Sometimes weightlifting is a tough sell. It can be intimidating if you’re just learning, and there are tons of misconceptions out there about getting “bulky” and “too big.” (Note: Hypertrophy, or the increase of muscle size, requires specific training and, to a certain extent, the right genes. Getting big or bulky requires a LOT of work!)
But, in addition to increasing strength, lifting can help improve posture, correct muscle imbalances and make you feel like a badass! So, whenever a client tells me that they’re interested in weightlifting, I get REALLY excited.
Jessica’s been working out regularly the past couple months, mixing yoga with small group fitness classes. She’s been digging circuit training and wanted to learn more about lifting so she can train on her own with confidence and proper form.
We warmed up with a jump rope tabata (8 rounds of 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest). You want to rev your engine? Grab an old-school jump rope. It’s cheap, portable and super-efficient.
After warming up, Jessica and I moved on to the weight room for some squat/deadlift and benchpress/renegade row supersets. Jessica killed it. Once we locked down the form, I increased her weight multiple times. She’s strong, guys.
We finished up with an interval run and a core burner. These “little bit of everything” workouts are my favorite kind – they’re fun and effective, and the time flies!
Do you lift? If not, are you interested in learning how?
I’ve been hearing that the print magazine industry is dead for at least 15 years, and I’m sure there were rumblings way before that. When I worked in PR and marketing, I saw both new publications with tons of promise and old books with extensive histories fold. In less than two years of freelance writing, I’ve witnessed the same thing firsthand.
But, I refuse to think the industry is “dead.” I think it’s a hard industry, and maybe one that’s been too resistant to change and evolution. But I can tell you that there are some really smart, creative people in charge (at least on the editorial side) and tons of writers who are stoked to claim just a tiny corner of print real estate. Print is special for that reason – unlike the internet, which is limitless and dynamic, print is a carefully planned experience. And one that can’t be changed after the fact. I think that kind of curation and permanence is unique and appealing at a time when so much content feels instantly disposable.
I suppose I’m one of those hardcover-reading Luddites with piles of magazines on the kitchen table who can’t get used to a Kindle and still values a more tactile reading experience. Maybe we’re slowly dying off and taking the industry with us, but I really hope not. I hope I keep seeing my name in print. In the meantime, I”ll keep buying magazines.
I’m excited to share that I’ve added a new certification to my personal training arsenal: Training the Pregnant and Postpartum Client!
This topic is addressed by NASM in the section on training “special populations,” but it’s pretty high-level, and there are so many common misconceptions about exercising during pregnancy. I wanted to be able to confidently train a pregnant or postpartum person safely and effectively.
Annette Lang’s workshop and certification was worthy investment of both time and money. She did a great job of combining lecture, group discussion, and hands-on application. She also had a great attitude and approached the topic with humor and enthusiasm. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this. I’ve now had a couple experiences with continuing education courses, and I’ll just say that not everyone has the right personality and temperament for this type of education. Thanks, Annette!
There are dozens of health and fitness assessments a trainer can use to help clients track their progress, but I don’t like to bombard people in the first session. It can be overwhelming, and I want to make sure we have enough time to get in a solid workout.
However, if one client can handle a barrage of assessments, it’s my buddy Jason. I once told Jason that he had a real “affinity for tedium,” and he took it as a compliment. He likes details, metrics, measurements, scores, and stats. I’m sure he would have patiently stood by while I pinched him with my skin-fold caliper, recorded all his circumferences, assessed his heart rate, and tested his maximum strength. But 60 minutes goes fast, so I decided to stick to the overhead squat assessment (read more about that in this post) and the Davies Test, which assesses upper body strength.
After a warm-up and some stretching, I tapped into Jason’s love for minutiae (and reasonable amount of like for running – he ran track in high school, and it’s still his go-to cardio) with a highly specific series of timed 200-meter sprints, all to be performed at various rates of perceived exertion (RPE). We started with a warm-up run with an RPE of 50% and then dialed things up with a second 200-meter run at 75% RPE. The final 200 meters was an all-out sprint.
After a couple minutes of rest, I explained the next portion of the workout, which was comprised of kneeling get-ups, ball slams, sit-ups and burpees, which elicited this response:
I know, I know. Burpees = ugh. But they’re the ultimate full-body exercise. I somehow convinced Jason to crank out a few.
When it comes to my personal training style, I aim to stay positive, encouraging and helpful. I know some people respond to more boot camp-like coaching, but that’s just not me. I’ll correct your form, keep you moving, and won’t let you get away with half-assing anything (I want you to get as much as possible out of your 60 minutes!), but this is health and fitness, not war; barking just feels mean and counterproductive.
However, considering Peter is a drummer, I thought about trying to embrace by inner J.K. Simmons ala Whiplash and getting all hardcore about the tempo for things like pike pushups.
But Peter is a nice guy, and he already works hard. I wanted him to walk away from our session feeling stoked about getting strong, not upset.
We started our session with an overhead squat assessment, which revealed some movement compensations. Peter’s knees moved inward a bit during the squat, which (often, but not always) indicates overactive (tight) adductors, TFL (hip flexors) and/or quad muscles, and underactive glutes and hamstrings.
To help address this potential imbalance, we did some banded “monster walks,” and I showed Peter a few self-myofascial release techniques using a foam roller and tennis balls.
Peter’s goals included improving his posture and building core and upper body strength. We were in the park and using my “mobile gym,” so we did some ball slams and a challenging circuit that used bands and bodyweight movements.
To work on Peter’s core strength, we did a couple rounds of cobras and tuck-ups and finished with a two-minute plank hold.
We both had fun and sweated a lot (carrying a 15-pound slam ball up to the park is no freaking joke).
And nobody cried.
Question: What coaching style do you prefer? Are you motivated by lots of feedback? Or do you prefer to keep things low-key and just get to work?
Full disclosure: I’ve been friends with Anna since I was a wide-eyed college freshman straight off the turnip truck. She’s one of my closest pals, which made our first training session a lot of fun.
Even though we’ve known each other for (ahem) 18-ish years, and I had some idea of what she was looking for in a workout, we still began our first session with a frank conversation about goals. This is a crucial part of the personal training experience. Sure, we could have jumped into a high-intensity circuit right away, or started with some treadmill sprints. But Anna can go for a run on her own or sign up for a group fitness class any time. The benefit of working with trainer is getting a program that addresses your unique needs and goals. Communication is key!
We also talked a bit about the concept of “toning.” It’s impossible to change the quality or shape of your muscle, and “spot reduction” is a weight-loss myth. But you can increase the size of your muscles and decrease you overall body fat percentage, which can give you a more “toned” look.
Based on Anna’s goals and exercise preferences, I designed a program that utilized tabatas (eight rounds of 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest) and circuits. Quickly moving from one movement to the next (e.g. push-ups, banded rows, banded good mornings) incorporated resistance training, while keeping her heart rate elevated. Anna also had concerns about strengthening her back and shoulder muscles, as she spends a lot of time at the computer and struggles with slouching and rounded shoulders. So I threw in some banded pull-aparts (a CrossFit staple!).
Another consideration was Anna’s day-to-day life. She has a full-time job and two kids; there’s not a lot of time for the gym or lengthy workouts. My goal was to create a workout that could be replicated at home, broken up into shorter segments, if necessary, and completed with minimal equipment and space. We skipped bars, kettlebells, and dumbbell (all of which I LOVE, don’t get me wrong) in favor of a variety of resistance bands, which are versatile, portable and inexpensive.
Anna was a model client; she put in 100% effort and was up for everything I threw at her, even monster walks, which are just funny looking. We’re already strategizing our next session, which we may move to the park for some running intervals!
Have you ever worked with a personal trainer? What was the experience like?
“Everything happens for a reason” doesn’t do all that much for me, but this quote is pinned to my bulletin board and scratches at my brain every time I’m disappointed by a fellow member of the human race. It helps me see the value in frustration, angst, pain and longing.
Bad vibes can be fertilizer for writers; if we put in the time, that shit will only make our gardens grow. Words intended to be hurtful can be used to expose the villain’s weaknesses, and you can make your oppressor play the part of the buffoon. There’s nothing they can do to stop you.
Sometimes I forget, but I own everything that happens to me. Everything that’s said to me. No matter how it makes me feel, it’s material. It’s a gift.
I signed up for the self-paced program back in November but told only close friends and family what I was up to. You know – that group of people that still has to love and support you even if you fail. And, for better or worse, that’s exactly the attitude I developed preparing for the test.
I’m reasonably smart. I’ve always done well in an academic setting. I’ve been dedicated to my own personal health and fitness for over a decade. Yet, I was totally convinced I was going to blow this thing, mostly because it’s a pass/fail multiple choice test with no room for discussion or negotiation. I am a person who gravitates toward the grey area. I’m most comfortable in situations where there’s no right or wrong answer, as long as you can support your opinion. I write for a living, and before that I was a marketer – two professions that are basically like, “Here, let me explain to you why I think you should agree with me.” I majored in English and can still remember taking a math theory class for which the midterm exam was a five-page paper. I was so relieved to finally meet a math teacher who understood me.
This certification was the epitome of everything I’ve avoided for the past 15 years. With all of the information on human movement science, assessments, training concepts, program design, and nutrition, there were seemingly infinite questions, and each had one very specific answer. I initially found myself skimming over details and charts, instinctively thinking “I’ll just look that up when I need it.” The practice quizzes, which included all the stuff I’d considered Google-able minutia, were a wake-up call. That’s when I was like, “Shit. I could actually fail this thing.”
I didn’t, though. I passed, but I had to push aside my whole “Well, let’s look at things from a different perspective” perspective and take notes, make flashcards, use quiz apps, record myself reciting muscle groups (yes I actually did this), and do my own research when the course materials didn’t feel like enough information.
I read a lot of other PT’s posts on studying for and passing the test at first, but I stopped as my test date got closer. (At some point, reading about others’ test-taking fears stopped normalizing my own anxiety and just added to the stress.) But, initially, some of those posts were really helpful. I learned about this anatomy coloring book (tip: photocopy the pages so you can use it more than once), this quiz app, this muscles app (I used it as a reference all the time), and this remarkably generous person’s comprehensive suite of study materials that she’s made available as free downloads.
The NASM certification test isn’t easy, but it’s well-covered territory. With so much advice swirling around the internet, how I could use my perspective (see, it’s back!) to help the next generation of test-takers succeed? Here are some thoughts.
Think about what it would be like to fail. Others will tell you to maintain a positive attitude, but I’ve never found that particularly helpful when facing anything that feels daunting or scary. If you’re riddled with anxiety about failing, allow yourself to go there mentally and think about what would actually happen (I did this countless times – just ask my husband). Failing would suck. You might feel disappointed, angry, sad, embarrassed, frustrated. You’d take some time to process and then pay (ugh) to retake the test. Or maybe you’d walk away for a little while. Or forever. But, no matter what, you would ultimately be okay.
Now, think about passing. That’s right – even perennial worrywarts deserve a mental vacation. Think about how freakin’ good it would feel to hold that little computer print-out and see “EXAMINATION RESULTS: PASS.” You’d want to hug the proctor even though he gives no shits about any of this. You’d have the impulse to throw an impromptu party at the nearest bar…but then you’d remember it’s 2 PM on a Monday. So then maybe you’d just get a salad at Pret A Manger in midtown and slowly eat it while you happily text everyone you’ve driven crazy over the last few months with panic attacks and emotional breakdowns.
Slow and steady isn’t always best. I initially approached this endeavor like a reasonable, balanced 35 year-old woman. But it was only when I started obsessing over it like a caffeine-fueled college student with a precarious financial aid package that things started to really click. Many of the concepts build on information from earlier chapters, so I don’t recommend allowing more than a few days to pass between study sessions. That being said, I don’t recommend cramming either. You will need to understand and apply what you’ve learned to pass.
Pick a reward. Do you like stuff? It’s okay to admit that you’re motivated by the idea of owning another thing. Or maybe you’re more evolved and like to reward yourself with experiences. Me? I like jewelry. I picked out a very specific strength-themed piece of jewelry from Tina Tang at Iron Strong Jewelry and mentally dangled it in front of my nose every time I got annoyed with studying. I recommend finding something you normally couldn’t justify buying and then shamelessly treat yourself for making it through to the other side.
