A Slam Dunk

I’ve been wanting to go to a Story Slam for a while – ever since I met a guy on the train on the way from New York City to Connecticut.  Nothing materialized with the guy (Damn, because he was hot as hell!), but we chatted for the entire fifty-minute ride – about my work as a writer, his work as a teacher, and our shared love of stories.

“Have you ever been to a Story Slam before?” he wanted to know.

I’d never even heard of a Story Slam before, and, once he explained what they were, I knew I needed to go.

That was two years ago, and for some reason I filed the info in the back of my brain and didn’t retrieve it until a month or so ago when my friend and fellow author, Heidi, and I got together.

Everyone should have a friend like Heidi.  As the author of the forthcoming book, Confessions of 400 Men, she is a wealth of information about the relative workings of the male mind.  We talk about everything from writing projects to blow jobs (Both are fun in the beginning, but quickly leave you wondering When will this be over?).  As we were strolling through Chestnut Hill one Saturday morning, Heidi and I somehow meandered onto the subject of Story Slams.

“We have to go!” she told me.  “Set it up, and I’m there.”

A month later (last night), we met at FringeArts on North Columbus Boulevard to watch a bunch of strangers divulge the intimate details of their lives – on stage – then be judged for it afterwards.

The theme of the night was hairy.

I had no idea how it worked, but I soon found out that people would arrive, put their names in a hat, then sit in the audience to watch the show.  Ten of these spectators were then randomly selected, and called up on stage, to talk about their take on the designated subject.  I watched, spellbound, as these impromptu entertainers delivered five-minute monologues about everything from actual hair (body, head, human, animal) to “hairy” situations.  One guy even told a story about a rabbit.

Most tales were humorous, although there was a smattering of tragedy thrown in for good measure, and found myself laughing a lot.  By far, the best performance of the night was from a guy named Greg who received a unanimous perfect score.

“This is gonna get weird,” Greg said when the MC called him up on stage.

He then proceeded to take off his shirt, revealing massive quantities of back and body hair.  Then, Greg told us a story about shame and hair that left us all in stitches and made me want to perform at some point (although I plan to keep my shirt on).

As an author, telling stories is perhaps my favorite thing to do, and, as a current improv artist and former actress, being on stage in front of a crowd full of people, getting them to laugh, lights me up inside – especially if I’m able to light them up.  So I find myself inspired and enthusiastic and ready to embark on yet another hobby.  The next Story Slam I go to, I plan to throw my hat in the ring – or my name in the hat.  Whatever.  You get the point.  I’ll participate (if picked), as opposed to sitting in the audience, watching.  Because life is meant to be hairy and embarrassing and because, as I thought last night, surrounded by strangers, who took to the stage, we’ve all got a story to tell.

Big Wheels Keep On Turnin’

A few months ago, I met a guy on Black People Meet – which, in my case is kind of a misnomer, but I couldn't find a dating site which catered to my specific circumstances. (No EthnicallyAmbiguousFemalesSeekingMenWhoSelf-IdentifyAsAfroAmerican.com). Anyway, this dude’s screen name was Bigwheels and he lived in Miami. Trying to be geographically open minded, I gave him my number when he asked for it. The next day, I got a text of a couple of minions (Think adorable yellow cartoon characters, not villainous sidekicks) and a wish for me to have a happy Saturday.

I didn't recognize the number. Happy Saturday to you too, I wrote back. (Insert smiley face emoji here). Who is this?

It's Bigwheels, he declared. Then, he followed that up with a bare-chested, I'm-too-sexy-for-my-shirt photo of him in nothing but a pair of white shorts.

I responded: Hi, Will. Sorry, but I'm no longer interested. Ultimately, the guy I end up with will not be the kind of guy who sends me pictures of himself in his underwear when we don't even know each other yet, but best of luck to you.

Although Will clarified that the shorts were basketball trunks and not boxers (as I'd originally thought), I opted to let him wheel his way right outa my life. I didn’t program him into my phone and figured that’d be the end of that. Wrong. A week later, I was engaged in a no holds barred, bare-knuckle boxing match with AT&T about a serious billing discrepancy. You know, the kind of take-no-prisoners battle-of-wills where you demand to speak with a supervisor and, when you’re told that no supervisors are available, you insist on an immediate callback.

The phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number.

“Hello.”

“Hey. How you doin’?”

“Well, not great. I’m really annoyed about my bill.”

“Really? What’s wrong with it?”

“Don’t act like you don’t know. I’m sure the representative explained the situation. My phone bill went up twenty dollars without warning, and my service sucks. I’ve got a good mind to switch to Verizon.”

“So, pretty lady, your day not goin’ so good?”

“Wait. What?”

“With a smile like yours, what you got to complain about?”

“Who is this?” I was starting to realize that I might not be talking to a supervisor.

“It’s Bigwheels!” His voice was full of all the cheer of someone who didn’t understand that, when a girl tells you she’s no longer interested, that’s a hint that she doesn’t want you to call. Ever. “How you doing, Sexy?”

“Look,” I said, in full-on bitch mode now. (Not like I wasn’t already. The whole AT&T situation had me riled up). “I’m not interested. Best of luck, Will, but please don’t call me again.”

And he hasn’t.  I did, in case you’re wondering, eventually hear from the promised supervisor. So, while I might not’ve met Mr. Right yet, my phone plan is pure perfection.

