Fibroids

It’s not about words this time, so I’m posting on wildcard day. This post is over 3000 words, so skim to the TL;DR at the bottom if you don’t have that kind of time, or don’t like reading biological/health stuff. 

A year ago today, I had a laparoscopic hysterectomy. But I will back up…

PERIOD WEEK:

During “period week” every month from 2010-2015, it was a lot like having a stomach flu. I was running to the restroom constantly. It was as if my system “woke up” during this time and decided it was a fine time to have a liquidation sale: “everything must go.”

I was anemic, bloated, and gassy. I got horrible sleep. I wore the biggest pads, but I was still paranoid about leaks. I slept on a towel just in case.

I was achy. Ordinarily I would just take NSAIDs for 2-3 days and the worst of the pain would be over. If my NSAIDS weren’t working, I’d use a heating pad.

I haven’t worn white pants in 25 years. I haven’t gone swimming much at all. When I was near a pool, it was inevitably “period week.”

THE DISCOVERY:

By 2014, periods lasted longer. NSAIDS weren’t working so well. There would be other aches (not cramps) that, like lightning, came and went. I thought it would stop happening; it didn’t. So I went to my gyno in the Fall of 2014.  I got a ultrasound, and that’s when I learned I had a fibroid. This happens to 30-something women. A lot of them: to the genetically predisposed, to women of color, and to the more voluptuous ladies among us. But I didn’t know about that happening in my family.

I had the option to do nothing about it. I could bear with it, and it *should* stop growing once I was in my 40s.

I opted to have this one pedunculated fibroid (looks like a hornet’s nest dangling from the top of the uterus) removed in January 2015. Then I had a followup scan two months later.

The new ultrasound revealed that there were rapidly growing fibroids that weren’t even detected months before. Apparently, my uterus was a fibroid farm, with different types in different locations. And maybe more were growing on the outside that the ultrasound wand couldn’t possibly detect.

There was a lot of thinking to do.

DECISION FACTORS:

I could keep getting these things cut out every few months, in the hopes of still keeping the “still have kids” window open. Each surgery, if I didn’t have insurance, could cost at least $30k. But to what end? How costly would all those repeated procedures add up to be? If I got the whole thing taken out, this would be over quicker, and less expensively. I just had to let go of the biological offspring option idea.

It would be really hard to get on with our lives if I had to get repeated surgeries several months or years in a row.

For added complications, we’d seen TV ads for lawsuits about fibroid removals that led to cancer. I didn’t want to take the steps to fix the situation, and just make it worse in the process. The more fibroids a woman has, the more I would suspect one of them could be a “rancid tomato” whose contents are capable of spreading cancer around the abdomen. So it seemed even more risky to have repeated morcellation procedures.

We talked to my doctor on two separate occasions before I decided to have the hysterectomy. He/she affirmed that the devices used in those recent lawsuits aren’t in use anymore. My procedure would use a DaVinci.

THE SURGERY:

There’s an animation here. In this procedure, they took the whole uterus, fallopian tubes, and cervix out of a very dilated vagina. The vagina was sewn shut at the top. The ovaries are still in place, but they release eggs with nowhere to go. All released eggs are absorbed by the body. The patient does not experience menopause until her ovaries have run out of eggs.

So I had that done a year ago today. I went in very early, so once I proved I could walk around the hall and use the restroom, I was free to go. I was in and out the same day.

THE RECOVERY:

At first I was forbidden from lifting things because it could tear where the vagina was sewn shut, and organs could fall through. Yuck.

I had to walk a lot. I was easily fatigued. But it got better over the course of a couple months. I didn’t have to take a lot of pain pills. I haven’t had complications in followup appointments. I made a point to eat more fiber and stay hydrated so that for any pain meds I did take, constipation would not be an issue. I had read about the procedure and aftermath at Kronda.com, a woman who had been through the same procedure a couple years before me, whose blog I discovered online. [If you know somebody taking painkillers awhile, stool softeners, laxatives, and a bouquet of broccoli or fruit are a nice gesture. You would think the hospital would provide these, but even if they do, they are quite possibly stupid-expensive.

