First Aid Kit: Stay Gold

Several artists released new albums this month, including the Swedish sisters known as First Aid Kit. I came late to their second major label release, The Lion’s Roar, but I made up for it by playing it non-stop last summer. This summer’s album, Stay Gold, has the same producer as Lion’s Roar, Mike Mogis, and amps up the sound to include strings and other orchestra parts.

 

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image via Pitchfork

 

 

The album is just as insanely listenable as their last album, though I’d argue that the singles, Cedar Lane and My Silver Lining, aren’t as immediately catchy as the previous album’s Lion’s Roar, Emmylou, and Wolf. That said, this album certainly illustrates a progression–the harmonies are still incredibly strong, particularly in the song The Bell, and the lyrics are more confessional than previous efforts. The album seems to want to capitalize on the popularity of the dancier singles of the last album, Emmylou and King of the World . . . there certainly seems to be a greater sense of ‘this is what we want to be producing’, for whatever reason. The sisters seem to have a greater sense of artistic control, and lends a more grown-up sound. But they maintain the incredibly appealing 70s mild-psychedelia, traipsing-through-a-meadow-in-a-gunne-sax-dress feeling, particularly in My Silver Lining and the title track Stay Gold.

While I like this album very much, it doesn’t quite have the innate always-on-repeat nature of the last album. But it does keep my interest peaked to see where they’ll be going next, and I’ve already bought tickets to see them at the Royal Albert hall in September.

Best tracks: My Silver Lining, the Bell
Label: Columbia Records

Tinking/Thinking

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It has been forever [FOREVER] since I’ve written anything here. I’ve basically just been working on this little phd of mine. While loads of scholars and phd students use blogs and online writing forums to talk about incredibly productive and thought-provoking concepts related to their topic, that’s not something that makes me entirely comfortable, personally. I’d much rather use this space as a writing exercise and a place to talk about my work in the abstract: the act of researching, what I do outside my work, etc. I am not the first, nor likely the best person to write about this. But it’s what is going to happen.

When I left my part-time job, I made the decision to stop working on my PhD during the weekend. Previously, I felt that I needed to make up research/work time that I lost while in the office. Now, my weekends are so precious and essential to a work-life balance. More often than not, I do end up tweaking some writing, or reading a segment of a book in the never-ending pile of ‘books-I-should-have-read/need-to-read-but-haven’t-yet’. But it’s because I want to work on a little something and the action is free from the stress of worrying about falling behind.

So my weekends are now incredibly lazy – at best, a load of laundry or two happens. We start the day with a delicious breakfast (Saturday is always crepes and coffee – lemon and sugar, please). I’d rather not binge on Netflix and the five MILLION shows that I need to watch, but haven’t. It would be amazing to say that I go for a bracing walk, regardless of the weather, but I’m a massive chicken when it comes to weather. So a walk happens in that perfect Goldilocks-moment when the weather is not too cold, not too hot, and I’m actually interested in taking a walk. Needless to say, a run is NEVER on the agenda. More often than not, I’m curled up on the couch with a mug of tea.

I’ve been an on-and-off again knitter since high school. And when I say that, I mean that I knitted scarves in various simple stitches and a hat that didn’t actually stay on my head. I was the kind of knitter that could proudly wear a scarf I knit but was never actually brave enough to move into something that I might possibly fail at. With a basic single pretty stitch scarf, if two stitches ended up as one stitch it was ultimately not that big of a deal. But anything bigger or more complex than that, accuracy and precision is integral and as someone who identifies as perpetually impatient this did not seem like something for me.

It does, however, seem like something for my sister. She is unfailingly thoughtful in just about every activity she approaches. She is an unfailing perfectionist in just about every activity she approaches. This attitude serves her very well in her profession as both an editor and a writer, and transfers over to her work as a maker very neatly. She very quickly began creating perfect (and I mean perfect) knitted projects in patterns and shapes that I never dreamed of trying. Baby sweaters, cowls, socks, mittens, A GROWN PERSON-SIZED sweater. This naturally inspired me (or, my naturally competitive nature inspired me . . .) to aim higher where my knitting is concerned. In August I started to knit a shawl to wear in the obscenely chilly libraries and archives I frequent (British Library, I’m looking at you). I moved slowly and cautiously. The pattern wasn’t too complicated or more advanced then previous patterns I’d worked with, but it was more. More pattern shifts, more increases, a border – and several stitches I’d never actually worked with. (Are you started to notice a parallel here? I hope so.)

