Stephanie Lechner: Nametags and Hairnets

Failing career assessments since the 8th grade

Listen Sugar, We Need to Talk.

Shortly after I moved to New York, I was awoken around 4:00 am with a searing pain in my back. The pain was so strong I could hardly catch my breath. The only thing I knew was that I needed to get to the hospital (and that I did not want to take an ambulance there). I had just moved to Queens and knew nothing about the area, but I was able to hobble down to the main intersection in my pajamas and hail a cab. I asked for the nearest hospital, and he drove me away from the finer establishments in Manhattan to the now defunct St. John’s hospital in Elmhurst.  After a battery of uncomfortable tests and logistical nightmares (at one point they wheeled my bed into the waiting area because they had no space for me), they diagnosed me with kidney stones and sent me home with a delightful quantity of Percocet.  This wasn’t the first or last time I would be diagnosed with “the stones,” so I decided to seek out a doctor that could really help me sort things out.

A coworker recommended a doctor in the area who combined holistic and western medicine. Wanting to take a different approach to healthcare, I immediately made an appointment, and what I learned from this doctor was nothing short of mind-blowing. After a thorough assessment of my health, he explained to me that most of my seemingly unrelated symptoms could probably be addressed through my diet. Say what, doc!?! He went on to explain that a lot of people experience food sensitivities and/or allergies that compromise the digestive system and can result in a variety of ailments similar to an autoimmune disorder. Basically, he was saying that my kidney stones, history of knee complications, chronic insomnia, and frequent stomach pain could probably all be reversed if I took the time to clean up my eating habits. Before I could start, I needed to determine what foods could be causing my problems. This is where he prescribed me six weeks of hell: the allergy elimination diet.

This six-week eating plan required me to strip everything from my diet to which anyone could possibly be allergic. This included the following: wheat, sugar, dairy, night-shade vegetables (buh-bye potatoes!), corn, nuts, caffeine, certain types of seafood, and anything else of the processed chemical variety that I can’t pronounce. After six weeks of painful detoxification, I would then reintroduce these items every other day and journal any and all reactions that resulted. Oh, did I mention that Doc prescribed this to me at the beginning of December ensuring that my birthday, Christmas and New Year’s would be full of so much joy? Yeah, that was the icing on the cake…..that I wasn’t allowed to eat. I’ve always had an iron-will when it came to short-term challenges, so I jumped right into the misery. I was about halfway through the diet and I was dominating, but one of the most challenging feats was surviving my birthday.  Some friends took me out to a restaurant on the Lower East Side. I managed to order some carefully seasoned steak and a side of steamed vegetables, but the whole house of cards almost came crumbling down when our waiter brought us the dessert menu. To paint a clearer picture, let me tell you that this was an Australian restaurant, a place where the owner must exclusively hire good-looking servers with sexy accents. There are not words to describe just how handsome our server was, and he totally knew it. He was aware it was my birthday, but I explained to him that I was on a special diet and wouldn’t be indulging in any birthday sweets. He crouched down beside me, leaned in close and whispered to me every unspeakable ingredient in his favorite dessert, seductively, as though reading pages out of a harlequin romance book.

“Rich, decadent dark-chocolate brownie…..smothered in melted caramel sauce and hot fudge….ice-cold vanilla ice cream melting down the sides…”

My mouth watered, and my friends were silent. After a long pause, I looked at this evil man, gritted my teeth and told him “No, thank you.” It never got more difficult than that night, and after a few more days, I did eventually pass the point of sugar rehab and moved on to that phase in healthy eating where you simply feel like you can conquer the world. Once I began testing the restricted foods, it became obvious that wheat and potatoes are not my friends. Overall, though, when it was over, I felt nothing short of amazing! My energy levels were up, I was sleeping better, and I wasn’t running back to the ER with back pain. I returned to the doctor confident that I could make a couple of these dietary changes permanent. It’s been four years since that diagnosis, and I can tell you that I made none of those changes permanent. I should not, then, be surprised that I haven’t lost any weight, I still have insomnia, and my knees still barely function above the level of the Tin Man. Why is it so difficult to eat the way I should eat? To deny the immediate pleasure of toxic food when I know that I will pay for it later? I just spent ten days back in the Midwest devouring the best of my mom’s cooking and the worst of the Midwest’s dining options. By the time New Year’s Eve rolled around, I felt lethargic and ill.

I am not someone who usually makes resolutions, and I’m not usually the sort of person who makes public my issues with weight and poor health, but I think I reached a breaking point three weeks ago. I was riding my subway to work when within 30 seconds, I felt queasy, broke out into a massive sweat, and my whole body went numb. I clutched to the pole as hard as I could, and I was determined not to be “that person” who collapses on a train and holds up everyone at rush hour. I felt my knees buckling just as the train pulled up to my stop. I stumbled out the door and hunched over on the platform bench, laying there like a homeless person until my legs decided to work again. I went to the doctor, and she thought it was just a virus. It was impossible to determine my blood sugar at that moment because I had eaten by the time I went to the clinic, but my hunch is that this was a wild attack of low blood sugar. I toss back so many processed, sugar and carb-based foods on a daily basis that I’m convinced I am experiencing the peak of my comeuppance. Things must change, and they must change now.  This isn’t about looking better in my clothes. It’s about being the best version of myself and being a good steward of what has been given to me. It was with that revelation, that I stumbled across my dear friend Kristine’s post on Instagram rallying folks to participate in the Whole30 food challenge.  Click here for the specifics and I will expound in more detail later, but this is precisely the type of detox that I desperately need. Hopefully it will transition me to a permanent, healthy relationship with food. Almost a week ago, I accepted this challenge. It’s on!

