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Nota Bene (On the Title)

Benvenuti al mio blog!

Or, you know, Willkommen, because that’s where I live!

(But I took this photo in London.)

In which I introduce myself and explain the forthcoming venture

This blog will not begin with me. That honor belongs to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Mozart’s comic opera Così fan tutte follows two sisters’ madcap scheme to—what else?—marry their men of choice. The Italian libretto, written by longtime collaborator Lorenzo da Ponte (who *FUN FACT* lived for a while in the town adjacent to my Pennsylvania college town), is not among the texts I have studied in eight years of exposure to the language, nor in any opera studies class. But I did sing an aria from it at a workshop, and I can roughly translate the title to “All women do this.”

Really? All women? How disappointing. I mean, I know I take great pains to deceive everyone in my life into believing I’m devoted to one person before zanily swapping them out for someone else, but I figured that was what made me special.

In any event, I’ve modified the phrase for my agenda: the conjugation of the verb fare (to do) is now in the first-person singular. Così faccio io. This is what I do. I am like this—besotted with music, books, film, theatre, language, travel, and all things cultural.

A few other things I am: a brand-new Master of Arts in English Literature, having graduated this past May from Central Connecticut State University; a singer-dancer-actress; an expatriate Berliner; an Anglo- and Europhile; a voracious reader; my own greatest audience for my jokes and monologues; the biggest Beatles fan in almost any given radius; a high-functioning neurotic; and very, very Italian.

I do hope something in that list resonated with you. Even if not, cut me some slack. I’m new here. And the obscure tidbits and minutiae that occur to me might just have occurred to you too. The human mind is an extraordinary thing. It’s boring to explore it alone.

So give me a chance, why don’t you? Or if not, at least give peace a chance. That’s all we are saying.* Right?

*John Lennon is my love. God help the man I marry, if I marry a man, if I marry at all.

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A presto, Dante Alighieri!

In which I peer into the passato remoto (like, molto molto remoto)

Dante, the poet of Italy, so famous the last name is basically superfluous, died seven hundred years ago today. Seven HUNDRED years. WHAT.

He had contracted malaria while staying in Ravenna at the request of its prince, Guido II da Polenta. Scholars estimate his age to have been about 56. The city gave him a funeral, which was attended by many friends and admirers as well as his own three children, followed by a proper burial at a church known then as San Pier Maggiore, now as San Francesco. A monument was built at the tomb in 1780 and stands to this day.

His relationship to government was notoriously fraught, but he was evidently already making a comeback by the time of his death. Il resto, as they say, è la storia.

I have, somewhat surprisingly, read only portions of his big hit, la Divina Commedia. Namely L’Inferno—in full in English, in part in Italian. And I read the English when I was eleven. (My teacher was a little concerned about me.) Maybe it’s disenchantment with Catholicism, maybe it’s a dearth of time and a wealth of other texts higher on my list of priorities. Maybe I will still get around to it. If somebody can receive his due seven hundred years after the fact, it’s clearly never too late for any of us. In any event, I owe a debt to him, as all writers in all native tongues do.

I will say this: if we do end up in the same circle of whatever afterlife there is, I expect him to tell me one hell of a story.

Image: the tomb at Ravenna, taken by somebody who is not me

9/11 at 20: A Non-Remembrance

I have no memories of 11 September 2001.

I have memories from earlier in childhood, including plenty of memories of New York, so whether this was perhaps a willful block I know not.

That city has always symbolized resilience—and, ironically, safety—to me personally. Because of events in my early life and my family that necessitated a strong connection to the city in the first place, I was beginning to process some heavy feelings and, being a child, not handling them gracefully. I have many unpleasant memories of the school year 2001-2; it was probably my roughest school year ever. I did a lot of crying. Certainly an attack with attendant destruction and death toll weren’t going to give me any notion that things were secure and stable. I’m sure tensions ran high and everyone was on edge for a long time. After the fact, the next year, I wrote a poem in class that included the line “who fears real enemies,” by which I can only guess I meant terrorists.

As to other specifics, I come up with none.

