Under the Boardwalk

Tiffany PB Pier-4

When my good friend, Kristy Velesko of Kristy Velesko Photography, mentioned she’d be in San Diego to photograph a wedding and asked if I might want to squeeze in a shoot in a vintage dress with a vintage camera, my response was, “Um, where do I need to be and when?”

On a Friday afternoon, Kristy and I went down to the pier on Pacific Beach. I was in a mint green dress that was a dream right out of Mad Men (which I’ve been binge watching) and Kristy was armed with a Yashica Mat EM (circa 1964) she bought off Ebay. She shot on Kodak Portra 400 Film.

Since we both only have experience with digital photography, neither of us really knew what to expect. We didn’t get to preview anything, and when we were out of film, the shoot was over. Luckily, the results are magical. And it’s really cool to be able to say that this is 100% me, no editing, no Photoshop, nothing but me under the boardwalk in the sea. Enjoy.

All images subject to copyright – published courtesy of Kristy Velesko Photography.

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How Swing Dancing Could Save the World

US Bank swing 2

I am officially the new girl in town—that town being the beautiful and fabulous San Diego, which I moved to about three weeks ago. Despite the perfect weather, killer job, and happening city life, I have a bit of new girl-itis. I don’t know how to give people directions, I’m alone an awful lot because it takes some time to build up a solid friend base, and I’ve been scouring local magazines and newspapers to see what’s going on in my neighborhood to keep myself occupied. Some nights, I’m terribly depressed. Others, I’m optimistic and excited for adventure. But really, at the end of the day, I just want to feel like I belong here. Essentially, I’m an island that would much rather be a state, province, country—hell, a peninsula for the sake of connection.

Ready to swing

Luckily, my mother is one of the most tenaciously outgoing people I know and I’ve certainly learned from the best. I have no problem with putting myself out there. So when I read that U.S. Bank had partnered with downtown San Diego to offer a number of summer events to the public and would be hosting a free swing dance class inside the bank on Thursday evening, I bought myself a pair of polka dot Keds and walked about a bajillion blocks to Kettner, eager to dance and meet some new people.

And I did. I danced my little heart out (note to self: get your cardio right!) and mingled with some great people. I joked with the men I jitterbugged with. I met a girl named Angela and we got to know each other between spins on the floor. At the end of the night, we exchanged numbers and I promised to let her know the next time I’d be going out to swing dance. She even offered me a ride home.

I danced with a guy named Nolan who could tell that I had some previous experience and wasted no time pulling out the big guns and twirling and whipping me around. I was rusty and laughed at the misconnections that were so obviously my fault. Regardless, he was a perfect gentleman and thanked me when our dances were over.

Steve Conrad lindy hop

When I danced with the instructor, Joel, we were all smiles and made a little lindy hop magic. Afterward, he asked if we’d danced together before. I told him no, unless he’d been in Phoenix a few years ago, to which he simply said, “Steve Conrad!” Yep, the dance world is a small, communal one. Already a connection back to my hometown as Steve is the swing master back in Phoenix. (He even has his own meme!)

Because the weather was gorgeous (we were dancing at sunset and close to the pier) and U.S. Bank has a front patio, we moved our dance party outdoors. And that’s when something pretty cool happened. We ceased to be a closed-in community event and opened ourselves up to the public. As passersby rounded the corner or passed our block, heard the music, and saw the flurry of fancy footwork, they’d pause and watch. Some people took pictures or video of us. All of them smiled. It was a beautiful moment of connection.

And here’s where the saving the world piece comes in. On a personal level, I needed that night of swing dance desperately. I craved connection and community—and that’s what you get on the dance floor when you go out social dancing, an incredibly diverse group of people together for one purpose. Hey, you’re here and I’m here. Let’s dance!

And it’s that simple. Nothing else matters. Not where you’re from, what you believe in, how you eat your eggs in the morning. Everyone comes to the floor with tabula raza. And you build social relationships from there, from a good place, from a nonjudgmental place.

In today’s world, I think we’ve lost some of our ability to connect with each other in person in a pure, friendly, community driven way. Sure, we’re dialed in and communicating all day through devices and gadgets, but that’s such a solitary undertaking, even if there’s someone on the other side waiting for the ping of a cell phone or computer.

