When It Rains

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Rain poured from the sky on the day that Lynnie and Miles packed up the last of their belongings and said goodbye to their one-bedroom apartment. As they drove down Highway U, wipers flapping back and forth over the windshield, Miles talked excitedly about updates for the new house and Lynnie prayed for the rain to stop.

Miles liked the house more than Lynnie did. It was an old farmhouse sitting back from the road with the southeastern Wisconsin countryside sprawled out behind it. Miles said it was the kind of house he had always dreamed of owning—a house with history, character, and a long list of home improvement projects. After looking at houses for months, Lynnie had been ready to buy anything. The farmhouse had its problems, but its age and architecture made it seem romantic enough to appeal to the writer in her. Besides, it was under budget.

The storm continued into the afternoon as Lynnie and Miles brought in and unpacked their rain-stained boxes. Wind blew through the trees, bending their branches to the point of nearly breaking, and eventually rain broke through the roof. To catch the incessant drops, they opened the boxes marked “kitchen” and distributed pots and pans under every leak.

“Well, at least now we know the roof is in rough shape,” Miles said as he sank down onto the couch. “I’ll start fixing it as soon as this rain stops.”

“You better,” Lynnie teased. She placed a kiss on his lips, then wandered into the bedroom to unpack their clothes. As she moved from box to drawer, she found herself lulled by the sound of the raindrops dripping into the pots around the house. She heard Miles stretching out on the couch and soon his breathing fell in sync with the rain. As Lynnie listened to it, she began to realize how tired she was from all the running around and all the packing and unpacking. She walked over to the couch and touched Miles on the shoulder. His eyes fluttered open, then he smiled and opened his arms. As she snuggled next to him, she watched the rain stream down the bay window pane and pulled his arm around her.

It was easy to be in love on rainy days like this. Only later would Lynnie realize just how rare a day like that could be. Soon, rainy day memories on the farm would be anything but romantic. Instead, she’d remember both of them drenched and cursing as they tried to get the car started in the pouring rain. She’d remember trying to write while Miles took a hammer to something and how her only relief from the noise was to run to the old barn in back, a crumbling building that always held the dampness of rain. She’d remember the nights she locked herself in their bedroom after an argument and watched the downpour from their window. She’d remember the time that Miles took his DIY fixes too far and decided to dig out one of the basement walls. The promised second bathroom crumbled as rain-soaked clumps of soil tumbled into the basement too fast for them to brace. The room was a mess—everything covered in mud and reeking of spit and earth. Looking up from the floor, Miles said, “Baby, I don’t know if I can fix this.”

It wouldn’t be easy to be in love then, but Lynnie didn’t think about those kinds of rainy days while she was falling asleep next to Miles. She could only watch the rain come down, snuggle in deeper, and hope that things would always be like this.

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Last Pictures to Delete

by Nicole Roth

 

The only light in the bedroom comes from Sydney’s phone as she flips through the last three pictures she has of Aiden. It’s late at night, and Sydney burrows deeper into her comforter while she tries to think of reasons to put down her phone and go to sleep. She should just delete the rest of the pictures. Then she could toss her phone away and try to forget about Aiden.

Most of the pictures had been easy to delete—the selfies of them kissing, the sexted images they exchanged, the pictures of them together at parties and concerts—but not those last three. The first one is of Aiden asleep sitting up on the couch. His hunched position gives him a double chin and, when Sydney had shown him that picture, he begged her to delete it. Instead of giving in, she had quickly moved the picture into another folder on her phone. She hasn’t looked at the picture since that night, but now it makes her feel powerful. Maybe she should post the picture online and let all their friends make fun of him. He deserves it.

Sydney indulges the idea for a moment but eventually flips to the second picture, one that Aiden took with her phone. They are making silly faces while they sit on a park bench outside of the campus library. Sydney likes the way she looks in that one. Her face is brightened by her smile and her laughter, which erase whatever silly face she was trying to make. Aiden is puffing out his cheeks and crossing his eyes. They look so happy.

Sydney’s eyes blur as she stares into the blue glow of her phone screen and flips to the last picture: a side view of Aiden. They are sitting on their bathroom towels at the on-campus beach, and somehow Sydney had managed to capture a moment when Aiden looked the most unhappy. He is staring off across Lake Michigan and thinking about something that she could never get him to admit to. After she had shown Aiden the picture, he ignored her questions and changed the subject. He had placed a smile on his face and, when they were both ready and posed, they took a much better picture. She had felt like something was wrong, but she decided to ignore it. Instead, she focused on the warmth of the day, the good lighting that would be in the photo, and the secure feeling she had every time Aiden put his arm around her.

Sydney knows that she should delete these pictures. Nothing good can happen now that she is alone in the dark with her thoughts. Besides, she doesn’t want to have to explain them to someone. If she doesn’t delete the pictures now, she’ll probably forget about them and have to fumble for words the way that Aiden did when she found the old pictures on his phone, the ones tucked away in a folder named “z_old pictures.” Someone I used to know. Someone who used to mean something, but doesn’t anymore.

