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Greeting! As the journey continues, I am relocating my blog to make it more user friendly and more focused on my craft life. Thank you for being part of the journey and Join me at Crochet By Michele here


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Philip Seymour Hoffman – Commentary On A Tragic Loss

Hoffman as the music critic Lester Bangs in Almost Famous (2000). Photograph: Allstar/Dreamworks/Sportsphoto

Hoffman as the music critic Lester Bangs in Almost Famous (2000). Photograph: Allstar/Dreamworks/Sportsphoto

Since reading GUTS and getting to know Kristen Johnston, my life has surely changed. I have been able to find my own voice about addiction and inner struggles. The truth is, the secrecy is what kills. The secrecy is what keeps us in its grip. Addiction kills. Make no mistake about it. But the secrecy is the nuclear bomb of it all.

Getting to know Kristen has helped me break that secrecy. I have been clean off heroin over 16 years by the grace of God. But that doesn’t mean that relapse or death that happened to Philip Seymour Hoffman can’t happen to me. Or you. Or any one of us.

Addiction does not care if you are black or white, young or old, rich or poor. Addiction will seduce you, love you and then kill you. It is just that simple.

I met Phil many years ago. Over 20 years ago in NYC in fact. I doubt he would have remembered me, but I remembered him and followed his career closely. To me, he was one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, character actors of our generation. His work on stage and screen was simply brilliant.

But what I remember about meeting him was how quiet and unassuming he was. I was always mesmerized at how he transformed into such a giant on the screen or stage and truly owned the roles he took in contrast to the man I met.

He was loved by many including his long time partner and his kids. Not to mention close friends and adoring fans. But it doesn’t matter to addiction. He died alone in a bathroom. It breaks my heart.

His death hit me hard.

I had my own dance with drugs in my youth and it wasn’t long before I was snorting lines and popping pills. Within a year from getting out of my first stint at rehab I had escalated to straight up shooting heroin. I have never admitted that publicly until now. Yes, I used heroin.

Heroin gave my mind a peace, a quiet calm I had never known. My insecurities, Aspergers, troubled intellect, and addictions made my young head feel like it wanted to explode daily. Suddenly that angst all melted away when I used heroin. It felt like it was the only way for me to be “ok” and not feel like my own mind was against me. I somehow convinced myself that it was my “medicine,” and had nothing to do with addiction. (Can you say denial?)

At 20, I OD’d in a friends bathroom. I was in his bathroom because I was homeless and did not have my own. I ended up flatlining at Cabrini Hospital.

By the Grace of God I survived that incident (and many others) and, when I was 25, I found Jesus and also got clean off heroin. But I have always known that death was possibly next and could not understand how I lived even that long.

Maybe that is why PSH’s death hit me so hard. That could have been me. Alone. In a bathroom.

I struggled to find words when I found out the news of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death. To me, the loss is of a huge talent. The loss is of a quiet lovely man. The loss is to a disease of addiction who claimed another soul.

So I share with you here a few words found by others that summed up what I myself was unable to say:

CarolRoth

and…

Kristen Johnston

and … perhaps speaking the words I tried so hard to find and can most relate to:

Andy Lassner

Ali Spagnola’s Running Man Saves the World

It is true. Ali is humorous. I adore her from a far in a non stalker way 🙂

I enjoy her antics but this has to be my fave. I share it with you because, really, can you ever get enough of this chick, her Keytar and the running man?  (someday I may send her a funky wall outlet cover as well)

Enjoy!

Motivational Monday: I’m a triathlete! Holy cow!

Like I said before, when I started this blog it was as much about connecting with others as sharing my own journey. One of the wonderful things that happened to me on this journey is that I was welcomed into the FitFluential community. What a wonderful place to connect online and get motivation and support.

Continuing my effort to prevent Me-itis, which I think many blogs suffer from, this week I want to introduce you to Stephanie, someone I met in my FitFluential family. Stephanie asked me if I thought her motivation was “vain” because she wanted to look good.

