Patreon | Introducing SwenkStock Nature & Urban Stock Photography

Ackley Train Tracks by SwenkStock

Taking pictures just like this has been a hobby of mine for quite some time. I really enjoy shots like the one below, as well.

While it’s always been a fulfilling hobby, I’ve found that with my editing work I don’t have a lot of time to pursue it. Like reading books, taking pictures is a way for me to escape the daily grind and truly look at life from a different perspective.
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Pop | Remembering #TheKing: Elvis Presley

Source: MeliSwenk
Source: MeliSwenk

Six years ago, I was taking a road trip from my then-home in South Carolina back to my mother’s house in Iowa. My best friend, who gracefully accepted when I asked him to drive me, offered to make stops anywhere I wanted along the way as long as we could stop in St. Louis to see the Budweiser brewery on the way back.

Without hesitation I retorted with, “Um, hell yeah.”

So, I made two requests: Graceland and Tupelo, MS. My mother is a huge Elvis Presley fan, which I didn’t understand until I hit puberty. Seriously. And, I hate to admit that. It makes it sound like Elvis only makes sense to hormonal women, and that just isn’t the case. I didn’t understand her lusting after him until after puberty, but his talent as a singer and musician never missed the mark with me. I loved his Christmas album before I ever loved Viva Las Vegas, and that was mainly for Ann Margret. Va-va-va-voom!

But I can’t say I didn’t feel something when we finally made it to the memorial and museum honoring Elvis’s birthplace. There were statues, a family car, and an extensive museum chronicling The King’s early life and rise to stardom. They even managed to maintain the very house Elvis was born in, outfitted with furniture from the time period–not the actual furniture the family lived with.

Elvis's Birth House /Source: MeliSwenk
Elvis’s Birth House /Source: MeliSwenk

So, on this, what would have been Elvis’s 80th birthday, I want to recount what happened when my friend and I took the tour of Graceland. Though the monument to his birthplace was stunning, it was closed when we arrived and felt rather, well, dead. It was just my friend and I wandering the grounds and trying to see inside the doors of the museum. Graceland, though, offered up a wonderful experience when we reached the Gold Records Room.

Source: MeliSwenk
Source: MeliSwenk

In this very room, a large group of people had collected with eyes glued to the walls, display cases, and a large TV mounted up into the left-hand corner of the room. The TV was showing old concert footage, and when Elvis began a rendition of “Amazing Grace” the entire room–which had been bustling with idle chatter and the movement of several bodies–hushed and all eyes turned to the big screen. For a moment, it was just us and The King, gracing us with his talent and his presence. It was the perfect moment and easy to get swept up in. Walking through his home, seeing the living room, the jungle room, and the room where he was last seen alive was an experience I knew my mother would never be able to have. Having these pictures and sharing them with her meant the world to me. I’m still planning on collecting them into a book and printing them off for her. I know she’d love it.

Remembering Elvis and his legacy in the music world always brings a smile to my face, and if you want to take part in that legacy, you can find Elvis albums on Amazon, Google Play, and Spotify for your listening pleasure! You can also read the TIME magazine feature about his rise to stardom.

Happy 80th Birthday, Elvis!!!

Celebrating 1958: Or, Happy Birthday, Mom!

Yesterday was my mom’s birthday. Though I don’t think she’ll mind too much that I let the entire world know how old she is, I know she would just hate it if I posted a picture of her… So, I’ll be kinda sneaky about it.

Source: MeliSwenk - Feb 2009
Source: MeliSwenk – Feb 2009

That’s one of my favorite shots of her, and I know it’s one of hers (but that’s because you can’t really see her face). Though, if you look at mine, you can get a pretty good idea.

Anyway, yesterday was her birthday, and in her honor I’m going to celebrate it by choosing five of the songs that were on the Billboard Top 100 in the year she was born. The five songs I’ve chosen are some of her favorites to this day, and each one of them has a special meaning for me, as well.

These first two were a couple of the tracks on a cassette my mother would often listen to while we were cleaning the house. It wouldn’t be a rare sight for all three of us (my mom, my sister, and I) to start dancing right there in the middle of the kitchen when either of these two songs came on.

1) Peggy Sue – Buddy Holly & The Crickets (#50 on the Top 100)

(From Buddys Glasses)

2) Chantilly Lace – The Big Bopper (#52 on the Top 100)

(From Concordbeltcreation2)

The next two are featured in one of my mom’s (and consequently, one of my own) favorite movie musicals: Grease (1978). To see that they were on the Top 100 when she was born is pretty cool. We would, again, have no hesitation in singing along to each and every song from this soundtrack. I was always partial to “Sandy/Stranded at the Drive-In.”