To be continued.

*PS. I do plan on finishing my blog series on my Joe Jobs. Still tweaking those drafts though 🙂

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Life Lessons From Far Away

You know that game where you stand facing your opponent with your hands resting, palm to palm, on top of theirs, and the goal is to anticipate their move and pull back before they can smack the ever-loving daylights out of your hands? It’s a silly little game, but it can get un-silly quickly if you’re not paying attention. I played this game with one of my closest male friends in college.  It was late, we all were bored, so we roamed over to the local playground (don’t all well-adjusted 20-year-olds hang out at playgrounds after dark?). It started innocent enough, but anyone who knows me well, knows that I hate to lose no matter how the odds are stacked against me, so I kept playing this game determined to get a few hard smacks in. I don’t remember how long we played, but it was a humid Nashville summer night. An interesting thing happens to your skin in a sweaty climate—you bruise like a peach; however, it was so dark out there and I was so blindly determined that neither of us bothered to notice that my hands had started to swell and turn five shades of purple.  The light caught my hands, I realized what was happening, and we stopped, obviously, but not in time to stop the swelling. Within a half-hour my hands were almost double in size and covered entirely with black and blue splotches.  My best friend’s mom happened to be visiting us that weekend, and after the shock wore off, she gave me aspirin, shoved my hands in a pot of ice, and sternly scolded me that I should never, ever play these games with boys.

That is a prime example of the Lechner in me. Lechners are fiercely competitive. My dad taught me to only play to win, and even though he always won, I never stopped trying. This is the part where he would interject that I should be smart enough to stop before self-inflicted injury, but I guess that moronic display was just the Stephanie in me. A few other things about Lechners is that they are insanely sarcastic and often quite clever. Anyone who has been around me, my dad or my grandfather can attest to this very obvious genetic trait. But what about the parts of me passed down from my mom? Where is the Fara in me? On most days, I would tell you that I’m just like my dad, with a more liberal bent, but in honor of my mom’s upcoming birthday, I started thinking that there is so much to learn from this woman.

Life Lessons from Fara (pronounced far-a, as in “far away”):

  1. Be a generous hostess.  Growing up, my friends were always thoroughly amused when they came over. The exchange would usually go something like this:

Mom: “Hi! Are you hungry? Can I get you something to eat?

Friend: Oh, no thanks. I just ate, and I’m not really hungry.

Mom: “Oh alright.” (she exits and 5 minutes later returns with a full plate of manicotti)

You will never feel unwelcome in her care. The woman will not rest until your belly is full, your bed is made, and you feel completely at home in your surroundings.

  1. Be good to your friends…..even if they don’t always know how to return the favor.  If you are lucky enough to be friends with my mom, you have a loyal, generous friend for life. She will never forget a birthday, miss a funeral for an extended relative, and she will be there in any crisis, but beyond that, she will nurture you in ways that most people are too selfish to do, and she expects nothing in return.
  2. Be kind to animals. In my lifetime, my family has rescued 8 cats, 3 dogs, and 2 very annoying birds (not to mention the countless fish and hamsters we bought over the years). She and I once stayed up round the clock for 6 weeks bottle-feeding a litter of abandoned kittens.  She has taught me that you love your pets like you love your family because they, too, are family. Her heart bleeds for animals, and it would be easy to dismiss her as a crazy cat lady, but here’s a good example of why the rest of us just haven’t caught on to her ways yet:

We took a day trip a few years back and asked my friend Justin to watch the 6 cats and blind dog for the day. When he dropped by, he found a VERY detailed 2-page letter giving him specific instructions on how to care for each pet. At the end of the letter, she told him to place Lilly, our blind mini-dachshund at the time, on the bed facing the window and to “tell Sammy (one of the cats) to take care of Lilly when he leaves.” Crazy, right? Well to this day, Justin swears he was so curious to find out what would happen that he put Lilly on the bed facing due north, and with a puzzled expression muttered the words, “Sammy, take care of Lilly????” I kid you not, that cat came out from under the bed, jumped up next to Lilly and curled up right beside her. The woman has actual magical powers.

