Friday, July 29, 2011

There is Life After...

When people ask what is my favorite song, I immediately say New Order's "Vanishing Point". I feel an extremely deep connection with the lyrics, because it's true, "My life ain't no holiday. I've been to the point of no return. I've seen what a man  can do. I've seen all the hate a woman too." The truth is, I saw the darkest side of humanity before I was age 10 that has left my body with permanent scars, but emotionally, I feel damn near untouchable.

From the ages of 2-12, I was molested... nah, let's call it what it really was, raped by a close family friend. Not only that, I was also passed around among a group of his male friends with the same sick fixation of young girls. To make it worse, I was in constant fear for the life of my family and of his wife that he beat unmercifully in front of me. I lived a secret life of fear and stress. I was never really worried about myself because I knew how to go into a different world when the abuse began. I even came up with plans at age 7 to make myself less attractive by gaining as much weight as I could. My weight became a comforter to keep people at bay, but unfortunately it did not make the abuse stop. Beyond my weight, I did not show any signs nor let anyone know what I was going through. I was afraid of my parents hurting emotionally because I loved them so much and knew that they were worried about me enough with the divorce that I did not want them to worry about me further. I just became a master manipulator and learned how to put on the perfect smile, make the perfect grades and just be the perfect child. The only thing I wanted was my weight.

By time I turned 12, I finally told my parents that I did not want to visit for the weekend anymore and they wanted to know why but figured I was just turning into a typical teenager. Years passed and I continued to be a success in school, a good kid, still gained weight and to everyone's concern, had ulcers. My parents wondered if it was the bullying at school (partially, yes), was it unresolved issues with the divorce? What was making me so sick? My parents took me for a ton of physical tests with medical specialists and even to a child psychologist. I was able to fool them all. As a matter of fact, everyone considered me the sweetest and most considerate child they ever met, and I was too because making everyone happy kept people at bay. The more I made everyone happy, the more they loved me and the less questions they asked. My mask and my weight were my perfect cover.

As I entered into my teenage years I took on the persona of the ice princess. I felt so incredibly awkward and was unsure how to relate to others in a romantic fashion, so I just did not really date. That same awkwardness stayed with me into adulthood and I did not feel like I knew what I was doing until I became sexually active. With sex, I saw it as more of a duty and a job that I even enjoyed sometimes. When I did let someone in, I felt obligated to have sex with them whenever they asked. I never even made my sexual satisfaction a priority. I was just floating and still detaching. I longed for that connection, but did not know how to obtain it.

Finally at 25, I met a wonderful man by complete accident and he opened a part of my heart that I never explored before. I suddenly began to actually see myself and it was frightening. He saw me as beautiful, smart, witty... plain amazing and all of that made me want to cry because I did not see any of that. I just saw myself basically as a cum rag. Sad huh. After being together for 5 years and a bad breakup, I was at a serious crossroads in my life and could not carry on with the way I was living. I thought I would find and love myself through the relationship, but I still felt just as insecure as the day we met. He was not the problem; I was. With the start realization that this could be my life, I OD'd on my anti-depressants and was rushed to Baylor Hospital. At that moment, I knew I was at my rock bottom, but was unsure how to get out.

With the prospect of getting back together with my ex and the looming issue of me losing my job, I took FMLA and started outpatient treatment at Green Oaks and The Family Place. I went through almost a year of hard core, 6 day a week therapy to deal with all the pain and to break through all the masks I had. It was the hardest year of my life. I never knew I could cry so much, but I also never knew I could be so free. I also learned what an ally I had in my Mom. She was there for every step and although it did hurt her and my father to know what I went through, and the permanent physical damage I have to contend with, they weren't mad at me.

I remember one day waking up and I looked around and the sky was so blue. Everything was just so CLEAR. I was amazed by everything because it was like the haze I was walking through my whole life had been lifted. When I smiled, I meant it. This new found clarity gave me the backbone to not only start living authentically, but to also accept life challenges on life's terms. When I was laid off, I immediately filed for unemployment and took the opportunity to return to school to study to be a Addictions Counselor. Now, I'm about to start grad school in hopes of being a Psychologist with a specialization in Trauma and Addictions and life could not be better because finally, life is worth living for myself.

So, yes "My life ain't no holiday. I've been to the point of no return.", but I've lived to tell my tale and I can tell you that life is beautiful and worth living. There is life after.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Meet Paloma

