In-between meetings today, I saw reports that the suspects in the Paris massacre were killed, just as they hoped to be. They had stated they wanted to die “the martyr’s death.” As I have done my entire life, I consulted the dictionary, because I have sat here muttering at my computer screen that these acts of terrorism have nothing to do with a deep sense of strength or pride, or the Muslim faith, and everything to do with cowardice, fear and a cult-level brainwashing.
The first two definitions are:
1. a person who willingly suffers death rather than renounce his or her religion.
2. a person who is put to death or endures great suffering on behalf of any belief, principle, or cause: “a martyr to the cause of social justice.”
There are two additional definitions of being a martyr, both defining one in that insufferable way, where you just want to tell someone to build a bridge and get over it (“it” usually being themselves.) That’s not what we’re talking about. You either suffer for a greater good, as an icon in society, or you believe so deeply in your faith that to do anything else would be a dissolution of self. But are these people, with their AK47s, killing people because they draw blasphemous cartoons, are they adhering to a religion? (RELIGION?) Is terrorism a religion? Because when I think of someone who died as a martyr, I think of Benazir Bhutto. A woman who knew she would die, just as her father did, but felt so compelled to help the people of Pakistan and bring them greater freedoms, that her ideals could live on, long after a bomb tore her body apart.
So I only ask that you think a little longer about it, and when you hear the reports that these men died as martyrs, to consider that those were their words, not necessarily the definition of martyrdom. Because – it is my opinion – this is the face of a martyr, a woman who gave her life to make her part of the world a better place, not through murder or destruction, but cared to the point she was willing to die if necessary so she could continue to work for the people of Pakistan. And her sacrifice should not even be in the same stratosphere as the terrorists who died today.
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Tonight’s World Series game is of utmost importance. In order for the Royals to stay in it and to have a chance to win it, we must win tonight. Game 6. We’re nauseous.
Plenty of people around town are filled with excitement, enthusiasm and yes, even a little queasiness. Because we’re from the Midwest. Yes, we’ve trumpeted and written and shouted, “TAKE THE CROWN!” with all the gusto you’d expect from a drunken NFL fan. But what it really comes down to is this: we just don’t “take” things. We’re too damned polite.
Growing up in Iowa and my post-college years in Minnesota, I observed the humorous behavior around offering dinner guests dessert: It actually requires offering said dessert three times before it becomes ok for the guest to accept.
“Piece of pie?” your hostess trills.
“Oh gosh no, I couldn’t,” you politely respond. (We don’t want to create more dishes to wash, overstay our welcome, or in any other way inconvenience you more than our presence already has.)
“No, no, come now, you have to try a slice!” your hostess then will exclaim.
“Oh no, I am so stuffed on that amazing dinner! I can’t imagine another bite right now,” you murmur, because the second offering means the first one was genuine, and now you’re shifting in your chair and wondering if there’s whipped cream.
“I insist. Just a small slice? Say you will!” she says, and you then acquiesce, because now you are actually helping out, you have been offered pie three times now, so you know the sentiment is genuine, and you are ready and excited for pie, and sure you’ll have a cup of coffee if you’re making more.
This is us. This is Kansas City. We are proud of our city, proud of our roots in agriculture and industry, proud we finally got an IKEA and proud of our teams. But never TOO proud. Of course we recognize injustice and bias. We rant and rave and rage at the Joe Bucks of the world, the announcers who seem to equally marvel at and ridicule our cowtown baseball team, and seemingly heap adoring praise on the other team’s players. The sportscasters who mildly mix up Alex Gordon with Eric Hosmer (HOZ!) but don’t bat an eye while they recite reams of statistics about Madison Bumgarner’s history and pitches. But we’re nervous. If we don’t win, will all these people who seemingly look down their noses at us, for being less “Cosmopolitan”, for being less “Coastal”, will this just prove them right? Well, no, but it won’t help us prove them wrong, either.
And we WANT this. We want it so badly. We don’t want to wait and we don’t want to lose. We want to win. Because we exist in flyover country every single day, we know the metropolises on either side of the country don’t think about us and our contributions, that our fields provide food for the world, the fact our hustle and bustle doesn’t have high-speed trains or subway systems. Oh sure, we’ve got our foodie spots and our microbrews and we even have sushi. But we’re used to not hearing a lot of ringing praise, and truth be told, a whole lot of praise can make us look at our shoes and shuffle a little bit in embarrassment. And this is why we’re queasy. Because underneath all of this, we WANT THIS. We want it so BADLY. It’s attention but it’s also redemption and it’s validation of all the things WE know to be true and believe in.
