Another 30-Day Song Challenge: Days 22-30

With all the upheaval going on lately in my life, I realized I never quite got around to finishing the 30-Day Song Challenge over here on the blog! So, let’s lighten things up and take a look at the last songs of this challenge.

Day 22: A Song That Moves You Forward

“I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor

How can one not have this song in their playlist? It’s the perfect song for getting all the negative energy and toxic relationships out of one’s life. It’s the ultimate “moving me forward” song.

Day 23: A Song You Think Everyone Should Listen To

“Taxi” by Harry Chapin

I think I’ve written about my dad’s love of Harry Chapin before, and this song is simply a *chef’s kiss* on top of an incredible career of one of the most underrated singer-songwriters in the history of popular music. It’s a bit of a long song, but the story it tells is kind of relatable (a taxi driver has a reunion with the one who got away when she hails his cab) and it probably brings up similar memories of ones who got away when people listen to it. The story goes that when Chapin was invited to perform it on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, the reception was so incredible that Carson supposedly invited him back on the show to perform it again the following night…although the show’s archives do not show that it actually happened. But Carson did have him come back a couple of months later to perform another song called “Sniper”. Chapin ended up making 14 appearances on The Tonight Show between 1972 and 1979 (Chapin died in 1981). I remember watching Harry Chapin’s episode of Behind the Music and my dad was watching it with me. A bit of “Taxi” was played during the episode, and my dad actually said the line, “Harry, keep the change” along with the recording. The song proved so popular that Chapin released a follow-up single, called “Sequel”, in 1980. And one last thing about this song: the guy singing the bridge on this song (“Baby’s so high, she’s skying…”) also sings the bass vocals on another Chapin song, “30,000 Pounds of Bananas” (written about an actual truck accident that took place in Scranton, Pennsylvania in the 1960s) and also was the singing voice for Bluto in the movie Popeye (which stars Robin Williams and Shelley Duvall). His name is John Wallace, or “Big John”.

Day 24: A Song By a Band You Wish Was Still Together

“Monty Got a Raw Deal” by R.E.M.

A lot of my favorite bands overall are British, but my absolute favorite American band is R.E.M., followed pretty closely by the Eagles. Unfortunately, R.E.M. decided to amicably split up in 2011, but they left behind a catalog that really helped to define the sound of a generation. They were alternative before alternative was cool, they were game changers without the baggage and fad labels of grunge, and they made incredible music as a single unit, with lead singer Michael Stipe usually handling the lyrics, while the other three members (guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills, and drummer Bill Berry) composed the music. R.E.M. has a lot of great songs in their catalog, but this album cut from Automatic for the People (possibly one of the best albums released in the 1990s) is one of my favorites. It’s a song about the actor Montgomery Clift, who was considered a sex symbol in his early career in the 1950s, but a car accident in 1956 left him severely injured and kickstarted an addiction to prescription painkillers and alcohol that ultimately contributed to his death from heart disease in 1966 at the age of 45. In addition, Clift was also closeted in his adult life, believed to be at the very least bisexual (although his friend Elizabeth Taylor would later refer to him as gay) in a time where being openly homosexual was not only discouraged, but often illegal. Michael Stipe might have used this information about Clift in writing the lyrics for “Monty Got a Raw Deal”, because a couple of years after Automatic for the People was released, Stipe came out as LGBT, although he did not put a specific label on his sexuality at the time. In a 2001 interview, Stipe would later clarify that he identifies as queer.

Day 25: A Song by an Artist No Longer Living

“Fashion” by David Bowie

David Bowie is another artist with an incredible catalog of songs, but I just absolutely love the groove in “Fashion”. It’s got a little bit of a disco element to it, but Bowie puts his own spin to it, and it’s got that coolness 😎 that he is so famous for showing on his records.

Day 26: A Song That Makes You Want to Fall in Love

“Angel Eyes” by The Jeff Healey Band

It may seem ironic that a blind singer (Jeff Healey lost his sight as a child due to a rare form of cancer, and it was cancer that would later take his life in 2008) is singing about making a woman’s “angel eyes” turning his way, but this song was actually co-written by John Hiatt (of “Have a Little Faith in Me” fame), who is sighted. But it was Healey who made this song famous. And every time I listen to it, my heart ends up aching because I want someone to feel the same way about me that he’s describing in the song.

Day 27: A Song That Breaks Your Heart

“Veronica” by Elvis Costello

I had picked this song for this challenge not knowing that my mom would pass away less than a month later. It’s been less than three weeks now since she died, but it’s already starting to feel like an eternity ago that she was here. It’s a void I’m learning how to live with. But Elvis Costello had co-written this song with Paul McCartney about Costello’s grandmother, Veronica, who suffered from the same disease that took my mom, Alzheimer’s. It’s relatable, at least to me, and it hits me in the jellies. I’m actually going to include both the music video and studio versions of the song, because in the music video he actually talks about what it was like being around his grandmother while she was living with the disease.

Day 28: A Song by an Artist Whose Voice You Love

“Cherry Wine” by Hozier

I think I’ve mentioned how much I enjoy listening to Hozier when I wrote about “Take Me to Church” in my post Losing My Religion. This song is another one from his self-titled debut album, and it touches on a subject rarely talked about: a woman abusing a man. (The music video also deals with the subject matter of abuse, but makes the woman the victim instead of the man like in the song.) The song itself is sad, but it takes true talent to make good art out of pain and suffering.

Day 29: A Song You Remember from Your Childhood

“I Can’t Dance” by Genesis

Seriously. This is one of the first music videos I ever remember watching. The music video is a spoof on fashion commercials and even works a little bit of the lyrics into the video (“…her dog’s talking to me but she’s out of reach…”).

Day 30: A Song That Reminds You of Yourself

“At Seventeen” by Janis Ian

The opening lines, “I learned the truth at seventeen / That love was meant for beauty queens…”, really resonate with me. I have something to confess about myself: I’ve never felt I was ever particularly beautiful, and the sad truth is that I’ve never had a man that I was attracted to ever tell me that I was “pretty” or “beautiful”. This is one of the few songs out there that really speaks out to the “ugly ducklings”, but unlike the story, I don’t think I’ve ever developed into swan…I’ve just become an ugly duck. Or, at the very least, a plain duck. It talks so much about how if you’re pretty, you get more advantages in life…but do they really end up happier? Whereas all of us plain girls get thrust into this world with nothing but dreams and we have to work for everything we have, from relationships to success and independence. And perhaps us plain girls end up happier than the girls who got by on their looks because we appreciate the effort it took for us to get there. “And dreams were all they gave for free / To ugly duckling girls like me…”

Thanks for sticking with me through all of this. And I hope you enjoy my song picks!

The Newest Normal

It’s been two weeks since Mom died. Her ashes came home last Saturday, my dad returned to work on Sunday, and the hospital bed that she spent her final months in was sold on Monday. Most of her legal and financial affairs have been settled, and my dad has been taking care of all of that since her death on the 10th.

I would say that this is the beginning of a “new normal”, but the truth is that while we were caring for Mom in her final years, there were a lot of “new normals”. So, in reality, this is the beginning of the newest normal for me and my dad as we begin life as a widower and his adult daughter living in the same house, trying to figure out where we go from here.

The first night being completely alone in the house with Dad at work was a little strange and nerve racking. Sleeping in my own bed for the first time in about three years without the prospect of either having my mother walk into it during a sundowning, trying to take her to the bathroom, attempting to calm her down during nighttime anxiety, or checking on her to make sure she was sleeping comfortably (especially in her last months) was a strange feeling. Roxy also apparently felt as nervous as I did, as she climbed into my bed with me that first night and eventually kept pressing her body weight into my legs, which, while that makes her feel comfortable, is absolute hell on me and makes it hard for me to sleep. So, I was awake quite a few times that first night by myself.

Monday saw the sale of Mom’s hospital bed. The buyer was a young firefighter (who was around my age, give or take five years) who lived in our hometown but worked at a fire department in a neighboring county. He was in need of a bed in order to care for his own mother, although I didn’t learn much more about him or his mother’s condition. He brought over some of his fellow firefighters to help him load the bed into a trailer for transport, and we also gave him some of the unused supplies we had from caring for Mom, including wipes, oral cleaning supplies, and a wastebasket and liners for it that basically works like a large Diaper Genie. (We made sure the wastebasket was thoroughly cleaned before giving that to him.) Most of the money from the sale went into the bank, but Dad did keep a little bit of the cash and split some between the two of us. Let’s just say it’s enough to fund a trip to the local bookstore and still have some left over, if I spend it wisely. That trip likely won’t happen this weekend, but I’ll keep it in mind.

