Roots, Rediscovery, and Remembrance – A Tribute to my Father

I took an epic journey over the last week. It covered 4,787 miles, spanned four time zones, and tapped into more than five decades of memories. It took me from the small Pacific island of Kauai to my hometown of Rochester, NY and back again. It took me back to my roots; to the city I will always call home, where the air smells like my childhood. It took me through the deepest and most difficult emotions that have lived safely tucked away down deep in my soul for 23 years, since the death of my father.

I traveled home to celebrate him being inducted into the Rochester Music Hall of Fame with his band, The Rustix. Bob D’Andrea (my dad) was the original guitarist of the band. I can say with utter confidence that music was his first love. He was a natural performer, and when you were around him you could feel his energy, full of humor and joy, just emanating from him. My very first memories of my father are of him playing his guitar and singing the Sesame Street theme song with me in our tiny living room, his 6’3” frame folded up cross-legged on the floor. He always had a full beard, as black as his hair, and dark Aviator sunglasses on his face. His guitar was never far away, and if he wasn’t singing he was telling jokes, making up lyrics, or doing impressions and voices. He brought the joy of music to my life from the day I was born, a day on which he promptly wrote a song about my birth. Music inhabited his soul.

My dad with his signature dark aviators, cross-legged on the floor. This is how I remember him.

My dad with his signature dark aviators, cross-legged on the floor. This is how I remember him.

My dad was my best friend. I think this is the first time I am acknowledging this, to myself and in print. When I think back on all of the people in my life, he was the one I had the most fun with, trusted more than anyone, and wanted to spend my time with. There are images in my brain, some etched there from experience, others that I have been reminded of by photographs that now sit quiet in a photo box: My father and I first thing in the morning when I was four, me bright-eyed and excited to feed my goldfish Bert and Ernie, my father not so awake but smiling just the same as we gazed into a small, rectangular glass fish tank. His hair was everywhere and his eyes were bleary, but he smiled with me. A couple of years later, hitting whiffle balls in the front yard of our two-bedroom house on the dead end street, the sounds of the local zoo animals in the background. He would pitch to me endlessly if I wanted him to, and he never thought baseball wasn’t for girls. Watching old vampire movies on Sunday afternoons, both of us sprawled out on the living room floor, me burying my face in his shoulder at the scariest parts. I remember a man who loved to fish, teaching his daughter how to bait her own hook with a squirming, juicy worm, while fishing off the Irondequoit Pier. I remember some early mornings in rowboats, sitting in silence, the water like glass as he and I waited to catch a fish, not really caring if we did, just happy to be there. My father never turned me away and was always happy to be with me. This was a gift I am only now beginning to fully appreciate.

Me with my father's guitar in our little house on the dead end street. He looks on happily as I try to strum.

Me with my father’s guitar in our little house on the dead end street. He looks on happily as I try to strum.

My dad was very ill. Kidney failure as a young man led to years of dialysis, the resulting exhaustion forcing him to leave his beloved band. What a shame because my father was meant for greatness, a rare talent who could engage a crowd of people in any situation, with music, jokes, banter, and friendly conversation. But his illness took the wind out of his sails for a while and he had to put on the brakes. Regardless, he made everyone feel good, and even chronic illness never got him down. I never knew he was sick until I was almost a teen, old enough to see the signs of wear and tear on a body plagued by transplant surgery and years of immunosuppressant medications. I have no memories of him ever complaining about his life, ever. The man was a marvel.

Over the past few days, back in the city where my father was raised and where he raised me, I met many people who knew him way back when. Every one of them had stories to tell about how kind, generous, and funny my father was. A former roadie of the band told me, “As a roadie you take a lot of stuff from the band members, but Bobby never treated me that way.” The keyboard player of the band told me of his first performance with them, after only rehearsing for a few days. He was nervous, not knowing all the songs, and my father stood by him on stage and fed him the chords as they played. “I loved that man,” is a phrase I heard more times than I can count this weekend.

I know. I loved him too.

Dad doing what he loved, playing a benefit concert in Louisiana ca. 1968.

Dad doing what he loved, playing a benefit concert in Louisiana ca. 1968.

Music was always a huge part of his life, and mine as well. When I was a young girl of 12 or 13, my father would bring me to his bar on Wednesdays and let me stay late into the night and watch him jam with a local blues band, a secret I never told my mother until I was an adult. He lit up the small stage in the back room of the club. It was the pure joy he felt when playing music. It was something I was familiar with, having witnessed it my whole life. I had no idea how lucky I was to be experiencing his talent. This is a memory not common for 13-year-old girls. Growing up with a musician father was a unique and utterly wonderful experience that has influenced me more than I realized until this weekend. Thanks to my father, music is in my bones. Thanks to him, following passions and dreams always seemed important.

Dad doing his thing on his black Fender Stratocaster, ca. 1987.

Dad doing his thing on his black Fender Stratocaster, ca. 1987.

On this trip back home, I rediscovered my father. 23 years has a way of muting memories, making them a little harder to retrieve, a little less vibrant. It takes an experience like the one I just had to remind us of details, and the little things, and the significance of the impression a person has had on your life. When I was just eight years old I went to a picnic with my father and we sang songs together in the backyard, him strumming his acoustic Yamaha guitar, dark glasses on, long legs crossed, and me standing next to him gripping the collar of his beige windbreaker. My windbreaker was blue and yellow, my blonde hair a messy mop, bangs in my eyes, as we sang “You Are My Sunshine.” I only know this because this weekend, my father’s widow handed me a DVD she had made of footage from this picnic. It was sitting forgotten on someone’s video recorded since 1982 and she recently had it transferred to a disc for me. It was ten minutes of my life that I had not remembered, but now will never forget.

She gave me ten minutes in time, recorded in a back yard in 1982. Ten minutes in time of me and my dad and music.

Watching that disc I didn’t cry. I smiled, and remembered the joy that my father brought to me, to his family and friends, and to those who loved his music. I was thankful for this glimpse that I didn’t know existed, a snapshot in time that so perfectly summed up our relationship. The little daddy’s girl clinging to his collar as he smiled and sang the songs she begged him to sing. “She’ll be coming ‘round the mountain Daddy, I know lots of verses,” that little girl said to him as he asked her what they should sing next.

And he obliged. With a smile and a laugh, he obliged.

Eleven years after that video was taken, he died in a hospital bed after a long battle with cancer. He got 21 years from his transplanted kidney, which was 16 more than the doctors had predicted. He beat the odds and lived a life anyone could be proud of, owning three successful businesses, playing music, and being a wonderful father, husband, and friend. In the 19 years that I got to spend with my dad I never remember him yelling at me, rolling his eyes at me, or refusing an opportunity to spend time with me. Whether he was healthy or sick, happy or sad, all I ever felt from him was joy and love. How does someone do that? I don’t know, but what a gift.

Dad's band, The Rustix. He's the tall one in the back, third from the right.

Dad’s band, The Rustix. He’s the tall one in the back, third from the right.

Remembering his death, which came way too soon, is the hardest thing I ever do. I have cried, cursed God, and wondered why anyone as pure of heart as he was could be denied growing old with his family. I look at my young sons and mourn that they will never know this man who was such a significant part of who I am today. But mostly I try to think about what a lucky woman I am to have had such a gentle man as my first male role model.

I think about the joy. He lived with joy. He played music with joy.

And even though he died too young, and lived with the knowledge that he would likely not see his only child get married and have children, he would want me to live with joy. He would want me to laugh and joke and experience music and impart that joy to my children.

I can feel him telling me that each and every day. That is his legacy.

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Baby Shoes Flash Fiction Anthology – Sneak Peak!

