25 October 2010

...Or forever hold your peace: I {heart} Taylor!

Taylor Swift's new album, SPEAK NOW is coming out today!!!

Taylor makes me relive the giddiness of the days when I was a boy band fanatic. I want to read every article, watch every television interview, and catch every Internet leak before all my friends. I'm only mildly embarrassed of my girl-crush on Tay Tay 'cause I mean, really, what's not to love? I just can't get enough of her!

I think Taylor's magic comes from the fact that she can make any tired, guarded, grown-up woman travel back to when she was 14. When life was as simple as passing notes to your best friend in the cafeteria, and when first love was totally fearless, with total abandon.  My girlfriends and I swear Taylor covertly spies on us, and that every song she's written is secretly about one of our own exes. How does she know?

Taylor's lyrics universally speak to the experiences of growing up, falling in love, falling out of love, and trying to navigate a big, scary world.  I think that's where her appeal lies. 
That --and the fact that she's sickeningly cute, humble, and talented.

Alright, enough girlish swooning. I'm off to snag a copy of Speak Now and listen to it repeatedly while scribbling T-Swift's name all over my notebook.
Taylor Swift
My talented friend Waytao Shing took this fabulous picture.
See more at www.flickr.com/wshing.

21 October 2010

Gleek Nation: Too Hot for TV?

The television show Glee is pop culture right now. The music, the fashion, the drama-- those kids are all the rage! In real-life, the Glee actors aren't kids; they're mostly twenty-somethings on the rise, and some of them are making waves. While the cast has graced the pages of US Weekly and Rolling Stone alike, a handful of cast members recently made the cover of an unlikely publication.  GQ, anyone?

Glee Rachel Finn Quinn
See the entire GQ spread here.

Expectedly, the Parents Television Council has strong feelings about Lea, Dianna, and Cory's racy new glossies.  Representatives have frowned upon GQ's sexualization of Gleeks, professing that "'Glee’ is only masquerading as a family show and is far from appropriate for young viewers."  While I applaud the values of the PTC, and their effort to help parents make informed decisions, that statement was a little far-reaching.

I'm not a parent yet, and nowhere near qualified in these matters, but I never categorized Glee as a 'family show' in the first place.  Glee does boast cutesy teenage characters who can belt out the tunes, but the show is not to be confused with its sparkly alter-ego, High School Musical.  The first season featured a pregnant-at-16 Quinn and a more-than-mildly inappropriate Kristin Chenoweth portraying a washed up drunkard.  Not exactly fodder for the growing 8-year-old mind. To say Glee feigns family show status would be like saying Jersey Shore is posing as a lifestyle documentary.

FYI:  Glee's FCC rating is TV-14. 

Leave this one for the big kids.  And cancel little Johnny's subscription to GQ. It's simply irresponsible parenting.

Think Pink: Busting the Breast Cancer Myths

About a year after my grandmother passed away, my aunt noticed that my pre-teenage cousin refused to drink bottled water or sports drinks; he adamantly insisted his water come from the tap or the Brita, instead.  While this might've just been a finicky adolescent phase, her mother's intuition told her something was strange here.

When my aunt asked her son what the deal was, he revealed that he'd read a warning on a MySpace bulletin about harmful chemicals in plastic packaging that were directly linked to cancer, especially if the containers were left in the sun for extended periods of time.  He also recalled that Granny always left half-empty bottles in the backseat of the car or in the fridge, and she sipped on them for weeks.  His innocent logic had led him to the connection that years of neglected Big Red and Ozarka bottles had killed my grandmother, and he was determined to save the rest of the family from a similar fate.

While this was a case of a child's naivete and a mother's consolation eventually got my cousin back to comfortably chugging Gatorade, this is not unlike situations grown people are faced with every day.

How many times has a well-meaning friend or co-worker sent you an email forward about "The Dangers of [fill in everyday appliance, chemical, grocery product]"?

We all want to protect our families, and when we hear reports of something being unsafe or harmful, we want to spread the word as quickly as possible. Oftentimes, though, those emails don't indicate who is reporting the information, where it's coming from, what research exists, etc.  We have to hop onto Google and look for some (reputable) resources ourselves.

On matters of breast cancer, I usually trust the Susan G. Komen Foundation or The National Cancer Institute. Below are a few breast cancer myths and rumors that I've heard, and the truth about them:

1. Plastic bottles can cause cancer:  First of all... no single factor has been proven to cause cancer, although some unhealthy behaviors and external factors may increase risk. The Komen site says: "Findings from laboratory studies have found that BPA [a chemical found in some plastics and coatings] can affect hormone levels in animals, although these hormone changes have not been linked to any harmful effects.2 And, at this time, there is no evidence to suggest a link between BPA and risk of breast cancer.