Monday night I got to talk to The Lady Bryan for the first time in a long time. (I always link to her blog when I mention her because she is an awesome person and an awesome writer and I always feel the duty to try and spread her awesomeness to as many people as possible. So, check her blog out if you’d like. She doesn’t update very regularly, but when she does post it can be entertaining.) It was easier said than done, because my cell phone (an iPhone 5s that was my dad’s before he upgraded to his current phone) has a tendency to overheat and crash when it is not connected to the charger (and that includes during calls). So, when she and I agreed to a call that night, it was initially supposed to be over our house phone…but the static was just too much, so I switched over to my cell phone. Thankfully, it was connected to the charger and behaved itself the entire time. My dad and I are trying everything we can to prolong this phone’s life, but being that it’s a seven-year-old model that Apple isn’t even releasing operating system updates for beyond iOS 12 anymore, my guess is that we will likely need to replace it at some point…but that will have to be up to my dad. Anyways, our conversation lasted a good two hours, and we talked about just about everything, from her son’s latest interests to my nieces’ mischief-making (R. has gone from “threenager” to “fourrible” — although I only mean “fourrible” in an adorable way — and The Bambina has turned into a human squirrel, trying to climb her way onto everything or attempting to escape her high chair…but doing it in a cute way). When I laid down to go to sleep that night, Roxy actually stayed in the living room, and thus my legs were spared the Wrath of Dog.

Tuesday night I attempted to do some yoga and picked a routine on YouTube that was supposed to help prepare the body for sleep. I learned a few things from that one:

  • Perhaps placing the mat right in front of the TV wasn’t the best idea. There was one point in the routine where I was on my back doing a twisting pose involving my legs and my arms had nowhere to stretch out to, so I ended up extending them up by my head. (We rearranged the living room after clearing out Mom’s bed so now there’s a large central area of floor and we’ve moved the coffee table out of the way.)
  • My body kinda looks like a roly-poly when I do yoga. I don’t have so much flexibility because of my weight, so I couldn’t do all of the poses exactly to the video, but going into it I knew I was going to try and do them to the best of my ability, so as not to over-exert myself. I wasn’t going to be mad at myself if I couldn’t stretch all the way to my toes or get my knees all the way to the floor in a twisting pose.
  • Apparently my right side needs more work in the flexibility department when it comes to lower body poses.
  • A towel really does make the difference, especially when doing a pose that involves knees on the mat (our carpet is old and not very fluffy, so I pretty much just feel concrete under my knees, which can leave them feeling sore for several days if I’m not careful).

I’m not sure it helped my sleep a whole lot that night, but Roxy behaved herself that night and stayed in the living room. I’m thinking of incorporating some workouts from a different YouTube channel that involve low impact movements and also incorporate dance into some of the workouts.

Wednesday was a tiring day for me, not necessarily because of the yoga. Maybe it was a reaction to stress and/or caffeine withdrawal, but my body just felt worn out, as did my mind. My emotions were verging on depressed, like I just couldn’t shake this little nugget of negativity that was inside me. A cup of instant cappuccino did help a little bit, and I ended up taking a couple of naps during the day to try and help my energy level. I decided to try and take it easy that evening, and I ended up watching the Grand Final from Eurovision 2008 on YouTube.

Wednesday night, though, was kinda hellish. Roxy is sometimes prone to developing anxiety at night, and I can always tell when this happens because she will actually start to tremble. This has happened for as long as we’ve had her, and thankfully this doesn’t happen all the time. So, after dealing with my legs being smooshed, I actually moved over to my dad’s bed for a little while, as it’s bigger and has more room — both for my legs to stretch and for Roxy to stretch as well. Usually the way I try to calm her down when she’s feeling anxious is to have her lay next to me and I’ll try to rub her or hug her. Easier said than done, given her size. (She’s not a huge dog, but still…70 pounds or so of dog is a lot pressing up against you.) She was still a bit trembly, even after moving back to my bed, but she seemed to do okay once the sun rose because by the time I got up for the morning, she had actually gone back out to the living room. Maybe she doesn’t like the dark and quiet so much? Or perhaps her grief over losing Mom (who, as I’ve said before, Roxy considered to be a snuggle buddy and felt comfortable laying with) just got to her that night? Her mind is a mystery to me sometimes.

And Thursday, yesterday, was my dad’s first day off for the week. When we were caring for Mom, this was sort of my reset day, as I had the other half of my tag team at home. Even now, this is sort of a reset day, a reset from the evening solitude that I’m trying to prevent from turning into loneliness. We spent it napping in our living room seats and then we ordered groceries for the week. (We ordered them off the Walmart website and then Dad picked them up a few hours later, which is what my brother has also been doing for his house as well. The pickup service is free there, so it’s cheaper than getting them delivered. Given the coronavirus, contact between the shopper loading the car and the customer is minimal, basically just confirming the customer’s identity and order and letting them know when to open their trunk or hatch. My dad’s Jeep also has a button both up front and in the back where he can press it and the hatch will automatically begin closing. Once he brought the groceries home, I helped him unload the Jeep and then I began putting the groceries away. One week’s worth of groceries for just two people doesn’t take very long to put away.

We’re both trying to find a routine that works for us. We’ll be mourning Mom’s loss for months and years to come, but now we’re trying to learn how to live as just the two of us. It’s still too soon to talk about what’s next for us long-term, but right now we are just trying to take it day by day. When the calendar turns to July in a few days, we’ll be rounding the first of many corners. I don’t know if we could have been able to get through those first few days after Mom’s death without each other. Such is life for a new widower and his daughter.

The Longest Goodbye

My mother passed away on Wednesday morning after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. She was only 67 and would have turned 68 next month. I’m not going to go into all of the details of her death, other than that she died in her sleep and she had been experiencing somewhat of a rapid downturn in the last couple of days. This was a day that we were expecting to come, but to have it actually happen still feels surreal and it can hit you like a ton of bricks. She will be cremated (as her parents were) and my dad has expressed his desire to have the urn with her ashes placed in his casket whenever he dies (hopefully a long time from now), as he wants to be buried. My mom was a lapsed Catholic and my dad was raised Protestant (at times he has identified as Southern Baptist, but he does not attend church). Both denominations frown upon cremation, but as her ashes will ultimately be buried at some point, I don’t think most Catholics will have a problem with that. It had been many decades since she had attended mass anyway.

I’ve written about her condition on here before, and when I wrote about it in detail for the first time, it felt like a huge weight lifted off me, as only my family and closest friends really knew about it at the time. A lot of times when this disease strikes, the person is usually quite old and the loved ones who are at my age are usually their grandchildren, not their children. When my grandfather (her father) was battling this same disease, he was a bit older (in his 70s) when he first started showing symptoms, and my uncle (who took on his care and affairs) eventually made the decision to place him in a nursing home, where he spent his final years. When he passed away in September 2014, I hadn’t seen him since my brother’s high school graduation in 2008. My grandfather actually outlived my uncle by three weeks (my uncle died in August 2014, and while my aunt, who we had strained relations with, never told us his cause of death, I suspect it was related to his alcoholism). My grandfather’s death was something I had seen coming for a while, but by that point he was a bit of a distant memory, and I think the pain of seeing her father like that became too much for my mom, which is probably why she stopped visiting him. She was always an emotional creature, an empath.

Having a parent or a spouse going through this before your eyes, though, is a completely different experience. I didn’t really have to say goodbye to her when she finally passed, because in reality I had been saying many goodbyes to her these last few years: goodbye to her as a vibrant, independent woman, goodbye to her as a woman who always seemed younger than she actually was, goodbye to her as someone who could drive their own car (and whose police record was just two tickets: a seat belt violation because her mother wasn’t buckled up in the front seat, and a slight speeding ticket), goodbye to her ability to read and write, goodbye to her being able to walk and talk…I’d been saying goodbye to so many different pieces of the mother I had known for over three decades. Her passing away ended years of suffering and I am at peace with that. And I told her I loved her every chance I got, even when she could no longer understand what was going on around her. We always made sure she knew she was loved.