Sydney knows better now. You only keep pictures of someone you wish you didn’t love. Sydney swipes through the pictures a few more times. Eventually, the electronic light strains her eyes, and she slides her phone onto her nightstand instead of pressing delete.

 

Nicole Roth is a writer who lives in Buffalo Grove, IL and is querying her first novel. When not working on her own fiction, she enjoys getting lost in new stories both on the page and on screen. Learn more about Nicole Roth and her writing at nicolerothwrites.com.

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A Midwest Love Story

by Nicole Roth

Winter Scene

Kelsey often wondered if other people could remember the exact moment when they fell in love. In movies, the moment stretched out across a charming montage that started with a meet-cute and led to a parade of unexpected meetings, all of which encapsulated the quirky magic of amour.

She knew that real life wasn’t like the movies, but sometimes she imagined falling in love with Ethan as if it were. Their meet-cute certainly could have been the beginning of a romantic comedy. They met on an icy sidewalk right outside a walk-up apartment building, where a mutual friend was throwing a party. Kelsey was trying to carry in too many bags of ice, and Ethan offered to help. As he reached for one of the bags, he made a joke about the ice and the cold, something she couldn’t quite remember. They stood out in the snow to introduce themselves, perhaps both of them wondering what might happen next.

If piecing together their montage, she would make the next shot a moment from later on—the moment when she saw his number pop up on her phone for the first time and couldn’t stop grinning. Cut to a candlelit, conversation-filled dinner at the little Italian restaurant not far from her college campus. She would select a close-up on his face and then one on hers to show them enjoying each other’s company and putting off going outside for a little while longer. Next, there would be a clip from one of their many walks along Lake Michigan. The wind tousled their scarves and bit their cheeks as they watched the waves crest into snowy white peaks. A deft cinematographer would have captured the fondness in her green eyes when she saw his nose turn pink and the instinctual way he reached for her hand.

But she wasn’t directing a movie about their love story; she was just trying to remember it. Had there been an exact moment when she fell in love with him? She didn’t think it had happened during any of their montage moments, but certainly all of those events must have led to some sort of turning point when like became love.

What she couldn’t remember was that there had been an exact moment—one that somehow ended up discarded on her memory’s cutting room floor. The moment she fell in love happened on a regular day in December. Winter air snapped against the plastic-covered windows in her sublet apartment and the radiator hissed softly in the corner. They were nestled together under a blanket on her tiny twin bed, watching a movie on her computer. She pressed her icy feet against his, and he didn’t pull away.

 

Nicole Roth is a writer who lives in Buffalo Grove, IL and has recently completed her first novel. When not working on her own fiction, she enjoys getting lost in new stories both in fiction and in film. Learn more about Nicole Roth and her writing at https://www.nicolerothwrites.com/

 

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Are You A Sensitive Person? Here Are 9 Ways To Be Happy And Cherish Your Sensitivity

Being a sensitive person can be challenging at times. However, a sensitive person can lead a positive and happy life if he/she follows these tips.

If you are a sensitive person, you have many feelings to share from tears to cheers. If any of the following resonates with you, then you are a sensitive person:

  • Do you easily notice when someone is upset?
  • Do you think and feel more deeply for others?
  • Are you emotional in your relationships?
  • Are you highly conscientious in exhibiting good manners?
  • Do you need to keep telling yourself that you are strong?

If you answered “yes” to these questions, remember that you are not alone. If you research online, many studies show that about 15-20 percent of the population are highly sensitive and generally have an inclination towards emotional reactivity and empathy.

Being sensitive affects both men and women in their daily interactions. This impact is actually more on men as they have the pressure of masculinity in our culture and they are not encouraged to express themselves by our society.

In fact, sensitivity is a very powerful source of energy. Since society considers sensitivity as ‘being weak’ and a negative trait, many people end up considering their sensitivity as a weakness and struggle to work around it or hide it.

Now is the time for you to stop struggling and start celebrating your sensitivity. Mold your sensitivity into a strength. Learn how to accept it, manage it, and direct it toward something positive.

The first step is to identify an emotion that is bothering you and write about it. Through writing, you can identify emotional triggers and ways to deal with each of them.

Here are some tips to help you accept and manage your sensitivity.

Change your perspective on people around you

As a sensitive person, you are more aware when it comes to caring for someone and being kind. It may trouble you when you do not see it in other people. Understand that not everyone may envision the world as you do and therefore do not treat other people the way you do. By changing your perspective of these people, you are minimizing your emotional response to them because now you understand where they are coming from.

When you practice this approach, you will eventually reach a stage in your life where you are humble enough to know everyone is unique and wise enough to know that you are different from the rest.

Create a shield and focus on yourself

As an empath, you feel obligated to help people, to fix things, to make it better. You feel deeply for others.  Understand that most people are not like you. You may encounter situations where you are not valued for being sensitive. Do not hurt yourself by continuing to be the same for those who do not value you.

