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  • Macy Gilliam's New York

    While dressed as Breakfast at Tiffany's Holly Golightly, I met Macy Gilliam—dressed as Princess Diana in the Revenge Dress—on the New York Public Library rooftop, moments before seeing Tim Gunn at the NYPL Halloween party. She saved me from a creepy guy, and we soon found out we both love Keith McNally restaurants. I feel like it is important you know this is how we met because it sets a precedent for the rest of our relationship. In Houston, Texas a year later, I met Nick Gray, author of the 2-Hour Cocktail Party, at screenwriter Tom Vaughan's 2-Hour Cocktail Party. When Nick and I swapped Instagram handles, I saw who we both followed and had in common: Macy. It turns out she had attended a 2-Hour Cocktail Party in New York City a month earlier, and that's how she met Nick. Macy Gilliam is the Social Video Producer for Morning Brew, and you've likely seen her on your Instagram Discover page if you don't already follow the brand. The last time I was with Macy, we were sitting outside Caffe Reggio and people kept approaching our table, looking at her with this glint in their eyes."Are you the Morning Brew girl?" they'd ask. (That same day, we walked by Trevor Noah and Stanley Tucci. They may be big deals, but I didn't see anyone go up to them and say, "Are you the Emmy-nominated actor man?" or "Are you the political commentator comedian guy who always shows up on the Pisces section of the Town & Country horoscope section?" So, actually, how big of deals can they be?) I've wanted to start a series asking people whose experiences and expertise I respect about their personal maps of their cities. What better place to start with than New York and with Macy Gilliam? I've always admired how tuned into New York Macy is and her willingness to seize the moment. Like all the best New Yorkers, she's from somewhere else. She has lived in Edmond, Oklahoma; Wellington, Florida; Valencia, Spain; Ojai, California; Berlin, Germany; Amsterdam, Netherlands; Montreal, Canada—and she's made New York City her home. How? By constantly trying new places and things and fully integrating herself in the community. In fact, you should donate to her Big Brothers Big Sisters fundraiser here. Without further ado, here is Macy Gilliam's Guide to New York City. Hometown: Edmond, Oklahoma Other Cities You’ve Lived in: Wellington, Florida; Valencia, Spain; Ojai, California; Berlin; Amsterdam; Montreal. When did you move to New York? I moved here in September 2022. When was the first time you visited? In 2008! I was 8. Anything you remember from that trip? My mom couldn’t figure out the subway, so we just walked everywhere. I still walk whenever possible! When Can You Call Yourself a New Yorker? I like the 10 year rule, but not all 10 years are created equal. I think community involvement is more important than just time put in. Volunteer, join a young patrons group for whichever NY institution is your favorite, anything! But I think there are too many people who call themselves New Yorkers and call this the greatest city in the world who have never given anything back to it. Can you? I definitely can’t from a time perspective, but I’m working hard on the community involvement front like Young Lions for NYPL and Big Brothers Big Sisters. Favorite Thing About New York: There’s always something new! If you’re bored here you have no one to blame but yourself. Outline the Best Date Someone Could Plan in New York? I’m a big fan of the activity + short walk + dinner model. Activities are best when they’re random and/or not permanent fixtures; pop-up and short term exhibitions are great. A short walk from activity to dinner is key, it’s always fun to be the cute young couple on the street. And dinner after the previous two steps gives you more material to talk about. Dinner is preferably eaten at the bar. Sitting next to your date feels simultaneously more intimate and more social. Best WFH spot in NY? The lobby of the Hoxton in Williamsburg! They have different seating options so if you’re there all day you can move from table to arm chair to couch. It’s also pretty social as far as WFH spots go. Best Meal: Soup dumplings & a coke from Dumpling Man. Favorite Keith McNally Restaurant: Balthazar! It was my first Keith restaurant and remains my favorite. It feels buzziest. Film: Miracle on 34th Street Show: HBO’s Girls Museum: Christie’s! Though it’s technically an auction house, going there to see what’s on view before auctions is the best! You’re seeing art that’s normally hidden away in private collections, and for one brief second is out in public. The added element of people-watching that makes it extra fun. Best place to film a tiktok in New York: Casey Rubber Stamps. Where to go when you want to impress someone visiting New York: Nubeluz! It’s the new rooftop bar on top of the Ritz NoMad. Indoor/outdoor seating options and great cocktails! Favorite neighborhood: East Village. All my favorite weird little stores are there. Dream apartment: The neighboring apartment to my favorite yoga studio (St Marks Yoga). There’s like a 6ft gap between the apartment’s and studio’s windows. That’s exactly how close I need to be. Favorite NY historical tidbit: Central Park has such good birdwatching partly because in 1890, Eugene Schieffelin decided he wanted as many birds as possible that were mentioned in Shakespeare to live in NYC.

  • My Guide to Paris

    I had an incredibly successful first trip to Paris. No Paris syndrome for me. I’m glad Anthony Bourdain felt the same way, decreeing it “one of the greatest, most beautiful, most magical cities in the world.” It’s exactly how I feel. Any place that values cheese, croissants, chocolate, cinema, and, evidently, other words with the letter ‘c’ is all right by Cathleen! I also love the French’s need for a dinner reservation (RSVP is short for “Répondez s’il vous plaît.”) I also had plenty of time to explore and wander, and I knew what was and wasn’t worth seeking out because I have some very honest cosmopolitan friends. (The Moulin Rouge was a resounding “AVOID.”) Cafes Cafe de Flore My first day in Paris: I landed, rode in a car to the hotel, dropped off my bags, and walked to Cafe de Flore. I waited in a fifteen-minute line, made friends with the people behind me, and got a table for one. I ordered a hot chocolate with cream and a croissant and sat next to an older man in a pop art sweater. There was a group of six British girls (possibly on a bachelorette hen trip) across from me who very loudly told their waiter he did not give them proper service. The French man next to me stood up and shamed the British girls: “This is France!” he exclaimed. It was an astounding moment to witness and felt comically similar to a sub-plot from an Emily in Paris episode. I think I told the man, “Right on!” once he sat down. I know some people say this is a tourist trap. Don’t listen to them. Oscar Wilde loved this place; I love this place; Ina Garten loves this place; and that’s all the reason you need. To get in the mood, listen to “Love In The Time of Socialism” by Yellow House. There’s a line about Cafe de Flore, which helps anyone struggling on their French pronunciation. For my history buffs, before World War II, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir were a couple of the Existentialists at the Café de Flore. Albert Camus also frequented, choosing to sit on the opposite side of the room from Sartre. Truman Capote also stopped by whenever he was in Paris. I read that “discussions at the ‘philo-café’ are held upstairs on the first Wednesday of the month, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.” I haven’t done it myself, but I’d love for you to tell me your experiences. Les Deux Magots Let’s say you’re intimidated by the line at Cafe de Flore. Good news. Literally down the street on Saint-Germain is Les Deux Magots. I personally think you should do both de Flore and Deux Magots when you visit. Chances are one will speak to you more. Between de Flore and Deux Magots, Deux Magots is a little bit less tourist-y. It was significantly less crowded when I went. Overall, it’s understandable why this place resonated with Ernest Hemingway. He even wrote The Sun Also Rises here and used the cafe as the setting. The Surrealists—Man Ray, Max Ernst and Joan Miró—also set up camp in this cafe. They would situate the table in front of the door to commentate on anyone who entered. Order a pot of hot chocolate à l’ancienne or the Viennese hot chocolate, which is much thicker. Why? There’s egg yolk in there. This is what I got when I went, and I definitely did not know that then. The desserts are from Pierre Hermé. Carette Another popular and iconique Paris spot. This is a chain throughout the city. I went to the one closest to the Louvre and had an all-too delightful afternoon eavesdropping by myself. As tastemaker Madame de Sevigné said of the hot chocolate—chocolat chaud—, it will “make the most unpleasant company seem good to you.” To that, I say salut. Musee de la Vie Romantique The museum itself is very small. You can cruise through it in 30 minutes. It’s also really just a museum of a group of friends’ stuff. I was amused by the idea of turning the UWS townhouse my college friends and I lived in into a museum with hairballs and. In a century, that could honestly make a rather great collection. The reason I recommend Musee de la Vie Romantique is for its cafe. It’s beautiful, so tranquil. I did a virtual meeting from here and had a lovely time catching up on correspondence. When you go, try the museum. (It’s free, why not.) Come to your own conclusion on the collection and then unwind in the cafe. KB Cafe Shop This is more coffee shop than Paris cafe, if that makes sense. I had a great time. An old Frenchman hit on me, and the entire ordeal was so cliche that I heartily laughed as it was happening and thoroughly confused him. That aside, KB is located in SoPi (Southern Pigalle) near Montmartre. Very good coffee with roasts from Ethiopia, Columbia, Guatemala, and Indonesia and creates its own signature blends. I don’t drink iced coffee, but if you do, they have that here. That’s notable for Paris. Cafe Buci This was a recommendation from my friend Caroline, and it was the perfect last-day meal. It’s very French. I particularly liked the graffiti near our table that read, “I did cocaine in the bathroom with Willie Nelson.” I love running into fellow Texans abroad. Pastries Boris Lumé I have questions for myself. Why didn’t I try every croissant I came across in Paris? I think I only had three. One of them was Boris Lumé near Montmartre, and it was so good that maybe I decided I didn’t need any more. According to some list somewhere, they won “Best Pure Butter Croissants” and that was apparently enough for me. The next time I’m in France, I’ll have a more robust ranking for you. The Ritz I rarely tap out when it comes to dessert. The (shockingly reasonable) dessert tea service at the Ritz knocked me out. Restaurants Le Grand Colbert I have a whole story about this place, but I'll get to that some other day. Here is a selfie designer Gaby Basora and I took with our maitre’d. I had a magical time here. I trust you will, too. Maxim’s Allegedly "the most famous restaurant in the world." I take that with the same grain of salt as the Hotel Frontenac in Quebec City, which is allegedly "the most photographed hotel in the world." Regardless, Maxim's is definitely worth visiting. I still think about the risotto and fish from this night. Les Temps des Cerises Just to look at this little house with its eighteenth-century mosaic façade is worth the trek, but what if I told you the food is quintessential French fare? Get a reservation for the beginning of dinner service, and get here early. While you’re sitting in the empty restaurant, you’ll think, “I don’t know why Cathleen insisted I get here early. Seems rather silly to me.” Give it fifteen minutes. The place will fill up, and you’ll be glad you were there before that happened. I didn’t hear any English while I was there. It was filled with local patrons. This is also where I tried escargot for the first time. I’m an escargot a go go girl now. Thanks, Les Temps des Cerises. When my mom visited me in Paris, this was our first reservation and her first meal of the trip. I got gold stars for taking her, and it set the tone for her entire Paris vacation. Chez Georges I'd go there now if I could. Le Train Bleu NOT overrated. A must-visit for Mr. Bean fans. Le Procope My mom was hesitant when we sat down in this despuis-1686 restaurant. “I thought it was going to be a tourist trap,” she confesses. How wrong we were! The food was excellent. As my mom said, “This was finger-lickin’ good!” You pay by QR code, which I understand sounds awful. Here you are in the OLDEST continuously cafe, and you’re paying by means of your hi-tec phone screen. That was a bit jarring. But other than this unseemly detail, I do think you should try to go. A good song to play before going is anything from The Marriage of Figaro. According to Katrina Lawrence, “On the evening of the première of The Marriage of Figaro, Caron de Beaumarchais waited at Le Procope — just down the road, at 13 Rue de l’Ancienne-Comédie — to see if his play would be judged a success. He surely celebrated long and hard that night, before rolling home …” Une Verre du Vin ou Une Bierre Hotel Lutetia James Joyce was a regular! Harry’s New York Bar Welcome home, Americans. This feels more like an Old New York institution than a Parisian bar, hence the incredibly a propos name. It’s where George Gershwin, Ernest Hemingway, and James Bond would go to feel like they’re back in the States. Gershwin even composed An American in Paris on the piano here. From Atlas Obscura: "Its address, 5 Rue Daunou, was the bar’s calling card, with advertisements in the international press running a tagline telling visitors to simply ask taxi drivers to head to ‘Sank Roo Doe Noo.’” Between you and me, the non-Franco places in Paris were often the least friendliest I visited. None of the Americans here wanted to chit chat or rendezvous. (I know, BOOOO!) But at least the hot dogs were very, very good. I loved the atmosphere and decor (spot the colleges your friends and family went to and send them a picture. If they’re anything like my brothers, they’ll be completely underwhelmed.) Please appreciate the bar flies logo and enjoy the fact that you’re now part of the International Bar Flies Club. I also found my alma mater Fordham on the wall with this pennant here. I really want some of the Rowing Blazers x Harry’s Bar merchandise. Maybe one day. I didn’t even lead with this information, but Harry’s Bar is apparently responsible for the Bloody Mary drink. I know 21 Club claimed that, but they’re gone now, so. . . Fernand Petiot (again, apparently) invented the Bloody Mary here in 1921. Harry MacElhone of “Harry’s New York Bar” concocted the French 75 with champagne, gin, lemon juice, and sugar. When he took a swig of that, it knocked him out like a French 75mm artillery shell. And the hot dog was very, very good. The Vendome at the Ritz You might think I mean Bar Hemingway, but I wouldn’t know because my mom and I didn’t even go in. There was a line, which I’m told is rather standard, so we decided to sit in the Vendome. We had a grand time. The bar food was very good albeit a bit pricey, but this is the Ritz. We stayed for hours and had a divine time. We also met an interesting couple whose relationship dynamic I am still trying to decipher. L’Hotel What a night this was. We went on Thursday for jazz in the bar lounge and met some very interesting people. (Simon is a tale for another day.) I'm a big Oscar Wilde fan, and this is where he lived and died. I'm sure you've heard his famous last words: "Either this wallpaper goes, or I do." This is where that wallpaper was. While L'Hotel was reek and squalid at that time, it is now a multi-starred hotel. I honestly think Oscar would love that. Museums Le Petit Palais Probably one of my favorite places I have ever been to—ever. And, admission is free. Musee de Rodin I’m not a big Rodin fan. Not even of Rodin himself. But this is a beautiful place to visit. I will give credit where credit is due—The Thinker is great. Definitely worth seeing in person. E. Dehillerin This isn't a museum, but people visit it as if it were. Julia Child loved this 200+ year old cookery store so much that it's worth going just knowing she'd approve. Musee Carnavalet I found out about this from Mary Bly’s memoir, and I’m so grateful she noted it. This museum is devoted to the history of Paris from the ground up. It takes up two entire mansions—that isn’t hyperbole, it’s fact. There are over 2,600 paintings, 20,000 drawings, 300,000 engravings, 150,000 photographs, 2,000 modern sculptures, and 800 pieces of furniture in here. You’ll find Marie Antoinette’s personal belongings, paintings of the most beautiful woman in Paris, Marcel Proust’s room, a lock of Robespierre’s hair, and much, much, much more. And you don’t have to pay a thing. I went by myself and was not expecting the lower level. It kind of spooked me out, it was so quiet. Again, this is one of those places where you may not hear a word of English. It’s not necessarily a tourist destination. And then, of course, the Louvre and d'Orsay. People Watching The Ritz. Cafe de Flore Outside the Lourve Shakespeare & Co. Au Petit Théâtre du Bonheur The line outside Club Pachamama L’Hôtel Bring Me Back a Souvenir Marin Montagut My mom is always in the know and has known about Marin Montagut for years. I want to get glassware and (more) journals from here next time I go. The Paris Flea Market Try the Saint-Ouen market, and be charmed. Unrelated but memorable: this was also the worst-smelling Uber ride of my life. Galerie Vivienne It’s the most beautiful little mall of all. Shakespeare & Co. This is the most famous English-speaking bookstore in Paris. Next time I'm here, I'm getting another journal and tote bag. Books to Read Before Visiting Paris The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy The Paris Review calls this book “rollicklingly pleasurable,” which is kind of…just the right amount of tongue in cheek. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway I really apologize for what I’m about to type. I loved this memoir by Ernest Hemingway. Breakfast in America by Craig Carlson This is by an American business owner in Paris. It contextualized so much that I had heard about Paris bureaucracy but hadn’t fully pondered. I finished it at my friend’s jiu-jitsu match on the outskirts of Paris, and I was so enthralled, I didn’t even notice that I was in a gymnasium full of athletes in gis. Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard Paris in Love by Mary Bly Artist in the Age of Revolution by Laura Auricchio More on why here. Tips: Get some rudimentary French down. It’s a matter of respect to simply make an effort. This entails knowing when to say “bonjour” and “bonsoir.” Bonjour= Good DAY Bonsoir= Good EVENING These are both greetings. If you’re leaving, saying “Bon journee” or “Bonsoiree.” These mean have a good day or have a good evening. The only time I was chastised for pronunciation was when I wasn’t even speaking French. My friend and I were talking to a group of French 20-somethings outside of Club Pachamama and told them what we did that day. They completely teased us for our pronunciation of  “the D’Orsay Museum” and repeated it back to us in thick American drawls. For the rest of the week, I was miffed by the teasing, but I have since seen the light. (Heard the light?) When you say “D’Orsay Museum” and “Musee D’Orsay” out loud to yourself, I can understand why that might have been jarring. Here's a heads up: Everyone smokes. Even the pigeons. They nip at discarded cigarette butts just as much as they do baguette crumbs. If you’re from post-Bloomberg New York, this will be off-putting. The sooner you move past it, the better your experience will be. Ask for “Une carafe d’eau, s’il vous plaît.”