My dad had just, like literally just, undergone a successful but invasive and taxing open-heart surgery: I’ll let him tell the story. So the Gigliotti household wasn’t its calmest either. These details too are no less hazy to me than the New York City sky was in the ensuing weeks.

I can never forget, because one cannot forget what one does not remember.

There has been more than enough to remember since, though, more than anyone should have to. I hope nations and states go forward with the knowledge that their actions always, always have consequences; and that, while it’s easy to place blame for the past, it is much more difficult and important to take responsibility for the present and the future.

Twenty years of conflict is hard to believe. Here’s to remembrance, the kind that fosters growth.

⭐️

Album Review: SOMETIMES I MIGHT BE INTROVERT

In which I welcome some good energy

No sooner had I mentioned looking forward to hearing this album in full than it dropped; all at once I was supplied with a soundtrack for my walk home from a friend’s place last Friday. I almost didn’t notice that I had consumed the majority of it by the time I reached my destination, it constituted such a fluid, absorbing, complete vibe. It was something I could disappear into, and have done again in the days since.

Across nineteen tracks, several of which are interludes, spanning just over an hour, Little Simz’s fourth LP tells the story of a journey—one within the self, not necessarily visible, but absolutely a progress from a point A to a healthier, happier point B. In what I understand to be a hitherto-established trademark taken to the next level, the artist takes material from her most humbling and human experiences, addressing everything from female alliances (“Woman”) to a fractured relationship with her father (“I Love You, I Hate You”) to newfound, hard-won romance (“I See You”) to personal tribulation and triumph (“Two Worlds Apart,” “Protect My Energy,” “How Did You Get Here”). As on any good concept album, the through-lines are strong; and while concept albums have long been a staple of hip-hop, this is one of the most successful I’ve encountered in recent memory.

The lyrical prowess is obvious and commendable. For my part, I’m almost equally taken with the production—it’s beautiful, many tracks bleeding directly into one another without so much as a beat missed. The opener, embodying the whole with the title “Introvert,” subverts common expectation of introverts, heralded by an outfit of horns, drums, and choir that sounds to some ears like something out of a classic-Hollywood ensemble film. (The horn arrangement across the album is one of my favorite touches.) I like to think Simz is suggesting, sonically, the chaos, aggression, and grandiosity that can be happening beneath the seemingly still surface of an introverted personality. I feel represented by it, too. And given the record’s lockdown genesis, she is probably speaking to the introversion people around the world have been forced to learn since March 2020.

Simz herself is the central force of her text, as well as the central site of conflict within it. She refers to herself by her rapper moniker a few times, but not nearly as often as she uses her given name, Simbi—short for Simbiatu Ajikawo. She draws influence from her Yoruba heritage on “Fear No Man,” collaborates with Nigerian artist Obongjayar on “Point and Kill,” and embraces concepts of Pan-Africanism on “Woman”; she also stresses the stamp which her humble beginnings in Islington have left on her (“London-born estate girl to international sensation,” she says on “Two Worlds Apart”). She is clearly intent on creating an artistic vision that reflects her authentic self: she doesn’t seem especially interested in inhabiting personas. I myself grew quite partial to the borough of Islington during my time in London, and now I have one more reason to revere it.

But then I can’t say for certain what her attitude is toward personas, because this album has been my entrée to her work. One thing for sure, I will be diving into the back catalogue. I want to know, and follow, what she’s about.

(For those who are interested, the interludes feature voiceovers by Emma Corrin, who had a breakout year playing Diana in the latest season of The Crown! We love rising stars helping rising stars.)

And check out the new video for “Point and Kill.” Rarely has tableau been used to such striking effect. The final frame, where the audio segues briefly into “Fear No Man” before fading out, demonstrates just how well integrated the sequencing is.

Image: Age 101 Music/AWAL

New Fears from Pandemic Me

Or, a year and a half in mini-phobias

I realized I ought to counterbalance the habits list, because these eighteen months haven’t been all new quirks and self-improvement and bleak jokes about the End Times. Here are some things I’ve developed irrational, or maybe rational, aversions to—some of which are really just the habits’ flip sides.

