Too sexy for your shirt

Have you ever noticed how so many women begin to give up on themselves as they move from their forties to their fifties? For many women, it starts earlier. I’m going to make a huge generalization and say that the women who mostly tend to “let themselves go” are married women.

I don’t want to address how married men let themselves go to as they age. I’m a girl and I’m going to talk to you married girls about why you might be a bit timid to let your sexy self show after you’ve been married for a time and probably are up to your eyeballs in everything housewifey and children-y, and you find yourself living vicariously through your Pinterest page.

I was playing tennis yesterday (as I do four times a week: I’m obsessed) and suddenly, as I’m crouched, waiting for my opponent’s serve, I became aware of the fact that we four all had ponytails. And we all had brightly colored skirts and tops. On the court next to us, in contrast, were four women in their 70’s- (badass tennis players, I must add)–hair grey and chin-length, outfits grey or black.

I continued to observe them and us as we played, and I couldn’t help but make some interesting comparisons which of course spilled over as I went about my day after tennis. Everywhere I went–the grocery store, the mall—I began to check out married women and make little mental notes as I went along on how they presented themselves. Now don’t judge me harshly here–short hair is darling and grey can be too. I even saw a super hot woman who must’ve been pushing 70 at a wedding last October who had waist-length grey hair. It looked like spun silver and I wanted to touch it so badly. What I’m saying is, she’s the exception. Something starts to happen to (especially) married women in middle age.

It’s a cliche, isn’t it? How women say things like, “oh, I gave up heels years ago”. And it’s not because of illness or deformity. It’s a decision. I’m not sure when that line gets crossed, but suddenly, women are wearing “sensible” shoes ALL THE TIME. And “sensible shoes'” sister is “sensible bedtime.” I sing in a rock band, and I can’t tell you how many times when I’ve been asked what time our shows start (usually 10 pm) I’ve heard (married) women–some younger than me!–say, “Oh, that’s too late. I’m usually in bed by 10.” REALLY?? ON A SATURDAY NIGHT??? WHY??

It’s like we just give up. Dressing up and going out at 10:00 o’clock at night is too much work.  It’s easier to just stay home in our jammies on the couch. And don’t get me wrong–that’s just about MY favorite thing to do too–but if I didn’t get out of the house all dressed up at least once a week I would shrivel up and die. I know I would.

When and why do married women in their late 40’s and early 50’s begin to act like they’re headed for a nursing home? Girl, I beg you to take a good hard look at yourself in the mirror. Do you like what you see? Do you think, “this girl’s hot!”? If not, why not? I’ll be you’re hotter than you think you are. Who says you have to wear “sensible” anything? Who are you trying to please? I’m aware we live in a society that says a married woman must remain sensible at all times. I’m here to shake you up and say, “WELL FUCK THAT SHIT!”

I have a BFF who was married for 30 years. Very religious. She colluded with her husband to make sure she was a sensible woman at all times. And he cheated on her with his secretary. So cliche. And guess what??!! Now she’s a hot divorcee. She lost 25 pounds, dyed her hair blonde and got a boyfriend half her age. Alternatively, I have another BFF who wore leopard pumps right up until she gave birth to her and her husband’s fifth child. I give her major props for that balancing act. And the confidence to turn a blind eye to all the stinkeyes she got and continues to get. Why do (married) women think a mom has to wear flats to be a “good enough” parent? Where does this judgmental mindset come from???

To me, “sensible” means “invisible”. Women who dress sensible 24/7 are, in my opinion, trying very hard not to be noticed. And as someone who gets a lot of attention for the way I dress, I know what that feels like to be looked at all the time, and it’s not always positive attention. I get stinkeye from married women who cluck their tongues at me possibly because “who am I trying to impress”? Guess what? I’m not trying to impress anyone dear. I LIKE DRESSING THIS WAY FOR ME. I wear what I wear because I like to feel pretty and girly and what’s more fun than being a girl???!!

It’s a known-fact that many ill-thinking hair-dressers encourage middle-aged women to cut their hair to look more “sensible”. I remember an article I read on Facebook that went viral about a hair-stylist who said to her now ex-client, “Happy 40th birthday! Time to chop off your hair!”

And how many of us think we need to “grow old gracefully”? I don’t believe you get more points in heaven for not fixing ourselves up. What if I choose not to be graceful about aging? Does that make you better than me? Even my teenage daughter knows I’m going to be the “old woman who wears purple”, but it will be my hair, not a hat. Even if I have bad luck and get cancer and have to wear a prosthetic leg, trust me, it will have a 5-inch stiletto on it in the nursing home. Grey hair?? NEVER!! And my nails will always have glitter polish. That’s just who I am.

I don’t know why many married middle-aged women hate me for the way I dress. Why does it make them uncomfortable? Is it because their husbands secretly think, “damn, wish I could see my wife’s cleavage once in a while!”? I even got bullied once. Grown women laughed and made fun of me one night last summer at a trendy bar we go to often. I became aware of them and asked my husband, “is it my imagination or are those women laughing at me?” He responded, “it is not your imagination”, and proceeded to flash them a stinkeye of his own. I was literally shaken. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me.  I decided to confront them. I was going to walk over to them and say, “Hi there! I saw you starting at me so I decided to come over and introduce myself.” And just as I worked up the nerve to get off my barstool, they made a fast bee-line to the door.

I’m sure you’re curious what I was wearing that caused all that commotion. I’ll tell you. It was a turtleneck. Hahah just kidding it was a slinky spaghetti-strapped off-white cocktail dress. Oh, and no bra. Guess I was just too slutty for my age and they thought I should’ve been wearing something much more sensible. After all, who was I trying to impress? I already had a husband!! “SHE MUST BE A SLUT!” LOOK AT HER!” “JESUS CHRIST!” “WHO DOES SHE THINK SHE IS GOING OUT IN PUBLIC LIKE THAT!?” I honestly can’t believe I have that much power; that I “ruined” their meal or whatever the fuck. I didn’t even notice them until they were so obvious they were impossible to ignore. Grown-ass women! Bullying another human being! This wasn’t elementary school playground teasing. These were women who were probably grandmothers and should have known better! How rude and pathetic!

I just have to say for the record that I am sensible enough to wear running shoes when I’m in DC or going to the museum. I learned in junior high that my favorite white go-go boots were not meant to be worn at Disneyland, and I suffered greatly. I actually cringe when I see a hot woman in high heels on an airplane. Jesus girl, I know you wanna look good coming off the jet but change when you land before your bae sees you. Heck, stuff them in your carryon if you must. I’m sure the flight attendants are with me on this one. God forbid we need you to help in the event of a water evacuation!!

I ask myself, “why would any woman want to be invisible?” I get it though. It sure beats getting bullied and enduring stinkeyes. But the common denominator is, the perp is a married woman! Why would this be?? Why would I be such a target for someone who’s married? I’m married too by the way, and happily.

Since I’m not trying to steal your husbands, something else must be going on. I think I’m hitting a nerve.

