Monday, October 8, 2018

The Cheap Way to Sleep: Me

When my two best friends and I travel together, sharing a hotel room can be a challenge. Over the years, we've worked out a system for getting ready so that we have all the bathroom time we need to get pretty in a timely manner: Cher needs at least two hours to move through her very thorough and meticulous regiment: Lisa needs less time, but still adheres to a formula to produce her beauty, so she gets to shower second. Me? I can slap myself together in forty minutes, because well, I give far less of a shit what I look like than the other two.

What we haven't worked out is compromising on the sleeping atmosphere. Arrangement, we've got down: we reserve a two-bed room and one of us brings and aerobed. What we can't seem to get a handle on are setting the perfect conditions for each of us to get a good night's rest.

I need absolute darkness and silence in order to wind down; both of my BFFs need the noise and the light of the television. Because I'm out-numbered, I  have to lump it. We've tried shoving me in dark corners or angling the television screen away from me; nevertheless, I usually spend the night dozing on and off. (Trust me, when I win the lottery, marry rich, or start making money off this damn blog, I'll be reserving my own room.)

On one occasion I stood my ground and demanded they set the television on a timer so that I could enjoy some peace and quiet. They acquiesced by setting the timer for six fucking hours. I meant for it to be set for maybe two hours to give them enough time to go to sleep and leave me the dark and quiet I need to stay asleep.

I woke up at 4 a.m., the damn television still on: the Pavlovian gong of Law and Order echoing throughout the room. I lie there watching the stupid episode--one I'd seen around 25 times-- until I finally snatched up the remote and turned Jack McCoy's indigence off. Instantly, Cher and Lisa both shot up in bed like mummies or vampires rigged to pop out of a coffin in a haunted house. I swear their hands were formed like claws, and they bared their teeth at me.

I invited McCoy back into our bedroom.

Getting a good night's rest is a challenge for most everyone; in fact, according to American Sleep Association (ASA), between 30-40% of adults struggle with sleeping. The ASA suggests adults get 7-9 hours of sleep. If a "children's" book called Go the Fuck to Sleep by Gilbert Mansbach and Ricardo Cortes gets nearly a five-star rating on Amazon and entices Samuel L. Jackson and Morgan Freeman to do a dramatic reading, feeling rested is a rarity. 

We all have certain conditions for getting a good-night sleep. Regardless of over-booked and over-stressed lives that should guarantee at the end of the day, many still fight insomnia. Our bodies in hyper-drive in order to plow through our long days, our brains full of worries and our eyes staring at screens for . . . well . . . every bloody minute of the day make it difficult to wind down, drift into a peaceful sleep, and stay in it until the alarm goes off. 

There are sleep therapists, drugs, and apps to help, but my advice is much, much cheaper and less addictive.

There are many things I'm willing to compromise and/or give up: vegetables, overtime, making my bed, but I will not deprive myself of sleep.  No matter what, I will get my 7-9 hours a night. Hell, I've hosted parties where I have gone to bed and left my guests to fend for themselves. 

How do I do it? Well, I don't have kids, which I'll admit helps. Even without them, I do have a full-time and a part-time job, a commute, food to prepare, laundry to do, an apartment to clean, errands to run, and a desire to keep up some semblance of a social life.  Believe me, turning off my brain is no easy task. And I can stare at a screen as much as the next person. So, I developed a routine that guarantees a good night's rest. I've shared my approach with colleagues, friends and family, of which one told me I needed to blog about my recipe because she found it so effective.

I use Blue Light Filter
First, and I know this suggestion will sound sacrilegious, make sure to filter out all the blue-light from your devices--phones, tablets, computers--at around 8 p.m. There are a lot of apps that allow you to set a timer so it happens automatically. Of course it detracts from the vividness of graphics, but it is those graphics that convince your brain to stay awake.

About and hour before I hope to be asleep, I turn my television I've seen many times and is formulaic and doesn't require require my full attention. The mere sound of the characters' voices, theme song or score acts as a signal to my brain it is time to disengage.  I am partial to Forensic Files, but if blood spatter analysis and mitochondria DNA doesn't lull you to sleep, then I suggest  Law and Order or NCIS.  I only watch shows involving murder, so my suggestions are limited. Again, the key is formulaic and repetitive. You don't necessarily want to sit and watch it, but more listen to it while you prepare for bed.

