culture

Stop looking at the screen

When I first moved to New York City almost six years ago, I noticed an incredible phenomenon on the NYC subway system. Down below the sewer mains, and bustling traffic, people were reading books. The crowded subway cars were filled with readers. Even people who couldn’t get a seat, clung onto the pole with one hand and a book with the other. Their cup of coffee usually balancing somewhere between their arm and chest. For an aspiring writer, it was a sight that brought tears of joy to my eyes.

Studying the covers of the books people read, I considered my commute a living bookstore. Oftentimes I would see the same book more than once and felt compelled to buy it. I didn’t need the New York Times to tell me the list of bestselling books — I could see it with my own eyes.

It was during that time I pinpointed my dream. I wanted to see someone holding my book on the subway. I wanted to see a stranger biting her nails and furrowing her brow as she turned the pages of my thoughts.

Now I’m afraid that won’t happen. Not because I’m not writing, but because everyone has a damn e-reader and I can’t see what they’re reading. Six years ago, people laughed at the kindle and nook. Us traditionalists thought that would never catch on.  Occasionally you would see one or two e-readers on the subway but the rest of us gave those weirdos a look of disdain (or at least I did (or at least I thought about doing it)). Now they’re everywhere.

Five years ago all those screens would have been books. Photo credit: corners311

I have no idea what to read because I can’t browse the subways anymore, and my favorite bookstores are closing down one by one.

My writing has always existed on the screen. Anyone can open up a word document and start typing, but the idea of a team of people who are in the know thinking that my word document is so good they are willing to print it out, slap a beautiful cover on it, and take up valuable shelf space in bookstores across the country is an idea so precious, and so worth fighting for that it has kept me motivated like no inspirational quote, or mentor could ever do for me. One of my biggest professional fears is that by the time I get good enough to be published actual books won’t exist anymore, and my writing will never leave the screen.

Please, I beg you, stop reading the screen. Buy a hardcover book. Buy a paperback. Heck buy a magazine, just don’t let books whither away into oblivion. Don’t kill the dream.

Should I advertise?

Main building at the Maryland Institute Colleg...

Main building at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I studied art at Maryland Institute College of Art, the biggest insult you could say about an artist was that s/he was “too commercial.” The thought of someone actually getting paid for their handwork and creativity seemed to contradict the very nature of art. We were all supposed to starve and wallow in obscurity for the next fifty years. The only acceptable way to become famous was postmortem.

Seven years out of college (oy has it really been that long!), I’m amazed by my friends who have found work that involves some sort of creativity. It doesn’t matter that they’re making art for commercial sake, in fact, it seems even more incredible that they are making good money expressing themselves.  My classmates are making jewelry, designing video games, and photographing models for national magazines. I look back on our snobby, self-righteous younger-selves and wonder how we could ever be so judgmental of people who love art but don’t want to be homeless.

Recently I’ve been approached by a few companies who want to advertise on my blog. When I originally started the HeSoProject, I was so ignorant about the entire blogging process that I figured I would write a few posts, and then live off the advertisement money. Ha! If these companies had approached me back then I would have said yes in a heartbeat. Now, two years into it, I’m slightly hesitant. The HeSoProject is my baby, and I don’t want to dilute it with distracting, false messages. (Currently WordPress puts up ads at the bottom of some posts, but that doesn’t really bother me because it’s part of the free service.)

My inner-college student is yelling “don’t sell out,” but my dwindling bank account is a little louder. Do you, my awesome reader, have any thoughts on the matter?

The Worst Thing You’ve Ever Done

Over the last year, I have been blown away by my experiences with Defy Ventures, an organization that gives business training and mentoring to people with criminal backgrounds. I must admit I was pretty nervous the first time I walked into a room filled with people who had rap sheets, but after everyone introduced themselves with a bear hug, and I got to hear why these people were choosing to change their lives, I could no longer hold on to my fear or negative assumptions.

 A Clean Slate  Through her M.B.A.-style program, Defy Ventures, Catherine Rohr is helping former prisoners, including Maliki Cottrell (left) and Marlon Llin (center), learn how to launch their own companies.

A Clean Slate Through her M.B.A.-style program, Defy Ventures, Catherine Rohr is helping former prisoners, including Maliki Cottrell (left) and Marlon Llin (center), learn how to launch their own companies. Photo credit: Miller Mobley

I believe in potential; I believe that people grow and become better versions of themselves, and I know that I’m not the only one. But in The United States, we do not extend that faith to people who have been behind bars.

