Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What's Right with the World: Making Other People Happy

You can be THAT guy!

There's been a lovely rash of random happiness that has happened lately that benefits really everyone: people attempting to make other people happy.


There is a sticky note in the emplyee bathroom quoting The Beatles song Dear Prudence: "The sun is up, the sky is blue, it's beautiful and so are you!" I'm sure I am not the only one who smiles every time.

For our anniversary, Dave and I planned two seperate events with the sole purpose of delighting the other. For me, Dave surprised me with an Aretha Franklin concert. For him, I hired an Elvis impersonator.

A co-worker brought in a taco bar for dinner the other night simply because she made extra meat and wanted to share.

My mom came up for the weekend to help us out with Will while we did the skating competition and all these concerts. I lamely offered her licorice and catered meals in return, but she was happy to do it so "you two could spend some time together alone," her anniversary gift to us.

Opening doors for others.

Offering a stick of gum.

Giving someone that extra coupon you won't need.

Giving the next person in line your gift card because the balance was under a dollar and I didn't want it cluttering my purse.

Random compliments.

All these things add up to a world that is a little nicer and a whole lot happier.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Typing Out Loud: Dealing with the Girl in the Mirror

June, 2011. Loving the veal, packing it in the dress.

April, 2012. At this point, 14 pounds lighter and many inches tighter.
The yellow dress fell off me a few days later.

They say things happen in threes. Today, trying to plan outfits for the Grand Rapids Open (judges have a business casual dress code that means nice top or suit jacket, dress-pants-no-jeans), I instead started purging items that were sack-like. Out went three dresses, three tops, three pairs of pants, three swimsuits, one beach cover up, and I'm guessing when I continue, three suit jackets and at least one dress suit. And the new-ish bra I bought a few months ago is now on the third and last set of eye hooks, meaning I'm close to shrinking out of my bras too.  

The other problem that I'm having with the stuff that DOES fit is reworking them into the wardrobe. Formerly fun outfits now are too loose and drapey, so now it's a chore to mix drapey with something form-fitting. Wah, wah I know...  

You'd think I'd be very "woo hoo!' about my new sveltness. The reality is a mixed bag of mind-fuck body dysmorphia and teen aged insecurity. Wha---? Allow me to attempt to explain.

While I'm relishing the 17 pounds lost, I'm looking at my body with a new found dissatisfaction at how much further I have to go, and at times find myself morphing into self-loathing. I can SEE the results, but don't yet like what I see. Is this the remnants of dieting for the last 30 years? The dissatisfaction of not being taller, thinner, blonder, with straighter hair?

I love that the new clothes I have bought are way cute and form fitting, but I hesitate to show off because a.) I'm 42; b.) I don't want to be vain; and c.) quit looking at my boobs.

I've been looking at old photos of myself and again, the self-loathing creeps in again. I have somehow turned mementos of joyous occasions like AN07 into objects of horror as I gasp at my belly, my double chin, my overall look of ill health. And when I get compliments like "you look great!" instead of pleasing me, it makes me mourn the fact I DIDN'T look great for so long.

I'm also dealing with the unfamiliar and awkward scenarios where men are flirting with me. Me? Apparently. I had a strictly one-way flirtation with vending machine guy that resulted in free snacks and him blowing kisses at me when he finished his route. Green turtleneck guy at Walmart shouting "beautiful!" Dude at the Y stop me to say how fine I was looking after my swim and wondering if I was interested in a healthy 57 year old. If it sounds like I'm bragging, I'm not, I've always been uncomfortable with that kind of attention unless I was willing to reciprocate.

And I have to admit, I am still battling whatever it is that my body is doing to conspire against me. A brush across my chin tells me the PCOS is still very real, and I have daily reminders that yes, I am a diabetic who must make daily diet choices to keep my sugar under control. It's not magically going away, I fear it's here to stay.

Then there is the jealousy. I have had one person in particular quietly tell me to keep doing what I'm doing and not let others petty backbiting thwart my progress. I have no idea about this backbiting, but now that makes me self-conscious that I'm preening or bragging or being a little too self-congratulatory and my friends secretly hate me.

Overall, I guess I was hoping for more happiness instead of this "work in progress" rut that I appear to be in. But I guess that's life after all, a continuous journey of constant self-transformation for which one must always adapt and learn. I hope I learn to love myself a little more as I continue.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Getting Through that First Holiday with some Grace

We girls were the masters of goofy dad cards.

Did something today that was harder than I thought it would be: shopped for Fathers Day cards.

