Saturday, October 30, 2010

'tis the season...(for blood and gore!)

Happy Hollow’s Eve!

Back in high school, I always looked forward to celebrating “Spirit Week” during the week of homecoming. Whether it be Gender Swap Day (which quickly got banned, I think it made my principal nervous at how enthusiastic the male population got about wearing women’s clothing for a day), Red Carpet Day (which is supposed to mean “dress like a celebrity” but was intentionally misinterpreted by a friend and I… yeah we wore big strips of red carpet to school), or Run-On Sentence Day (joking, you get the point), I always got super excited about it.

High school is over. And so is spirit week. And Halloween is the only thing left to provide me with a small remnant of that excitement—because I get to dress up. Thus, it’s probably one of my favorite holidays.

Halloween is never taken lightly to me; I usually have my costume options narrowed down by the end of May and have the whole ensemble ready to go by the beginning of September. Last year, I dressed as Peggy Bundy. The year before, I was Bristol Palin (yes, the pregnant version). I have also dressed as “your mother”. I hate wearing store bought costumes—being original is not only cheaper but it guarantees that you won’t run into seventy-five girls dressed as the EXACT same thing. (I once shelled out a whopping $80 on a speed-racer costume only to realize later at a costume party that three other girls were wearing the same outfit, NOT COOL!)

Bristol Palin

Your Mom

Peggy Bundy
This year, however, has been a very different year for me. Instead of spending my days thoughtfully calculating a creative and original apparatus to wear on the most fun day of the year, I have been diligently hammering away at my soon to be finished education, my part-time/full-time job leasing apartments, and petting my cats (at least two hours a day, it’s a tough job). Which leaves me here… on the day before Halloween… without a costume.  

So what do I do? Crack and go buy a store bought costume? No siree. I might be desperate, but I’m broke too. Plus, originality is a key to my hallowed success.

Despite the great diversity observed in the array of costumes I have sported in the past, I realized that I have never been anything scary. Not even relatively. So this year, I’m going for the gore. This evening, I will join the last minute Eve shoppers in the bare aisles of the once thriving Halloween store. I will purchase fake blood and black face paint. I wish my sister were here to help—she’s an expert in theatre makeup. She made herself look like a cat once, I’m sure she could turn me into the bloodiest dead person in Wilmington in a matter of minutes. But she so happens to be in Tennessee at the moment, so I’ll have to improvise.

My sister, Ali as a cat

So if you’re lucky enough to see me downtown this year, prepare to be SCARED. No, I’m not really dead… I’m just suffering from a case of Creative Costume Block (CCD).

(insert evil cackle)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dear Ice Cream Truck Driver

Dear Ice Cream Truck Driver,

I know you are stalking me. At the beginning, our casual encounters seemed to be mere coincidence, but I'm on to it now. The first time, you circled the pool at my apartment complex several times in the heat of the summer. Big deal! Right? It seemed fitting for you to pick a crowd of hot pool gatherers for your next target. Then, I started hearing you in the evenings inside of my apartment - coming from the parking lot. Your music painfully lingered way too long - after digging for cash and battling my inner voice warning me against, I decided that I had probably waited too long, you would be pulling away as I reached the bottom of my staircase. Ten minutes later, when I still heard the jingling tunes, I realized I was wrong. It was like you were waiting on me. I kept thinking of those chocolate Mickey Mouse bars with the hard chocolate ears filled with soft vanilla ice cream... I thought about the orange sherbert push-up pops with Fred Barney's face on it... The always delicious strawberry crunch bar.... No Monica! Stop it! You don't need ice cream, I have been trying to convince myself that ignoring you is the right thingto do. I have successfully (and sometimes barely) dodged your temptations for several months. But the final straw came the other day when I heard your truck while I was walking through campus headed to my afternoon class.

Listen, Ice Cream Truck Driver, this has got to stop. First of all - it's October! Aren't you supposed to stop after the kids go back to school? Second of all - I am trying to reorganize the way my mind thinks of nutrition. Vegetables and fruit now stand in place of hot pockets and the loveable Kit Kat bar in my new and improved food pyramid. I don't even eat white bread anymore; I'm officially a whole wheat kind of girl. BUT YOU TEMPTING ME WITH YOUR LUCIOUS SUGARY TREATS ON A DAY TO DAY BASIS IS REALLY STARTING TO ANNOY ME. You were cute at first, with your "Music Box/Lullaby" tunes parading around my life. But if I have to hear your music again, I might crack my will power, run out to your freezer on wheels, and buy two (no three!) of everything you sell, eating them one by one while you watch in disgust.