3) At the Hop – Danny & The Juniors (#20 on the Top 100)

(From Johnny1948ThreeC)

4) Tears on my Pillow – Little Anthony & The Imperials (#34 on the Top 100)

(From NRRArchives)

This last one reminds me of another movie my mom and I sat down and watched once, the Jerry Lee Lewis biography Great Balls of Fire starring Dennis Quaid and Winona Ryder. We were captivated by the compelling (and, then, somewhat strange-seeming) love story and the bold personality Lewis is depicted as having off-stage. It’s still one of my favorite bio-pics.

5) Great Balls of Fire – Jerry Lee Lewis (#36 on the Top 100)

(From Jerry Lee Lewis TV)

Pop | An Anthems Challenge: Final Five

I recently followed Alfred’s Almanac here on WordPress, and one of the first posts I see from him in my email is #6 in his 10 Anthems Meme Challenge post [Though, I’ve linked to the final post here]. I love music, and I’ve had a lot of songs that seem to follow me throughout my life. Songs that always hit a spot when I hear them, that take me back to the moment when I first heard that song and what it meant to me. There have even been a couple songs where, the very first time I heard them, I was moved to tears, literally. Number 6 on this list is one of them. And there’s one song a part of this list that rattled my brain after hearing it on a commercial. When I first downloaded it, I probably listened to it a million times in a row–no lie, probably an exaggeration, but no lie!

I have taken Alfred’s advice and broken it up, but not as narrowly as he did posting one song per day. I started with my Top 5 a couple days ago, and am concluding it today [since I ran out of luck yesterday!]. This is no particular order, other than the order I remembered them in, which might say something for how important they are to me.

So, if you want to take part–just link back to this post (or the first one linked above) and start posting the 10 songs you love the most, which have had the most impact on you.

6) Eternal Flame – The Bangles

This song stood up and slapped me, right out of nowhere. I wasn’t even in kindergarten when I heard this song for the first time. I still own (but probably not for much longer) the stuffed teddy bear I was holding when I started to cry. Granted, I was around 4 or 5, but I was literally moved to tears when I first heard this song. There were a couple teenage girls living next door to the apartment my mom, baby sister and I were inhabiting. They had amazing taste in music. I’m still friends with one of them, and it is because of those girls that I have such a fond memory of Susanna Hoffs’ lead vocals.

(From thebanglesVEVO)

7) Constant Craving – k.d. lang

“Constant Craving” is probably one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. Unrequited might have been another title for it, but within the lyrics, k.d. touches on desire and where it comes from, noting that it has always been–implying that it will always be. There will always be something we want, something we think we need, even if we can’t have it as soon as we want it. What do you do with that craving when you can’t quench it? The complementary video highlights k.d. singing solo and shots of vaudevillian entertainers cracking jokes and performing slapstick comedy. Is k.d.’s constant craving to entertain? Or is she reflecting on a human craving to seek acceptance from those around us–our captive audience? Play this in the background and think on it. Call it your mindful meditation for the day. 🙂

(From Warner Bros. Records)

8) Express Yourself – Madonna

This song has truly been an anthem of my life. In the lyrics, Madonna encourages women to not settle for whatever comes along romantically because he’s good in the sack or has lots of money. She also, inadvertently probably, tells women how important it is to communicate not only in the bedroom, but also in your life. If you want to be heard, if you want to pursue what you want out of life, you better speak the hell up! Express yourself, because “Girls, [if] you believe in love, [she’s] got something to sing about it…” She tells women love [and life] is in their control, if they just want to take it.

(From Warner Music Germany)

9) No Rain – Blind Melon

The lyrics to this song were the first words I ever heard and thought, “Wow, that sums up my depression; right there.” It was one of those moments when I felt someone had read my diary and put music to it. “Enrich my life away” pretty much sums (and summed up) how I spent my life, day in and day out, seeking information, believing that if I crammed enough information into my head I might finally feel useful, productive, wanted. Sometimes, I feel like I’m still looking for that garden of people dressed just like me.

(From emimusic)

10) Colors – April Smith and the Great Picture Show

This song was in the background on a paint commercial, or maybe a Woolbrite commercial talking about how bright and vibrant the colors in your clothing can be. Whatever. That isn’t even the point when it comes to this catchy little tune about dedication and true love–across an ocean’s distance. “I’ll wear your colors, my dear /til you’re standing right here / next to the one who adores you / whose heart is beating for you like a lighthouse / guide to shipwrecked sailors safely from the sea” is basically a mantra for my life. I’ll be here, waiting for you, until you come back home to me.

