Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What's Right in the World: be true to yourself

Billy Shakes makes for a popular tat.

I worked myself up into a panic this week. Why? My 25-year class reunion is this weekend, and in typical girl fashion, I stood in the middle of my closet with the age-old lament that I have nothing to wear.

This of course is not true, as I am properly attired on a routine basis. Even at this writing, I am wearing clothes. Nice clothes even.

Ah, but a class reunion, merely being clothed is not the point. You want to be noticed. You want that boy that broke your heart in 1986 to think "damn!" You want girls jealous. Did I have anything like that? I don't know! Off to the store I went.
It was on this trip that the clothes made the man, or rather the shopping experience made the woman.

In one shop, I made an anxious grab for miniskirts and dresses. While they fit, it was, to be honest, embarrassing. I saw a glimpse of someone in the mirror attempting to be something she wasn't. Who was that in the bronze leather mini that I couldn't sit down in? Was she trying for sexy? Trying for flirty? Or just trying too hard? Definitely not me. Definitely not the message I want to send my old classmates.

Onto the next store.

I had a little more fun with clothes at Kohl's. A little J.Lo, a little Lauren Conrad, a little Vera Wang, a whole lot of sequins. J.Lo's my age... So I tried on a nude mini dress covered with sequins. I looked -- awesome! Buuuuuuuuuut...? A nude sequined mini dress? In November? At 43? Isn't that a *bit much* for Jackson? I tried moving around in the dress and the sequins scratched and the sleeves were tight enough that I couldn't move my arms above my shoulders, just in case of dancing. I didn't feel myself, I felt like I was trying to be J.Lo. And not just J.Lo, but J.Lo on a riser with a wind machine lip syncing her latest hit with T.Bull rapping behind her, at the Grammys.

 I was momentarily dazzled, but again, the sequins itched.

So I was back to shopping my closet and thinking about how I wanted to feel as well as how I wanted to look. I wanted to look nice. Happy. Comfortable in my own skin, which is important for someone who didn't really come into her own until late junior year, and even then...

I have a lovely little navy blue silk dress, a-line, that I bought a million years ago at Old Navy on a whim. It didn't fit, so it was a "motivation dress" this past year for when I lost my weight. Back in January, I was hoping to wear it to my reunion. I was in it by May. It is *almost* too big for me now, but it caresses the skin, the neckline is very flattering, the skirt flutters, and it looks great with either my gold shoes or my silver bling shoes.

So my journey today started to be about the fashion, but it came around to me coming to terms with being true to myself and of course, "to thy own self be true."

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Typing Out Loud: Invisible?

This makes me think of The Zombies' "She's Not There"

I was at the Y for the Diabetes Screening Day yesterday. Now when I'm at the Y, I do my thing, chat up the staff I'm in direct contact with, grab my stuff and go. During the process of getting screened, the activities director (someone I don't recall seeing but a few times) addressed me by name and said I was a regular, welcomed member whose numbers ought be amazing given how much weight I have lost in the last year.

I was struck by the fact I have not been operating invisibly this year. People saw me, took note of what I have been up to. I was recognized! I hadn't been working out incognito. Going upstairs to do a little elliptical to warm up for the .1K race (really), I felt the weight of eyes on me at first, then I settled down.

I went through the same phenomena with adult skating when I first started competing nationally. As a last-placer, I thought invisibilty screens were up and operational. I timidly introduced myself to a few of the high-level male competitors at the after party, because, well, who was I to them? To my astonishment, they told me without a doubt, they knew who I was and invited me to dance. As a matter of fact, Brooks is the one who stun-gunned me with the comment, "it may surprise you, but you are not invisible." Added Jason, "You definitely stand out." They have since become dear friends.