I shower at night, so the warm water relaxes me. I take my time drying off, apply a myriad of lotions to lift, tighten while also plumping aging parts of my face and then I slather lotion on the rest of me and hope for the best.  While waiting for one layer of lotion to sink in before slapper on another, I'll do some very easy stretching: touching my toes, raising my arms over my head and bending side to side, throw in a nice and easy sun-salutation or two. I am nowhere near breaking a sweat, but I am working out some tension, nice an easy.

Scent is critical to my relaxation.  Lavender will always do the trick: use lavender scented body wash, lavender scented body lotion, and then to top (or bottom) it all off, put some lavender oil on the bottom of your feet. Trust me on the foot thing--it is magic.

Once you climb into bed, take a few minute to mentally put all your stresses away.  What I do is turn any taxing thought into a photo and then visualize myself putting that picture into a box. Once I've "put away" all my stress, I place a lid on the box and put it away (slide it under my bed, tuck into my closet, or throw it out my bedroom window). I might have to repeat this visualization a few times depending on what is going on in my life at the time.

For those of you who need sound to sleep, instead of leaving the television on, stream soothing music or nature sounds.  I play rain sounds throughout the night. If you must have the dialogue of a television show, wear a sleep mask so the light doesn't keep your brain stimulated (and yes, this happens even when eyes are closed).  Lisa used to leave Criminal Minds on all night until her boyfriend told her the sound of screaming women being murdered was interrupting his REM cycle.  As much as I would like Derek Morgan in my bedroom, no matter what form, he will keep me awake.

Many don't have the luxury of fitting in an hour's worth of sleep-prep, so these steps can definitely be moved through more quickly.

Now, go the fuck to sleep.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Know Who You're Wearing

As I strolled across the high school campus this morning, I saw a young man sitting on a brick border surrounding a raised planter, wearing a Metallica Master of Puppets sweatshirt while listening to The Smiths. It was a time-warp, culture clash I was not expecting and only mildly prepared for.

Did this student not understand the gravity of his cultural misstep by conjoining the metal of Metallica with the ah-ah-ah-ah of The Smiths? In public? Is there no respect for the 80's?  At least those of us who lived them showed proper reverence by wearing fluorescent clothing, ripping open the ozone with hairspray, and snorting cocaine.

Did this student not understand that those who listen to The Smiths want to cut themselves while those who listen to Metallica want to cut others? Sometimes, choices must be made. Some boundaries are for the betterment of culture, of character, of sanity. Little did the heavy-metal-wearing, pop- listening teen know that he was plummeting into an identity crisis. Kids today think they can just disregard the constructs of fashion and music genres, mixing them into a hodgepodge of expression without consequence. The nerve.

To give the student the benefit of the doubt, I reminded myself that he may not even know who Metallica is. Over the summer I learned T-shirts and sweatshirts featuring rock bands from the 80's is a fashion trend with no relevant connection to the music itself.

When I first noted students wearing Guns n' Roses Appetite for Destruction, Metallica Ride the Lightning, and Def Leppard Pyromania T-shirts, I thought they had raided their parents' closets, unearthed a piece of nostalgia prompting them to share the glory of their concert days, maybe even played a little "Welcome to the Jungle," "Fade to Black," and "Rock of Ages," and their children--being so impressed by the rock music of their antecedents, wore their parents' rock shirts to school and sparked a fashion revolution.


While working in a writing center at Rio Hondo JC this summer, I asked a student who wore a Def Leppard Pyromania T-shirt if her parents had listened to the band.  My first concert was Def Leppard's Hysteria tour and I had Joe Elliot's face plastered all over my bedroom walls (after taking down Simon LeBon and John Taylor).

Her response was a shrug.
Can be found on Amazon

"Do you know who that band is?" I had asked, pointing the glass building aflame on her chest. She shook her head.

