Tag Archives: Positivity

Wish Granted

antwoineLast Friday was my last day at a phenomenal organization, where I’ve spent the last three and a half years helping grant wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions. I showed up at this well-known non-profit fresh from the tech industry, searching for emotionally fulfilling work, a place to land where I might at last grow and develop my career in ways that seemed to elude me previously.

When I told my friends I had accepted an offer at Make-A-Wish, some of them raised an eyebrow in disbelief, and all of them expressed surprise. You see, before I walked through those doors I’d viewed children as an irritation, an ubiquitous and thus inescapable nuisance, my advocacy of the child-free lifestyle well-documented and expounded upon freely. So going to work for a children’s charity wasn’t exactly the next logical step for me. But it was the exact right one. Continue reading

Hope Over Fear

barackWatching Barack Obama’s farewell speech this week was an emotional experience, and I found myself crying, don’t leave! at the TV over and over, as he made critical and sensitive point after point in his signature way. I struggle to find the right words to describe the gratitude and privilege I feel to have had him as my president after enduring eight years of inarticulate, knuckle-dragging W. (to say nothing of his policies) as I came of age.

The first time I saw Barack he was the junior senator from Illinois speaking at the 2004 DNC. I remember sitting on my parents’ couch in Athens, Georgia, straightening up and leaning forward as he mesmerized me with his oratory brilliance. Who was this guy? And then he rode in on a unicorn in 2008, offering me the hope and inspiration I so desperately sought.  Continue reading

Everyone To The Center!

Aljamer_SM.BOUALAMI believe wholeheartedly in the saying “keep your friends close and your enemies closer”. The first time I heard it I was a kid and I remember thinking, ewww, yuck! I would never want those people anywhere near me. Why would you ever want the people you like the least, the ones you don’t trust, those who have hurt you closer to you than your friends? But I get it now. You keep them in close so you can control them. It’s a great strategy, and it works.

It gets tricky, though, because you have to use your powers for good. If you’re going to gather your enemies up into the fold and hold them close, you can’t fuck them over later. Continue reading

We’ll Flip You

2016-07-21 09.04.12My buddy Sam and I have this thing where we like to flip people’s attitudes from negative to positive in our attempts to usher society into the high vibe era. It’s become a game, really, and we enjoy sharing our success stories with each other. The tougher the nut, the more satisfying the crack. When we worked in the dress department at Nordstrom together and one of us had a difficult customer, we’d rub our hands together in anticipation, knowing the tough customer was totally screwed, about to be reduced to a puddle of vulnerability by our manipulative kindness. You see, people want to be seen, and validated, and told where the boundaries are. Sam and I inherently understand this, and use these truths to make the worst act their best. It’s fun for us. Continue reading

The Positivity Committee

facebook_1468681560021Nicki and I ran the back office of the organization, but our shared work station was situated in the front office. We were a crew of 25 crammed into 3,000 square feet on one level, pretty much working at bunk desks and feeling like sardines in a can. While the others had cubicles (though tight) or offices (though shared), we worked at a ramshackle amalgam of used particle board and dusty padded fabric that had been dropped in the middle of the building lobby. If Nicki backed her chair out too fast, she ran the risk of slamming into my legs, positioned four feet away at my stand-up desk. If I leaned too hard on my computer platform, the whole works creaked and threatened to collapse. We each faced a building entrance, and all day long visitors and colleagues streamed through the doors, constantly interrupting and disrupting our space. Our work station sucked, and we had the worst of a bad situation. Yet we were consistently the most positive people on staff. We chose to own that public space and create a welcoming, friendly, upbeat vibe we hoped would radiate through the office and change the culture. We called ourselves “The Positivity Committee” and formalized our program through targeted, strategic acts of kindness. Continue reading

I Love The Olympics, Unabashedly So

olysIt’s that time again, the three week period where I clear the decks to make room for as much TV as possible. I love the Olympics, summer and winter, and when they’re on, that’s what I’m doing. It all started the summer of ’84 when I was tiny and living in L.A. with my parents, the center of that season’s action. My memories are hazy at best–Mary Lou Retton on the Wheaties box, Greg Louganis springing high, disappearing without a splash, Lionel Ritchie’s “All Night Long” and Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration” playing against fireworks erupting across the sky. What lingers is the sense of excitement that buzzed across the city that summer, the thrill of being up close and personal with history in the making, the dazzle of watching the human body perform exceptional feats of athleticism. Even a four year-old could pick up on that. Continue reading