Um hello.. that is not vain, that is HONEST! And I LOVE it. Because don’t we all want to look and feel good?

My favorite thing Stephanie says is this” “I also have intense pride in what my body can do” … YES!!!

OK – without more from me.. here is Stephanie:

Stephanie ThenAt the sake of sounding completely vain, I’m going to be totally honest with you. When someone asks me what my motivation was to lose the weight, the answer is simple.

I want to wear cute clothes, and look fabulous in them.

I spent about 8 years of my life overweight/obese. During that time, I wasn’t particularly unhappy. I’d met the man of my dreams, discovered a love for cooking and baking, had great friends and my career took a left turn into something I really enjoyed doing. I smiled. I laughed.

And I shopped in the plus size section. It was one of the only times I experienced discontent.

Standing in a fitting room, a dozen pairs of pants in front of me. All squeezing me unflatteringly in one spot or another. Muffin top, too tight to sit down in the thighs, baggy enough (aside from the waist) that they looked like clown pants. Let’s not talk about my 8 boot-free years, that’s still painful. Nothing ever fit my calves.

To be clear, there are plenty of gorgeous things you can wear when you’re sporting some curves. I was known for having great shoes and accessories, rocked a wrap dress and made a pencil skirt my signature.

But there were things I could not pull off, things I desperately wanted to wear. Little black dresses that were little. Mini skirts (which, to be clear, are more like normal skirts on my 27” inseam). Skinny jeans! Boots!

In 2007, my now-husband proposed to me, and we made a promise to one another to lose the weight we’d gained through years of happy-eating, and get fit. We wanted the life we spent together to be a long one. So we started moving.

I still cooked, just with less butter, more olive oil. Less frying, more baking. My husband started running, he lost 100lbs in the process.

It took me longer to find a passion – which turned out to be everything. I run, I bike, I swim (I’m a triathlete! Holy cow!), I lift, I train in muay thai, I do crossfit workouts with my coworkers.

And to work, every day, I get to put on dresses that make me feel amazing. I’m confident in whatever I wear, and I have intense pride in my appearance.

Stephanie The Triathlete

Stephanie The Triathlete

I also have intense pride in what my body can do. I look back through my blog and see when I was lifting and struggling with 12lb weights in my strength training classes, and when a 3 mile run was truly a haul.

I can see injuries I’ve had (nothing major, knock on wood!) and that I’ve healed and moved past. Mentally, I am stronger, and even happier than I was.

So what motivates me? This gorgeous dress I’m wearing while I type this blog post (at work, shhhhh), but also my husband’s love and our desire to spend many wonderful years together. The side benefits, I feel great, and I still get to cook my heart out.

Life is excellent, and I experience it in 4” heels.

Follow Stephanie on her tumblr blog here  and on twitter here

Stand For What You Believe In

I LOVE this tweet today from Bethenny:

Screen Shot 2014-01-20 at 4.53.53 PM
As you guys know, I’ve been dealing with some pretty vicious bullying on social media recently by someone I did business with.  Taking a step back, I decided to simplify things, take a break from my bling shop, close it and go back to my 1st love: Midwest Crochet.

Then, two days ago, I got caught up in a twitter drama that had nothing to do with me. But that did not stop the people harassing me from seizing the opportunity to slander my name and tweet more lies.

Because of this, I’ve really struggled the last few days.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned recently, it’s that Social Media can be a scary, cruel, unfair place.

But it’s also incredible-a place filled with honesty, humor, generosity, and yes, some people struggling. It’s because of you wonderful people that I’ve decided to post this and be brave enough to do what I believe in.

Judge me all you want. At this point, I no longer really care. I care about what I believe in. I believe in me and I believe in SLAM. 

