Thursday, June 26, 2014

I believe.

My history with the game of soccer runs deep - like back to the fields at Seven Oaks Park in Irmo, South Carolina deep.

Though probably hard believe looking at this picture that just screams, "All-Star Athlete," I never really excelled as a soccer player.  I wore the team shirt and the shin guards and I ate the orange slices, but I spent most of the games twirling around the field like a ballerina while my teammates abandoned their positions to chase the ball in an unorganized pack.  Sensing playing soccer was likely just a "phase" I was going through, my parents never even invested in cleats, so I "played" the game in Reeboks.


The highlight of my short-lived soccer career came after a heartfelt conversation with my dad over a bowl of Wheaties when he politely suggested I try to be more aggressive during the games.  "Get in there with the others," he said, "Go after the ball!"  I was inspired to put the twirling on hold to join my friends chasing the ball up and down the field.  Taking my dad's advice never amounted to any goals or assists - I'm not sure my foot ever actually touched the ball - but I'll never forget the proud look on his face standing on the sidelines.

In middle school and high school, soccer was, admittedly, all about the boys.  Attending all home games and traveling to club and away games was less about the game, more about looking cute, seeing my friends and hoping for a awkward teenaged sweaty hug after the game was over.  Thankfully, my high school had a soccer reputation and we won the state championship every year that I was there.  Being a fan was easy.

Thanks to Jacob (who was one of those hottie high school players at a school across town) my relationship with soccer has changed in the two years we've been dating.  I mean, let me be clear, the game is still full of eye candy that I'm more than happy to sacrifice a Saturday morning for - but his knowledge and love of the game has rubbed off on me and by proxy, I've become a legit fan.  I'm still learning the difference between the English Premier League and the League Championship and the Champions League and what offsides means, but last summer I went to my first professional game and I was hooked.


The World Cup has taken my casual "fandom" to a whole new level. 

Jacob and I watched the US/Ghana match at an Outback Steakhouse in Florence, South Carolina, on our way back from the beach.  We went back and forth about whether or not we should continue driving and just listen to the game on the radio, but decided to stop, knowing if we didn't we'd regret missing out.

The stop delayed us getting home until after midnight, but it was completely worth it.  Even surrounded by non-soccer fans shouting nonsensical things like, "Damn! We need more points on the board," I couldn't contain my excitement over the US win.  Jacob was smiling from ear to ear.

Last weekend, we didn't do much more than watch soccer and I enjoyed showcasing just how far I'd come as a fan, calling out from the couch when I recognized someone I'd seen before.  "There's Sturridge!" "Rooney's hair plugs have come in nicely!," and "There's the biter with the horse teeth!" Suarez has been the source of many laughs long before this week's incident, but jokes aside, Suarez is a grown man, professional athlete playing in the World Cup and he is a serial biter.  WTF?

Sunday we postponed leaving for the Counting Crows concert so we could watch the US/Portugal match - an emotional roller coaster of epic proportions.  We're gonna lose . . . We're gonna tie! . . . WE'RE GONNA WIN AND MOVE ON AND OMGGGGGGGGGGGGG . . . aaaaaand we'll settle for a tie.  While mathematically I knew the team was still in great shape to move on, tying felt like a dagger to the heart.  

I'm certainly not immune to losing emotional games - I am a Georgia Bulldog, after all.  But while Sunday's disappointment was palpable, so was the camaraderie I felt with the three people I was watching with and all the millions of people cheering for the US team.  That felt different.  In a country where everyone seems to be at odds about everything, it's fun - emotional even - to feel the excitement of all Americans finally cheering for the same thing.

There will always be soccer haters - and our country might not ever completely the embrace the sport like others have, but it's hard to deny that there's something special about this team. 

This week's nervous excitement and pit in my stomach - that all feels familiar, like every Saturday in the fall.  I'm wearing red, white and blue and needless to say, I can.not.wait. for 12pm.

photo (2)

I believe that we will win.

But if we don't - I'm glad I'm in good company. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

accentuate the positives (of new orleans).

"How was New Orleans?!," I was asked by friends and coworkers last month after returning from a long weekend at Jazz Fest.  