So after the Y, Will and I headed downtown to "compete" in the .1K race, a charity "run" for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. For those who don't know, that is oh, 528 feet or so, about a block and a half. That is when I turned invisible. At the hydration tent, where energy drink girls were giving away free samples to cute guys and college-aged girls, I was completely ignored. I've encountered this phenomena before with free sample girls: rebuffed by the Budweiser bikini girls giving away free t-shirts; encountered the I-see-thru-you gaze of the Gatorade girls; cold shoulders from the blinking button Zima girls back in the day, who were looking to pin my boyfriend instead.

Pissed me right off.

Not willing to put up with it, I demanded their attention in the loudest, yet sweetest voice I could muster. Still nothing, I simply shrugged, grabbed a sample and went on my merry way.

Once we were packed behind the starting line, I was content to blend in, be one of the 2200 racers having fun. But I still wanted to be noticable enough that people recognized I had a 3 foot tall racer with me.

Oh, my beautiful Will. For him, I am content to blend into woodwork and go from being "Melissa!" to Will's mom. I was very proud of him for running in his first race, and his joyful fist pump when realized he did it. He won the trophy (a gold spray painted addidas sneaker) for being the Clean Up Kid. What does that mean? I don't know, but I'm so glad the lesson he learned from my 5K race last month came to fruition this month.

Redemption came later at the drink tent post-race, where Will was awarded a flashlight keychain by the guy who took over for the girls. He was given the choice of green or blue. Will looked up at the drink guy, and for a moment was indecisive. He then brightened, and took both, telling him "green for Will and blue for mommy!"

I guess he's not content with either of us being invisible.

The visual symbolism of Wonder Woman's invisible jet is so obvious!

And in researching photos to illustrate this little story, I am aware my little insecurity issue is what the kids call "First World problems." In other parts of the world, women are completely invisible in terms of politics, education, socio-economic status, etc. Sadly, they are not even considered their own person, but the property of their father, then their husband. While I respect other people's cultures and traditions, not all cultures or traditions should continue. It's a matter of human rights.

And that's more important than scoring a free energy drink.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Why Art Matters: O Henry

Tell me a tale with a twist  Mr. Porter.

One of the most casual gifts I ever received is one I've cherished ever since. I was writing and designing brochures for Catholic Charities' nursing homes. Noticing the impressive collection of books in one of the manager's offices, I casually  noted I was a fan of O. Henry's work. He swiftly plucked a thick collection off his shelf and presented it to me with the promise that I enjoy. That I have.

O. Henry was born William Sydney Porter in 1862. He dabbled in numerous professions, becoming a pharmacist, a draftsman, bank teller, journalist, surveyor, bookkeeper, and a politician. He kinda failed at most of his professions, and some discrepancies at his bank led to his imprisonment on embezzlement charges.

All the while he dabbled in writing short stories as a hobby for cash on the side. Well, a man in prison has time on his hands, so he wrote more. Since he was incarcerated, he hid his identity behind the pseudonym O. Henry. During his brief career, he wrote 400 short stories for the New York World  magazine.

Why do I love his work? There is a distinct art to writing a short story. You have limited time and space to create fully fleshed characters, defined by their action and reaction to the plot of the story. The story has to be engaging and he was the master.

He was also the master of the classic twist ending. If you expect him to zig, he zags; even better, sometimes he even zips. Or zings. He captures quite comically how fate can throw life for a loop and change the course of your path. A hilarious example is the Curse of the Red Chief, when two thieves kidnaps a rich man's son in hopes of securing a ransom but the kid is such a brat, they pay the father to take the kid off their hands.

His views of New York City is fun and breathless. I have compared it in the past to Candace Bushnell's 1990s take on Manhattan in the Sex in the City. Both are boozy, filled with a colorful cast of characters, set sometimes in glamorous locations with plenty of shopping and an obvious love of Gotham. But where Bushnell's characters are brittle and cynical, there is a warmth to even the most crotchety of O Henry's characters.