I feel okay sharing my mom’s first name on here now, no one can hurt her now…so instead of focusing so much on her death, I want to talk about her life.

Her name was Theresa. She was named after her aunt, one of my grandfather’s sisters. The friends and family who knew and loved her best called her Terry. My brother and I just called her “Mom”. She was born July 17, 1952 in Rockland, Maine. Her mother was a full-blooded Sicilian American who was born and raised in Rockland and her father was of mostly Irish descent and was originally from a town near Boston, Massachusetts. She also had a half-brother (my uncle), who was my grandmother’s son with her first husband. While my grandfather never legally adopted my uncle, he raised him as his own (only being his stepson in the legal sense). My grandfather was in the United States Coast Guard for many years, and he’d be stationed in different areas, but her family didn’t really move around that much; they moved to Amesbury, Massachusetts (a small town just past the New Hampshire/Massachusetts state line) when she was a child, and then to Ketchikan, Alaska as a teenager, where my grandfather spent his final years in the Coast Guard before retiring. After he retired, the family returned to Amesbury. She graduated from high school in 1970 and soon made her way to Florida to start her adult life. She opted not to go to college and instead took jobs working in insurance. My grandmother followed her to Florida a few years later when she and my grandfather divorced. Neither of them would ever remarry, but they would remain on friendly terms for the rest of my grandmother’s life.

In the early 1980s, she and my grandmother both took jobs at a photo finishing plant near Orlando (basically, they’d process and develop people’s film into photographs and then they’d bill and send the photos and negatives back to the retailers who’d be serving the individual customers), and it was there that she met my dad. My dad at this time had recently left the United States Marine Corps after three years of service (his initial enlistment had run out and he opted not to re-enlist) and was working in the civilian world again (there’s a saying in the Marine Corps that goes, “Once a Marine, Always a Marine”, and it’s for this reason I never refer to him as a “former” or “ex-Marine”), and when he laid eyes on my mother, he fell hard. He had already developed a reputation as a bit of a naughty boy (who was also in the middle of a divorce from a woman he’d met during his time in the Marines), so my mom kept rebuffing his advances at first, and he was really trying to charm her. She finally agreed to go out with him, and that began a beautiful romance that would last 36 years, 34 of them in marriage. They married in September 1985 after 2 years together as a couple. I was born on March 24, 1987 and my brother was born November 18, 1989 (just a few days after the fall of the Berlin Wall). She became a stay-at-home mom for the next few years while my dad worked various jobs driving long haul tractor trailer trucks and taxis, then at an aluminum siding shop and a printing company. My mom went back to work once my brother and I reached school age, first at the local McDonald’s, then both of our parents went back to work at the same photo finishing company where they met, although by this time, the company had changed its name and moved to another building in Orlando. They worked there until the plant closed in 2005. The last place where my mom worked before she retired in, I think, 2012 or 2013 was back at the local McDonald’s and by then she was already in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

My mom was one of the kindest souls you’d ever meet. She had an amazing talent of being just the dose of positivity someone needed when they were feeling down. She was the one I went to when I needed a heart-to-heart talk, and her hugs and kind words always made me feel better. She loved chocolate and just about anything I cooked for her. (I got it from her mother. Her mother was a great cook and I learned a lot of what I know from watching her cook when I was a child.) She also had a longtime love affair with the novels of Stephen King. I haven’t taken an exact count, but I think her collection consisted of at least 25-30 of his novels spanning his long and storied career. We’d often spend weekends at a family friend’s house, and she and my dad would spend all night playing spades with their coworker and her husband, with the women forming one team and the men forming the other. Meanwhile my brother and I would be hanging out with their son, who was right around our age, while he’d be playing on his Nintendo 64 (usually Super Mario 64 or GoldenEye 007, although we’d also play Super Smash Bros) or listening to Weird Al Yankovic or playing with Pokémon cards or Dragon Ball Z cards. There were always snacks around. Although she was a bit shy on the surface, once she found her comfort zone, she was incredibly friendly and could light up a room with her smile. Her sweetness stayed with her almost to the very end. There were times when she’d experience great mood swings and have moments of depression or irritability, but she’d also have moments, not necessarily of lucidity, where she’d be amused at the smallest things. She always had a soft spot for babies (even though she only wanted, and got, two for herself), and would go into moments of cuteness overload when she’d see one at the grocery store or on TV. (I don’t necessarily have the same reaction with babies, but I do get it when I see kittens. Apparently my soft spot is for animal babies, not human ones. 😂) Even when she didn’t realize that the last babies she met were her granddaughters, she still adored them.

Roxy was her snuggle buddy through much of my mom’s final years, and even as her memory was slipping away, Mom would let Roxy lay her head on her lap and she’d rub Roxy’s head and body. There would be many nights where Roxy would lay in the bed with Mom and me while Dad was working. My dad is by far Roxy’s favorite human, but she absolutely adored my mom as well. She wasn’t able to come into my mom’s hospital bed in her final months, but Roxy knew in a way what was going on with her. Roxy, like the rest of us, is in mourning. She’s been anxious, whining, smelling areas of the yard without going potty. She exhibited the same feelings when our cat was put down in 2014. (Our cat always treated Roxy like a frenemy, but Roxy accepted her as “her” cat and didn’t really cause too much trouble with her. She’ll still chase other people’s cats off our property, but doesn’t mind cats that she considers to be “hers”.)

I think I want to finish this post with a picture of the two of us. This was taken in May 2003, when I was 16. My mom and I were about to head out to my friend’s sweet sixteen party. My friend, whose family was originally from Puerto Rico 🇵🇷, was the only granddaughter in her family, and her grandparents wanted to throw a party for her. Typically in most parts of Latin America, families will throw a formal party for girls turning 15, called a quinceañera (pronounced “KEEN-sahn-YER-ah”, for those of you who don’t speak or know much Spanish), also known as a quince (pronounced “KEEN-say”, named for the Spanish word for fifteen). My friend’s grandparents basically decided to throw her a quinceañera, but for her sixteenth birthday instead of her fifteenth. It was a very formal affair, and my friend had to wear a pink ball gown for the party (it is at this point I should mention that my friend has not really ever been one to wear dresses or the color pink, but she did it for her grandparents). The guests had to dress nicely as well, so my mom and I ended up going to the local TJ Maxx and were able to find dresses for the occasion. My mom’s dress was a simple one with sequins all over it, and I ended up picking a fluttery, almost Spanish-style dress with large dusty pink flowers printed on it. I actually still have that dress, although I long for the day where I’ve lost enough weight to be able to fit in it again. My dad took a whole bunch of pictures of us in the kitchen. This one in particular stuck out. I hope it warms your heart as much as it did mine.

I know I’m entering a new phase in my life and there are major decisions I’m going to have to make about the direction I want to take in it, but first I have to take some time to grieve the loss of my mother and closing this most recent chapter. I’m gonna miss her so much.

Another 30-Day Song Challenge: Days 15-21

When I last left off, I had completed 14 of the 30 songs on this challenge. Here are my picks for Days 15 to 21. Apologies for this taking a little long to update.

Day 15: A Song That’s a Cover By Another Artist

“Hurt” by Johnny Cash

This may be one of the best covers ever recorded; it’s become so legendary that YouTube channel Polyphonic recently included the song in a video about legendary cover songs. The original version was written by Trent Reznor, who also recorded it as part of his band/project Nine Inch Nails, and the original version is featured on the band’s second album, The Downward Spiral (which also features the band’s best known song, “Closer”). Coincidentally, Nine Inch Nails is set to join Johnny Cash (who was inducted in 1992) in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame later this year as part of the Class of 2020 (the induction was supposed to happen this spring, but got pushed back tentatively to the fall due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic). Cash recorded his version of the song in 2002 for his album American IV: The Man Comes Around, which ultimately ended up being the final album he released in his lifetime. Where the original version comes from the point of view of a suicidal addict trying to find some sort of feeling or meaning in his life, Cash’s version becomes sort of a bookend not just of a man’s life, long and troubled, but essentially of his own life, which had its share of pain, addiction, and ultimately redemption and salvation. Cash changed one word from the original lyrics (“I wear this crown of shit…” became “I wear this crown of thorns…”), which brought the symbolism from a man in a place of shame and filth to one of a man about to become a martyr, a sacrificial lamb to atone for his many sins. Cash was a man of deep faith and his gravelly bass voice was able to evoke a lifetime of mistakes in the hope that he can find his way in the end. Upon hearing Cash’s version, Reznor said, “…that song isn’t mine anymore.” I’m going to include both versions here because they are both so worth hearing.

