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britney spears blackoutHere’s an image for you: me, sitting in a little messy cubicle, answering hundreds of responses from unsolicited emails about history textbooks, listening to Britney Spears’ new album, Blackout way, way too loud on my headphones and bobbing my head. Every once and a while, like when Britney rhymes position, mission, and permission, or when Britney obviously misses several nasally notes in a row, I will stop bobbing my head and frown.

So yes, I decided not to Be Proactive to Help and go ahead and buy the album. And the bonus track.

I have a lot of mixed feelings. Before purchasing the album last night, I read a bunch of positive reviews of it online. “It’s totally not a horrible, overweight disaster!” record reviews wrote. “I really thought that this album would be a bad mother struggling with a substance abuse problem and a fresh divorce, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a collection of 13 pop songs!”

It seems that people like the album because it’s not another train wreck of a misstep like Brit’s performance at the  MTV VMAs or her two children – their expectations were low, so it was a pleasant surprise. They can’t separate Brit’s life from her music. And the music isn’t bad. The beats are good and catchy and the production is great. I would say I even like three or four of the songs more than anyone should.

Of course, is it Brit’s music? I’m going to say no, and it’s not just because I’m a poor jealous talentless brunette. She can buy the best producers in the business, and this album features Bloodshy & Avant, the Clutch and the Neptunes – people who can make catchy songs out of anything. Seriously, I wouldn’t be surprised if Britney didn’t even sing in the studio for this album — she was just recorded having a whiny, breathy conversation out in the parking lot and they sampled bits and pieces of it. Like she said, “Gimme more fried chicken, baby!” and they cut out “fried chicken” and made two hit songs out of it.

Because, after all of these years, it’s still pretty apparent that Brit isn’t the best singer out there. She’s often shrill, nasally, and off pitch. The best songs are the ones where she’s mostly just talking in the background or making those weird sexy noises she makes. When it comes to guilty-pleasure pop divas, I’ll stick with Pink and Shakira – who are not only better singers, but who also manage to write their own songs from time to time (Britney is credited on two songs on Blackout, although one of them is the less-than-brilliant “oh oh Baby,” which contains the lyrics “oh oh baby baby baby baby baby” and is about the physical act of sex).

The lyrics on the album that are not the words “hot” or “baby” seem like a study in irony or perhaps just a lot of hilarious misunderstandings – songs like “Piece of Me” are about what a mess she’s been over the last year or so, and how she’s really sassy about it, but it becomes quickly apparent that she didn’t write the lyrics. I mean, you can’t really complain about people taking pictures of you while you get out of your car when you often show your genitals during the process. Can you?

In the end, I’m not sure if I learned any secrets about my enemy Brit by listening to this. She’s just not there very much – you can’t feel her presence like in some of her earlier albums. It’s unarguably a good album, though, perhaps for that reason. Either way, she’s probably widened the lead, just a little bit, in our race to have the more successful life.

Where does that leave me, and where does that leave Britney? I’m not sure. I think I learn more about her by keeping up on the gossip, the latest of which claims that Britney was breastfeeding JJ while she was drunk on vodka. And while I find it horrifying that she’s treating her kids to Baby’s First White Russians, I’m also going to keep listening to her new album while I reply to the rest of these textbook emails. I will not, however, bob my head during the sequence where she deems to rhyme man, hand, and understand.

Read the last installment of Sarah vs. Spears here.

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Yesterday on my way to work, I was late and got on a later train than usual. I was standing next to someone about my age when he reached his leg out and tapped on my foot. I took it as a harmless, run-of-the-mill subway-jostling mistake.

Then it happened again. And again.

The second time it happened, I looked up from my book as if to say, “Seriously?” and he looked back at me like the dictionary definition of simpering. The third time it happened, I walked briskly away to the other end of the subway car. Did he think he was Larry Craig? I thought, laughing at my own topical humor. What did he want out of this interaction? I was totally creeped out.

A few stops later, I had forgotten about him, found a seat, and gotten lost in my book again. Then, though, my knee was nudged and there he was, sitting next to me, leering at me in a disturbing manner – the only way one can leer.