(From WNRN)

Pop | An Anthems Challenge

I recently followed Alfred’s Almanac here on WordPress, and one of the first posts I see from him in my email is #6 in his 10 Anthems Meme Challenge post [Though, I’ve linked to the final post here]. I love music, and I’ve had a lot of songs that seem to follow me throughout my life. Songs that always hit a spot when I hear them, that take me back to the moment when I first heard that song and what it meant to me. There have even been a couple songs where, the very first time I heard them, I was moved to tears, literally. Number 3 on this list is one of them. And there’s one song a part of this list that rattled my brain after hearing it on a commercial. When I first downloaded it, I probably listened to it a million times in a row–no lie, probably an exaggeration, but no lie! [That song will be featured in the last half of the list, tomorrow.]

I’m going to take Alfred’s advice and break it up, but not as narrowly as he did posting one song per day. I’ll start with my Top 5 today, and with any luck conclude with the last five tomorrow. This is no particular order, other than the order I remembered them in, which might say something for how important they are to me.

So, if you want to take part–just link back to this post (or the second one coming up) and start posting the 10 songs you love the most, which have had the most impact on you.

1) Blackbird – Paul McCartney

I have loved The Beatles and mostly Paul McCartney since I was a small child. I used to take an ice cream scoop and belt out “Yesterday” and “Day Tripper” from the tops of my lungs. I still do, when I hear them on the radio, only sans ice cream scoop. But this song, “Blackbird” probably speaks more to my spirit, my resiliency even when all I’ve wanted to do was “take my broken wings and learn to fly.” My entire life, I’ve felt like “blackbird singing in the dead night”, a mere voice, with no one there to hear or respond. So, without further ado, #1 in my Anthem Memes Challenge:

(From iamobservingu)

2) One More Minute – “Weird Al” Yankovic

Dare to Be Stupid was only one cassette away from The Beatles Greatest Hits cassette I found messing around in my parents’ music collections. I’ve literally loved Weird Al for as long as I’ve loved The Beatles, and when I wasn’t belting out “Yesterday” and “Day Tripper” I was giggling through “Slime Creatures from Outer Space” and “Girls Just Want to Have Lunch.” But, the one song that I loved from Dare to Be Stupid was “One More Minute.” With a doo-wop feel and all kinds of sarcasm, Weird Al told the one he used to love just how much he didn’t love her anymore. It got me right here (as I point to my funny bone).

(From alyankovicVEVO)

3) Daddy, Don’t You Walk So Fast – Wayne Newton

I heard this song for the first time in a living room in Grundy Center, Iowa, and I was very young. But, it was only just after my mother and father had divorced. I had been something of a daddy’s girl up until that point, and I never really understood why he’d had to leave (at the time, now it is more than clear why). Though, when I first heard this song, the beginning lyric “The love between us was dying” didn’t strike me near as hard as when the daughter begins running and calling after her leaving father that I just lost it. For the first time, in probably my entire life at that point, I felt like someone–even though it wasn’t the singer of the song–actually understood my feelings. It was a recognition I got from nothing and no one else at that point. I never got the chance to chase after my dad, and looking back on how things shook out–that was probably for the best.

(From robert harrison)

4) One of Us – Joan Osborne

I was on the cusp of high school when this song came out, and I was having a tough time of it. Struggling with depression and a misguided sense of isolation from the people around me, I began to wonder what my purpose was. This song puts me right back in those high school hallways, feeling lonely and lost. Considering God walking down those halls with me, didn’t make me feel better or bring me comfort, but it started me on the path to questioning religion totally. Why we believe, why we follow; what if God was one of us? Would he defend me? Would he have applauded me for turning the other cheek and letting those people say mean things to me? I’d like to think that He wouldn’t have, but would have told me to stand up for myself instead.

(From HermanTR)

5) Bitch – Meredith Brooks

This song also came out around the time that I was in high school, and I related to this much better and in a much more positive way than “One of Us”–nothing Joan could have done about it, unfortunately. This was because Meredith was talking about owning your identity, and even more than that, owning the identity that you choose for yourself. She called herself a bitch, it wasn’t as though she was fighting back from Big Bad Patriarchy. No one had called her this “bad” word–she’d taken it for herself. She insisted that you use it, repeating the word over and over again in the song. I remember the newspaper articles about the now-mainstream use of the word Bitch, appearing in soap operas and all over the place because of Meredith Brooks. And, I’d like to thank her for putting forward the concept of embracing your own identity–no matter what other people want to call you instead.

(From emimusic)

Favorite Horror Magazine: Rue Morgue

Feel free to play the mood music, and thank Tim Burton for putting it out there.

Ah, the week leading up to my favorite holiday of the entire year: Halloween. Spider webs, white-sheet ghosts, and gooey goblins all come out to spruce up the season and bring on the horror. This week I’ll be highlighting all my Halloween and Horror Movie favorites to lead up to the happiest day on Earth!

