Five From Here: An Eclectic Selection of Local Gift Ideas

Your Austin friends and neighbors have been mighty busy this year.

Ivy and the Wicker Suitcase
Ivy and the Wicker Suitcase

Just for a moment, pay no mind to the national and nationally advertised barrage of merchandise, to what intrudes all ballistic like bright & shiny shrapnel from the weaponized budgets of border-straddling commercial concerns.

It's time – if you haven't been doing this already – to shift your senses to the local, to what originates where you breathe your air and ride your bike and maybe you even got married somewhere nearby and/or your children are here with you, too, and anyway this community thrives so well because you're a decent human part of it.

You follow me so far?

Then follow me to Austin, even if you're already here. I've got five things to tell you a little bit about, five things that you might like to give as gifts this holiday season – or that you might prefer to acquire for your own personal enjoyment – and all these things are from right here in the ATX.

1. MUSIC: Ivy and the Wicker Suitcase

Is this a beautifully illustrated miniature storybook? Is it a CD of eclectic (but most often country-fried) original music by a fierce posse of musicians? Is it a collaboration between the husband-and-wife team of Brian Beattie and Valerie Fowler? It's all of those things, with Beattie providing the engaging songs and story, Fowler handling the complex monochrome illustrations, and the whole caboodle brought home to roost in your lucky sensorium with voicework and singing from their talented friends – Grace London, Daniel Johnston, Bill Callahan, Will Sheff, Kathy McCarty, and James Hand among them. (Did we mention the battalion of instruments involved, which Beattie plays approximately, oh, six or seven thousand of?) "An Illustrated Earmovie Musical," says the text on the back of the book, "for kids of all ages!" And, yup, it's hard to imagine any kid or adult who wouldn't enjoy this tune-filled tale of 10-year-old Ivy Wire accidentally following her dead Daddy down to Hell and, after a few misadventures there and in Heaven, returning home with the money that the no-account paterfamilias had heisted from his own family. Oh!

2. PHOTOGRAPHY: Night

Austin's Ricardo Acevedo is one of those occasional creatures of the night – one of the ones equipped with a superior lens and a heightened interest that verges on voyeurism. In this new volume of photographic works (perfectbound and designed for impact), you can look through his camera's eye as it documents in black-and-white verité a brief encounter between two young people who don't mind hooking up while a stranger's shutter is tuned to their increasingly erotic wavelength. Acevedo is also a wordsmith of the confessional variety, and in the second half of this glossy volume he's captured and arranged kaleidoscopic images of urban nightlife and annotated them with an intimate screed of How Things Are In His World. What goes on in the cheaper & boozier parts of your city while the more lackluster citizens are at home in their late-middle-aged beds watching Jay Leno tickle the lowest common denominator to sleep? Some of what you'll see in Night, to be sure.

3. EDUCATION: Improv Wins

This is an improv-comedy textbook written by Chris Trew and Tami Nelson, the co-founders of The New Movement comedy school and theatre that has outposts here and in Houston and New Orleans. Do these two – crazed geniuses onstage – explain and describe their philosophies and techniques in the most engaging, perfectly effective manner that the world, even the improv world, has ever known? We'd say not. But: Do they do a sufficient job of it? At least yes. And do they actually have something to say in this new book of theirs, something that will introduce you to improvisational performance or, especially, amplify what you already know about the artform? There we'd say, emphatically, yes – they have many somethings to say, and you can better understand how they do the amazing shit they do onstage, and how you can reach for that same level, by reading this book. As with all the best improvisers and improv schools in town (and probably anywhere), the focus here is not on the easy laugh or the comfortable path, but on the riskier gambits that pay off in greater performer and audience engagement, in pushing the boundaries of improv to where only dedicated artists can take them.

4. INDIE LITERATURE: Red Kitty #1

I found this zine among many offered on the diverse tables of the recent Austin Zine Festival at Mass Gallery in the bustling 507 Calles compound. I bought it because the thing looked well-made and charmingly designed, and the writing, what little I scanned before purchase, seemed worthwhile to pass a chunk of time with. So then I get this Red Kitty home, and make myself a cup of coffee, and sit down to actually enjoy the contents, and – oh hell, yes. Just Chloe Burns' Love Poem in the Dentist's Chair – "We've never seen anything like it, they said, but I laughed and told them they had better not look into your mouth, if mine disturbed them so – they asked what they'd find and I told them: ruins of ancient coliseums, the original greek pronunciations, lava caves and spiraled shell: a small bird gripping your gums too frightened to fly away." – just that & the rest of the poem is reward enough, without considering the other, equally evocative texts and illustrations that are lovingly bound by red thread in this digest-sized collection of good thick papers.

5. BODY CARE: Something Good Naturals

Soap: It's what's keeping you clean, with a dual hydrophilic-and-hydrophobic action – the sort of thing that's been handily instigated since the first time a glob of animal fat fell into the ashes of some stone-age firepit. It's what you can buy a vast variety of in many forms from many different soap concerns, and now of course it's most often made with vegetable fat. It's what you can get, the point we're trying to make here, from Barbara Strickland's Something Good Naturals shop via Etsy. Recommended, because the lady hand-mixes these soap batches one by one and uses only the best ingredients and, well, she's right here in town. No reason to involve whatever percentage of thousands of gallons of jet fuel for shipping. No reason to do other than order a batch of All Natural Texas Olive Oil Soap, say, with "75% Texas-grown and processed organic olive oil" among its few & simple ingredients. Well, unless you're going to order some of that Tea Tree and French Green Clay Soap instead, right? Or maybe a few bars of the Peppermint? But you're holiday shopping now, aren't you? That final splurge here at the tail-end of 2013? Might as well, we suggest, order you up a variety of these fine cleansing bars to last throughout the coming year.

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