What happens when we truly lose the skill set needed to interact with each other in a genuine way? When we become depressed hermits because we don’t feel like we belong? When we start to detach from a world that’s increasingly becoming less and less personal? When we don’t interact with people who are different from us? Take a look at the news and you’ll start to get an idea.

And I know that’s it’s naïve to make a grandiose statement like “swing dancing can save the world” when it’s an activity that doesn’t resonate with everyone. I’m not expecting everyone to have the same experience I do when I rock step. And while lindy hop flash mobs on every corner of downtown San Diego would be incredibly entertaining (and would personally bring me so much joy), I know that it wouldn’t fix everything that’s broken in our society. It wouldn’t even come close, to be honest.

But perhaps building relationships, forming connections, and enjoying the hell out of life with other people could. Perhaps if we offer each other more and more ways to connect, to grow together, to learn how to respect and trust each other in public spaces, maybe the world would be a little lighter, a little happier, and a little more understanding—one dance step at a time.

An Open Love Letter to Stephen Amell

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Dear Stephen Amell,

We’ve never met. I didn’t stand in line at Phoenix Comicon this year to take a photo with you, because I wasn’t an Arrow fangirl yet (I know, I’m late to the party, but I’ve caught up!). I haven’t interacted with you very much on social media. We haven’t sat down to share a beer and bullshit or geek out over superheroes and wine (although it happens in my dreams sometimes). And I know that it’s customary to at least buy someone dinner before sharing this sentiment…but I’m here to tell you that I adore you.

Don’t worry, this isn’t the creepy sort of love letter that will have you calling your lawyer for a potential restraining order (at least, I hope not). This is more of a letter to thank you for being a badass, inspiring good, and seeming like the kind of person I genuinely would like to sit down and have a beer with, which I think is kind of rare in the entertainment industry as of late.

Stephen Amell, I like lists, so here are the reasons that I (and I’m sure so many other people) adore you:

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1. My God, you give back. With great power comes great responsibility (I had to), and I’d say you’ve been more than responsible by leveraging your fan base and fame to raise and donate money for well deserving charitable organizations. I mean, your F*ck Cancer t-shirt campaign has raised over a million dollars for a cause that will undoubtedly touch everyone on the planet during their lifetime (be it personally or peripherally). As someone who has seen the evil of cancer in family and friends, thank you for caring and choosing to support something so important. And the work you’ve done for Prayers for Sophie (and the hilarious and genius Movember campaign, the Justache League of America)? Keep fighting the good fight, because this sort of thing makes you a real life hero.

2. You take the time to interact with your fans. I attended one of the many writers’ panels at Phoenix Comicon this year and one of the nuggets of knowledge I walked away with was that in order to be truly successful in the entertainment industry, you have to be accessible to your fans. Which seems simple, but I know that it’s work—and a lot of it. It’s a daily hustle that takes you away from your family, friends, other obligations—all that good stuff that undoubtedly deserves your attention. But you get that your fans deserve your attention, too. You make the effort. You let your fans connect with you and in doing that, you make them feel special. That’s pretty selfless. And pretty damn cool.

3. You make wine, too? Okay, every wine-drinking fanboy and fangirl will relate with this one. First, you do all those reps on the salmon ladder on camera and then you tell us you’re a wine god, too? Stephen Amell, that’s not fair…But in all seriousness, it’s pretty respectable that you have a “normal” gig on top of your Arrow gig (we starving artists who haven’t caught our big break can relate!). And it’s clear that you put effort and love into Nocking Point, which makes for a successful business venture. A business man and a hero? Stop it! I, for one, am thrilled that I can doubly support you by drinking the glory of the gods and watching your TV show (often simultaneously).

