Dear Holly: You Said I Look Like Lionel Richie, and Surprisingly, Maybe You’re Sort of Right…

2 years, 3 months.

Dear Holly,

Our family faithfully watched the latest season of American Idol. A few episodes into it, you started pointing out something to Mommy, your brother, and me.

Any time it showed Lionel Richie, you would point to the screen and say, “That’s Daddy.”

It’s something we just sort of laughed about at the time.

But looking back on it, and comparing side by side pictures of Lionel and me, I have to admit…

I think I see it. I think I see what you were seeing in each episode of American Idol.

And by the way, that picture of me was taken before I was even thinking about this again this week. I didn’t take the picture of myself to match one of Lionel. It was simply the most recent picture I had taken of myself and found on my computer.

But even the casual smile I had looks the same as Lionel. It’s as if Lionel and I have the same default smile.

So today, I published a video on one of my YouTube channels telling the story of how you saw the resemblance. Most people who saw the video admitted they they definitely saw the facial similarities.

What’s interesting is that I’ve never been compared to Lionel Richie in my entire life. The only specific thing I have in common with him is that he and I both share the same home state of Alabama.

But leave it to the perspective of a 2 year-old little girl, and suddenly, it’s a different view.

What if this is a sign that you are an artistic genius? What if you are gifted in facial recognition?

What if your career as an adult ends up proving that this story was more that just a trivial coincidence?

I say it is possible.

Even when I force myself to assume it was just something random you kept saying each week during American Idol, I still can’t deny there is a similarity.

Maybe you’re a genius little girl!

Love,

Daddy

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Why There Can Be No Male Equivalent to the Jordin Sparks Song “I Am Woman” or “Independent Women” By Destiny’s Child

I’m so vain, I probably think this song is about me…  

Thursday night on American Idol I watched Jordin Sparks perform her latest single, “I Am Woman.”  In the likeness of so many popular songs celebrating the empowerment of (single and independent) women, the lyrics of the chorus go like this:

I am (I am) woman (woman)
I am (I am) woman (woman)
I’m a woman
I’m a woman
Yes I am
Ain’t nobody else can do it like we can

But what if instead of Jordin Sparks singing the song, it was the dreamy Scotty McCreery, and he changed to lyrics to be masculine?  No one would hear, “I am man, yes I am, ain’t nobody else can do it like we can.”  Instead, the song lyrics would be perceived as “I am conceited, I am narcissistic.  I’m a jerk.  I’m a sleezebag.  Yes I am.  Ain’t nobody more of an a-hole than guys like me.”

Is this a double standard- that women can sing songs about being proud to be independent and successful, but if a guy did the same thing, he would either A) not be taken seriously or B) become despised by women?

No, it’s not a double standard.  Because only in recent decades has it truly become acceptable to desire for men and women to be socially equal.  Women have had to struggle to get where they are in society today, but men haven’t had to play the underdog gender throughout history.  So it’s ironic to the point of extreme arrogance for a man to boast about his successful independence.  I’ll illustrate this further my “masculinizing” the lyrics to “Independent Women” by Destiny’s Child.  I’ll emphasize the very worst parts in bold print:

What you think about a guy like me?
Buy my own car and spend my own money
Only ring your celly when I’m feeling lonely
When it’s all over please get up and leave

Please don’t call me baby
Cause I’ll call you
Don’t mean to hurt you feelings, got a lot to do
Cause I am my number one priority
No falling in love, no commitment from me

All my independent men
Throw them hands up at me
And all my sexy men
Throw them hands up at me

All my money making men
Throw them hands up at me
All my baller men
Throw them hands up at me

How you feel about a guy like this?
Try to control me, girl you’ll get dismissed
Do what I want, live how I wanna live
Buy my own golf clubs, and pay my own bills

Where my males?
Where all my men?
How did you feel about this groove I wrote?
Hope you got the message men take control
Don’t depend on no woman to give you what you want
Keep that in mind next time you hear this song

If you’re independent
I congratulate you
If you ain’t in love
I congratulate you
Do them girls like they used to do you
If you pimp her
I congratulate you

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule that guys can’t/won’t/shouldn’t brag about their gender in a song, like Brad Paisley’s “I’m Still a Guy.”  But hopefully most people would realize that song was meant to be an innocent, humorous caricature of men.  Maybe another exception would be so many of Kanye West’s songs- but even then, he’s bragging about himself being awesome, not about men in general.

‘Obviously, it’s important that women are socially and economically equal to men. But do women also want to be A) physically equal and B) emotionally equal? And C) does it help a woman in the business world to “act more like a man” by “being less emotional?” And D) do I sound like a jerk or at least naive for asking any of these questions?’

