A journey in words...

Welcome to my journey in words! A story about health, exercise, weight loss, food addiction, humor, size discrimination, sarcasm, social commentary and all the rest that’s rattling around inside my head...

I now twit, er... or tweet. Anyway, you can follow me on twitter @Aeon1202

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Legend of Dog

At some point in my life I encountered a legend about why dog is man’s best friend and most faithful companion. It went something like this:

When Man fell from grace, and the great chasm of fear opened between he and the rest of the animal kingdom, Dog bravely jumped the gap for he could not bear to be parted from his friend.

Does this sound familiar to anyone? I’ve scoured Google but I cannot seem to find it now, nor figure out its exact origins. It’s reminiscent of Native American folklore, yet also seems to allude to Christian tradition. It’s entirely possible that it was dialogue spoken by one of the characters on the TV program Northern Exposure, because it sounds precisely like something that would have appeared on that show.

Unfortunately I cannot remember where exactly I heard it.

Regardless, it's been on my mind of late.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Cookie Dough Dessert Hummus

This recipe was simply too strange not to try. I love hummus and I make many different types from many different beans. All tend to be savory, a bit salty, usually garlicky. Prior to stumbling over this recipe it had never occurred to me that “dessert hummus” was a possibility.

Here’s what you will need:
1 can of chickpeas; drained and rinsed (the recipe says you’re supposed to peel them but um… yeah, no. I don’t have time for that. I just turned my food processor on and walked away for a few minutes. Same thing, right?)
1/4 cup natural peanut butter (The “natural” means no sugar added, blech. I realized you can substitute this with 4 tbsp. of PB2 dissolved in 1/4 cup of milk if you want to bring the peanut butter fat content down some. I just used Jif whips when I made it.)
6 tbsp. maple syrup (it’s supposed to be REAL maple syrup but that’s difficult and expensive to find in my area, so… Log Cabin won.)
1 & 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips (I couldn’t find minis in a 6 oz. bag and getting a 12 oz. bag only to use a small fraction of it, thereby leaving the rest lying around in my house like a food grenade is a bad idea. So I opted for the 6 oz. bag of regular sized morsels and put most of it into the recipe.)
A pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients except the chocolate morsels in a food processor, turn it on, and let it run for a couple of minutes. Then fold the chocolate morsels into the resulting mixture and you’re done!

The texture is a bit grainy (probably because I didn’t peel my chickpeas), peanut buttery, lightly sweet, and surprisingly good. I dipped pretzel snaps into it but it would also work just fine with celery sticks, apple wedges, graham crackers – basically anything that plays nicely with peanut buttery things. After chilling it could easily be rolled into balls and dipped in melted chocolate to make a decent gluten free cookie. With a few minor alterations this recipe could be made vegan.

Here’s a guesstimation of the nutrition info based on my input of the recipe into the Daily Plate:
Makes: 8 servings
Calories: 144
Fat: 3.5 grams
Carbs: 30 grams
Protein: 5.5 grams
Sugar: 11 grams

Is it a worthy dessert for its calorie cost? I think so. It’s pretty satisfying due to the protein content and yet doesn’t tempt me to hork down the entire thing in one sitting. It’s also pretty healthy as desserts go, so I believe I’ll be making this one again. I may even spring it on unsuspecting guests at a party…

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Zumba Etiquette?

I have no idea what the proper etiquette for group workouts is (or if there even is any).

My Monday and Tuesday evening Zumba classes can get pretty crowded. According to the online sign-up, they’re supposed to cap out at 15 participants but I think there are at least 20 most nights.

Last Monday, just after we’d all started dancing, a young woman came in, looked around the room, then came and started dancing (literally) less than a foot in front of me. She more or less planted herself where I already was. She wasn’t very good either, so there was immediately a lot of arm flailing in the general direction of my face.

Startled and somewhat taken aback, I stepped off to the side and stopped dancing. The girl who’d previously been just to my left shot me a sympathetic look and helplessly shrugged, as if to say, “I have no idea why she can’t seem to see you. I’m sorry!”

Although I’m more cantankerous in my 40’s than I was a decade ago, I really didn’t (and don’t) know how to deal with rude (or selectively blind) dancers in a Zumba class. So I simply moved into one of the less heavily occupied portions of the room and went back to dancing. The girl who’d occupied my spot continued right along, never having acknowledged me in the least.

It was curiously like being invisible. Briefly, I wondered if I’d suddenly developed superpowers, but since I still seemed perfectly visible to everyone else in the room I guess that wasn’t it.

On another occasion a girl came in and started to dance directly beside me. This time I was definitely visible because we smiled at one another in greeting. Since the room was not at all crowded that day, I moved up a step or two so that we weren’t directly beside one another – giving us both more room to move.

She immediately moved up directly beside me again, giving me another grin as if to say, “oh – we’re moving forward? Cool! I’m with you!”

She did this for the whole class. If I stepped forward to get some space she was right there with me, if I stepped back, she stepped back. I had an awkwardly dancing shadow for the entire class.