2.Usage of deodorants and antiperspirants can increase risk of breast cancer. This rumor was floating the internet for a while, and I cringed while imagining the new sweaty, smelly America I would have to tolerate for the greater good. Komen reports that there have been no conclusive studies that indicate that chemicals in these products can deeply permeate underarm skin and damage breast tissue.

3. Wearing underwire bras increases your risk, because the wires compress tissue, allowing toxins to build up. I'm not going to lie, a teen-tiny part of me hoped this one was true. I'm sure Victoria's Secret execs were quivering a bit, but I was ready to bring on the circa-1960's bonfires! A pair of medical anthropologists felt so strongly about it, they wrote a whole book called Dressed to Kill! Reportedly, there wasn't any solid medical evidence to back it up. I haven't read it, but I will check my local library. I am, at the very least, intrigued.

You can learn more about known risk factors at http://www.komen.org/, or even use this nifty risk-assessment tool from the Cancer Institute: http://www.cancer.gov/bcrisktool/ (it only calculates for women over 35, though).

19 October 2010

Hear Our Brave New Voices

Founded in 1996, Youth Speaks, Inc. is an organization after my own heart. They use language and performance to empower our nation's youth because, as their tagline states, "the next generation can speak for themselves."

If you tune into HBO, you may be familiar with Youth Speaks' International Poetry Slam-- Brave New Voices.  Russell Simmons, a known proponent for the development of underserved youth, sponsors the presentation of the annual slam as an HBO documentary series.  The show follows teams from more than 50 cities worldwide as they write, practice, train, and perform their hearts out on the spoken word stage. It also features appearances and words of encouragement from heavy-hitters like Mos Def, Talib Kweli, and Common (who hosts the show).

While some poems are light-hearted accounts of first-love and summer fun, others are controversial, in-depth looks at race, gender, and social inequality. Brave New Voices also gives a behind-the-scenes look at the writing process-- the tears, the meltdowns, the moments that get too real for comfort.

This show is worth surrendering to your couch on a Saturday night.  These young people have some things to say, and you best believe they are going to be heard!

Team Philadelphia's Alysia Harris performing her poem "That Girl" in the 2008 Brand New Voices competition.

You can catch the season premiere this Saturday at 11/10c on HBO. http://www.hbo.com/russell-simmons-presents-brave-new-voices

15 October 2010

H2Know [Blog Action Day]

As we all know, blogging has seized the world wide web. People publish just about any topic imaginable, from home-cooked food to whimsical baby snapshots.  Some, like myself, just post their daily musings and social rants, and hope at least their closest friends will read them.

In 2007, Collis & Cyan Ta'eed decided to take advantage of the increasing influence of bloggers and eventually collaborated with change.org, "the world's leading blog network for social issues", to establish Blog Action Day.  The premise-- to get as many bloggers as possible to write about the same social issue on the same day of the year, and thereby exceedingly promote awareness of the issue in question. 

In the inaugural year, that issue was generally the Environment.  I'm fascinated by the idea that thousands of bloggers will interpret the issue in thousands of ways, but all will aim to make a difference in the world. Inspiring, right? I obviously couldn't resist.

My soapbox is earning its keep this month. I might have to invest in a new one after all this wear-and-tear.

Anyway, the 2010 topic is Water.  Vague much?

Well, let's think about water for a second.
 It composes:
-2/3 of the earth's surface
-60% of your body
-about 70% of your brain

Water = Life

Now let's look at a few more facts:

More than 1 billion people do not have access to clean, drinkable water.  That's 1 in 8 people in the world.

90% of the 42,000 deaths that occur every week from unsafe water and unhygienic living conditions are to children under five years old.

Bottom line: People are dying everywhere because they do not have the most basic element of human life.

Since my readers are now my dually-elected comrades in my quest to change the world, here are some ways you can save the world...literally.

Exercise water conservation practices. Save some for the rest of the world!

Visit mycharitywater.org  to learn about ways you can get active in your community and raise funds to build wells in needy countries. (They'll even follow up with you when your project is complete and show you photos of your results!)

Sponsor a child at worldvision.org or purchase Max Lucado's new book Outlive Your Life for a two-fer. You'll get inspirational teachings about how to make a long-lasting impact in this life, and 100% of Max's royalties are being donated to sponsor wells in African nations.

What tips do you have for saving water?

