Saturday, October 16, 2010

Eyes Wide Shut: The billion dollar industry solving a problem that doesn't exist

Like most women, I’ve had to work on my body image since I was a teenager. From the moment I read my first Seventeen and Cosmo magazines, “no woman really looks like that” and “I love myself just the way I am” are mantras I’ve had to adopt to preserve my self-esteem. 

Over the years, I’ve also been able to maintain a fairly healthy self image by appreciating my good points while trying not to obsess over my not-so-good-points. However, I admit to being frustrated by “advancements” that seem to diminish the uniqueness of what I’ve embraced as my good points. For instance, the earliest memory I have of being usurped by technology was my eye color. I have blue eyes, and particularly when I was younger, people would remark on them. Unfortunately, “What big blue eyes you have!” was replaced by “Is that your real eye color?” when colored contact lenses came on the scene. One good point I could no longer see as defining me – because anyone could have the same eye color or better for $99. 

Another example - I was blessed with nice tatas at an early age. When they came out, I was so happy – finally, no longer a wallflower! I owned something special, right out there where the boys could appreciate them! Typically two cup sizes larger than most of my friends, I remember being able to ignore things that I didn’t like about my appearance by appreciating my better features. “Well, my legs are a little crooked, but hey, at least I’ve got a D cup!” But sadly, technology plowed ahead once again and took with it an appreciation of one of my natural assets. In the 80s and 90s, breast augmentation became all the rage, and even as early as high school, I remember boys asking me if my boobs were real. 

Silicone (not to mention wonder bras and water bras) took away something that I had previously seen as uniquely setting me apart. Of course the boys still looked, but I couldn’t help but think they were questioning if I was what I seemed. The few physical features I liked about myself were being quickly ticked off a very short list by the cosmetic industry. (I can say the same thing for my lips, hair color, skin tone, and any number of things that we can so alter that the bodies we were born with aren’t unique anymore.) 

All of that resentment has mostly faded as I’ve gotten older. I’ve come to understand that just because I didn’t need those particular advancements didn’t mean other girls didn’t need or want them to improve their appearances. The industry responds to demand, right? And whether people think my eye color is real or enhanced, I still get compliments on them. Whether women can improve their chest size doesn’t mean that my natural beauties aren’t still fabulous in the light of day! 

Self-acceptance aside, I can’t help but notice that the cosmetic industry today seems to be working in the reverse. Things most of us didn’t even comprehend as a “feature” we should worry about are now identified for us by the industry as things we should want to improve - and a technological advancement we didn’t even know we needed is out there to make it happen. Stuff we didn’t even know we were supposed to be insecure about we’re now insecure about!

Case in point: The $1 billion a year mascara industry. Of all the things I worried about when criticizing my teenage body and image, it never occurred to me to hate my eye lashes. Sure, mascara has been around a long time. I’m even old enough to remember when blue mascara was all the rage. But apparently, while I was busy trying to accept myself, the problem of the thin eye lash became a serious epidemic! Who knew? Sure, there are some women who lose eyelashes, don’t have many, or worse, who pull them out as a bad habit; but surely this doesn’t call for dozens of commercials about volumizing, defining, lengthening, separating, curling, and growing eye lashes does it?

Did you know that you aren’t at your sexiest unless you have luscious, magnified, bold, extreme, lush and dramatic eyelashes? You need “big, bold, look at me” lashes according Drew Barrymore in her LASHBLAST Covergirl ads. And did you know you can stop traffic with your eyelashes?? Yves Saint Laurent says you can! Revlon wants you to use their GROW LUSCIOUS, DOUBLETWIST or DEFINITION mascaras. Don’t forget the COLOSSAL VOLUM from Maybelline New York or LASH ACCELERATOR from Rimmel London. 

In addition to mascara (and the old standby glue-on eye lashes or standard eye lash curler), you can also get a prescription for Latisse for your “inadequate” lashes! Sweep it on your eye lids, and in weeks you’ll have longer, darker lashes. The potential side-effects include a permanent change to your iris pigmentation. But who cares about that? You can always get colored contacts to fix your new brown eyes back to blue. And the commercials will have you believe that now that Brook Shields has longer, fuller, darker lashes, she can go to birthday parties and dance with strange men – surely she could never have achieved these feats without Latisse! Claire Danes can run into friends with their dogs on the street, meet girlfriends for lunch and go window shopping! I’m sure before she solved her baby lash problem, she stayed in a dark room. 

What are these commercials really saying? You should be embarrassed of your eyelash volume. How dare you have fun with skimpy lashes? If you don’t buy mascara or get a prescription, you’ll never stop traffic. Because bigger is better and you’re just regular. Pair beautiful women in bright colors against white backgrounds with pounding, upbeat music and flash words like “MASSIVE” and “LUSCIOUS” and statistics like “80% fuller”, and we women are convinced we’ve got yet another physical feature that needs improvement – add it to the list. 

Do you know there are literally hundreds of kinds of mascara now? Maybelline itself has 34 different mascara products on their website! In the 80s and 90s, I remember a variety of different colors (black, brown, clear and, of course, the fashionable blue) and either waterproof or not. And fake eyelashes and tips were also the norm. But were there really so many ways to tackle the “eyelash problem” back in the day as there are now?

Do we need this war being waged against the weak eyelash – or does the fashionable media, perpetuated by the cosmetic industry, tell us we need it? 

Well, I refuse. That’s right, Covergirl! I refuse to accept your war on the inadequate lash! You got me on my cheek bones need to be higher, my lips need to be fuller, and my eyelids need to be smokier. Like everything else I’ve had to accept about myself as a woman, I’ll just have to learn to live with the fact that my tiny little normal lashes will never help me hail a cab. 

Friday, September 24, 2010

Still Here

I know I haven't written in a while, but I'm still here and still thinking about writing! I have a 2 week road trip coming up in a few days and I intend to blog my experiences. Please stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

10 Ways to Modernize Your Home

Why is it such a big deal to be “modern”? What value do modern kitchen cabinets or other contemporary updates add to your home, especially when you’ve always enjoyed traditional décor? Two words: resale value!

You may like a traditional look, and there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as “traditional” doesn’t translate to your potential buyers as “outdated”. Here are 10 ways to ensure it doesn’t, by modernizing your home for a better resale value:

1. Improve Exteriors – Curb appeal is important. Keep it clutter-free and avoid overgrown shrubbery or plain rows of evergreen bushes. Mix it up with rich foliage in attractive groups of threes and fives, rather than the more traditional pairings. Add perennial flowers for color and mulch to give everything a finished look. (Black mulch is a more modern touch than traditional brown shades.)

2. Paint – The traditional pre-sale procedure is to blast everything in neutrals so a buyer will not be turned off by your personal taste and will feel the freedom to put his or her own personality into the home. Neutral paints are still popular, but there’s something to be said for showing potential buyers the home’s potential with a little pop – try an accent wall in high traffic areas like the living room, dining room or kitchen in a bold, eye-catching color. With improvements in today’s paints, covering a dark red or blue wall is much easier to do than it used to be if they want to change it!

3. Update the kitchen – It’s one of the first rooms potential buyers look at. Concentrate on the flooring, countertops, sink, lighting and cabinetry. Kitchens should have a clean feel, so replace any flooring that is buckling or cracking. Granite and marble countertops are a modern touch and will make any cook feel like a professional. Replace the sink if it’s a shallow, single basin. Two basin, stainless steel sinks will immediately improve kitchen value. Remember to enhance the lighting scheme with contemporary fixtures and high wattage bulbs – even at night, the kitchen should have a light, airy feel.

Finally, the number one way to improve the look of your kitchen is with modern kitchen cabinets. Potential buyers can go any way they want with styling and accessories, but the cabinets themselves are the framework for the space and should look contemporary, timeless and durable.