Day 16: A Classic Favorite

“Could It Be I’m Falling in Love” by The Spinners

This song is such a classic example of what is known as “Philly soul”, a subgenre of soul music pioneered in the late 1960s and early 1970s by Philadelphia-based producers and songwriters such as Gamble & Huff, McFadden & Whitehead, Bobby Martin, and Norman Harris. Philly soul had a distinct break from the Motown sound that dominated the 1960s, which was largely beat-driven and pop-influenced with notable songwriters and producers like Smokey Robinson, Holland-Dozier-Holland, and Norman Whitfield. Philly soul featured lush, orchestral arrangements, with emphasis on strings and horns, and a much more melodic sound overall. Philly soul would ultimately lay the roots for what would become funk music. Funny enough, The Spinners were originally from Detroit (the original home city for Motown Records, although the label had moved to Los Angeles by the early 1970s, and with whom The Spinners had recorded in the 1960s), but their most influential recordings and biggest commercial success came from their work with the producers and songwriters in the Philly soul movement.

Day 17: A Song You’d Sing As a Duet with Someone at Karaoke

“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” by The Righteous Brothers

I’m not a huge fan of Tom Cruise, but I have to admit that the scene in Top Gun where his character Maverick and the other Navy pilots are singing this to his flight instructor/love interest (played by Kelly McGillis) in a bar is pretty classic. Now, the part I’d be singing would probably depend on the gender of my duet partner. If my singing partner is a woman, I’d probably take Bill Medley’s part because I kind of have a low singing voice for a woman (thanks to my maternal grandmother, who had a speaking voice almost as masculine as Bea Arthur’s — albeit with a thick New England accent — and a singing voice that could conjure up thoughts of Lou Monte and his infamous cover of “C’e na luna”, an Italian folk song popular among Neapolitan and Sicilian immigrant communities). If my singing partner is a man, though, I’d have to take Bobby Hatfield’s higher-pitched part. Either way, the song is a classic.

Day 18: A Song From the Year You Were Born

“Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley

I’m not Rickrolling you! I really was born the year that this song was released! It was released in July 1987, when I was about 4 months old, and it became a #1 hit in the United States in March 1988, the same month as my first birthday.

Day 19: A Song That Makes You Think About Life

“One Thing” by Finger Eleven

Although this song was initially used in WWE’s tribute to Chris Benoit (before the facts of the double murder-suicide he committed publicly came to light), I actually associate this song more with his best friend Eddie Guerrero, a fellow wrestler who died of heart disease in 2005, about two years before Benoit. (WWE’s tribute video for Guerrero actually used Johnny Cash’s version of “Hurt”). The whole Benoit story is incredibly sad, tragic, and anger-inducing (when it comes to the double murder of his wife and son), and I strongly recommend watching the Dark Side of the Ring episode about his life and the actions of his final days. Anyway, I think this song really gets to the spirit of what Eddie Guerrero’s life was all about, and I think this song really makes us all look back on what we could have done in our own lives.

Day 20: A Song with Many Meanings to You

“Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac

While Stevie Nicks wrote this song at a major crossroads in her life: she was deciding between continuing her education or continuing her professional partnership with Lindsey Buckingham, who was also her boyfriend at the time. There’s a lot of contemplation and fear of the unknown expressed in the lyrics, which I think a lot of people can relate to. But this song is also very personal to me: it was my mother’s favorite song. She adored Stevie Nicks and my mother’s face would light up whenever she’d hear this song come on. Now that she’s in the late stages of Alzheimer’s, I don’t know if she’d recognize this song now…or even if the sensation of hearing it feels familiar to her. But I’ll always associate this song with her.

Day 21: A Song You Like with a Person’s Name in the Title

“Jane” by Jefferson Starship

I may have used this song in my first challenge as well. Of the three incarnations of Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship seems to be the most underrated (Jefferson Airplane had all the iconic songs in the ‘60s while Starship had all the commercial success in the ‘80s). “Miracles” (off of their album Red Octopus) is my favorite song of all three incarnations of the band, but this song features a slapping vocal performance by Mickey Thomas (who also sang lead on Elvin Bishop’s “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” and would become one of Starship’s two lead singers in the ‘80s, along with Jefferson Airplane vet Grace Slick). This song does bring to mind Jane Fonda, who was a huge star but also a controversial one in the 1970s, when this song was released, although I don’t think this song is explicitly about her.

Stay tuned for the final part of this challenge, when I will be covering days 22-30.

Another 30-Day Song Challenge: Days 8-14

Here are the next few songs from the Song Challenge I’m currently doing on Instagram.

Day 8: A Song About Drugs or Alcohol

“One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” by George Thorogood & The Destroyers

I think I included this one in my previous song challenge as well. But I always enjoy hearing George’s gravelly voice singing about getting drunk in this blues standard.

Day 9: A Song That Makes You Happy

“Shoop” and “Push It” by Salt N Pepa

My original choice for this one was “Shoop”, but surprise…it wasn’t available on Instagram! So I ended up using another great song from Salt N Pepa, “Push It”. “Shoop” is a hip hop classic, and it’s gotten new life after being featured in Deadpool a few years ago. I think I have most of Salt’s verses memorized, especially the one that starts, “You’re packed and you’re stacked / ‘specially in the back / Brother, wanna thank your mother for a butt like that…” I always wanna dance to this one and I usually do find myself rapping along with it. “Push It” also gets people dancing.

Day 10: A Song That Makes You Sad

“Perfect Day” by Lou Reed

The whole song just sounds sad. Not to mention the song is sung from the point of view of a heroin addict trying to find a reason to keep living…yeah, it’s a rough song.

Day 11: A Song I Never Get Tired Of

“Africa” by Toto

This is an ‘80s classic that has gotten new life in recent years thanks to a hit cover version by the band Weezer. The song is such a favorite of mine that I use the chorus to time my hand washing (as it lasts approximately 20 seconds).

Day 12: A Song From My Preteen Years

“Tearin’ Up My Heart” by N Sync

I was obsessed with these guys as a tween. Like, posters on the bedroom wall and everything. And this was the group where Justin Timberlake got his start. He’s become such a pop culture icon since then.

Day 13: Song From the 1970s

“Nights On Broadway” by Bee Gees

This song, which is also the basis for the theme song to the “Barry Gibb Talk Show” sketch on SNL, showcases some of the best of the brothers’ musicianship, including a section in the bridge where their voices blend in beautiful three-part harmony. Listen for yourself.

Day 14 – Wedding Song

“Reflecting Light” by Sam Phillips

If it’s good enough for Lorelai and Luke’s wedding on Gilmore Girls, it should be good enough for me.

Stay tuned for more songs!

Another 30-Day Song Challenge

Back in 2017, I did a 30-Day Song Challenge that played out on my Tumblr and was summed here on the blog. I’ve decided to do another one for the month of May on my Instagram Stories, and I’ll be summing it up here again. Some of the songs also appeared in the 2017 challenge, but many of them are new.

The songs featured in this post will be from the first week of this challenge, which started on May 1st.

Day 1: A Song with a Color in the Title

“Blue Monday” by New Order

I just absolutely love this song. I love ‘80s music in general, but this one has been a bop for me ever since I discovered it a few years ago. Their song “Bizarre Love Triangle” is also considered an ‘80s Classic here in the U.S., but this one both got mashed up with Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Outta My Head” and was also used in the first trailer for the upcoming Wonder Woman 1984.

Day 2: A Song with a Number in the Title

“1979” by The Smashing Pumpkins

I grew up hearing this one a lot on the local alternative rock radio station. The Smashing Pumpkins helped to define the sound of the 1990s and are part of the soundtrack of many ‘90s kids’ lives.