I asked the above questions word-for-word on Facebook for some input.  Based on the answers I received, here is how I would answer those questions:

A)  No, there is no desire to be physically as strong as a man.

B) No, there is no desire to hold in emotions the way men do, or at least they way they seem to do.

C) It can.  And this is a good example of an actual double standard between the sexes.

D)  No, because the motives are sincere in asking the questions.

The most sober and sobering thoughts I can learn through this social survey is that men and women are different for a reason.  They both have their own strengths in which they can compliment each other with.  Imagine how life would be in this world if men and women were truly equal in every way.  Scary, if you ask me. I would have to give birth, express my emotions, and never be able to truly “think about nothing.”  My mind would never stop and I would constantly be thinking about at least 10 different things at once, all the time.

That’s way too exhausting even for a strong, confident man such as myself.

The Micro-Phenomenon of Hayley Reinhart Getting the Song “Bennie and the Jets” Stuck in Our Heads Since March 31, 2011

She’s got electric boots, a mohair suit, you know I read it in a magazine, oh… B-B-B-Bennie and the Jetsssssssss…

For more than a week and a half now, the 1974 hit “Bennie and the Jets” by Elton John (whose real name is Reginald Kenneth Dwight) has been stuck in my head. I’ve been a huge Elton John for about a decade now, and “Bennie and the Jets” has always been one of my very favorite songs of his, but it wasn’t until Haley Reinhart sang it on American Idol that it became the default song playing in my subconscious.  But after randomly discovering that four other people I talked to last week had the same issue, I realized, there must be more of us!  (For the fact that you clicked on the title of this post to read it, I think it’s safe to say there’s a good chance you can relate.)

I haven’t talked to anyone who said that Haley Reinhart is their favorite on American Idol, but evidently, whether we realize it or not, she performed quite memorably in her rendition of “Bennie and the Jets”.  Because it’s stuck on “repeat”.  It has a lot to do with the fact that Haley Reinhart already is the fictional character that would sing “Bennie  and the Jets” even if it weren’t a satirical song mocking the glitzy pop world of the 1970’s.  Just like how Shia LeBeouf is born to play characters in movies that have to frantically explain some big panicked misunderstanding about 45 minutes in the movie, causing his eyes to sort of bug out as he shouts, “No, no!  You don’t understand!  Let me explain!” (Disturbia, Eagle Eye, Transformers), Haley Reinhart so perfectly captivated the song (as well as us as spectators) because she already is that smokey, sassy girl in a short dress singing on a piano who, despite only being 20 years old, perfectly brings with her the aura of the early 1970’s.

So if you too have been purposely listening to  catchy music from artists like Phil Collins, Justin Bieber, or if you’re really desperate, “Friday” by Rebecca Black, simply in an effort to dissolve”Bennie and the Jets”, know that you’re not alone. It’s a micro- phenomenon as far as I’m concerned.  And who knows, now with Pia gone, it’s really anybody’s game- especially if Haley can find more songs that comparably suit her like Elton John’s #1 hit did.  Maybe “What I Am” by Edie Brickell or “No Rain” by Blind Melon.  In fact, she’s done such a good job of getting “Bennie and the Jets” stuck in my head, that I’m almost willing to say “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”: Let her win this season of American Idol, just for being so effective with that one performance.  Even if she became a one-hit wonder, she would still have more hits than most of the actual winners of American Idol.

Why Pia Toscano was “Voted Off” American Idol

Bye, bye, Miss American Idol.

I figured the most shocking episode of the 2011 season of American Idol was going to be when half-Jewish contestant Casey Abrams was voted off, then saved by the judges.  But then to everyone’s amazement, on April 7th the Italian and immaculate Pia Toscano sang her last song, “I’ll Stand By You.”  Admittedly, Pia wasn’t my favorite, but not for lack of talent, grace, and poise.  It was simply that she reminded me of Celine Dion, who is one of the most successful singers in the history of the world yet doesn’t sing the kind of music I would choose to listen to.

It seemed everyone I’ve been talking over the past couple of weeks felt similarly about Pia.  There is no denying her talent, but maybe if nothing else, it’s easier to root for quirkiness than it is for flawless performances.  Pia isn’t quirky; she’s untouchable.

America didn’t vote for who they thought was the best, but instead who they thought was in the most danger of going home.  It was assumed that this whole time Pia was getting the most votes, or the 2nd or 3rd most votes.  But it’s very possible that she has been hovering about the lower middle.  So now with the bottom three gone, it suddenly exposed Pia to the exit door.  Now that I think about it, when I would see on my facebook status feed who people were voting for, I can’t think of one time I saw Pia’s name on there.

