Tasty Omaha: Dante’s Pizzeria Napoletana

Over the years, my affection for pizza has grown exponentially. I’m not sure how old I was when I first tasted this culinary masterpiece, but despite my indecisive Libran nature, it has remained one of my top five favorite foods of all time. Recently, I dined at Dante’s Pizzeria Napoletana, and if you’re a TL;DR sort of person, the punchline is this: run, don’t walk, to one of its two locations in Legacy or Blackstone.

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“Abdication” Picked Up for Publication

My dear friend, L.N. Holmes, has just had her flash fiction story, “Abdication” picked up for publication at The Bookends Review. Join me in congratulating her, and stay tuned for the piece’s publication in April, 2018. Congrats, L.N.!

A Vase of Wildflowers

My flash fiction story, “Abdication,” has been selected for publication at The Bookends Review! I’m grateful to Jordan Blum and the team of editors at the journal for accepting my work. The tentative date for my piece to appear on the site is April 9. Check it out if you have time and, as always, thanks for reading!

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Tasty Omaha: Jams, An American Grill

When I started this series, I considered just focusing on “new” restaurants that were opening around the city, to provide would-be diners with my experience to decide if a visit was worth their time and money. However, being a relative newbie to the Omaha area (born and raised in Lincoln, moved to Omaha just under three years ago), and discovering the subculture of foodies and incredible restaurants that abound in this city, I realized I’d be doing myself, visitors, newcomers, and current residents a disservice by limiting my reviews. So as long as it’s new to me, it’s fair game! …Ah, who am I kidding? New or old, if I haven’t written about it, I’m gonna, whether I’ve eaten at a place before or not. THE PEOPLE NEED TO KNOW.

Recently, my husband and I and a couple who’d come up from Lincoln visited Jams. I’d heard of this place from a coworker a couple years ago, and she sang the place’s praises to the rafters. I’d always been curious about trying it, so when our friend and his new lovely significant other came up to meet us for dinner, I figured it was time.

There’s always a risk in trying a new place when you’re also trying to be a good host and meeting a new friend for the first time, e.g. “This food is terrible! What do you really think of us?” but from a first glance at the menu and a detailed conversation about it with our incredible server Traci, I had a feeling we were in for a treat.

Jams describes itself as “an American Grill that offers a melting pot of different styles and varieties of food dishes containing high-quality ingredients paired with the optional cold drink or creative cocktail.” The interior is certainly reminiscent of a bar-and-grill, dimly lit with a hefty wooden bar in the middle of the front part of the room, and booths and high-top tables. The interior is relatively nondescript, nothing that stands out as particularly eye-catching, but I prefer that–oftentimes, overly visually trendy restaurants tend to overcompensate for a lack of quality in their food by dressing up the interior. Trying to distract me? Won’t work.

I ordered a Moscow Mule, one of my favorite cocktails, and wasn’t disappointed. The ginger beer had the kick I always look for (nothing is worse than a flat Moscow Mule. Okay, there are literally hundreds of things worse than that. But you get me. Amirite?)

My husband wanted to try one of their local beers, so Traci noted his beer preferences and brought him a three-beer sample flight so he could choose his favorite. They were generous pours, too–combined, they would have been at least twelve ounces of brew.

We made pleasant small talk with Traci, who, in addition to possessing a thorough knowledge of the menu–quick aside, here: if you work at a restaurant, it helps to actually eat off the menu, so you can make recommendations to your customers, which is exactly what Traci did–and cocktail/beer selection, engaged us in a non-food oriented chat, so we felt like we got to know her a little bit. When we return to Jams, we’ll be sure to request Traci as our server. She’s set the bar high for excellent customer service!

For an appetizer, we selected the Blue Crab Rangoon egg rolls, which are served on a bed of java veggie salad and a plum dipping sauce.

They were nothing short of perfection. The wonton wrapper was lightly fried to the ideal crisp–not soggy, not greasy, and a light golden brown. The filling itself was decadent and savory. Shredded crab meat mixed with what I assume was a cream cheese base, although I tasted something very similar to goat cheese, as well. I normally hate goat cheese (I HAVE TRIED TO LIKE IT, I swear. I can’t reconcile the tang with my taste buds, but the texture of goat cheese is absolutely divine), but this filling only carried the faintest hint of the telltale tang of chevre, enough to grab my attention, and all of that gorgeously silky texture. A sprinkling of cilantro for the garnish and a dip into the plum sauce create a magnificent triumph of an appetizer. TL;DR? Order the GD rangoons.

