Call Me Lonely Hearts, the Valentine Grinch

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In about two weeks, thousands of people, young and old, will be scrambling around looking to purchase items in pink and red.

Flower sales will rise as will the sales of greeting cards, lingerie, strawberries, poorly made stuffed animals and chocolates wrapped in heart-shaped boxes.

Children will be licking the frosting off of pink sprinkled cupcakes while possibly exchanging tiny superhero or princess cards with one another at school parties.

Many men and women will feel the heat, not from a deep meaningful relationship, but from the pressure of making sure everything is perfect on Friday, February 14, as to avoid the possibility of tears and a potential argument.

(Personally, I’ll be feeling the heat by graduating to a new belt in Taekwondo that night, which to me, is far more meaningful than a goofy eyed monkey professing his love and dark chocolate covered truffles, but that’s another story.)

Like many teenagers, people around the world will be adopting the festivities, without even an understanding of what this day represents, simply because other people are doing it.

Those who (think) they have found that “special someone” to share it with will have a night to remember. Whether the memories of the night end up being good or bad is also another story.

Which brings us to everyone else. The Naysayers. The Day O’ Love Grinches. The people who reject any form of romantic comedy. The ones who shuffle their feet in the dirt as they walk by mumbling their annoyances at all things cute and cuddly. The Lonely Hearts.

Which makes me think about and observe my surroundings. As I sit here, getting my oil changed, I witness the disconnect of the human experience. Customers are making certain there is ample seating space between them, staring at tablets or screens, creating a see-through shield, not unlike myself.

Suddenly, I feel someone staring at me. I look up to attempt eye contact with a smile only to receive the quick “Damn! She caught me looking” turn away in return. Uncomfortable, I decide to take a quick bathroom break.

Not even five minutes pass when I return to find my seat was immediately stolen by the customer who pulled the ol’ “look away”. There are plenty of available seats. He was sitting in one. Why did he get up and cross over and take mine? Was it some weird attempt to connect. Was he even looking at me in the first place? Perhaps he was coveting my chair the whole time? Maybe he just wanted to get closer to the old school western that was playing on the waiting room television.

Whatever the case may be, it’s irritating, I hate my new seat and I’m definitely not going to take his old one.

Regardless, my own hang ups aside, calling a spade a spade, I am equally as guilty as everyone else when it comes to wanting to keep to myself.

My inanimate screens have “got my back” for those awkward moments when I just don’t want to talk. They are a means of escaping discussions I know I shouldn’t have. They are a way to create the “please don’t approach me” line of invisibility almost, at times, as harsh as the old school “talk to the hand” gesture but far more passive-aggressive.

On the flip side, my devices have also been there for me, like a reliable friend, in the moments I felt ignored or not needed by others, acting as a safety net, a digital wingman and quick access to a willing person on the other side waiting to connect through social networking or texting.

Bottom line, I’ve felt the empty awkwardness of loneliness and being out of place, even when surrounded by many others who are seemingly having a good time.

It’s safe to say, we all have.

As of 2012, there are reported to be 7.064 billion people on Earth.

7.064 BILLION.

With so many people, how can I possibly ever feel lonely?

How can anyone?

Why are there people out there who feel so lonely that they can’t stand to live another day? There is always someone in close proximity to talk to, right?

Is it our obligation to at least try to make sure that extreme loneliness in others doesn’t occur? Should we be the ones to welcome others into our worlds, even just briefly? After all, everyone, at some point, just needs to be heard.

With 7.064 billion of us out there, surely we can take a few minutes out of our day to be there for someone, whether we know them or not, to let them vent, to let them cry, to make them laugh to help them smile.

We all have the ability to be sources of comfort.
Comfort for the young.
Comfort for the old.
Comfort for those who are like us.
Comfort for those who are not.

Regardless of our commonalities or differences, we all have one thing in common, we’re all human beings who feel lonely one time or another and the more we are there for each other the more together we’ll all be.

That being said, it’s amazing what five minutes of genuine attention can do.

What’s the Skinny, on Jeans?

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Skinny.

Super Skinny.

Rock-star Skinny.

Boyfriend Skinny.

Always Skinny.

Any way you slice ’em or dice ’em the supply of pant options with the title “skinny” attached to it is incredibly “plump”.  Just the names alone make me cringe.

Over the past few years, while the Skinny Jean style took off, those around me heard my dislike for the trend that just keeps on giving, most thinking my disdain for this cut is because of personal preferences. I’m not one to put importance on another person’s fashion choices because I’ve been nothing but a fashion victim for most, if not all, of my life. For me, it’s not what you wear but how you treat others that matters. 