The Mystery of Storytelling

Lately, I have been addicted to crime TV shows – Dateline, 48 Hours, and On the Case with Paula Zahn.  There’s something infinitely thrilling about climbing inside a high-stakes story, beginning in the heart of the action, and then tracing backwards to find out what happened and uncover buried motives and sinister sub-plots.  I enjoy being enthralled and my secret hope is always to be surprised at the end.  I mean, sure, I want the bad guy caught and the evidence stacked up against him (or her), but I think I prefer the cases with enough twists and turns to keep me in suspense.

It’s only recently – as I stayed up well past an acceptable bedtime for the third night in a row – that I realized that every story can derive a lesson from Dateline.  Every story should be, at least in part, a mystery.  As a writer, it’s my job to craft an enthralling experience for my readers, to pull them in and make them engage with my characters and plot, so much so that they can’t put down what I’ve written.

And the only real way to do that is by inviting discovery each step of the way.  There is nothing worse than getting to the end of a story and thinking That was pointless.  I knew how that was gonna end by the time I got two pages into it.

I love when my readers are surprised (even upset) at the end of one of my novels.  I still have my first-ever piece of fan mail to a book I wrote years ago. In it, the reader said she loved the book and felt strongly connected to its characters, but she confessed to being frustrated with the unhappily-ever-after ending. Then, she asked me questions about the characters that inspired me to write a sequel.  There is nothing better than unpredictability that rings true.

Because life is unexpected.  People behave in unforeseen ways.  Everything is a mystery and it all unfolds, in a twisting, turning, non-linear, and hopefully engaging way. So I’ll keep watching Dateline and getting inspired, and perhaps a little scared, by the real world.  Then, I’ll put pen to paper and try to create a mystery of my own.

The Nerdy and the Dirty (A Review of B.T. Gottfred’s Book)

I found it thrilling to read a book in which the girl was the oversexed pervert and the boy was completely uninitiated in the ways of the hormonal world.  In my mind, Penelope wasn’t so much “dirty” as she was a replica of my seventeen-year-old self.  I thought about sex a lot in high school (Who am I kidding?  I still think about sex a lot).  And I remember the social stigmatization that surrounded girls who didn’t hide their erotic urges behind an aura of false innocence.

Luckily, my slutaceousness was curtailed by the fact that, for most of high school, I had a boyfriend.  He was older and didn’t go to school with me, which took our relationship outside the sphere of Mean Girl scrutiny.  Also, since I was myself a “Mean Girl,” no one was gonna criticize me – to my face – for what went on between my legs.

In The Nerdy and the Dirty, Penelope dealt with the internalized slut-shaming that so many high school girls deal with.  And, while I wasn’t personally berated by any external forces for what (or who) I chose to do, I did internalize the belief that seems to be so prevalent among teenage girls – the sense that their bodies are a problem, that their desires should be squelched. 

And then there’s Benedict.  He reminded me of The Big Bang’s Sheldon Cooper – smart about academics, but stupid about relationships.  Benedict bulldozed over feelings with a level of insensitivity known only to the somewhat Aspergeric.  In Benedict’s case, his complete lack of social skills was further compounded by his unempathetic upbringing.  Benedict’s father was a self-defined “perfect person,” and the teenage boy tried to emulate his unfeeling father, to the detriment of himself, his peers and his other familial relationships.

Spoiler alert: I’m about to give away the book’s ending, so, if you plan to read it (which I highly suggest), step away from this blog post, get yourself a copy of The Nerdy and the Dirty, and come back after you’ve had a chance to bask in its brilliance.  If you opt not to read it, then I can only conclude that you’re a real Paul (a reference that’ll only make sense to those who read this B.T. Gottfred masterpiece).

Anyway, it’s no surprise that Benedict and Penelope fall for each other.  I could’ve predicted that just a few pages into the novel.  But what was a surprise (to me, anyway) was how, by embracing each other’s nerdy and dirtiness, both characters were able to become more authentic versions of themselves.  And their happily-ever-after came not as a result of assimilation, but in the moment they made the decision to remain radical and unapologetic outcasts.

I have no literary equivalent of Siskel & Ebert’s widely-recognizable two thumbs up, but I highly recommend this book to anyone who’s ever felt a little nerdy or a little dirty – which, let’s face it, is all of us.

Update

I know I haven’t posted in a while, and so much has happened in the four months since my last blog entry that I don’t even know where to begin an “update.”

Perhaps, the biggest development has been completing my memoir, which, I imagine, was the literary equivalent of childbirth.  A whole lot of beautiful, growth-filled moments, and unimaginable agony.  If anyone had told me at the outset exactly what writing a memoir would entail, I’d probably have let the idea expire like so many of my other “good ideas” (i.e. learning to play the violin, becoming a hip-hop dancer or studying martial arts).  Luckily, I didn’t know what I was getting into and – once invested – there was no way to abort my mission.  I was in.  I’d committed.

The hardest part wasn’t writing about my experiences.  It was looking back at actions that I’ve taken and mistakes I’ve made and realizing that life isn’t a rehearsal.  There are no do-overs.  That said, I wouldn’t change any of the personal pain I’ve endured or any of my many boneheaded actions (like buying crack in Mexico – for other people, of course – or hooking up with strangers or skydiving).  But I would change my recklessness with other people’s feelings.  I broke a lot of hearts, and had mine broken in return. Sometimes, I broke the same hearts over and over again because I recycle (well, feelings and people anyway).