I am slowly accepting the music of my youth is now played on Classic Rock stations. When Neil Diamond was demoted to Easy Listening it quite dismayed my parents. I might have scoffed at the idea of Elvis Presley being The King of Rock, but if I had gone vintage and worn a Rolling Stones or Janis Joplin shirt, I would have at least known who the fuck they were. Hell, I could have busted out a few lines from "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" and "Cry Baby." And Neil Diamond? I could have karaoked the shit out "Sweet Caroline," "Forever in Blue Jeans," and "Love on the Rocks."

It's bad enough I have to endure Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" in a Honda Pilot commercial, Aerosmith's "Dream On" in a goddamn Buick Lacrosse commercial, and Guns n' Roses'  "Paradise City" in the background of Jersey Mikes, but now I have to watch the emblems of my rowdy youth become a meaningless decoration?

I don't know how Def Leppard, Metallica, and Guns N' Roses ended up on the racks of Target and Hot Topic, as well as the warehouses of Amazon, but can merchants please include a free download of the band's biggest hits? And can parents today do as my parents did before we had such efficient, high-tech ways of channeling music into one set of ears by telling that bitch Alexa to blast Heavy Metal of the 80's (okay, and 90's). Or go hardcore and confiscate all earbuds, duck-tape the kids to kitchen chairs, pull out the boom-box and CD collection and give them some music history.

And if my rock gods of old have to sell the rights of their songs to car manufacturers, can y'all stick with Porsche, Aston Martin, and (perfectly) Corvette? 

Monday, July 30, 2018

A Quest: Where Will the Quill Take Me?

Courtesy of Amazon
The theme of the journey (physical + emotional + psychological) has long existed in works of both great fiction and non-fiction. My first introduction to the journey archetype was the novel The Lost Steps by Alejo Carpentier a professor during my freshmen year of college had the class read -- twice. Then there was Pilgrims Progress by John Bunyan, Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift, and then The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, followed by me nearly changing my major. Instead I just readjusted my focus to the more stimulating tales of Charles Dickens. Orphans begging for food, a miserly asshole being scared into not being a miserly asshole, and the French Revolution are my jam.

There are definitely more relate-able and enjoyable ones for contemporary readers: The Lord of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien centering on a mythical creature who leaves the safety of his home to travel across a foreign world at a dangerous time to save it, The Ultimate Hitchhicker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams featuring a man who leaves earth to stop a hostile alien invasion, and the ever-so-popular Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (yes, they were books first) with dozens of characters going just about everywhere and doing anything-- and I mean anything--to just stay alive, or to possess the Iron Throne, or to stop an army of the dead, or to spread the trend of incest.

Some great non-fiction journey-themed books have also drawn wide readership. I would be remiss to not mention Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert a woman trying to break the chains of her past, find out who she really is, just to repeat the past; Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer who is on a journey to understand the journey of a young college grad who himself is trying to find the true meaning of life, and finally Wild: a Journey from Lost to Found by Cheryl Strayed documenting her back-packing journey to find a way to put her life back together after her family has fallen apart (oh, and kick heroin).

I am also on a journey related to who I am as a writer, if I am even still one, and what in the name of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Yahweh, Allah, Buddha, Mohammad, Shiva, Vishnu, and the Lord of Light I should be writing about. Not sure I can get a book out of my journey because, well, I am missing the component of actually, physically going anywhere. I'm on a mental journey, an artistic journey, and I have no idea where the fuck I'm going. So, blog post it is.

I am writing everything and nothing. Some pieces are just in the brainstorming/outlining phase, a couple are partially drafted, some are fully drafted, some are on their 3rd or 300th revision.

Recently, I've been brainstorming ideas for a movie script based on a bunch of women in their 40s who decide to start an escort service specifically for women who are sick of dating but still have "needs." It is meant to be a comedy. But, it is in it's fetal stage and would need to learn how to format a script, which does not appeal to my lazy side.

I could work on a horror genre short story -- "The Basement"-- of which has gone through several revisions and now I've decided I need to change the point of view. Note that the damn thing is 21 pages long--no small undertaking.

I have several pieces about my Dad; all in different stages of the writing process. But, as I approach the anniversary of his death, I'm not sure I have the grit to work on those pieces without crying myself into a coma.

