Musings From a Perfect Summer Evening


Over the past 24 hours I’ve frequently found myself thinking about just how blessed I really am.  For example, yesterday evening I spent some time at our neighborhood pool reading the new Corey Taylor book (he’s the lead singer of both Stone Sour & Slipknot, two amazing rock/metal bands, in case you were unaware), & during my time there I kept thinking to myself how absolutely perfect the evening was.  Taylor’s latest book is, as always, both astoundingly hilarious & devastatingly profound, so that alone would be enough to make for a pleasant evening.  (It’s called You’re Making Me Hate You, & you can find it on Amazon.)  Add to that the pristine peacefulness of sitting by the pool watching the sunlight filtering through the pine trees, creating dancing shadows & shifting shapes on the fence.  Furthermore I had the pool entirely to myself for quite a bit of time, so I said “To hell with safety” & swam alone for what was probably the first time in my life.  To be clear, I’m a perfectly adept swimmer, but the nurse in me was screaming “No one should ever swim alone, not even Michael Phelps!”  But I silenced that voice because, as I said to myself then, what’s the point of life if you don’t take a few (calculated & intelligently planned) risks now & then?

The pool last night

The pool last night

Additionally as I walked back to the house after my time at the pool, I found myself watching the sky in utter fascination & awe.  It doesn’t matter how many beautiful clouds or sunsets I’ve seen; each new experience is just as meaningful & stunning as the last.  As I stopped to take a picture of the vibrant blue sky with feathery white clouds, I thought to myself, “THIS is why I want to have kids someday, so they can experience the beauty of nature & the simple pleasures of being alive.”

The sky last night

The sky last night

This of course led to further pondering about why I do in fact, after much deliberation & a boatload of self-doubt, want to be a mother someday.  I don’t want to be a mom so I can have a “mini me” running around.  God knows, the world probably doesn’t need that!  Ha!  I don’t want to have kids so that I can live vicariously through them, to have them fulfill the dreams that I haven’t yet fulfilled myself. And I don’t want to have kids just out of fear that I’ll regret it someday if I don’t.  Furthermore, though it’s tempting at times, I don’t want to have kids just so I can “keep up” with my friends who are pregnant & starting their own families now.

My favorite hike in VA: Grayson Higlands

My favorite hike in VA: Grayson Highlands

No, I want to have kids so I can share with them the intense pleasures of being alive.  Yes, going to college & obtaining a great career is wonderful.  Indeed it is exactly what allows me to live a financially stable life in which I can have, within reason of course, almost anything I want (decent vacations every year, concerts to see my favorite bands, going out to eat with friends on a regular basis, etc).   But I don’t want to have kids just so I can see them grow up to become doctors or lawyers or scientists or whatever else represents “success.”  To be clear, I’ll be damned if they grow up to be ignorant fools who are a burden on society.  Of course I want them to be successful . . .

Beautiful fall colors at House Mountain near Lexington, VA

Beautiful fall colors at House Mountain near Lexington, VA

But more than that I want them to be happy, to understand that the point of life isn’t just to have a good career, own a house, get married, etc.  The purpose of life is simply to live it, to soak up as many experiences as we can during our short stay on this earth.  I want to have kids so I can share with them the feeling of the wet grass beneath our feet & the sand between our toes.  I want to sit under the stars with them & stare in wonder at the nighttime sky, to watch a sunset & feel the magic of simply being alive to witness it.  I want to share with them the beauty of the mountains & the beach & the Fall leaves as they change colors & drift to the ground.  I want to share with my kids the pleasures of exploring the world & learning about different cultures & people & ways of life on this planet we all call home.  I could go on & on, but I suppose you get the picture by now.diverse kids

As I’m finishing up this post, it occurs to me that my husband & I moved to NC three years ago today.  What a crazy day that was!  When we moved here, I had no idea if I’d really like it or not.  I had no idea if I’d be able to adapt to living in a city with almost half a million people, in a culture that is very different than anything I’d ever known previously.  In reality it took a few months, closer to a year I suppose, to start making friends & really feeling at home here, but now I love this area & can’t imagine a better place to raise kids somedayAmazing how life works out sometimes when you take a calculated risk & run with it!

One of the absolute greatest pleasures of my life: our Welsh corgi named Chacuer

One of the absolute greatest pleasures of my life: our Welsh corgi named Chaucer

I’m not sure really what the exact purpose of this post is other than to say that I’m once again reminded of the gloriousness there is in just being alive & having the chance to chase your dreams while also relishing in the simple pleasures of life that make this journey truly worthwhile.  As I draw to a close, a storm has just rolled in, & as the rain pours down & the thunder snarls, I’m reminded once again of the beauty & power of nature.  I grew up being terrified of storms, & even now I still feel an initial blip of fear whenever a storm starts.  But I’ve learned that storms can be beautiful.  So instead of sitting here in fear like I would have for most of my life, I’m going to watch the rain, listen to some music (but not loud enough to disguise the rolling of the thunder), cuddle with my corgi, & revel in the beauty of nature once again.

I didn't take this picture, but I thought it was pretty cool.

I didn’t take this picture, but I thought it was pretty cool.

Cheers!