So, I’m a certified personal trainer. Now what? I’m working on that part. To be honest, I originally took the certification course so I could be a more informed writer. I toyed with the idea of training people, but I’ve started to take steps towards actually doing it, which is…exciting! Stay tuned…
Thinking of taking the NASM certification test? Feel free to ask me anything!
It’s snowing out my window now, which makes this moment from last week seem even further away.
I was in New Orleans, walking back from a sweaty WOD at CrossFit NOLA on Magazine St. (A great box to drop into, btw!) The sun was shining, the air was balmy, and these Mardi Gras beads tinkled like wind chimes.
It’s cold and grey here in NYC, but I’ll do my best to focus on how lucky I am to be able to take my little show on the road whenever the opportunity presents itself. (Have laptop. Will travel.) I worked from a swanky hotel lobby by day and wandered through the Garden District and French Quarter by night. I love New Orleans. It’s a city that somehow manages to be super down-to-earth and mystical at the same time.
I was super lucky to get to test the Marc Pro electric muscle stimulation device and write about it. Like a lot of runners and CrossFitters, I’ve done some pretty weird stuff in the name of recovery (ice baths and pickle juice recovery drinks are among said things), so I was stoked to get electrified!
I quickly learned that that’s not quite the way the Marc Pro works. If you deal with soreness, swelling or chronic pain, I encourage you to read my review and leave a comment!
I like ALL of my clients and editors. (Getting to choose who I work with is one of my favorite things about working for myself.) But, OfficeNinjas is among my favorites. When I went freelance, they were one of the first companies to hire me, and they certainly set the bar with their entrepreneurial energy (it’s contagious!), attention to detail and passion for quality. Plus, they’re just nice. In my book, niceness counts. A LOT.
One of the first big projects we worked on together was Admin Week, a week-long celebration for executive assistants, receptionists, operations managers, and other admin pros (a.k.a. “Office Ninjas”). We worked together to shape and brand the campaign elements, and I generated oodles of online content. Setting the groundwork for Admin Week was tons of work, but we cranked and pulled it off.
It’s always a thrill to see your words and ideas come to life, but it’s truly validating to see a campaign return for a second year.
I’m not knocking e-content at all, but there’s something so exciting about seeing your name in print. I’ve been writing for TheBoxMag.com for a while now, but my first print piece was recently published in the January/February 2016 issue.
I had the opportunity to interview PT gurus Kelly Starrett and C. Shanté Cofield on why mobility is so important to athletes, specifically CrossFitters. Even though I feel like I just scratched the surface of this topic, I learned a TON and feel super proud of this article.
You can order the January/February issue of The Box online or pick it up at your local Barnes & Noble.
Looking for more reading material? Check out my Contently profile!
In case you missed it, I wrote a (hopefully helpful) article about yoga and stress for OxygenMag. It’s no secret that a sweaty Vinyasa or a chill Hatha class can help you feel more calm and centered. But, in the event that you simply don’t have time to get to a class (or maybe you don’t feel like looking at other peoples’ feet – I’ve been there), you can work through these poses in 10-15 minutes from home and maybe feel a little better. Enjoy!
I think it was an evening in early November that the coach leading the circle talk/warm-up at my CrossFit box asked us all the question: “Are you interested in doing a nutritional challenge during the month of December?” To which my response was essentially:
I did the Whole Life Challenge last year and lived to blog about it, but I’m tellin’ ya, I barely scraped by. I was hating it by the end and “cheating” left and right. I did NOT want to deal with rules and points again. I’m a fairly healthy eater already, and December? That’s when we all let down our hair and unbutton our fat pants.
But, I signed up. The more I thought about it, the more I didn’t really want to have to unbutton my fat pants on New Year’s Eve. I also realized it wasn’t particularly smart to give myself permission to eat cookies just because “the holidays” and skip workouts when the weather was bad. I didn’t want to go into the new year bloated and annoyed with myself, promising to clean up my act on January 1st. I wanted a running start so I could work on other fitness goals, like strict handstand push-ups, strict ring dips and stringing together some legit toes-to-bar.
The challenge was Paleo/Zone. There was a points system for staying within guidelines, and we also got points for WODs, stretching, sleep, etc. I figured out my Zone blocks, bought a vat of coconut oil and hardboiled a bunch of eggs. I used a food scale and measuring cups to build perfectly balanced three-block meals and one-block snacks. I used MyFitnessPal to record everything I ate.
That lasted about six days.
I know the Zone has worked for SO many people (including some of the people at my box), but I found it incredibly annoying. I’d spent most of last February and March annoyed by food and didn’t want a repeat experience. Also, I was hungry and unable to focus on anything. I figured my body was just “adjusting,” but after a few nights of going to bed with a grumbling stomach, plus one of the least productive weeks I’ve had in a long time, I decided to ditch the Zone.
I figured I could manage Paleo-centric eating and Zone-ish meals. Most days, I filled half my lunch plate with greens, a piece of chicken and couple spoonfuls of guacamole and called it a day. It was easy and sustainable. And way healthier than the canned soup or cheese and crackers I’d been resorting to out of laziness. I also started cooking more of my meals, ordering out way less, drinking fewer glasses of wine and indulging in fewer treats. (Paleo desserts are a thing, but you usually have to make them yourself.)
Did I cheat? Yes, I did. But, because I knew I’d have to own up to it later, I (mostly) saved my non-Paleo indulgences for the stuff I really wanted. Dry, grocery store cookies sold by the platter? I’ll pass. Freshly baked cake with buttercream frosting from the local bakery? That’s worth the point.
So, one month of eating Paleo-ish? Did it change my life for the better?
In some ways, yeah. It kind of did. Here’s what I got out of this little experiment:
Better sleep. This has been the biggest thing for me. (I actually thought about saving it for last, but most people probably won’t read this post in its entirety, so here goes…) For months I’ve been waking up around 3:20 a.m. (Seriously, it’s that precise. That number in glowing red digits haunts me.) Sometimes I’d be awake for 20 minutes, sometimes it would be three hours. I’d see some improvement when I cut out alcohol, but I still experienced some level of sleep interruption.
Well, about two weeks into the challenge, I started sleeping through the night. Correlation or causation? Not sure, but I’m thinking that reducing my sugar intake by eliminating grains (in addition to sweets and booze) might have something to do with it.
Paleo pancakes. Notice that this is second on the list – they’re just that good. I’ve been telling everyone. 1 mashed banana, 1 egg, ¼ cup of almond meal, 1 tbsp of coconut oil. Cooked in pan lightly coated with coconut oil. So delicious and filling.
Fewer digestion issues. Anyone else just accept abdominal pain and bloating as part of eating? I did. I can’t remember one Paleo meal that left me feeling uncomfortably stuffed. However, I did have pizza last night and felt that familiar belly stretch. That being said, it was really good pizza, so it was sort of worth it. Plus, I live in Brooklyn…above a brick oven pizza joint; it’s not like I’m never going to have pizza again.
Renewed attention to intake. This happens with any kind of diet, cleanse or challenge. It’s pretty obvious-sounding, but paying attention to what you eat makes you pay attention to what you eat. It’s easy (for me at least) to become a grazing garbage disposal for potato chip bag remnants and random handfuls of trail mix. Establishing some rules or guidelines helps me reset and remember concepts like servings, portions, eating off of a plate…
-1 lb. Yep, you read that right. I lost about a pound. How’s that for an endorsement? But, honestly, it’s a win for a few reasons. First, I didn’t really have a huge weight loss goal in mind. I wanted to clean up my eating and drinking a bit and maybe gain some definition by reducing my fat layer. Judging from my before and after photos, that did happen. See:
Sike! (Note: I don’t know this person or why he chose USA Today as a visual reference, but good for him.) Yeah, I think my photos are just going to live on my phone for now. Not ready for that level of disclosure. The other win? I normally gain a little flub over the holidays. December weight loss is sort of like dog years. If you think about it, I really lost 7 pounds.
I’m not the only one who saw benefits. There were some challengers who lost over 10 lbs., and one of my teammates achieved a bunch of new PRs. Almost everyone reported feeling and looking better. We decided to keep our little secret Facebook group open and continue to share articles, healthy recipes and product reviews.
I’ve decided to move forward in a Paleo-ish fashion. I’ve got a bunch of new recipes and meal planning tricks under my belt. I honestly don’t miss having grains and dairy on a daily basis. I’ll probably re-incorporate beans here and there, and if really want something sweet that’s made with flour, sugar and butter, I’ll go for it.
Oh, and pizza. There will always be a time and place for pizza.
I know I just wrote about TV, but you must have heard that we’re in the golden age of television. There is so much good TV. And also lots of bad and mediocre TV. You can really do a number on what should have been a productive weekend (or a random Tuesday night) with all the choices you have. But, I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. And, if you’re already a fan of HBO’s original series Getting On, you also already know it’s one of the most brilliant shows in recent history.
But, if you haven’t seen it, don’t feel bad for a couple reasons. 1 – Most people haven’t. This little gem flew under the radar for three seasons, during which I asked pretty much everyone I knew if they were watching it. (No one was.) It was critically acclaimed, but it wasn’t supported by a ton of publicity. Plus it takes place in the extended care wing in a decrepit, under-funded hospital. It doesn’t have the drama of ER or House’s mystery. Its cast is mostly elderly, and the staff is typically dealing with grim, un-sexy issues like constipation and wound care…
(So, maybe this is why the show was a bit of a hard sell? You mean you don’t want to tune in every Sunday night to watch a clinical staff wrangle anal horns – a thing, btw – and medicate dying patients?)
So, the second reason you shouldn’t feel too bad about missing it is because, thanks to the way we know consume media, you’ll be able to watch on-demand in a million places, I’m sure, from now until eternity. And, really, you DO want to watch it.
There’s the amazing cast. This may sound a little “duh,” but you get the sense that the cast was really cast. Like, they didn’t just pick some people that look hot in lab coats, and there wasn’t a big “star” (in the traditional sense of the word) to draw people in. The actors they picked for the main roles– Laurie Metcalf, Alex Borstein, Niecy Nash and Mel Rodrqiguez – are believable as their characters and bring layers and layers of comedy and tragedy to their roles and the writing.
Oh, and dear god, the writing. The wizards in that writing room found comedic gold in topics like bi-polar disorder, insurance fraud, and fecal matter studies. And I’m not talking about cheap laughs. I’m talking about smart, complicated, expensive, if youwill, laughs about fecal matter studies.
And then there’s the final episode, which I can’t stop thinking about and is sort of the inspiration for this whole rambling post. I guess I should type *Spoiler Alert,* even though plot twists and surprises aren’t really the show’s main selling points. In what I like to think is a very meta, art imitating life turn of events, the extended care unit is closed down and the staff is forced to think about moving on. Even though none of the characters were particularly satisfied in their current positions, they feel displaced and disempowered. Like their hard work never got the respect it deserved, and they were unceremoniously nudged out before they really got the chance to show everyone what they could do. (Like how so many of their dying patients probably felt!)
Maybe because I love the show so much, I’m reading into things, but the final scenes also felt like a commentary on the show’s cancellation. The characters – Didi (Niecy Nash) in particular – put up a fight, but ultimately they give in to the inevitable, unfair hand they’ve been dealt. The hospital closes. The show ends.
The last thing Dr. James (Laurie Metcalf) says to Nurse Dawn is this:
“There is no justice, but there is mercy, because that is what we can give to each other.”
And THIS is what’s been on my mind. I fell in love with the on-screen moment (I won’t ruin that plot point with more detail), and the quote imprinted on my brain. I think because it is a near-perfect of expression of what I’ve been learning and relearning and starting to actually understand as time passes.
What your parents and teachers told you is actually true: life isn’t fair. We don’t get what we need or deserve. The wrong things happen to the right people, and vice versa. Life is often very sad and disappointing. But you can find relief, comfort and sometimes answers in human relationships.
And, as I bawled over the final moments of the final episode ever of Getting On, I was grateful to Dr. James for the reminder.