So maybe we won’t TAKE the crown, in the sense we ride up on an Arabian horse, snatch it & gallop away, but we sure as hell want to EARN the crown, because our pride knows no bounds when it comes to our team and our city. GO ROYALS!
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James’ grandfather is dying. Stage IV Melanoma; it’s in his brain and lungs and a lot of other places, too. He had a doctor who put him into radiation immediately, but the 2nd opinion at KU Cancer Center confirmed everyone’s worst fears – nothing could be done to save him, and just live what life you have left. Hearing how kind the second doctor was brought my first tears, for he was so kind. So caring. Facing finality, with no good news and surrounded by family, this man took all the time necessary to convey the worst news of all: there is no hope. For hope is that tiny spark in the face of darkness.
Obviously this is painful and horrible and heavy and sad. It is hard to watch your partner struggle with the oh-so-many-faces and emotions grief brings when it moves in and settles down, right in the center of your chest like a boulder going nowhere. It’s hard to relive the memories it all churns up, images I’d pushed far to the back of the closet, the bottom of the box, the gray shell my father had become, a shadow of his former self, his body an empty sarcophagus that once housed a robust, vibrant, witty man. What those final moments were like and how months later they threatened to destroy me, crying at the night sky, anything to end the constant aching pain of loss.
Some of my own defenses kick in, and I don’t cry at home. I have to be strong and kind and gentle and understanding, because it’s some rough shit and it’s my turn to drive. My turn to be a rock. So I’m angry when grief still springs from the office ceiling or the backseat of my car, causing tears to slide down my own cheeks while I fight off old haunted feelings. The best thing I can do is just be here, be there, because if there is proof you can survive some of the greatest loss imaginable, I’ve done it. Still kickin’. Still pissed at grief for being an unpredictable demon, reminding us that with great love can also come great loss.
There are lost periods. Time passes in fits and starts. And where my world, 8 years ago, was filled with a jumble of crazy, of helplessness, wildly racing emotions and rage, confusion and denial, now there is … white static. It’s like that thing you hear in your ears, as though the air pressure around you has shifted, increased, and your head feels like its underwater, but you can still breathe, you just feel suspended by the buzz and hum of containment. It is an odd purgatory, this limbo, for it insulates somewhat against the pain, while you wait for the next verse to start.
White light. Open spaces everywhere.
The hum. Holding my breath.
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You know how it is, when you have a discovery and it’s like the lightbulb actually hovered over your head, illuminated the universe and then exploded into a thousand shards of brilliance?
Well, let me tell you something: The oven door comes OFF.
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That’s right. Off! I suppose there are models where it doesn’t, and maybe really old stove/ovens require some sort of rare tool or brute force, but all I could think when I discovered this fact and did it for myself was, “DID EVERYONE KNOW THIS AND NOT TELL ME?” Because I’ve scrubbed plenty an oven floor in contortions, back in the day, and trying to work around an opened oven door is precarious, as if you lean on it, you very well could bring the whole damned thing toppling over onto you, or at the very least, scare yourself with some tipping.
Basically, you open the door all the way, and then look at where the hinges connect to the body of the oven. USE A SCREWDRIVER to do the next part, because some video I watched that had you flipping the little locks up with it cautioned that you could lose a finger if it snapped back. Ours is a newer oven, so it just required pushing the hinge guards down. Then, you take the oven door and shut it partway, as if you were going to broil something, and then grab the sides and lift up. Try not to drop it in your shock at succeeding at this! Now you can clean the oven quite easily and if you are inclined, you can also take the whole door apart and clean in-between the glass, if, say, someone you know accidentally hooked a shirt sleeve on a whole pan of cooled cooking oil, kept walking, and then launched said pan into the air, drenching the entire area with oil, much to the enthusiasm of a couple black labs. HYPOTHETICALLY SPEAKING YOU SEE.
