Floral Is Terrible: 3 Tomboys Who Taught Me How to Dress

They say politics are personal. I think fashion is too.

I grew up in a suburban town where women wore pink and had acrylic nails. They kept their hair long and carried designer purses. They dieted constantly and wore makeup to the gym.

This culture never clicked for me. I was raised by a woman who preferred torn pants and told me my weight wasn’t important. Not to say that the other girls were doing something wrong — they looked stunning. Many of them were smart, funny and athletic. The way they presented themselves just wasn’t for me.

It wasn’t until I happened upon three female celebrities that I realized I could think outside the LBD when it comes to fashion. These women took beauty to a place that was sexy, stylish and unique. They taught me you can steal borrow your boyfriend’s jeans and still feel feminine. Even if you don’t fit the mold, you can take pride in your appearance and dress in a way that’s simultaneously fashionable and true to who you are.

Rock stead (redeyechicago.com)
Rock steady (redeyechicago.com)

What’s black, white and red all over? Gwen Stefani’s wardrobe.

I was first exposed to Stefani in fourth grade. Back then I had no words to describe my admiration for her other than “Ohmygod, Mom, please let me dye my hair blue!” I even went to a “famous couples” dance dressed with my date like Stefani and her husband, Gavin Rossdale. My dance partner was miserable, but I thought I looked awesome with my metallic flare jeans and pink locks.

Now that I’m a bit more articulate than my fourth-grade self, I would describe Stefani as the love child of a riot grrrl and Marilyn Monroe. Red lipstick and cargo pants have never looked so good. Stefani takes some of the quintessential parts of the classic pinup – the bold lips and tumbling bleach-blond hair – and she couples them with clothes straight out of your little brother’s closet. Remember her wedding dress? The white ballgown with magenta ombre? Inspired. Unlike the rest of the female fashion icons I look up to, she also knows how to rock patterns. Her style is chock-full of polka dots, stripes, plaid, camo, houndstooth and leopard print.

how-diane-keaton-has-aged-over-the-years
Annie Hall (businessinsider.com)

After my Stefani phase, I experienced something of a slump in high school. My first love dumped me. I missed several classes and didn’t leave the house much. I distracted myself from my gloom by watching countless movies and TV shows. It was during this time that my mother began my Woody Allen education. I think she thought perhaps his cynical humor would comfort me. She was right. I tore through classics such as Manhattan and Annie Hall.

Diane Keaton, and her iconic character Annie Hall, are no-brainers when it comes to women who taught me to love myself and my clothes. In a case of art imitating life, Woody Allen, a brilliant albeit creepy filmmaker, wrote the titular character based on Keaton. She gladly accepted Allen’s offer to cast her as his lead and the rest is history.

Nearly 40 years later and still iconic
Nearly 40 years later and still doing her thing (totalbeauty.com)

Allen is quoted saying that costume designers played no part in dressing Annie Hall. Her style was all Keaton. The character is a stroke of  costuming genius. Hall’s whimsy and charm are effortlessly reflected in her sense of fashion.

Both Hall and Keaton have a love for distinctive bowler hats and glasses. The look is easy and casual, but never sloppy or too baggy. Her slacks, vests, neckties and button-downs exude a casual sophistication that Avril Lavigne will never have. Unlike Paula Poundstone and Ellen Degeneres, Keaton sticks to neutrals and loose girly locks. It is perhaps the juxtaposition of her hair and clothes that best demonstrate Keaton’s marriage of the feminine and masculine. She proves boyish and beautiful don’t have to be mutually exclusive. For a girl who still felt uncomfortable in her broad-shouldered 5’9″ frame, this was a revelation.

Cherry Bomb! (coolinthe80s.com)
Cherry bomb (coolinthe80s.com)

Goddamit, I love rock ‘n roll. If Diane Keaton instilled in me a love for vests, it was Joan Jett who made me wish I had an unending supply of Ramones and Sex Pistols tee shirts.

After several weeks of Woody Allen marathons, I bounced out of my moody funk. I stopped paying attention to what people thought of me and I listened to ’80s and ’90s rock anthems instead of doing homework.