From Abused Wife to Adored Slave

It's often hard to believe how much I have grown in the past year and a half. April of last year I was hooked on prescription pain meds and the last memory of my husband was him pushing me up against the wall, choking me, and telling me that he will always control me. The weekend before that, he had slapped my daughter upside the head for eating a piece of bread at a restaurant. A month later, I was sneaking out of the house with my child and crossing three states to get away from that nightmare. A week later, I went cold turkey from the pain meds. It was the worst two pains imaginable. I vowed to never love again.
I met my Master initially as a friend...not even a good friend, just a casual acquaintance. I had started dating and felt so unfulfilled. No one understood me. When I mentioned my interest in BDSM, they freaked and told me I was weird.
It was on November 13th, 2009 when I saw Kurtz at the same club I met him months before. The club was holding a special event, a wedding to be exact. He had announced that he had just signed his divorce papers that very afternoon and expressed interest in me. I was floored, I had been attracted to him since I first met him. In fact, that is one of the reasons why I didn't bother getting to know him more, because I knew he was married, and didn't want to become attached to him for any reason.
Our bond was instantaneous. I become head over heels in love with him within hours of talking to him. We danced the night away and talked into the night until I fell asleep on his bed. He gently removed my shoes, covered me with a blanket, laid next to me and slept by my side. The following night he was my date for the Dallas Fetish Ball, and revealed that he was a Master and I revealed my desires to be a slave. We didn't put this into practice until New Years Eve, and it was sealed and official on our contract signing and collaring on February 25th.
After getting over my drug addiction, I had become addicted to sugar. I had a lot of demons to fight from my abuse, and several trust issues. Because of the guidance of my wonderful Master, I gave up sugar and meat entirely. His teachings and love have allowed me to work through my demons, and his consistency has allowed me to learn to trust again. My daughter acknowledges him as her father figure and has also learned that not all men are bad.
I often get flack about being dominated. "Why do you allow him to control you?" they ask. My answer is simple "My Master offers me unconditional love and guidance. He rubs my aching joints to keep me off of drugs, and bathes me in oils to keep my body beautiful. He holds me in his loving arms at night, protects me from harm, provides me and my child a home. His only request is that I obey, love, and respect him. How can I refuse such a request? I gladly serve my Master. I kiss his feet when he comes home, and do everything I can to please him. He saved me from my own demons, showed me how to fight and control them, tells me I'm beautiful, precious, and his prize." I may be owned, but I am loved and free at the same time. He is more to me than a boyfriend, lover, or even a husband...he is my Master.
As for my ex-husband? He's been convicted of abuse to his own children, hitting the pain pills harder than I ever did, and is on a path of self destruction. I'd pity him if I didn't hate him so.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Meet Danielle

All Roads Led to Islam

I wasn’t a true Christian believer. People could say otherwise looking from the outside in. I really pushed myself to believe to the point I felt I was losing my mind. I would pray and pray and pray. I feared hell, so I prayed and prayed some more. I had nightmares of the last days because I knew I didn’t really believe. I even taught Children’s Church, was one the lead singers in the choir, really trying. I was also doing these things because I wanted to keep myself from being bored by just sitting there.  I then just got fed up. None of my questions were being answered. People were telling me I was letting the devil use me by asking such questions. I was told why my eyes didn’t heal was because I didn’t have enough faith. I felt like a failure and I was angry at myself and everyone. I was dipping further and further into depression.  I realized I just hung on to the religion and was being kept there by fear. Fear mongering was everywhere. One day the church was called to the alter to pray during a revival. Right there on my knees, I denounced God. Soon after that, I was on a flight to Senegal.

Senegal was a school trip- the first to Africa for our high school. It was there I heard the call to prayer. First it scared and annoyed me. Fajr prayer happens before the crack of dawn. Soon I got used to it. There I learned more about and seen all the pictures in my National Geographic come to life. Beautiful women in colorful clothing, polygyny, and the ports of the slave trade. I learned a little about Islam and the Sufi sect of Islam, the Baye Fall. Baye Fall are dreadlocked followers of Islam. Dreads were a sign of humility, the turning away from Babylon (Rasta term) and leading a simple life. That I dug. I’ve always wanted locks since seeing Eddie Grant performing ‘Electric Avenue’ on Solid Gold lol. Senegal stayed with me.

When I went to college in Chicago, I was trying to stick to Christianity and even agreeing to go to church with a family friend. That church was even more bonkers than the church I left. Everyone was having ‘revelations’ and twisting up the Bible like it was a freagin Rubik cube. Everyone was in such ecstasy that I thought they could be persuaded to have an orgy for Jesus. One day I just stopped going. I wanted to form who I was without the input of family or religion.

I started reading more about spirituality again like I did as a kid. I actually practiced the religions I looked into- various forms of Christianity, Wicca, Vodun, Buddhism and Rasta. All wonderful, but none fit me. Now I don’t think I was true Rasta because I don’t believe in worshipping anyone who’d walked this earth. This is why I couldn’t get why we had to pray to Jesus. We are all God’s creation. If we were all children of God and Jesus was the son of God, why would I pray to my brother for anything? Wouldn’t I just go to God for all things?

Well in my search, in every religion I tried, I felt agitated. Rasta was close, but I didn’t fully feel it completely, though there’s a lot of still carry and believe in as far as philosophy of life.  I danced around Islam. I bought prayer beads because I thought they were cute. I bought a Penguin’s copy of the Quran, but it said Koran (bad translation by the way). I watched Islamic shows on TV. I avoided Islam because I thought it was sexist which was funny because I was experiencing sexism in Rasta and in Christianity.

There were two religions left to try. One was Judaism. The other Islam. I was slow on my roll, but I was revving up the guts to visit a synagogue and a mosque.  After that I was going to throw in the towel since I was considering myself pretty much Atheist at that point.

When I finally got the guts to visit a mosque, 9/11 happened. I didn’t want to be rude suddenly popping up. I didn’t want them to think I was converting to become one with my new Islamic overlords (I joked). I didn’t want them to think I was converting out of fear. So I waited. As time went on I justified that a funky feminist will not fit with Islam.

Without even thinking of religion, I told my husband/ then live in boyfriend, Joe, that as I get older I planned on dressing more covered up in more African attire and keep my hair wrapped.  This was while I was learning bellydance. Arabic was a common language in the house with me listening to Rai music and all. I learned about Ramadan through an earlier Muslim boyfriend and the difference of pure Quranic Arabic and dialects.
Well finally years later in Dallas and after being laid off, I decided it was high time I discover who I was again. One of the things I did was finally converted to Islam. My Imam was trying to make sure I knew what I was getting into. I’ve studied the religion for so long. I knew it wasn’t the 5 per centers, Nation of Islam, or Earth and Gods. I didn’t want those sects. I wanted pure Islam. When I took the shahada (proclamation of faith) it was like Rumi wrote: Like a drop in the ocean. 