Related questions: Is life fair? Do we, as humans, have truly have the power to give one another mercy? Is it healthy to become this invested in a TV show?
Vulture totally called it when they wrote that Flesh and Bone, the new series from the Starz network, “is filled with clichés, but they’re melodrama clichés, specifically ballet melodrama clichés, and that automatically makes them feel less wearisome than cop or gangster clichés.” Exactly. Dance drama has its own brand of tropes, and it is the best, most stylish brand, like Lululemon or Nancy Rose Performance. And what’s fun about Flesh and Bone is that we get to see all of these clichés live and breathe in a decidedly edgy (and maybe a teensy gratuitous) cable TV world that’s so different than the filtered PG-13ness of most dance-focused flicks.
That’s why I was a little bummed when the article just sort of moved past this point, and then past Flesh and Bone all together. I suppose there are other new shows and movies that deserve to be reviewed, but as someone who owns the DVD of Center Stage and makes So You Think You Can Dance appointment TV every summer, I yearned for a deeper exploration. Hence this (not exhaustive) list of all the on-screen dance tropes that Flesh and Bone totally nails in its series pilot.
If, like me, you have a weakness for rehearsal montages and a good, old-fashioned final performance scene, wrap yourself in a pink cashmere shrug, grab half a grapefruit and read on.
Trope #1: The wide-eyed rookie that has to prove herself.
This trope is our nucleus, and I’m not sure a ballet melodrama would work without it. Claire Robbins is Flesh and Bone’s ingénue. She’s beautiful, skittish and tragic, which infuses her dancing and makes everyone lose their minds. The super jaded ballet fascists that run her dance company are convinced she’s a star, but not before they’re convinced she’s a waste of time. They make her prove herself on the spot, which she does with aplomb and then almost gets to the studio door with her legwarmers and enormous duffle bag before they’re like, “Wait. Okay, fine. I guess you can stay.” Like everything she encounters, this totally surprises her. I guess it makes sense that ballerinas, because they spend their formative years chained to the barre, grow up as sheltered adults. But, then there’s…
Trope #2: The sassy, foul-mouthed dancer who shows her the ropes.
Baby had Penny in Dirty Dancing. Nina had Lily in Black Swan. And Claire has Daphne. Daphne offers Claire plenty of real talk as well as carte blanche of her closet, a curated collection of racy cocktail dresses and designer stilettos. Then she takes her to the strip club where she, of course, is gainfully employed. Predictably, Claire responds with an adorable combo of shock and intrigue. But what’s that glimmer in her eye? What’s that about? We’re pretty sure it won’t be Claire’s last trip to that fine establishment.
Trope #3: The entitled OG dancer.
Kiira, complete with a frosty eastern European accent and a cocaine habit, doesn’t waste any time letting Claire know what’s up. Don’t take Kiira’s spot at the barre, and definitely don’t take one of her solos. Seriously, Claire…You’re not gonna listen, are you, Claire?
Trope #4: The crazy/brilliant/abusive artistic director.
“I WANT CHAMPAGNE!” Paul Grayson screams this at his humiliated staff within the first 20 or so minutes of the show. This is after dismissing an audition finalist for her too-wide hips, but before using Claire to manipulate one of the company’s most moneyed patrons. Like Smash’s Derek, this guy’s a tool. But a tool with a vision and a British accent, which means we’ll indulge his bullshit.
Trope #5: A burning desire to push the envelope.
“But every year we do the same, tired dance. Why not do something different?”
“Something different? Who do you think you are?! You can’t just go changing what we do every year!”
“But I have ideas!”
“Ideas? Are you crazy?”
You get the idea.
Trope #6: Busted feet.
If you know one thing from dance movie tropes it’s that, for all their swan-like elegance and 1% body fat, ballerinas have gnarly feet. While most movies like to remind you of this with maybe a two-second shot of some poor dancer carefully sliding her bloody foot from a tattered toe shoe, Claire takes things up a notch with a dead toe nail and unhealthy amount of self-flagellation (even for a ballerina).
Trope #7: This guy.
You know. The straight man (in regards to both his sexual orientation and the predictably grounded person he manages to be despite ballet world craziness.) But, also, this actual guy:
Once Center Stage‘s Jody got bad boy Cooper and his headbands out of her system, she settled down with Sascha Radetsky’s reliable, if slightly dopey, Charlie. And I’m pretty he’ll be there for Claire (this time as Ross) when she eventually crumbles under Derek’sThomas’Jonathan’s Paul’s impossible demands.
Flesh and Bone is on Sunday nights on the Starz network. If you don’t have Starz, you can still get a healthy serving of delicious dance tropes at Starz.com where the pilot episode is available for free.
As I alluded to in my last post, I did something this weekend that I’ve never done before: I volunteered as a judge for a CrossFit competition. I haven’t been so scared about counting since this vampire muppet heckled me from my living room TV.
If you talked to me in the days leading up to the competition, you knew that I did NOT want to do it. Essentially, the job consisted of counting athletes’ reps and ensuring they were meeting movement standards on things like snatches, kettlebell swings, hand release push-ups and sit-ups. It sounds simple, and it kind of is – I’ve been doing CrossFit for over three years; I’m more than familiar with proper form and I count my own reps all the time. But, I convinced myself that once the pressure was on I was going to miscount or piss someone off with a “no rep” call, throw their time and ruin the entire competition.
I think that stems from my general tendency to avoid confrontation. (Can’t we just be nice?) Also, my confidence gets wobbly in black and white situations. I was always the kid who preferred essay questions over true/false and multiple choice tests. I generally feel better in the grey area where no one is technically wrong as long as you can back up your thoughts with an intelligent argument. Ask me to say “yes” or “no” with less than a second to deliberate and I start to get hives.
But I’m always harping on CrossFit’s community aspect, and they needed volunteers, so I did it. I made sure I was familiar with all the standards and did a few practice runs with my coach. My stomach was in knots that (VERY EARLY) morning, but I showed up, grabbed a clipboard and managed to get in the zone.
There were three separate events and multiple heats, so I had the opportunity to judge about 10 times. And, halfway through, I realized that I was actually having fun. Turns out I’m capable of firmly correcting someone’s hand placement during sit-ups, calling a “no rep” when it’s warranted and counting! I can count!
So, <insert obvious conclusion about the value of stepping outside of one’s comfort zone>. But, also, FUN can happen in the most unexpected places.
When’s the last time you did something that scared you?
Oops. Has it really been over three months since my last post? Apparently. I am officially the cobbler with no shoes, as I have been writing for lots of other things for lots of other sites while my own little blog has been left unattended like a sad, dying houseplant.
Well, let’s not make a big deal of it and just jump right back in and talk about some good stuff like…
So, so, good. One of those books you tear into but then immediately slow down because you don’t want it to end too soon. I loved the multiple, winding plot lines and the sparkly, unexpected prose. Marie-Helene Bertino has style in spades. It blew me away. Read it. I haven’t felt so strongly about a book since The Art of Fielding, which was a showstopper in a whole different (devastating) way. Read that one too, but, heavens, brace yourself.
Also, Marc Maron, since I’m apparently in the mood to fangirl. I can’t help but feel so proud of and inspired by this guy. So much heart and art and purity comes out of this guy’s garage. He is my “do it anyway” role model. Last week he posted an interview with Keith Richards, his childhood hero, and it blew me away. My appreciation for the Rolling Stones is only average, but it was so moving to hear him talk about the experience, which was loaded with 40ish years of awe and worship. Dreams come true. You should listen to it, if only to hear him get overwhelmed and choked up in the intro. That kind of honest and vulnerable joy just kills me.
Tomorrow I wake up at 5 a.m. to do something sort of odd and against character for me. I’ll leave it at that so I MUST come back and elaborate in a timely manner.
I keep trying to write about what a freakin’ year this has been. There’s a LOT of material. I switched careers, for one thing. I attended a yoga intensive which, as crazy as it sounds, kind of changed my entire perspective on how to live life and interact with other humans (I wrote a teeny, tiny bit about it here and here). Oh, and last year I did my first pull-up the night before turning 34. This Memorial Day I surprised myself again by doing 100.
But, honestly, all I can think about is a decade-old episode of Sex and the City.
On Carrie Bradshaw’s 35th birthday she sat alone at Il Cantinori waiting for a party that never happened. Then she paid for her own birthday cake, which she promptly dropped in the wet tar of a freshly paved 5th Avenue. Some jerky, sexist construction workers yelled at her while she used the pastry box cover to scrape up the remains of her dirty, expensive, inedible cake. Since I first watched this episode in college, this is image that comes to mind when I think about turning 35.
My well-meaning husband actually suggested we celebrate my own 35th birthday with a dinner at Il Cantinori, perhaps in an effort to reclaim the year? Um, no, thanks. Let’s not tempt fate. Plus, I could never pull off that infamous crop top/headband combo.
It’s funny to watch those episodes now in syndication. I’m starting to catch up to all of them age-wise, yet they still seem like such fully-formed adults, despite their flaws and missteps. Meanwhile, I feel simultaneously young and old; I can’t stay awake after more than a couple cocktails, yet I never really learned how to properly apply eyeliner. Technically, I have the same job as Carrie. And, like her, I spend my days tapping away at keyboard, regularly pausing to stare out my street-facing window. (I resist the urge to transition between paragraphs with the phrase “I couldn’t help but wonder…” )
However, I haven’t yet figured out how to fund an UWS apartment and a high-fashion shopping habit on one weekly column in a free newspaper. Maybe that happens at 36.
The authority on all things yoga is taking over the New York Hilton with a three-day conference and I GET TO GO!
I’m excited, but also mildly concerned. To date, the most yoga I’ve done in one day is 90 minutes. I can expect no less than 6 hours of yoga per day this Fri-Sun. I will either be loosey-goosey/blissed out, or my body will be screaming “What have you done to me?!”
Either way, I’m in. It’s an adventure and an opportunity to really focus on my personal practice. And all of my classes sound so fun and amazing. They cover everything from inversions to backbends to self-myofascial release and asana detox. And my last class on Sunday is called “Bob Marley Flow,” which sounds like pretty much the perfect way to wrap up a weekend.
For years I joked that PhotoShop should come with some kind of aptitude test or breathalyzer-type app that measures a person’s visual taste level before granting them access. As a marketing person/brand manager, I’ve encountered so many well-intentioned individuals that know just enough about the design program to be dangerous.
I’m thrilled to announce that I have joined the ranks of those folks.
I recently enrolled in a 3-course web design “blueprint” with Skillcrush, the online learning platform, and so far it’s been a really great experience. I’m one course in and have picked up some basic UX and design skills (hence my original artwork). This week we’ll get into html and css (I know a bit of both but hope to step up my game).
The final project is an online portfolio for yours truly, which means I’ve had to create things like user personas, mood boards, and style guidelines…for myself. This is weird and sometimes feels like self-administered therapy or something. I’ve done these exercises before, but always for other companies or brands. I am trying to be as thorough and pragmatic as I’d be with any other client. But, I’m not going to lie, choosing your personal color palette and determining your market differentiators can start to feel like that scene in Being John Malkovich where John Malkovich tries his own hand at being John Malkovich.
There are signs of spring in New York! The sidewalk snow banks are steadily melting into dirty street slushies. The fragrant piles of frozen garbage are thawing. And crabby, pale New Yorkers from all five boroughs are clawing their way out of their stale apartments and bracing themselves against the sun.
Remember the sun?
I admit that I am guilty of this particular brand of hibernation. And now that I work from home, it’s a bit more extreme. Yes, the total number of times I’ve changed into “real” pants over the last three months may be less than 10 (though I still argue, to my husband’s chagrin, that Rite-Aid jeggings are indeed pants), but I promise you that I have not been inactive.
I’ve actually been quite a busy little wordsmith. Some of what I’ve been working on is of the contest/submission variety and, as a deeply superstitious person, I’ll need to keep those details under wraps. But, I hope you’ll check out:
It’s January 18th and, according to WordPress, this is my 50th blog post. This is exciting because, when I started this blog a while back, I was really concerned about stalling out after a handful of posts. While I’ve certainly had my blogging dry spells, I’m proud that I haven’t completely abandoned this site all together.