That period was when Joan Jett came into my life. From her choppy shag haircut to her worn Converse Chuck Taylors, Jett exudes don’t-f*ck-with-me coolness.

I wore Star Wars and band tees under black hoodies with torn jeans and turquoise high-tops. To this day, I own almost a dozen pairs of Chucks. I also learned the power of a good pair of sunglasses. While I’ve recently switched to wayfarers, I had a mean collection of aviators throughout high school and college. And forget cardigans and blazers. The ultimate layering piece is a biker jacket. After all, leather and denim and a couple of power chords – that’s what little girls are made of.

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Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, Chris

Editorial note: For the purposes of this piece, we’re going to pretend that Halle Berry as Patience Phillips/Catwoman never happened. I mean, her name is Patience?! What is she, Quaker?! Strike that. My apologies. I realize that I just offended Quakers everywhere.

Catwoman
I think it’s easy to discern which one is my favorite

Catwoman means the world to me.

I grew up surrounded by boys. I had countless uncles, but only one aunt. My sole sibling was a little brother. My best friend was a boy and my only two first cousins were also male. Unsurprisingly, I played a whole ton of Ninja Turtles and Street Fighter. Women don’t have a lot of agency in children’s media (the pink Power Ranger accomplished what exactly?) and with the exception of Rainbow Brite, a girl whose only super power is color coordination, Saturday morning television taught me that women play second fiddle when it comes to saving the world. Women are a prize for straight men who defeat a boss level. Women are not heroes. Women are mermaids who give away their voices so they can impress a hot guy.

When my brother and I, much to my parents’ chagrin, discovered that there was a television channel other than PBS, we fell in love with The WB. More specifically, my brother and I became obsessed with The New Batman/Superman Adventures. This show was on every day and either featured a Superman or Batman: The Animated Series cartoon. Each day after school, we’d sit in front of the television, eyes glued to the screen, and pray that the show would feature a Batman episode. Because Batman is awesome.

Batman: The Animated Series credits logo.
Yessssssssssss

Let me make myself clear: Superman is a boring square. I love a man in glasses, but Batman has been and always will be my favorite superhero. He’s human. He’s flawed. There’s a little bit of Bruce Wayne in all of us.

There is not a little bit of Kal-El in all of us.

Maybe I didn’t recognize the value of three-dimensional characters and sophisticated storytelling when I was in third grade, but I sure as hell could appreciate a lady who kicked ass. The women in Batman: The Animated Series had power! In fact, they had motives that didn’t include winning the love of a cute boy! Looking at the main Gotham ladies, you see that most of them are primarily driven by their desire to exist outside the bounds of a limiting patriarchal society.

Ladies in the Batverse are encouraged to forge their own paths. Pamela Isley, otherwise known as Poison Ivy, just wants to be taken seriously in the scientific community — an area of academia in which women are sadly underrepresented. Barbara Gordon, or Batgirl, is brushed off because she’s petite and Selina Kyle, Catwoman, suffers the brunt of sexism in the workplace (although, admittedly, getting thrown to my death off of a rooftop by Christopher Walken is probably how I would prefer to go). These women, made to feel physically and intellectually small, affected change. I loved them so much for that. In fact, the only woman in the series who follows the lead of a man is Harley Quinn. She was a respected psychiatrist who lost control of her life and identity because she entered an abusive relationship. Harley is the laughing-stock of Gotham women. It’s a bummer. A hilarious bummer (“Gee, Boss. You really know how to put the fun in funeral!”).

Catwoman costume
Obviously quite pleased with myself (Halloween ’06)

Of all these characters, I love love love Catwoman. Heck, I’m not even much of a cat person, but Catwoman is the cat’s pajamas in my eyes. I even dressed up as Catwoman for Halloween during my first year at college. Catwoman didn’t whip her hair around like she was forever trapped in an Herbal Essences commercial. She pulled on a hood and got shit done. Catwoman taught me that women could be more than just pleasant scenery. It was Batman and Catwoman who actually served as my first example of an egalitarian romantic relationship. Batman wasn’t drawn to Catwoman because she was cute, gentle and subservient. Batman loved a woman who made him question his ideals. She challenged him intellectually and emotionally. She disrupted the status quo and reminded him that morality and ethics aren’t black and white. They made compromises for each other, without sacrificing their identities.  I learned that a good boyfriend sees me as an equal and maybe, just maybe, is a little intimidated by me. And he’s okay with it.