But first, let me tell you how it began…

One night, I  stumbled onto actress Kristen Johnston (known as KJo on social media) when she was on Watch What Happens Live and I fell in love with her. I immediately read her memoir GUTS, which opened up something deep within me and began healing wounds I didn’t even know I still had.  Because of it, I’m now a much happier version of myself.

But I’ve been most inspired by the incredible devotion and commitment she has for the non-profit organization she created 6 years ago, SLAM (Sobriety, Learning And Motivation.) SLAM’s goal is simple: to see that NYC creates it’s first, desperately needed sober high school.

SLAM

 

There are over 25 sober high schools across the US, four in the Boston area ALONE. Yet none in NYC or NY state.

 

I can’t put into words the confusion & anger I feel that NYC’s board of education continues to brush off the urgency of this school.  It breaks my heart to know how many kids are in desperate need for this school, and how many young lives will be lost to the hell of addiction.

I know what I’m talking about from personal experience. By the Grace of God, despite my unfortunate youth, I have managed to not only survive but thrive and have a wonderful life.  But it wasn’t easy. If you know anyone like me, or someone who has a child who struggles with addiction or social challenges then you get it.

Which brings me back to Kristen & SLAM. As soon as I heard about it, I  immediately knew how important it is. And this thought keeps me up at night: “What would my life be like if I’d had a place like SLAM to go to?”

Just the thought makes my eyes well up. I have thought about these “what ifs” many times. Many, many, many times.

SLAM is needed. SLAM is a MUST. SLAM could have saved me from years of destruction to my own life and others who I ran over on my way to trying to kill myself with drugs.  I know many kids who weren’t as lucky as me.

I watched many die.

kjophoto

As Kristen herself says “So many of NYC’s teens are in a silent crisis no one will discuss. Like you, Michele, they just need guidance, understanding and hope. Yet we are doing nothing for them. Sometimes I feel like I’m shouting into a wind-tunnel, and no one will hear me.”

I hear you, Kristen.

That is why I’m opening myself, even if afraid of facing ridicule, to you and sharing my tale. I no longer want to sit idly by as good kids are lost forever.  I am doing what I can to help and you can help SLAM in a few ways too:

 

1. Buy a GUTS shirt. ALL proceeds go to making SLAM a reality. Kristen and I do not make a penny.

2. Go to slamnyc.org and make a donation. No amount too small.

3. Let’s all go old school and taking pen to paper to let the NYC School Board know we mean business. It can be a few words, or paragraphs. Just let NYC know we care about this issue.  Please join Kristen’s letter writing campaign:

Mail your letter to:

SLAM, 332 Bleecker street, NY, NY, 10014
**
att: “SLAM letter campaign” on envelope***

Address the letters To:
Ms. Carmen Fariña (the brand new Chancellor) and/or  to NYC’s Board Of Education. Or simply “To whom it may concern”
LETTERS ARE DUE MARCH 1

Motivational Monday: Meet Shannon, A Real Badass!

When I started this blog it was as much about connecting with others as sharing my own journey. I an effort to prevent Me-itis, which I think many blogs suffer from, I wanted to be sure to include stories from the women I meet along the way. for 2014 I want to do Motivational Mondays and introduce you to some wonderful women who I have met who motivate and inspire me.

For the first guest post of this series I would like to introduce you to Shannon. Like me, Shannon owns a craft based business and was overweight and unhappy. A change was needed. But more than that base I can relate to, Shannon is a constant reminder to STAY on my journey. Some days are tough and Shannon’s posts are a place I often go when I need that extra push of motivation.

Without more rambling from me… here is Shannon:

Shannon

 
When Michele asked me to guest post about motivation for her new series, I will be totally honest…I wasn’t sure what to write! Four words sum up how I view myself.

I am just me.

Plain and simple. I am a woman who was overweight (205lbs and 5’2” in 2009), got pregnant, struggled through a difficult pregnancy and labor, had post-partum depression, and lost herself.  I am a woman who needed to find herself, and did when she started painting and sculpting again.