  • Stepping into a new establishment alone, be it a bar or café or shop or museum (I’m simultaneously more eager and more apprehensive to talk to strangers; I apparently need a friend with me in order to get up that nerve right now)
  • Random, small, possibly ambient noises (I’ve become a lighter sleeper overall)
  • A read receipt of longer than a couple days (did they die? did they decide they hate me? which is worse??)
  • Missing out on events that happened years ago or never happened at all because my timeline is screwed up beyond recall (the other day I woke up panicked about being late to a job I had in 2017)
  • Forgetting what people look like, or finding them so changed I don’t recognize them and re-introduce myself (I have done this twice in my life)
  • Or seeing people I haven’t seen this whole time and not knowing whether to be like “so what have you been doing with yourself during the plague” or “so what are we getting up to today as we actively move on from the past”
  • The internet cutting out altogether with no plausible explanation, leaving me alone
  • Not finishing all the books I planned to read/listen to
  • Finishing all the books I planned to read/listen to
  • Being on a date and then going and spoiling it all by saying something stupid like “you’re vaxxed, right?”
  • Slight potential symptoms of any illness whatsoever
  • Just sitting in silence sometimes honestly

I Have Some Questions

In which I have some questions

Great news, the man I’ve been thinking about and talking about and listening to all summer is embroiled in scandal. I’d intended to lay low on this album’s birthday for once in my simp life, but if I see one more post of the cover image I’m gonna slide off my chair and under the table. You cannot ambush me with that image a propos of nothing. It shorts all my circuits.

Anyway, do whatever art-from-artist separating you need to do, because I’ll be articulating some issues I might have latently had for a long time with the song everybody’s listening to today—inevitably first, because it’s the first—and thinking wow, it IS a good song, it DOES hold up after all these years, etc. And I reread Rhian E. Jones’s excellent essay “You Shouldn’t Take It So Personal: Bob Dylan and the Boundaries of Rebellion” expressly for this purpose. (Actually, not expressly; I also remembered as I read how very validated and seen it makes me feel. We love writers who care about the stuff we care about. Mr. Jones might be clueless, but Ms. Jones knows what’s up.)

The essay is from the 2017 collection Under My Thumb: Songs That Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them, and Jones primarily analyzes “Like a Rolling Stone.” The best song about Schadenfreude until, well, Avenue Q’s “Schadenfreude.”

I cannot say anything about this song that has not already been said, including sharing whatever Personal Story I’ve got, because it is not the most interesting of the Personal Stories out there. In lieu of all that, what I will do is ask a few things of the singer/narrator. And, if I’m honest, of us.

What is your relationship to this person? No, I didn’t ask who she is; everybody’s got their own guess at that, and it’s beside the point. Why do you, personally, have a stake in her current status, to the point that you feel obligated and/or entitled to comment on it? Did you have a fling that ended acrimoniously? Or is she simply such a public figure that she is commodified? Fair game, you might call her?

What is your endgame? Just to make her feel worse about herself than she probably already does? Do you even know how she arrived at her situation? Maybe an attempt at independence that didn’t go according to plan, and now she’s independent by necessity rather than by choice, but at least she went for it because she has to find some way of obtaining agency in a world that withholds it from her at every turn? Do you know? Do you?

Would it be correct to assume that you don’t expect her to answer all your rhetorical questions? Do you take kindly to being addressed with rhetorical questions? Is this right here your idea of a good time?

If this girl really is as down on her luck as you purport her to be, aren’t you sort of punching down? Shouldn’t it be all the more reason to leave her alone?

Is it just that you hate everyone? Is that it? You’re not a misogynist, you’re a misanthrope, and you’ll go after any individual who irritates you enough no matter their gender identity?

WHY did you take it out of waltz time?? It’s like you don’t even want us to have FUN.

Why have we chosen, to bear the title of greatest pop song ever, a song about putting a girl down?

Ugh. I’m still listening, aren’t I? Shut up.

Image: outtakes shared by @QueenCityJamz on Twitter. If the album had been released today, all of these would be on Instagram. I am here for the sassy cocked hip from the guy in back; he looks about to do the Bend & Snap.

Lit Review(ish): WHO IS MAUD DIXON?