So many people are drawn to Christopher Nolan’s interpretation of the Batverse because it has such a strong focus on pragmatism. Theatrical vigilantism isn’t exactly rooted in reality (and for good reason), but Nolan crafted a more plausible Batverse. Batman’s costume, gadgets, methods of transportation, relationships and circumstances feel more real and less campy than previous incarnations of the character.

So tell me, Mr. Nolan, WHAT THE HELL IS THIS. NO AMOUNT OF CAPS LOCK IN THE WORLD CAN EXPRESS HOW RIDICULOUS THIS IS.

  1. You build a realistic universe and then you have your cat burglar wearing stilettos?!
  2. Give the woman a damn scrunchie. A good rule of thumb: If a woman can’t wear the costume while jogging, then she probably won’t be able to save Gotham in it. Clearly Christopher Nolan has never had to go to gym class with long locks and no hair elastic.

Catwoman’s sex appeal should be a side note, not the headline. When are writers and directors going to understand that a woman using her sexuality as a crutch is not empowering? Even Joss Whedon, self-declared creator and defender of strong heroines, is guilty of this time and time again.

I think Anne Hathaway is more than capable of owning the part, but Catwoman will be a disaster if Nolan doesn’t give her what she needs to pull it off. So if you see me sometime after July 20th and I look super angry and/or tears are streaming down my face, you’ll know why.

Never Mind Her Talent

Katy Perry at MTV Video Music Awards 2011.
This face will haunt your nightmares.

Why do we like Adele so much? It certainly isn’t a mark of sheer talent. If pop stars were chosen for celebrity based on actual talent, then Hollywood would be home to a very different Walk of Fame. We would have been spared Ke$ha and Katy Perry (if only). Not to say that Adele isn’t musically talented; a soulful alto coupled with chord progressions that rumble in the pit of your belly pack a mean punch.

It’s Adele’s familiarity that truly resonates with audiences. Her looks are resoundingly normal. While undeniably beautiful, her figure and face don’t represent an unattainable ideal. She looks just like that friend of yours from college — you know, the one with the great smile and fun hair. Adele’s appearance reminds us of ourselves and other people we know.

Adele
Hey, look! It’s a real person! Who probably has feelings and stuff! Just like me!

Not only physically approachable, Adele’s lyrics are just as accessible as her looks. “Never mind, I’ll find someone like you…” That line is for everyday people. It perfectly sums up the attitude of Forget my feelings. Heaven forbid you act in my best interest. Don’t mind me. Never mind that. It’s flippant. It’s resentful. The familiarity of that lyric tastes like battery acid in our mouths. Never mind me. Go ahead and be happy while I pick up the pieces of my life. “Never mind”: Two passive aggressive words that perfectly sum up how we express ourselves when we’re struggling to remain civil with someone who has just torn us down.

Now please excuse me while I go cry in my bathtub with a bottle of Cabernet.

Dear Playboys of the Western World,

Thank you for 24 months of riotous entertainment. We laughed, you cried. It’s been a ball.

Aside from a few hundred exceptions, dating you all has been both an enjoyable and educational experience. You guys have major chops. Some of you kick ass on trivia night, others just have mad skills. I’ll never forget that time I didn’t have a corkscrew and this guy opened a bottle of red wine with a screw and a pair of kitchen scissors. You should have been there. It was awesome.

In the interest of perhaps streamlining this whole process, I’ve been thinking of creating a spreadsheet. I think that quantifying subjective feelings is a fantastic step towards bowing down to our robot overlords romantic happiness. OkTrends and Barney Stinson have made terrific progress in this area. I suggest you check out their work.