I found knitting to be a GREAT weekend activity. The slow, methodical work kept the front of my mind engaged but allowed the back of my mind (side of my mind?) to be set adrift. I began thinking about my work in a rather non-linear way and my work benefitted from this time where a) I could sit and think without the pressure of SITTING and THINKING and b) I sat down and produced something with a MEASURABLE result. So much of the PhD is piecemeal and scattered until suddenly you have (I’d imagine) a doorstop of work. It’s a real pleasure to be able to see a visual progress.

Then, right around when I went home for Christmas, I realised that I made a mistake in my knitting. The number of stitches no longer added up. Had I been at home, I probably would have just knitted the extra stitch back into the work and dealt with the piece being less than perfect. Luckily, my sister was also at home and convinced me to tink back. Tink, for those not in the knitting know, is knit backwards and it stands for the process of individually knitting back to a mistake. This is juxtaposed by frogging, which is when you remove the needles and rip rows out to go back quickly (rip it, rip it . . . get it?). So, she tinked back most of the stitches for me but, like me, was having difficulty seeing where the problem was. So cut to this afternoon, when I’m staring at my knitting. Not really sure where I was in the pattern and not sure where the solution to the problem was.

I should say now that writing about knitting is very often just a way of writing about another, similarly cerebral, activity.

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So I tinked back and while the number of stitches on my needles was correct, the actual knitting process still wasn’t working. So I considered just dealing with it, but decided to tink back even farther. And the final row that I tinked back was just . . . I described it in an email to my sister as knitting schmutz. It was just lazy, inattentive stitching that fifteen rows later caused major problems. And as I tinked back, I started thinking about how knitting is (surprise, surprise) like research. Inattentive research leads to research schmutz. Thoughts that should be great and lead to amazing ideas, but don’t because I didn’t make myself stretch farther at the time.

It also made me think about processes. It’s easy to forget that things that seem perfect have usually benefitted from at least one long drawn-out ‘tink back’ at some point. Things become thoughtful when you’ve taken the time to look at it over and over again, sussed out all the problems, and fixed them. And yes, this is SO ridiculously obvious. I know. But sometimes you have to start thinking about knitting to end thinking about research/history.

Now the problem is fixed. I still don’t quite know what was wrong. But the important thing is, I can move forward.

So there you go.

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Quite contrary

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The garden has been quite contrary indeed. The original seedlings all died, for a variety of reasons, and now pea plants, take 2, and the original spinach are in the ground happily growing away. It’s fun to watch the pea plants reach up and cling to different ropes, support structures, and each other. The little tendrils wrap around the strings so tightly, the next set of leaves springing upward. We’ve planted the pumpkins and the cucumbers (the cucumbers for the third time), and continue weeding the garden. I think we need a fertilizer, but I’m not sure what kind, or how much . . . . research needs to be done.


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I’ve also re-done my window boxes, with trailing fuschia and this thing that, I’m not quite sure what it is. Despite the fact that I bought it. It sure is pretty, though.

I’ll soon have lots more space to practice my gardening in, but that’s a post for another time.

 

‘Noli Me Tangere’

‘Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, helas! I may no more.
The vain travail hath worried me so sore,
I am of them that furthest come behind.
Yet I may by no means, my worried mind
Draw from the deer; but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow. I leave off thereof,
Since in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I, may spend his time in vain;
And graven in diamonds in letters plain
There is written, her fair neck round about,
“Noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am,
And wild to hold, though I seem tame.”

–Sir Thomas Wyatt

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A few weekends ago I went to Hever Castle, childhood home of Anne Boleyn, and wandered around the the house and gardens. The house, I must admit, is a bit disappointing, largely because it’s a turn of the century reconstruction done by the Astors. With the silly amount of money the Astors possessed, they restored the early modern aspects of the home in an incredibly romantic fashion with little historical accuracy. It’s also, to be honest, become increasingly difficult to go to these old homes and castles. It sounds incredibly snobbish (and probably is), but the level of just . . . factual inaccuracy that parents spout to their children is heinous. This is basic facts, I don’t require nuance. But rather than say ‘I don’t know, let’s find out together when we get home’ or taking the time to read the plaque and relate the information to their children, parents just say whatever pops into their head. We overheard this one woman, when asked by her child which one of Henry VIII’s wives ‘got stabbed’, tell him very sincerely, that Catherine of Aragon was divorced because she couldn’t have children (blissfully overlooking Mary I, her daughter) and that Anne Boleyn had her head chopped off ‘you know, guillotined’. GUILLOTINED. The guillotine as we know it wasn’t invented until the late 18th century, and while the Halifax Gibbet did exist as a method of decapitation in England during the 16th century, it certainly wasn’t wheeled to the Tower of London.

It just frustrates me that key opportunities to spark a child’s interest in history, crucial moments of inspiration, are frequently missed by dismissive parents. I am lucky to have a mother who loves history and encourage my interest in history from an early age. If that interest isn’t fostered, with an emphasis on learning the fascinating facts, then a potential lifetime of passion for a subject is lost.