Sense the situation, focus, and be aware of yourself. You can do that by creating a shield. Think about a bubble of light inside you and realize that everything else is outside. Retreat inside the bubble when the situation comes so you can focus and be aware of yourself. That way you are focusing your energy effectively on yourself and then later you will have the energy to focus on the people who care for you.

Acknowledge the negativity and then go back to positive thoughts

When there is negativity, acknowledge it and then go back to a positive thought that makes you feel good and brings a soothing sense of relief.

For example, when you watch the news or read newspaper, you may react deeply when you come across the hate in the world and you may find that you simply cannot stand to see the horrifying parts of life. You feel deeply that it is not right. If you are at a point, where you cannot take it anymore, take a break from current events and read a book that makes you feel better. This does not mean you are ignoring current events; it is just that you are only able to take so much at a time. Once you start feeling better, go back to following current events.

Another way to react is to acknowledge that bad things happen in the world and as an individual become a volunteer to help change what is bothering you. Remember small acts when multiplied by millions of people can transform the world. Try doing volunteer service in the area that bothers you. Studies have demonstrated that volunteering your time and energy to a cause not only creates a change on a global scale but also reduces stress and increases happiness.

Look for positivity in every situation

As a sensitive person, you are aware that if the environment is positive you thrive more and if the environment is negative, you suffer. Sometimes, you can control these environmental factors in your personal life, but other times you cannot.

Try to be optimist whenever possible. Recognize when unhappiness is taking control of you and making you anti-social. Thereafter, challenge yourself and get out there. Even in the worst of times, most of us realize that we still have things in our lives for which we are grateful. Talk about those blessings and practice gratitude.

Build on an optimistic mindset by practicing positive thinking. Anytime a negative thought comes into your mind, replace it with a positive one. At some point, this will become more natural as your brain will automatically turn a negative in to a positive.

Say ‘no’ so you can say ‘yes’

Part of being empathetic is that you often say ‘yes’ when you want to say ‘no’. You think saying ‘no’ means you are unkind, rude, or selfish. Understand that when you never say ‘no’ then everything piles up. Think about the stress and resentment you may have felt when you struggled to do all things that you said ‘yes’ to.

How can you handle this situation? Make a list of commitments for that day or for that week. Mark the ones that are most important to you. Keep people informed and say ‘no’ to the ones not marked in the list.  You will be focusing on what is important for you and you will be productive in whatever you do.

In doing so you will be creating some breathing space for yourself and will start feeling more balanced in your important work, the things that you love, and the people you love.

Build your physical health

Managing your emotions can be enhanced by building your physical health. This means taking care of your body by managing and maintaining your stress levels.

Start by finding an exercise that you enjoy. Any physical activity increases the production of hormones called endorphins. When produced in the brain, these hormones help you by acting as a natural painkiller, producing positive feelings, improving the ability to sleep, and regulating stress and anxiety.

It does not matter how intense your exercise is. It can be walking, running, biking, hiking, or any exercise that fits your needs and interests. Remember do not overwork yourself and do not feel ashamed if your body is taking a long time to recover after the activity you do.

Value your achievements, and even your slow progress, and stop thinking of who you should be. Remember slow progress is better than no progress. Stay positive!

Improve your mental health

Research shows that connecting to nature will help in improving your mental health. Even having a plant in your room reduces stress and anxiety levels and brings pleasant feelings. Taking a walk in nature, sleeping under the stars, and watching a sunset also improves mental health.

By improving your mental health, you can better understand your emotions. This can help you to respond calmly instead of reacting emotionally. Once you start understanding your emotions you can discern the feelings of others. You will also start to empathize with others.

Set a bedtime routine to sleep better

As a sensitive person, you need a good night’s sleep.  You get emotional stability and your anxiety decreases with a good night sleep. Set a bedtime routine. Shut down all electronic devices before going on to bed. Engage in calming activities such as practicing meditation, writing in a journal, or reading.

Embrace your sensitive self

Being an empath may sometimes seem like a burden on you, but it is actually a great strength. As an empath:

  • You appreciate the little things in life and feel happy for others. Not everyone has this quality. For many others, this quality is actually attained in later stages of life or after many life challenges and experiences.
  • You like being empathetic and do not want conflicts. For this reason, you always think of resolving and managing conflicts, which can make you an excellent team player in your professional life.
  • You being emotional and feeling deeply for others actually brings strong relationships into your personal and professional lives. You will have fewer but deeper connections with people.

Show gratitude towards all the abilities and strengths you have. Being thankful for yourself brings positive energy, which can force out the negativity and leave you with serenity.

As a sensitive person, know that your peace and your joy are products of your own making. While you may feel the world like nobody else, you are also capable of managing it. Be empowered and believe in yourself. Nothing is easy when you have an empathetic soul, but everything is achievable.