But, I have to admit to having this fleeting thought:
Darn. Woulda been cool if my 50th post was a New Year’s Eve wrap-up.
You know exactly the kind of post I’m talking about because you likely read a dozen of them three weeks ago. I could have revisited last year’s New Year’s resolutions, talked about everything I learned in 2014 and then set goals and commitments for the coming year. And it would have been post 50, which is such a nice, fat, juicy number.
But, honestly, I don’t know where I would have started. And, 19 days later, I still don’t. The truth is that I’m so IN IT, that I just can’t step back far enough for that kind of reflection. I’m not winding down or gearing up. I hopped on a running treadmill a couple months ago and I am just trying to keep myself from slipping off the end of it.
But, it’s all good. This momentum feels good and right, and I think it’s fair if the particular rhythm of your life doesn’t match up with the calendar.
In the spirit of all that, I’m going to leave out a thoughtful conclusion to this post and jump back on the treadmill. (But, I’ll take a cue from George Gray and face forward.)
This morning I was looking at my new lavender plant from Whole Foods and thinking about how happy it makes me and how I wish everyone I like could have their own lavender plant. Do you have those things in your apartment or house that just, for whatever reason, fill you with joy? They fluctuate depending on the mood or what day it is, but I decided to showcase a few of them in a consumer magazine-style (half-assed, spur-of-the-moment) gift guide for everyone who likes the same stuff as me.
AKA the inspiration for this gift guide. I think it was around $15? Not totally sure on that as I bought it with my hubby after a couple drinks at the roof-top bar. (Yes, there’s a bar in our grocery store!) It was a tipsy, impulse purchase, but it smells lovely and should last a long time as long as I water it appropriately.
The Skimm Email Newsletter (Free!)
I wish I could say I read the Times every day, cover to cover, without fail… I CAN say that I’ve read every “The Skimm” newsletter I’ve ever received! (I subscribed last Thursday.) This newsletter skims the news and presents the biggest headlines in an easy-to-read, sometimes humorous daily email. Recommend it to a friend today and feel smart.
Soap ($.49 – $5)
I guess I’m a crazy soap-hoarder, as I’ve accumulated this much soap in the last 3-4 weeks. Is it weird that I get REALLY excited when it’s time to crack open a new bar of soap? To be fair, CVS was having a sale on Yardley’s, and I had a coupon. And 30% of this was also part of the drunk Whole Foods incident.
This book is usually priced between $40 and $50, but I found it on ebay for $15. First published in 1948, it’s a popular reference guide for writers and editors that definitely serves a practical purpose. But, honestly, I just really like having it on my desk. Writing can be a tough, slow-moving and lonely endeavor. It’s nice to have such a no-nonsense tool at my fingertips. Maybe this is the way Captain America feels about his shield? Or Thor about his hammer thingy?
Question: What’s in your gift guide for everyone who likes the same stuff as you?
It was yesterday, November 20th, when I realized I probably should have done NaNoWriMo.
On 11/1, it seemed so arbitrary. Why would the simple fact that it’s the month of November motivate me to write more regularly?
But now look at all of you with your word counts and camaraderie and #amwriting hashtags. Meanwhile, I fight against youtube wormholes (The Little Mermaid “Honest Trailer” -> every “Honest Trailer” ever made -> Golden Retriever puppies swimming compilation #12) and wonder if maybe I need one of those fake sunlight lamps.
I guess I could use a little something to keep me on track, even if it is arbitrary. There are a bunch of interesting apps and sites that calculate word count, score you against your peers, award badges, etc. I think it’s great that writers have so many tools available to them and applaud anyone who’s found success this way.
I guess it’s some kind of combination of impatience and paranoia that keeps me from using any of that stuff. I don’t really want to add another step to my writing process. Even if it’s “easy” it’s still another thing to do, another password I’ll forget. And I’ll just never be comfortable writing directly into a web application. I write everything – even these blog posts – in Word first and save them, often emailing myself documents as back-up. And what if an evil hacker gains access to the back end of one of those sites and publishes everyone’s crappy first drafts before they’ve been thoroughly edited and proofread? I know, I know…
But, why take the risk?
Especially when it takes just 2 minutes and a standard word processing program to create one of these babies:
Yep, I think the MSWord calendar template/red Sharpie method works best for me. Low tech solutions have their perks (no passwords, available during power outages, exercise hand-eye coordination). And, honestly, I still really like paper. (I’ll always be that kid who loved shopping for new school supplies even more than new clothes).
I’ll pin this to my corkboard (a.k.a. live action Pinterest) and let you know how it works out.
I laughed out loud when I read this Twitter notification:
The truth is that my only connection to this individual is my 4,981st place on their twitter list “My Fav Gays.” I’m also a straight, cisgender person, so I’m really not sure how I qualified. But, honestly, it’s nice to be part of anyone’s favorite anything.
It’s funny that this notification came when it did because I’ve been thinking a lot about the 3ish years I spent working at an LGBTQ youth organization. I met so many people, a handful of which have changed my life in different ways (all for the better). I learned a lot about the movement, from its turbulent history to how it impacts the lives of young people today. But there are two very specific and personal lessons I learned working in the LGBTQ space that I think about the most.
Meet people wherever they are.
Perhaps it’s how we’re socialized, or maybe it even goes back to some primitive survival instinct, but our tendency is to try to “figure out” people within seconds of meeting them. Everything from race to socio-economic background to gender and sexuality. I’m not at all suggesting that I’ve transcended this behavior, but (thanks to my on-the-job education) I’m at least aware of it and can resist the urge to switch to “analysis mode.” I do my best to wait for people to tell me about their experiences and how they identify. And, I also know it’s perfectly OK if they don’t tell me anything at all or if what they do choose to share with me changes over time.
Sometimes you have to question authority.
I recently texted a former colleague about how I missed working for an LGBTQ org because I found there to be a constant questioning of structure and authority that’s completely unique.
I kind of surprised myself with this realization. I never had a detention in high school. My in-flight carry-on items are always well within the size and weight restrictions, and if a cashier miscounts change in my favor I always return the difference. Basically, I’m a rule follower who’s always tended to avoid confrontation.
My friend (who is not straight or cisgender) talked about how when you constantly face authority and structures that fail or abuse you and your community it makes you question (and keep questioning) the status quo.
Makes sense. I think I’ve been fairly obedient because, for the most part, the structures in place have served and protected me when it’s come to the “big things” in my life. (There’s a whole other post in here about white, cis-hetero privilege, but I’ll save that for another day). And when the “big things” are for the most part OK, you stop paying attention to the less immediate impact of the smaller decisions made by authorities. And that makes it easier for people in charge to get away with stuff that’s harmful, inefficient or just stupid.
I think a smidge my peers’ bravery and an ounce of their collective chutzpah has rubbed off on me, because I am less and less capable of hearing “Well, that’s just the way it is” and being cool with it. And, even though this awareness can make things more complicated, I’m grateful for it.
Question: What work experience has changed who you are?
Life lessons I Learned (or Relearned) from Climbing a Rope
Anticipate and prepare. This can mean a lot of different things. When it comes to rope climbing, it means packing long socks.
Take a second before you start. Take a deep breath, pay attention to your footing, get a grip and have a plan. This can help you establish or reclaim control of a daunting situation.
You’re more likely to do something stupid when you’re tired. This is particularly relevant when dangling 15 feet above the ground.
It’s great to have support and guidance, but you’re ultimately responsible for yourself. Encouragement and advice go a long way, but when the stakes are high (literally and figuratively) you’ll likely find yourself on your own. This can be a particularly difficult lesson, but the faster you accept it the better off you’ll be.
It’s all about your core. AKA guts.
Know your limits. Listen to those guts. Only you know how far you can go and still come back in one piece (without burns, rips and twisted ankles).
Taking risks is important (and sometimes fun!). It’s scary to push yourself when there’s the risk of getting hurt. But real growth happens when you step outside your comfort zone. And it’s kind of a cool view from up there.
I feel a little weird about the word “mentor,” but I’m forcing myself to get over that. Remember that Seinfeld episode (I know, enough with the Seinfeld references, but it’s often the only way I can make sense of the word) where the woman who just got engaged used the word “fiancé” every chance she got? It annoyed Elaine to no end, and it made the woman look like a self-absorbed idiot.
Not unlike “fiancé,” “mentor” has some baggage. “My mentor” doesn’t exactly roll of the tongue and I feel like it suggests some weird Mr. Miyagi/Daniel-san car waxing/fence painting/crane jumping in a fishing boat situation. When really, for me at least, mentorship means frank discussion, a seasoned perspective and valuable advice over email, the phone or a glass of wine.
We all need mentors. Friends, family and partners will listen to you vent, celebrate your success and comfort you amidst failure. But all of that will definitely be mixed up in the complications of love, emotion and personal relationships. A mentor cares about you and your career equally.
So, if you don’t already have a mentor how do you get one? If you’re still in school, you’re in a great position to find a mentor, as you’re surrounded by educated people who are used to guiding others. Workplaces are good, too. And that includes past jobs. A mentor you used to work with can be super helpful because they know you, and you have a common professional context, but you won’t find yourself talking about topics that are more about your company or organization than your career.
How do you actually know someone might be a good mentor and not just a cool person? Here are some (unofficial, totally subjective) qualities to look for:
You want to be like them. It’s not just that they’re successful, but there’s something about them – particular skills, the way they manage people, a particular project of piece of work – that you admire.
They’re a bit older. Or at least much more experienced. I think we can learn a lot from our peers, but oftentimes they’re working on the same issues.
They’re generous with their time. This doesn’t mean that they’re always available. It may take a few weeks to get on their calendar, but when you do have the opportunity to connect you have their undivided attention.
They have x-ray vision. Not literally. But they can look a situation or problem and help you understand the real issues. And opportunities. Good mentors can help you find the hidden learning opportunities in frustrating experiences.
You feel energized after a conversation with them. Good mentors don’t lecture you and tell you everything you’re doing wrong. Even when giving feedback that’s hard to hear, they find ways to assure you that you’re smart and capable (because they really do think you’re smart and capable).
They’re humble and have a sense of humor. I suppose you could have a decent mentor who’s cocky and humorless. I just know I can’t. If someone can’t laugh at themselves, I can’t take them seriously.
You always wish you had more time with them. But that makes the time you do have even more valuable.
Say you find someone with all this and more. Then what? Do you have to ask someone to be your mentor? Is there some kind of ceremony? No, I don’t think that’s necessary. The best relationships evolve organically, so ease into things by asking for small amounts of their time (e.g. a cup of coffee, ten minutes on the phone). Have a few key questions or topics you want to cover and, if things go well, ask if they’d be open to talking again sometime in the future.
And SAY “THANK YOU.” Always. Say it at the beginning and end of the conversation and again in an email the next day.
Questions: Did I miss any good mentor qualities? Do you have a mentor? What’s that person like?
For years I’ve been equally interested in and intimidated by screenwriting. Not that I feel any kind of mastery of writing YA novels, but at least I’ve been reading them since the age of 10 or 11. I understand the format and I know what I like. And, whether it was in school or conversations with friends, I’ve spent hours talking about books. While books feel like well-covered territory, screenplays feel like maybe they’re written in hieroglyphics and discussed in secret clubs too cool to have me as part of their membership.
I decided to seek out information and educate myself on the mysteries of writing screenplays. I found classes of various lengths that cost anywhere from $400 to $3000. I’m sure those programs are worth the money, but with a full time job and a couple of other projects in the works and a “continuing education” budget of zero, it didn’t seem like a wise investment.
But then Google led me to an article about an online, self-paced course with Skillshare.com. According to the class description, students would be given the instructions and guidelines to write an 8-10 minute short based on 1 of 3 texts. And, strangely (although, not THAT strangely, as this guy is everywhere) James Franco would be the “professor” appearing in most of the online video classes. Odd, but intriguing. Oh – and the course was priced at $25. Sign me up, Dr. Franco!
So, my overall review of my first Skillshare experience is pretty positive. The project guidelines are simple and loose enough to feel doable but still provide enough structure to keep me motivated and on track. The online lessons with Franco and producer Vince Jolivette feel more like advice or tips than actual lessons, but I think that’s reasonable (and still valuable) for this type of format.