Leave Us, or, Serendipity Now

space-681630_960_720Midway through seventh grade the Army relocated us yet again. From then until I finished my freshman year of high school we spent our days smack dab in the middle of nowhere in a pale blue, aging, two-floor duplex on the crest of a wooded, grassy hill in sprawling Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

If you look at a map and draw a line, slightly curved to follow the course of the various US and state routes involved, starting at St. Louis, then some one-hundred-thirty miles to the southwest you arrive at Fort Leonard Wood. Draw a similar line from there for a shade over two hundred miles northwest to Kansas City, and you have just sketched yourself an arm with the military base at the elbow.

If you ever lived there, however, the more appropriate analogy would involve a little more work. Continue your art by drawing yet another mildly arced line from Fort Leonard Wood until you reach Jefferson City, the capital, exactly eighty miles due north. Add another line from Fort Leonard Wood two hundred twenty miles southwest to Fayetteville, Arkansas, and finally one more from Fort Leonard Wood two hundred sixty five miles southeast to Memphis, Tennessee, and you can stop. Now set down your pencil and appreciate your little stick figure with his hands raised, as if dancing and exalting the Almighty, with Fort Leonard Wood serving as the skinny little worshiper’s armpits. Continue reading

Punching Through The Wall

20150904_140553How many times am I going to encounter the wall, stand facing it, and with a sigh of resignation retreat? How many times will I find my back against it, chafing, before curling into a ball at its base, I give up. I resent the wall. It springs up before me both unexpectedly and predictably. I’ve been crushed against it without warning, and I’ve seen it coming a mile away. The wall is immovable and unchanging, holding me apart from reaching my highest potential, blocking the way. I can’t change it. I don’t even try. Continue reading

Taking Advantage Of The Situation

facebook_1466977878801When I was a kid I was accused of taking advantage of the situation on a frequent basis, usually by my dad, who was at times desperate to polish his only child’s impulse control flaws right out of what he saw as her diamond soul. At the time, however, I was unaware of his parental longings, understanding only that I was constantly in trouble for behaviors that felt fluid and natural. We’d come home from a camping trip, and as my parents were busy unloading gear, I’d furtively grab a marker and write the cheer “Woooo!” on the kitchen counter, heart pounding from my daring indiscretion. It was OK, because the washable ink beaded right up upon contact with the gold-flecked 1950s formica, and rubbed right off without a trace at the slightest touch. Scrawl, rub, scrawl, rub. I did it over and over, testing the limits, until I cut it too close and my dad walked in the back door with an armload of REI, catching me in the act. Face tightening into the disapproving scowl I sought to avoid at all costs, while directly courting it with my impulsive behavior, (what an exhausting paradox for an eight year-old psyche to bear), he took my arm, saying through angrily pursed lips, you’re taking advantage of the situation! And I was in trouble again. Continue reading

Music: Response

2016-06-11 09.22.24Beginning this ode, I’m reminded of a scene in Almost Famous, when the budding young rock journalist sits down at last with the elusive guitarist, asking first, “what do you love about music?” to which the answer was “to begin with, everything”. Yes.

My first awareness of music is in my parents’ house in Middlebury, Vermont, where they played records at top volume in the evenings and I performed in my diapers. (Hooray for growing up in the pre-cell phone camera, social media age!) I remember the Starry Night painted soles of Cyndi Lauper’s shoes on the back cover of Shes’ So Unusual and understanding I needed heels to perform her songs. I remember thinking in my three year-old brain that the “instrumental” of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun sounded a lot like when a structure made of my painted wooden blocks crashed over. It made sense to put on my mom’s heels and strike the cylindrical pieces of wood together for my Cyndi impersonation. The title track sounded like the way Betty Boop looked. These are my earliest experiences of music.

I was lucky to have youngish parents who were into New Wave and MTV, the hallmarks of 1980s popular music. They may has listened to NPR in the mornings, cursing every time Ronald Regan’s name was invoked, but the weekends and evenings were all about playing records. We lived in L.A. in the summer of 1984: the Summer Olympics, KROQ, Woody Woodpecker cartoons. All Night Long (All Night)! My anthems as a four year-old were Walking on Sunshine and the Pointer Sisters’ Jump (For My Love). Both made my little heart beat faster, and both were about falling in love, and looking back, developmentally speaking, my little brain probably responded to the game-like commands of walking and jumping.