So I’ve decided that, moving forward, I’ll be less of an asshole.  (I’m already less of an asshole in my thirties than I was in my twenties and I’m hoping that, by my forties, I’ll hardly be one at all).

The good news is, now that I’m done writing my memoir, I can get back to really exciting things – like organizing my disaster of a desk and balancing my checkbook.  Seriously, though, sorry I’ve been so remiss.  It is good to be back and to be working on lighter writing fare.  Fingers crossed, I’ll have some great news about my work and, without a doubt, I intend to be back to my monthly blog posts, so stay tuned…

Adult-Child

Is it emotionally stunted of me not to want to do anything I don’t want to do?  A part of me thinks that I am basically one step above a petulant child (a small step, if that) because there are many facets of adult life that I simply refuse to accept as part of my reality.  For example, I don’t do housework.  I pay other people to do all of my cleaning and, truth be told, most of my cooking.

I throw shit away.  Shit that I really should hold onto (like bank statements and insurance forms and paid bill receipts) because I refuse to file.  The trash can can count as a filing cabinet, right?  I am careless about my carbon footprint, stay up past my bedtime, wear sandals well into the winter, eat in front of the TV and refuse to participate in anything approaching corporate culture.  I don’t even own an iron and I do my best not to wear anything that requires dry cleaning.

So, yeah, I have yet to grow up.

But then I have this other side of me that is intensely responsible and productive, the side that has churned out over twenty books.  The side that’s overcome an eating disorder, that works out 5-6 days a week, pays her bills, does her laundry, gets to appointments on time (or early), maintains healthy friendships and relationships and is a source of support for a number of people, all of whom I love and who love me.

So why the dichotomy?  How can I – a podcast-listening, yoga-loving, prolific writer who refuses to cook or scrub a toilet or hold down a nine-to-five and who starts hobbies only to immediately quit them – reconcile these disparate aspects of myself?

I like to say that I’m perpetually frozen in my teens – where responsibility and rebellion collide. But I’m beginning to discover that most of us aren’t completely grown up.  There are corporate CEOs who struggle to put down the donuts and exercise fanatics with no ambitions beyond the gym.  No one has it all figured out.

One of my obsessions is listening to Audiobooks while walking (consummate multi-tasker, one check in the adulthood box).  I do this after driving to Kelly Drive early in the morning and peeing in a cup in my car because, even though I peed before I left the house, my bladder is the size of a walnut (one check, for number one, in the kiddie column).  Anyway, I finished listening to Charles Duhig’s The Power of Habit and, of course, immediately began Smarter Faster Better. While the first book is a study of what we do and how we do it, this second book is all about why we do the things we do and how motivation shapes our choices.

So far, my takeaway is that I will do absolutely anything and everything it takes to pursue and explore my creative passions and, if I can see how something fits into that drive to fulfill my life’s purpose, well, then, I’ll do that.  But the rest?  I say “Take that, world, and shove it,” because, in the wonderful words of Bebe Rexha, “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up.”

https://www.bing.com/search?q=I+Don%27t+Wanna+Grow+Up+Bebe+Rexha&FORM=QSRE6

Unsurprisingly, I listen to this song while car dancing and singing at the top of my lungs, with the windows down, because I refuse to conform to road rules as well as life rules. 

 

 

The Girl With the Lower Abdominal Tattoo

I started listening to Amy Schumer’s The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo recently and, when she described herself as an introvert, I was elated because I too struggle when I feel like I have to be “on” all the time.  As a writer, I need a certain amount of time for personal reflection, introspection and regeneration.  For me, long phone calls, rambling emails, nonstop texting and group social interactions are the emotional equivalent of sticking my finger in an electric socket.  Way too intense and they leave me fried.

I think I’d have been better off living in an age before social media and cell phones.  Although not too much before because (in case you hadn’t noticed) I’m biracial and a woman and not so long ago would’ve been considered a second-class citizen, or not even a citizen, or three-fifths of a person.  Looking at my life as an outsider, you’d probably think I was an extrovert because I spend a lot of time hanging out with friends and I act and do comedy improv.  But the truth is I’m a fan of short one-on-one interactions and a lot of alone time. 

I might have fun at parties, but, afterwards, I feel like I’ve given away parts of myself – parts it takes days to get back.  And the worst part is that it sneaks up on me.  Two or three hours of “So where are you from” and “What do you do for a living?” and “How do you know so and so?” culminate in me needing to shut off my phone and shut out the world for at least 24 hours.

I think I need to be better about boundaries.  But I also suffer from a serious case of FOMO (fear of missing out) so have a hard time saying no to things.

For some reason, I find myself thinking about an incident that happened when I was around fifteen or sixteen…

I was taking a shower and the next-door neighbor’s five year old son wandered into our house.  He’d come over to see if my little sister could come outside to play, but, when he didn’t find her, he opened the bathroom door, pulled back the shower curtain and said, “Hi, Dara.”  It was fairly hysterical but also an apt metaphor.  I often feel just a little too exposed.