One thing I’m struggling with a bit is feedback. Skillshare is set up a bit like a social networking site, allowing members to follow each other, like projects and comment on each other’s work. Community feedback is one of the course’s selling points; not only do you get instruction, but you get feedback from your peers.
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE feedback and criticism. I’m lucky enough to have a handful of go-to readers that I respect and trust. But, I respect and trust them because I know them. And their taste. On Skillshare, the feedback I get comes from complete strangers. The only thing I know for sure about them is that they paid $25 to take an online class.
I’ve decided to keep an open mind, but proceed with caution. And solicit feedback from my usual critics.
No matter what, at the end of this course I’ll have a completed script for an 8-10 minute short, which puts me just a little closer to the super cool secret club of screenwriters.
Question: If you could pay James Franco $25 to learn how to do anything, what would it be?
One of my VERY first posts to this blog over a year and a half ago was about GOATs. (As in the things that “get your goat,” not the cute, prancey, furry kind you meet at the San Diego Zoo…though I’ll go ahead and share this photo again because there is happiness making power in a real live goat. You’ll see that I was hot and sunburned with 2nd grade style scraped knees from surfing lessons. But petting a goat still made me smile.)
I’ve been doing CrossFit since August of 2012 and have made significant progress in so many ways. My endurance is stronger, my form is better. I’ve seen my one-rep maxes climb for pretty much every lift and I’ve improved on skills that once seemed impossible like handstand push-ups, rope climbs and double-unders.
But chin-ups…Ugh. I can’t tell you how frustrating it’s been to hang there and jerk around like some spastic weirdo. Month after month, I got nowhere on my own and had to resort to using one of those big rubber bands to sling-shot me and my chin up over the bar. Then, before and after workouts, I started experimenting with jumping from the ground while gripping the bar. At first I jumped a lot to get my chin up over the bar. Then a little less. And soon I just needed to stand on my toes so I could start with slightly bent arms.
Then, this week, on the eve of my 34th birthday, I just did it. I went off to the far end of the gym and, while no one was looking, I did one. And then I was immediately flooded with “tree falling in an empty forest” brand of self-doubt. Did I actually do that? I called over my coach and had her watch me. She gave me a big hug and told me she was proud of me. I did a freakin’ strict chin-up, dude!
It’s kind of a perfect way to start this next year of life. It’s a reminder of all the things you’d expect: certain things take time and failure is part of the process. Of course, of course. But, also, it’s kinda like “Great! OK…so…now what?” It feels amazing to achieve a goal, but how long can I really rest on the laurels of a single chin-up? Or any other accomplishment, big or small. Maybe I’m a total masochist, but I like to maintain some level of restlessness. Otherwise I start to feel stale and like I’m wasting time (aka life).
So, what’s next?
Book #2. I’m recommitting. I’m reclaiming my writing days. Revised timeline TBD.
A couple posts back I not-so-subtly hinted at some upcoming changes in my life. Well, this past week was my last at the marketing job I’ve had for over 3 years. It was a bittersweet goodbye, but a change I knew I needed to make. I’ll be moving on to a new job with a new organization that I’m hoping will be filled with lots of interesting opportunities and new adventures. Opportunities and adventures are good thing in and of themselves, but they’re also healthy for my writing. I find the more that the more I stretch my brain muscles during the day the more motivated and creative I am when I make time to sit down and write.
Also, a new job gives me a valid excuse to buy a new notebook. Check out this baby.
It has unfinished edges and includes lined, graph and blank paper. (swoon!) The French on the cover translates to something about the old-fashioned book being a special gift. Either that or something like “you paid way too much money for this notebook.”
And I’m doing something I’ve never been able to do before. I’m taking a week off between jobs! I have always, for one reason or another, finished a job on a Friday and started on a Monday. But I knew that this time I NEEDED a week to myself.
Remember that episode of Seinfeld where George finds out he’s getting three months’ severance from the Yankees? He declares the “Summer of George” and comes up with all these grand plans like reading a whole book and learning to frolf (Frisbee golf).
I’ve totally felt like that. It’s my Summer Week of George! I’m going to write EVERY DAY! And run ALL THE ERRANDS. I’m going to go to museums and matinees and read every unread book on my shelf!
If you remember the reality of the Summer of George, he ends up watching a lot of TV before he ultimately injures himself in a paper invitation-related injury. For George, this is kind of the way things go.
If there’s a lesson here for me to learn, I think it’s to try to find some balance in this week. The point is, after all, to have some time off. Not stress over how I haven’t crossed enough things off my to-do list.
It’s also a bit of reminder to make sure I’m spending the rest of the 51 non Summer of George weeks living the kind of interesting, balanced life I want. If I’m not writing enough or experiencing enough art, how can I change that? How can I make sure I’m fully appreciating the time I have?
I think that even when I signed up for Amazon Prime I knew it was a bad idea. Mostly because of how much it would facilitate impulse shopping. I’ve definitely made more than one late night purchase in a zombied-out computer state only to be surprised two days later with a box waiting for me on my desk. (“Oh, right. Dual electric toothbrushes.”)
And, honestly, I think I’m OK with ordering the toothbrushes through Amazon. For one, my dentist recommended them. Secondly, I don’t feel like I’m taking away business from the local electric toothbrush industry because, as far as I know, there isn’t one. In New York, electric toothbrushes come from big box stores for the most part. They sit alongside other electric things like nose hair trimmers and curling irons and (I’m going to go ahead and make a huge assumption here) are not regarded with much emotion by those who unbox and stock them.
But, what about my other frequently purchased item on Amazon?
Books. Oh, it’s just sooo easy. A friend will recommend a title, or I’ll see it pop up for the third time in my twitter feed and I can have it ordered an on its way in less than a minute because Amazon feeds me cookies and remembers my credit card number and every possible address to which I could ever want books shipped. And then, BOOM. The newest addition to my library is on my desk/doorstep/kitchen table all pristine and ready for its first subway ride. And the price I paid was at least a few bucks cheaper than anywhere else.
What I kind of always knew but chose to ignore was the fact that that kind of pricing, ease of purchase and free expedited shipping comes at a price. And it’s not covered by my annual Prime subscription fee. It comes from book publishers who are forced to lower their prices and pay promotional fees to Amazon, which leaves them less money for everything they need to do, including buying books from authors.
Author Beth Kephart wrote a fantastic blog entry and referenced this New Yorker article by George Packer, which discusses this issue very thoroughly. I recommend you read it, but take breaks. It’s dense with info…and it’s a little sad. For a bunch of reasons. The saddest (for me) is Amazon’s ultimate impact on stories. Essentially, publishers are at the mercy of Amazon. They need them as a distribution channel because Amazon is HUGE. But, because publishers have less book-buying money, that means they have to take fewer chances on books that are risky (but wonderful!) or different (but will change hearts and minds!) or written by new authors (like me!).
And this basically means that Amazon is deciding which books get published. And does Amazon care about well written, groundbreaking literature?
Uh, no. No, they do not. Mostly because “caring” is trait of sentient beings, and Amazon is run by robots, algorithms and a CEO who admittedly does not care what he’s selling you. He just wants your data so he can sell you more books…or toilet paper or electric toothbrushes. It really doesn’t matter as long as he has your credit card.
But, you know who does care about stories? Indie booksellers. They’re not in it for the money, because it’s hard to make any. They actually read books and think about them and plan author reading nights and engage you in a conversation at check-out about how Laurie Halse Anderson has the best book titles (like The Impossible Knife of Memory. What? Who thinks of that! Poetry!). And then you might feel happy because you agree and those little bonds make the world a better place.
Indie booksellers are in it because they love reading and have a vested interest in making sure good books still get sold and we’re not looking at a future filled with the literary equivalent of Real Housewives of Whatever.
That’s why I’ve made this little mid-year resolution to buy books at indie bookstores whenever I can. I know that this kind of resolution won’t work for everyone. There are some people who live nowhere near an actual bookstore or simply don’t have the means to get to one, and they need books too. I don’t fault them for getting them however they can. Luckily, I am of able body and live within a 15 minute walk of one and a subway ride of many others.
I also know that my book habit alone (as large as it is) will not save the publishing industry. But, haven’t we all learned the importance of voting with our dollars? And look at the local food movement? Not a particularly convenient (or cheap) point of view, but it’s gaining traction. Plus, we’re talking about activism in the form of lingering in cozy bookstores. I think I can handle that.
Will shopping indie take a bit more time and planning? Yes. But, really it’s still pretty convenient. My local bookstore, Community Bookstore, is fairly small in size but they will special order most books that they don’t have in stock. You have to wait a day or two, (same as Prime) and then you can either pick it up OR they will hand deliver it to you using their store bike. How lovely is that?
Still, I would recommend picking it up in person for two reasons.
This adorable reading area with stained glass windows and an outdoor patio.
And this sassy store cat.
OH – and for the kindle/Nook/ipad crowd…
I have to admit, I can’t get into it. I have an e-reader and I sometimes read the newspaper on it, which is nice (no inky fingers, and I don’t accidentally backhand fellow straphangers whilst trying to un/re-fold the darn thing on my commute). But, and perhaps I’m a full-fledged luddite or just too romantic about such things as paper weight, cover stock and book dimensions, but the few times I’ve used the e-reader for novels I’ve had this feel that’s like “But, I’ve already read this one…” I dunno, the sensory experience is a little joyless for me, so I kick it old school.
BUT – if you’re partying like it’s 2007, you can still support indie bookstores via Kobo. And, honestly, that’s all I know about that. Let me know how it goes!
Wow, this turned a bit long and ranty. Not my intention, really. I felt the need to tell you about my little resolution because it will help me keep it. But, then I went to a local book store, petted a cat and got all fired up. You know how it is.
Question: What are your thoughts on Amazon? Please, speak freely. To be honest, I have my eye on a dust buster and some activated charcoal.
I feel the need to say that since it’s been something like 6 weeks since my last blog post. I won’t offer up too many excuses…But remember that scene in “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” where he was driving down a dark highway and the road signs started getting increasingly more complicated and squiggly?
I guess I’ve been in touch with my inner Pee Wee (??) and have had to pay more attention to the road ahead (life metaphor, ICYMI), making it harder to post as often as I like.
But, I’m here now! So, some general housekeeping…
It is safe to say that I will NOT reach the writing goal I set for myself a while back. Draft 1 of manuscript 2 is definitely not happening by May 1st. Partially due to Pee Wee-inspired roadways, but also because I’m actually working on another project that I’m really excited about. It was an idea I had kicking around my brain for a long time. I tried to back-burner it and be all “wait your turn, damnit!” But, it wouldn’t listen. So, I’m embracing change and trying to be flexible with myself. New multi-project, timeline-specific goal forthcoming.
I think it’s OK to have two different writing projects going at the same time, right? J.D. Salinger served in WWII and allegedly had the first six chapters of Catcher in the Rye on his person on D-Day. There’s a photo of him during the war, literally in the trenches, squatting at a little table and working on his manuscript. (Watch that documentary if you want to see it.) If he can find time to write The Great American Novel in between storming the beaches of Normandy and surviving battle, I think I can probably handle two different word documents competing for my time.
Ok, that’s it for now. There’s more to tell…but not yet.
Question: What’s your philosophy on creative projects? Focus on one at a time? Or are you of the lots-of-spinning-plates persuasion?
I’m realizing, I think, that I haven’t been all that fair when talking, thinking and writing about angst. You likely know that particular anxiety and torment that so many of us, myself included, associate with being a teen. The feeling of being trapped in some way, often operating just outside or possibly miles away from what’s accepted and appreciated by both our peers and the adults in our lives. Unsure – scared, even – about the future.
“I love angst.” I’ve said that on more than one occasion when talking about writing YA fiction. It’s a comment that was likely followed by an exchange of light-hearted, self-deprecating stories of high school embarrassment and unrequited college romance, which is all perfectly fine fodder for happy hour (hey, it happened to me. I can exploit it if I want to). But, that “I love angst” comment? It’s a really stupid thing to say.