I am lucky enough to be contributing a short story to Baby Shoes Flash Fiction Anthology. The book name was inspired by a six word (yes, that’s six) short story attributed to Earnest Hemmingway, “For Sale, baby shoes, never used.” It isn’t one hundred percent clear if he actually wrote these words, but they are credited to him nevertheless. At first, I thought the editor, Jason Brick, was looking for stories relating to the title in some way, so I wrote a short story inspired by those six words. I bet those six words bring something to your mind that is quite different than what developed in mine, and that is the beauty of reading and writing. Turns out, the stories do not have to relate to the title in any way, which is exciting in that the book will have such a rich variety of styles, genres, and topics. But I was inspired by these six simple but vibrant words, and the result is a story created from what those words inspired in my mind.

By the way, if you don’t know what flash fiction is, it is really SHORT short stories. One hundred authors, one hundred stories, one thousand words or less per story. How cool is that? In one book you will get love stories, scary stories, abstract stories, funny stories, dark stories, and pretty much anything else you can think of.

Here are the first few lines from my story, Ballerina, which will be one of the 100 stories.

Her dream was to be a ballerina.

 It was cliché, but ever since she was little, twirling in a yellow sateen recital costume, gold sequins flashing, feathers fluttering, she imagined a life on the stage in New York City. She started dancing at age three, when the uniform was pink tights, tutus, and tiny leather ballet slippers with the elastic band across the top. They were always a perfect baby pink, unlike the faux leather version, which came in black or white. She always begged her mother for pink, the most expensive of the colors, but had to settle for white, the color that dirtied easily and showed all the flaws. Even at age three she registered the difference between her scuffed up white knock offs and the other girls’ pale pink leather slippers.

Okay, shameless plug for my own work is now over. Here are some sneak peeks at other writers’ stories in case my ballerina doesn’t pique your interest.

Want something darker? Check out this blurb from Scott Crowder’s Valley of the Black Pig:

He breathes in deeply, lets the breath out gently and squeezes the trigger. The Iraqi crumples almost serenely to the ground as the .338 Lapua Magnum round splits his head in two. The little girl is sent flying in a horrible cartwheel, blood spraying in the arc of her tumble. The sniper lost his ear plugs to the concussion of the first bomb, but his ears are still ringing from the gunshot, and he doesn’t hear her scream.

How about this tantalizing tidbit from Danika Dinsmore’s Consummation:

 Fire is contagious. She knows this from the way her hands burn when he approaches. Fire is what happens when we collect oxygen, fuel, and heat. Anyone can oxidize over time. Anyone can burn slowly.

Want something mysterious? Check this out from Jenny Cloyd Cokeley’s Anika’s Fall:

Before sliding the iron key across the counter, she felt the weight of it in her hand and traced the amaranthine design with her fingertips again and again, as if rubbing it would reveal how it came to be in her pocket that night on the train.

Like something with a historical flavor? Here’s a peek at Carrie Uffindell’s Beneath London’s Streets:

It was hot and musty, the air stagnant and rank from hundreds of men, women and children seeking shelter from Hitler’s bombs. The platforms, corridors and stairwells stank of urine, sweat, blood and sticky flies.

Harry squinted, reading a novel under the faint yellow lights. With his one uninjured hand, he carefully flipped to another page but stopped reading when he heard a low moan. A filthy woolen blanket undulated in an unmistakable rhythm nearby.

Oh, bloody hell. Not again.

 Perhaps you like something about love, romance, or relationships? Try this tease from April Joitel Moore’s An Affair to Forget:

He walks in and sees her sitting with his imaginary girlfriend.

Damn it! These two were never supposed to meet. How did this happen? Doug slinks into the busy coffee shop and grabs a small table in the corner and watches as his love life disintegrates over lattes and almond biscottis.

 And Shelley Widhalm’s Wanted Man:

I crafted my personal ad as if some fairy godmother could wave her magic wand and usher in a tall, handsome man with blue eyes. This, I wrote trying not to think about Derek.

He managed the front of the Sushi restaurant and I, the back. Sans ring, he rode the rollercoaster of those going through a divorce. His smile blew heat to my toes, causing my eggrolls to crisp.

 How about Derek Knutsen’s Ready to Face Home:

Pottersman drops the blowgun and pulls a pan pipe from one of his pockets. He starts a haunting melody that carries through the bleak landscape.

 Or M.D. Pitman’s Willie:

“Why can’t we just handle this? Just take him to Willie’s grave and tell him he’s dead. Then just hold him tight.”

“You know why, Dan. The doctor said it may scar him even deeper.”

“It’s been a year and nothing has helped. I’m just …”

“Frustrated,” Nancy said finishing his thought.
Dan massaged his temples. “Yeah.”
“I’m frustrated, too,” Nancy said softly. She stood up and wrapped her arms around him.

 I, for one, cannot WAIT to read the rest of these beautiful writers’ words in Baby Shoes Flash Fiction Anthology. It is pretty amazing what just a few words can do to get our minds going, inspire an image, a thought, or a memory.

I hope you enjoyed all of these sneak peeks! I feel so honored to be part of this project. If you are inclined, you can pre-order the book at the kickstarter site (link below), which will help us fund the production of the book. Then when it comes out you will get one delivered right to your door. If you aren’t a big reader, maybe as a gift? Something to put by the potty for when you just need a quick read? This book has it all, something for everyone who enjoys the written word.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1727584460/baby-shoes-celebrating-flash-fiction

Thanks to all who have been so supportive of my work!

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Play Dates Gone Bad: What do you do when your kid’s friend is a thief?

What the hell do you do when one of your kid’s buddies is a teeny tiny thief?  A play date that ends with juvenile delinquency is definitely a play date gone bad.

I am torn, because, normally, (and especially, recently, with the holiday madness), my husband and I try to encourage generosity and minimal materialism with our kids. While we DO buy them gifts and they do have a LOT of stuff, we also try to instill in them an appreciation of what they have, and the understanding that we cannot and will not just buy them whatever they want, whenever they want. We say no to their requests for stuff quite often, and we require them to sift through their old stuff fairly regularly and choose items to donate, before they can get new stuff. While we are not poor we are by no means rich, and even if we were I would like to think we would control ourselves enough to not spoil the children into horrible, greedy little humans. I guess I would say, in terms of material stuff, they are pretty average for American children growing up in a middle class home. But even though we don’t want our boys to be driven by unbridled materialism, it drives me absolutely bonkers that one of my son’s friends comes over to play and always leaves my house with something that isn’t his tucked into a pocket, his backpack, or right there in his hot little hand as he’s walking out the door. Is it just me? Maybe it shouldn’t bother me but…WTF is that?

The ironic thing is that it all began with my son giving this kid a toy to take home. It was one of those hand held electronic LeapFrog Leapster game thingies, and I am telling you when I saw him hand it over to his pal and say, “Here, you can have this,” I was both beaming with pride and absolutely horrified. I mean, on the one hand, my six-year-old son was willingly and without being prompted handing over a material possession to another child. Score one for raising a cool kid! On the other hand, I had paid $75 for that thing, not to mention the many game cartridges I was also compelled to purchase, and my child was just handing it over as if it were a piece of gum. Granted, my son had not played with the thing in months, having moved on to a tablet (NOT an ipad, but a cheap version of a tablet), and chances are he was not going to ever really play with the Leapster again. Still…it wasn’t cheap, and I wondered if a day would come when the tablet was lost or broken and he would ask me, “Mom, where’s my Leapster?” Would he feel regret when I reminded him that he handed it over to his friend on a whim, or would he simply say, “Oh yeah,” and move on? And does it even matter? Maybe it would be good for him to miss it, and I could remind him of how generous it was to give something to a friend. Teachable moment, anyone?