I can only imagine she believed that, much like the military, we were expected to stay in perfectly straight lines while dancing.

What on earth is the proper etiquette for these things? Is there a polite way to say, “Hi! Yes, I’m friendly – but could you get away from me please?”

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Quitter! Quitter!

It’s been entirely too negative around this blog lately, so to mix things up I’m going to tell you why I quit.

No, seriously – it’s a good thing!

I started my journey toward losing over 100 lbs. on the HMR system. It turned out to be a very bad idea for me as the artificial and/or extreme low calorie nature of that diet caused my liver to start failing, however it did take off the first 35 lbs. that needed to go.

When I left HMR (on my wise Doctor’s orders) I went to Weight Watchers. There I had a great leader and fantastic, supportive classmates – and I took off another 40 lbs. WW is a decent program, their system of tailoring your personal diet to include those things you love while encouraging you to try new ones is smart, and it’s something that people can do for life – which is very important for weight loss sustainability.

I don’t agree with them 100%. For example, they push milk which I think is unnecessary for adult animals (it’s baby food). Also they try to get you to figure out how to stay within your points on days like Christmas and your birthday – I personally believe there are days when you should just forget the whole restriction deal and enjoy yourself. There can be an almost fearful attitude toward food at WW that I think isn’t 100% mentally healthy.

However, I was happy on WW and it’s easy enough to ignore what you don’t agree with and take to heart all the useful, encouraging things that they offer.

Through no fault of WW I began to suffer diet fatigue about seven or eight months ago. I had simply run out of energy to keep doing the same things I’d done before. I remained on the program, slogging along, but my weight began slowly but surely creeping upward instead of downward. I knew I had to try something new, and as much as I would have liked to add a new plan to my existing old one, my diet budget being what it is (I have a spending allowance I dedicate to my weight loss efforts) in order to try something new I had to give up WW.

That was hard. I love my leader and my classmates. And I was a coward – I knew I was leaving but didn’t tell them. For one thing, I knew they’d try to talk me out of it, but my mind was made up so I knew that was a waste of time. I wasn’t quitting my efforts to get where I want to be, but I was leaving their company and in the end I slipped away very quietly. I guess a lot of people do that.

So I joined a gym.

I’ve said in the past that gyms aren’t the right choice for me because if I have to go home, change clothes, and go back out again – I probably won’t go. Well, I’ve also said in the past that WW isn’t for me, so obviously I change my mind a lot.

Deliberately working out isn’t precisely a natural activity. Human instinct encourages us to conserve energy whenever possible just as our metabolisms strive to conserve calories, it’s all about survival. Over the years when I trudge along on a treadmill or elliptical machine, it’s all I can do not to stare at the clock, waiting for the time when I can cease this boring activity.

So there’s a trick to it. I’d heard of this trick before, I’d just never managed to successfully implement it until now.

Find something physical to do that you think is ridiculously fun.

That’s where Zumba fits in. Silly, I know. Most of the time I’m pretty sure I look like a baby hippo hopping and flailing around that studio. But it really is a big dance party with great music and energy and moves I’m able to follow and lots and lots of sweat. It lasts a whole hour (unlike my generally half hour treadmill sessions) and I don’t even notice the time flying by because I’m enjoying myself.

Apparently I will go home, get changed, and go back out – if where I’m going is to a big, fun dance party.

Group exercise is so different from going it alone at home. The energy of a great instructor and the rest of the class lifts and carries me along, helping me to work harder than I would have on my own.

It’s awesome, I’m going three times a week, and my membership also includes access to a lot of weight lifting machines. Since lifting weights is a varied activity, it doesn’t bore me to tears like hamster wheel activities do.

In addition to that, I still take walks and hikes with Ted.

This is all well and good, but there’s a great saying that goes, “you can’t outrun your fork.” What this refers to is that physical activity alone isn’t going to effect weight loss. It's easy to consume back the calories burned in even a strenuous workout and it’s a lot harder to burn a significant amount of them than people think. So I’m also using the Daily Plate (my favorite old standby) to track my calories and the quality of my nutrition.

I’ve found that when it comes to weight loss, loyalty to one specific method doesn’t really work for me. In order to continue and fight off boredom and diet fatigue, I’ve got to shake things up a bit. Zumba is my new shakedown.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Food Policing

Seriously. Don’t do this. Ever.

What follows is more or less a transcript of a conversation I had in my work break room this morning while I was trying to put together my morning cup of caffeine.

Me: Staring blankly into a very full refrigerator, trying to figure out where I left my little bottle of coffee creamer. A male co-worker came in (aged 50-something, generally a nice guy).

Him: Using the low, chastising tone of voice you use with your dog when you find them rooting through the kitchen trash, “get outta there.”
Me: Looking up in confusion, “excuse me?”
Him: “I said get outta there.”
Me: Further confused, “why am I not allowed to look in the fridge for my coffee creamer?”
Him: “Because that stuff is all junk.”
Me: Now angry, hurt, defensive, you name it… “well, when I desire an opinion on what I put in my body other than my own, I will be sure to come look for you.”
Him: “So in other words, shut up?”
Me: “Pretty much.”