I think I anger some women for “trying too hard”, because then it reflects on their “not trying hard enough”. I also think there’s something about an older woman being sexual that makes many married woman turn angry. Society reinforces that unmarried women can be sexual but from middle-age on, turn that shit off! EW!!!!! She must be a slut. Unless she’s trying to snag a man, then it’s okay. How unfair is that??

Why is it though that marriage turns hot women into frumps? And don’t tell me it’s lack of money. I shop at mostly consignment stores because that’s where I find the dresses I love. I will confess to splurging on my hair–touch-ups every five weeks. It was my teenage daughter though that showed me how to wear make-up appropriate for my age (read: “no black eyeliner Mom unless you’re onstage!”)

I am sincerely curious as to when this shift begins, and how it continues. I honestly think that since this is a predominantly married woman’s predicament, I have to conclude that when you’ve been with some for two decades, the shine has worn off, and the security of knowing this person finds you attractive no matter what you’re wearing becomes your autopilot. When you no longer “need” to dress up for your dinners out unless it’s accompanied by a trip to the theater, it’s easy to get into a rut of just not bothering to do much more. Older married women can be some of the most conservative women on the planet. And it doesn’t help that aging leaves many of lumpy in the process. Because to suddenly decide to dress “hot” or sexy, one must face the reflection in the mirror. And let’s face it–society is not gentle to the female gender. We have to be perfect in every way: body, skin, eyelashes, a Rachel Ray in the kitchen, Claire Dunphy mom and a Jenna Jameson in the bedroom. It’s all too much and for some of us, it’s easier to just throw in the proverbial towel. Where do you begin?! It’s daunting for sure.

Oftentimes, these married women become divorcees, and that’s when they often transform into Hot Divorcees. Isn’t that a cliche? If you’re a divorcee, you’re hot. Why aren’t married women thought of as “hot” too? It’s because everyone knows that a divorced woman has to “put herself out there” to “catch a man”. So the message is, unless you’re fishing for a husband, there’s really no reason to shop at Victoria’s Secret anymore.

Yes, this is the message society is shouting at us. Once you’ve been “taken off the market” why bother with the annoyance and expense of stilettos, thong undies and make-up from Urban Decay? You’ve snagged your guy and the chase is over. There’s no need to impress him anymore, he’s already yours. Why is it only okay to dress provocatively if you’re single? I really want to know.

I’m not saying you have to go around dressing like me, but I urge you to ask yourself why it might bother or upset you if I do. Or what stops you from showing a little side-boob? How many red lipsticks do you have compared to nude colors? Do your clothes hug your curves or hang on you like a potato sack? Is everything in your closet monotone? Why do you keep your hair short, because it’s more flattering on your or because you think you’re “too old” for long hair? Does feeling sexy make you uncomfortable?

For my BFF, she now realizes that her husband was afraid if she presented herself as sexy and attractive, she might leave HIM, which propelled him to cheat on her first. Many married women would prefer not to have their loyalty tested by “false advertising”. Do you not trust yourself if a man does come on to you? Are you hiding behind your turtleneck because you’re afraid you wouldn’t be able to handle a handsome man’s glance?

Am I hitting a nerve? God I hope so. I live to hit nerves.

We women deserve to feel good about our bodies and the skin we live in. If you’re dressing to be unnoticed 24/7, it’s likely you have body image issues and hiding that gorgeous bod of yours because you don’t feel good about yourself. This isn’t about snagging a man or being sexy for anyone but yourself. If you have to, get yourself to a therapist to uncover why you might be so critical of your physical body. It’s not about weight or height or breast or waist size. Beauty comes from within–it’s a confidence that says, ” I’m absolutely okay with the way I am and I embrace myself'”. It’s not a dress size. I’m no longer a size 2 and that’s okay.

Seeing my husband’s face when I dress up for our date nights is an added bonus. I love to see that spark and he likes the confidence he sees in me when I feel good about myself. And don’t forget, our Significant Others don’t love us conditionally folks. Only your mom and your pets love you conditionally. I want to feel like I’m someone I would go out with! To me, dressing up and taking care of myself is one part of being the best me I can be. When I feel comfortable in my own skin, I can be present for YOU.

It’s a freeing feeling never having to compare myself negatively to any other woman, nor feel diminished by her beauty. When you feel good about yourself, there’s no reason to put anyone else down for any reason. It’s sad those women weren’t nice to me instead–they missed out on us buying them a round of drinks and sharing some laughs. How hard is it for you to say (as I do quite often) to married or unmarried women, “You look gorgeous in the dress!”? Next time try it, especially if you’re feeling a wee bit jealous. If you’re looking at a woman and think, “damn, I wish I had a collarbone that sexy” tell her! Don’t keep it to yourself and turn it into a put-down of your own lack of a sexy collarbone. You’ll find you’ve made a new friend in the process, and trust me, she will thank you and probably compliment you in exchange. We women need to lift each other up at every opportunity.

Now go and be your sexiest self. And if some hot young guy gives you a wink, don’t be surprised. Smile and know that you still got it girl! You always had it baby. You just didn’t realize it. Now you do. GRRRRR!!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

Clown shoes not necessary

The week between the day after Christmas and New Year’s Eve seems to be a time of self-reflection for me. I’n not sure if it’s the post-Christmas blues, but I get this melancholy slump that leads to a feeling of hope.

It’s also the time to present my New Year’s resolution.

I think most of us can say that resolutions aren’t easy to accomplish, nor do they happen overnight. I don’t honestly set up to “find” a resolution; usually there will be something niggling at me that I suddenly can’t turn my back on, like a pan of pasta boiling over.

I have long ago ceased the tired “lose weight and exercise more”, since I’m pretty happy with my physical self.  The last few years I’ve been making resolutions that focus on my emotional self, and basically, how to be a better human being. My looking better doesn’t make the world a better place, and honestly, self-acceptance comes in many forms.

The last two resolutions I made were to answer my cell phone every time it rings and stop being late everywhere. As you can predict, I’m about 50% more successful than I used to be on both of those. My father won’t talk to me if I’m driving, so I don’t answer his calls, nor do I answer the ones whose numbers I don’t recognize. Otherwise, I DO try to answer them as they come in. My reason for this resolution was to save time and stress by not having to call people back. “Just answer the damn phone and get it over with!” became my mantra. If it’s a friend, well, that’s a no-brainer,  because of COURSE I want to talk to them. It’s the other 90% of phone calls that are confirming appointments or other related tedious calls that when I see them come in, I tend to roll my eyes and think, “I’ll call them back later”, which never comes.

My resolution to overcome my constant struggle to be on time is on-going, as my ADHD causes me all sorts of distractions and mental gymnastics to read a clock the same way everyone else does. I’ve learned to manage it better though using a football analogy—you know how in football fifteen minutes on the clock can turn out to be anywhere from 30-45 actual minutes??? In other words, fifteen minutes is NEVER fifteen minutes on a football field. So when I say I’ll be ready in fifteen minutes, my family and friends know that could be anywhere from 30-45, but honestly, nowhere near the actual fifteen minutes I claimed it would be. The problem is though, when I say it, I honestly think that’s how long it will take me, but it always stretches out to be 30-45 minutes.