Days after my surgery, I called my family to tell them what happened. They were sad I did it alone without telling them beforehand, but they were glad I was okay now. In talking to my sibling, I learned who else in the family had had fibroids.

My spouse, always a wonderful support, was really good to me. My best friend and family sent flowers, which is always nice.

Months later, I could lift anything I could pre-surgery, and I was back to normal. Actually, probably better than normal given the drama I used to have every 30 days. I don’t miss buying pads or NSAIDs.

My fibroids could have been so much worse. I feel lucky to have the doctor I did, and to have sought the procedure when I did. Some are not as lucky.

THE AFTERMATH:

NEW PHASE, NEW HAIR: I’ve given up coloring my hair dark chocolate once a month and that’s saved cash, time, a messy sink, and the packaging trash. With this procedure and turning 40 soon, it just felt right. I think it will be much easier to maintain as we travel more.

I grew my roots out from July until December. Then I got a pixie haircut so I would look nice (okay, nicer) in holiday family photos. Who’s that in the short salt and pepper hair and glasses? Oh, right.

After a year of growing it out, my hair is salt and pepper gray with several white streaks around my face. I’m not a master with wax and product. I haven’t mastered a faux hawk or gel-based pompadours. I haven’t updated online avatars just yet.

I just might buy white pants and a swimsuit.

THE BIGGER PICTURE:

Since the procedure, I have thinking of all the other ways this has been a positive change and happened for the best.

Since I’m not anemic, I can get back to donating blood on a regular basis. I have a desirable donor type. It’s a good thing that I’m comfortable with needles. [I don’t know how someone could be lifelong hypothyroid and not comfortable with needles. I get blood drawn pretty much every GP visit.]

Seeing tampon, birth control, pads, and cramp meds on TV is strange: wow, that doesn’t apply to me anymore. 

HYSTERECTOMY ON TV: Sister Evangelina on Call the Midwife had this procedure (albeit more difficult and with a longer convalescence in the 1950s; they made a bigger cut into a woman’s abs back then.) Like a lot of Evangelina-isms, her observation was priceless: “No need for any great fanfare. It’s just an old pocket in some apron that I’ll never use.” 

THE MEDIA & SOCIAL SCENE: IS IT JUST ME? Evangelina was a nun, though, living in a home with nuns of all ages, and working with young midwives, in a tight knit small town called Poplar, in postwar England in the 1950s.

In the real world, in the 2010s, in the US, it’s not easy to find same-age peers who’ve gone through a hysterectomy, except online. So many women around me have babies and kids, and they identify and hang out with other American women with babies and kids.

Hollywood women between 30-50 are having kids left and right, all over the globe. So let’s just say this procedure is alienating in that regard. Am I one of the guys now? Is it time to join the Red Hat Ladies? Another group?

Fibroids and hysterectomies don’t usually make it to (non-PBS) primetime TV, the web, or the news. Most likely there isn’t going to be a The Real Hysterectomy Honeys of Homosassa, or Barren in Bismarck, or other drama series anytime soon.

So I and other women who’ve been through this have to hunt down common ground on message boards, websites, and blogs. Because it’s the internet, we have to type in the just the right subject keywords to find information on the subject. It doesn’t just appear in our inboxes, or get delivered by a godmother, or stork. I just learned this year that July is Fibroids Awareness month.

This sucks because it’s not just me, or any other woman that had this procedure, or will have this procedure in the future. But it can definitely feel like “just you” when your culture that doesn’t acknowledge hard things, or disorders, nearly as much as it does life’s “happy” milestones. Or it acknowledges women’s issues mostly in March (women’s history month), or pink-laden October. Medical challenges don’t happen during a convenient PR month, though, they happen all the time.

Sometimes daytime TV touches on women’s issues. But how many women are home during the day, and even if they are home, are watching daytime TV like previous generation did with their afternoon stories?