  • The Relay of The Year Planner

    In 2020, I fell back in love with fiction, by way of Helen Oyeyemi novels. Her fractured fairytales inspired me to write my own prose, and I started with a short story that personified the months of the year. It was just an exercise at first, but I soon realized every month has its own musicality and rhythm. They move at different paces but in the same direction: forward. As you can already see, the relay race metaphor wasn’t much of a stretch from there. I have used a physical planner for the last twelve years and have no intention of slowing down now. Because “Relay of The Year” is so visual, I always envisioned it in a planner format with art from artists I know and admire. 2024 was the year to stop envisioning and just finally do it! You can now buy a copy of your very own Relay of The Year as a paperback or a hardcover. I personally recommend the paperback. At the time I'm publishing this article, every copy is directly printed (versus purchased in bulk) which essentially means I can customize your copy as you'd like. It also means shipping times are a bit extended... Moving on! My hope is that this planner adds beauty to your day-to-day as you relay every day in your agenda. Sure, the year isn’t a race, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to make good time! Keep score in 2024. I am so honored to feature art from artists I respect and admire. More on each of them: The Artists Ilona Altman January Ilona Altman lives and creates in San Francisco, drawing constant inspiration from its diverse ecology. She is captivated by the beauty and spirituality that can be found in the everyday interconnectedness of our living world. “Every year, we return to the window and dream,” Altman says about her art for January. Caitlin Bury February Caitlin Ann Bury is an LA-based visual artist and writer. Her work has been shown at a number of galleries in New York as well as in several publications. Recently, she has been transitioning into the film and tv space, specially in writing, directing and acting. Her work primarily focuses on family, girlhood, and memory. “I used Procreate on my iPad, which is an artist practice I initially picked up during the pandemic. I normally create small animations on Procreate, so I tried to have a kind of motion in my pieces,” Bury says. “For this February piece, I was inspired by vintage valentines and kewpie dolls for the visuals, with Cathleen’s words inspiring the inclusion of wintery themes.” Emma Bakos March and July Emma Bakos lives in Budapest, Hungary, and currently studies law. Art has always followed her throughout the years in all forms, be it art history, music, literature, or cinema. However, it was the creation of art that captured her most. The wonders of painting, the process of mixing the colors and shapes, capturing the gaze will never cease to amaze her. Cinema has become her biggest source of inspiration, and her portrait subjects tend to fall back into the ’20s through ’40s period. The base for this art was the prose piece and old photographs. After reading March's section, Bakos had a vision of the birds swarming near March's running figure. She collated several photographs from the ’40s for the basis, then created from there. “After reading July, an image came to my head: July had to be a gouache painting on canvas. Second, the composition of the portraits: July lazily sitting on the couch with a popsicle in his hand.” Bakos says. Isabel Carreño May Isabel Carreño is an illustrator from the Canary Islands currently living in the UK. She takes inspiration from music, film, and pop culture and has developed her personal style through years by drawing people and things she loves. “For this piece I wanted to move away from my first thought when the month of May came to mind, which was colour and brightness—hence the lack of colour, but also wanted to illustrate the idea of May as a happy young carefree woman and represent the thoughts reflected in the piece,” Carreño says. Kay Collier November I've been a longtime fan of Kathryn Hastings & Co. and Kay Collier—the warm body behind Kathryn Hastings & Co. and my favorite podcast, so it is such an immense privilege to have her in the 2024 planner. Here is a behind-the-scenes post demonstrating the seal she made for the November section of "Relay of The Year." "My dear friend and talented writer, @cathleen.freedman , kindly invited me to contribute to her 2024 planner project. This extraordinary planner boasts a distinctive concept wherein each month is a canvas showcasing the works of diverse artists, accompanied by Cathleen’s thought-provoking prompts, a testament to her creative prowess. November, the month I was assigned, embodies a paradox - a season marked by both a slump and festive celebrations. Although I usually refrain from delving into personal matters, I have recently found myself navigating the depths of a slump, compounded by the burdens of anxiety and health issues. However, amidst the tumult, there exists a sanctum of solace where I regain my equilibrium - my art. It is in this realm that I rediscover my inner peace. Crafting seals, for me, is an embodiment of unadulterated joy. It represents an expanse of unfettered creativity and ceaseless exploration. The act of meticulously fashioning these intricate pieces serves as a reminder that the beauty we yearn for already envelops us, patiently awaiting our recognition amidst the oft-overlooked busyness of life. Moreover, these seals have a special knack for connecting people. Despite their small size, these little works of art serve a meaningful role in letters and as heartfelt presents. They become symbols of connection, allowing us to express our feelings in a tangible way—a lovely addition to the festive spirit of the season." I couldn't have said it better myself. Alexandria Gonzalez September Alexandria Gonzalez started watercolor after being inspired by a couple of TikToks. She uses Holbein watercolors since Hayao Miyazaki uses them for his films. “I have very little experience in art, so everything I’ve done is new to me,” Gonzalez says. “I mostly draw by sight. Right now I’m working on wedding invitations for a friend!” “I loved designing September since I had to figure out a running figure. I had a lot of fun trying to create a playful scene with as many colors as I could. I wanted the sky to be extra blue, so I did lots and lots of layering. The picnic’s wine is definitely sparkling grape juice. (Kids can’t drink wine!) Thank you, Cathleen, for letting me add to your wonderful calendar,” Gonzalez says. Tani Greenspan Koch August Tani (@tani.g.koch for art, @dietkoch for fun) is a New Yorker turned New Orleanian who has been painting since before she can remember. As a fine art minor in college, Tani leaned heavily on her painting background when 2020 came and has kept it as part of her daily escape from a busy week at work. While watercolor and charcoal are her go-to media, Tani turned to plaster and impasto for her piece to help capture the feeling of wind and movement that comes with the impending changing of the season. The lush greens nod to the brightness of June and July, and the ochre shades and browns hint at what's to come as the days start shortening and vacationers return to their regularly scheduled programming after their last hoorah for the summer. Alexis Kuri October Alexis Kuri is a multicultural artist based in Switzerland. Though she discovered her passion for art through portraiture, she now loves to step outside her comfort zone and play around with mediums and art styles, drawing inspiration from her upbringing, travels, and background. Today, she helps businesses, events, and people find their voice through graphic design and copywriting. Savanna Lim June Savanna Lim is an artist and designer based in Brooklyn, NY. She grew up in Singapore and Houston and loves using design as a way to solve the world's most interesting problems. She can be reached at @savlimphoto and Lucy Tomforde April Lucille (Lucy) Tomforde is a multidisciplinary artist based in London who focuses on photography, social media, illustration, graphic design, and animation. Her work explores playful whimsy with intentional narratives to tell connective stories about growth, civics, gathering and life. Follow along on Instagram @tomfo_olery and purchase prints on Etsy. “Tulips bloom vibrantly under the nourishing April showers, their delicate petals unfurling to embrace the revitalizing rain. In the midst of spring, these quirky bulbed flowers transform the landscape into a vibrant display, capturing the season of renewal and rebirth,” Tomforde shares. Julie Scharf December Julie Scharf is a costume designer and writer based in New York City. She finds joy in fairy tales, overcrowded antique stores, and coats with hems that nearly graze the ground. “This silver bodice was made for a production of Cinderella at the Heights Players in Brooklyn,” Scharf shares. “The handsewn twisting tendrils weren't part of the original sketch but in keeping all of my fabric offcuts, I realized how beautiful and useful they could be. The dress embodies December as it sparkles like a perfect winter and the glittering garlands of the season.”