I feel badly for the people closest to me. I’m sure I drive them crazy.

I’ll be you’re curious what emotional inadequacy  I’ll be addressing this New Year’s! LOL There are many things about me that need to be siphoned off and hosed down but what’s been bugging me the most about myself lately is how I really don’t have a great sense of humor.  I want to learn to “find the funny” in situations I now take too seriously, including myself.

It became apparent to me that I’m a pretty sensitive person, and I don’t think highly sensitive people can be highly humorous at the same time. Unless you’re a comic and then you’ve turned your defensiveness into a well-paying career. I realize that growing up the only girl with three brothers who teased me and made fun of me endlessly made me into someone who always feels like I have to defend my right to even breathe. When your very being is constant fodder for someone else’s entertainment, it takes a toll. I know now it’s something people refer to as “sibling rivalry”, and my brothers and I get along very well now and we’re very close, but being who I was, I took it all to heart.

It has always upset me that I don’t get jokes, and I don’t “get” the subtext of many conversations. I’m the person that things fly right over my head like the proverbial 747 jet. Days later it will come to me, and like a slap to the forehead, I’ll be incredulous: “Is THAT what he meant??? REALLY????!!!” and I’ll be as shocked and surprised as if I just landed on Mars. I’m not quick-witted and I take everything literally.

And I don’t believe I’ve been picked on for a couple of decades, so this realization of the origins of my lack of sense of humor has been quite troubling and insightful at the same time. What started as a coping mechanism has resulted in a personality trait that I’ve been told is unchangeable.

I believe that anything is possible. Like I said, first there has to be an awareness, like Dr. Phil says, “you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge”. As much as that bald man bugs me, and as much as I dislike him, he’s right about a few things and I believe that’s one of them.

“Milwaukee Comedy” has workshops for people who want to become funnier. I have already looked into it, and I am excited to give it a try. It’s not about telling jokes: it’s about “finding the funny” in ourselves and situations that I’m unable to recognize. I have always admired funny people. I adore them and who doesn’t enjoy being around people who make you laugh? I want to become one of them.

The threats are gone; I’m no longer someone’s kid sister to kick around, yet I carry my sword constantly just in case it’s needed to fend off someone’s arrows. It doesn’t mean I allow mistreatment; no one’s mistreating me anymore. I don’t need to walk around feeling defensive anymore. No one’s attacking me, yet if someone calls me on my lateness, my messy desk, or my inability to go anywhere without lipstick, the shield is up, and I realize I react as if the comments were daggers.

I know my family, I know my friends, yet I take these not as poking fun but as if they’re  putting me down in a mean-spirited way. And that’s proven because when I take offense, they’re left feeling badly as if they were disparaging me in some way. I don’t like being the person who “can’t take a joke”. It’s frustrating not knowing the difference between a superfluous comment on my sloppiness and being bullied by a stranger. I’ve had both, and they feel the same to me. Just writing that was a huge light-bulb moment for me. WOW. Can you even imagine how it feels to be me? Ugh all I can think about is how annoying it must be to be my spouse, or friend.

I have already taken the first steps towards accomplishing my resolution to take myself less seriously, and those are: 1. Acknowledging there’s a problem 2. Accepting that it’s affecting my life in a negative way 3. A belief that it is possible to change and 4. A willingness to be uncomfortable.

I asked my hubby to join me in taking the 6-week Saturday morning workshops starting in January, and he’s agreed it sounds fun.

I think for me, it will be the beginning of a transformation that will make me a happier person. And in turn, by being less defensive and more self-deprecating and self-accepting, I believe it will deepen my relationships.

If anything, I’ll hope to be a lot more fun to be around. That, in and of itself, will be worth the effort.

 

Yeah, but were you groped by a Munchkin?

It seems every day there’s an announcement of yet another high-profile celebrity being fired over accusations of sexual misconduct in the workplace. When the “MeToo” campaign swept Facebook, I had to stop and think, “have I been sexually harassed in the workplace?” I got to thinking about my own work-place experiences with men over my lifetime, and sadly, I too have been the victim of inappropriate sexual advances by several men in positions of power, mostly within the entertainment industry.

It’s curious  that I had to really think about it, because as a woman, I was raised to be a “good girl”, which means, ‘Don’t cause a scene” and “be nice”. I also took it to mean, “don’t call attention to yourself” and apparently, “Don’t fight back, it’s not “nice”. And I am grateful that nothing as egregious as being trapped in a hotel room with a Harvey Weinstein pulling out his wanky happened to me.

My final semester in college, I took an internship at CBS Studios in Hollywood, California, and worked for a brand-new soap opera called, “The Bold and the Beautiful.” That internship led to a job there as a Page, which was the most fun job I’ve ever had. There were about 30 of us, all making minimum wage, dressed in our polyester suits with the CBS logo on them. We were mostly all television and film students or recent graduates, and we all longed for a job in the industry. Getting a job as a Page gave you unlimited opportunities to see how a television show was put together, and see first-hand the creative input from supremely talented individuals. It also gave you a front-row seat to the darker side of what’s it’s really like to work in Hollywood. We all wanted to be stars, we all wanted to be “discovered”, and these predatory men in positions of power knew it.

The inappropriate sexual advances of a few men at CBS was insidious, and it upsets me greatly now. I had to ask myself, “should I too come forward and accuse my own abusers? What good would it do now? Are any of them even still alive?” It’s regrettable that as a woman, raised to be a “good girl”, I never did anything about the inappropriate sexual advances done to me, other than think, “he must like me a lot to do that”. Isn’t that pathetic? Rather, as a woman, I came to expect such behavior as typical of men in power, and as a woman, it was considered something along the line of “flattery” if they saw you as a sexual object. After all, didn’t we “ask” for it by being attractive?? I didn’t view the hand on my ass, the innuendos, the offers to accept gifts, car rides, dinners, weekend-trips, the creepy looks up and down at my body, the unwanted hugs, the overall general feeling of unsafetyness as anything other than the price of being a woman in a business that made stars overnight. And like most of my cohorts, we all dreamed of getting  that big break.

My co-workers and I talked often about the stuff we saw going on, and we’d joke about a certain producer or celebrity that was well-known for making advances on the female Pages. We’d joke whether or not any of us was left out; in other words, we knew we weren’t “special” but it was often a rite of passage for a new female Page to be “initiated” for example, by an invitation to the Magic Castle by a particular older male stagehand. As far as I know, most of my female co-workers declined his offers, but I know that I was tempted because this was Hollywood!! I wanted to experience bright lights and the big city!! He was more than twice my age, and although I was afraid to say no, I did so. Something about his invitation felt slimy. I seriously worried about my reputation having said “no” to this powerful man. He’d worked there for two decades and was on a first-name basis with everyone, and was very well-liked and respected. I actually worried I’d harmed my future by saying “no”.

