Sunday, September 29, 2013


I’ve never ventured toward political with The 52/52 Project. Still, at the risk of a controversial post (new readers, please don’t unsubscribe now), I must concede I’ve long been an advocate for gun control.

Spending a couple hours with a gun dealer at a shooting range fell way outside my comfort zone. I figured it would either solidify my stance or broaden my thinking. Although, as the 38 Special recoiled in my hands, I feared it was just as likely to result in a quick and bloody end to my 52/52 journey.

I’m pleased to report my two companions and I came away with all our parts intact.

It helped, of course, that the gun dealer accompanying and instructing me was a lifelong friend. He was beyond patient in answering my long litany of questions and even more so in teaching me the proper way to stand, to hold and handle a gun, and to shoot. He was all about safety at the range, which was probably just as fortunate for his young adult son and him as it was for me.

The consensus? Target shooting was a blast—literally.

Besides the 38, I also shot a 22 and a CZ P01. The 38 was the toughest for me to handle. It was too heavy and resulted in less controllable recoil. With the 22 though, I hit my target nine out of ten times.

I have to admit, I enjoyed it. It was not unlike the fun of shooting a water pistol at balloons on the amusement park midway. I didn’t walk away with a cheap stuffed animal, but I did leave with a smile.

Still, each time I felt the force of the gun in my hands and saw the holes ripped through the torso of my paper target, I felt a bit unsettled. And intimidated.

That was a hell of a lot of deadly power I held in my shaky hands.

My host and I had a great deal of discussion about guns that day: about the recreational use, the constitutional right to bear arms, and the need to defend oneself. We differed in our opinions, but we managed to be respectful and polite, as old friends try to be. Unfortunately, passion and politics make calm, logical discussions about such controversial issues far less possible in the wider world.

I came away with a much greater understanding of the idea of shooting for recreation. But, I still can’t say I agree with the ease in which so many people keep firearms—especially loaded—for safety: in their car’s glove compartment, in the side pocket of their living room lounger, or in their purse.

That’s a perpetual debate, far more intense and in-depth than I am willing to venture in my one year of new life experiences.

I didn’t expect this single day would fully change my stance. And it didn't.

I was simply aiming toward pushing my boundaries with a somewhat more open mind—and hopefully, two tightly controlled fists.

Do you shy away from the controversial in life, in your writing, or in social media? Are you a steady shooter or are you shaky at the thought? All my fear and intimidation aside, don't you think I look like a real badass?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Romping over at The Rumpus

Coming off the heels of my lukewarm singing lesson experience, I was especially thrilled last night to receive the news that three of my 52/52 stories will appear in an upcoming issue of The Rumpus:

If you're not familiar with The Rumpus, it's one of the best online magazines out there--featuring terrific writing, including "Wild" author Cheryl Strayed's popular "Dear Sugar" column.

My three featured stories will be expanded versions of my adventures in belly dancing, visiting an adult bookstore, and auditioning for the TV show "Survivor."

The stories will appear in the next two months. I'll keep you posted.

Adding to my excitement, they've asked me to do an audio version of each story!

I figure recording my stories will be a great opportunity to help me practice my delivery for this spring's planned stand-up gig. 

And, perhaps, I should sing a few bars of "Moon River" at the end...

No big questions this week, just one thought to keep in mind: Sometimes, good things come your way when you just put yourself out there...

Monday, September 23, 2013

Sing out, Louise!

So, the singing lessons...

I wish I had something exciting and conclusive to report. As if the instructor shouted, "Holy Mother of God! Get thee to 'America's Got Talent,' STAT!"

Or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, that she shook her head, eyed me with a pitying gaze and mumbled, "I would suggest--strongly--that this lesson be your last. Put us both of our misery, please, right now." At least then I'd have closure.

But, no. My second lesson just rather sputtered and fizzled.

I didn't feel I proved horrific, but I'm pretty certain I didn't display much promise either. My teacher's outward reaction was best described as ambivalent: erring on the side of "Hmm."

She hinted that I take my sheet music for "Moon River" and see if any local jazz vocalists might be willing to work with me on it. She didn't mention coming back for a third lesson, until I brought up the idea. I said I would consider it and get back to her.

Granted, I discovered she is an opera singer, and my area of interest is way outside of her expertise. (For example, she wasn't familiar with the song "You've Got a Friend," which I consider a contemporary classic.) Also, I had explained The 52/52 Project to her, and she knew I was likely not in this for the long-run. 

As lovely and immensely talented as she is, we probably aren't a good match, even if I happen to possess even a glimmer of promise.