Breaking Benjamin is Back & Better Than Ever


Breaking Benjamin was one of the first rock bands I got into when I was a freshman in college & started my adventure into the netherworld of rock & roll.  With clean vocals, melodic guitars, & memorable lyrics, the band was a perfect fit for me, & songs like “So Cold” & “The Diary of Jane” became instant favorites of mine.  Two years later when Dear Agony was released, the singles “I Will Not Bow” & “Give Me a Sign” again became instant favorites for me & many other fans.  However, in the ensuing years the band became locked in turmoil & went into what appeared to be an indefinite hiatus.  Along with many other fans, I was saddened to think the world had probably heard the last of BB.benjamin_burnley_by_ausalazarc-d3ixbvp Thankfully I was wrong in my assumption that the band would never exist again . . . In 2014 lead singer Benjamin Burnley announced that he had reformed the band with an entirely new lineup, aside of course from himself at the helm.  When “Failure,” was released, it became immediately apparent that despite the lineup changes Burnley & his band still had plenty of magic left in them.  Indeed, it is a testament to Burnley’s songwriting abilities that he was able to retain the signature sound of his band despite having an entirely new lineup supporting him.  “Failure” quickly became a #1 hit on rock radio & fans like me were chomping at the bit to hear the rest of the new album.

The new Breaking Benjamin lineup

The new Breaking Benjamin lineup

I saw Breaking Benjamin live for the first time at Carolina Rebellion in Charlotte this May.  They were definitely on my list of “must see” bands, but to be honest I wasn’t sure what to expect even though I knew “Failure” was a great song.  I just didn’t know if the old magic would still translate with the new lineup.  As it turned out, I, along with my husband & a good friend who was there with us, got caught in a massive crowd surge during the BB show, leading me to near panic levels of anxiety.  Thankfully my husband & friend were able to keep me relatively calm despite the crowd around us.  I also can’t help but believe that the music itself helped to break my anxiety.  If you’re like me & hate crowds, may I just say that a Breaking Benjamin concert is definitely the place to get caught in one if it has to happen?  There is plenty of anger & sadness in Burnley’s lyrics at times, yet there is something infinitely soothing about his music.  As the band performed their new hit along with about a dozen of the older songs, it became very apparent to me that the band is back & better than ever.  And thus began the even more anxious awaiting of the new album release the next month.  And the quest to ensure that I would see the band live again soon!

Evidence of the huge crowd BB drew at Carolina Rebellion this year

Evidence of the huge crowd BB drew at Carolina Rebellion this year

As it turns out, I clearly wasn’t the only fan eagerly anticipating the Dark Before Dawn release.  Despite the six year hiatus, the new lineup, & the fact that “rock is dead” these days, the album sold 141,000 copies in its first week & thus topped the Billboard chart, becoming the band’s first #1 album ever.  So there, Gene Simmons!  Just more proof that rock isn’t dead after all! With additional obvious radio hits like “Angels Fall” & “Defeated,” the album retains the band’s signature sound but with even more power, largely due to the addition of backing vocals from one of the new guitarists & the new bassist.  Burnley has stated in quite a few interviews that having bandmates who can do backing vocals, both on the album & live in concerts, has added a whole new layer to the band.  He is absolutely correct in this statement, as has can be clearly heard throughout the entire album.  Aside from “Failure,” “Angels Fall,” & “Defeated,” some of my favorites include heavier pieces like “Breaking the Silence” & “Bury Me Alive,” as well as the beautiful ballad “Ashes of Eden.”Ben Burnley Naturally when I saw a few weeks ago that Breaking Benjamin is coming to The Ritz in Raleigh next month (Friday, August 21), I was determined to make it to the show.  Now I’m even more excited for the concert because one of my college friends whom I haven’t seen since we graduated four years ago is coming down to Raleigh to go to the show with us.  Seeing one of my favorite bands + being reunited with an old friend = AWESOME!  :) If you’re in the Raleigh/Durham area or anywhere within a reasonable driving distance, I highly recommend you set aside the time & money to attend this concert.  It will be well worth it.  You can get tickets here.  Also do yourself a favor & be sure to pick up a copy of the Dark Before Dawn album.  I’ll stop now & let the music do the talking for me.  Check out the links below to some of my favorites from the album. Breaking Benjamin’s “Failure” “Angel’s Fall” “Breaking the Silence” “Ashes of Eden” “Defeated”

Pictures, Feeling Fat, & Weightlifting


This post is largely aimed at the ladies, but guys, please feel free to read & chime in too if you’re interested.

Yesterday, I saw some pictures a cousin of mine posted on Facebook from a family gathering.  Initially I thought “Oh, these are cute pictures of me, my husband, & Chaucer ” (our corgi).  But upon closer inspection I found myself thinking “Eww, I look so fat.  I might as well be pregnant because my waist already looks like it!”  I’m pretty sure every woman who is reading this has had a similar scenario & knows exactly how I was feeling when looking at those pictures.feel fat cartoon

Now realistically I know that  at 5’6″ & 153 lbs I’m in pretty good shape.  My BMI is within a healthy range (barely), although I’ll be the first to admit that BMI is a pretty useless tool (particularly for men: consider my husband who, at < 10% body fat, still scores in the obese range).  I wear a size 8-10 in most clothes, & I’ve never had an inch of cellulite anywhere on my body.  My doctors have all told me I’m at a perfectly healthy weight, although it would certainly be safe for me to lose 5-10 lbs if so I desired (& I do).  My arms & legs have fairly visible/palpable muscle, for a female anyway, & as my husband tells me all the time I’m one of few women who has visible traps/lats (basically shoulder & back muscles), which thankfully he finds incredibly sexy.