Oh, his characters! Jim and Della sacrificing their watch and hair for the other. Soapy the homeless man looking for a few months out of the cold. The glove salesgirl who turns down the most eligible bachelor in town, mistaking his claims of riches for descriptions of rides at Coney Island and thus, turning down his proposal cold. The "socialite" in her regal beaded gown, vacationing at the most glamorous hotel in town, only to reveal to her suitor on the last day she really works at the department store and is down to her last dollar; the suitor acknowledges the fact, and takes the dollar as a final payment on her dress, asking her out for coffee and pie at the local diner. The girl who sets out to impress her boss at a Christmas party with the perfect dress only to have her roommate undermine her efforts... but she get the guy anyway.

Most of his work is in the public domain, and available for all to enjoy. For myself, I need to take a trip away from 1900s Manhattan or introduce myself to his Texas cowboys.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

November Playlist: 1987

May 87, me and my prom date. Scarlett O'Hara hoops and tons of lace were so in.

My 25 year class reunion is this month. Hope all this looking back is coming to its eventual conclusion, teen aged angst has its place, and 1987 is where I'd like to leave it.

Still, I had a great senior year: pretty good grades, lots of great friends, romantic drama, spring break in Daytona Beach with my girls, prom, the rush of grad parties, summer being lazy at the beach, and trying to figure out what to major in when I went to college (secondary education, one of 6 different majors). The following songs (and a couple albums) provided a soundtrack that runs through my heart 25 years later. I expect to hear more than a few of these on November 23.

Pump it up homeboy, just don't stop.

Lean on Me, Club Noveau -  in spring '87, nominations were out, and this song was a popular choice for class song. Alas, one of the nuns deemed it too pop-py a choice and we were stuck with the dull This is the Time by Billy Joel. I think of this as our class song by default. I still own the 12" dance remix to this day, with its art-deco tagger artwork.

Don't Dream It's Over, Crowded House - one high school drama after another had adopted this song as their prom-to-graduation soundtrack, the first of which being 90210. I think One Tree Hill and maybe even Dawson's Creek. Well, it was ours first! There is a wistful melancholy to the song that lends itself well to that time of your life when you are looking forward yet looking back. I was a sucker for the Beatlesque sounds of Split Enz, and the band headed by Neil Finn had me in the first opening bars.

Walk Like an Egyptian, The Bangles - you couldn't go anywhere without this infectious song invading your radio or dance floor. It was truly an "everyone dance!" type of tune. I have senior grad party pics of my friend Todd dancing with a couple of teachers who volunteered to chaperone.

I loved the Bangles, their careers were just a tad too short, and I wish they had stuck around a little longer to solidify their place in the history of rock. Were they too poppy for rock? Too cerebral for pop? Too angsty within their own band to last? The band consisted of two sisters (probably a powder keg right there), a broody bassist, and Susanna Hoffs, who everyone loved and tried to make into a model/actress/solo artist. For a Bangles primer, I recommend Going Down to Liverpool, Following and Hazy Shade of Winter. In the annuals of my own art, I recreated the album cover Everything for painting class at LCC.

Livin' on a Prayer, Bon Jovi - oh, I hate this song to this day but it has to be included. I think it may have even been the #1 hit of the year. The hair metal blue collar anthem was Jon Bon Jovi's attempt at Bruce Springsteen. It has endured as a classic rock staple. The chorus is an easy one to belt out at the top of your lungs with your girlfriends while cruising the Ave., a distinct teen aged pleasure for generations of Jacksonians that seems to have disappeared. A pity, but it probably makes more sense for the kids to take the party to the backyard or some one's basement.

La Bamba, Los Lobos - a summer hit from the movie of the same name, and like cruising the Ave mentioned above, a cross-generation hit. La Bamba the movie was the story of Richie Valens, the Hispanic-American pop star of the 50s who died in the infamous plane crash with the Big Bopper and Buddy Holly. Los Lobos took Richie's song, updated it, and it became their biggest hit. My friend Lisa loves Los Lobos and knows a few of the guys in the band. I've recently become of fan of mariachi in pop songs, and this band may be worth a second listen.