A side note to big-ups the patience of our dining companions: obviously, this wouldn’t be a proper review without photos, and I sure appreciate them letting me snap pics of their food! My husband will silently roll his eyes and tilt his plate for me to catch just the right angle. He’s totally resigned to this by now, as he has with a number of things concerning me (my need to discuss every Game of Thrones episode in length, attacking him with my novel plot holes while he’s trying to shave or drink coffee, me hogging the living room TV to furiously play Final Fantasy VII [and IX, and all the video games] for hours on end, sending him endless cat videos on Facebook, etc.).

My husband ordered the Lobster Tacos from the Seasonal Menu. Tempura-fried, beer-battered lobster pieces in a fried flour tortilla, topped with shredded red cabbage, cilantro, arbol chili aioli, and Havarti cheese. It’s accompanied with a bowl of five-cheese tortellini. I know, you’re probably all, “Hole lup, did you say tortellini and tacos? What in the ever-loving hell?”

I can’t explain why it works, but it does. And when it comes to things like tortellini and tacos, you don’t question it. You just put it in your foodhole.

Our friend’s girlfriend ordered the nightly feature–a ribeye steak on a bed of creamy Havarti grits, accompanied with roasted brussel sprouts and mushrooms. It was enough food to feed a small army, and according to her, was as delicious as it looked.

Our friend ordered the Midtown Meatloaf, served with snappy, verdant green beans and normally served with whipped potatoes. Steak and potatoes is a staple meal for any restaurant to ace here in Nebraska, and Jams hit the mark.

That brings me to my dish.

For some reason, I tend to have bad luck with meal selections at restaurants I’m trying for the first time. I always waver between whether to select an old standby to see how well the place can nail it, or something unique to the restaurant. I tend to stray from obvious choices that will clearly be delicious (e.g., the lobster tacos. Although, now I’m all, WHY DIDN’T I GET THE TACOS.) because they’re a given. I need to figure out a better algorithm or mathematical formula for selecting meals, because once again, I chose something that was underwhelming–and something Traci hadn’t personally tried. THAT should have been my first indication not to go there. Alas.

I selected, from the seasonal menu, the classic Aurora Sauce Salmon. It’s an eight-ounce salmon fillet poached in a citrus Aurora sauce (a light, tomato-garlic creamy sauce) served with cherry tomatoes and capers, broccolini on the side, on a bed of Parmesan polenta and garnished with fresh dill.

The sauce was…saucy. Traci let me know what to expect, so that wasn’t a surprise, but the amount of tomato was a surprise. I’m used to creamier Aurora sauces. I wasn’t fond of the cherry tomatoes plopped on in their whole entirety, like tiny basketballs circling the fish. They struck me as an uninspired afterthought. Also, serving tiny whole tomatoes in an already heavily tomato-y sauce seemed odd. The capers added a nice tartness. The salmon itself was the most disappointing part–perhaps I’m unaccustomed to a trendier, more modern way of consuming salmon, but mine was undercooked–to me–in the middle. The outside was beautiful seared, with crisp corners, and alluded to an excellent fillet overall. However, as I forked off flake after flake and neared the middle, I realized it was rare on the inside. The menu didn’t indicate that this would be the method of cooking, nor was I asked how I’d like my salmon cooked.

The Parmesan polenta was the best part of the dish, and was truly delicious.

For dessert, my husband and I ordered the toffee cheesecake from the seasonal menu. Our friends ordered the carrot cake and the crème brûlée. The latter is one of my all-time favorite desserts, and based on what I could see, it was definitely master-level. The custard is made with Madagascar vanilla and topped with turbinado cane sugar.

The carrot cake was four layers of substantial cake, with visible shreds of real carrot (you’d think this would be fundamental to carrot cake, but you’d be surprised how many places omit the carrot. A key ingredient, no?) and a gorgeous, decadent frosting. The whole thing is drizzled with ginger crème anglaise and sprinkled with toasted macadamia nuts.