This picture is from almost 4 years ago but I still look the same; if anything, I have more muscle now.  I just haven't taken a picture like this in a long time.

This picture is from almost 4 years ago, but I still look the same; if anything, I have more muscle now. I just haven’t taken a picture like this in a long time.

Yet I am still not satisfied that I look the best I really could, mostly because I know I still carry too much extra weight around my waist, which of course happens to be the most unhealthy place to have extra fat.  In our current culture of fat acceptance, I know plenty of people reading this will say “Oh, you’re just another one of these poor girls who’ve been brainwashed by airbrushed models & actresses.”  As much as I like to think I’m too smart & logical to be affected by these things, I’m slowly starting to realize that my idea of how I should look has probably been more warped by such things than I’d like to admit.  To be clear, I’m not trying to look like the next VS model or to be as thin as the average actress.  I know those are unrealistic goals & that most of those women are airbrushed anyway by the time we see them.  But I do want to look the best I can & be the healthiest I can be because life is far too short to do anything else, & I know I need to get serious about achieving this goal NOW since I’d like to become a mom some time in the next year or two.airbrushing

With that in mind, I thought it might be beneficial for me to list out my current gym stats, partially because it will help me realize how much ground I’ve already covered.  At the beginning of this year, not to mention a few years ago, many of these numbers were only half of what they are now.  Perhaps focusing on the progress I’ve already made will encourage me to keep going.  I really wish I could say I’m one of those people who just LOVES to work out, but the truth is I’m not,  & I probably never will be.  I’ve learned to tolerate a little cardio as long as I have some pumping music to keep me motivated, & I really do enjoy lifting weights, largely because I can literally see & feel the results on my body, not to mention because of the increased confidence it gives me.  But even so, I still have to force myself to go to the gym or take a bike ride around my community.  I’d love to say I’m one of those people who just doesn’t feel complete without getting a good workout in every day, but I’d be lying if I said so.  Maybe that will happen one day, but I’m not placing any bets on it.

I actually like all the mirrors at the gym, but I still thought this was funny.

I actually like all the mirrors at the gym, but I still thought this was funny.

In any case, here are my numbers.  As I said, I’m hoping looking at these will help to keep me motivated on the days when my motivation is sorely lacking.  And if it helps inspire anyone else, then that’s just icing on the cake (& yes, I realize that is a terrible metaphor for a post about fitness, haha!).

To be clear, these numbers represent the normal amount of weight I do on each machine/exercise.  I can technically do more on some of them, but if I can’t consistently do at least 5-10 solid reps with good form, then to me it doesn’t count.

Chest press: 50 lbs

Seated leg press: 135 lbs

Incline shoulder press: 20 lbs

Flies: 60 lbs

Hip abduction/adduction: 140 lbs

Lying leg curls: 65 lbs

Deadlifts: 80-90 lbs

Bench press: 40-45 lbs

Tricep press: 85 lbs

Lat pull down: 70 lbs

Rows: 60 lbs

Wow, what an inspiration!   I want to be like her someday.

Wow, what an inspiration! I want to be like her someday.

One of my favorite things about my current gym is that I often see dads (& sometimes moms) working out with their teenage sons (& occasionally daughters).  When we have kids, I know my husband & I are going to do the same, whether our kids are boys or girls.  However, this gym does not offer regular classes of any sort.  Considering I work night shift & my schedule changes every week anyway, it’s very unlikely I’d ever participate in any classes even if they were offered.  Frankly I’m too self conscious to take a class & I really much prefer to work out alone anyway.  Maybe that’s illogical because I’d probably stand out less in a group than I do when I’m one of  the only girls (or sometimes the only girl) in the weight room.  But in any case, I know how my mind works, & I know that organized exercise routines just don’t do it for me.  I have to find my own pace & my own routines in order to be motivated enough to keep working.  Nonetheless, I’m hoping this post will help me to hold myself more accountable to getting my workouts done more consistently every week & to keep pushing myself to truly be the best I can be.

 

Bookstores & Subsequent Musings on Femininity


One of my favorite things to do in life is to read, so consequently it follows that bookstores are some of my favorite places in the world.  As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I have a particular affectation for used books, not only because they cost less but also because there is just something magical about knowing someone else owned (& presumably read) a book before me, particularly if it’s an older book.  In any case, today I stopped by a B&N (Barnes & Noble, not a used book store of course) to stroll through the sale/clearance section, just to see what I might find.  And naturally I wound up purchasing two books which have now been added to my ever increasing “to read” list.