It was at this point that I devised a plan. I was reading a hardcover book and I pinpointed several large strong good Samaritans nearby who would come to my aid. If he did anything else, I told myself, if he touched me again, I would hit him in the face, plea my case to the good Samaritans during a succinct but moving oration, and then they would finish the job I had started with their various thick crime paperbacks. My song would be sang for many, many ages on many, many subway lines.

But there were only two subway stops left and I got away without further incident. And not doing anything during those first FOUR incidents haunted me throughout the day. Should I have hit him with my hard cover after two toe taps? Three? Why do so many people, including me, let these instances of intimidation and sexual harassment slide by?

What if, every time some dude did something of this sort to me, I did something about it — something that would be really embarrassing for him. What if every time some dude shouted at us in the streets, we shouted back – and not just “Fuck yous!”, but clever comebacks that were, at the same time, extremely degrading and self-esteem-lowering? Why do women think the best response to sexual harassment is walking away and not paying attention? Is it because these men just want attention? Even if that’s the case, I don’t think we should let them get away with it. Is it because we’re afraid of what will happen if we do respond?

Of course, this morning on my way to work, I was late again. I got on the train and there he was again – the very same simpering foot tapper. Leering at some other poor girl. Did he do this every morning, with some different girl? Was it part of his morning commute? Was she, too, reading a hard cover? Again, I did nothing.

On my walk from the subway to work, some other guy shouted “good morning!” at me in the bad way, and when I walked by without saying anything or looking at him, he said, “I said, good morning!” and I did nothing again.

Has anyone ever responded to a sexual harassment issue? How did it go for you? Was part of the problem not really knowing it was sexual harassment until after the fact – do these men operate knowing you’ll be too shocked and confused to act?

P.S. If I were going to sexually harass someone, I’d do something WAY cooler than tap their foot and leer at them. How lame.

like you'd understand anywayJim Shephard is often called a writers’ writer. I was never sure what that was supposed to mean, exactly, except that he seemed to be extremely popular in MFA program curriculums, but not an author you would often see someone reading on the subway – kind of like a cool band that you’ve never heard of. Except replace “cool band” with “nerdy writer.”

A year or two ago, Ben and I were lucky enough to drink a few tumblers of whisky with Jim Shepard and talk about writing. His body of short stories has had a huge influence on Ben’s writing and he is, in all respects, an enormously great teacher and contemporary writer. When the students in our MFA program got a chance to pick a visiting writer, Ben jumped on the chance to meet the guy in person – to attend a workshop, to listen to a lecture, to share some whisky.

When we asked him about what being a writers’ writer might mean, he took a nice long sip from his glass and told us he thought it was equally as baffling as we did – and then said that it might just be a polite way of saying he wasn’t all that popular. But here we are, a little over a year later, and Shepard’s newest book of short stories, Like You’d Understand Anyway, has just been short-listed for the National Book Award and gotten glowing reviews from everyone and everywhere you can think of. Finally, he seems to be on the radar. And I couldn’t be happier.

Like You’d Understand Anyway is a collection of all first-person short stories, though the similarities between them end there. The settings and time periods range from the site of Hadrian’s Wall during the late Roman Empire, to present day Alaska, to Chernobyl during the nuclear meltdown, to gothic France, to summer camp in 1960s America.

In these stories, Shepard does something that very, very few contemporary do these days: he uses his imagination and has fun. No, you won’t find stories here about a struggling writer in New York City wrestling with ennui or a writing professor who longs for his younger days in Europe. You’ll find adventure stories of failed expeditions in the Australian outback and totally awesome hunts by lackluster Nazis for evidence of the yeti in Tibet during World War II. Each story is lovingly researched and each narrator has such surprisingly authentic and passionate voices that you’ll often slip into simply believing what you read. The acknowledgements section for the book is a list of about 50 non-fiction books – if anything, Shepard is a readers’ writer.

Throughout the book, Shepard proves so many of his writing peers wrong: contemporary literature doesn’t have to be boring, and writing from experience doesn’t mean that you have to write about yourself. You can write a self-reflective story that has a lot of action. You can take thoughts and feelings that you’ve had and transfer them to different places and times.

