Not Lazy, Just Strange: Living with Delayed Sleep-Phase Syndrome

For more than a decade I thought I sucked as a person and failed at life. I was met with confusion and anger by my parents on a constant basis who could not understand why I would waste the day sleeping as late as 11am. In university, I got half my sleep during daylight hours in the middle of class or on the science lounge couch. I’m sure it contributed to my low grades and eventual dropping out.

As an adult the situation got worse, and my natural sleep cycle developed to mean going to bed at 4-6am, and getting up past three. Mornings have even been known to make me nauseous. Delayed sleep-phase syndrome is a sleep disorder characterized by having a different circadian rhythm, one often completely backwards from that of most people and leading to a more or less nocturnal lifestyle. I’ve only worked one day job, and I was often late coming in. It lasted for less than three months before I quit. Since then I’ve worked second and third shifts at a hotel, online moderation company, personal care home for the mentally disabled, and now I work in a call center for a large bank. Late shifts are unpopular, so I’ve not only gotten these shifts easily, but often couldn’t have escaped them if I tried. Although, considering the health issues associated with living contrary to your internal clock, why would I? Living on a day schedule would mean facing the same health risks that most people face when being forced to work nights. Depression, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and generally poor performance are just some of many. Industrial and traffic accidents are often caused by sleep-deprivation.

This doesn’t mean that life has been particularly easy. Many people have great difficulty finding a job that works for them. Then there’s still the issue of trying to navigate relationships and a social life when everybody else is asleep. It’s lonely. And running errands and going to doctor or dentist appointments often means getting up relatively “early” to rush out before businesses close. Thank science and the flying spaghetti monster for 24-hour Walmarts.

Despite the frustrations involved, I feel way more at peace since being diagnosed with DSPS nearly a year ago. My doctor was one of few who are familiar with it, so I was lucky. Now that I know there’s a specific reason for the way I am I can be fully accepting of it. I don’t pressure myself to conform to a day schedule anymore because I realize that this is not my fault. 

But all this goes without mentioning the lack of understanding sufferers face from those around them. We’ve heard it all; “You’ll eventually adjust like everybody else,” “Just go to bed and you’ll fall asleep,” “It can’t be that hard, why would you want to waste the whole day sleeping?” We don’t! And yes, it is that hard. It just doesn’t work, and we’re much better off when we don’t have to constantly fight it, when we can be good to our bodies and live according to our natural rhythms. For many years now, if work doesn’t mean having to get up to make it in for my evening shift, I find myself eating breakfast at four or five pm in front of my very expensive photo-therapy lamp. In the winter this sometimes means going days at a time not getting any real sunlight at all. And you know what? It sucks. What we don’t need is a barrage of ineffective advice from well-meaning but ignorant friends and family. There is no cure for delayed sleep-phase syndrome. All we need is some understanding, and maybe a shift-working friend or two to keep us company during the long, lonely nights.

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Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity

One of the things I hate most is when people talk about shit they know nothing about as though they’re experts. We’ve all witnessed it. And Julia Serano is a woman after my own heart as far as this goes. Because there are certain experiences that need to be lived in order to be properly and fully understood. Here she is calling out all the so-called “experts” on gender and transsexuality for their ignorance and hypocrisies, and you can feel her anger.

So is this a book by an angry lesbian feminist? Yes. But the more you pay attention the more you’ll realize that this is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s very much a good thing. Because one thing I didn’t expect this book to be was sad. To learn about all the ignorance this subject is steeped in and the very real negative effects this has on the great many people living it day in and day out is nothing if not upsetting. If the revelations herein don’t upset you, then I have to wonder how much you really care about this subject, and why then you decided to pick up this book. It should also be said that issues of feminism affect men, and likewise issues of transsexuality affect cis people. We’re all part of this world together and we don’t live in a vacuum.

This is a relatively new kind of gender-studies book in that it’s written by a feminist lesbian trans woman. This is a look not from the outside in, but from the inside out from someone who is in a position to experience discrimination, often perhaps unintentional, due to her inclusion in three different groups. To use the language of Hubbub‘s Emily Cockayne, she is an inpert, as opposed to an expert, as she relates to us her knowledge from first hand experience. She’s incredibly intelligent and makes her points very well, but she’s also completely unashamed of herself, and her personality – and anger – reverberate through the pages. This woman has earned her attitude and the right to speak authoritatively on this subject, and it’s for this reason that I really love this book.