  • A Conversation with Indie Duo, Parekh & Singh

    Before I became a devoted Spotify user in late 2016, I would go on Youtube and embark on circuitous journeys to discover new songs and music videos. Type a keyword here, click on a recommend video there. This favorite pastime of mine introduced me to Parekh & Singh. On one of those deep YouTube dives, I found the music video for Parekh & Singh’s “I Love You Baby, I Love You Doll.” (If memory serves me right, I was looking for Wes Anderson-inspired videos because I loved Vampire Weekend’s Andersonian “Oxford Comma” so much.) Not only is this music video excellent, the song is fantastic. I became a Parekh and Singh fan foremost, eventually forgetting the Wes Anderson element that first introduced me to their music. From there, whenever I was in an Anthropologie with “Ghost” playing on the speakers, I’d make sure everyone knew about Parekh & Singh and have a homework list of follow-up songs they should listen to next. In September 2022, Gabby Etzel and I personally interviewed the Indian dream pop duo of Nischay Parekh and Jivraj Singh. Nischay Zoomed in from Dubai; Jivraj, Kolkata; Gabby and I, Québec City. I’m finally releasing this conversation to celebrate one year of their album The Night Is Clear and just in time for their CCC tour in India. (CCC, standing for “City, Coast, and Country,” à la their song “CCC.”) The album came out while I was living in Québec City, and I still associate certain tracks with different streets in Old Québec. I’d hum the limited French of “Je Suis La Pomme Rouge” to make myself feel better about my even more limited French. I played “Bedouin” on loop along Rue Saint-Jean and tried to do all of the melodies as I strolled. This album is so special to me, and I hope you play it and give it the chance to be the soundtrack of your own bildungsroman adventures. It’s such an honor to finally share this conversation. Enjoy! Blessing your every sneeze, Cathleen A Conversation with Nischay Parekh and Jivraj Singh GABBY ETZEL How did you two first meet? NISCHAY PAREKH We actually both grew up and lived in India, in Kolkata. We lived on the same street for most of our lives. There's a bit of an age gap—like a six year difference between myself and Jivraj. But the music scene in Kolkata, at least back then, was very tiny, so everybody knew everyone. Even though it's one of the most populated cities on planet Earth, the independent, non-vernacular language/English-speaking music scene is kind of niche. It still is. Long story short, we met through mutual friends at another musician’s birthday party where I was this young kid, and Jivraj was an established musician in the scene. He was already playing professionally, and I was trying to break in. Some friends of ours who owned the studio I was recording at the time just introduced us and said, “Hey, I think you guys could do some sort of interesting collaboration.” And we became really good friends in the process. CATHLEEN FREEDMAN So it wasn't even your birthday party, but you got the best present of all? PAREKH Ha—yes. FREEDMAN Do you remember the conversation that officially led to you becoming a duo? When did you realize that you have great synergy together? JIVRAJ SINGH It's been a process, beginning with some quite innocent experimental music, which we would play at one of the smaller venues in town. And then, Nischay took a break to go to music school in Boston. After he returned to Kolkata is when I guess the time was finally right for something more substantial, and perhaps serious, to unfold, even though it's still innocent experimentation at its core. Just meeting, trying stuff, taking some time apart, and then meeting again after a couple of years—that sort of solidified our understanding that we had something promising as a shared creative unit. It was 2011 when we started in earnest. ETZEL When it comes to your genre, you're often labeled as being dream pop indie. How would you define that genre? And what do you think distinguishes your music from the rest of dream pop? PAREKH Well, I personally didn't even know what dream pop was. I think back in the early days, everybody—at least people in India—started labeling our music in the dream pop category. I only just recently started listening to Beach House, and I think I finally kind of understood what it means. Based on all the literature, they're kind of the pioneers at the forefront of dream pop music. I wouldn't really say our music necessarily fits into the category exclusively. FREEDMAN What is your style then? PAREKH I would say we're quite all over the place. Stylistically, there's elements of North American folk music. There's a lot of European jazz influences in the writing that I've been doing recently as a songwriter. And there's good old rock and roll, as well. We grew up with a lot of that music. I don't really see a lot of specific dream pop in our music, but I think it's just more the feeling that our music evokes rather than the songs themselves, which led to a lot of people calling us dream pop. It somehow fits the vibe of what our earlier lyrics may have conveyed. There are literally a lot of themes of dreams and sleep, and there still are, in our music. So, I would say it's quite esoteric and sort of wide ranging. As a band, we’re not very loyal to a style. FREEDMAN On that note, if you had to compile a listening guide for somebody who's never listened to your music before, but you can only give them a little sampling in four songs. What would be your personal four songs from your discography? SINGH Nischay, do you want the first two, and I’ll take then I’ll take the other two? PAREKH Yeah, collaborate? SINGH Let’s do one and then another. I’ll start. “Nightingale.” PAREKH I’m going to say “Ghost.” SINGH I’m going to say “Hello.” PAREKH I’m compelled to say “I Love You Baby, I Love You Doll” then. ETZEL Do you feel like your music has gone through different periods or phases over the years? How would you characterize each of your albums? PAREKH It definitely has gone through a lot of phases, more than musically. Even just in terms of musical maturity, personal, and emotional maturity for me as a songwriter for sure—and the both of us as producers as well. We understand our craft more with each album. The first one that we did was very nascent in the sense that we were literally just trying to put the songs together. There wasn't a lot of process, there wasn't a lot of direction or thematic understanding of how an album is even constructed. It wasn't as collaborative as well, because I would write the songs as demos, and then I would just bring them in. Jivraj would sort of play drums on them. That was our album Ocean, album one. I think album two, Science City, is where we started really collaborating as a band in the studio. Right, Jivraj? SINGH Right. PAREKH That's when we sort of started playing off of each other more. Somehow the compositional elements started coming out of what we were interacting with in terms of music. And then this third album, The Night Is Clear, was truly a mix of both album one and two in terms of our process because there was a lot of back and forth and demoing in isolation for both of us. We would send each other ideas, and then there were some songs that came out of jams or grooves that we did when we were together in a room. I don't even remember when those moments were because they've been sort of collected over the years. It's tough to pinpoint exactly where each song started, in terms of time and space. FREEDMAN I hadn't even really thought about how this current album was a pandemic album. Let's take a moment to appreciate how international this conversation is right now. We're currently in Québec City, and you guys are in Kolkata and Dubai. How did you guys end up where you are right now? PAREKH We were both born in Kolkata, India. Jivraj went to university in Kolkata, and I went to the Berklee College of Music in Boston for a while. I actually met my then-girlfriend, now wife, who got a job in Dubai. We were always discussing the idea of trying to live outside of India for a while just to see what that would be like. Dubai just seemed like an easy opportunity to dip our feet into it. It's literally in the middle between Europe and India, and it's easy access to both continents. I moved here three years ago. ETZEL How do you keep in touch while you and Jivraj are apart? FREEDMAN Especially musically? PAREKH We're constantly communicating through email, iMessage, and various mediums. I think we got really good at sharing music remotely, even before the pandemic, to be fair. We Dropbox, sending each other demos. It's been pretty easy. We like to use all of the technology that's available, and our communication is quite fluid. FREEDMAN We lived in New York City and are currently traveling around, and I find I'm having to really reconcile with the idea of being a New Yorker, even though I'm not presently living in New York. My Instagram bio is “Texas time in a New York minute” because I've come to realize that being from New York is, as cliche as it sounds, a state of mind, and I'm shaped by where I come from. If anybody understands that mentality, it would be you guys in “Philosophize.” I love the line, “I've got a New York State of Mind on Indian Standard Time.” How has that Kolkata pace influenced you? SINGH I think on one level, it's encouraged us to allow things to develop slowly because it is a very slow place. It's probably the slowest city in the country. It feels like a small town even though it's a huge city. Trends are slow to catch on here. It's sort of out of sync with what's happening in the rest of new India. I think maybe subconsciously, we've absorbed some of that and are content to explore our own pocket of reality. I still feel that energy and that influence very strongly. But maybe Nischay’s move has resulted in some changes that he could talk about now that he can look back on life in Kolkata, and how the change has perhaps influenced the songwriting? PAREKH There's definitely an element of that. 100%. That being said, I'm still from Kolkata, and I still carry a lot of that sort of resistance to the trends or to anything too catchy. Not just musically but in life all around me. It always felt like we're kind of outside of any sort of competition, personally and artistically. I guess that's ‘small town benefits.’ It's not New York or any of those central cities in terms of commerce or wealth. We just always wanted to create for creation’s sake. I think that's the main ethos that Kolkata imbibed in us. I’m still going to carry it even though I live in Dubai. Even though it’s glitzy and glamorous, Dubai it's not a very fast city. But from all of the social media that's propagated about the city, you wouldn’t know it. This is probably true of any city, but there are various and various subcultures that exist within it. So I think, yes, I'm still living Kolkata-style in Indian Standard Time. FREEDMAN This is coming from somebody who knows absolutely nothing about music production but can just really admire it. What is your songwriting and production process? And, of course, where does synth fit into all of it? PAREKH We kind of build it like Legos. It's layers, and it’s blocks. The first block will be probably some sort of lyrical and harmonic idea. The ‘harmonic idea’ means it could be some chords on a guitar or piano maybe. So, a little ditty is just the first block. It could be a verse, but more often than not, we start with some sort of a vague idea. Then, I either put it into my software that I produced music with and then I share it with Jivraj. If we're in the process of making an album, sometimes I'll share something with him to get his opinion. I don't say, ‘Okay, put drums on this,’ or ‘Add something to this.’ I just share something and then based on his reaction—sometimes it could be a compliment; sometimes it could be silence; sometimes he sends another recording back with his parts already added. That's when the blocks start getting collaborative. From there, we build. When he sends something back, and if we have the drums already, then I'll add extra layers, which is often synth. And sometimes, especially on this recent album, there's a lot of melodic and harmonic stuff outside of drums. So it's just like Lego blocks, basically. FREEDMAN So a whole album is a Lego city. PAREKH Pretty much. FREEDMAN Walk us through the songwriting process of “Je Suis la Pomme Rouge,” Nischay’s fascination with King Richard I and Duolingo. PAREKH “Je Suis la Pomme Rouge” was quite a unique song for me as a songwriter because most of the songs I write tend to be quite intuitive and instinctive. I usually get into a flow, but “Je Suis” was quite laborious! I was trying to build something specific. I was editing and spending a lot of time trying to make it something that I felt should be in my head just as an exercise. I wanted to combine these two totally unrelated concepts into one idea: I wanted to write a tribute song about King Richard I, who—in my head, again, totally imaginary, not verified at all, was the world's first singer-songwriter. There's a lot of history about him being a troubadour. There's also some evidence of him composing some lyrics. He's obviously like a badass king, powerful warrior, and whatnot. I was totally enamored by this idea that he also had this side where he was an artist, essentially. I wondered about how many political and commercial leaders we have in our current age who also happen to be serious artists and understand that side of life. I also just wanted to write a song about how he might have felt in those years where he was a ruler and a troubadour. And, yes, I also happened to be learning French at the time. “Troubadour” comes from the French word “trobar.” So, again, that’s a weird connection I made while learning on Duolingo. I don't think any French person uses that sentence in that sense, but that's what I wanted. I wanted it to be whimsical. There were a lot of these elements that I was trying to force, and it took a while for me to find the balance. ETZEL I think knowing that a sentence doesn't make sense in French is enough to know that you're starting to make sense in French. So how's your French now? PAREKH I haven't moved forward from there. It's probably gotten worse since that sentence… FREEDMAN That's still a pretty fruitful learning experience. You got “Je Suis la Pomme Rouge” out of Duolingo. ETZEL It’s my favorite song on the album. Cathleen and I feel like we’re in a “Je Suis la Pomme Rouge” era. FREEDMAN We're minding our mood. We're buying new clothes. We're moving cities. So what about you guys? What Parekh & Singh song do you feel like you're in right now? PAREKH Oh, nice… What do you think, Jivraj? I’m furiously scanning lyrics in my mind right now. SINGH It can be off any album, right? FREEDMAN Yes, we’re not cruel! SINGH Might be “Monkey” off of Science City for me. FREEDMAN Any line in particular speaking to you? SINGH “We all live in experimental walls.” PAREKH The new album has melancholic themes, and I’m not feeling melancholic right now. Personally, I might be “Songbird.” I was even playing it before we talked. ETZEL We have to know, where do you get your matching suits from? And tell us as much as you can about them, please. SINGH We get them from a third-generation dealer in Kolkata. It’s a small but legendary shop. We developed a good relationship with those guys. I think they enjoy making our suits because every other suit in that shop is black or navy. PAREKH There was that initial phase where we would go out in the textile market, which is a crazy place in Kolkata—it's this massive world of chaos. Eventually, we found these colorful fabric rolls, and we kept taking them to our tailor. Every time he would chuckle upon seeing the color. FREEDMAN Speaking of colorful matching suits, I found you guys from the “I Love You Baby, I Love You Doll” music video. I want to hear more about the process of making, and how did the idea behind it even come to life? All that good stuff! Whatever you can recall from all those years ago, please expound. PAREKH We’d just gotten signed to our record label, Peace Frog Records in the UK. In fact, they were a big catalyst with us making the custom suits, and they nudged us in that direction because we weren't thinking about our visual identity much before. They were in a conversation with us, and we had mentioned that we liked the idea of wearing suits because we're fans of uniforms. We like the Beatles and whatnot. We were also thinking about how we can make it our own and have the suits be specific to us. We had the suits made in pastel colors originally, and then primary colors for the second album, and now, white. And then they wanted us to make a music video, which we had never really done a proper music video for a song. We didn't know how to do that. I had no idea how it started. While Jivraj also has a background in films and editing, I certainly didn’t know where to start. We had a lot of help from our friends who are filmmakers, and even the guy who shot it. He grew up in the same sort of apartment building as me, and then we reconnected later. Our music video was quite homegrown. We put this crew together, and there wasn't a specific production house or anything like that. We just assembled this team that somehow came together. The budget obviously works because it's Kolkata, and it is a very economical place to shoot and make anything. The biggest challenge, I think, was finding a location, which then led to our director, who was the most experienced person in that group. The rest of us were just kids. We had no idea what we were doing. But our director, Misha Ghose, reined us all in and held it together. She was sort of our mom on set in a sense. There was a phase, around this time 2016 and 2017, where I was driving around the city a lot and even driving to the outskirts in all directions. I was quite interested in trying to show these parts of India, which are semi-urban and semi-rural. They're not village scenes, but it's not the city, and there's a lot of greenery and lush natural landscapes, which our city and the state that it's in—West Bengal—is quite blessed with. It's also diverse and tropical, and it's got woods as well. So, I was trying to find how we can match these two things: basically, the whimsy of the suits and all of this beautiful, natural imagery. My wife's friend’s family owned this estate that is basically a palace. Their family is a descendant of the rulers of that district, and every district had a palace, it's like the feudal system. This is even before the British era, so they were the landlords of that area. That's kind of still how it is in some parts. People don’t pay taxes to them, but they still very much have that respect for the people who are descended from those families and in those areas outside the city. So this was one such place called Mahishadal Rajbari. ‘Raj’ means ‘king,’ and ‘Bari’ is ‘house,’ basically. That's where we filmed. It's a decrepit place, though… It's totally falling apart at this stage. It's obviously not possible for it to be maintained in all of its splendor and glory because it's acres and acres huge. The estate also has these taxidermy rooms. You’ll remember the animal heads from the video. It was just a magical, surreal environment. Obviously, you can tell it's an aging beauty from the scale of the estate. But the architecture, even in its decrepit state, was quite charming. That's the vibe we felt was the best visual representation of our music at the time. It was fun to experiment with, because it's a site that a lot of people outside of India haven't seen. They don't know that this is a version of India that exists. It's not your stereotypical Slumdog Millionaire setting, it's its own thing. There are thousands of places like this all over the country with all the lush green and tropics our state offers. Without being too blunt, we didn't want to make it a tourism film for India, we just wanted to tell an interesting story and be quirky and fun. My job, at least in production, was just to help find the location. The rest was all up to our director and the editor and the team that we assembled. We didn't have a strong concept. We didn’t even want the video to have a strict narrative. We went with the flow. We just wanted to showcase the locations and showcase ourselves, obviously, in a neat package. And I think we probably probably did that to a certain extent! Obviously there are things that we might want to change looking back now. But it was a fun project for sure. Short, too. We shot for two hours or something, all in one day. ETZEL And we wanted to address your stylistic homage as to Wes Anderson. Is that intentional on your part or more with your art director’s? What's your relationship with Wes Anderson films? SINGH For me personally, not that much of a connection. I have enjoyed his films, but he's not somebody who I immediately think of when I think about filmmaking. PAREKH It was after the music video that I became more of his fan and started watching more of his films because of the comparisons that were drawn. That being said, I think our art director and our director probably were way more aware, at least our director for sure, Misha, was aware of the comparison while she was making the video. But then again, there wasn't like a conversation where we said, ‘Oh, we want this to look like Wes Anderson,’ or ‘This needs to be Anderson-esque.’ There were more words like ‘symmetrical’ and ‘balanced’ instead. He's obviously a great filmmaker and that's his trademark—the combination of colors and deadpan expressions. But I think those comparisons with our video are there because that style is just how me and Jivraj are. We didn't really, and even now, I guess, don't really know other expressions! FREEDMAN All these years I thought the similarities were an homage! I suppose this next question will just be a fun hypothetical because Wes Anderson is working on a new film right now called Asteroid City about kids and their parents at a stargazing convention. Let’s just say that Wes Anderson calls you after this interview, and he’s like, “I want one of your new songs in the film.” Which would you give Wes to consider? SINGH “Miracle” could work. PAREKH I can’t imagine “Miracle” in that way. SINGH He could make it work. FREEDMAN Oh, yeah, Wes just called and said, “Whatever it takes to make it work, I’ll do it.” PAREKH Great, then “Miracle.” FREEDMAN The visual art in the “Sleepyhead” music video is so dreamy. I know that you worked with a few art directors and producers to bring that vision to life. How big of a role did you guys play, when it came to conceptualizing those ideas? PAREKH We've been known to be quite involved in the music videos now. We're basically like a member of the crew. We're looking for solutions, trying to rig stuff, and we like to be fully immersed in the process. But the video for “Sleepyhead” was probably the first time where we really sort of had a hands off approach. Mainly because we wanted to see what that feels like and try it. We wanted to see what would happen if we just gave an idea, just a few loose ideas to a new director and a new team and see what they come up with, based on their own artistic vision. “Sleepyhead” was an experiment, I think, for sure. FREEDMAN You've said that your new music has a Lord of the Rings element to it. Do you see your music as a medium for stories? PAREKH Jivraj and I are big fantasy fans. We love Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Dune—any epic saga with a lot of chapters and a lot of story. We would definitely call this our fantasy album. We wanted it to feel like a book or something with many episodes. We wanted to lay out the album in that same spirit where each song is a chapter that works together. It's more like assorted short stories. I wouldn't say that it's all a specific narrative of a singular character or anything like that. FREEDMAN I like thinking of it in terms of like a short story anthology. PARKEH Yes. FREEDMAN “Time is a waste of life.” That is an excellent aphorism from one of your songs. That is so wise, it should be needlepointed on a pillow. What is another lyric of yours that you think should be merchandised in some capacity and how? PAREKH A song from “Seven Days," which is on the new album. I just like how it all flows together. “Morning turns to noon. The Sun becomes the moon, and our lives are infinite.” FREEDMAN That would be good on a sleeping eye mask. SINGH I have to go with something from “No Secrets.” FREEDMAN There are lines from that that could be good on the eye mask or maybe just “No Secrets” across a journal. PAREKH We have to keep it in mind for the store.

  • The 30 Things You Should Always Have In Your Purse

    With the right sized bag, I am a walking CVS store. I put the "carry" in "apothecary," and I put Mary Poppins to shame. I have the universe within arm's reach—it's all in my bag. But between you and me, I have never liked the phrase "mom friend." Someone would have a crisis, and I would have the solution. Then they'd say, "You're the mom friend," and. I'd think, "No, it's called being a decent person." Having everything a person could reasonably need in your purse shouldn't make you the "mom friend," it just makes you prepared. That being said, everything I know about packing a purse comes from my mother... It's your turn to be the "mom friend" because I don't want to be the "mom friend" anymore. I'd like to be unfettered and carry a little Crescent Bag or Baguette Purse or tote that fits a small loaf of bread, too! Liana Satenstein wrote an incredible piece about quitting her Vogue job, ditching her giant work bag, and carrying a little purse for once. My shoulders yearn for such itty bitty accoutrement. Until then, I'm probably carrying a bag big enough for my laptop and all of the other 30 things on my packing list. I'm Atlas shrugging my shoulders and giving you the bag. Here's everything anyone would ever need you in your purse, ladies and gentlemen. 1. Mints or Gum Personal preference. I love the coin roll mints. Efficient use of space. I've dazzled some people with Listerine strips. Compact and novel. 2. Hair Ties or Hair Clips You know what your preference is. Hair clips can easily clip onto the strap of your bag, which is good use of the architecture. If you're a bobby pin girl, then also put those in your purse. I never wear them, personally. 3. A Comb Or a compact brush. Again, you know your preference. It's a superpower to always have this on hand when you need it. 4. A Compact Mirror Looking into your phone mirror is too hi-tec for me. Compact mirrors are also so chic. It's like pulling out a checkbook. Everyone is like, "These things still exist?" 5. Cough Drops My mother is making converts everywhere. I'll proselytize now. FISHERMAN'S FRIEND IS THE BEST COUGH DROP ON THE MARKET. My mom has made friends by giving strangers these cough drops. They're intense, but they work. 6. Emergency Earrings You might think this is excessive, but I often forget to wear earrings. I usually try to keep a pair in my purse for these days. I have a go-to dangling clip on pair in some bags and a pearl stud pair in another. Obviously, don't do your expensive heirloom pieces. Just a simple, versatile pair that you're okay with rattling in your bag. 7. A Non-Perishable Snack Stash something that you won't crave and try to dig out of your bag when you're at home. Its sole purpose should be to provide sustenance when you're on the move. 8. Bandaids Hopefully you never have to use these. But should you, thank goodness you have them. The Welly Bandaid is a modern marvel and will raise your bandaid standards. If you laughed at "bandaid standards," then that means you probably don't have them. The incredible quality of Welly bandaids is no joke. 9. Tylenol, Benadryl, The Works I rarely need it, but I've been in situations where someone else does. It's great to have on hand. 10. Hand Cream I was never really a hand lotion person until I started traveling a lot. Then all of a sudden I understood the hype. My absolute favorite hand cream is from Evolve Together. I pull these out of my purse as a party trick. I've never used a hand cream so instantly hydrating. (My favorite scent is Monaco, the modern rose fragrance.) 11. Pen It is humiliating to be a writer without a pen. I'm always armed. 12. Safety Pins I can work magic with a few safety pins. 13. Kleenex You don't need them until you do. And when you do, you really, really do. 14. Wet Wipes or Hand Sanitizer I prefer wipes! (Unless it's the evolvetogether hand sanitizer. That's the best I've ever used.) 15. Perfume Samples I love spritzing myself silly! I usually have multiple samples in a bag, and that's a source of in-bag entertainment when I'm with people—we just sniff the different scents and exchange our thoughts on the notes. 16. Singles Keep a few single dollar bills in the pocket of your purse for easy access. I don't like rifling through my wallet for tender, so it's best for me to just be able to pull bills as I need them. 17. Wallet Duh! 18. Keys Duh! 19. Hot Sauce For my Texans in New York. If I had a dollar for every time I ate eggs in NYC and thought, 'Needs hot sauce,' my purse pocket would be STUFFED! Thankfully, mini Tabasco bottles aren't hard to come by online. 20. Sunscreen I've been a sunscreen pusher since before it was cool. In high school, I often offered my friends sunscreen while I touched up in the broad daylight. They laughed. Who's laughing now? (And who doesn't have laugh lines while she does it? You know the answer!) 21. Feminine Products Even if you don't need it, you might bump into someone who does. 22. Headphones Or AirPods or earphones or whatever you prefer. While we're on this topic, do you remember the Seashells from Fahrenheit 451? Bradburn was onto something there. 23. Touch-Up Makeup For me, this is mascara. I often forget to put it on before I leave. It's nice having a travel-size version to quickly swipe. 24. Folding Fan I feel like a Southern belle (or maybe Southern brat) when I get hot, but I need to fan myself. Plus, everyone loves a folding fan. They're beautiful! 25. Lipstick or Lip Gloss or Chapstick Whatever your preference. 26. Journal For me, absolutely! I always have something to write down. 27. Portable Battery Pack I somehow lived in New York without one of these. What a shame. I would have been unstoppable with it. 28. Sunglasses I don't wear expensive sunglasses because they get battered and buried in my bag. But at least they're always there. 29. Deodorant You would not believe how many times this has come in handy. Not just for me but others, too! I use deodorant wipes and have been delighted to have it ready any time someone needs one. 30. Baseball Cap I want as little sun on my face as possible. I know I walk the fine Logan Roy-Joe Goldberg cap line, but that's fine by me.

