think?

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