The whole introversion thing isn’t the only commonality I have with Amy (yup.  In my mind, we’re on a first name basis).  I also have my own tramp stamp – only, instead of on my back, I got my ink (a delicate, if somewhat slutty sun) on my stomach.  So, when you do find me, naked and vulnerable, in the literal shower, you just may catch a peek of my lower abdominal tattoo.

 

Political Pun or Ditz?

When it comes to politics, I am basically an idiot.  Or, perhaps, it is kinder to say I’m uninformed.  But that’s much too self-forgiving a perspective.  Perhaps, the right way to frame it is that I am ignorant about all things political.  But, I wonder, is this the worst thing?

Alright, maybe, in a democratic society, you could argue that I have a civic duty to keep up with the issues and cast my vote, etc.  But do I?  Isn’t part of my right as an American to be completely ass-backwardly ignorant?  I like to think so and, in fact, am supported in this by one of my favorite weekly podcasts (This American Life) http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/585/in-defense-of-ignorance and, ironically, Macklemorehttps://www.bing.com/search?q=macklemore+american&filters=ufn%3a%22macklemore+american%22+sid%3a%223adf7eac-8ec7-4e2f-5fa6-8b47e14a8297%22&form=EDGEAR&qs=MB&cvid=d6ac8e21c8e34089845fdde57e315079&pq=macklemore+american+song.

Oops.  Perhaps, the Macklemore song illustrates a different kind of American ignorance.  Shall we call it Trumpsonian ignorance?  Even I, who have been living under a rock, know that this next presidential election is a bit like choosing between a rainstorm and a tsunami.  Both will be bad, but one will be catastrophic.  And, if I was in any doubt about this fact, going to see 1812’s satirical political comedy, “This Is The Week That Is,” Wednesday night (on opening night) brought this into sharp and hilarious focus.

I highly suggest you go see it.  http://1812productions.org/this-is-the-week-that-is.html

Think Donald Trump, draped in red satin, singing and a drunken, dancing Hilary Clinton.  There were too many laugh-out-loud moments to enumerate.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKI5n4V9bUw

But, seriously, I’m not one of those people who follows politics, partly because I have an expansive, busy life and, to really do justice to my political education, I’d have to devote time to the study of it and partly because the news only offers fragments of the truth, but mainly because I suffer from the Dunning-Kruger Effect.  I form an opinion and hold to that opinion without realizing just how idiotic I actually am.  (Sound familiar, Trump fans?)

Then, again, if you’re like me and don’t watch the news or read the paper or leave the house on voting day and if, unlike me, you feel at all guilty about this, I say let’s look to George Carlin for some words of wisdom.

http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=george+carlin+why+i+don%27t+vote&view=detail&mid=917F3A5AEEC185701634917F3A5AEEC185701634&FORM=VIRE

So, yeah, my advice: Go see “This Is The Week That Is.”  You’ll learn more from that than from the news, laugh a lot, and basically feel really happy despite the fact that the next four years are gonna either be torrential or tyrannical.

 

My New Literary Idol

I have author-envy.  Yup.  Like penis-envy for creative types.  Omg, Laurie Halse Anderson is a genius.  I just got done “reading” (by which I mean listening to, on Audible) Speak by this amazing author.  Her characters are expertly crafted and her message is poignant, clear and powerful, in a non-obvious way.

I’ll admit it: I have a nonsexual crush on her.

Okay, not the person.  I’ve never met her and, frankly, know nothing about her, but the woman’s work is amazing – the kind of fiction that wraps you up in its embrace and makes you feel so at home you never want to let go.

When I find a new author, in whose stories I get lost, I become addicted.  And quickly.  As a writer, I find I tend to approach literature with a critical (often unforgiving) perspective.  I consider it a sign of good writing when I get lost in the story and completely ignore the craft.  Anderson’s Speak enthralled me from the outset.  The book pulled at the deep, empathetic places inside of me – the places that cry when other people are hurting, celebrate in the triumphs of friends and lap up love like a dog slurping water from a bowl.

As I was listening, I felt like I was Melinda’s only friend (I’m not even going to explain who Melinda is.  If you wanna know, buy the book) and I wanted to advocate for her, only I was as unable to speak out as she was.

I don’t want to give away the plot.  Forget getting thee to a nunnery.  Get thee to a Barnes and Noble, or log on to your Amazon account immediately and get yourself a copy.  In a broad-strokes, general way, I’ll tell you a little bit about the story – just enough to pique your interest.  Speak is the story of a tortured girl with a secret.  Like all good YA novels, it is a tale of personal empowerment.

Read it!  Immediately.  Read everything this author has ever written!  In the past month or so, I have devoured The Impossible Knife of Memory, Speak, and Twisted.  I just started listening to Wintergirls and please don’t tell me how it ends.  That said, I’m telling YOU to read this author.  She’s phenomenal!

 

Looking Back

I’ve begun working on a memoir.  I say begun, but I already have much too much to include – pages of stories about my life, research, photographs, etc.  Random anecdotes that don’t exactly fit the puzzle and centrally important stories that I wish I could leave out, but can’t because they’re important to the narrative.  It feels strange to be looking back over my life, realizing just how different things are than they once were.