  • Book Recommendations from My 2022 Reading List

    In 2022, I visited Paris, New York, Tuscany, Tehran, Tokyo, New Orleans… Oh, no, not literally. Literarily! (Hit your kit drums all you want, I laughed!) In years past, my reading list was a meandering recitation of whims. I read anything that sounded somewhat appealing. I totally judged books by their cover but not very discerningly. (You can check out last year's list, here.) In 2022, my reading list was more closely curated. I opted for geography-oriented novels. I wanted to read books that were tour guides for other places and times, and this list reflects that. Here are my recommendations as a literary traveler. 📍 New York, New York THE MUTUAL FRIEND by Carter Bays Let’s start the list with my all-purpose recommendation. If you asked me for a book recommendation in 2022, I likely gave you this one. I think most people will love it. But, fine, some of you are exceptions. I will not recommend this book to you if you … Have a short attention span with no desire to read anything longer than a TikTok transcript. Have trouble keeping track of more than three characters. Do not like fun. Most of the criticisms of the book seem to be because people fall into one of those categories. If you do not fall into those categories, good, I have a book recommendation for you. In August, I read an excerpt for The Mutual Friend after learning that Carter Bays (co-creator of How I Met Your Mother) wrote it. I went in knowing my love for How I Met Your Mother (immense) but keenly aware that it might be difficult for a TV writer to write a compelling debut novel. I probably had rows and rows of open tabs and windows on my computer, Spotify playing, and Instagram open on my phone before I read the first sentence. I started reading with my usual split-screen attention span, and I finished reading completely consumed and ready to re-read. As I would later tell Carter Bays himself, "I loved, adored, ate up, devoured, and any other-relevant-synonym-ed The Mutual Friend." Kirkus Review sums up the experience well: "This is a rare thing: an original, intelligent novel that's not just a perfect summer beach read, but one that deserves serious awards consideration as well. Put down your phone and pick it up. . . . A major accomplishment." ​ Here are a few lines I loved: - "It was like browsing the world." - Bob describing the world before social media - "He led her to the powder room, the one with the chinoiserie pastoral wallpaper that looked so great on the website but was ultimately unmistakably racist up close." - " not-worth-it forever..." (I've been using this as a unit of measurement) - "He put his phone down, bowed his head, and prayed. Dust particles danced in the cool air above him like angels unobserved." - "They'd play something sweet and sad and unknowable, something that remembers and forgets all at once." - "The drafts folder is honesty's dregs, the thickest part of the brew, the stuff that gets stuck to the pot." ​ I reached out to Carter Bays after reading The Mutual Friend, and we did an Absolutely Anything Zoom interview with him in September. I never realized “Zoom with My Favorite TV Show Co-Creator and Novelist of 2022 from My Airbnb in Quebec City with My Best Friend” was on my bucket list, but it was AND I got to cross it off. I believe social media can be an incredible connector, knotting invisible strings between people who may otherwise never have met. That's one of the many cruxes of The Mutual Friend. Maybe you're reading this recommendation list right now because we connected online. While we Zoomed with Carter, I posited the question "Do you think we have a mutual friend?" We all laughed and were like, "Sure! Probably! Why not!" Fast-forward half a year later, and I found our mutual friend on Instagram. Let me explain. On 2-2-22, it was $2 margarita night at Rosa Mexicano, and we went out with our roommates afterward for $2 Insomnia cookies. It was midnight in Midtown and Liza and Gabby took a selfie with this couple leaving a drag show. We started chatting and followed one of the guys on Instagram. Nearly one year after that first encounter, I see his anniversary post on Instagram. It was liked by Carter Bays. Turns out the guy we met on 2-22-22 is one of Carter's sister's best friends. ​ I'm always fascinated when one medium contemplates another. In this case, the novel contemplates social media/the internet stratosphere. As Carter said in our interview, he wanted to write something that showed what life was like in that moment of 2015, and I think he did a perfect job. I had so much fun reading it—the kind of fun that makes me want to tell people about my experience while reading as if it were an intertextual book. I remember reading the opening that discusses "Stardust" and then later that day getting a text from New Orleans photographer Matt Anderson that he heard "stardust" on NPR and thought of Gabby and me. Later in the book, there's a whole banana subplot. While reading that, my family group chat was quite animated over my brother Campbell's banana costume for Halloween. "Coincidental!" a cynic might retort. "I don't care!" I'd say back. "I think it's all pretty wonderful!" 📍Old New York, New York THE AGE OF INNOCENCE By Edith Wharton I first read this book while I was in Ms. Ballard’s AP Language class in 2016. I remember buying it from the River Oaks Barnes and Noble, and the cashier told me, “The book is always better than the movie. Unless it’s The Age of Innocence. Then the movie is better than the book.” I remember visiting New York in April 2017 for my short play and emailing Ms. Ballard, “I’m where The Age of Innocence took place!” when I missed three days worth of her class. There are a lot of memories attached to this book from 1920. Nearly five years later, I finally got around to watching the film after having lived in New York. I thought of the bookseller’s previous adage, but I realized it had been so long since I last read the book, I had to give it a reread this year. I’m glad I did because I relived all of Wharton’s sumptuous prose again. Here are some favorite lines: -“In reality they all lived in a kind of hieroglyphic world, where the real thing was never said or done or even thought, but only represented by a set of arbitrary signs.” - “When he thought of [her] it was abstractly, serenely, as one might think of some imaginary beloved in a book or a picture: she had become the composite vision of all that he had missed.” Also notable from that Barnes and Noble--I remember talking to my mom about how I wanted to go to Paris one day. In 2022, we planned a trip to Paris… I don’t know if I’m out of my age of innocence yet, but the whole situation does seem very bildungs roman, no? 📍 Paris, France THE DUD AVOCADO by Elaine Dundy Ahead of my January 2023 Paris trip, I gorged on Paris-centric books. Through an excellent Messy Nessy Chic review, I found out about The Dud Avocado for the first time. I really, really loved it. Someone described this as Catcher in the Rye for the girls. Don’t let that scare you, Catcher in the Rye haters! (I’m not one of you, but I know many of you.) Let me break that comparison down. The writing feels like a blend of J.D. Salinger and F. Scott Fitzgerald with feminine intel and whimsy. I really love Elaine Dundy’s voice and style. If she had been more prolific, I bet I would even call her one of my favorite writers. Her voice is zany but smart. This is a book I’m glad I first read at 22 before going to Paris for the first time. I feel like if I were any older and more well-traveled, I'd be a little jaded. The main character Sally Jay Gorce is so beyond Emily Cooper and Carrie Bradshaw. If I took my daily vitamins with a hit of laughing gas growing up, maybe I’d be more like Sally Jay. Lines I loved: -"I love you. If you hadn't existed I would have had to invent you." (This reminds me of one of my favorite lines from Joseph Arthur’s “Honey and the Moon” that goes, “If you weren’t real, I’d make you up.”) -“The world is wide, wide, wide, and I am young, young, young, and we’re all going to live forever!” - “I’ve never wanted to meet anyone I’ve been introduced to. I want to meet all the other people.” - “‘I want my freedom!’ I said, tears stinging my eyes at the word. “Your freedom? Ah yes, of course. What are you planning to do with it?” I hesitated. I had to think for a moment. I hadn’t really put it into words before. “I want to stay out as late as I like and eat whatever I like any time I want to,” I said finally.” - “I find I always have to write something on a steamed mirror. Only this time, I couldn't think of anything to write. So I just wrote my own name, over and over again." - "What was I getting so worked up about? The vehemence of my moral indignation surprised me. Was I beginning to have standards and principles, and, oh dear, scruples? What were they, and what would I do with them, and how much were they going to get in my way?" (I’m about to turn 23 and feel this all too completely. What am I going to do with all of these scruples? Apply them to my daily life?) -“Everything seemed to fall into place. Here was all the gaiety and glory and sparkle I knew was going to be life if I could just grasp it." - “It's just that I know the world is so wide and full of people and exciting things that I just go crazy every day stuck in these institutions. I mean if I don't get started soon, how will I get the chance to sharpen my wits? It takes lots of training. You have to start very young. I want them to be so sharp that I'm always able to guess right. Not be right- that's much different- that means you're going to do something about it. No. Just guessing. You know, more on the wing." - “One shoelace had been badly tied and I was trying to retie it in my mind." - “It's amazing how right you can be about a person you don't know; it's only the people you do know who confuse you.” - “It was hard to believe that it was the beginning of July, not the end of summer. I thought: is summer only a state of mind? Is it always only two months long from whenever you start it?” - “Frequently, walking down the streets in Paris alone, I've suddenly come upon myself in a store window grinning foolishly away at the thought that no one in the world knew where I was at just that moment.” - “I mean, the question actors most often get asked is how they can bear saying the same things over and over again night after night, but God knows the answer to that is, don't we all anyway; might as well get paid for it.” - “I drifted into the street lit with love and began turning imaginary handsprings.” - “So he gave up. And in a way, I kind of gave up myself. I gave up wondering if anyone was ever going to understand me at all. If I was ever going to understand myself even. Why was it so difficult anyway? Was I some kind of a nut or something? Don't answer that.” The book is just filled with knock-out lines like this. I’m off to read the lesser-known sequel, The Old Man and Me. 📍 Tokyo, Japan BEFORE THE COFFEE GETS COLD by Toshikazu Kawaguchi Oh, I completely adore this premise: “It tells of a café in Tokyo that allows its customers to travel back in time, as long as they return before their coffee gets cold.” Another time travel stipulation: "At the end of the day, whether one returns to the past or travels to the future, the present doesn't change." It’s such a beautiful idea. You travel in time to understand the present better. If you and I have been to a cool cafe together, I likely have said, “This cool cafe could totally be the cool cafe from Before The Coffee Gets Cold.” I will also add that this book to me years to finish. (The coffee definitely cooled multiple times for me.) But, golly, do I love this premise. Those are the most substantial recommendations from my reading list. Consider the above with my two thumbs-up seal of approval and five-star Trip Advisor review. Really enjoy and savor your stay with these settings. Now, I do have a few more recommendations. Consider the below to be day trip recommendations. You don’t need to languish on these. They can be quick detours from your main reading list. DAY TRIP RECOMMENDATIONS​ For a book you could rip the pages out and turn into cool wallpaper (after reading it, of course) 📍 BE HERE NOW By Ram Dass I don’t have much to say about this other than---great fonts. This is very 1971. Don’t take it too seriously. It’s a hippie picture book that’s pretty to look at. Have fun. You know what? I do have something else to say. I went to a hippie day camp in the summer before third grade. We played a giant spy game where everyone was assigned different roles. Someone was a double agent; another, the envoy; another, Secret Service. It was kind of like Capture The Flag but espionage. There were rules, too, that, while I don’t remember, were complex. In a sense, it sort of reminds me of the elusive tennis game from Infinite Jest. Couple this with the fact that the campgrounds were in an old Victorian house and church. We were a bunch of 8, 9, and 10-year-olds pretending to be instruments of a nation’s most covert operations with free range of the property. I LOVED it. I also have no idea what the game is called. To this day, I haven’t met anyone else who knows what I’m talking about. Every six months I remember this mystery and try Googling. The internet’s no help. I’ve even asked one of my friends from that camp about the game, but she doesn’t even remember it. What if I made it up? Surely I didn’t. But… Maybe? No. Anyway, I bring up this side story for two reasons. 1. Maybe someone reading this will know the name of the game. 2. This hippie camp felt the way Be Here Now looks. For a book that will probably become a film that stars Diane Keaton 📍 AMGASH, ILLINOIS Oh, William! by Elizabeth Stout Strout won a Pulitzer, too. 📍Florence, Italy STILL LIFE By Sarah Winman This book covers four decades of a group of friends/chosen family unit. Lauren Fox’s New York Times review sums it up well. This is a book of beauty, of art, of long-lasting friendship, of all the stuff that makes life worthwhile. One of my favorite lines from the book is “Happy new year. I hope it’s worthy of you.” I’ve used it to wish my friends a happy 2023. If you’re on an Italy kick, I recommend another book from my 2022 list: Sicily in Shadow and in Sun; The Earthquake and the American Relief Work by Maud Howe Elliott. She wrote this in 1910, and it still feels relevant (and interesting) today.

  • A Conversation with Carter Bays, Co-Creator of How I Met Your Mother and Author of The Mutual Friend