  1. Persevere through hard times when possible, laugh when not.  I am lucky both of my parents ascribe to this philosophy, and it makes sense I’m pursuing comedy. My mom has been sick for most of my life, and there was a stretch where the medicine she was on made her a little more clumsy than usual. Being sick for so long, it would have been easy to feel discouraged and hopeless after a couple of accidents. Instead, that year, my dad bought my mom a helmet as a gag gift for Christmas, and I can’t remember a time where we all laughed harder than in that moment. Seriously, the pictures are priceless.
  2. Love unconditionally, even if it hurts. It would take me too long to expound on this one, but needless to say, my mom has been through a lot, more than most people face in one lifetime, but she will always support and love her children. There has not been a time when my mom wasn’t my biggest fan. She will tell strangers about her daughter out in New York City, and she’ll remind me periodically how smart she thinks I am (she keeps insisting that I put on my resume that I graduated 4th in my high school class despite me telling her that is both irrelevant and inappropriate.) She told me that any dream was possible for me, and that even though she’d miss me, she knew that I’d be ok out here on my own chasing those dreams.

You see, somewhere along the line, I started to think that to be a strong woman, you needed to be able to run as fast as the boys or be the smartest one in the room (it’s worked out for me in some respects, not so much in others).  Strength, I thought, meant taking care of myself and never showing any sign of weakness, but my mom has shown me otherwise. A strong woman is one who is kind and generous in the face of adversity. She is nurturing and selfless, and will not rest until the people around her are cared for and deeply loved. She is not afraid to embrace the sad realities of life and admit that sometimes there are problems too big to face alone.  My dad is devoted to taking care of her, and lately that is more necessary as her health wanes, but this has never for one second made her weak. There are some people just naturally destined to be mothers, and Fara is one of those women.

I’ve always battled my tom-boy inclinations. I wish I could say that I never again challenged a boy to an arm wrestle, or stubbornly fought for autonomy to my own detriment, but there are moments when I have hope that I could one day be the kind of woman my mom has shown herself to be. That same summer in college, I was running around fixing up things and making dinner for all of my friends. I don’t remember doing anything special, but in the middle of the hustle and bustle, a friend stopped me and said, in earnest and out of nowhere, that I was the most feminine woman she knew. I laughed in the moment because it seemed ludicrous, but looking back, I would like to think in that brief moment she just happened to see the Fara in me.

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Circling Back and Touching Bases or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Job (Part III)

The Boomerang Generation

A boomerang is a funny sort of device.  Triangular in shape, typically made of wood, they are aerodynamically designed to be tossed into the air like a Frisbee, but due to the physical nature of their shape, instead of reaching a new destination, they follow an elliptical path right back towards its point of origin. It is with little enthusiasm that my generation has been dubbed the “Boomerang Generation.” Thrust out into the real world after high school, gliding confidently through college only to discover that not only will a barista job not appease the gods of Sallie Mae, but also Starbucks isn’t even hiring. Velocity waning, we turn the corner and as if pulled by the forces of nature, we glide back into the safe hands of our throwers, also known as our parents. A reluctant boomerang, I packed my life into a 10-foot moving truck, and waved goodbye to Nashville, TN in the spring of 2007, almost five years after arriving. I melodramatically cried a lot on that four-hour drive, and I sang a lot of blues.

 

Let me back up a few months. After taking a soul-crushing job as the office manager of a real-estate office, I almost immediately began searching for new, more lucrative employment. To give you an idea, my annual income was roughly 40% of my accrued undergraduate student debt, a frightening fact that still rears its ugly head. I got in contact with a headhunter who was looking for math-inclined individuals to take on the task of studying actuarial science. The oversimplified way to describe the field of actuarial science is using calculus-based statistics to help insurance companies pinpoint the rate at which their clients might kick the bucket. The only part you need to understand, was that the only thing standing in the way of me and a doubled salary was a 30-question math exam….with a passing rate of approximately 40%. I signed up for a course with a dyslexic calculus instructor. I’m not kidding, half the time he realized he was doing the problems backwards and had to start over (as if derivatives weren’t hard enough). After months of studying, I came in just 2 points shy of passing. To date, this was the hardest test I have ever taken, and the only one I have ever failed. It is worth noting that my friend at the time got a 0 on the same test leading me to believe that she might have spelled her name incorrectly and that my close proximity to passing was indeed a small victory. I received these test results right around the time that I quit the real estate gig, leaving me unemployed with virtually no job prospects. I could almost physically feel Nashville breaking up with me, and instead of seeking new adventures, I felt the nagging pull back towards Greenwood, IN.

            I refer to the year I spent back home simply as The Dark Year. It is hard to explain the feeling you get when you barely taste adulthood and then must return to your childhood bedroom. Everything was pretty much as I left it at 18. The walls were still adorned with posters of  a shirtless Jim Morrison and a barely-shirted Robert Plant. Taped on the doors of my closet was a collage I made of former Saturday Night Live cast members; chunks of it were missing at this point, but it was still fairly obvious that Mike Myers and Dana Carvey were my favorites. I had just started accumulating grown-up things like lamps and fluted cake pans, and those things were now packed away in storage. I had no goals, very few local friends, and I was living with my parents, two dogs, six cats and a cockatiel that liked to whistle along with The Andy Griffith Show. I knew only misery. I did have the joy and comfort of my mother’s Italian cooking, so I suppose it wasn’t all bad. Unclear what my next step would be, I drove around town filling out as many applications as possible.  The first interview I had turned out to be a daylong foray into marketing, but I use the term “marketing” rather loosely. They put me in a pick-up truck with 2 strangers, drove me to a Kroger grocery store, had me sell knock-off Disney toys and paid me nothing. Over lunch, they gave me a job pitch that reeked sadly of a pyramid scheme, and the saddest part is that I almost considered taking the job. Finally, I got hired as a server at the Olive Garden down the street from my house. The genuine excitement I felt getting hired to wait tables in the least authentic Italian restaurant in existence should give you some sort of indication of my desperation at the time.