How I feel when perusing most fiction aimed at people of my gender (aka women)

How I feel when perusing most fiction aimed at people of my gender (aka women)

As much as I love trawling bookstores, I’ve noticed a certain phenomenon happens every time I go look for new (to me) books: I end up having a slight “crisis of femininity.”  If you’re wondering what the hell that means, it simply means that I find myself cringing at most of the books that are clearly aimed at women.  For example the ever popular Nicholas Sparks makes me want to puke.  I can’t stand that sentimental, romantic BS.  Maybe I shouldn’t call out what I haven’t actually read, but even the synopses of his books (& the theatrical versions of such) make me sick.  I’ve actually tried reading books by other popular “chick lit” authors such as Lauren Weisberger, Sophie Kinsella, & Jennifer Weiner.  I’ve made it through a few of them (I’ll even admit The Devil Wears Prada was pretty good), but others made me roll my eyes so many times that I haven’t made it past the first few pages.

If the cover looks something like this, I probably ain't interested.  And, yes, I am judging a book by its cover but only because I've found that books with these kinds of covers really do suck (for me, that is).

If the cover looks something like this, I probably ain’t interested. And yes, I am judging a book by its cover but only because I’ve found through experience that books with these kinds of covers really don’t interest me.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that a large portion of popular fiction aimed at people of my gender just makes me want to gag.  I find myself wanting to punch most of the characters in the face for their irrationality & general idiocy.  For example, as much as I try to be an empathetic person, I’m fundamentally incapable of feeling sorry for a character who’s upset about losing $500 Jimmy Choo heels.  I just can’t relate to that at all.  (Even if I had that kind of money I’d never spend it on something so ludicrous.  If that’s judgmental, I’m sorry I’m not sorry.)  Or when a female character is devastated that a man who was clearly an ass turned out in fact to be an ass, I just don’t have much sympathy for her.  Instead I find myself wanting to yell at her, “How did you not see this coming, you idiot?!harlequin romance

To be clear I don’t find myself reading a lot of books clearly aimed at men either.  But I have noticed that at least half (actually, probably a good deal more than half) of the books I read are by male authors &/or have a man as the central figure of the story.  Hell, the book I’m currently reading, & enjoying immensely I must add, is Post Office, the first novel by the iconic Charles Bukowski.  If you know anything about Bukowski you know that his books could truthfully be described as ribald & irreverent, all the while being immensely profound & astoundingly hilarious.  But a far, far cry from mainstream chick lit in almost every possible way.  Yet I am devouring this book like it was my first meal after a long famine.

This really is one of the funniest books ever written, I swear.

This really is one of the funniest books ever written, I swear.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t mind romance in my fiction.  A little bit tossed in here & there is just fine.  But if romance alone is the central theme of the book, I’m sorry but it just doesn’t hold my interest.  Romance novels, whether of the Harlequin romance variety or the prim & proper Christian romance variety, are of no interest to me whatsoever.  And Fifty Shades of Grey might as well be in Greek for all I care.

(To be clear, I don’t think romance novels in & of themselves are bad or wrong.  Different strokes for different folks.  They just are of no interest to me.)

I’m not really sure what the point of this post is (that seems to be happening a lot lately), other than to say I know I can’t be the only woman who is a little disgusted by the majority of books peddled to our gender.  To be clear, I’m a far cry from a “tom boy,” but I also have a pretty strong disdain for most things pink, so much so that if I have a daughter I’ll almost certainly dress her in little boy’s clothes (or at least more gender neutral stuff) when she’s a baby, just to avoid the boatload of pink stuff.  (Baby pink really is the worst shade of pink, I swear.)  Yet as much as I sometimes hate to admit it, I fulfill a fair amount of traditional feminine roles within my marriage.  But I also listen to hard rock music, swear too much, devour murder mysteries the way most (or at least many) women read romance novels, abhor treadmills but love lifting weights, & speak way too loud for my own damn good.  (I don’t have an indoor voice, I’ve been told, & it’s just the plain truth, like it or not.)  I’ve had one manicure in my life, which was for my wedding, & have no interest in ever getting one again.  I don’t own high heels & don’t care to . . . I guess what I’m trying to say is I like to think I’m a good mix of both stereotypical feminine & masculine traits.breaking stereotypes

As I’ve written before, I think the most interesting people in the world are those who defy stereotypes, those who are difficult to place in “boxes,” the convenient categories of people society constructs in an effort to make sense of this confusing world which we inhabit.  I like people who are unpredictable in the sense that I can’t always predict what their opinion is going to be on any given topic.  Furthermore, I like people who prove me wrong when I find myself being small minded or petty.  And consequently I like books that make me think, that make me question myself & the norms of society.  And frankly most chick lit simply doesn’t do that for me.  All it makes me do is cringe & wonder if there’s something wrong with me for not relating to the characters who presumably represent “normal” women.  If any of this makes me unfeminine or weird, I truly couldn’t care less.

Actually, to be perfectly honest, I suppose I DO care a bit or I wouldn’t be writing this post . . . But just once I’d like to go to a bookstore & not be reviled by most of the books clearly marketed at people of my gender . . . Oh well.  Maybe I’d better start writing that novel I’ve always wanted to write if I want to make that happen.  Ha!pageant material

I’ll end this post the way I so often do these days, with a link to one of my new favorite songs, Pageant Material by Kacey Musgraves off of her recently released album of the same name.  The song contains the signature sassy but sincere, simple but profound lyrics that have become Kacey’s trademark.   (Skip to 2:50 in the linked video for a live performance of the song.)