What would it be like if you were permanently known for the worst thing you’ve ever done?

This is a line from Catherine Rohr’s article in Inc. CEO and Founder of Defy Ventures, she has helped transform the lives of thousands of motivated individuals, and by extension, strengthen the communities and families that they came from.

I urge you to read this article. I urge you to question the beliefs that you have. I urge you to support an organization that bolsters our society with the very people who are shunned by society. Oh yeah, and I urge you to like them on facebook!

My dinner party with 5 famous people: #5 Joan Rivers


Last but not least, I would round out my celebrity dinner party with Joan Rivers. She might seem like an odd choice, after all, she’s known for her catty fashion criticism and overdone plastic surgery, but she still amazes me. I didn’t really appreciated Ms. Rivers until I watched the documentary, A Piece of Work. That woman works her butt off. Comedians have tough lives. It’s not easy being on the road for most of the year, getting heckled, cancelled, or made to feel irrelevant. Yes, all this is hard, but it was specially hard for a young woman in the 60s who was expected to be at home with the kids. A young woman who was told she’d never have a career because she wasn’t pretty.

In this documentary she bares it all. Her husband’s suicide, her regrets about betraying Johnny Carson, and her never ending feeling that she’s not good enough. She puts herself out there. She is so vulnerable but at the same time you realize nothing could get to her. She is absolutely fearless.

Joan Rivers and me doing a segment on The View, before we grab some lunch.

Joan Rivers and me at a booth. I’m obviously trying to get the waitress’ attention.

You watch her jump on a plane and do gigs in five different cities in 3 days. I couldn’t do that at 28. I don’t know how she can do that at 78. The whole time you watch this documentary you see a person struggling with mortality. It’s like she thinks if she does one more show she won’t be forgotten. But it works… how many other female comedians have been a household name for almost 50 years?

I love Joan because she’s sassy, and I know if she’s the first person to arrive, and I’m wearing something ugly, she’ll have the balls to tell me to change. I love her because she’s a fighter. Because she will not go softly into the night. I love her because she’s shocking and reminds us to lighten up.

I would serve her Vodka on the rocks and a wine chaser. Maybe she’ll nibble on some appetizers but I don’t see her as a big foodie. I’d sit her between Dan Savage and Sir Issac Newton. Dan and her would be hilarious, and she would have a field day making jokes about Newton’s weird behavior.

 

My dinner party with 5 famous people: #4 Dan Savage

I’ve decided to take a cue from the classic college application question: If you could have dinner with five famous people (alive or dead) who would they be and why? It’s a good question because it shows what you value in a person, and what you hope to gain from the interaction. So without further ado, here’s the fourth person I would invite: Dan Savage.

Dan Savage and me at a diner

Dan Savage and me at a diner

There are many reasons why I love Dan Savage. He is the host of the hilarious sex column and podcast, Savage Love, the creator of the catty “Santorum” campaign, and, most significantly, the impetus for the inspiring It Gets Better campaign.

It Gets Better started when Dan was so upset about the recent rate of suicides in the young LGBT community that he posted a youtube video with his partner, Terry Miller, in an effort to reach out to youth and let them know that it won’t always be this hard. They shared horrifying stories of abuse in high school (from kids and adults) and then some really beautiful stories about being a loving couple and feeling accepted. The people who love them chose to accept them, and the people who didn’t accept them faded away.

Their basic message is that they can understand how abuse and isolation can make someone want to commit suicide, but then that person will miss out on the best parts of their lives if they give up. Don’t let the bigots and bullies win. Since this initial video, there have been over 50,000 videos added. Lots of them were done by celebrities, politicians, and authors. If a 14 year old boy in Spokane, Nebraska was feeling depressed because he is gay and getting bullied for it, imagine jumping on the internet and joining such a loving, supportive community. So, thank you, Dan Savage!

I love that Dan Savage is so straight forward and so foul-mouthed. The basic message of all of his work is to keep an open-mind and accept every part of the people you love.

I would seat Dan next to Oprah since they both spread a message of love and acceptance. I’d serve him some fish and chips and beer.