I took the boy to Target for swimmer diapers and more training pants, and thought it would be a quick thing to find a cute card for Dave from Will.

Oh no.

First card I see was some syrupy, Hallmark-esque "from your daughter to the best dad in the world" card with gold scrolls, script, birds, bees, flowers and hearts. I quickly look away to yet another one, this time with Bible script. It was a brief nightmare as one card after another was for dads from daughters.

It only got worse with the "best grandpa ever!" section.

I tried to control it, but yes, tears involuntarily began to stream down my face. I made a desperate grab for the funny section, desperate for a laugh.

I grabbed a card with a pregnancy stick on the cover, and the inside gag saying "thanks for getting mom pregnant."

Upon retrospect, I'm pretty sure the card is wholly inappropriate for a 3 year old to gift to his father, but I think a lack of grace will be forgiven this year. And, it's pretty funny.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Why Art Matters: A-muse-ing how I Get Creative

Journal entry, freshman composition, 1987.

It's strange how things work out. I dabbled in art here and there since graduating from Ferris, using my Viz Com degree as a supplement to my career as opposed to the main focus. Yet I have a piece on display at Festival of the Arts, will have an installation/collaboration for ArtPrize, and was just accepted as an artist for Arbor Arts Festival at Spring Arbor University this fall. That's on top of designing the 2012 Mids logo and having two pieces in a juried show earlier this year.

And while I'm not currently employed in my field, I did spend many years as a writer in various marketing/advertising departments, and managed a small stable of clients as a freelance writer. And then there's pouring out the whims and fancies of my heart in this here lil' blog.

According to the 18th entry in my freshman English class written in 1987, I'm livin' the dream.

But how did I get here?

One explanation would be need. When I applied for the Arbor Arts Festival, I was asked to provide an artists' statment about why I create. This is what I said:

I create due to a need inside myself to capture and express thoughts, ideas, emotions or moments, the result being an artistic, permanent record. The creative process for me is highly personal and emotionally charged; hanging a painting or producing a piece of jewelry is akin to baring my soul. After all these years, I'm still bashful to reveal that part of me, but can't NOT do so.

Another explanation as to how I got here is practice, practice, practice. Like Kristi "always dream!" Yamaguchi, doing one triple lutzs when she should have been in third period chemistry, I was in third period chemistry creating type faces (one I called "peanut butter and jelly", another was "ice fog"), doing little illustrations well beyond the typical doodling, and telling epic stories of teenage love to my lab partner within the margins of my battered textbook/sketchbook. I also practiced by creating original little works for friends - earrings, necklaces, paintings - as gifts when money was tight, not realizing the value of something unique and handmade would trump anything store-bought.

Then there is support. Could Dave be my muse? Of course. If you were looking for my #1 cheerleader, he would be it. Sometimes he overwhelmes me with the amazing level of support he offers even when I think I'm creating garbage or worse yet, not creating at all. The art side of things really got started when I contemplated taking a continuing education class at Kendall in 2007. He encouraged me to take the class, and refused to let me withdraw from the class, even when he lost his job. Depressed and withdrawn after losing my job in marketing, he encouraged my volunteering for ArtPrize in 2009 and my eventual participation the following year. Whenever an opportunity arises when a friend or client may need freelance services, he is right there with my card saying "well my wife..."

Finally there is self-esteem - a lack of it and me fighting my demons. I think I covered this a little in the "Personal Roadblocks" post from last year when I submitted my paintings for the Healer's Art show. Part of the reason I create is to prove to myself and others that I can do it, that I am good enough. I also do it to shut my negative Nancy superego up. The face of bravery against myself? Yes, if that makes sense.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

June Playlist part 2: Two of Us

A great little portrait of us at Matt and Bex's wedding, 2008.

Part two takes us from the those late college years to today. When I was composing this list, the words from Rod Stewart's You're In My Heart (Final Acclaim) played in my head: "you're a rhapsody, a comedy, you're a symphony and a play. You're every love song ever written but honey what do you see in me?"

Well, I'll tell ya.

Dude on Dope, Groove Spoon: another one of those bar scene mainstays, they opened the Valentine Pauly Shore show with their groovy rock/funk/punk set. They quickly became a band we wanted to see: we partied with the horn section at their CD release party, road tripped to Grand Rapids for a show at Raggs to Riches, waited around at a boring frat party for them to show up. After the VP, we thought for sure this band would make it big as funkier B-52s, but they only released a lone CD before calling it quits. An internet search just revealed a couple websites with pictures, videos, songs, and tour dates. Looks likes someone's 'bout to flip flop her age, as 42 is the new 24, and I'm off in a cloud holding hands with a tangent.