Our cheesecake was flecked with toffee bits, surrounding in gloriously smooth, rich cheesecake filling that I suspect was made with mascarpone cheese based on the texture. The gingersnap crust added just the right accompaniment of spice to the rich filling, and of course, everything is better when drizzled with caramel.

My meal was a disappointment, but based on the quality of the other food, from the appetizers to the meals of my companions to the decadent desserts, I am in no way turned off from returning here. In fact, I suspect this will be a go-to place for me and my husband. And the level of excellent customer service we got from Traci cannot be overstated. Traci, if you’re reading this, thanks taking good care of us, and we hope to see you soon!

Grade: B+

Writer Chit-Chats: Ted Wheeler, Kings of Broken Things

Today, I’m sitting down for a chat with author and Creighton MFA alum Theodore Wheeler, who has just released his debut literary historical novel King of Broken Things, published by Little A.

1) Hi Ted, thank you for taking the time to chat with me today! Congratulations on the release of your new novel. Can you tell the readers about Kings of Broken Things?

Thanks for having me! Kings of Broken Things is set in Omaha during the end of World War I and the Red Summer of racial strife that followed, and follows a group of young immigrants and outcasts through the events of the Omaha Race Riot of 1919. Karel Miihlstein is a displaced Austrian boy whose natural talent as a baseball player connects him with the rough men of the neighborhood team; Jake Strauss finds himself mixed up with political-criminal machine leaders who find use of his charisma and violent nature; and Evie Chambers is a kept woman searching for a way out of the underworld before it’s too late. 

2) What inspired you to write this novel?

There were lots of reasons that factored in to some degree. For the last ten years, I’ve covered a beat as a reporter at the Douglas County courthouse in Omaha, Nebraska, a building best known as the site of a race riot and horrific lynching in 1919. I first heard of the riot when my fourth-grade teacher displayed a famous photograph from the Omaha World-Herald of rioters posing with the lynched body of Will Brown, a 40-year-old black man who was dubiously accused of the rape of a young white woman. The image has stuck in my mind ever since. Spending so many hours at the courthouse, the riot and lynching was something I thought about every day while walking the halls and surrounding neighborhood. 

Beyond that, I was just really interested by the era and wanted to learn more. World War I doesn’t get as much attention as World War II, usually for good reason in the US, as far as the war is concerned. There was no vanquishing of Fascists, no Nazis or atomic bombs. But so much about WWI felt familiar to our time right now, mostly in how little was accomplished by the war, even as the devastation was mind-boggling. The US has been at war my entire adult life, with no end in sight, so the prevailing sentiment that came out of that time period resonates.

3) What challenges did you face writing not only historical fiction, but also about this topic in particular?

Depicting the riot was the biggest challenge, on craft and personal levels. In a practical sense, it was difficult to write a series of scenes that depicts an over 10,000-person riot that took place over twelve hours and nearly destroyed downtown Omaha, with the struggle being to let the riot be as big as it was without swallowing up the book’s characters in the process. I like to think about telling a story as building a house, and the ending should be contained within the structure without blowing the roof off. Just by its nature, the riot kept blowing the roof off the house I was trying to build in the rest of the book. Eventually I finagled the structure, plot, and perspective enough that it all holds together. 

On a personal level, it was difficult to place myself within the book. What I mean by that is, having answers to questions like why I should be the person to write this book, what perspective can I bring to the story, etc. For a long time I wasn’t sure that I would be able to finish the book, or that I even should. That kind of doubt is normal, and probably healthy to the process.

4) What research did you conduct prior to writing?

Most of my research was done while writing Kings, but I did read around a dozen history books first. Specifically, books on Omaha history, what life was like in German-American neighborhoods around the turn of the century, and what compelled so many people to emigrate from Germany in the decades before World War I. The Omaha Public Library also has a number of photo books of historic Omaha that I spent a lot of time paging through, along with the great photo archive of the Durham Museum. I’ve long been a fan of music from the era, so being familiar with the kinds of jazz, ragtime, blues, and folk music that were being played during that time gave me a nice base to build from.

5) Tell me a little about the publication process, from working with your agent, to finding a publisher. What do you know “now” that you wished you’d known “then,” and what’s been your favorite part of this so far, apart from the writing?