In which I do a rough courtroom sketch

This won’t be a full review, as I’ve written for other, similar novels like Bunny and The Girls; I’m saving that for an Actual Publication I’ve spent some months trying to battering-ram my way into. (If I succeed, you’ll know.) But I can’t not comment here on Alexandra Andrews’s Who Is Maud Dixon?

I was alerted to its imminent publication back in February and pre-ordered the e-book. I began reading shortly after it arrived but became sidetracked by other reading and, you know, work, and didn’t bring my full attention back to it until last week. At which point I finished within three days.

It follows a reclusive writer, supposedly at work on a follow-up to the debut that made her world-famous, and the young publishing-assistant-with-literary-aspirations who is drawn into her world. You expect it to maybe take an All About Eve turn, and you aren’t entirely wrong. Later, you might draw a comparison to The Shining, and you wouldn’t be far afield there either.

So here follows a survey of what I loved about this narrative:

  • It’s almost wholly female-driven—only two men figure in with any significance, and even then mostly as the means to an end—and the various relationships between the various women form the heart of the action and tension.
  • The two central women are built up to be polar opposites, and then revealed in a few crucial ways to be very much the same.
  • The inciting incident is truly both inciting and an incident—one of the best I’ve encountered recently. It first strikes you as insane, and then you’re kind of thrilled by it, as the protagonist is.
  • Said protagonist is a little unhinged. She can get carried away with visions of future glory. The Cecilia of ten years ago would have been just as intrigued by her—if memory serves, the Cecilia of ten years ago even wrote a protagonist not unlike her, albeit whose ambitions were on a smaller scale.
  • It sometimes functions almost antithetically to a typical thriller: there are certain details you register as Things to Remember, and then they never show up again. But you didn’t notice, you were too busy being caught off-guard by something else.
  • International travel! Expat communities and all!
  • Characters get swept up in one another’s potential and allure, only to reminisce later and wonder what they could ever have found attractive about those people. Universal.
  • There’s enough drinking for you to suspect it might be a story of alcoholism…but alcohol turns out to be the least of anyone’s worries.
  • You just know Andrews must have wrecked her search history Googling how certain crimes are carried out. The detail is meticulous.
  • It’s never explained how some characters got the way they are, how they justify their actions to themselves. A good reminder for aspiring writers that all that personality deconstruction often doesn’t matter, if the rest of the backstory—and the present story—can do the heavy lifting it needs to.
  • It warns you that no one is immune to the corruption of ambition. But it also celebrates ambition in its own perverse way.

I’ve said before that I love a book that calls out literary culture (or perhaps the Cult of Literature, I haven’t decided). Andrews does it well, particularly because she isn’t overly focused on it but merely considers it a stop on the way to telling the story proper. Will have you turning the pages, even on an iPad.

Image: Little, Brown & Company, 2 March 2021

Farewell, Charlie

A brief remembrance

This evening we lost someone I was definitely not prepared to say goodbye to. I mean, I knew we were going to be coming to terms with this generation of artists parting ways with us bit by bit (we already have), but I expected to have Mr. Watts around for a while yet.

To that end I thought I’d break this out again. He was an extraordinary talent. He made the Stones what they are. And, for 60 out of his 80 years here, he made it—all of it—look easy.

Heaven’s dress code just got an upgrade. Rest well, sir.

🥁

Never Write a Hasty Review or You Will Live to Regret It

In which I CANNOT let it be (naked)

Last week I read Juliet, Naked, a novel by the illustrious Nick Hornby. It’s the third novel of his I’ve read (if you don’t count State of the Union as a novel), the first two being High Fidelity and About a Boy. Given that Hornby has made a literary career out of being a Nerd For Music That Is Widely Considered Good, you would think that I would have devoured, and thoroughly relished, everything he’s committed to paper.

So the first thing I have to say is AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGHH.

*deep inhalation*

Let me make abundantly clear that I respect Hornby as a writer. I always have. His narrative voice is wonderfully funny. His sense of pacing, a difficult thing to master, appears effortless. And at the same time, I am not sure how much more I can take of his characters. Specifically, his men. Specifically, his men-children.

Also, I am in fact aware of the SUPREME irony of going on the internet to complain about a book in which people go on the internet to argue about music. Story of my life. I get it.