When the trend first reared its head I was cool with it.  No one was forcing me to wear them.  No one was forcing me to buy them.  I could easily walk past the skinny rack and pick up a pair of “Relaxed”, “Wide Leg”, “Loose” “Straight”, “Flare” or “Boot Cut” jeans. 

But things changed, like an infestation the “Skinny Movement” took over.  “Wide Leg” the first to go followed by “Loose” and next “Relaxed”.  Before I knew it “Flare” jeans were a thing of the past leaving only the “Boot Cut” which eventually became the “Skinny Boot Cut”.  

For me it’s not about disliking the fashion, it’s about disliking the lack of providing options. 

It’s one thing to introduce something new and allow the freedom of choice.  It’s another thing to introduce something new and take away all the others flavors that added spice and creative expression to our world leaving us with, literally, very slim pickin’s. 

Walking into the mall over a year ago to replace my old tried and true “relaxed” fit jeans,  I was floored when my favorite shop told me they were discontinued. Obviously disappointed,  I asked the clothier to direct me to my options.  Imagine my surprise when my options all had the word “skinny” attached to them.

Needless to say,  I left empty handed yet hopeful. Hopeful because I was in a shopping mall and shopping malls are chock full of clothing stores that are chock full of options. Little did I know my only choices would be the type of color or wash I preferred rather than the fit. 

I left confident that online shopping would serve me well. 

I logged off feeling defeated.

Rather than give in to the skinny, I gave in to sewing, poorly might I add, the only proof of relaxed fitting jeans possibly left in existence. 

Seeing skinny jeans everywhere I turned made me question if I was the only person left who wanted a relaxed or loose pair of jeans.

By it’s very definition relaxed means 1. Not rigorous or strict. 2. Free from strain or tension. and 3. Easy and informal in manner. How could no one want a pair?

And skinny, by it’s very definition, means 1. lacking in flesh  2. consisting of or resembling skin and 3.tight

Add “super” to the mix and we are essentially looking at a product that is “extremely tight lacking in flesh”.  Throw in “Rock Star” and we stress the importance of achieving “celebrity status”.  While we’re at it, toss in words like  “boyfriend” and “always” for more pressure, so in the end we have a product that, whether we like to admit it or not, sends a message to our youth that in order to be included and accepted, you have to “always be extremely skinny, with a rock star edginess in order to be loved (because we all know what great role models most rock stars are).  

What no “Girlfriend Cut” for the fellas?

So what’s really being pushed here?  A simple pair of jeans?

Ask any preteen or teenager in today’s world and a majority of them, if answering honestly, will tell you they worry about their body image. Not in the sense that they want to be healthy and physically fit but in the sense that they want to be accepted and adored by others.  They want to be sexually desired by those around them. They want to be who and what they see on television, in movies, on stage and in magazines, leaving very few of them wanting to be or evening knowing who they are themselves.  And the fashion industry, by taking so many options away, has chosen this pressure filled lifestyle for them, dictating what they should wear, by giving them only one style with a zillion variations of it.  

We live in a world that heavily bases worth on looks and sexuality.  If we give our youth a variety of different options, these options will promote creative expression, intelligence and an understanding of oneself, if we continue to promote the mantra that sex sells then that’s about as far as they’ll get. 

At this point, what choice do they have?

It’s not about their fashion, it’s about their options.

“Awkward!”: A Piece of Fiction Inspired by an Awkward Fact

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We froze, staring at each other.  Him standing, me sitting.

A brief first encounter but not one I’d easily forget.

My gut and clenched jaw conveyed to me that I was being an inconvenience to him.

His face was incredibly stern, lifeless, what counselors would call “having a flat affect”.  I wasn’t intimidated, though I certainly should have been.

A sneaky grin, coated with sarcasm, curved onto my face as I innocently answered his first question, while shaking my head, “Oh no, the picture I took of you…it’s for Facebook. You know…to teach my friends a lesson, while learning mine.”

His initial silence spoke volumes as he handed me a thin piece of paper, “If you wanted my number all you had to do was ask for it?”

Without saying a word I crumpled it up and shoved it into my overly stuffed purse.

Hoping I would never see him again, I watched as he walked away.

Arrogantly, he stopped and waited for me to leave first. Determination kept me there but I finally gave in just wanting to be as far away from him as possible.