 

As I think about how small the circumference of my life used to be, I am flooded by waves of gratitude.  There was a time when I was either homebound, isolated and self-destructive, or locked away in a treatment facility.  Today, my life is so abundant that I’m often overwhelmed by all of the activities and people.  I regularly find myself having to choose between one fun option and another.

 

Last night, my friend Susan asked me what I’m doing this week and I looked at my calendar and thought Holy shit, that’s a lot.  I rattled off a whole list of fun activities (acting, improv, dates, plans with friends, martial arts class, and more) culminating in a trip to Connecticut for my fifteen-year high school reunion.  In the midst of all this, I’ve got incredible, soul-enriching writing to do, friendships to nourish, food to prepare (or buy.  Let’s be honest, I eat a lot of take-out), nature to explore, and connections (some romantic, some platonic) to foster. 

 

So why am I sharing all this with you?  Not because I think you care about the minutia of my life, but because I want to affirm that the universe offers us second (and third and fourth and hundredths) chances.

 

A little over six years ago, I spent nine consecutive months in inpatient treatment facilities and was told I might have to be institutionalized for the rest of my life due to my inability to function in the world.  Today, I am joyful and productive.  So, if you don’t like where you are, change it.  Don’t get overwhelmed by thinking about all you have to do.  Small, micro shifts create lasting, sustainable results, so begin where you are and just do one thing differently.  Even if you don’t believe in your own capacity for transformation, I believe in your capacity to tap into your unique potential and live a life without limits.

 

I can’t wait for you to embark on your journey and I am thankful every day for my own unique and circuitous path and eager to get back to writing this memoir because it is a whole lot of fun to see how different my life is today than it used to be. 

 

Insecurity

So I don’t know what it’s like to be a man.  But I know a little something about being a woman.  I’m not typically a fan of blanket generalities, of putting people into boxes and categorizing individuals by gender or race or religion.  Still, indulge me.  Allow me to let my hypocritical flag fly.  Women are different than men.  And not just in terms of our parts – or the sum of them, but at a deep, core level.  If you chipped away my iceberg exterior and exposed me at my center, just before reaching the little flame of self-love that I believe we’re all born with, you’d find a bone-chilling fear. 

What am I afraid of?  Of not being enough.

For whom? You might ask.  And of what?

But there is no logic to this terror, no target of my self-inflicted shame.  Sure, I could rattle off a host of responses.  I’m afraid of not being thin enough, pretty enough, young enough, smart enough, sexy enough, talented enough, successful enough… for my friends, my family, my nonexistent boyfriend, my enemies, my students, my clients, my readers, even for strangers on the street.  And, most importantly, for myself.  So why am I telling you this?  Because I don’t think my fear is a Dara Lyons problem and I don’t think I’m alone in it.  As a woman, I’ve internalized a deep inner drive to be more than what I am.

If you’ve ever listened to Brené Brown’s amazing audiobook, Men, Women, and Worthiness http://www.soundstrue.com/store/men-women-and-worthiness-2911.html, and heard her describe Jennifer Beals’ famous Flashdance scene, you’ll know what I mean.

I’m not alone in my fear and this is not a new conversation.  People are paying attention and talking about the devastating consequences of the impossible female standard and, while this might sound incredibly scandalous, I am of the opinion that men’s victimization of women pales in comparison to the damage that we do to ourselves and to others of our gender.

Have you ever accepted a compliment?  I mean really accepted a compliment?  Let it wrap around you like a blanket and comfort you to your core?  Or do you negate any positive validation with negative self-talk?

Last night, I had dinner with an incredible friend who cannot see her own beauty and, as I looked at her and saw insecurity etched in every laugh line and wrinkle, self-hatred wrapped around her neck like a choker (or a noose), I thought why doesn’t she see how incredible she is?  And then I thought why don’t any of us?

 

Writing at Wesleyan

Waking up in a strange bed, looking around, realizing that I am not in my element.  It’s 5:45 a.m.  At home, I would leap out of bed (okay, maybe not leap), make myself a cup of chaga elixir or some kombucha tea, eat some breakfast, then head to the gym.  Here, I am restless.  Nothing starts until eight – late for me, early for others.  Everyone around me is a stranger and, yet, somehow, we’re all the same.

Writers: A strange and varied set of people who are inextricably linked by the fact that each of us believes that we have a tale to tell.

I say hello.  They say hello back.  We network.  Networking is a pendulum which swings between intensely fascinating and unbearably boring conversation.  Have you ever noticed that some people speak in monologues?  One guy talks for twenty-five minutes without asking me a single question about myself.  I know because I check my watch – discreetly at first, then more obviously, and, finally, with exasperation.

“I’m hungry,” I say, even though I’m not, and make my exit. 

Evidently, people understand hunger, whereas social cues, not so much.  Anyway, despite Mr. Monologue, the conference is great.  I meet a social worker with a story.

“Tell me more,” I say.  Then I listen, riveted, to her journey.

Memoirs are interesting. 

And poetry?  I can identify well-written verse, but, when I try to write it, all I want to do is rhyme.

Roses are red,

Violets are blue,

If I were a poet,

Well then I’d be screwed.

What about the classes?  I go to every one of them.  From nine a.m. to nine p.m. I listen attentively to people far more educated than I and feel at once encouraged and inadequate.  Apparently, MFAs are all the rage.  Who am I this thirty-two year with a powerful dream but no credentials? 

