Saturday, August 4, 2012

When Fear Makes You Superhuman

Yesterday, at CafeMom's The Stir, which I blog for, a fellow blogger wrote about a young woman who miraculously lifted up a car that had fallen on top of her father. We've heard these "lifted up a car stories" for so long that they've become urban legend. The post's comments section was sprinkled with skeptics, and who could blame them? But I believe it, and I'll tell you why.

While I've never quite lifted a car off of anyone, I did experience one night that was chock-full of bizarre, surreal, and possibly miraculous events -- including an act of superhuman strength. I was in college. I forget which year, but I think possibly sophomore, which would make me around 18 years old. I was home visiting my family. On my childhood property, there were two homes: One where my great-grandparents lived, and one where my grandmother lived. That night, I was staying in my grandmother's home.

A friend who was having a birthday party kept ringing me. Where was I? Wasn't I coming to the party? Each time he called, I assured him I was on the way. However, for some mysterious reason, I never left the house. That night, I couldn't sleep. I kept tossing and turning, wide awake. Something was prickling my subconscious. I was lying on the fold-out bed in the living room. Around 2 a.m., my eyes shot wide open and I looked towards the ceiling. There, I saw a flickering orange light. Thinking it was a flashlight, and that someone was coming towards the house with it, I quickly got up and looked out of the door's peephole.

It was there that I got the horror of my life: Next door, about 200 feet away, my great-grandparents' two-story barn, which kept cars, tools, and all manner of country-life accoutrements, was completely engulfed in flames. The fire must have been burning for awhile -- the flames seemed so high it was as if they were licking the night's starry sky.

My great-grandparents were in the house that was only about 50 feet away from the raging inferno. They were in their 80s, and I knew they'd be sound asleep.

After somehow managing to call 911, I dashed out of the house, barefoot, still in my night clothes. I ran across the lawn that separated the two homes. The fire was licking close to the front of the house, so I ran to the side of the house, near the window closest to where they were sleeping. They always slept downstairs in the living room, since they could no longer climb the stairs to the upper bedroom. My great-grandmother usually slept on the couch; my grand-grandfather on a small side bed.

This is when I did something that, by all rights, I shouldn't have been able to do. I tore the window right out of the side of the house.

The window was encased in a thick wooden frame. In "real life" -- or normal life -- I wouldn't have been able to even get a good grasp on the frame. A pull on the frame would have yielded absolutely nothing. Yet somehow I now yanked the entire frame, whole, out of the house's side wall. This wasn't a new frame, or a plastic frame. It had been built into the built into the house -- was completely indistinguishable from the wall. Once I ripped it out, I threw it aside. Then I punched through a screen and pane of glass.

My great-grandparents were so alarmed and confused by this sudden intrusion that they wouldn't come through the window, as I kept demanding. So I ran around to the front of the house -- this is where the fire raged, so hot it felt only a few feet away. I ran between the barn fire and the house and to the front door, which was locked. I smashed through the window pane, and reached in, to where the key was always kept in the inside lock, and unlocked the door.

By this time, the firemen were arriving, and eventually we were able to get both of my great-grandparents out of the house. The fireman arrived just in the nick of time -- a gas tank outside had gotten so heated, it was about to explode.

The next morning, I had no injuries on my hand. I don't even think I had any scratches.

The firemen stood around the window frame, which lay in its entirety on the ground. How did this happen? They asked. I told them I had ripped it out of the wall of the house. I'm not sure if I remembered doing it -- though I did remember punching through the glass pane. But, since I was the only one there at the window, it was obviously me who had done it. They looked at me -- a young girl, about 100 pounds, skinny and not athletic -- with skepticism in their eyes.

Feats of superhuman strength are scientifically proven. (Linked here is the story of a man who saw a car run over a bicyclist and begin dragging him. The man ran after the car and lifted it, as it was moving, so the bicyclist could escape.) When people are blasted with fear-driven adrenaline, they are capable of going far above and beyond what their bodies normally can do. This is apparently why so many world records are shattered at the Olympics -- even these highly-trained athletes get scared at the Olympics, and they are able to tap unknown reserves of power.

So I tend to believe those "lifted up the car" stories.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Do Men Change?

Recently, Bonnie Kaye, an author and therapist whose radio show I'd appeared on some time back, asked if she could send me her book, Man Readers: The Guide to Dysfunctional Men. Since I live in New York City, I wasn't so sure I needed any kind of guide to dysfunctional men other than to walk out the door, but I agreed to accept a copy, uncertain whether or not I would want to read it. But since I do write about relationships for my blog on CafeMom's The Stir, it's always good to have ideas in the hopper.