 

 

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A Collection of Letters

By Nicole Roth

She used to send me letters on my birthday and on holidays. Inside each letter, her careful cursive spread across the pages where she described the weather in Milwaukee and the news from her neighborhood. Somehow her narration transformed the mundane and the trivial into sprawling epics of daily life. For years, she wrote on both sides of her monogrammed stationery and ended each tale with the flourish of her signature.

Now, when I read and reread her letters, I can imagine her sitting down to write. She has just wiped the crumbs off the plastic sheet that covers her kitchen tablecloth. A cup of tea steams next to her, its tea bag tired from yet another use. She places the stationery in front of her, adjusts her glasses, then moves her hand steadily along the page.

I used to call her after I received each letter, at first because my mother told me to and later because I knew I should.

“Why don’t you write to me?” she’d ask. “You’re a writer. Don’t you write all the time?”

“Letters are different, Grandma.”

“Why?”

“Oh, I don’t know.” The words would come out of me like a sigh. I suppose I could have told her the truth—that I didn’t write because I didn’t think that I had anything worth telling. I was waiting for something big to happen to me, something she could put in the letters that she wrote to other people.

I could hear her waiting for an explanation, so I would try one. “My handwriting is terrible.”

It felt like it could be true. Everything I wrote looked like a hodge-podge of cursive and print. Each word was a strange collection of letters that tumbled onto the page.

She never bought it. “That’s exactly why you should practice your writing.”

Over the years, her letters got shorter. Double-sided became single-sided. Three pages became two. Her confident hand turned hesitant and meandering, and her intricate anecdotes became clipped summaries of time spent. Before long, two pages became one.

Around this time, I let her letters pile up. I kept meaning to call her and fill in the blanks that her shorter letters made obvious. But instead I told myself that I was too busy waiting for my life to begin.

Her last letter was a single line. In it, her handwriting shook across the page where she wrote: “Weather’s fine. Nothing new to report. Wish you’d write.”

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Like Lightning

By Nicole Roth

She wrote her one and only hit song, “Like Lightning,” while she sat hunched over a studio soundboard. The album was late, but she was trying not to think about that. Instead, she picked out a melody on her acoustic guitar, piecing together a few of the chords that she’d toyed with when she practiced.

Finally, a combination seemed to work. The electricity of it ran through her as she scribbled the chord structure down in her notebook. Those dog-eared pages had carried her through a year of recording, and they wouldn’t fail her now.

All in all, the song took her an hour to write and another hour to record. A well-timed miracle. Her producer cut the track before the record execs could turn off the lights, and together they breathed a collective sigh of relief.

At the time, she had no idea that her little filler song would eventually be played on every radio station in every town. Now there was nothing she could do to get away from it. “Like Lightning” was a hit.

On tour, she would sing that song along with all her others. To her, every song was special in its own way, created from slices of life or bursts of inspiration. Some introduced themselves quietly over time, while others flashed bright as they came to life on her guitar.

When she got on stage, however, she could feel that the audience merely tolerated the rest of her set. As stage lights flashed down on her and her band, the audience swayed in anxious anticipation. Sure enough, when she picked the infamous opening notes of “Like Lightning,” the crowd would ignite as if possessed by the same unearthly forces that had led her to write the song in the first place.

Why this song? she wondered.

She tried to pick apart the moment when inspiration struck. There must have been something magical there that night. Perhaps it was how the fluorescent lights of the studio bathed her notebook, or how the sound of the melody echoed in the empty room. Maybe it was that one string that had been woefully out of tune, the one that she didn’t have time to change.

She wasn’t the only one asking about “Like Lightning.” Fans, interviewers, music critics wanted to know. What was the song about?

It was a question she couldn’t answer. Mechanically, she knew why the song worked. It was in a happier key, and the song structure was a familiar verse, chorus, verse. She also knew that she loved the line “It could all come crashing down like lightning.” She couldn’t really describe the song any more than that, at least not coherently.

So she answered the prying question the same way she introduced the song on stage: “This is a song about love and what we do for it.”

She reasoned that she was telling the truth in a way. She had written “Like Lightning” mostly to keep the lights on, but also because she loved music. She would do anything just to keep making it, and that’s what she told herself every time she sang that song.

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This Summer, Go Camping To Reconnect With Nature And Renew Your Spirit

By Aruna Uppuleti

Camping puts us in touch with the outdoors – with just the basics and not much technology, you can really reconnect with nature unlike in other kinds of vacations.

Some people say that we are in a technology driven world and are not connected to nature. The current generation of kids are mostly housebound with electronic devices. We adults often find ourselves so busy with our daily routines that we feel as if we are spinning on the hamster wheel.

One way to break from the technology world and from daily routine is to go out into nature. Nature can have a powerful effect on the human spirit. When we are connected to nature it renews us and fills our soul. As Shakespeare once wrote, “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.”