It took me a few minutes to be sure he was no longer near me before I felt safe.

Even though I couldn’t stand him, when he was out of my sight, he was anything but out of my mind.  For the remainder of the night, he was all I thought about, as I committed the structure of his face to memory.

Immediately, his stolen image was texted to my closest friends and of course, my status updated with it too.

What was he thinking stopping me like that? He knew it wouldn’t make me happy.

Sleep was the only remedy for moving
past our uncomfortable encounter.

The night seemed much shorter than it really was.  The vibrating buzz next to my head gradually brought me out of my coma-like sleep, my thumb putting my phone on snooze.

Ten minutes pointlessly felt like ten seconds, “Ugh!” I had to get up.

An oscillating fan blew my bedroom window curtain to the side, “Just like I thought…cold, dark and drizzling.”

There was always comfort when it actually rained, like visible drops of rain, but when it drizzled, it felt like I missed something big and only caught it’s miserable end.

I scratched my kittens head with the corner of my phone as he rubbed up against mine, “Time for me to go again, Fluffernutter.”

Having a mind of its own, my thumb sneakily slid to the photos app to reveal his picture once more,  “Like I really need to see that!?” Moving past last night wasn’t going to be easy.

An early breakfast certainly wasn’t going to happen, so rather than dwell on it, I darted out the door, covering my head with my hood, to shield me from the obnoxious “rain”.

Fourteen hours had passed since our cold encounter, but who was counting?

I was.

It took some concentration but as soon as I convinced myself that he no longer mattered and that I never had to see him again, there he was, insidiously behind me, like he totally knew I was going to be right there at that exact moment.

Did he know where I lived? Was he following me? Was I safe?

Pulling my cap as low on my forehead as I could, I held it’s brim looking down, ostrich style,  hoping he wouldn’t notice me, even though I knew he did and rolled down my window before he asked me to.

Extending my arm out to him, holding exactly what I knew he wanted from me, I shook my head slowly back and forth, still looking down, in shame.

He reached over, taking what he came for, “I clocked you in at forty-five miles per hour this time, Miss.”

Flushed with reddening cheeks I didn’t look up, “I am so so sorry.”

“Where are you headed, Miss?”

I continued to talk to my lap, “School.”

Three of his fingers wiggled in my periphery, “Well, I’m not going to write you up this time but three’s a charm.”

“Thank you.  You have no idea, I am so so sorry.”

He wished me well, “Be safe out there”, and like a champion, strutted away.

By this point I knew the routine and pulled out first.  The heat of his stare followed me from behind all the way to my next turn.

While coasting away, slowly, I beat myself up, not for getting pulled over twice in less than twenty-four hours but for not asking him to take a “selfie” with me.  You know, to continue teaching my friends a lesson as I continued to learn mine.  Lord knows that after being forced to go thirty miles per hour, I certainly had enough time to think about it.

 

 

 

When fashion gives you lemons…write tart fiction

The kittens smiled at me. I tried to ignore them but they were so damned cute, I couldn’t look away. At the same time, they kind of disturbed me. There were just so many of them, twenty maybe more, with that Cheshire Cat grin on their infantile faces.

“Wanna pet one?” she asked.

I shook my head out of its otherworldly daze, “Um, are they…in…space?”

“The Milky Way, I think. Wanna bite of my candy bar?”

A pang ran up my neck as I jerked away from her shoving a half eaten chocolate bar into my face, “Uh, thanks, but no.”

With a shrug of her shoulders she stuffed the rest in her mouth in one sloppy bite, “Your loss, pal.”

She sat inches away from me. I tried to scoot over but there was an elderly man to my left, snoring. How the hell he slept with all of those kittens glaring at us was beyond me.

I felt a rubbing up against my knee. “It looks like this one really likes you,” said the girl.

The outstretched face of a white blue eyed kitten wrapped tightly around her knee as it continued to touch mine. I couldn’t shake the fact that she found shiny, spandex, kitten laden, leggings to begin with much less that she was actually wearing them.

“I guess so,” was all that escaped my mouth, as I held my breath, praying she’d be called in to see the doctor next.

A short and stalky nurse threw the door open, “Melinda Frances!”

The girl was so close to me now, too close. I could feel and smell the heat of her bubble gum breath as she blew a bubble in my ear.

“Melinda…Melinda Frances!”

*pop!*

“Yeah, yeah, that’s me,” the girl barked annoyingly in my reddening face, “I’m coming.”

Music to my ears.