4. You clearly don’t back away from a challenge. I’ll be honest. I didn’t particularly like Arrow when I watched the first few episodes. Since I wasn’t familiar with the character, I was pretty turned off by how un-herolike Oliver Queen seemed. Of course, as I got further and further into the series, I realized that the Arrow show is all about origins and character development. We have to watch Oliver make his way through the good, bad, and the ugly to recognize his potential. And that’s a hard role to take on. It’s much easier from an acting standpoint to take on a character that’s immediately likeable, who can charm the pants off your audience from day one. But you didn’t do that. You accepted the role of a character who’s rough around the edges and who isn’t going to win us over every time; there’s complexity there and a significant challenge. Bravo for taking that on. And I have to commend you on doing your own stunts and training as hard as you do, too, physically and mentally. Like I said, clearly you like a challenge. And we like watching the fruits of your labor. (I could put another salmon ladder reference here, but I’ll be classy and abstain.)

5. The bromance with Grant Gustin is, at times, more than I can take! It’s pretty obvious that you and Grant are two peas in a pod. All we have to do is watch interviews like this one to see that. It’s awesome to see camaraderie between cast mates that runs deep. By the way, the Flash/Arrow crossover makes me so happy. I love you both in your roles and enjoy watching you interact.

6. You seem so freaking down-to-earth. From football fanaticism to pictures of your stinkin’ adorable family, you seem like such a normal dude, Stephen Amell. Yes, you’ve got this crazy job of playing a comic book character on TV, but I can relate to decorating a Christmas tree with my family and wearing rainbow socks to the gym. You seem like the kind of guy who works hard, loves life, makes a few mistakes here and there, follows dreams, and hopes it all turns out all right. And isn’t that what we’re all doing?

7. Your show brings me and my boyfriend together. My boyfriend and I have vastly different tastes in shows and movies. I’m all about high drama and horror while he definitely prefers comedy and feel good programming. But one thing we do agree on? All things comic-related. So Arrow is something that we sit down to enjoy together on a weekly basis. It’s something we can share. Because the couple that geeks out together…yeah, we’re doing good.

Okay, I’m ending my list there. I’m going to practice self-restraint and resist the urge to fangirl all day and turn this letter into a novel.

I’m sure so many of your fans will call me out on what I didn’t include in this open love letter…but doesn’t that just prove my reason for writing it?

Stephen Amell, you’re pretty adorable. Just wanted to let you know.

Love,

Tiffany Michelle Brown

A New Breed of Gamer

Street Fighter

It’s my boyfriend’s fault. He started watching Tabletop. And he started getting ideas.

Then, he got me to start watching Tabletop with him. And we changed. We became gamers—board gamers.I have to admit, I wasn’t so sure at first. I mean, we’re adults. Board games? Really?

This past December, my mom asked my boyfriend for some suggestions of what to get him for Christmas. Naturally, he created an Amazon wish list, and even more naturally, I didn’t know jack shit about the things on it. My mom bought him a card game from this list called Star Fluxx. Huh? While on holiday vacation, my boyfriend asked if I wanted to learn how to play it. I agreed somewhat begrudgingly, and then wound up asking to play it over and over throughout our trip.

For anyone who hasn’t played a Fluxx game (there are many themed editions), the rules, the goals, and the game play fluctuate constantly―thus, its name. It’s a smart game. You have to strategize, but you rely heavily on the luck of the draw, too.

New gamesDuring the same trip, my boyfriend got me a game called Once Upon a Time. It’s a group storytelling card game. Each player gets a hand of cards containing story elements like “castle” or “ogre,” plus an end card. You take turns telling the story all the while trying to play your element cards and steer the story toward your ending (keep in mind these can vary from “they lived happily ever after” to “he lost a limb and was disfigured for eternity”). Ladies and gentlemen, just add wine.

And then Amazon got involved. I have a Prime account, so my boyfriend orders games online with Prime―and why wouldn’t he with free two-day shipping? Since it’s my account, guess who gets the suggestions from Amazon…And slow clap for Amazon, because I’ve been sucked in a few times. It’s how I’ve come to own Takenoko, Letters from Whitechapel, and Shadow Hunters.

ZombicideAnd now the clincher―game night every Thursday night at CO+HOOTS. CO+HOOTS is “downtown Phoenix’s member-sustained, community-supported collaborative coworking space.” Need a dedicated office-like lounge with various workspaces, meeting rooms, a refrigerator, coffee machine, a laid back, groovy vibe, and instant connections with others in the community? Look no further; CO+HOOTS is your spot, and their rates for renting space are really reasonable.