I was nervous of how friends would treat me afterwards. Would my liberal, funky, artist friends dump me? They didn’t. Even my former, non religious room mates told me I was interested in Islam for years. I’ve forgotten.

Now the issues I have with practicing is the prejudice. People don’t want to hire women who wear the hijab. People really bought into the war machine propaganda. They think Muslim women who observe the hijab or niqab are oppressed. Some people love to talk about how they believe in the Constitution and the liberation of women, but they shun a hijabi. She can have many degrees under her belt, but they block us from working. These jobs like to proclaim how they believe in diversity and everything.  Painfully I took off the scarf to get a job and I’ve been unhappy about it. I will never interview without a headwrap again.  My observing being fully covered is no different from some sects of Rasta or other religions. I no longer feel the need to show my body. In the past when I did I was celebrating myself, but it was tainted with looking to others’ approval. It was natural part of me trying to define myself. I no longer feel the need to share my skin. My style is moving to the looks of those I’ve admired as they aged: Lena Horne, Betty Carter, Georgia O’Keefe, Frida Kahlo, etc.  Another thing is people keep telling me my hair is too pretty to cover up which is hilarious. My dreads not too long ago were a hindrance to me getting jobs and a subject of ridicule. Now it’s fashionable and acceptable in the workplace. I’ve been through this before. Scarves will be ok soon.  

I also wish I could find a really good secular school to put my daughter in where Islamic observation isn’t a big deal, but the really good ones are Christian based. The only good Islamic based school is expensive and far from home.

I’ve also been balancing who I am and throwing out my own misconceptions I’ve had of Islam. I am still a funky, eco conscious, gay rights supporter, artistic, global feminist*/ womanist (*I don’t believe in one form of feminism, nor the superiority of Western feminism). My clothing has been changing to fully covered and in my style. Even wearing the hijab inspired me to make funky earrings to lie against the scarf. The things I’m designing now are based off the various African Islamic dress. I didn’t adopt another culture since African Americans have a long history of Islam in this country. Being halal isn’t difficult since I don’t like eating meat. Islam mirrors my beliefs in constant charity, peace and responsibility.

I’ve been balancing the 2 worlds, sometimes with ease and sometimes difficulties. The difficulties are due to what I’ve mentioned before and that I am changing as I turn 35. I don’t know where it will all lead or where I’m going with it all, but spiritually I’m home. I gave up drinking, but I’m thinking of having my final drink of Absinthe to complete my artist desire to experience what the artists I’ve studied tasted. Will I dance again? Will I be a full hijabi? Will I get another tattoo? The answer to all is yes, very likely.  

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Meet Amber

Azubuike"the past is your strength"

They say that facing death changes a person for good.  Some people find god, some carpe diem their way through 5 credit cards a mistress and a brand new sports car. I've even heard of people turning criminal in some last minute attempt to financially make up for what they haven’t achieved in their life.  Unfortunately a lot of people shut down when faced with true adversity. They embrace the role of victim and self pity instead of personal hero, usually spiraling into a world of anti depressants and substance abuse. But I don’t judge those people for if you had asked me 4 years ago if I would be able to handle all that I've gone through I would have said “No way!” And even now people ask me “How do you do it? If I was in your shoes I would not be as strong as you are.” And I every time I tell people don’t say that. It was once told to me that you never know what you can do until you try. But I say you never know what you can do until you have to.

I had lunch with death 3 ½ years ago when I was diagnosed with polymyositis. Polymyositis is an autoimmune inflammatory disease that causes weakness of the skeletal muscles. It ‘s found  in the same family as lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and all other forms ofmyopathies .  It’s an extremely progressive disease that causes severe weakness of the core muscles (hips, back, shoulder), and when advanced, total body muscle loss.  As luck would have it I have the rarest most aggressive and usually fatal form of polymyositis that causes a fully debilitating weakness as well as organ failure. At my worst I was so weak that I couldn’t raise my arm an inch from my side, I couldn’t sit up unsupported or I would just collapse over, I couldn’t even lift my head off the pillow. My kidneys were shutting down, I needed a heart monitor as the heart is a big muscle that will soon begin to fail with this disease, I even needed help swallowing as my throat muscles were weak. I couldn’t do anything for myself. My hair was falling out, I had no appetite, I dropped 40’lbs in a month, I was soo weak and soo sick.   As a matter of fact every time I visit my doctor he politely reminds me that I should be dead. He says he’s never seen a patient survive this disease let alone recover as well as I have and continue to do. He calls me his miracle patient.

So what’s my coping mechanism you ask? What have I done with this free pass I’ve been given?  How has it changed me to know that death wasn’t ready for me? In three words…I woke up. I realized that everything happens for a reason. That for every action there’s a reaction and a consequence. I adopted the knowledge that everything I had done in my life had led me to that very place in time. Every decision I had ever made, every path I chose to take brought me here.   I had to take account for all of choices I’ve made in my life. Because then and only then could I begin to heal. You can’t move forward in growth until you understand your past. And I had a lot of demons in my past that I remained oblivious to. Sure western science will tell you it’s ludicrous to account physical illness with emotional health but, how else do you explain an otherwise perfectly healthy 21 year old suddenly falling ill. And more importantly why am I still here?  Clearly it wasn’t meant for me to die, because if it was that would have been happened way before I even went into the hospital. No, it wasn’t my time to go, just my time for a much needed wake up call.