I think what I actually mean is that angst is valuable when it comes to storytelling. It makes our characters more complex, their struggles more believable, and their victories sweeter. It has the power to create bonds between unlikely friends because it’s so universal. Readers, when they see it in characters, recognize the feeling of angst and might feel less alone because of it. Angst and the desire to escape it can be a driving factor for adventure and risk-taking, which makes stories exciting.
But in real life it sucks.
For the person who’s experiencing it, angst is real. It’s easy for an adult to look back on a 16 year-old broken heart and romanticize the experience with poetic narration and a carefully chosen soundtrack. But, if you really (NO REALLY) think about being 16 and heartbroken it was awful. That physical ache of feeling alone and ignored. Crying induced headaches. And then going to school, which essentially means dealing with every single person in your social circle (and teachers – that’s like having 7 different bosses) at once when all you really want to do is hang out in pajama pants alone, or maybe with that trusted best friend who doesn’t require an explanation because they already know the whole story.
Adult-shaped angst might look a little different, but it’s not necessarily worse or more serious. It’s just relative to our experiences. And, just like teens, it’s uncomfortable. We hate it and want it to stop. Just like we did when we were in high school.
I want to make sure I don’t lose that when portraying angst in my stories. Angst can be a powerful force. But if it’s not portrayed with respect for how much it truly sucks, a story has the potential to feel insulting to the reader’s actual experiences. Best case scenario is that just doesn’t seem authentic. And if it doesn’t feel real, readers won’t connect with the character, which means they won’t want to keep reading. And, I wouldn’t blame them.
Question: In the stories we write for teens, are we being fair to angst?
I started to write this post about resolutions vs. S.M.A.R.T. goals, and how you’re really much better off with this acronym-guided goal-setting than the typical, vague, forgotten-by-mid-February New Year’s resolution…But, then I could only remember what 2 of the 5 letters in S.M.A.R.T. stood for. I sat in front of my computer for a few minutes really trying to remember without the help of Google. Because, honestly, if I was going to write a S.M.A.R.T. goal inspired post, shouldn’t I just KNOW what all the letters stand for? (And, what is Google doing to our brains? Pre-Google, I would have just remembered this, along with the name of the guy in that show and where the post office is because I simply had to in order to survive…)
But I was like “S…stands for ‘smart.’ Your goals should be smart, right?…” And then I realized the level of irony of this particular internal conversation.
So, then I finally googled “S.M.A.R.T.”
Well, first I watched this video from the most recent episode of SNL, which is all about New Year’s resolutions:
S.M.A.R.T. goals are:
It’s not rocket science. Basically, you’re more likely to make progress if your goal is something like “train 3 times a week so I can run that 5k at the end of March in under 30 minutes” vs. “work out more.”
At the end of December I set a S.M.A.R.T. writing goal. Instead of telling myself that I’d “write more” I wrote the following on a piece of paper, pinned it to my corkboard, and told a handful of close friends who could help keep me accountable:
May 1, 2014
I felt organized and motivated. Empowered.
A month later I wonder what the hell I was thinking.
OK, maybe it’s not that bad. I’d already been working on something for a few months, so it’s not like I was starting from scratch on Jan 1. I have a preliminary story outline. And it can always be a really terrible, pockmarked Draft 1 (as most are).
But, the truth is that I am way off from something that’s even nearly complete. Which could mean a couple different things:
I’m not writing enough. –>This feels true. I’ve been less disciplined about setting aside designated writing time that isn’t peppered with a dozen snack/Netflix breaks
My goal isn’t realistic. –> It’s possible. But, it feels like a cop-out to change my deadline at this point before I make a real effort to address possibility #1.
And, this is what I like about S.M.A.R.T. goals. Maybe it’s just me, but it feels so much easier to say “eh, screw it” when it comes to vague resolutions. But, if I have a self-imposed deadline looming, I’m more likely to regularly check in on my progress. And, maybe I’ll realize that May 1st just isn’t going to happen and I’ll need to go back in and tinker with the “time-bound” element of my goal. But, that’s a lot better than ditching the thing all together.
Question: What keeps you on track when it comes to setting and pursuing goals?
If anyone out there knows anything about Barbara Naftali Meyers, please drop me a line.
I found what I think is her one and only book in the poetry section of a rare and used book store in downtown Tampa three days after Christmas. I had really just walked in to browse, and I almost never buy poetry anthologies, but (at the risk of sounding dramatic or pretentious, and I’ll go ahead and allow you an eye-roll) I felt an immediate connection to Bearing the Hunger Whole.
There was a time in my life when I dissected verses and pored over song lyrics and just really, really cared about poetry. I still find myself moved every now and then by a poem, but most of the time I’ll crack open an anthology and the writing will feel more removed. Not because the work is inaccessible, but because I’m out of touch. Like I haven’t worked those muscles in a while and I’m remarkably out of shape.
But then I flipped to this page and it felt like Meyers was speaking to me directly with these two poems.
I’ve talked a lot about the importance of giving oneself permission to be bad in writing (and Zumba). First drafts are bad. But, we need them. We have to embrace them and accept them for what they are. We need them to get to the less crappy second draft, the better third draft, the nearly final eighth draft… We need to show them to the people we trust so we can receive honest and helpful feedback. Crappy first drafts – pass them out like bread!
And “See Black.” I feel like there’s so much here. But what rises to the surface is clear instruction to be honest and present and to recognize the role you play in the universe.
Of course, all poetry is up for interpretation and we human beings will see and hear the messages we want and need to receive at any given time. Perhaps Meyers had other themes in mind. Maybe she’s not my soul sister in verse.
Based on my internet research findings, Bearing the Hunger Whole is Meyers’s only published book of poems. I can’t find any articles or poetry sites that reference her or her work. And according to the half-page bio on the last page, she died in 1982, long before the age author blogs and twitter accounts. It’s feels strange (and a little unfair) that all I’ll ever know about this author starts and ends with one book.
So, my question remains: Anyone know anything about the life and work of Barbara Naftali Meyers?
If not, Did you ever pick up a book and feel an immediate connection?
I really try my best to not create sentimental attachment to things and stuff. This type of detachment tends to form when you live in NYC long enough and become painfully aware of the dollar value of each square foot of your apartment. When my husband (then boyfriend) was packing for the move from Tampa to Brooklyn, I’m pretty sure we had our first fight over a collection of wooden spoons. He owned somewhere in the ballpark of 13 wooden spoons and argued against tossing them because… honestly, I don’t even know. I stopped listening because our new closet-sized 1BR had exactly one utensil drawer in the kitchen and we had to be smart about every inch of it. We had to be ruthless. In the end, I think we compromised at three spoons. The rest stayed in Florida along with some t-shirts dating back to middle school and a lot of typical mid-90’s Asian-inspired dude décor.
Unlike my husband, I find it pretty easy to get rid of stuff. But, there are two things I’ve held onto for nearly 20 years: my Doc Martens.
They’re the original “greasy” boots with the signature yellow stitching and “bouncing soles.” I got them in 1995 after months of campaigning. They were around $120 even back then, so I had to make a pretty good case for myself. I promised I’d wear them every day. I explained that they came with a lifetime guarantee, so I’d have them forever. So, on my 15th birthday, my mom drove to Maurice the Pants Man in Worcester, MA and returned home with my very own pair of Docs.
Most trends are pretty bizarre and fail the test of time. I usually failed to catch them in time to benefit from their coolness. Some trends were just out of my price range. Others, like all that expensive soccer apparel that kids started wearing off the field, would have made me look like a “poser” (#1 insult at my school, btw) because I wasn’t on the team. Occasionally, I would just catch on too late. I remember finally getting my first and only pair of skids in fifth grade just as the pajama pants look was starting to fade.
But for the most part, a lot of trends just didn’t feel right. I’m not suggesting that I was at all above the influence of my peers. I was, just like most teenagers, very much affected by what others thought of me. I think a part of me rejected certain trends because there’s a certain “all or nothing” aspect to my personality, and I didn’t feel like I could sustain them. Even if I could have afforded it, I’m not sure I could have delivered upon what I thought the expectations were for a girl who wore brand name apparel every day.
I say all of this now with the benefit of personal reflection and 20/20 hindsight. I’m sure at the time I would have said something like “Pumas are wicked stupid.”
BUT, there was something about the Doc Marten thing I could latch on to. I didn’t really know or understand the history behind the boots (you can read a particularly poetic account here) but I got that they were a little edgy, a little subversive – a bit of a non-trendy trend, which was very attractive to a teenager starting to seek an escape from the shelter of her small, suburban town. They felt substantial (maybe because they weighed about 5 lbs). And, they also weren’t accepted by everyone. In fact, a lot of the kids who easily picked up on trends flat out rejected Docs. Partially because goth and alternative kids (we didn’t say “emo” back then) wore them, as did band geeks and the kids in show choir. Partially because they thought they were ugly, clunky combat boots. Wearing Docs gave me a tiny, easy-to-digest taste of rebellion.
I wore them all throughout high school and with everything in my closet (not hard to do, since that was jeans, corduroys and t-shirts). They came with me to college and remained in the rotation even after graduation. When I got a more traditional office job, they mostly lived in the back of my closet and came out only on weekends. And then, for years, I kept them not as a pair of shoes but more as a souvenir from my past, dutifully packing them up as I moved from apartment to apartment.
Up until a few months ago, Docs haven’t really been on my radar. I’d occasionally see someone wearing a pair during my morning subway commute or notice a few pairs in a shoe store display and be like “Oh, yeah.”
Then all the sudden I was seeing them everywhere. High cut boots and low cut shoes. In every color and texture. Docs were having a mini revival (at least in my world).
I was inspired to reconnect with the boots that meant so much to me at one time. So, I bought some new laces and took my Docs for a spin.
It was fun to wear them again, but I think I tapped into their true power at age 15 when I needed it most.
On my way home from work a few nights ago I observed a girl on the train with her mom. She had that signature look – equal parts curious, self-conscious and embarrassed to be in public with a parental figure. She had an anxious energy, like she was ready to burst at the seams. I remember feeling that way. Like I couldn’t wait to start living my life. I imagined she was thinking about the day she’d be let loose in NYC, free to run through the streets of the Village, linger in coffee shops, go to shows and take the train with just her friends.
That’s when I noticed she was wearing a pair of brand new, not-yet-broken-in Docs with her long black dress and tights. It made me smile.
Whenever she’s ready to make her escape, she’ll have the right shoes.
Despite being an enthusiastic young reader and an English major in college, I managed to miss a number of literary classics along the way. I’m pretty sure TheGrapes of Wrath was an option on the summer reading list in 9th or 10th grade, but I probably took a look at the page count (in the last few days of summer vacation) and went with something shorter. I was a good student, but an even better procrastinator.
So, nearly 20 years later (eek) I dusted off a second hand copy of The Essential Steinbeck and cracked it open to Grapes of Wrath and quickly found myself affected in a way I never expected.
I knew the basic premise (depression era migrant workers venture west after losing their Oklahoma farm). And my favorite books are the kind capable of emotional destruction – The Art of Fielding, One Day, The Fault in Our Stars, to name a few. But I expected to read TGOW from a literary and emotional distance, observing characters’ struggles and simply recognizing the historical relevance.
But, this book destroyed me with its relevance to what is happening today.
The story of the Joad family and their desperate search for work – any work – is not unlike the plight of our current population of working poor people who earn unlivable wages performing jobs that no one else wants.
In TGOW, the Farmers’ Association demands that landowners reduce fruit pickers’ pay in order to increase profit. Those in power prosper while the people who harvest food for them starve. Sound familiar?
In my opinion, there’s a better place for TGOW than a high school reading list. If I could, I’d make it required reading for every politician who opposes raising the minimum wage. I’d make every one of them copy this passage and read it out loud until they felt ashamed of themselves.
There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation. There is a sorrow here that weeping cannot symbolize. There is a failure here that topples all our success. The fertile earth, the straight tree rows, the sturdy trunks, and the ripe fruit. And children dying of pellagra must die because a profit cannot be taken from an orange. And coroners must fill in the certificates – died of malnutrition – because the food must rot, must be forced to rot.
– John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
Question: What other high school reading list classics are still (for better or for worse) relevant today?