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Regardless, the gardens were gorgeous, in a very Victorian/Edwardian sort of way. Trellis upon trellis of camellias bloomed, they were so inspiring. The Castle celebrated May Day that weekend, with Morris Dancers and, more importantly, archery demonstrations! For a couple of quid you received several arrows and some very legit archery instruction. I hit a knight at close range, a ‘tower’ at mid range, and almost hit a ‘deer’ at far range. I was positively giddy with excitement, it was very fun (though designed, ultimately, for children).

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Despite whinging about historical inaccuracies and ignorant parents, I do love going to stately homes, and thanks to a very kind present of a National Trust membership, I’ll be able to visit many many more in the coming months!

Rakes and Scoundrels

I realize it’s been an age since I posted but I can only blame the sundry activities that take up the hours.

But I suppose a good thing is that I’ve been postponed about gardening, because I’ve been gardening! A few weeks about, in March, when it wasn’t too horrifically cold (but still plenty cold enough, let me tell you) we turned over the plot and pulled weeds for hours and hours. The plot has been left to it’s on devices for a few months, so before we started it looks like this:

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Or rather, it looked like that after we raked a good bit of foliage off the top. After that we got into the seriously dirty work for using big forks to turn over the earth and pull the particularly pernicious weeds. There’s the one weed in particular (the predominant one) with leaves that look a bit like parsley or chrysanthemums and long long white roots that just grows and grows. I can’t identify what it is (I’ve looked at different things online, but they all show the weeds in bloom and that obviously hasn’t happened here yet).
But even though I do not yet know it’s name, I hate it with a fiery, fiery passion. I think it’s one of those ‘find the mothership and destroy it’ weeds, which I think we managed last week, but who really knows. Either way, we managed to get it looking like this:

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This whole process, I’m aware, is going to be constant maintenance, but it does feel really fantastic to even have it looking like this. Our seedlings are coming along nicely:

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We’ve got some cucumbers coming up (the medium-sized sprouts), the perpetual spinach (the small sprouts) seem to be doing something but I can’t say quite what. They’re concerning me, honestly. However, I’m thrilled with the peas. I’m convinced that Gregor Mendel himself could not have grown a better-looking pea. And they’ve got the fantastic little curly stems! It’s still not warm enough to re-plant these pretty things outside, but I am going to start putting them outside for a bit to make them a bit hardier. Honestly, plot maintenance (weed maintenance) is taking up quite a bit of our Sundays, which is nice but would be nicer if there were plants we WANTED in the ground. But I’m starting to feel a bit like this, sometimes:

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I’ve got a picture in my mind of how that garden oughta be.

Dead Men Tell No Tales

I’ve embarked on an apparently long, arduous journey on a dark, twisted road. Or at least, that’s how most people describe a phd. It seems to be a very ‘down in the trenches together’ kind of thing, with lots of shuddering, a lot of ‘don’t go this way’ scenes from horror films, and then the few that say ‘it’s not as scary as it seems.’

But all this being said, I just did my first major writing assignment. 10,000 words on certain parallels and I won’t bore you with details but it involves the College of Physicians and the print industry in 17th century London. And slogging through piles of notes, secondary source texts, it got me thinking about everyone’s process. Because mine usually looks something like this:

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It should be noted (for parental benefit) that this is during the editing process, when my pages are printed out. If I’m writing, there IS a word document open with that infernal blinking cursor judging me and my words. But I do like to have a film or video playing, one that I’ve seen dozens of times before. When I’m writing, it’s white noise. When I need a quick break it’s a bit of visual stimulation without the time warp properties of Tumblr. However, this is only when I’m actually physically writing. Prior to writing, I am a massive planner, from the starting point of the thought map to increasingly detailed outlines. When I’m planning I can’t have any distractions: maybe a bit of music, but usually not. Instead, I’m going on walks or pacing around my room talking to myself, trying to force the thoughts in my head to get in line and on to paper.

Research, on the other hand, requires music. Music blocks out everything else, so that I can focus on the task at hand. Otherwise, I’m distracted by the man in the plaid jacket that sneezes into his striped hankie or the woman at the desk that chews her gum entirely too loudly. Music blocks all this nonsense and prevents the day from being a total waste, provided I arrive at the library AT opening. But having a productive day’s research is a totally different topic.

I’m well aware that my process is very different from others. Most people can’t handle noise, require total focus and concentration. But I suppose my point is that the environment that creates total focus and concentration is different for everyone.

I’m just glad mine means I can watch Lord of the Rings at the same time.

198 x 126 mm (unsewn)