My transformation isn’t really unlike anyone elses. I have fallen off the band wagon; gotten to a happy weight and stopped going to the gym. I’ve stepped on a scale at a friends house and been unhappy with the number that it showed.

That’s really when things changed for me. That’s when the view of myself changed.

It was Christmas 2012 and we were at our friends place for our annual gathering and Santa Claus parade. Like when you see a scale in your friends bathroom, I stepped on it. 171lbs. All of the hard work going to the gym was gone. I was back to square one.

Right then and there I told myself that I would be a priority.

After doing Insanity, and starting running…and running some more (it truly is my soul mate workout) I have new words to sum up how I view myself.

I am badass.

I think something that we forget about ourselves is just how strong we are. We become….comfortable and, for the most part, don’t want to be the centre of attention. Noone wants to say look at me! Look at what I accomplished today!

But you know what? Celebrate it! Be proud of making the choice to put yourself first; so many people won’t do it because they feel that it’s not important.

YOU are important. The day that I realized that was the day that my entire life changed. It was the day that I found my voice and the day that I promised I would never be the unhappy, overweight girl again.

IMG_0361Do you need more motivation? Consider this.

While you’re reading this, I will have run at least twice over the weekend, likely a total of 6-7km.

I am also 3 months pregnant, and have registered for two 5km races for this coming April and May. Yes…I will be 6 and 7 months pregnant when I run them.

Am I afraid? Absolutely not, because I am badass.

And you can be too. Get out there and get moving! Put YOU first!

 

For more motivation and inspiration, visit Shannon’s Blog, Instagram and Facebook

Growing Pains and Forgiveness

I’ve been struggling with this post for a few days. It’s difficult sometimes to walk in forgiveness and still tell the story about what we need to forgive. At least, it’s difficult for me!

As I relive the story to share it and talk about the experience, I find myself getting caught up in the anger and hurt of what happened. This could be with anything really, but right now, for me, it’s about some events that recently occurred.

At first, I was going to keep it all to myself. My pride didn’t want people to know what a fool I can be or that I am someone who is so blinded by my goals sometimes I miss the signs or sounds from my gut to slow down.

I don’t want people to know I was stupid and naive when I’m the one who is supposed to “know better”.

I felt and still feel embarrassed this even happened. So that shame kept me from writing or really even talking about it. But that didn’t stop me from being angry or hurt.

And I’ve been through so much worse in my life that this is may seem so small and trivial it’s comical in a way. But it’s not trivial. I put everything on the line for this journey so it all matters to me.

And my ego preventing me from sharing may also be preventing my future success.

The truth is, that not talking only made things worse because I was letting my ego dictate the terms of life and forgiveness and growing. That is never a good thing.

So here I am trying to walk in forgiveness and still tell the story. I will start at the beginning.

A couple of years ago, when I was starting Midwest Crochet, I was  thinking of ways to get the word out beyond the world of craft and
handmade sites, to the mass market.

My husband & I were watching The Real Housewives of New Jersey and he commented how new cast members Melissa & Joe Gorga always wore hats so I should send them some of mine. I let this comment fester in my mind a few days then reached out by email to Melissa to send her some hats.

I had heard of “celebrity gifting” and am familiar with trade-outs from my former career but hadn’t planned on going in that direction…
until now.

A woman replied who was repping Mrs. Gorga with an address to send the hats so I did.

A couple of weeks later I received a lovely tweet from Melissa about the hats and how she loves them. With that also came sales as her fanbase was now exposed to my work.

Ok I thought, this is great!

Melissa Gorga in her Midwest Crochet Cowl

Melissa Gorga in her
Midwest Crochet Cowl

A few months later, I got an email from this rep that Melissa is appearing near me and would I like to “sponsor” it. Oh? Sponsor? What does this mean?