We all had heard how legendary host of “The Price is Right” Bob Barker would go into a particular models’ dressing room before the show. “TPIR”, as we called it, was one of the most frequent shows we Pages worked on. It took a crew of about 15 of us for each show, and because it was clearly the biggest money-maker there at CBS, we all knew it was an honor to work it. We were in charge of the audience; bringing them in for the shows, checking all their ID’s, drawing the infamous price tag-name-tags, making sure the ones chosen to be selected stayed in their seats, even after the customary seven-plus hour wait. We taped two shows a day, Monday through Wednesday.

Bob was such an icon, and we all feared and admired him from afar as he was not known to fraternize with us lowly pages, but to think he was a sexual predator?? At the time, I was as naive as the cliched Dorothy from Kansas. Surely they had a relationship?? And as we all know now, the model was Dian Parkinson, who sued him and the show in 1994 as well as Holly Halstrom in 1995. Bob apparently took full advantage of his “Barker’s Beauties.” We were disgusted but we’d heard the rumors. Pretty much everyone else on the set treated the Pages with respect, as did most of the actors on the soaps (we also worked on the set of “The Young and the Restless”) and most of the stagehands and various employees of the other shows and stages.

But it wasn’t unusual to be confronted with a flirtatious well-known male actor and wonder, “if I go to dinner with him, will I get a part on the show?”` I saw more than one of my female co-workers suddenly be associate-producing without a fucking internship first. Was I just jealous or had they actually sold themselves to the devil?  The Hollywood “casting couch” was well-known back then. The thinking though was that girls who wanted to become stars went willingly. My fellow pages and I were well-aware that we who said “no” were going to have to work even harder and “pay our dues”, and we were okay with that. I knew I needed to be a person of integrity.

We’d talk about them behind their backs of course, because we knew they weren’t any smarter or talented than us, they just took the bait to get ahead. It was the same for a few of the actresses as well; we all heard about the ones who “slept” their way to the top. If you were someone working in Hollywood and planned to get anywhere in the business, you had to have a conversation with yourself about whether or not you were going to be one of them or not. How badly did you want stardom? What price were you willing to pay to get there? Oftentimes, this conversation in your head didn’t occur until you were being propositioned.

In 1989, MGM Studios had a lavish “Wizard of Oz 50th Anniversary” promotion at the studios. Everyone still alive that had been associated with the film was there. It was a big celebration. Who didn’t grow up watching “The Wizard of Oz”?? And I have a picture taken of me arm-in-arm with the last surviving Munchkin, Jerry Maren, who is still alive today at age 97. (see below). In the pic, you see his arm around my waist, but prior to the photo being snapped, he grabbed my ass and pinched it hard. The look on my face says it all. “What the fuck????” Once again, disbelief, and powerlessness. Let’s just say I wasn’t surprised to hear that Judy Garland’s ex-husband had a memoir posthumously published in February of this year that she was repeatedly groped on the set of the film by the Munchkins. Of course, Jerry denies any wrongdoing. I wish I’d had the chutzpah to slap him across the face, but no, I was a “good girl” and instead told myself I should be “flattered.” I wasn’t. I was mortified. And angry, mostly at myself for saying and doing nothing.

The whole Facebook and Twitter “MeToo” campaign has illuminated that nearly every single woman alive has had to endure some version of sexual harassment by men. And it’s not just in Hollywood; we’ve seen it in the White House and the newsroom as well as the boardroom. Twenty years of waiting tables, I’ve had my share of abuse by male customers who’ve called me everything from “hey baby” to “hey you” and a boss who told me once to “smile more” to get bigger tips rather than pay me a higher wage. It’s absolutely mind-boggling that sexual harassment is so pervasive. It sickens me now that I didn’t either have the courage or the tools to respond appropriately in those situations, but it does help now to know I’m not alone.

For those of us who’ve worked in the entertainment industry, it’s not surprising at all. I’m so thankful for all the brave women and men who’ve stepped forward, and that this will hopefully mark the end official end of the era of the “casting couch”.  Sure, maybe there were plenty of women who consciously chose to trade sex for a part or job, but it’s possible that they just didn’t know any better. The workplace that rewards a person for their own victimization is not a healthy, respectful climate.   But there will always be free will, and if a woman makes a conscious decision to use sex for gain, she should be allowed to do so. She just can’t take it back later if she doesn’t get what she wanted and call it “abuse”.

Munchkin
Me in 1989 with Wizard of Oz Munchkin Jerry Maren.
munchkin2
From The Wizard of Oz, Jerry Maren, member of the Lollipop Guild. 

The Man burns in 16 days!!!

“THE MAN BURNS IN 16 DAYS!!”

SIXTEEN DAYS!!

We’ve been preparing for this “camping” trip since we bought the tickets in March.

It’s interesting how many people here in the Midwest have never heard of Burning Man. Growing up in Southern California, it’s as well-known as Vegas and Tijuana. (I’m sure you’ve heard of Vegas…Tijuana is a well-visited tourist trap on the border of San Diego and Mexico). Those that have heard of BM usually have the same reaction that I did initially–“isn’t that a hippie festival with lots of sex and drugs??” Just like the evening news shows only what’s most shocking to get your attention, the perception of the 7-day event has gotten boiled down to frivolousness.

It all started over an alcohol-infused July 4th party at a friend’s a year ago. We’re a fun group of over-grown middle-aged teenagers, and we were discussing our bucket lists. It was fascinating to hear how different each of our lists were. We decided right then and there that we would not only write down the #1 bucket list item on each of our lists, but that we would, in solidarity, do everything possible to help one another make their number one bucket list dream come true. Mine is learning to scuba dive; another’s is singing karaoke in a crowded bar; another’s is running a half-marathon; and so on. And my husband’s was “attend Burning Man.” We went around the group one-by-one, describing our choices and what they meant to us and why they were important to us.

I am a firm believer in validating people’s feelings and experiences, mostly because mine weren’t growing up. Years of therapy have made me aware of how necessary it is to validate one another on this planet. I have taken to heart each of my friends’ bucket list choices but unfortunately, we have not progressed to crossing any of the choices off any of our lists as of yet.

We are about to cross off a big one–I’m attending Burning Man with my husband next week!

In the five months that have transpired since we purchased the tickets (which, by the way, are incredibly expensive and almost impossible to get–30,000 tickets sold out in 35 minutes this past March) I have watched countless YouTube videos and read even more articles on “Surviving Burning Man” than my teenage daughter has watched episodes of “Futurama”. My emotions about BM continue to see-saw between utter panic and unbridled excitement. It’s a bigger-than-life adventure, and if you Google anything about BM, watch the videos of the art.

The biggest problem for me when people ask me “what’s Burning Man?” is trying to describe it. It’s not a festival. It’s not a sex-and-drug hippie free-for-all. What it is is hard to describe, and since I haven’t gone yet, the best I can do is explain that it is a camping trip like no other.

It takes place in a remote area somewhere in Nevada. People come from all over the planet to create a man-made city called Black Rock City that exists only one week a year. It is a journey of self-reliance, as there are no trees, no stores, nothing to buy or rent. You set up your camp and bring everything you need to survive in the harsh atmosphere of the “Playa”–the surface of the campground is a powdery dust made of alkaline and the temps reach in the hundreds during the day and dip to the fifties at night. Each person is recommended to bring a gallon and a half of water to drink a day–that’s about 20 gallons for the two of us–not to mention food for seven days. There’s no campfires allowed, and the most important of the 10 Principles of Burning Man are “leave no trace”. There are no trash cans.