    CATHLEEN FREEDMAN This has been a long time coming, you just didn’t know it. I’ve been a huge How I Met Your Mother fan for years, and after reading your debut novel, I am a massive and emphatic fan of The Mutual Friend. Before we really get started, I just want to hold the conversation hostage for a minute and wax poetic about this book. Hopefully, anybody reading or watching the interview will be convinced to pick it up. It was incredible. There’s no artful way to weave some of these things into the interview, so I’m just going to say them now: The writing is quick-witted, and, yes, that is a pun off of Alice Quick’s (the main character) name. I laughed, and I cried. Gabby was in the room when I finished the book, and I looked at her and said, “I just finished my favorite book.” I’ve never read any novel that so wonderfully handled an ensemble cast. I thought the final chapter was beautiful. It has everything I would want in a book, and through the law of syllogism, everything I’d want in a novel I’d write. It was brilliant, it was glorious, and I already have it penciled in my calendar to re-read again. I hope that’s convinced anyone reading or watching to pick The Mutual Friend up. CARTER BAYS Wow. I feel like I need to take you on tour and have you say that to the audience! You should do all of the interviews for this book because that’s lovely. Thank you very much. GABBY ETZEL Well, let’s start at the beginning. When did you first think of the project that would become The Mutual Friend? CARTER BAYS That’s a good question. So How I Met Your Mother ended in 2014 at the beginning of the year. I was living in Los Angeles, and I had been writing a TV show about New York where I previously lived for nine years. It was inescapable that when [HIMYM] ended—and my wife also really wanted to move back—that we would return as soon as we’d get the chance. How I Met Your Mother ended, and it just felt like “One chapter is closing, let’s start a new chapter here and move to New York.” I think right after we finished editing the final episode, we were on a plane. We had this new apartment, two young daughters, and our son was soon on the way as well. It was just this brand new chapter opening. I had spent nine years doing the same thing, which is very rare for any writer, in any avocation. It’s rare to have a steady job for that long. I really was shot out of the cannon creatively in the sense that I had been in this one box for so long. I felt like my next “thing” would need to break all of the rules that I’ve given myself over the course of these years and just start fresh. As much as I wanted to do something brand new, I also felt like I had this muscle that I’ve been working on: I knew how to write these kinds of characters and these kinds of stories. I wanted to keep writing about New York. There are certainly thematic similarities between The Mutual Friend and How I Met Your Mother, so I was able to continue that path in a brand new way. But I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. We had just tried to do a pilot in that final season called How I Met Your Dad. This is separate from How I Met Your Father, which is a totally different thing. This is something we developed, and Greta Gerwig was in the pilot. It was really exciting and then the pilot just didn’t go. I don’t even want to go into why. I think the pilot was good, and I think it would have been a great show. It just didn’t get picked for whatever reason. I had just told this story about dating and life in your twenties in New York City, and to a large degree, I had told my story. Craig Thomas and I both had told our version of it. ​ We sort of knew, “This is going to have to be someone else taking the baton and telling their version of it.” As far as my involvement in How I Met Your Father and what I could connect to, I felt like we had told every possible story we could tell in the first series. So with the second series, I wondered, “Well, what did we not get into? What’s a different direction to take?” It sort of got me thinking about meeting my wife. I met her in 2009, and we were instantly *just like that.* We got married within a couple of years, and I missed the whole dating app thing. I would see my friends on it and be like, “There but for the grace of God go I.” I was and am so grateful for my wife—she saved me from all of that. I started thinking, “That’s the thing that a newer version of the story would be about and a younger generation of writer would explore.” It’s not just in dating that phones have changed our lives. I think we did one episode about Ted going to a matchmaker or online dating, and it was presented as this embarrassing thing like “I don’t want to tell anyone that I’m doing this.” That’s how it was fifteen years ago! Now it’s evolved. It’s rare that you meet someone who doesn’t meet their significant other that way. Season 1, Episode 7 of How I Met Your Mother. The other plot is about the cockamouse, a cross between a cockroach and mouse. “Hell, if a cockroach and a mouse can find love in this crazy city, then, damn it, so can I.” - Ted Mosby CARTER BAYS This grew into a more holistic “Wow. The world has really changed.” Having been born in 1975, I’m in the lucky position of having lived on both sides of that fence. I grew up in a time when there was just one phone in the house—it was hanging on the wall in the kitchen. (Bob in The Mutual Friend tells some version of this.) It’s a strange thing to have to see us suddenly have to live in this brand new way that we’re just not evolved for. I started thinking about how we are just living differently than we’ve ever lived in the history of humankind. The way we fall in love with people, the way we maintain friendships, the way we connect with people, the way we buy socks. Everything has changed. It’s easy to say, “Well, yeah, that’s just how it is!” But I felt like the fact we’re living through this revolution wasn’t being given its due. There’s so much ridiculousness from daily life that comes from it that we’re not really prepared for. We’re not prepared to live in this world that we’ve created for ourselves. This is such a long answer. My future answers will be shorter! *Cathleen and Gabby shake their heads, not even interrupting because they do not remotely mind* I was also thinking about how much of my life is lived on my phone. It’s almost like I’m living in two worlds at once. As this is happening, I’m moving to 91st and Amsterdam. We had an apartment. My kids were going to school right near Columbia University. On a whim, I thought, “Well, what am I going to do with myself? I don’t have a job. I’ve been in output mode for nine years where I did nothing but tell stories. I need to be in input mode.” I had this crazy whim one afternoon that changed my life and said, “I’m going to take a class at Columbia. Let’s see if they have a Continuing Education Class.” If you’ve read the book, this is a plot line straight out of The Mutual Friend. I found this one class being offered on Buddhism and thought, “Oh, that’s cool. My wife’s family is Buddhist.” There was a Buddhist ceremony that we did for my children when they were born, and I didn’t really know that much about it, so I decided I wanted to learn more about Buddhism. Immediately, the central metaphors of Buddhism connected with me. I wouldn’t call myself a Buddhist, but the central idea is that there are these two realities: the temporal world and the eternal world. There’s the tangible world, and there’s this more intangible world that we can’t see but is around us at all times. I had been thinking about this in terms of my relation to the internet and electronic communication, and that kicked the doors open. I realized, “Oh, there’s something to talk about here.” As I was trying to come up with an idea to write, I found myself unable to work because I was constantly checking my phone. There’s a story there: Someone trying to live in 2015 and get something done, but they can’t. I wanted it to feel like The Hobbit where it’s this great adventure. Someone is battling a dragon, but the dragon is just distraction and the apps on your phone. I wanted to tell an epic story about that and give it its due because that feels like the challenge of anyone’s life right now. That was a long answer. FREEDMAN But it perfectly encompasses the book and makes it so much richer for me as a reader knowing all of that went into it. Especially the Buddhism class. It’s like Bill’s character. CARTER BAYS I tried to put a little of myself in all of the characters but with something missing. For Bill, I feel like there are similarities in our situation especially at the beginning of the book. He takes the Buddhism class at Columbia. I, like him, felt like something was missing. I had just finished this big project and didn’t know what to do next. Bill is sort of like me, minus the ability to hit the brakes and realize, “Okay, that was fun, but you have a wife—and in my case, I have kids, too.” It’s not so simple for Bill. He keeps going. FREEDMAN I love the narrative structure of The Mutual Friend, and your experience in TV completely pays off. Going from screenwriting—especially short, episodic writing—to novel writing, what have been some of the hurdles and unexpected joys of that process? CARTER BAYS The book wasn’t always a novel. It started out as a pilot I wrote and ended up developing with Craig Thomas. We tried to sell it as a TV show, and it didn’t go. With Craig’s blessing, I went off and wrote it as a book. I always loved outlining with How I Met Your Mother. I’m a big outliner. I’m not a big “pantser,” as they would say in the business. I love setting traps and springing them and figuring out exactly where to set them and make two storylines intersect. I love that stuff. I love those logistical challenges in planning a story. (According to, “a pantser is a term most commonly applied to fiction writers, especially novelists, who write their stories "by the seat of their pants.") CARTER BAYS A lot of the storyline of the book came about while I was still thinking of it as a TV show. When you write pilots, it’s like you write the first chapter of a story. You learn you’re going to write a lot of pilots before one of them actually makes it. I got tired of writing “chapter ones.” I decided I need to tell this story—I needed to tell Alice’s story and find out if she could pull this thing off. If I can’t convince some TV studio to give me $2 million an episode to find out if Alice can pull it off, I have Microsoft Word on my computer, and I can find out for myself. I was writing—for myself—the kind of book I would want to read. There are a few moments in the book where I realized, “Oh, I can do a lot more with a novel than I could do with the confines of a show.” For instance, there’s a scene where Roxy checks in with her friend in Hawaii to get a recommendation on her new roommate. We cut to her friend on a beach in Maui. As I was writing that, I felt my former line producer from How I Met Your Mother, Suzy Greenberg, go, “We’re not going to Maui for half a page of a script!” So I sort of loved that. It’s a book! Ink and paper cost the same no matter what’s on it. I had really been falling in love with literature again. I was reading lots of Tolstoy. I had a lot of gaps in my reading that even as an English major, I never got around to, or probably was supposed to but didn’t read. Lots of Jane Austen. The one actually that really opened me up to the possibilities within a book was Ulysses by James Joyce. I took another class at Columbia on James Joyce. Just reading Ulysses is such a monumental thing to do, but I recommend it to anyone who has the time set aside to really spend six months on one book. It’s worthwhile. Writing a novel felt like finding out there’s a really fun party next door that you should go to. Television is fun, but you can do so much with a book. I came to the party and brought over some ice, and I don’t want to leave now. FREEDMAN I love that! One of my favorite Dolly Parton songs is “Two Doors Down,” and it’s about that idea of a party happening that you don’t want to miss out on... I will also say that your answer was so well-done that it preemptively answered some of the following questions we had. What changed from the pilot of The Mutual Friend when you turned it into a novel? CARTER BAYS A lot of things changed, and yet, a lot of things didn’t. Just walking my kids to school every morning and walking back from 91st Street to 114th Street, I spent a lot of time living with these characters. I do a lot of my writing while walking around. A lot of it stayed the same. While writing the book, I was beginning to burst at the seams with ideas and things that I wanted to put into the story. For the longest time, I thought they were scenes for a TV show, but then I realized, “Oh no, they’re scenes from a book.” Being able to tease out the central surprise—and I don’t want to give anything away—but the narrator. I’ve always had a fascination with narrators. Like with How I Met Your Mother. So much of what makes that show unique is the way it was narrated. I found myself really interested in the concept of the omniscient narrator. It lent itself to this particular story. I was really interested in how much digitalized information there is right now. I don’t have the statistics in front of me, but it’s something like the world’s collected information doubles in size every three weeks. It’s massive. [Cathleen has redacted the following portion because it gives too much away.] That was something that was sort of in the show version, but I got to explore it even more as it became a piece of prose. ETZEL In writing by yourself, for yourself, did you ever find that you missed having a writer’s room? CARTER BAYS Very much. Very, very, very much. That’s the best thing about television: the collaboration. How I Met Your Mother was such a wonderful collaboration. I remember when we said we were going to do a ninth season. We were aware of where fans stood on it, and we knew people liked the show, but it was also kind of like, “Okay, guys, wrap it up here. Really, another season?” Some people were like, “They’re just doing it for the money!” I’m telling you, it was absolutely selfish, but it had nothing to do with the money. It was the selfish desire to keep this family together and to keep working with these people. I remember the last day of shooting—I was talking to Pam Fryman who directed almost every episode of the show and one of my best friends in the world and one of my true mentors in art and in life. I told her I felt lucky we had this ninth season to appreciate. It was really a victory appreciation lap. She said, “Well, I hope you appreciate it because you’re going to spend the rest of your life chasing this feeling, and you’re never going to find it.” FREEDMAN and ETZEL Oh. CARTER BAYS It was kind of haunting but 100% true. [The How I Met Your Mother experience] was such an amazing thing, and I don’t know how Craig and I managed to build that. While it existed, it was just wonderful, and I truly treasure all of the people I worked with very much—and miss them very much. So that’s a big difference from that to writing fiction, which is me in a room, sitting at my computer. The trade-off is while I miss that and collaborating—that’s the thing, though! Collaborating. Writing something 75% of the way and then Neil Patrick Harris takes it the other 25% and then another 20% and makes it hilarious. I love writing for actors, and I love writing with other writers. I love that interchange. After How I Met Your Mother, I spent a long time chasing—exactly like Pam predicted. Craig and I both tried to get new shows going. For whatever reason, they almost made it, but something happened. I started looking at my output as a writer and saw that I had a bunch of great first chapters that never happened. I heard someone else describe it this way—“A script is not a finished product. It’s a business plan.” You take it to a company and say, “I’m going to turn this into the finished product: a work of art.” I felt like my output for the last few years has been me writing things that haven’t happened yet. Craig and I wrote a movie, which we’re still hoping gets made, and I think the best thing we’ve ever written. But right now it’s just a screenplay. I wanted to have one thing from this time in my life that when I finish it, it’s done. The work of art is completed. It’s not left unfinished in any way. If I don’t sell to a publisher and I take it down to Kinkos and print it out, I can put it on my bookshelf and point to it and say, “That’s what I was doing those years.” On one hand, all of this is ephemeral and it’s about enjoying the process—not a book on the shelf or a TV show on screen. It’s about enjoying creating art. But that impulse impelled me to write the book, and it’s something new. It was a bucket list thing. FREEDMAN “Write a novel.” CARTER BAYS I don’t want to leave this earth until I’ve checked that off. I’m happy to have done that. FREEDMAN The Mutual Friend is about the way we connect with others and how we’re constantly connected. Have you been the mutual friend for any far-flung relationships in the world where it comes back to you when someone says, “Oh, I met so-and-so who knows you…” or vice versa? CARTER BAYS Huh. That’s a great question. I’m maybe going to have to email you on that. CARTER BAYS In LA, you’re always in a car, and you’re driving everywhere. It’s a very monastic existence, living in your car with your book on tape or your music. Walking in New York, you’re really aware that you are a minor character in this giant novel of humanity. There are so many people out there. Just the joy and serendipity of walking along the street and seeing a friend. Once, I ran into the actor Chris Diamantopoulos. You’d know him. He’s been in everything, and he’s lovely. He’s married to actress Becki Newton. We sort of vaguely knew each other, and then we ran into each other on the street. Just totally random. In midtown in the 50s. Just a quick “Hey, hi, how’s it going—we should get lunch. You guys are living here? Yeah, we’re living here too.” We ended up getting lunch, and now we’re best friends. We see each other all of the time. I don’t think that friendship would have existed if we hadn’t just bumped into each other. Part of the fun of The Mutual Friend is seeing the connections that nobody sees. Again going back to the omniscient narrator. There is someone who can see. That’s something that really haunts me: the connections that I don’t know. Walking down the street, it’s fun to see someone you do, but also there’s the question of “This stranger passing by? Do we go to the same dentist? Did we date the same person twenty years ago?” There are so many mysteries like that. I feel like social media has collapsed the world. When you make a new friend on Facebook, you can go, “Oh, we both know this person!” I feel like there are so many of those connections that we miss. FREEDMAN I was going to say a spoiler, but I’ll keep my mouth shut. Instead, I think you’ll appreciate this. There’s this movie 5 to 7, and there’s a line in it: “In New York, you’re always within 20 feet of somebody you know or someone you were meant to know.” BAYS Wow. FREEDMAN I guarantee we probably passed each other on the street. CARTER BAYS Oh, for sure. Without a doubt. FREEDMAN Fact and fiction might blur a bit. How would you describe your newfound literary style? CARTER BAYS That’s a great question! I was very nervous writing this because it doesn’t really fit into a genre. My publisher listed it as 'Romance' at one point. I don’t see it, but then I look at the profile of this book: It’s about a young woman in New York City, and there is a love story in it. Maybe it does fit the thumbnail sketch of those books. Not to take away from those books, but I’m not sure if that’s what I was aiming at. I think it’s an accumulation of different influences that I love. I think Tolstoy is one of my favorite writers. James Joyce, Jane Austen. Those three. That’s where I was aiming my arrow, and I probably hit way down here. I was going for a book in that tradition of funny and thoughtful and exploring deep ideas and presenting a full, three-dimensional look of different characters, and seeing them from as many different angles as possible. Dickens is a big influence also in the way I try to show a collapsed-down version of different tiers of the world and see them all together, against each other. I’m a big fan of Charles Portis just for his sense of humor and surprisingness. Music is a big influence on me, like the work of Radiohead. Radiohead doesn’t get enough credit as sci-fi writers. Some of the best sci-fi is albums like Kid A. "Paranoid Android" is one of my favorite songs. Artificial intelligence plays a part in The Mutual Friend. It was a big influence. CARTER BAYS I felt like “This is my book, and I just want to squish everything I like and am interested in and care about and just put it all into one. If I can get it to 200,000 words, then that will be a good record of who I was and what I was thinking about at this time of my life.” With the help of a great editor, I was able to get it down to 150,000, which is still a big book—but it’s a bargain! It’s