Man Readers is predicated on an idea that is the polar opposite to most relationship books: It says you cannot save a bad relationship. Lots of books concentrate on how you can change or make better your relationship or marriage. This books says, You can't. Cut your losses. Move on. NOW! Which is kind of interesting because when you're telling someone, "Move on," it's a rather quick sentence, which goes against the common sense guidelines of book publishing. Indeed, it is a quick read.

Some of the categories of men who Bonnie says cannot change are:

Men with Sexual Fetishes (this includes everything from guys with "fur fetishes" to guys with "schoolgirl uniform fetishes" to guys who cross-dress)

Men with a Certain Sexual Orientation (i.e. you can't make a gay man straight and Bonnie believes bisexual men are essentially gay)

Men with Sexual Addictions (compulsive masturbating, compulsive porn watching)

Sexual Incompetence (men who have no sexual technique and never will no matter how many maps  of your vagina you draw them)

Other bad risks for marriage include:

Men over 35 who have never been in a long-term relationship (they don't know how to compromise and never will)

Men who come from dysfunctional backgrounds

Men who have been in prison 

Men with mental health issues

Men over 30 who still live at home

Men with drug and alcohol issues

Men with different cultural backgrounds than you

And so we've basically covered every man in New York. Ha HA! Bonnie, who says she has counseled over 75,000 women,  writes: "I have seen women try every trick in the book to get a man to change, and none of it works."

Is this true? Do people not change (Bonnie's book only deals with men)? Do they change but only for the worse? Bonnie makes a good case that, on the whole, it is difficult for people to change their basic natures -- and to do so, they really have to WANT to (many simply do not) and then work very hard at it. Our basic natures were formed pre-natal or in childhood, and were done so for whatever survival technique we felt we had to develop, and aren't so easily shaken off.

But people DO change. I've seen it.  I myself have changed in many ways over the years.

Some personality traits of mine have morphed but have not disappeared. Some very strong personality traits of mine -- such as being easily frustrated when I don't understand something and immediately wanting to quit the task -- still rise up regularly. But I've learned over the years how to control this particular trait and keep going with whatever frustrating task is making my blood boil.

Additionally, in my life, I have personally witnessed: An alcoholic stop drinking. A hardcore smoker stop smoking. A womanizer become a dedicated husband and father. A woman with chronic anger issues become incredibly sweet and calm. Mind you, these people are few and far between. I have also seen people whose negative traits never changed one iota -- and perhaps it never occurred to these people that they should change them.

I think most of us change in SOME ways, but not in others. I was once involved with a man wherein the continuation of the relationship centered on whether or not HE WOULD CHANGE. (Never a great foundation for a relationship, by the way.) In some ways, he changed. In others, it remained same old, same old, no matter how many long "talks" we had about it or how many threats or ultimatums were issued or how many promises he made.

The problem is, none of us ever know who will change, what will change, and how much will change. So we all take our chances. I think if the things you want to change are BIG things, or are driving your relationship into the ground, you should think long and hard about sticking around and counting on these changes. Perhaps Bonnie is right, and you need to cut your losses.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Why We Care About Celebrity Break-Ups

The big news in the celebrity world this week was the Kristen Stewart cheating scandal. This particular celebrity affair caused a huge uproar for a variety of reasons:

- There was photographic evidence (Kristen making out with her director, Rupert Saunders)
- The couple in question, Kristen and her boyfriend, Robert Pattinson, are both extremely famous
- Kristen and Rob play soulmates in an iconic and hugely popular movie series: Twilight
- Kristen released an unprecedented mea culpa to Robert Pattinson

Take out any one of these factors, and it would have been less of a story. Add in that the third party, Rupert Sanders, is married with children, and it's not quite Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, but nipping on the heels of Brad and Angelina.

What's interesting for me is that when you click into any one of these stories about Kristen and Rob, you will see a whole lot of commentary along the lines of:

"WHO CARES???!!!!"

And then there's:

"They are celebrities and we don't know them. Who cares?"
"It is none of our business. Who cares?"
"Worry about your own relationships, not that of people you don't know. Who cares?"

The truth is, we care very deeply -- including those people who read about an affair only to proclaim they don't care about it. We don't "care" in the same way that we care if our parents divorce, or if our spouse wants a divorce, but we care about it because we are constantly looking outwardly at other relationships in order to a) take stock of our own, b) figure out if we should enter one.

