Friday, October 24, 2014

Who wants to be a reality television star?

It's been a weird week. (More of a weird year, but that's another blog.)

Last week I received an email from a TV producer who found some of my writing online and was interested in developing it into a reality television show. I was flattered, as anyone would be when a TV network deems their life worthy of exploitation. 

My first reaction was "thanks but no thanks," as being in a reality show falls just above getting a root canal on my fun-things-to-do list. But since it's not every day you get the chance to join the ranks of TV greats like Snookie and Kate Gosselin, I ran the idea past a few people. They all said the same thing: be careful, but it doesn't hurt to listen and discuss ideas. Plus, this would further my ultimate goal of being on Dancing with the Stars. I'm past the point of being able to participate on the show as a professional ballroom dancer, so I'm gonna have to get famous somehow and be one of the stars. This could be that chance. 

I called and I listened to the ideas, and I'm going to try and explain my experience without giving away the show premise. The network, which was at one time known for playing music on television,** wanted to take an "authentic" look into certain aspects of Christian culture. We could use people already in my life, they said, or if the people close to me weren't interested in doing a reality show, they could cast those people. Cause as we know, most authentic relationships begin with a casting call. (I mean, I guess that's essentially what online dating is? A two-way audition? Actually, that sounds like all dating.)

I asked a lot of questions, and to the producer's credit, he was very patient with them and answered honestly. The most eye-opening moment of our conversation, though, was during a follow up phone call. I asked about how much control I'd have over casting, story lines, and final editing. He went through a very long response that essentially said the network retains all control. Then, he confessed he wasn't used to answering these kinds of questions. Usually, he said, people are so eager for their slice of fame they just sign a contract. 

It saddens and frustrates me that so many people are willing to exploit their life for the sake of cheap entertainment. Not all reality shows are like that (some portray things honestly and have redeeming elements), but most exploit lifestyles via fabricated drama. Our culture is so obsessed with celebrity that we'll sign up to do anything without considering the consequences. Or maybe we do consider the consequences and don't care. 

In this particular case, I think it'd be better to develop a script and do something creative, but that's expensive and takes more effort, and networks have figured out that they don't need to go through that much trouble. People will both participate in and watch the cheap programming. (I'm not guiltless. I'm a Toddlers and Tiaras addict, to the point that I've been invited to visit them on location and watch them film.)

I gave it some serious thought. I ran my pros and cons list past several more people--people who understood the industry, had no stake in the outcome, and who would shoot straight. In the end, I went with my initial instinct and turned it down. There's a small chance it would've turned out alright. I don't know. But I'm a writer. I tell jokes in front of people because it's the only way to see if what I've written is funny. I don't want to be a reality star. (Unless we could call the show "Not Sixteen and Not Pregnant," where we follow the lives of people who, you guessed it, aren't sixteen and aren't pregnant.)

I wasn't comfortable having this aspect of my life, and the lives of others close to me, splattered on reality TV. If they wanted to do a show where I "borrow" other people's kids and enter them into pageants, (they'd get to go home if they won, but if they lost they'd be sent to an orphanage in Tibet) I'd be 100% on board with that. We could call it Ultimate Grand Hostage or something equally dark and cheesy.

I also offered to help them develop a scripted series on the topic, but whatever the length of a standard long shot is, this is probably a hundred times that distance.

So, it is with a heavy heart that I say you will not get to see me on a reality show any time soon.

I could go on, but I have to stop blogging and go figure out how to make a steak costume for a costume party. A group of us are going as the ingredients of a burrito and are bringing a blanket to wrap around all of us. On second thought...maybe I should have a camera crew following me around. 

What is your favorite reality show and do you think they exploit the lives of those involved? On what terms would you do a reality show?

**If your first guess was Country Music Television then we're probably not friends. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Budgeting my juror check Dave Ramsey style

Earlier this month I got extorted by my local government into showing up for jury duty. My lack of luck at getting drawn for things finally had a positive side and I didn't get picked for a jury. Today I received this beautiful souvenir in the mail commemorating the time I spent sitting in a room full of people holding my breath. 