Keep in mind, kitchens are gathering places. Custom cabinets, fresh paint and new, energy-efficient appliances are obvious places to start and the first thing potential buyers will notice, but they will find your kitchen more inviting if there is an island, breakfast bar and cozy stools for the busy modern family to enjoy a quick meal together. If you have a small, uninviting kitchen, consider opening or enlarging this space before making expansive additions to the house elsewhere.

4. Frame it - Put up wood trim and cornicing for an upgraded, contemporary look. Accentuate newly painted walls with ceiling trim and armchair railing. Replace old light switches and outlets, as updating to more modern switches, plates and fixtures implies that the home has newer electrical wiring.

5. Dress up the floors - Hardwood flooring is always fashionable and can be updated to a contemporary look with throw rugs. Woods floors are more versatile than carpet. If you have covered hardwood floors, check their condition by pulling up a small piece of your existing carpet in a discrete location, like the corner of a closet. Refinishing floors is an inexpensive update, especially if you do it yourself. If you don’t have hardwoods under your carpet, at a minimum have them cleaned, and ideally look into inexpensive laminate wood floors. (Laminate floors also give kitchens a more modern look than vinyl tile or ceramic squares.)

6. Update the bathroom – Next to the kitchen, it’s the most common place potential buyers look for improvements. You can still keep a traditional look (read claw tubs and pedestal sinks) with modern convenience. Consider timer fans, heated floors and updated lighting. Like new light switches and outlets will give the impression of updated wiring, so too will updated bathroom fixtures give the impression of newer plumbing. Replace or paint outdated cabinets for a clean, fresh feel and don’t forget to update their hardware. Sometimes it’s the little things that impact buyers the most.

7. Make room for media – A den used to be an optional room, but today’s families desire space for computers and game consoles. Even if you do your computer work from a laptop in your bedroom and don’t own an X-box, create a space where a potential buyer can picture an office or media room. Make sure the space isn’t in a secluded area of the home. Modern parents want to keep the family computer in a visible place.

8. Improve storage – Modern home owners have more need for storage than ever. Counter space and table tops are needed for TV remotes, cell phones and charging stations for the many electronic gadgets. This means the traditional items you’d expect to keep out in the open need to be tucked away. Look at ways to improve closets and cabinets with organizers or permanent shelving to maximize empty space.

9. Improve energy efficiency - If your home is in a hot, humid climate, install ceiling fans, especially in second floor bedrooms. This is an inexpensive investment that will increase the home's energy efficiency and improve its perceived value. In addition, add insulation, make sure you have fresh caulk to seal leaks, and upgrade to energy-efficient windows, doors, and skylights. If you invest in these changes, make sure to highlight them to buyers. Efforts to improve energy efficiency are not easily perceived during a walk-through.

10. Stage It – Lastly, when you’ve made all your updates, throw on the finishing touches with modern accessories that will brighten up your home. Candles (unscented for the kitchen), mirrors, rugs, and throw pillows are easy ways to renew the energy of a room. Highlight your beautiful custom cabinets in the kitchen with bowls of fresh fruit and shiny appliances, even if you don’t use them on a daily basis (like a new blender or bread maker). Finally, don’t forget to show off all your changes with bright light bulbs.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sex & the City 2 Movie Review: 2 out of 4 Jimmy Choo’s

Movie sequels are great when the first installment has left you wanting or needing more - when everything in the first movie hasn’t been tied up in a nice bow, and there are questions left unanswered. So why a Sex and the City 2, when everything about the first movie was tying up all the loose ends?

I was skeptical about the need for a second installment of Sex and the City, but I went to see it today on Opening Day anyway. Why? Because even though all the answers were given in the first one, I love the characters. I couldn’t imagine not knowing what Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda were up to and where else they had to go. It would be like dropping my best friend right in the middle of our friendship for no other reason than because everything was good just how it was and I felt we’d experienced everything there was to experience in our friendship. Oh - and I didn’t want to miss the outrageous clothing and shoes. 

What I liked:
  1. The characters stay true to themselves and they don’t mess with perfection.
  2. Samantha’s character embraces her age without depressing me. ( I thought her plotline in the first movie wasn’t great. They took a fun character and made you want to slap her around by the third scene.)
  3. The ladies get out of New York and show us another world we haven’t seen before. (One of the things I always loved about the series was that they showed me a side of New York I never got to see. They do the same for us with the Middle East.)
  4. Carrie and Big do not try to climb out of their self-perceived marriage rut by having children.
  5. Sarah Jessica lost the trademark chin mole, making her look more like Glenda the Good Witch than the wicked one.

What I didn’t like:
  1. Not as much emotion. There isn’t the same sentimentality of the first one, although I concede that if they’d carried that into the sequel, it might have been a little one-trick pony. Carrie has another trauma, but not on the scale of the first one. Big leaving Carrie at the altar gave me a lump in my throat and everything about it was believable. Without spoiling the plot, Carrie’s trauma in this one doesn’t measure up and feels contrived.
  2. The Charlotte plot-line. I know they had to give her one, but I had a hard time feeling sorry for her and her family problems when she has such a blessed life – like a full-time nanny and a full-time husband.
  3. Not quite as funny as the first one. There were many chuckle moments, but no belly laughs for me.
  4. The gay wedding – I was promised a gown bigger and better than the Vivian Westwood Carrie wore in the first movie for her failed wedding. All I got was a white suit. And Carrie’s “hat” in the wedding scene was laughable.  Just saying.
  5. Not as many “sexy” shockers – In the first movie, we saw actual penis (shower scene), a humping dog, someone pooing in her pants, an unkempt bikini line, and almost full front nudity from Miranda.
Sexiest Moment:
The four ladies coming over the sand dune with the Sex and the City theme song playing Middle Eastern style. Don’t know why, just a good moment. Like their friendship transcending culture, space and time. Or maybe it was just that I like that tune and the clothes rocked. One of those.

Least Sexy Moment:
Samantha in the market at the end, with all the condoms. (Don’t want to say more and spoil.) Why was this my least favorite moment? It scared me!  I wanted to be right there, pulling her away and throwing some clothes on her.  It gave me flashbacks to girls-night-outs when I had to keep my girlfriends from doing something monumentally stupid.

So, that’s my first ever movie review.  I give it 2 out of 4 Jimmy Choos. (Note: Any Jimmy Choo shoes are great in my ranking system, unless there are no Jimmy Choo’s at all.) Not quite as good as the first, but holds its own. I predict regular fans will not really like it, hardcore fans will like it but not as much as the first, and the box office will still love it because it's got more potential than most other things out right now (besides Iron Man 2, which I should review, too, because I saw that one last week).

I would write more, but seeing Sex & the City 2 on opening day was my birthday gift to self – and my birthday still has some life left in it!

Monday, May 10, 2010

5 Albums/ 5 Months - Music Reviews by guest author Stephen Sharbatz

May is now upon us and it seems like a perfectly suitable arbitrary time to assess this year’s music releases thus far.  There are a lot of good albums to consider, but there have only been a few albums that I have come across this year that could potentially get my vote as album of the year (my vote is very influential you know).  Here are my top five of 2010 along with a few other categories.  Please share your picks, I am constantly searching for new favorites.
5.  She & Him – Volume II
This album is a little tough to recommend as one of the year’s best.  Despite critical kudos, I still find it a tad embarrassing to enjoy She & Him, I would almost categorize them as a guilty pleasure.  While M. Ward delivers stellar production that is perfectly suited to singer Zooey Deschenel’s somewhat limited, but altogether enchanting, voice, the result is musical confection.  Deschenel’s lyrics could sometimes be described as trite, saccharine, and simplistic, which is the main reason for my subdued enthusiasm for the album.  Deschenel’s saving grace is that she comes off a sweetly naïve rather than amateurish or out of her element.  As I mentioned, the album is ultimately ear candy; it is okay in moderation so long as you are getting your nutrients elsewhere and exercising regularly.  Fortunately for She & Him (as well as their fans) sometimes music need only sound pleasing to the ear, in which case Volume II ranks as one of the year’s best.