After his friend left, I commended my son for being so generous and sweet, and said I was impressed at how easily he had given away a toy that he liked so much. Then I asked him to think carefully when he wants to give something away, and just be sure he is ok with not having it anymore because once you give something away you cannot ask for it back. Jeez…did I do the right thing? I don’t know.

But here’s the tricky part. Ever since then, every time this particular friend of his comes over for a play date, he leaves our house with his pockets stuffed. I mean, literally, the kid heads out our door with shit in his pockets, on his wrists, around his neck, and stuffed into his backpack. The first time he came over after the Leapster incident, he held up some toy and asked my son, “Can I have this?” I could tell my son was torn – his face was telling me he wanted to say no, but he struggled with saying no to his friend. I stepped in (maybe I shouldn’t have) and simply said, “You are welcome to play with all of the toys while you are here, but the toys stay here.” I could tell my son was grateful. That day, after his friend left, I reinforced with my son that he could say no when his friend asked to take his stuff. I told him that just because he had given him the Leapster did not mean that he always had to give him something. Since then I have tried to stay out of it, in the hopes that my son will find his voice and speak up when his friend tries to take things. But so far, all I have seen is his buddy rushing out the door laden down with stuff that doesn’t belong to him. And here’s the kicker: I volunteered in my son’s classroom recently and there was his buddy, wearing a wristband I had given to my older son as a birthday gift a couple of years ago. Somehow, he found his way to my other son’s stuff too! At the dinner table just last night my older son lamented this kid being invited to my younger son’s birthday party, asking, “Why would you want to invite him to your party? All he does is steal our stuff.”  Oh boy.

Am I crazy, or is this out of hand? I mean, the kid is a sweet kid.  Maybe his parents don’t know what he is doing. I hope they don’t, because if they do and are choosing to ignore it, well…I guess that explains a lot. If it were my kid and I knew about it, I would make him return every single item and tell him that pillaging his friend’s stuff is NOT the purpose of a play date. You know, that whole thou shall not steal business…it’s a pretty good rule after all.

I hope this pint-sized kleptomaniac is not causing my son too much distress. If I find out he is, I will have to decide whether to step in. Will I speak with the kid directly, again? Will I contact his parents? Or will I let it go and hope that my son will step up when it gets to the point that he cannot live with it anymore? I am not sure. Freaking kids, man.

But I am sure that I am proud of my son, either way. He is generous and kind and super kick ass…most of the time.  I hope to God he is not pilfering goods at any of his friends’ houses without my knowledge. Wouldn’t that be a kick in the pants?

 

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Five Reasons to Refuse Resolutions in 2015.

Resolution. The dictionary defines it as a determining, a deciding, a solving of a puzzle, or the answering of a question. To me, in making resolutions, we buy into the idea that there is a problem, puzzle, or question to be solved in our lives. In making new year’s resolutions we aren’t simply going to try and do something better, we are making a formal statement to change or transform something about our lives. To resolve something. Wow. Talk about pressure!

So this year, I am refusing instead of resolving. Refusing to make any grand statements, promises, or resolutions. Instead, I will recognize all of the stuff that is right in my life. And if along the way I choose to try something new, set a goal, eat better, exercise more, blah blah blah, well…that’s okay too. But I have a lot to be proud of, and I suspect you do too. Here are some of the reasons I don’t need resolutions this year.

The Top Five Reasons to Refuse Resolutions in 2015:

  1. I HAVE GOALS, HOPES, AND DREAMS.

Isn’t it enough to think about what we would like to do in the future, without putting an expiration date on our goals? “In 2015 I will…,” makes it seem like if it doesn’t happen this year, it never will. How about being proud of the fact that you are a person with aspirations, whether it is as simple as a home improvement project, or as grand as a career change. The fact that you dream about something means you will move forward…eventually. It might take longer than a year, but hey, nothing worth doing is easy! Keep on dreaming, hoping, and setting goals without all the time constraints that come with a new year’s resolution.

  1. THERE ARE PEOPLE IN MY LIFE WHO LOVE ME AS IS

It is easy to be hard on ourselves. We are our own toughest critics. But chances are there are people in your life who love you just the way you are, which means you are at least not a horrible person. No matter your job, your income, your body size, your hair length, your clothing choices, or your education – you have parents, children, friends, siblings, and family who love and adore you for you. And if you have kids, you have people who cannot imagine their lives without you, and depend on you for their very existence. Your daughters look to you as a role model of what it is to be a woman. Your sons see you as the woman to measure all other women against. Talk about being a V.I.P.!

  1. I AM NOT IN PRISON

This is fairly self-explanatory. With all the infuriating things you deal with every day, be glad you haven’t screwed up so royally that you are incarcerated. We all make mistakes, but yours are no worse than anyone else’s if you are still allowed to roam free among the masses. You make good choices and have self-control. Nice.

  1. THERE IS SOMETHING IN MY LIFE THAT BRINGS ME JOY

 OK, you may not be doing your dream job, have as much money as you would like, or be at your ideal weight, but there is something in your life that brings you joy. Your kids when they smile at you and say, “I love you Mommy.” When your husband does the grocery shopping, or cooks dinner, or puts the kids to bed so you can sit on your ass watching another backlogged episode of The Mindy Project on Hulu. Cocktails with your girlfriends. A glass of wine before bed. A good workout. A good book. A good orgasm. A new pair of shoes. A hobby (even if you only get to it once in a while). The view out your back window. A plan for a vacation. The smell of the rain. Even in the worst of times, there is something in your life that brings you joy. Embrace it!

  1. MY KIDS AREN’T TOTAL ASS HOLES

 This is big. Parenting is hard. It is continuously hard, and from what people who have kids older than mine tell me, it really doesn’t ever get easy. If it isn’t physically challenging (e.g., lugging a screaming toddler through Target, lifting a roly poly baby up off the floor a hundred times a day, chasing your very active sons around the park), it is emotionally draining (e.g., your kid’s first experience with a nightmare, a bully, self-doubt, a break up).   Ask yourself this: despite all of the demands of parenting, are your kids pretty cool? Chances are the answer is yes. Look, all kids can be a pain in the ass sometimes. They have attitude. They throw tantrums. They talk back, leave their stuff all over the house, call their siblings names, and just generally get on your nerves. But if they aren’t juvenile delinquents, then you have pretty much exceeded any goal you could ever set for yourself. Nothing is more profound than producing and raising good kids. They don’t have to be perfect, but if they are not total ass holes, you have done the seemingly impossible task of being a good parent.

So there you have it. Five reasons we should all stop resolving to do something different, or be someone different, and pat ourselves on the back for being us. How about making 2015 the year we keep doing all the great stuff we are doing!  And if all else fails, a cocktail and a good book couldn’t hurt.

 

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The Writer’s Blog Tour – Amazing Women Authors

I was invited to participate in a writer’s blog tour by the lovely and talented writer, Rebecca Pillsbury!  She has a new memoir out now called Finding Ecstasy, which I will be featuring here very soon.  You can read all about the book on her webpage here, and her blog tour interview answers here. Thank you for nominating me to participate, Rebecca! I am honored, and so glad we connected.

Rebecca Pillsbury, author of Finding Ecstasy.

Rebecca Pillsbury, author of Finding Ecstasy.

My Writer’s Blog Tour Interview (Jess Kapp)

What am I currently working on?

I am currently focused on putting the finishing edits on my memoir, The Making of a Mountain Woman, which will be out in 2015.  I also spend a lot of time writing pieces for this blog, and have started a collection of short stories, one of which recently won a writing award and can be downloaded on this site.  All three projects are quite different – the memoir is obviously non-fiction and strongly focused on adventure, pushing out of your comfort zone, and finding out who you really are.  The blog posts are often in this same vein, but also address issues of motherhood, women in science, and womanhood in general. The short stories are completely different, in that they are fiction, and center on issues related to women in mid-life and all of the complicated things related to such an interesting and often tumultuous time.