            If you would have asked me prior to working at the OG (that’s what we cool cats call it), I would have predicted that this job would be my worst one yet, but much to my surprise, I have very few complaints of my time there. Sure, the hours were physically exhausting, and the wages were often abysmal, but if it were possible to make more than $50 off a lunch shift slinging soup, salad and breadsticks to old ladies, I probably would still be doing it (but wouldn’t we all?). If you have ever worked in a restaurant, than you know I’m not exaggerating when I say that the food-service industry attracts the most bizarre, eclectic group of crazy misfits, and I couldn’t be prouder to have counted myself as one of them. I don’t think I’ve ever had such fun with a group of coworkers as I had with my friends at the OG, and I count a few of them as close friends today. I lament over the time I spent at home because in all honesty, I felt like an absolute failure, but I can quite confidently say the Olive Garden experience was the bright spot of my darkest year. Hospitaliano!

            In preparation of this entry, I googled Boomerangs, and I discovered that there are actually two types: returning and non-returning. Clearly, I was fashioned into one of those “returning” devices, but I can’t say that I have any regrets. My path may not have been direct, but as I soon discovered, in turning back towards my point of origin, I unknowingly came across an opportunity that directly resulted in the achievement of a life-long goal: moving to New York City. 

Circling Back and Touching Bases or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Job (Part II)

The College Years

Moving to Nashville, TN and attending Belmont University was one of those “sliding doors” moments in my life.  Up until my last year of high school, Nashville was most certainly not in my life plans (despite the rampant popularity of country music in the Midwest, I always had a passionate disdain for the genre). For as long as kids are supposed to consider which university to attend, I had planned on attending University of Southern California. I had researched their Music Industry program, and had determined that LA was where I wanted to be (at least for college–NYC was always my ultimate dream destination). Through a random discussion with a recruiter at a college fair, I had discovered Belmont’s Music Business school and subsequently arranged a visit. I fell in love with the small campus, and Nashville’s close (but not too close) proximity to my home state seemed appealing, but USC was still #1. I got into both schools and agonized over my options for months. I had housing requests and financial aid set up to both schools, biding my time until I ultimately had to make a decision. I’m typically someone that follows my gut instinct, and for reasons unexplainable, I made the leap towards Belmont.  I packed my little Saturn, moved to Tennessee and vowed never to return to Indiana beyond the occasional visit. My plan was to get in, learn as much about the industry as possible, and get the hell out of there to more metropolitan pastures.

For the most part, my jobs held during my college years were mundane. I was a hostess in a brewery.  I was an administrative assistant. I edited single-camera instructional videos about Jesus. I even worked as one of those people that go into retail stores after hours and manually count their inventory. See what I mean? B-O-R-I-N-G. The job I held the longest was under the employ of Every Nation Ministries (the organization responsible for the aforementioned Jesus videos), or as my dad would describe it, a noticeably not-Catholic charismatic cult church.  Much like every other occupation, I didn’t apply for the job out of any long-term career plans. I needed money, and if that meant working for a church organization or counting t-shirts at Express, I was content to do the work. I won’t dive into the details about my work at EN because it is a section of a larger narrative I’d love to share later. I will say this, though—I understand that somebody needs to run the business logistics of churches, but I also recognize that I am not one of those people. Unfortunately, working behind the scenes of “God’s work” left me little more than cynical, jaded and broke. Sigh. Such is life. (Side note: this should not at all reflect poorly on the 6 or 7 stellar people that I worked with directly on my team. Those folks were awesome, and my bosses were remarkable people. It was being a cog in this larger machine that left me a tad deflated. As I mentioned, much bigger story here than I have room to do justice to in this series, but I will one day. I promise. )

On the academic side, let me give you a little context on what it was like to study the music industry from 2002-2005. This was the post-napster, pre-Itunes era, and the Nashville community was terrified. They filled our seminars with browbeating lectures on the career consequences of illegally downloading music. Since, this is an industry perpetuated by the who-you-know mentality, they also spent a lot of time trying to teach us how to network. At the same time, I soon discovered that I didn’t really have a knack for picking up recording technology, and became flustered when I began to imagine life outside the walls of my school. I think there are 2 types of graduates from Belmont’s music business school: those who leave ready to enthusiastically tackle the business of music, and those that leave loathing the industry. Unfortunately for me, by the time I graduated, I was hardly listening to music at all which is the most depressing sentence to write. Learning about the business side of things completely sucked the joy out of music for me (this was not the case for most of my classmates.  It’s just me. I’m weird).

