Many films, novels, songs, paintings, poems, and plays are inspired by other art, or by other parts of the artist’s culture. Urban legends are certainly a big part of our culture, whether we realize it or not. Chances are, you have seen, or even created, a piece of art based on an urban legend. Most of these are easily debunked. Some turn out to be true. But they can all generate ideas for our work.
The Man Who Changes Tires
A strange encounter at the mall startles you.
You are at the mall. If you’re like me, you are there because you need exercise, or because the mall contains the only branch of a store that sells something you need and can’t find anywhere else. If you’re like a lot of people, you are actually having fun, trying on new outfits, sampling perfumes and makeup, and hanging out with friends. Either way, you are exhausted at the end of the day. Suddenly, a woman shoves a flier into your hand. It is tempting to simply wait until she’s not looking and shove it into a trash or recycling bin, but as you glance at it, a few words jump out that make you keep reading. The flyer warns of a man trying to trick women into letting him into their car by pretending to help with a flat tire. You ask the woman for the full story. She pauses in stopping people to explain.
A security guard was startled to see a frantic customer.
Last week, at this very mall, a security guard was startled to see a woman he had just noticed walking out a few minutes before come frantically running back in and head straight for him. The customer begged him to come out to the parking lot with her, and to call the police.
As the guard and the customer headed across the mall, the woman explained that she was loading bags of clothing and cosmetics she’d purchased into her trunk when a man she had never met before approached her. The man did not stand out in appearance. He was clean and dressed neatly in clothing popular with many men today.
“Excuse me, Ma’am,” he said, “I noticed that your tire is looking a little flat. Why don’t you move those bags into the back seat and let me get your spare tire to change it for you?”
The woman was touched someone would notice such a detail about a stranger, and moved that someone would go out of their way to help, so she thanked the man and moved the packages. The man changed the tire, and the woman thanked him and started to climb into her car.
“Hey,” the man said, “I’m late now. I have a job interview to get to, and my car is parked all the way on the other side of the mall. Would you mind giving me a quick ride over, so I can head out right away?”
That “little voice” told her to run.
The request struck the woman as odd. If his car were parked on the other side of the mall, and he remembered parking over there, why did he walk out the door to this section of the parking lot? The woman began to feel frightened.
“I forgot I needed to pick up some socks while I was here,” the woman said. “Watch my stuff and I will be right back.” She ran back into the mall, and told the security guard what had happened.
The guard agreed this was a suspicious situation. He accompanied the woman to her car. When she checked to see if the stranger had stolen any of her purchases, everything was intact. But when she opened her trunk, she was greeted by the sight of a strange gym bag. The security guard peered into the bag and looked up at the woman, all the color drained from his face. The stranger had slipped a bag containing rope, tape, and other items he could use to commit kidnapping, rape, and possibly even murder into her car.
Is it true?
There is no evidence that this particular story ever took place, but dangerous people have used fake offers of help, or fake pleas for help to lure victims. Ted Bundy was known to pretend to have an injury in order to trick his victims into helping him load books into his car. Far from being a kind fellow student in need of help, Bundy would come to be known as one of America’s most famous serial killers, and a near “perfect” textbook psychopath.
While we have not all encountered someone who was later revealed to be a serial killer, most of us have been approached by someone who set off warning bells about trusting them. Most of us have encountered someone who frightened us, or whose presence made us uneasy, despite them initially appearing helpful or friendly.
A few years ago, I lived in a town full of people who could not seem to understand that I took walks for exercise. Every time I would leave the house, somebody who knew me or one of my parents would be pulling up near me and asking me if I needed a ride. It was annoying to have to politely explain to people, often the same people over and over again, that I was taking a walk, and assure them that I knew how to call a cab if I needed a ride.
During one walk, I turned toward the standard “Do you need a ride?” offer to see a man I had never seen before leaning out the car window.
“No,” I said firmly, and turned away. Suddenly, the “helpful stranger” turned aggressive.
“Get in the car!” The man ordered me. He was parked a bit behind me, so I could not see if he had a weapon in his hand. I moved further away from him, closer to the houses along the road, and purposely screamed as loud as I could.
“I said ‘No!’ I yelled toward the homes. “I don’t want a ride!” I sounded childish and overly dramatic, even to myself. But that was the idea. I hoped somebody would mistake me for a disrespectful child or a woman fighting with her friend or boyfriend, and come outside to tell “the kid” or “that couple ” to shut up. I needed witnesses, not new friends.
As soon as the nearest house’s resident came out to see what was going on outside his fence, the man in the car sped off without another word. I explained the situation to the resident, and thanked him for coming outside. After a few minutes had passed, I purposely walked away from the direction the stranger in the car had gone, but also away from the direction of my own house in case he was waiting someplace to follow me. I walked around other populated areas, around a block near an open, well-lit, and populated grocery store a couple of times, and then went home using a different route than the one I typically took.