She said I would get my logo on the press materials, the step & repeat where photographs were to be taken, and would have “time” with Melissa & Joe Gorga. All for only $350!

At the time, Midwest Crochet was still in infancy so this kind of opportunity seemed great!

I was working on a reality production in Chicago at the time so worked with my boss to make sure we had the day off and signed up and sent my money.

My logo was not on any of the advance press or promotional material. NOW, would be a big red flag, but at the time I was so busy with my production that I didn’t have time to notice or care or understand what I should be asking for and getting for my dollars.

As a business owner, I need to ALWAYS make time to care!

At the event, we were not seated with Melissa and Joe and the other sponsors. We were seated in the main area with all the people who paid to meet her. Again, NOW, that would be a red flag, but at the time I just tried to enjoy myself and was still learning.

Later, Melissa & Joe posed for pictures. We had about 2 minutes to talk as her rep was rushing me to get the line moving.

Me & Melissa Gorga Celebrating my Midwest Crochet Logo

Me & Melissa Gorga
Celebrating my Midwest Crochet Logo

But Melissa did remember my hats and we laughed about our husbands. Melissa was super sweet and even showed off the new scarf I brought her that day in later pics. We have since exchanged tweets and she has always shown support for me and Midwest Crochet.

As I was leaving her rep stopped me to say “hey you work in production, I do publicity, maybe we can work together”. Again, NOW, that would be a red flag but then I didn’t know better.

All she really wanted I later found out, was access to my money and my contacts. But that comes later.

A week or so later she emailed me some pictures from the event and a handful of “press” links. The pictures were fun but nowhere in the press was my business name or logo. Again, that would be a red flag today but back then I didn’t know any better.

When I started to get more serious about Midwest Crochet, I reached out to this rep to ask about upcoming events with Melissa Gorga. She told me she no longer represented her but had other clients so she will keep me in mind.

Several months later, the publicist contacted me saying she now reps Kathy Wakile and is putting together an event with the Wakiles at the same location as the Gorga event and would I like to sign up for the same sponsorship deal. So I did.

Again, like the previous event, I was not seated with other sponsors, the Wakiles or any press. This time I stood up for myself. I was then seated by a lovely blogger named Laura.

This actually worked out better for me because Laura is fantastic and we had a great time chatting and getting to know each other. We still keep in touch occasionally on social media and in an unexpected gesture of awesomeness, she even wrote about Midwest Crochet on her fashion blog.

Ok so back to this story.

Kathy Wakile in her Midwest Crochet Oversized Infinity Scarf

Kathy Wakile in her
Midwest Crochet Oversized Infinity Scarf

Kathy posed for pictures and was lovely and seemed to really enjoy the scarf I gave her. Of course it was my Oversized Infinity Scarf, my signature item.

I mentioned to this publicist that I’m leaving TV industry soon to focus full time on building Midwest Crochet and would be interested in other events.

A few months later, which was over this past summer, I realized Midwest Crochet has the huge potential to grow but I needed help getting the word out.

I’m busy crochetting, designing and filling orders and working on my blog as well as writing my book. I needed someone to help me promote and build the brand as well as create or find new opportunities for exposure.

So I reached out to this publicist to talk about representing me and my brand. And this is where things get ugly and strange.

She says yes and we agree on an amount for her fee based on my marketing budget.  She was to help get me placed and reviewed in fashion blogs, get my work in front of stylists and into 2 online retailers she works with as well as to tv media outlets.

Well, none of that happened and you can read more about that aspect in my post about hiring an amateur. She also asked me if I could get her reality tv show pitch idea in front of my contacts. Again, NOW, this would be a huge red flag but at the time I didn’t think anything of it.

She then sent me a list of her current clients. She told me to go ahead and send her gift packages for them and she will get them to pose in and tweet about my work. Ok, I said. Sounds good.