I was never raised in a house that held much merit to western thinking anyway. My home was the kind where you held your nose and took down a spoonful of cod liver oil once a week to keep you from getting sick. And if you did get sick you had to sleep with potatoes or onions in your socks so by morning your fever was gone. I come from the school of thought that for every physical ailment there’s an inner imbalance somewhere. And that sickness should not only be treated on a physical level but also spiritual, for balance and harmony are the only true cure. So with that being said when those doctors came into my hospital room and told me I would never walk again and would probably have to live in a nursing home for the rest of my life my first instinct was not self pity, it wasn’t even anger but yet “Okay, how do I fix this.” I knew what I needed to do on a physical level but I also knew there was a lot of inner work to do.  I took a good hard honest look at the person I was and I did not like her. I was ashamed of her actually. I started understanding why certain things always happened to me. I understood why certain choices always brought me certain results. I realized that I was my own worst enemy and that in order to move forward in growth I had to learn what it means to truly love yourself.  Its funny how once you start being honest with yourself in your darkest truths it’s easy to forgive and begin the healing process.

I also realized that time is a very precious gift that must not be taken for granted. It’s not written in stone that everyone lives to be old age, which makes it even more of a blessing when you do. We can all go at any moment and when it is our time the first thing we will ask ourselves is “Did we live the very best life we could of lived?”  or “Was I the best person  I could have been?” for me it’s more of the latter. I believe our purpose on this earth is to evolve into our highest level of consciousness not just on a personal level but in regards to whatever our purpose is on this earth. Whatever your gift is use it and master it, use it to help others, use it till there’s no more breath in your body.  Live everyday as if it were your last. Soak up as much knowledge as you can and experience as much of this world as you can.  I don’t know about you but when I die I wanna be able to say I contributed something good to this world.  My gift is art, creative thinking and an endless flow of ideas (LOL). I’ve  loved and did art since childhood but it wasn't until I got sick that I became a serious artist. It would be the greatest sin a person could do to let a God given gift go to waste so I've made it a point to explore every idea that ever comes into my head... I have a lot of hobbies (LOL). I’ve also took to educating myself on as much I can. I spend my down time reading education books. I’m currently mastering herbology, Gemstone healing, alchemy, and art history. I’m also teaching myself how to sew and speak the Italian and Yoruba languages. I eat healthier, I read the newspaper, I stopped speaking I slang just because it’s “cool”, I dress with more pride and hold my head up high, I even smile for no reason. I don’t sweat the small stuff and don’t hold things in. I process my emotion as they come and move on. I don’t let men walk all over me anymore and I have NO problem being alone. I've stopped wasting money and started saving for a real future, I’m even developing myself in my spiritual beliefs.  Because that’s the kind of woman I've always wanted to be, well rounded, educated, and strong.

As predicted my spiritual growth has been synonyms with my physical. I am now able do everything but stand up from a low seated position on my own. Every day I continue to surprise my doctors and inspire a new report in the medical journal as well as surprise myself as I transform into a self realized woman. My dream is that I can inspire other women to love and cherish themselves as the jewels we are and strive everyday to reach their full potential. As I continue to have my own personal  “A ha” moments I will be sharing them on this blog with the hopes that my story can inspire at least one woman to take a closer look inside.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Meet Patricia

A lot of people have told me that I inspire them and for that I am thankful and humbled. I am only living my life as big as I can live it and sharing my hardships and triumphs without being ashamed, shy or fearful. It wasn't always this way. 

I was the mousey  girl you never heard a peep from in class. The girl who wasn't at ANY of the parties and shows. A bookworm artist who wasn't allowed to have much of a social life growing up so I spent hours in my room learning the bass guitar and practicing alongside Ramones tunes and trying to figure out The Cure songs. A zillion late nights painting and creating. My best friends were my paints and bass guitar. Luckily my Mom and Dad fully encouraged me going to art school (Arts Magnet) although my Dad would pipe up with other suggestions like "Dentist!". He still scraped up the money to buy all the art supplies on my list and proudly displayed my paintings in his room, even taking them to his job sometimes to help get attention to them. I should at this point mention my family is way under the poverty line and buying anything and keeping a roof over our head was a struggle.

When I was old enough to leave home I did and of course went a little crazy with my new found freedom, my 20's were spent playing in bands, watching bands, eating-breathing-drinking-living the musicians life. It is now just a blur of bands and clubs that may or may not match up with my memory of them! I was going to college and studying Painting and Design, attempted a gallery that didn't last long, moved to San Francisco briefly and came back- but music had captured most of my time and slowly the painting became less frequent. As my 20's waned I started DJing with my friend Gabriel- we started an event called LOLLIPOP SHOPPE (which is still going on after 7 years!) and  between DJing and playing  in  my band The Shapes I  was fully engrossed in the Dallas nightlife and music scene.  It was fun, crazy, blurry times  which gave me a little too much to drink at times and eventually I started booking bands that needed venues to play at. After some time doing this and getting to know the dirty underbelly of booking, ungracious musicians, unsavory club owners and flakiness in every direction I had my fill and started to look at how my time was being spent. My dead end day job provided enough stress and flakiness in my life without me opting into it on my "free time" as well. I wasn't creating anymore. I felt empty and sick, my health had gone into the tank and I started having health issues. This was not the life I wanted. I wanted my quiet time painting back! I wanted to be surrounded by appreciative and un-flaky people! I wanted early morning hikes- not half wasted days feeling guilty because I ran my bartab up. I wanted my health back!

