Unexpected Numbers

 

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“31” by Flickr user “duncan c.”

When I was a kid, I thought thirty sounded like a magical age. I liked the number, because it was round and crisp and seemed very grown up. Precocious little thing that I was, I would tell people I couldn’t wait to turn thirty.

Well, last year I did. And thirty wasn’t exactly what I expected it to be.

When I was little, I thought that by the age of thirty, I’d be married, have two kids, and be on the New York Times Bestseller’s List (yes, I had stretch goals). I think the word to describe the picture that was once in my head is “settled.” Little did I know, a more apropos word would turn out to be “transition.”

A day after my thirtieth birthday, my fiancé (who was only my boyfriend at the time) and I got into a car and drove to San Diego. We were ready to build a whole new life together in California. There, we had a hip new downtown apartment, greater proximity to family, and the promise of salty sea air. Two days later, I started a new job in a new industry in which I’d need to learn new skill sets.

Quite frankly, nothing was settled. Everything was just beginning at thirty.

Okay, thirty isn’t the age I was thinking of as a kid, I thought. I was off a year, which makes sense. Let’s face it, you’re no good at math.

I knew thirty was going to be a rollercoaster, so I strapped myself in and tried not to hold my breath.

Now, a week away from my thirty-first birthday, I’m experiencing some Twilight Zone sort of déjà vu, because nothing has slowed down, and the adventure is continuing at a breakneck speed. My man and I got engaged on Christmas morning thanks to a Nancy Drew book and a Victorian ring, so wedding planning is a thing now.

A week and a half ago, we moved into a new apartment in a neighborhood that we love. Our new place has hardwood floors, ample space for my writing desk (hooray!), and is walking distance from … I believe we’ve counted nine breweries so far?

This past Monday, I began my dream job with a small, independent academic publisher. I’m creating content like a madwoman, they trust my writing and marketing expertise, and I have agency for days. This company offers intramural sports every day of the week (yoga, volleyball, bocce ball, basketball, and bootcamp) and encourage you to work hard, then play hard. I had to buy new jeans to fit their casual dress code (score!). They have a monthly book club. I’m completely in love.

Me and my fiancé, yeah, we’re anything but settled right now. Rather, we’re standing on the precipice of uncertainty again, throwing rocks, trying to gauge just how deep that big expanse of unknowing is.

But there are a few things I do know. This year, I’ll be thirty-one. I’ll be planning a wedding. I’ll be working my ass off in an industry I’m passionate about. I’m going to fail, and I’m going to win. I’ll be inviting friends over to dine al fresco on our fabulous, second-story outdoor patio. I’ll be making more effort to build friendships and find my people in this dynamic, gorgeous city. I’ll battle anxiety and depression. I’ll also enjoy unbridled happiness and buckets of excitement.

I’ll breathe—even though I’m airborne. Upside down. Taking curves at unnatural speeds. Screaming. Laughing. Crying. My belly will drop. My head will spin. I’ll beg to go again and again.

Thirty was a magical age. Thirty-one will be, too.

Let’s ride.

 

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The Day the Music Survived

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Yesterday, when the news was announced that the legendary entertainer, guitar god, sex symbol, and one-of-a-kind musician we all knew as Prince died, I cried quietly at my desk at work. I was overwhelmed…saddened…then numb. The number 57 (his age) circled around and around in my head, and every time, I thought, Too young. Much too young. My good friends, who are well aware of my Prince fanaticism, reached out to me and offered long-distance hugs, condolences, and memories.

I’m well aware that I didn’t actually know Prince and thus, the emotional roller coaster I’m describing could be laughable or seem melodramatic to some. Trust me, it’s weird for me to say that I had such an emotional reaction over the death of someone I never actually met. But here’s the thing: I ritualistically bathed in his music, and his tunes often served as the soundtrack for important and joyful moments of my life. Cases in point…

When I bought my first house in Phoenix, Arizona, at the age of 22, I stripped down to my skivvies, blasted the Purple Rain soundtrack, and danced my booty off in every single room of the house, because that was the most joyful way I could think of to christen my new home and celebrate my own sense of personal achievement.

When my friend, Nikki, and I found out Prince was playing 21 nights in Los Angeles a few years ago, tickets were only $15, and I was going to be visiting her in San Diego one of the weekends he was playing, we promptly scheduled a road trip. We drove to The Forum blasting Prince records, bought knockoff T-shirts outside the venue, and snuck in our phones to document the experience. I’d never seen a true entertainer live until that night. The guitar licks. The costumes. The dancing. The sex appeal. And special guest Sheila E! Nikki and I were both electric the rest of the weekend.