And that’s the real beauty of the stories: Shepard has a genuine, almost scary handle on the human condition. Think you won’t relate to a Nazi yeti seeker or the first woman in space or a rage-filled defensive end on a high school football team? You’re wrong. As far as you’re being a hopelessly flawed human, Shepard’s got your number. He has that rare writer’s talent – to find combinations of words for feelings we can’t normally find combinations of words for. He’s simply a great storyteller.

I really don’t know what else to say except that you should read the book. If you still aren’t convinced, I’ll link to the shortest story in the collection, “Proto-Scorpions of the Silurian” which originally appeared online at Fail Better. It takes about five minutes to read. Ten if you read it twice.

lifetimeThere’s something truly magical about waking up early on Saturday morning, pulling on some sweatpants, eating a piece of cold leftover pizza, and turning on the Lifetime Movie Network. This week’s offering was Maternal Instincts – a Delta Burke vehicle in which she plays a woman who descends into madness after a hysterectomy. After accidentally killing her husband during a rage a few days after the operation (which a was necessary procedure to remove cancer) Burke plots to ruin the life of (and steal the future baby of) the pregnant doctor who gave her the operation. You might even say she’s a woman who is designing a plan to kill the doctor who wronged her.

I found this movie to be simply baffling – I actually looked it up on the Internet Movie Database to see if it was a spoof of a physiological thriller or if it was a real, actual psychological thriller. What I found was a bunch of other confused people posting reviews from around the world who also couldn’t tell if it was a serious film or a comedy. No one could offer anything conclusive. I – I – I still don’t know. I really just don’t know.

I could tell you about the scene in which Burke crazily breaks the tips of a bunch of freshly sharpened pencils, one after another, over and over again. Or I could tell you how, even though having a hysterectomy was a terrible blow to her emotional state, the sudden, violent death of her husband didn’t seem to bother her or any other character in the movie, not even for a single scene. Or I could tell you about how she throws a temper tantrum in a bathroom stall that could have easily won whatever the opposite of an Oscar is. Or I could tell you about the climactic final scene, in which Delta Burke and the doctor she hates duel with giant, industrial wrenches in the hospital boiler room.

Or, perhaps I could tell you that throughout the entire movie, Burke is wearing pieces from her popular clothing line, Delta Burke Design.

I don’t know. If it is a spoof – if everyone on set had a good time making it and the writers and the director really got a kick out of creating this film – then I think it’s wonderful. If this was a serious effort, though, if Burke, say, spent six months in a psychiatric ward in order to find her character’s emotional center and then stayed in character even during meal breaks and off set, then I still think it’s wonderful. Just in a different way.

What’s the difference between an $80 haircut and a $20 haircut? As far as I can tell after my experience this weekend, I would say exactly $60. And that’s it.

One of the things that has bothered me most about New York since I moved here is how hard it seems to be to get high quality things at reasonable prices. Restaurants and bars are bad in this regard, but hair salons seem worse. Since I’ve moved to New York, I’ve only gotten two haircuts: one very, very expensive one in Manhattan that was so terrible I cried (both for my hair and for my wallet) and one free cut from a friend of a friend who cuts hair for starving artist types. It seemed impossible to find some middle ground between a snobby place called Tangle or Strands that charged me two day’s pay (plus tips) and sitting in a kitchen chair in an alley with a stranger bending over me with office scissors.

So my hair got longer and longer – and I looked frumpier and frumpier. More than that, I started feeling bad about how it looked. I didn’t look or feel like me.

It got to a point where this weekend I bit the bullet and went into one of the super-sketchy hair places in my own Queens neighborhood. We’re talking about a place that doesn’t sell salon products, a place with stains on the walls, a place with exactly two chairs and two people working there, one of whom was definitely underage. A place where you can just walk in and sit down and they start cutting away at whatever is on your head. It wasn’t called Tangle or Strands – it was called Physique Unisex Hair. I was terrified.

But everything was more than fine. Even though there was a bit of a language barrier (knowing how to say “bangs” in Spanish would have helped) I showed the woman a picture and she cut my hair to look like the picture. It was modern, detailed, and super cute. I looked and felt like myself again, I had a good time, I didn’t have to make small talk, and it all cost me $20, tip included.