I’d heard over and over how important it is to have your book finished before sending to agents, but the full scope of this never really sank in for me. Kings of Broken Things took me over seven years to finish, which includes writing three mostly-unique drafts of the entire novel. For the earlier drafts, I thought the book was finished for the most part, though I suspected it wasn’t quite there and that I’d need to get away with some weaknesses to find an agent and publisher. I was too impatient and had to learn for myself that nobody gets away with much.

My favorite part has been sharing the publication process with my family and friends. It’s a little hokey, but there are so many people who helped me along the way and contributed to the book’s success, so it’s been such a warm experience to see how happy these folks are to see the book out. Writing novels can be such a lonely, isolating process. Knowing that there are people pulling for me along the way makes a huge difference.

6) As an alumna of the Creighton MFA program myself, I am so proud of the achievements of everyone who has gone through the program! How has this aided you in your writing, and your knowledge of the publishing industry? What advice would impart to writers interested in publishing novels?

It’s always great to see people from the program publishing, to feel like we’re part of a growing community. A rising tide raises all ships, kind of thing. As for aspiring novelists, I feel like you should write the book you want to write, but be aware that there might not be a publisher who feels the same way about your topic as you do. With that in mind, it’s good to at least be aware of trends in publishing and what kinds of topics and styles are being recognized. There’s no need to obsess about the market while you’re first writing the book, but at some point, you should be able to answer impossible questions about what your book is trying to accomplish, what conversations it participates in, and which specific publishers might be interested. Also, always be protective of your time. If you want this to be your job, then it should demand that respect.

7) Tell me a little about your writing process in general. Rituals? Favorite beverages? Music, or none?

I write every day after a long lunch, a walk, and a shower. I’m not too picky about where I write (in my home office or in bed, usually) or whether I’m typing or writing longhand, but the rituals to clear my head are important. I always have a box fan or space heater going for white noise, so no music, no beverages, or snacks. I don’t keep many personal belongings or photos in my office either, and certainly not on my desk, so it’s easier for me to disconnect and get outside of myself. 

All that said, I can write just about anywhere if I’m in the proper head space. I used to carry a notebook all the time, and I write on my cell phone a fair amount these days. 

8) Do you have any tips for battling the dreaded writer’s block?

Follow the Isak Dinesen dictum to “write a little every day, without hope, without despair.” I get two or three hours to write every weekday and try to get to at least five hundred words during that time. I’ll indulge in additional writing sessions when grabbed by something on nights and weekends too, but it isn’t mandatory. Sometimes the writing is better than others, but I don’t think I’ve ever been blocked because I feel comforted by this idea of just showing up to work every day. 

I also write most scenes in parts–building settings one day, blocking action another, dialogue the next, and finally thinking significantly about gesture. Almost never do I write a scene straight through, which makes for a lot of rewriting, but also simplifies the process. On days that I’m not really feeling it, there’s usually some smaller tasks to be done. Conceptualizing an entire story is so hard. It’s better for me to start with something small and simple, then work to build out nuance and complication.

9) Finally, what are you working on now that readers can look out for?

I’m working on a new novel that’s set around the safe haven child custody crisis in 2008 that deals with loves lost and abandoned, all set in the context of a post-9/11 domestic spying campaign.

Thank you so much for your time, Ted! Congratulations again on your release, and best of luck on all your future projects!

Thank you!

“Independence Day” Published by Allegory Ridge

Dear friend of mine, L.N. Holmes, has a new publication! Look out for her short story, “Independence Day.”

A Vase of Wildflowers

I’m super excited to announce that my flash fiction, “Independence Day,” has been accepted for publication by Allegory Ridge. You can read it here! A big thank you to Alexander Rigby and his crew for publishing my unconventional little story.

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Tasty Omaha: Della Costa

The Midtown Brix location was a much-loved and often-visited spot for me and my husband. Typical date nights included dinner and a movie at Midtown Cinema, followed by dessert at Delice. All of this was preceded by a glass of wine and a niblet or two at Brix. 

When Brix closed its doors early this year, we were crushed. Not only did we enjoy the seemingly endless array of wine, but the closing meant no more date-night kickoffs in Midtown. No more summer nights sitting out on the patio overlooking the ritzy area while drinking sangria. No more sitting close to the fireplace with a bottle of Italian Cabernet Sauvignon. We were all, “What the hell, man?” 