I never saw the car or the man again, or learned who he was or what he might have done to women who accepted his offer of “help” and climbed into his car. But considering that he seemed about to force me into the car when I refused, and sped off when faced with a woman who might fight back and a witness, I’m guessing he wasn’t really going around town hoping to save people a few bucks on cab fare.
Urban legends vary in truthfulness, with some being completely true, some being entirely invented, and some containing elements of true stories. In the “Help a stranger danger” legend detailed above, the basic plotline of someone pretending to offer or need help is certainly true, though the details about changing the tire, leaving the gym bag, and the woman going back in and finding the security guard were invented in a later version.
While the basic plotline has been used several times, every other detail can be fictionalized from a true story, or changed from a debunked legend to create a new plot for a novel, short story, play, poem, or even a song.
Any artist who writes, acts, sings, or performs comedy works in words, and just like any other material an artist can use to create, words can come to be used differently over time, or they may be used differently by one group of people than another. Here are just a few words and terms whose use in contemporary American popular culture is a bit different than their original meaning or context.. Including these words here is not meant to imply support or criticism of any use of the word. These are only described to generate ideas or notes for creating characters, routines, or other works of art in which the words might be used.
Triggered/Triggering: This is a hated word for many, one that causes some listeners and readers to cringe, roll their eyes, and ignore the writer or speaker. There are two reasons for this. One, the contemporary, popular meaning is extremely broad. Those classified as “Millenials (born 1981-1996) and younger seem to use this term the most, but it is not exclusive to those forty and under. People describe themselves as “triggered” or something as “triggering” when they mean they find it irritating, upsetting, annoying, disgusting, depressing, discouraging distressing,anxiety provoking, or in any other way bothersome.
Another reason this term tops the “hated words list” for many is because they think the person using it in place of so many other words or saying they’re “triggered” when they are in fact “dismayed” or “discouraged” or “upset” by something, unfairly equates the normal ups and downs of everyday life with the experiences of people who are “triggered” in the original sense of the word. Before “triggered” came to mean “upset in any way,” it was strictly used to describe the experiences of those who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, a serious and often debilitating response to experiencing trauma, such as war or violent crime.
Lolita: In popular American culture, a “Lolita” is an attractive, seductive girl or very young woman who is just over the legal age of consent, or who is legally an adult, but still very immature and inexperienced and completely inappropriate for the man who is attracted to her. Popular films such as 2006’s “Mini’s First Time,” in which an older teen begins working as an escort and seduces the man who is officially in a relationship with her mother, are described as “Lolita” stories. There is also a fashion style known as “Lolita style” or “Lolita fashion.” Originating in Japan, the aestetic of “Lolita fashion” centers around looking “cute” and maintaining a doll-like appearance.
But there is nothing seductive, cute, or in any way pleasant or enticing about the novel “Lolita,” the source of the term. In Nabokov’s novel, Lolita, whose name is simply a nickname for “Dolores,” is far from sexy or seductive. And Humbert, the man who tells the story and interacts with the original “Lolita,” is neither the reluctant target of her attentions we so often see in popular “Lolita” films, nor is he simply someone who admires her for being “cute,” as one might react to a fashion trend. Both the character of Humbert and the plot are repulsive, and Lolita is a tragic figure. She’s a child, and he’s a pedophile who grooms and molests her.
Safe space (as used on college campuses): The most contemporary meaning of the term “safe space” refers to a place where people can go when they become distraught over anything that may be happening on their campus, or in the world around it. In such a space, the person is shielded from dealing with whatever may be causing distress, and is allowed to perform a variety of non-threatening, relaxing activities such as looking at pictures of cute animals, coloring, or sharing their feelings with someone else who is not permitted to criticize or judge them. Some people praise this as a necessary and compassionate way to protect the mental health of the community. Others criticize this practice, arguing that it teaches people to make everything about themelves and their feelings rather than learning to analyze, debate, and work to solve problems in society. Regardless of whether you support this or find it ridiculous, the term “safe space” meant something different many years ago.
“Safe space” used to refer specifically to a place people could go if they believed themselves to be in physical danger, a place that was always open, well-lit, and staffed with someone who could call security to arrange for someone to ride or walk home with a member of the community who was being followed or harassed, or who was intoxicated or otherwise unable to safely navigate their way home alone. Later, when paired with symbols of LGBTQ pride, it came to refer to a staff member or organization who would not shun someone for being a member of the LGBTQ community. The term may still be used in the two older ways in some communities.
Journey: In its traditional meaning, the word “journey” always refers to a long, usually meaningful, physical trip a person might take. If you and your friends travel from your hometown of Utica, New York to Tokyo, Japan, you might describe that as your “journey” to Tokyo. But if your friend called and asked if you’d like to have dinner at the Japanese restaurant four blocks from your apartment, you would be very unlikely to describe such an outing as your “journey” to dinner.