Then, since I was hurt, angry, and defensive, I explained that my coffee creamer is fat and sugar free. Which I shouldn’t have, because it is in no way, shape or form anyone’s business other than my own what I am choosing for breakfast. He then food shamed me again because – chemicals.

He even said, “speaking as a diabetic; that artificial crap is worse for you than just eating sugar.”

Although I was feeling a strong desire to point out at that juncture that, although fat, I am not a diabetic (nor suffering from any weight-related complications) I simply took my coffee and left.

I wonder what he would have said if I hadn't identified that I was specifically looking in there for coffee creamer? His objection began when he came into the break room to find a fat girl peering into a fridge, so the fact that I was looking for food of any sort is what wasn't allowed. At my size I should be able to live comfortably off my fat stores for a few months, right? And according to him I need to do so until I stop shamefully taking up too much space.

Speaking as someone who does have an eating disorder, this kind of encounter can be incredibly harmful. Getting policed, shamed, and harassed for having the nerve to both be fat and eat in public is exactly why people retreat to eat in secret. And eating in secret is where binging occurs. I’ve struggled for years to find the courage to unapologetically eat in public – and when something like this happens it knocks me back down a peg like nobody’s business.

I reiterate, I know that intentions are good ones when this kind of conversation occurs. I know, and I don’t care.

Do. Not. Do. This. To. Anyone.


Monday, October 19, 2015

Why Sustained Weight Loss Fails

This isn’t meant to be the sum total of reasons why 95% of people can’t sustain significant weight loss, they’re just my personal observances on why it’s so very difficult for me.

1)      It often doesn’t feel worth it. To lose weight I have to be hungry a lot, for at least several hours every day, which is emotionally draining (see ego depletion). I also have to consider, weigh, measure, and catalogue everything I eat, which is tedious and (again) emotionally draining. In return, I get to look like a cloth bag stuffed with cotton. Some of the cotton slowly gets removed, but since the exterior bag is exactly the same size as before, it is now wrinkly and saggy and at 40 years of age (it might be slightly better if you are younger) the bag does not seem inclined to shrink at all. So as weight loss continues I can reasonably expect to look more and more like the saggy baggy elephant. With it being as emotionally draining as it is, this end result doesn’t really feel worth the difficulty of losing and then sustaining that loss which will need to continue every day for the rest of my life.
I have also become very physically uneven. I have a stomach that collapsed over itself when I got fat and in case that wasn’t gross enough, the right side hangs lower down than the left. My right thigh is larger than my left thigh (and the fat over my right knee sags down over the knee) and my left calf is larger than my right calf. Since I have never had what society deems to be a “hot body” I admit it’s probably psychologically easier for me not to look good than it would be for somebody who did (or does) look traditionally good. I’m used to not having a good looking body, I’ve never had one so I don’t even know what it’s like to. For this reason I have low expectations where my self-esteem is concerned. But since it’s such a daily struggle to maintain and keep losing weight and I now look in some ways even worse than before – why am I bothering?

2)      I’ve explained before how the body doesn’t know the difference between “healthy weight loss” and “starving” because… well… there is none. And when you starve your body it goes into a state of hyper vigilance waiting for an opportunity to not die when the calories it’s been deprived of are re-introduced. What this means is, I’m even more inclined toward weight gain than I was before. So the slightest slip up on my part can translate to putting pounds on at a truly terrifying speed. Also, when you starve your metabolism slows down to (again) try not to die because you are starving. So the more weight I lose, the less calories I need, the more daily hunger I have to endure to continue to lose weight and look even more saggy and droopy.

3)      I’m aware of the argument that I’m now “healthier” as a result of weight loss. Except… I wasn’t unhealthy before. Losing 70 lbs. has actually caused my blood pressure to elevate slightly. I guess this is a symptom of stress my body is showing because I’ve been living under starvation conditions for so long, but I can’t confirm that because there’s no doctor anywhere who will admit that “dieting” and “starving to death” are actually the exact same thing. However my joints function better, they will probably last longer, and I briefly experienced an improvement in my asthma symptoms (although they came back late this summer with a vengeance for reasons I can’t explain). I also have way better stamina, which feels good.

4)      Self-treating for an eating disorder is difficult and risky. For me, the reason for being overweight is that I suffer from B.E.D. (Binge Eating Disorder). There are effective treatments for this, but they are cost-prohibitively expensive, so I try to teach myself behavior modification techniques on my own using books. Behavior modification has statistically been shown to be the most effective treatment for my type of E.D. but the E.D. is not going away, and treating myself for it has limited effectiveness (some weeks I don’t binge at all, some weeks I binge every day). It just feels like an exhausting and never ending fight right now that I know I don’t have proper help for, and the help I really need I cannot afford.