Camping is one activity where all ages can reconnect with each other and with the basics of life. While camping, we experience the unique elements of nature: cold air, dark night, warm fire, and bright stars. Life is simple here. You just camp, eat, and sleep.

The secret to a successful camping experience is preparation. If you are a new camper going with your children, do a dry run by spending a night camping in the backyard. Set up your tent in the backyard, unroll your sleeping bags, and light your backyard fire-pit. Turn off your devices for the night just to see what it’s like.

When you are ready to try it in the great outdoors, here are some tips and steps to make your camping trip memorable for you and your family.

Step 1: Pick your destination.

Choose a campground. Most campgrounds provide picnic tables, grills, tenting area, and fire circles. Campgrounds have many different options based on your interests, such as bike trails, fishing, canoeing, hiking trials. Select a campground that fits your desires and skills.

Other options to consider when choosing a campground is electrical hookup, outhouses, and water sources, which your family may want to use while outdoors. For beginners, it is also better to choose designated campgrounds, such as state parks or nature preserves that offer camping.

Step 2: Always be prepared

These are some items you should plan on packing:

  • For in and around camp: tent, basic first aid kit, pocket knife, plastic sheet, pin-on compass, sleeping bags, folding chairs, headlamps, flashlights.
  • For the kitchen: pots, grill rack, matches, marshmallow/sausage roasting sticks, coolers, ice, trash bags, firewood, aluminium foil.
  • Food: water, tea, milk, grilling food, snacks.
  • Personal items: sunscreen, insect repellent, hand sanitizer, clothing, footwear, toilet paper.
  • Other items: maps, paper, pencil, board games, bikes, a cell phone for emergencies.

Step 3: Go on your adventure

If you like to be adventurous, there will be many options at a campground, including bike riding, hiking, and fishing. Not sure where to start? Most designated campgrounds have maps that you can use just to follow the trails. Your children will find it interesting to use a compass and practice basic map reading skills.

If you like Instagram or just taking pictures, you may like capturing images of nature. Or just try a closer look at nature by walking on the trails.

Have the whole family join the fun as you build your tent. Smaller tents provide more flexibility for placement on a specific campsite than larger ones and typically require less effort to put up and break down. Placing your tent upwind from your campfire could prevent a smoky night’s sleep.

Practice your adventure and survival skills by building a fire. Fire is the main comfort of the camp. Building campfire satisfies your kids’ curiosity and teaches them survival skills. Most designated campgrounds have a fire ring, which will lessen your impact on the land and keep your fire contained. (Never made a fire before? See my tips at the end of this article.)

At dusk, make sure to watch the sunset. Watching a beautiful sunset is always a magical experience. Kids can experience the beauty of night time nature by catching and releasing fireflies.

For a delicious camping meal, grill your favorite veggies, meat, and s’mores. There’s something about the act of grilling in nature that just makes food look and taste delicious. Maybe it’s the fresh air or the smoky aroma… everything tastes better when it’s cooked over a fire! You have to resort to different tactics when you’re grilling. It’s easy to throw your food on a grate over a fire or use a roasting stick, but research  some tricks to keep in your back pocket.

End your day with your favorite stories like made up ghost stories or family histories. Sing and dance around the campfire. I guarantee that hanging around the campfire will be among your favorite camping experiences.

Step 4: Pay it forward and share the adventure

  • Make sure you throw away all the garbage on the day you are leaving. Your fire should be out too.
  • Just remember to  leave nature as you found it. Protect the space for someone else to come and have their own adventure.

Finally, be flexible when camping. Nature is often unpredictable. Roll with it. The point is not to stress out about putting a check-mark next to every single thing on your to-do list, but to enjoy being outdoors with your familyand friends. Enjoy, relax, and unwind.

I’m glad that I have simple, peaceful, fond memories of camping with my family and friends. During those camping explorations we ended our adventures around a campfire with our favorite foods and sleeping under the stars.

For my family, these spring and summer camping and hiking trips are a reminder that what shapes us is not so much the possessions we acquire but the memories we accumulate. What gives life meaning is not the materialistic things; it’s each other. Are you ready to go?

Tips for building a fire

Tip 1: A campfire can be built in different ways. My family always uses a style called TeePee style. Start with a small cone of kindling around a few handfuls of tinder that are loosely piled in the center of the fire ring. Once the fire is going strong and the temperature increases, you can add larger logs a few at a time as needed.

Tip 2: Light the tinder with a long match or lighter. Using a fire starter that is designed to easily ignite can help the tinder catch the flame. After lighting the tinder, blow lightly at the base of the fire to provide oxygen, which will help increase the intensity of the flame and further ignite the wood. As the fire burns, move embers to the center to burn them completely. Ideally, you should reduce them to white ash.

Tip 3: Extinguish all fires by pouring water on them, stirring the ashes, then pouring on more water. Repeat as often as needed. Ashes should be cool to the touch before you leave the site. Double check that the fire and its embers are out and cold before you leave.