Assuming you have the privilege, are you drinking your 8 glasses a day? Hydration is the easiest way to stay healthy.

You can find out more info. about Blog Action Day and about water at blogactionday.change.org.

14 October 2010

Think Pink:This One's for the Boys

Just last week, I was singing praises to the marketing gods who have organized breast cancer awareness efforts.  The campaign has such a strongly established brand identity. The entire country has been on board; even the president is lighting his house pink. 

Websites, posters, and commercials are fraught with photos of smiling women who are making it, who have survived.  The inclusiveness of the movement is obvious.  Most pictures feature a black woman, a fair-skinned woman, an olive-skinned woman.  A mother, daughter, grandmother. A businesswoman, a teacher, a stay-at-home mom. The message is clear. This disease affects women of every ethnicity, age, economic background. 

 Breast cancer does not discriminate--- but does breast cancer awareness?

The efforts focuses primarily on empowering, saving, and educating women. Our lense is zooming right past 1% of the affected population.
Testimony that Man Boobs need saving, too!

What about your father, son, brother?

While the majority of breast cancer patients are women, about 2,000 men in the U.S. are diagnosed with  breast cancer each year. Challengers say the national crusade has allowed men to fall to the wayside.  It could very well be that there are thousands more men who are annually contracting breast cancer, but have not been diagnosed because they are not performing self-exams or cannot identify symptoms.  In fact, one North Carolina man was even sent away when he requested a free mammogram at a local public health clinic.

It is an unusual marketing dilemma.  It is not often that a disease is so socially engendered, unless it is directly related to exclusive reproductive organs, like ovarian and prostate cancers.

Is it enough to target the larger population of diagnosees at the expense of the smaller population?

Are there ways in which we could include male-directed marketing in the existing format?

Or would it be most beneficial to dedicate an entire strategy to raising awarness for male breast cancer?

Wherever the verdict stands, it is important that individuals get educated and take charge in matters of personal health. Take the time today to remind the guys in your life of their risk.  This might even give you an excuse to rub up on your honey's pecs!

Resources on male breast cancer:





12 October 2010

Think Pink: Breast Tests

I don't know about you, but I am in no way looking forward to the first time I have to be "embraced" by one of these:

Image found at http://www.cancerquest.org/

If you are unfamiliar with this contraption, it's a mammography machine.  Get familiar. You'll be up close and personal with one soon enough.

Or will you?

Over recent years, breast cancer awareness campaigns have championed the concept of early detection. Particular emphasis has been placed on self-examination and annual mammograms after age 40. The sooner you find the lump, the more quickly you can undergo treatment and be back on the road to a healthy life.  That's the concept.

However, there has been some Great Mammogram Debate in medical and scientific circles as of late.  Mammography is (a) uncomfortable at the least, (b) painful at most, (c) essentially pumping carcinogenic radiation directly into your breasts, and therefore possibly contradictory to its purpose.

Fortunately, though, all of those rallies, phone banks, and races for the cure have funded research and development of new avenues for cancer detection.

Christiane Northrop, MD and best-selling author, suggests thermography-- heat imaging of a patient's body.  It is a painless, safe assesment tool with the "ability to spot anamolies years before mammography," she says in her article in The Huffington Post. Nortrop says thermography can detect cellular discrepancies before tumors have had the chance to develop, which could give patients the chance to make lifestyle adjustments and possibly develop defenses against tumor development.  I'm no medical professional, but I like those odds.  Click here to read Dr. Northrop's full article. 

I was intrigued when I saw a newscast last night about a breast cancer breath test.  The experimental test uses what looks like a police breathalizer to detect organic compounds in a patient's breath and pinpoints those linked to breast cancer development.  While the test is not anticipated to replace mammography, it may be used to identify patients who may need mammograms before the suggest age of 50-- particularly those with a family history of the disease.  View the abc broadcast and full article here.

However you and your physician choose to perform your breast tests, it is important to be armed with information and to develop a strategy for prevention.

Know the facts. Know yourself. Test Early.

11 October 2010

From the Mouths of Babes

Kids say the darnedest-- and the smartest-- things.

Imagine the world if we were all so self-assured and happy with our lives!

True Life: When Hate Kills.

 From an overhead view, we might've looked like a high school youth group or a church choir getting out of an evening rehearsal.  A couple hundred high school sophomores standing around outside a downtown chapel wearing matching white t-shirts and rainbow-colored bracelets.