If I Had A $1,000,000, Barenaked Ladies: Once upon a time BNL was an unknown band on high rotation on LAV Underground and we were flat ass broke. It was 1994, I had just moved to Grand Rapids, it was the end of January and while we didn't break up, things were dicey because we couldn't see each other as much as we wanted since Dave was still in school. Looking for a way to make him smile and say we'd get through the crap, I got him the CD Gordon, this song serving as my valentine to him, "if I had a million dollars, I would buy you some art, a Picasso or a Garfunkel!"

Kiss from a Rose, Seal: Engaged to be married, and looking for a memorable song to dance to for our first dance. From the above list, all were significant, yet none were suitable - I can't even imagine what my grandmother would have said if we started married life jamming to Ministry. But we both liked Seal, and this song was new, romantic and fit the criteria as a rocker without the "lite" stigma the likes of Whitney, Mariah, Celine. The song won many awards, including song of the year, record of the year, and best male performance at the Grammys. Some 16+ years later, it's awesomeness endures.

Whoomp! There It Is, Tag Team: we spent the night in Midland after Thanksgiving, before the UM v. OSU football game. Friday night in Midland, nothing to do. We see there's a band with a catchy name playing the bar at the Holiday Inn and we head in for drinks and entertainment.

Boy, were we entertained.

This act was part ABBA, part SNL comedy sketch. The band consisted of two white married couples (the ABBA part), performing the day's top hits with a keyboard, tambourine and two vocalists (the SNL sketch part, a dead ringer for Will Ferrell's Marty Culp, middle school music teacher). Their treatment of standard lite rock was borderline passable, but they failed magestically when, in an effort to excite the crowd and get them up and dancing, they launched into a well-rehearsed and properly pronounced version of this hip-hop classic, announcing, then singing it as "Whoops! There it Is!"

It was wretched, on an epic level. So of course Dave and his roommate Mike head up to the bandstand to request some more songs way out of their comfort level and tell them how terrific they are.

Bittersweet Symphony, The Verve; Mmmbop, Hanson; and Spice Up Your Life, The Spice Girls: The third wave of the British Invasion was taking over American airwaves, so what else would a couple music fans do but return the favor and invade them? We had hotel reservations for the first and last night of our honeymoon and a car. For the rest, we bought a road atlas, put the radio on BBC1, and let our whim carry us across the countryside.

The most notable songs on the radio during our stay were these three, and they took us to the supermarket in Brighton where we bought gooseberries and shrimp flavoured crisps. Storming castle remains in Aberswyth. Exploring the Woolies in Porthmadog. Singing Ferry Cross the Mersey in Liverpool. Discovering the corner store/post office where my penpal Sacha would drop off and pick up letters from me, the postmaster knowing who I was by sight when I walked in the door in Huddersfield, York. Sleeping in a real castle in Lincolnshire. Imitating the Minister of Silly Walks while eating ice cream at Hyde Park. Eating a poor imitation of American food in Picadilly Circus. Almost hitting Anna Kournikova leaving Wimbeldon at, well, Wimbeldon. Dave bought Urban Hymns at the Virgin Store, one of our prized honeymoon souvenirs.

Tom Sawyer, Rush: my ringtone for Dave for 5+ years. His favorite band and their most memorable hit. The fuzzy guitar riff opening always makes me smile.

Smack My Bitch Up, Prodigy: his long time ringtone for me, hilarious as I'm neither a bitch nor has he ever smacked me up. Last time he raised his voice at me was in 1994, when I was driving the wrong way down a one-way street. He shouted, I cried and I think it freaked him out enough that he has never yelled at me again.

Can You Dig It? box set: Dave can be rebellious, especially when it comes to the so-called "Hallmark Holidays." Early on, he gritted his teeth through Sweetest Day and Valentine's Day for the sake of courtship, even though he found both holidays incredibly stupid. "I love you always, not just those two days," he'd grouse while stiffly offering me cards, candy, flowers and CDs. I understood his disdain, but at the same time, was pleased to score the U2 Zooropa and Sonic Youth Dirty albums as tokens of love.

One of his few eager concessions to the holiday occured in 2002. Every winter I get on a musical kick, and it was time for Philly soul. I fell in love with the groovy 8-track packaging of this particular box set and wanted to hear it. The set was extremely expensive, so I put it back on the shelf because while I wanted it, I didn't need it.