Normally such innocous pleasantries don't cause me anxiety (which is, in and of itself, remarkable because I'm anxious about nearly everything), yet unsure of how to honestly answer this question without immediately making things awkward, I dreaded people asking me about it.

First of all, do people really want to know about my vacation (or anyone's vacation, for that matter?), or are they are just being nice?  Secondly, if someone was sincerely interested, I imagine a simple, "It was great!" or "We had a blast!" is probably all they're looking for - spare the details and keep it positive.   

Yet, I found myself conflicted and unable to hide how the trip really was for me, because while there were definitely some musical and culinary highlights, as well as some good laughs shared with friends, the best words I can use to describe my trip to New Orleans are "complicated" and "off." 

Jacob and I were off, the music was off, I felt . . . just off.   And for everything to feel "off" in a town that is always "on," meant a lot of my super high expectations for the trip fell short.

Cue the Debbie Downer honk. Womp. Womp.

I suppose I could've just omitted blogging or talking about New Orleans altogether - I mean who wants to read about a bad vacation?

I had to chuckle, though, when I looked at the more than 200 photographs I took while I was there - you certainly wouldn't know that anything was off.  Any evidence of the the not-so-great moments wasn't captured at all.  Instead, smiling faces and beautiful scenery - lots of proof that there were plenty of good times. 


But I'm no bullshitter - so I felt the need to provide you with proper context.  These pictures tell the story of a trip that didn't exactly live up to my expectations, but it wasn't all bad.  Consider this me "accentuating the positives" of the trip, which included -

The kindness of strangers -

I was so fortunate to have the opportunity to interview Vance Vaucresson for a piece I wrote for CNN.  If there was such a thing as Mayor of Jazz Fest, Vance would win, hands down.  In the few hours we spent together, our conversation was interrupted repeatedly by festival goers coming to his booth to say hello.  He had so many stories about his life in New Orleans pre-and post-Katrina, I swear I had enough material to write five stories about him.


The first day of Jazz Fest, we befriended a group of people from Atlanta who invited us to set up our chairs next to them.  We all became fast friends and Jacob and I agreed that with all the negativity in the world, there's nothing quite like a music festival to restore your faith in humanity.  I realize how hippie and flaky that probably sounds, but in all seriousness, people at Jazz Fest are just really nice and friendly.


The food (and drinks, duh) -

The first time I went to Jazz Fest in 2005, I was completely and pleasantly surprised at the super important role of food at the festival.  As in, it's as important as the music.  Most of the vendors have been serving gourmet New Orleans-style cuisine for decades.  No cotton candy and corn dogs at this festival - we're talking Shrimp and Grits, Crawfish Monica and so. many. Po boys.  We kept ourselves well fed, both at the fair grounds and everywhere else (Thank you, Cochon, Herbsaint and Atchafalaya.)

20140425-0946071 Collagesimage

The music - 

Music highlights for me included Jason Isbell and Jon Cleary performing "Stagger Lee" at a small club on Frenchman Street.   Galactic and Phish put on good performances, but honestly with so many wonderful musicians in the same city, I'd hoped for more surprise guests and collaboration.  Still, though, Jazz Fest is like pizza and even when it's bad, it's still pretty good. 


The city - 

New Orleans is so rich in culture and history and once you get away from the French Quarter, the city is so beautiful.  The days we had to just wander around the city were my favorite.  


Social media, for better or for worse, is a lot of smoke in mirrors.  We put the most positive versions of ourselves out for the world to see.

Sure, I've been annoyed at what I consider a tendency of some to over.share.every.minute.detail.of.everyday with the world and others who disguise the tremendous dysfunction in their lives with glossy, smiley pictures of everything looking great.  But thankfully I learned long ago not to compare my insides to someone else's outsides. 

I think that most of us treat Facebook and Twitter like wearing makeup - we're really looking really just looking for an opportunity to accentuate the positives in our lives, not mislead anyone into thinking everything is perfect.

I took fun pictures of New Orleans, but the trip wasn't without its challenges. 

Thanks to a faulty zipper on my luggage, when I arrived back in Atlanta, I found several pieces of my clothes cruising solo on the carousel and my suitcase looked like this:


Looking and feeling like we had been to a war, Jacob and I looked at each other and then we looked at the suitcase, and then we burst out laughing. 

Now that's accentuating the positive.