Not only is this book heavily saturated in personality and real-life experience, but it brings to mind issues that many of us have probably not considered, as well as how these issues effect all of us as a whole. Julia Serano opens up and allows us to take a deeply personal look into her life as she experiences it and experienced it during the various stages that she went through on her journey to becoming the person she is today. This might sound especially appealing to those very curious people who want a look into something somewhat “taboo,” but while it’s definitely interesting, it also has a way of deeply humanizing this subject, and in the process showing us how very important it is for this to be done. Julia Serano is not only incredibly smart, but incredibly brave, not just in that she has been extraordinarily true to herself but in that she’s offered us the chance to see things from her own perspective in such an unashamedly honest way. By the end of the book you’ll no doubt see femininity and LGBT* issues from an entirely new perspective, and this to me is what makes this book an utter success.

Have a look at the video below for a discussion with Julia about her book.

Performance as Meditation

The difference between “regular” stripping and burlesque is that in the former, you’re showing the audience what they want to see, whereas in the latter you’re showing them what you want them to see.

Or at least that’s the way I see it.

But deciding what you want an audience to see, and how they’re going to see it takes quite a bit of effort. It’s not just your body you’re revealing, it’s your talent and personality, and this involves careful planning. You pick a theme, you pick a song, you pick an outfit, you plan your choreography, and you might also have some humor or other tricks up your sleeve. Quite frankly it’s exhausting.

But what this means is that when the moment comes to show your stuff, you’re actually working quite mentally hard. You’re thinking about not messing up your choreography, not having a wardrobe malfunction, and with all that concentration you still have to remember to look relaxed and smile at the audience. What I’ve found in the incredibly short time I’ve been doing this, is that this really locks me inside my head. I have ADD, but when you have absolutely no choice but to focus, focus is what you shall do. I can look right at someone and my brain just doesn’t register their face because I have too many other things on my mind.

This is weird, at least for someone like me, but come to think of it, it really feels like a form of meditation. During those 4 minutes or so, nothing exists outside of your performance. Not your day job, not your money or family concerns, and certainly nothing from the world outside the stage you’re performing on. It’s really kind of amazing. I once saw a performance in which the performer tripped and broke her foot, but her focus on the routine was so intense that she not only didn’t show any sign of pain, but she didn’t even realize that her foot was broken until after. I can’t think of any other situation when this would be the case, maybe with the exception of feeling extreme fear, which is really not so great.

As my nerves build up the closer I get to my first official performance, I’m reminded of that old tip to picture the audience in their underwear. I wonder if that still matters when you’re actually going to be in yours. But it really might not, because honestly I don’t think I’ll be capable of picturing them at all or imagining much of anything. I’ll have to look engaged, and yet the reality is that for these few minutes these people probably won’t even exist to me.

Sometimes we need this, to take a break from the world and just slow down. Meditation is recommended for a reason. When you have a hard time focusing, sometimes you need to improvise as far as just how you’re going to accomplish that. I was surprised when I first found that this is what performing feels like, and pretty intrigued. This means I’m benefiting from burlesque in more ways than are usually cited, building your confidence and expressing yourself. It means my mental health is benefiting to, and who couldn’t use the little boost? I wonder if this will remain the case or if as I get more comfortable my mind will become more able to wander. I wonder if that would be a good or a bad thing.

I wonder if any of you out there, who perform in any capacity, have felt the same way. Have you felt any benefits from performing that are usually associated with more typical kinds of meditation?

Lulu 2006-2014

It was yesterday, on February 5th that the world lost a very special little dog. She touched our hearts and saved lives, and even in death she will continue to be a force of good in the lives of dogs in need.

Lulu was raised in a puppy mill in Missouri, the state with the highest concentration of puppy mills. There she was injured and abused and learned to fear, but her spirit could not be crushed. She came to us at the end of August 2012, and we instantly knew we had to be the ones to give her a real home and show her what love is. For the entire time she was with us we were dedicated to this, and lived for the moments when she was happy, which had finally become frequent after we started fostering dogs.