How does my work differ from others in my genre?

There are a lot of memoirs out there right now.  I love memoirs!   Many of them revolve around a problem, past or present, and how the author was affected by, and ultimately dealt with, the problem.  My story came out of a completely serendipitous opportunity to immerse myself in an adventure beyond my comfort zone.  It is a reflection of how that experience utterly changed me as a person.  It is also different in that I wrote the book more than a decade after these life changing experiences, and was able to reflect on my journey with older, wiser, more appreciative eyes.  I recognized what a poignant journey that was for me, and give reverence to how much I actually accomplished.  As a woman with a PhD in a male dominated science field, I bring a different perspective on what it is to be a strong, independent woman, and hopefully can inspire young women who are interested in stepping out of their comfort zone, in science or adventuring or anything else, to go for it!

 Why do I write what I do?

I love how Rebecca said it feels like she doesn’t have a choice in what she writes – I completely agree!  The memoir was just waiting to be written. I journaled every day in Tibet, and those memories just sat in a drawer next to my bed for years.  When I would tell these stories, show photos, share reflections with people, they would inevitably tell me the stories needed to be out there.  I just never felt like I was ready until I had time to really internalize what those adventures meant to me, beyond just fun, outrageous, dangerous, embarrassing adventures that made for good storytelling.  In terms of the fiction and the blog, I write about what I know, what I feel, and what I care about.  I write about things that set up shop in my brain and filter into the deepest crevices of my consciousness – things that I am thinking deeply about.  I am compelled to write about these things, they just haunt me and have to come out.

How does my writing process work?

My short stories are usually inspired by a single line, an observation, or an event, that just strikes me as beautiful or important.  For instance, the beginning of Watermelon actually happened to me – being in a grocery store and having an older woman tell me I have great legs. That was so strange and gorgeous I just had to write about it, and all of the fictitious stuff in the story just grew from that one experience.  There are other nuggets of truth in the story, like the incident with the gladiolas, and they tied well together.  Those were both, “You can’t make this shit up,” moments that had to be memorialized.  We all have these little “slice of life” events happen to us, but for me, when they happen there is almost a heartbreaking beauty to them that makes them take hold inside me and beg to be written about.  Once I have an opening line for a story, honestly I just write what comes to me.  I imagine I am reading the story and picture where the story would go next.  Once I have a draft, I go back through it many times and rework it, until it feels right.  I probably read the stories more than I write them!  With the memoir, I followed the chronology of the mini adventures and tried to tie together all of the stories with the thread of my personal journey.  The blog is inspired by things I see and hear every day, and things I imagine other women are dealing with.  I want my work to be relatable, and I hope women will read my stuff and laugh, thinking yeah, I have been there!

Continuing the Tour

I nominate my dear high school friend, fellow blogger and adventurous woman Kim Brown, as well as author and afterlife expert, Roberta Grimes, to continue the tour.  These two women are very different, but both are fascinating women with amazing stories to tell.  Be sure to check out Kim and Roberta’s websites by clicking on their names!

Kim Brown 

Kim Brown, adventurous woman and blogger!

Kim Brown, adventurous woman and blogger!

Kim Brown was born in Rochester, NY, growing up on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence seaway.   Though Kim enjoyed boating from a young age she preferred the speed and excitement of a motorboat to sailing.  Then she met a boy who liked to sail, and the rest is history!  In 2011 Kim and her sailor husband Simon bought a sailboat, Selene, and started honing their sailing skills along the south coast of England, in one of the busiest waterways in the world, the Solent!  Kim’s latest adventure involved selling up and heading out on their new 56′ Oyster, Britican, to sail the world with their three year old daughter, Sienna.  Kim is a true adventurer, and keeps a regular blog on her website SailingBritican.com.

Roberta Grimes

Roberta Grimes, author and afterlife expert.

Roberta Grimes, author and afterlife expert.

Roberta Grimes is an incredibly diverse and fascinating author, as seen by her varied portfolio of published books.  After spending decades studying nearly 200 years of afterlife evidence, Roberta published two non-fiction books; The Fun of Dying: Find Out What Really Happens Next, and The Fun of Staying in Touch.  She has also written two mainstream fiction novels; My Thomas: A Novel of Martha Jefferson’s Life, and her latest, Rich and Famous.  The first is deeply rooted in American history while the second explores the complicated life of a young businesswoman in the 1980’s.  She has also published three books in her Letters From Love series.  Roberta is a business attorney, wife, mother, and grandmother, and in July of this year co-chaired a conference on the afterlife in Scottsdale, AZ, about which she was interviewed on local TV.

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Midlife Crisis #LikeAGirl – Writing, Running, Rocking, and Red Wine.

Since about my 39th birthday I have been in the throes of a mid-life crisis. I don’t think it’s commonplace for people to think of women as candidates for mid-life crises. Mid-life crisis is a term that has a negative aura around it for the sad cliché it evokes of a man in a convertible sports car with a new earring and a hot younger woman in the passenger seat. But I think women are just as likely, and more entitled, to experience mid-life insanity. Why? Because, in my opinion, it is more acceptable for men to take off, explore, work late, adventure, and separate from the family for extended periods of time throughout their lives than it is for women. Yes, some women do this. But for most of us mothers/wives/career women, we are the primary nurturers, career or not. Moms are expected to be around. Wives are expected to be around. And many of us moms choose to be around, forsaking the freedom of an adventurous life.  Is it any wonder we might get antsy?

After years of being around, caring for the kids, caring for the husband, working hard at gaining career recognition, and generally being a nurturer, there came a moment in time when every fiber of my being screamed, “What the fuck am I doing with my life?” I was shaken. Even though I had a great job. Even though I had great kids. Even though I had a great husband, and a nice house, and lived in a warm, sunny place, I felt as if my life was mediocre and stagnant. I cannot explain why, I just did. For the first time in my life I felt entitled to pursue stuff just for me. Just. For. Me. The most momentous decision that resulted from this inner earthquake was the decision to write, for real. To get back to a core passion that had quietly lived inside me, like a hermit, for years, never daring to emerge lest it rock the boat. I had wanted to be a writer from a young age, and entered college with aspirations of being a reporter, while fostering my creative writing on the side. Writing is a compulsion. It is entwined with my cells. But I have always ignored it, believing that my path was clearly laid before me and all I needed to do was follow it to ensure success. But at 39, acutely aware of the “something’s missing” feeling taking hold of my guts, I decided it was time to revisit that old compulsion and give it the time and reverence it deserved. It was time to dust off the old writing skills, dig deep, and produce some shit I was proud of.

My first project was the memoir of my life changing trips to Tibet, and my transformation from sheltered suburban girl to full on mountain woman. I kept a journal every day when I was in Tibet, and a couple of years ago I re-read it with fresh, middle-aged eyes. I was astounded at how more than a decade of removal from those experiences gave me new perspective on what Tibet had meant to me as a woman and a person. I threw myself wholeheartedly into the writing of that book and am extremely proud of what I ended up with (p.s. – it’s coming out next year!).

My first trip to Tibet, 1999, getting to know a local. He wanted my sunglasses.  I obliged.

My first trip to Tibet, 1999, getting to know a local. I wanted a picture and he wanted my sunglasses. I obliged.