I never rooted for Pia like I have for Paul McDonald (the Scottish lord a leapin’) or Casey Abrams (the red-tinted Seth Rogen).  Nor have I ever shouted at the TV telling her to leave like I have for Scotty McCreery (George W. Bush mixed with the cartoon kid on the cover of Mad magazine) or Jacob Lusk (who at any moment is going to explode with pent up emotion). Instead, Pia has just remained in the “safe category” in my head this whole time.

Turns out, most other people were thinking that too.  And we were wrong.  Big time.

The good news: I’m sure Pia won’t make it too long before she is offered a record deal by a respectable record label.  In fact, I bet the folks at American Idol didn’t let Pia pack her bags before they offered her a deal to her themselves.  Because unlike her brief stint on American Idol, Pia Toscano’s upcoming musical career has no end in sight.  Her heart will go on.

The Replay Value of People

People will come and go, but which ones are worth bringing back out of the archives?

There are some movies I watch nearly once a month like I Love You, Man and they never get old, and they’re just as funny as the last time I watched them.  There are other movies like Deliverance, for which I got all I needed with just one viewing.  The same could be said about TV shows: Seinfeld and Friends reruns are much easier to watch for the 6th and 7th time; as for American Idol, for obvious reasons, not so much.  When it comes to “replay value”, people are the same way.

We live and work and play and hang out with some people for years, then, all of the sudden, they are no longer a part of our lives- we graduate high school or college, they decide to work somewhere else, etc.  And after they leave, when we randomly think of them, we are left with an aftertaste of what they meant to us, as a whole.  Generally positive or generally negative.  Either worth the time and effort to catch back up with, or not.

Out of the dozens of contacts in my cell phone, I only regularly talk to a handful or so.  Out of the nearly 800 facebook friends I’ve collected since March 2005, I only regularly talk to a few dozen.  Out of the people I used to work with, there is only one or two that I still keep in contact with.  By subconscious default, we ask ourselves, “Does this person have enough significance in my life to bother with talking to again, past just the ‘hi, how are you’ line?”

We make time for the people we care about, not excuses.  And I know that just as I have left certain people of my past, in the past, I am aware that there are those who view me as “non-replayable” as well.  Like when an old college friend announces that they’re coming to Nashville next weekend on their facebook status, then I send them a private message inviting them to lunch or dinner over the weekend, they ignore my message, spend the weekend in Nashville, then once they return to their hometown, announce as their facebook status, “Had a great weekend in Nashville!”

And then I say to myself, “I get it.  I’m not replayable in their life.  Noted.”  I don’t take it personally.  I may not be worth their time or effort, but I have confidence that I am worth other people’s.

Figuring out who is at all replayable in your life is kind of like going through your closet to decide which clothes you should keep and which ones you should give away.  If you won’t wear that shirt in the next year at least once, you probably won’t ever wear it.  Same thing with people in your life.  If you wouldn’t answer or return their call, or if you would never make an effort to contact them again in the future, if you don’t even find their facebook statuses to be amusing, it’s safe to say you’re just not that into them: They don’t have replay value in your life.

Being Original, Yet Never Really Breaking New Ground: My First 20,000 Hits on WordPress

Thanks for 20,000 hits.

It seems like only six weeks ago that I was thanking my readers for this site getting its 10,000th hit in Being Down to Earth, Yet Never Really Touching the GroundWait, wait a minute… It was.

That was on April 11th.    How did that happen?  Why did it take seven months to get the first 10,000 hits (September 2009 to April 2010) but only five and a half weeks to get 10,000 more (April 2010 to May 2010)?

Here is a reflection/tutorial for anyone wanting to know more about how to obtain and build a readership and following by using a WordPress website, based on what it took for me to get my first 20,000 hits.

Just like the first million dollars are the most difficult for a multimillionaire to make, so is the case with getting any new form of art off the ground and flying.  It’s the snowball effect.  I have now posted over 250 of my writings on this site alone.

Each month that passes, that’s another 20 to 40 new posts to add to the library to be recycled.  On any given day during any given hour, there are more people reading my older stuff than my new stuff.  Then the new stuff becomes the old stuff and is read by newcomers.

Something almost magical happened back in February.  Suddenly, people started subscribing (getting all my new posts through e-mail); on top of that, the number of hits that month quadrupled from the month before and have been steadily increasing since then.  So really, after that fifth month of this site’s active existence, things exploded.