So I admit, there have been positives. I look better in clothes (and worse out of them). Clothes shopping is easier. I have better stamina and endurance. I sweat less during everyday activities (I no longer sweat while taking a walk unless it’s particularly hot) but I still sweat like crazy and turn red as a beet during high impact workouts. I turn so red that occasionally someone will stop me and ask, “are you okay?” which is embarrassing. I seem to be one of those people that just easily turns red during exertion.

What is my point? I don’t know, I don’t really have one. I’m just venting out how I feel right now and how I feel is negative and tired. I’m sure I’ll feel better about the whole thing tomorrow. I might need to shake up my routine again and try something different.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Fat Prejudice Trumps Reason

I’m not a big fan of “reality TV”, but I enjoy shows where people are competing to make things. Shows like Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, Face Off, and Project Runway all appeal to my desire to see what talented and creative people can dream up.

I’m currently watching the 14th season of Project Runway, and my favorite contestant to win is a beautiful young woman named Ashley with enviable lavender hair and a distinct Rockabilly style.

She’s killing it so far, in only five episodes this season she’s already had the top design twice. She’s also sweet and seems pretty easy to get along with and work beside. When Tim Gunn asked the contestants to divide into two teams at the onset of episode 5, Ashley had every reason to believe she’d be chosen first.

Instead, this happened:

(The part of the show where they divide into teams begins at around 2:30.)

Even Heidi Klum is flabbergasted that this talented girl is left last, unwanted by either team.

I was saddened, but not surprised, since that pretty much summed up every event in my entire childhood that required us kids to divide into teams. It doesn’t matter if the challenge at hand is physical, mental, creative, or otherwise – if you are an unacceptable body size nobody wants you on their team, even with abundant evidence at hand of how talented and skilled you are.

People of size don’t have to prove themselves competent once, or even twice, to be granted the same benefit of doubt that average sized people are given without a second thought – they have to do it every damned day. Whatever they accomplished yesterday is instantly forgotten.

As a side note: the contestants didn’t know when they were choosing these teams that they’d be facing a physical challenge so they weren’t even flaunting their prejudice against Ashley’s presumed athletic ability but rather rejecting her on a gut instinct level. That being said, it turns out the girl is lethal with a paintball gun – so at least she got to shoot the living crap out of her detractors a short while later.

Shame on them. Every single one.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Summer Concert Review: Two Epic Tokio Hotel Shows in 48 Hours

Some quick stats on the previous weekend:
·         Cities visited: 3
·         Concerts attended: 2
·         Sound checks attended: 1
·         New friends made: 1
·         Current friends seen: 4
·         Alcoholic beverages consumed: Just 1 (by me anyway… I was the designated.)
·         Bruises earned: 2 (two inches above both knees. I have no idea how I got them. Rock, apparently, can hurt.)

I’ve been a big fan of Tokio Hotel since 2010, discovering them via You Tube right around the time they closed up touring their last album. Ah, to recall my naiveté at the time, watching music videos and thinking casually to myself, “huh… cool band. I’ll hop on their website and see when they’re going to be in Philly so I can catch the show.”

Five years later...

It was sheer bad timing that I became interested just as they went on hiatus, but since there was nearly a decade of touring, four (or six) albums depending on what language you’re listening to them in, and countless interviews, music, and concert videos to enjoy there was a lot to keep me busy. And nobody in the band has even yet reached the age of 30 – these guys started young, y’all.

Over the past few years I got involved in a community, and I made friends. Some live only an hour from me and others halfway around the world. There are things to love and to hate about the internet, but one great positive is its ability to bring together people of shared dreams and interests who would otherwise never have a chance to know one another.

So it was that the wonderful, diverse group of individuals I spent last weekend with, concert road-tripping, singing, dancing, laughing, being crazy and generally rocking out with were all folks I could directly credit the band for bringing into my life. Annette I see often as we live close to one another, Gina and Claudia are a bit further away and I see them as often as I can, and Annica I met for the first time in person only this past weekend and yet felt instantly as though I’d known her for years.

Back in May the US tour dates were announced, and after a few days of planning, decision making, and generalized squee I had tickets secured with these friends to two of the three shows happening locally: one in my home town of Philadelphia and one nearby in Baltimore. Abruptly, the indefinite wait to see my favorite band play live became something that was happening in three short months. It didn’t quite seem possible or particularly real. On top of that it was a club tour with small sized venues, so I wasn’t just going to see them live – but up close. As in count-the-facial-piercings-close.

A week ago Saturday I kissed Ted goodbye and picked everyone up in my large vehicle for the drive into Baltimore. I passed the time absorbing my companion’s stories about the concert they’d already seen a few days previous in New York City.

In Baltimore we ditched the car and tumbled out onto the hot summer street. Already people were lining up in front of the venue, but since none of us were keen on getting tossed into the human salad spinner that is the area directly in front of the stage we bypassed the longer wait in favor of food. Here you can see a fundamental difference between concert-priorities as a teen versus a grown up: proper fuel is important and you remember to hydrate.