If I could emphasize one major life lesson learned during the ages of 18-23, it would be this: never make absolute statements, and if you must, whatever you do, don’t make them out loud. In addition to my life-long vow never to wait tables, as my parents dropped me off at school in 2002, I promised not only to never leave the Catholic Church (oops!), but I promised never again to be an Indiana resident. I was convinced I had bigger and better plans, and I was also certain I knew exactly how my adult life would play out. Ah, the pride and foolishness of youth. Now you all can understand why I was depressed at the age of 24, when I moved back home to Greenwood, Indiana, unemployed and started waiting tables at the Olive Garden.

Circling Back and Touching Bases or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Job (Part I)

My First Joe Job

I should have had a fondness for the food service industry. I literally wouldn’t exist were it not for the restaurant chain, Denny’s. You see, my mom was a waitress at a Denny’s in Ft. Lauderdale, and my dad was the short-order cook.  They met, fell in love, and sold a lot of pancakes (to this day I am still in awe at my dad’s ability to perfectly flip an omelet).  I look forward to the day I can share more of my family history in the restaurant biz in my forthcoming memoir: My Grandmother Works At Pizza Hut (and Other Tales From the Normal Child). My fondness for serving food, however, ended there, and I made a personal vow to never become a server. In my mind, it just seemed like such a thankless, stressful way to make a living.  I made tiny concessions on this vow when I was in high school because there were very few options for teenagers wanting to join the work force, so at the ripe old age of 15, I began my rocky path of employment at the local Dairy Queen.

I still remember the joy I felt when I received my first paycheck. The autonomy of possessing my own money was immediately addicting, and I was content to keep mixing Blizzards to keep the cash flowing. In the grand scheme of things, the jobs you hold in high school amount to very little beyond earning enough cash to buy a very cheap used car (my beloved 1987 Honda Accord, Charlie), but for me, certain patterns in my approach to work surfaced almost immediately, mainly my high self-inflicted turnover rate.  This first job was precisely what you would expect it to be: lots of sweat, countless Peanut Buster Parfaits and unruly customers, but I had a lot of trouble getting along with my coworkers. The day they locked me in the freezer was the day I quit. I lasted 2 months. I plunged myself even further into the world of slinging hash when I took a job with a few friends as a line-server Jonathan Byrd’s Cafeteria where the uniforms looked liked this:

I’m fairly certain I recently saw a hipster sporting that dress, so who I am to complain about our cutting edge attire. This job was mostly miserable labor including, but not limited to, cleaning the salad bar, standing on a buffet line dishing out fried chicken and watching old ladies make poor man’s lemonade to avoid a beverage purchase (poor man’s lemonade=free water+free lemons+free sweetener). The upside was that I worked in the trenches with a few good friends, so all was not lost. It was at this point, another pattern emerged: my inability to do just one thing at a time. While I was working here, I decided to take a 2nd job as a veterinarian technician (one of my favorite Joe Jobs!). I continued to keep 2 simultaneous jobs in addition to my extracurricular activities until graduation. By the time I ventured into college, I had accumulated five entries on my pithy resume and started my very own assortment of name tags. If I’m not constantly busy, I drown. I’m like a shark in that respect.

Clock in. Clock out. Cash check. This was my idea of work, and I kept those notions entirely separate from my notions on “career.” A career is something I would be completely passionate about: something I love to do so dearly that most times it would not even seem like work. A “job,” however, is just something you do to pay your bills. As long as I kept those ideas separate, and was making strides to actualize my artistic dreams, I was content to do whatever paying job was available to me.  And that mentality didn’t change as I moved away from my childhood home of Greenwood, IN, and moved to Nashville, TN to start college.

Until next time…

Circling Back and Touching Bases or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Job

The Prologue

Since I know you all love a good blog series, I’m happy to announce my next series that I’ll be releasing on this site over the next few weeks. I’m equally happy to announce that it is completely unrelated to my failed attempts at online dating. I have chosen instead to focus on my schizophrenic resume, my aversion to a traditional career path, and my clumsy journey to my current job and life in New York City.  It occurs to me that I haven’t properly explained the origins of this site besides the obvious Wayne’s World reference (if the reference is not obvious, I am very disappointed in you).  When I was preparing to launch this site, I was working  on the header (with the help of my talented friend Troy Griggs), and I was desperate for my blog to have a good tag line. After a few brainstorming sessions, I landed on the line you see today:

“Failing Career Assessments Since the 8th Grade”

It works on a lot of levels not the least of all being that it’s somewhat true. I love assessments of all types–personality tests, IQ tests, career assessments, Cosmo quizzes. Ok, so maybe not all assessments.  Virtually every career test I’ve ever taken, starting with the ones they hoisted upon me in adolescence, has essentially told me this:

“Stephanie Lechner, you are suited for a career in arts or entertainment. We have reserved a spot for you at your local poor house, and we wish you lots of luck in your artistic endeavors which are surely to result in a long road of anxiety, disappointment and uncertainty.”