On December 30, 2009, I went to www.godaddy.com and paid 10 bucks for the domain name www.scenicroutesnapshots.com.  Yes, it’s too long of a name.  And when I tell people audibly, they often don’t understand what I’m saying.  But it’s a name I believe in because it best represents what I write about (Dr. Deja Vu: The Scenic Route).  And really, once a person goes to the site once, they can easily go back to it again.  Besides, people don’t end up on my site because I told someone about my site, they go to my site because of Google searches, facebook links, and cough-cough-Twitter-cough cough.

Another huge part of it is this- I accidently found a niche.  I half-heartedly decided to start doing a recap of The Bachelor when the Jake Pavelka season premiered in January, not realizing that people actually cared about it.  But they do.  Very much so!  Much of the quadruple increase from January to February has to do with my Bachelor recaps.

So aside from the snowball effect, and aside from finding an unlikely niche, what else has helped readership growth?  I want to know, not just for myself, but also to help other fellow writer friends.

I believe in something I call “learned talent.”  Which may be a phrase I just made up.  Basically, I learn from other people’s talent mixed with my own trial and error.  It’s the writer’s initiative to become better through regular practice and a willingness to cater to readers while still staying true to self.  And that concept is something that is often given as advice from the judges on American Idol to the contestants as they make it past the Top 10. Be you, but also stick with what you know works and what other people will like.

Particularly in writing, “learned talent” has a lot to do with the writer’s “voice”.  The tone, the choice of words, the subject matter, the level of professional distance.  I am not as talented as any legendary writer I could name in this sentence.  But just like an actor can change their accent or demeanor for a role, so can a writer “tweak” their own writer’s voice.

Because I believe, like a Rubik’s Cube, (The Truth and Irony about Solving a Rubik’s Cube) it’s all about figuring out the formula and acting on it, I am under the educated impression that what I lack in talent, I can make up for in simply learning how to write in a voice that leads with confidence and optimism and what I call “business-casual professionalism”.

A lot of this comes down to Rule #7 of my Writing Code:

“Write about weird stuff but make it seem normal. Or write about normal stuff and make it seem weird.”

My current literary role model is Michael Chabon, whom through his series in Details magazine, I learned better how to get in touch with my nostalgic side and hopefully make it seem interesting; not too technical or too abstract.  A happy medium that invites the reader to connect to the same train of thought.  In one of his newer books that I recently began reading, called Maps and Legends, he reiterates my #7 Rule:

“Let’s cultivate an unflagging reading as storytellers to retell the same stories with endless embellishment… The key, as in baroque music, is repetition with variation.”

Retell the same stories with endless embellishment:  Be original yet never really break new ground.  The familiar with the fresh.

Repetition with variation:  Take a subconsciously familiar thought and then put a new spin of originality on it.  So that readers feel a sense of comfort (the old familiar thought) along with newness (the author’s personality and his or her unique perspective).

And really, isn’t that really what’s for sale here anyway?  The writer’s personality?

Facts are only so important.  So is a plot.  But ultimately a story or an article is only as entertaining as the person telling it.  And a lot of the reasons we think a writer is “good” is because we relate to them, in some uncertain invisible ways.

Whether that writer reminds us of our own self and the way we naturally think, or they remind us of one of our friends, or ultimately our alter-ego, Tyler Durden (the man who the nameless protagonist of Fight Club imagines himself to be friends with), there is some reason we feel connected.

Of course, just like doctors and lawyers refer to their work as their practice, I too recognize that this site is and always will be a work in progress.  This is me paying my dues.  Learning as I go.  With an end in sight.  Or maybe I should say a new beginning in sight…

Below are the reader stats for this site.  This shows hits per month.  September 2009 is when I exclusively began writing for this site.

Months and Years

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Total
2009 5 21 2 76 550 552 465 532 2,203
2010 628 2,508 3,357 6,072

Life’s Too Short: The Sad Truth that the Past is an Imaginary Place We Can Never Return To

About a year ago I was watching American Idol and Simon was interrogating one of the male contestants on why he wants to become a professional singer. The man explained he has a wife and a kid and he wants to be sure they’re taken care of financially. Simon asked the man again, “I get that, but WHY do you want to be a singer?” The man again explained it was because he has a wife and a kid… then Simon (who was obviously looking for an answer involving the man’s passion for music, etc.) cut him off with, “I get that, just sing for us.”

We focus so much on “right now”. Chances are, you’re never going to have enough money. Because once you do, you’re going to buy a bigger house or find a new way to get yourself in debt. Money is never enough.