I grew up watching horror movies and generally loving everything scary; so, when I saw this crazy looking magazine cover from the rack in my local Kum & Go back in Iowa, I knew this magazine was going to be my favorite!

Rue Morgue Magazine May 2007 Issue 67
Rue Morgue Magazine May 2007 Issue 67

That was over seven years ago, and I’m still reading this deliciously devilish mag! Though I haven’t been able to afford a yearly subscription, (it’s published in Toronto and it’s a little out of my budget, especially after rate increases) the new digital subscription rate is much more within my budget. However, that means I wouldn’t have the shiny, glossy goodness right in my hands.

Since then, I have moved to southwest Missouri, and I can still get my Rue Morgue fix (Thank you, Books-a-Million!) whenever I’ve got $10 handy and can treat myself to it. The most recent issue I picked up was as a birthday present to myself, the September 2014 issue.

Rue Morgue September 2014 Issue 148
Rue Morgue September 2014 Issue 148

What I love about Rue Morgue is its complete fascination with the horror genre. It isn’t just the movies, TV shows, or film conventions. It’s music, video games, art, and re-issues. It’s one-stop shopping for the entire horror genre, from across the globe! They have great editorials that feature educated and well-rounded opinions toward what’s been around, what’s here, and what’s coming up. It is definitely worth the subscription price and cover price — no doubt about it! — but I can only swing it a couple times a year.

I have every issue I’ve ever purchased, which isn’t as amassed as it sounds, unfortunately; but I have a dream. And that dream includes a built-in wall of shelves that houses nothing but mint condition (if not well-read) copies of every issue ever published. If nothing else, it would look really cool and provide years of endless entertainment! If you love the horror genre, quirky and informed conversation, and a star-lined guide to Horror in Hollywood and across the globe, go pick up Rue Morgue today!

Music | Dr. Demento

With “Weird Al” experiencing such great success after the release of Mandatory Fun, I thought it might be fun to go all the way back to the guy who gave young Al Yankovic a chance (and some air-time) on his novelty radio show–Dr. Demento!

Source: Laughing Squid May 2013 Post
Source: Laughing Squid May 2013 Post

I discovered Weird Al because my father owned the Dare to be Stupid cassette tape, and I practically wore it out to nothing. And because of my love for Weird Al, I discovered the good doctor. Late at night, on Sunday nights, an Iowa radio station out of Waterloo, ROCK 108, would air the Dr. Demento Show. I would stay up–long past bed time–to hear it. I found it while I was doing internet searches for the man who discovered one of my musical idols. My music taste has never been the same.

The link above takes you to his official web page, where you can hear current radio broadcasts and read current blog posts. You can find an official playlist archive (including year-end countdowns, local LA shows, and the syndicated shows) that has been compiled by the original radio show’s historian. Themed playlists can be found at and There was a successful Kickstarter fundraiser for funding a documentary following Dr. Demento’s life from birth in Minnesota to his rise to stardom: Under the Smogberry Trees.

I’m definitely glad to hear Dr. D is alive and rocking to some of the best comedy music out today, and ever.

It Might Be an Obsession

Source: MeliSwenk
Source: MeliSwenk

Even though they warned me, I couldn’t stay away: abandoned buildings. This is an image from the Joplin Union Depot, which clearly has been abandoned for many decades. It was originally constructed in 1911, and looks beautiful–even with its contemporary veneer of graffiti and foliage gone wild.

Pictures and a five-part article detailing the history of the Depot can be found at the Historic Joplin website.

But my obsession with the abandoned began long before I moved to Joplin. As a young girl in Ackley, Iowa, I was captivated by the abandoned feed elevator in an alley right behind my apartment building. And an old abbey, across from my elementary school, used to be the canvas for some of my earliest horror stories. My entire life I’ve wanted to just walk around in there and see what got left behind. Old books could often be seen stacked up in the window wells, and the vines crawling up the broad brick exterior always held my gaze.

Source: MeliSwenk
Source: MeliSwenk

Maybe it’s the sense of stillness and quiet, I often take walks through cemeteries for the same reason–that, and far less foot traffic. It compels me to wonder about all that gets left behind. There must be so much more out there that people have simply forgotten about. The world moved on, but there will always be a special place in my heart for the architecture that got left behind…

Source: MeliSwenk
Source: MeliSwenk

Not to mention the romantic concept of discovery, happening upon something you weren’t expecting or aware of. The beauty of experiencing something after its heyday. I have a board on Pinterest called “Left for Dead”; with 99 images pinned, it is my biggest board; and abandoned places is the content I follow most often.

There is so much beauty and potential in a site that gets abandoned, and while there are plenty of reasons why a place might get abandoned, there couldn’t be a reason to simply demolish it when it becomes “unsightly.” Why not revamp, and create a new community center? Or, bust out the remainder of the broken windows and make it an open air market? Like a flea market, but better. Or, why not an open air entertainment venue? Where local musicians, artists, and performers can commune with the citizens they seek to engage.