Which is still exceedingly questionable.

The real question comes down to this: Is this something I want to continue to pursue?

I'm not so sure. Perhaps I could seek out another teacher to help me hone the voice skills I have, however minimal they may be. Or, the voice lessons might go the way of my belly-dancing lessons. I may tell myself I gave it a shot, but that it's just not my thing.

If so, I've reassured myself I didn't fail. In many ways, singing in front of a stranger--seriously giving that experience my all without taking my usual escape route of hamming it up for humor--required me to push my personal boundaries further than any single item on my 52/52 list thus far. And that's what this project is all about.

Thirty-two new experiences remain on my list. The year still holds many opportunities for me to expand my horizons. I'll laugh through some, whimper through others.

One thing I've learned these last few months is there is no shame at all in putting myself out there--and then choosing to move on.

Can you keep a tune? What talent do you wish you possessed, most of all? When do you know it's time to throw in the towel?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Facing Fear

My second voice lesson was scheduled for this evening. Unlike last week’s, which focused on breathing techniques and scales, tonight I would actually have to sing. An entire song or two. By myself. In front of a near stranger.

Early this afternoon I got a call from my instructor. I felt a huge rush of relief when I heard her voice, certain she was calling to cancel. Instead, she said she had another commitment and wondered if I could come just a bit earlier. Rather than postponing or indefinitely cancelling this experience I so dreaded, I’d be facing it a half-hour sooner. My stomach literally churned.

I relayed this story to a friend in my office.

“You should mention that on your blog and Facebook page,” she said.

I shrugged. “Hmm. OK, maybe.”

“No, I mean it. I think sometimes with your humor and your nonchalant quips, people don’t realize you’re actually afraid of some of these things you are doing.”

Really? Was this possible? Have I somehow come across far more carefree and courageous than I am? In the name of humor or a poignant story, have I minimized or even omitted the fears and anxiety that have accompanied several of these experiences?

As I’ve mentioned before, The 52/52 Project is about venturing outside my comfort zone. And with that, my friends, has come more than a bit of fear.

Sometimes it’s been manifested in small twinges of trepidation. Other times, I’ve felt a heaving sense of anxiety. Fear takes many forms, depending on its source and the particular situation.

Some of my experiences have entailed the fear of fear. Strange how you can talk yourself into being more afraid by focusing on how horrifying something is likely to be. Case in point: A Brazilian wax.

I’ve been terrified of the resulting repercussions. How could I protect myself on a police raid, if I suddenly found an escaping suspect’s gun aimed at me? As the SWAT team and vice squad stormed the front porch, it hardly seemed far-fetched. My blood pressure has never hiked so high.

I’ve feared failure, especially when an experience has involved my talents or skills—or lack thereof. My belly-dancing class was a hoot, in retrospect. But in the days leading up to the class, and in the midst of stepping right when everyone else was pivoting left, my frustration mounted. The fear of proving inept—and of being judged as inept by someone else—may be the primary factor that holds most of us back from trying anything new. I know it was the underlying reason behind my volatile stomach before tonight’s voice lesson.

Most of all, I’ve been afraid of not being able to follow through. When it finally comes down to it, will I truly be able to stand up on a stage and deliver a comedy routine? I’ve gone over this scenario countless times: If my heart palpitations don’t kill me first, surely the stone-faced silence of the audience will. And what of the fear of not seeing this project through to the very end? Of not finishing the book I’m writing? Of not seeing it published?

Yet, with each new experience these past four months, I have grown braver. Just a touch. I shrug things off more easily now. I’ve learned I can endure some things I would never before have dreamed of facing. I doubt anyone ever becomes desensitized to the anxiety of going outside their comfort zone, but each success—and even each failure—has taught me I just might be capable of facing the next.

Any exciting journey is filled with its ups and downs, its full array of emotions. Fear is clearly one. If we’re never afraid, we probably haven’t pushed ourselves far enough.

If we’re lucky, that fear is soon replaced by a sense of self-satisfaction and joy.

Am I finding joy and having fun on this journey?

Oh, yes. Yes, I am.

I’m afraid I’ve never had more fun in my life.

What are you most fearful of? Have you ever talked yourself into being afraid? What was the most frightening experience of your life that turned out far better than you anticipated?

Friday, September 6, 2013

Badge? I Don't Need No Stinkin' Badge!

Yesterday’s police patrol ride-along resulted in the usual calls and standard stops: a non-injury car accident, a domestic argument, and a custody dispute.