4.  First Aid Kit – Big Black & the Blue
The first LP from this Swedish sister act follows in the storied tradition of Swedish indie folk-pop.  The lyrics are very rich and somehow convey a wealth of life experience; no small feat for a pair of teenagers.  The real draw, however, are the lovely melodies that the sisters create together.  The new LP continues right where the debut EP Drunken Trees left off, it is difficult to separate the two.  This is not a criticism, this is a sigh of relief that the group has not yet felt the need to change their style and they have not had the all too common “sophomore slump”. 

3.  Avi Buffalo
Another group of teenagers, this time from the United States, offer a solid debut LP.  While First Aid Kit sing songs of love that seem beyond their years, Avi Buffalo focuses on songs of lust that are pretty much age appropriate.  To accompany the teenaged preoccupation with fornication, Avi Buffalo delivers carefully crafted and skillful pop arrangements that both belie and embody youthful spirit.  The songs on this album are catchy and fun; the perfect soundtrack for a summer road trip.  A little Shins-y, sometimes Stars-y, Avi Buffalo surpass all other U.S. teen groups.  My only complaint is that I would like to see front man Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg make a little more space for the wonderful female voice of Rebecca Colemen.  Top tracks for me include Truth Sets In and One Last, songs that feature both vocalists equally.  With a little more maturity in their lyrics, Avi Buffalo could be an indie mainstay for years to come.

2.  The Watson Twins – Talking to You, Talking to Me
Another sister act in my top five, this time twin sisters Leigh and Chandra Watson.  This is the second LP release for The Watson Twins, but they have produced a lot of music over the past several years, starting with their contribution to Jenny Lewis’ solo debut Rabbit Fur Coat.  While The Watson Twins have always dabbled in folk, country and pop (and continue to do so) the most striking element of Talking to You, Talking to Me is the new, relentlessly vicious soul sound that dominates the album.  Songs like Harpeth River and Midnight may sound somewhat familiar in the way that most soul songs do, but the delivery is like a heavyweight punch to gut.  The voices, keyboards, guitars and drums provide a deep aching that rattles the body and soul.  When they let up just a little on Forever Me, the result is sweet, sultry and heartbreaking.  I do not think that I could make it through an entire album of songs like this, and the twins must know that and there are a couple of pop tunes and songs with lighter harmonies to provide a nice balance.  If you have any sort of emotion bottled up, Talking to You, Talking to Me provides a truly cathartic listening experience.

1.  Beach House – Teen Dream – 
This album was released on January 26, 2010 and that was the day that it became album of the year.  Over four months later this album is still getting heavy rotation in my various music-playing devices.  While it is still early, I do not expect a better album to come along for quite some time.  In my opinion, Teen Dream is an instant classic and the bar has been set for any other artists that have designs on the top spot for 2010.  I had given Beach House’s previous releases a shot, but they did not draw me in.  Teen Dream hooked me immediately with Zebra and did not let go for the rest of the album.  Teen Dream is a fitting title for this collection of ethereal songs.  My wife commented that the album sounded depressing.  As a general rule I prefer up tempo songs and I too will dismiss songs that are simply too slow, dreary or depressing; but this album is far too nuanced to be described by any single term.  While I will argue against the depressing tag, I will say that the album is very emotive.  The best way for me to describe the emotional rush you will experience while listening to Teen Dream is to liken it to a strong memory.  The memory may be good or bad, but the fact that it is in the past gives you a better perspective with which to analyze it.  If remembering a first love for instance, you might focus on a happy moment and then start to feel down because it may not have worked out; you might then chuckle at yourself for being so young and different from today.  You may catch yourself wondering “what if” before appreciating what actually came to be.  Each song on Teen Dream can take you through the full gauntlet of emotions, perhaps touching on depression, but there is too much buried in the sounds to stop at any one emotion for too long.  Singer Victoria Legrand’s unique voice rides the dreamy instrumentation expertly; her husky intonation smoothes out beautifully as she delivers bigger notes, creating sublime crescendos in each song.  With most albums, even if I like them, there are a couple of standout tracks that become my favorites and the rest quickly fade away.  With Teen Dream, six of the ten songs have been my favorite at any given time; none of the tracks are disposable.  This is a rarity these days.  

Other quality albums released this year:
  • July Flame by Laura Veirs
  • Plastic Beach by Gorillaz
  • Wu Massacre by Meth, Ghost and Rae
  • Forgiveness Rock Record by Broken Social Scene
Biggest Sophomore Slump:

Amy MacDonald – A Curious Thing


Here Lies Love by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim – A double album dedicated to Imelda Marcos, really?  This is just a truly bizarre release but I cannot dismiss it because it features an amazing collection of female singers including Natalie Merchant, Tori Amos, Santi White, Sharon Jones, Florence Welsch, Nellie McKay and many more.  The tone seems very positive; I do not really detect any sarcasm.  The title track features Florence Welsch and is a highlight for me.  Please give it a try and then you can explain the whole concept to me.  They know she was exiled from the Philippines, right?

Leave Your Sleep by Natalie Merchant – Another double album, this one from one of my all-time favorites.  I cannot over-emphasize how much I love Natalie Merchant, but a double album consisting entirely of lyrics taken from obscure poems, really?  Only a handful of the songs are truly listenable here and while the concept is intriguing, the result is like a master’s thesis for art school.  This is impressive on one hand, but on the other, well, I will just say that it has a limited appeal.

Biggest Disappointment:

Have One on Me by Joanna Newsom – My explanation will require an entirely separate blog entry:
stay tuned.

A Few Artists to Watch For in the Coming Months:

  • Samantha Crain
  • The Roots
  • Wolf Parade
  • Stars
  • Sarah Harmer
Stephen Sharbatz lives in the Detroit area and is a relatively new father.  Stephen studied media ecology at New York University, has written album reviews for The Michigan Journal and was content editer for the official website of The Wu-Tang Clan.  Stephen's favorite artists include: Neko Case, MF DOOM, Feist and The Cardigans.Check out his new blog: 

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Nashville Under Water - An update from guest blogger Kymberly Bryson

In light of recent developments in Nashville, I'm reposting Kymberly Bryson's previous guest blog entry along with an update:

As many of you may have heard, Nashville is under a disaster. May 2-3, 2010 we received downpours of rain. The Cumberland River exceeded its limit causing water to flood many areas. Interstate 24 flooded causing people to have to evacuate their cars. They watched their cars being covered by water while a building from a nearby school floated by.

Also damaged was the Opryland Hotel....a favorite to visit and stay at while in town. The Opry Mills Mall had 10 ft of water inside it. The Grand Ole Opry was a heartbreaker for many here in town. It was flooded as well. So much musical history and we're not even sure the full extent of the damage inside. 

[Photo borrowed from Anderson Cooper 360's blog on CNN.]

People have lost their homes, belongings, everything. Yet, as a community we have come together. People are lending their helping hands in all ways possible. It's amazing to hear about it and see the action taking place. Nashville wasn't prepared for this kind of disaster. Yet we are going to make it through. It's been estimated that the damage is over $1 billion. This isn't to be taken lightly.

If you'd like to help the Nashville Community please give. So many people could use the support. Vince Gill will be hosting a Flood Relief Telethon tonight [May , 2010] from 7 to 10pm CST. Proceeds will help the Salvation Army, Red Cross, and Second Harvest Food Bank. If you're not a local, you can view the program at Also check out to make donations. 