Today, the word “journey” is still used in its original manner when describing a physical trip, but it is also used to describe anything someone might go through, or a process someone might move through to reach a goal. Some people restrict their use of the word “journey” in this way to life altering, important events. A person describing what they went through during treatment for cancer or Covid-19 or a broken leg or back may describe it as a journey. Or they might describe something they must cope with for their entire time on this earth, such as Cerebral Palsy or a mood disorder, as a “journey.” Others use “journey” to describe things that are much more lighthearted and trivial, such as reaching a personal or professional goal. You might hear someone speak of their “Spanish journey” when describing their efforts to learn the language, or describe their home makeover as “quite a journey.”
Having a hustle/hustling: Seventies disco dance fad cracks aside, someone “having a hustle” used to imply that the person earned money in a less than honorable, upfront manner. Their method of earning money may have been illegal and/or unethical, or it may have just been a little less than completely upfront and honest, such as insisting that their product and their product alone would effectively clean your house siding or give you long lashes or provide all the nutrition you need, when it was the same cleaning method, mascara, or vitamin supplement available from several other sources.
Today, “having a hustle” or “hustling” is often used to describe someone who is entepreneurial. It means they are doing some type of work for themselves, with the goal of raising money. A person who tutors in a subject outside of their career field, does lawn care to help support their career as an artist, or refurbishes and sells furniture in addition to working a traditional nine to five office job “has a hustle.” If the term “side hustle” is used, it means the work is done to supplement their steady income.
How might your character or scene change if a word is used in an older meaning, versus a more modern one, or if you add a character who uses one of these terms in a more contemporary way?
Novel excerpt: Current work in progress
By Jess Szabo
In the novel tentatively titled Baxtalo (a romany word meaning “happiness” or “luck”), fifty-something Utica artist Heather Toth has taken what she believes to be a writing job for a local businesswoman in the process of building a business themed podcast. At first, it feels like the perfect way to supplement her day job as an online tutor and earn some extra money to support her slowly emerging creative writing career. But soon, signs that something might not be right begin to emerge. Below is an excerpt from chapter four of the third draft of the novel:
Chapter 4: Not Suited
By the end of my first week at Baxtalo Business Seminars, I’ve only managed to write one article for the blog. Seeing my name up there, on an article somebody actually wanted again is a thrill. It really is. I feel like the actual writing part of my writing career is taking off again.
Michelle doesn’t seem to mind that I’m writing awfully slow. At least it feels like slow writing to me. I come in and do my writing, but Michelle and Courtney don’t sit out in the front. They both sit back here where I sit to write, and the two of them like to talk. And then there’s the phone. Answering the phone is not something I ever want to do again. I’m here as a freelance writer, not as their new receptionist. But every time it rings, Michelle goes, “Heather, get that,” and continues texting on her phone. I’m afraid to tell her “no.”
I can already tell I’m not going to get much done today, even though the phone is not ringing so far. Michelle and one of her podcast hosts are having a loud conversation in the room right when I need to add the final touches to this second assignment and go over it one last time for edits. I wish the two of them would at least go out in that empty lobby. Or go sit in the podcast room. Surely that thing is somewhat soundproofed.
“You want me to tell you something about who doesn’t make it here at Baxtalo?” Michelle suddenly yells. I jump. I can’t help it. She seems to get loud when she’s worked up about something, but this has just progressed to flat out screaming.
The podcast host, a tall skinny white guy in a suit, nods, as it is clearly a rhetorical question. She only wants him to acknowledge that he’s hearing her. He looks like half of him wants to get right up in her face, and half of him wants to take off running. I’d go for running if it were me. He selects to stand there and stare down at her.
“Lazy people who make excuses,” Michelle declares, still yelling. “The ones who say, ‘Oh, I can’t because I work too hard and I’m too tired to prepare’ but turn around and spend half an hour with their coffee at Starbucks every morning. Or the ones who claim they don’t have time to work after hours because they have kids, but they have all evening after the kids go to bed to binge watch Netflix.”
What Michelle is berating this man for sounds like relaxing before and after work to me. Of course I don’t know this man, but he sounds like he’s done nothing more than leave this job at this job. Plus, it’s podcasts. Surely he has something else he does to make a living.
The podcast host finally responds by explaining that he needs some time to relax, and some time to do his own thing, that he’s studying to be in sales, in college, and he needs time to do his studies and work his day job. There it is. I knew it. This only seems to irritate Michelle a little more.
“How are you going to be in business, in sales, if you have the opportunity to promote yourself by promoting us.. but you won’t take it? We’re launching careers here, lifting people up to do their best work, live their best lives, but I can’t lift you if you keep weighing us all down.” Michelle has backed down a bit physically, but her voice is still loud enough to make the guy step back until he nearly topples over the desk next to Courtney.
Glancing over at Courtney, she looks upset, but unsurprised. She’s wearing a black and white pinstripe suit and a red blouse today, and the only moves she makes are to slip the jacket off and adjust the cutouts in the shoulder of her blouse so her bra strap doesn’t show. I expect her to stand up, to intervene somehow. But she stays seated and watches Michelle and whoever this guy might be.