Chances are, you’re never going to have enough time. America has set so much pressure on its people to be thin and in shape, yet it remains one of the most overweight countries in the world. We’re too busy to eat the right foods and to exercise, so instead of making time to be healthy, 74% of the population is overweight but carries the heavy burden of wanting to look like Jennifer Anniston or Brad Pitt, two people who are paid to make time to live healthy lifestyles. So obviously if we as a nation don’t have enough time to be healthy, we’re never going to have enough time.

Maybe I’m weird for not questioning the meaning life, but it’s never really been an issue for me. I’ve just always kind of known. I’ve understood since the age of six that this life is barely a speck of dust in comparison to the life after this. I’ve understood that God has blessed us with friends and family and we need to value them like the precious a gift they are. I’ve understood, more importantly, that God loves us and what it really comes down to our relationship with Him.  Even that goes back to loving people.

I subscribe to a magazine called Details. The thing I like most about it is its unique, random, and yet relevant articles. I realize as someone who earned a degree in English that quotes are only supposed to be a few lines, but for this I will cheat:

“…I climbed eagerly abroad this one-way rocket to Death in Adulthood and left the planet of my childhood forever in starry wake. I know this. My grandparents, my boyhood bedroom furniture… I will never see those or a million things again. And yet, lurking somewhere in the back of my mind is the unshakable, even foundational knowledge- for which certainty is too conscious a term- that at some unspecified future date, by unspecified means, I will return to those people and those locales. That I am going back. No, that’s false. The delusion is not really that I believe, or trust, that I will be returning one day to the planet of childhood…”
– an excerpt from “Time Bandits” by Michael Chabon

my Italian grandfather, Albert Metallo

Only a few weeks after I got married last July, my Italian grandfather died. He is the only one of my grandparents I have lost. Only second to my dad, he had the most influence on me as far as what it means to be a man. I know a lot of the reason I randomly talk to strangers in public is because of him. He always did it. I learned from him that much heaven can be found in spending hours working in a garden and then being able to enjoy the beauty of it. (Even though I don’t yet have a house with a yard.) It was because of his decision to move from Buffalo, NY to Fort Payne, AL in 1973 that I am alive. Otherwise my parents wouldn’t have met.

Like that article reminds me, all those weekends I spent at his house in the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s as a kid are only now a memory. He would push me and my sister down the hill in his front yard in barrels. Then when we got too dizzy, he would get in the barrel and make us push him down the hill. We would do that for hours it seemed.

Then he would take us to Burger King for lunch. We would sit next to the window right by the drive-thru and he would make funny faces at the people waiting in the drive-thru. It was hilarious to see a man in his sixties being so goofy in public.

We would go back to his house and he would watch taped professional wrestling from the night before (WWF- Ric Flair, Randy Savage, Vince McMahon… the whole gang) and we would get out the toys (which were Styrofoam blocks). After about 15 minutes of my sister and me playing, and him watching wrestling, he pick up some of our Styrofoam blocks and throw them at our heads. Which would start an all out war in the living room. Then we would sneeze for 15 minutes afterwards from all the dust in the air from those blocks.

He had a bathroom closet full of nothing but bars of soap. And a freezer full of freezer-burnt TV dinners and ice cream bars, which were a treat to us. He wore a flannel shirt, navy pants, and black shoes no matter the occasion. Except for my sister’s wedding, which he wore a tux and sunglasses. He really looked like he was part of the mafia.

And all these strange and funny memories make up who he was to me. There is a major importance to “showing up to life”. He definitely did that. He was always there for every family get-together and would look for an excuse to visit our family, like bringing over a junky knick-knack he bought at a yard sale the weekend before. He knew what life was really about.

I was watching my favorite movie, Garden State, recently and though I’ve seen it probably at least ten times, I heard (and finally processed) what is one of the major themes of the movie:

“You know that point in your life when you realize that the house that you grew up in isn’t really your home anymore? All of the sudden even though you have some where you can put your stuff that idea of home is gone.
…It just sort of happens one day one day and it’s just gone. And you can never get it back. It’s like you get homesick for a place that doesn’t exist. I mean it’s like this rite of passage, you know. You won’t have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start, it’s like a cycle or something. I miss the idea of it. Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people who miss the same imaginary place.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Y2snCNXT2k

I’ll always have that sense of “home” when I think of my grandfather. I still have a lot of family and friends whom I still have that sense of home with. Despite whatever shortage of money or time, despite whatever amount of stress or chaos calls for, life is too short to worry. And if you feel you must worry, pray instead.

Classic song…
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6xMqo3wFxw