The emphasis is on giving and participating. It’s not something you just go to and sit and watch. “Radical inclusion” is what it’s called, and my gift will be free life-coaching advice. Kind of like a Lucy from Peanuts giving psychiatric help for five cents. She’s no more qualified than I am but I’m planning on getting my certificate this fall.

All I know is, after hundreds of hours of Googling and YouTubing, it’s what you make of it. Burning Man is an ideology of leaving behind all competition, technology, and conveniences for one week to reconnect with your soul and your fellow man. I think of it like a shortened “Alone” (the History Channel series) but more fun and I won’t have to scavenge for any limpets.

The “man” in Burning Man is a gigantic effigy that stands for whatever you want it to stand for. To me, it means something similar to what Jack Black as Dewy Finn refers to in “School of Rock”: “…the world is run by The Man. The Man, oh, you don’t know the Man. He’s everywhere. In the White House, down the hall….M.s Mullins, she’s the Man. And the Man ruined the ozone, he’s burning down the Amazon, he kidnapped Shamu and put her in a chlorine tank! And there used to be a way to stick it to the Man. It was called rock-n-roll, but guess what oh no, the Man ruined that too with a little thing called MTV! So don’t waste your time trying to make anything cool or pure or awesome ’cause the Man is just gonna call you a fat washed up loser and crush your soul!”

The night before the final day, the Man at Burning Man is set ablaze. And whatever that means to each of us who will be present to see it destroyed will have an emotional reaction that I imagine will be indescribable. I can’t wait. It’s at the end of the event for good reason.

The following day, the Temple burns. The Temple is also constructed to be destroyed. People visit the Temple as pilgrimage for many reasons, such as pray for lost loved ones or to seek forgiveness for transgressions. Thousands and thousands of notes are written and left inside the Temple and on Sunday, the last day, the entire enormous structure is lit afire. I’ve heard that it is just as emotional as burning the Man.

Aw we continue to pack and gather up everything we’re going to need to survive not only a week in the desert but about 30 hours in the car each way, I have moments of sheer panic as well as excitement. I’m not a fan of port-a-potties but hey, it beats pooping in the bushes, so there’s that. I look forward to time alone with my husband on the road trip of a lifetime. We are two weeks away from becoming empty-nesters, and frankly, the timing couldn’t be better for us to go on this journey.

And yes, there will be AMAZING art, there will be music, there will be people who take drugs (unfortunately)and there will probably be half-naked people.
But that’s missing the point. For a princess like me who doesn’t really like camping at all, even with modern conveniences like having a shower nearby, this will be the ultimate test of my mettle. How flexible will I be, how resilient? How will I cope with all the challenges of self-reliance? I’ve heard that emotional breakdowns are common on the Playa and I’m already planning mine. I need to think ahead how I will handle the hard things. I already know there will be lots of fun things to do–making friends, visiting the different camps that offer everything from bracelet-making to “free hugs” to the infamous orgy-dome. With 61 pages of themes to choose from, if anything, we will have an intense case of FOMO because a week isn’t long enough to do and see everything.

Black Rock City will be an experience like no other, and I’ve heard that it’s so amazing people actually have a hard time transitioning back into mainstream society once it’s over. For all I know, I will be one of those people.

Having an open mind and a positive attitude is the most important thing I need to remember to bring to Burning Man. It’s as important as bringing enough food and water.

I plan on leaving my laptop at home and allowing myself to be in the present. I plan to write more on here when we return of course, and share my experiences with you. But for one week, there will be no cell phones, no TV, no news, no contact with the outside world whatsoever.

I CAN’T WAIT!!!!

Feel free to visit these sites to get you started. Maybe BM should be on YOUR bucket list!!!

burningman.org

Sex and Death

When you heard rockstar Chris Cornell died with a “band” around his neck, did you immediately think what I did? That he didn’t commit suicide but rather died accidentally performing auto-erotic asphyxiation?

Oh come on now. Admit it, you did think of it.

And if society did its job, you felt guilty about it. Because “oh my god what would people think if he died masturbating??” So along with the media, you jumped on the suicide bandwagon, even though everything (so far) pointing to intentional suicide is negligible. Why is that?

Because as a friend told me last week that “it would be too embarrassing for the family if the truth got out that he died jerking off.”

So, if that’s what really happened in that room that night, it’s better to cover it up and lie about it because accidentally dying by masturbation is so much worse than
purposefully strangling yourself to end your life.

I beg to differ.

His wife has publicly “adamantly” stated that he was NOT depressed or suicidal. Family representatives called his death “sudden and unexpected.” In tandem, the “cause of death has been determined as hanging by suicide” was declared by the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office, pending further investigation and toxicology reports.

I’ve lost someone to suicide, and I can attest that I would’ve much rather had my brother die in the midst of an orgasm than having shot himself in the face, which is what he did. His death was also “sudden and unexpected”, but the evidence proved it was indeed suicide. We can’t know yet whether or not Cornell intended to die that night, we have only the facts that he died with an elastic band around his neck and that he was alone. Everything else is speculative at this point, unless and until toxicology reports help paint a clearer picture of what happened in that Detroit hotel room that night.

To me, dying by auto-erotic asphyxiation is no different than dying in a car crash, accidental fall, or work-place injury. It is no different than if a man keels over from a heart attack during sex with his wife. People die accidentally all the time. Around 117,000 a year according to statistics.

When a person intentionally dies at their own hands, the pain they were trying to escape from is immediately transferred to their surviving loved ones. I know. I’ve been there. Suddenly, all you feel is pain. Their pain is gone, and yours has just begun.

The shock of finding out that the person you loved was so distraught that they saw no hope at all is overwhelming. The realization and hopelessness of not having “been there” to help prevent it “if only we knew.” The helpless feelings that will never go away. The nightmares of their last moments inflicting a most gruesome act upon themselves. The unanswerable questions of “why” that will never go away. These are burdens bestowed upon the grieving thanks to the selfishness of the act of suicide.

The underground buzz is that Cornell may have actually accidentally died from erotic asphyxiation. This isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Cornell was a good husband and father. He wasn’t with another woman (if he HAD been he might be alive today). He was alone in his room. He’d just had an amazing concert in front of over 5000 people. Maybe he wanted to masturbate when he got back to his room. And maybe being a sober addict, he needed an extreme form of stimulation due to fallen dopamine levels. We don’t know. I’m not attempting to solve his death here. I’m just frustrated that we seem to feel way more comfortable believing a man was psychologically unbalanced or mentally ill than died having a little unsafe sex. Why isn’t the media blasting PSA’s about the need to always make sure you have a “spotter” if you’re into AEA? Why are there only more postings of the suicide hotline and tips for managing your depression? In this sexually crazed society that contradicts itself with sexual images fucking everywhere, wouldn’t it be prudent to at least acknowledge what we’re all really thinking? It’s called “the elephant in the room” for a reason.