a lot of book for your buck. FREEDMAN That’s how I like ‘em! All of those authors wrote stories that are time capsules for those periods. You did that too with The Mutual Friend. You captured that 2015 existence, yet it felt relevant enough that I didn’t read it and think, “Oh, how twenty-fifteen!” [which is remarkable considering how integral technology is in the story.] ​ CARTER BAYS It was like how James Joyce put a glass bell over the city of Dublin. He had some famous quote like— “If Dublin were to be destroyed, Ulysses could be used to rebuild it brick by brick.” And I wanted to capture that, but for the internet in 2015. What is it like living with a phone in our hands at this particular moment? I was also well aware that so much can change, especially with a book where there’s a good 15 months of lag time between when you finish it and it actually arrives in the bookstore. I had gone through this with How I Met Your Mother. When we were making How I Met Your Mother, we were reminded of those early hairstyles from Friends. We were just like “Let’s make something that feels crisp and timeless and does not do any jokes about what’s in the news because those jokes won’t play if this ever makes it to reruns twenty years from now.” With that in mind, I knew the book couldn’t be “Alice Quick woke up today! This story takes place right now!” I already knew it would be “Alice Quick went to check her MySpace page.” I decided to make it the summer of 2015, which is when this really started taking shape for me. I picked that time and said, “I’m just going to set it there.” Without getting political, politics went crazy right after that, and I’m glad I didn’t have to include any of that in the story. Also, the pandemic. I felt like the world started changing too much that now, looking back, 2015 was this prelapsarian, Garden of Eden time. Everything was simple then! FREEDMAN So much more innocent! CARTER BAYS It’s already a period piece! That’s why I chose that particular summer. FREEDMAN I have a couple of very specific Mutual Friend questions, so you can answer them speed-fire or not. CARTER BAYS Okay. FREEDMAN Was the coffee shop you referred to with Hungarian pastries not the Hungarian Pastry Shop in New York? CARTER BAYS It was! It absolutely was. Of course! The string, the boxes. ​ FREEDMAN I thought surely it was, but in the acknowledgments, you list the places you went to in New York while writing the book, and I was ready to see the Hungarian Pastry Shop, but it’s not in there! CARTER BAYS That’s really interesting. The truth is I set it there because I love that spot. I would go there occasionally, but I never actually sat in there and worked. The place where I actually did most of the work was—at the time, Nussbaum and Wu. Now it’s Wu and Nussbaum. They probably had some deal where every 15 years they switched names. CARTERS BAY There were things about the Hungarian Pastry Shop that I loved. How old it was, the graffiti on the walls, so I tried to incorporate that. It’s a hybrid of the two places. ​ ETZEL Interesting… FREEDMAN This may have gone over my head, but it seemed as if you were intentionally vague with the description of Vanessa. Was that to replicate all of the years Bob went without knowing or…? What was the reason? CARTER BAYS A theme I kept trying to explore over and over again was the way we gather information in our world. As more and more information is available at our fingertips, we're able to find more and more. If we meet someone, you can Instagram someone, Google them, Facebook them. It feels like we’re fast approaching a place where you can know everything about someone right away. The uncanny valley nature of that is you never can truly know someone. There are always going to be questions and mysteries. There are a lot of variations on that theme and knowing but not knowing. Even the omniscient narrator doesn’t have access to some information. We just have to go through life knowing certain things are mysteries and unknowable. We’re not going to wait until we officially know everything about someone before we can love them. That was like Bob and Vanessa, two people who don’t really know much about each other but realize that what little they know of each other is no different than what people in the same room know of each other. You don’t need to see someone’s face or touch someone’s skin to love them. It’s a pure, epistolary romance that develops over the course of years. FREEDMAN I specifically love the names you chose in The Mutual Friend. I remember reading "Pitterpat" for the first time, and I lost it. That was so good! Where did some of the names come from? CARTER BAYS All right, so Pitterpat. So much of the writing happened on the sidewalk, walking from my kids’ school back and forth. I think it was one of those I-don’t-know-where-it-came-from-but-it-popped-into-my-head and I thought, “Ooo, a character named Pitterpat!” I was calling her… I think her name was Suzy or something else, but I felt like “Her name’s Pitterpat.” Names are so crucial to unlocking a character. You find the right name, and—there’s a movie with Dan Stevens about Charles Dickens writing A Christmas Carol. I don’t know if this is a true story or if they just dramatized this for the movie. There’s this great scene where Dickens is trying to come up with the name for Scrooge. “Scroom. Scrunch. Scrounge.” He’s just saying all of these names, and when he says the word “Scrooge,” it’s like it unlocks something in his mind. He knows who he is. I think that’s very true. I definitely cast about for names. Sometimes you get stuck with names. I kept getting the note that Bill and Bob’s names were too similar. But I just felt like Bill is such a Bill! That’s who he is. He’s this all-American success story. That’s who he is. And Bob— FREEDMAN Oh, Bob is such a Bob. CARTER BAYS There are so many iconic Bobs. Bob from Twin Peaks, which I don’t know if that really influenced it. At one point my kids came up with “Bobert.” They were like “Why is it ‘Robert’ if his name is Bob? Shouldn’t it be ‘Bobert?’” And that became a hilarious joke in the family. They were 3 or 4 at the time, but they started saying “Bobert” over and over. And that just made its way in. His name is Bobert Smith. That became a whole “Oh! And that’s why when they Google him, they can’t find him because his name is Bobert Smith.” There’s also Robert Smith of The Cure. CARTER BAYS For the longest time, I thought of “Bobert Smith” as a bug, but I realized it was a feature. [Carter proceeds to say a few other things about why “Bobert Smith'' is a perfect name for Bob, but Cathleen redacts it because she doesn’t want to spoil the book for you. If you’re reading this and have also read The Mutual Friend/don’t mind spoilers, watch the video interview instead.] ​ CARTER BAYS [Redacted for spoilers.] That was the inspiration for it. FREEDMAN So you surrounded your mental interiors with the characters of How I Met Your Mother and The Mutual Friend for years. Now that those pieces are largely finished, do you find yourself still living with them, thinking about them, and developing plots for them? CARTER BAYS Um... No. It’s weird. They’re very similar. How I Met Your Mother was nine years. This was a good 6-7 years. It took a long time to come together. The difference being that one of them, I was writing with the entire audience looking over my shoulder as I was writing. People are falling in love with the characters as you’re writing them and writing about them online and tweeting about them. You don’t want to internalize their voices, but inevitably it happens. It becomes this shared experience. With the book, it was a totally different experience in that I really was the crazy guy on the subway having conversations in his head. It’s such a leap of faith to work on a story this long and not know if people will connect to it or if people will respond. That’s why it’s been so gratifying to see people have responded and that I wasn’t totally crazy. Once the book finished, I felt like “This is exactly where I want to leave the characters. I feel like it will be okay.” It felt like the right time and place to say goodbye. It’s funny, it was originally conceived as a TV show that would go many seasons. Yet now that I’m here, I think it’s a nice place to end their stories. I don’t find myself wondering what they’re up to. FREEDMAN It ended where it needed to. I like that. ETZEL Now that you’ve successfully entered the literary realm, what direction do you feel creatively drawn to right now? CARTER BAYS I feel like you just jumped out of my subconscious. I’ve been struggling with that. It’s hard. And all of the stuff I’ve said about TV and books—none of that has changed. I miss working on shows, I miss working in writers' rooms and working on a team. That’s great fun. But it’s also been a great experience writing this book. I’ve fallen in love with prose and writing fiction. I’d like to keep doing both. I have some irons in both fires right now. I get asked what I’m working on next, and it’s hard because I have a few things that I’m doing. But I haven’t had “the thing” leap out yet that’s grabbed me the way Alice and her story grabbed me. I’m waiting for that to happen. I’m trying to be patient. It’s like fishing. You go to the river every day and throw your line and hope you catch something. FREEDMAN We’ve just left New York, and we’re having the identity crisis that comes with leaving New York City. Do you feel like you’re a New Yorker even though you’re currently in LA? What state of mind are you in? How do you rationalize that experience? CARTER BAYS I do feel like I’m a New Yorker, I do. I have ping-ponged between the coasts for most of my adult life. I came out here for a number of reasons. Most of my friends are here, and most of my wife’s family is out here. If I do want to do TV, that’s all out here. New York is always there for me. I keep talking about James Joyce, but I also feel like he couldn’t write Ulysses or Dubliners from inside Dublin. He had to move to Paris and Zürich and Trieste. I think New York will always be my muse in that sense. It’s many people’s muse. I don’t think I’m alone in that. It’s fun to visit. I talked to my daughter, and she misses living there, but since moving, we’ve discovered that New York has great hotels! She said, “I wouldn’t want to move back because we wouldn’t get to stay in the hotels!" ETZEL Now we’re going to move on to our Absolutely Anything questions, which you’ve never been asked before and will likely never be asked again. CARTER BAYS Okay. FREEDMAN You said you would go to an office, light a candle, and get to work on The Mutual Friend. What candle scent is most emblematic of that period for you? CARTER BAYS Wow… What was I using? It was Le Labo Santal… CARTER BAYS Here’s the back story. My office was a little apartment on Gramercy Park, which is one of my favorite places in New York City. I had a view of the park from this little room. It’s right across from the Gramercy Park Hotel. They had a great bar there that I think is now closed. I don’t know if it’s ever opening again. They were famous for their lobby having this scent. I think Le Labo did their scent for the lobby also, but it was very distinct and iconic. They made sure you couldn’t get that exact scent, but Santal was similar to it. It had sandalwood. ETZEL What app do you feel like you unfortunately spend the most time on? CARTER BAYS I just shut down Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. I had a moment yesterday where I was like “I had been thinking about doing this for so long.” I didn’t want to do the “Well, everyone, I’ve decided to leave!” I did that on Facebook, and I sort of said, “Here’s my email if you need to reach me.” I also worry that people are going to think, “Oh… He’s in trouble. He’s shutting down all of his accounts. What’d he do?” I’m on Day One of this, so who knows how it will turn out. {Carter Bays is back on Instagram. Follow him @carterlbays.} CARTER BAYS For a while, and less and less so lately, I felt like I was living on Twitter. It was my social life. It was enjoying so much real estate in my brain that I wanted to give to other things and give to one-on-one interactions with people. I want to start having lunch with people more often and have people over for dinner. {Carter Bays is completely off of Twitter. This interview was done in September 2022 ebefore the mass Twitter exodus and before "Twitter" became "X."} CARTER BAYS I feel like we’re tricking ourselves when we say, “Oh, I’ve kept that friendship maintained because I liked that tweet they did.” For comedy writers, Twitter has democratized comedy writing in such a way that it’s a little haunting for me. I started out writing for David Letterman and writing Top Ten jokes. At that time in 1997, getting that job was so exciting. It felt like, “I’ve got this specialized skill, and no one else can do this.” And really, no one else had the reach. It was broadcast TV. Cut to today: Top Ten jokes were essentially ten little tweets. Now, anyone has as much reach as a writer from David Letterman. It’s been very humbling to realize, “Oh, I’m not the funniest person in the world. There are a hundred people who are funnier than me. There are a thousand people who are funnier than me.” I’ll write a tweet, and it’ll get maybe 16 likes. I’ll be like, “Oh, okay! I did a good job on that one.” Someone else will bang something else, and it’ll get 6,000 likes. You sort of realize how much gatekeeping was going on back in the structure of four networks and that’s all the comedy that gets pumped into America’s brains. FREEDMAN Whatever you do, don’t let yourself get on TikTok. At any point in time. CARTER BAYS My daughter wants to join, but I’m resisting. FREEDMAN Are you familiar with the social media practice of the finsta? CARTER BAYS The finsta? FREEDMAN Yes. CARTER BAYS Yes, I think a senator used it in his speech. It’s like a fake Instagram. FREEDMAN Yes! CARTER BAYS It’s your sneakin’ around Instagram. FREEDMAN Yes, your alter ego Instagram! As a member of the Finsta Age, I’ve narrowed down the finsta username into a formula. It’s essentially a pun of your name or a niche interest or an inside joke plus your favorite numbers, which tend to be your birthday. CARTER BAYS Ooo, okay. ETZEL For example, Alice Quick might use a finsta username of @thequickdoctor or Roxy might use something banana-related. Knowing all of this, if you were to have a finsta, what would your username be? CARTER BAYS Hm… This is assuming I don’t already have one. FREEEDMAN Exactly. CARTER BAYS This is what it would be, but I kind of blew it. I recently changed my Instagram handle to this but changed my mind because I thought it was too silly. You know Cardi B, the singer? Her Instagram is @iamcardib. So I made mine @iamcartyb. FREEDMAN That’s finsta material. ETZEL How I Met Your Mother begins in 2005 New York. The Mutual Friend begins in 2015 New York. What do you predict you will write that takes place in 2025 New York? CARTER BAYS Wow. That’s a real head-scratcher because I don’t know. So much of the book definitely took shape in the first big bang of inspiration over the first summer that I lived in New York, but it took a while to become what it became. I’m not having that big bang of inspiration right now, but I feel like it could start happening. I want to write about being a father and my family. That’s something I haven’t really explored. Because I’m in it right now, it’s hard to write about fatherhood and feel like I have a narrow take on it. I think something about family, starting a family, and being a dad. I kind of wrote about it with How I Met Your Mother. It’s funny watching old episodes now and relating more to Bob Saget. God rest his soul. FREEDMAN What age do you think you’ll let your kids read The Mutual Friend? CARTER BAYS My daughters are 11 and 10, and they want to watch How I Met Your Mother. They’ve snuck in a few episodes, and I know their friends are watching it. There’s grown-up content in it, and then there’s grown-up content that your dad wrote. I’m hesitant to let them watch it, but I’m sure it’s going to happen eventually. With The Mutual Friend, I’d love for them to pick it up as soon as possible. For a while there, as I was writing it, I was like, “Ooo, no, not this particular chapter or scene. I don’t want them to ever read this.” They say when you’re writing a book, write it for a specific, targeted audience. Like you’re telling the story to one person. I think I was imagining my kids as adults. I think that was my target audience. I set out to tell a story that twenty years from now, will give a pretty good idea of what it was like at this particular time in history. I’m really fascinated with the way current fiction can have historical value. If you’re going to learn about the customs and practices of marriage in rural England in the early 1800s, you’re going to read Jane Austen because it will tell you more about it than reading an Encyclopedia entry. I tried to write with that in mind. FREEDMAN Okay, picture this. You’re at a party. CARTER BAYS Yes. FREEDMAN The DJ just dropped the beat and dropped dead, but the music must play on. Someone asks, “Was anyone here a DJ in college?” You raise your hand. ETZEL It is now your responsibility to keep the music going. Off the top of your head and in the heat of the moment, what is your go-to song to pump up the crowd? CARTER BAYS Off the top of my head, it’s “Got Your Money” by Ol’ Dirty Bastard ft. Kelis. FREEDMAN It turns out you misread the room. The party doesn’t need a fun pump-up jam, people just witnessed the DJ drop dead after dropping the beat. CARTER BAYS Oh my gosh. FREEDMAN What this party needs is a song that—to quote Ted Mosby—is “hauntingly beautiful.” What hauntingly beautiful song are you going to play next? CARTER BAYS “Où va la chance” by Françoise Hardy. It’s this lovely heart-driven ballad in French. It’s just what this party needs. FREEDMAN PERFECT. FREEDMAN Gabby and I are roommates. You and Craig Thomas were roommates, Ted and Marshall were roommates, and Alice and Roxy were roommates in The Mutual Friend. So we have a couple of roommate-related questions for you. ETZEL The first one being: What is your tip on how to be a good roommate? CARTER BAYS Cleanliness. That’s a big one. Finding ways to give each other space as much as possible. Craig and I were roommates but even as writing partners, we realized very early on to give each other the space to do our own work. When that work is ready to show to the other, then bring it in. For the first season of How I Met Your Mother, there were moments when we were sitting at computers side-by-side. You need to let one person drive at a time. Let one person take the wheel, and the other one takes the backseat and doesn’t bark orders from the back. It evolved into a system where we would divvy up the season. 12 of the episodes would be his; 12 would be mine. It was so much easier and so much more fun. I always felt very lucky that I had the smartest and funniest writer I knew there as a backstop to make sure I don’t write anything too terrible and vice versa. ETZEL Out of all of the characters in the Carter Bays universe, whose New York apartment would you want to live in the most? CARTER BAYS People ask me what How I Met Your Mother character I relate to the most, and I always say the Captain. I just want to live the Captain’s life. I don’t even need to be rich, I just want to have his level of delight in all things nautical. I’m a bit of a boat guy, but I’m not a full-stop boat guy. I always pull myself back from going “full boat.” But I love that about him. He’s a simple man who knows what he likes and knows what his decor style is and just goes for it. ​ FREEDMAN Where was your first New York City apartment? CARTER BAYS The first one was on 63rd between Amsterdam and West End. Right behind Lincoln Center. The next one after that sort of became the How I Met Your Mother apartment was on 75th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus. That was in the heart of the Upper West Side. We were across the street from Dive 75, and I think it’s still around. Exterior-wise, it’s kind of what MacLaren’s was based on. This idea of a local bar that’s on the first floor of a brownstone. ​ ETZEL Who do you think lives in those apartments today? ​ CARTER BAYS That’s a really good question. I’ll tell you the one that I really think about. There was one summer in New York when I had just bought my first apartment, but it wasn’t ready, and my lease ended. I needed somewhere to stay for the summer. I lived in a basement apartment in Williamsburg for the summer, and in this apartment, there was a blue tree. If you’ve read the book, it features in The Mutual Friend. I want whoever lives in that apartment now to read this book and go, “That’s got to be my apartment!” That’s my dream. I don’t know if it was legally an apartment. It was a little musty. They may have shut it down. FREEDMAN With this summer’s housing… The blue tree may have been an amenity. FREEDMAN Thank you for talking to us, Carter! While it feels criminal to leave without talking about one of the best shows of all time further, I think this is a testament to how great The Mutual Friend is.

