Monday, February 23, 2009

don’t read this unless you feel like reading a really sad story

I’ve been in an obsessive loop for the past several days about a deeply unsettling crime that happened here in Atlanta last week. I’m writing about it here in an effort to sort through it and hopefully lay it to rest.Eugenia “Jeanne” Calle, was murdered in her condo on Tuesday morning. I don’t know Calle. I never met her. She was a single white woman living on her own (that’s Particularly Interesting Note #1). She was in her late 50s and had just retired after a lifetime of award-winning work in cancer research at the CDC. She had recently put her condo on the market and went to sell rolex watch for extra money. Her plan was to sell the unit and move in with her fiance.

On Tuesday morning, while walking through the lobby of her condo building, she overheard Shamal Thompson, a 22-year-old black male, chatting with a real estate agent about touring two condos for sale in the building. Thompson was acting as if he had an interest in buying a condo.
She popped into their conversation and said, “Don’t forget about my condo. It’s for sale, too.”

Thompson expressed interest in her condo and said he would follow up with her. After he toured the two other condos, a security guard called Calle and said that Thompson was in the lobby, ready to look at her unit.

“Would you like for me to escort him up?” the guard asked Calle.

“No, it’ll be fine,” Calle responded. “I don’t want him to think that we don’t trust him.” (That’s Particularly Interesting Note #2).

Of course, things went badly. Thompson murdered Calle (it’s not clear exactly how, but she died of blunt force trauma to the head). After he killed her, he stole several credit cards and valuables, and slipped the diamond ring off her finger. Then he moved her body into the walk-in pantry, took her electronic access swipe card for the building, and closed the door to the pantry.

He left the building and then went directly to a birthday party in Atlanta for a girl he had a crush on. He presented the birthday girl a bottle of very expensive champagne and a diamond ring. He posed for many pictures at the party. Fellow party-goers described him as “fun” and “charming.”

- – - – - -

Particularly Interesting Note #3: Thompson came back to the condo building the next night. He arrived with a couple of friends. Maybe he was going to steal more property. Did he think that no one cared enough about this woman to miss her? Did he think he now owned the place since he had murdered Calle?

Calle’s fiance had discovered her body the night before. Of course he had alerted police immediately. So law enforcement was all over the building. Security guards became suspicious of Thompson’s attempt to enter the building and turned him away. A security guard took down the license plate of his vehicle and called police. He was arrested shortly after and was immediately charged with the murder.

I guess that’s the good part of this story. This person is now behind bars.

- – - – - -

Perhaps I shouldn’t be thinking about this story. Perhaps I should just try to forget about it and go read Happy News or something. Really, I wish I had never read this story. I just can’t shake the particular awfulness it. Particularly Interesting Note #4 is that the condo building in which this poor woman lived across the street from one of my client offices where I have spent a lot of time in the past few years. This story feels very local and very personal.

- – - – - -

On Thursday afternoon I was at my apartment alone. In an idle moment, I looked absently out window to the carport behind the building. I spotted a young black man there, smoking a cigarette and walking slowly, gazing up at the buildling.

Odd behavior. I know all of the residents of the building. He was not a resident. No one ever goes out behind the building unless they’re a resident walking to or from their car. A non-resident loitering in the parking lot with no apparent reason is suspicious.

I watched him carefully. And I thought of my burglary in December 2007. In the grand scheme of things, it was a trifling little burglary, but at the time, it was very upsetting and sickening. The police never solved the crime.

I absolutely hate the concept of assuming culpability to someone I do not know. I’ve read Malcolm Gladwell. I’m familiar with the story of Amadou Diallo. But my spider sense said, “Hey! I wonder if that’s the guy who broke into my apartment!”

The young man lingered. No one else was around. He gazed appreciatively at the building, at the ground, at the cars parked in the carport. My pulse was pounding at this point. He strolled on, and I lost sight of him as he rounded the far corner of the building.

This was even more suspicious behavior. Not even the landlord visits that side of the building. It’s an very narrow little alley where rain-soaked leaves gather, and squirrels hide nuts.

I put on my shoes, picked up my phone and keys, and ran outside. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I just knew I had to see what this person was doing. I considered calling the police. The mere thought felt uncomfortable. I kept thinking, I haven’t seen this person do anything wrong. I am being a stereotypical hysterical white woman.