Zoom in on the scenario. Get a little closer than panorama, and you get the image of the first funeral I ever attended. You hear his best friend screaming in the background for Ricardo to wake up. You see her falling to her knees, heaving and doing her best to convince herself this was some sick sort of joke.

But, it wasn't funny.

Ricardo heard a lot of jokes in his brief 15 years.  He was often the punchline.  There were a lot of one-liners. 

Faggot. Queer. Homo. Loser. Devil-worshipper.

But they weren't funny.

My friend Ricardo always had a smile for me on a bad day.  He wore mostly black clothing, braided rainbow bracelets on his wrists, and star patches on his backpack. From panorama, he was that "different" kid in the trenchcoat.  But when you got a little closer, he was good at keeping your secrets. He gave the kind of hug that makes it hard to breathe and hard to let go at the same time. He was the costume designer in my theater group. He was a kind-hearted person and a good friend. He was gay.

Zoom a little closer. You get a kid who wished he wasn't what he was. A kid who told me, when we dropped him off at home after the school dance, that home was the worst place to be--because while at school, he was a target-- at home, he was invisible.  A kid who, at the age of 15, had been kicked so many times, he'd rather hang from a showerhead than wake up in the morning.

I know that paints an unsettling picture.  Maybe I shouldn't have said it so bluntly? But I wanted to invite you into the reality of the first funeral I ever attended.

This is the reality for so many people in our country, people of all ages who are badgered, harassed, tormented, and mocked every day. Some of them are good people. Some of them aren't. But all of them are people, and none of them deserve to feel like anything less because of their sexual orientation.
Kim Kardashian poses for Adam Bouska's NOH8 project

October 11th is National Coming Out Day, an internationally observed civil awareness event for coming out and other issues in the gay community.

If you are supportive of Gay Rights, consider becoming a straight ally.

If your religious beliefs support that homosexuality is a sin, practice the tolerance of your Lord, and pray for the safety, acceptance, and deliverance of the gay community. We are all His children. Acts 10:28  Matthew 7:1

 If you absolutely cannot find any tolerance or understanding in your heart for these kinds of people, simply choose to live and let live.

For one person, that could be enough.

For more resources and information, visit these websites:




07 October 2010

Seeing PINK

The country is going pink.  Every time I turn on the game, go to the grocery store, or scan my favorite celeb blogs, I'm seeing PINK!  

I've seen pink ribbon-laden snuggies, water bottles, cosmetics, candy bars--you name it! Honestly, a few years ago, I might have been completely oblivious to this colorful trend, but personal experience has made that pink ribbon a symbol of hope, strength, and even some sadness in my life.

If you know me, you undoubtedly know that I lost my grandmother to breast cancer in 2007, and that it was the hardest thing I've ever had to deal with.  If you don't know me, know that I'm trying my hardest to work up the guts to fill you in on the whole story, and you might catch that in a later post.

What's important for you to know is that, while the color pink can make the concept of breast cancer seem powerful, feminine, and cuddly, the disease itself represents a harsh reality for a lot of people.  It can mean losing your hair, your breasts, and your feeling of feminity.  It can mean losing your physical strength and your independence. Breast cancer can mean losing your grandmother, your mom, your best friend.

For these reasons it is so important to raise awareness, raise money, raise your arms in the shower and do that self-exam!

For the month of October, I will publish a post at least a few times a week featuring ways you can do all three and contribute to the Power of Pink!

Stay tuned. Make a difference. Save Lives. Go PINK!

Gays, Gleeks, and Jesus Freaks! {Where is the love?}

My boyfriend and I have a Sunday morning ritual. We have breakfast, go to church, and catch a movie at the A.M. Cinema because it's only $5 to watch a movie before noon and that helps us, as young professionals, to justify the popcorn and large Coke purchase.

A few weeks ago, I was dying to see Easy A.  Emma Stone is one of my favorite rising actresses right now.  She's hilarious!  And, well, I grew up on Amanda Bynes' movies and improv. (Who doesn't remember
Ask Ashley?)

Easy A was everything you want from a teen movie.  Female arch-nemeses, popular music, sex (affected though it was), cute guys, and angsty antics to fit in to the high school social hierarchy.

But, while Marianne, Amanda Bynes' bible-thumping, Mary-Jane-clad, hypocritical character was the perfect antagonist to Olive, Emma Stone's eccentric, sarcastic, pseudo-hussy character, I couldn't help but feel a little uncomfortable about her.

I just don't understand why popular culture so often casts focus on religious extremists.  Why are Christians so often portrayed as kumbaya-singing, holier-than-thou... Jesus Freaks?! I'm sure it's the same reason the news paints all Muslims as terrorists, and Jews as penny-pinching cheapskates.