Until I’ve prepared a detailed rubric for my dates, we should just work on establishing some basic facts:

  1. It’s not so much that I only date musicians… I just seem to be incapable of forming any kind of relationship with a non-musician. Trust me, I’ve tried. You engineers and law students are just far too financially and emotionally stable for me. It’ll never work. Casually picked up guitar a few months ago? I’m sorry, but that’s just not going to cut it. I need someone who’s going to blow me off for band practice and open mic nights on a semi-regular basis. Are you a bassist or drummer? No? Good.
  2. Before our first date, I’m going to ask that you send me your band’s demo tape (oh wait, it’s not 1992 anymore, is it?). Based on composition quality, I think we can make a fair assessment as to whether or not this ship is going to sail.
  3. You need to stop feeding me excellent food. It’s manipulative and I won’t stand for it any longer.
  4. My favorite Ben & Jerry’s flavor is Strawberry Cheesecake.
  5. I really really don’t care how many mana you have.

The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, so at one point I’ll probably cut you open and go searching with one of those colonoscopy cameras.

I’m sure you understand. I just want to be thorough.

Love,
Shannon

This Is Why I’m Fat: An Introduction to the American South

Last time we touched base, dear readers, I was adrift in the Midwest. Fast forward four weeks and I’m sitting in a cubicle in Fort Mill, SC.

“You wanted to move to the South?!” you ask. “Was that really your first choice?!” you ask.

No and no.

Here’s a brief timeline explaining the past month’s events.

August 18, 2011
12 pm:
I return to Boston. Life is short, so instead of doing something boring like visiting my brother in Burlington, VT, playing beer pong with my mother, watching PBR get drunk by the gallon and making out with my little brother’s inappropriately young but legal friend… I decide to apply to jobs.

6 pm:
I spend my days alone in my room and during the evening, I eat dinner with my mom’s equally unemployed housemate, Don. He seems to agree that we should medicate our self-loathing with steak subs tonight.

7 pm:
Maybe self-esteem will return to me once I finish my 20th cover letter.

9 pm:
Nope, I still feel terrible. And full of steak.

August 25, 2011
12 pm:
I am hired. I am The Man.

12:15 pm:
I have six days to move my life to Charlotte, NC. I am screwed.

12:30 pm:
There is a rather large possibility that I am making a catastrophic decision.

12:31 pm:
I’ll think about it during the 14-hour drive. Right now I have to pack.

August 31, 2011
3 pm:
I’m driving through Virginia. I’m from the suburbs outside of Boston. I’m the dirty liberal child of dirty liberal parents. I was raised listening to Jefferson Airplane and I reject mayonnaise as a condiment. So what am I doing here?

4 pm:
I’m still in Virginia. Why is no one at this rest stop wearing a shirt?

5 pm:
After passing Waffle House #847, I start to reconsider my rather impulsive choice to relocate. I am going to burst into tears if I see one more bumper sticker that reads, “IT’S ADAM AND EVE, NOT ADAM AND STEVE.” My radio is bombarded with Kid Rock and Lynard Skynard and I love it.

Gob7 pm:
After 12 straight hours of driving, I practically run out of my car and directly into the house when I arrive at my destination. My mad sprint is partially due to the fact that I need to urinate more urgently than I ever have before. My panicky reaction is also because I am pretty sure that I am going to have a nervous breakdown if I remain out in the open for another single second. I have seen too much.

September 1, 2011
7 pm:
Imagine, if you will, me sitting alone in my SUV in a Chick-fil-A parking lot, stuffing french fries down my gullet, one by one, and then wiping my greasy fingers on my khakis. While I’m normally a slob, this is a new low. And I don’t care. I like my new job but it’s clear that I will never have a social life ever again.

I am going to die alone in the South. A member of the Tea Party is going to mistake me for a lesbian and shoot me in the face.

7:15 pm:
I stare sadly at my steering wheel, and take a sip of my peach shake. Oh my goodness, there is a party in my mouth. My chicken sandwich and waffle fries are average at best, but this frozen concoction is the best thing that has happened to me in 24 hours.

Okay, maybe 12 months.

I hurriedly reach for my cellphone to immediately spread the news that my taste buds have found God. Surely if the South has produced this shake… then maybe it isn’t so bad down here? I don’t want to get my hopes up, but I feel as if I can return to work with renewed optimism.

And yes, I am that easily swayed by food.

September 2, 2011
10 am:
I start bonding a bit with my coworkers. I am completely bowled over by their warmth and manners. It’s not so much that we are soul mates, but that they have no problem accepting me as their peer.