Celebrities have taken over where fairytales have left off. Cinderella, Snow White, The Frog Prince -- these are just a few of the slew of propaganda used to convince all of us to enter into domestic arrangements, procreate, and then hold on for dear life until we exhale our last breath on this planet.

With the advent of movies and TV, we now look to celebrity couples -- the real people, not just the characters they play -- to provide our fairytale for us. We see these glorious couples in quick snippets only: Dolled up on the red carpet, holding hands, showing off adorable, fashionable tykes, and gushing about each other in the press. We never see the argument right before they hit the red carpet, and celebrities rarely say something to the effect of, "Sometimes I hate my husband," in a magazine interview. Reality shows do provide some measure of the real life "nitty-gritty" of relationships -- but even those battling couples seem to solve all of their problems within the show's allotted time frame.

For those of us who may never have experienced anything but the seedy underbelly of relationships in real life -- parents who chronically didn't get along or got divorced; relationships of our own that went awry or fell far short of expectations -- celeb couples give us some promise that entering into the highly-risky "nuclear family" arrangement might be a good idea. Those of us who would never DREAM of putting all of our retirement money into one stock are told we must put our entire lives into the hands of one other individual. On the face of it, we know this is a terrible idea-- the risks are far too high. But because of biological, anthropological, historical, and societal pressures that have evolved over centuries, this is where we find ourselves at.

Enter the celebrity couple. Look at Heidi and Seal! Look at Katie and Tom! Look at Robsten! And Jen and Brad! And Brangelina! And ... etc etc.

And then their fairytales fall apart, we're back to questioning the whole nuclear arrangement. Is it worth it? Does this ever work out? Will this work out? This is scary. THIS IS REALLY SCARY!! But we're ashamed of our fear, and so we say, "WHO CARES???"

The truth is, we do. Very much.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Why the TomKat Divorce is So Typical

Beyond the fact that Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are famous, and that they are extremely wealthy, and they're both involved in a cultish religion called Scientology, their divorce is actually extremely typical. It was Katie who filed and it was Tom who said he was blindsided. The vast majority of divorces are filed by women. One study says that with college educated couples, women file for divorce 90% of the time. Men usually say they didn't see it coming, they were blindsided, and they are devastated.

All of which is a bit ironic, considering that men are generally seen as the reluctant parties to enter into marriage. But what these studies never seem to get into is WHY it is women filing for divorce. I'm sure the reasons are all over the map, but Kate Figes' book "Couples" has an interesting explanation. When a marriage is in trouble, generally it's the wives who voice their concerns. Women are, on the whole, the more communicative sex. But a woman can tell a man -- over and over and over -- that she's unhappy, miserable, and the marriage isn't what she wants and the man just ... doesn't hear her. Or doesn't acknowledge it. Or doesn't take it seriously. Or something.

On the one hand, you can see the man's side of it. Women complain about their friends -- but continue to be friends with them. Women complain about how bad their favorite TV shows are, but continue to watch them. A man on the receiving end of various complaints probably thinks, "Yeah, she hates me, but she also hates her mother, her sister, her best friend, the neighbor, and her boss. And I notice she isn't doing anything about them either." Then he opens another beer and turns on the game.

But when the papers are filed, he's suddenly shocked and devastated and had no idea things were so bad. In Figes' book, one man taken aback by his wife's divorce filing said, "She'd been saying for years she was miserable but I didn't think she really meant it."

If men and women are hoping to save their marriage before it gets to this point of no return, a couple of changes might help. Women can couch their unhappiness is less broad, vague terms, ie "I'm so miserable," and instead say something like, "If we don't work on improving this marriage, we should see a divorce lawyer within X amount of time." And men, of course, might want to sit up and take those groans of complaint seriously. They DO mean something.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Could this Be The Best and Most Handsome Actor of All Time?

Recently I happened to catch a viewing of a 1978 movie called "Midnight Express." It's the story of Billy Hayes, who was caught trying to bring a bit of hashish out of Turkey and back to America, and was given a life sentence for his stupidity. I'd heard of the movie -- the Let's Go guide book, which was my Bible when I was traveling around Europe in college, suggests you watch this film if you're even thinking about any drug shenanigans, which I was not -- and it had always been on my list of films to see. I'm a huge fan of 70s films, the golden era of auteur directors like Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and Peter Bogdanovich. They just don't make 'em like they did in the 1970s (or the 1940s or 1930s, for that matter) anymore.