I burst out of the building and ran down the steps to the street. There was no trace of the young man. I started walking up the block, growing both more frightened and more angry by the second. A few steps into my journey, I heard a rustling of leaves and — presto! There he was! He emerged from the narrow alley beside the building, the alley where people never go. He glanced at me and then down at the ground. I stared right at him. He ignored me and strolled casually by. (It is interesting to me how staring directly at someone in this context feels like an act of confrontation and violence. I was staring at him, flinching, scared of what it meant to stare at him! It was very hard to stare at him.)

He just shuffled away. I stood there, breathing hard, clutching my keys. Finally, after he was out of earshot, I said quietly, “I have my eye on you!”

- – - – - -

I probably should have called the police. It seems fairly obvious that the guy was casing the joint. Why else would he be casually strolling around in a carport, walking down a gutter. But I didn’t. I felt guilty for making assumptions. Me and my white guilt. Suspicious, snoopy white woman asks police to pester poor black high school kid! Let the healing begin!

- – - – - -

I just feel so sorry for Calle. I feel so sorry that this sequence of events is a possibility in this world. I’m all for looking at the bright side of things, and I’m all for assuming the best about people, including total strangers. But it is deeply distressing that she made a point to trust this young man and was punished so brutally for it.

That is all. I never met Calle, and I never will. And realistically speaking, two weeks from now, I will probably have forgotten that this horrible, horrible thing happened. But right now, it feels profoundly upsetting, and I don’t know what to do about it.

posted by romanlily at 11:49 AM | 9 comments

Friday, January 2, 2009

My top songs of 2008

Once again, it’s time for my review of the year in music. Admittedly, my list of music favorites each year is terribly lopsided and self-interested, since it’s based on my experience of music over the past 12 months, and not necessarily the hottest releases from the hottest bands. Look elsewhere for the Super-Definitive List of the Greatest New Music of 2008 (Paste has a pretty good list – though I think they have a weird ability to consistently miss the #1 album of the year).5. “Sex on Fire” – Kings of Leon. Weirdest title of the year; most satisfying straight-up rock delivery. (Listen for the fill at 2:23 and make rock fingers.) I love the fact this song seemed to be written in a key that is slightly higher than the vocalist can comfortably handle; listening to him reach is glorious.

4. “Blue Ridge Mountains” – Fleet Foxes. Like everyone out there with a pair of fully functional ears and an affection for three-part harmony, I loved the entire Fleet Foxes album. Part of what makes this group of musicians so exciting is their youth (the members ages are 22, 22, 27, 31, and 27). When I listen to them, I hear years of beautiful future songs glimmering off in the distance. Fleet Foxes managed to shoplift everything I like about My Morning Jacket (shimmering harmonies, transparent arrangements) and left behind all the stuff I don’t like (the occasional hairband screechiness). I hope these guys stay together for a long time.

3. “Ramblin’ (Wo)Man” – Cat Power. I always feel like a cornball including a cover on my list of the year’s top songs, but I think Cat Power belongs on this list. Cat Power’s Jukebox confirmed Chan Marshall’s special ability to add her own beautiful character to a song. Her aching vocals coupled with the echo-chamber production made this a huge favorite for me.

2. “Little Person” – written by Jon Brion, as performed by Deanna Storey. Hated the movie (Synecdoche, N.Y.). Adored the soundtrack. Jon Brion does diminished chords better than anyone writing music today. This song is classic Brion soundtrack gorgeousness. A simple vocal, a gentle piano accompaniment, a lyric about longing and loneliness. It doesn’t get much better than this.

1. “A Change Is Gonna Come” – Sam Cooke. This is the first time I’ve included a song from the 1960s in my year’s top discoveries. In some ways, it is an odd one to include in the top spot. Of course, I knew this song before 2008. But this year, I heard this song in a totally different way. The morning after Barack Obama won the presidential election, I turned this song up to a good volume, sat down and took a few deep breaths. I’ve never cared about a presidential election the way I cared about the election this past fall. I am thrilled with Obama’s victory and with the way that he has captured the imagination of so many people in this country and around the world. I think 2008 was Obama’s year. (2009 and 2010 may be his years, as well.) I can’t wait for him to become president of my country.