Nashville thanks you for your efforts and support, and so do I.

God Bless,
Kymberly Bryson

It all starts with a song....That's a line you'll hear in Nashville, Tennessee. Filled with honkey tonks, Nashville is known as Music City. Most people in town are aspiring singer/songwriter types like myself, Kymberly Bryson. We're all here to be heard. A good song, the right connections and soon you could be on your way. I've been fortunate to play at some great venues - Fiddle and Steel Guitar Bar, Legends, Second Fiddle, The Stage - along with traveling with a band to different states. It's all been a blessing.

Currently, I'm working on a cable tv project, singing with the band Beacon Hill, and performing at Buck Wild Saloon as a karaoke jockey. I've met some great people in this town. There's nothing like a country crowd. Performing for them is always entertaining. Everyone is very welcoming. But don't be fooled, not everyone walks around in a cowboy hat and boots. From business suits to chains on jeans, Country music brings many different people together. And keep your eyes open as you walk the streets of lower Broadway. You may very well see some of Nashville's finest. Blake Shelton and Jamey Johnson have both been spotted around town along with many others. And you can't forget about the regulars. When I work at Buck Wild Saloon there are several people that come back again and again to see my show. Some join me by dancing on the bar and others get up and sing a song. It's always a pleasure to see their smiling faces along with others that stop by when they are in town.

Nashville is really a great city. From the Grand Ole Opry to the Ryman Auditorium, you're surrounded by dreams coming true and the legend behind country music. So if you're looking for a small town with a big city feel...come check out Nashville. We'll be glad to have ya'll. Oh, and be sure to look for me...Kymberly Bryson.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Yoga for My Emotional Body

I was often the last person to be picked for teams in high school gym class. It was always the same story. There I'd stand, my palms sweaty on my gym shorts, watching as the team captains would first pick their friends and then those deemed by all as the most athletic. I'd feel the pit in my stomach grow as I realized if I wasn't picked soon, I'd be the last. The default pick. Mortal embarrassment for a teen age girl who wants nothing more than to fit in.

If I was lucky, the gym teacher would select one of my friends as a team captain. If I was less lucky, the captains would both be non-friends, and I wouldn't get picked until last. If I was really unlucky, the captain would be one of my friends, and I STILL wouldn't get picked because I was bad enough at most sports to be viewed as a drag on the team, even by someone who liked me.

There's little worse than watching a peer look with resignation between you and the other last person standing, sigh, and then shrug a resigned shoulder as if to say "They both suck. Do I have to pick one?"

My lack of popularity when it comes to sports picks was understandable, even by me. I was clumsy and scared of getting hurt. I was the girl to dodge the volleyball. I was the girl to call out "yours" more often than "mine"! I was the girl who waited for the softball to drop on the ground in front of me before I scooped it up to return it to first base. It wasn't that I wasn't capable of being athletic. I was healthy, somewhat tall for my age and had decent aim. But I was non-aggressive and too afraid of making a mistake. I'd volunteer for referee or bat-girl any day.

This is why, as an adult, I love yoga. No one has to pick me. I don't have to worry about dropping the ball and letting everyone down. I can be strong. I can grow in my practice. I can perform at my level. And it's all about me. It's only about what I'm doing on the mat that matters.

I began practicing yoga about 8 months ago. With the exception of a short sabbatical while I was healing from wrist surgery, I've gone at least once or twice a week since then. Each time I go, I grow stronger. I bask in the praise from the instructors - when I hear "excellent expression" as my teacher walks by me, I feel strong, empowered, and far removed from the unpicked girl in the school yard.

I've learned a few things as a new yogi that I'd like to share. If you're afraid of trying yoga like I was afraid of dodgeball in school, maybe this will bring you to the studio:

General Tips

1. It's really all about you. There's no judgment. No one laughs if you can't hold a position or if you topple out of a challenging pose. There's an accepting nature in yoga unlike in any other type of fitness I've seen, even when working out alone at the gym.

2. Work at your level. No matter what difficulty level of the class, if there's a pose you can't do, don't do it. If you want to give it a try, only go as far as you can into the pose that it doesn't cause you pain. If needed, signal the instructor and whisper a request for a modification or alternative exercise. For example, with my healing wrist, I can't do Hero pose, which requires one to balance on their hands using two blocks, lifting the entire body off the floor. Chances are, I might not be able to accomplish this feat anyway - but I can't put weight on my wrist right now to find out. So I do a completely different pose. I do Boat pose, which works the core of the body without using the arms at all. I found out to do this by talking with the instructor before class and letting him know my area of difficulty so he could make recommendations ahead of time.

3. Enjoy the meditation. It's hard to remember to breathe when you are exerting yourself in a tough pose, but breathing really does help you get through it. It gives you something to focus on and comforts you with the thought that no one is watching what you are doing as they are meditating on their own breathing, too.

4. Don't get frustrated. I don't care how athletic you are in normal life, yoga is something different. There will be poses you can't do right away, that you can't do all the way, or that you can't hold for an extended period of time. Some yogi wrote in an ancient text 2500 years ago, "Practice where you are" or something along those lines. It holds true. You will get better, even if it's just in being able to reach your toes a little better or remembering to keep your shoulder blades together while trying a new posture. But it's okay to only do what you can do and if you are stressing about your lack of progress or your inability to twist your leg behind your head, you're not receiving the full benefit of the experience.

5. Do a little research before you go. My first class, the instructor would say the names of positions and I didn't know what they were. Everyone else would be moving into position and I was taken out of my own meditative practice to watch others for cues. This isn't how every teacher does it. I've since found an instructor who guides us into the poses by telling us where to put our parts and then tells us the name of the pose we're in. But if you have a teacher like the former, it helps to know the "basic" poses - such as Downward Facing Dog and Child's pose. Just do a little Googling. If you can't do that, position your mat at the back of the studio and watch others the first few times. You won't get the self-focused meditative aspect of the practice, but you'll learn quickly. Just remember, you don't want others to judge you, so don't judge those you observe while you are learning. Everyone is in a different place in their practice.

6. Observe yoga studio etiquette. Yoga isn't about being popular, but you don't want to be the jerk either. If you are using a studio mat instead of your own, clean it off when you are done. Most good studios have a bottle of disinfectant and paper towels. Don't put your mat too close to others mats. Clean up after yourself - the yoga instructor isn't your maid. Put any bolsters or blankets you use away when you're done. Refrain from conversation in yoga unless the culture of your class seems to encourage it.

7. Don't be afraid. If I can do yoga, you can do yoga! There are special yoga classes for certain limitations, including yoga for the back, yoga for the emotional body, yoga for the neck and spine, yoga for pregnancy and many more. Start with a basic class and avoid HOT vinyasa classes at first. Hot vinyasa is when they heat the room up to sweltering temperatures. I find that extra sweating means extra slippage on the mat which isn't the best for someone just learning.

8. Yoga is not against your religion. Yes, there is some stuff about balancing shakras and ancient words for the positions, but you don't have to attend a class that's heavy on that - and every teacher is different. It's really about finding your own peace, not about worshiping anyone or anything.

Some Not So General Tips

1. Don't worry if you smell. If others can smell you, your mat is too close, but it's okay to sweat.

2. Wear comfortable clothes that cover your body. I like to say, if I can see your vajayjay during Downward Dog, go shopping.

3. Don't eat a huge meal before yoga. A food baby will make it harder to get in the poses. Also, your teacher will keep telling you to pull in your stomach and won't realize you ARE, it's just not obvious with all that food in your belly.

4. Breathing deeply in yoga is expected. Tortured groans are distracting. If you are groaning aloud, you are doing a position you shouldn't or trying to push yourself too far.