I started reading books on meditation and practicing it. I needed to change my patterns, the way I viewed the world and myself. I needed to look at myself and look at myself hard- every little ugly aspect needed to be examined and brought to light. This is one of the hardest things a person can do. To accept that you have all these negative traits and name them. It is an ongoing process that is done daily. My life started to change, my thinking started to change. I was just starting to feel empowered when disaster struck. I had a back injury...a bad one. Luckily it wasn't bad enough to warrant surgery but it was bad enough so that I couldn't stand for even 5 minutes to wash a dish or cook at the stove. Walking was hard. Sitting for a few minutes was painful. I couldn't sit and paint! Even lying down was no comfort. This was a work injury and soon all the stress of dealing with Workers Comp had flooded my soul. I had to take time off work, money was slow to trickle in and I was doing physical therapy like my life depended on it- because it did! I was Depressed with a capital D. I was in pain that wouldn't go away. Instead of hydrocodone which did nothing but make me feel crazy I turned to wine every night so I could get a few hours of sleep. My health was suffering. My job was bullying me to return to work and it was a HORRIBLE situation there because they really didn't want me there anymore. I was a liability, broken. They needed a fresh young spine in there to burden so they treated me horribly. It was after a particularly ugly interrogation where the HR department was making me feel like a subhuman criminal that I decided I was done with this life.

I immediately started calculating how much I needed to live on monthly...NEEDED to live on- bare bones...then I put down the figure of $5,000 and made that my goal. I was going to quit when I reached that goal. I bided my time at that place, still hurt from the injury, still mad at the treatment I was getting I had my little calculations in my backpocket every day and counted down the days till I would see $5,000. Soon the QUIT day was in sight and I put my notice in. Had I really just decided to quit my stable job of almost 9 years with health insurance? Had I really just decided to leap into the great unknown and see what would happen? Yes. Yes I had and my very health depended on it! I couldn't hurt my back at this job again.

Luck brought me a part time job that I could start the very next week after quitting. It was a quick transition, I barely had time to celebrate my newfound life when the biggest nightmare happened. My Dad passed away unexpectedly. I can't even describe in words what a world shattering, soul destroying feeling this is. I couldn't function. It was all too much. I left the working world to mourn, grieve and experience life without having anyone to answer to. I had $5,000- I could afford some time to myself. Since my Dads passing I have not been the same. Time is valuable to me. People and experiences and being able to have time to enjoy them- it's everything. Being able to spend my time creating and doing what I feel I was put here to do is SO important. So in time I began "self employment" and donned the role of "starving artist". My Dad was self employed almost his whole life, like father like daughter- it is in my blood.

I feel like all fears have been stripped away...I have nothing to lose. Since entering into this newfound life I have just opened my hands to what the Universe wanted to hand me. I was now in the world as an artist, I wasn't wearing a miserable mask and hiding from my true calling. Now the Universe recognized me and was giving me the appropriate work. I felt like I was in the Universes closet, trying on this outfit and that. Would you like to try being a teacher? Yes please! How about a freelance graphic designer? Oh yes, very much! You like blogging don't you? Try this gig out...

Not having the fear to try things that were new and discarding the things that didn't fit- that is where I have found myself. The $5,000 is long gone and I struggle daily- painting every day to put food on the table and pay rent and bills. I feel like my mind is on hyperdrive with creativity and ideas. One idea I had called "Hour Swap"  got me instant attention and put on television. I have had almost a whole year to look at my health and make important changes- now that I know what its like to not be able to walk I try to run and hike daily. Knowing the feeling of not being able to sit and paint because of pain- I live in my studio. All things are appreciated. I don't have a car, I get around on my bike everywhere- hauling groceries, delivering art to the post office- happy to have a strong back again to do these things. My Dad instilled in me a passion to do things right, "if you're going to do something-do it right so you don't have to do it again" he would say. He may have been talking about washing the dishes but I apply this to my life in everything. Take time, do it right. Time is flowing away from you this very minute, make it count. This is YOUR life and you deserve to be happy.
I write a lot about using your hardships to fuel your dreams, creativity and motivation over at my blog THE ADVENTURES OF UNEMPLOYMENT
my website with art: Sometimes it's the things you don't have that are your greatest resource!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Meet Andria

Female and (practically) 40.

This month I turn 37 years old. Age seems a silly thing to focus on but as we all know, the media isn't going to let you forget that you're no spring chicken anymore. The likelihood of being a pop star went away with my twenties, and as a cute and well meaning brat on a class trip told me "you're starting to get your elevens". Elevens, for those who are as confused now as I was then, are the two wrinkles you get between your eyebrows from furrowing them at stupid comments. As a matter of fact I've probably had them since I was eleven. But I digress.

Aging has been rough for me because I got caught up. I got caught up in the "I need to be a grown-up" trap. I have a five year old on the autism spectrum, which means I have a lot of contact with school administrators and therapists and the ever-present playgroup interviews. I haven't "passed" one of those yet and it started to really seep in and make me uncomfortable. So I tried. I tried to grow out my (shaved) hair and put on a conservative gray dress, leggings, and mary-jane shoes. I balled up my ratty skull print t-shirt and tossed it into a drawer, I left my paint spattered jeans at home, I decided against my hemp cord beaded necklaces and instead opted for a demure silver chain.

...and I felt worse and more insecure than ever...

I started to question whether I was doing the right thing by presenting an inauthentic face to the public. I struggle in very real ways with social situations, so feeling awkward in my own skin just exaggerated the issue. Now instead of feeling awkward about being the only bald, messenger bag toting mom at the kindergarten round-up I worried that my son (and other children) were recieving deeply unhealthy messages about conformity, identity, and what it means to be a parent. Besides that, I am an advocate for people who are different at the core. I struggle with my gender and racial identities, I have issues with mental illness that I confront non-medically, I am on the autism spectrum (Asperger's), I am different and that goes beyond what I wear, but it bloody well includes it too. There is no reason anyone should be ignored or brushed off because of how they look to someone else.

So this is me. Practically 40 and rocking the 90's grunge/artist look for at least the next decade.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Meet Pixie

People say to me:

“I wish I could do that!”