Even though $6 is mere pittance in this economy, I decided I should still steward it well. So I ran my good citizen earnings through a Dave Ramsey budget recommendation pie chart. This is how I'll be spending my $6.

$1.8 will go toward my housing. My parents will really appreciate getting rent from me this month.
$1.2 will go directly to food. I will enjoy feasting on one child size Chipotle taco. 
$.60 will go toward my car. Pretty sure I can get a couple tablespoons of gas. 
$.60 will go to getting clothes, but if I shop at Goodwill that's an entire outfit. 
$.30 will go to my medical bills. Finally get a bandaid and protect this nasty hangnail from tearing.
$.18 will go toward insurance. Or in this case, reassuring me that I will never be fully assured of insurance. 
$.06 to further my education. Perhaps I'll buy a Laffy Taffy and study the joke on it. 
$.60 to my credit cards and loans. Sally Mae will be so proud.
$.18 into my savings account, aka the toilet shaped mug sitting on my desk. 
$.18 will go toward entertainment. I'll probably just get 18 pennies and look for one with my birth year on it. That was fun as a kid. 
$.30 will go to charity. I need to pray about which one I should bless with my abundance.

The good news is I'm off the hook for jury duty for three more years, and I can go get a Smashburger. (But just the burger. If I want cheese and the other trimmings I gotta wait until I get jury duty again.)

Friday, August 8, 2014

Scuba Diving and the Art of Ego Maintenance

Utila, Honduras
Humans cannot breathe underwater.

But humans are not deterred by such physical limitations. We will go to outer space. We will push that oversized bag into the overhead bin to avoid paying $25 extra dollars. And we will find a way to breathe underwater.

During my junior year of college I took an open water scuba certification class as one of my electives. My chubby, socially awkward self thought it looked adventurous.

I went to school in Dallas. If you look at a map you'll quickly realize it's not a popular dive destination. We're landlocked with a handful of muddy man-made lakes scattered about. My "adventurous" dive training equated to sitting in at the bottom of the campus pool in full scuba gear and then rushing to logic class dripping wet. Our scuba certification dives were completed in a glorified pond created specifically for diver training. The only marine life were two catfish that swam around us. But if you squinted they kind of looked like small, sad sharks.

Last year I went diving for the first time in the ocean while on a Caribbean cruise. It was like entering an alternate universe. I don't know why Ariel would ever leave that world to be part of ours. Singing fool. Aside from some buoyancy issues, jelly fish encounters, and the general fear I'd lose my group if I turned around to look at some coral, it was great.

This year two of my sisters and I decided to take a couple weeks and go to Honduras to further our dive training. Already advanced divers, my sisters went on to complete a rescue diver course, and I went off all by myself to an advanced course.

Most of our time was spent on Utila, the smallest bay island off the coast of Honduras. Utila is unlike anywhere else in the world. This 7x2.5 mile island marches to a rhythm all its own, and I absolutely loved the culture and vibrancy.

I met people from at least ten different countries. My dive instructor was from Spain. (I really wanted to ask her or her husband to say "Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." But my siblings said that was racist. I don't think it's racist. Incredibly tacky, yes. But not racist.)
I talked with a lady whose great grandmother was one of the original Islanders. She herself grew up there and left only a handful of times.
One of my dive buddies was a former Israeli solder. (My brilliant plan for us in case of a shark attack: I'd distract it with a joke and he could take it out with Krav Maga.)

Kate and Leah heading from Utila back to Roatan. We were taller than our plane. I've never been taller than our plane before.
It had been almost ten full years since I'd had any dive training and I had a lot to learn. I'm naturally gifted at nothing and while I eventually catch on, it just takes me a little longer and makes my pride a little sore. What I lack in natural capability, though, I make up for in resilience and sheer determination.