Prince live

Of course, when I made it public that I went to a Prince show, my good friend and badass saxophonist, Dr. Dan Puccio, was thoroughly offended I’d gone without him. So, we planned our own road trip a few weeks later. Again, Prince did not disappoint. The show a completely different set than what I’d seen a few weeks prior and hummed with the same indescribable energy. The diehard fans, Dan and me included, refused to leave The Forum, even when the lights came up, and there may have been a few epic rounds of The Wave. Our persistence paid off. We were privy to five encores, each more incredible than the last, and for one, Prince rode out on a bicycle and said, “Oh, you’re still here. Mind if I sing a few more?” Surreal and magical, my friends.

ControversyPrince’s “Controversy” was the song I performed my very first feather fan dance to when I moonlighted as a burlesque performer, something that saved my life. As Prince sang about all the silly things we find risqué and controversial, I performed a striptease for the very first time. In that moment, I wasn’t just taking off clothes—I was shedding a history of body dysmorphia and the choking memories of a teenage tango with anorexia. I was proving to both the audience and myself that I was fabulous and confident and beautiful, without apology. If there was ever a performer who encouraged you to embrace your weird and wild little self, it was Prince, so “Controversy” was the perfect soundtrack for that moment of personal transcendence and self-discovery.

A few years ago, I saw Prince at the Marquee in Tempe, an abandoned movie theater turned standing room only rock venue, and I was 40 feet away from the master. To this day, it’s most electric concert experience I’ve ever had. I danced, I cried, I swooned to guitar riffs from the gods, I drank the purple Kool-Aid and begged for more. I shared this crazy, once-in-a-lifetime, musical lovefest with everyone there. I’ve never felt a more palpable, concrete level of community at a show before. There was something lovely in the air that night, something that bound us together, something like compassion and love and understanding.

There have been Prince viewing parties (Purple Rain is by far the best film he made, but Under the Cherry Moon and Graffiti Bridge are pretty fantastic in their own way, too), late night (and maybe a little tipsy) jam sessions during which I belted out “Little Red Corvette,” countless dance performances, priceless vinyl acquired, midnight trysts to Prince playlists, and karaoke sing-a-longs in falsetto.

The common denominator of all of these experiences is joy. Pure, fundamental, ultimate joy. That’s what his persona, his confidence, and his music provided me—and so many others.

And that’s why yesterday was so hard. One of the purveyors of joy in my life moved on, transcended, transformed, became something else, something intangible. And in his wake, there was a loss. A big, gaping blackhole of sadness. How do you crawl out of something like that?

Luckily, about halfway through the day, my mourning changed. Instead of dwelling on death, conspiracy theories, and loss, I began to reminisce. I thought about that first night in my new house, the concerts and memories I’ve shared with friends, the music that never fails to move me. And there it was. The joy. Bubbling up under my sternum, turning my lips up into a smile.

Prince recordsLast night, I celebrated Prince’s legacy in the only way I knew how—I watched Purple Rain, stripped down to my skivvies, and danced as hard as I could to every single musical performance. And I was reminded that though his bodily form is gone, Prince can play live in my living room any night I want. He will continue his Purple Reign by gracing silver screens and turntables, belting through earbuds and sound systems, continuing to fill us all with longing, funk, and happiness.

Good night, sweet Prince. Thank you for leaving your indelible mark on my life and proving to everyone you can crush it while being anything and anyone you want to be.

Stories are Everywhere

Grandma and Grandpa

My incredible grandparents – my family, my friends.

I met Ron at the Bookman’s in Mesa, Arizona, between wedding site tours. I was sitting on a red leather couch near the checkout while my fiancé wandered around the store. I scrolled through Facebook posts and Instagram snapshots, looking for something meaningful. As soon as Ron asked if he could sit beside me, I could immediately sense his desire to talk to someone. That longing emanated from him like heat waves rising up from asphalt in the middle of July in the desert. I dropped my phone into my purse, turned toward him, and prepared to listen.

Ron is 79. His wife passed a few years ago, and he was in Bookman’s trading in a bowling ball he’d had specially made for her, because no one uses it now. Ron was a rather competent bowler back in the day. In fact, one of his first jobs as a teenager was as a pin setter in a local bowling alley. This was before the process was electronic and automated, so Ron set all the pins by hand. When leagues were short a bowler, they often invited him to fill in.

Ron was in the Navy and by virtue of his service, he’s quite the world traveler. Many of his adventures took him to South America, where he recounts temperatures that soared upward of 140 degrees. I teased him, saying that Arizona must be “cool” to him, and Ron agreed, saying he’s pretty immune to any kind of pain bourn from sunburn. One time, in South America, Ron got so sunburnt that he passed out from heat exhaustion in a small pond—in his full whites. (He tells me this story laughing and smiling, by the way.) When his comrades found him, they dragged him back to his bunk to rehydrate. When Ron woke up, the black of his boots had stained his uniform, and he had to get a new one.