Can I step away for a moment and ponder this: WHO THOUGHT OF THAT MUSIC? Who was sitting around a seminar table, before the world was plagued with ice cream trucks, pitching the idea of nomadically selling ice cream, and proposed - "How 'bout we play a handbell rendition of Turkey in the Straw, just to pack the punch?". Evil people, these ice cream distributors are. Maybe we should blame them for the obesity in America... sorry, stepping off the soapbox.

But seriously, Ice Cream Truck Driver, stop sitting in my immediate vicinity with your siren(ish) seduction, begging me to add your ice cream to my already full belly. I stand firm on the choice to not be a consumer in your sea of frozen treats, so give up already...

The next time you are around, I will make sure to have absolutely no cash (not even nickels or dimes) within a close reach. I will then grab some raw vegetables and hummus and run out to finally face you, the perpetrator in my otherwise nutritious/healthy life. When you ask if I would like some ice cream, Ice Cream Truck Driver, I will pop a carrot in my mouth, smile and tell you a lie, "Sorry, I'm lactose intolerant." Maybe then you'll get the hint and find someone else's neighborhood to victimize.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Can I say just one more thing about Ani DiFranco?

Here I sit on this overcast rainy day, taking a break between studying and more studying. I find relaxation while working on a new scene for fiction while clinging on an all time favorite musician of mine, Ani DiFranco. Song by song, she is reminding me of her greatest hits I have loved via iTunes. You see, even though her sound is so comfortable to me, I am still blown away by her; so blown away that I am inspired now to talk about her. I thought that because all of this, I owe ol' Ani a post. Most people have no clue who she is, which is a statement that has become less and less true in the past ten years.

Note: Ani DiFranco, you will find out, is not for everyone. I have a somewhat mixed audience here and would like to preface this article with this small caution. This is not about how much we should all follow and support the often out-spoken and boldly stated opinions of her own regarding politics, ethics, and general human experiences. This is about her as an artist, not about her as a philosopher.

Hopefully that huge, somewhat overhyped pre-statement didn't deter you. Thanks for sticking around to see where I'm going with this.

Here she is! Now, the new mother of a baby girl, Ani DiFranco lives in one of my favorite cities (New Orleans, go Saints!) in an enchanted life that she would probably argue was built solely by herself. Probably one of the coolest things about Ani DiFranco is how early her craft of music came to her. With her first guitar given to her by her parents when she was in elementary school, Ani DiFranco was playing Beatles covers with guitar teacher Michael Melrum in local bars by age nine. Yeah, you heard that right, nine.

I step out for a moment to ask this question:
What would you DO if you were out at a bar really digging on this live music (the Beatles) to look up after a few beers and see your entertainment is brought to you by someone not enough old enough to sit in the passenger seat of a car?!

Pretty cool, if you ask me.

She didn't stop there, either. When she was fifteen years old, she began living on her own and writing her own music--she would graduate from a visual and performing arts high school just a year later.

She tried signing with a record label shortly after. After submitting a sample to Sony Records and hearing back that they would love to help her, but she needed to tone down some of the content of her music, she decided to start her own record label: Righteous Babe Records. Since the age of eighteen, Ani has had a hand in every step of the publication of her music: from writing and composing the actual songs to producing and distributing her albums.

I saw her this spring while I was visiting New Orleans for the annual Jazz and Heritage Festival. She played at a moderate to small venue, Tipitinas. The atmosphere of the show, despite several annoying crowd members who refused to let the little girl in front of them, was calm and comfortable--appropriate for a show in her own town. Despite all of the years and wonders created through her music, I found myself just as close to her during that show as I had been seven years earlier, standing in Thomas Wolfe Auditorium in downtown Asheville at age fifteen.

I'm having a hard time finding the videos I caught of her that night. This might be more of a favor to my audience than a disappointment: my off-tune voice is heard way more dominately than hers since I am the camera operator during this clip as well. Unfortunately for some, I've got a great ability to easily remember song lyrics, especially those that are close to me. What that means for the poor people in the audience who decided to sit next to me, is that they get to hear me belt out songs for the entire night. It's like a crappier version of karaoke, but it invigorates me.

Here she is:

Lately I've been glaring in the mirrors, picking myself apart.
You'd think at my age I'd have thought of something better to do,
than making security into a full-time job;
making security into an art.
And I fear my life will be over
and I will have never lifted a feather
always glaring in the mirrors--
mad I don't look better...