Source: MeliSwenk
Source: MeliSwenk

Just imagine the possibilities…

Insert Witty "What I Like" Title Here

So… It’s been awhile. A while? Adverb or prepositional phrase, either way, you know what I mean.

So, I’ve been promising a blog or “social media” of some sort to a fellow co-worker and friend of mine for some time now, and here it is: rather than just having an “It’s been awhile” (I’m going with the adverb here) blog about just one topic, I’ll include a couple different things that are harboring my attention for themselves these days. What am I listening to? Reading? Watching? and Looking at? (That last one is what my friend is excited to hear/read about here.)

Without further ado (not that there was much)…

What am I listening to?
When I first started this blog, an up-and-coming singer’s father told him about it (this here slab of etchings you’re looking at right now). He started following my blog and I added him on MySpace. Since then, I’ve added him on Facebook and YouTube. Check out Tristan Clopet.


The prominent song on his site, “A Chat With My Brain,” is delicious for the upcoming summer season. Definitely something to cruise to (probably not a kickass suggestion considering the hiking gas prices) or lounge around on the beach to. Sit near an open window on a humid day with this song playing in the background if you can’t make it to the beach. Either way, it’s got sweet summer feelings ribboning through it. Simultaneously fun and mellow: it’s got a contemporary, crooning Folk feeling that’s a dirty-love-child combination of Bob Dylan-esque guitar riffs and Michael Buble’s soothing tenor. And that’s just the debut single. Other favorite tracks, “So Alive” and “Proximity Bomb” have a harder rock sound focusing on electric guitar and edgier vocals. Multi-faceted, talented, and kinda pretty, he’s just recorded his debut LP Name It What You Want, featuring “A Chat With My Brain” in March–sign up for the newsletter for drop dates. To quench the fiery thirst I’ve just incited, you can find “So Alive,” “Proximity Bomb,” and 4 other great tracks on his EP Purple.

What am I reading?
Being a graduate student majoring in English, this question has the potential for titles piling up in the multitudes, but I’m talking about what I’m reading in my spare time: leisure reading! For Christmas and during a Books-A-Million sale, I got two books by an author I was so, so, so excited to read: Joe Hill. And for good reason.


I’m one story from the end of his short story collection 20th Century Ghosts, and it isn’t what you’d expect based on the title alone. It’s contemporary fiction with a literary feel dancing around aspects of thrillers and the supernatural. There are a couple stories about ghosts, vampire hunters, and even possibly demons (at least, that’s how I read “My Father’s Mask”), but the stories are not about the ghosts. Definitely not the floaty-apparitional kind, though the title story includes a young, transparent girl named Imogen, it is not really her story. The stories are about the people who experience the ghosts, the supernatural phenomenon of floating high and free above garages and up to the window of the woman you love. These stories are about surviving your past, and how it is the life you’ve left behind that haunts you. Haunts us. The choices you didn’t make, you were forced to make. A couple stories are about real monsters, the monsters who live next door, the monsters who pick kids up from in front of a hardware store by luring them in with balloons. Black balloons. If his novel Heart-Shaped Box is anything like this collection, I’ll be hooked for life. If only because it appears he’s a Nirvana fan, too.

What am I watching?
I feel like I can answer this with one word and a picture: Archer.


But I’ll give you lots more information than that, because what kind of blogger would I be if I didn’t give you my unabridged opinion? A pretty crappy one, I figure.

Archer follows a team of secret spies who work for ISIS: International Secret Intelligence Service. The team was organized by the ever-haltingly-maternal Malory Archer, mother to arrogant and dead-pan Sterling Malory Archer. Voiced by H. Jon Benjamin, known for his work in the current animated Fox smash: Bob’s Burgers (as the title character), as Ben the lazy son of Dr. Katz in the Comedy Central cartoon, and maybe less known for his work as The Devil in the Adult Swim cartoon Lucy, Daughter of the Devil, Archer is not just arrogant but a sarcastic, self-centered, and takes-no-bullshit womanizer who happens to be good at his day job: saving the world (or at least ISIS) from utter destruction.

The cast is rounded out nicely with Lana Kane, a sultry and resourceful spy (Aisha Tyler); Pam Poovey, a mouthy bad-ass Human Resources Director (Amber Nash); Cyril Figgis, the oft-mocked comptroller (Chris Parnell); Malory Archer, ISIS Director and Sterling’s mother (Jessica Walter); Cheryl/Carol, Malory’s dim-witted, glue-eating secretary (Judy Greer); and Woodhouse, Archer’s patient-as-a-saint valet (George Coe).