Ron’s wife was Native American, and they have a pretty incredible meet cute. The first time they met, Ron’s wife (I didn’t catch her name) pulled out a knife and threw it toward a tree, where it stuck in the bark. Then, she asked him, “Can you do that?” Ron pulled an axe out of a nearby lumber pile, threw it, and the axe found purchase in the tree, too. Clearly, that impressed his future wife, and I like to think that’s how they knew they were finely matched.

Ron has eight siblings, and they were all named after important historical figures or movie stars. Ron was named for Ronald Reagan, one of his sisters for Marilyn Monroe; another, for Janet Leigh. There were others, but man, he went quickly through the list and I couldn’t keep track of the fanfare.

Ron’s favorite state in the U.S. is Washington. Many of his grandchildren live in Arizona. It was his first time in Bookman’s. He had a lovely smile and an even better laugh.

I didn’t want to leave Ron, but as the next wedding venue appointment grew nearer, I had to excuse myself. That’s when we finally introduced ourselves to each other. Before then, names didn’t matter, just the conversation.

When I walked away, I had the uncanny feeling that I’d just shared a conversation with my grandpa, who passed away when I was ten. Like Ron, Grandpa Caviness was also in the Navy. Both shared a kind of joviality and bright smiles. Both were beautiful human beings.

Ron didn’t know it, but my interaction with him made my day. It warmed my heart and brought back so many wonderful memories of my grandpa.

I am so happy Ron asked to sit next to me and shared his stories. It proved there is opportunity for human connection everywhere. There is beauty everywhere.

There are stories everywhere.

If only we take the time to listen.

Postmodern Jukebox’s Show is a Reminder of the Good in This World

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Yesterday, I spent an embarrassing amount of time practicing deep breathing and convincing myself that everything was going to be okay and it was irrational to let my anxiety take hold. You see, my boyfriend and I had tickets to see the incredible Postmodern Jukebox (PMJ) at the House of Blues in San Diego. And even though I was ridiculously excited to see PMJ live, I was also a little terrified.

In light of the horrific attacks in Paris and San Bernardino in recent weeks, I’ve been on edge in public, heavily crowded places. It’s safe to say my anxiety has gotten the best of me a number of times. I find myself regularly scouting exits, determining how I’d escape in case of an emergency. My talent for imagining worst case scenarios shifts into overdrive. When this happens, I instruct myself to down a rationality cocktail—calm down, think clearly, turn off the newscasts, live in the moment.

That last part of the cocktail, live in the moment (and sometimes “live your damn life, Tiffany!”), is the most important ingredient. It’s generally what gets me out of the house and out into the world. Because you can’t live behind closed doors paralyzed by fear, especially when people and music and performance and the bustle of city life are the things that make you happy.

Vintage dress

Because I’ll take any excuse to wear this gorgeous vintage dress from Bad Madge – and red lipstick, of course!

So, I put on my vintage, sequined, 1950s-style frock, hooked my arm in my boyfriend’s, and strolled the few blocks downtown to the House of Blues, where a line for the show wrapped around half the city block. The show had sold out. And I wasn’t the least bit surprised.

If you haven’t heard of PMJ yet, I’m about to introduce you to your new obsession. The brainchild of the incomparable Scott Bradlee, PMJ is an antidote to the over-produced, Auto-Tune-dependent, repetitive music that you generally hear on the radio. It’s also a time machine. PMJ takes Top 40-style hits, changes up their arrangements so they sound like something from yesteryear, and then pairs dynamite singers with dynamite musicians (and sometimes dancers, too!) to bring the re-envisioned song to life. Guns N’ Roses “Sweet Child O’ Mine” morphs into a New Orleans soul song. Ariana Grande’s “Love Me Harder” turns into a James Bond theme. Maroon 5’s “Maps” gets a vintage 1970s soul makeover. Rihanna’s “Umbrella” transforms into a Singin’ in the Rain-style tune—with tap dancers and umbrellas! Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty to Me” becomes a vintage klezmer—with a rap in Yiddish.

Often, I like PMJ’s covers more than the originals. And it’s not just the gimmick of this concept, the novelty of the act. The songs are thoughtfully crafted and brilliantly executed. And holy crap, the talent involved in this project is off the charts! PMJ works regularly with dozens of insanely gifted and dedicated musicians, and their videos (which premiere on a weekly basis) and concerts feature a revolving door of talent.