It really made me wonder about the expensive salons in the city. Why do they charge so much more? And why do you have to schedule an appointment a month in advance? Sure, when I went to the expensive place in Manhattan they offered me raspberry tea while I waited my turn and a white English-speaking woman cut my hair while asking me an endless string of shockingly personal questions, but was that the end to the differences? I mean, I don’t even like fruit flavored tea and I certainly don’t like talking to people. In fact, I didn’t even have to wait at the other place, so I didn’t even need any stupid tea.

Perhaps this is an entire industry making money over women’s fears of getting their hair cut. It’s horrible to get a bad cut, so do women think that if they go to a more expensive place that they’ll be less likely to get one? Or do they pay extra for the tea and new age music and no stains on the wall? I think I was more affected by the first part – that paying more would assure that I would get good results. But just like most things, that’s not necessarily the case – like how the best burritos in our area come from a place that I normally wouldn’t walk into without wearing a surgical mask and paper hospital footies (we get it delivered).

I’m calling out the beauty industry on this one: I don’t care how many more clever salon names or flavors of tea you come up with. I’ve discovered your ruse and I won’t be tricked again.

It was rainy and cold and dark all weekend, which was perfect for my mood. We pretty much huddled in our apartment for two days straight, playing Madden, watching scary movies, eating takeout, playing darts, and drinking beers. It was, to say the least, very renewing.

So today for Sunday dinner we wanted something along those same lines – something renewing, something hearty, something with a lot of protein, something that would get us prepared for Monday morning. The answer was obvious: one of our favorite dishes, my maternal grandmother’s red beans and rice recipe.

This classic Louisiana Creole dish was traditionally served each Monday night, using the leftover ham from Sunday dinner. It also gave women a break from cooking on Monday, the traditional wash day, since the beans are easy to prepare and made to simmer on the stove throughout the day. Sure, you can always run down to New Orleans, where red beans and rice is usually served as the Monday lunch special at local restaurants, or you could cook some up yourself, whenever you pleased.

I find it to be an awesome, original alternative to chili to make for Sunday and Monday night football game get-togethers – it’s spicy and it sits well all day so that guests can fix a bowl whenever they’re hungry. The best part is that it is both easy to freeze and tastes awesome after being reheated. Oh, and it’s dirt cheap to make, which is probably another reason my mom grew up eating it so often along with her seven brothers and sisters on a little farm in Louisiana.

Red Beans and Rice

1 pound bag of dried kidney beans
3 ribs of celery, chopped
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1 pound smoked sausage, sliced, or ham hocks or left over ham (I put in both sausage and diced ham, and it is awesome)
1/2 t. black pepper
Cayenne pepper (until it’s as spicy as you’d like)
Salt to taste (The sausage/ham will add salt, so be careful.)

  • Rinse and sort red beans; soak for at least a couple of hours.
  • Drain beans.
  • Sauté celery, onion and garlic in 2 tablespoons of butter (or some extra virgin olive oil)
  • Add sausage or ham or both.
  • Add about10 cups of water, beans and bay leaf.
  • Bring to boil; Simmer for 2 hours or until beans are tender. Add more water if necessary.
  • Smash some of the beans against the side of the pot to thicken the beans once they are tender.
  • Serve over hot rice.

You can also cook them in a crock pot overnight or during the day while you’re at work. I always make a pan of cornbread to go with it. I also make it healthier by trimming the fat off of the ham, using spicy turkey sausage, and eating it over brown rice.

Go to last week’s Sunday night dinner: steaks and cheesy potatoes.

paintingRecently I’ve been talking to Molly, a friend from college who now lives in Chicago. We share a lot of the same interests (writing, improv, reading, complaining about our jobs) and are in a similar place in our lives. She’s just re-started her blog, Bittersweet, and we thought to share some of our correspondence (this one’s about writing, non-fiction, and the internet), split between our two blogs. You can read the first half at Bittersweet and then come back over here for the second half.