You can find it on FX Thursday nights at 10 pm EST/9 pm CST. The best part is you get a full hour and a half with this show because FX runs the newest episode at 9, the previous week’s show at 9:30, and then reprises the new one at 10.

What am I looking at?
Should actually read “Who am I looking at?” because in addition to the books and television shows, there’s someone else I’ve been looking at lately–mainly, at the request of my aforementioned friend/co-worker: Ryan Bertroche (this link is to his Facebook page).


I’m always interested in local talent, regional and statewide. It seems sometimes people can forget the Midwest exists because we have Chicago, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Omaha. None of which sounds like New York City or Hollywood, and are mostly known for wind, snow, beer, and corn. So, when people like Ashton Kutcher, Elijah Wood, and Megan Monaghan, creep up on the scene I like to cheer them on from my place at the sidelines. Granted, Blog Readers, I know there are several more famous Midwesterners famous for a much broader range of things than being pretty and acting–but I wanted to focus on pretty Iowans who became actors because who I’m looking at hails from Bettendorf, IowaSocialite Life does a Male Model Monday on Facebook, and here is Ryan’s profile from February 2010.

He started modeling right out of high school, and he’s posed for several famous photographers (none of whom I recognized), but he’s appeared in V MagazineArena Homme PlusVogue Homme JapanOut MagazineSports, and Style. He’s also been doing some acting, and can be seen in the 2009 SyFy remake of Stephen King’s Children of the Corn as Amos. I haven’t seen this version, so I can’t speak to his acting chops, yet. But if Ashton could do it, why not Ryan?


I mean, just look at the guy. Girls are gonna be begging to watch him fall in love, fight a war, and self-destruct on the big screen in minutes. He’ll be the next Robert Pattinson before he knows what hit him.

So, I hope you all enjoyed my little (ha!) update about what’s keeping my attention locked up in a little metal box under its bed. Take a peek if it sounds interesting, and if it doesn’t, well, just chalk it up to a girl mumbling in the corner and go on about your rounds…


Hey all!

This here is my mini-update:

Working custodial for the summer at UNI. Some days are better than others. My faith in humanity dies a little bit after every destroyed room or moldy fridge I clean, but if it only takes that much I didn’t have much to begin with. 😉 Also, I think every dorm building made with brick and mortar need to be air conditioned on the regular. For realisies, I think I might die one of these days just from heat exhaustion/dehydration. I come home everyday a puddle of my former self…

I’m also working ahead on the readings for my comprehensive exams. I have two: one written and one oral. My written exam is over three books “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere” by ZZ Packer, “Frankenstein” Shelley’s original 1818 edition, and “The Canterbury Tales” by Chaucer. If anyone knows of a good Chaucer decoder ring, I would totally trade my soul for it. Frankly, the words in that book and my potential inability to understand them frighten me. The written exam will be taking place in the Fall of 2010. My oral exam is a 60 minute discussion over 15-25 texts that helped me write my thesis (200 pages of prose fiction/my novel). This I’m only a little bit scared about. But I’m sure once it gets closer to the date (Spring 2011), I will be aptly shitting myself. Ugh…

Other than that, I’ve just been sitting back, being cozy in my apartment. Looking for that special someone to fill my thoughts and heart. Eh, but that will come in time. For now, I’m just writing, reading, working and loving every rotten, stinking, putrid minute of it! 😀


Some part of me has always known about you–I imagine it was the same part that knew my truth before I did. Being with men, pursuing that lifestyle always felt like going through the motions. Girls, though, girls held my attention–I thought they were beautiful for beauty’s sake. Not beautiful so that I could soak up that beauty like a month-old sponge. I wanted popular, pretty men so that I could feel pretty and popular–their acceptance of me meant that I could accept me. Women were always just beautiful: simple, easy. Requiring very little on my part, except their acknowledgment. But women back then were a goal to attain–unbeknownst to me that they could be romantic attachments.

I don’t remember the first time I saw you–I remember the jokes about your blurred boundaries. Your talent quieted that talk soon enough though. Boy, could you sing–and with such heart, such passion. Every word seems to carry your entire heart through your slim, pink lips. A testament to endurance, certainly. A testament to the generosity of your heart. Your shining eyes are proof of your enjoyment. You want to be there as much as we want you to be there.

Your beauty exists without boundary–a true vessel of love, life wrapped in a men’s tailored suit. An Elvis hairstyle rests over your sad eyes: blue never ending. Touch me with the softness of your skin. Welcome me in. I can’t promise you won’t regret it, but I can make it worth your while.

Thank you for having the strength to be honest with your heart. Sharing, on that level, with millions of people is something most would avoid, shy away from. You embraced this with every fiber and put them all on display. My heart, though only just truly acquainted with you, would have never been the same. Though it seems insignificant and small: thank you.

