PostSecret Update: UVM

I said I’d do it… and here it is.

I finally got to go to a PostSecret event.

The last one that came close to my area… got cancelled a few days before it happened. Yeah, me not happy about that. Now, when I heard that the University of Vermont was hosting one… well, it’s the closest it has since come to me… so I’m going.

Burlington, Vermont is a 3 hour drive from me… so it was going to have to be a day trip. I figured I’d take a half-day at work, leaving at noon… and just get back REALLY late that night. The website said it was scheduled from 7pm to 10pm… so I was expecting to be home a little after 1:00am, probably later. Sure, the lack of sleep was going to be hell… but something about planning for it way ahead of time doesn’t make it seem so bad.

Of course, had I realized that the day before was Columbus Day, of which I had the day off… I might have just taken a full day for an extra-long weekend. Oh well.

After about a 3 hour drive, I got into Burlington. Now, I’d been there once before, about 11 years ago with some friends for a small day trip during college. But I didn’t drive, and I only remembered this little outdoor-mall area. As far as I knew, that was the extent of Burlington. I had forgotten the whole town was built around a fairly big school. (Or maybe it was vice-versa) I actually lucked out with my parking… I got into a tiny lot not far from the building where the presentation was going to be. Just as some lady from New York State was pulling out of a space, I snagged that one. (Score!)

I went to pick up the tickets (I ordered them online in advance… I’d be damned if I drove 3 hours to and from just to find that they were sold out), and saw that it was actually a chapel. Most of the buildings I saw looked to have that “chapel-like” architecture… but this was an actual chapel, yet it didn’t look like it was used for actual services. (If it was, they were very sparse with the religious iconography) I did see a sign that told me it WAS used for Tae-Kwon-Do classes… which I think is great! Hell, if I had that near me, I’d have gone to church more myself. There was a group of student workers setting up a table display of all 4 PostSecret books… and by “setting up”, I mean they were sitting and reading them. Couldn’t blame them… I’d be doing the same. Got the tickets from them, and called my friend that I was meeting.

She’s an old friend from college… I don’t think I’ve seen her since before I first went to California, but we kept in occasional communication. She’s the one that got me onto Facebook (or rather, the final person to prod me before I finally caved), and she drove up 2 hours herself to get there. She took the whole day off, and spent the whole day in Burlington.

I headed downtown to meet her, and on my way passed a picture stuck to a lamppost. It was a flyer advertising some local band concert or event (I don’t even remember what it was)… but as many of these college-type advertisers do, they grab humorous pictures from wherever they find (mostly the Net these days) and use them on their flyers, regardless of the copyright. Since its college, no one ever really cares. This picture… was of Chewbacca grabbing Princess Leia’s boob, and both turned giving a faux-shock gasp. This wasn’t a drawing… it was a PHOTO. And I *don’t* think it was photoshopped. My guess is it was a picture they took behind the scenes while goofing around during Empire Strikes Back. This part has nothing to do with PostSecret… it just made me laugh.

Met my friend and we went and got sushi. Mmmmm…. Sushi. We talked, did some catching up, and then headed to the chapel, as the doors were scheduled to open soon. When we arrived, there was already a fairly respectable line formed. We sidled on up and got in line. Soon after, the line started REALLY growing. Thank Jeebus we got in line when we did. The young lady that stood right behind us struck up a conversation, and we chatted for a bit… asking where we were from, how we heard about PostSecret and all that small-talk stuff. She was a nice gal, very pleasant, even ended up sitting next to us inside.

Looking at the rest of the crowd… I think my friend and I were probably the oldest ones there. Hmmm… I guess I was hoping for a little more age variation in the audience, but then again, it’s a college campus… what was I expecting? I also found myself surprised by the fact that there seemed to be very few guys in the crowd… it was probably 90% girls. Normally, I don’t mind being genderly outnumbered… but this situation felt a little off. Maybe it was just the combination of the two. *shrug*

Some security came around for a quick camera check (they weren’t allowed inside), and we started to slowly file in. The seats were pews (it was a chapel, after all), and we actually ended up with a pretty good view I thought. We weren’t right up to the stage, but we weren’t far back enough to have trouble seeing or reading anything that was up there. I thought we got a good spot.