5. I highly recommend what's known in my circle as "detox/retox". Nothing tastes as good after challenging yoga as a Cosmopolitan or other drink. Going to yoga with friends and having a drink after will incentivize you to keep going. It's probably not something your yoga teacher would recommend, but I'm not your yoga teacher. Drink up.

6. When your teacher says "You may find that your body is speaking to you more strongly in this pose" the interpretation is "You might notice this hurts. And you will notice it hurts even more tomorrow."

7. I've been told that when you lose your balance during a balance posture (read: a posture where you are doing things while standing on one leg), it's not your fault. It's the earth moving on its axis that caused you to bobble. I love to blame things on the universe, so I embrace this reasoning.

8. If your class is described as "serene" or "calming" yoga, don't interpret that as easy. I don't think there is any easy yoga, especially when you are a beginner, though it does get better.

Hope these tips help! Remember, yoga is all about you. No judgment. No school yard picks. Though you never thought of yourself as fit or as an accomplished athlete, yoga has something for everyone - even me.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Vehicular Arachnophobia

I was the guest speaker at the American Business Women's Association dinner today on the topic of professional writing and writing for the web. After my presentation, a city councilwoman and candidate for Oakland County Commissioner asked me to develop the website for her campaign. Needless to say, I was feeling good, decidedly accomplished and professional, as I climbed into my car to drive home.

Ten minutes later, I was feeling decidedly unprofessional as I crouched shivering in the dark in the passenger seat of my car, parked on the side of the highway with cars rocking my car as they rushed past. I had been driving at 70 mph, already brainstorming website ideas for my new potential project, when a spider crept into my line of vision across the inside of my windshield.

What happens when I typically see a spider happened this time, regardless of the fact that I was speeding down the highway. I went into escape mode. I cut over two lanes, screeched to a stop on the shoulder and literally threw myself away from the spider and into the passenger seat. My high heels, small sporty car with limited space, and extra body weight didn't slow me down a bit. If I'd been a cartoon character, I would have left a little cloud of smoke that said "pffft" or "zoom" behind me in the driver's seat.

Though they all seem enormous to me, I'll admit, this wasn't a super huge spider. It wasn't a tarantula. But it was one of those sturdy little fat ones that scare me far more than the whispy long-legged variety. Its body was the size of a thumbtack, and legs included, it was maybe the size of a quarter. But the size and shape of the spider isn't really important here. Even its attitude isn't all that important, although this was a particularly active little sucker with a skittery, jumpy kind of personality. What's important is that it was a spider at all and currently in my personal space.

I've always been terrified of spiders. I can't see them on TV or even read about them in a book. I think this phobia comes from the fact that my dad used to make my mom squish spiders in our house when I was growing up. If my big, strong dad was afraid of a little spider, it was safe to assume they were deadly, terrifying creatures and I should fear them, too.

If a spider appears in my home these days, I typically get all lightheaded and scream for my husband. If it's late, and he's already in bed, I've learned not to wake him -- even if that means I have to abandon whatever I was doing and leave the room until later. This has happened more than once when I've prepared to take a bath in the evening. When my husband walks in the bathroom in the morning to find the tub full of cold water, he knows I abandoned my bath for the safety of the bedroom the night before. If he's awake, my husband either kills them for me or scoops them up and takes them outside. He often mocks me gently while he does this, thoroughly entertained and equally exasperated by my shaking and uncontrollable clothes brushing. (I'm always convinced there's a second spider lurking somewhere in my hair or clothing when a spider has been spotted.) I fear dead spiders as much as live ones, so I need him to tell me the spider is gone - I can't look at the tissue for confirmation.

Sometimes, I get the nerve to tackle spiders on my own. I have a hard time killing them with a tissue. It puts me too close to the spider. Instead, I scramble for something with reach - the bathroom is a convenient place for this, as I can use air freshener, hairspray or some kind of cleaning product to attack the offender from a distance. If it's a big one or one that seems immune to chemical showers, I typically abandon the room as previously noted. Once, when in my car on the way to a job interview, I managed to get my hands on an aerosol can of wrinkle releaser and sprayed the spider over my shoulder until it was cemented against the rear window. I can only imagine what I smelled like walking into that interview.

This time, there was nothing in reach and I was trapped inside with the spider. I couldn't just run from the room. Unfortunately, I had also just cleaned out my car, so I didn't even have a tissue. After five solid minutes spent shaking in the passenger's seat, I dug around in my briefcase in the backseat and produced a scrap of paper. I couldn't seem to make myself do anything about the spider that had stopped on the windshield across from the steering wheel and seemed to be looking at me. I realized I was being ridiculous and finally got up the nerve to smash at the spider with my eyes closed. I sat and chewed my nails for a few minutes after, waiting to see if the spider might have somehow escaped the smush.

Nothing happened, so I got out of the car, came around to the driver's side, and got in after a few moments of inspecting the seat for any sister spiders. I pulled back onto the highway and went a few more miles before I saw the spider on the windshield again. It had escaped certain death. Once again, I screamed, freaked out, and made it to the side of the road without hitting anyone. I launched myself into the backseat this time. Now I was shaking and crying.

My speaking engagement was only 10 miles from home, and yet it was now almost an hour since I had left there. I started to worry how I was going to get home. I felt powerless. I'd been carjacked by an arachnid. I started to think of ways to call my husband to come and get me without telling him it was because of a spider. Could I tell him my car was acting funny? Have him come get me and ask him to drive my car home to "test it out" while I followed in his car? I also began to worry that someone might stop on the road to help me. Here I was at 10pm at night on the side of the road with my hazards and interior dome light on. How humiliating it would be to explain to a patrol officer or good Samaritan that my car was okay, I was just scared of a spider.

As often happens when I'm confronted with a spider, my thoughts began to race -- and I knowingly started coming up with all kinds of irrational thoughts. This spider was out to get me, because I had killed two spiders already this week. (One crawled across the keys of my laptop while I was writing late Tuesday night and then later, the same night, I sprayed one with Tilex mildew remover in the bathroom.) This spider was revenging for his relatives. I knew this was totally ridiculous, but three spiders in one week was simply overwhelming.

Finally, I called my husband. I explained that I was on the side of the road and completely paralyzed because of a spider. As he's done before, he literally talked me off the ledge, telling me all the stuff I already knew, but in the calm, reasonable voice that I needed: "It's more scared of you than you are of it", "It can't hurt you", "Just take some deep breaths, get a tissue out of the bag in the trunk, and kill it."

By the time I found a tissue in the trunk and readied myself to try another squish, the spider had disappeared. This was more horrifying than having to kill it, because now it could be anywhere. It could rappel down from the roof and land on my head. It could be on the steering wheel and, God forbid, crawl across my hand while I was driving!

I looked everywhere. Finally, I convinced myself he had gone into hiding and climbed back into the car. I drove too fast to get home and tried not to look anywhere but straight ahead. I used the tissue to hold the steering wheel. I didn't use my blinkers for fear of moving my hands into the shadows. The most embarrassing part is that I talked mean to the spider on the way home. "You better just watch it. I've got a tissue now," I said threateningly. I also called it names.

When I got home, I sprang out of the car and rubbed myself all over. My husband came out on the porch, shaking his head at the little frantic dance he's seen me do many times before. I changed clothes immediately and brushed my hair like crazy before I finally settled down.

After this latest incident, I realize I probably need some help with this problem, and not just a spider fogging in my car or a Dustbuster in my glove compartment. One of these days, I'm going to get myself into a car accident or my husband is going to get tired of being married to a freakbag. I need to overcome this irrational, paralyzing fear. Admittedly, the thought of having to confront my fears in therapy is a strong deterrent to seeking help. I've seen those TV shows where the TV therapists make the patients surround themselves with what they fear.