Day 3: A Song That Reminds Me of Summertime

“Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffett

Given the state of the world today, sometimes I wish things were as easy as blowing out a flip flop, stepping on a pop top, looking for a lost shaker of salt, and ending the day with a nice frozen margarita. Let’s hope that the summer of 2021 is better than the summer of 2020.

Day 4: A Song That Reminds Me of Someone I’d Rather Forget

“Never Gonna Let You Go” by Sergio Mendes

This song doesn’t remind me of an ex (as I have no actual exes to speak of), it actually reminds me of a bully. From 7th grade all the way through my senior year of high school, there was a boy who made it his mission to tease me mercilessly and try to make me feel embarrassed or miserable every chance he got. I don’t know why he targeted me in particular, but I’m pretty sure a crush was not involved. There were many taunts and methods he used to try and get under my skin over the years. This one in particular came in 8th grade, when he was assigned to sit behind me in algebra class. He would sing stupid lyrics to the tune of this song solely to annoy the shit out of me. (And yes, I felt the swear word was justified here). The teacher eventually moved him to another seat when she got wind of what he was doing, but the bullying did not stop until we graduated from high school. I have not seen him since, but he is supposedly a lawyer now (according to social media), and I imagine if he saw the state of my life right now, he’d probably still find a way to make fun of me.

Day 5: A Song That Needs to Be Played Loud

“Toxicity” by System of a Down

The Nu metal movement of the early 2000s created a lot of tracks that frankly make me cringe now (especially Limp Bizkit, although their track “Nookie” was recently used in a pretty genius way in a commercial for CarMax, complete with a cameo by frontman Fred Durst). One band from that era whose songs have aged surprisingly well, though, is the Armenian-American band System of a Down. Their first single was the song “Chop Suey!”, but it was the title track from their debut album Toxicity that really got my attention. This song is a cynical look at their hometown of Los Angeles, with the memorable line “Eating seeds as a pastime activity…”, complete with a headbanging breakdown bridge before frontman Serj Tankian bellows out the final chorus and closing lines in his booming baritone voice. I remember headbanging along to this as a teenager in the early 2000s and I still stan this song now in my thirties.

Day 6: A Song That Makes Me Want to Dance

“The Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats

This song is just so much fun in all its cheesy ‘80s glory.

Day 7: A Song to Drive To

“Radar Love” by Golden Earring

It literally starts with, “I’ve been driving all night, my hands wet on the wheel…” The rhythm of the drumming also reminds me of watching the lane dividers pass outside the passenger window while my dad is driving along the interstate highway. In other words, it’s the driving song!

I’ll have more coming up over the next few weeks!

On Lockdown: May 2020 Edition (Plus, A Finished Object)

As the nation enters its third month or so of social distancing measures, I figured it would be a good time to give an update on how my family and I have been doing in isolation.

Save for a couple of days last week when he went in to write up performance reviews for a couple of his techs, my dad hasn’t been to work in over a month (he had to go in for a few hours on those days because the database he and the other leads and supervisors use to evaluate their performance is only accessible from his workplace). Those two nights he went in, there was hardly anybody there and he was home by midnight both nights. His workplace is closed through at least the end of the month, but they are currently evaluating plans to possibly re-open at a limited capacity so the crowding isn’t so dense. Employees will also be subjected to temperature checks upon arrival (as fever is a notable symptom of COVID-19), which is a smart move (I’ve mentioned before that when my dad has brought home a cold or flu in the past, he’s almost always gotten it from someone who may have come to work sick). Florida is already starting to reopen some businesses, although I think most private businesses are still gonna be cautious about how they reopen and operate.

We’ve been getting our groceries delivered as of late, through one of the major wholesale clubs. Basically I’ve been trying to keep track of what we’re running low on and my dad’s been ordering the items online (although I’ve been letting him take charge of what protein items/meat to order), and then the club has a shopper pick up the items and deliver them to the house. We actually got pretty lucky on toilet paper this past week. We had been running dangerously low on TP recently (which, trying to find the stuff recently has been like mining for diamonds), and instead of trying to gamble on trying to get it at a store in person, my dad decided to order some through Walmart’s website. It took a few days to deliver, but we managed to get it delivered. Then we hit the jackpot again when we were ordering groceries, as the wholesale club actually had a pack of toilet paper in stock! So, between a dozen rolls in the first pack and 36 in the second, we should be set for a while now.

We are all doing okay at the moment, none of us are sick and we’re still in relative isolation. It’s prevented me from returning some Tupperware to a neighbor, but other than that it’s been business as usual. The fact that my mom’s care requires us to stick to a routine has actually helped us from really developing cabin fever (although technology helps, too). Before we get too bored, it’s usually either time to give her something to eat or time to clean her up. In between, I’m usually either watching YouTube videos, taking a nap, or cooking.

I’ve gotten about 100 pages into Children of Virtue and Vengeance, though I could put a little more energy into my reading. I’ve also been working my way through Series 5 of The Tribe, hoping to finish a rewatch of the show that’s taken the better part of two years for me to try and finish. I’m near the halfway point of Series 5 (which was the final season produced for television), and I plan on reading the three sequel novels that have been released once I finish Series 5 (I have all three of them in my e-reader). I’ve only managed a few chapters in Dune thus far, but I’ll probably come back to it every so often. Luckily, if I’m having trouble understanding some of the stuff going on in the book, I have one Facebook friend I can message if I have any questions since Dune is one of his favorite books ever…and there is always Google as well.

Before I post this, I’d like to talk a bit about a project I worked on recently. As you may recall, my best friend (The Lady Bryan) and her mom sent me a bunch of yarn as a Christmas present a few months ago. There were a few large skeins of a golden yellow (which I’m using in another project), and then several smaller balls in all different colors. I decided I was in the mood to make a hat, and I initially wanted to make a two-color brioche beret, but I attempted two different patterns and the process was just not cooperating with me. And then I found the pattern I ended up using, which used a simpler colorwork technique called mosaic knitting (which is typically done flat, one color per set of two rows, and the stitches in the color not being worked are slipped with the yarn on the wrong side to make the visual pattern). This version, though, was worked in the round and also used two-color cabling in addition to slipped stitches in order to make the beautiful colorwork pattern that results. The designer named the pattern in honor of the British chemist and crystallographer Rosalind Franklin, whose photographs of the DNA molecule were essential in proving that the structure of the DNA molecule was a double helix. You can learn more about her role in this monumental discovery by watching this video. She sadly died at the age of 37 from ovarian cancer, possibly caused by working unprotected around the x-rays she used for her crystallography.

Pattern: Rosalind Franklin Hat by Mat Kladney (also known by his handles thathatoverthere and that.hat.over.there, a take on the slang term T.H.O.T. — pronounced “thought”, which is short for “That [Gardening Implement that Rhymes with “Sow”] Over There) / Yarn: Premier Just Yarn in Black and Pink / Needles: U.S. #7 circular needles, 29”, knit using a modified Magic Loop (which I may post a description of at a later time)

As far as I know, Kladney currently has this pattern available as a free Ravelry download for the time being, as he said it was “free during the pandemic”. The pom-pom is optional, but I just felt like attaching one because I thought a pink pom-pom on top would look nice on it. It ended up attaching a little more loosely than I would have liked, but I can always come back with a sewing needle and thread later to further secure it. It’s still gonna be a few more months before the weather will be cold enough for me to wear it.

I didn’t expect a hat to help with my knitting cravings, but after two years of shawls and blankets, it felt nice to work on a hat for once. I don’t know if this is the start of a hat-knitting phase, but this one was actually a lot of fun for me. And yes, it did help hold off the cabin fever, too. I have enough stash yarn to make more colorwork hats if I feel like it. We’ll see there’s any more yarn or patterns that speak to me.

Until next time, stay safe and stay healthy!

On Lockdown

As I write this, yesterday was the first time in a month that I had left my street, when I went over to my brother and sister-in-law’s house for the afternoon to visit them and the girls for Easter. Nobody in their house is currently ill, my sister-in-law and the girls have been in relative isolation like me for about the last month or so while my brother has been alternating weeks of working outside the house and working from home; he works for a nearby county government doing maintenance on traffic signals and stuff like that, so his job is considered “essential”. (His department has been split into two teams, that way if a person on one team is diagnosed with the virus, only that team has to go into quarantine, not the entire department.) I made sure to sanitize my hands before leaving my house and upon returning. I might write more about my afternoon with them some other time, but today it’s back to business as usual.