Today’s Horoscope…

from Astrocenter:

This may be one of those days when there are hundreds of people around you, dear Virgo, and yet you feel completely alone. For some reason, no one seems to understand your perspective. Your incredible sensitivity and emotionalism is putting you in a category of your own. Try not to ostracize yourself from the group. Reach out to others instead of pulling back away from them. You have more in common with other people than you think.

Being alone in the middle of a crowd is something I’ve always dreamed of. I experienced it more than two years ago walking down the street in Polish Town, Chicago at 5 pm. It was everything I’d hoped it would be. Gloriously anonymous in a sea of bodies, bodies who may or may not know each other. Bodies who may or may not know I was new to the area and desperately seeking The Red Apple Buffet.


However, the prophecy above speaks to a different kind of anonymity. A kind of anonymity I’m far too familiar with. From the 4th grade on, I lived in Ackley, Iowa and never felt more out of place. I never felt like I belonged here, even after I began to get to know people and make friends. Something about this place always rubbed me the wrong way, and made me feel like an outcast.

I wasn’t Abercrombie & Fitch material. I wasn’t a size 6. I wasn’t moderately rich enough to have all the things my peers did. I wasn’t athletic. I put an education above and beyond anything else. I didn’t care what (or who) everyone else was doing. I didn’t even get along with the other people who felt this way about high school.

Everyone knew me, whether they wanted to or not, and because I didn’t want to know anyone else I felt alone in the crowd. I felt ostracized. So I admired, sought the real anonymity of a crowded city street, apartment building, corner coffee shop. I desired to walk down a street or hallway and truly not know the people abreast of me.

From what I’d learned, most of those people sucked anyway. What was the point of getting to know them?

This passage is telling me that I have more in common with other people than I know. Yeah, I can see the similarities: a brain, a heart, and a set of eyes.

The difference? I use mine.

FMyLife and other horrible secrets….

Recently, I’ve taken to reading the anonymous posts at FMyLife and My Horrible Secret. Both are sites dedicated to folks “logging in” and admitting the shitty things that have either happened to them or they’ve done to others, respectively. There are also links attached to each post. At Fmylife (FML), the “f” in the title is fairly obvious if you don’t already know, the links read: “I agree, your life is fucked” or “You deserved it”. Basically offering support to the one whose life is fucked or telling them they shouldn’t be such a jack-ass. At My Horrible Secret (MHS), the links read “Wow, you’re messed up” or “I’m just like you” allowing the “monster” writing the post to feel a little more human in their confession.

In my recent scouring, I’ve decided on a couple of things:

1) My life is truly not that bad. I may be a gay girl in the middle of Iowa with divorced parents, who doesn’t know how to drive, and nearly a hundred thousand dollars in debt (due to student loans), but I am not posting at MHS how I pluck my ingrown pubic hairs with my roommate’s tweezers because she ate my jelly. I mean, I’m just NOT living a life that messed up.

2) I’m not as mentally unstable as I thought, with my little secrets. I posted one or two to My Horrible Secret and it turns out lots of people feel the same way I do. Wow. Quite the revelation from folks looking to these sites to feel better about their situation. Then I read a comment from one poster that read “I click ‘I’m Just Like You’ on every post.” FML.

3) Based on certain posts from FML, your parents, your significant others, and perfect strangers are the worst people on the planet. They will be the first to tell you that you’re fat, make you feel stupid, or bet against your sex life. Especially when they are drunk, under the impression you can’t hear them talking, or watching you eat some of the free bread before you order. I mean, c’mon what happened to basic human decency? But I guess there is a certain charm to knowing how these people actually feel about you. Why live blissfully lied to, when you can struggle through life knowing the complete truth?

4) Reading posts from MHS, I will never, ever have a roommate I didn’t know in advance. Further, I will never trust another significant other as long as I live. Most people are disgusting freaks who need to find a better way to vent their emotions rather than take it out on the unsuspecting public, roomie, ex-girl-or-boyfriend, or random fat chick.

But can I stop reading them? No. They truly do make me feel better about the piddly-ass problems I’m facing right now. Some of them are sick and twisted, others are sad and totally wrong. Being the reader of these admissions and secrets, you get to judge them! Feel free to make the sick fuckers feel like the monsters they are, then go and tell that poor girl that her life is messed up because her mother bet her father $20 she wasn’t a virgin anymore. But like the moderators at My Horrible Secret demand, judge those people but don’t be a douche bag about it!

The Consequences…

There are a couple of movies I’ve seen recently that made me notice a thematic pattern. I didn’t think of it until I watched the trailer for Gamer due out in September of this year from Lionsgate Films.