Then murmurings of a new restaurant to take its place began. The buzz grew louder over the spring, and finally, the doors reopened. The restaurant is Della Costa, a Mediterranean/Italian fusion restaurant with a special seaside emphasis. 

I grew more curious to check the place out, especially after learning that half of it was to be a bakery. Given the excellent location and space, Della Costa had big shoes to fill. 

I went with my husband and my parents near the end of July. I made reservations through Yelp (I’m probably late to the party per usual, but that’s a thing now–super convenient) for an early evening time. We were given a nice table next to the window that overlooks Farnam Street.

We began by ordering glasses of their sangria–two red, two white. 

The red was luscious, rich, and sweet, bursting with fruit flavor. A triumph, if you’re a fan of red sangria. The white was my favorite, however. Less sweet, with a dry bite to the wine reminiscent of Chardonnay, and the peach slices perform triple-duty–elegantly simple garnish, a subtle fruity essence, and a hint of sweetness. 

The menu is divided into sections, with emphasis on small bites in the form of amuse-bouche (single bite-size appetizers), crudo (raw fish small bites), preferiti (larger than amuse-bouche, tapas-style), soups and salads, mano alla boca (sandwiches), piattini (small entree-style plates), pasta, and piatti (larger entrees). The menu can be rather overwhelming at first glance, but our helpful server explained everything in detail and answered all of our questions. 

We started with some selections from the amuse portion of the menu: chile-lime peanuts, focaccia, and hummus. 

My dad is a peanut-monster. Therefore, I was not able to capture a photo, but I was assured they were “delicious.” 

The hummus was some of the best I’ve ever tasted. There’s a delicate balance that must be struck with the perfect hummus (which I personally have not been able to find in my own cooking). It can’t be too dry and crumbly, yet it can’t be overly moist. It must have enough garlic for flavor, but too much is overpowering. It has to retain enough chickpea flavor to be recognizable, yet not so much the other flavors are lost. Della Costa has found and nailed that balance. The accompanying slices of pita are house-made and more tortilla-like than in accustomed to, but lacks nothing in flavor. 

The focaccia was easily my favorite selection here. I know. “Meredith loves bread? OMG, THAT IS BRAND-NEW INFORMATION.” Hear me out, though. This focaccia is glorious–fluffy, buttery, with a hint of salt on the outer crust that’s been baked to a perfect golden brown. It comes with olive oil and an herbed butter made in house that, combined with the bread, makes me want to give up all dietary carb-control for the rest of my life (as well as any other necessary life-sustaining nutrients) and subsist solely on this. It is, I repeat, one of the finest things upon which you will ever nosh. If you eat nothing else at Della Costa, go there for that. I mean it. Run, don’t walk. So I can trip you and beat you to the bread so I can eat it all. 

We ordered a bottle of red wine, because you can’t go out to eat with Lori Ma (my mom) without doing so. It’s a family law. I am no wine connoisseur, so I can’t speak about the notes and such. It was just plain good. If you like cabs, you’ll like this. Boom. 

For the main course, we all agreed to order something different. I went with a relatively basic pasta dish compared to the rest of the menu. I like to see how restaurant do the basics, sometimes, so I selected the Fettuccine Tre Colore. As the name suggests, it’s fettuccine pasta already tossed in a pecorino cream sauce, and comes with a roasted garlic-tomato sauce and a pesto sauce. 

I was a little surprised at the presentation–much simpler than I was expecting. The amount of pasta I received was smaller than what you typically receive in a restaurant setting. That said, it was actually the perfect individual amount, and was generous even then. I could have finished it all in one sitting, but (based on the amount of bread I had already eaten), I opted to eat about two-thirds of it and take the rest home. I added in all of the tomato sauce from the bowl and all of the pesto from the little dollop on the presentation plate. I could have used more pesto. Always give more pesto. 

They do simple well. The noodles were the perfect al dente. They weren’t drowning in sauce, but there was enough of the pecorino cream to cling to and coat each noodle. The sauce itself was, again, that perfect balance of creamy, savory, and flavorful. The tomato sauce was good; however, it was pretty basic, so it was underwhelming. I’m not sure I understand the logic of putting a bowl of it next to the pasta rather than drizzling it into the pasta. The presentation there had me scratching my head. The pesto was also delicious, but there was so little of it that it was lost when I mixed it into my bowl of noodles. I suppose if one was going for the true “tre colore” experience, you’d have to dunk and dip rather than combine. Overall, though, it was enjoyable. 