Now, if you’re going to take the door apart, learn from me. Get some post-it notes, number them, and put the little screws you take out into piles and keep them separate and orderly. Also consider taking some pictures as you go, because you will have to flip back and forth and while you’re taking it all apart, sure, you’ll think, “this is completely logical and easy, I’ll just keep going.” And then when you go to put it back together, you’ll realize it took you three hours to get to that point, between watching a video, checking your steps, cleaning things, drying them, and having some lunch. And it will take you 7 times as long to get the door back together. DO NOT MAKE MY MISTAKES, GRASSHOPPER.
I’ve referenced a video for cleaning the door – here it is. It’s not the greatest quality? But it’s definitely informative, thorough, and it felt a little like having your grandpa around, showing you how to do a complicated project. I also was hooked by the opener, talking about what to do with a dirty oven door: “Three ways to solve it! Hang a decorative towel over the glass, buy a new stove, OR – clean it!”
And THEN, once you’ve gotten it all cleaned and the gunk is off the bottom and not threatening to set the smoke alarm off, you have the greatest sense of satisfaction you can imagine. And then? THEN? Someone should cook a frozen pizza in it without a pan or anything below the rack, and drip a nice big spot of cheese onto the bottom that you discover two days later, and you dance around in crazed disbelief, wielding a knife and trying to scrape the now-smoking burnt cheese out while the oven still preheats. (Hypothetically speaking, of course.) (Penance was paid. Hypothetically.)
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So as you know, we’ve got a Crazy Cat Lady in the neighborhood. As in, across the street. This past spring she had what we could only guess was yet another small unfortunate fire, as random burnt objects starting showing up on her curb. (She is not familiar with the 3-1-1 Action Line for bulky pickup, either, so we get lots of opportunities to eyeball the assorted flotsam that resides on the curb for days on end.) One of the piles got dubbed “Crazy Cat Lady’s Rugs and Remnants” because it appeared to be some hideous ’70’s carpet, a carpet pad and god knows what else.
She is, sadly, mentally ill, enhanced and distorted by alcohol and prescription medications. Gaunt as a skeleton and severely aged by the ravages of her abuse, she is hard to look at, and she can’t make eye contact. She also pretty much detests us, as we are mean and don’t bend to her requests like, “Give me a phone,” or, “I need to come in your house,” or, “Give me three cents.” (I’m still struggling to puzzle out that last one.) Sometimes they are just statements: “I lost my cell phone.” Ohhkay. Sorry?
But I have not told all of her stories here – and there are some doozies. We are coming up on the year anniversary (Halloween), when she went completely batshit crazy and laid down in the middle of the street, barefoot and wrapped in two acrylic blankets. I was still at work, JWo had called the police, and a cheerful kind woman in a brightly colored caftan and sneakers had pulled her van over and was directing traffic around CCL, who was now curled up by our telephone pole. I came up over the rise in the street to see this montage of crazy in front of me and was boggled by the insanity of it all.
According to CCL, she was having a “surge”, and we should look it up on the computer. (JWo’s fast-witted reply? “I don’t think they make that soda anymore.”) She lurched back to her house just before the police arrived, and refused to let them in. We thought if she had stayed in place, we’d certainly have the scariest trick-or-treat house on the whole street, because her rising up out of the dark would scare the piss out of grown adults, let alone 8-year-old kiddos!
She really has become such a fixture among the fire department, paramedic team, and hospital that a couple strapping firemen came by a few weeks ago and asked us if we’d seen her, as they hadn’t gotten called out for a couple weeks and they were just checking in. It’s a strange blend of funny and sad, to be that reliant on public servants for help that they notice when you stop surfacing; it’s tragic to lose your existence into that pit, and it’s kind of funny because we’re all sort of thrown in on this same “team” whether it’s geographic or service based, so you can literally strike up a conversation – even with the 911 operator – about her, because everybody knows her. The veritable female version of Norm from Cheers, but less robust and certainly no match to his snappy wit.
Pretty sure the house will have to be razed when she finally departs this world (though there’s something about a certain breed of alcoholics – tough as nails and somehow bionically fueled by their diluted bloodstream, and she could be around for decades to come.) Right now there’s a hodge-podge of refuse by the curb, with more random piles and a large barrel for burning out back.
People keep pointing me to the Crazy Cat Lady action figure that’s out there -but what can I say? We’ve already got our own version!