It’s the avoidance and refusal to talk about hard things in primetime that are less than perfect/ideal that’s a problem. When you get bad news about your body that you didn’t see coming, it’s like being hit by the proverbial bus. When you don’t hear about it happening to anyone else, I reiterate, it’s alienating.

My motivation for this post was to talk about hard things, and encourage other people to talk about hard things with their younger family members. A lot of people go through life with the attitude bad things can’t happen to him/her, until those things happen.

If you are a young woman and want to have kids someday, your aunt blogger here hopes you discuss fertility, fibroids, thyroid problems, and breast and any reproductive organ cancers that run in the family with your parents, just so you know what you’re potentially dealing with. If you can afford a genetic test, it probably can’t hurt to get one. If you are adopted, I hope your biological parents had some documentation about family history to share with you because you deserved to know. If they didn’t, a genetic test is the next best thing.

Broaching the hard things with our moms, the family history of fertility and cancers is something the grown daughter is more likely to bring up to the parent, not the other way around. I didn’t, I should have. The wonky periods. Fibroids. Cysts. PCOS. Infertility. Midlife chin whiskers. Cancers. Thyroid flip outs. Rapidly declining metabolism. Other estrogenic Murphy’s (Murphette’s?) law type stuff. Please talk about it.

Some women don’t get a lot of time to detect these things and get it dealt with. As of this writing, the youngest woman to be diagnosed with breast cancer was 10Linda Creed, lyricist behind Whitney Houston’s The Greatest Love of All, died of breast cancer at 37 after fighting it for years. You might recall that Angelina Jolie had multiple procedures because she learned she carried the genes for reproductive cancers. In prior years, Jolie had lost three women in her family to those cancers, including her mother, who was 57. Was that ever gonna be front and center on E! ? Was that going to come up on the red carpet? Likely no. Jolie wrote an Op-Ed for the New York Times. Then it was entertainment news.

When Generation Y (today’s adults), Generation Z (today’s young adults), and the Alpha Generation (today’s little girls) want to be moms, I think they should know some things. For all the cute babies in media that everyone’s having (like its easier than tying a shoe), the truth is fertility has been difficult for a lot of Generation X moms, mom’s siblings, and mom’s friends. It happens to the famous and not famous. It happens to princesses, and royalty is chronically, singularly obsessed with offspring more than the average in-law. How does this aunt blogger know? It’s gleaned from newly released books, interviews about those books, and just digging around on the web. I guess because I don’t have kids I have this kind of time. For some, kids just aren’t happening at all. For some “no kids” was a choice, but for others, it was inconvenient genetics.

It concerns me that once a decade is over, the issues get shelved and not brought up again, as if they won’t be repeated in some fashion if people just don’t bring them up. But they can, they have, and they do. And another generation of moms and non-moms gets hit by the proverbial bus because no one wants to talk about hard things in the family genes, or culturally. It appears like the only time you can bring up something hard is after something happy occurred after it. You know, the ubiquitous athlete mini-biopic type story.

We can’t prevent all hard things from happening, but communication about potential problems makes people better off about their choices, and working with what time is available.

In my view, based on more proactive conversations I could have had in my life, Moms and their grown daughters should discuss fertility and reproductive cancers in their family history sooner than later.

Thanks for reading.

TL; DR: Though usually benign, fibroids hurt, can be debilitating, and they can mess up fertility for 30-something women. I had several fibroids when they were discovered, and the best option to me was a hysterectomy, so I got one. Everyone’s decision is different.

Sources and Other References:

Kronda.com (especially if you are going to have a hysterectomy procedure)

Fertility for Colored Girls: July is Uterine Fibroid Awareness Month

Fibroid Relief.org

Barrier to Motherhood: Raising Awareness of the Fibroids Crisis

May 18 is Fibroid Awareness Day (I had no idea before writing this post)

HysterSisters

Call the Midwife

thenotmom.com (I am intrigued about this site and only heard about it 7/11/16)

Jennifer Aniston’s op-ed for Huffington Post, July 12, 2016

 NEW! Refinery29 Slideshow: Childfree celebrities 

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Ask Yourself About…Failure

I’m seeing reports of the Carolina Panthers quarterback not talking much, or very well, about his team’s Superbowl 50 defeat. I don’t follow football closely enough to notice a pattern in this player’s reactions to losing. He’s in his mid-20s. Maybe he doesn’t have that much experience losing. Maybe the team felt invincible after a strong season.