When we got back the line was snaking its way around the side of the building and with our general admission tickets we hopped into the end. The space behind us quickly filled with more people and I was glad to see such a good turnout here in the US. This is because despite generating a Beatle mania-esque level of hysteria in their native Europe and parts yonder, my fellow American’s response to my telling them I like a band called Tokio Hotel is usually a slightly blank look followed by the queried, “who?”


The crowd was a lot more diverse than I expected. The majority of TH’s fan base has traditionally been female and young, but over the years as the band grew up so did it’s fandom. The line outside the Soundstage had women, men, people younger than us, people older than us, fanciful hair colors, inventive piercings, an array of tattoos as well as more conservative and low-key looking folk. There was even one lady pushing a stroller with a toddler inside; a concert-going decision I admit I found somewhat questionable (TH is loud). People were also really nice; relaxed, happy, and chatty. I admired someone’s beautiful lavender hair color and she enthusiastically encouraged me to get the same for myself (and I would really love to sport lavender one day).

Soon after joining the line a fan walked by and passed us all little signs that read: “Thank You: Ten Years with Tokio Hotel”.

The day of the Baltimore show was the 10th anniversary of the band’s single Monsoon, the song that initially made them famous (and, amusingly, whose popularity made it impossible for them to return to school like normal kids after a summer break of touring when they were around fourteen.) When the band played the song, you were supposed to hold up the sign. I was doubtful they would be able to see such small print from the floodlight-bright area of the stage, but we were game.

There was also apparently a banner going around for people to sign that was given to the band after the show. Sadly, I missed getting to give Tokio Hotel my autograph (heh) but this is what it looked like:

I’m not a great judge of crowd size but I would estimate that Baltimore Soundstage holds somewhere between 750 and 1,000 people. I heard the concert was sold out, and the venue was full, but thankfully not sardine-packed. My friends and I scored great standing room at the front of a raised platform toward the back of the venue with a clear, totally unobstructed view of the entire stage and plenty of room to move.

The first opening act was on when we came in; Ex Nations reminded me a tiny bit of Imagine Dragons. Not bad. The second opener, MXMS, was very low key. I thought they should have switched the order of the two since EN would have been a better choice to rev up a crowd.

Low-key or not, by the time the second opening band finished up I was totally wired – somewhere between unbelievably stoked for the show and in utter disbelief that the five year wait was over, literally, right NOW.

One thing I’ll say about Tokio Hotel, they’re worth waiting for – but they do teach you about patience. What came next was a solid hour of downtime involving intermittent standing around chatting with friends and jumping up and down from pent up energy. Gina took the following shot of my overly-excited, totally wired self a minute or two before the intro began:

I can't even blame caffeine or alcohol for this expression...

And then, quite magically, “soon” turns into right now.

I’ve always been a person capable of fan-love. I’ve been that way since I was a teenager and my very patient sister took me to see Bon Jovi over, and over (and over) again. Not everybody falls in love with things the way fan-folk do, and to those who don’t we can be a confusing lot. But to those of us with the predisposition to go totally crazy about Star Trek, or 80’s fantasy films, or a book series, or a quirky German band (or in my case all of the above) it’s utter magic to love and enjoy something with people who feel the exact same way about it as you. It’s magic to love that something for years from afar and then one day have them right there in the room with you, playing the music that’s been your life’s chosen soundtrack for a couple of years running.

Not going to lie, I was a teeny bit emotional.

It’s been a few days and it’s still difficult to describe how the show was. Technically you can see for yourself what the Feel it All tour looks and sounds like on a thousand home made You Tube videos, some of them fairly decent quality. And yet… no, it’s not the same. The band is made up of hard working German perfectionists and that work ethic shows in how flawless they sound live, in the attention to every detail meant to entertain and delight the audience, in the way they connect to the people they’re performing for with those million megawatt smiles, tiny waves, and a hundred other intimate little details that come off completely organic despite the obvious amount of work they put into making sure their show is as perfect as they can make it.

I once read a concert review from 2008 that described the experience as, “Fifteen hundred people spending an hour and a half trying to get one teenage boy to grin.”

This is largely still the case in 2015 – it’s just that the ridiculously pretty boy is now a ridiculously pretty man with facial scruff and a lot less guy liner. Bill’s grin, however, is just the same, and just as infectious.

The show’s intro is a light show projected onto a scrim curtain that covers the entire front of the stage. In Baltimore the ceiling was low so part of the projection was actually up on the ceiling. The intro music, an extended opener to the song We Found Us, is at that point prerecorded, and combines with the lighting to give the audience an inter-dimensional travel, lifting and moving forward feeling. It features the kind of heavy bass that can be felt as well as heard, and is perfectly designed to amp up a crowd. At some point while it’s playing the band quietly moves into their places on stage. Well, they’re quiet anyway, the crowd went positively nuts since it’s easy to spot them through the scrim, particularly Bill with his headgear.