Honorable Mentions:
“Days Like This” and “Greatest Story” – Kim Taylor
“Goodnight, California” – Kathleen Edwards
“I Will Possess Your Heart” – Death Cab for Cutie. Those drums! That bass! That piano! It goes on and on! I love it!
“Burn You Up, Burn You Down” – Peter Gabriel, Billy Cobham, et al. (from the Big Blue Ball collection)
“For Emma” – Bon Iver
“Lost Coastlines” – Okkervil River. This became my “11-pm-and-still-working-and-got-3-more-hours-of-work-to-do” failproof fire-me-up song.
“Oh No” – KaiserCartel. Discovered on the utterly fantastic Chirp mix, which you should probably know about.

Talk back to me! What were your favorite songs of the year?Labels: ,

posted by romanlily at 6:07 PM | 7 comments

Monday, December 29, 2008

cities of 2008

Over the years, I’ve seen lists like this done on websites here and there: a list of cities you visited that year. “Cities visited” in this case means a city in which you spent at least one night. Here’s my list for 2008:
White Springs, Florida
Dallas, Texas
Harlan, Kentucky
Morristown, Tennessee
Pennington Gap, Virginia
Camden, Maine
Asheville, North Carolina
New York, NYQuite a few modest destinations on the list—Harlan, Kentucky certainly isn’t a tourist spot. My favorite was definitely Mid Town, New York, though. I even stopped by a local shop in the diamond district to sell gold NYC. I traveled to some hardscrabble cities this year for a work project, and that trip turned out to be one of the neatest parts of the year. Exploring the world is one of those things I’d do a lot more frequently if I had my druthers.

posted by romanlily at 9:30 PM | 0 comments

Monday, December 1, 2008

Dear FutureMe

Today was an unexpected treat. I received an email I had written to myself back in May through the website FutureMe. I’d forgotten about sending this email to myself, so it was neat to read it today.Here’s the email I wrote to myself:

Dear FutureMe,

This is just a note to say, you’re doing fine. Don’t sweat the money when things slow down (they inevitably will). Right now, it’s Saturday afternoon, May 31. You are busting a hump to try to get a project completed for Matt. Close on the heels are additional projects for Alan, Cooper, John, etc. It’s a very busy season and you’re billing well.

This is just to say, when you get to December, feel free to SLOW DOWN. Check out some books from the library. Get a massage. Go for a quiet drive. Take naps without feeling a stitch of guilt. Don’t sweat it if business is slow. You’ve worked very hard, and you’ve stayed very focused, and you’ve earned a break.

You rock, girl.


- – - – - – - – - -

If you’ve never checked out FutureMe, give it a look. It’s a very simple concept — write an email to yourself now and designate some future delivery date. (I think it’s good to push the delivery off several months, far enough into the future that you forget all about it for a while.)

What advice would you give to your future self? What permission or encouragement would you give your future self? The exercise is surprisingly challenging and really pretty fun once you get into it. Give it a try.

posted by romanlily at 3:36 PM | 2 comments

Monday, November 24, 2008

an open letter to Charlie Kaufman

Dear Charlie Kaufman,Your movie sucked.

Listen, I appreciate complex, layered, modern films. I’ve watched, re-watched, mused over and enjoyed many of David Lynch’s movies. I clapped in delight when frogs began falling from the sky in Magnolia. I am not afraid of ambiguity, absurdity, or complexity.

So I was really looking forward to seeing your most recent film, Synecdoche, New York. In fact, I was practically shivering with anticipation as I entered the theatre on Saturday night. My friend Shannan was with me. She is working on a Ph.D., and she teaches film theory at Emory University. (You would like her. She is very smart.)

The theatre darkened. The movie started. The details unfolded, one after another. With such care I noted them. The calendars on the wall, the dates on the newspaper. I am watching! I am feeling! I am caring! But there was no reason to care. The movie fell apart so quickly. Yet it it died very slowly. It was extremely painful to watch.

I saw a blimp flying through a warehouse, a child walking down the street in Halloween garb, a house perpetually engulfed in flames. What I did not find was a compelling story, a heart, a reason to keep watching.

As the closing credits rolled, I looked over at Shannan with a pained expression. I half-figured she would say, “How interesting! I really enjoyed that. The metaphor of the burning house was so rich!”

Instead, she just said, “That was awful.”

We went back to her house and watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, just to rinse away the terrible taste of Synecdoche. Charlie, when Eternal Sunshine is the pink cupcake served at the end of a long, difficult meal, you have truly dined at a bitter table.