“I show up ready to go online” the guy finally raises his own voice to match Michelle’s tone. “You see me?” He holds out his tie. “Here and ready to go.”
“Yeah today,” Michelle snaps. “But what about the way you talked to our listeners? I’ve had two people request a topic, and twice now you’ve given them some line about how you couldn’t do it.” She’s not yelling anymore, but she’s not calm either. I half expect her to reach over and smack the guy. “Interacting with our audience is one thing that differentiates us from radio,” she’s lecturing. “If you want to do that, you might as well just go find a radio station and be a DJ or something.”
Courtney, the podcast host, and I all stare at her. Radios have had call-ins on their shows, and taken requests for decades now. Baxtalo Business Seminars Podcasts are literally only different from a radio station in that they’re on the internet instead of the airwaves, and the focus is narrower. The three of us exchange glances, checking to see if anyone dares to tell Michelle she’s not making any sense.
“When I started here…” the podcast guy says instead, backing out the door. “I made it clear that I am taking business classes online, and I need time for those. You knew about my other job. I believe I gave you my schedule.”
“Well, things are different now.” Michelle’s tone is almost worse than yelling. It’s condescending. “We’re starting some new things, some new growth, and we need you here to grow with us.”
“Well I can’t grow with you.” The presenter makes “grow” sound like the concept could not get more ridiculous. “I’m here to do the job I agreed to do.”
“That macho attitude doesn’t fly here with me, and you know that,” Courtney snaps. She’s loud again, loud enough that it’s giving me a headache. “I can’t believe you don’t want to do this,” she says, her voice in what would be a whine if it were not so loud, “You watch YouTube. You see how big some of those channels get. We could be bringing in millions of dollars in a year or two, but you don’t want to do the work needed. You don’t even appreciate that you have an advantage here. You have a whole team working with you.”
“You know what?” The podcaster maneuvers until he’s backing out the door.
The above content is property of the author, Jess Szabo
People are understandably reluctant to hire a writer. Some of the hesitation may be due to that lingering myth that writing isn’t really a talent or a skill, that “everybody” or “anybody” can write, and they would do just as well writing everything themselves or having a randomly selected staff member do the writing work. But others may not know what types of writing are available, and what might suit their needs. The writing styles detailed here are by no means a complete list. They are just the types of writing you will most likely need to hire someone to do for your band, solo career, or business.
Evergreen content is content that is always around. This is the writing you put on your page and leave there. The content can be edited and updated, but it is a permanent part of your page. If you are in a band, your evergreen content will include the story of the band’s founding, frequently asked questions about your band, member biographies, and any messages or quotes you want fans to read when they visit your page.
Blog post or blog style writing
Blog or blog style writing blends information taken from quality sources with personal opinions and reflection. When you hire a writer to create a blog post, or blog style piece for you, they will ask you questions that display your expertise on the topic, do independent research, and ask you some personal questions about the topic. If you’re in a band hiring a writer to craft a blog post for your page, they might read the rest of your content, attend a practice, and interview you both on your expertise in music and your personal influences, tastes, and opinions.
Entire blog posts can be written with just researched, factual information and professional observations, or they can be written entirely as personal reflections or opinion pieces, but you will likely see a mix throughout the blog or page, if not in every article. A blog post for your band’s page could be a completely impersonal piece about how to properly care for guitars, a completely personal piece about the members’ favorite guitars, or a blended article in which guitar care is taught, but within each step is a statement from a band member detailing the care of their own favorite instruments.
Blog posts are typically credited to the person or organization who purchases the piece, unless the writer is to be credited as a guest blogger.
Newspaper or magazine column
The writing in a newspaper or magazine column varies widely. The character of Carrie Bradshaw in the novel and television series “Sex and the City” earned enough money to wear $400 Manolo Blahnik shoes by doing nothing more than talking about herself, her boyfriends, and her friends in print. Although this story was a modern urban fantasy, it is entirely possible to have a newspaper or magazine column based entirely on personal reflections. Those who do not have the writing skills to produce such a column could pay a writer to interview them and ghost write the content. Completely factual columns are also possible.
Contrast that with a column like “Legal Myths and Reality” by Judge Joan Shkane, published in The Utica Phoenix newsmagazine and on their corresponding website. Judge Shkane writes the column herself, but she does not talk about her personal feelings or experiences. The column is focused exclusively on presenting and correcting legal misconceptions. The feature that distinguishes a column from a news article is that a column is written from the author’s point of view.
Hiring a writer to write a column for your publication or webpage means the person will do any necessary research and writing and submit the piece with their name on it. The person doing the hiring has no input in a column beyond setting the rules for their publication overall. It is acceptable to tell the writer, “We don’t print columns with swear words in them,” but it is not acceptable to tell the writer what to write about or how to go about their research. However, if you are hiring a professional to write a column that is to be credited to you or your staff or group, you have complete control over tone and content.