If Chris Cornell died by AEA, he wouldn’t be the first rockstar or celebrity to do so. Michael Hutchence of the successful 80’s band INXS as well as David Carradine and Robin Williams. By the way, it’s important to note that the cause of death in Hutchence’s case was covered up for years as a suicide, only to be admitted as AEA by his mother years later.

I’m disturbed that I live in a world that is so repressed that it collectively believes a self-inflicted intentional death due to a person in utter despair is more readily accepted than an unintentional death due to a person in a sexually euphoric act. Why does there have to be pathology? Why do we always have to place a judgement on everything? We “understand” that Cornell might’ve been depressed and had a “good reason” to end his life that night, and as long as the media perpetuates this theory, we will run with it. We can all “understand” that as a sober addict, he may have “fallen off the wagon” and “didn’t mean to die.” We can also “understand” that depression is a serious mental illness that often leads to suicide.

But why can’t we “understand” that some people get a kick out of auto-erotic asphyxiation and sometimes it goes awry and that person stops breathing, simple as that? People bristle at any sexual act that doesn’t take place within the confines of a one-man, one-woman marital bed. Holy guacamole should a little kink be the cause of a rockstars’ untimely death! And God forbid that at that moment of suffocation, he was orgasming? Say your Hail Mary’s just for thinking such a thing!

We can’t “understand” because we’ve been brainwashed not to. We’d rather leave his mourners with the belief that he was a true rockstar, the kind that make mythical legends. A tortured soul to the very end. Romantic.

This is sick thinking. There’s nothing romantic about suicide. But if we’re going to romanticize Cornell’s death, why can’t it be “romantic” that he was making love to himself and accidentally died? Why is this so hard for us to wrap our heads around?

Chris Cornell’s state of mind that night prior to his death is being analyzed and combed through as if it were lice on a child’s head, picked off and examined one by one. We will never know the answers, no matter how much forensic evidence reveals.

I truly believe his wife and children would benefit more if they were left with thoughts of his last moments as those of pure pleasure than of despair and heartbreak. They wouldn’t go on living broken themselves, torturing themselves forever how it was their fault, that somehow they failed him in his darkest hour.

Because sometimes, shit just happens.

13 Things You Can Do Right Now

If you haven’t spent 13 hours watching “13 Reason Why”, this blog post is for you.

And if you HAVE watched it, this is also for you.

Because I’m a grown up, I wasn’t able to binge-watch it like my teenage daughter did. But I knew I HAD to watch it in its entirety for three reasons–namely, it’s the most talked-about show right now, SOOOO talked about I got an email from my daughter’s school principal about their concerns about the show, and I lost my older brother to suicide 19 years ago.

I HAD to see this show. I had to see it for myself. I wasn’t content to let other’s opinions of it define its meaning for me. I had to watch every minute (without looking at my phone the way I often do while I’m watching TV) and missing a single word or eye-roll or nuanced glance. This show is apparently THAT important.

It took me a little over two weeks to watch it all. When I got to the penultimate episode, I knew the punchline would be huge, so I waited a couple days until I had complete and uninterrupted privacy to watch the final episode.

It did not disappoint.

For those of you who haven’t seen the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why”, a teenage girl in her junior year of high school experiences a series of unfortunate events as well as the usual teen angst (first job, being a new driver, problems making and keeping friends, high school, dating and boys) over the course of about six months that leave her feeling as though life is not worth living anymore, and chronicles her “13 reasons why” she feels this way in a series of 13 audiotapes she very methodically recorded and distributed prior to her actually committing suicide. Each tape focuses on a particular person in her social circle and she “talks” to each of them one-by-one. As these targeted folk listen to “their tape”–(“I’m number 11”, teen Clay Jensen fearfully admits), each person hears her voice from the grave holding them accountable for their part in “making her do it.” And one-by-one, we see how this information wounds them.

She’s dead and gone, and so many people are left suffering. This is where Season 2 will most likely pick up. Could they have stopped her? Would she be alive today had X-happened or not happened? Why didn’t she say something? How could I not know she was in so much pain? What kind of a lousy friend/boyfriend/sister/brother/spouse/mother/father/teacher AM I?? What could I have done differently? AM I responsible for their death? Is it true it’s my fault? If I wasn’t alive would they be alive now? The regrets of the living are too numerous to list. I KNOW EXACTLY HOW THEY FEEL. THE GUILT AND PAIN AND SHAME OF FEELING THAT YOU ‘DIDN’T SEE IT COMING’. THE HOPELESSNESS THAT THERE’S ABSOLUTELY NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT NOW. YOU CAN’T HELP THEM. MAYBE YOU COULD’VE WHEN THEY WERE ALIVE, AND THAT WILL TORMENT YOU FOREVER.

The show does an outstanding job of showing how deeply affected these kids and other assorted people (teachers, the principal, parents, etc.) are by what their fellow student did. SO affected, in fact, that the series cliffhanger ends with the character Alex (who’s mentioned on one of the tapes) apparently so distraught he shoots himself in the head.

Aside from the trail of broken hearts and souls left in the wake of the tornado that is suicide, it’s really important that you know that there is nothing you can do to prevent someone from killing themselves. It is a huge disservice to send a message that “if only” you did this or did that, that that person would be alive today.

Many people have claimed the show “glamorizes” suicide. If you haven’t sat through the final episode and shook with horror and disbelief watching “Hannah” take the razor blade she stole from her parents’ little mom & pop store and slowly rip the flesh on her arm, all the while shuddering and screaming out in pain as she does so, and then repeats it on the other arm, immediately bleeding to death; then seeing her mother finding her and holding her in her arms, pathetically,heart-wrenchingly begging, “you’re going to be okay baby” as I began sobbing myself, then yes, you go ahead and think that. There’s nothing glamorous about this at all. Trust me. It was more disturbing than anything I’ve ever witnessed.

The show does an amazing job of showing us how teenagers think differently than we adults do due to the fact that the pre-frontal cortex in their brain is still developing. This is the part of the brain that “gets” that actions have consequences, sometimes irreversible ones. Being a parent myself, I somewhat jokingly told both my kids when they were that age (one still is), “I will be your pre-frontal cortex for you. Yours in still under construction.” I have had numerous conversations with my teens that I understand they are going to make mistakes, hell, as their parent, I myself am making mistakes constantly and hope they don’t end up on some therapist’s couch someday about them. I tell them my role now is to help make sure they don’t make the “big” ones. The irreversible ones. Pregnancy, STD’s, DUI’s, drug and alcohol related anything. And yes, suicide has been discussed prior to this show. Having lost their uncle to suicide was something that has been discussed since they were very young.

I didn’t want them to know about their uncle, because as the show states in the commentary at the end, ironically, once a suicide has occurred, it is 50% more likely to occur within the radius of people most closely affected by that suicide. Hence, in the show, “Alex” has apparently succumbed to an attempt. Why would that be?? Mostly, because now it is an option.