I wanted to see this movie because I wanted to be reminded of what I enjoy about movies — your movies in particular. I love how they feel both huge and deeply intimate. I love their complexity. I love how they are bleak and hopeful and funny and tragic all at the same time. I wanted to see the piece I had read about in Manohla Dargis’ review of Synecdoche, New York: a film “about the struggle to make your mark in a world filled with people who are more gifted, beautiful, glamorous and desirable than the rest of us.” Charlie, that’s a theme I can connect with. But I’m still waiting for you to make that movie. This was not it. This was a movie about headwounds, depression, pustules, fire, suicide, and an extremely uncomfortable striptease by a daughter for her father.

Do better next time! Please!

p.s. For real. If I really needed to see that many shots of poop sinking to the bottom of filthy toilets, I’m sure there are underground internet groups that cater to that kind of thing.

posted by romanlily at 12:57 PM | 0 comments

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Late bloomers

I’ve been thinking a lot over the past few weeks about an article from Malcolm Gladwell that appeared in the New Yorker last month. “Late Bloomers” is the title of the article.I’ve liked Gladwell for a while, but this article raised my appreciation for his writing to new level. I’m very thankful for this article.

In the article, he compares “child prodigies” to “late bloomers.” He illuminates the difference between Picasso (who began producing powerful work in his 20s) and Cezanne (who plugged away for decades and produced his best work at the end of his life).

Naturally, I’m reading something of my own situation into this article. Because I’ve been panicking just a little lately. I’m in my mid-30s! I should have accomplished more by now! I’m sunk! It’s all downhill from here! (Et cetera, ad nauseam.)

One of the bits from the article that I appreciated most was this quote from economist David Galenson, discussing the “slow burn” approach to creativity from the Cezannes of the world:

The imprecision of their goals means that these artists rarely feel they have succeeded, and their careers are consequently often dominated by the pursuit of a single objective. These artists repeat themselves, painting the same subject many times, and gradually changing its treatment in an experimental process of trial and error. Each work leads to the next, and none is generally privileged over others, so experimental painters rarely make specific preparatory sketches or plans for a painting. They consider the production of a painting as a process of searching, in which they aim to discover the image in the course of making it; they typically believe that learning is a more important goal than making finished paintings. Experimental artists build their skills gradually over the course of their careers, improving their work slowly over long periods. These artists are perfectionists and are typically plagued by frustration at their inability to achieve their goal.

Boy, does that resonate. The quote talks about frustration, but I was so heartened to read it: Maybe there’s hope for me! Maybe there are still good photos in my future! Maybe it’s OK that I feel stalked, haunted, hunted by work still begging to be made.

I have begun seeing my therapist again with some regularity. She helped me through my divorce, and after that, I gradually tapered off my visits. But lately it seems like it’s time to get back into a conversation. Last time I saw her, we started talking about photography again, for the thousandth time, about how frequently I dream about photography, about how I “don’t know what I’m doing with it,” but how I feel deeply compelled to keep working at it. Every time I choose not to follow it or engage with it, it feels like a self-inflicted wound. It feels like a big old lie.

She said, “I’m glad you’re bringing this up now. I think you should bring some of your work in with you next time, and we’ll talk about it.” She is an artist herself, and someone I admire hugely. This feels like it could be an interesting conversation.

So, here I am, Saturday afternoon, ordering some prints for our session coming up this week. I have no idea what will come of these sessions, but it feels so good to open up the conversation about photography in a place that is totally safe. I’m taking prints of Amy with me (above). The photos I most recently shot were of her (see also this photo and this pairing). She is an inspiration and a favorite model. These photos feel like a good place to start.Labels: photography

posted by romanlily at 2:59 PM | 6 comments

Thursday, November 20, 2008

why I find corporate America so annoying

Though I am mostly out on my own lately, I still freelance occasionally for a major corporate client. It’s good money, and it helps fill in the gaps in my freelance work flow. So I’m grateful. Of course, that one bit of corporate freelancing still comes with a lot of stupidity. Here’s the first sentence I came across in my inbox this morning:

“We talked last week about the importance of actively engaging around the Value Campaigns that are being rolled out in our local market, and providing impactful “on-the-ground” support to both our GEP’s and our local Campaign Champions in ensuring that we are successfully executing against both identified and logical additions to the target lists.”

With language like that, it’s no wonder I wanted to leave an environment like this.

posted by romanlily at 8:25 AM | 2 comments

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