With the rise and sustained popularity of reality/ competition television, what happens when people come to their senses and stop taking part in this ridiculous bout of self-humiliation for the sake of “glory” and 15 minutes of fame? Where will the competitors come from? According to the few movies I have in mind, they will come from jail cells.

When you break the law, you go to jail. And all the god-fearing, law-abiding citizens love and respect this system when it works in the most idealistic of situations. However, once you inhabit one of those cement rooms you are at the mercy of the warden, employed officers, and the government at large.

What happens when the compound is bought by the government and the government is running television transmission (which is also a theme in these “prisoner for entertainment” movies)?

In Death Race (2008), convict Jensen Ames (Jason Statham) is tapped by ambitious Warden Hennessey (Joan Allen) to compete as masked driver Frankenstein after he is arrested for his wife’s murder. Tapped may be a light word for the arm-twisting Hennessey incites to get Ames to do her bidding. Frankenstein is the most popular driver in a competition where life-sentence convicts race for their freedom in armored cars or die trying. Whenever a driver is killed, the crowd goes wild and ratings shoot sky-ward. The prisoners have lost their humanity and have become a commodity in raising money for the compound and ultimately the goverment. If they are just going to sit in a jail cell, why not serve a purpose, right?

This is no new concept in action/thriller fiction. Richard Bachman wrote a novel in 1982, much ahead of his time I may say, called The Running Man. Which lead to the 1987 movie of the same name starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. The plot of the movie and novel are focused on the game show sharing the novel’s title, but how the main character – Ben Richards – becomes entangled are two different scenarios.

In the novel, Bachman paints Richards as a family man who volunteers for the show to get money for medicine to heal his sick daughter. The film depicts Richards as a former-cop convicted of mass murder who organized a break-out and succeeds. Tape of his escape captures the eye of the host/producer of the show as an audience (and ratings)-grabbing darling for The Running Man competition. Richards has to run for his freedom and elude the show’s hunters, knows as “The Stalkers”. In the novel, the “audience” is encouraged to turn in The Running Man when he is spotted in their neighborhood. While the film depicts the television-studio-bound crowd as blood-thirsty spectators to the fights which ensue between Richards and The Stalkers. While also being a commodity in a dystopian nation, Richards has to fight for his integrity as a human being.

In the newest movie GamerGerard Butler – Kable – is a convict chosen to take part in a “live action” video game where there is no reset button. His chances of winning are based on the “gamer” who he represents in the “game.” While I obviously haven’t seen this yet, I can guess he’s got a life sentence and is at the mercy of a warden who thinks he’s the scum of the Earth. Further, this isn’t a reality tv situation where the station is run by the government. This entire game is the brain child of a reclusive millionare Ken Castle played by Dexter‘s Michael C. Hall. I just wonder who decided to use convicts as the avatars for the game?

This all got me thinking about how it’s so easy for all of us to see the “less fortunate” or “untouchable” people in our society as ultimately “less than human.” Because a man is homeless (see Extreme Measures [1996]) or has broken the law he or she deserves less than humane treatment. There are groups in record numbers to protect defenseless animals, but nothing recognizing the fact that prisoners are still human beings.

“But, Melissa, those assholes rape, steal, murder, and take advantage the God-fearing, law-abiding citizens!”

Sure, but aren’t we all just one act of passion or moment of insanity away from being behind bars? If you end up in a jail cell, wouldn’t you want to be treated like the “person” you were before acting on a bad decision or even on impulse?

Being human means you are fragile, your mind rests in a precarious balance easily upset by any source of trauma. Some of us are inherently evil, some of us just can’t help being destructive to ourself or others. Does that mean we aren’t entitled to humane treatment? Should it mean we can’t care about the people who make mistakes? Granted, people need punishment. It’s necessary to learn from mistakes and teach others what will happen when you break the rules. But rule breakers are still people and entitled to at least a basic level of human respect.

Isn’t a country really only as good as the treatment it gives its “lowliest” citizens?

These movies, while good for action-packed scenes, can also teach us to remember that humanity stretches to all humans not just the pretty, rich, un-catchable law breakers…

Short Story Contest Results

In March, I wrote about submitting a short story to a writing contest online. You can view that post [here]. I just wanted to let you all know about the results – viewable [here]. I made it to the second round finalists. Which means I was selected, among several others, from the initial group of submissions, and then selected again from that weeded group. I didn’t make honorable mention or win the contest, but I’m glad that I made it to the second round finalists. That gives me hope. I’m writing a short for these same people ReadingWriters who are holding a contest called Dynamic Dialogue. The story must be nothing but dialogue, no narrative. Not even a he said or she replied.

I’ll be putting the short “I See You” up at Lulu for purchase since it didn’t win at ReadingWriters. I will blog that update soon.