She stood up showcasing the Milky Way galaxy of kittens from her hips to her ankles, most of them looking scared to be on the curves of her body but none of them as scared as I was to be sitting next to her.

Her pointy toed high heeled boots clicked as she walked away, “Catch you on the flip side, Evan.”

I knew I should have covered my name on the doctor office’s questionnaire.

Melinda flipped her long ombré colored hair as the nurse held the door. From a distance she was actually kinda pretty, except for the whole annoying, gum chewing, kitten, boot thing.

“Kevin O’connell?” appeared a much taller and younger nurse holding the door.

“It’s Evan. Evan O’Connell,” I corrected, wiping sweat from the palms of my hands, onto my thighs, as I went to stand.

“Well…Evan,” she said with a gentle smile “The doctor will see you now.”

Suddenly, I preferred the company of stretchy cats to the company of an actual diagnosis.

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New Years Bring New Books: Presenting Graphic Novel Blades of Hope’s First Book Trailer

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Book trailers, not so new for authors and avid readers, particularly in the young adult sect. Do a google search and you are bound to find a plethora of trailers for books soon to be released.

In 2014, Jabal Entertainment will bring to you book one of the graphic novel “Blades of Hope”. Complete with intelligent and strong female characters, fraught with martial arts skills, “Blades of Hope” is not only geared towards female young adult and adult readers but all gender readers who are not yet accustomed to reading comic books or graphic novels as well.

But fear not, avid comic books fans, the creators of “Blades of Hope” have also kept you in mind.

Though we have not yet released artwork from the book, we have put together our first “Blades of Hope” book trailer/teaser for your viewing pleasure, until we release our official book trailer later this year.

Until then we present to you our first teaser:

“Insta” Gratification: QUICK! Read this NOW!

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Like most, I’ve become accustomed to the speed with which information is gathered, dispersed and received.

Technology has boomed so rapidly that it’s become second nature for me to constantly have my phone at my fingertips.

Even when I’m not using it practically I’m tapping it’s screen out of habit, and maybe even comfort, because I find the new iPhone OS to be quite airy and soothing.

Just looking at the apps “float” on the screen relaxes me especially when I choose an ethereal background image.

So yes, I’ll be the first to admit that I love my phone. I’ll also be the first to admit that I’m addicted to it too.

Certainly, it has it’s benefits with accessibility and functionality. It comes in quite handy when I’m on road trips and for that funny Facebook moment I just have to update about…immediately.

Even more importantly, I’ve sadly justified that my phone has proven to be beneficial while walking through parking lots because I’m always ready to wield my phone as a weapon if need be.

So, yes, there are many benefits to technology, granted, some unconventional ones like the one listed above or as Stephen Colbert once pointed out, using an iPad to chop salsa.

Any way you look at it, being “connected” is a double edged sword.

On one hand a pro is that I have the world and all of the people I know right at my fingertips. On the other hand…I have the world and all of the people I know right at my fingertips.

Currently, I’m using my phone to blog and listen to a playlist on Spotify while my brother is driving us to the beach. A text message notification from
a friend just flashed at the top of my screen only moments after I took a photo of everyone in our car that I texted to my father.

All of the above may be good and well but really when I think about it, my God, what a waste of time.

Instead of writing about the palm trees zooming past my window I should actually be looking at them.

Instead of talking about the music I’m listening to I should actually be listening to it.

Instead of blogging about the pictures I’m taking of my family I should be in the center of their universe engaging them in conversation.

Unfortunately, addictions are a bitch.
But admitting it is the first step.

So on that note, rather than enjoying the airiness of my iPhone I’m going to shut down my phone, roll down the windows of my car, breathe in the fresh air and soak up some real sun…right after I tweet about.

Martial Arts and Method “Acting”: Journey to a Black Belt (Part 1)

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It’s amazing how opportunities present themselves.

Sometimes, connecting the dots of instances that happen in our lives is difficult to understand. Eventually, hints are left here and there, like scattered breadcrumbs, leading us to exciting ends.

For me, the first breadcrumb that lead me to being invited to script and co-create graphic novel “Blades of Hope” was signing up for a six week “Ultimate Self Defense Class” at a local martial arts school (Insert Olson’s Martial Arts Shout Out here).

I always wanted to get out there and try something like martial arts but my introverted self and dedication to others kept me in the shadows as I watched others train.

But one day, long story short,  I said, “Screw it!” and dove right in…to the parking lot…of the dojang…where I sat for twenty minutes in my car, contemplating whether or not to go in.