Special Midwest Crochet gifts bags FULL of product

Special Midwest Crochet gifts bags FULL of product

I look at the list to see if any hit my target market or have shown similar styles that would compliment my work. Several do hit the mark so I package up over $1500 of product in special blinged out gift bags I ordered for this occasion and send it off to the publicist.

She also is supposed to be handling “gifting” to other celebs I reached out to on my own, which she ended up sending to the wrong people if they were ever sent at all.

A week goes by, nothing.

Two weeks, nothing.

So I email “my” publicist. She says she is sending the work that week, she has “been busy”. Um ok. But I’m PAYING her to do this so that should have been a red flag. Now it would be! She should be BUSY with my business!

Finally, a couple of weeks later I still have not heard anything so I ask again. She says they went out and in fact one client, JWOWW from MTV just texted her to thank her and will tweet soon.

Another week, nothing.

Now it’s over 3 months later and I have fired the publicist and start tweeting these stars directly. None respond.

Then; one, Drita D’Avanzo of Mob Wives, finally does reply to a tweet and her new rep says she got them and thanks me but: “we don’t promise pictures I’m sorry for any confusion”.

The others never respond.

I’m livid. I’m hurt.

I’m out several hundred dollars to this publicist for her “fees” to represent my brand, organize these gifts and photos and I am out over $1500 in Midwest Crochet product.

I feel scammed. Truly.

I was sorting through all of this in my mind and then recently, I saw a tweet from this publicist and one of these reality star clients asking for free gifts and sponsors for gifts bags for her birthday party. It made me sick to my stomach and sad to think of all the small businesses that will fall for it, like I did.

I feel sad they will think, oh wow this is great exposure, when all it is is reality stars getting other people to pay for their antics run by this publicist.

I’m sad because what started out as genuine gifting to people who I thought might enjoy my work turned into something of a scam and my goal to build a brand made me blind to it.

I still gift though now I do it more quietly to people I truly want to gift (whether they tweet or promote my work or not) and to people who don’t ask for it or ask for anything else.

I just sent Kathy Wakile and her family some new Midwest Crochet treats for winter and received a lovely thank you and know they are enjoying them.

I have sent other celebrities, NOT reality stars gifts and received wonderful response.

And I need to forgive. I need to forgive them and myself and put my ego aside. It’s hard but I’ve got to do it.

I need to ignore the tweets and madness and not be angry. But share this story for other small business owners that they may ask more questions, even get a written contract and not just emails and phone calls.

I need to forgive, learn and move on.

It’s the only way isn’t it?

Chris Whitley: A Memory of a Genius

 

Lou Reed’s passing has been heavy on my heart but has led me down a wonderful musical journey this week. I have found myself spending a lot of time these last few days listening to the music that helped shape me: Velvet Underground, Reed’s solo work, early Bowie, Mott The Hoople, Roxy Music. And somehow my musical journey took me to Chris Whitley.

It’s not really shocking when you think about it. In fact, it makes perfect sense. While Whitley was far less obscure in his musical endeavors, he was no less a genius. He was a musician’s musician and shared that rawness that Reed was famous for.

I remember the first time I stumbled onto Whitley. It was not through some pure music related event or happenstance but certainly it was destined. After my grandfather passed, I spent a lot of time in Miami with my grandmother. She lived in a retirement community and we would stay up late watching the talk shows and Rockford Files re-runs.

On nights I would scamper off to discover the local music scene, she would wait up for me to come home and when I walked in there was always a plate of bar-b-q chicken wings and fresh iced tea waiting for me.

One night, I came home while grandma was watching David Letterman, so I joined her on the couch to watch the end of the show. About a minute after I sat down, he introduced Chris Whitley. I was hooked after the first cord was struck. I went the next day to get his debut Living With The Law and was a fan ever since.

A short time later, I was back in NYC and I was working at the Knitting Factory night club on Leonard Street (now the home of luxury condos, but then the home of some of the best music New York had to offer). I had been working there for a few months, doing admission, advance ticket sales, and then got more into production helping bands load in for sound-check and such.