I’m not saying all characters need to be ‘likable’ to be worthwhile. I would just like one to be. The men, as Hornby men, are stuck in an adolescent limbo characterized by this type of pop-culture obsession. The women…are slightly better? Put another way: Crime and Punishment’s Raskolnikov is a double axe murderer, and I’d still keep him around. Every adult in this book I felt like throttling at some point.

For me, Hornby is so quintessentially ‘90s that I instinctively place all his novels there, even this one which is set in 2008 and whose technologies did not exist in the ‘90s. And things have changed at the very least as much between 2008 and now as they did between the ‘90s and then, in many ways more so. Particularly the ways people interact with, and commodify, music. (Insert jab at content creators.) I suppose it’s for this reason that so much of it rings outdated; there are rom-coms these days concertedly counteracting the tropes of the Love, Actually days. The female (and I guess main) protagonist, Annie, has a gay best friend and all. Well, ‘best friend’ is a stretch, because nobody in this story has real friends, because they’re all too busy being miserably single or single-feeling to intentionally temper their loneliness with friendship.

(I’m also of the opinion that Hornby should just drop the b from his name, as only a major catastrophe could stop his characters thinking about sex all. the. time. Do you remember how many different things you thought about as a kid? And now, in adulthood, most of the content targeted at us—TV, books, jokes—revolves around sex. Like we’re supposed to relinquish all our other interests. I hate it here.)

Moving on. The people I felt comfortable liking: Jackson, Tucker’s six-year-old son, who doesn’t always talk like a six-year-old but writing kids can be hard, and who, in my headcanon, grows up to be Jackson Maine in A Star is Born; Lizzie, Tucker’s twenty-year-old daughter, whose storyline is platformed nicely until it takes a backseat to the trainwreck that is Tucker’s relationship to the rest of his far-flung family; Farmer John, the only one remotely ready to speak the truth about anything; and Gav and Barnesy, the “northern soul” dancing duo who absolutely deserve their own spinoff.

The people I hated: Duncan. I didn’t find anyone else as intolerable as I found him. Mostly because he is so intolerant. His superiority complex and arrogant gatekeeping attitude antagonized me from the start, as I believe it was meant to. I couldn’t see why Annie has stayed with him for fifteen years: he doesn’t appear to have a single redeeming quality that would justify her reluctance to try going it alone. Going it alone, however daunting, would beat sticking with this self-important turnip.

And it is at this juncture in the analysis where my feelings toward the book and the characters start to blur into my feelings toward myself. You see, I was recommended this novel—and its film, which I do want to see because it has actors I like and I wonder if they would make me feel more sympathetically toward the characters. Credible sources suggested that I would find meaning in this work. And I did…just perhaps not a meaning that pleased me.

It made me doubt myself. It made me suspect that I come off as judgmental and crazed as Duncan does despite my efforts to be welcoming of all opinions. I was more judgmental in my teen years, let’s say, than I am now, but that was proportional to how little I liked myself and how much I felt I had to prove. And, keeping it real here, I started this blog because (and this really is the best way I can think to put it) I had a head full of ideas that were driving me insane, and I felt the people in my life were getting tired of hearing me try to express them. Plus I wanted to find a certain level of community online, which I have. Plus I just wanted to create a channel for myself, an outlet. Which I have. I’d wanted that for several years by the time I launched it, and this is the shape it took.

Basically, the thought that a passion for art could be so ugly troubled me. I hoped I had nothing in common with that. Art is about whatever you think it’s about, and one take is (generally) as valid as the next. I learned to relate to people comfortably and confidently by wielding my opinions about art. I like what I like, and you like what you like, and if we like the same things maybe we’ll be closer. Either way I’m not going to make you listen to twelve takes of this B-side if you don’t want to. And I like to hear about things other people care about: I like to see their eyes light up, the way they shift, as if physically shifting gears to get into their specialized subject. I hope no one ever feels ashamed of that. I’ve battled, and continue to battle, plenty of that shame.

Anyway. Kind of a frustrating read. Nick, I gotta stick by you, even if I don’t always like you, in the way I gotta stick by myself even when I don’t like me. To my credit, I learned enough to wait several days and mull over the presentation of my thoughts; certain characters rush their reviews, to disastrous results. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go jump on the album Lorde just dropped.