I remember sitting on the floor with treats trying to get her to come close to me, but needing to slide them to her because she wouldn’t come. I remember when she was so scared about me picking her up that she peed. And I remember when the call went out for foster families from the rescue we had adopted her from. Her life changed then. Because we felt she would be lonely if unable to fully be comfortable with us, we gave her many friends this way, and she loved every one of them. We saw her smile, wag her tail, jump and play. The last one she knew, Ben, was one to whom she could return the favor.

Lulu had always had dental problems. Because papillions are a breed that requires more dental attention than most, and her proper care had been neglected for so long. On Friday the right side of her mouth started to swell, and we noticed she was experiencing some discomfort. Under anesthesia, during dental work on Tuesday, her jaw broke apart as a tooth was removed, one of only a few she had remaining. Under X-ray it was revealed she had bone cancer. The vet was amazed she had been eating normally, because under the circumstances it was evident she must have been in a lot of pain. But she never showed it. Lulu was an extremely strong little girl. She could live through almost anything. She had a joyful attitude and no matter what life threw at her she just kept going. But now it was time to end her pain. Bone cancer in dogs simply does not get better. Because this was discovered under anesthesia, she never knew her jaw had broken. She never had to be bottle-fed and didn’t have to linger in pain for months. Finally this sweet little girl could be free.

Our lives are now dedicated to fostering and helping animals in need. Lulu inspired this and we will continue to do this for the rest of our lives. We will miss her dearly but her memory will live on in each dog that, because of her, gets a second chance. We were so blessed to have her in our lives, even though our time together was short. It wasn’t fair that she had to suffer so much. We hope that through her this suffering can turn into something good, so that suffering in others is prevented. Lulu was an angel, and is now even more so.

Please consider fostering or supporting an animal rescue. Saving one dog will not change the world, but surely, for that one dog the world will change forever. Rest in peace, little darling.

Strange Burlesque

I was going to wait to post about this until I had actually done a show. I still haven’t. But I just had my first one-on-one burlesque lesson and it was so much fun I’m just too excited to wait. You’ll have to forgive me.

Since there are no actual shows to speak of yet I’ll give you my backround and what’s been going on so far. I’ve been a fan of burlesque for many years. It’s such a beautiful and fun form of artistic expression. It’s a feminist art form that celebrates each person’s own unique beauty and personality. I was the type of kid who always wanted to put on dances and plays for the family, and always loved history and elaborate costumes. So damned if I wasn’t going to want to be part of it. Contrary to what you might believe however, I’m not a particularly extroverted person. I can get suddenly and inexplicably nervous in front of people and in those situations it can take more than a few drinks to loosen me up. I really never believed then that I would be up to the challenge, and focused my little burlesque dreams on being the hero back stage, the one who could arrange for the performers to have gorgeous costumes and help put on their shows without a hitch.

Attending a burlesque worshop in Feb 2013.

This did not happen. But I did one day a couple years ago find myself working a little magic for a fashion show for a local shop at the Taboo sex convention. We were short a hairstylist, so I did my best to get half the girls for each of two shows looking their best. It was an extremely hectic and exhilarating day. Now then, the afternoon show featured pinup dresses and other cute everyday looks, but the evening show was something else. This was all about sexy lingerie. One of the girls during the prep for this evening show came up with the idea that one of the models should go out wearing nothing but some frilly underwear, holding a giant pink powder puff. Guess who was in a brave mood, Strangers. I was caught at a moment when I just did not give a fuck. I would do any dare they threw at me. Maybe it’s because I was still on a high from the first show, my first fashion show ever, after realizing that it was much more fun than terrifying. So I did it. The underwear was big enough to fall half way down my ass and I didn’t even have pasties to cover me up behind that powder puff. But even more so than being in the earlier, tamer fashion show, I realized immediately that I was being not at all traumatized, but having the time of my life. Don’t ask me why, maybe I had just unearthed a secret little exhibitionist part of myself. Or maybe it’s because I really enjoyed the look on everyone’s face. I remained in this state for a little while after the show too, walking around the convention appearing practically naked to hand out flyers for the shop. I even got my picture taken in a photo booth for free. I had a really great time.