Many great artists had performed here: John Zorn, Bernie Worrell, Steven Bernstein and Sex Mob, Cindy Blackman, Ravi Coltrane, Jeff Buckley to name a few. And, Chris Whitley!

I was young and it was perfect. I probably would have been a patron anyway, so getting paid to be there was a bonus.

For a while, I thought I wanted to do more than just work the production side or take tickets at the door. The only problem was that the owner of the club, Michael Dorf, and I had a relationship that bordered on rocky. I wanted a chance to book some shows, but I was a cocky and young and he wasn’t exactly eager to give me a shot until I proved my worth.

I saw my chance to earn my right to book a show when a band cancelled two weeks before their show and everyone in the offices was scrambling to fill the empty Friday night. I thought this is IT. MY moment.

In my time working at the club, one artist I became friendly with when he played the club was Chris Whitley. Like I said, he was a genius on the guitar, absolutely insane, and I had the chance to learn he was an awesome guy too. Quirky, humble, raw and real.

As timing and luck would have it, I happened to run into Chris and asked him if he’d be willing to fill in and let me promote a night of him playing. He signed his answer to me on the liner of his CD: YES. (I still have the insert!)

I then called his manager whom I had also befriended and tossed out the idea of an intimate evening with Chris Whitley and his music. What I envisioned was Chris, a mic, and a few guitars, but no band. It was revolutionary they thought but to me it was reminiscent of how I first encountered him on that Letterman show. We’d add tables and chairs like an old cabaret style show. He agreed and we settled on a price. Imagine my surprise when I got the friends and favor price! I was incredibly humbled and insanely stoked.

When I went to Dorf with the idea and the deal already sealed with Whitley, he said go for it and so I did.

Within a week it was half sold out, and when the doors opened, it had been sold out completely, In advance. It was a huge feat and it solidified my thoughts that this industry was my home. Not in booking per se, but the actual production of shows. The night was a success and I went on to book a few more shows there.

The greatest part of that evening was being there. Every note, every song, every story, every lyric was perfect. It was, in fact, one of the best nights of my life.

In 2005 when Chris Whitley passed away, I thought about that night and how my life had been touched by his artistry and his personality. It will forever be a part of my life, something he left behind. It was a time where everything was new, raw, and awesome for me and became part of my story.

While I am still saddened by the passing of Lou Reed, I love that this memory of Chris Whitley came back to me and is part of the banks of my mind.

It is comforting to be able to look back at my past to moments that made me proud and contributed to where I am and who I am now. I learned a lot from that experience and the music is forever a part of me.

Do you ever have yourself suddenly go back in time to a memory? Do you take a minute to not just enjoy the memory but also enjoy how it is part of your story?

Dream School

“Challenges don’t have to be obstacles”  Fabian Cousteau on Dream School.

dream schoolWhen I was negotiating my terms for one of my last reality tv projects, the director of production at the production company said to me “it’s just another reality show. We aren’t changing the world”.

This stuck with me and in my mind, confirmed that it was time to make a change. I didn’t want to change the world, but I definitely want to make a difference. In my own life for sure but hopefully in others’ lives too.

I had heard rumblings of a new reality show produced by 50 Cent but didn’t know much about it. Then, I recently stumbled onto it and it’s not your everyday reality show. It’s a new series called Dream School on Sundance Channel and man am I hooked. This is in fact the kind of reality show that is going to hopefully change the world and change lives. I am watching it happen every week right before my eyes.

The show takes a handful of high school drop-outs and gives them a hard core 6 week program to get their high school diploma. Led by a group of celebrities and scholars, this show is about making an investment in these kids. Not to change their surroundings or circumstance. Not to change who they are or what they’ve done. But to give these kids the chance to change where they are going!

That’s right: This show is about the future and that blows my mind.