See the full lyrics below (bold added by me to emphasize my favorite lines):

There’s certain things you’re supposed to know
When you’re a girl who grows up in the South
I try to use my common sense
But my foot always ends up in my mouth
And if I had to walk a runway in high heels in front of the whole town
I’d fall down
And my mama cried
When she realized

I ain’t pageant material
I’m always higher than my hair
And it ain’t that I don’t care about world peace
But I don’t see how I can fix it in a swimsuit on a stage
I ain’t exactly Ms. Congenial
Sometimes I talk before I think, I try to fake it but I can’t
I’d rather lose for what I am than win for what I ain’t

She might not be pageant material, but she is beautiful.

She might not be pageant material, but she is beautiful.

God bless the girls who smile and hug
When they’re called out as a runner up on TV
I wish I could, but I just can’t
Wear a smile when a smile ain’t what I’m feelin’
And who’s to say I’m a 9.5
Or a 4.0 if you don’t even know me
Life ain’t always roses and pantyhose
And…

I ain’t pageant material
I’m always higher than my hair
And it ain’t that I don’t care about world peace
But I don’t see how I can fix it in a swimsuit on a stage
I ain’t exactly Ms. Congenial
Sometimes I talk before I think, I try to fake it but I can’t
I’d rather lose for what I am than win for what I ain’t

Maybe if there were beauty pageants for little boys too I wouldn't be so disgusted by them.

Maybe if there were beauty pageants for little boys too I wouldn’t be so disgusted by them.

I ain’t pageant material

The only crown is in my glass
They won’t be handin’ me a sash
And that’s okay, cause there’s no way
You’ll ever see me in a swimsuit on a stage
I ain’t exactly Ms. Congenial
Sometimes I talk before I think, I try to fake it but I can’t
I’d rather lose for what I am than win for what I ain’t
Yeah, I’d rather lose for what I am than win for what I ain’t

A Plea for Empathy


I usually try to be pretty positive on this blog because I think there’s enough negativity in the world . . . But I have to admit that today’s post is probably going to be a little cynical because frankly that’s how I’m feeling right now.  What with some challenging, exhausting events at work this week plus the frustration of watching some of my own friends & family support this Confederate flag nonsense & subsequently freak out over the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage today, it’s all made me want to pull my own hair out.  I just want to scream “Have some empathy for two seconds, people!”

Pretty accurate visual depiction of how I'm feeling right now

Pretty accurate visual depiction of how I’m feeling right now

I haven’t had enough sleep in the past 72 hours to formulate well articulated arguments, but I am so full of anger & frustration right now that I know I need to write something, for my own sanity if nothing else.  So here goes.

If you support the Confederate flag, please stop for a minute & ask yourself this: if you were black or part black or perhaps married to someone who is black, how would this flag make you feel?  As one of my friends so eloquently pointed out to me today, the Confederate flag was not even popular immediately after the Civil War.  It wasn’t until decades later that certain segments of the (mostly) Southern population took up the flag as a symbol, largely as a sign of their hatred of blacks.  Hmmm.  Now trying to say the flag doesn’t support racism sounds even harder to believe . . .racism

Yes, I am smart enough to understand that the FLAG isn’t what makes people racist . . . That’s obviously a behavior/mentality that develops over time.  As some have astutely observed, Ferguson, MO & Baltimore had “race riots” & those states do NOT fly the Confederate flag over their state buildings while South Carolina, who does, has NOT had riots, despite the recent racially motivated mass murder.  So, no, the FLAG isn’t what makes people racist or do hateful things.  But it is still a SYMBOL that represents a less than stellar history in the treatment of black people in this country, & as such it has no place in our culture.  If you were Jewish, would you want to see Swastikas flying around on government buildings?  Didn’t think so.

Boggles my mind that these flags are still flying side by side in SC

Boggles my mind that these flags are still flying side by side in SC

As a Libertarian, I obviously value freedom & I don’t think that PRIVATE institutions should be banned from using the symbol if they desire to do so.  I still think it’s a stupid thing to do, but, hey, this is America; you have the right to be ignorant if you want to be.  But there is no place in any official government position for the Confederate flag because of its history & the not so subtle “you’re not welcome here” message it sends to our African American citizens.  Furthermore, as another wise friend of mine pointed out, being proud of being Southern does NOT mean you have to embrace the Confederate flag.  There are plenty of other things about Southern culture to embrace to show your cultural pride if you feel so inclined.  (I have very mixed feelings about the South myself, but that’s another post for another day.)Marriage-12-15-10-web

As far as the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage, frankly it baffles my mind how anyone can still be opposed to homosexuality.  I have not heard ONE good argument for why homosexuality is wrong.  Ever.  And saying the Bible says so (ambiguously, I might add) is NOT a good argument.  Even if you think it is, there is still not a good argument for why gay marriage is discriminating against Christians or anyone else who believes it is wrong.  gay-marriage-flowchart