Those tests can be such jerks.

If you knew me as a kid, though, this makes a lot of sense. When they would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, it changed almost every year. The list of dream jobs looks something like this:

Grades 1-2=Teacher. Ok, we’re off to a good start!

Grades 3-4= Veterinarian. This looks promising!

Grade 5= Stand-up comedian. This is where stuff gets weird. This is also the year where I would perform my routines on the steps of our townhouse to the delight of nobody.

Grade 6-7= Animator. I decided to hone my drawing skills, filled countless sketchbooks, and declared this my new dream job.

Grade 8=No dreams or goals. I know this sounds weird, but I woke up one day and literally forgot how to draw, like the skill had mysteriously been deleted from my brain while I was sleeping. This is also the year I got a bad perm. Not that it has anything to do with career goals, but really, who has time for career aspirations when you’re too busy avoiding kids who like to call you Howie (because they claim you now resemble Howard Stern).

Grades 9-12= Record Producer. This would be the dream that lasted all through high school. Music has always played an important role in my life, but I don’t actually know how to play any instruments. I decided that if I couldn’t actually be a rock star (my first choice), I would just work with them instead.  I was excited. My parents were not.

 

I think you get my point.  Anyways, this trend has very much carried over into my adult life, and I have lots of stories to share on the topic. I originally thought I could fit this in three excerpts, but I’ve come to grips with my long-winded nature and decided I’ll just keep posting until I’m done.  I’ll stop here for now, but keep an eye for Part I where I recount my foray into the food service industry!

Eat More Logik

When I was a kid, my mom watched a 20/20 special about factory-worker conditions in China, and promptly decided that our family would no longer use or buy products made in China. Even as a young child, I recognized how futile this individual protest was, but it didn’t surprise me—my mom’s always been a bit of a hippie and this wasn’t the first or last time that John Stossel would make my life difficult. To prove my point, I rummaged through our kitchen drawers and pulled out a smattering of products made in China that she would no longer be able to use. Boom! Lawyered! She continued to make snide remarks about her boycott out of sheer stubbornness, but needless to say our house would never be stocked solely with American products.

Boycotts.

Protests.

Political bickering and whining.

These are not new things, so why then, are people shocked, nay outraged, that there was a strong reaction to the supposed remarks that Chick-fil-a president, Dan Cathy, made against gay marriage?

This blog post is not about the gay marriage debate. It is not about my feelings towards a particular fast food franchise. This post is about the backlash to the backlash. I’ve read a lot of comments this week about how unnerved people are that Dan Cathy is coming under scrutiny for his political or religious beliefs.  They are upset that the media has taken his words out of context, that politicians are being exploitive and petty, and that boycotting a restaurant on the principle of political or religious affiliation is both foolish and unnecessary.

Fine. That’s all well and good, but where were you champions of rational thinking when One Million Moms were demanding boycotts of J.C. Penney after they chose Ellen Degeneres to be their spokesperson? Or when Oreo was lambasted for their rainbow-colored, gay pride cookie?

Is this really the line that can’t be crossed? Chicken?

“Hey man, it’s one thing to misquote our President or judge our mid-level department stores, but I will not sit idly by and watch you condemn the very name of Chick-Fil-A! How dare you? 

My point is, if you are going to be upset about the current state of affairs in both media and politics (and believe me, there is A LOT to take issue with), then shouldn’t you be upset about all of it?  You should be scrutinizing every story with such careful logic—not just the ones that jeopardize your favorite waffle fries.

Also, I hate Chick-fil-a. Every time I eat there, I get immediately ill. I think it’s the oil they use.

 

End rant.

 

 

 

 

My Failed Zydeco Career

Let’s imagine a completely hypothetical scenario wherein I dream of becoming the next great Rock ‘n Roll guitarist, like Slash from Guns & Roses (my love for that man has no limits). In this scenario, I buy myself a cheap guitar and start plucking away, trying to teach myself to play anything that remotely sounds like Sweet Child O’Mine. While I’m doing this, a friend of mine, a singer, starts raving about this Zydeco class he took. Zydeco, you ask? Yes, Zydeco, a small genre of music known for its Cajun roots and frequent use of the accordion.

“Steph, you HAVE to sign up for this Zydeco class. It’s amazing. It’s made me such a better singer!”

“Really, but I have no desire to play Zydeco.”

“Me neither, but trust me, you’ll get a lot out of it.”

Now this wasn’t just any regular Zydeco school. This school was started years ago by Zydeco legend Rockin Dopsie and it was known for launching countless successful Zydeco careers. Slightly hesitant, I sign up for Zydeco 101, and much to my surprise, I LOVED it! Not only did my guitar playing improve, but I found this new found love of performance that was completely unexpected. I immediately signed up for Zydeco 201, and started networking in the small underground community of Zydeco enthusiasts. Soon, relationships started building, and I decided to put together my very own practice band.  Out of this, The Pleathers was born.