And, yet, they talk about writer’s block, a phenomenon I have yet to experience. 

Maybe that’s why some writers write one book and never write again.  Or take a long hiatus after completing a manuscript.  Part of me is glad that that’s not my experience.  Another part of me remembers my agent’s advice to “bleed onto the page.”

So here I am learning how to slice open my veins and – ironically – loving every minute of it.

 

Margaret Cho

Margaret Cho is hysterical and, yet, if I’m really honest about it, the Greenwich, Connecticut good girl who is still locked inside of me feels a little uncomfortable when watching this comedian push the proverbial envelope.

http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=Margaret+Cho+Threeways&view=detail&&&mid=89D6853851E76708788189D6853851E767087881&rvsmid=74009A609635814ADA8474009A609635814ADA84&fsscr=0

Don’t get me wrong, I fucking love her stand-up (and, yes, I am risqué enough to use words like fucking), but some of her sexual subject matter makes me blush.  And, yet, in my writing, I’m not squeamish about sex.  I confront it.  I mentally masturbate the topic (a creative play on words, don’t you agree?) to no end.  And, in my personal life, I am the queen of jokey, bad puns and sexually suggestive word play.  Just ask my little sister.  She tells me that I routinely embarrass her with my bawdy sense of humor.  And, yet, there is also this side of me that, when confronted by sex in a real and meaningful way, gets embarrassed.

In my last real relationship, in the early days of our dating, I remember my ex asking me what I liked sexually and what things I enjoyed and I think I nearly peed myself.  Ironically, I’m actually incredibly open to sexual exploration, games, toys, etc.  If you can name it (and it doesn’t involve multiple partners, urine, or fecal matter and DOES involve two consenting adults) I’ve probably tried it, or would at least be open to trying it – once.

But there’s something about the topic of sex discussed openly and candidly that embarrasses me and I don’t know why that is.  Especially given my early history of promiscuity.  I mean, I could have sex, but I couldn’t talk about it.  Totally insane, right?

The weird thing is that right now I am writing a book about a teenaged prostitute and so I am having to confront not just the humorous elements of sex, but also the emotional underpinnings surrounding who we fuck and why we fuck them.

A few things come to mind as I begin to toy with the subject of sex.  One is, I wish I could be more like Amy Schumer (she just puts it out there) or Margaret Cho (although by no means do I want to start popping pills) or Chelsea Handler.

The other is a talk I heard a long time ago sponsored by PEN America in which Erica Jong talks about writing about sex.  In case you’re interested, here’s a link to what she has to say on the subject: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9czyS8u_kjE&noredirect=1

 

The OM Zone

I’m not a Buddhist and I eat bacon.  Sometimes, I swear like a drunken sailor.  I have no aspirations of enlightenment.  But I do meditate.  At times, I practice mindfulness.  Not always successfully.  I’ve been doing yoga since the age of sixteen and teaching it for roughly six years.

But, ironically, I feel closest to tranquility with a pen in my hand, completely and totally engrossed in the art of storytelling.  Yoga can be considered a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual discipline.  In my mind, artistic expression can be all of these things as well.  Alright, maybe not “physical,” but it can be.  Often, my best, most creative ideas emerge on the mat or while out for a walk or when I am engaging in the weirdly ridiculous routine of treadmill-running while listening to audiobooks (yup, that’s right.  I listen to audiobooks while running).

So how do you find the ever-elusive OM zone?  It might be a creative sweet spot or a meditative one.  I think we all need an activity or a discipline that we can turn to to cultivate peace and for me yoga is just one of many ways to get into my spiritual grove.  Below is a list of some possibilities for cultivating peace that help me (when I’m not PMS-ing or in self-pity mode).  Maybe, they can help you too as you pursue your own path to wholeness.

1.      Writing

2.     Yoga

3.     Reading

4.     Going for a walk or a run

5.     Journaling (while, technically, this is a form of writing, for me telling stories is a very different experience than telling the truth)

6.     Listening to music

7.     Dancing like no one is watching

8.     Taking a hot shower

9.     Watching TV (yes, this is mindless, but oh so necessary at times)

10.    A hot cup of tea

11.     Connecting with someone I love

12.    Prayer

13.    Meditation

14.    Using essential oils

 

Character Through Comedy

Comedy improv.  Yup.  Adults behaving like children, playing a giant game of make-believe while other people watch and laugh and get swept up by the various plots and subplots.  It’s like theatre for actors with ADD.  Never boring.  Never the same.

And it’s what I do every Thursday night.  Performances once a month – on the last Friday of every month. http://www.comedysportzphilly.com/tickets All the shows are great!  I’m in the Rec League (this is a shameless pitch to get you to come see us because we’re awesome and who doesn’t need a laugh?).

So what does this have to do with writing?  Only everything.  If you’ve ever seen Whose Line is It Anyway? or Saturday Night Live or sketch comedy or any theatrical performance whatsoever (or even pretended to be someone you’re not), you’ll know that character creation is a huge part of comedy.  It just so happens that character creation is also a HUGE part of telling any story.  It keeps people interested and wanting more.  Whether you’re watching Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night or reading Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (two very different Christmastime-tales), the plots would be irrelevant without the people.  Characters matter.  They make or break a story.  Every time.

But are characters created?  Or are they discovered?  Or both?  Maybe, the answer is different for different writers.