Anything a person doesn’t do often is likely to be something he (or she) won’t do well. Put another way, if you don’t do it much, don’t expect much when you have to do it.

I thought this was a good time to blog about failure.

Honestly, it’s funny that with athletes, and any high-profile people, the fans expect the famous person (FP) to talk with ease about any and all recent failings: losing a game, losing an award, a string of career fails (lost games, movie flops, cancelled shows), a tough divorce, financial woes, fashion choices, a cancer battle, losing a loved one, a child’s disability or struggles, weight, or aging. it’s all up for grabs. The FP is supposed to be cool, almost nonchalant, as if this is all happening to someone else.

In sports, within hours after failing, the FP supposed to talk easily about that failure. How many ordinary people could assemble perspective and be cool-headed THAT quickly? Reflecting humbly on what he/she could have done better? What the team could have done better? And put all that into “just the right words”? Could you or I do that?

Yes some do it well, especially more seasoned people who have “been there and done that” hundreds of times, but most people?

Most people don’t talk about failure. It’s not a hot topic or a desirable one. I doubt the word failure has ever gone viral, as in, “tonight, everybody share your last screwup on Twitter.” Our culture has PostSecret, an anonymous confessional booth via postcard that’s immensely popular. A lot of these secrets deal with failure issues: failing ourselves, failing others, or both. It seems like, unless you’re an FP, you can’t easily reveal your failures in a public way. You have to “have arrived” first, or achieved something big. Even then, it isn’t without controversy or judgement.

It’s a shame there is so much shame and stigma surrounding failure and talking about it. Failures are as natural as breathing, eating, and peeing. Failures are a part of life. They are part of being human.

Failure and how we handle it is really important life skill. Failure is worthy of focus. Avoiding failure or being afraid of it doesn’t make it go away.

It’s become common in job interviews to talk about failures.

Being blindsided in a job interview by unanticipated, potentially embarrassing questions can have a person sweating bullets. Especially if you, the candidate, never asked yourself these things.

So the next time you have an hour or two, at home, in comfy clothes to think about it, ask yourself:

  • What have been your biggest failures? [This isn’t something to figure out the night before the interview.]
  • Can you talk about your biggest failures, or are they still sore subjects?
    • Can you only talk about them with trusted friends?
    • Could you talk easily with a stranger, someone who’s making an impression of you, as you talk?
    • What if that stranger represents a job at the company of your dreams? [Ideally, we’d be comfortable talking about anything when this much is on the line. Brands and FPs are taking this level risk just about every time they share a message, but I digress.]
  • How long ago did the failure (or failures) happen?
  • What have you learned from that event/those events?
  • Do you still get teary eyed or feel your blood pressure rise when you think about these things?
  • Knowing yourself as long as you have, why is the reaction still so intense?
  • Was it the words used by someone else?
  • Was it being embarrassed? fear of looking dumb? being proud? Feeling duped/played? Getting blindsided?
  • How can you get past these raw feelings in a constructive way? Writing it out? Painting it? Playing an instrument? Writing a narrative about it? Talking to someone not involved, like a counselor?
  • What can you do to get to the point where you can talk about hard things without getting teary eyed, or getting enraged?
  • Do you take failure seriously, like a mark of Cain, as if you’re cursed to never succeed?
  • Do you think you’re capable or worthy of great things? or are repeated failures a self-fulfilling prophecy? Do you need a more positive, keep trying attitude?
  • Even if part of what you learned was some people are jerks and can’t be trusted, that puts all the control in others’ hands.
    • You can’t bash others in an interview, you bruise yourself and your image when you do that. [People may suspect you dealt with a jerk. People may know for a fact the other party is a jerk. But when you are asked about it, if you focus all the blame on them, if you call them names, it makes you look bad.]
    • What are you going to do differently next time?
    • What have you learned from this that changes your approach? How are you wiser?
    • Not being able to talk about our failures and looking cross can look immature. If you don’t have the words, admit you struggle with the words, and do the best you can.