Statistics claim half of all women and 10% of all men have some level of spider phobia. I'm not sure what the statistics are on the number of people who kill themselves in car accidents because they saw a spider, but I'd have to guess it's low. Regardless, I'm pretty sure Death by Spider-induced Car Crash is a crummy and rather humiliating cause of death on the coroner's report. I suppose that makes me open to your doctor referrals.

P.S. - I usually try to include a picture of some kind with my blog posts. I tried. I googled "spiders". And then I had to close the page for fear the six pictures of spiders would come alive and crawl out of the screen onto my hands.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Coming out of the Boy Band Closet: I heart N.K.O.T.B

In my tween and teen years, I was obsessed with the New Kids on the Block. If you don't remember Joe, Jordan, Jon, Donnie and Danny, they were (and are) an American “boy band” that peaked in the late 80s/ early 90s with a popularity at the time that was compared to the success of The Beatles a generation before. New Kids were the perfect formula of good-looking boys and easy to memorize song lyrics, and I fell fast. A friend introduced me to the phenomena. I went to her house for a sleepover and came back a different girl. We had watched the VHS popumentaries "Hangin' Tough" and "Hangin' Tough Live" about thirty times that weekend. When I got home, I think my mom thought I was on drugs, because when I'd left for the weekend, I had lots of interests; when I came back, there was only one. And there would only be one, for years to come.

A few weeks later, I visited my god-sister Kelly's house. She had apparently already known about New Kids "forever". I hadn't been over in months, so it was a shock to step into her bedroom and find the walls completely covered with New Kids. There was no blank space. She had created New Kids on the Block wallpaper with posters.

Not to be outdone as their biggest new fan, I came home and began a project that over several years, and with the help of my best friend, Julie, would become a bigger and better shrine than Kelly's. I papered my bedroom walls with thousands of pictures of the group, not settling for covering the space in large posters but cutting out every tiny picture of them from Bop, Big Bopper and Teen Beat, framing in the larger posters, and covering the light switch, electrical sockets and moldings. I bought every shameless promotional item, from the bedspread and sheets to the shoelaces and basically blew the weekly allowances I should have saved for my college education. It was like kismet between my hormone enraged body and their amazing marketing machine.

Not many people knew about my "New Kids thing", except Julie and a few other friends. I rarely had friends over because I didn't want them to see my room. For some reason, at my school, no one wanted to admit they liked New Kids. I remember being harassed one day in English class by a group of boys because of a small Joe button attached to my purse. Julie experienced similar backlash at school, so we began talking in code around others and saved the gushing for after school at my house.

As much as we loved them, Julie and I were normal girls from normal families. Our moms were not the types to drive us to other states to see them perform, or take us in the middle of the night to stake out their tour bus or hotel entrances. Thus, we only went to the few concerts that came to our town and only dreamed that we could be the groupies we read about in Teen Beat. I always wanted to be a writer, so I started a New Kids story, which grew to nearly 500 pages long. It was about winning a contest to go on a cruise with them, something they did for fans in real life but I could never have afforded had opportunity presented itself. Thankfully, my embarrassment isn't complete, as I never finished the story. I finally got a real boyfriend and started living instead of fantasizing.

Twenty years later, I realize there shouldn't have been shame in being a blockhead. Lots of girls were New Kids fans (even if they didn't admit it), as evidenced by their album sales. But now here comes the hard part of the confession, of my "coming out" if you will...I'm still a blockhead.

If you're not up on your New Kids trivia, you're probably picturing me wearing a twenty-year old tee-shirt and dancing to Step-by-Step in my bedroom. But if you're a little with it, you'll know that they're back. After going their separate ways in 1994, they reunited to release a new album in 2008 called "The Block" and started touring again. And despite myself, I've fallen again. What's worse, I'm a grownup with money, so it's much easier afford the concerts, tee-shirts and music downloads.

Last October, Julie and I went to their sold-out comeback concert, ready to relive our teenage years. When we got to the Palace, we bought tee-shirts and changed into them in the bathroom before finding our seats. At long last, brand new tee-shirts that would actually fit us! We purchased Property of Jon Knight (Julie) and Property of Donnie Wahlberg (me) shirts for $40 each. Yikes.

Whoever stocked the tee-shirts at the venue was apparently re-living the past too, because the tee-shirt sizes were almost comical. Size large felt almost obscene on our grownup chests, stretching the fonts of their names to extra large grande. But five minutes into the concert, I could have been naked for all I would have noticed. We had third row seats and had the time of our lives being thirteen again. Part of it was reliving memories and part of it was experiencing that long-forgotten rush of hormones that allows you to do things you wouldn't normally do. You know the hormone rush I mean. It's the one that compels women to scream at the top of their lungs, at men they don't know, things that they wouldn't whisper in bed to their husbands. (You may have seen this rare phenomenon in action at bachelorette parties and strip clubs after 1AM when the shots have kicked in.)

We had such a good time at the concert that when the summer tour came back around in June, we decided we had waited long enough to meet them and would go all out and pay the extra money for a Meet & Greet, something we wouldn't have been able to do back in the day. I lost 20 pounds and wore my Donnie tee-shirt again, mostly so I didn't have to shell out the money for a new one. I won't give a detailed account of the entire day waiting around to meet the group, but I will tell you two important things we learned:

1. Some girls will spend a lot of money to feel special. We met girls who are thousands of dollars in debt from following the tour across the country. They do this for different reasons - some to show their love, some in hopes the guys will recognize them as friends, some to forget about troubles in their own lives, and some because they have the free time and had money to indulge when they first started out.

2. There's a lot of negotiating and quick, school yard picks in line. Ten girls meet the five guys at a time. We learned you don't want to go in with a group where all the girls like the same guy because that means no one gets satisfactory face time with their man. Also, two girls to a guy means each girl can take a side of him during the picturing taking. Standing directly next to your man is highly prized for the purposes of cropping out the other people from the picture later, for your Facebook or Twitter profile pic. There was lots of scrambling to find two Joe girls, two Donnie girls, two Jordan girls, etc. There was also a lot of "I don't want to go in with another Jordan/Donnie/Joe/Jon/Danny girl who is prettier than me."

Once we had our groups figured out, there was a lot of waiting in the rain - and a bit of drama. Donnie almost didn't make the meet & greet due to weather and deplaning issues. And then we got the breaking news, spreading like wildfire from Perez Hilton via the concert-goers with smart phones, that Michael Jackson was dead.

It was finally our turn. We went in, and there they were in 3D. It was overwhelming. Twenty years of frenzied fandom - flashbacks of cutting all those pictures, all the rolls of tape we went through, all the lyrics I'd memorized, all the pages of my story fluttering through my mind... It went so fast. They were making up time because Donnie had arrived late, so each group had maybe 30 seconds. The other "Donnie girl" in my group, Ela from Canada, went over to him right away. In the 20 or more meet and greets she'd done, she hadn't gotten a chance to tell Donnie everything she needed to say, and she claimed this was her last one. I waited patiently while she showed him her homemade tee-shirt and handed him a letter smuggled in under her shirt. While I waited, I turned to Danny and Jon and said hi to them. Neither said anything back, but then, they had their Danny and Jon girls. I gathered that my Donnie tee-shirt announced that I wasn't waiting to talk to them. I turned back to see Ela still talking to Donnie -- and something else. Two barbie dolls, who had called themselves Jordan girls, were now claiming Donnie hugs! I was new to the rules, but I was pretty sure this was a meet & greet crime!

Suddenly, they were arranging us for the group photos. I was maneuvered two spots away from Donnie, the interlopers crushing around him, and then it was over and they were ushering us away. I turned to Ela and mouthed to her "But I didn't even get to say hello." I'd waited years, through all that time when we thought they'd never come back.

Ela and I had gotten to know each other in line and she recognized a fellow fan's plight. Ela pushed her way back over to Donnie and said loudly, "Donnie, this girl has waited 20 years to meet you."