Last night, Casey Abrams, Haley Reinhart, Ariana Savalas, Joey Cook, Maiya Sykes, Blake Lewis, and Sarah Reich opened the show with Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” performed in the style of the roaring 20s. I was immediately smiling from ear to ear. The anxiety that had sat in my gut all day drained out of my body. And I danced, because I couldn’t keep still. The music and the energy were so infectious.

During their individual performances, Casey wowed us with his luscious man bun, gravelly vocals, phenomenal upright bass-playing skills, and, of course, his New Orleans-style take on Sam Smith’s “I’m Not the Only One.”

Haley flirted with us through a swanky version of Britney Spears’s “Oops, I Did It Again,” and then completely slayed a cover of “Creep,” the PMJ video I believe she’s most known for.

Ariana won me over with her hilarious antics (this woman is the definition of a modern burlesque performer—humor, sex appeal, pipes, character), not to mention that Jessica Rabbit-inspired performance of “No Diggity.”

Joey delivered the damn cutest rendition of “Hey There, Delilah,” complete with ukulele and accordion accompaniment (and yes, she played both). Her performance reminded us all what it feels like to fall in love the first time.

Maiya took us to church singing “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” and then catapulted Adele’s new single, “Hello,” into another stratosphere.

Blake attacked “Radioactive” with gorgeous vocals, beat-boxing, and enough dapper flair to inspire us all to go out and buy a pageboy cap.

And then there was my dance/girl crush, Sarah Reich, who is giving voice to the art of tap dancing and making it relevant again. She is a consummate performer, making the most difficult steps look easy and flawless, a huge smile on her face at all times. And when you can match a drummer beat for beat (yeah, she can and she proved it during the show), you know you’ve got one hell of a tapper on your hands.

Scott Bradlee took the stage halfway through the show to thank us for supporting PMJ and promised they’re just getting started. He asked if he could play a little piano for us, requested artist suggestions from the audience, and performed an impromptu piano mashup of Michael Jackson, Queen, Billy Joel, Elvis Presley, and MC Hammer.

And I can’t fail to mention the infamous Tambourine Guy, Tim Kubart, who intermittently exploded onstage, tambourines rattling, and performed with the exuberance and joy commonly reserved for “hyperactive” kids—a joy I feel like we’re told to abandon as soon as we reach a certain age, because it’s silly or inappropriate somehow. Personally, I think we need to bring that joy back. I’m happy Tim and his irresistible energy are an integral part of PMJ’s show.

The full cast brought it home with a cover of “Such Great Heights,” and the song swelled in the House of Blues as if these six singers were, in fact, a full chorus. Scott came out onstage and attempted shuffle stomps alongside Sarah. Casey whispered something to Haley between verses and she laughed. The whole crowd swayed and danced.

And I can’t remember the last time I felt that happy.

I didn’t realize how deeply I needed last night’s PMJ concert until I was slow dancing with my boyfriend to their encore, a sweet, simple version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” happy tears streaming down my cheeks. After weeks of being on edge and sinking slowly into a state-of-the-world-inspired depression, my heart was light. I felt joy bubbling up in my chest. There was suddenly a place for this holiday season in my heart, which is usually “the most wonderful time of the year,” but has seemed overshadowed by sadness recently.

Last night, PMJ was a beacon of hope for me—and probably many others in the audience—an important reminder that the human spirit, the good in this world, going out to live your life, and the unity inspired by music are far more powerful than fear.

That Day My Church Marched in the Phoenix Pride Parade

Phoenix Pride

This year, I marched in my very first Phoenix Pride Parade–and I did it alongside my faith community, City Square Church. City Square asked me to write a reflection on my experience in the parade and here’s what came out:

The morning of April 12 was a morning of celebration. The City Square logo received a colorful Phoenix Pride Parade-worthy makeover and our t-shirts served as symbols of alliance and solidarity. Lisa and Everett Van Aller showed up with a wagon of supplies, City Square-stickered candy to hand out, and baby Elliott in tow – clearly the cutest member of our group. We broke bread and took communion in a Phoenix park-and-ride lot before joining the masses of feathers, leather, glitter, and happiness ready to walk – no, strut down 3rd Street.

Ben and Teneia Eichelberger saved the day, morphing a mic stand into a banner holder. Sam Richard served as our unofficial hype man, handing out candy, running the lines giving high fives, and “getting low” to the club music that poured out of the double-decker bus in front of us. We all made jokes about the possibility of getting lung cancer from the smog billowing out of said bus, but made those jokes while smiling and still committed to walk, our health be damned! I passed out blue feather boas and participated in a dance party or five on the sidelines of the Phoenix Pride Parade as we walked for equality and understanding.