We waited there for a while longer, and a little after 7:00, it started. Frank Warren, the guy who started and runs the site, came out… a very calm, unassuming guy. He didn’t exude an overpowering feel-good touchy-feely fakeness, he seemed humble, modest… normal. Hearing him talk, it felt… genuine. He wasn’t giving pseudo-pschological Oprah/Dr. Phil-style speeches about how you should feel good about yourself… in fact, the things he did talk about, and the stories he relayed… were about listening. He wasn’t the kind of guy that did a lot of talking… he listened.

That’s the best part about PostSecret… even the best part about when I was going to therapy for the time I did… just being able to have someone LISTEN to you. I mean, *truly* listen… without judging or just waiting for their turn to talk. And when you send in a postcard, you really do have someone listening… potentially thousands. But guaranteed… at least one.

When it came to the part of the presentation where the audience was invited to share their own secrets… with 2 microphone stands set up in the aisles. A few people started to get up and formed a small line at each. Frank had mentioned how the lines were always small at first, but quickly grew (mainly because few people are comfortable being first). After a few secrets were told, I turned to my friend and asked, “Should I?”

In retrospect, I know that just saying that is me looking for a “yes, go.” So even though she said, “I don’t know… do what you want”… I decided to get in line.

I’ve sent in secrets, texted them and randomly placed them around my gym… it seemed almost silly to drive 3 hours there and NOT say something. Was I going there for the experience to be just voyeuristic… or for it to be cathartic? I don’t know if it was ever about voyeurism (maybe a little bit)… but the other always seemed more important to me. So I got up.

Just after I did, Frank asked that no more people got in line… but we would hear those who were already there. I looked behind me… no one. I looked at the pattern of going back and forth between the two microphones… and figured out that I was going to be the LAST person that spoke one. More than not being first… I didn’t want to be the LAST one. Maybe the performer in me felt slightly pressured to give a really good last secret for people to end the night with, but mine wasn’t that kind of secret. But… when it got to me, I just said what I was going to. I tried to say it simply… I didn’t want to give explanation or a set-up, and I tried to pick the words carefully so it wouldn’t take long. I tried to say it like I would on a postcard.

Probably didn’t make a lot of sense to all the others… but it’s what I wanted to say, so screw ‘em.

The presentation ended not long afterwards… actually, I thought it was going to go a lot longer. It definitely could have. It was only about 8:30 when it finished. Frank was being taken over to the next building for the book signing portion of the evening, and most people were either leaving or heading over there. My friend decided to get on the road and head home… I wanted to hang around just a little longer.

I didn’t bring any of my PostSecret books to be signed… which is okay, because I’m not really into the autograph collecting. To me, the experience of being there was more important… and that happened whether I have an ink scribble to prove it or not. But I got into line anyway… because I just wanted to shake his hand. He’s read my secrets, he listened… as he’s done with a few hundred thousand others… and never violated that trust. I’ve only witnessed integrity from him and the website… and I think that’s worth a handshake.

When I got to the front of the line, and it was my turn… I told him, “I’ve sent in secrets… I’ve texted them, and even randomly placed them around…

… But never this one.”

And I handed him a folded up piece of paper… where I had written another secret. One I’ve never told ANYONE… one that I’ve never even formed into words, spoken or written. It’s not something *I* think is bad… but something that I was made to be ashamed of when I was a kid. I’ve never told my best friend… nor any of my girlfriends, not even the one I thought was “the one”. But I told him.

He smiled and thanked me, and shook my hand. I said, “Thank you… for all that you do.”