A review can be described as a type of column. Newspapers, magazines, and news websites may hire someone to write reviews of movies, bands, books, restaurants, stores, or other local businesses on a regular basis. Local artists may want to hire someone to write a review of their latest album, a performance, or of each of their available albums.
Like any other type of column, the tone can vary, but the review is accepted as the research, observations, opinions, and thoughts of the person whose name is on the review.
News articles are written from research, including interviews, and professional, rather than personal, observation. It is the hallmark of a bad news writer to talk about yourself in an article.
Generally, someone who attends or observes an event or occurrence, interviews people directly impacted by the event or occurrence, and then writes an article describing who, what, when, why, and where is “reporting” and is called a “reporter” or “news reporter,” while someone who picks an issue or topic, does the necessary research and interviews, and then writes an informative article is engaged in “feature writing,” and is called, predictably, a “feature writer.” Sometimes, people make the distinction of “hard news” covered by reporters and feature writing, which is seen as lighter and less serious, but I dislike and disagree with that distinction. If I cover the discovery of the largest tomato ever grown in my hometown, I’m reporting on something, but it’s far from life changing news. An article about the services available at the local domestic violence shelter would be a feature, and if I think that’s a light topic, there’s something wrong with me both as a writer and a human being.
A writer hired to produce a news article, whether that article is to be credited to them or ghost written and credited to you or your staff, should be expected to hand in a professionally researched, written, and edited piece focused entirely on the topic or event you have assigned them to report on or write about.
Press release writing
A press release is anything you write or have written for you to send to a media outlet. A press release can be written like a blog post, a news report, news feature, or a column. The distinguishing characteristic of a press release is that somebody other than the media outlet where it appears paid to have it written. If the local newspaper hires a reporter and sends her out to cover your band’s first public concert after the current crisis has passed, the paper pays her salary while she works. This makes it a news article. If you decide that you want an article about the concert in the paper, and you contact a writer to cover it, then you are going to pay that writer. This makes it a press release.
Artist Cafe Utica features blog writing, reviews, evergreen content, and a few columns. It is not a news website, and the owner is not a reporter, though reporting, and feature writing services are also available for local artists or those wishing to promote Utica artists.
Mindy’s journey into the new age begins innocently enough, with a relaxation ritual at a work meeting. But curiosity about meditation soon takes her down a path into putting the law of attraction and a belief in the ability to manifest things by her own will into practice.
Practices and beliefs known as “new age” are so much a part of our culture these days, we often dabble in them without even realizing what we are doing. Many of us check our horoscope in the local paper or online, or attribute personality traits to our astrological sign. We watch ghost story reality shows on tv. Some of us even visit mediums or psychics, or have tarot cards read “just for fun.”
Resources on guided meditations, practicing the law of attraction, and manifesting things in our lives are mixed in with books, videos, and web pages about maintaining a healthy diet and sleep schedule and setting goals.
New age thought has even crept into our everyday speech, with the words “positive” and “negative” replacing pretty much everything else. We proudly proclaim ourselves to be “ridding our lives of negativity” or “spreading positivity” without realizing using those words in that way stems from the belief that we can create or generate different types of energy on our own from a neutral universe.
But what are we really connecting ourselves to when we delve into new age practices?
Come along with Mindy as she follows the new age path all the way to….the end in Attracting Virtual Reality the fourth installment in a series of stories of forty to sixty something Utica artists.
Click the link above to go directly to the purchase page, or visit www.artistcafeutica.com and click on “Novels” to purchase this novel along with other titles by Utica artists.
Art in all forms reflects the culture in which it is created and/or set.. Characters may eat foods, shop in stores, or reference celebrities or places unique to their region or country. Commonly held beliefs are often reflected. Below are five things Americans commonly believe…that just aren’t true. Have you ever created a character who held any of these beliefs?
Tearing or cutting the tags off your mattresses and pillows is against the law.
The “do not remove under penalty of law” tag is often interpreted to mean that you can be fined or jailed if you’re caught removing them, no matter how ratty they get or how much they stick out and poke you when you try to sleep. But if you read the rest of the sentence it says, “except by consumer.” This means that the person who buys the mattress or pillow is completely within his or her legal rights to remove the tag.
The “do not remove” tag is there for the people who make and sell the pillows and mattresses. It is there as a form of consumer protection. In the past, mattresses and pillows could be stuffed with all sorts of dangerous materials, including rotting straw or old rags. The tags on your pillows and mattresses are there to let you know that your item is stuffed with nice, fresh, safe fill, not to threaten you that a cop will show up at your door if you snip it off when it gets dirty or pops out of your pillowcase and annoys you.
The Bible says that God helps those who help themselves.