TL; DR: Get comfortable talking about your own failures. Ask yourself hard questions so you’re not blindsided in a job interview or other intense, but important conversation. See the bullets above for prompts.

Have you ever wondered why Black Friday is “Black”?

Every year, the day after Thanksgiving is “Black Friday” in the US. Have you ever wondered why Black Friday is black? Black is a color of many meanings, after all. So just which one applies here?

Black Friday is so named because it’s the day that many stores can finally “catch up” financially. In accounting, operating “in the red”* means operating at a loss, and operating “in the black” means operating in balance, or solvent. When a store is “in the black”, its debts are repayable. Hopefully, there’s even a profit being made.

TRIVIA SIDEBAR: When the Avengers’ Black Widow (played by Scarlett Johansson) says she “has a lot of red in her ledger” she’s also using an accounting metaphor. She saying that she used to be evil and did lots of bad things. As an Avenger, she’s trying to change that. She’s got a lot of catching up to do to make up for all the evil she’s done in her past. She’s trying to balance her karma and it could take the rest of her life to do it.

Back to Black Friday… It seems like the sales keep starting earlier and earlier in the day, some even start Thanksgiving night. Some diehard shoppers camp out overnight at electronics or suburban department stores to be first in line at the store’s opening to get the best deals. A worker at Walmart was even trampled to death on Black Friday in 2008. In recent years, cartoons and young family movies have started to debut at the cinema on Thanksgiving Day, too.

Black Friday is a 20th century development in the US. It has its origins with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1924. The parade winds its way around blocks of New York City from 9am-12noon on Thanksgiving morning. The point of the parade was to be a dazzling spectacle, entertaining people first, then leading them straight to Macy’s to start their Christmas shopping. The parade ends with someone dressed as Santa in his sleigh.

Over the years, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has gotten bigger and bigger, and promotion for more than Macy’s has become part of the show.

  • Broadway features a handful of musical numbers to promote its newest shows before the parade, usually kid-friendly songs.
  • NBC promotes its shows via actors stopping to say “hi!” to the parade’s anchors; other networks do the same thing.
  • The parade anchors are hosts of a network’s daily morning news or other personalities
  • The balloons and floats in the parade feature popular children’s cartoon or gaming characters.
  • Sometimes the floats feature singers, most of them cater to the 15 (and under) age group, but some appeal to the parents and grandparents in the crowd as well. For instance, I recall (the late) Andy Williams being a part of the parade for several years when I was younger, now James Taylor and 1970s-1980s artists fit that bill. Typically all the artists performing at the Macy’s parade have an album out, or coming out very soon. Watching the parade on television was a Thanksgiving tradition in our house.
  • On a less commercial note, high school bands and cheerleading troupes from all over the US are also a part of the parade. It’s a once in a lifetime trip that is surely exciting for all involved.

With the arrival of online shopping, Cyber Monday arrived around 2005. It’s the Monday following Thanksgiving, and stores like Amazon offer amazing deals. Shoppers stay at home and shop from their screen. The crowds and the traffic are virtual. No trampling stampedes or wrestling over Cabbage Patch dolls here.

Whatever you do Black Friday, stay safe. Remember focused (silent, facedown phone) time with the most important people in your life is the best gift of all. It can’t be bought, it’s given, and it’s not forgotten.

Past, Present, and Future Collide

I can’t help noticing how much past, present, and future of one life clash pretty frequently these days. Thanks to media and the everlasting record called the internet, people receive disparaging judgement about their mistakes*, whether those happened last month, last decade, or decades ago.