It’s a funny name for a serious and necessary thing. Barbells for Boobs’ mission is to save lives through the early detection of breast cancer, regardless of one’s age, gender or ability to pay. Individuals and groups (mostly CrossFit gyms) hold fundraisers across the country. This year, I’m part of CrossFit 718’s goal of $5,000. I’m aiming to raise at least $500, which would provide 6 mammograms for people in need.
I was trying to think of the last time I personally fund raised for anything. Maybe Girl Scouts via Tag-a-longs and Thin Mints? There were also those boxes of no-name candy bars and rolls of wrapping paper for high school chorus trips. It’s probably safe to say that the last time I was personally collecting charitable donations it involved confections of some sort and my biggest donors were my grandparents.
So, I have to admit I got a little nervous creating my personal fundraising page for Barbells for Boobs. Would I be able to reach my goal, or would my little pink thermometer hover right around the first “anonymous” (ah-hem) $25 donation? Would I be able to break through all the online noise to get peoples’ attention? And, if I did, would people donate? Could they donate? I know times are tough and there are thousands of worthy charities.
So, I was thrilled and relieved when the first few donations came in, bringing me to just around 20% of my goal! I have to think that (besides the kind and generous nature of the people in my life) this is partly due to the widespread effects of breast cancer. Some stats from Cancer.org and Barbellsforboobs.org:
Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, exceeded only by lung cancer.
1.3 million women worldwide are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. And 7% of those women are under the age of 40.
The chance that breast cancer will be responsible for a woman’s death is about 1 in 36 (about 3%).
BUT, there’s also some good news:
Death rates from breast cancer have been declining since about 1989, with larger decreases in women younger than 50. These decreases are believed to be the result of earlier detection through screening and increased awareness, as well as improved treatment.
At this time there are more than 2.8 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.
So, all the research and fundraisers and awareness campaigns are paying off. I’m taking this info and running with it. There’s so much out there that feels hopeless at times, but we can actually do something about breast cancer. We can make sure everyone who needs a mammogram gets one.
I need your support! A donation of any amount will help me reach my goal of $500. Please visit:
It was a pretty intimate and informal affair. About 25-30 supporters sat in metal folding chairs that had been placed around the perimeter of the dance floor, which doubles as the main space for the Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew. Before the official program began, visitors were invited to watch the last few minutes of the company’s rehearsal.
I love this kind of “peek behind the curtain.” But, it’s funny… I have to say that watching the dancers rehearse didn’t feel all that different from watching a ticketed performance. Gallim is a gritty, raw, unfussy group of artists that are just as impactful dancing in torn sweatpants in a 150 year old church as they are in full makeup and costume at City Center.
Both the Executive Director and Dramaturge spoke a bit about the genesis of Fold Here and how it’s inspired by Cathedral, a short story by Raymond Carver. In the story, a man attempts to describe a cathedral to a blind man. The idea of this challenge was Creative Director Andrea Miller’s jumping off point for Fold Here.
This is Miller’s M.O. She describes herself as a “problem maker” and her dancers “problem solvers.” In solving the “problem,” dancers first create a vocabulary of dance and then work it all out with their choreography. And, we, the audience, get to sit back and enjoy the solution.
Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
Makes sense. No one cares about characters who have simple, easy lives. Stability doesn’t make a particularly interesting piece of fiction…or real life experience, for that matter.
Kind of a freeing way to think about our problems, right? Ok, so it is not universally applicable – some problems are LEGIT BAD. But, maybe some of our frustrations, restlessness, angst can push us towards new and beautiful solutions that we wouldn’t have discovered if things had been easier and happier.
Our problems can squeeze us and our creative output into new and interesting shapes…kind of like one of those Martha Stewart cookie guns.
Question: Can you think of a perceived problem that eventually lead to something beautiful, interesting or tasty?
By now, you’ve likely seen this video. It’s been making the rounds on the internet and, if you follow me on Twitter or Tumblr, you’ve seen me gush over it. I’ve probably watched it from start to finish a half a dozen times and I’m still thinking about it days later.
Part of that is because I love dance. I’m moved by the immediacy and vulnerability that’s so specific to dance. There is no hiding for an artist once they’ve taken the stage. And the best dancers can take who they are in the world around them at that exact moment and use it to add depth and nuance to their performances.
You can see that happening here. It’s sunrise in downtown New York City on September 11th. Twelve years separates these two dancers from tragedy. Like any other piece of art, the performance is up for interpretation. But, I see two people treating a very specific moment in time gently, with grace and care.
I was in my senior year of college in 2001, attending Pace University in downtown Manhattan. Somewhere I still have paper copies of our university newspaper from that week. Every single page was dedicated to coverage of the attack, and that felt necessary. Students with jobs or internships in the towers had lost their lives. Hundreds of people living in university housing were displaced, and the rest of us found our neighborhood – our coffee shops, our subway stops, bookstores, late night breakfast spots – destroyed.
I remember a young woman in my creative writing class breaking down while reading aloud part of our most recent assignment. Weeks later, school was finally back in session and she said, “I just don’t think we should have Christmas this year.” It made sense to me. How could we begin to even feign merry? The idea of even going through the motions – hanging lights or buying gifts – was exhausting. Just like there was no space for any other stories in our student newspaper, there was no room for Christmas.
If someone told me 12 years ago that I’d fully appreciate these two dancers perform in the footprint of everything we’d lost, I don’t think I would have understood. I’m pretty sure I needed 12 years to fall in love with this particular piece of art. People say that time heals all wounds, but (for me) it’s more about room and space. The wounds are all still there, but time slowly creates space for other things like dance, love, sunrises and Christmas.
Last Sunday night Dan and I had intentions of seeing a movie but before we left the house we were like “Hey, don’t we live in the greatest city in the world? Maybe we can do better (or at least weirder) than a movie?” The Bell House is a really fun venue in our neighborhood and their website listed something called “The Moth” that sounded kind of like an open mic, so we walked over expecting to be part of a sparse and quiet crowd…but found a line about a hundred people long. A woman with a sense of authority about her saw the confused looks on our faces and asked us if we needed help. “So, this is a thing?” I asked, baffled by the amount of people.
“Oh yeah,” she said and smiled. “It’s a thing.”
“The Moth” has “storyslam” events all over the country and this is basically how it works:
Wannabe participants prepare a 5 minute story (the use of paper or note cards is discouraged) that relates to a pre-published theme (Sunday’s was “Dirt”).
The host randomly picks 10 participants to tell their stories.
Each storyteller is judged on how well they stick to the 5 minute timeline, their story’s relevance to the theme and the arc of their story (it should have a conflict and a resolution).
The storyteller with the highest score wins and competes in the season’s “Grandslam.”
Everyone had their own take on “Dirt.” There were stories of rodent farms, muddy middle school fistfights, collapsing bathroom ceilings and internet stalking (as in “the” dirt). Some people had their stories timed perfectly and others panicked a little when they got their one minute warning. Most stories were funny, one was a little sad and one was truly disturbing (as in “don’t let that guy follow you to your car”). But all of the storytellers who got up in front of a sold-out venue to share their personal story of “Dirt” had one thing in common: nerve.
The host – the reigning Grandslam champion – opened the night by asking the audience to turn off their cell phones. It’s pretty common at a live venue for someone to get on a microphone at the beginning of the night and rattle off a standard “ladies and gentleman, no flash photograph is allowed and please turn off your cell phones, thank you for cooperation…”
But this guy was like (I’m paraphrasing, and he was much funnier), “Listen, you are on your phones ALL day long. Seriously, do yourself a favor. Just let THIS be the thing you’re going to do for an hour and a half. Email will be there later. Instagram can live without you for a little while. Let’s have this shared experience of listening to a live person tell a story.”
And people listened. In a room of nearly 200 people, I didn’t notice one person check their phone while someone was on stage. People happily listened to stories. They were generous – laughing and clapping even when a story fell a little flat or ended awkwardly. They had sympathetic “awws” for the storytellers who bared their souls. And, when someone was really great, they cheered.
The collective energy was just GOOD – like people walked away with something they’d been looking for.
It reminded me of the importance of authentic human connection and energy. Humans are not filtered and edited into 30 second clips or 140 characters. They’re messy and their stories ramble a bit and their clothes are wrinkled. And, I think when we hear a messy, rambly, wrinkled story there’s some part of our brain that’s like “Hey! I relate to this! The people next to me are laughing, so they relate to it too! I am feeling connected to these humans and that is validating!”
This envelope contains a contract. For an agent. The kind that represents people who write books. My name and signature can be found in that contract.
In other words, I have a literary agent for my young adult novel.
You’ll notice it’s not yet sealed or addressed. That’s because I’ve yet to determine if it’s better to FedEx it the 17 blocks from my office so that I have a record of its receipt or just plaster the envelope with $20 worth of stamps and photograph myself dropping it into the corner mailbox (that way, when I’m engulfed in worry and second-guessing about whether or not I sealed the envelope I can scroll through the photos in my phone and assure myself that 1. I did, indeed, mail the thing and that 2. I’m a hopelessly paranoid weirdo).
So, what does this mean? Essentially, I now have professional representation in all things related to selling my book. Smart people with experience in the publishing industry will pitch my book to publishers and (hopefully) negotiate a contract. In my case, my agent will also work with me on the creative side of things. She’s an experienced editor and writer herself and has already given me some really great feedback that I know will push me to make my manuscript even better.
This is crazy, right?
To be clear, there is still A LOT of work ahead and no guarantees. But, now I’m working with people who have the knowledge and expertise to get my book published. And if I have learned ONE THING during this whole process is that you need people.
Seriously, if I can offer one tiny piece of advice to authors soliciting agents (I swear I won’t turn this into a “How to Get a Literary Agent” post because 1. I don’t know my ass from my elbow and 2. it happened five seconds ago and acting like some kind of expert would be really annoying and 3. I’m very superstitious and wary of good news/positive developments, which makes it difficult enough to write this post in the first place) it would be to just dump your ego and listen to people who know more than you.
Ask for critique from people you respect, but make sure you really consider what they have to say… even if it means a lot of work for you. There were a few times I received feedback and thought “They’re right…Damn it.” A part of me really wanted to ignore those big, gnarly revisions. Editing and rewriting can be mentally and emotionally draining, especially when you’ve already done a significant amount of it. But, (in my experience) it almost always leads to a better version of your manuscript.
I have also learned the value of a professional network. It can be a tough thing to get going, especially if you’re not naturally self-promotional. I knew a published YA author, so I asked if we could meet for coffee and chat about his experiences. That was probably the most important cup of coffee I’ve ever had.
So, while I decide how to transport my signed contract (is there a courier services that also offers emotional support/psychotherapy?) I’m working on yet another edit of my manuscript. Just for fun, I looked back to see when I began querying agents and it was almost exactly one year ago to the day. If I knew then that in a year I’d still be revising the same manuscript, but using an agent’s notes, I’d be…well, thrilled! Just like I am right now. Seriously, I’ve never been so happy to have so much work to do.
Question: What’s your advice to people just beginning to build their professional network?
Are you taking a look around and feeling like you need some good stuff? Not, like, you should give up on being a responsible and informed citizen, but maybe put msnbc on mute for a minute and focus on things that are smart or beautiful or remind you that humans are capable of brilliance and innovation and not just destruction?
So, let’s keep it simple and think of three good things. That’s easy, right? Ok, I’ll go.
1. Tom Wolfe
Whenever I read a Tom Wolfe book I have to, every 50 pages or so, stop and remind myself that an actual human being wrote the darn thing. His books are so rich and layered and bright, it feels like maybe they were churned out by a magical book making machine or left behind by visiting aliens.
I’m currently reading Back to Blood and (maybe the 95 degree heat and 100% humidity in NY helps), but I feel Miami in its pages. I aspire to be 1/100th of the writer Tom Wolfe is.
And, seriously, the guy can put together an outfit.
2. This little poem that was read aloud to me and my coworkers last week:
Take care of your Thoughts for they become Words.
Take care of Words for they become Actions.
Take care of Actions for they become Habits.
Take care of Habits for they will form your Character.
Take care of your Character because it will form your Destiny.
and your Destiny will be your Life.
– Dalai Lama.