My mom got the pan-seated corvina, which arrives in a bed of sweet potato-chèvre purée and a side of broccolini.

Dad got the Bucatini Putanesca–grilled, fennel-seasoned sausage, anchovies, capers, kalamata olives, and fire-roasted tomatoes make up the decadent sauce. 

My husband got the grilled ribeye, with a delicious bordelaise, and sides of the sweet potato-chèvre purée and broccolini.

A note on the purée: if you love chèvre, and sweet potato, this is for you. I’m not a huge chèvre fan, by which I mean I can’t stand it. The sweet potato flavor, though, is balanced nicely with the chèvre (Della Costa has the balance thing down) and the texture–the only thing I like about chèvre–is heavenly. Silky-smooth, light, and fluffy. 

Because no outing would be complete without dessert, we ordered two: cassata flambé and the Morrocan orange cake.

The orange cake is dense, almost as if shortbread and cake had a wild, drunken night together and this was the result of that. It has a beautiful hint of almond to smooth the bright tang of orange. It’s accompanied with a scoop of saffron ice cream (all of the ice creams are made in-house and are available for purchase by the pint–I took home a container of honey lavender shortbread ice cream, and yes, it is in fact the food of the gods) and a meringue crisp, plus a few fresh berries. 

The flambé was a show+dessert, so, winning. ​

Sponge cake is covered with strawberry, chocolate, and hazelnut-turron ice cream, layered in more sponge cake, and coated in meringue. The flambé action happens with a shot of Cointreau, but for a dollar more, you can upgrade to Gran Marnier. Want to guess what we did? 

For all of the glitzy presentation that always comes with flambéed anything, the dessert was underwhelming. Tasty, certainly, but I preferred the orange cake, and wished I would have gone with one of the other offerings on the dessert menu, such as the Crema Catalana, or the pine-nut tart. The combinations of ingredients and flavors in these selections is far more interesting that flaming sponge cake and Neapolitan ice cream. 

Della Costa is owned by Ron Samuelson, who also owns Herbe Sainte in Aksarben Village, and features Chef Jeff Owen, previously of Herbe Sainte. Part of the restaurant, near the bakery side, features retail offerings like pasta, Italian sodas, jarred goods, wine, and more. There’s also a crudo bar, and of course the aforementioned bakery where customers can take home ice cream, too. 

Brix will be missed, certainly, but Della Costa is a delightful new addition to the Midtown restaurant family, and is especially perfect this time of year, when the warm weather makes it easy to pretend you’re enjoying fresh coastal catches and fruity sangria right by the sea. 

Grade: B+

One More Light

One week ago, an incredible musical talent and personal hero of mine committed suicide. You might have heard of him; he fronted a band called Linkin Park. His name was Chester Bennington.

His suicide occurred on what would have been the fifty-third birthday of his good friend, Chris Cornell, who also committed suicide a little over two months ago, and who was also a musical hero of mine.

It’s taken a week for me to collect my thoughts about what I wanted to say about this. It’s hard to know where to start, and it’s caused me to do quite a bit of introspection to sort through these emotions and revelations.

Chris Cornell died on May 18, 2017, after hanging himself in his hotel room following a concert in Detroit. For all intents and purposes, he seemed to have little reason to want to die. After separating from his bandmates in Soundgarden, Chris pursued a successful solo career, followed by a stint with another band, Audioslave. A few years ago, he reunited with Kim, Ben, and Matt, and produced a brand-new Soundgarden album. He had a family, including three beautiful children. On the surface, there was no clear reason for him to consider, let alone commit, suicide.

On the surface.

Chester Bennington died on July 20, 2017 after hanging himself at his home on the birthday of his beloved and late friend, Chris Cornell. The two men shared the stage occasionally, a deep friendship, and family ties–Chester was godfather to one of Chris’s children. He had a lovely wife, six children, a prolific career, and millions of fans across the world. On the surface, there was no clear reason for him to consider, let alone commit, suicide

On the surface.