I treasure so many of my friendships in Massachusetts, but sometimes I feel like I have to BLEED for each one of them. Bostonians don’t want to get to know you, even if you both happen to love that one scene in The Last Crusade. They already have friends. Why would they want to make more? What is it exactly that you have to offer me, huh?

So here’s the dilemma:
Is one better off with their own kind—a liberal, but frighteningly cold and exclusive breed of “New Englander Bitch”?

Or is it better to live amongst generous and welcoming strangers, even if there is a distinct possibility that one will get shot in the face?

Honestly, I don’t know.

September 18, 2011
1 am:
I meet a female Battlestar Galactica fan. I’m sold.

Got Mormon?

A plastic pirate skull swings from the rearview mirror as Nate swerves the car around another pedestrian.  I close my eyes, grip the seat, and say a silent to prayer to whatever higher power might hear me.  “Woops,” he says nonchalantly.  “Here, I need you to steer.”  Before I have the opportunity to scream, “Why the hell do I need to steer?!” Nate lets go of the wheel and begins fiddling with his iPhone.  I grab and jerk the wheel, narrowly avoiding a telephone pole.  When we finally arrive at our destination unscathed, all I can think is, Oh my God.

I’ve been thinking a lot about religion since meeting Nate, and I think that this has more to do with his driving than it does with the fact that he’s Mormon.  Nate and I met when I was 15.  His most prominent features then included a mullet and fondness of braiding office supplies into my hair.  Although completely won over by the lead singer of the “Drunken Vikings”, I still don’t understand Nate’s unique appeal.  I ask a mutual friend to enlighten me.

“Why do we pay so much attention to him?”

“Well… he’s weird.”

“Yeah, I got that.”

“And he’s Mormon.”

“So?”

“He’s Mormon.”

“Okayyy.”

“That’s weird.”

“It is?”

“Yeah.”

My curiosity has gotten the best of me.  Does religion make a person?  Peeking over at the driver’s seat, it’s hard to recognize the boy I met so many years ago.  He’s decked in a three-piece suit and hand-woven, Italian leather shoes, a far cry from the cargo shorts and wrestling tee shirt he used to wear everyday in high school.  I ask him if the suit is a “Mormon thing”, and he answers no.  “I just look really good,” he says and winks at me as we climb out of his bright blue sedan and walk towards Nate’s church.

I spend two hours the previous night trying to decide what to wear and how to hide my piercings and neon orange streak of hair the next morning.  I call Nate at 11 p.m. in a panic, asking him if I would be all right to wear dress pants.

“No,” he says as if the answer should have been obvious.

“Well, they’re really nice pants.  They’re part of a suit.”

“Women don’t really wear pants to church.”

I grumble and hang up the phone.  I settle on a knee-length skirt and cardigan and decide that my hair is a lost cause.  Walking into the church, I sigh with relief as I see that everyone is wearing the same thing.  I’m lost in a sea of pantyhose.  My hair is all wrong but at least I got the outfit right.  Nate was telling the truth.  Not a single woman is wearing pants.  I’m surrounded by chic dresses and this season’s latest footwear.  The men are all in dark suits.  They look warm and approachable, but for some inexplicable reason they look different.  It takes me several minutes to pinpoint the reason: the plainness of their hair and glasses suggests a subtle conservatism.

Nate on the other hand is sporting a designer haircut.  While the men around him seem gentle, Nate looks like the kind of guy who would get in a bar fight over whether Saddam or Hitler was the better dictator—a rare combination of rashness and intellectual intensity.  He’s got week-old beard stubble and a milk stain on his dress shirt from this morning’s breakfast of Fruity Pebbles.  He glances around the church, looking for his parents and younger sister.  He spots them in a back pew and we take a seat with them.

We are surrounded by children.  They are everywhere—climbing pews, crawling on the ground, holding their parents’ hands, needing a diaper change, asking if they can “go potty”, stacking hymnals, picking their noses, playing “Thomas the Tank Engine”, fiddling with their clothing, and making dinosaur noises.  I knew that the Mormon Church placed a large emphasis on family, but I had no idea hat there’d be so many kids, especially since the Church supports the usage of birth control.  It seems that everyone in the room is either a parent or a child.  Although unusual, this fact pales in comparison to my other observation: there are no old people.