After a few rehearsals, our chemistry was obvious, so I suggested that perhaps The Pleathers should consider taking our show out of the garage and in to the tiny underground Zydeco scene. Slowly but surely, we booked a few small gigs and started gaining momentum. The great thing about The Pleathers was that our chemistry worked so well on stage because it also worked well off-stage.  We were band-mates, but we were also good friends.  Two years went by, and a few of our founding members departed to pursue other ventures.  Meanwhile, most of the original members progressed through the higher levels of Zydeco classes with their heart set on super-stardom. For me, while Zydeco classes were fun, they were expensive, and only one piece of my artistic puzzle. Sure this formula worked great for Rockin’ Dopsie, and a handful of other performers, but Zydeco isn’t exactly a paint-by-numbers situation. A + B doesn’t necessarily equal platinum records (as if there was such a thing as a platinum selling Zydeco album).  We brought on a few new band members, and I could sense the dynamic was shifting. The Pleathers became focused strictly on climbing the ladder at Zydeco school, and that fact that I could not afford advanced courses and wasn’t convinced that I needed to enroll in class to be successful became a bigger point of contention. While I started considering that maybe I would be happier going back to my first love, Rock and Roll, I was highly invested in the success of The Pleathers and decided to stick around. Then came the email—The Pleathers secretly gathered together, decided that my lack of commitment to Zydeco school was too big of a hurdle, and voted me out. I had been Van Hagar’d out of my very own band. Yes, in my fantasy world, the only way I could cope with this massive rejection was to imagine that I was David Lee Roth in this scenario. I’m not sure what was worse in this situation—that I had been dumped, or that I had been dumped via email.

To say this was a huge blow to my heart and ego would be an understatement. Everything I had worked on for the past two years was obliterated with a single email. I was back at square one, and it took me months to learn the lessons I was meant to learn. Lessons including, but not limited to the following;

  1. I should never allow a group of people to determine my value as an artist or as a person. I should never allow my unique voice as an artist to be diminished.
  2. Supporting a team or group can be good and beneficial, but not if it begins to interfere in my individual personal and artistic development.
  3. Rejection is never the end. In fact, it’s usually just the beginning.

These are hard, painful lessons to learn. You see, after two years, I completely lost my voice as an artist. I certainly don’t regret my time as a member of The Pleathers, and I still very much love Zydeco, but I don’t think I would have been happy or fulfilled had I continued to climb someone else’s ladder. I’ve also realized how important it is to be truly supportive of each other in this community. For artists, we’re all in this crazy mixed-up game together, and there is room in it for all of us. I am so thankful for every friend who has come to one of my shows (especially the truly awful ones), or took the time to read a blog, or gave me a late-night pep talk. After a brief hiatus from all kinds of performance, I have recently stepped out trying my hand at solo performance. I am certainly no Slash, but I am 100% artistically myself, and I can’t ask for much more at the moment.

A month or so ago, I came across this blog from a local zydeco Improv coach, Kirk Damato, and it was like reading a hug (seriously, all you Zydeco nerds should be reading this if you aren’t already). After facing his own setbacks and rejection in the community, he realized how lucky and grateful he was to have the support of his friends and colleagues.  And then he posted this video, which I will leave with you today.

Magic Mike 3D

Remember when male strippers were funny?

And now we have Magic Mike, one of those movies that makes me scratch my head and ask  “How did that get greenlit?” And then not only does it get made, it makes a box office killing, like Avatar or Final Destination 37. What really surprises me is how massively popular and mainstream it’s become. Strike that, what really surprises me is that, given how massively popular and mainstream it is, they didn’t release Magic Mike 3D. Put on your glasses for some full-frontal 3d entertainment! Why do I get the impression that the satire of this film was completely lost on the audience?

But seriously, there is something to be said for the wide-spread obsession over Magic Mike.  Really, what exactly is happening here? Ladies, is this really what we want—Channing Tatum’s junk in our face (in 3-D)?

Don’t answer that.

Then you add in Fifty Shades of Grey and I’ve got to wonder if the feminist movement took a giant step back when our ultimate fantasy became a rich egomaniac controlling our every move. I’m sure there are some who would try to defend these works on some artistic merit. And there are also those who read Playboy for the articles. Bollocks. (Sorry, guys, I’ve been watching a lot of BBC shows lately which makes me think I pull off phrases like “bollocks”) Even if these books did have a shred of artistic merit, nobody being honest with themselves would say that is their main selling point.

As I was tossing this around in my brain, I stumbled across a male friend’s facebook status,

“I’m writing a new book. It’s called 50 Shades of Twilight Fall on Magic Mike.”

Clever. Curious if there even was a male opinion on this pop-culture obsession, I asked for his perspective. Later, he wrote:

“Honestly, I think a lot of good men have lost their voice in this world. What would they sound like if they actually spoke up? Perhaps…

Attention Ladies:

I am not a vampire, or a macho stripper, or a rich, young, sex-crazed entrepreneur. I am a man and nothing more. But if I am a real man, you will need nothing more. (editor’s note: I think we can all safely assume he’s not addressing lesbians.)