As a Libertarian, I don’t believe private organizations like churches should be forced to marry anyone they don’t want to marry.  That’s fine.  I respect that even if I completely disagree with their reasoning.  Hell, there are churches that would have refused to marry me & my husband because we lived together before we were married.  As crazy as I think that is, I still support their right to do so as a PRIVATE organization.  But I see no good argument whatsoever for why gay marriage should actually be ILLEGAL in this (or any other) country.  When I see pictures of my gay/lesbian friends on Facebook with their lovers/husbands/wives, I feel nothing but happiness for them, today especially.  End of story.supreme court

There really isn’t a focused point to this post.  The last thing I want to do is stir up arguments & debates.  I don’t have the energy for that right now, mentally, physically, or emotionally.  But for my own sanity, I just needed to write to clear my brain a bit because I’m so frustrated & angry at the lack of empathy I see around me right now.  We can be better than this, people.  We really can.

I’m out of even half way eloquent words right now, so I’ll end this post with a link to the video for a song I discovered this week that could not possibly be more relevant right now.  The lyrics are in the video, but you can also read them below the link: Christ Copyright by Nothing More

Nothing More, an awesome rock band out of TX whose music I was lucky enough to discover this week

Nothing More, an awesome rock band out of TX whose music I was lucky enough to discover this week

Don’t form thoughts, trust politicians
Forfeit soul, pursue religion
Lose free will to gain protection
Sink the ship with good intention

See our minds become conditioned
As we swear by these traditions
Lose our hearts & breed division
Oh my God, why can’t we wake up?

They’re selling heaven tonight
Sign on the dotted line
They got your Christ on copyright

To think you know who goes to heaven
Is just one big misconception
Like God hates fags & communism
Create fear to feed the system

They’re selling heaven tonight
Sign on the dotted line
They got your Christ on copyright

We are not machines

If they scream loud
They might muscle the crowd
But we won’t bow down
No, we won’t bow down

They’re selling heaven tonight
Sign on the dotted line
They got your Christ on copyright

Music, Stereotypes, & Breaking Down Racial Barriers


As my Facebook friends already know, I attended a Lindsey Stirling concert in downtown Raleigh last night, & it was nothing short of scintillating.  I’ve always loved Stirling’s unique style of violin music combined with drums, electronics, & dancing, but hearing her perform live brought a whole new level of magic to the experience.  It truly is hard to believe that just a few years ago the judges on America’s Got Talent told Stirling she just wasn’t talented enough to play her violin & dance at the same time & that she needed to be part of a group because she’d never fill concert arenas on her own.  As it turns out, those judges couldn’t possibly have been more wrong! lindsey stirling In any case, as we were waiting for the concert to start, my friend & unofficial “concert buddy” commented on what a diverse group of people were in attendance at this concert.  Indeed we saw people of all races/ethnicities & ages (including young children) dressed in a wide variety of styles including everything from a girl in a red sports bra & wide-leg black pants (that were almost certainly taken from the men’s department), another chick in what looked like a one-piece bathing suit with shoes that were basically the definition of hooker heels, girls in rompers (ugh!) & cute sundresses, guys in prototypical T-shirts & shorts, & everything in between . . . There were definitely more girls than guys in the audience, though the proportion of females to males wasn’t actually as overwhelming as I expected it to be.  Point being, this concert was just one example of the power of music in drawing together a diverse group of people who might not normally associate with each other or at least wouldn’t be expected to have much in common.music quote 1 All of this has got me to thinking about how music truly does have the power to overcome so many barriers that our society has constructed, in particular racial barriers . . . and yet sadly how often these barriers still exist.  For example, I grew up in an area that was about 75% white & 25% black & yet our high school band was probably 90% or more white . . . even the jazz band, which is rather ironic considering that jazz is one of the most quintessential styles of African-American music.  Furthermore, as Laina Dawes discusses in her book What Are You Doing Here? A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal (which has been added to my ever-expanding “must read” list), there has historically been a dearth of African American presence in the rock/metal community, despite the undeniable influence & legacy of Jimi Hindrix.  There are a handful of Asian/half Asian artists in the rock/metal scene (Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park & Matt Heafy of Trivium come to mind) along with a few Hispanic artists (like all of the guys who make up TX heavy metal outfit Upon a Burning Body), but in general it is still a genre very much dominated by white people.

Off the top of my head, Lajon Witherspoon of Sevendust out of Atlanta is the only black lead singer I can think of in the rock/metal world.

Off the top of my head, Lajon Witherspoon of Sevendust out of Atlanta is the only black lead singer I can think of in the rock/metal world.

If you consider country or bluegrass, the musical landscape is even less diverse.  And when it comes to rap/hip-hop there’s always Eminem of course, but aside from him the genre remains mostly black.  Same for R&B.  And don’t forget that Australian new-comer Iggy Azalea, a white rapper, has definitely caught some flack for “stealing black culture.”

Let me be clear here: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with certain genres being largely represented by whites, blacks, or people of any other race/ethnicity.  If a style of music arises out of a certain culture, it’s only natural that it will be most popular among the people of that culture . . . And that’s ok!  There is nothing wrong with that.