On Thursday nights, CO+HOOTS transforms. Workspaces become battlefields for growing corn in the wake of the Mayan apocalypse, killing zombies in the wake of the, well, zombie apocalypse, or creating the perfect sushi roll (Wasabi!―awesome game and newest addition to our home collection).

But it’s the people who come to game night who truly make it great. It’s a diverse crowd, which makes for diverse games. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never played a certain game before; someone else has, so take a seat and learn by playing. Bring whatever games you’d like and some booze to share, and jump right in to defeat supervillains, cure an epidemic disease before it destroys humanity, or build a city. Make connections. Grow community. Geek out. Thank you for playing.

See? I’m hooked…I’ve been writing this post for the past 20 minutes or so―and now all I want to do it hop on Amazon and find a new game.

Like I said, it’s my boyfriend’s fault―and I couldn’t love him more for it.

 

Rejection for writers: A guide to coping with “no”

Photo by flickr user "Sean MacEntee."

Photo by flickr user “Sean MacEntee.”

My skin isn’t just getting sunburned this spring; it’s getting thicker. No, it’s not evolutionary; it’s because I’m being told no―a lot.

In January, I set a goal for myself—get two short stories published in 2014. For those of you who aren’t writers, there’s a lot more to it than simply slaving in front of a computer screen each day. There’s research involved―research to determine whether literary journals or magazines might be the right fit for your work. For example, there are a few publications that won’t publish profanity, and if I hadn’t read that in their guidelines while researching and I had sent my latest story to them—yeah, that would be embarrassing since it’s riddled with “asshole” and “fuck.” (This is what happens when your two central characters are jerks.)

But I think my biggest learning curve lately has been blatant rejection. Like I said, I’ve been told no quite a bit.

Editors are picky and I don’t blame them; publishing everything they receive would be professional suicide. In such an expansive industry, you want the best of the best. You want your publication to be the publication. And Holy Moses, I can only imagine how many submissions editors receive daily. I’m sure they kiss a lot of frogs to find the good stuff. 

On the flip side, writing is intensely personal. For authors, their pieces are extensions of themselves. And even though we know that art is subjective, when someone says, “Eh, didn’t work for me,” it hurts. Right in the gonads, man.

Sigh.

But in the wise words (lyrics) of Frou Frou, “There’s beauty in the breakdown.” Let’s face it, rejection bites the big one…but it’s also rather essential in the grand scheme of things.

Dealing with rejection is a choice. In its purest form, rejection is energy. How will you let it affect you?

Here are my personal tips for dealing with rejection―through the lens of a (sometimes) struggling writer. Take ‘em or leave ‘em; apply ‘em to what you will.

1. Read your rejection at least five times. Oh yeah, we’re starting with the big guns. No one said this wouldn’t be painful. Our natural inclination anymore is to skim emails and other communications for overall meaning. Rarely do we digest the details, but the details are what’s important. If you reread something negative, it will usually take the sting out of it and you’ll start to understand the tone, the intent. I haven’t received a rejection email that’s been outright dickish (although the year is still young). Most of the time, it’s a form email, and most of the time, it’s not that bad. Once I get past the initial no, the rejection is pretty manageable.

2. Respect the no. It’s being said for a reason, even if you don’t agree with said reason. Don’t get delusional and try to justify it in your head. It’s black and white here. No means no, and you may never entirely know why. Then, move on. Dwelling isn’t going to change anyone’s mind.  

3. Redirect the energy. When I receive a rejection letter, I send the rejected story out to five new publishers that day―yes, that day. If anything, rejection is helping me expand my reach. And more importantly, I’m taking a negative situation and turning it into opportunity. When I go to bed, I think of new editors reading my work, not the one who turned it down.

4. Drink whiskey.

5. Understand that it isn’t personal―even though it feels like it is. The fact of the matter is your writing will never be as intensely personal for anyone else but you. No one can get inside your brain and your emotional self by opening a Word document. You can share your work and hope to ignites some passion or understanding in someone else, but sometimes, you just won’t. And it’s not necessarily a reflection of the writing (or of you).