I took a really long time to let this all sink in. Almost a year actually. I thought about how if this wasn’t scary, if it turns out I don’t have stage fright, especially without much of anything on, maybe I really could consider doing burlesque. And then my position and my schedule changed. Saturdays were out for another 8 months and my ideas had to be put on hold. I just couldn’t imagine establishing myself as a performer who only worked Sundays and Mondays.

And then finally, FINALLY, I was ready. I was back working Mon-Fri and had started to put together a few costumes. This wasn’t something I just started once I decided to perform however. I’ve always loved corsets, glitter, and ridiculously glamorous things. It’s another art form to me. The only difference now was that I had a real focus. Instead if acquiring a bunch of random pretty things, now I had a goal of specific outfits in mind. When I suddenly realized that one of these outfits had already been sitting in my closet for a while I decided it was time to set up a one-on-one lesson with Miss La Muse to see how it was all done. Of course by now I had already chosen my name and image, purchased my domain (this one), and attended a beginners workshop, also taught by Miss La Muse.

Without getting into too many details that would ruin any surprise at seeing my future first show, I will say that all the basics were covered and a routine was planned out from start to finish. It was even more fun that I expected, and I woke up very sore the next day. I couldn’t wait to get home from work and start sticking little jewels onto my costume. So this is where I’m at now, writing this post in an attempt to lower my temptation to tell everything to the whole damn world. I have to practice and I have to polish. But a performance by Ava Strange is finally something to be seen on the horizon.

Steampunk – What?

Years ago, I wanted to do a little write-up about what steampunk was. I got really into it after discovering it when I was browsing Etsy one cold January day. What a cool concept! I even founded a local group for it with a friend. The group has since become a huge success, and I still enjoy keeping it clear of spam. The people in there seem very nice and I have yet to meet one I didn’t like. But about a month or two after my initial excitement, I was pretty much done with steampunk. I paid it lip service for a while, but my heart wasn’t in it. What caused me to lose interest so fast? Most of it has to do with predictability from the perspective of a person who gets bored quickly.

I’m not scientifically minded, at least, not in that way

It seems to me that there is a huge focus on making or modifying gadgets. Ideally, these things should be functional, however they rarely are (and making gadgets of any kind is really just not my thing). They instead have a series of complicated add-ons that accomplish absolutely nothing. If they did accomplish things maybe I would be a little more interested in at least checking out what other people have done, but I just can’t bring myself to care about another pair of goggles with gears glued to them.

Not everyone looks good in brown

The goth subculture gets a lot of flack for being all about black. But the thing about that is aside from black being pretty “safe” and universal, it really isn’t the only color going on. Go to any goth club and you’ll see plenty of red, grey, white, purple, neon green, and more. Black might be a starting point, but if there’s one thing goth isn’t afraid of it’s experimentation. Steampunk however, for as long as it’s been around, seems to be about only one particular aesthetic that has not really branched off or evolved at all. Everything is brown, or something very close to it. I’ve seen girls in an outfit involving black instead of brown say “It’s black so it’s not really steampunk but…” I have a problem with a fashion this limited, as well as people who are not willing to break those limits. Though of course there are always going to be awesome people out there who do, these seem to be a tad rare outside of ads.

And yeah, the goggle thing. It’s ONE accessory. Why do I feel like it’s a mandatory part of the dress code? Come on guys, let’s think outside the box a little bit. Isn’t that what this is supposed to be about?

What the fuck is with all the gears?

I get why the steampunk crowd likes gears. It’s for the same reason they like steam. But I see the majority of the group taking this to a very strange level. EVERYTHING with gears is considered steampunk, and everything considered steampunk must involve gears. This makes me feel like the entire subculture = gears, instead of actually being about an alternate sci-fi-style Victorian history. This is annoying to say the least. I can’t get behind an entire literary and aesthetic style that would seem to be based solely around a small basic object. It’s silly, it makes no sense, and I’m totally over it.

Now it’s your turn

I know what you’re going to say. I wasn’t into it for very long, I don’t know the first thing about it. I’m entirely wrong. Well, that’s totally fair. So I want you to kindly correct me. I want you to explain this to me in the comments so I can stop thinking this whole thing might actually have a few screws loose. Aaaaaand GO.