Oh, and my little night-time raid with the city’s black-hooded vice squad and heavily-armed SWAT team.


People, I cannot make this stuff up.

As I sort out what kind of details I am legally able to provide, let me just offer this quick synopsis of my crime-fighting experience:

I momentarily pondered, during our domestic dispute call at a home with a couple engraged and belligerent drunks, if I’d have to duck for cover behind the attending police officer, who unfortunately was the only one wearing a bullet-proof vest.

My heart was warmed by the adoration of all the children who smiled and waved as we drove past. My faith in youngsters—and more so in the parents raising them—was jarred by the officer’s storytelling of waving to a sixish-year-old who promptly flipped her off. A sense of respect and appreciation must be earned, but apparently it is also learned.

I was sadly disappointed to find that frequent donut shop stops are a total fallacy.

I discovered my stereotype of a SWAT team—toned and tremendously appealing men attired in black cargo pants and form-fitting black T-shirts, covered by those dangerously intriguing armored vests—is fully spot-on.

I learned there are two types of house raids: “Knock” and “No-Knock,” depending on the perceived level of danger. My own raid experience, as a shaky civilian, was best classified as a “Knee-Knock.”

More than my own safety, however, I was concerned about the dog in the house we were raiding, which the SWAT team was prepared, if necessary, to shoot. Fortunately, after the door was beat in and the SWAT team rushed inside, not a single shot was fired—not even at the dog.

Afterward, I swooned and told the SWAT guys they were my heroes.

By the round of eye-rolls, it appeared they weren’t impressed by my adulation. Strangely, my new buddies didn’t invite me to the debriefing session.

But, what mattered most was that everyone—including the dog and me—survived.

The perp was apprehended.

Justice was served.

On my way home, to top off my successful evening of crime-fighting, I made a stop at Dunkin’ Donuts.

Are you ready to sign up for your own police ride-along? Do I get any kudos for not peeing my pants? Is it just me, or are SWAT guys damn hot?

Monday, September 2, 2013

From Meetless to Meatless

Being a vegan for seven days proved to be the easiest of any of the sixteen new experiences I've had so far for The 52/52 Project. I was due for easy and mortification-free, yes? Sure, eating restaurant refried beans made with lard was a minor fail, but I'm pretty certain guilt by accident doesn't count.

A variety of beans, nuts, raw veggies and hummus, Mediterranean and Mexican foods ended up being my mainstays. These are some of my favorite foods anyway, so it never seemed a sacrifice.  I'm not generally a fan of fruit, but I even enjoyed several nectarines and sweet cherries.

The week's big win: I made a huge pot of chili, using my normal recipe but substituting textured vegetable protein for the ground beef. (I used less TVP than planned, since I accidentally dumped the bowl when I was moving it from the refrigerator shelf, and half ended up down my shirt.) I could barely tell the difference in the recipe--especially when I scooped it up with whole-grain tortilla chips. I froze the rest; I'm curious to see if my two sons will notice when they eat it.

I ate French fries one day. *heaven*

Three things played to my advantage.

First, my only Labor Day weekend cookout was at my own house. I made grilled portobello burgers, corn on the cob, and vegetarian baked beans, with frozen banana "ice cream" for dessert. If I'd been someplace where my host was serving up New York strips, hamburgers, deviled eggs, or potato salad, this venture may have had a different ending. A person can only be so strong.

It also helped that it's late summer. Farm-fresh produce in Ohio is as abundant as our cicadas. (No, I won't be eating those; although can they be any worse than the crickets and worms I've tasted?)

And, finally, I just came off an eight-month low-carb, high-protein diet. I've eaten enough meat this year to last any normal person beyond a lifetime. This week, I didn't really miss it much.

What I discovered was I can at least cut back on animal products and still enjoy satisfying and healthy foods. Going forward, I plan to incorporate many more meatless meals into my diet.

I doubt I could ever go fully vegan for good though. From a humanitarian standpoint, it would be rewarding. It's just not realistic for me. Hypocritical a humanitarian as I may be, I can't imagine a life without a juicy steak or a sweet, buttery lobster tail, at least now and then.

Most of all, I missed cheese. I missed it a lot. Eggplant parmigiana, pizza, a humble yet delicious grilled cheese sandwich. Oh, the wondrous meals I could have made with cheese.

Honestly, if God wanted us to be vegan, why did he invent feta?

What's your favorite way to eat cheese? Are you a carnivore, vegan, lacto-ovo, or pescatarian? Is it me, or is the saving grace that vodka, wine, and beer are safe no matter what?