But perhaps the most surprising thing I discovered was my desire to write short stories. Fictional short stories seem to have taken root somewhere in my brain, and have been sprouting buds that need the light of day. I have always loved short stories. Now, at forty, I find that writing these stories allows me to explore the feelings, frustrations and frightening doubts that pop up in a woman’s mind in middle age. I don’t think many women talk about these feelings, because that would mean admitting that everything ain’t always peachy, even if you have a great job, a great man, and great kids. It is NOT CRAZY to have doubts about where your life is going, and if the path ahead is the one you want to travel forever and ever. It is not indulgent to pursue something solely for the purpose of feeling good about yourself, having fun, or just getting the hell out of your normal routine. Men do this shit all the time. Women need to. I am not ashamed to say hell yes I am having a mid-life crisis. It’s scary when you realize you are half way finished with your life and might want to do more, see more, BE more than you already are. I mean, shit, what the hell do you DO with that information!

Here’s what I am doing with that information. I am writing about it. I am writing about women in mid-life and all of the beautiful, complicated shit that entails. It doesn’t make me a bad person to explore these notions. It doesn’t mean I am unhappy, or unfaithful, or unstable. It means I am human. One of my stories will be published in a local magazine this year – it makes me giddy, and scared, and shy, and proud, all at the same time. It’s going to be out there for anyone to see. Well, shit. And, wow!

In addition to writing my heart out, I am also running, rocking out on guitar, and drinking a lot of red wine. That’s rocking a midlife crisis #LikeAGirl. Here’s to another forty years of living the hell out of this life. No convertible sports car necessary.  Cheers!

Lovin' on the guitar.

Lovin’ on the guitar.

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Guitar Goddesses Rock #LikeAGirl

I am in the midst of a journey beyond my comfort zone that has been ongoing for almost two years now. It doesn’t involve living in a tent. It doesn’t involve travel. It doesn’t involve high altitude, or peeing outdoors in the blowing wind, or eating scary food. But it does involve jumping into something difficult, something I always wanted to do, something physically and mentally taxing, and working my ass off with often minimally stunning results. I am talking about learning how to play the guitar. Holy crap, it’s hard. I grew up with a musician father, and have a good ear for music. I played clarinet through middle and high school, reading music was a breeze, and taught myself how to play piano for a while when I was in high school. I can hear what notes should come next, and can pick out when notes are off or out of place. But the execution of playing guitar is difficult for me. The instrument itself is a tough bitch to tame.

When I was a kid my father tried numerous times to teach me to play guitar. It was his passion, and he was a great teacher and a great player. But I was not ready to commit to the difficult task of practicing this instrument that made my fingers sore, and more often than not sounded muted and cranky because I could not finger the chords properly, or strongly enough. It was less than satisfying and I blew it off. It is my single biggest regret in life, and here I am at 40 years old starting over and trying to learn how to master this complex instrument. It is true what they say – it is easier to learn anything when you are young, and learning guitar is no exception. I have somehow managed to get to the point where I can play songs and even squeak out some solo notes over background chords if the song isn’t too fast or complicated. But being the competitive, type A, overachiever that I am, I constantly feel as if I am not good enough, maybe even a complete lost cause and should throw in the towel before I have to face the grim reality that I suck. But I push on, because, hell, this is just my kind of situation. Uncomfortable? Yup. Difficult? Absolutely. Utterly euphoric when I feel the slightest bit of success? Oh yeah. So my fingers are often sore, and my once smooth fingertips are rough and callused, sometimes to the point of peeling off, but on I go.

I have this very vivid fantasy in my brain of being on a stage in a crazy outfit, black eye liner, black boots, rocking out on my guitar while a band of sweaty guys backs me up and the crowd goes wild. It is utterly nonsensical, I know, and not something that will ever happen, but I love to think about what it must feel like to be able to rock out like a banshee. If I ever attempted this I wonder what my colleagues in the science world would think.  This gets me thinking again about what is considered normal for women, and just like my previous post about the Scientific 100 (100 most groundbreaking scientists of all time), any lists of the best guitarists of all time are extremely lacking in female representation. As in science, males dominate the world of guitar playing. At least, the world of being famous and making your living as a guitarist is dominated by males. Again, I don’t say this to hate on the men because, believe me, I have a deep and some might say unhealthy love and respect for guitar playing men. I am completely in awe of anyone who can play a mean guitar. If I could sell my soul to the devil and be granted the gift of guitar goddess status, I would do it in a heartbeat. Yes, I would do it. I am serious. I suppose I could just practice more and be satisfied with being able to play a few tunes and the enjoyment that brings. Yeah, that sounds more reasonable.

But in the spirit of #LikeAGirl, and all of the things women do that some would say are against type, not normal, and beyond their comfort zone, I would like to generate my own list of guitar goddesses and worship them through my words, all the while wishing I could do just a small iota of what they do with a guitar. I might forget some that you think are worthy of a shout out and if I do, please comment below and share with me your favorite female guitarists and why you love them! I have my black eyeliner and thigh high boots on (figuratively speaking), and I am ready to rock!

Nancy Wilson is at the top of my list for so many reasons. Not everyone knows that she composed much of the music for Heart, and played some of the leads as well as kick ass rhythm guitar. She can sing too. I love how on the Heart album covers she often looked like such an innocent, angelic lady, but put a guitar in her hands and she was a tiger. The juxtaposition of ladylike and badass is perfection. That beginning part of Crazy on You…that’s all her. Check it out:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-RY8bd3lLc

Now let’s talk about Joan. Joan Jett started out in a band called the Runaways when she was just a kid. Guess who else was in the band? Lita Ford. Two rocking women who both went on to commercial success. But Joan is the epitome of I Don’t Give A Fuck. She is a woman who seems completely comfortable in her skin, and completely unapologetic about being tough and crass. She wears he guitar slung low like a heavy metal rocker dude. Her uniform is skintight black leather. Everyone knows her for I Love Rock n Roll, but what about I Hate Myself For Loving You, and Do Ya Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah). Why shouldn’t a woman flat out ask for it?   You go, Joan.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gszk_As7FYo

How many of you know about Orianthi Panagaris? Michael Jackson chose her to tour with him on his last tour (unfortunately, she never got the chance). He picked her because she could slam the solo from Beat It. She is absolutely unbelievable. Watch her tear it up here on Voodoo Child. Oh. My. God. She is just as good, if not better, than most of the male masters out there but I bet you have never heard of her. Well, now you have.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mK6tcgsKgps

Blues, baby. If you can finesse the blues you are a goddess, in my book. Which brings us to Miss Bonnie Raitt, master of the blues, with her soulful, raspy voice and guitar skills, including playing a mean slide. Love Me Like A Man is another unapologetic anthem for all women who believe that we are just as entitled as men to ask for what we want, and get it. Never settle, ladies. Never Settle. Watch her here, backed up only by a bass. That’s all her, carrying that whole song. Guitar. Goddess.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7pxUEBqaLfM

And some more recent additions to this world of wild women, showing us all that man handling a guitar and belting out mad lead vocals is indeed behaving #LikeAGirl. The first is Grace Potter, leader of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. This woman is hot, she can sing, and she plays guitar. She struts around on stage in micro mini dresses and heels while playing a Flying V guitar, and she rocks the house. Grace with gusto!

http://vimeo.com/15812563

And finally, Lzzy Hale of Halestorm. Oh my. I will admit, I had to be schooled on her by my male guitar teacher-I had no idea who she was. I have been missing out. This woman is not messing around. She can play. She can sing. And in the tradition of Joan Jett and Lita Ford, she isn’t afraid to wear torn leather short shorts, sling her guitar low, and sing about drinking and fucking around. “If you’re a freak like me, wave your flag,” she sings. What a message. “If you’re a freak like me, don’t apologize. They can’t hold you down, you were born to rise.” Women, ya hear that?  They can’t hold you down, no matter what you want to do. Guys, you don’t get to monopolize the market of hard rocking, unapologetic hedonism in the world of rock and roll. Get outta Lzzy’s way – she’s got the goods.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4sXoA7B5yJo

More guitar women that deserve a shout out: Melissa Etheridge, Sheryl Crow, Joni Mitchell, Dolly Parton, Charro (yes, she can play like nobody’s business), Ani DiFranco, Chrissie Hynde, Tracy Chapman. All these ladies are unbelievably talented and can old their own on any stage, as the headliner, all alone, no male guitar players needed. I wanted to spend time with them tonight, not just because I idolize and worship their skills and talent, but because they are such a gorgeous example of women pushing the boundaries of what society deems normal female behavior and saying, screw it, this is who I am, and I am going to rock the shit out of it. They weren’t afraid to pursue their passion in a male dominated world.