It doesn’t. That was a quote from Benjamin Franklin. The message of the Bible is actually the exact opposite of that. It’s full of verses about loving your neighbor, not judging other people, doing unto others what you would do unto the Lord, honoring those in your household, sharing what you have, and putting others first.
The entire Christian faith is based on the knowledge that salvation is a free gift given by Jesus Christ to anyone who accepts it by accepting Him as their Lord and Savior. Salvation cannot be both a free gift from a loving God and something you have to coax Him into granting you by doing things for yourself.
“Separation of church and state” means it’s illegal to say a prayer in a public school.
Saying a prayer in a public school is not only legal, it’s protected under the same amendment people mistakenly believe bans it. The school, as an agent of the state, is not allowed to make prayer a part of the official curriculum. It is also not allowed to tell students and faculty that they can’t pray as individuals. Suppose I get a job as a tutor or teacher’s aide in a public school. I cannot hold a study group in which I require all students to pray before we begin. I can’t stand up and announce that when I work with a teacher, we’re going to launch his or her class with a prayer. That would make the prayer part of the official school curriculum, and therefore, in violation of the law against separation of church and state.
I would, however, have every right to sit in the cafeteria and pray before I eat my lunch. I would have every right to pause in the doorway and say a private prayer before entering the classroom. I could sit there and pray as a private citizen all day if I chose to. Anyone who tried to stop me would be violating my first amendment rights to freedom of religion. And if other staff members and students chose to sit with me and pray during lunch, that would be within their first amendment rights as well.
Cutting your hair causes it to grow faster.
Hair growth depends on a variety of factors, including genetics, overall health of the person, and the health of the hair. Healthy hair grows faster, and cutting off split ends and portions of hair damaged by coloring, perming, or using a lot of styling tools and products can be a part of making hair healthy again. But the act of cutting the hair does not make it grow faster.
We think our hair grows faster when we cut it because we notice it more. Even if you’re one to just get a trim to look neat for work and pay no real mind to your appearance, getting a haircut takes time out of your day, and usually costs money. It stands out, so you are aware of the difference in your hair on that day, and the difference in it as it starts to grow. If cutting your hair truly sped up its rate of growth, your hair would grow faster and faster with each cut throughout your life.
The first amendment gives you the right to say whatever you want without unwanted consequences or reactions.
We’ve all seen a real-life example of this one. Somebody walks around the building talking about what a dump their workplace is, gets fired, and then challenges it on the grounds of “free speech.” Or you tell off someone trolling on your social media, and they reply that telling them to get lost is a violation of their right to free speech.
Both of these individuals are wrong. The first amendment protects you from punishment or persecution by the government for what you say or write, not from other people having a problem with it, or from any consequences the things you say or write may bring.
Today is my birthday, and tomorrow is the anniversary of the day I almost died. Anyone reading the medical records from my birth would be surprised to find out the baby lived in the end. I weighed two pounds, twelve ounces and was not expected to live more than a few days. Forty-five years later as of today, I am still here. I am engaged to the man of my dreams. I have the best family (by birth and by future marriage) that I could ask for. I get to do what God made me to do, which is use the arts to reach out to others.
Today is also the forty-fifth birthday of my sister, Jennie Szabo. Jennie is celebrating in heaven today, as she passed away from complications from her severe disability (Cerebral Palsy) at the age of fifteen.
My character, Jennie, the budding makeup artist who first appears in my novel Mostly on the Internet, is my tribute to my sister. It’s how I imagine she was on the inside, the woman we would have seen had she been able to move and communicate with us. Jennie may not be here with us on earth anymore, but she will be forever here through my novels.
Artists with disabilities are indeed here, and we deal with the same issues as all other artists. But there are also a few things we must deal with as people with disabilities.
Mapping out the building or room for navigation and exiting
Those without any physical issues that impact mobility can pretty much go places and not worry about how they’re going to get around and get in and out. When someone has a mobility issue, a simple trip to a new restaurant or a party necessitates scoping and planning. You check the restaurant layout to make sure you can get around the tables without careening into other diners. You make sure there’s an entrance or exit that does not involve stairs. It may even be necessary to wait longer for a table, or sit away from the crowd at a party to make sure you’re close enough to the restroom to make it there on time or get there without knocking into anyone or anything.
Taking odd paths or going the long way around places
I may not have any official disabling condition, but I was born with a drop foot, and have a partially paralyzed ankle, foot, and lower half of my left leg from the surgery I had to correct it when I was three. The calf muscle in that leg also grew incorrectly. This leaves me with terrible balance. When I’m in a restaurant or other crowded public place, I often intentionally walk all the way around the crowd to get to or from a restroom or soda fountain, I can see that there’s a shorter way. I can also see that way contains a lot of people that I am probably going to bump into if I go that way.
Getting tired faster than those without disabilities
Chronic pain and extra wear on joints, bones, and muscles are a part of many mild physical disabilities. This extra pain and extra work can be tiring. If someone with a disability needs to go home a little earlier than others, they’re not lazy or antisocial, they’re worn out. Disabled people who go to bed earlier than expected for adults are not childlike or sick. They’re genuinely tired.