In the days and weeks following the death of Chris Cornell, I became affected deeply in ways I couldn’t understand at first. Yes, I’ve been a Soundgarden fan since Superunknown was released in 1994 (when I was the tender age of 10). Yes, I’d followed much of Chris’s solo career and enjoyed some of his work with Audioslave. Yes, I was as pumped as any old-school Soundgarden fan when they reunited a few years ago and put out a new album and announced a tour.

As many Cornell fans were, I was familiar with his struggles with depression. He was relatively open about them in interviews over the past two and a half decades, and his lyrics told the rest of the story. Just reference songs like “Fell on Black Days,” “Black Hole Sun,” “Pretty Noose,” “Blow Up the Outside World,” “Overfloater,” “Burden in My Hand,” “Like Suicide”–and these are just from their most prominent releases, Superunkown and Down on the Upside released in 1994 and 1996, respectively. His solo career saw a shift in his musical proclivities, but many of his lyrics remained dark and haunted. His final written words to the world were his last tweet on May 17, 2017: “#nomorebullshit.”

A couple of weeks after Chris passed, and I’d been listening to Soundgarden pretty much nonstop, I fell into what I can only describe as a depressive hold that shackled me down for the entire month of June. It was like a thirty-pound weight materialized in my chest and held me down. I’ve felt this before, but it had been a while since my depression had reared its head in my life. I had trouble sleeping. I couldn’t create–which as a writer, is incredibly frustrating. It wasn’t that I had writer’s block; I simply couldn’t muster the strength or energy to force my brain to make the ideas in my head translate to words. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I didn’t want to socialize. I didn’t want to see the light of day. My brain was in a dark cave, so I wanted to be in a dark cave too. I wept a lot. It took the looming deadline of a short story for an anthology, and the desire to not disappoint my fellow authors, to get me into gear. It was painful, but it allowed me to, little by little, reclaim my life.

What triggered me wasn’t simply the death of one of my musical/lyrical heroes. And as I’ve thought about what did trigger me, since the world has lost many brilliant musicians and actors and artists in general over the past few years, I’ve realized that while the death of Chris Cornell was heart-wrenching on its own, what triggered me was what it represented for me and other people who battle depression and anxiety.

One of us lost the battle–one of us who seemingly had won. One of us who seemingly had everything going for him. One of us who had no reason–outwardly–to suffer.

If he couldn’t make it, with his lovely family, his ability to make an excellent living from living out his dream, and a seemingly cushy lifestyle–what hope did that give the rest of us? Are those of us who deal with this bound to succumb one day, too, no matter how wonderful life seems?

At the start of July, I managed to break the chains that held me. I did things that brought me happiness, like playing video games, a little bit of writing, some blogging, lots of reading. I visited family, and my husband came home from war–so many joyous happenings that helped me get back to myself, that helped me realize that I was bigger than this, that I couldn’t stay down because there are people in my life that care about me and who I care about, and who count on me to be strong.

Last Thursday, I was randomly checking Facebook when I saw someone’s post asking if the headlines about Chester Bennington’s suicide were real. My first instinct was, “Hoax.” It was Chris Cornell’s birthday; we know they were close. Most fans have heard that gut-wrenchingly beautiful rendition of “Hallelujah” Chester sang at Chris’s funeral. Most of us saw the incredibly emotional performance of “One More Light” on Jimmy Kimmel days after Chris’s death, where Chester occasionally struggled to get the words out, where his bandmates were visibly devastated, where any fan of either band or person with ears and a heart would have been moved to tears. It was no secret Chester and Chris were great friends, and the internet can be a dark and plain old mean place, so of course rumors about this poor guy killing himself would take place.

Except they weren’t rumors.

There were no tweets from Chester or Linkin Park chastising the public with “rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated” statements. There was nothing–except for headlines from multiple news sources, including the often on-the-mark TMZ, stating that the singer had been found dead from an apparent suicide-by-hanging.

Finally, the CNN alert flashed across my screen.

My disbelief turned to shock. After about fifteen minutes, shock gave way to grief.

Not again. Not another one.