6. Gracefully accept constructive criticism. The more people who read your writing and tell you what’s wrong with it, the better your writing will become. Take everything with a grain of salt, but it’s also important to let folks who aren’t personally invested in your work tell you what didn’t work for them. Take the ego down a notch and continue to listen and learn. It’s called progress.

7. Trust in your talent. No one else is going to believe in your work if you don’t. I may very well be told no 100 times this year; in fact, I’m ready for that to happen. But in the end–even if I don’t publish anything–I can appreciate the hustle, the fact that I’m putting my work out there, that I believe my work is good enough for mass consumption, and that I’m trusting that at my very core I’m a writer and this is what I’m meant to do. I believe in me. I believe in my work. And you should, too.  

Photo by Sean MacEntee

Redefining Happiness

Sunflower

What happens when your greatest passion physically hurts you? This question has been looming over me since 2011, the year of my first debilitating back injury. I was bending over to pick up a hat at a dress rehearsal for a burlesque show when something shifted and pain took over my lower back. Later that night and the next day, I could barely walk and my back was so swollen that its natural curvature was virtually nonexistent.

Though I’ve “recovered” from that injury—thanks to many MRIs, X-rays, cortisone injections, and rounds of physical therapy—my back has never really been the same. I’ve lost a decent amount of flexibility and mobility. There are days when I can literally feel the misalignment of my spine. Others, my muscles are just sore. Conversely, there are days when I feel like I could run off to LA and dance for six hours a day like I used to. Backs, as my spinal specialist was very quick to point out, are unpredictable.

So I’ve learned how to work through it. Sometimes I push through mild discomfort. Sometimes I make sure I have a pot of Tiger’s Balm in my bag. Sometimes I’ll pull back, knowing my limits. But hell, I’m a dancer. This is what we do. It’s who I am. My headspace has always been, I’m only 28. I’ll be damned if my back slows me down!

A couple weeks ago, the morning after a gig and a two-hour backup dancer rehearsal, a new kind of pain took over. My low back literally hurt to touch. That day, in a CVS parking lot where I went to buy a tens unit, I had an emotional breakdown. I was sick of feeling broken. Something had to give. I needed to start some new therapy.

And in the meantime, I needed to quit a number of things—like teaching pole dancing and dancing for my boyfriend’s band. I also needed to adjust some upcoming performances so they’d be vocal performances instead of dance performances.

These decisions hurt just as much as my back.

But here’s the silver lining.

Throughout those decisions, my mind started to shift. I started to feel strangely relieved. I started to wonder if pulling back was something I should’ve done awhile ago—not necessarily to preserve my back (albeit that is a factor) but because…was I really happy?

Anyone who knows me personally will attest that I’m one of the busiest people you’ll ever meet. I have a hard time saying “no” to opportunity, I love attention, and I’m a very carpe diem sort of chick. I used to think achieving and participating in so many things made me wildly successful. But where does happiness fit into that equation?

Was I really happy flitting from one engagement to the next? Was the exhaustion each night a sweet reminder of what I’d achieved that day—or was it an ominous indicator that I was doing too much?

That night, while the tens unit hummed and pumped electricity into my back, I realized that, in fact, I wasn’t happy. In truth, I was exhausted, spread too thin, a ball of stress, and trying way too hard to hold onto who I used to be.

The next day, I started crossing off commitments in my planner and the blank spaces created looked a lot like salvation. I started relishing the idea of watching horror films, cuddling with my dog, and bingeing on pickles on the weekends. I thought of all the extra time I’ll have to create memories with the important people in my life. I thought of all the new non-physical things I can start trying. I started realizing that slowing down isn’t a death sentence.

In fact, it might look a lot like happiness.

Keep Calm and Tickle Penguins

I’ve been MIA. I know it. I went out of town and as soon as I landed back in Phoenix, I got some wretched food poisoning – or a gastric bug that’s been going around. Either way, it wasn’t pretty. And having eaten only pretzels and Pedialyte the past few days, I haven’t exactly been inspired to write anything witty or meaningful or even lurid.

But I’ll be back soon. I promise.

In the meantime, watch this video. You know you want to.