Once they’re in place they just sort of drop seamlessly over into the live song, though you can distinctly hear when the guys take over playing. It gets even louder, for one thing. They play at a volume that is just loud enough to fill up all the spaces inside your chest with sonic vibration but not loud enough to cause any distortion. It leaves you with seriously ringing ears afterward, but it sounds just right while it’s going on.

At the first chorus they drop the scrim, and the crowd goes absolutely bonkers. The crew raised and lowered that curtain a couple of times throughout the show so that it could be used for various effects and oddly I never caught them putting it back up, I’d just notice it was there again.

That first show in Baltimore was more about listening for me than watching. I danced, nonstop, the entire time (and I was thoroughly grateful to my two Zumba instructors for giving me the stamina to do that).

I knew there were going to be vocal effects used during the show, I’d heard everything watching the European concerts on You Tube, but even good recordings do not compare to the blow-back-your-hair-awesomeness of the way it sounds live. They did everything possible to bring the unique sound of their current album to life on stage, and succeeded fantastically. My mind boggles to even think about how technically complicated this show has to be: with lighting effects timed for every beat, two guys playing three to four instruments each, one drummer, and one singer blending in with himself as his own backup while hitting all queues for vocal sound effects unique to every single song. And the effects do not detract in the slightest from how awesome his voice sounds live, and how much you can really hear him.

Not to mention they never stop moving around to interact with and enjoy the crowd. It was not a huge stage and they’ve added a whole other level of complicated by putting risers on it for Bill, Tom and Georg to stand on. This makes them a lot more visible from the floor area, but how they’ve gone through two legs of the tour without somebody pitching off of or tripping over one I have no idea. (Well, Tom almost did – but just that once…) Gustav is trapped behind a Plexiglas wall which makes him somewhat difficult to see. I notice though, that he comes out at the show’s beginning wearing a welding mask, I suppose because he finds wearing a welding mask and playing drums at the same time to be amusing.

At the Philly show I could see two of the tech guys off to stage right rocking out while they hunched over their boards, and I was a little surprised that they looked like they were having fun instead of being completely stressed. Then again, you do this every night for several months running and I guess you must get used to the insanity.

The word I keep coming back to with this experience is fun. It’s a small word, and doesn’t seem big enough to encompass everything, but there it is. Forgive me Bon Jovi, I will always love you, but this was without question the most fun I have ever had at a concert.

There was also a lot of hugging. I was happy to be there, my friends were happy to be there, my friends were happy for me finally being at my first TH show. During one song a group of fans get to go up on stage, and in Baltimore one of them was my friend Liz. She looked totally calm, relaxed and groovy up there dancing. I think I probably would have frozen stiff with stage fright, they’d have had to wheel me back off stage on a dolly.

I have no idea how, but Liz managed to find us in the crowd after she came offstage, and there was a whole lot more happy hugging. She is another person I don’t get to see often, but spending that last hour of the show together was very special.

All too soon the last costume change occurred and the last encore was played (the entire show runs I think just shy of two hours). It was fun and exhausting and amazing and over all too soon, but I knew I would get to do it all again the very next day. My friends and I piled back into my SUV and headed over to crash at Annette’s house. I shared a bed with Pumba (a plushie version of Bill’s bulldog).

That plushie had a long night...

The next morning was leisurely breakfast on the deck listening to summer cicadas, sharing pictures (Claudia’s home is absolutely gorgeous) and appreciating the all too brief moments we had together. Since I’ve lopped off nearly all my hair it takes me the shortest amount of time to get ready, and soon enough we were back in the car and headed to the Theatre of Living Arts in Philadelphia.

I would be going my separate way from the others that night, so we took two cars into the city. Annica drove with me to keep me company. As a shy introvert I can be panicky when left alone with a person I’ve only just met, fearing awkward silences. I’d just met Annica the day before and yet spending time talking to her, getting to know her and about her different world, sharing stories of my own – felt both effortless and perfectly natural, as though I was chatting with someone I’ve known for years. I’m still struck by how dear people can become to me even from such precious few hours spent together. Music truly can unite.

In Philly we once again ditched the cars and made our way out onto South Street, one of the more popular tourist destinations in the city. I wished there was time to show my friends the Philadelphia Magic Gardens nearby, my favorite place inside city limits – but we had to get to the venue to check in.

One feature of this tour is the different types of tickets available. At the Philly show we’d obtained tickets that allowed us to be there for the band’s sound check that afternoon. We checked in at the front doors, were appropriately tagged and lined up, and went back to waiting. Waiting around seems to be something of a rite of passage at TH concerts.

On the upside, it gave us time for a group pic in front of the TLA:

Eventually making our way into the venue I realized I had failed to think my plan of coming to sound check through very thoroughly. The house lights were up, and there were maybe twenty people clustered directly in front of the stage, leaving a ton of empty space with absolutely no camouflage.

As I mentioned previously, I’m a shy introvert, so this presented something of a problem.

Also of note: when Bill Kaulitz grins and waves at you and your response is to try to hide behind a tall, beautiful Swede, he seems to find that amusing.