It’s a gentle reminder that our thoughts are powerful. And, how empowering, right? We are all in some way capable of guiding our thoughts and, therefore, guiding our destiny and life.
3. Beyonce tickets
So, I made a life choice to see Beyonce in concert this December instead of pay for my future children’s college education. I’m ok with that.
There is something about Beyonce that inspires me to be a better person. Like, I watch her sing a song and I want to dance, laugh, cry, do crunches, study feminist theory, volunteer in my community and be generally fierce at all at the same time. That’s power.
3.5ish Unofficial, not yet finalized good stuff
So, I’ve got some stuff brewing in the book department…
Good stuff. But, it’s all sort of just shy of official, so the paranoid, superstitious little voice in my head won’t let me shout the good stuff from the rooftops, which is what I’d really like to do. But, hopefully soon…
For my birthday this year, I kind of flew under the radar. No parties or dinners or group gatherings. I like all that stuff, but I just wasn’t in the mood. And, the older we all get, the more aware I am of how complicated and time consuming those things can be for everyone else. Why use up the energy on a birthday celebration I just wasn’t feeling?
But that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy myself. I took the day off and did whatever I felt like, which included a manicure that’s gotten more attention than any other I’ve ever had.
I have no idea what the name of the color is. I was actually going for more of a pastel green, but ended up with this. I swear, at least 4 different people have proactively commented on the color. I would have pictured the whole hand, but, alas, Mr. Pinky is one of the few unchipped nails remaining. He’s hung on through Fight Gone Bad, some nerf football in the park and afternoon showing of “Man of Steel,” which was a real nailbiter! (haha, get it?! Ok, sorry about that)
In any case, I have a work event tomorrow, and Mr. Pinky will soon be replaced with his hard-working, blue collar cousin Sally.
(Thank you, Levain Bakery, for sharing my blog post on your facebook page.)
So, besides all that, I have good feeling about this year, specifically about the book stuff. I’m a very paranoid, cautious, jinx-aware person, so it’s actually pretty hard for me to even type something like that…but I’m trying to get over that. Susanne Colasanti, a young adult writer I really admire, calls it A Knowing. I think I have A Knowing. It’s up against a lot of cynicism, but it’s also powered by some pretty strong determination and a posse of good people who have my back.
Maybe you’re the recipient of a cookie delivery. Or you’ve stumbled across the Levain storefront on NYC’s Upper West Side. Maybe this particular six ounce cookie is on your bucket list. Whatever your reason, eating a Levain cookie is an amazing experience. But, it’s not one that should be taken lightly. If you don’t take the time to prepare, you may not enjoy this culinary adventure to its fullest potential. You may not even finish.
How to Eat a Levain Cookie
Dress appropriately. What you’re wearing matters. A roomy shirt and elastic waist band pants are always a good idea. You may even want to take the time to lay out your clothes the night before cookie day.
Find a cookie buddy. Some people prefer to eat cookies alone, but you may find you have a better experience with an eating partner. Remember – this is a Levain cookie, not some soggy oreo or tollhouse diddy. This is 6 ounces of buttery goodness. The experience is often better if there’s another person present who is also rolling their eyes and mumbling “oh meh gaw…” as crumbs fall out of their mouth onto their shirt. This will also ensure you have someone to reminisce with once you’ve finished your cookie (e.g. “oh meh gaw…that cookie was so good.”)
Give yourself time. I recommend at least an hour so that you can maintain a steady pace and incorporate an appropriate amount of breaks. Eating too fast in the beginning could result in cookie burnout.
Stay hydrated. Water works, but milk is better.
Focus. A common rookie mistake is to attempt to eat a Levain cookie while performing other task like answering emails or engaging in a conversation with another person. Know that the cookie will take over all of your body’s involuntary functions. It’s best to simply focus on the cookie. The emails and conversations will still be there once you’ve finished.
Recovery. Some cookie finishers may choose not to eat for the next 24 hours. Some slowly ease their way back in with liquids and clear soups. Listen to your body. A Levain cookie contains enough calories to sustain a full grown human for at least 48 hours after consumption, so you’re safe either way.
By following these simply guidelines, anyone can eat – and finish! – a legendary Levain cookie.
Question: Have you ever finished a Levain cookie? What advice do you have for beginners?
I’ve been keeping tabs on the Gallim Dance company ever since I watched them perform at City Center’s “Fall for Dance” festival a couple years ago. They performed I Can See Myself in Your Pupil, and I just remember sort of waking up and leaning forward in my seat the second the dancers took the stage. Everything about the piece – the colorfully oddball costumes (the dancers looked a bit like overgrown children allowed to play dress-up and do their own hair), a Balkan Beatbox soundtrack (they always manage to sound like ½ party and ½ political protest), and the aggressively quirky and sometimes comedic choreography – gave me energy. It all felt a little weird and uninhibited, but not in the exclusionary “check out the freak in the corner” type of way. It was cathartic and joyful. I wanted to go along with them and be weird and uninhibited, too.
I saw BLUSH, Gallim’s newest work, at BAM last night and loved it even though the tone was completely different from Pupil. The athleticism and intensity of Andrea Miller’s choreography felt more serious this time around. Since last night I’ve been thinking a lot about the music choices and one of the most simple yet striking uses of body makeup I’ve ever seen (the dancers begin the performance covered in white body make up which slowly dissolves as they begin to sweat, revealing their flushed, “blushing” skin). I’ve read through the program a few times and listened to some interviews with the dancers.
I won’t even attempt to boil things down to a theme or attach a meaning to the piece, but what’s resonating with me is this idea of revealing oneself. Showing another person something of yourself, and the awareness that they are aware of you. (I swear, I’m not high.) Like, if you think about the involuntary process of blushing:
– You have awareness of something about yourself
– Another person/people become aware of that thing
– You become aware that they’re aware
– You blush. Whether you’re embarrassed, proud, nervous, excited…
Makes me think about the first time I shared the draft of my manuscript with another person. For years I’d been creating this little world that only I knew about. The characters and their stories and the places they lived in were so familiar yet private to me. I’ll never forget sitting down to get feedback from one of my early readers and suddenly feeling oddly exposed! It was exciting to bring someone into that world, but also a little nerve-wracking…and kind of embarrassing in a weird way. (I may have blushed.)
But, that moment of exposure is a necessary part of the creative process for people (like me) who want other people to read their books. Or look at their photos or listen to their song or perform their choreography.
And even though it can be personally scary, I love the idea of a moment where something you’ve created is no longer just yours. Where, in order for your thing to get better or become something more, you have to show it to another person and ask “Is this something? Can you see yourself in this thing I’ve created? Can you see yourself in me?”
Some comments from a 2006 Salon.com interview with Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries (I won’t link to their site, but you know the clothing brand – fitted polo shirts, carefully weathered jeans, flip flops) resurfaced this week and have been rubbing a lot of people the wrong way.
In the interview, the 68 year-old CEO (he was 61 at the time) talked about how, under his leadership, the clothing line doesn’t carry larger sizes, for fear that overweight people will be seen in AF jeans, thereby sullying the “cool kid” brand that he’s built. Other brand stewardship tactics include launching a thong underwear line for middle school girls and only hiring “all-American” “attractive” people to work at his stores.
Here’s one particularly insightful gem directly from the horse’s mouth:
“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,” he says. “Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.”
On a personal level, this guy gives me “the yucks.” He’s icky and gross. As a marketer, can I put my personal feelings aside and judge him purely as a business person and brand manager? Sure. But, guess what? He’s still way, way off.
Now, for all accounts and purposes, I am “old.” At 32, I’m less than half of Jeffries’s age, but in the eyes of a 16 year-old I may as well be eating strained prunes while I talk on my landline and listen to my CD collection. Luckily, I have the privilege of volunteering with middle schoolers from time to time and have a background in the youth-serving, non-profit sector. I currently work for an organization that encourages constant dialogue with youth. Through social media and more formally constructed advisory councils, we do our best to listen to what they have to say and what values resonate with them. I’m not an expert on all youth everywhere, but I’ll stand firmly behind on major point.
This idea of the “cool kids” – that they’re exclusionary, superficial, that they value homogeny – is old-fashioned and inaccurate. Jeffries’s idea of teenagers seems stuck in John Hughes’s version of high school where kids were oblivious to the world beyond home room, house parties and the mall’s food court. That’s not a knock against John Hughes, who was an incredibly relevant storyteller. It’s just that if John Hughes were still making movies about teenagers in 2013, he would know that even the ones who were born into small towns are connected to the bigger world around them, and his films would reflect that.
That’s one of the benefits of social media and online content in general. Kids know there’s a bigger world out there, and that’s given them perspective on what’s important. And the “cool kids” who, as Jeffries defines them, have “great attitudes and a lot of friends” understand that successful, progressive, forward-thinking people value inclusion and diversity. They understand better than most adults that beauty needn’t be “classic” or “all-American.” I’ve read first-hand comments from kids (“cool kids” who are leaders in their communities. Kids who have been elected prom queen by their high school class) telling me that diversity – in skin color, body type, gender expression, economic background, sexual orientation – is important to them. They want to see diversity and inclusion in their leaders. They want to see it in the entertainment they consume. And, I’d argue, they want to see it in the brands selling them their clothing.
This isn’t to say that high school is now this welcoming space where all people are respected and valued, because it isn’t. There are the kids who are mean and snobby and tease others. There are kids who gain popularity at the expense of others. And, even if most youth are like this (I’m optimistic that they are not), Jeffries says he isn’t trying to appeal to the “vanilla” majority. He’s trying to appeal to the “cool kids” that stand out. The kids with “great attitudes.” The confident ones that are two steps ahead of their peers.
I nearly added “the kid that every other kid wants to be” to that last paragraph but stopped myself, as that idea is sort of contrary to my whole point here. Yes, the “cool kids” are still the ones that have their peers’ attention. But, unlike Jeffries’ “cool kids,” they’re telling the people around them that it’s ok – “cool” even – to be themselves.
I believe in that… to a degree. People matter, at least to me. But, it’s kind of a naïve adage, right? Who can really, truly hand pick everyone in their lives? You can do your best to dissolve draining relationships and delete the toxic “friends,” but, if you have a job, or use public transportation or need to go to the DMV or buy your own toothpaste, you will likely engage with assholes. There will be times in your life when the people surrounding you will not be good for you.
Also…surround? I don’t know about that word. Maybe I’m being too literal, but it sounds a little entitled, right? Like a princess/prince who’s hand-picked a court in the middle of which they’ll stand and admire all the good people bestowing niceness upon them.
I think the saying should be more like “seek out the good people and do everything you can to love and appreciate them, because they’re good and they deserve it. And, in turn, because they are good people, they will make your life better with their love and appreciation.”
Not as catchy, I know. But I feel like that’s the way it really works.
Everything good in my life is because of people. I’m a motivated person and will put in the hours and effort when it comes to something I care about. But every little success, every inch of progress, every moment of triumph – good people had something to do with that. And, I really, really want to make sure I remember that (maybe that’s why I’m writing a whole blog post about it). I want to remember it, because it motivates ME to look out for others. To let them know they’re valuable, to help wherever I can and to root for their success.
So, what about the duds? The deflators. You know, the human wet socks. Honestly, I don’t know what to do about them. To be truthful, my knee-jerk reaction to those people is typically anger. (“Mr. WetSock ruins EVERYTHING!!! I HATE Mr. WetSock!”) But, that’s not healthy or productive. The wet socks exist, and we have to find a way to exist with them. Maybe we should just ignore them when they’re being particularly soggy? Maybe they will watch the good people – the dreamers, the adventurers, the cheerleaders – from their damp, dark corners and be motivated to change.
And, as this is the eve of my second wedding anniversary, I would like to conclude this manifesto/ode/rant with a note about the BEST of the good people in my life – my husband. At this very moment two years ago I was sipping Gatorade and wishing away a 24 hr flu. As I crawled into bed and curled up in the fetal position I remember thinking about how I’d probably just need to “get through” my wedding day, one thought comforted me: even if the wedding doesn’t go as planned, at the end of the day I will be married to my best friend. And that’s all that matters.
But, I slept through the night, at a bagel, drank a few more Gatorades and had the most amazing day.