But then, here's this tiny baby
and they say she looks just like me.
And she is smiling at me
with that present/infant glee.
Yes and I would defend 'til the end of the Earth
her perfect right to be...

So I'm beginning to see some problems
with the ongoing work of my mind.
And I've got myself a new mantra:
it says, "Don't forget to have a good time."
Don't let the sellers of stuff
Power enough to rob you
of your grace;
Love is all over the place.
There's nothing wrong with your face.

-Ani DiFranco, 2008, Present/Infant
*Written after the birth of her first daughter, obviously.

Happy Monday - find some music that inspires you on this overcast half summer/half fall day! (At least speaking for down here on the coast.)

Friday, October 22, 2010

burn candles, not flesh.

So lately the media has made me feel like I resemble a ghost. With the complexion of a porcelain doll, I've been finding myself on a whole different color spectrum than most celebrities that frequent my magazines and television screens. I may or may not be pointing directly at Jersey Shore (see pic below) here - but does burnt orange flesh now define beauty? I decided to do a little investigating on the evolution of tanning in our society... and now, I bring it to you.

This article was greatly helped by articles written by researchers like Robert Mighall (link) and Ken Chisolm (link). 

In 1903, Dr. Auguste Rollier opened the world's first dedicated sun clinic high in the Swiss Alps. His treatment assumed that pure air and bright sunlight could cure disease, namely pulmonary tuberclosis (which was pretty prominent at that time).

From the years of Ancient Greece and Rome and onward through the 19th century, women traditionally went through extensive processes to ensure their skin remained pale. A sun tan symbolized the life of a lower class field laborer who spent her days toiling in its rays. Consequently, this meant that the paler one's skin, the higher class you belonged to. In antiquity, women used lead paints and chalk to whiten their faces (not a terribly healthy situation for your face). Arsenic was also a preferred skin whitener (again - we're talking about POISON on the FACE just to be a few shades PALER, I'm starting to feel better about my color). One article also notes that in Queen Elizabeth's time, women painted thin blue lines on their foreheads to give them a translucent look (still sounds stupid to me, but a little less damaging to your poor face). The point here is this: PEOPLE USED TO SPEND THEIR TIME TRYING TO MAKE THEMSELVES PALER!

Why does this sound so crazy and barbaric to us? Because our society has completely reversed poles on this topic. Now, women spend exessive amounts of time and money to bronze/fry their skin to be a few shades darker. (I guess we both have something in common - we're a society of skin damagers!)

What made the difference?

While legend gives Coco Chanel credit for starting the tanning craze overnight when she appeared with an accidental tan she contracted via yacht trip to Paris, most argue that the tanning craze was just a result of the times. Afterall, the mid-1920's removed the poor from fields and put them to work in sunless factories and mines. Lifestyles in general changed at that time as well - women were starting to make their way into the great outdoors to enjoy newly popular recreational activities like tennis and hiking. Fashion was also an enabler--as women began to wear shoes without stockings, leg-bearing swimsuits, and purchase dark powders to cover any spots the sun had missed! The sun tan had a new image. It symbolized wealth and leisure. A tan on a woman in the winter months meant that she was priviledged enough to afford an exotic vacation filled with lucious warm weather.

The awareness of the harmful effects that this new craze had on these "fashion victims" was more than likely absent. It really wasn't until the late 1970's that the FDA even began to recognize the significance of suncreens and develop the first rating system for SPF. At the same time, the art and practice of indoor tanning was really making a big debut! (They say we have between 20,000 - and 24,000 indoor tanning salons listed in the American Yellow Pages). It actually wasn't until the mid-1980's when the American Academy of Dermatology became the first medical society to denounce the sun when they started a public education skin cancer campaign warning about the risks of sun exposure.

Unlike older generations, we cannot blame our perpetual tanning as a flaw of ignorance but instead we must admit that it is an pure obsession with ones' own vanity. Sure, tanning make give you a slimmer, exotic, or otherwise more attractive appearance NOW. But there are definite risks associated that include but are not limited to:
-sun burns/poisoning
-premature aging (HELLO, WRINKLES!)
-injury to the eyes
-and more than one type of cancer.
Sure, that tan might really accentuate that white cocktail dress tonight, but what happens a few years down the road, when you look like this.

By the way - wonder what that tan really is?