It’s a lousy fucking option.

I began to feel that suicide is a selfish, chicken-shit way to deal with your problems. Yeah, go kill yourself and throw all of it on everyone who cares about you. Now your problems are OUR problems. Thanks a lot. The show does a great job of showing how “Hannah” does exactly that. And let me tell you, if the show continues to be written as well a it has, the grieving should next move into the grief phase of “anger”. Oh, I was so angry at my brother for killing himself. What an asshole. REALLY???!! Suicide?? What a sissy. How dare you!! Look what you did to Mom!! Look what you did to Dad!!Look what you did to ME! Look what you did to your brothers! Your nephew will never get to know you! I think I spent at least three or four years thinking my big brother was nothing more than an asshole for killing himself. I am still angry at him. His nephew is graduating college! The niece you never met is graduating high school!! WHERE ARE YOU GLENN?? WHY AREN’T YOU HERE FOR THIS!!?? YOU’D BE SO PROUD OF THEM!! The anger is always there below the sadness. The injustice of it all.

“Hannah” did not have thirteen reasons to justify taking her own life. If you haven’t watched the series you might be inclined to believe that’s the point of the show. It is not. The point is that thirteen people mistreated her in a variety of ways, and she felt unable to cope with the things that happened to her. She desperately looked for a way to climb out from her dark hole. She CHOSE to use what I call a Permanent Solution to a Temporary Problem.

Because that’s what it is. A “temporary problem.”

I’ll tell you one reason why “Hannah” chose to kill herself. She’d lost hope that her life would ever be any different. She truly believed—as many teens do—that her problems were NOT temporary. We grownups have the gift of experience and age to see that she is so young and has her whole life ahead of her. There’s life after high school!!! Most of us barely keep in touch with the people we went to high school with. If only she could see that!! I believe she didn’t see it because along the line, a variety of people did not validate her feelings. Teens feel that parents, teachers, even their friends “won’t understand”. I see why they might feel that way.

We parents especially have a way of belittling our teens’ problems because one, we are older and “know” that they’re temporary problems and two, their unhappiness makes us extremely uncomfortable. We do them a huge disservice every time we metaphorically pat them on their heads and tell them they’re going to be okay. How diminishing it that! If your teen is holed up in her room because her boyfriend dumped her, she’s hurting every bit as much (if not MORE so) than you would be if your boyfriend dumped you. Teens feel everything more intensified than adults do. The pressures of grades, social media, you name it, it’s harder to be a teen these days. (It always has been, but we didn’t have cell phones and social media). Cyber-bullying is a REAL THING. Navigating a life seen through a constant social media lens has got to be difficult to say the least. We can’t possibly know how it feels to have to sit in class day after day with people we wouldn’t have anything to do with once the bell rings at 3:00 o’clock but thanks to social media, there is no “end-of-the-day” bell. Kids comment publicly their likes and dislikes and everything they do and think is fodder for public discourse. How any teen can keep a good sense of self-esteem in today’s world is really a marvel. Our teens are like salmon, swimming upstream constantly. Think of how tiring that would get. It’s not hard to imagine a few wanting to just give up and float to the bottom.

In the Netflix show, the first episode shows how Hannah’s helicopter mom grabs her phone and talks to the boy she’s talking to to make sure it’s “appropriate”. Of course “Hannah” lies to her mom. This scene bothered me in so many ways but the gist of it is, we parents feel so helpless. Teens lie. How can you know when they’re telling the truth? We can’t bear to believe “our kid” would lie. And they’re good liars. And for the most part, they ARE “”good” kids. We walk a delicate line between giving them the privacy they crave and invading it to keep them safe. We try so hard to do right by our teens. Often, we fail.

One of the hardest things about being a parent is the realization that you once began so close–aside from having that child inside of me (you don’t get much closer than that!)–I remember not even being able to go to the bathroom without a child with me, sometimes, holding one on my lap. You go from knowing everything they’re doing 24/7, every morsel that goes in their mouths to everyone who has contact with them daily, to knowing only what they want you to know.

What was also missing for “Hannah” was truly knowing her worth. Not only had she lost hope that her situation would ever get any better, she lost her sense of worth. She was unable to see that she wouldn’t always be 17, and that the “world was her oyster.” She felt no one cared about her anymore, and she stopped caring about herself. The things that happened to her made her doubt her own self-worth. It’s often heard that the suicidal tend to believe others will be “better off” without them. To the non-suicidal person, this sounds crazy.

I firmly believe that anyone who’s suicidal is clinically depressed. Contemplating suicide is not done lightly or off-handedly. It is usually the culmination of many things, as “Hannah” expressed, that “just add up”. Suicidal people aren’t thinking clearly. They’re thinking from their pain. Have you ever tried to have a rational conversation with someone who’s had too much too drink? Whatever you say is not being heard clearly. I believe that’s the same with someone who’s suicidal. You can talk all you want about having “something to live for”, “don’t do this to me”, “it will be all okay”, but the messages aren’t getting through.

Especially if you’re not aware that they’re “drunk” (suicidal) in the first place.

Sometimes we can’t know what we can’t know.

But we can live our lives better. Like “Clay” says at the end of the series, “we have to do better.” He’s absolutely right. We HAVE to do better.

We have a responsibility as a society to treat each other better and to give a shit about one another. Yes, we as parents have a responsibility to try to be good parents. Yes, we as friends and co-workers and relatives and spouses we have a responsibility to be kind and loving in our daily lives. We as human beings have a responsibility to not put others down, and live by the Golden Rule. We live in a bullying society fueled by impossibly ridiculous standards we think we need to live by. The pressure to conform is not confined to the high school years, and anyone who dares to live outside the proscribed lines is considered open season to pick on.

I beg each and every one of you reading this to start paying closer attention to one another. If your teen/friend/mom/sister/brother/co-worker expresses a negative emotion, don’t invalidate how they feel and blithely say things will be better. They may not think so. Eye contact, a caring hand on a shoulder, a smile that says “I care” go a long way. If you see someone being mistreated, DO SOMETHING.

We need to hold our teens when they’re sad, not give them a pep talk. This is dismissive and invalidating and frankly insulting. Give them your attention when they’re talking to you. Validate them as human beings independent of you and remind them that they’re capable and know what’s best for themselves. There’s a delicate balance between knowing when to step in (“do I call the friends’ mom?” “Do I call the principal/teacher?”) and micromanaging their lives. Ask your teen what they need. Do they just need to vent? You know how good it feels to be able to just dump your shitty day on someone who will let you get it all out without offering solutions. This is called “active listening.” We need to know when we’ve made them feel inadequate. We can unknowingly send the message that they are incapable of knowing how they feel and need someone to make their decisions for them. This is crippling.

You were 17 years old once. Try to remember how insecure you felt. Remember the pimples, the self-absorption that comes from the embarrassing physical changes in your body. Try to remember how it felt to not be invited to prom, or a party, or sit alone at lunch. Try to remember how it felt to be ignored or belittled by your parents and boys you liked that always liked your best friend. Magnify that by a million, because your teens don’t get to leave everything in the classroom like we did. Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook all recording it all for posterity. The double-edged sword of technology.