Then I turned around and walked away… then drove 3 hours to get home.

And you know something? The 6 hours of driving was completely worth it. While driving and reflecting on the trip… I started to tear up a little, and I’m not even completely sure why.

He’s been called, “The Most Trusted Stranger in America”… he humbly says he’s not so sure of that.

I think there’s a damn good argument for it.


Do-over Make-over

I seem to be going through a bit of a makeover. Granted, it’s a slow, subtle makeover… but a makeover all the same.

I just got a new pair of glasses, for one. The last time I had glasses was the pair that I lost when I was in Grad School… about 8 years ago. I never bothered to replace them, and have just used my contact lenses ever since. I had that particular pair for about 7 years by that point… and they just didn’t go well with my face, anyway. (Maybe they did at one point… but in growing, my face changed shape a little, and I just didn’t like the way they fit… so I wasn’t heartbroken or even slightly stressed when they got misplaced)

I had shopped around a couple months ago, toying with the idea of going with glasses again (because putting in the contacts everyday can be annoying)… but the store I went into had the salesman wanting me to try on “all the latest styles”. I asked for a particular shape of frames, and he just told me how they “don’t really have any in that shape… they’re not in style. But these look good on you!” Yeah, thanks Sparky. But this isn’t a t-shirt or a funky pair of jeans… these are significantly more expensive… and are meant to last upwards of a few years, at the very least. So the LAST thing I want is the “latest style”… which will look very stupid as soon as the NEXT style is “in”. I want something that’s going to look good on ME… and compliment my face, no matter what the latest “style” is. No matter how often I said, “I don’t care what the latest style is”, he kept saying it. I eventually left, making it clear I wasn’t buying anything from him. Screw his commission. Maybe he should try actual customer service.

Then, a little over a week ago, I got a notice at work… I’ve been paying into a “flex medical spending” account all year. (If you buy anything vaguely medical… you can get reimbursed from this fund, as you’ve already paid for it. Mainly a handy way to keep some money aside for random medical stuff that comes up.) Apparently, if I don’t use up what’s in there before the end of the year… I completely lose it. So, I could just buy a bunch of cough syrup in December… but then I figured this is a good time to get those new eyeglasses.

So, I put the call out to some female friends and relatives… looking for anyone in the area who’s available to help me pick out a pair, or give suggestions. A female friend did say that she thought I’d look “delicious in glasses”… which was nice encouragement. One of my cousins said she was available, and recommended a store that she always had good luck with. I also got suggestions from my gay friends. (Because that’s who I trust for fashion advice… women and gay men. It seems to work.) I was told to look for “round, frameless lenses”… as they would compliment the shape of my face (which can look a little “blocky”), and be subtle enough to let my face be seen and not distracted.

That part actually fits my personal tastes. I don’t want something that says, “LOOK I’M WEARING GLASSES”. It’s like my shirts… I don’t do a lot of printed t-shirts with logos or funny sayings on them. I’d rather have people look at me and see *me*… not some clever art or gag that someone else wrote.

I think I did well with the glasses I picked out. They are frameless… and roundish (if not perfectly round). Not many people seem to notice them at first… but some eventually said, “Did you wear glasses before?” Yeah, I think that means they’re subtle enough.

The other big makeover element… is that I’ve been hitting the gym. Now, I don’t want to get to a point where I invalidate last year’s post about my fat days… but rather, I think this move compliments it. In the past, I had started working out after I was feeling particularly good about myself… this particular instance started a little differently.