(A/N: I'm about to launch into scuba jargon. I will try and explain as I go, but you really should go get scuba certified so you can a) understand the language and b) know what raw happiness feels like.)

A few things I learned during my advanced course:

Nitrogen narcosis: At deeper depths some divers can experience a thing called "nitrogen narcosis," where the nitrogen and pressure give a narcotic/drunken effect. I'm a little slow as it is, so that didn't change much. My nitrogen narcosis manifested in the form of feeling very happy. I could've been dismembered by a shark at 100 feet and felt nothing but joy and exhilaration.

Metric: Apparently everywhere except the U.S. adheres to the metric system. Meters, kilometers, centigrade, I had no idea what was happening. My brain hurt from converting constantly. (Okay, fine. It wasn't that bad. I'm just lazy and bad at math.)

Night dives:  This was by far my toughest dive. I had two diving fears: night dives and diving in enclosed spaces. I was determined to conquer them. My shining moment of the trip came during our pre-dive briefing. Our instructor told us we'd have flashlights. I was nervous and distracted and I meant to ask how big and bright the flashlights would be. What came out was: "will we be able to see with the flashlights?" Everyone at our table just stared, and that's when I coined the term "surface narcosis"--being stupid without the help of anything at all.

Diving is addicting. Really, really addicting. I can understand why the diving community in North Texas dug a hole specifically for diving. I'm already planning my next trip. I may even take our relationship to the next level and invest in a mask. And perhaps go back and become a rescue diver. And who knows, maybe I'll even become a divemaster one day.

I'll have to work on my navigational skills, though. Cause right now if I led a dive we'd start in Honduras and end in Thailand.

If you made it this far, please enjoy these pictures:

Our friend Mika. He let us be part of his pod.

My sister Kate in her scuba selfie.

Group photo at the "Airport Caves"

Look how tan my legs are. 

View of the Roatan reefs from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Tres Decades


In just over a month I'll hit 3 decades of life outside my mom's stomach. To commemorate, I'm generously and selflessly giving the world a "what I've learned" blog. No need to thank me. It's for the people.

So, what I've learned about life so far:

Time is the most important currency. (Chipotle a close second.)
I used to try and do everything. Now I'm using words like "prioritize" and "focus." I'm doing less, but spending more time trying to do the things I say "yes" to well. It's weird, but necessary since my aging body needs close to 12 hours of sleep a night.

When taking road trips, take time to visit the weird little stops along the way.
I mean, come one. You haven't lived until you've seen the barbed wire exhibit at the Window on the Plains museum in Dumas, Texas.

"No regrets" doesn't exist.
No matter what you choose, you will regret things. Making a choice means you're giving up an infinite number of other choices you could've made. We'll always know the hard things in the path we've chosen. We tend to regret the decisions we passed up based on the best case scenario had we gone down that path. Choose to see the fun, random, quirky things that are in the life you're living.

Your heart is going to break. Probably multiple times over your lifetime. Pray it heals in a way that is tender, not bitter.
The first time I experienced betrayal was at six when Timmy, my pet turtle, bit a piece of skin off my finger and ate it. And that was just the beginning. Your heart will break, sprain, get stubbed, and shatter at various points throughout your lifetime. As C.S. Lewis says, the only way to keep your heart intact is to avoid all attachment all together.

In those moments where you're lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, wondering if your heart will go on, (Celine reference absolutely intended) and fighting the urge pull a Howard Hughes and permanently hole yourself up in a room and grow out your fingernails, take a deep breath and pray. Pray that God heals your heart in a way that is tender and compassionate, not angry and bitter. It feels like a fight sometimes, but it's a battle worth fighting.

Stop worrying about what people are saying and thinking.
Seriously, quit it. They're not living your life. You are.

Also, if you find the "off" switch for worrying about the opinions of others, please let me know where it's located. I've yet to discover it, so it's mostly just frequetly asking God to help me focus on honoring and glorifying Him.

Listen more than you talk. 
One of the greatest acts of selflessness is surrendering what you want to say so others can say what's on their heart. People are fascinating. Give 'em a listen.