Have a great camping trip!

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Iris and an Argument for Ageless Creativity

By Nicole Roth

I had a writing professor in college who told me, “Beware of early success.” As a twenty-two-year-old creative writing major, those words were not what I wanted to hear. I was getting ready to graduate and had no job prospects. I suppose I was hoping for something like “you’re going places, kid” or “here’s a book deal!”

Although my expectations were unrealistic, I can see where they came from. Many of the literary works that stood out to me at the time were penned by young authors. These were people who miraculously wrote enduring classics at an age when I could only manage studying them. In countless English classes, we read T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” which Eliot published when he was 27. Charles Dickens started publishing in his early twenties and his first runaway bestseller, Pickwick Papers, was compiled into one volume when Dickens was 25. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley published the first version of Frankenstein when she was only 21.

The ranks of the young and talented extend into other areas of the arts as well, most notably in music. My own music collection in college was dominated by twenty-something singer/songwriters and bands. Over and over, pop culture suggests that the most successful years in musicians’ lives happen during their twenties. The Beatles wrote their most enduring music when the members were in their twenties. The Rolling Stones, though they still release music, are best known for the music they wrote in their twenties. Even looking at new artists it is rare to find a band or solo artist making it big when they are middle-aged or older.

The pattern of young artists producing great works becomes panic-inducing for a fiction writer like me. If some of the most revered creative works tend to come from the young, then I need to hurry up and write before I get too old for a top 30 under 30 list. Why am I wasting my time doing anything else when I should be writing a successful, time-enduring novel? But that kind of pressure is unsustainable. It is also the best way to guarantee that I will stare at a blank computer screen for hours until I give up and watch TV.

To fight the rising panic, I embrace any story I hear about someone who finds their best creative expression later in life. No matter what kind of expression—writing, composing, whatever—those stories tell me that it will be okay. I still have time to write.

The documentary Iris (2014) tells one of those hopeful, later-in-life stories about 93-year-old fashion icon Iris Apfel. In the first frame, Iris is looking at her reflection in a mirror, adjusting the large black frames of her glasses and playing with the arrangement of her necklaces. Towers of bracelets clink together on her arms as she shows off the different pieces and describes the outfits that she likes to put together. Sneakers she designed for the Home Shopping Network paired with denim and bracelets from Harlem. Or embroidered suede smoking slippers, a modified Miao tunic, and layered amber necklaces. Or a patterned Ungaro jacket and Versace trousers with a black turtleneck. Just some things she’s been collecting.

As she gets dressed, Iris compares putting together an outfit with jazz. She never puts together the same outfit twice. She is always trying something different. As she gets ready for a party, Iris explains a quotation she finds truthful and poetic—sometimes it is just more fun to get ready than to actually go out somewhere.

As the music swells and title credits appear, Iris walks across the grand and empty hallway entrance of her New York apartment building. She’s dressed in a beautiful, dramatic fur coat and her cane makes a soft clack on the floor. Next, we see Iris in Loehmann’s, where she gives fashion advice and explains how she helped different women put together outfits. In between cuts of these outfits, Iris tells the story of her encounter with Mrs. Loehmann over fifty years before. When Iris was a sales clerk at the store, Mrs. Loehmann told Iris that she did not have beauty but something much better—Iris had style.

The longer I watched Iris, the more the meaning of Mrs. Loehmann’s seemingly rude statement made sense to me. Style is expression with clothes and lasts long after beauty fades. Later in the documentary, Harold Koda, Curator of The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, explains this idea when he describes Iris’s creativity. Every time she gets dressed, she is expressing an idea. Some people might argue that getting dressed can’t be art if everyone can do it, but Koda argues that it is just like photography. Sure, everyone can take pictures with their phones, but that doesn’t mean we are all photographers.

As the film continues, we often see Iris shopping, sometimes with her faithful husband Carl in toe. They patronize couture shops and flea markets, stopping to look at whatever catches Iris’s eye. She tries on pieces and haggles. She even places a spiked and bedazzled flatbill hat onto Carl’s 99-year-old head. In the next shot, he’s wearing it.

There is something monumentally refreshing about watching Iris at work. Never once in the movie does she say “I like this, but it isn’t age-appropriate.” If she is attracted to something, she wears it. Perhaps that is part of the distinction between a clothing collection and just a closet full of clothes. Under Iris’s careful, editing eye, her collection expands to include pieces that represent moments in time. The combinations that Iris makes with pieces old and new keep those moments in the now, preventing them from falling into the trap of nostalgia.

At one point in the movie, the discussion turns to Iris’s age. She mentions feeling her ninety plus years, but she avoids giving in to her aches and pains. She stays busy and creative by investing her mental energy in doing what she loves.

If I have learned anything from Iris, it is that life is a continuous journey, one best spent in pursuit of a passion. When creativity and individuality are at the center of one’s life, there is a reason to keep moving and to push aside the idea that fashion, art, and creativity are only for the young.