And you know what? They don’t just survive in the male dominated world of rock and roll. They steal the show. Yeah…oh yeah….oh yeah.

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It’s Raining Men (Good Men) – Hallelujah!

I am a Harry Potter fan, and I have always loved the plucky protagonist Hermione Granger. (I know, Harry was the main character, but Hermione was still the leading lady of the story). This week I became an even bigger fan of the woman behind Hermione, Emma Watson, a lovely and talented young woman who went a bit outside of her comfort zone to address the United Nations about feminism. Watson made a statement in her speech that feminism has become tied to the notion of man bashing. She spoke of the unpopularity of the word feminism. She was making the point that feminism has become a bad word in our society, one that conjures thoughts of angry, hostile, bitchy women ranting uncontrollably about the horrible lives women are forced to lead at the hands of controlling men. She wants us to disassociate feminism with “man-hating,” and I couldn’t agree more. I wrote in my debut blog post that while I consider myself a strong supporter of all things woman-centric, I am not a man hater. I AM a hater of when men try to force their views on women, and thereby try to force their control over women’s bodies, wages, and freedoms. But in my experience, it is only a small portion of the male population who truly believe they know better than women, and push to keep control over us dim witted, scary creatures with body parts they don’t understand. These men are complete douche bags, no doubt, but it is not because they are men. It is because they think that by being men they are more qualified to make decisions about, well, everything. My body. My method of birth control. My sex life. My career options. My salary. My health care coverage. My medical maintenance. My education. My clothing choices. My voice. My hairstyle. My right not to be raped. These are the same men who then threatened Emma Watson with retribution because she spoke her mind, her smart mind, in support of women. They threatened to hack naked pictures of her and release them to the public. Seriously. This is their response. My God – it is exasperating!

And so the association of feminism and man-bashing has been perpetuated by some, and these two ideas might seem intimately and unbreakably bonded, since most of the people fighting against equality for women are men. Idiotic men, no less, who think the best way to deal with an intelligent woman sharing her very valid opinions about women is to expose her naked body to public scrutiny. But I assert that there are a plethora of amazing men out there fighting for women, and they are the men we should pay attention to. Not these dingbats who go straight to objectifying women. For every ignorant man who tries to assert his dominance over the domain of women, there are many men who fight for equality for their daughters, wives, sisters, mothers, and friends. Men who support the dreams and ambitions of their daughters and wives no matter what they are. Men who are advocates for their ailing mothers, when they have few options for quality health care. Men who help their daughters grow up secure in the knowledge that they are strong, they are powerful, they are smart, and they are in control of their own lives. It is these men we should give airtime to in the media. It is these men who reaffirm my love of men.

I warned you in my first blog post that I would wax poetic about the fabulous men in my life. Well…ready or not, here it comes!

Men. I love men. I have always been a bit boy crazy. I was a daddy’s girl as a child, and just adored my dad. He was everything a dad should be, and everything a man should be, in my humble opinion. He was not a particularly good student, and he grew up antagonized by the local kids because he was Italian. But he was plucky! He was smart. He taught himself how to play guitar from the age of thirteen, and then he became a rock star, making his living playing music. This only lasted until he was about 27, when his kidney (the one functioning kidney he was born with), failed and he had to go on dialysis, which in the sixties was nothing like it is today. He had to go every other day and sit hooked up to the dialysis machine for six hours at a time. He was exhausted. But still, he provided for his family. Eventually he got a transplant, one of the first in Rochester in the late sixties, and several years later I was born. He worked as a jingle writer for an ad agency, worked as a talent agent, and eventually opened his first business, The Outrageous Inn, Rochester NY’s first comedy club. I got to spend many afternoons (and sometimes evenings) hanging out at the club with my dad. It was radical. On Wednesday nights The Ugly Boogie Band played blues, and my dad would join in. My parents were divorced by then, and Wednesday nights were my nights with my dad. He let me stay at the club and watch him jam with the band. It was bliss. I was thirteen, and I was in heaven.

Beyond the cool factor of having a dad who 1) had been a professional guitar player in a band that actually had records out, 2) ran a comedy/blues club and let me hang out there, and 3) took me fishing on our Sunday afternoons together and taught me how to bait my own hook from a very young age, my father was, above all else, a kind, gentle, and generous man. He never raised his voice. He never struck out at me or my mom, or anyone else. He was a nurturer, a provider, and a giver, and strong and determined to provide for his family. He never, ever discouraged me from trying something I wanted to try. He encouraged me to be myself no matter what the consequences, and to always believe in my ability to succeed. He told me I was smart and could be anything I wanted to be. Every dance recital, band performance, or play I was in, he was there with roses, telling me I was fantastic, even though I think he secretly was hoping I wouldn’t follow in his footsteps and try to make a living in the business of show. When I was 19 I sat at his bedside in the hospital while he died, and reflected on his recent plea to me that I should go to school. He always said, “Everything else can wait. Get an education. Nobody can take that away from you.” I truly believe my choice to pursue a PhD was heavily influenced by that plea, from a man I loved, respected, and trusted. He didn’t order me to go to school. He didn’t tell me I would be stupid if I did not go to school. He simply shared with me his regret that he did not go to college, and told me he didn’t want to see me pass up the opportunity to get a degree. It was sage advice and I am glad I took it!

In addition to my dad, his father, my papa Joe, was the same kind of gentle and kind soul. He had been an athlete who went to Ithaca College on a baseball scholarship. He was in the military. He was a physical education teacher. By all accounts, he was a tough guy. Yeah, he was tough. But that didn’t matter. He was soft spoken and wise. He was an avid reader. He spoke to me as an equal. He would tell me stories for hours, never too busy to engage me in a conversation about any topic I was interested in. He taught me how to swing a golf club. He let me drive his big old station wagon around the parking lot of their apartment complex when I was just a girl and curious about driving. When I was a baby he visited my mom and I every day. It didn’t matter to him that I was a girl. So I didn’t think it mattered that I was a girl. Neither of these men, my dad or my papa, ever made me feel as if being a girl was anything less than kick ass. They were amazing. They shaped my expectations of what a good man is.

Enter my husband in the spring of 1998.   We start dating in graduate school at UCLA and immediately I realize that he is very similar to my dad and my papa – he is gentle, and kind, and never obnoxiously macho. He is smart. He is a hard worker. He is supportive of me. Sixteen years later he is still all of these things, and has also become my biggest fan in this little writing endeavor of mine. I have no doubt he will impart all of this fabulousness, these true characteristics of a real man, onto our sons, and they will be kind, gentle, supportive men because of it.

I also have no doubt my father, my papa, and my husband would have kicked the shit out of anyone threatening me if that situation had ever presented itself. But I never really learned that men should be considered tough, violent, or controlling because I did not witness that. I grew up secure in the knowledge that real men support women. Real men are kind. Real men believe that women are just as capable as they are, just as smart as they are, and can do unbelievable things if given the chance. Real men don’t threaten women who speak their minds. Real men are good men. Real men are feminists. Yup. Real. Men. Are. Feminists. BOOM!

Feminism is not a bad word. It is not a dirty word. It is not a word that implies man hating. Feminism is all about equality for women. And any man worth his salt supports equality for women. Men, if you have daughters, don’t you want to promote equality for them?  Show them what real men are like so they settle for nothing less.