A bodyguard was brushing against my arm, herding me toward the exit. But then I saw Donnie make a motion at him, and suddenly, I was nudged back and Donnie was hugging me. And hugging me. It seemed to go on forever. Everyone else was gone, and I was still there, hugging and being hugged. It made everything worth it. All the money I'd spent. All the times I'd been teased for being a fan.

I heard the bodyguard say "Okay, let's go", and I started to pull away. Amazingly, Donnie was still hugging. I let myself sink back into it, and this time, when the bodyguard touched my shoulder to pull me away, I pulled my face from the crook of Donnie's neck to declare, "If he's not letting go, I'm not letting go." The hug lasted another 10 seconds or so, when we finally released each other and I was escorted away. It's a blur, but I'm pretty sure I never said a word to him.

It was the best concert ever, and we hadn't even actually gone to the concert yet. Our seats were in the fifth row, but there was an empty space in the front against the stage. We made friends with a security guard who let us move up during the opening acts. We'd met them and now we had first row seats. Couldn't get much better than that! I've been to many concerts and I've never felt the kind of energy I feel at a New Kids concert. The screams simply don't compare. At any other concert, there are usually people there who just happened to get tickets, people who like one or two songs from the new album or who only like the band's old stuff. At a New Kids concert, it's thousands of me's.

Sitting in the parking lot later, waiting to get out of the traffic jam to get back to Julie's house, we rambled on about our favorite parts of the show while listening to "The Block". Julie felt we'd met all of our goals, and this was a great way to end things. We had closure. I agreed with her, except now, in some small way, I understood why those girls I'd previously dismissed as crazy followed them across the nation. Why they went to concert after concert; paid for meet & greet after meet & greet. It was a rush. I kept wondering if maybe it could get even better. Maybe next time, I could actually speak to one of them. I could choke out a hello or something. Maybe I could make Donnie smile or laugh! Get an autograph! My tendency to stay at the poker table too long, to buy back into a cash game over and over, was rearing its ugly head in my New Kids world. Damn my addictive personality.

Aside from the two concerts and the m&g, what's really gotten me hooked again is that the guys themselves seem much more accessible this time around. Once when I waited eagerly for a fan club newsletter in the mail or a few seconds of concert footage during the New Kids on the Block Saturday morning cartoon, now I only need look as far as their official website or sign on to Twitter. The marketing machine that exploited them back in the day is no more, but the boys did learn a few tricks. They've joined the social networking arena with ease -- five guys can cover a lot of virtual ground, between their blogs, tweets and contests.

And now comes the cruise to the Bahamas. They did one last year, and now this May, they're sailing again. And guess who's going? Beach parties, meet & greets, concerts - oh my! A chance to live the story I wrote when I was thirteen years old.

What does my husband think about all of this? Well, in practical terms (with regard to the cruise), he gets seasick and will never cruise with me, which is something I really enjoy doing. So this is an opportunity for me to be on a boat, in a safe environment, with entertainment I know I will like and fellow passengers with whom I have a lot in common. Does it matter that I don't know anyone else on the boat? I'll make friends. With regard to the other stuff, I think he looks at me as kind of a geek. He likes his computer games, his motorcycle stuff...his hobbies. I think he accepts this as my geeky hobby. Everyone has one, don't they? Am I any different than the people who save up their money to go to Graceland? (And come on, most people agree that Elvis isn't even alive.) I'm pretty sure my husband tries not to be embarrassed by it, but he might be a little. Luckily, he knows I love him more than all of the New Kids put together. For as many fantasies I had about meeting New Kids, I had more about getting married someday to a man who would accept me for who I am.

As for me, I'm trying to keep control of myself now that they're back, monetarily and mentally. (And it seems they might be back to stay - there are rumors of another album underway.) I might understand why girls follow the New Kids around the world, but I don't have to get carried away myself. I'm not going to the pre-cruise concert in Miami. I'm not going to the concert in June in Windsor, even if they will only be a stone's throw away. I'm not letting myself listen to Donnie's Friday evening DJ show on Cherrytree radio. I only check Twitter posts every few weeks, and I no longer respond to their posts (though I did for a bit right after the concert - Jordan plays a twenty questions game that's hard to resist). I don't enter the contests (even when I was really tempted by the "Weekend with Donnie" one).

It's like gambling. I draw out what money I need and leave my ATM card at home. I'm policing myself. Sad that I have to, but at least I understand my weaknesses.

And now you know my weakness, too. I'm a blockhead. A big old geeky blockhead.

Enjoy your laugh.

Or maybe, just maybe, you will join me out here in the light.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Nashville Nightlife - by guest author & singer Kymberly Bryson

It all starts with a song....That's a line you'll hear in Nashville, Tennessee. Filled with honkey tonks, Nashville is known as Music City. Most people in town are aspiring singer/songwriter types like myself, Kymberly Bryson. We're all here to be heard. A good song, the right connections and soon you could be on your way. I've been fortunate to play at some great venues - Fiddle and Steel Guitar Bar, Legends, Second Fiddle, The Stage - along with traveling with a band to different states. It's all been a blessing.

Currently, I'm working on a cable tv project, singing with the band Beacon Hill, and performing at Buck Wild Saloon as a karaoke jockey. I've met some great people in this town. There's nothing like a country crowd. Performing for them is always entertaining. Everyone is very welcoming. But don't be fooled, not everyone walks around in a cowboy hat and boots. From business suits to chains on jeans, Country music brings many different people together. And keep your eyes open as you walk the streets of lower Broadway. You may very well see some of Nashville's finest. Blake Shelton and Jamey Johnson have both been spotted around town along with many others. And you can't forget about the regulars. When I work at Buck Wild Saloon there are several people that come back again and again to see my show. Some join me by dancing on the bar and others get up and sing a song. It's always a pleasure to see their smiling faces along with others that stop by when they are in town.

Nashville is really a great city. From the Grand Ole Opry to the Ryman Auditorium, you're surrounded by dreams coming true and the legend behind country music. So if you're looking for a small town with a big city feel...come check out Nashville. We'll be glad to have ya'll. Oh, and be sure to look for me...Kymberly Bryson.

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Friday, April 9, 2010


It's been gloomy and rainy these last few days, but unlike many of my solar-powered friends, I love the rain -- all kinds, the drippy kind, the blowy kind, and especially the loud kind. It doesn't matter what the season, I love the Rain. Wetting the fall leaves, nourishing spring plants, or sliding over icicles, I love it! Here's a little poet-prose sketch I've played with over the years, usually when it's raining and I'm in the mood:

An ashy tree, lifeless with life, stands as it does every day, collecting dust stirred by shiftless breezes. Sidewalk blocks endlessly imitate one another. Stretches of ordinary cement, shaded in ordinary light gray, are veiled by soiled reminders of footfalls. The sky is barren canvas pressing down upon the stillness.

Eroded sky, at last, becomes again The Heavens – black clouds layer above in deep dimensions as if the sky itself is unfolding its thick fingers, capturing rain in soft cupped hands. From skilled fingers lightly parted, rain sprays the sidewalks in patches. Through disheartened hands, rain escapes in big drops to dot the thirsty cement in splotches. As palms hasten to bury bleary eyes, the rain slips suddenly –pouring rain stains the walkways an angry grey.

The dispirited world beneath is overspread by a blanket of cloudburst. When the rain sweeps through the trees, bringing animated dance to sleeping leaves, all is imbathed in elemental purity – awakened by Nature’s virginal lamentation yet overwhelmed by its fierce restoration.

From Midnight’s throne come fistfuls of rain. Black trees wink in flashes of illuminated silence, and quail beneath voiceless shouts of thunder. Trees bow to intense winds borne from the eager lips of Spring.