“You’re SO talented!”

“I would NEVER be able to get up on a stage and do what you do! I would be scared to DEATH!”

You can do it; you just have to let yourself. I’m not really very talented, I just have a pretty good ear for music and a decent sense of timing (thank you Mary Gordon’s School of Dance). And I am scared to death. Every time I step out onto a stage, or get up in front of my class to teach.

My parents like to tell the story of my first dance recital. I have no idea how old I was, I may have been 3 or 4. I don’t really remember too much of it except the band room that was the holding area. Evidently, I got scared, didn’t want to go on stage and hid in the bass drum case and from what I remember of the story; they had to go get Mom from the audience to get me out.

I have always been scared of everything and I still am. I hate to meet new people, go places I’ve never been and try new things yet, I constantly do it. I don’t like crowds let alone being in front of one and my hobby/second job is Burlesque. I loathe it when people point me out or stare at me but I have multiple tattoos, a funky hair cut with purple highlights, and I adore red lipstick.

Well, if you’re as afraid as you say you are, then why do you do it? I have to come clean. It’s all about the thrill. Some people like roller coasters, or haunted houses. Others like to jump off of perfectly stable buildings or out of perfectly good airplanes. I like to take my clothes off on stage. It’s the best high in the world. Better than any drug, and I’ve tried several.

When the music starts I’m standing in the wings either shimmying or jumping up and down, and waiting. I’m waiting for a split second of sheer terror to take over. In that split second I think, “oh shit, I’m about the throw up” and as suddenly as it comes, the terror throws me out onto the stage for the world to see. I can barely hear, I can barely see, and I can’t breathe. I can’t explain what takes over, but something takes me over completely and I some how manage to entertain people. The stopping place in the number comes and I blow a kiss and sign “I Love You” to show my gratitude to the people clapping and to my husband, and do the best I can to exit the stage gracefully (this usually ends up being me running off the stage trying not to look like I’m running for my life). As soon as the audience can’t see me I inhale and just about throw up. I heave like everything I’ve ever eaten is about to come out my body at warp speed. I try to find some place where no one else can see it happening but a lot of times it doesn’t work and fellow performers ask me if I’m okay to which I furiously nod “yes”. About 5 seconds after the heaving nonsense (oh, and in case you’re wondering, yes, I have actually thrown up. Twice.) is over I get this rush. It takes over my entire body and is the highest high I have ever achieved naturally or chemically and I have absolutely no words to describe it. It is utterly amazing.

So now you know my secret, I don’t perform for the love of the performing, for the art of it, because I love dance…I do it to get high.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Meet Schmidty

To understand why I started Schmidty Says, you’ll have to know where Shannon came from. My mother was a diehard hippie traveling the world in the late 70’s, trying to find herself. She had many exciting adventures during the three plus years spent overseas. She met my Australian father while they were living in a house boats off the coast of Sir Lanka. Once they broke up with their significant others, they planned to meet and spent three days traveling to Goa India for a sexy rendezvous. I was conceived in a fortress converted into a hostel on a cliff overlooking the ocean. After three wonderful days together, they split paths and never saw each other again.  Her psychic abilities were strong in the untouched world and months later a vision of her pregnancy appeared to her while meditating. She soon sold most her possessions and traveled home to Santa Monica California. My grandparents welcomed her back with open arms and two months later she gave birth to me.

Fast forward 4 years later and we were living with my new step father Ernie in the San Fernando Valley. He was an animation director at Filmation and work on projects such as He-Man and She Ra. Our lives were a constant party machine filled with art and decadence. Several years later, alcoholism came between my parents and they divorced when I was nine. Without my dad’s income, my mom and I could no longer afford our beautiful home and we were forced to downgrade to a questionable condominium. There I learned quickly that gullibility and kindness did not go very far in the real world (I was starting to grow up). Over the next several years I found trouble anywhere I could. My kind light-hearted spirit was crushed constantly by the hood rat kids I hung out with and I became angry. Then the earthquake hit and devastated everyone, we were two miles from the epicenter. Fortunately, GTE (my mom’s company) offered to buy our crumbling condo and move us to Grapevine Texas for a new job opportunity.

Grapevine was the worst thing that ever happened to me. After a full school year of mental and emotional abuse my mom decided to move us. I arrived in Bedford Texas, completely withdrawn, unhappy and extremely angry. I had completely lost my carefree attitude and trusting nature. I found the most unstable people at Trinity High school and followed them around for the next several years consuming every drug I could get my hands on. Somehow through all this I still went to school every day and managed to get good grades. I graduated high school early and continued on for my associate’s degree at Tarrant County College. After getting straight A’s for the next two and half years, my aunt and Uncle offered to pay for my college tuition at SMU (where I received a half scholarship). I truly believe they felt sorry me and thought I would never leave Bedford unless given a reason (they were probably right). I left for SMU an angry metal head child and graduated a fairly well-adjusted adult.

I spent the next several years trying to assimilate into the SMU world, but obviously with my background of art, metal and drugs I knew I wasn’t in the right place. I had to find a new life, MY LIFE! I spent so many years living in other people’s worlds just trying to be a chameleon and fit into the environment. But I never did, because I was nothing like those people!

During this time of confusion Schmidty, my alter ego, was born. I started escaping into a different consciousness to harness a stronger part of my personality that didn’t take shit from anyone. She’s the fun loving aggressive bitch that was nurtured by my old colleague Mike Hernandez (my gay husband). Soon I let Schmidty run wild at work to expend some extra energy.