Duke Ellington, one of the great jazz legends

Duke Ellington, one of the great jazz legends

What bothers me is the idea that certain people can’t or shouldn’t like a certain type of music because of their race, ethnicity, culture, or any other characteristic.  I grew up in the 90s, a time when rap/hip-hop largely dominated the music scene.  And guess what: white kids/adults loved it!  And most people didn’t think twice about that, even though rap/hip-hop has traditionally been a genre created & dominated by African Americans.  But the minute a black guy or gal decides to be a country singer or a heavy metal guitarist or a classical violinist, suddenly people start giving them weird looks.  Hell, I remember the handful of black students in my high school band were sometimes referred to as “not really black” by other blacks as well as by whites, partially because they were in band.  As if being black means you can’t like classical music?  You’ll have to run that one by me again because it sounds like bullshit to me!

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is a classically trained pianist.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is a classically trained pianist.

Over the past four years I’ve attended at least a half dozen country concerts as well as a half dozen rock/metal concerts.  There’s no denying that the audiences at all these events have been mostly white . . . although I was pleasantly surprised by the racial & ethnic diversity I saw represented at Carolina Rebellion this year.  I can’t help but notice, however, that the Asians, Hispanics, & African Americans I’ve seen at these concerts have usually (but not always) been there with white friends.  Granted these concerts have all been in the South (VA, NC, & SC), so it’s possible that things could be much different in other parts of the country, though I’d be willing to bet they’re pretty similar in most areas.  I am not black, Hispanic, Asian, or any other racial minority (that is, I’m not any racial minority in the US, for on a world-wide scale I suppose being white does make me a minority, but that’s irrelevant to this post) & thus could easily be blissfully unaware, but I can honestly say I’ve never witnessed anyone being teased, taunted, or otherwise made to feel palpably ostracized due to being a non-white person at a mostly white concert.  That doesn’t mean it’s never happened of course, though I do think the rock/metal crowd tends to be very accepting of people from all walks of life seeing as most people who like this kind of music are in some way a bit of an outcast/misfit themselves.  I can’t necessarily say the same about the country music crowd, but that’s a discussion for another day . . . In any case, read this post by one of my favorite bloggers for some insight into one African American woman’s experience at a mostly white concert (Celtic Woman): https://satinsheetdiva.wordpress.com/2015/04/20/the-only-chip-in-the-cookie/.

Upon a Burning Body is an all Hispanic heavy metal band from Texas.

Upon a Burning Body is an all Hispanic heavy metal band from Texas.

In any case, I guess what I am trying to say here is I think that sadly there are still racial barriers in this country, even for something as transcendental as music.  One of the greatest things about music is that it can & does speak to people of all different races, ages, cultures, & ways of life.  For example, I can listen to music in Italian, Hindi, or some other language I don’t understand & be just as moved by it as by a song in English.  Furthermore, composers like Beethoven & Mussorgsky can without words stir every human emotion known to mankind through their glorious symphonies.  Music is powerful, my friends.  It really is.words fail music speaks And that’s exactly why it breaks my heart to think that there are children, teens, & adults in this country who love music from various genres that they are not stereotypically “supposed” to like, & because of that many of them feel uncomfortable attending concerts, buying albums, or even telling their friends & family who their favorite artists are.  Some (who are invariably white) will probably scoff at this, saying these people are making a big deal out of nothing . . . but would you, as a white person, feel comfortable walking into a rap concert whose audience was 90% black?  Now that the shoe is on the other foot, maybe it’s not so silly, huh?  If you still don’t believe this phenomenon exists, check out this article about a black teen rock band in NYC:  http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2013/06/unlocking_the_truth_and_heavy_metal_black_kids_have_a_right_to_rock.html.  The article also mentions an African American journalist who used to hide her rock records under her bed so her black friends wouldn’t call her a “wannabe white girl.”  Hell, even as a white girl, I know what it’s like to be told I don’t seem like I would like a certain style of music, namely rock/metal, because I’m “too nice” & conspicuously free of tattoos & piercings (aside from standard earrings of course).power of music I’m not really sure what the point of today’s post is other than to say this: whether you’re black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, another race/ethnicity, or some mix of any or all of the above, please don’t let anyone or anything stop you from enjoying the music you love.  If you’re a black guy who head-bangs to Slipknot or a white girl who loves rap, whoever you are, whatever you like, don’t let society’s stereotypes or anyone’s expectations for you change who you are or what you enjoy.  If we want to see a change in this world, we have to be that change (as the famous Gandhi quote states).  I truly believe music has the power to change the world . . . and one way that can happen is by breaking down racial & cultural barriers & demolishing  stereotypes.  As the famous quote attributed to Dr. Suess goes, Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

On that note, I’ve been waiting for this day for months now: today is the day both Breaking Benjamin & Kacey Musgraves debut their new albums.  And naturally I’m going out to buy them!  Toodles!