Under hot sun, leaves shiver as cold raindrops roll down their slick breasts, dripping to a scorched mask where tiny rivers of cool tears descend in soundless exploration.

From sultry sun come splashes slapping down the trunks, softening piles of crunchy corpses on the wet ground below. When fainting autumn sun at last comes cold, rain slips across mirrored branches to taste frozen winter thorns.

And when the rain is gone, gathered weightlessly in wind-puffed pillow, the world stands straight again – brushing moistened sleeves with flick of hand as the pursed lips of Wind soften to weary yawn. The sky folds within itself once more as glistening leaves softly flapping flit past downcast eyes to the sodden earth restored.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

David's Dream Bubble - Part III

On the heels of my most recent post about our haunted house, I thought I'd follow with a short story written in college that might keep you in a creepy mood. Written for a creative writing class in 1999, the assignment was to begin with the teacher-supplied line: "When the man looked in the mirror, the small beady eyes of a rat looked back" and spin an original story from there. Despite the gnawing desire to update aspects of my writing, I'm going to leave it as-is to allow you to enjoy the tone I now recognize as from my "angsty" and "student workshoppy" phase. Here is Part III of III:

The coffee was strong and too hot, but David drank it when his mother insisted. She was telling him that he needed sleep. The coffee, she said, would not keep him awake. She had carefully chosen the right kind. His head was hurting and she could tell. 

It was Midnight, but his mother was straightening his house. David decided to go to sleep. He climbed into his bed and slept a long, dreamless sleep. When he awoke, the sun was shining through a crack beneath his window shade. He did not hear any sounds from the depths of the house and determined that his mother had left. When he entered the kitchen, the linoleum had been scrubbed clean and his dishes were stacked neatly within the cabinets. On the table were blue place mats. They were like the ones at his mother’s house. 

David dallied as long as possible in the kitchen. He inspected his cupboards and refrigerator. There were frozen, homemade soups in the icebox. He placed one of the plastic containers in the microwave and thought about brushing his teeth. His fear of the bathroom, he decided, was real. He thought about the bathroom as he brewed coffee, drank it, and rinsed the cup. He set the clean mug and soup bowl in the empty dishwasher. 

His eyes were normal in the mirror. The walls were empty. He heard only the usual sounds of the bathroom. When he was in the shower, David noticed the smells. He could smell the soap before he had picked it up and before he had wet it. The shampoo in its bottle made his nostrils flair. The toilet water, too, had a strong odor. It smelled like he was sick and heaving over it—-but he was in the shower and the lid was closed.

[Can I dream in the daylight?]

He sat on the couch with his too-long hair drenched and clinging to his face in wet chunks. He was shuddering and naked. He was cold and he had left the towel in the bathroom. His strong, callused hands were trembling on his thighs. David considered calling his mother. He picked up the phone, dialed, and then easily replaced the receiver. She would not understand.

[Who dreams all the time?]

The door was knocking. He could hear it, but he could not move. David was tired, and he was unclothed on the living room floor. The carpet itched his nose. He was too nervous to scratch it. After some time of sitting, he had decided that even his bedroom, next to the bathroom, was unsafe. It was almost dark in the room, lit only by the yellow streetlights outside. David was unsure how long he had been on the floor. He heard a key crunch into the lock and the soft sound of the door push open. He heard his mother thank someone, probably his landlord from next door.
She was bending over him and he could smell the artificial flowers dabbed on her neck. He heard her nails click the buttons as she dialed the phone. David didn’t care what she thought now. She had placed a warm, brown blanket over him and he was comfortable. He pulled the corner of it under his head and his nose ceased to itch. The knock of her thick heels on the kitchen floor, and then the soundless foot vibrations to follow, told David his mother was nearing the back of the house. She was using his bathroom. He considered calling out to her. She would be afraid of a place where she could smell and see and think and hear like she was in a dream. If she doesn’t come running out in fear, he thought, does that mean my bathroom is just a bathroom?

The washcloth was rough and hot. She had wet it and rung it out before placing it against his forehead. His mother seemed impatient. She was waiting for someone. She had not spoken when she came out of the bathroom, but he knew she had been in there a long time. 

David sat on his bed. He wanted to protest when his mother was packing his clothes, but he did not. He wanted to ask her what she had seen in the bathroom, but she was unusually silent, and he did not want to disturb her. When the moving people came, they took his couch and lamps. They pulled the carpet from the wood floor. He watched his mother direct traffic and thought about all the strangers walking over his floors. He chewed his fingernails and the skin on the sides of them.

He slowly unpacked his belongings in his bedroom at his mother’s house. He unwrapped a shoe from wrinkled newspaper. She had wrapped everything. It was dark, and his mother was asleep in her bedroom. He could hear her deep, calm breathing through the wall. He could not remember what it was like to sleep like that. He decided to ready himself for bed, but he could not find his toothbrush. He flipped through the boxes on the floor. All were empty. As he sat on the edge of the bed, David found that he had not unpacked his shampoo, his razor, or his soap. There were no bathroom supplies. 

He realized his mother had forgotten to pack in the bathroom.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

David's Dream Bubble - Part II

On the heels of my most recent post about our haunted house, I thought I'd follow with a short story written in college that might keep you in a creepy mood. Written for a creative writing class in 1999, the assignment was to begin with the teacher-supplied line: "When the man looked in the mirror, the small beady eyes of a rat looked back" and spin an original story from there. Despite the gnawing desire to update aspects of my writing, I'm going to leave it as-is to allow you to enjoy the tone I now recognize as from my "angsty" and "student workshoppy" phase. Here is Part II of III:
While water rained on the empty tub, David studied his eyes in the misty mirror. They were fine. They were familiar. He reached into the small closet to the left of the sink and removed a towel. When he glanced back at the mirror, he saw a spider reflected on the opposite wall. He twisted around.  

Exaggerated and dreamlike, the spider moved up the gray tiles of the shower stall. It was sliding in slow motion and David began to feel that they were both captured in invisible molasses. Time ran at one second to every three ticks of the clock. As he watched it, David at once felt an urgency to rid the clean, smooth tiles of the spider. It slowly climbed across white valleys between gray plateaus like car tires crossing illuminated lines on a black night. David was transfixed. He could not move to kill it.

Suddenly, David became aware of the room. His sense began to reverberate with the urgent hum of the toilet, the piercing squeak of the floor, and the resounding whisper of the spider’s phantasmal legs sliding up the tiles. The sound of water drops falling in the sink pounded in his ears. To David, the dripping faucet was a cannon blasting fluidic dream-bombs. He pressed his palms to his ears to muffle the sounds—the water, the humming florescent light, the air moving through the room. 

The spider, unmoved by the paralysis it provoked, tilted its shiny body and eyes toward David’s hand, as if sensing the potential of his fist to smash its gross existence from the wall and from his mind. David slowly raised his hand, intent now on killing the spider. Time was suspended—in the darkness of hesitation, a flicker of light caressed flesh. The spider shattered in silent explosion. Polished pieces of the spider’s body floated to the floor, winking in their descent. The spider, David realized, had been made of glass. Falling to his knees, he tried to sweep the fragments of glass into a cupped hand. He cut himself. The blood was welling into a red droplet when his mother knocked on the door.  

He opened the door and stepped out. Looking down, he saw that his hand was not bleeding. His soft palm was not cut. The spot of blood on his jeans was gone. His mother was staring. She glanced into the bathroom behind him. The shower was running, but he was clothed and he was not wet. Following her gaze, David found that the bathroom was in its usual condition. The hand towels needed to be laundered, there was soap scum on the sides of the tub, he was out of bathroom cups—but there was no glass on the floor. There was no spider on the wall. The running water sounded as it should.
[Could I have been dreaming?]