I was at a friend’s house for his 8-year-old daughter’s birthday. I was there making animal balloons, juggling, etc… most of the stuff I used to do when I did children’s parties back West. Anyway… those kids tired me out WAY too quickly. And when I used to work with a Kid’s Theatre Group… I was helping to deal with 30+ kids every day for 5 days a week, for up to 6 weeks at a time. Now, one day for a few hours… I’m dead tired. Some pointed out, “Yeah, but you were in the Bounce-House… that will tire anyone out!” Which is true… maybe I shouldn’t feel so bad… but I still felt like I should have lasted longer than that. I so quickly got to the point of “over-exertion” that it seriously felt like something was wrong. So the next day, I went to the gym closest to my work, and signed up. (It helps that my work reimburses me for half the cost of the gym)

I do like this gym… much better than when I used to go to Schmally’s Total Fitness. Here, they tout it as a “judgment-free zone”. (Nice thought… but how do you control someone “thinking”?) They also have a trainer on-hand to help you out, almost all the time. When I joined Shmally’s… one of their bonuses was a “free hour with a personal trainer”, which was basically a one-hour advertisement to spend $1,000 to hire him. Wasn’t useful at all. Here, they actually sit down with you and create a personalized workout plan based on you and what your goals are. (My goals: “To have more energy, and to look good naked.” Hey, everyone’s thinking that… I just had the balls to say it.) That’s exactly what I need… a structured plan. If you just give me a bunch of machines and say “Go for it”… I’ll do a bunch of excercises, but I’ll end up missing a lot of key muscle groups, because I won’t know what I’m doing. They also gave me a little dietary advice, and they’re always willing to answer my questions whenever I ask. This is a much better place than Bally-… I mean, Schmally’s. (Don’t want to do any endorsements either way)

I started that program in mid-August. My goal was to hopefully see some decent results by Halloween. Figured 2 ½ months was a reasonable amount of time to do so. Well, since then, the bathroom scale has constantly said “205 lbs”… then again, my cat stepped across it the other day, and I could have sworn it said “205 lbs”… so I’m thinking I can’t exactly trust it. My arms have gotten a little bigger… and my legs are a little slimmer… yet I haven’t really noticed anything in the belly-area… the part I was mainly concerned about. But last week, when I went for a haircut… the girl that I go to asked me if I’ve lost weight, saying I look a little slimmer. That comment just ensured me going back to the gym for the next 2 months.

Some minor elements of the slow-make-over… I’m trying harder to upgrade my wardrobe. Last winter, I sprung for a new suit… which was a big step for me, actually. The first suit I ever got was the one my parents bought for my Senior Pictures in High School. Which I ended up also using for my Senior Pictures in College… and several other instances in between and after. I also got some hand-me-downs from relatives and whatnot… but no matter how often they said, “Wow, it looks like it was *made* for you…” I knew it wasn’t. It wasn’t *my* suit. None of them were. So this… in a very real sense… is my first suit. (I also picked up a navy blazer with it. Thank you, Men’s Wearhouse.)

Fashion-wise… my tastes are fairly simple. Most of my dress shirts and even t-shirts, are solid colors. I’m not big on patterns… but I’m trying to keep an eye out for striped shirts that I think look good. Again, though… it needs to be a simple pattern for me. Not 17 stripes of different shades of the same color… that’s too noisy for me. Even if they look good on me… I don’t like it. Pants… I like khakis mainly, but I’ll only wear my black slacks for work or something.

One of the qualities I’d really like to find in my next relationship is someone with a good sense of style. Someone that I can go shopping with and will do well with helping me to look nice. (Yes, I’m a man that doesn’t mind going shopping.) With my last relationship, we didn’t do that very often… I would have liked to, but not having a lot of money to do that with puts a damper on it. (The curse of the starving artist) She did help me pick out my first leather jacket… which I never wore that often, actually. I think the reminder of her (this was *that* relationship) dissuaded me from wanting to wear it… but thankfully, it doesn’t bother me that much anymore. (Which is good… because it’s coming up on the not-so-happy anniversary. Yes, I hate the fact that I still remember that.) So, these days I’m trying to wear it more often.