I stand for the things that truly matter, and I do not flare my temper for trivial reasons. I am in control of myself. Therefore, I do not need to control the world, and I certainly don’t need to control you. I will keep my body strong for your protection and handsome for your approval, but I will not attach my value to it – just as I do not attach your value to yours. I will win your heart….THEN, I will start to romance it.

You claim real men no longer exist. This is fair, for there is much to suggest so, but I claim you have given up too easily and have settled for less.

I will surprise you.

I will secure you.

I will accept you as you are, but inspire you to be more.

I will waltz you clear of your feet and set you down in a place far better than you would have thought.

I will hold your heart in my hand, and actually know what to do with it.

Above all, I know who I am. My Strength does not come from you. My integrity will not be swayed for you. My passion is not created by you. But all of these will be offered to you. Yes, I am only a man……but if I am a real one, it is enough.”

I know, right?

A thing like that! (Sorry, guys, I’ve also been watching a lot of Mad Men lately).

Perhaps it’s a little on the schmaltzy side. Perhaps it reads a bit too much like a Nicholas Sparks character, but I might argue there is some room in the world for a little schmaltz. I’m not going to lie, it definitely piqued my interest in a good way, but my initial reaction was a solid “Oh, come on!“  Why was my knee-jerk reaction to such beautiful sentiments stone cold skepticism? I polled a few different females around work and the interwebs this week to see if I was the only cynic, and I did seem to grasp a general consensus: a lot of women love the idea of a man possessing such traits (though they hardly believe in his existence), but they are not fond of a man who openly declares that he has them. There were a couple of skeptics who found the statement to be inorganic, possibly disingenuous and wished my friend to put his money where his mouth is, but my favorite response which captures the common sentiment was this:

“For the most part, I think this is how we’d love all men to act, but you can’t, like, say it out loud. The truth is, I do want a partner who makes me want to be a better person, but I want to discover that myself. Is that a double standard?  Perhaps.  But I am a woman.  A real one.  And that’s how I roll.”

And I totally get it. We say that all men are jerks, and we want a nice guy to treat us well, but we usually walk right by the nice guys on the way to Douchetown.  Why is that?

I have a hunch this fella (who has been such a good sport about this), is being genuine, so I threw it back to him and I told him that the ladies weren’t buying it.

His response:

“It’s not that these men don’t exist (contrary to popular belief), they just don’t speak up for themselves for fear of being labeled an arrogant D-bag. It all backfires, of course, because then they simply get tossed into the “Nice but Boring” camp of men, which attracts fewer women than a TBS marathon of Bloodsport. And so the definition of a genuine man becomes lost, and women are forced to toggle between what they believe are their only two options: The Nice Guy or The Jerk. But what if those few men who strive to be more actually spoke up? What if they took a chance and reminded women they were still out there? Maybe it reads old-fashioned or idealistic or cheesy or even arrogant, but so be it.”

Touché, sir, touché.

You can see how men would be confused, though, right? We claim to want them to be decent, kind and honorable, but the minute they say they are decent, kind and honorable, we interpret it as weakness?

We don’t mind someone taking care of us, as long everyone knows we could take care of ourselves if we wanted to.

We want the White Knight, as long as we get to ride on our own damn horse.

In a word, we are so utterly complicated.

No wonder men can’t figure out what the f$@% we want–we can’t even figure it out ourselves! Sorry, guys, I’ve been watching a lot of Louie lately.

There is a lot to be said on this topic, but I merely wanted to get the conversation started. What do you think?

Has old-school chivalry been replaced by male strippers?

Listen, Bread, You’re Toast.

“We need to talk. “

 

Let’s be honest. It is a sentence no person wants to hear. For me, it usually results in the discovery of yet another secret relative, but that’s a story for another day.

 

For a lot of people, “We need to talk” is followed immediately by “Things are just not working out.” Nobody wants to be on either side of that conversation, but it is very difficult to end a long relationship, one so very comfortable that you can hardly imagine a life without it, despite its toxicity. It usually starts with a nagging feeling of dissatisfaction, and you start to think, maybe there is something better out there, a happier existence than your current state of affairs. You think to yourself, “Maybe I just need some space.” So you back off, and limit contact, but soon, one concession leads to another until you are right back where you started again only this time you are vaguely aware of what life might be like on the other side. The vicious cycle continues

 

Your friends try to warn you:

“This is no good for you!”

“You deserve better!”

“Why are you being an idiot!??”

 

But to no avail. It’s probably just easier to keep chugging along in your meager existence than to take the plunge in a new direction. Just keep taking the metaphorical hits; at least you know where they’re coming from. Soon, you start reminiscing about the good days, memories just fond enough to keep you in orbit, while gradually, your unhealthy relationship grows like a cancer until you simply can’t stand it anymore. You get up the courage to take a stand and move on!

Now the only thing standing in the way of you and independent freedom is “The Talk”

 

Ok. I think I might be ready.

 

Listen, Gluten, we need to talk.