I lean over and whisper in Nate’s ear, “Why are there no old people?”

He whispers back, “We euthanize them all.”

I stare straight ahead and attempt to focus on the service while Nate tries to get the attention of a little boy sitting in the pew in front of us.  Every time the toddler looks up at Nate from his plastic dinosaurs, Nate’s eyes go wide and he puffs his cheeks out like a chipmunk.  I can’t decide if the child is amused or terrified.

I switch back to concentrating on the proceedings of the service.  Instead of a minister, priest, or other main figure, different members of the congregation or “ward” lead the service each week.  Opposed to the usual couple of chairs found in other places of worship, the fronts of Mormon sanctuaries are lined with pews arranged stadium-style.  The speakers for that Sunday sit up front when not delivering their talks.

The service begins with ward announcements, and then boys start walking up and down the aisles, passing around tiny cups of water and bites of bread for the Sacrament.  This only takes a few moments, in fact the entire service only lasts an hour.  A few hymns and a speech or two later, and the service is over.

This Sunday, Rachel Lindsay, a 14-year-old blond, talks about her experiences at sleep-away camp.  She looks like a typical middle-schooler, both nervous and bored.  “This past summer I went to sleep-away camp, she begins, after standing up from one of the front pews.  Reading a script resting on the pulpit in front of her, she continues, “It was in New Hampshire and I was scared to be away from my Mormon friends.  The nearest ward was a 45-minute-drive away, so I couldn’t go to church on Sundays.  There were no other Mormons there, so I had to avoid temptations on my own.  I was faced with temptations everyday like tea and rated R movies.  One night all the girls were going to watch a rated R movie.  Luckily a Christian girl also wasn’t going to see the movie either, so she and I kept each other company.  That night ended up being a good experience because I made a Christian friend.”

Nate looks and me and says, “Don’t worry.  She and her family are crazy.”

After one last hymn, the service ends and I exhale a breath of relief.  I’m glad not to have made a complete fool of myself.  “C’mon, heathen,” Nate says, ignoring the people around him.  While his family mingles and says hello to friends, Nate seems to have no interest in socializing.

“What?” I ask.

“Sunday School.  It’s two hours.  Let’s go.”

I stare at him.

“We’re only going for an hour, Shannon.  Relax.”

We squeeze our way out of the sanctuary and walk down the hall to a nearby classroom.  There’s a chalkboard at the front and a big conference table in the middle of the room surrounded by chairs.  Several books are scattered across its surface.  I pick one up.  On the black leather cover, gold lettering spells out, “The Book of Mormon”.  After flipping through some pages, I realize that it not only resembles a Bible, but reads like one too.  Hefty in weight and formal in language, I find it hard to believe that it was written less than 200 years ago.  While Darwin was first compiling his theories on geology and extinction, Joseph Smith, Jr. was creating the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  After translating gold plates found through divine revelation, Smith published The Book of Mormon in 1830.

I run my finger down one of the first pages, which is what I could only describe as the table of contents.  Instead of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John—the usual stuffy English names—my fingertip passes an exotic arrangement of vowels.  Nephi, Enos, Jarom, Omni, Mosiah, Alma, Helaman… the names sound familiar, but I’ve probably never heard them before.  They sound beautiful, powerful.  The pages are thin but seem expensive, like some sort of majestic tracing paper.  I worry that my casual flipping of the pages isn’t reverant enough treatment of this sacred text.  Then I notice Nate next to me, stacking the books like toy blocks, trying to make the tallest tower possible until the books come crashing down in his lap.

I think to myself, Man, I wish my church had Bibles this nice.  Later I realize that we probably would if our congregants, too, tithed their annual earnings.  Instead my church is tiny and will be forever burdened by financial instability.  My church has a rotting steeple.  Nate’s temple, a building located away from his church and reserved for important ceremonies, has a magnificent spire upon which stands a gilded Moroni, holding a shining trumpet.  His arms oustretched, it looks as if the phrophet is saying, “Behold my stunning place of worship!  Not only are my followers not going to hell, but their church is prettier than yours!”