Now, I’ve tried to go through a few “make-overs” over the years… and oddly enough, usually whenever I did try to have a make-over… or at least make some “change” to myself that was noticeable to others… I found I got noticed by the opposite sex a lot more than usual, and sometimes would end up in a relationship within a couple of months. After I shaved my head (for a show) and sported the “bald” look for a while, I found several instances of being noticed. Same thing after I started dyeing my hair blonde and returned to school after working out for a summer. Maybe it was the confidence of feeling like a new person that showed through… or the drastic change that caught their attention… or maybe a bit of both. Who knows?

This certainly didn’t happen ALL the time… in fact, only a few relationships started after a make-over. Most of the time it was just little ole me from start to finish.

But the thing that I’ve noticed about make-overs… they’re not permanent. We think of them as potentially life-changing kinds of things… but after a period of time, we do fall back into old habits. At best, make-overs tend to be “temporary ego-boosters”… which can be a good thing. Many of us need more self-confidence more often. (I know I wouldn’t mind it) But the brief nature of them… can be a bit depressing.

Maybe that’s why I’m sticking to the “slow” make-over. Doing it slowly, over a longer period… trying to work on one element at a time, which will hopefully be healthier for me both physically and mentally. If it’s a choice between feeling FABULOUS about myself for a very short time… or feeling “pretty darn good” about myself for life. I’ll take the latter.

Sure, the changes will be subtle and gradual… so anyone that already knows me won’t overtly notice it right away. Plus, it’s a LOT harder to do it long-term… it’s easy to shave the head or dye the hair or get a new suit. But the hair grows in, the dye fades, and the suit won’t get worn all the time. But just maybe, while walking around on a normal day somewhere down the line, I’ll be able to catch the eye of someone new… someone that’s worth noticing, and who will find me to be noticeable, too.

At least now I’ll be able to see them… because I gots new glasses. :)


Awesome Autumn

Ah, October… this really is my favorite time of year.

Autumn is the best for me, hands down. And to me, the Fall begins in October. The Summer ends on the 31st of August… and September was always that weird limbo-month when school started. But it’s officially Fall when October hits.

When I was living on the West Coast… this was always the time of year that I missed New England the most. From October 1st to Thanksgiving… if I ever got “homesick” it was then. (After that, it got too freaking cold. I’d spend a week back home for Christmas, get my fill of snow in that time… and most of the rest of the year can be nicely experienced in the fairly tepid temperatures of the Pacific Time Zone.) Northern California had *some* similarities to New England… mostly in the Geography (at least the area I was in), but you still didn’t have the color changes of the leaves. Up there it was almost all Evergreen trees… which were pretty on their own, but you couldn’t tell if it was the Dog Days of Summer or early February just by looking around.

In fact, the changing of the leaves is what really signifies Autumn. The colors of Fall are yellow, red and orange… and you get the best color-changes here in New England. You even get people from out-of-state that make trips solely to see the leaves change color. Personally, I think that’s a *tad* on the extreme side. It’s all great to look at when you’re on your way to see or do something else… as part of the journey… but as the destination? That just seems… a little boring. If you’re only reason to come to New England right now is to watch leaves die and fall off their branch… you *really* need better hobbies. We do have a few amusement parks, and other things worth looking at, you know… not just rotting plant life. (Which is essentially what it is)

But still, whatever floats your boat, I guess. Though it actually is a bit on the appropriate side to go out of your way to see death and decay… because October is also the time of Halloween!

Yeah, I admit… that’s probably my biggest reason for loving Autumn. It’s the closest thing that I have to a true “religious holiday”. (In fact, I *am* taking that day off work this year.) Sure, my first Halloween back here wasn’t the greatest, as I mentioned last year, but I’ll always be hopeful. In fact, I *am* planning to give Salem another shot this year… so we’ll see if it goes any better than last time.

But even if it’s too commercial or “sell-out”… New England is still THE place to be for the Halloween season.

Face it, New England INVENTED freaking Halloween!