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Yeah, it’s White People Month when this stuff comes back to Starbucks, you know it, there’s 800 variations of memes and pictures and squeals of happy happy happy on Facebook once the Heralded Return Of Pumpkin Spice Lattes, like the swallows of Capistrano, baby. Now, I appreciate my over-priced, delicious beverages as much as the above-average-income JoCo soccer mom, but it’s got to be “right” to fully enjoy it. And daytime highs of upper 70’s/mid-80’s ain’t it. For me, Pumpkin Flavored-Everything Season starts when I feel a chill letting the dogs out in the morning, and I see my first red blaze of autumn leaves. Our weather has been unseasonable since summer began – a milder, cooler version of last year, so much so that I really worked hard not to bitch when we got some hot weather, because days on end of 100’+ weather was torturous. Now we’re warming up and cooling down and warming back up so the tomatoes keep on putting out fruit and it’s almost October.
Sometimes I think about how lovely it would be to live in certain climates, where it never freezes or blisters hot, where it’s sweatshirt-and-shorts weather most of the time, and I think that while I’d enjoy it, I wouldn’t love it the way I love a true Fall. Fall is my favorite season of all, despite it’s symbolism of death and decay and ripe life coming to an end, (boy I can really put a damper on shit, eh?) But I LOVE IT. It fuels me and buoys up my mood. The smell of leaves on the ground, moistened by a fall thunderstorm, turning into compost that will re-energize the ground next year. Puffs of smoke from chimneys, the smell of wood in the air, it alerts the senses. Sounds around us change, the wind sweeps through branches and bring a shuffling of paper, the natural evolution from the velvety sounds of green leaves rustling in a summer’s breeze. As the humidity leaves, sounds become sharper, unmuffled by the damp air and heat that keeps windows shut and doors pushed tightly closed. Fall ushers in a return to cooking; soups and stews and warm dishes that take on the new flavors of squashes and root vegetables, complemented by the harvests of summer, transformed into jarred and frozen bags of produce that bring the brightness of summer’s hot sun to bursting flavor in chili, peppers and tomatoes taking on new forms. And it brings with a renewed desire to knit, to work with wool, to create and draw the calm from the meditative repetition of needles and yarn moving in unison.
So, Pumpkin Season, I realize you’ve “Arrived”, and I still love you, but you’re going to have to wait until it’s truly time.
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I’m just going to say it: I am loving some of the new pop music today, if for one reason only, and that’s because it’s got the 70’s funk throwback in its underpinnings. We saw Bruno Mars in concert a month ago or so – he has the 9-piece funk band backing him up, choreographed moves and all. I recall a wonderful Doonesebury cartoon from my childhood, of a group of African-American men, the backup singers/dancers to an unseen singer. As they trade observations, the last words were, “Beats workin’ at the car wash.” My father seized on that line and it became interwoven to so many conversations and laughs over the years, somehow I’ve mashed that into a connector, the kind that tug unexpectedly at your heart. That happened that night at the concert, as Bruno sang “Treasure”, and his backup crew bounced and slid and bobbed in unison, the joy in the music and “Beats workin’ at the car wash” was in my ear and tears filled my eyes, tears of happiness for the connection and memory, tears for the loss of a great, great man.
Bruno’s not alone – Capital Cities is infused with 70’s beats and even nods at the era in their video for “Safe and Sound”, with tube-sock clad roller skaters grooving in unison. Justin Timberlake’s newest pop hits all have a blend of horns and funky bass lines. If you eschew “pop” because it’s too bubblegum, you’re missing out on some nicely retro-feeling tunes!
Bruno’s Treasure video – it doesn’t get more Jackson 5 than this!
Capital Cities – Safe and Sound
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Oh my. Funky Town, the dance club melting pot, located in glamorous Raytown, MO has long been a destination for people in KC. I remember seeing it when I first moved here, from an errant exit onto 350 Highway instead of remaining on 435. I knew people went for the disco, and to party in large groups, but I’d never made it there myself, until last night.