Look around, ladies. Pay attention to the good men in your lives. It’s raining men, GOOD men, and I say – HALLELUJAH!

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The Goldilocks Syndrome Dichotomy

The Big Bang Theory (the sitcom, not the theory about the birth of the universe) premiered tonight.  The women on the show are an interesting mix that pretty much sum up our stereotypical views about women – Penny, the pretty ditz who isn’t too bright and wants to be an actress. Amy Farrah Fowler, the brilliant, frumpy, geeky scientists who can’t get a boy to kiss her. Then there’s Bernadette.  Thank goodness for Bernadette, the buxom blonde, super smart scientist who is both girly and opinionated. As far as role models go, that could be just right.  The Goldilocks female role model?

Look, it is a great time to be a woman. The zone of feminine domain has been utterly redefined over the last century. Once upon a time, the idea of womanhood was intimately tied to pursuits of the home. It was unusual for women to step out of that comfort zone and push the boundaries of the human experience. When a woman did show the audacity to journey beyond the usual womanly ways, she was an oddity of such magnificence that she became famous purely for the fact that she did something outside the female norm. Marie Curie. Amelia Earhart. Sally Ride. Joan Rivers. These women did things that other people (men) were doing at the time. Don’t get me wrong, these chicks rocked! But it is interesting to consider that doing something men already do, when you have a vagina, somehow makes it spectacular. It still happens today. We hear about the first women to do all sorts of things that men have been doing forever, and somehow we are compelled to gasp and comment and discuss. Humans are still fascinated when a woman dares to do something outside the confines of our comfortable view of what women do.

Now I ask you this: Why don’t we gasp, and comment, and discuss the fact that women are STILL being judged on their exterior attributes more than their intellect and abilities? The double standard for women is alive and well. I have seen it and heard about it from more women than seems reasonable in a modern society where women can vote, and hold political office, and run their own businesses, and anything else they damn well please. The idea that you should be pretty but not too pretty, sweet but not too sweet, tough but not too tough – Jesus Christ, the rules for how to succeed at ANYTHING when you are a woman are just downright confusing and often completely unreasonable. This Goldilocks standard for women is a real problem. Not too much of anything. Just the right amount of everything. Fuck that. I don’t care if you think I am too hard, too soft, too hot, too cold, or just goddamn right. I am who I am. Deal with it.

When I started as a lecturer at the University of Arizona I was pretty young (31 to be exact). I have always looked young for my age, and a couple of my male colleagues told me that I should dress up when I was teaching, to make sure the students took me seriously. I had already planned on doing this, since I enjoy dressing up, I like being girly, I like heels, and wearing dresses, etc. But out of curiosity I asked a few of my male counterparts if they had ever worried about dressing professionally when teaching. I asked my husband, who is slightly younger than me, if he was given the same advice when he started teaching at UA a couple of years before. Not one of the males I asked had ever been told to consider dressing professionally for teaching. Not one. I don’t know if any of you have ever taken a geology course, but chances are your instructor (probably a white male) was wearing shorts, sandals, hiking boots, jeans, a fleece vest, a baseball hat, or something in that vein of attire. Even the female faculty in geology (and many other science) departments tend to be less frilly and more no nonsense in their attire. My male colleagues teach in all manner of dress, from dress pants and button downs (my husband), to jeans, Hawaiian shirts, and Teva sandals. They are always taken seriously. Furthermore, if they are strict as instructors they are considered tough, smart, serious, and rigorous. However, if I am strict in my class I am considered a bitch. That’s it. Not smart. Not rigorous. Not, “Wow, she is amazing, she has really high standards and I want to exceed them because she might know a thing or two.” Just a bitch. It has happened to me so I know of what I speak. I have fist hand knowledge of this phenomenon. A male colleague of mine from the astronomy department told me about this double standard a few years into my UA appointment. He is strict, and a hard ass, and pretentious as hell, and the majority of his students love him for it. But he warned me that if I chose to try running my classroom as he did I would be asking for a bitch designation. I experimented in my classroom, and tried some of his techniques after watching the well-oiled machine that was his classroom. It worked so well for him in part because there was a healthy dose of fear amongst his students. Fear that they would be kicked out of class. Fear that they would feel stupid. So I tried some of his techniques in the hopes of running a similarly well-oiled machine. And they failed. Miserably. My teaching evaluations suffered that semester, and I had students write negative comments about me for the first time in all of my years of teaching. Negative comments about me, not just about the class. Me, a.k.a., The bitch. I postulate that as a woman, students expect me to be a kind and nurturing mother hen in the classroom, but they expect their male professors tough and strong. Gender stereotypes, anyone?

Now on to something somewhat related that is just too damn good not to draw your attention to. The video below is John Oliver raging about pageant competitions, in particular, the Miss America pageant. Perpetuation of gender stereotypes, anyone? Ladies, listen up…we CANNOT expect this double standard on women to ever change, we CANNOT ever expect women to be taken just as seriously as men in the workplace (or anywhere), if we continue to put ourselves into positions in which we are judged on our looks alone. Yes, we put ourselves in this situation. We choose to allow someone to spray-glue a bikini bottom onto our butts and traipse it around in front of a bunch of people who judge us worthy or unworthy of a title, a crown, and maybe a scholarship. It is so damn dangerous to the forward progress of women’s equality. I have already said on many occasions that I like dressing up pretty and doing my nails and wearing heels, so it is not at all about that. I even enjoy a nice compliment every now and then about my clothes or shoes or how I look. Who doesn’t? There’s nothing wrong with that. It is not about being less womanly. Or being less girly. Or downplaying your looks. Hell, I am all about loving yourself and dressing it up nice! It is about strutting around in a bathing suit and pretending that is what makes you worthy of positive judgment.  It is about being ogled because of your body, and then told you are valued for your mind, or your talents, and buying into that shit. Let’s be real – it is all about what you look like in these pageants. They are called beauty pageants for a reason.

http://www.upworthy.com/john-oliver-expected-to-catch-miss-america-in-a-lie-but-what-he-found-was-kinda-worse?g=2&c=ufb1

Watching a woman stand on stage and proclaim to the millions of viewers of the Miss America pageant that they offer $45 million in scholarship money annually, when in actuality they pay out less than half a million, is disgusting. She should be ashamed of herself. She is perpetuating this culture of downplaying the value of women as a force in society. A force not because they can turn heads with their boobs, but because they have thoughts in their pretty little heads that are quite possibly meaningful. I know. Shocking.

I put the onus on women to expose this crap for what it is. Don’t tell me for one second that the women on that stage are there for any other reason than to be crowned most beautiful, gorgeous, hot princess of ‘Merica and walk around waving at their admirers and wearing a sparkly tiara. I don’t buy it. Please forgive me if you are reading this and happen to be a strong, smart woman who chose to participate in a beauty pageant simply for the academic opportunities. If you truly subjected yourself to a beauty pageant simply to gain access to an academic opportunity and nothing else, who are you and what is your story? But I am skeptical that it could be so. Mainly because we still live in a world where women are primarily judged by their looks before all else, and even women value this type of judgment. Really? It has nothing to do with the title? It has nothing to do with feeling oh so pretty? It does. Period. Women are judged on their pretty packaging, and men are judged on their brains and/or balls. (Not what their balls look like, but the size of their cojones) The first impression of a woman is intimately tied to her looks whether we like it or not.  What if Amy Farrah Fowler was doing yoga in tight pants in her apartment one episode while Penny sat in a frumpy, dumpy brown skirt reading scientific articles, wearing no make up, and donning huge glasses?  What if that was how they introduced these characters?  Would we still watch the show?