Before that, the last shopping trip I made was on March 7. Since the COVID-19 pandemic has put a lot of social distancing measures into place, only my dad has left the house and at that just to get groceries, cigarettes, and our mail; we use a P.O. Box, so we get our mail at the local post office. We’ve also found out that the theme park where my dad works will be closed for at least another month, and he’ll be getting a pay cut during the next part of the closure.

But he’s lucky, he could have been furloughed. Many employees at the theme parks are going through this right now as a cost-cutting measure. Basically what’s going on is that these employees have been temporarily laid off from their jobs, with the promise from the employer that they will be rehired at a later time when the workplace reopens. However, most of the workers being furloughed are the lower wage workers, much more numerous than those in the department my dad works in; he’s a technician. While they usually get paid more than the lower wage workers (everyone from ride operators to custodians to people working in the gift shops and restaurants on-site), there’s not as many of them and they’re considered skilled workers and not quite as easy to hire. So, for us, we’ll be okay with a pay cut at this time. He’s already offloading some services we don’t use as much and funds that don’t necessarily need payment on right now (like retirement funds) won’t be receiving payment for a while. At least when my dad has been getting groceries, his impulse buys are on food, not on yarn like I do. We’ve been through worse, and we got through it.

Our governor also instituted a statewide stay-at-home order through at least the end of this month. Here at our house it hasn’t been much of a problem since due to my mother’s requirement of round-the-clock care we’re kind of isolated anyway (and there is always at least one of us between me and my dad at home with her). Schools are closed, but students are taking their classes online.

Projections seem to be showing that the peak of the outbreak here in the United States is occurring right now, although it will probably be a couple of months before we know for sure. The outbreak seems to have hit New York state the worst. As of last week, New York has had around 160,000 confirmed cases and around 7,000 deaths. Compare that to Florida, whose confirmed cases are at around 15-16,000 and around 700 deaths. The death rate compared to the confirmed cases in both states is around 4%, which is small, but is much higher than what you’d get with the seasonal flu (typically around 0.1% in the United States). There have been a lot of unknowns with this virus, and the relatively slow response to it here in the United States compared to most of the rest of the world have not done us any favors. The hot spots here in Florida seem to have stayed in South Florida, primarily Miami-Dade and Broward Counties, one of the biggest urban areas in Florida (Broward County is directly north of Miami-Dade). Orange County (where Orlando is) has also been a bit of a hot spot, but thankfully not as bad as it has been in South Florida.

What is messed up is that our governor decided to make an exemption for religious services (which I could get into the political implications of why he decided to do that, but this is an apolitical blog). In a situation like this, gathering in a church or any other religious institution right now is a Petri dish waiting to happen. There are more opportunities for this virus to spread the more people gather together in such a closed space, and right now it’s just not a smart idea to do that. I’ve seen people on the news claiming that Jesus will protect them from the virus, and that’s why they’re still going to church, although Jesus himself said in his Sermon on the Mount that this kind of worship is basically for show.

“Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.”

Matthew 6:5-6

As mentioned in my previous post, I myself am not religious, but I have a feeling that this verse in particular is why my dad does not attend church. Why attend church for one’s own reputation and for show when he can talk to his god whenever and wherever he wants? Why aren’t more people following this example, especially in a time where being in a closed space packed with people is the last thing we should be doing? But I digress.

I’m thankful for how far communication technology has come, because it has been essential in how we all have been dealing with the cabin fever that inevitably comes with the preventative measures we are taking right now to mitigate the spread of this virus. Movies and gaming have been a couple of escapes for us. I’m still playing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey when I’ve had some downtime (although my dad, who has not gone to work since my birthday, usually gets up before me so I haven’t had as many opportunities to play), and my dad has started its predecessor (although it’s set about 400 years after Odyssey), Assassin’s Creed Origins while he patiently waits for me to finish Odyssey. I quite enjoyed Origins, actually; the graphics, storyline, and gameplay were all excellent. I watched Tiger King (which actually managed to make my dad bored within the first 10 minutes; I later watched it on my own, and it was an entertaining slow burn of a trainwreck…I couldn’t look away), and I also finished series 4 of The Tribe. I watched the first three episodes of series 5, although I’m looking for some more down time to watch more of it.

I finished The Fountains of Silence a few days ago and am gonna try to start Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi soon (I haven’t quite brought myself to open the book yet). With the ebooks, though…for some reason they haven’t been sticking with me. I’m hoping to remedy that by starting Dune by Frank Herbert. It’s a bit out of my ordinary reading material in that it’s a sci-fi novel, but perhaps out of the ordinary may just be what my brain is looking for. We’ll see how it turns out. The last time I touched upon what I was reading, I had failed to mention that I added three new books to my physical collection. They are:

  • Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid — I’d seen this one all over Bookstagram (basically the nickname for the book lovers’ community on Instagram) and it seemed interesting. From what I gathered, it’s set in the 1970s and is about a young woman and her interactions with a fictional rock band called The Six. I’ve never read any of her books, but apparently her previous novel The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was also a huge hit.
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas — The novel’s title comes from an acronym devised by legendary rapper Tupac Shakur, and while the full acronym’s meaning is a bit too vulgar for me to write here, the letters spell out the phrase “THUG LIFE”. Thomas was inspired to write the novel in response to her emotions after the 2009 shooting of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old African-American man who was shot and killed by police in Oakland, California on New Year’s Day 2009. While the genesis of the novel predates the founding of the Black Lives Matter movement, the novel itself was published in 2017 and tells the story of a 16-year-old African-American girl who lives in a rough neighborhood but also attends a private, mostly white school. She watches her best friend (a young African-American man) get shot and killed by a police officer, and the novel is about the aftermath and her response to it. This can be a hot button issue, but I think Angie’s novel should at least be worth a read, to try and understand the issue from the point of view from within the African-American community.
  • Born a Crime by Trevor Noah — Nonfiction and a memoir at that! Comedian Trevor Noah, who is best known for being the current host of The Daily Show, talks about his life, in particular his childhood growing up in South Africa, which at the time of his birth in 1984 was still under rule by the apartheid regime (a political system similar to the post-Reconstruction Jim Crow South where the government was run by the minority white population and enforced strict segregation between the races in South Africa to ensure their dominance in the government). At the time of his birth, miscegenation (relations or marriage between races) was illegal in South Africa (his father was a White man from Switzerland and his mother was a Black South African of Xhosa descent) and the law preventing this was overturned the year after his birth; because of this, he often mentions in his standup comedy that he was literally “born a crime”. Apartheid was finally abolished in the early 1990s through a series of negotiations between the government (represented by then-President F. W. de Klerk) and the leading anti-apartheid party, the African National Congress (represented by Nelson Mandela). This led the way for universal suffrage (all eligible citizens getting the right to vote) and the first free presidential election in South Africa in 1994 (which, of course, saw the election of Nelson Mandela as President of South Africa). Mandela and de Klerk were recognized for their roles in ending apartheid by being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. Mandela died in 2013, but de Klerk is still alive and is now 84.

I hope everybody reading has been doing their best to stay safe and healthy during this crazy time and staying mentally sound as well. These have been really weird times that we’re going through. But remember: even the Black Death eventually came to an end. While this won’t be nearly as deadly as the Black Death, there will eventually be a light at the end of this uncharted tunnel, and we will eventually get there. In the meantime, let’s do as much as we can to lift each other up and keep a positive outlook despite all the crap 💩. We’ve got this. It’ll take time, but we’ve got this.

Stay healthy, everyone!

Losing My Religion

A few months ago, the website FiveThirtyEight.com (primarily known for covering American politics) published a story called “Millennials Are Leaving Religion And Not Coming Back”, which explores why American Millennials are leaving religion and identifying as nonreligious at higher rates than in previous generations. I tend not to comment as much on social issues here, but this is one that affects me personally, which is why I’ve opted to share my own experiences with religion and why i ultimately chose to leave it.