Two recent examples (I am not taking sides on either, by the way):

  • Our current lieutenant governor, Glenn McConnell, is being considered for the Presidency of the College of Charleston. Some folks within the College and in the community don’t feel McConnell’s Civil war projects and his repeated identification with Confederate forefathers will reflect well on the school if McConnell is chosen. It might also harm the ability to attract more non-white students. For those that don’t know, the College is attended by mostly whites, and in my lifetime, mostly women. Brian Hicks of the Post and Courier countered this opposition with a piece mentioning that McConnell’s online images do not mirror McConnell’s legislative efforts. These efforts which don’t reflect a racist, Jim Crow attitude that a Confederate uniform or other images of McConnell might imply. What matters most-image, or actions and skill sets?
  • Duck Dynasty. It may be just another case of true colors and inconvenient truths coming to light after a successful, profitable rise to fame. After the GQ interview’s release, an online video surfaced featuring Phil (the DD Patriarch) advising fellow duck hunter men to seek out 15 year old wives. Maybe Phil thinks the reality show and merchandising fame orgy is over. Or maybe the family just wants it to be over, riling groups they didn’t gel with anyway is a the quickest way to exit the public consciousness. Phil’s experience really does not seem that different from Paula Deen’s experience earlier this summer, or the statements made in an interview with Chik-Fil-A COO Dan Cathy.

Contrast these real people with a fictional character, Natasha Romanoff, aka the Black Widow, a member of the Avengers. Romanoff is the only female and only foreign Avenger. Russian by birth, she has a keen skills set that she used to help the enemy for years. Romanoff hints at her past when she says I have a lot of red in my ledger. In the films, she says this several times. For those that don’t know, red in my ledger is an accounting analogy. Red ink indicates loss (debt), black ink indicates profit (SIDENOTE: this same accounting language is what puts the black in Black Friday).

Romanoff is saying she has a lot of debt to pay for what she did before. Now she is focused on using her skills set for good. Apparently Nick Fury didn’t feel her nationality, her past, or both, were disqualifiers. Romanoff was asked to join the Avengers.

I think it’s worth pointing out that real-life people struggle with getting similar second chances to Romanoff’s, whether they are criminal, or not, whether they are famous or not. I suspect we have reached the point where no one is immune from having either a criminal record or other ‘damning’ recorded evidence about him/her online.

Attempting to get a new job, run for public office, buy a car, buy a house, start a business, etc. is that much harder when a person’s whole life is held against them. It’s only a matter of time before evidence surfaces that the person made mistakes, allied themselves with the wrong crowd, supported the losing team, misjudged a situation and failed. We’re all human, so why are mistakes so damning and shocking? Why are famous people expected to be one-dimensional and uncomplicated? No person is like that.

Our current media culture is obsessed with mugshots and police blotter reports. Crime reporting is completely oversaturating news coverage.  Unless a suspect is on the loose, it really has no point other than to instill and maintain a high level of public paranoia. Add to that the sensationalist drivel that makes up the rest of the news–the rise and fall of entrepreneurs turned TV show personalities (Paula Deen, Phil Richardson), politicians’ flubs and romantic affairs, and celebrity screw ups. The news has morphed into a warped version of America’s Funniest Home Videos, only no one wins a massive cash prize for the kick in the nuts they receive. They just lose face, opportunities, and millions of dollars.

There’s a lot of glorification of failure on our airwaves. What’s funny in the moment is not funny at all long term; it’s pathetic that this is entertainment. I don’t feel “failure media” is inspiring anyone, helping to create a better nation, or a better world. If we want a peaceful world, full of good people, doing great things, giving bad behavior star treatment and hyper-coverage is the wrong way to go about achieving that end. If we expect individuals to function creatively in society, they deserve credit for learning from their mistakes and they deserve the opportunities to prove that. Making everyone in society a criminal of one form or another is dysfunctional. It’s a gunshot in both feet. It’s our puritanical sadistic side rearing its haughty, disdainful head.