I have also contemplating going back to the first novel I wrote when I was 16 and grounded for a long time. It is a young adult paranormal thriller called The Gifted, the Cursed, and the Wicked. It would need a major overhaul, but the characters and basic storyline have potential. Also not a small undertaking since it is about 450 pages long.

Finally, there's my serial killer, The Artist. It's complete, was even considered by an agent years ago, but it needs work as well. I'm feel like I've missed the serial killer boat, and focusing on it right now would be a waste of time. Also, I can't even decide which city I want it to take place in.

Or, I might just say "fuck it," curl up on my couch and watch X-files re-runs. Throw in the quill. Turn in my "writer" card. Abdicate my identity as an artist.

Any suggestions? I need a guide. Honestly, I wrote this post just to feel like I am finishing something.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

The iGeneration Putting the "i" in Irony

I might be the Hercule Poirot of language: I've solved they mystery of why students don't capitalize the personal pronoun I.

At first, I just blamed it on technology (my go-to scapegoat along with the weather and GMOs for all ills in society). Teens socialize primarily through text, Twitter and Snapchat thereby practice and perfect the incorrect grammar teachers spend their careers trying to undo. Regardless of how much we badger them about capitalizing their personal pronoun I, they refuse to do so.

The most obvious explanation seemed to be laziness because it's not a difficult rule to remember. I suppose it is a bit taxing to stretch that pinky finger all the way over to the shift key and hit it at the same time as the 'I' key: I mean, why hit two keys when one will do?

Recently, that theory was called into question when I found several hand-written assignments littered with lower case, personal pronoun 'I's; but as with typing, it takes a little more extra effort  to make one vertical and two horizontal lines versus just having one vertical line and a dot.

I further tested these theories by berating students on their laziness; you know, trying to shame them into writing correctly.  How are they going to succeed in school, hold down a job, building healthy, lasting relationships if they can't even capitalize their fucking 'I's? Surprisingly, their English teacher's opinion meant nothing to them.

Ready to settle on the theory that teenage rebellion demands they don't do one single thing they are asked to do without a fight; it is a trait of adolescence generations of adults have been unable to eradicate.  Still, it seemed too paradoxical: why wouldn't teenagers, especially Millennials, use every tool they had to assert their individuality? To assert their ego? Aren't they self-absorbed, coddled, entitled, and solitary behind their electronic devices?

Like most people, the answer came to me while I was in the shower: Millennials are also the iGeneration, they don't need they don't need to capitalize their 'I's because the internet provides so many other venues to promote their individuality in more engaging, entertaining, far-reaching ways. They can track how many people follow them doing ordinary shit. They can snap, tweet, post, share, filter, and, well, blog. Capitalized pronouns are becoming as necessary as landlines.

To be fair, pronouns have always catered to the ego. Grammar rules that "I" must capitalize myself as the writer in order to assert my ideas, opinions, actions over any other person I might be writing about. When composing my spectacular posts, I don't introduce my voice with "I, Holly Vance" and then shift to "believe i have solved the riddle of how teenagers think (if i had, i'd be in such high demand for consultation i wouldn't have time to blog). Sure, I will capitalized the names of others, but after an initial introduction, grammar rules that I should refer to others as he/she him/her they/them--not capitalized. Capitalization means specific, unique, and important; but to be grammatically correct, I shouldn't capitalize "she" when substituted for Lisa, Cher, Laura, Karen, Mindi, and Carrie even though each woman is specific, unique, and important. 

The generation who exist in a digital extension of their egos, the generation capable of asserting their "I" in so many ways, refuse resort to a archaic, symbol of the ego: the capitalized "I". It is ironic, but also isn't it expected for teenagers to carve out a way to be different, to not do things the way their predecessors did? Maybe I needed to capitalize "I" because I didn't have any other way to do so.

Or Apple started this whole problem with their iPhone, iMac, iPod, iWatch, iBrain. Like I mentioned earlier, damn technology ruins everything.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Finesse My Seat, Not My Hair

Tweens and teens of the 70's and early 80's wanted only one thing:  to look like Charlie's Angels (well, and marry one of the Dukes of Hazard or Hardy Boys)
Every girl wanted to have that straight glossy hair with the sides feathered back: wings of beauty hardened by Aqua Net.