That idea is hard to keep at the forefront. Every day seems to bleed into the next. Get up, get dressed, go to work, repeat. But it doesn’t have to feel that way. Every day can feel like the gift that it is. A chance to break free. A chance to debut a new outfit. A chance to pursue a passion that makes you feel ageless.

As a fiction writer, that kind of process-oriented thinking appeals to me. When the daily worries quiet down, I find myself scheming to get back to my novel. Who knows if it will ever be a masterpiece or a great American novel, but that doesn’t really matter. It is all about the story and the characters. When I am in the act of writing, the characters speak in such a way that I am taken up in the moment. I am wrapped up in the drama of their lives, and I forget my age-obsession and the fact that I don’t belong in their world. It’s only after I stop writing that I remember that the world values the young, the successful, and the productive. The world doesn’t give a damn about the creative process, but the process is the best part.

The documentary ends with Iris talking about why she doesn’t like pretty. She explains that the fascination with outward appearance means that people who are born beautiful don’t really work hard to be anything else. They don’t have to be interesting or creative; they just have to sit there and look pretty. While beauty often fades with age, personal expression and the creative process can always deepen and blossom. At the very end of the movie, Iris says most people don’t agree with her, but she doesn’t care. Well, Iris, I couldn’t agree with you more.

Iris is available streaming on Netflix and for purchase wherever movies are sold. You can also find it at a library near you by using the amazing worldcat.org.

Posted in Fiction, Nicole Roth | Leave a comment

A Music Fan Identity Crisis

By Nicole Roth

Good music evokes a state of mind. The right song or album brings back feelings of the teenager you used to be or dreams you thought you forgot. At least that’s how I feel every time I hear the CDs I used to listen to in high school. Over the years and many different moves, I’ve culled the collection to only what I can still bear to listen to. With the opening riffs of AFI’s Sing the Sorrow, I’m seventeen again and back to my childhood bedroom. The case is open in my lap and I am pouring over the lyrics. Listening to the music, I feel that I’ve finally found someone like me, someone who loves language and is moments away from losing control.

Looking back, I am surprised that some of the other music I listened to didn’t sink in as deep as that one AFI album. In the early 2000s, a lot of other bands I listened to were fiercely anti-Bush. On my way to and from high school, I had Anti-Flag’s Terror State or NOFX’s War on Errorism on repeat, but I couldn’t tell you a thing about what was going on in politics. I just liked the way the music sounded and how the people looked. Night after night, I listened to my punk and emo screamo as I did my homework. Eventually I even covered my backpack in safety pins and thought of myself as a little left of the normal.

Despite my accessories, I somehow missed out the social parts of being punk. Instead of finding my people, I studied all the time and wrote terrible emo poetry in my notebook. So it was completely by accident that a punk at my school handed me a flyer for a local punk show. The flyer was a photocopy with a mohawked vocalist screaming into a microphone, a date and time typed in the corner. Finally, I thought, something new to do.

Where I lived in the very northern suburbs of Chicago, local punk music still had a foothold. Most of the world may have been declaring punk dead, but it was alive here. Groups of kids wore the markers of typical punk subculture: studded belts, ripped up clothes, and a scowl.

Although I’d seen these punks in the hallway, I had no idea what to expect. That weekend I drove to the show and parked my dad’s car in one of the only two parked venue parking spots. Crunching across the gravel in my thrift store Keds, I eventually made it to the door of the dirty DIY club, which was sandwiched in the middle of tiny strip mall. I paid my five bucks and walked into a tiny room with a busted couch and a sound board. Beyond the first room was another room with dusty linoleum floors and padded walls.

One look around and I knew I didn’t really belong there. My hair was its natural color and I was wearing plain clothes. Everyone else seemed to get the dress code. Kids in skin-tight black pants, holes and rips scattered on the legs. Chaos spikes and mohawks radiating from the heads of every other punk. Studded leather jackets, black Misfits t-shirts, and bum flaps. They all looked like they’d come straight out of a Casualties photoshoot.

It seemed like a painfully long time before the music began. While I waited, I looked around or down at my shoes. But when the music started, that self-consciousness almost melted away. The guitar riffs were stripped down and muddy. I could feel the bass drum pounding in my chest, beating like the raging teenage angst that I always seemed to be feeling. Each vocalist growled more furiously than the last, and before I knew it, I was bouncing around in the moshpit.

I’d like to say that night was an awakening—that I left that show and became a real punk blaring Black Flag and talking about overthrowing the man. But to be a true part of a subculture, you have to mean it; you have to commit to the way of life and try to find more people just like you. And I never seemed to have the patience or motivation to pledge my allegiance to only one style of music.

A quote often attributed to Duke Ellington says, “There are only two kinds of music—good music and the other kind.” As a music fan, I will listen to almost anything and I find myself hooked on many different genres over time (and sometimes at the same time). In all that listening, I’m looking for my own definition of good music.