Life Lessons from The Phantom of the Opera


The first time I was exposed to the music & story of The Phantom of the Opera was, I believe, senior year of high school when my band director chose the music for us to play.  Immediately I was enraptured by the glorious songs; the fact that they featured multiple flute solos for me helped a little, I suppose.  In any case, one Friday our director decided to let us watch the most recent film version of the story (the 2004 version directed by Joel Schumacher) so that we could become more acquainted with the music. phantom of the opera

The movie is almost 2.5 hours in length so naturally we weren’t able to watch it in entirety in class that day.  I distinctly remember leaving class that day, going home, & telling my mother we absolutely had to rent the movie that weekend so I could finish it because I just couldn’t stand to wait till going back to school on Monday to see the ending, not to mention to hear the rest of the music.  Rent the movie we did, & I’ve been absolutely enraptured with it ever since.  From the emotional story to the dazzling scenery to the excellent cast (who knew Gerard Butler, who’s had no formal training, could sing so well?!) & above all the beautiful music, this film is one I’ve watched literally dozens of times in the past eight or nine years, yet it’s never lost its magic. phantom of the opera 1

A few years ago I read the original novel by Gaston Leroux on which Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical & the subsequent film (which Andrew Lloyd Webber helped to produce) are based.  The basic premise is the same, though the musical & film certainly took some artistic liberties.  For example the film certainly takes a more sympathetic view of the Phantom, but I believe this serves only to enhance the original story by evolving it from a more simplified good vs evil plot to a more complex one in which the viewers are inspired to question the very nature of good & evil as well as society’s responsibility to those who are, for whatever reason, its outcasts.  The film also ups the sexual tension between Christine & the Phantom, but frankly I think that it was only rational to do so.  Indeed it is rare that I find a movie that is better than the book on which it was based, but in this case I think the film truly provides the most compelling version of the story.  (Not to mention that Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music is what truly makes the story come to life.) phantomopera14

Many who think of The Phantom of the Opera story probably think only of an odd love triangle centered on a “haunted” opera theater, but I’ve always seen this story as so much more because of the life lessons it offers to us.  For many years I’ve felt this was a story that just begs to be written about & today I feel compelled to share why I think this story is one with truly everlasting value.  Thus I will attempt to describe what I feel are the greatest themes imparted to us in The Phantom of the Opera & why you too should be as enraptured by this captivating story (& music) as I am.Why-so-silent-alws-phantom-of-the-opera-movie-1646781-700-453

  1. Be careful how you treat those who are different.

Say what you will about the Phantom, but the movie makes it obvious that he wasn’t exactly born evil.  It was the rejection & torture he faced from his own mother & clan that serve to mold him into the beast he eventually becomes.  You have a cold heart indeed if you can watch the suffering of the Phantom as a child/teenager & not have sympathy for his sorry state, particularly since the disfiguration of his face was hardly something he chose to have, hardly something over which he had any control whatsoever.  Seeing how the world reacted so negatively & cruelly to him based purely on his physical appearance, it’s really not too surprising that the Phantom turned out to be a rather dark character.  Underneath his tough & rather foreboding exterior, it’s quite apparent that the Phantom is a suffering creature who just longs to be loved & cherished . . . & if that’s not a feeling we can all relate to, I don’t know what is.  In the end, I don’t see how you can watch this film & not become more acutely aware of how important it is that we as a society learn to embrace those who are different & not treat them rashly or cruelly . . . for if we do not embrace them, we may well come to regret it later.  For example, in this story not only does the world miss out on the Phantom’s musical genius because they have rejected him due to his disfigured appearance, but eventually they suffer a great deal of misery at his hands.Stranger-than-You-Dreamt-It-alws-phantom-of-the-opera-movie-19743553-731-654

  1. Regardless of outside circumstances, in the end we are each responsible for how we choose to live our lives.

Perhaps I will sound like I’m contradicting myself here because of all that I’ve said above “in favor” of the Phantom, but I do believe this film eventually sends us the message that regardless of our outside circumstances, we are each in the end responsible for how we choose to deal with the cruelty, frustrations, & injustices that we face in this world.  As Christine tells the Phantom at the climax of the film “This haunted face holds no horror for me now.  It’s in your soul that the true distortion lies . . . The tears that I might have shed for your dark fate grow cold & turn to tears of hate!”  In the end, it isn’t the Phantom’s disfigured face that drives away the girl he’s come to love; it is the evil he’s allowed to grow in his soul.  What perhaps is most touching is that Christine’s sympathy towards the Phantom eventually encourages him to show sympathy to her & let her go so that she can live her life with Raoul. emmy rossum

  1. The power of music is truly transcendental.

As some of you may know, I hate all that sappy Nicholas Sparks romance bullshit, but I’ve yet to watch The Phantom of the Opera without feeling my heartstrings tugged from all angles, & I can’t help but believe that is largely because of the music.  From the dark power of the title song to the sweet beauty of All I Ask of You to the seductive enchantment of The Music of the Night & The Point of No Return, I don’t think there’s one human emotion that isn’t touched on in these songs.  I truly don’t see how anyone with a sense of hearing could watch this movie or listen to the songs & not feel stirred in some deep & primal way. phantom of the opera 2

If you’ve not yet seen The Phantom of the Opera, either as the musical or as the film I’ve described here, I hope you’ll take the time to check it out soon.  Hopefully I’ve not given away too much of the plot but have tempted you with enough enchanting glimpses that you’ll be compelled to experience the story & its captivating music in all its great splendor.  Trust me, you will not regret it.