When the band came out there was a smoke machine turned on, I spotted Georg first waving his way through the fog and shooting Tom a bemused glance over it (they don’t use fog during the show so I have no idea why it was spewing).

Mostly it was really odd… to follow the careers of four people who have performed before 500,000 fans at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, travelled the world, and appeared on countless TV and radio programs, to then just be standing there in the TLA casually tuning up their guitars like it’s an ordinary Sunday afternoon. Gustav spontaneously burst into a short drum solo, apparently just to warm up/work off extra energy. He’s so good and I have a soft spot for drummers (there are three in my family), I hope they encourage him to solo during a show eventually.

Sound check is all business, and yet they were still obviously pleased to see us, and watch us enjoying the music (and after a minute or two I did manage to unlock my limbs and have fun).

Amusingly Bill was preoccupied with his phone during the bridge of one song, and we realized later he’d probably been posting this to his Instagram:

This shot was taken in the back alley behind the TLA earlier that day, you can see some of the same mosaic artwork behind him that covers the Magic Garden.

He also may or may not have been taking a picture of the little group of fans in the venue. Just for himself (thankfully) as I haven't seen it turn up online.

Three songs later they waved goodbye as we were herded back onto the street. As I was leaving I watched Tom tug on Bill’s shoulder and say something into his ear that made his brother laugh. I’ve seen the pair of them do this a hundred times on a screen but seeing them be their adorkable selves together in person was very dear.

Again, at this time people were already lining up for the concert. And again, we went off to obtain food. I don’t remember saying much during dinner (though I’m pretty sure I did eat something) I was far off inside my head, pondering over everything I’d seen and heard so far.

Another thing our ticket upgrade provided was the ability to go into the venue prior to general admission, so when we got back to the TLA we were able to bypass into a shorter line for entry. Inside, Claudia spied out an amazing spot from which to watch the concert. The bar area is sectioned off to the left of the theatre, raised two or three feet higher than the general floor space, and walled off by a waist high concrete wall. We occupied the entire stage-facing portion of the bar, so we had both a higher vantage point and were only about twelve or fifteen feet from the stage (the TLA is not huge). I thought our spot in Baltimore had been great, but this was fantastic!

We got in that day before the opening acts went on, so there was plenty of time for me to make friends with the people around me. (Note, in Philly the first opening act was a local band called 1FM.) I met two sets of moms with their daughters at the Philly show. It put me in mind of my friends Jenny, Michelle, and Becky whom I’ve also met via the fan club and been fortunate to spend time with over the years. All of them share their musical interests with their children just as the ladies I met at the show were doing that night. It made me feel as though these far flung friends were with us too, I know they would have been if they could.

We had a little down time so I slipped out to the lobby to pick up a memento to take home. The merchandise guy recognized me from Baltimore and we got to chatting since there was not currently a line. He told me about the weather in Los Angeles and how beautiful he thought Pennsylvania was, about how he enjoyed travelling with the band but that it would be good to get back home again (Philly was the final show of the North American tour). How he’d been sick three times in just a few short weeks of travel (poor guy). And he also said thank you, because the fans let him do a job he enjoyed and feed his kid at the same time, and he’d really had fun meeting us all across the states.

And then there was the show…

The second time around was more about watching, primarily because they were right there. Close enough to see every sparkly thing that Bill had on and the sweat drops falling off of Tom’s crazy Duck Dynasty beard. Also close enough to be easily spotted by the band in return (yes, I had another scared rabbit moment when I realized that, but I got used to it). There are certainly moments of close-eyed rock-rapture from Tokio Hotel as they perform, but mostly they really seem to enjoy watching people enjoy watching them.

Energy plays back and forth between performer and audience at a live show, I’ve been fortunate to feel this effect from both sides due to my past acting endeavors. The audience surges their enthusiasm toward the stage, the performer takes it all in and gives that energy right back to the audience again. A receptive, happy, cheering audience will literally pull an entertainer to better levels of performance. This is particularly evident at Tokio Hotel shows, as the band gets positively exuberant off of the attention.

At one point Bill looked up, pointed directly at my friends and said, “I can see you having fun up there.” I believe I gave him what could best be defined as a dumb grin and sheepish wave in return.  I am many things, but smooth is not one of them.

Annette put it best: our dancing and enjoyment is our gift to them. Their enthusiasm to see us and their music is their gift to us.

My phone camera is completely worthless in concert lighting and there are thousands of better pictures out there than the few I took of this show. I was much too busy bouncing around enjoying myself to take very many anyway, but here are two that aren’t totally blurry:

Three things I noticed being closer to the stage in Philly: one is that the fog gun Bill shoots at the audience sprays cold mist, which was refreshing at that point because it was turning into something of a tropical rainforest in the venue. Also the cannon effect that goes off during the last upward chorus surge in their finale of Great Day is soapy foam. After it finished settling and the house lights came back up, everybody on the main floor looked like they’d been snowed upon. Lastly, can we talk about Bill’s dance moves? My personal favorite was the human-clock-arms thing he has going on during Love Who Loves You Back. I’ve heard him say he knows the fans think his dancing is funny, but I think he’s epic. He is startlingly commanding and machismo on stage for someone who’s pretty much a total spaz in his down time.