Sarah, speaking of writers, over at Geek Buffet there was a post that quoted Milan Kundera as saying, “One morning (and it will be soon), when everyone wakes up as a writer, the age of universal deafness and incomprehension will have arrived.” How does the culture of blogging and social networking sites like Myspace and Facebook affect our generation of writers and thinkers? Has the age of universal deafness and incomprehension arrived?

Sarah: Since I moved to New York, everyone I’ve met has claimed to be a writer. Everyone’s working on a novel, everyone’s scribbling in a journal on the train, everyone either went to an MFA program or applied or is going to apply next year. To be honest, I was bothered by it — it doesn’t you feel very special.

But then I started to see past it. Everyone has this idealistic image of what a writer does: they don’t work, they go to book parties and readings and spend their huge advances and smoke cigarettes. But like I mentioned a few weeks ago, I went to a reading recently where a person in the audience said that they were a writer, except that they didn’t write. And she was being serious. It cleared a lot of things up for me.

There won’t be a day when everyone wakes up a writer. Just like there won’t be a day when we all wake up painters or politicians or Martians. I write all day and it isn’t fun, but it’s all I know to do. We don’t go to literary events and we don’t smoke cigarettes and we don’t talk about the novel we’re working on (after work, at lunch,
during work) because we’re embarrassed by this problem we have: writing.

As for being deafened by the sheer volume of people writing words these days, I’ll bring back the painter metaphor. Anyone can cover a canvas in paint, but I will never, ever be able to paint a picture that moves someone. I read an article recently in the New York Times about a woman who found a priceless painting leaning against a dumpster in New York. She said that when she saw it she didn’t want to carry it, didn’t have room for it in her apartment, and she knew it was worthless. But it spoke to her and she couldn’t help but carry that painting home, against all of her logic. We’ll always be able to hear the best, real writing over the din.

(the painting is pictured above, “Tres Personajes” by Rufino Tramayo)

Molly, I’ve just talked about the writing community in New York and how I find writing to ultimately be a solitary and lonely act. What parts of your writing life do you share with a community and which do you keep to yourself? Is being a writer something you can teach, or is it innate?

Molly: Writing is such a strange and contradictory practice, because it isolates you in the very act of reaching out to communicate. We write to share our stories, to add our voices to the global discussion, and yet to do so we must separate ourselves from the world. And not only are you physically apart from people as you sit with your notebook or your computer screen, but you’re also mentally apart; while the rest of your friends are laughing over beers together, you’re planning your next essay or story in your head. It can be incredibly lonely.

I’m currently taking a writing workshop through Story Studio Chicago, which has been a great experience simply for the opportunity to talk with other writers about all the boring writerly questions that don’t interest my friends and family very much. It’s been interesting, too, workshopping the first chapters of my new novel with them, when with my first novel maybe one person got to see it before I had a working second or third draft of the entire manuscript. Recently, I’ve been lucky enough to find a few fantastic people willing to read my work and give me incredibly thoughtful, detailed feedback about that. So I do feel that I’ve created a good little community of support and critique for myself, but it took me a long time to do so. I spent a lot of time writing in the dark, writing by and for myself, and I think that was just as critical as the community is now.

As for whether being a writer is something you can teach, yes and no. I think you can absolutely teach techniques and ways to focus your writing, ways to strengthen it, to sharpen it. In my writing group, I’m seeing a lot of manuscripts that could benefit from attention to some very simple elements: setting, dialogue, pacing… things easily covered in a class.

However, what can’t be taught, I think, is the sheer will – the need – to write. Can you be taught to keep going after a million rejections? Can you be taught to ignore the people who laugh at you or tell you to grow up and get a real job? Can you be taught to – after any success or failure, no matter how small or large – come home and set the pen once more to the page? Probably not. It’s a cliché, but I really can’t imagine anyone becoming a writer unless some deep, hidden part of them tells them that they have no choice. That they must.

cakeIt’s Ben’s 28th birthday today. He’s not big into birthdays, but I try to do the best I can where he’ll let me. For example, instead of buying him some big present, I bought him a bunch of little stuff, wrapped them, and then hid them around the house so he’d find them throughout the day while I was at work (in the sock drawer, refrigerator, shaving kit). You know, kind of like if you combined the best parts of Easter and Christmas (and took out the religion). I’m sure in six months I’ll find a dusty gift behind the dryer.