Be quick to apologize and make amends.
My initial reaction when confronted, corrected, or accused is defense--especially when a situation has been misread or misinterpreted. The truth will come out. Sometimes I've knowingly wronged others, sometimes I've unknowingly done it. Both require humility and repentance. It never stops being tough. And scene.

Eat healthy and take care of yourself, but don't obsess about it.
If I ate all organic food I'd spend the extra years of my life paying off the credit cards I used to buy my pesticide free food. Make healthy choices within your means. Take care of yourself, don't be lazy about your health, but don't obsess over every molecule you do or don't inhale.

Jesus really, truly, is enough.
At the end of my life God's not going to look at my resume, ask whether I "lived the dream," or gauge how fulfilled I felt on earth. He's going to see the blood of Jesus and say "well done, my good and faithful servant." What a relief.

Let's go, 30s. I'm ready for you.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Please join me in getting this phrase removed from the Christianese dictionary.

If you're in the church any length of time you'll begin picking up on a jargon known as "Christianese." We've all seen sketches and blogs addressing this linguistic phenomenon. (The best one I've seen is Shoot Christians Say by Tripp and Tyler.)

"Wrecked by grace," "wrestling with," "just trying to seek God's will," and "praying for open doors" are some of the phrases we repeat because we know most Christians will understand what we're saying. Clich├ęs are the fast food of words. We can quickly express what we're trying to express without putting in too much time or effort.

There's one phrase, however, that I think we need quit cold turkey. It is my personal opinion that the phrase "love on" must be permanently expunged from our Christianese phrase book. Every time I hear it I think to myself in an Inigo Montoya voice, "You keep using that phrase. I do not think it means what you think it means."

I know what we're trying to say. I know. But it's just a bizarre expression that sounds...not like we want it to sound. I received confirmation of this a couple weeks ago when the following conversation happened during a Bible study I have with 6th graders:

Me: "Let's stay focused. I have to leave on time today cause I'm watching my friend's daughter and need to make sure she got home from school okay and feed her dinner."

6th grade girl: "How old is she? Should you have left her by herself?"

Me: "She's okay alone for a little bit--she's in 7th grade."

6th grade girl pulls out her phone--which is discouraged during our meeting time. She notices me notice the phone. 

6th grade girl: "Sorry--I'm just texting to tell my dad to pick me up a little early cause you have to go home and love on a teenager."

Me: "Can you maybe reword that text?"

6th grade girl: "Why? That's what people say."

Other 6th grade girl: "'Love on' just sounds really...creepy."

I rest my case.

I don't want to leave anyone short an expression, so here are some suggested less creepy alternative phrases for "love on":
Care for
Help out
Show hospitality to
Exhibit brotherly kindness
Concern thyself with another's well being
Vigilantly include
Affectionately attend to the material needs of
Plant seeds of joy in their soul
Richly supply fellowship to
Tenderly cultivate into biblical community

Am I the only person who has a pet peeve with this phrase? What other suggestions do you have to replace it?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Bonding Power of Free Food

There's little in this world that makes you feel more special than receiving free food.

About five years ago two of my sisters and I took a trip to Europe.

All three of us on severe budgets, we alternated days of eating. One day we'd eat one "good" meal (meaning, we'd pay more than $5 for it), the next we'd chow down on granola bars or get a McDonald's burger for a pound, if we could find one.

We traveled to Scotland on a non-eating day.

We explored London in the morning and caught an afternoon train at King's Cross Station, arriving in Edinburgh around 7:30pm. We dumped our bags at our Travelodge and set out, tired and hungry, in the cold rain (another way to travel cheap is to go when the weather is terrible) to find a place that offered free internet and/or cheap food.

We passed a little cafe called Chocolate Soup. When the words "chocolate" and "soup" are put together to form the name of a restaurant, you have to go in and at least look.