Before I get to my own personal story, I’d like to comment a bit on how American culture tends to approach religion. Among many other things, Americans tend to be stereotyped as hyperreligious and puritanical when it comes to the social acceptability of things like female toplessness, the presentation and discussion of sex and sexuality, and the consumption of alcohol. Where I come from, especially, religion (specifically the Protestant denominations of Christianity) has a major influence on most people’s lives. I’m from the very southern edge of a region informally known as the “Bible Belt”, a region covering most of the Southeastern United States and portions of the Midwest and Great Plains where conservative evangelical Christianity is at its most influential. I was lucky to grow up in a place where the influence wasn’t as strong, otherwise I think I would have been incredibly steeped in it.

I was kinda lucky, I guess, when it came to my circumstances in regards to how much I was going to be indoctrinated into religion in the first place. For one thing, my parents came from somewhat different religious backgrounds but had a similar attitude to its influence: my mother was raised Catholic, but had long since lapsed from the church by the time she married my dad (I remember her telling me she hated how much the church had become like a business to her, and I think her parents each being divorced twice might have also had something to do with it — each of her parents had been previously married, with my mother’s brother being a product of their mother’s first marriage, then each of them divorced their respective spouses and had my mother out of wedlock; they married when my mother was four, and then divorced in the early 1970s, neither of them remarrying although they remained on friendly and civil terms until my grandmother died in 2004). My father grew up Baptist, and while he still considers himself a believer in Christ, he has set foot in a church exactly three times in my entire memory of him: two weddings (one was for a family friend, the other for the same friend’s sister) and an Easter passion play (that was put on by another family friend’s church; my brother and I were attending it at the time). He has said he attends “The Church of NASCAR” and would rather spend a Sunday watching that day’s NASCAR Cup race than in a church listening to a sermon. So, even though they both identified as Christian, they obviously had a very laid-back attitude towards the practice of it. My brother and I were the only kids in the neighborhood who seemingly weren’t baptized into any particular church or brought into any particular belief system. There were Bibles in our house, but we weren’t discouraged from exploring other belief systems, either. We were taught the basics in kindness and manners, and I don’t remember either of us ever being forced into going to church or a Bible study. I do remember getting into an argument over the theory of evolution with my dad when I was 8 and he tried taking the creationist side of the argument, though. It was the first of many disputes I’d get into with my dad. That argument should have raised a red flag for me to begin with, of what would be to come.

My brother and I began attending a church when I was maybe 11 and he was 9, going to a Baptist church with a family friend and her son (and sometimes her daughter as well). I remember being a bit heartbroken the first time because it wasn’t Catholic (and I had always imagined at that point that I’d go to a Catholic Church like my mother and grandmother did). I would go most Sundays (to two different churches) for the next five years. I don’t remember much about the sermons, but I do remember the songs. Honestly, the music was the only thing I really connected with during those five years. I otherwise felt a major disconnect not just during sermons, but also when it came to Sunday school; it wasn’t one thing in particular, but I just felt like I never fully fit in with the congregation or the people in my age group. It just seemed like I was just not getting any spiritual fulfillment during that period.

What really sent me over the edge, though, was the issue of marriage equality. I first heard about the issue when I was 15 or so, and it seemed that all that certain politicians wanted to talk about was the “sanctity of marriage”. It incensed me that people wanted to use their religious beliefs to try and treat gay people like second-class citizens. I was still incredibly naïve at that point and I hadn’t really befriended any out LGBT people at that time, although the latter would change over the next couple of years. And just a year or so earlier, I had seen the damage that the perversion of religion had caused when 9/11 happened. The spiritual disconnect I had experienced at church combined with the use of religion as a weapon to either demonize people who didn’t deserve to be demonized or to kill people who didn’t fit whatever extremist version of religion those responsible believed in made me realize that I no longer wanted to be a part of religion. I felt that religion was responsible for so much evil in the world…I didn’t want to be a part of that evil. So, when I was 16, I made a deconversion within myself. I decided to stop identifying as Christian and I started identifying as Atheist. I didn’t realize at this point that nonreligion is a bit more complex than that, but I felt that since I lacked a belief in God, the label fit.

At first, I started to become vocal about my deconversion to friends and teachers, but after a while, I realized that this made me come across as an asshole, and I was being no different from the people I was trying to distance myself from (those who like to shove their beliefs down people’s throats). Once I realized this, I knew I had to change my attitude towards believers (which is what I call people who practice religion; I prefer this term over the term “theists”, which is the term normally used in the atheist, agnostic, and nonreligious community…I find the term “believers” to be more personal and less scientific, since most of the people in my friends circle are at least believers in something). So now, I usually have a “live and let live” approach when it comes to believers: as long as you don’t push your beliefs down my throat, I won’t push mine. We mutually respect each other, and try to find what we have in common. There are obviously gonna be people out there who think I’m either evil or immoral because I choose not to follow a god or a religion, but in this situation, I think Jesus’ advice of “turning the other cheek” (all four of them) is appropriate here.

I do bring up Jesus here, but I should clarify that I think of Jesus as a philosopher and teacher, not as a divine being. I do think he existed as a man, a human being, but I do not consider him to be an incarnation of a god or anything like that. He was just as much of a man as the Gautama Buddha or Muhammad, all of them influential teachers and thinkers of their periods in history. But so were people like Socrates, Plato, Confucius, Descartes, and De Beauvoir.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I started feeling that calling myself solely an atheist didn’t quite fit how I saw the world around me. I started feeling like it was only describing a part of me. Then I learned of the term “humanist”. Once I learned of the term’s meaning in relation to secularism, I knew I’d found the missing piece of my view of the world around me.

These days, I call myself a “Humanist Atheist”. While the term “atheist” describes how I see the universe and its origins (I don’t believe that the universe and its laws were created by any sentient being, and I don’t see any conclusive proof that a supreme sentient being exists), the term “humanist” describes how I see the human race around me. I believe that humans are responsible for their own destiny, that prayer is not a supreme being acting through humans but rather humans subconsciously finding their own successes. Humans have free will and can choose to do with it what they wish. It is up to us to figure out how the universe works, and the way we do that is through reason, logic, experimentation, and using the evidence we find to make conclusions on our hypotheses. We don’t change facts to fit our biases, we use facts to eliminate biases. We learn truths by seeking them out ourselves, not through revelation by the supernatural. We are powerful enough on our own. And most importantly, our worth as good, upstanding human beings is not contingent on the belief in a supreme being or adherence to scripture and holy books. A person can live a good, morally sound life without having to believe in gods. We can be law-abiding, active citizens, participants in society, and public servants without religion. It is entirely possible to do good in the world without gods.

I’m the only nonreligious person in my immediate family. I don’t really talk about it much with family members, though. My dad and my sister-in-law actually still don’t know about it; my dad because he’s never really asked me about it (and I think the reactions he had to finding out I was liberal as a teenager kinda scared me out of wanting to tell him, I figured I’d spare him any more disappointment), and my sister-in-law because she’s already pretty conservative. I mean, my brother is a believer, but he has sort of the same attitude toward church that my dad has (as in one doesn’t need to go to church every Sunday to be a good Christian). She’s more of a church-goer, but I’d place her as “devout” but not “fundamentalist”. She jokingly calls my brother an “atheist”, believe it or not. I laughed when my brother told me that.

Now, while the R.E.M. song “Losing My Religion” is referenced in the post title, it’s not actually about religion. The title is actually a slang term in parts of the American Southeast (the band was based out of Athens, Georgia) which basically means, “losing my temper” or composure. But, I’ve decided to share a few songs that are critical of religion.

“God” by John Lennon – The first lines of this song sum up perfectly what I personally think God is: a concept, an idea, not a living being. This song is actually more atheistic in nature than “Imagine” is, believe it or not.

“Dear God” by XTC – If there’s any song that’s the Atheist’s Theme Song, this is it. I love this one section in particular: “Did you make disease / And the diamond blue? / Did you make mankind / After we made you? / And the Devil, too?”