  • 13 Book Recommendations From My 2021 Reading List

    I think it’s nice that we’re all on the same page ahead of this brave, new year: The 2020 and 2021 blur was really, really tough. If these past two years could be succinctly described, I think I would forgo words altogether and just use a :/ with three exclamation points at the end. Everybody is commiserating over the last two years, but at least we’re commiserating together. Sure, it’s not a great spin, but I’m trying to read in between the black and white lines to find any possible silver lining. The pandemic also brought me back to reading. It’s not like I never read in high school or college–au contraire! I read a lot! I was reading books from a syllabus, though, with an objective of memorizing plot or factoids that would help in group discussions. Sometimes I’d find a book I loved, but none were read for the joy of reading. Not like I used to. Back in the day, (the “day” coinciding with Obama’s presidency) I could whiz through four books at once. If I blinked, by the time I opened my eyes, I would have already read three chapters. Time moved differently in 2011, and I bent it to my reading whims. Gosh, what a way to live. Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi brought me back to the joy of reading for reading’s sake. In September 2020, I saw something online about her writing style and wanted to witness it for myself. Purchasing the book would take money and time, but then it struck me! The greatest revelation I had that day! Society’s most underrated facet! The library! Harris County Public Online Library, I am your newest #1 fan. You’re my most visited tab, and my favorite app. Between September 2020 and December 31, 2020 alone, I read 32 books… Most of these were e-books. If we’re in the business of looking for silver linings, then I’d point out that it actually took a global pandemic for me to read an e-book instead of a hard copy. Now I’m hooked. E-books are great. They don’t weigh a thing! You can zoom in! Plus, no paper cuts! I finished 49 books between January 1, 2021 through December 31, 2021. If you’re still reading this article, that means you’re willing to read absolutely anything. So, start 2022 with a book haul. Let me help. Instead of reviewing all 49 books, I’ll give you customized recommendations. The older I get, the more I realize we all like different things for different reasons. I’m going to (attempt to) offer the most well-rounded yet pointed suggestions for the general public. These aren’t necessarily my favorites, but rather books I think you might like. You’ll see what I mean. For Those Who Appreciate the Little Things Kitchen and Moonlight Shadow by Banana Yoshimoto I’m fairly certain these are side-by-side novellas that come together in one book. You will inhale these stories. I read them during an especially tumultuous week in 2021, and it felt like taking a literary chill pill. There’s a line from the Kitchen/Moonlight Shadow double feature that I used as the dedication in a play I wrote: “...but we’re all brothers and sisters when in trouble.” There was never a more appropriate time for me to read that. Banana Yoshimoto is a wonderful writer. These stories are touching. If you like these two, then definitely keep reading Yoshimoto. My friend and pen pal during the pandemic, El, recommended Banana Yoshimoto to me. Thank you, El! It’s a recommendation that keeps giving. For Nonfiction Readers Who Like the Outdoors Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert Macfarlane I’m not technically finished with this book, but that doesn’t mean I am not a huge fan of it. I am taking my sweet time on purpose. Macfarlane is such an incredible writer and thinker. The way this book operates spatially is just marvelous. He is not remotely pedantic, so anyone will understand the geologic ideas he discusses as you embark on this literary journey through time. There’s something for everybody in this. Biology, geology, archaeology, physics, environmentalism, history, adventure, poetry! 5/5 stars. (Which could be given to one of the starless rivers Macfarlane mentions…) For Everyone The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green This is the universal book I can wholeheartedly recommend to anyone. John Green writes small essay reviews of different things from the Anthropocene epoch. These synthesized essays are brilliant. They do everything a good comedy special does, but instead of being uproariously funny, this collection is endearingly tender and so human. My favorite chapters/reviews were Diet Dr. Pepper, the Internet, Piggly Wiggly, Harvey, and Googling Strangers. ​ Now hear me out. I also recommend you try this as an audiobook. John Green narrates, and there’s something so special about hearing him tell you why “Auld Lang Syne” is worthy of 5 stars. For Someone Disillusioned by Life and Wondering “What’s the Point Anymore?” but Specifically for Romantics Going through a Rough Patch and Aren’t Normally this Bummed Out The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwabb So I loved this book. I didn’t expect to. But I did. And I love it even more because the people I’ve talked to about it, did NOT like it. What can I say? I’m drawn to the controversial and smitten with the scorned. These people’s criticisms stem from the fact that they didn’t like the characters. To which I say, “Okay, fair, fine.” The reason I really enjoyed this book is because I adore the idea of living forever…without anyone remembering you. That makes you think! What would you do? Where do you go? At what point would you give into the darkness? My other favorite part of this book is its veneration of art. Addie LaRue is practically immortal, and the one thing that has made her life worthwhile is art. Ahem. “And this is what she’s settled on: she can go without food (she will not wither.) She can go without heat (the cold will not kill her.) But a life without art, without wonder, without beautiful things--she would go mad.” Also, “So much of life becomes routine, but food is like music, like art, replete with the promise of something new.” This book spans centuries. I’m a fan of epics, so that’s right up my alley. I also love the “Come live with me and be my love” poem and went down a rabbit hole on JSTOR, reading Harvard grad students’ theses on Christopher Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love.” Anyway. Please, if any of the above seems appealing, read this book and let me know what you think. Even if you don’t like it. Especially then. For Anyone Disillusioned by Life and Wondering “What’s the Point Anymore?” but Specifically Someone who is Experiencing a Religious Dilemma OR Someone who Just Really Likes Greek Mythology Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis This book surprised me. First off, I LOVE the myth of Cupid and Psyche. I will consume any adaptation of this myth. Secondly, I have never been a C.S. Lewis fan. I saw The Magician’s Nephew on a field trip in elementary school and was like, “I can write a better play.” I think I have watched the first ten minutes of Narnia on five different occasions. Just didn’t get into it. So when I found out Lewis has a book about the myth of Cupid and Psyche, I was at odds. It’s about Cupid and Psyche, so I have to read it. But it’s by C.S. Lewis, so…? Despite my Narnia indifference, I started reading anyway. Well, it’s brilliant. Probably one of my all-time favorite books. I think I cried. If I didn’t, I will the next time I read it. This re-telling is from the perspective of one of Istra/Psyche’s sisters. (Names are different than the myth in the book.) The POV is so tender, you understand why Psyche’s sister betrayed her. While reading, I was struck by Lewis's writing. Orual, Psyche’s sister, is so well-developed and thoughtful and fleshed out, and this is abundantly evident because the whole book is from her point of view. I couldn’t believe a man wrote it. I felt this way when I was nine years old reading Dear Dumb Diary. “The female protagonist is just so good, how could a man know what it’s like to think like a girl?!” was my basic nine-year-old craft question about the series. I echoed that sentiment again with Till We Have Faces. Turns out Lewis had some help from his wife, Joy Davidman. Let me backtrack. Lewis started writing a version of this book in college because he also saw the beauty of the Cupid and Psyche myth. (Good taste.) He was an atheist at this point in time and, unrelatedly, stopped working on the book. Decades later, after his conversion to Christianity, he revisited this project. His wife (at the time, very close friend) Joy workshops the book. I think she really helped make this book so wonderful, and C.S. Lewis agrees. He believed this was his best book. This book is told in two parts. The first part reflects the period of C.S. Lewis’s atheism/Orual’s angst against the gods. The second part is a stunning reconciliation with the gods. Just like in Lewis’s life. Seriously, it’s just gorgeous. I’m convincing myself to re-read Till We Have Faces as I write. If the theological interpretation isn’t of interest, I still think anyone who likes the myth will enjoy this book. For those who Liked Percy Jackson and Want Something More Serious and Grown Up Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller and Circe by Madeline Miller I read these at the same time. It took around 70 pages for me to really get hooked. Up until that point, I liked the book(s). But after I hit the 70 page stride, I was enamored. Madeline Miller is a fantastic writer. All of the hype is worth it. I rarely admit that about popular things because I only say that when it’s true. I struggle to pick a favorite between the two. I change my mind often. I’m going to say, right now, Song of Achilles is my favorite. I was very familiar with the myth of Circe, but I’m not sure if I knew about Achilles and Patroclus. It doesn’t matter. I feel like I know them too well now. Let me share this casually brilliant line from Song of Achilles. It’s one of many. “He said what he meant; he was puzzled if you didn’t. Some people might have mistaken this for simplicity. But is it not a sort of genius to cut always to the heart?” I believe an HBO adaptation of Circe is under way. I’m surprised there isn’t one for Song of Achilles, though. For Anyone Coming of Age and Has A Lot of Feelings About It Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky I had seen the movie version with Logan Lerman and Emma Watson, but I didn’t read the book until this year. I treasured it. If you like Catcher in the Rye, you will like this. If you didn’t like Catcher in the Rye, I still believe you’ll also like this. I recognize that a lot of you have already read Perks of Being a Wallflower, but I think you’d benefit from a re-read. To reference a line from the book, you might even discover that, “It really was a great one. I think I’ll even think so when I’m older.” For Dark Academia Fans The Secret History by Donna Tartt Also a fairly well-known book, so I’m probably just another person telling you to give it a go. I loved the reading experience because I was so immersed. I felt like I was in middle school again, waking up early to finish a book I started the day before and neglecting dinner because I was so focused on the next chapter. For the Nosy Last Chance Texaco: Chronicles of an American Troubadour by Rickie Lee Jones My grandfather always said that when you read biographies or memoirs, you live another life. It’s a way to experience someone else’s world. In that case, I lived a life as the legendary hippie Grammy-winning singer-songwriter (triple) double-hyphenate Rickie Lee Jones. Last Chance Texaco might be my favorite memoir ever. Jones is an incredible songwriter and, as it appears here, memoir writer. Her life is excellent fodder, sure, but I was taken aback by her honeyed prose. I think I’m going to play her song “Woody and Dutch on the Slow Train to Peking,” which, if anyone can find her version of it on SNL, please let me know. For Those Who Like New Fiction and Texas Authors Olympus, Texas by Stacey Swann This is yet another myth-inspired read. Imagine the Roman gods as an old-money Texas family in a fictional town outside of Houston. That’s Olympus, Texas. I had so much fun reading this and lost my mind when I figured out the names. (I.e. “Peter” = “Jupiter,” Say it to yourself. Ha! Yeah, I know!) On this note, I wrote a TV pilot script earlier in 2021 about the Greek gods in a family comedy. I’m going to recommend anyone who’s interested read this, too 😎 For Those Who Like New Fiction and British Authors You People by Nikita Lalwani A short book about immigrants and outsiders “seeking asylum in a pizzeria,” among so much more. I like The Guardian’s review of the book and Lalwani. “...this is a writer who is very interested in compassion, how it manifests, and the nature of its limits.” This definitely comes across. For Those Who Want to Read My Favorite Author and Won’t Tell Me if They Don’t Like It Helen Oyeyemi I technically didn’t finish a Helen Oyeyemi novel in 2021. (I’m reading Peaces slowly and trying to soak it up.) But I’m such a sucker for her writing that I want to mention her anyway. I want my love for Helen Oyeyemi’s writing to be well documented and known by all. Now, before I continue, let me explicitly say this. Not everyone is going to like her work. In fact, you might not like it. Don’t let me know. I think Boy, Snow, Bird is her most accessible book, but you still might not dig it. (My favorite book of hers is Gingerbread.) One of my favorite pastimes is listening to Helen Oyeyemi interviews where the interviewer does not understand her writing. There was this one interview where the interviewer said something like, “In White is for Witching, you meant…” and then said whatever they thought the scene was supposed to be about. And Helen cut them off and said, “No. That’s not what I meant.” They moved onto the next question. For Healing by Means of Magic, Words, and Flowers The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland Not only is there an Amazon Studios adaptation of this novel that will star Sigourney Weaver, Absolutely Anything has also interviewed the author of The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart! This is a book of trauma, healing, and bushels of flowers wrapped with the most gorgeous string of words. I could go on, but I think our interview with Holly Ringland herself will be enough to convince you. Find the interview here!