In a flash, I thought of all my favorite Linkin Park songs over the years that have ever meant something to me, and why they mean something to me: “One Step Closer,” “A Place for My Head,” “Given Up,” “Crawling,” “Numb,” “In the End,” “Faint,” “What I’ve Done,” “The Little Things Give You Away,” “Leave Out All the Rest,” “Shadow of the Day,” “In My Remains,” “Burn It Down,” “Keys to the Kingdom,” “Until It’s Gone,” “One More Light,” “Nobody Can Save Me,” “Sharp Edges.”

To name a few.

Like Chris, Chester was very open about his struggles with addiction and depression, both of which are heavy source material for his lyrics. His words had a universal pain to them–anyone who ever struggled with anything can find something to relate to in his words. He had an incredibly powerful roar, but also a gentle, soulful voice. Sometimes, you could hear them both in the same song. He verbalized the words so many of us wish we could say. He gave a voice to those screams that so many of us wish we could unleash. These songs united so many of us dealing with the same mental and emotional struggles–even if no one in our immediate lives understood what we were going through, there were literally millions of other people who did, millions of other people who listened to the same songs and the same lyrics and felt understood. Because the author of those lyrics did understand, and being understood when you don’t even understand yourself helps you realize you are not crazy, you are not alone, and you’re not the only one suffering.

That author is gone now.

Linkin Park was supposed to perform in Lincoln February 7, 2015. My husband bought me tickets, knowing how much I love LP, and I was beyond thrilled. That same music, those same words, that I’d discovered a decade and a half before, I’d get to hear in person. That roar, that howl, that scream, that echoed the noises in my head I sometimes yearned to release, I’d hear live. I’d get to shout every lyric to every song, I’d get to unite with my fellow LP fans, and it would be a transcendent experience (if you have ever been to a concert with other superfans, you know exactly what I’m talking about). But sadly, Chester broke his foot, and his surgery took place over a string of concert dates including mine, and was thus cancelled. They never rescheduled.

I completed my Master’s degree in May 2017. I had no plans of going to the Saturday morning commencement on May 13, but instead agreed to attend the hooding ceremony on May 12th. Then I found out that Soundgarden was going to be in town that same night. One of my all-time favorite bands from my childhood was coming to my city! I debated, but decided that I’d better go to the hooding ceremony instead. Family was involved, and as it turned out, my best friend had flown in from New York to surprise me, so that meant Soundgarden would have to wait until next time.

There won’t be a next time, now.

It may seem silly to some that these “celebrity deaths” have such an impact on people. I can’t speak for everyone and their reasons for mourning, for grieving. For me, it’s two-fold: these two men were artists, poets, and their work resonated in my soul. The power of their words inspired me to write my own. Their music was a soothing balm for when the rest of the world just didn’t or couldn’t understand what tormented me; when couldn’t understand. They expressed things I wanted to, but didn’t know how.

And also, these men battled the same thing I did–depression, anxiety. Some days, when those two things are going strong inside you, it’s really a toss-up of who’s going to win and how bloody the battle will be. Some days, you’re the victor. Other days, they seem to be. But Chris and Chester were supposed to have been examples that you can push past even the worst times in your head and in your body to rise above, to push on, to keep fighting. They were examples to show you don’t have to be held back from your dreams, that you can fight for what you love and be successful and be loved and have it all. They were supposed to show us that you can win. You can always win.

Despite their deaths, despite my grief, and that of so many others’, I still believe you can win. I have to believe this. There is too much good in this world for me not to. There’s so much worth living for, and they’re all “small” things. I don’t make millions of dollars. I don’t live in a mansion, I’m not famous. But I have family and friends who I cherish. I have pets I adore, who delight me on a daily basis with their mere existence. I have dreams worth fighting for as hard as I can to achieve. I have corners of the world to discover. There’s still tons of créme brûlée and pizza to eat, so much wine to drink. So many miles to run, so many steps to dance. There’s countless holidays and birthdays to celebrate, vacations to take. There are boundless smiles and hugs to give and to receive, so much laughter to share. Books to read, movies to watch, video games to play, stories to write.

Songs to listen to and sing along with, and remember.

The hallways can get really dark sometimes. So dark, I’m not sure if I can find my way out. But then I remember that there’s got to be a corner to turn if I just keep walking, and if I can get there, I can find one more light.

You can, too.


Rest in peace, Chester and Chris.


If you, or someone you know, is struggling with depression and considering suicide, please, please, reach out for help. It’s there.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255