And, as much as he minds a big to-do about the day he was born, Ben doesn’t mind consuming carrot cake. At all. With this knowledge, I called up my M’am-Maw and asked for her amazing carrot cake recipe, which is a stunning piece of moist carroty goodness. It’s a show-stopper – the cream cheese icing isn’t too sweet, the cake isn’t too roughly textured, and did I mention that it’s moist? It is more than moist, it is a three-tiered monument to moist things around the world and throughout all time.

Here we go:

2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs

2 cups flour
3 cups shredded carrots
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Before you begin, spray three 9-inch cake pans with non-stick cooking spray. Next, cut out three circular pieces of wax paper, place them in the bottom of the pans, and spray them with cooking spray, too. It might seem like a lot to go through so that you cake doesn’t stick to the pan, but don’t forget how MOIST this stuff is.

Next, mix your oil, sugar, and eggs in a large bowl. Add the dry ingredients, which you have mixed in a different bowl (flour, carrots, baking soda, salt, cinnamon). Beat for two minutes or so. Separate the batter between your three cake pans and bake them together for about 25 minutes. Keep an eye on it, though, you don’t want it to be dry.

Now the icing:

8 oz of cream cheese
1 box powdered sugar (or to taste, really)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 stick of butter
1 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Whip the softened cream cheese, softened butter, and vanilla on high. My grandmother first claimed she put in half a stick of butter, then changed it to three-fourths of a stick, then confessed that she puts in a whole stick. This is the major problem with good cooks – hidden butter – so I put in a whole stick and it came out great. I mean, it’s cake — a cake celebrating someone’s first day on earth — let’s not act healthy and cut corners.

Start adding the powdered sugar slowly (with the mixer off when you pour it in) and then whip it as fast as your mixer goes. Keep adding and testing it until you’re happy with the consistency and the sweetness. I think I added about two cups, but I don’t like sweet frosting. If you’re in to nuts, chop some up and add either to the icing in the mixer or after you’ve iced the cake. Since it’s October and since we’re not big nut fans, I decorated mine with candy corns.

A note or two: after you take the cakes out of the oven, place them on a cooling rack for a while before you ice anything. I always get impatient and do it too soon and the icing melts everywhere. Also, make sure all of your baking dishes are nine inches in diameter. Mine were three different sizes and my cake came out looking like the leaning tower of Pisa (see above). Except that it was delicious.

child wearing makeupWhenever I put on makeup, I feel like a seven-year-old girl rummaging through her mother’s things – I have no idea what I’m doing, my entire feet have slid down into the toes of her high heels, I’m one step away from smearing lipstick all over my cheeks or eating the mascara.

My cannon of knowledge of the subject of makeup application is pieced together from dog-eared waiting room copies of Cosmopolitans, senior prom, watching women on the train, and the half-dozen times my friends have tried and failed to make me over during junior high sleepovers. My makeup bag consists of presents my aunt gave me a few years ago at Christmas (very subtle hints) and  that time a few years ago when I dressed up as a gypsy for Halloween (non-sexy, people).

I probably wear the stuff a few times a month. Mascara, lip gloss (I think), eyeliner, roll-on eye shadow (or something) and foundation or conceal or liquid power – whatever the brownish stuff is called. In the end, I look like some sort of cross between a painted baby doll and a whore, although my friends touch my shoulder lightly and reassure me that it just looks strange on me since I rarely wear it. That they would look strange if I saw them without it.

To insult everyone who can’t read, the situation feels like what it must be like to not be able to read. I walk the streets everyday, looking at the women with shining pink lips and flawless-looking skin and eyes that pop, and it’s so easy for them. Natural. They take it for granted. They do it every morning without thinking, like how I read Newsweek or the back of the cereal box.

But really, when I think about it, I’m not even sure I want to wear makeup – and that’s not merely sour grapes. First and foremost, it’s expensive. Lately I’ve been consciously trying to cut spending that’s unnecessary to my happiness, and I remember when I was a teen I read about how much women spent on beauty products a year and it was staggering. There are just other things I’d rather have, like the money, for one.