We’ve talked about Bowie and Prince. Both visionary, utterly original artists ran my little imagination with their eerie, other-wordly, eccentric voices, the fantasies their lyrics spun. Let’s Dance and Purple Rain are two of the very first records I remember, and for that I’m privileged.

Soon, I tumbled headlong into the (forgive me) magical mystery tour that is The Beatles. I held my parents’ LPs from college with reverence, imagining I had been alive to purchase them, during the time. There was a summer, I think I was eight, when I got up with my dad every morning so he could drop me off at daycamp on his way to work. I remember him singing me awake, “here comes the sun, little darlin’…” which would wake me with a smile and we would finish the verse together. I can remember he and I grinning at each other, going through our morning routine, saluting the sun those bright Seattle summer mornings. Good Day, Sunshine!

My best friend in the neighborhood was a real Beatles fan. An aficionado, really. Her dad had been in a band in the 60’s and did LSD. He had a tattoo on his forearm of a butterfly. So obviously at ten years old she had the chops, being his daughter, this man whose collection of literally all formats was esoteric and arcane and absolutely fucking legit. She blasted Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey and Glass Onion and Cry, Baby, Cry and talked about their hidden meanings. We were a little young yet to realize the meaning of every far-out song on the White Album is “drugs”.

We spent hours in her room, lying on her big four poster bed, listening to the Abbey Road medley on repeat. Mean Mr. Mustard/Polythene Pam/She Came In Through The Bathroom Window captivated us, two girls on a raft, swept down a river of sound, lyrics weaving idyllic or disturbing imagery, depending on which psyche you were inhabiting (mine or hers). Rubber Soul was the soundtrack to our short lived Monopoly games, where once Park Place and Boardwalk were purchased, (immediately by the first person to land on them), we lost interest. The music was always there, waiting to whisk us away.

When I rediscovered Revolver during graduate school, I could never listen to Tomorrow Never Knows because its haunting mystique had dissipated years before, on that same four poster bed, when my childhood best friend was going through that special teenage brand of depression, and I lay quietly next to her as she reached for her stereo to hit repeat at the final strains, again and again and again, weeks on end. I can’t listen to it now because its haunting power has been restored, reminding me of that sad, drawn young girl who grew out of loving me just a few years ago.

I sat on a steep grassy hillside on a baking hot Central Washington May weekend, gazing down at the stage there, the Columbia River Gorge wending its exquisite way across the state behind it. It was a terrible time, the early stages of a post-crisis life. The beginning of a reconstruction era, when everything was exposed and vulnerable and new. Animal Collective’s chirping, bright, Beach Boys-esque My Girls floated up to me, and transformed the scene in front of me to my coronation. The sun shone more brilliantly with every line, the haze in the air increasing with every note. A shimmering crown lowered itself from the center of the sun, filling my body with light and warmth as it came to rest upon my head. I understood with perfect clarity that my low self-esteem was a self-imposed prison I could choose to free myself from at any time. My Girls had played nearly every morning I awoke alone in my friend’s parent’s basement, tinny sounds issuing from a cheap, hand-me-down radio. What had born radio witness to my isolation, live became an elevation of my personhood. It changed me. Yes, it was very spiritual. Yes, I was high. It means just as much to me seven years later, and my mood instantly lifts any time I hear the beginning notes of that song.

I hear Mariah Carey’s Dreamlover and feel adolescent sexual longing in the pit of my stomach. I have an exciting summer crush who I may or may not ever see again, and I want him so bad! The chorus, so pleading, such longing, is the exact feeling of thirteen year-old yearning. CeCe Penniston’s Keep On Walkin’ is an anthem of feminine assertion of independence. It’s the feeling of lying on the futon in your room that’s just been “remodeled” to suit the tastes of a twelve year-old, not a nine year-old. Paging though Seventeen, peach paint softly glowing on the walls, CeCe’s directives coming from the latte-colored DreamMachine clock radio, KUBE93. Very chic. Very adult.

I love the way music is strung throughout all the days of my life, weaving the sum of my experiences into a cohesive, collective whole. It brings all the parts and iterations of myself together, drawing the inner family close, a celebration of every moment, every feeling. Even the moments of crushing loss, of utter existential loneliness, of rejection and unrelenting depression become transcendent against the backdrop of music’s astonishing nostalgic power. It’s all so beautiful.