Sunday School starts.  Divided up by age group, an elder, an ordained male member of the church, teaches the lesson.  The other students take a cue from Nate and stare at the table or pick at their clothing.

“So why does The Book of Mormon have so many war stories?” the elder asks.

The room is quiet.  I say nothing, expecting someone else who has actually read the text to offer his or her perspective.  The silence kills me.  The eager literature student within me starts to squirm, desperately wanting to express my opinion.  Despite being the only non-Mormon in the room, I fling up my hand and blurt, “War time causes societies to fall back on their traditional values!”

I’m embarrassed and expect the elder to look at me with disgust.  Heaven forbid a heathen comment on the scripture.  Instead he smiles.

“That’s right,” he says.

After Sunday School, Nate and I hop back into his car.  I’ve gathered as much information as I possibly can about him but things still don’t make sense.  Nate drinks tea, started dating girls before he was sixteen, indulges in violent movies, has no problem with homosexuality, is completely disdainful of community service, and has an up-and-coming radical feminist for a little sister.  While he excludes typical profanities from his speech and never utters the Lord’s name in vain, he writes songs with titles like “Pedofeelings”, “Bird Crap”, and “I Like to Feast Upon the Innards of a Newly Born Baby Kitten”.  Nate starts the car.

“So what’s your deal, Nate?  I’ve been trying to understand it and it’s not like I’m trying to be critical but… how are you a Mormon?”

“How am I not?”  He looks at me as if my question is completely moronic and pulls out of the parking lot.

“Beacause you don’t…”  I try to find the right words.  “You never served a mission or anything.  You have no desire to be an elder.  I mean… your sister and mom think that the Church is sexist.  You guys don’t fit the Mormon definition.”  I’m convinced that I’ve stumped him.

“That doesn’t matter, woman.”  Nate isn’t phased.

“What?  Why?  Then why do you even bother being Mormon?”  I pause my questioning and stare at the road.  I look back at him and suddenly start talking rapidly.  “I mean, it seems to make you guys happy.  Your mom has some problems with the Church but she still goes and she seems to like it a lot and I kinda like it too.  I mean, it seems like a really nice community and that’s why I always went to my church since it’s always nice to have a place where you can feel safe and be around people who you know and your family is also really close and that probably has something to do with the whole ‘being Mormon’ thing’ and family values and stuff so I guess all that matter is that—.”  I stop again to catch my breath.  “So I guess all that matter is that it seems to make you happy.”

Nate forcefully yanks the steering wheel to one side, almost clipping an old woman crossing the street.  “Bravo, Shannon.  You’re a genius.”

Badlands Aren’t So Bad, Drive to Get There Is

East of Rapid City, South Dakota is nothing but grass, hay bales, and unemployment.  I thought that ghost towns ala Yosemite Sam were a thing of the past, but they’re alive and well.  However, sadly instead of dilapidated wooden saloons and trading posts, the towns ruined by the recession are merely filled with empty concrete leftovers from the 70s.  The “cities” (I’m convinced that Virginia City can’t possibly have a population over 50 persons) that have managed to attract tourists have exploited the Old West mythology as best they can.  I feel like I am on a movie set.

In between these towns, there’s grass and lots of it.  The landscape is dotted with not just horses and cows, but also antelope and prairie dog burrows.  It’s adorable.  The state is basically Little House on the Prairie with Subway (viva the $5 Footlong!).  I bet poor Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote the books out of boredom.  I make a joke about Dances with Wolves and sure enough an hour later we pass a billboard for a town that boasts several props and set pieces from the film.  It’s beautiful out in South Dakota, but it’s completely unchanging

for

300

miles.

I’ve been working with kids for ten years.  Needless to say, I’m used to finding random piles of stuff where it doesn’t belong- feces on the carpet, play-doh in the driveway… you get the idea.  Badlands National Park is the same.  It doesn’t belong in South Dakota.  It’s like a small child grabbed a canyon up with his or her grubby little paws and randomly dropped it in the plains of South Dakota.

Early settlers of South Dakota's Badlands.