As sappy as this sounds, I personally don’t think of my characters as created.  I start with an idea and, as I begin to write, the characters reveal themselves to me.  Each one is different.  Some represent qualities in myself or in others.  Some protagonists have traits I wish I had, but don’t.  Some represent traits I have and wish I didn’t.  Most of the time, my characters are kick-ass women and girls that I wish would materialize in real life so I could hang out with them.  Once or twice, the initial inspiration for a character came to me during an improv scene.

To a certain extent, all human beings are the same.  We all experience the same four basic emotions – happiness, sadness, fear/surprise, and anger/disgust – and, yet, the possibilities for characters are infinite, both on the stage and on the page.

So thank you, improv, for helping me to access a whole bunch of weird personas.  As long as I keep suiting up and showing up, I am fairly certain I will never run out of characters and, in my opinion, the character-driven novel is the only one worth writing (or reading).

Unfashionable

I don’t understand the lure of fashion.  Not at all.  To me, looking “perfect” is akin to looking plastic, and my highest aspiration in life is to be as well-worn as the velveteen rabbit.  I want to engage in each and every experience.  I kind of think the surest way to make that happen is to wear sneakers (as opposed to stilettos).

When I saw Kim Kardashian on “Live with Kelly and Michael” back in May talking about how she found it so romantic when Kanye redid her entire wardrobe, all I could think was I don’t want a man to dress me.  I want him to undress me.  But, hey, then again, I’m not a sinner who just gave birth to a Saint and, while I am directionally challenged, I’d never name my child North.  Especially not North West.

But I digress.

Fashion.  Yeah.  I don’t understand it.  All those size negative runway models strutting their stuff while other, less emaciated women feel inferior for not measuring up (or withering down) to those impossible standards of skeleton-like skinniness.  What I do like about fashion, however, has absolutely nothing to do with the clothes and everything to do with the new reclamation of female empowerment as embodied by Marylyn Monroe and all the fabulously curvy women who have followed in her high-heeled footsteps.

I’m silently (or not so silently, considering the fact that I’m blogging about it) rooting for nations such as France who have actually made it criminal to promote anorexic images of women (http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/europe/article4384124.ece) and organizations, such as Miss Venus, LLC, which are changing the face of female beauty.

So, while I could care less what Robyn Lawley or Ashley Graham are actually wearing, I applaud them as they strut their stuff down the proverbial runway.  And, in honor of their achievements, here’s a little throwback to the good old days.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vziUC1IT0wo

 

Mary Lambert

Mary Lambert is the shit.  Yup.  That’s right.  I LOVE her.  I have a nonsexual crush on this self-proclaimed overweight, bipolar, messy singer-songwriter.  Several months ago, I saw her perform at the Electric Factory in Philly.  And it didn’t matter when the mike broke or whatever instrument or amplifier her musical accompaniment was using went kaput (true story, both things happened.  It was a night of technical malfunctions).  But Mary didn’t skip a beat.  She rocked the house and my world. 

So here are just a few things I love about her, her music and her songs.

1.      She doesn’t try to be something she’s not.  She’s gay.  She’s overweight.  She’s bipolar.  If you don’t like that, she doesn’t give a crap.

2.      She embraces all bodies, shapes and sizes.

3.      Her music is inclusive.

4.      She makes things funny.  Often hysterically funny.  I mean, have you heard Secrets lately?  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cqqqV50zaAc

5.      I feel as if, when she sings, she is singing directly to me, and I’m pretty sure everyone else who listens to her stuff feels the exact same way.

6.      Her voice is fabulous, her music original, and her lyrics actually mean something.

7.      She hasn’t sold out and I am fairly certain she never will.

8.      She takes an empowered stance on such limiting issues as depression, bipolarity, social ostracization, body shame, self-mutilation, and emotional imbalance.

9.      She’s from Seattle, WA.  I’ve never been to Seattle, but the movie Sleepless in Seattle makes it seem like a frigging awesome place to be and another of my favorite artists, Macklemore, is from there as well.

10.  I feel like, if she were open to it, she and I could be good friends.  Maybe that belief is inherently flawed, but I’m holding onto it until she tells me otherwise.

There are more, I’m sure, but that’s just what I came up with.  And now for my top 10 Mary Lambert songs (in no particular order):

1.      Body Love 1 and 2 (technically two songs, but I’m counting them as one)

2.      Secrets

3.      So Far Away

4.      Sum of Our Parts

5.      When You Sleep

6.      She Keeps Me Warm

7.      Assembly Line

8.      Heart on My Sleeve

9.      Jessie’s Girl

10.     Sing to Me

 

My Week in Jamaica

I’m pretty sure that Bob Marley’s “One Love” is Jamaica’s unofficial anthem.  Or, at least, that’s what DuJohn (pronounced Du-Shawn for some reason) told us.  They played it when my friends and I arrived at Sundown Villa in Discovery Bay, Jamaica but, by the time we left, we had befriended the villa staff enough that they shared the real Jamaican musical stylings with us.  We were badass with Peter Tosh and learned to dance such classy numbers as “Shampoo,” “Gasoline,” and “Puppy Tail” (all by Ding Dong http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=ding+dong+jamaican+artist&qpvt=ding+dong+jamaican+artist&FORM=VDRE).