Also, during this time I fell in love, and finally became in engaged in February 2010. At the time, I was 10 pounds overweight, still a little angry, and just completely lost. I made a vow to improve my way of life, myself and find a purpose. I also have to mention this was the time of my Saturn Return, which happens between the ages of 27-30 (  In six months’ time, I lost the extra weight, let go of some unhealthy relationships (and habits) and looked for a purpose. I’ve always enjoyed writing, heck I majored in corporate communications, but I had never tried it recreationally. When shit hit then fan and I was forced to find another job in September of 2010 I started re-evaluating my life once more. I decided to make a clean start. I couldn’t carry over my bad reputation to a new company but I also couldn’t let go of Schmidty; she became a part of me. So I did the next best thing, I started a blog and combined my love for writing and Schmidty’s wild personality.

I’ve always been a storyteller, a writer and a party girl; I just never combined all three. But once I started writing for Schmidty Says back in November of 2010, I just couldn’t stop. I was addicted to the creativity and excitement. It gave me a good reason to embrace my wild side, and what’s better than that? It filed a hole in my heart that I had left empty for such a long time. Also, I was doing something for myself and no one else; I finally found my calling.

In my blog, I cover burlesque, art, music, food, and plain ole crazy nights in Dallas. I give people a taste of the sexy life from the perspective of an aggressive bitch that checks her inhibitions at the door. I try to laugh at my ridiculous behavior in the blog and I hope the audience laughs with me. Because my goal is to ultimately entertain you, anyway I can. As people experience my passions and adventures, I hope they get excited about all the fun activities in our town. So my husband created and to give people a source to find their underground party needs and a way to experience Schmidty’s adventures first hand. 

Recently, I had an idea for a book and looking for a way to profit from my experiences, I’ve decided to create another alter.  My love for burlesque, art and soulful music will not fade but I hope to spend less time on the blog and more time writing a fictional novel. That is the next step in this great journey of my life. Right now I’m trying to harness all my creative energy and use it to serve a higher purpose, by following the advice of my guru Ty Hudnall ( and embracing the love all around me. Take the good with the bad and accept it at as a part of life without losing my patience. I know it will take some time but I am transforming myself into an enlightened soul. I will continue to learn from my mistakes and grow into the person I know I was meant to be. For now acceptance is the first step to cleansing my spirit. Wish me luck. I’m going to need it!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Meet Femdenity

Welcome to Femdenity. Thank you to all who’ve joined our project and community. So what is Femdenity you may ask? Well, it is more than a blog, but is a supportive community for all women, be it biological, transgendered/transitioning and all in-between who are (re)discovering, learning to love and embrace their true selves in this exact moment. It is about sharing the journey, triumphs, failures and all the hilarious and not so hilarious pitfalls in between while learning about new ideas.  Femdenity is a safe place to grow to help others bloom by sharing who you are while possibly introducing someone to a new found passion. 

Each post will be an introduction to a new contributor who may choose to write again and may not. Contributors are chosen by those who’d like to participate. All that is needed is an honest article and a photo. Why a photo? Because I believe women have unfortunately forgotten what each other looks like and how looks transcends issues. It is a reminder that we are all each other’s sister and keeper. We are truly in this together. 

So, if you want to join this adventure or have any questions you would like answered by the contributors of the community, please send your article and photo to, and if it is just a question, you are not required to submit a photo.  I will send you a date of when you can expect to see your post and I thank you again for joining and for taking part. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Meet Renee

Hey Guys and Dolls:  I’m Renee, otherwise known as Reenaye Starr. I am 30 years old and have been a plus-size adult model for the past seven years.  Eight years ago my life was pretty typical for many women of size. I was surrounded by well-meaning family and friends who tried to work my weight into conversations and give me helpful advice. A friend once gave me a weight loss book as a Christmas gift, although I never indicated to her that I was trying to lose weight. I grew up with a step-father who teased me relentlessly and quite cruelly for being a chubby kid. In high school, I was known as the funny girl. Most of my female friends were thinner, very attractive girls who always had dates and boyfriends. Among my male friends, I was thought of as one of the guys. After a lifetime of other people’s opinions of my body being forced upon me, I was a young adult with very low self-esteem, who dreaded swimsuit season. I loved myself on some level… I even thought I was attractive, but I had accepted that everyone else would grow to love me in spite of my body, but never because of it.

I have always found women and men of size attractive, but I thought that my perspective came from the fact that I could just relate to them, and that it was somehow wrong-headed of me…  I believed the rest of the world found fat bodies unattractive, so I must have been just sympathizing… or perhaps my standards were lower because I,  myself was fat.

In a strange turn of events, I was on Myspace one day and found a girl named Ivy. She was gorgeous: A plus-sized goddess, and she had the most stunning and provocative photos… I thought immediately, I must woo this girl. I literally turned to a friend and said, “Come check out my future girlfriend!”  I decided that since she was obviously self-confident and had no problem flaunting her curves, I had to do the same. I had a friend take a few sensual photos of me in pinup style attire and posted them to my profile. Then I sent her a friend request. She accepted, and what happened next changed the course of my life forever. I got a message from the webmaster of a softcore pin-up style website where Ivy was modeling at the time. She thought I had a great look and wanted me apply to be a model for her site… I spent weeks deciding if this was something I wanted to do, and eventually I decided to take some test photos for her. My transformation from the funny fat friend to the voluptuous pinup was underway.