As the viewing public, our collective attention impacts what airs and what continues to air. When what airs way too much is nudging our culture in a bad direction, we need to admit that and change course. We need to change the game for the better. Take a step back, and find other means of spending our time, for better outcomes.

If everyone who has ever failed has little reason to try again because the failures count for too much for too long, what kind of future are we creating for ourselves? We are creating not a very good one.

*=For the purpose of this blog post, a mistake is any act or statement held against the person doing the speaking or acting. These mistakes are evidence used to deny future opportunities to that person. Whether they are actual  screwups is relative, it depends on who you ask. In modern times, these mistakes are called ‘indiscretions”. They are usually an individual’s beliefs or hobbies that once publicized, reflect badly on that individual.

Storytelling Can Win New Fans

Garth Brooks has come out of retirement. I caught his WYNN Las Vegas TV special last Friday night.

Growing up, I knew who Garth Brooks was. I was a teenager in the 1990s, after all. Kids were singing “I’ve Got Friends in Low Places” on the bus. But I don’t own any albums, and I can’t claim to be a hardcore, longtime fan. I don’t make a habit of blogging or tweeting my viewing habits. The style of this show stuck with me, though, so I wanted to blog about it. It was different from the typical televised concert.

The typical concert format is a well-styled singer singing, dancing, video accompaniment, elaborate lighting effects, maybe pyrotechnics. You the audience member are singing (or mouthing) along to songs you know and love. If you are not a fan, you pass. You won’t pay $30+ to see someone you don’t know. You don’t spend $30+ to spend a couple hours in a room with someone you don’t know and a stadium full of their adoring fans either. If you are watching at home, you would keep channel surfing past this stranger and their fan base. Why? No one pays with their money, or their time, to feel excluded.

In contrast, this is how Brooks’ show was formatted:

Imagine a white American man is onstage, dressed in very average clothes: Timberland steel toe work boots, a black hoodie sweatshirt, black baseball cap, and blue jeans. The baseball cap has a logo on it. There is no band. He is playing an acoustic/electric guitar and wearing a microphone headset over his ball cap.

For every song he plays, he is telling stories. Most of the songs he plays are covers that relate to the story he just told. The stories run the gamut of his 51 years: his parents’ musical tastes; growing up in the 1960s and 1970s; being the youngest of six; riding in older cars that never sold (no matter how much time and effort was made fixing them up); poking fun at himself; poking fun at lyrical trends of the 1960s and 1970s; learning a lot about performing while paying his dues in a small club in Stillwater, Okla.; and finally, the daunting task of covering a song for a movie soundtrack when you can’t understand the original artist’s version.

If you know nothing about Brooks and didn’t care prior to this show, he’s provided eight reasons to care now. Maybe one or more of these themes resonated with you.

At this point, he is introduced by his wife, Trisha Yearwood. She brings out that famous black cowboy hat. He dons it. He ends the show with a couple of his own hits.It’s Garth Brooks.

You were willing to give his music a chance at this point, weren’t you? You could hear how his influences came through? Following this show, even if you still don’t like his music, you can still relate to him as a person.

Once people feel some rapport with a performer or a speaker, they are more apt to listen to what they have to say.

Quite often, there’s a pressure for the performer or speaker to focus on nailing each performance one day at a time. He or she may just want to get through it and not screw up. He/she may want to blow people away. He or she may want to create post-show buzz. He or she may want all of the above.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with “rocking it”, so to speak. I think the internet age has really bombarded ordinary people with an endless supply of footage of people rocking it. We already had television. And social media involves a lot “rocking it” announcements by both famous and everyday people, every day of the week.

Rocking it proves the performer is highly skilled.  If all you ever see of someone is the “rocking it” footage, what does that do for you long term? Do you get inspired? Do you get bored? Do you feel intimidated or inadequate after awhile?

Contrast those feelings with someone who shared their stories and related to you as another human being before rocking it. How do you feel about that person?

These are the things I am thinking about three days after seeing Brooks’ show.