(Okay that statement is 75% mistaken… and the other 25 is a flat-out lie… but hopefully you know what I mean…)

You wanna know why Halloween in New England is the best? Because living around here… is like living in an actual horror film.

There’s a damn good reason that Steven King and H.P. Lovecraft set 95% of their stories in this region. Because it can get pretty damn creepy… and that’s WITHOUT specialized decorations or any effort at all.

Looking at the history of the United States (as an entity)… this is the oldest part of it. Yes, I know that the Native Americans were all over the place long before that… but this is where the silly Europeans first landed… and brought with them all the superstitions and religious fire-and-brimstone stuff that scared the piss out of them in the first place. The native tribes looked at us like we were slack-jawed “furr-en-ers” and decided not to clue us in on what we should and shouldn’t really be afraid of in nature. (So, we ended up getting some of the ideas flipped)

But silly ideas and superstitions are what made for good atmosphere… so we had witches and spooky nights almost from the get-go. So now New England has atmosphere in spades, moreso then probably any other area of the country… and I eat it up like a kid’s sugar-laden loot after a hefty trick-or-treating haul!

Speaking of which, the art of trick-or-treating seems to have declined. I consider them sad, almost tragic, stories when I hear of houses that “didn’t get many kids this year”… or in some cases, none at all.

The last time I went trick-or-treating was actually in Graduate School. I went with a bunch of friends in my Improv Group… we dressed up, grabbed pillow cases for sacks, and headed into the suburban neighborhoods and went trick-or-treating. The fact that we were all in our 20s (I was the oldest at 25) notwithstanding… we wanted our candy! (and the people were fine about giving it to us) I didn’t even care much about the candy, and I think I just threw a lot of it away in the end… but the experience of it was so much fun. It was a nice substitute for not being in New England that year.

Halloween is such an “overall” experience for me… I can’t just be satisfied with a one-night thing… it’s a full month-long celebration!

Every movie I see… I want it to be a horror film. I especially love the old ones… the black and white ones. They just help give me the “feeling” of Halloween so much more. And I’m not into the blood and gore (which I’ve talked about before), but the actual scary stuff. It’s annoying when studios make horror films and release them in August and September… but *rarely* in October. *That’s* when I want to see them! Not in the summer, or limbo-month! At Halloween! November? Why bother??

The books I read… have to be scary stories. I break out my scary story anthologies, and read them with the biggest smile on my face.

TV… I always try to catch the “Halloween Specials” that my favorite shows inevitably have. And thanks to DVD, I can watch them at MY schedule. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is always required viewing (I have to see that, or it’s guaranteed to be a bad Halloween that year)… if I watch The Muppet Show, I watch the episodes with Vincent Price or Alice Cooper. I always wanted The Simpsons Halloween Special to be a part of that tradition… but they always show the newest one AFTER Halloween. Like the November Horror movies… why even bother?

You see… for me, Halloween is a bit like male sexuality. It works best with a slow build-up… almost teasing. Gradually getting more and more intense and fun all the way up to the pinnacle, the climax… the coup-de-gras… Halloween night! And once that’s over… my interest COMPLETELY falls off. (A bit of an uncouth comparison… but an accurate one all the same)

Yep, as soon as it hits the morning of November 1st… I am finished with Halloween for the year. I don’t have much interest in eating Halloween candy… I’ve had my fill of horror movies for awhile… if I’m thinking of it, I *might* go to the store and get some discounted stuff to prepare for next year (but I rarely remember)… and all I care about is cleaning up and putting my attention to the upcoming Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday. (Basically going from one extreme to the next) Sure we can hang around a little and talk about how much fun we had… but when the calendar changes… I’m looking forward to what’s next.

As much as I love Halloween and horror… it isn’t my life. (Some may argue this) I just enjoy the season of “my” holiday, and like to get the most out of it. And that usually tides me over quite nicely until next year.

But for now… it’s only the beginning of October… and I’ve got lots of plans for the next few weeks. :)