Difficulty getting in and out of showers and bathtubs
Take the high step needed to get into a bathtub, combine it with a smooth and often wet floor, and add in little to grab on to for balance, and you have a potential disaster for someone with a mild physical disability.
My disability is limited to half of one leg, and I still cannot get into a shower or a tub without a handicapped rail, or stand in there and take a shower once I make it in. I can’t keep my balance on a smooth, wet floor.
Every morning, as I wait for the coffee to brew, I grab onto the window ledge and the rail I keep suctioned to the bathtub wall, and carefully climb into the tub, then sit down to wash and rinse myself with the shower water. When I’m finished, I use the rail help lift myself up and grab the window ledge again to climb out. Staying in hotels, or staying at someone else’s house, can cause problems for me. I would need a chair and a rail to use a shower stall, and if the tub doesn’t have a bar that will help me lift myself, I’m not getting in because I might not make it out.
Getting treated like children in subtle ways
For many years, I lived with my parents for reasons that had nothing to do with my disability. During those years, I often refused to go to birth family events or even acknowledge them. Looking back, the reasonable thing to do would have been to speak up, but at the time I went for complete avoidance.
The reason I refused to acknowledge family events was the way I was invited to them. Relatives, even those who were decades younger than me, would send invitations addressed to my parents full names with “and Jessica” added on. That is how you invite a child to an event. Anyone eighteen or older, no matter who else lives in the house, receives their own invitation. I was always insulted by the implication that my parents had to bring me with them to the event, that I couldn’t have gone on my own.
Most disabled people are also familiar with behaviors such as people talking to them in a higher pitch and slower, speaking directly into their face, or lumping them in with the children in social situations. I once watched a video by a man in his fifties who was approached while out in the park on a date with his girlfriend. The stranger who approached him asked the girlfriend if the man would like to play with bubbles.
Having a long story as an answer to “What did you do?” or “What happened?”
People often ask this one as an icebreaker when they see a casual acquaintance using a cane or other assistive device to walk. If you know the person well enough to know they did not have a disability beforehand, it’s okay to ask. If not, you may need to be prepared for a very long story.
I was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy when I was born, given surgery and other treatments for it for twenty-eight years, then told I do not have it after all. The diagnosis had been made too early. It was incorrect. A doctor examined me last year and also said I do not have Cerebral Palsy, as I do not have enough symptoms of it to merit a diagnosis. I still don’t know if I have some sub-form of it, or if my physical impairments are caused entirely by the surgery I had when I was three.
Most people who ask about the cane I occasionally use to walk on snow or ice are not expecting that answer when they ask me what happened.
Difficulty getting hired even when the disability does not impact their ability to do the job
Things are looking up on this one. In the 1990’s, it was startling to see the character of Dr. Carrie Weaver on the popular t.v. drama “ER,” as few shows featured someone with a physical disability but no intellectual impairments. Today, there are two shows with main characters who have physical disabilities, but are not cognitively disabled. “Speechless” tells the story of a teen boy who uses a wheelchair to get around and a computer to talk, but is otherwise a typical somewhat nerdy teen boy. “Special” features a young gay man with cerebral palsy, written by and starring Ryan O’Connell, a writer and actor who really does have cerebral palsy. We even have a “teen heartthrob” with cerebral palsy. The teen boy on the show “Breaking Bad” is played by RJ Mitte, a young man who really has cerebral palsy, and is a celebrity crush for a lot of young women. There is even a disabled Navy Seal, John W. Quinn (retired).
Despite this progress, people still make assumptions when they learn someone has a disability, or notice a mobility issue.
False praise to a degree that would be deemed excessive even by today’s standards
Sometimes, people think the opposite of bullying someone or treating them as though they can’t do things because of a physical disability is gushing over everything they do because they have a disability. People are so afraid to seem “mean” or “discouraging” that they tell disabled people they’re wonderful at things, even when they’re not.
Today, some of this stems from the “self-esteem” movement, a trend of telling everyone they’re amazing at everything, no matter how much talent they actually possess or how hard they work at it. This is based on a program that was intended for adult children of addicts, specifically alcoholics. People who grew up with alcoholic parents often received no praise or encouragement, or if they did, it was for something rather messed up to be proud of your kid for, like hiding Mom’s bottles from Dad. Flooding these people with praise helped them experience genuine appreciation for them as people for the first time.
When you try to apply this to everyone, including people who already have a balanced view of themselves, you start tipping the scales from healthy self-regard to narcissism and entitlement. Disabled people can be narcissistic and entitled just like everyone else. But it’s also confusing. A person has to develop extra sharp “reading people” skills to determine whether they’re being encouraged because they’re actually good at something, or patronized out of pity.