I have never laughed so hard in my life!  I won’t bore you with the inside jokes – of which there were many – or bother to describe the cool feel of a post-yoga eucalyptus towel applied to my face and neck.  I will say, however, that I learned a lot from Jamaica about how I want to live.  Sure, the beach was beautiful and the water lapped against the sand as the sun shone down in rays of “no problem, mon.”

But what I noticed most about Jamaica was the experience of slowing down.  I am relentlessly obsessed with doing, not so great at being.  I move at a lightning pace and am never quite satisfied with my accomplishments.  Even though I do and teach yoga and I meditate, but I haven’t translated these things into the attitude of slowly savoring life.  My experience in Jamaica gave me a taste of that.

What would it be like, I wonder, to do one thing at a time?  To take breaks throughout the day?  To sit and stare off into the distance?

Sure, it’s not realistic to replicate that experience exactly.  I’d never get anything done.  But, perhaps, some of it can and will transfer.

Eating in an unhurried atmosphere, making time to disconnect from life’s stresses, breathing more deeply, connecting with nature…  There’s a lot that I can attempt to change about the way I live my life and I hope for the courage and the willingness to do it.

IMG_1172 (3).JPG

Lonely and Longing

Being single sucks.  Of course, it is better – much better – than being in the wrong relationship.  But I absolutely abhor my single status.  I wish I weren’t the kind of person who derives her sense of self-worth from her relationships (or lack thereof).  But I am.

So there you have it.  My dirty little secret.  Don’t get me wrong.  There are days when I come home to my empty apartment and absolutely love that I can meander around in a ratty old t-shirt or binge watch Big Love without any unwanted intrusion.  Yet, much of the time, I crave someone to share my life with.

Today, in a moment of loneliness, I made the horrible mistake of logging onto Facebook and comparing my own self-perceived inadequacies with the highlight reels of other people’s lives.

Enter my ex.

He materialized, as if out of nowhere, on my Facebook feed as a “suggested friend” and, of course, I fell victim to the lure of Facebook-stalking only to discover that my ex is married!  Sure, I ended things with him and I have never regretted that decision and I wish him a happy, love-filled life.  But, the truth is, I felt this pang in my heart the moment I saw him and his new bride smiling into the camera.  What was the feeling?  Maybe jealousy.  Maybe loneliness.  Maybe the crushing and intermittent fear that I will end up old and alone…

(Note: Aloneness/singleness is not a bad thing.  It’s just not what I want for myself and I struggle with my single status in a way many people don’t).

Whatever the case, after moping around for a while and lamenting my loneliness, I decided to share it.  I don’t believe that people should only share their successes, but their failures (real or perceived) as well.

Today was a painful one for me.  Tomorrow is anyone’s guess.

But good, bad, or indifferent, alone or attached, I know I can find solace in my writing.  I would say my pen can be my partner, but that creates a dirty and unintended double-entendre, so instead I’ll just express gratitude that, even though I may not have found that special someone, I will always and forever have that special something in writing.

 

Jake Miller

I love Jake Miller.  I am largely obsessed with his work.  Have you heard the song Steven? (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWTWDY3HcGg).  It has inspired me to write a novel confronting the issue of suicide.  That sounds WAY too pretentious and detached.  Suicide isn’t an “issue.”  It can’t be reduced to a statistic, and yet, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), 41,149 successful suicides (this doesn’t count failed attempts) were reported in 2013, which makes suicide the 10th leading cause of death in America (http://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/pdf/leading_causes_of_death_by_age_group_2013-a.pdf).  The fact is that when people decide that life is too painful, they leave behind not only those who love them but the chance to change their lives.  That is a tragedy.

I’ve known a few people who have taken their own lives over the years.  Shit, I was suicidal myself at various points in my own tortured past.  I know from experience that when a person is in that sad, broken, hopeless place death feels like the only way out.  I used to go to 12-step meetings, back when I began confronting my bulimia head-on.  They had this saying there: Don’t quit before the miracle happens.

That’s how I have come to feel about life.  Don’t quit before the miracle happens.

Oh shit, that sounds preachy, doesn’t it?  Well, let me climb off my soapbox and get back to my obsession with Jake Miller and how all this relates to me and my take on suicidality. 

The thing is… I really believe (courtesy of my Anthony Robbins addiction – I’ve listened to his books countless times) that we are each hungry for a purpose in life and that finding one’s purpose is a way out of pain.

For me, that purpose is writing.  To create something out of nothing in the hopes that it might transform the life of some teenage girl somewhere is the thing that drives me.  The internal void I once tried to fill with food, I now fill with a desire to reach that girl (whoever she is, wherever she is).

But let’s circle back to Jake and my other favorite song of his: A Million Lives.  In it, he talks about exactly this, about how his art is changing the lives of his listeners but how his listeners ultimately saved his life.  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGGs65J3UEA).  YES!  Absolutely.  I concur.  Me too.  My readers are giving my life purpose and meaning and direction.

So I say to Jake (not that he knows who the hell I am, but I do follow him on Twitter), sing on.  (https://twitter.com/daralyonsauthor).  And as for me, I will write on.  Because that is how to save lives.  Maybe a million, maybe just one.  And, as far as I’m concerned, one is enough because I believe that every life matters. http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/GetHelp/