Lately, I have been listening to a lot of death metal. There is nothing as cathartic than putting on metal after a horrible, stress-filled day at work. The meaner and louder, the better. On those days, I roll down the windows, turn up Job for a Cowboy, and feel this rush of power. In that moment, I feel that I could get as angry and as loud as Jonny Davy if I wanted to.

Whenever I tell someone that I listen to metal, they look at me with wide, surprised eyes and ask, “You? Really?”

And I get it. There’s nothing particularly “metal” about business casual. I don’t have visible tattoos and I don’t wear band t-shirts.

That said, why should it matter what I look like? We live in an age of musical democracy. Everyone is clicks away from any genre imaginable. There are so many choices and so much great music out there. There is no reason why anyone should have to look like a certain type of music in order to be allowed to listen to it.

Music has the power to transform and transport us. Anyone who has belted out a Beyonce song or screamed along to a punk anthem knows that power. So, listen to whatever you want, wear whatever you want. Only you get to decide for yourself what “good” music is.

Posted in Nicole Roth, Non-Fiction | Leave a comment

It’s Time To Put An End To Item Songs

By Aruna Uppuleti

For many decades, Indian cinema has been known for song and dance sequences. Songs combined with dance are not only marketing and promotional tools, but also enhance the feel of the movie without disrupting the flow of the plot.

However, there are special songs called item songs which have no importance to plot but are still shown as part of the movie. They feature an actress, who is not connected to the movie plot, dancing to vulgar lyrics for the male audiences. They are gratuitous, offensive and they may even be dangerous for society.

Item songs in Indian movies are used as a promotional element. Although most movies include them, many great Indian filmmakers have made blockbuster hits without including item songs. It is high time for the movie industry to evaluate the social impact of these songs. In reality, these songs devalue women and treat them as sexual objects.

Lyrics in these songs are usually lewd, demeaning and women are depicted as lascivious. In these songs a woman is treated as a sexual object while a bunch of drunkards sexually harass her or fawn over her. Sometimes a woman in these songs voluntarily present to the men around her.

These songs promote the women as if they are enjoying the harassment, but in reality no woman can enjoy dancing in such a predatory environment. Subconsciously item songs affect society and can lead to justification of behaviors from catcalling to rape. A woman is raped every 20 minutes in India yet we still have these item songs.

These kind of items songs appear repeatedly in movies. In “Munni Badnam Huyi,” actress Malaika Arora is seemingly taken control of and voluntarily presenting herself as an object. In “Fevicol Se Item,” actress Kareena Kapoor, who is a highly successful leading heroine in Bollywood movies, is symbolically likened to a piece of tandoori chicken to be washed down with alcohol. She is figuratively reduced to chicken thighs and breasts in the lyrics. In “Ayi Chikni Chameli,” actress Katrina Kaif presents herself as an object of sexual gratification for the male.

Sickeningly,  these songs feature the hero of the movie as one of the men surrounding the actress. Such famous actors and actresses happily take up the task and accept this type of song, showing their audience that it’s okay to behave like this with any woman.

The movie industry and fans argue that there are no actual sex scenes involved in item songs, so these songs are not a problem. It’s not the sex that’s wrong; sex is a natural part of life, and a healthy wholesome interaction between a man and a woman and that could put out a positive message to viewers. Instead item songs portray a skewed image of sexuality, promoting the false and emotionally warped idea that women enjoy sexual harassment and can be treated as sexual objects.

People tell us that what we see on­screen shouldn’t affect us, that it’s just entertainment. But unfortunately these movie stars and famous athletes have a wider influence and impact on the youth than our journalists, authors, and hardworking activists. In a culture like ours, media shapes our views from a young age and has the power to promote change.

It’s time for the powerful entertainment industry to shoulder some responsibility for the India they’re helping to shape. It is unlikely that a good person will turn bad the next day if he watches a sexist movie or that someone will bring positive social change after watching a progressive movie. The impact of seeing the negative attitudes toward women works on subconscious levels over time and violence becomes slowly contagious.

Following the horrific 2012 Delhi gang rape of 23 year old medical student Jyoti Singh there were articles and debates linking item songs to violence on women. The documentary India’s daughter included shocking comments blaming the victim for the rape, saying women ask for rape  by the way they dress and the times they go out. Sadly, there are some politicians, lawyers, common people around who make public statements blaming victims for rape.

It is high time for filmmakers to understand the negative impact of these songs on society. They should stop including these songs in their movies and should start taking responsibility to portray strong women in their movies and spread the necessary messages that women are not objects. Then perhaps we’d see a positive change in cultural attitudes.

We need to speak up and voice our opinion publicly against these songs so the conversation will start and the message will spread. In addition we all should boycott the movies that have these degrading songs. These actions and messages will force the filmmakers to rethink what they are doing. It’s high time for this change and we must all come forward to make this happen.

Posted in Aruna Uppuleti, Non-Fiction | Leave a comment