It was a tremendous final show and I hope they were as happy with it as I was seeing it. We got to witness all the thank-you’s, the band’s grateful applause for their crew, and every drop of excitement poured out at the TLA that night. I’m still not describing it well enough, and I doubt I can. If you haven’t, you’ve really just got to go see and feel it all for yourself.

Afterward, Annica said it was the best TH show she’d ever been to, and over the years she’s seen them a lot.

We headed toward the cars, planning to go to a local bar and unwind over a cocktail.

I wanted to stay with them, to spend the whole night reliving every detail of the amazing concert we’d just experienced, but my heart was already yearning back toward Ted, who’d selflessly sent me off to enjoy this adventure all weekend like a kid again. It yearned toward my soul mate, someone who was waiting, needing to get up early the next day for work but staying awake for me to hear my stories and to welcome me back home. So I said what I knew I had to: “I think this is where I leave you.”

Saying goodbye isn’t easy, particularly because I have no way of knowing when I will see most of these friends again. I want more of these adventures, more laughter, more of these dreams shared together with people who love it all just as much as I do. But for now, the time had come to wake up.

On the ride home, I devoured the candy that someone had thoughtfully left for me in the front seat. The chemical sugar boost carried me along nicely as I mulled over my too-brief fall down the rabbit hole.

My car still smells faintly of Wild Berry Skittles, and I kind of wish it would forever.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Subversive Hair

I get bored easily with the way I look. This leads to frequent, and sometimes drastic changes in appearance. When I’m considering a change I ask myself a couple of questions:

1)      Do I like it?
2)      Does Ted like it? He is, after all, the person who looks at me the most so yes – for me that means he gets a vote (as I do for him).
3)      Will it hinder me in a job interview?

That third one is an unfortunate necessity as I’m looking to switch careers. And humans, being the creatures we are, do judge one another (often negatively) based on a non-traditional hair style or color. I’m hoping that third consideration can eventually be removed from the list.

That’s pretty much all I think about. If the answer to the first two is yes and the third is no, then I just go for it. I don’t think about it any further than that. I don’t know why I don’t wonder, “can I pull this off?” like so many others seem to. I’m not a particularly self-confident person, I just figure: its hair. It falls out every day, it grows back every day. If I hate a color I’ll dye over it, if I hate a cut I’ll grow it out. But then, I never seem to hate anything. I’ve either got particularly easy hair to make look nice (at least to me) or my self-esteem about my head is in fact better than I give myself credit for.

Right now I’m sporting a pixie cut because I can wake up, roll from bed, run my fingers over my scalp and go. I do not have to put it in a ponytail when I work out or worry about sweaty strands getting stuck to my face. Also its August and I love the summer breeze on my neck and ears. I love riding with the car windows down and not having strands of hair whip me in the face. Also, I think it looks really cute.

When I go for a cut I take in a photo that I like to show my stylist, who is a genius at duplicating photos onto my head. As I was searching the internet for photos of pixie cuts I kept blundering over article after article (they felt like warnings) stressing that I am planning for the haircut that men hate to see more than any other on a woman.

I couldn’t help but wonder why? Also, who are these guys? I don’t know any of them. Are they just ghosts that marketing execs are creating to make sure women keep spending a metric ton of money every month on hair care product or do they really exist?

Appearance preferences don’t bother me, everybody’s got a right to one and they don’t have to justify it. I’m a big girl who wears a bikini and some people really don’t want to see that. It’s totally cool, they are not required to look at me. But the short haired thing feels different somehow. According to what I see online, it’s even more widely disliked than the idea of a curvy girl in too little spandex. Personally, I’ve only seen this preference among women. Countless times since I’ve gone subversively short, a woman has looked at me genuine longing and said, “I wish I could wear my hair like that.” But for whatever reason, be it that they feel it won’t look good on them or because someone significant in their lives would be seriously unhappy about it, it seems as unattainable to them as the moon.

Whether the widespread occurrence of disdain for super-short hair on girls really exists or not, I don’t give it a second thought for a few reasons. For one thing I’m old enough, and overweight enough that I’m a bit of a societal ninja anyway. The only person who’s hit on me in the past decade is Ted. Sometimes I remember being twenty and what the admiring glances felt like with some regret, nobody wants to grow older after all – but I have to admit that being an invisible woman is a good deal easier in many ways.

Beyond that, since I simply don’t understand the concept I can’t find a compelling reason to care. At most, I feel the vague curiosity that led me to write this article, asking the questions: Why does short hair feel a little subversive on a woman? Why is short hair not feminine? Why is it not beautiful? Why is seeing the graceful line of a woman’s neck or the shape of her ears a bad thing?

I can’t answer. Neither can Ted because he’s a mystified as I am.

Maybe somebody out there in the ‘net-verse can shed some light.

As for me, I'll be out riding with the windows rolled down...