But, somehow, I hadn't gotten around to seeing "Midnight Express."  When it happened to come on the Ovation channel, I wasn't really in the mood for a dark, depressing film (I'd been channel surfing during a commercial for "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," so that gives you an idea where my head was at.) But I thought I'd give it a few minutes.

Wow. Just wow. Can I say I did not change the channel? Not only did I not change the channel, but I kept it on through half of the reprise showing that followed. This is, FLAT OUT, one of the craziest ass movies I have EVER seen, and I've seen a lot of crazy ass movies.

The movie is directed by Alan Parker from a script by none other than Oliver Stone. The movie made their careers. But it also catapulted to fame the lead actor, Brad Davis, who plays Billy Hayes, the real-life man who spent 10 years in a Turkish prison before managing to escape and make his way back to the U.S.

When Davis's pretty mug first came on screen -- the baby blue eyes, the chiseled jaw, the perfect nose -- I thought he looked uncannily like Brad Pitt. It really is uncanny. But I also thought, for just a split second, "This guy is going to ruin the film." Because he is WAY too pretty to be in a Turkish prison. He's just WAY too pretty to be anything other than a Calvin Klein model. I figured his acting would probably be a bit subpar.

Oh man, was I wrong! This guy. I don't know. This is, hands down, one of the best performances I've ever seen. Hell, it might be THE best performance. This guy is Al Pacino in Brad Pitt's body. (And, at least according to Wikipedia, Brad wasn't even nominated that year for Best Actor. Which tells you everything you need to know about the Oscars.)

But I also knew something else. Looking at him, at the spark of craziness in his eyes, at the rawness of his performance, I thought, "Something is off here. I get the feeling this guy isn't entirely acting." So during the commercials, I began doing research on him. And, sure enough, the guy had a tragic life, and it ended even more tragically, at a mere 41 years old, after he deliberately took his own life to end his suffering from advanced AIDS. He was a drug addict and alcoholic, though he managed to get clean, but not before he contracted AIDS. He'd also had a horrific childhood, with physical and sexual abuse from disturbed parents.

His wife, Susan, wrote a book about him after he died, called, "After Midnight: Life with Brad Davis." At the time it came out, it caused a bit of controversy because Susan adamantly states that Brad was not gay or bisexual, while many in the gay community claim he was. I have no idea. Doesn't matter.

The point is, this guy, Brad Davis, was a tortured soul -- and that really came through in his performance in "Midnight Express." He had the face of an angel, the body of an Adonis, the raw acting power of Brando, and the soul of Van Gogh.

I'm not exaggerating. If you haven't seen "Midnight Express," check it out.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

I'm Blogging For The Stir

I've begun blogging for CafeMom's The Stir. I cover the usual: News, trends, entertainment, celebs, love & sex, and try to do it with some verve and humor. You be the judge. The Stir posts are shorter than I was accustomed to writing for Forbes, however, there's a lot more of them. More to love. More to hate. More to ignore, if you so choose. You can follow my posts here at The Stir. Or not. Well, yes, yes, you will.... you will follow! You will share! Um, right?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Why Did One Dog Rescue Video Go Viral?

In my latest story for NBC's Petside, I examine the fantastic case of the abandoned little blind dog who went viral. Fiona, a poodle-mix rescued by a veteran dog rescuer and his wife while living in a trash pile, has caused millions of people to cry a river while at their computers. I'd seen the video a few weeks ago but didn't want to write to same story everyone else was writing, a la "What a sad but uplifting tale."

I always try to write something unique, and sometimes that means sitting with an idea for awhile, letting it percolate until a different angle comes to me. Once the video became more and more popular, and I did a little research on the video and its maker, I decided to write about HOW the video got so much attention.

I'm always curious about what becomes successful, what goes viral, what becomes a hit, and why. Often, to be honest with you, there's no real good reason. Why is "50 Shades of Grey" selling millions while I have many friends who have been publishing erotica for years and are still poor? I don't know. Why was "Eat, Pray, Love" an enormous bestseller and so many memoirs barely sell a few thousand copies? Trust me, her memoir wasn't any better. (No sour grapes here! :))

Often, something become successful because of a combination of things happening—and a bit of pure, unadulterated luck.

In the case of Fiona's video, the film of her rescue had been kicking around the Internet for over a year. Yet, it only went viral a few weeks ago. Why?

To get the full scoop, read my piece on Fiona at Petside.