My dinner party with 5 famous people: #3 Sir Isaac Newton

I first learned about how crazy Sir Isaac Newton was from Bill Bryson’s amazing book, A Short History of Nearly Everything, and I’ve loved him ever since. (On a side note, my boy Bill was soooo close to making the guest list, but he can also be hyper-critical in his books, and I don’t want that vibe at my party. Sorry, Bill.) Besides for the fact that Newton helped us to understand force and motion, he also had an insatiable curiosity that led him to do such crazy things as stick a needle in his eye. My third dinner guest would have to be Sir Isaac Newton:

Me and Newton waiting for a seat at the trendiest new restaurant in NYC

Me and Newton waiting for a seat at the trendiest new restaurant in NYC

The night would start like this,

“Wow, Sir Isaac Newton, what an honor! May I call you Isaac?”

“I prefer Newt. Hey what’s that?” he asks, pointing to my microwave.

OK, after the initial enjoyment of explaining all the recent technology to a genius wears off, the real fun would begin. Newton was a crazy MoFo. When he didn’t think math was comprehensive enough he invented calculus! Who does that? But since he thought it would be too boring a subject (that’s my interpretation), he kept it a secret for 27 years. He learned Hebrew because he thought he could decipher clues as to the second coming of Christ. He was obsessed with figuring out how to turn base metals into precious metals. I just imagine him staring at his fork during dinner, willing it to turn to gold. It would give Louie CK a lot of great material.

Here’s a passage from A Short History of Nearly Everything:

“Newton was a decidedly off figure – brilliant beyond measure, but solitary, joyless, prickly to the point of paranoia, famously distracted (upon swinging his feet out of bed in the morning he would reportedly sometimes sit for hours, immobilized by the sudden rush of thoughts to his head), and capable of the most riveting strangeness… Once he inserted a bodkin- a long needle of the sort used for sewing leather – into his eye socket and rubbed it around “betwixt my eye and the bone as near to [the] backside of my eye as I could” just to see what would happen. What happened, miraculously, was nothing – at least nothing lasting. On another occasion, he stared at the Sun for as long as he could bear, to determine what effect it would have upon his vision. Again he escaped lasting damage, though he had to spend some days in a darkened room before his eyes forgave him.”

I’ve watched many things fall without having a single intelligent thought. Newton observes an apple falling and suddenly our whole world makes a lot more sense. We understand why things move or don’t move because of him and his three laws. He gave us the reflective microscope and the color and light theory. The least I could do is invite him over for dinner. I would serve him Turducken, baked apple and wine, and as I said before, he’ll sit next to Louie CK.

 

A break for Peter and the Starcatcher

Peter and the Starcatcher @ Brooks Atkinson Th...

Peter and the Starcatcher @ Brooks Atkinson Theatre on Broadway (Photo credit: Broadway Tour)

I’m going to take a break from the dinner party series, because I was so blown away by the performance I watched last night that I wanted to write about it while it was still fresh. I had been meaning to go to Peter and the Starcatcher for months, especially after all the rave reviews, but it wasn’t until I saw that it was ending it’s run on Jan. 20th that I rushed to get tickets.

If you don’t know anything about the show, here’s a quick synopsis: it’s the prequel to Peter Pan; we learn how Peter and the lost boys end up on Neverland, and why they can’t grow up. We learn where Tinkerbell comes from and how Captain Hook loses his hand. The show was hilarious.  I couldn’t help but feel like I was a kid playing in a fort the whole time; it was so fun and childlike.The mix of high-brow and low-brow humor was perfection.

PETER AND THE STARCATCHER Kevin Del Aguila and Christian Borle

One of the reasons why I love live theater is because you get to be a part of the show. When the audience is really into it the performers get into it even more and suddenly the whole show is elevated. There were scenes when the audience could not contain its laughter and the actors were just lapping it up, taking the jokes even further. You could tell they were having the time of their lives.

When the show ended the audience gave the entire ensemble a standing ovation (normally that’s reserved for the leads). And then the moment that struck me the most. Before the bows were over the Playwrite, Rick Elice, ran on stage and asked us to stay for a moment. He told us that for the first time ever the four understudies, who had been with the show since its inception, were all performing together that night. He went on to explain what a huge deal this was, how these people come to rehearsal every day, memorize all the lines for every part in the show, and attend every performance on the chance that they will be needed last minute. All this without the gratification of ever performing in front of an audience. The show cannot function without great understudies and yet they are so under-appreciated  He asked us to give them the applause that they have earned for over a year of hard work.