Image: first edition, Viking, September 2009

songs on rotation

In which impressions are formed & reformed

“Sorry Not Sorry (Acoustic),” Demi Lovato

So I wasn’t big on the original until it came on at one of the three (3) spin classes I have taken in my life, and for some reason a switch flipped and I’ve liked it ever since. It probably had something to do with the production, because I think the acoustic version is even better: it sounds like a live jam with a roomful of talented backup singers—Demi is in fine voice, of course. And it emphasizes that perfect kiss-off of a lyric.

“Rollin Stone,” Little Simz

Apple Radio played this track as I waited on an interview with Griff (see below) and got me addicted to it for several consecutive days. Her accent is the kind I could listen to forever. The beat change halfway through is so cool. It’s a single off her new record, for which I am eager.

“Play Date,” Melanie Martinez

Not sure why I didn’t come across her sooner, but better late than never. Caught a snippet of this song in a YouTube video, looked it up, and am now a fan of the whole album Cry Baby. (I hear it’s experienced something of a revival on TikTok.) We love an artist with a concept!

“Body,” Megan Thee Stallion

The rhythm of the first line of the third verse—the category is body—is so satisfying. I mean, she knows her way around a rhythm, but that particular one takes the track from good to great.

“E•MO•TION,” Carly Rae Jepsen

The album named for this song (or for which the song is named, I don’t know which came first) is six years old, if you can believe it, and for me it only gets better with each listen. I love the line not a flower on the wall / I am growing ten feet, ten feet tall. And not only because it gives me Alice vibes.

“Daisy,” Ashnikko

Not gonna lie, I lip-sync to this song and feel tough as hell. Menacing.

“How Does It Feel,” Avril Lavigne

Underrated song on an underrated album. I get to exercise almost two octaves when I sing it. Need I say more?

“Triste com T,” Pabllo Vittar

For months on end, nothing has induced me in the least to want to go dancing in a crowded club, and then I heard this track, and then maybe I opened up to the idea.

“Black Hole,” Griff

She advertised it on Spotify, I clicked, and here I’ve listened to it way more than I ever expected to. Very solid hook.

“Trader Joe,” Junglepussy

Discovered through a podcaster’s recommendation, and I kid you not when I say it lodges in my brain for twenty-four-hour stretches at a time. Unbelievably chill. I think I like him more than I like Trader Joe’s is one of the best opening lines in recent memory.

“Dynamite,” BTS

I’m largely unfamiliar with BTS, honestly, but this song has had me bopping all summer, strutting down the street like the world is my music video. Granted, I’ve always considered the world my music video. (Their spot on Colbert was, well, fab.) I appreciate the shout-out to milk, a drink that does not get enough credit.

“Hard Out Here,” Lily Allen

Loved this one since it was released back in 2013 thanks to my roommate’s perpetual radio habits. What with advancements in movements for the rights of all women, the “glass ceiling” isn’t as all-encompassing a metaphor as it was once thought to be, but the lyric still makes a point—and a damn catchy one. Exemplifies how smart Lily’s stuff is, and how she’s never hit the superstar level that I feel she deserves to. The video is wonderfully ironic, too.

“I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” Whitney Houston

Because I’m a human being who needs joy.

playlist here!

More poetry!

In which new lit is lit 🔥

Ciao tutti—

The lovely new lit mag Journal of Erato dropped its second issue today, entitled Hometown, in which my poem “Me and Mike #3” is featured.

It began life as a fragment, a half-thought-out meditation on being away from familiar places and people. Then I realized it could accommodate line breaks, and the rest is history.

There are three sections to the issue—Childhood, Adolescence, and Adulthood (my piece belongs to the third)—each of which is affecting in its own way. I recommend it all.

Each journal publication is an unrepeatable experience, a group of selected voices assembled to tell the story of that singular publication as only they can. However big or small the imprint, it’s pretty extraordinary.

Oh, on another note, the podcast broke 600 downloads this morning! Deep thanks to all who listen. We hope it brings you as much joy to hear as it brings us to create.

More full-length posts soon.

Tschüss!

Cecilia