David Arquette (who acts as the ‘Homeroom Teacher’), Soledad O’Brien, Suze Orman, Oliver Stone, Swizz Beatz, Jeff Corwin … these are just a few of the big time names that show up to help teach these kids what they need to graduate and succeed.

This isn’t about a big Cause Celebre where these big names are doing a publicity stunt. These celebrities are showing up and diving in, getting involved and getting their hands dirty.

The scene with David Arquette and the transgender student Alan was one of the most authentic moments I have ever seen on reality TV. Only to be outdone by when Suze Orman referred to Alan as “she”.  After the class, Alan approached Ms. Orman and was given the opportunity to defend himself and really set the tone for his future.

But you could tell this kid has been bullied and beaten down. The moment when Suze reminded him to get in people’s faces (respectfully of course) and assert himself was powerful stuff. It was clear Alan had never been in such an environment where not only were his needs met, but they were a priority!  It was an empowering moment to see.

It was amazing to watch Oliver Stone, one of the world’s most respected and admired Directors, a true Story Teller, get shot down by a group of uninterested students. In his first class with the students, he could not reach them. And we are talking about Oliver Stone! He makes his LIVING connecting with people through cinema. But he could not connect with these kids.

He came back, in this week’s episode for his second class and it was like a totally different person. Mr. Stone told his story of being in Vietnam. He connected with the students and had them engaged and interested and asking questions. It was amazing to see the turn around.

And it was amazing to see the kids OPEN to give him that second chance instead of tuning him out from the start.

I watch this series with tears in my eyes. Tears of sadness for what our nation’s education system has become and tears of joy that this small group of celebrities took interest and are changing the future for these kids and hopefully the way people look at education. This series could very well be the wake up call this nation’s education system needed.

For me, it’s personal. I was bounced from school to school. Kicked out of so many I can’t even tell you. They didn’t know what to do with me. Back 30 years ago, a child with Aspergers was more of a destruction and distraction that a glimmer of hope for the future. No one knew what to do to educate me or connect with me.

Finally I landed in more of a warehouse than a school. A place to go every day. An institution. I graduated with a high school diploma but was not prepared to be a success. I clawed my way through and luckily for me, I survived and did become a success. I know many who didn’t.

I understand Dream School. I get it. I celebrate it each week when you can see the lives being changed. I thought I left reality TV for good, but if they staff up for this series, I may have to lobby to find my way back in to be on this project.

I encourage you to check out the series. But more than that, I encourage you to be inspired by it.

Oh The Memories : RIP Lou Reed

Lou Reed (photo credit unknown)

Lou Reed (photo credit unknown)

The news of Lou Reed’s passing hits me hard. I have written many times how much music means to me. As I say, I believe in music the way kids believe in fairy tales.

Lou Reed’s music as a solo artist and Velvet Underground is the stuff I grew up on. I wasn’t even born by the time Velvet Underground broke up, but their music survived the break up and was one of my great discoveries in the hours I spent at Bleecker Bob’s record store in NYC.

 

I had the amazing opportunity to see Lou Reed live a couple of times. I wish I was not as high so I could remember more of it. I also remember running into Lou Reed a few times on the upper west side of NYC in the late 90’s. The first time was the best. He was so cool. I mean; this was the definition of “cool”.

Whenever I hear bands like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, or any version of punk or glam, I can almost always sense the influence and inspiration drawn from Lou Reed’s music. I hear it in a note, a grunt, a lyric. It’s always there.

His style was that bare, raw honest version of music you just don’t hear anymore. I think it was what set him apart from the rest. He didn’t drown out his riffs with bombastic overload. He left them raw and real for you to experience each chord with him.

The soundtrack of my life lost a great contributor today in the passing of Lou Reed. But his music will live on for generations to come. And that is an amazing gift he leaves behind.

Read David Fricke’s awesome feature on Lou Reed for Rolling Stone here.

 

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