Being in junior high school during this fashion trend, my frizzy, curly, sky-scraper-defying hair only added to the trauma of those years. Straightening, let alone adding a wispy flip, was impossible. And since my most loathsome chore was ironing my dad's clothes, I sure as shit was not going to iron my hair. 

Finesse Shampoo and Conditioner was my last hope to be trendy and cool. It advertised the end of frizz and the beginning of soft manageable hair.

It didn't work as well as I hoped. It tamed my afro a bit, but not enough to impress Charlie. I just had to wait it out until the later 80's when it was fashionable to for a girl to look like she stuck finger into a light socket.

It wasn't until last year when a freshman brought the word "finesse" back into my life. This will give those who know me pause because in my 21 years of teaching I have NEVER taught freshmen, and it is best that I NEVER do teach freshmen. The problem is definitely me not them. I am not emotionally, mentally, hell or even physically equipped to be in the same room with more than say two at a time. They have no control over their bodies, they don't get my sarcasm, and they don't respond well to my "suck it up" and "stop complaining" method of compassion.

Once in a great while, I would watch a colleague (and friend's) freshman study hall if need be, but only if she had a bonafide emergency: she stroked out, her arm fell off, or her house was on fire.

It was on one such occasion when I discovered how kids today use "finesse." I had about 15 freshman in my room, all settled into desks and ordered to work on their homework if they planned on surviving their 25 minutes with me. Freshmen cannot be still for longer than 30 seconds nor can they go more than 30 seconds without antagonizing one another, so when one young man got up to flail about the room in search of a trashcan, another one slipped into his desk. As I began to hound the one that was up to get back in his seat, his excuse for not doing so was that his friend had, "finessed his seat."

Being a Czar of language, I was aware of the definition of finesse as an adverb for something done with grace, skill, and ease. I've heard it associated with a review a person's athleticism. And trust me, freshman are nowhere near graceful, skillful, or at ease.  No. Where. Near.

Based on my Sherlock Holmesian powers of deduction, I figured out "finesse" means to steal with stealth and a style (two more adjectives not within 3-4 years of a freshman).  The implication is that the "finesser" is to be admired for his/her expertise, subtlety, and smoothness. The connotation detracts from the negativity of the act. Taking what is not yours is softened with the s sound.  "Stealing" squeals and crashes; "finessing" slides and whispers. It brings admiration to the culprit the way James Bond brings class to a governmental assassin.

Did the freshmen survive their 25 minutes? Barely. Things became much better after I duct-taped them all to their seats.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

As Ladies Get Thicc, Gentlemen Get Swole

Recently, while I was at the gym trying to get thicc, the guys around me were getting swole.

To clarify, I am already thick: that is an easy state to achieve via chocolate and tacos. Becoming thicc requires less chocolate, fewer tacos, and more chicken and vegetables. Oh, and lifting weights.

And to further clarify, men at the gym are not getting that kind of "swole" watching me work out. The injuries they sustain trying to get away from the sight of me getting thicc might have swole, but that's not what I mean either.

Swole is the man's version of thicc.  Here's where I engage in shameless self-promotion (and sheer laziness) and encourage you to read my previous post if you are hopelessly lost or if you have a memory like mine and can only remember lyrics from 80's hairband songs.

When I was a teenager, I liked my men buff like those hunky pilots playing volleyball in Top Gun. My father  nicknamed our muscle-exploding neighbor "meat-head"; in my early teaching years, student athletes had to spend at least one day in the school's weight room getting ripped, and more recently, Chris Hemsworth needed to pump iron and get swole for his roles as the powerful Thor and the "flying beefcake" stupid-secretary-done-possessed in Ghostbusters.