At the same time, I was engrossed in the show Trading Spaces, and had makeover fever. We decided one weekend to rip the fading wallpaper off the walls of our huge kitchen, only to be blinded by the glare of the east-facing white, white walls. This meant most of our free time was devoted to redoing the kitchen. So one day before VD, paint in my hair and dabbing trim on the wall while tiptoeing across the desk, he presented me with the box set as a gift.

We put the set in the CD changer and listened to it over and over as we remade first the kitchen, then the bathroom, and finally the dining room.

Gasolina, Daddy Yankee; Bubbly, Collie Caillat; There's a Party in My Tummy, Yo Gabba Gabba: this is in homage to the family that has grown around us. A host family for a local professional team, our first player was a sweetheart named Pedro from Puerto Rico, and he turned us on to reggaetone. Gasolina was the song they would play when he would come up to bat. Bubbly is for Philo, our French exchange student daughter who was full of sweetness, rebellion, and independence. Whenever I picked her up from cross country practice or took her to a meet, she and her best friend Karlie would skip thorugh my ipod to play and sing this at the top of their lungs, reminding me how amazing 17 years old can be. Party in My Tummy is linked to both Philo and our son Will, who loves YGG and the sweet little green monster who wants carrots and green beans to do the electric slide through his digestive track.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

June Playlist part 1: Love is a Mixtape

Us in '04.

June 21 marks our 15th wedding anniversary. Seems like yesterday we were a couple college kids leaving love notes and peanut butter cups under each others car windshield wipers in lot 37 at Ferris. Since music is a big part of our relationship, putting together a soundtrack is a great way to celebrate and look back.

Delta Lady, Joe Cocker: One fateful night of dancing, Dave and I left The Creek, and went to Taco Bell on our way back home. We were going to play cards while we ate and put Joe Cocker's greatest hits on. Ryan, Dave's roommate, somehow ended up joining us. I don't want to say we ignored him, but he soon found himself talking to himself while we had our own conversation. He wisely bailed on the situation. Reading the paper and laughing over the headlines, the delicious romantic tension started with You Are So Beautiful, giving way to Feelin' Alright, and we finally had our first kiss somewhere around Delta Lady. Ah, thank you Leon Russell.

Flamenco Sketches, Miles Davis: for some stupid reason, we wanted to keep our new relationship a secret. Why? Reasons have been lost in the years. I'm guessing to keep our business from being everybody's business for one. I also had abruptly ended a long-term relationship to be with Dave and didn't want our budding romance to be dismissed as a "friendly neighbor hook up".

Anyway, a week after the first kiss he was playing cards with his roommates, and I was partying with the girls. All the while, we were casually keeping an eye on each other - easy to do as next door neighbors. One by one, the girls went off to do their own thing, and Dave invited me over to hang with the boys so I wouldn't be lonely. The boys took off anyway. Wanting a break from classic rock/grunge/heavy metal, he switched the station to Blue Lake Public Radio. At 3am, they played this 10 minute song from the historic Kind of Blue album. It was an incredibly intimate moment, yet we were seated on couches opposite one another, across the room.

Hey Nineteen, Steely Dan: not even sure how this became part of the story, I think it just WAS. I know that I fell in love with the song back in 1979, a pretty sophisticated choice for a 10-year-old. Dave loved the band, period, and the greatest hits compilation was in heavy rotation with him and the roommates. Like a bat signal, I could tell he was thinking of me when this song blared through the walls, and if I didn't respond by the refrain, he came sauntering over, looking for me. All formality of knocking by this time had disappeared among those of us on the third floor, as all were welcome, except the creeps in 302.

Jesus Built My Hotrod, Ministry: one Saturday afternoon we were both studying, and getting quite tired of books, books and more books. In a fit of rage, Dave hurls his text across the room to declare that he was done for the day. Smiling, he said to me, "I've got an idea, and I want you to say yes."

"Okay... yes."

He wanted pizza, but not just any pizza. He wanted deep dish Chicago-style pizza you could only get in Chicago. Calling around, he found out the place he wanted to go to was 3 1/2 hours away, but closed in 3.

Undeterred, he still wanted pizza and wanted me to go with him. He called his friend Kelly, who was a student at Western. Kelly then placed a call to Vince, who was a student at Goshen College, so we could double. We made plans to meet at Bilbo's, an Irish pub with a band, Killian's beer on tap, Hummers (an ice cream drink made with Bailey's) and the closest we could get to Chicago deep dish without going to Chi-town.