Stereotyping. Intolerance. Ignorance. Prejudice. 

Just as I was feeling disillusioned by these popular references and some shocking, devastating acts of intolerance in our country this week, entered stage left- Glee.
I was not initially interested in this show, but my mom made me sit and watch the Single Ladies episode, and I was sold on the quirky humor, familiar songs, and teenage drama.

While the singing is probably what makes the show so popular, I commend it because it is pioneering some important social territory.  Since the first episode, it has touched on teen pregnancy, empowerment of disabled persons, homosexual tolerance, and, most recently, religious sensitivity. The series doesn't do it in the dramatic rite of shows like Dawson's Creek, The OC, or Party of Five did.  It's not so aggressive or in your face.

Glee is using its popularity to say "it is okay to talk about these taboo topics; in fact, let's have some discussion." The diverse cast of students talks about controversial issues without overtly pushing any particular agenda.  I appreciated the way the writers approached the sensitive topic of religion, and the struggle that many teens have with questioning their beliefs and with prioritizing their religious rituals, from going to synagogue to Friday night dinners.

Glee presents a well-rounded, magnified view of our society.  And I pray to grilled Cheesus, or whatever higher being, that we can all learn a little something about loving each other, if not from our churches, our families, or our teachers, then from good ol' American primetime.

Missed this week's Glee? See the episode here: http://www.fox.com/glee/full-episodes/625454625001

04 October 2010

Ideal Bookshelf

Jane Mount over at Etsy has taken the ideas I wrote about in my last blog and translated them into visual art. 

Jane's Ideal Bookshelf series features customized, true-to-life paintings of the stacked spines of her clients' favorite, most influential titles.  These would be a thoughtful gift for the bookworm on your list this Christmas.

Here's a sample of one of the paintings:


What books would earn the spot on your Ideal Bookshelf? 

Do you think a person's ideal shelf can articulate a lot about his/her personality or journey?

More information about the series can be found at http://www.idealbookshelf.com/.

The worth of a book is to be measured by what you can carry away from it.- James Bryce

I'm really loving having my own apartment.  Interior decorating has afforded me a surge of creativity lately.  There's just that something about "making a house a home" that makes one feel so unique and industrious.

This weekend, I ambitiously tackled those frustrating wordless instructions with the pictures of screws and panels labeled A-Z, and arrows pointing to ...whatever that thing is. (Obviously, maniacal, ingenious engineers were cackling as they drew up these diagrams, imagining silly right-brainers like me trying to decipher them.)  After some head-scratching, and second-guessing (why do I have 3 B screws left over? Did I miss something? Is this thing going to collapse when I put something on it?), I finally put together my bookcase.

I meticulously lined the shelves with the stacks of books that had previously been housed in cardboard boxes across the apartment. As I gingerly placed each one, I often thumbed through the worn pages and scanned the back-cover summaries.

I know it's cheesy and pitiful and nerdy, but I got a bit emotional as I shelved my collection of biographies, novels, short stories, and writing guides. I have lots of clothes and shoes and jewelry, but if I ever went broke, I'd sell those before my books.

I realized that my books represent a lot about my journey, what I've learned, and how I've become me.

Many of them were assigned readings for school, and I recall all of those analyses and reports I painstakingly cranked out over my years as an English major.  There are several in this group for which I'm thankful I was forced to read, like Louise Erdrich's Tracks, which was assigned by three professors, and the message in which I did not really comprehend until that third reading, when I was more mature and a little wiser. ;)

Maya Angelou's poetics have sung me to sleep many a night with a glass of wine and dreams of the stories I might one day tell about my own life-- struggles included--because, really, that's what makes a woman.

Sloane Crosley's I Was Told There'd be Cake got picked from the shelf at Barnes and Noble simply because, well who can resist that title? Oh, but we became so much more, that book and I, like lovers who never saw it coming.

Heck, even that laughable break-up survival guide that was passed on to me by another bitter, jaded-girl-convincing-herself-of-her inner-diva during my freshman year of college has a special place in my heart.  At the very least, it provided me with some much-needed comic relief when I felt the world was ending upon losing the "first true love "of all my 19 years.

These are just a short few of the many books that have shaped me. What is more therapeutic than reading a book and realizing that somebody, somewhere, in some point in time felt, said, did, failed, accomplished, loved, hated, and adored the same way you do, have, and will?

As a writer, I hope one day someone will line her shelves with bound pages of my own creation.  :)

Happy reading, my friends.