I understand the need to have a gender-specific word for having well-developed muscles.  No woman wants anything on her body to be "swole" and "ripped" makes us sound like victims of domestic violence. Or that we are ready to be served at a cannibals dinner party.  Referring to a man as thick (thicc) would be automatically associated with obstinacy instead of muscle mass.
Courtesy of a student athlete
Unfortunately, the development of these terms are not thoroughly thought out.  On behalf of women, the only thickness we want in life is in our steaks, our milkshakes, and the circumference of our mens' members.  For men, being buff sounds like they've been waxed, meat-head implies malice and stupidity, ripped sounds like he's just been in a brawl or that his muscles are in tatters (I know "shredding" ones muscles at Crossfit is a trend which does not sound appealing). I hear a man is "swole" and I think he's injured himself or he's aroused.

It will be interesting to see how the slang for strong, developed muscles evolves (or devolves) but hopefully it will have more attractive connotations.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Thick Through the Middle or Thicc at the Top and Bottom?

I love it when my students realize the power of language buried beneath its nuances without my teaching it.  It is rare, but it happens. When it does, I'd like to think its a result of the 20 years of teaching that has made me so adept at delivering education to young minds I am not even aware I'm doing it.  My students absorb knowledge just being in my presence.  Or, teenagers are smarter than I give them credit for.

No, it's my genius.

My genius really shines when I teach The Great Gatsby.  I love, love, love this novel.  Even before Baz Luhrmann. There's something about handsome, filthy rich, charming, and delusional men . . .

I focus heavily on character analysis with this novel.  For the character of Tom Buchanan, my approached is to view him through the lens of his women: his wife, Daisy and his mistress, Myrtle. While going over the difference between Daisy and Myrtle, my students showed me they do understand the importance of spelling.

Yes, you read correctly. The importance of spelling.

Mia Farrow and Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan
The women's physical appearance reflect characteristics of their personalities. Daisy is young, delicate with a face "sad and lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth."  In contrast, Myrtle is older, aggressive "she carried her surplus flesh sensuously as some women can. Her face, above a spotted dress of dark blue crepe-de-chine, contained no facet or gleam of beauty, but there was an immediately perceptible vitality about her as if the nerves of her body were continually smouldering."

I find their difference in size relevant to character, but trepidation over my students translating "surplus flesh" into "fat" and therefore "ugly" tricks me into drawing attention to that particular detail as an attempt to divert the fat label.

"She is not fat," I always emphasize, with my hands planted firmly on my surplus hips. "She is what we call curvy or voluptuous."

Recently, a student, Isabel, added, "You mean she's thick?"

"Is that fat?"

"No, it means," Isabel looked to her neighbor, also a female, "how do you say it? She's just . . . thick."

"Is she thick because of fat or muscle?"

Neither Karen Black nor Isla Fisher have Myrtle Wilson's "surplus flesh"
A few male students confirmed that "thick" is muscular.  The young ladies in the room didn't quite agree.  Knowing that it could take the rest of the class--hell, the rest of the week--to get my students to agree on a definition, I wrote "thick" on the board and tried to move on to "delicate" Daisy.

"It's two Cs," several students said.  "T-H-I-C-C."

"Why two Cs?"

They look at each other and shrug.

"There must be a reason, otherwise why not just spell it T-H-I-C-K?"

No one seems to know. Or care.

I changed the spelling on the board to T-H-I-C-C.  When I turned back around to face the class, I see Isabel curving the fingers of each hand to form the letter C. She whispered something to her neighbor who does the same with her hands and then they both burst out laughing.

"Figure something out back there?" I asked them.

Isabel holds up her Cs again, raising one hand higher than the other: "Boobs," she said about the higher C and "Butt" about the lower C.

Okay, so T-H-I-C-C isn't related to muscle but more the quantity of TNA (Tits and Ass, not Talula National Athletics clothing brand, nor Total Nonstop Action wrestling alliance, nor Texas Nurses Association).

I was satisfied with the two-Cs-symbol-for-TNA explanation for the spelling, but then one girl piped up: "We spell it that way, so it is ours. So that the definition belongs to our generation." Crossing her arms, she gave me a sharp nod to indicate the discussion was over.

Can we all say progeny? Reincarnated linguist? Reason I can retire? Her indignation at my academic approach only reinforced an academic approach. Paradox aside, I couldn't help but get goosebumps watching my students try to figure out language. It is one of the reasons I "beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past” (Fitzgerald).