The Badlands were mainly formed by erosion half a million years ago, unearthing a crystalline surface that was later covered with windblown volcanic ash (I decide to educate myself by reading a pleasantly informative plaque in between taking massive amounts of pictures).  The rock now resembles Tatooine with a growing season.  I seriously keep expecting to run into several members of the Skywalker family.  The jagged canyon surface comes in two flavors: stripes of grey, brick, and khaki-colored sediment or ombre slopes that look like they were dip-dyed in shades of dusty plum and gold.

To summarize: Badlands National Park is spectacular.  It is quite literally a spectacle.  Go visit it now.  This instant.

Palo Alto and Other Reminders that I Am Poor

To preface: I’m 23 years old and Blink 182 was right- “Nobody loves you when you’re 23.”  I’m between jobs and social circles; my parents are filing for divorce.  I wish I had a less clichéd explanation for why I’ve spent the past two weeks driving from Los Angeles to Boston, but I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t mainly due to my quarter life crisis.  My best friend, Mike, who is equal parts life coach and bro, invited me on this cross-country trek.  After spending several months watching me cry on video chat, Mike probably figured that I could use a change of scenery.

First day on the road, my travel companion and I spent the night in Palo Alto, CA.  Palo Alto is in Silicon Valley and home to both AOL and Google’s headquarters.  Palo Alto is where you go if you want to grab a latte with Mark Zuckerman and Steve Jobs.  Palo Alto is where you go if you’re 24 years old and already making twice the salary of both your parents combined.

Dillon, a buddy from college, lives in the area and he generously let us crash in his living room.  I hadn’t eaten an actual meal that day, so dumpster diving behind a 7-Eleven would have satisfied my hunger at that point.  Luckily such measures were unnecessary (oh thank Heaven®), as Dillon was in the midst of preparing an all-local meal for us when we arrived.  Mike and I were greeted with pita chips that Dillon had toasted himself, hummus, and a fridge full of booze.

The refrigerator alone made my jaw drop.  I’m not impoverished; I’m not malnourished and living in a Third World Country.  However, being an unemployed white American, I obviously consider myself entitled enough to whine about my current financial situation.  I’m frequently faced with the dilemma of, “Shall I eat dinner this evening or buy a single beer at Trivia Night?” so I obviously lack the funds to stock a full bar at home.  My background is in writing, theatre, and informal education.  Thus I have resigned myself to the fact that I am forever doomed to be paid either by commission or hourly wage.  Dillon’s wine selection almost made me want to go business school.  Ew.

We grilled burgers from free-range cows that probably used to live next door to Dillon.  We threw together a salad of fresh greens and GOSH DARN FLOWER PETALS (it was posh as heck) and proceeded to eat our delicious feast.  During dinner on the back patio, Mike and Dillon started talking business and technology.  It was like continental drift of life experience.  Maybe we started together on the Pangea that is Hampshire College, but now we existed oceans apart from one another.  It was clear that the two boys are destined to have actual careers.  These friends of mine are bright, motivated, and educated with actual marketable skills.  These guys have a salary.  They have their own desk and chair at work.  While I have a diploma, I can only claim to have once had my own locker at work.  It was the size of a shoebox.

I had no idea what chitchat transpired.  I understood nothing.  The conversation between the men made me feel as if I was a special needs child who was raised by wolves in a cave without WiFi.  I’m pretty sure they were talking about business plans or computers… or something.  I suppose that’s what I get for dining with a creative technologist and an entrepreneurial software engineer.

Luckily the conversation eventually shifted to women and dating and while I don’t understand those things either, I at least know what they are (I think).

I’m not a girl’s girl.  I can’t translate ambiguous emails from women and read female subtext.  However, I can clink beers with my male friends, shrug, and smile while muttering, “Ladies, man.  Whatcha gonna do?”  I can gossip about relationships, pound fists, and high-five like a champ.

And so it went.  We drank another round and went inside.  We binged on standup and sitcoms.  I recommended some killer specials by Louis C.K. and Zach Galifianakis because while I don’t know binary code, I do know comedy.  I have a closer relationship with Netflix than I do with my immediate family.  The three of us had a good time.  We drank.  We laughed.  I went to bed (er, “went to futon”?) smiling.

So maybe I’m not a captain of industry, but I’m an excellent bro… and maybe someday I’ll have my own locker again.