It was small inside. I don't recall there even being tables or chairs. Just a wall of piping hot, delicious smelling soups, and a counter filled with sandwiches and some pastries. We looked at the soups and prices. Pretty cheap.

"Hello ladies," said a black guy from behind the counter in what sounded like a Jamaican accent. "How can I be helping you today?"

"I'm guessing you're not from Scotland," I said.

"No, man, Jamaica!"

Of course. Cause why wouldn't there be a Jamaican dude working at a cafe called Chocolate Soup in Scotland? You go, world.

He came around from the counter and stood by me as I very Americanly lifted each soup lid to see what was inside. I picked up the smallest cup and got something that looked chowderish.

We chatted about America, the countries we'd been too, and he made a not very subtle comment about getting lost in my eyes. (Points to the Jamaican for smoothness.)

As I pulled out my bag to get money, my hands shook. A combination of cold, travel exhaustion, and low blood sugar.

"Why your hands shaking so bad?" the Jamaican in Scotland asked. Then he grabbed my hands in his. (Awkward. So very, very awkward.)

"We've been traveling all day and this is a non-eating day!" I said, my skin burning from human touch.

"That's bad, man!" he said, letting go of my hands.

Then he went to the deli counter and pulled out a roast beef cream cheese sandwich and handed it to me.

"For your hands to stop shaking," he said. "For free."

I was touched. I've never forgotten his kindness. His awkward, smooth, genuine Jamaican-in-Scotland kindness.

One afternoon, about a year or so after our epic Europe trip, I headed to Chipotle to grab lunch before work. (I still lived in LA at the time.)

If you've known me for any length of time, you'll know that I'm addicted to Chipotle. I swear they smuggle some of the ingredients over the border.

As I walked up to Chipotle there was a homeless man (at least I assumed he was homeless) outside asking people going in if they could get him some food.

People just ignored him or shook their heads, as I'd often done when I passed someone who begged. I got a little sad.

The "do unto others as you would have them do unto you..." flashed through my memory lobe. (Not sure it's called that.) Because if I were down on my luck and out of money, I'd want someone to get me Chipotle. This guy wasn't asking for money to most certainly use on drugs and alcohol. (Unless you count Chipotle as a drug.) He wanted what deep down every person wants: a burrito.

"Excuse me," he said as I approached the door. "Could you possibly get me some food?"

"What do you want?" I asked.

"Oh, just a bowl. Maybe some steak or chicken?" he said.

"Do you want to just come in and order it?" I asked before I had time to overthink it. I didn't typically do these sorts of things.

"Yes! That would be great!"

He grabbed the door for me and opened it right on my toe, scraping a little bit of the skin. I bit my lip and said thank you, glancing down just in time to watch a little blood trickle onto my flip flop. "This is going well," I thought.

We stood in line, my toe stinging, and stood awkwardly. The Chipotle line moves really slow sometimes.

How do you strike up a conversation with a homeless (again, was he even homeless? I still hadn't asked.) person you're standing in line with at your favorite restaurant?

"'re out of work?" Well done, Kristin. Start right off with pouring salt in the wound.

Fortunately he was neither annoyed nor offended.

"Yes. Construction. Terrible business right now. They just don't have any work. No one's building in this economy."

I asked about his family. His boys were both grown, he said. That was that.

We talked about some other things. The city. Jesus. Show business. I invited him to one of my comedy shows that was close by. He said he'd try and make it.

He got a bowl with rice, steak, and "three big scoops of sour cream, please."

I paid for our food, he thanked me, we shook hands.

I went to my car and watched as he clutched his bag and crossed the street. I stayed there till he was out of sight. I instantly regretted that I hadn't asked if he wanted to sit down and eat inside.

Because through everything, in my nervousness of stepping out of my comfort zone and trying not to say the "wrong" thing, I forgot to ask him if he was homeless.

I'm not sure the moral of these stories, except to appreciate free food when you receive it, and to give free food to someone you otherwise wouldn't have anything in common with.

Because at the end of the day, we all need to eat. Why not make it a little special?