"The color of you skin is determined by the amount of melanin it contains. This substance called melanin protects the skin from the sun's ultraviolet rays. A tan is visible proof that your skin is being damaged. When the ultraviolet radiation of the sun hits your skin, it stimulates cells known as melanocytes, which make the brown pigment called melanin. The melanocytes respond to the sun by making even more melanin to protect your skin from the sun. The melanin acts sort of like a barrier for the skin's cells, and can give people the brown tint that is a suntan."

So see? Being pale isn't so bad afterall. We should make it trendy again so I can feel like I fit into the fashionable side of society... But this time, lets keep arsenic and lead out of the whole routine... But seriously. This just reflects that since the birth of domestic living, women (and men, but mostly women) have done everything in their power to change their appearance in general, for whatever reason. The take home point here is this: Being true to yourself not only saves you time and money, it requires low maintenance and doesn't involve behaviors that put you at major health risks.

So step outside of that tanning booth and find something better to do with your time and money. You'll thank yourself in twenty years when you don't resemble a leather handbag.

Signing off. And loving my lack of a tan much more...

Monday, October 11, 2010

I'M BACK! (and have brought my excuses with me).

I remember when pen pals were cool. When I was a little girl, it seemed I would get a new one every year. I would get really amped up about them at first, punctually responding to their letters and actively participating in our postal relationship. But after a couple of communications, I would lose interest. I'd stop writing them or forget their address and move on with my life, leaving my poor pen pal abandoned without reason. This blog is not my new version of pen pal-ing. And my writing relationship with you as an audience is not and will not be short lived. I have dropped off the face of monicablogging for many reasons lately - but a lack of interest or desire to share is not one of them.

Let me expound.

Though the eighty/ninety degree weather might allude elsewise, we have arrived in the month of October. This, for most, means sunday night football, Halloween, early Christmas shopping, Oktoberfest, take your pick... For a full-time undergraduate, however, this means mid-terms. This year I have found myself in some of the more difficult classes I have ever been in touch with: namely structural geology and tectonics along with a six hour creative writing seminar and an arbitrary literature class. I'm up for the challenge and am, if I say so myself, surviving quite well. But unfortunately, writing a blog takes a backseat to studying the chemical/physical breakdown of Earth as we know it or analyzing fault structures in three dimensions.

Beyond that, I have been in a ditch lately when it comes to writing. And this is a problem in regards to this blog and me fufilling your demand as a reader along with other obligations I have as a writer. By the semesters end, I will have a (sound the trumpets) Bachelors of Fine Arts in Creative Writing with a concentration in fiction. Before obtaining this, however, I have to hand the department a very long portfolio depicting myself as a writer and the evolution of my craft over my years at this university. Because anything posted on the internet is considered previously published material and usually hard to publish later, I must refrain from using this blog as a means of "killing two birds with one stone". Which is to say that though I am tempted at times, I am apprehensive to write any fiction for this blog under the potential that it might actually be something great and I may never be able to submit it again. So I'm working on one voice as an active blog writer and one voice as a fictional writer as well.

In order to surpass this obstacle, I have made it my job to be a full-time reader. Perhaps I am attempting to read until I am inspired to write. I have read everything I can get my little hands around:

And, knock on wood, it actually seems to be working! Lately, I have been getting these brilliant lightbulb moments where wonderful writing prompts are coming to me. The problem: they are popping into my mind as I am literally falling asleep. The first time it happened, I ignored it. I had to sleep. I would remember the idea in the morning. I was wrong. And the entire next day was spent retracing my brain path and trying to relive the moment that wonderful yet forgotten idea reached me. The next time it happened, I feared I would forget it again. So I jumped out of bed and scribbled the idea down - falling back into sleep in no time. The problem: what I had written down made no sense whatsoever. It's going to happen to me again, I can feel it. And I just have to ensnare these runaway ideas this time. I am still plotting on methods that will work. The bottom line, I have to learn to get around this creative inconvenience. Or else I will be sitting in an interview in fifty years explaining to someone that I always wanted to write fiction, but my great ideas had bad timing so I missed the boat.

So, thanks for sticking with me. I'm glad to be back on the blogging boat. Hopefully one of my many excuses justified my absense. If not, let me know. I have been mighty creative lately, and can probably come up with another one for you!

Also, here's a wonderful and inspiring lecture given by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of "Eat, Pray, Love," and various other works. There's a lot of truth in the types of fallbacks she discusses when it comes to creativity in general. Got twenty minutes to kill? Don't waste it on facebook. Give her a listen.

*photos featured in this blog obtained from