  • A Conversation With Musician Carter Vail

    CATHLEEN FREEDMAN I first heard your song, “Velvet,” through my Spotify Discover Weekly back in, well, I can't even think of the months from 2020. But “Velvet” was a highlight of that period for me. It's such an interesting song lyrically and musically, and I continue playing all your songs because I’m really impressed with your lyrics. I don't say that lightly, it’s a huge compliment. So we're going to begin with some questions for you, and we're going to break it into two sections. Our first section is going to be craft-based and background based to learn more about you. The second section is going to be our “Absolutely Anything” questions, which are a bunch of questions that we guarantee you will have never been asked before, or ever again. CARTER VAIL Okay, I'm ready. FREEDMAN Where are you from, and where are you based today? VAIL I'm from Connecticut. Originally Wilton, Connecticut. Just kind of a pretty normal suburban town. I moved to Nashville about three years ago. FREEDMAN So this is, of course, a little naive. I'm from Houston and when I think of Nashville, and especially its music scene, I think of country music. GABBY ETZEL So... what genre do you feel like your music resides? VAIL That's always such a tricky question. Because I'm sure people can probably place me pretty easily into something like indie rock. But it's always difficult to place yourself in one genre because I like a lot of different kinds of music. I feel like I'm always trying to do a bunch of different genres, whether it actually comes across is that who knows? Probably limited by my skills on different instruments. So it probably always ends up sounding more similar than I anticipate. But it's probably not a bad thing. FREEDMAN No, I will say that every single one of your songs are really distinctive. ETZEL Kind of on that note, will you tell us more about your music journey and what musical instruments you play. VAIL In terms of music journey, I went to school for music at University of Miami. I am primarily an audio engineer and producer. That means I am just “okay” at all of the instruments. I'm not great at anything. But I like doing the mixing and the production side of stuff. I ended up forming a band with three other guys, Andre Bernier (keys), Garrett Fracol (drums), and Reed Gaines (bass). We actually all live together in Nashville. FREEDMAN “And they were roommates!” VAIL And we were roommates! We all run a studio in Nashville. The “day job” is producing for other people and making other people's music. But we also are a band and make our own stuff. We were going to go out on tour at one point, but then COVID hit and so that has stunted the whole live show thing. Musical journey… That's it so far, just from Miami to here. And I like writing music. FREEDMAN Any plans to do some live shows? Or is that still a later discussion? VAIL Oh, yeah, definitely. I don't know if you know the band Kid Sistr. They're an LA-based band, and they’ve blown up right now. I'm doing a show with them in northern Connecticut over the Thanksgiving time-frame. I'll also be playing in New York around that time. FREEDMAN Continuing on your musical journey process... I really love how some of your songs sound like confessionals, like interior dialogue with yourself. Would you expand upon how you go about your songwriting process? VAIL I think the songwriting process is so interesting because everyone's stuff is so different. I have a bunch of great Nashville songwriting friends, and seeing how they work, I'm always like, “Well, how did that happen?” But for me, I like to do the music and the lyrics kind of at the same time. I never know what the song is going to be about. I just come up with phrases that feel really cool. VAIL With a song like “Velvet,” actually, it was me and my friend Reed in our kitchen. We had just gotten a cassette recorder that we got for free, and we were trying to figure out what it sounded like, like recording through it. We started playing this one chord progression. As we played it back, I think we slowed it down accidentally. It was the finished version of “Velvet,” essentially. And then, the lyrics just started springing up. That doesn't really give much insight into the process, but I think I really like that you can make something sound really vague and still connect with people. I think that what I'm trying to do most of the time in my songs is not make it too specific, but still feel really emotional to me. Or make it hyper-specific and not make any sense to anyone else! I have a few songs like that, like “Love-15.” [It] just gets way too in the weeds of my own bullshit. ETZEL We all had to go through quarantine at the start of 2020, obviously, which was something that was somehow both exhausting and also left us with a lot of time on our hands. So how did you use your quarantine both artistically and personally? VAIL Artistically, I was going crazy, and that's when I came up with the whole premise for my EP, the Interstellar Tennis Championship. It's about a space tennis championship, so not something I'd normally write about. I was just kind of losing my mind and not feeling any inspiration to do more serious music, and so that's what came out. Personally, I was just in my room for way too long. I work out of my house because that's where my studio is, and so I'm pretty much always there anyway. But the quarantine was definitely the uptick of, “Oh, no, I'm alone all the time. This is gonna be a problem.” ETZEL I also feel like there's a difference between being somewhere all the time by choice and being somewhere all the time because you have to be. VAIL I got to the point where I would floss a bunch of times a day just to have something else to do. FREEDMAN Your dentist probably loved that. VAIL Oh, yeah. FREEDMAN I'm off TikTok, but I have been seeing that you've been doing some Tik Tok videos. How has that been an avenue for you to reach out to, maybe a different audience than your music because the [TikTok] songs are pretty comical and fun. VAIL Thank you very much. I'm going for comical and fun. That's the goal. VAIL I don't know if there's any overlap. I don't think anyone goes from my TikTok shit, and goes, “I wonder what his normal music is like,” so I don't think there's any overlap, and I was expecting there to be some. I have gotten some cool opportunities from it... I'm actually going to be releasing one of the TikTok songs as a full song because kind of a cool opportunity happened that I can't go into, so it's been good for career stuff. But also, it's just a lot of fun because as soon as you take the pressure off a song to be emotional or interesting, it's more about having a fun bass line, and the words can be anything. It's been good practice to be creating and not have it be super intentional. FREEDMAN I try to compose like little listening guides for my friends when I'm trying to get them into a new artist, and I'd be curious to hear what your listening guide would be for your own music. So what are five songs that you would give to somebody who's like, “I want to know what Carter Vail’s music is like!” VAIL See, I have such a hard time listening to my own music, so I don't really know what I've released. Anytime I hear it, I'm like, “Oh, why is that kick drum so loud?” I think probably “Melatonin” because that seems to be the one that people like the most. I really like “Rocket Guy,” and no one likes “Rocket Guy.” FREEDMAN I like “Rocket Guy!” VAIL Ha! I think [“Rocket Guy”] has got such a goofy, like, weird bossa nova thing. And I think that's cool. I would also say “On/Off” because it's a more recent song, and I think it's lyrically kind of cool. “Space is Lonely, That's Okay.” And probably something off of Red Eyes. Oh, “Andrew.” “Andrew” was one of the first songs I wrote that I was like, “Oh, that feels really good.” So I think those. FREEDMAN There's your listening guide! FREEDMAN Most of the songs off of Red Eyes and Interstellar Tennis Championship are very coming of age. So how would you kind of differentiate between the two pieces of work? Like thematically and motif-wise? VAIL Red Eyes was more of a compilation of all the songs that I had written in college. Granted, I recorded it and produced them a lot later, but I felt like I needed to have a centralized album. So I took all the songs that still felt like a story with a through-line to them. [Red Eyes] wasn't a concept album at all, whereas Interstellar Tennis Championship, even if the through-line is kind of hard to pick out, is about a person being beamed up from Earth and competing in a tennis championship in foreign galaxies. So it's different, although the coming of age thing is a through-line through all of my work because I feel like I'm just out here coming of age, you know. Freedman and Etzel nod, knowingly. VAIL I think that Interstellar Tennis Championship is a story about a character, and Red Eyes is just songs that I wrote about myself at different periods throughout college. FREEDMAN I kind of gathered that with Interstellar, but I didn't know that about Red Eyes. It was just kind of, “These happen to work together?” VAIL Yes! FREEDMAN You mention your parents a lot in your music, which I think is wonderful. It sounds like a very healthy relationship. What do they think of your music? VAIL They hate it. FREEDMAN and ETZEL ! VAIL No, they're big fans! That's so funny. I'm impressed that you have picked up this kind of stuff from my music. I don't think people listen to stuff that intently, which is very cool that you did. I talk about my parents all the time. I think that one of the big hurdles that a lot of people go through, something that a lot of people do in the kind of place that I grew up in, is the “moving away from the parents.” The classic coming of age thing is [to be] alone and figure out how to be alone. I think I have a fucking awesome relationship with my parents. I'm super close with them, I'm very lucky. But I think it's just such an interesting part of life, not just separating from them, but separation in general. Be it a breakup or just finding yourself alone. There are two routes that you can take from that. One being, “I'm alone, and I'm okay with being alone,” or, “I'm alone, and I have no idea why this is happening.” I think that's fun to write about. FREEDMAN Like in “Space is Lonely, That's OK!” VAIL Exactly. That's what I feel all good indie music is. It's saying that “Things are kind of fucked up, but I think we're gonna be alright.” And I think that's the best sentiment. There's this song by Bruce Springsteen called “Atlantic City,” and it's the ultimate “This isn't going well, but I think we're gonna be alright” song. FREEDMAN We should put them on a t-shirt. As for your parents and friends...Do they ever have any special requests for you when it comes to your music? A song that they like best? VAIL I think the people that see me live usually ask for “Drive Home,” which I don't think is my best recorded song. But when we play with the band, it hits pretty hard. FREEDMAN I have a deep appreciation for robust vocabularies, and the word bank in your songs are particularly rich. So what's your favorite word that you've used in one of your songs? VAIL I have two. But first, it's really funny that you say that because my brother's a little bit older than me and just a real intellect. After listening to a few of my songs, he said, “You know, you should really read more books.” That's the most brutal feedback I've ever gotten about anything. I think my two favorite words to use in songs are “cigarette” and “Cadillac.” Oh, they just sound great. FREEDMAN Yeah, and they have the double letter situation going on! So they look nice too! VAIL Absolutely right! It's great phonetically. FREEDMAN On that same coin, what's your favorite line from one of your songs? VAIL It's probably from “Space is Lonely, That’s OK!” because I think that song is just really interesting lyrically, like, a little bit selfishly. “Later on, in your compartment, you draw the shades and sit in darkness, reading screens on aeronautics measure space and time.” I just think using “aeronautics” in a song was a fun, fun little thing. FREEDMAN That's a good line. ETZEL When you look at your different albums, there's a really large variety of themes and motifs. So can you tell us more about your sources of creative inspiration? VAIL I find that I get really emotionally invested in stuff that I just shouldn't. Well, I’m not sure. I get easily distraught from movies. I remember watching Booksmart, and I was torn up about that movie. A lot of times when I'm driving around, or if I'm walking, lines will come up, and I won't have a reason for that. Or I will have a story behind them. It'll just be a line that I'll be like, “I don't know what that's going to mean, but I like that.” It'll just evolve from there, and although I can't point to a specific thing that is inspiring, all of life is conspiring to make me come up with some bullshit lines. FREEDMAN Well, this is a little fun fact. On the day I asked you to do this interview and I was telling Gabby that we were doing this, you posted on your story a picture of you training in a jiu jitsu gi. It just so happens that Gabby's a professional athlete. VAIL Really? Wow! ETZEL So I was excited to see that, and I would love to know more about how you got into the sport. VAIL Oh my God. Wait, I need to hear about... What? So how long have you been doing it? You're a professional? That's fucking nuts. ETZEL I've been competing since I was 13 years old. It's been like seven, coming up on eight years. VAIL You're NoGi or both? ETZEL I do both. Funnily enough, I just love the gi. I'm a sucker for the gi. But most of my matches are nogi because that's where the matches are. So most of my matches are NoGi, but I just competed at pans. And now I'm hoping to get out there for Worlds. But we'll see how it goes because that's finals week. VAIL Dude, that is so sick. I'm so glad you told me. That's fucking awesome. ETZEL I'm so glad to hear that you're in it… So how did you get into it? VAIL I'm blown away, that's really interesting. I've been doing it for three months. So I'm brand new, as green as they come. But I love it. It's so fun. I’ve got some awesome coaches. I just got my first stripe. ETZEL and FREEDMAN Congratulations! VAIL I'm feeling like a baby that just got a nice piece of candy or something. Because I work for myself, I have no end to my workday. So I'll wake up, go to sleep thinking about the shit I'm doing, like the mixes I have to do, and I found that doing jiu jitsu... for that hour-and-a-half, I don't think about anything except doing that, which is amazing. I needed something to get me out of music all the time. It was nice. I'm 6’4 and 220 pounds, so I'm a pretty big guy. Getting tied into knots by people that are literally half my size has been such an eye-opening experience! Also, everyone at the gym is so cool. The reason I got into it was because I was like, “I need something to do that's not just like weightlifting because I'm losing my mind here.” ETZEL Do you have a preference for NoGi? VAIL I'm not proud of this reason. I like NoGi because it hurts my fingers. With the gi, I don't like the little bone spurs and stuff. I try to go every day. At the gym I go to, they alternate gi and NoGi every other day. So I'll go to the gi, but I always come away and my fingers hurt. So, yeah, I prefer NoGi. ETZEL I always say that I like the pace of NoGi with the creativity of the gi because I'm a sucker for lapel guards. So yeah, that's kind of I'm always playing worm or anything like that. I'm sure it annoys my training partners plenty. But I do enjoy the pace of Nogi, and there is still creativity there with the leg locks and everything. It opens you up to a new rule set. Now we're actually going to move into our Absolutely Anything questions. So these are going to be more fun, unique questions. FREEDMAN Okay, so first one, we're going to get into some hypotheticals. Somebody just made a playlist that features one of your songs. VAIL Okay. FREEDMAN And your song is going to be placed between two great songs, which two great songs would you be most flattered by? VAIL Most flattered by? Well, I think that's an interesting question because if there were two songs that were mixed really well, I'd be like, “Oh, this is gonna be a problem because throw one of my songs betwixt two songs that are done really well might be an issue.” But I think anything by the National because I'm such a fanboy of the National and... Huh, hold on. Let's think... FREEDMAN Yes! This is an important question. VAIL Vampire Weekend as well. I think I'm a big Vampire Weekend fan. Kind of the standard indie stuff. FREEDMAN Speaking of placement with songs, you are geographically all over the place in your music. I feel like every time I listen to your songs I'm like, “Oh wait, that's another state, that's another city.” Are you aware of this? VAIL I am! I'm just blown away that you've listened to this stuff deep enough to know that! FREEDMAN Off the top of your head and as quickly as possible, name the states that you have not visited. VAIL Oh, a ton! Nevada. I've never been to Texas. FREEDMAN Boo! VAIL I was supposed to go for SXSW, and then, yeah... I'm going to need to look at a map! Anything in the middle of the country. Minnesota. Nope. Missouri. I've been to everything in the northeast, for sure. Anything East Coast I've been to because I've driven from Maine to Florida... Fuck, I don't know the states, which is embarrassing. Ohio, I've never been to. A ton of them! Middle of the country. No idea. I know it's beautiful. Arizona. Not been. New Mexico. Ah! FREEDMAN Well, you need to go visit these places, so you can name-drop more cities in your songs. A Short and By No Means Comprehensive List of the Places Mentioned in Carter Vail’s Songs “Oh my darling Arizona.” - Milk Carton “I think I’ll head on down to Reno.” - Silent Movies “This isn’t like you, San Francisco.” - Space is Lonely, That’s OK! “Don’t know where you’re going. California or Japan.” - Space is Lonely, That’s OK! “Houston tells me how you’re feeling.” - Space is Lonely, That’s OK! “Going back to Telluride…” - Computer Love Song “Wake up, Virginia, is your daddy home?” - Drive Home “Carolina treat you better…” - Velvet *Note: Some of these may be used as proper noun names! Still counts! FREEDMAN Considering your line in “Computer Love Song” (“You’re Gwyneth Paltrow, I'm Richie Tenenbaum”) and your penchant for bathrobes, I'm going to go out on a limb and say you're a fan of Wes Anderson. VAIL In love with him. FREEDMAN I'm also a fan. Fun fact, I'm drinking from my little French Dispatch mug right now. I got to go to the premiere at the New York Film Festival and I have to say it's my favorite Wes Anderson movie. VAIL Really? It's got a great cast. FREEDMAN Oh, yeah, but this story is so cool. It's like all the best features of Wes Anderson put into a movie. VAIL I’m such a fan of The Life Aquatic. FREEDMAN I love that one. And that's one that I don't think people like as much. VAIL Yeah, it kind of meanders a lot. There's a lot of meandering in that one. I watch The Royal Tenenbaums pretty consistently because I kind of jack the whole fucking persona of Richie Tenenbaum-- I wear the headband all the time. And it wasn't intended to be ripped off of him. I wasn't thinking about that. But then I rewatched the movie, and I was like, “Well, fuck.” My guitar’s not up here, [but] I have a bunch of stickers of Richie Tenenbaum on my guitar now because I was like, “We're gonna send it! This is our thing now.” Yes, love, love, love, love. FREEDMAN Well, my follow-up question was going to be, “What's your favorite Wes Anderson movie?” but it's safe to say Life Aquatic or Tenenbaums. VAIL A favorite right now is Darjeeling Limited. Yeah, that one's really good. Because that's the one I rewatched the most recently. Grand Budapest is amazing as well. ETZEL Um, so you're not gonna believe this. But Wes Anderson totally just texted us. And he says that he wants to use one of your songs in his next movie. And he even wants you to decide what the scene should be like. His words, not ours. FREEDMAN So what songs would you choose? And what would be like the ideal Wes Anderson scene? Oh, wait, Wes also just texted and said that we should clarify. You can either make up the scene or use a pre-existing one. VAIL Wow, that would be the best thing in the world! That would be sick. I would say that one of the best scenes in any Wes Anderson movie is… Well, there are two fantastic song moments. One of them is when Richie Tenenbaum is attempting to take his life, which is dark. They play “Needle in the Hay'' by Elliott Smith. That is one of the best musical moments in a movie I've ever seen. I remember seeing that and just being entirely blown away. VAIL The other [musical moment] is “Les Champs-Elysees” at the end of Darjeeling. Literally as the credits are rolling, they play this amazing French song. I think it would be so cool to have that spot, even though that song is fantastic. Probably “Tigers on Trains.” FREEDMAN That's a good one! Well, Wes Anderson has a new movie that he's working on right now in Spain. So if you want to start thinking of musical influences for the soundtrack... VAIL Incredible! We'll have to coordinate that. ETZEL Jumping around a little bit… This is very important. What is your zodiac sign? VAIL Oh, my zodiac sign? I am a Capricorn, Capricorn, Capricorn. Are y'all into the [zodiac stuff]? ETZEL Yeah, yeah. FREEDMAN I don't know... I know that I'm a Pisces, and that's about it. I feel like a scientist when I go about [this question], though. I'm always curious about how people feel about their zodiac sign and if they feel like it even applies to them. So based on whatever you know about Capricorns, do you feel like a “Capricorn?” VAIL My girlfriend is not “into” it, but she likes anything that's premonition-related or that stuff. She thinks that I'm the most Capricorn-Capricorn. That being said, I'm sure there are multiple definitions of what a “Capricorn-Capricorn” is. So, you know, I'm not sure. [When she read] the definition to me, I was like, “That does sound exactly like me.” So I think it could be accurate, but also, I'm not someone that particularly buys into any of it. ETZEL Very cool. FREEDMAN to ETZEL So, um, okay, how do we feel about this last question? ETZEL Okay, we're just gonna go into it. So my favorite song of yours is “Love-15,” which, as you know, is about puppets. VAIL Hell, yeah. Well done picking that up. That's dope. FREEDMAN Yeah, okay. Well, let's see about that… ETZEL We’re going to close off this interview not with a question, but with an introduction. FREEDMAN We were saving this question to the end because we have to kind of read the vibes of the interview. We can’t bring this on just anyone. ETZEL This is Kenny. He is our puppet. He doesn't like to hear that because we fully believe that he has taken on a personality of his own. But we've had him since freshman year. We knew each other for like two months, and I don't know what possessed us to go out and buy a puppet together. But puppets are very special to us because Kenny has brought us closer together. Okay. So yeah, we just love “Love-15,” and we wanted to close out this interview by saying goodbye via Kenny, and thank you so much! VAIL On the puppet thing, that's hilarious because I was assuming one of you brought the puppet from the past. But like you guys buying a puppet together? That's cool like that you invested in this puppet. If you were like, “We've known each other for two months. I gotta show you my puppet!” And that's the end of me knowing them. But that's awesome. I love collaboration. FREEDMAN Well, thank you so much for being game for this interview multiple times. And for being so much fun to interview with! VAIL Oh, no problem. Thanks so much for listening to the music. I really appreciate that. And for wanting to talk to me. That's super cool. I had a great time! Check out Carter’s upcoming shows here!

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