Life is So “Unscripted” Anymore

Every time I go to sign my name with an ink pen, I am conscious that it will look terrible. I am out of practice; it is so rare I have to sign things in ink anymore. It’s even more rare that I have to write multiple words out in longhand.

If I have thank you notes to write, or postcards, I will write a draft out on on a sketchbook page, possibly multiple times. I want to get my words just right, and make sure they will fit the card’s dimensions in my handwriting. Then I copy the words onto the card with Zen-like concentration. The slightest distraction means leaving words out or “misscripting” the cursive–starting to draw one letter when I need another letter that probably looks nothing like the one I’ve just written. Or, giving my “n” or “m” too many humps. Forgetting that connected “r” or “i” after a “b’. Remembering what capital “Q” and “Z” are supposed look like. Needing a lower case “q” and accidentally drawing a” y” or “g” or “d”. !#$%&. That’s why they call it cursive. Thankfully, thank you cards come 8-12 to a pack.

So I was fascinated by a recent story about handwritten text messages. Designer Cristina Varenko received a calligraphy pen that had once belonged to a relative. She confides she felt chosen by this pen and it inspired her to create her own handwritten script typeface. She vowed that, for a week, she would only respond to text messages by handwriting her responses. She would write them on paper, take a photo of that paper, and upload that photo to her messaging window. The results of the experiment went viral.

Though we all receive the same instruction about how letters are formed, our script is very unique, more unique than handwritten print. As one of Varenko’s contacts responded, “It’s like you are here!” Her script had a visual “voice”–it reflected her personality, and the style and manner of how she expresses herself in person with her actual audible voice. That’s pretty remarkable.

To be fair, Varenko isn’t the only one to bring an analog style into a digital platform. Leah Dietrich‘s blog and twitter feature photos of thank you notes Dietrich writes to show gratitude for life’s great and not so great things.

Chef Alton Brown has responded to direct messages on twitter from fans, via Post-It Note and Sharpie marker, for over a year now. Brown’s voice on paper seems to be more pictures than words, but that’s really not surprising if you know his background: he was a filmmaker before he was a chef. While he can tell you, he would rather show you.

So I’m curious:

Could you handwrite & photo your text responses for a week?

Would you learn calligraphy, cursive or other hand-lettering art forms if your school curriculum didn’t require it? And by the way, many US public schools don’t cover cursive anymore.

Would you attempt analog communication styles (letters, postcards) if it was your choice, not circumstances?

Would you ever think of designing your own handwritten typeface? What would it look like? Would you design more than one?

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FOLLOWUP: The day after I originally posted this, October 16, 2013 to be exact, #PSAT was trending on twitter. [It was one of those rare moments I could relate to people half my age! Haha.] Anyway, part of the test involved writing in cursive this year. Based on the comments on twitter, a lot of kids were positively stumped about how to do that. Interesting coincidence.

Journalism and Infotainment, pt. 2 of 2

So I had all those items bulleted out, with commentary, and then I paused. No one really wants to read all that. As a popular meme says, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.” So, to keep things short….

To me, The Internet and the Daily Show (and its spinoff the Colbert Report included) are two positive developments in an otherwise sad, overly tabloid, negative media landscape in the last 30 years.

What troubles me about right-wing media of today is not the expression of different views, it’s the style. It’s the reducing the opposition to a label. The being loud, rude and dismissive to guests (or callers). It’s talking over or interrupting people being interviewed. Everyone has an opinion, and they should be belligerent about presenting it. It’s giving some stories barely 20 seconds and giving trivial, baser stories way too much attention with overplayed, repetitive footage.  To paraphrase a Seinfeld joke, I’m not offended as a liberal by these trends, I’m offended as a journalist.

Jeff Bezos, the Amazon billionaire, just took over at Washington Post. As of this writing, I have no idea how he votes. I am hoping Bezos’ worldview and style is very different than what Murdoch’s influence has created and influenced, and furthermore, that it shows more respect of multiple viewpoints. Because that seems to be sorely lacking right now.