Mony Mony, Billy Idol - this is a song with a life of its own. It was recorded for a studio album by Idol in 1981, was a constant at dances throughout my high school years, and a live version of the song was released as a single in 1987, when it finally hit #1. We all thought we were badasses singing the refrain "hey! hey you, get laid get fucked!" It was a Catholic school, I'm surprised they let us get away with it, although I swear I heard Sister Joanne singing along to her own version "hey, hey you, get praised, love Jesus!" I loved it when the teachers got into it ths spirit.

At This Moment, Billy Vera and the Beaters - two of my former boyfriends were also my classmates, the before mentioned E (Feb angst) and Gregg, who was my freshman boyfriend, with whom I believed we shared less than 5 kisses total. Still, he counts among the notches in my belt (snicker) since I can recall at least three mall-plus-movie dates and I scored a valentine + heart-shaped box of candy (VD '84) presented to me by Alison W., by proxy, since she rode my bus and Gregg didn't. Oh, the romantic limitations of 14 year olds. So what does that have to do with this old fashioned crooner that became an improbable hit based on its association with the sitcom Family Ties? Absolutely nothing, except it would have been nice to dance with one of them to this song instead of staring wistfully, yet jealously, at the girls who were asked to sway in a circle for 3 minutes.

Everybody Have Fun Tonight, Wang Chung - bwahahahaha! This song is delightfully stupid, an amazing ear worm that infects those who hear it 25 years later. Any song that encourages joviality, with a video that triggers epileptic seizures and is banned in certain countries for inciting riotous behavior is ok in my book. On the show Cheers - an 80s classic! - Frasier Crane descends the stairs and in his Shakespearean baritone, commands everyone to Wang Chung... tonight! Jen, Denise and I, in a fit of giddiness on the highway through Chicago while road tripping to Minnesota, contribute the song to the lexicon of adult skating by declaring Wang Chung! every time the spirit struck us. And it struck us, numerous times.


Taking juvenile antics to a higher art form.

Licensed to Ill, Beastie Boys - "Weeeellll, here's a little story I've got to tell about three bad brothers you know so well..." This album was everywhere, and played in its entirety, all the time. It was the soundtrack on the bus ride to Daytona, and by Florida me, Carla, Rachel and Maria knew the words to Posse in Effect by heart. To this day, all it takes is one quote from the album and Rachel and I will start to rap "ONE lone Beastie I be, ALL by myself without NOBODY..." as only two white middle aged women can.

The Joshua Tree, U2 and Document, R.E.M. - Rolling Stone had itself an internal battle raging in the 80s: which band did they love more, U2 or R.E.M.? In the early years, both were considered indie darlings, beloved by rock critics and college radio. At one point, both were declared THE band of the 80s and/or the only band that mattered.

With The Joshua Tree, U2 struck first, hitting number 1 everywhere both with the album and singles. Then there was the monster stadium tours.

R.E.M. built momentum towards their eventual global domination with the release of Document, a broody, dark album surprisingly easy on the ears and my early intro to the joys of college rock radio, a position I would embrace while a DJ at WLCC and WRKX.

True Blue, Madonna - How much did I love Madonna in those early years? I knew all the lyrics, I knew all the dance movies, I stood in line early with my friend Maria to get tickets to the Who's That Girl tour, relishing my nosebleed seats as I sang along to Open your Heart. I may have been on board the Madonna wannabe bus as early as Burnin' Up from her debut album, but I embraced the maturity of this work as her new artistic direction. Of the tracks, La Isla Bonita is by far my favorite to this day, and of all her albums, this is my second favorite after 1989's Like a Prayer. Art alert! I did a charcoal sketch of the album cover for art class in 1989.

Control, Janet Jackson - it's a 1986 release but it's awesomeness resonated through the next year. As with True Blue, we all knew the lyrics, and all did the dance moves. Oh, E and I perfected that little pull the rope knee slide from The Pleasure Principle! The aggressive snarl of demanding someone "gimme a beat!" before launching into Nasty. The lip curling sass of "I know he USED to do nice stuff for you, but what has he done for you LATE - LY?"