“Take Me to Church” by Hozier – This one touches more on the sexual hangups that religions tend to have. He compares being with his lover to a spiritual experience, and in interviews he has talked openly about being sex positive (in other words, having a positive attitude towards sex as a natural human act), especially coming from a country as heavily religious as Ireland. Although most of Ireland is Catholic, Hozier himself was raised as a Quaker. In my part of the country, especially, purity culture (which is practiced a lot in the evangelical and fundamentalist Protestant denominations) has caused quite a lot of damage to the self-worth and self-esteem of young people, especially girls, whose entire worth has seemingly been placed on their sexual purity. I will admit it has taken myself a long time to become sex positive (despite never having had a partner of my own), even though I wasn’t brought up in purity culture, but it was so prevalent in lots of places around the South. Even though the song talks about his female lover, the music video features a male couple. Still a very powerful song, one of my favorites of the 2010s. I don’t follow a lot of contemporary singers on social media, but Hozier is one of them. (I also follow Lizzo and Demi Lovato, in case you’re curious.)

“Every Sperm is Sacred” by Monty Python – This song comes from their final film, Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, in a segment poking fun at Catholics and their stance against birth control. A working class English Catholic family ends up having to sell their children (from the looks, well over 60 of them) for the purpose of medical experiments, but not before a huge musical number takes place. It is then followed by a scene of a Protestant couple talking about how the husband can use a condom to practice birth control, but apparently they already practice it because the joke is they’ve had sex as many times in their marriage as they’ve had children: twice.

“Freewill” by Rush – Written by the late, great Neil Peart (who was Rush’s drummer), I like to call this the “Humanist Theme Song”. The chorus sums it up pretty nicely: “You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice / If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice / You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill / I will choose the path that’s clear, I will choose free will.” Peart was heavily influenced by Ayn Rand in his younger years (with the 2112 liner notes inspiring a 12-year-old Sebastian Bierk, who would later find fame as heavy metal singer Sebastian Bach, to go and read The Fountainhead), although in later life he distanced himself from her and referred to himself as a “bleeding-heart libertarian” (or what we’d call a “left-libertarian”, someone who values both personal freedom and social equality). Although the world lost Peart back in January, this song (along with much of Rush’s catalog) remains part of his lasting legacy.

My story is not intended to be representative of every nonreligious person’s. I can only speak for myself. But Millennials like me are increasingly leaving religion, and we deserve to be listened to. If any readers out there have left religion like I did, don’t be afraid to share your story. Speaking out about our experiences helps to lessen the stigma surrounding nonreligious people.

🎶 Happy Birthday to Me, A Viral Apocalypse, Maybe? 🎶

Even at the beginning of this year, I did not think I would find myself celebrating the weirdest birthday of my life so far. As you all may know by now, the COVID-19 strain of the coronavirus (a type of virus that was also responsible for the SARS virus in the early 2000s) has been labeled a pandemic by the World Health Organization. This has sent life all over the world into a frenzy. All of Italy is under quarantine, and many businesses and entities here in the United States have basically had to shut down, even including pushing Opening Day of the 2020 Major League Baseball season to mid-May at the earliest. (As a huge baseball fan, this makes me a little sad.) I ended up deciding not to vote in the Florida primary last week out of an abundance of caution, since both of my parents are over age 60 and my mother is bedridden and at higher risk of developing complications if she caught it. My party seems to have a presumptive front runner for its presidential nominee anyway, and I have decided that I will support its nominee in November, no matter who it is. (I’m hoping the virus threat won’t be as high by then.) I will still do grocery shopping, but at a smaller store that is usually less crowded than the larger one I usually shop at…although this has seemed to bring out the worst in people when it comes to panic buying. And I’m from Florida, the Panic Shopping Capital of the World (thanks, hurricanes)!

My dad’s workplace (a major theme park in Orlando) is closed through at least the end of the month, with most of its employees being told to stay home. However, my dad’s job takes place during the night shift and he is not in regular contact with park guests. He’s the lead technician on a crew that performs maintenance and repairs on one of the park’s attractions. Being that all hourly employees at the park (including technicians) will be paid for any time they are forced to miss during the closure (it’s owned by a large corporation, so they can afford to do this), coming in for the technicians is optional (but the attractions still require maintenance in order to meet mechanical and safety standards, no matter what). So, he’s been going in to work, but depending on how many people show up, the situation each night dictates whether or not he needs to stay. Being that whenever he does get sick, he usually gets it from someone at work, it’s probably a good thing at times (especially if any of his coworkers get sick, it’s definitely a good idea to stay home rather than try and tough it out). He’s only been staying at work for as long as the job requires and has come home early some mornings.

I know this whole pandemic situation has got everybody on edge, and me being a highly sensitive person, I tend to have the urge to want to deal with something this distressing by letting it get to my head and I end up feeling incredibly anxious. I’ve been actively trying to avoid panicking, though. So…how have I been coping?

  • I haven’t been watching the news on a regular basis. I’ve been watching some local news, but I’ve primarily been following the news through online aggregate sources like Google News and Apple News. If I need to get away from the buzz for a bit, I close the tab or the app!
  • When my dad has been sleeping to prepare for a work night, I’ve been playing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, which is set in Ancient Greece during the Peloponnesian Wars (which took place in the fifth century BCE and was the time when a lot of Ancient Greek notables such as Socrates, Pericles, Aristophanes, Euripides, Herodotus, and Leonidas flourished). In the game, you can play as either Alexios (a male character) or Kassandra (a female character), and the character you play as is a misthios (basically a mercenary). The story to start the game is kinda long and complex, but it involves a prophecy, an oracle controlled by an organization called the “Cult of Kosmos” (a forerunner to the Templars of the series’ universe), a cliff, and a boat that eventually ends up on the Greek island of Kephallonia, where our hero (the Misthios) starts their journey.
  • We’ve been watching a lot of movies when my dad is home and awake. And we finally watched Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker a couple of weekends ago. It wasn’t too bad. Not quite as glorious as the original trilogy, but it did play upon the same themes of love and redemption. In order to bring balance to the Force, a character we thought of as good had to confront their Dark Side, while a character we thought of as evil had to confront their Light Side. I thought that was an interesting twist. It’s a little sad to see the Skywalker saga come to an end, but I’d love to see some more adventures with the newer characters. And just today he was watching A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, but he went to bed before he could get to The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
  • I’ve got a couple of projects on the needles right now: the ever-active Neapolitan, which is currently in its second round of brown rectangles, and a new project called Don’t Huffle the Puff, a heart-shaped garter stitch shawl in the house colors of the Hogwarts House Hufflepuff, which is the House I was sorted into when I took the Sorting quiz at the Wizarding World website (formerly known as Pottermore). I’m using Walmart’s Mainstays Basic yarn in Gold (three skeins worth, which was lovingly gifted to me by The Lady Bryan and her mom for Christmas) and Black (I bought one skein of it with the intention of adding random black stripes to the mostly gold-colored shawl). I used the project as an excuse to finally add size 10 circular needles to my knitting arsenal.
  • I’m still reading. The last time I made a regular blog post (middle of last month), I was reading Beloved by Toni Morrison (a revisit of a novel we studied in AP English my junior year of high school) and Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome. I’m still reading the latter in my e-reader, but I’ve not only finished Beloved, but I also read The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale) in a span of 18 days. It was a pretty good book! I’m currently reading The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys, which is set in 1950s Madrid during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco. And although this pandemic is seeing a lot of isolation and “social distancing”, it hasn’t stopped me from stepping outside every so often and sitting in the sun, reading while Roxy either runs around chasing lizards or sitting in the sun herself. I can usually get a couple chapters in this way. But it is starting to get warmer out there. 🥵
  • I’ve been trying to resume my binge watching of The Tribe, whose very premise is about kids and teenagers trying to rebuild their lives and the world around them after surviving a viral apocalypse that has killed off everyone over the age of 18. I’m about halfway through series 4 right now (of five). I also have all three sequel novels in my e-reader, ready to read once I finish watching the series. One of the show’s stars, Meryl Cassie (who played Ebony, a character who I like to think of as this show’s version of Professor Snape), has been getting a lot of shoutouts from fans on Instagram lately due to the pandemic, and she’s been incredibly gracious about it. Her Stories are always interesting to follow along with.
  • And most importantly, I’ve been trying to face this with a sense of humor, however dark it may be. Perhaps we could all use some laughter in these trying times…otherwise, the whole world will be miserable.

I don’t know what my birthday will hold in store for me, but I hope to come out of this whole situation in one piece. I leave you with a song that is strangely appropriate for my birthday today, given the circumstances: “Happy Birthday” by Weird Al Yankovic.