And here’s the kicker. As a woman you cannot really win, especially as a woman in science. If you are too pretty, people might judge you as ditzy or not serious. But if we want to encourage young girls to go into STEM fields, one of the ways we can do it is to show them that real, girly women can also be smart scientists. The Pennies of the world can be scientists, not just the Amy Farrah Fowlers.  This is one of the barriers we face today to getting more girls in science – not enough female role models who look like the girly girls these young girls want to be. Wait…but if I dress too pretty I am a ditz and won’t be taken seriously. But, as Donald Trump says to the reporter in the video, “You wouldn’t have your job if you weren’t beautiful.” What. The. Fuck.

If you are trying to make your way in the difficult world of science, being too pretty can be a disadvantage. But being yourself, whatever that means to you, is so much more important than bending into the perceived picture of a scientist, or doctor, or professional hockey player, or anything else.  Picture this: We, as women, who want to model a positive sense of womanhood to our daughters, stop telling our daughters that the ultimate score in life is to be a princess. We, as women, stop putting ourselves on display for judgment purely defined by our looks while trying to justify it by saying it is for scholarship opportunities.   We, as women, are ourselves in any situation, whether that is tough, emotional, girly, outdoorsy, intellectual, bubbly, serious, or anything else we truly are, and expect that we will be taken seriously because of our merits and abilities. We, as women, EXPECT this. Imagine if we all did.

Imagine. How pretty would that be? I think it would be pretty damn beautiful.

 

 

 

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Funny is Fierce!

I LOVE comedy. I love all things funny. When I was young I used to practice jokes on the stage in my father’s comedy club in the middle of the day, when nobody was there. I remember writing my own joke that had something to do with Olivia Newton-John having to wear giant earrings to keep her from floating off the ground (it was a horrible joke). At the time, “Let’s Get Physical” was in heavy rotation on the radio, and I was infatuated with Olivia’s satiny leggings and braided headband. I have always found humor in the silly, the absurd, and the disgusting. This is a good thing, as I live with my two young sons, and there is never a shortage of bodily functions or jokes about such functions going around my house. But it has always felt a bit uncomfortable to me to let loose and laugh at things that are usually thought of as immature or gross. I distinctly remember in high school having a friend who was extremely outgoing and unafraid to pass gas in front of her friends, male or female. I couldn’t understand this. The idea of passing gas in front of a guy was terrifying to me, as if a girl was not supposed to do such a thing. In contrast, my male friends had no such qualms about allowing their bodily functions free reign. This disequilibrium, along with a few things that have crossed my path via social media in the past week, got me thinking about the role of women in comedy, and the differences in perception of what is funny depending on who, male or female, delivers the punch line or performs the act.

Let’s take the late, great Joan Rivers as an example. Her passing last Thursday prompted me to do a little research about her history as an entertainer and what I found was astonishing. Most people of my generation think of plastic surgery, her raspy voice, and rude comments about people’s fashion choices when they hear her name. But Joan was so much more than that. She started her entertainment career at a time when women were largely thought of as homemakers. Quiet, obedient, and well dressed were characteristics that dominated the accepted view of women in the late 1950s. But Joan, as gorgeous as she was, broke beyond that mold, and was completely unafraid to say what she meant, uncensored and no holds barred.   She was one of the first women to push comedy in that way. She was the only woman who could steal thunder from a cigarette smoking Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show. No matter your feelings about her put-downs, her plastic surgery, and her loud voice, she was a pioneer in building a new vision of what women could be.

Now, can we talk about Mindy Kaling for a minute? Here is a woman who was awkward and boyish as a child, does not fit the image of the typical American TV star, and yet, is the star of the only sitcom on TV right now worth watching in my opinion. The entire cast is stellar, including the men (who knew Chris Messina was so damn funny?), but Mindy is an absolute gem. She puts herself out there and is completely honest about who she is. Her bright clothes, her love of romantic comedies, her curves, her hatred of exercise and love of pancakes…even though this describes her character on the show, if you have read her book you know that a lot of what we see each week is reflective of her own insecurities. The image she has built of a smart as hell woman who is a successful doctor AND chooses to wear heels, girly dresses, and make up is one we need more of in entertainment. Her ability to be unapologetically pathetic is genius! She makes it seem a little bit more ok to stumble through life with our personal insecurities on full display, rather than tucked away at the bottom of our drawer full of sensible underwear. “Get out your sexy, red reading glasses,” urges the post from The Mindy Project’s Facebook page. Wear your insecurities like a neon sign. We all have them. We are all human. Sometimes we want to jam pancakes down our gullets instead of running 5 miles. And the best part is, the cranky but well-respected male doctor on the show, who seems to detest all of the things Mindy loves, falls for this less than perfect woman and can’t shake free of her spell. Hmmmmm.   Why might that be? Because funny is fierce! Honest is fierce.

And finally, Ms. Chelsea Handler, goddess of late night and deliverer of uncensored truths we all want to say but are afraid to. If ever a woman epitomized the opposite of what is considered traditional lady-like behavior, she takes the cake. She shares pictures of herself in the great outdoors doing her business (a woman after my own heart)! She pushes the boundaries of comedy, truth, and what most people would define as a reasonable comfort zone. She encourages people, especially women, to get out there and live life beyond the boring and normal (an idea I completely agree with). I believe she does what she does not simply to shock or appall people, but because she believes in what she says and doesn’t give a shit if you, or me, or anyone else likes it, agrees with it, or thinks it is out of control! It seems like often, when she speaks, she is simply reacting to something in a deeply honest way. It is so funny because you can bet most of us watching were thinking the exact same thing, but when we said it in our heads it sounded really bitchy. And why are women in particular so afraid of being brutally honest, being funny, and maybe even a bit bitchy? As if being labeled “bitchy” is the worst thing in the world. When a male comic makes fun of someone it is observant and witty, but when a female comic takes a stab at someone she might be labeled bitchy or insecure. The same thing happens in education.  When a male professor is strict, he is thought of as serious and professional.  But when a female professor is strict she is labeled a bitch.  I have experienced this first hand.  Screw that. Chelsea breaks through the bull and gets to the point, and I, for one, think it is perfection.

These three women, in my view, are women who epitomize the idea of pushing beyond what was once considered acceptable, proper female behavior and rocking their true selves. And they are all funny as hell, a distinction that has not always been viewed as very ladylike in the past. For some reason, women being funny is not always associated with women being womanly or sexy, but funny men are perceived as full of sex appeal. Ask a woman what turns her on and she will often say a sense of humor. Someone that can make her laugh. Ask a guy what revs his engine and you are more likely to hear something related to physical attributes, or the desire to have a woman who will watch sports with him. Seriously? What about a woman who is unafraid to speak her mind, and might just say something hilarious in the process? I heard a man recently describe watching Sarah Silverman on an episode of Masters of Sex and having a hard time thinking of her as sexy because she is so funny. Are you kidding? That is exactly what makes her so sexy!

Thanks to women like Joan Rivers, Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Gilda Radner, and many others, today women are a force to be reckoned with in the comedy arena. Just look at the likes of Kristin Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Debra Messing, Kathy Griffin, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, and countless others. These women are smart, strong, beautiful, and funny as hell. I would argue that these women are much better role models for our daughters than Disney princesses or super models or pop music stars (no offense to super models or pop stars, many of whom are amazing women themselves). But I would much rather encourage young women to be opinionated, honest, and unafraid to show their flaws. The ladies of comedy lay it down, without hesitation, and put their insecurities on display for the rest of us to appreciate and relate to. I am thankful that I live in a time when women being funny has become an accepted and exalted part of the world we live in. Rock on with your bad selves, funny ladies!   Keep pushing the limits. There are women out here who thank you for your contributions, including making it ok for girls to curse, fart, and fall flat on our faces.