You were wondering when I would get to Nirvana, right? Well, the tone and feeling and mood changes, the moment I type that name. Nirvana is my soul. And I don’t care how adolescent and way deep and poseur-ish that sounds. I know what Kurt Cobain means to me and we don’t need your validation. See? I’m defensive, even. OK, well, for those of you who don’t know, I grew up in the city of Seattle, right in the city, during the Grunge era. I was too young to go to the rock clubs, and I will always lament that, but I was old enough to listen to the radio every waking moment. I was in a friend’s basement rec room watching MTV when an intensely saturated color palette of a video came on. The song had these zinging chords I could feel vibrating through me. The singer widened his eyes, training them directly into the camera, a cobalt blue, searing themselves into my soul. This is how we met.

You have to understand why it’s significant. For those at my middle school, you liked a certain type of music, which then dictated your social standing. I hate even admitting that there was a time I didn’t listen to music for joy or exploration or transcendence, but to fit in. If you listened to rap and R&B you were cool, and therefore popular. If you listened to 60s and 70s era rock with your parents, that was pretty cool and you could be popular. If you listened to alternative rock and grunge, you were an outcast. If you didn’t listen to music, you were no one at all. So I was all the way into rap and R&B and still trying to figure out how to break into the popular girl clique when I saw the Heart-Shaped Box video that afternoon. I was in no mood to change my musical proclivities, risking everything I’d worked so socially hard for.

Sure I knew Nirvana. For years everywhere I turned, there seemed to be a poster of a naked baby boy swimming after a dollar bill on a hook. And there was that song about the deodorant brand no one would ever use because the name was so dumb. I just needed a personal audience with Kurt Cobain to get it. A friend used to have this quote hanging in her room, “Eddie Vedder makes an emotional connection with his fans that Kurt Cobain simply won’t allow”, against a shirtless picture of Eddie performing inside a crowd of fans. Please. Kurt was the very first person with whom I felt an emotional connection, and he managed to project that through a screen, via a previously recorded video. Talk about ahead of his time.

It is very difficult for me to put in words what the experience of discovering Nirvana and losing Kurt mean(t) to me, other than to say not one ounce of my emotional fervor has lessened in all these years. The monuments of my sorrow and my love have not diminished with time.

I’ll do Pennyroyal Tea, OK? I’ll tell you how that is my favorite song, on my favorite record and it evokes the color violet, deep violet with fields of sunflowers. There’s a live version, too, from MTV Unplugged. The rest of the band stood, empty-handed, while Kurt struggled through the intensely personal lyrics, no backup, just him and his guitar. Just how he ordered it. Vulnerable and tyrannical. The terrible contradictions of the human soul, the human experience, wrapped into a single person, illuminated through his work.

The current, KEXP-driven era began a decade ago, when unemployed, paralyzed and stunned, my boyfriend and I sat around the apartment, not looking for work, listening to the radio for 10 hours a day. I knew I’d missed out on a precious resource by never using KEXP, opting for illegal downloads and C89, the local dance station, during college and beyond. I was bound and determined to make KEXP a guiding force of my taste, and the long months without work certainly enabled and nurtured that relationship. Aside from Nirvana, I owe the station everything I have. Their DJs were with me when I was a newly-minted master of counseling with no prospects, no ideas. They provided the soundtrack to my house parties. They drove everywhere with me, they woke up with me, they were my source of company when I lived on a mattress on the floor in my friend’s parent’s basement. They set the mood for nights in with friends, the low-lit living room vibe where the best conversations happen.

Music enchants me, shaping my sense of self, enhancing my moods, collecting and storing sense memories it so generously renews on demand. I press play and at once I’m in that hazy art deco club downtown, Hot Chip leaping around onstage, segueing No Fit State into New Order’s Temptation. How is it even possible, this magic, my favorite songs of both bands becoming one? A song comes on and there I am, in that dark, gritty little neighborhood place, packed in against the wall as Ratatat blows my house down with Wildcat. I click the link and I’m on that grassy hillside being crowned, sun glowing on my face. Or that other time, years later when the frontman asked for the stage floods to illuminate the top of the hill, so he could see me. I just about rolled down that hill from sheer ecstasy (no, I wasn’t high) when he launched into Reflektor.

The very essence of these times envelops me, and I can choose, on demand (what a privileged era indeed, I grew up you used to have to hover by your stereo, blank tape cued up, ready to push record the moment the radio put on your song) which memories to access. The soundtracks are there, all of them, inseparable from my life.