Why I Only Read Men’s Magazines

When I was a kid, trips to the library with my dad were routine. When I didn’t go with him he would always come home with a big stack of magazine back issues, some for him, some for me. His picks for himself were Men’s Health, Esquire, and the odd GQ. His picks for me were Cosmo, or Elle. With a side by side comparison easily available, it was clear to me which pile was superior. Though by then my opinion was already pretty firmly established.

My school library in junior high and high school always had a selection of Seventeen available. It was the only thing they had that wasn’t about cars or computers, two things I didn’t particularly care about, and when you’re trying to work on your algebra and write papers in French, there isn’t always time for good literature. So I always grabbed the Seventeens, and always walked out of the library a little more pissed off than I was when I walked in.

It’s not that they were completely without value. I enjoyed the article about the chick who played Topanga back in 1998, I guess. But even to my 15 year old mind, there were already some problems that started to really stand out. Every Traumarama had to do with something happening in front of the contributor’s crush. Obviously you don’t want the boy you like in junior high to see you with, say, a period stain on your pants or something, but the message I got from this being the only person you could be embarrassed in front of was that pleasing boys was incredibly important. It didn’t matter if you looked stupid in front of your teachers. It was all about the boys. This was at a time when I was being told what to wear by my friends based on what the boys would like, and I was told that I shouldn’t have turned down a date from a really nice guy I just wasn’t attracted to because it would have made me popular. I do regret not saying yes, but that’s because he seemed like a great guy. The admiration of others had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Then there were the hair and makeup tutorials. Sure, I wanted to learn about those things, and I still do! But apparently I can’t do this or that hairstyle unless I have some Bumble and Bumble heat protectant spray or a Conair flat iron. Well, I was a kid and I worked at McDonald’s, so nevermind then. Feeling pretty must just not have been in the cards for a broke-ass like me. Then there was the article I saw about scooter safety. Remember those? They were huge. But the thing is, teenage girls didn’t ride them. Young boys did. I had one, but I didn’t ride it very far. My crush would have laughed at me (sarcasm). It immediately struck me that the people writing this magazine knew absolutely nothing about their audience, besides the fact that they were incredibly insecure, and this was an easy and profitable thing to exploit. That had to be how they got away with all the advertising not so subtly hidden in every article they had. But it doesn’t take a genius to know that. They even published an article called “The Pretty Disease,” and I was relieved to read all the angry letters to the editor a month later from girls intelligent enough to know that when it comes to diseases, looks are not exactly something you should be focusing on.

I don’t remember quite when I noticed that it wasn’t just Seventeen treating women and girls this way, that it was all women’s magazines. It was a gradual thing. But it got pretty damn repetitive to see that Cosmo seemed to be exclusively about sex tips to drive your man wild and the big story on Women’s World was always how someone lost 100 pounds, with a cupcake recipe coming in second. Every. Single. Issue. I had to mention out loud at one point “Is this really all women care about? Really?” to be met with fervent agreement from an older woman standing in front of me. So I’m glad I’m not the only one who notices something is wrong here. I’m not saying that there’s no value in wanting to feel attractive. But why must this be to the utter abandonment of all else? Why must we only feel attractive when we’re allowing someone else to profit? It makes us feel bad, and it gives us absolutely no credit.

It was for this reason that I never even touched the women’s magazines my dad brought home for me. I grabbed Men’s Health, full of cool articles about the body, even when it’s not being used for sex. I grabbed Esquire, for the thought-provoking pieces on people who influence culture in our society, no matter how good-looking they may or may not be. There were book reviews, cocktail recipes, and pieces on science and advancing your career, things you just never see in a women’s magazine, as if  “chicks just don’t care about that stuff.” And sure, I occasionally picked up a GQ because the men were hot, but at least it wasn’t telling me that I needed to buy an overpriced lipstick to appeal to them.

The men’s magazines of course have their fair share of information on how to appeal to women. But at least they’re well-rounded. The articles never seem to rob men of their dignity, and there’s plenty in there about building up a strong sense of self. How to be classy, how to be a decent person, how to take care of your body, and how to be a success in your career. How to dress well just for the sake of dressing well and not becoming a person of walmart. Instead of getting the impression of the target market as being vapid, insecure man/woman-chasers, I get the impression that these are some classy motherfuckers. These are people I actually want to have a conversation with. These are people I want to get to know, not just fuck. Remember that what you surround yourself with has a pretty strong influence on who you are. Which would you rather be?