Wait…actually…no…I’m lying. I didn’t sit in the parking lot for twenty minutes. I circled the parking…twice…before I decided to park and then I sat there for twenty minutes. As a matter of fact, if I didn’t invite an old friend of mine to join me (Insert Shout Out to Angela here) I’m not sure I would have ever gotten out of my car to venture through the front door to begin with.

But my friend showed up and so did I.

When I walked through the door I was incredibly relieved to find other women taking the class, feeling just as awkward I as was, or so I like to think.

In my defense, it had been years since I had really done anything remotely active, aside from my stints of sitting in a gym parking lot with a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee in one hand and a muffin in the other, again debating whether or not to go in. So the fact that I committed to a six week, twice a week “Ultimate” Self Defense Class was quite a big step for me, especially, since the class’s advertisement read something to the effect of “You will leave class sweaty” (Which might I add was humorously accurate).

Thankfully, the class started off slowly but in no time we were punching and kicking bags and targets like nobody’s business. And each time I went to the class, the butterflies in my stomach turned from ones of nervousness to ones of excitement.

It wasn’t until the last week that the class’s true crescendo hit. Two instructors waltzed in and offered up the chance to elbow and knee strike them as hard as we could for a couple of minutes. This offer, terrifying me since I had never hit anyone in my life, sent me running to the back of the line in hopes of ducking out the back door at any chance I could get.

Unfortunately, I made no escape.  

My name was called and like a switch was hit an exhilarated beast, that apparently had been hiding within me, was unleashed and within those two minutes, I was able to tap into a version of myself that I never quite knew I had.

In those two minutes,  I hit my “targets” as hard and as fast as I could.

In those two minutes,  I unloaded years of passiveness.

In those two minutes, I released years of physical and mental stress.

In those two minutes, I felt great!

It wasn’t until one of the instructors, a Master of Taekwondo, hunched over from my knee strikes to the chest started laughing, that I realized that I should probably stop.

I’ll shamelessly admit, finding out that I had knocked the wind out of the instructor was not only amusing, it was satisfying.

So when we were asked if anyone else would like to have one more go at it, my hand went quickly up, albeit a different instructor but equally as entertaining. And I’m not embarrassed to say I even went a third round.

I had such a fantastic six weeks and was sad when it was over.

But it didn’t end there.

We were all invited to try out a real Taekwondo class. I was incredibly hesitant, for several reasons.

Reasons included but were not limited to:

I wasn’t a fan of wearing uniforms.

I wasn’t crazy about performing any martial arts forms.

Sparring just wasn’t my thing.

And performing what little skills I had, in front of an audience, during color belt graduations was a total nightmare.

And yet the following day there I was… awkwardly…in my very stiff, stark white, Taekwondo gi complete with white belt standing next to my friend in our first class.

I’m still not sure how it all happened. I never thought in a million years that I’d be training in any form of martial arts just like I never thought I’d be loving it.

Then entered breadcrumb number two.

Coincidentally, in my first month of taking Taekwondo, I was approached to write graphic novel “Blades of Hope” with strong female characters skilled in martial arts.

I’ve always agreed with the philosophy of “write what you know” and the timing of taking Taekwondo and being asked to incorporate it into my script could not have been any better.

So, in the past eight months, not only have I completed my first real graphic novel script, I recently graduated to an Advanced Green Belt in Taekwondo.

Thus far, the journey has been amazing. My confidence has grown in both martial arts training and in my writing as has my skill in both. And because of the fantastic and passionate instructors, I have been able to understand both the art and practice of martial arts in a way that only helps my storytelling and writing.

In addition, I fortunately had the opportunity to sit down with a 5th degree black belt in Taekwondo and instructor in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (Insert Shout Out to Keith Olson here) who graciously helped me tap into the many forms of martial arts, not only in practice but in the connection and emotions that come with true martial artists adding yet another level of breadcrumbs to my journey.

Life is full of vessels of surprises and vistas of opportunities. We just have to decide whether or not to dive in or walk away after a short taste on the perimeter.

My journey to a black belt coincides not only with me personally but the journey of my story and the journeys of my characters.

Like me, my characters are working on their personal growth, physically, mentally and emotionally. They are working on their strengths and their weaknesses. They are looking for solutions to conflicts. They are working on their patience, their anger and everything in between.

But most of all, like all of us, they are looking to find and maintain hope.

(“Blades of Hope” will be released in 2014).