That place is something else. I think I had a goofy grin on my face at least the first 20 minutes, because it was a feast to gaze upon. Talk about a cross-section of life! I’d say the average age was around 40, so at least I didn’t feel awkward or -cough- old, and you could not have gotten a greater mix of types of people – races, heights, weights, ages, dress, fashion-sense, all mixing it up on the dance floor, or in a dance cage, or on a light-up dance box. Granted, it was still predominantly white, but it definitely felt like a representative population slice of the entire city. I think I got most mesmerized by the group sitting front and center to the dance floor, and it quickly became clear to me these were Regulars, with a capital R. The motley assortment tended to line dance to most of the music, all eyes upon their leader, a skinny, middle-aged man in baggy jeans (not sagging, just 80’s bagging) and a 2013 Tate Stevens t-shirt who determined which line dance they would do and began each dance with an emphatic flourish and a clap. The others fell into place around him, and then even others, not part of the head table, would jump in and out, swinging a right leg forward and back, a little Saturday Night Live disco jab to the sky upon completion of one set.
Then there was Disco Stu. The name was suggested by my friend John, there with his NOW fiancee, Heather, and another couple. (John told me last night that he was going to propose today! I won an Oscar for disguising my happiness while still conveying it, and while it would have really been epic had he done it at Funky Town, perhaps they will have their reception there.) Anyway, back to Disco Stu. He had a glorious smile on his face, joining the line dancing to some of the songs, dancing to his own drummer on others. At one point, he got up on the light-up box, and as I watched, the gravitational pull of his fellow line dancers turned his freeform steps into a synchronized, albeit elevated, line dance all on his own. Later, I saw him dancing rather suggestively with a middle-aged blonde woman, and all I could think was, “Heeeey, get it!”
People in their 60’s showed some magical dance moves while others seemed to do no more than shuffle from side-to-side. Most people shout-sang along to the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s tunes, forming large circles that shifted back to their smaller group sizes. One young man, I imagined to be an IT professional by day, writing code and pushing his square black glasses up on his nose, demonstrated some fancy foot work, attracting the attention of two women (my age) who gyrated and sandwiched him repeatedly, perhaps viewing him as a veritable fountain of youth. He did not appear to mind one bit.
The bonus part of the evening? A full-on Michael-Jackson inspired floor show (EVERYONE GET OFF THE DANCE FLOOR) to Thriller and then some. Zombified dancers hit the floor and performed some awesome, choreographed moves (I confess, I looked around to see if Tate the Line Dance Leader might have transformed into Michael, and I still can’t confirm they are two separate people.) Everyone shouted and cheered, and returned to the dance floor with gusto when it was over. (Now through the end of October, and apparently they have a mega costume contest on the 24th, and I kind of want to go. I can create a killer costume!)
I think the best part about the entire experience was that the place is without any pretense. Nobody cares. Everyone’s having fun. It pretty much doesn’t matter if you can or can’t dance, if you look a certain way or weigh a certain amount or dress a certain way (though I did get very confused and thought a woman was not wearing any pants; the black lights do a number on certain colors, and her shrimp-colored leggings were transformed and seemingly disappeared!) As John put it, “Out there (in the rest of the world), I’m like a 7. In here? I’m an ELEVEN!” It’s not that there aren’t gorgeous beautiful people there (there are! I was terribly envious of the 6’+ blonde with legs that probably ended at my shoulder height, in her heels and short black shorts.) It’s just that – again – nobody really cares. For once, a place where your attitude counts – and outweighs – the superficial.
Written Saturday, publishing late late late so no beans get spilled on the proposal.
8300 Blue Pkwy
Kansas City, MO 64133
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So this summer’s big song (or one of the big songs) has been “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke, et al. The video garnered controversy, parodies, blustering accusations of misogyny and directorial defenses claiming the women were really the ones in control (despite wearing far less clothing than the men.)