But I dreaded the last quarter of a mile of the parade, that wide, slow turn onto Indian School, because that’s where anti-gay protesters were set up, shouting hurtful rhetoric through megaphones, boasting neon signs that proclaimed people would go to hell, simply for falling in love. The church-affiliated demonstrators quoted Leviticus between their hateful slurs, trying to make scripture stick to rainbow balloons and furry go-go boots. It all seemed so strange against the backdrop of even louder dance music, its volume strategic, trying to drown out the hate…

Read the rest on City Square’s blog!

 

She Knew I’d Find My Beauty

Photo courtesy of Rachel Hawkinson. Dress by Cleo and Clementine.

Photo courtesy of Rachel Hawkinson. Dress by Cleo and Clementine.

When I was little, I would follow my grandma out onto the back patio of my grandparents’ house during her smoke breaks. I hated the smell of cigarettes, but I adored spending time with her. Grandma Betty was my very first number-one fan. She was the only person on the planet with whom I shared my first “novel”—handwritten on lined pages of a yellow notepad—in grade school. And God knows how many impromptu recitals of the entire Aladdin soundtrack—sung and danced by yours truly—she endured before family dinners together. Of course, she never let on that these performances were probably a burden. Instead, she smiled and encouraged my every move and note.

One day, as we sat on the back patio and smoke curled from my grandma’s mouth, she said, “I could see you becoming a model someday. You’re so pretty. You should do it.” I smiled in response, basking in her compliment, because at the time I felt like anything but the model type. (Note: I would hope very few girls feel like the “model type” in fourth, fifth, and sixth grade.)

In grade school, I was gangly and skinny, all knees and elbows. I was never one to follow fashion trends. I didn’t wear makeup or shave my legs until much later than my peers. I wasn’t super popular and sported short hair when it was all the rage to wear it at long as possible. Very early on, I accepted this notion that I wasn’t “commercially” or “classically” beautiful.

And as I’ve become an adult, I’ve realized that my youthful notion was a crock of shit. Because beauty isn’t commercial or classical or any other description you want to try to label it with. Beauty exists in all things and all people. Grandma Betty knew this. And she knew I’d figure it out, too. I love her for that.

Sadly, my grandma died before I had the chance to formally pose in front of a camera.

Today, photos of me—taken by the amazing and fabulous Rachel Hawkinson—are featured in Chandler Lifestyle magazine. Go to their website, click on the April 2015 issue, and flip to page 26 to me modeling the gorgeous bridal couture of Cleo and Clementine.

I hope my grandma can see the pictures today. I hope she’s peering down through the clouds with a smile on her face, saying, “I knew you could do it. You look beautiful, Tiffany.”

My Story Matters

Photo by Rachel Hawkinson. All rights reserved.

Photo by Rachel Hawkinson. All rights reserved.

When my gal pal Sara Dobie Bauer, writing partner in crime and book nerd at SheKnows, asked to interview me for a piece on my dance career and body image, I didn’t hesitate. I said yes. I’ve long been an advocate for positive body image, having conquered an eating disorder in high school amidst high pressure dreams of becoming a professional dancer.

Sara sent me interview questions, I wrote her a novel, clicked send, and then…started to wonder if I’d done the right thing in sharing such a personal story.

Secrets are secrets for a reason. We don’t like to share them. We’re afraid of being judged, receiving unwanted pity, hurting relationships—it all boils down to fear. And I have to admit, I was a little nervous.

How would Sara supplement my interview? I trusted her implicitly, but I also know that writing is all about angles. What would hers be? Would people read this honest, heartfelt interview and judge me because of what I put myself through? Perhaps I should have said a little more about x…and a little less about y.

I was at a Spring training baseball game on Friday when I got the message from Sara that the piece was published on SheKnows. I clicked the link, held my breath…and realized that all of my worry had been completely irrational. My good friend lifted me up and wrote a beautiful piece about my personal journey. She captured the essence of me and my struggle in the story. She’d handled my secret with the utmost care.

The article is perfect. Go read it now!

I thanked Sara profusely and told her that if the article helped one person it would be worth it.

And then another beautiful thing happened. I received an outpouring of love and support and connection on Facebook, where I posted the article on my wall. People said they were inspired and asked to share the story. Friends said they admired me for my courage to be so open and honest about a very dark period of my life. Not a single negative comment.

body image reminder

And it served as a great reminder for me. It’s important to be vulnerable. It’s important to share our stories. Because we’re all in this thing together.

Thank you, interwebs, for the love this week. Sometimes, a girl just needs a good virtual hug to remember that her story matters.