Don’t be afraid to ask how they’re feeling. You know your kid better than anyone. Pay attention. It’s been said that 90% of all communication is non-verbal. I think we parents are guilty of seeing what we want to see sometimes. I know I’ve been guilty of it myself. I shudder to think how inadequate a parent I’ve been at times, caught up in my own drama and life and adult problems. I hope my kids know that they are truly loved for who they are, good grades and successes notwithstanding. As the amazing human beings they are. I hope they know that the world is already a better place just because they’re in it. They don’t have to “do” anything to have earned that. Whatever accomplishments they aspire to is whipped cream on the proverbial hot fudge sundae.

It doesn’t end when they turn 18. My brother was 40 years old when he gave up on life.

“When you know better, you do better.”—Maya Angelous

Now go out and do better!!!!!

Rub a dub dubb thanks for the grub

It didn’t happen often, and if it did it was usually a family of four or more and it was usually Sunday Brunch. I’d be walking at my usual brisk pace, glancing at all my tables checking on them one-by-one, every one at a different stage of their meal. Of the usual five tables I would have, one might be finishing dessert, one might be eating their salads waiting for their entrees, another might be waiting to order, one might be waiting for me to bring them the extra ranch on the side I’d forgotten, and one might have just been seated. Then came the crucial two-minute window check after a table had received their food to make sure everything was cooked to their satisfaction…… and WHOOPS!!!! I’d come to a screeching halt mid-sentence, “How’s everthi…..” when I’d see bowed heads and quiet chatter. I’d spin around and walk away as quickly as I got there. I learned it’s not polite to interrupt people when they’re praying.

I have never been one to thank a God for my food. I always thought it was a bit silly. I’d snidely wonder if they were praying they wouldn’t get food poisoning. And the fact that it wasn’t very common also made it seem that much more fringe behavior. Just like seeing a mom who’s breastfeeding her baby, many diners squirm seeing other diners pray. I don’t know why, but for some reason it makes people uncomfortable. At least in California. And honestly, I’ve been in Wisconsin now for almost seven years and I dine out a lot and have NEVER seen anyone praying over their food.

I really hadn’t given this whole “thanking” for our food business a thought until I saw an episode of the History Channel’s show, “Alone” recently. The ten contestants– whom are highly trained survivalists–are dropped off three and a half miles away from one another to survive as long as they can with minimal possessions in extremely remote areas. The contestant who “taps out” last wins a half a million dollars. The areas in Patagonia where they’re living is so remote there is no human population at all. They are completely and utterly ALONE as the moniker attests.

Maybe you’ve seen the show. If not, I’m sure you’ve seen the Tom Hanks movie, “Castaway”, where he’s marooned on a desert island after the plane he’s in crashes and he’s the only survivor. Tom Hanks’s character Chuck Noland survived four years: the contestants on the current “Alone Season 3” have managed to survive 73 days thus far. The season finale is tonight and I couldn’t be more on edge and excited.

In “Castaway”, Chuck Noland is suddenly catapulted into this crazy situation. And that is the biggest difference between the movie and the reality show (other than the obvious). Tom Hanks’ character got on a plane as a passenger. He had not signed up for this adventure; rather it was thrust upon him. He opened boxes of cargo from the FedEx plane that he’d been on and found at the crash site and MacGyver’d his way to four years of survival until he was rescued. The “Alone” contestants CHOSE to be stranded on their desert isle. They have a walkie-talkie at their side 24/7 whenever they feel they can’t handle it anymore. There wouldn’t have been a movie had Chuck Noland been able to “tap out”.

I had never heard of a “highly trained survivalist” until I saw this show. And as a huge fan, I’ve watched all three seasons now, and I know I wouldn’t last longer than a week. I couldn’t catch my own fish and even if I could there’s no way I could bash its head with a rock to stop it from being alive, gut it, and then cook it. If there’s “roe” in the belly of the fish, I’ve watched contestants just take an index finger and scoop it out and shove it into their mouths. So disgusting. And lest you think, “well, I’d just eat plants”, if you’ve watched as many episodes as I have, you would learn that there isn’t enough protein in plants to survive in the wild. I have learned a lot about nutrition! It’s animal protein that allows these contestants to go the distance. The half-million-dollar carrot is a huge motivator.

So is survival, as demonstrated in the Tom Hanks fictional version. He’s trying to stay alive long enough to be rescued; these are contestants whose version of survival is equated with “becoming rich”. Not quite the same thing.

UNTIL TRUE STARVATION SET IN. It becomes less about a monetary prize and more about not dying.

My heart swelled and I burst into tears witnessing a contestant become extremely emotional watching Episode 6 a few weeks back. Carleigh, a 29-year old female survivalist from Alaska–whom I’ve been rooting for–was having trouble catching fish. The temperatures had dropped significantly, and she had suffered many failed attempts. She was, as all the contestants were, literally starving. In the episode, she walks out in her layers and layers of protective clothing for the umpteenth time to the rocky area where she puts her line once again into the freezing water, trying not to fall in because that would cause hypothermia instantly. Fragile and weak from starvation, she mumbles how desperate she is to catch a fish. It’s the only protein available and she hadn’t caught any in over a week. If she doesn’t catch a fish “today”, she will have to “tap out” and go home. And that is the LAST thing she wants to do. She’s gone this long–73 days–and mentally she’s handling the cold and isolation quite well otherwise. She’s just, well, starving to death.

And to her and our delight, she catches a large fish that appears to be a trout. She is SO grateful, she bursts into tears. She crouches down on the rocks and sobs, holding the fish up lovingly to the camera and says through her tears, “I am so thankful for this fish.” It is sunset, and it’s the first night in weeks she won’t have to go to bed hungry. She tells the fish how beautiful it is, and thanks the fish.

I have to admit, that one scene had a profound impact on me, so much so I had to share it with you. I joke from week to week that I wouldn’t last a week out there; the only thing I’d be good at would be talking to myself. And it made me question when was the last time I was truly grateful for the food I eat? When was the last time I closed my eyes and held my food in my hands lovingly and even took a second to think of how it got to my plate?

I’m not a vegetarian (even though I don’t eat red meat) and I feel ashamed now that I have never thanked the chicken or pig or turkey for giving its life for my consumption. And I’ve always said if I had to catch it and kill it myself there’s no way I could do it. When our food comes packaged so cleanly and sanitized it’s easy to forget it was a living breathing animal. I’m not the only one who doesn’t really take a moment to think about how it got there. There would be no obesity, gluttony or eating disorders if we all stopped and considered how our food gets to our tables.

As I eagerly await tonight’s season finale, I take away a feeling of gratitude that I live in a world of abundance and I’ve been lucky enough not to have been born into poverty. Many will go to bed tonight hungry. I’ve got enough food in my house to last me months if I stopped going to the store. I probably throw out more uneaten food than homeless people eat. It’s so wrong, and today it stops.

We need to close our eyes and bow our heads and thank the animal for giving its life for us. And don’t forget to thank the plants too.