I just want to start a recurring blog topic that talks about dumb. ass. lyrics. Because I’m the first one to get lyrics wrong, and I look them up so I’m not the one belting out, “WANT YOU TO LOVE ME… LIKE A HOT PIE….” ala Rihanna (“The Only Girl in the World” – and it’s “Hot Ride”, not “pie.”) So in a better effort to understand some of the accusations about the song, I thought, let’s read what these blurred lines are really about! I originally thought it was about moving between a friendship to a sexual relationship, or maybe the blur between “good girl” and “bad girl” (the Madonna/Whore complex) – then I read, no, it’s about consent, and these are rape lyrics. Huh. It’s a motherfuckin’ catchy rape earworm, if that’s the case, and how disappointing. BUT, all of that aside? Let’s just take a gander at how T.I. starts off his part of the song – keep in mind, I listen to the explicit version, not the radio edit which makes his section sound like the FCC has a hair-trigger finger combined with a sneezing allergy attack what with all the bleeping out:
One thing I ask of you
Let me be the one you back that ass to
Go, from Malibu, to Paris, boo
Yeah, I had a bitch, but she ain’t bad as you
So hit me up when you passing through
I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two
OK. Hang on a sec, T. You have one thing to ask of me, and that’s that I back my ass up to you. Ok. I get it. Back that thang up, it’s been done before. Not thrilled you’re talking about another lover as a “bitch”, that sends up a red flag for me, frankly, telling me that you’re not much of a gentleman, but you were making a request and I was listening. But three lines later, you’re basically threatening me with an episiotomy? HUH? There isn’t anything sexy, romantic, or even BLURRY about tearing asses in two. I’m glad you’re proud of your dick, but really? There should be a little mystery left in life, and there should be a little … gallantry when it comes to seduction. Since we can all figure out “what rhymes with hug me”, wink-wink, nudge-nudge, perhaps spelling your version out isn’t :really: necessary.
And if you haven’t seen the great parody video – here it is. You can find the original one with The Googel, grasshopper.
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Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so they say. Does that mean we can “behold” ourselves, clearly and rationally? I don’t know. For me, the answer is usually, “No,” since I’ve got more than half a lifetime spent with criticisms and measurements and definitions of beauty that only revolved around a number on the scale, which can really torque with the way you define your own sense of worth in the world.
The conversation has been rolling around in my head ever since someone posed the question, “What if I have an ugly baby?” It was semi-in-jest, semi-serious, as the person has a friend with a pretty grizzled up baby with – as they say – a face only a mother could love. Is that really possible, though? And if you had the proverbial Ugly Duckling, wouldn’t you still love it with all your heart?
Growing up, I got a lot of, “Well…you’re ok from the neck up and the knees down,” or just an easy sort of shorthand, “You look fat.” I suppose now, I see if people will love me in spite of my copious extra adipose, or if they, too, will use it as a bludgeon and a barrier, a blight against me. Truth be told, I often find myself looking at myself and thinking I have a bit of a drag queen in me (maybe it’s my attitude seeping through), if only because I see my father’s features and having only known them as masculine, it’s hard to make sense of them on a female face. All I know is that it’s rather exhausting, and yet I still wish to be… pretty? Attractive? Somehow acceptable on only the surface, while rejecting the notion that surface definitions are the most shallow, that count the least, that in the form of rejection shouldn’t hurt, shouldn’t haunt, shouldn’t resonate with the old stuff I’ve pushed far below, because to have it out and riding shotgun is a horrible way to live.
The conversation at work grew painful, because my own upbringing, combined with that Upper Midwestern stoicism that tells you any semblance of vanity and self-worth are terrible character flaws, leave me feeling like the proverbial ugly baby myself, and I get defensive, because going through life having people eyeball you for being the fattest person at the nail salon or have kids point at you at the grocery store tends to eat away at the Teflon armor. It was even more challenging because my crankiness came off as fishing for compliments, and let me tell you, Upper Iowa Minnesota Jen wanted to run into traffic to escape, it was that horrifying. Anyway. I think we have to draw our confidence and self-assurance from more than just the mirror, but not necessarily to the exclusion of the mirror? Somehow throwing the ugly baby out with the bathwater feels like overkill.
So as the clock continues to tick, and the wrinkles around my eyes deepen, I’m sure of only one thing, and it’s that I have to be ok with me. As I am, as I was, as I will be. I may color my hair, use some products that promise to defy aging and peer at my face as I see my father’s eyes staring back at me, looking for what new mark of life’s process is stamped upon my skin. I actually surprised myself, because I was trying to figure out how in the hell my laptop camera actually took a picture and unprepared, I got one. This is me. Minimal makeup, no gigantic smile. Just… puzzling and thinking. I think a lot. Sometimes too much, but I still like doing it. And most days, I like me. Despite what all the old voices – and sometimes new – may try to tell me. Because the Beholder doesn’t always care, even if they should.
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