Next, I have to wonder what makeup is doing to women, right along with uncomfortable shoes and botox and padded bras. Why are women expected to wear makeup while men are not, for example? It might seem like a silly question, but I’m not so sure – if all men walked around in lipstick, wouldn’t that seem weird? I guess we could talk about genetics and ancestors and gender roles and whatever, but I say that even if it is has been “natural” for women to rely on their appearance in centuries past, it doesn’t mean we have to abide by that or use it as an excuse. I mean, I want you to close your eyes and picture your father or boyfriend with bright red lipstick on. Maybe some sweeping blush. That’s weird, right? Then why would I do that?

On the other hand, I want my eyes to pop. Maybe not every day, but every once and a while. The feeling creeps out sometimes, like when I put on a skirt. Maybe it is genetic. Maybe I’m just getting older and that’s making me less idealistic or more materialistic or, simply, more splotchy and uneven, especially in the T-zone.

I’ve been talking about this with some of my more savvy makeup friends. They’ve suggested a visit to a nearby makeup counter and a consultation. As terrifying as that sounds on all levels (the face level, the comfort level, the talking to strange painted ladies level, the being in the mall level, the wallet level) it sounds like something I have to go through before I know what’s right for me. And I’m not just talking about eye shadow shades.

I’ll report back next week with the results.

brit carIt’s been another big week for Britney Spears – not only was she involved in another paparazzi hit and run incident, but the Fed-Ex vs. Brit-Brit custody battle has become so confusing that I’m not even sure the judge knows where the kids are any more. But this is only the present. And, as always, the present is mere seconds – seconds! – from being the past.

I should be worried about the future. More specifically, I need to be worried about next Tuesday, October 30th, when Britney Spears’ new album, Blackout, hits the stands. It’s her first  original music release since 2003 and I have no idea what to expect. On one hand, I should probably buy the album and listen to it on repeat until I have it committed to memory – both so that I may know my enemy better and because I need to learn from her for when I finally get around to recording my five world-wide hit pop albums.

On the other hand, should I buy the album at all? Should I support Brit’s downward spiral of a drug-dazed life by purchasing her CD? Wouldn’t that be sending the wrong message to Jive Records and the music industry at large?

Well, some of Brit’s closest acquaintances and former hangers-on say no. In fact, they’ve started a MySpace page, Be Proactive To Help, which urges anyone who truly cares about Brit to boycott her music and merchandise (and here I was, about to buy her new fragrance, In Control, so that I could see what Britney thinks being in control smells like). More than an utterly confusing mashing of an absolute train wreck of un-diagramable words, Be Proactive To Help really wants to see Britney get better and return to her former rock-hard-abs glory. The thought behind the boycott is that if Jive was financially affected by Brit’s mental state that they will force her to seek help and get healthy.

Upon first viewing the page, I was a bit moved. Here are people – fans – being proactive to help. Together. Would so many people be proactive to help me if I were in trouble? Would they even make a weird MySpace page for me? I decided then and there: as much as I wanted to hear it, I wouldn’t buy Blackout next week. I would save the pop star and save the world.

About an hour later, I was still on the site. The sun had set without my noticing, my blog was sitting cold and unupdated at updating time, my cat was hungry and confused. I couldn’t stop reading – the comments, the profiles of the commenters, the profiles of the significant others of the commenters. Oh, the body glitter and the sadness! Oh, the creepy middle-aged men who say they haven’t bought an album since …Baby One More Time! Oh, the pink backgrounds with slightly darker pink fonts! Oh, the John Mayer soundtracks!

And, around that time, when I was getting pink MySpace wallpaper eyestrain, that I realized that I had been tricked. Be Proactive to Help might be being proactive to help Britney, but they were being proactive to hinder me – my goals and my dreams. Instead of doing any of the many tasks I need to complete in order to surpass Britney’s success, I was sucked into wasting hours of my time. On purpose.

Yes, I will buy Blackout next week. And I will study it and I will learn. I will not be tricked by Brit’s posse again. I will stay focused and see nothing but my goal of being better at life than Britney Spears. In the end, hopefully, I will reek of being in control. To help.

Read the last installment of Sarah vs. Spears