Then he said that the man who was playing Black Stash, the role that almost had me peeing in my pants, John Sanders, was playing the role for the first time ever and that his whole family was there, including his grandmother who flew in just to see him perform. The entire theater rumbled with the intense applause. Sometimes Broadway can feel so polished and distant, but I was blown away be how heartfelt and warm this impromptu reception was. Rick even read a poem that he wrote honoring the hard work of the understudies. There was a lot of HeSo that night!

On a side note: This play is moving to Off-Broadway, so if you haven’t seen it yet there will still be a chance in the future!

My dinner party with 5 famous people: #1 Oprah Winfrey

For the next 5 posts, I’ve decided to take a cue from the classic college application question: If you could have dinner with five famous people (alive or dead) who would they be and why? It’s a good question because it shows what you value in a person, and what you hope to gain from the interaction. So without further ado, the first person who came to mind was Oprah Winfrey.

Oprah and me on a picnic

Oprah and me on a picnic

What I love most about Oprah is that she treats life like one big classroom. She’s constantly learning, always asking questions, always looking at something in a new way. She could have taken the easy route and continued with her show for decades, but she needed something new and challenging so she started an entire television network. I don’t have cable so I don’t get to watch it :(.  People seem to want to bash the network and celebrate in its fledgling ratings, but I see it as an amazing act of bravery. How many people will risk their public brand like that? As the great lady herself said, “challenges are gifts that force us to search for a new center of gravity. Don’t fight them. Just find a new way to stand.”

Oprah introduced me to author’s I love (Jonathan Franzen, Isabel Allende, and Barbara Kingsolver to name a few), causes I care deeply about (The Fistula Foundation, Puppies behind bars, and The Grameen Bank to name a few), and questions of spirituality that I still grapple with. She asked questions and we all got to listen to the answers.

I would want Oprah to relax at the dinner party. No toasts, no stories, no pressure. She’s worked hard her whole life entertaining and challenging us that all I would really want is for her to sit, drink some wine, and receive a big fat hug from me at the end of dinner.

I’ll leave you with my favorite quote of hers: “I believe that every single event in life happens in an opportunity to choose love over fear.”

Potatoes, Santas, and Christmas Lights

Last Friday I wanted to surprise Mike with a walk through Dyker Heights Christmas Lights, but I got sidetracked  On the way there, Mike mentioned that Papaya Dog had the best french fries in NY. I could not let him get away with such a bold lie, so I delayed the Christmas lights extravaganza for a fry off. First we went to Papaya Dog on 14th st and 1st ave, and got his lame excuse for fries (can you tell I’m biased?):

Mike eating the Papaya Dog fries

Mike eating the Papaya Dog fries

A close up:

I must admit I've had these fries sober. They're a great late night snack after dancing

I’ve only ever had these fries after a long night of drinking.

Then we walked down to Pommes Frites and got real fries. Located on 2nd ave. between 8th and 7th st, this has long been my favorite spot for fries. Twice fried, they are crispy but they maintain the potato’s integrity. My eyes say it all:

2012-12-15 19.03.08

I was begging Mike to take the picture quickly so I could start gorging on fries.

Not only are the fries amazing, they also have over fifty delicious condiments to try. I always recommend the sweet mango chutney, but I’m also a fan of ketchup and mayo.

2012-12-15 19.00.21

So many options! They’ll let you try any condiment for free.

I was the clear victor, but Mike was stubborn and clung to his claim. Well I’m writing this post, so I won.

As we walked back to the subway, painfully stuffed with fries, we noticed a ton of Santas walking around. Apparently it was Santacon, and we did not get the invitation. It must have been very confusing for little kids to see so many Santas all at once, especially the Santa throwing up next to the dumpsters.

This was the saddest Santa I saw

This was the saddest Santa I’ve ever seen.

I guess he wasn’t invited to the party:

Who knew Santas love BBQ?

Who knew Santas love BBQ?

After another 40 minutes on the subway we got to Dyker Heights which is known for putting on quite a spectacle. I will leave you with these pictures:

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2012-12-15 20.54.54

2012-12-15 20.46.46

My favorite one.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!