In my first test photos, I refused to send pictures that made me “look too fat” and I even attempted to edit out parts of my body like rolls, lines, and cellulite. Basically, I was editing away anything that made me look too much like me. So many years of disapproval had left me with a very unhealthy body image, but in spite of my own self-loathing, that webmaster saw something special in me, and I was to model for the site. I began taking pictures and four things happened that completely transformed the way I looked at myself.  1) Dressing sexy made me feel sexy. Every time I took a new set of photos, I felt slightly more at ease, and happier with the results. 2) I started making money: The response of the fans was amazing. Subscriptions were rolling in, and I got so many emails telling me I was beautiful, gorgeous, how much they love my curves, my smile, my double chin, my belly… One by one, all of those negative opinions of classmates, friends, and even my stepfather were being challenged. I finally understood that there really are so many men and women out there that can honestly appreciate my body, and thus I began to appreciate it. 3) I began surrounding myself with self-confident women of size who are web-models, including Ivy, who never was my girlfriend, but has become a dear friend. I began to find a community of support and like-minded individuals who love themselves. 4) And finally, I met the love of my life… He originally was a fan who subscribed to my website and we began an online friendship that moved on to a relationship and eventually marriage and a family. It made such an impact on me to spend the past 5 years of my life with someone who truly loves every inch of me, and it helps that he is also my best friend and soul mate.

Because of these experiences, my life has changed drastically. It is so liberating to stop caring so much about what others think. I am no longer embarrassed when I have to squeeze through a crowd or can’t fit in the booth at a restaurant, because I have accepted that this is me, and I am okay. Now that I walk with my head held higher, people’s response has changed. It is difficult to bully someone with self-confidence, and I get picked on far less. Also, my well-meaning friends and family have learned that though I value them, I refuse to be surrounded by negativity. My body is my body, and thus, not open for debate. And on the rare occasion that a rude person says something nasty, I don’t internalize it. I am not ashamed anymore, and I can recognize that the incident took place do to the shortcomings of the other person, not my own.  But I have gained something so much more valuable than a new outlook on my relationship to others. I have learned not only to accept, but to love myself. When I stand in front of a mirror, I see my pudgy double chin, and I love it. I see my lines and creases and curves and I genuinely think they are beautiful.

I have been modeling for over seven rich years. I have been featured on many websites, and in several issues of Big Butt Magazine. In 2008, I was named BBW Clubs BBW of the Year, and I currently have an amazing solo website with one of the best webmasters in the business. At the end of the year I am planning to retire. I am moving on to do photography and getting into the webmaster side of “Big Girl Business.”  I am super excited about this newest phase of my career, but I would not trade those seven years in front of the camera for anything. It is been a truly eye-opening experience that has forever changed the way I see the world and the way I see myself.

Meet Stephanie

They say that motherhood is the only job in the world you will work so hard to get fired from. It’s true – and getting fired sucks.

I was a mother at the tender age of 21 years old. At a time when most young women were out discovering themselves at university, I was trying to raise my first little dude. I always think of that line from the movie Jerry Maguire where the single mother, Dorothy Boyd, says: “What are women my age doing? They’re out there trying to catch a man. Trying to keep a man. Me? I’m trying to raise a man.”
I always got that line. I always understood it in my core. So, now what do I do? I’m staring down the independence of grown children but with much more life wisdom than I had in my twenties. 

I have lived my life in reverse, it seems. 

Both of my “little” dudes aren’t so little, anymore. They’re teenagers and the oldest is just a smidgen of time from being a legal adult.
As I watch him anxiously approach the age of 18 (and being able to get out and explore the world on his own) I find that my empty-nest syndrome has begun to creep in.

Okay – not so much “creep in” as it has landed squarely on my lap like a boulder, knocking the wind completely out of me.

Without any little ones to chase after or keep from climbing the bookshelves, my hands are not sure what to do without the emergency juice to grab or “boo-boo” to fix up.

Oh, I was so sure that I wouldn’t get the nest problem. I thought that I would welcome the ever-increasing free time. When I was a young mom, and chasing toddlers and potty training, I couldn’t wait for them to be this grown and independent. Plus, I figured that since I was a “modern mom” that worked outside of the home, too, I wouldn’t have these problems. I took time out to learn myself and love myself over the years. I didn’t give birth and exchange my soul to take home a baby. I thought I had it all figured out.

The really tough part is that I have so many friends without children. The bulk of the people I know either don’t have children or they waited and all of their children are still babies or toddlers. They don’t get this. Not yet – but they will…

In the meantime, here I am – older, wiser and with an ever-freeing calendar… Children gone – no husband or significant other to dote on…
What to do?

I had picked up my old love of photography and opened up shop (A to Zed Photography) but that’s is not a complete calendar filler. Okay, if I wanted to give away photo sessions all day, I’d have a full calendar but I’d be broke. I am trying to avoid being the creepy homeless lady that yells at parking meters – at least for a few more years, anyway.

That is an entirely different blog post, though.

I managed to score myself a regular job. It’s weird – after an entire lifetime of working in cubicles and writing for various reasons (journalist and then communications professional), you would assume that I wouldn’t want to do a job that wasn’t white collar. That is very far from the truth. I sling booze and food at a bar in Dallas’ local artist’s community known as Deep Ellum and I’m really enjoying it.

You would think I would have grown tired of picking up dishes left behind but, shockingly, I feel a strange sense of fulfillment at the end of those shifts. Weird.
Maybe it’s that maternal thing – that needing to be needed.
After what feels like a lifetime (nearly my entire adult life) of taking care of others, it’s nice to feel like I still “have it”.
Maybe that will start a trend. An entire gang of empty-nesting women taking up service industry jobs…

But I digress…

As I continue down this phase of my existence and fill my changing calendar, I will be blogging here about it. I am not sure what will take shape or if you will even find any of this interesting, but you never know. Just know that the “empty-nest” syndrome is real; Even for us more “progressive working moms” who didn’t leave their entire identity behind in the delivery room (or so I thought).

Welcome aboard – enjoy the ride!