It was not only our first road trip, but also our first official date; all other outings up to that point had been group get togethers or hanging out. He shared his desire to steal the road sign for the D Ave exit. He pointed out all the stars we could see through the sunroof of the Sprint. He held my hand, occasionally kissing it. He also wanted me to hear this great new single by one of his favorite bands. So streaking down 131 during our first real date, we laughed and learned the lyrics to a song declaring "Jesus was an architect, previous to his career as a prophet."

Enter Sandman, Metallica: it was a hit that year, and we would sing along at the top of our lungs on road trips out to the cottage in Bitely, the Sprint taking those tricky turns on two wheels. He was jealous that I went to see Metallica in Muskegon with Cara and Josh, one of the rare moments I would trump him on seeing a show.

Girlfriend, Matthew Sweet: Let me set the table: Superbowl, 1992. I have a huge ham dinner ready for the party. During halftime, Dave and I go off to serve it up and start making out instead, while the crazed drunks that were our friends ripped the ham apart with their hands. Meanwhile, I murmur the fateful words that send men into temporary insanity:

"I think I'm falling in love with you."

It took oh, 24 hours or less for him to break it off. Fabulous.

We made it through ten days of cold shoulders, dates with other people, and trying in vain not to miss each other. We reconciled in time for our Valentine's Day date to see Pauly Shore in concert. Sadly, my self-esteem had taken a beating by the initial rejection of his break up, and I wondered in the back of my mind if he made up with me just to go to the show. I proceeded gingerly, not willing to risk putting my heart out there for him to break.

He goes home for spring break, and I stay in town for work. He calls now and again to see what's going on in the ghost town. But then he would call back, sometimes not even a half hour later for no apparent reason. Befuddled, I asked "Why'd you call?"

His answer: "Matthew Sweet's Girlfriend video is on MTV.. and I, um, just wanted to hear your voice again."

Substitute, The Ramones: Yet another post-breakup reconciliation Valentine's Day concert date. I don't even know what set this one off, but the end of January just sucks. I do know that we had a going-away party for Cara, who was off for an internship at Disney and Dave showed up for the party even though we were no longer seeing each other. Since my bedroom was right next to the living room, I lay in bed seething as he played euchre at 3am, less than 5 feet away from me, separated by only a thin, crappy, makeshift wall.

I don't even remember how we reconciled, but all was right with the world in time for us to see Overwhelming Colorfast (garage band featured on a Stoli Rocks promo CD), Social Distortion, and the Ramones.

OC was ok, SD was amazing, but the Ramones were, ah, well...? I was enjoying the set until the hardcore audience members started pogoing and ripping up seats, while the mosh pit started tossing girls around like croutons in a chef salad. I came close to getting clocked with the back of a seat and honestly, the Ramones weren't that good. Dave protectively escorted me out of there before the full-on riot ensued, and by time the cops arrived, we were already at Woody's, enjoying a drink or two.

What 'Cha Gonna Do?, Pablo Cruise: the plight of the poor college student. No money to go out on a date, returnables taken back to pay the electric bill instead of getting beer, and me scraping together some coin so I could treat him to dinner. On the menu: a cheap bottle of wine, generic tuna helper cheesy noodle and pudding. Romantic!

Looking for a way to entertain ourselves and bored with our record collection, we listen to the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink offerings by local radio station WBRN. The DJ, also bored, pleads with his audience to call in requests. Thus starts non-stop phone calls to the station under various pseudo-names to request as many obnoxious pop hits as possible. The DJ is game, and starts playing the songs as fast as we can phone them in, the highlight being this disco tune that was inexplicably lodged in Dave's psyche. 

The Freshman, The Verve Pipe: We spent a great number of our nights going to see this band play at various venues in West Michigan. They were mainstays on the bar scene, and in classic fashion, we bought their independent releases out of the trunk of their car, drank with the keyboardist, and saw our friend Jim fill in for a sick bassist. We also saw them one snowy night at Tom E's, with only 20 people in attendance during their art rock/R.E.M. phase, a projector throwing a loop of imagery on a back screen while sorority girls danced on the banquette. They went on to win Aris Hampers' WKLQ hometown rock search, which got them a recording contract. The Freshman peaked on the top 40 the same week we got married in 1997. It was old news to us, having sung along to the song as early as 1992. They are the band I have seen the most in concert, the 1,000,000th time last summer with Will at a kids' show at the library.

This list only got us part of the way! There's more stories to be told...