I can write. I can sing. I can teach. I can learn languages very quickly. I am certainly not the greatest at any of those things, but those are the talents and skills I can offer the world. I can also act a little, but I would never impress anyone with my talent there. When I was a child, a well-meaning P.E. teacher tried to tell me I could swim really well. I can’t even keep my balance in a swimming pool, and I’m afraid of water.
Please support disabled artists….but only the work you genuinely enjoy. We want the same access to things that you have, not pity or special treatment.
Today’s article is dedicated to the memory of Jennifer Lynn Szabo (1975-1990), and to all disabled artists.
As YouTube channels, blogs, Instagram accounts, and other online platforms become increasingly common places to share our art careers, niche writing becomes more and more common.
Writing, modeling, hosting channels, and producing other art for plus-sized women is a popular niche, or focus. Most of my characters are thick/plus sized, and I appreciate all of the examples and inspiration. But there are a few things I wish plus size models, bloggers, YouTubers, singers, fiction writers, and anyone else producing any form of art intended for thick women would stop doing.
Using the term “body positivity.”
The words “positive” and “positivity” have gotten overused to the point that I cringe at them. Everything we find pleasing in any manner these days is “positive” and anything that we find displeasing is “negative.” The English language is going to consist of about seven words if we keep this up. “Body positivity” is particularly nerve-grating because it stems from that whole “I’m beautiful because everybody is beautiful” attitude, which really means you think your looks don’t stand out in any way. If “everybody” is beautiful to you, then you are literally physically attracted to everyone of the gender or genders you are attracted to, and admire the appearance of everyone of your gender. This is ridiculous, and so is screaming “body positivity!” every time you look at your own body. Just go ahead and accept it that some people think you’re hot.
Listing our perceived flaws then talking about how much we love our bodies.
Every meme, essay, or comment from a thick woman does not need to include the words, “I may have cellulite…I may have stretch marks…my thighs touch.” You don’t see thin women posting shots of themselves in bikinis and lingerie with the caption, “My ribs may stick out….my legs are the same shape from hip to ankle…my spine may be visible from a distance…there is little curve to my midsection….”
If you seriously and honestly dislike something about yourself, that’s fine. We’re allowed to have opinions about our own figures. But this type of behavior just tells people you don’t find yourself attractive, but you’re trying to force yourself to like your own appearance. Why not pick out things you actually do like, and focus on those instead? Some people even think those things you list as “flaws” are great features.
Accusing everyone who doesn’t think we’re hot of “shaming.”
“Shaming” is another cringe-inducing word. We use it for every unwanted reaction anybody gets to anything, any criticism, any opinion that differs from our own.
“Body shaming” can mean anything from outright harassment and bullying of another person because you do not like their figure, to simply stating a preference. These are very different things. Harassment and bullying is never acceptable. If somebody doesn’t find another person’s body appealing, they need to go look at someone else, and leave that person alone. But they are allowed to go look at that other person. People are allowed to have tastes in who they find attractive and unattractive, and to respectfully state those preferences.
I find thick men hot. That’s my ideal body type on a man. There are a few skinny guys who are hot, but they could stand to gain a little. Muscular bodies are a huge turn off to me.
The women I look up to as beauty ideals are all thick/full figured. I don’t admire skinny/slender bodies on women. I want to look like Kirsten Vangsness, Amy Schumer, and plus-sized models Emily Walden, Rebecca Darling, and London Andrews, not a Victoria’s Secret model.
There. And everybody…including all those slender women and muscular men who aren’t trying to impress me anyway, are just fine.
Following all our proclamations about how hot we are just the way we are with our new weight loss diets.
I am down to exactly two plus-size YouTubers to follow, and one of those I only follow to see what it’s like to be someone so completely opposite of me in every way except for body type. Every time I follow a channel, blog, or even Facebook page by a plus-sized woman, it starts out with a focus on being healthy, happy, and confident at whatever size and shape she is. A few weeks later, and we get “My new weight loss miracle plan! How I went from a size 20 to a size 2! I feel so much better now!”
I would have much more respect for someone who says, “I am plus-sized, and it’s not the body size and shape I feel is best suited to me, so I am going to change that,” from the start than someone who pretends to be thrilled with their figure, tells all plus-sized women we should be thrilled with our figures too, and then turns around and send the message, “Not anymore! We all value slender bodies now!”
Expecting people to be shocked when we eat healthy food or do something else to improve our mental or physical well-being.
Everyone needs to exercise and eat a decent amount of healthy food. It doesn’t matter what size and shape you are and what size and shape you like. We all have bones, muscles, and internal organs that need nutrients and exercise to function properly, and what we eat and do impacts our mental health as well.
For the past two years, I have kept myself on a low sugar diet. The diet is to prevent diabetes and manage my depression and fatigue from impairments that caused a mild physical disability. I changed my diet after years of overindulgence in sugar, most of which I did when I was much thinner. I have no desire to be smaller than a size 16/18. I just don’t want to give myself health problems or drop at four in the afternoon.