At Going to Concerts

I was nine when my mom took me to my first concert: Martina McBride’s Christmas show at a stadium in Pensacola. It was hardly wild, but it was still a very cool experience, since Martina McBride sounds fantastic live (tiny woman, huge voice) and she invited all the little girls in the audience to come sit on the stage with her while she sang “In My Daughter’s Eyes”.

I didn’t understand its importance at the time (we were almost late to the concert because I had to finish a very important Neopets battle), but that night was the beginning of my love for live music. A decade later I still love going to concerts, whether the name on the ticket is famous or barely recognizable.

My BFF/sassy motivator Ira and I went to a performance by our favorite band, Parachute, over the weekend (Gavin DeGraw was

The zoom is not on in this picture--that's how close Ira and I were to the stage. Nate from Parachute.

The zoom is not on in this picture–that’s how close Ira and I were to the stage. Nate from Parachute.

technically the headliner, but we were definitely there for the band formerly known as Sparky’s Flaw). We got there ridiculously early in hopes of getting the best possible place to stand, and thus had a lot of time to make friends in line. I was shocked by the number of people my age who said that this was their first concert. Ever. I always knew I was lucky, but I had no idea that so many of my peers had never seen popular music live before. (I qualify this because many of them were music majors who had been to several classical shows.)

That got me thinking about the fragility of the concert experience. Live music is so fun, but there are so many ways that a night that’s supposed to be fun can turn exasperating. Beyond the requisite safety tips, here are some ways to make sure attending your first concert, or any concert, doesn’t suck.

What is not sucking? Not sucking is defined in the world of concert attendance as actually going to see live music without embarrassing yourself or getting injured.

  1.        Release your negativity. You might be under the impression that you can’t afford to see live music. Regardless of your financial situation, you’re probably dead wrong. If you’re at a major university, your tuition could be paying for concerts and other events on campus. In the real world (as opposed to on College Island), local bands will often perform free at bars and restaurants. Even if you do have to pay for a show, if you pay attention and grab tickets early you can usually get them for $30 or less (as long as you’re not trying to see Taylor Swift or the Rolling Stones’ 80th farewell concert). With that in mind…
  2.        Stalk. Follow your favorite bands and artists on all their social media platforms. Same with your favorite local venues. All of these generally post upcoming events and tour dates online, and if you stay on top of your News Feed you might never miss a local performance again.
  3.        Dress right. Concerts are fun. They are also often hot and uncomfortable. Avoid heavy layers, high heels or anything restrictive, especially if you know the show is standing room only. Also, if you’re going to wear a t-shirt advertising your love for a band that is not the one you are going to see, make sure you do your research; music rivalries are serious stuff. You do not want to wear a Police shirt to a Sting concert, a Megadeth shirt to a Metallica concert, or a Justin Bieber shirt… anywhere.
  4.        On time is late. People called me and my friend Ira crazy for showing up to that concert three hours before the doors opened. However, when we finally got up from the asphalt with our legs asleep and our bladders full, we got to stand exactly one person-width away from the stage. Any closer and the lead guitarist would have spit on us while he was singing. (No, seriously. The girl in front of us got spit on. I’m pretty sure she’s never gonna wash her face again.) The people who got there fifteen minutes before the concert started stood at the very back of the second level balcony. Lesson: if you like the band, be willing to suffer a little. The early bird gets to steal guitar picks and set lists from the stage.

    "Nice snag!"--Will Anderson, Parachute's lead singer, while signing my set list (Johnny Stubblefield, the drummer, signed it too)

    “Nice snag!”–Will Anderson, Parachute’s lead singer, while signing my set list (Johnny Stubblefield, the drummer, signed it too)

  5.        Groupie see, groupie do. Just like anywhere, the best way to avoid humiliating yourself at a concert is to do exactly what everybody else is doing and no more. Is everyone standing? Don’t sit. Is anyone singing? No? Then listen to the music you paid to hear. Most importantly, stay in one place as long as possible. However, if you find yourself needing a bathroom or a t-shirt at intermission (or if the crowd starts getting crazier than you’d care to be involved with), then…
  6.        If you have to move, get creative. If music is playing, dance your way through the crowd. If it’s intermission and you have got to get to the merch table before the band leaves, here’s my proven solution: lock arms with a buddy, plow on through and say nice things to people as you pass them (i.e. “Excuse me! Love your necklace!”).
  7.        Bring cash. You can’t always guarantee that a band’s merchandise table will take credit cards. If you feel like you’re going to enjoy the show, stop by an ATM before you get there—and if you want something signed, have it in your possession as quickly as possible before the end of their performance. The members of your favorite band have probably traveled thousands of miles in the past couple of days, so you can bet they’ll be getting on their tour bus and out of your reach as soon as they can.

Rock on, readers. If you’d like to give The How Not to Suck Blog some love, come like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @hownottosuckblg (no, there’s no o in that. Blg would make a really good name for a Swedish band).

At Combating Censorship

So, normally I don’t post more than one of these in a week, but readers, I’ve got a little project for you.

Those of you who know me personally know that I am a BIG fan of young adult fiction in general, and also a big fan of John Green (The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns, Looking for Alaska, Will Grayson, will grayson). There’s a class at Strasburg High School in Strasburg, CO which offers students the chance to study several of Green’s books and twelve other YA novels. I would have jumped at the chance to take such an elective in high school, and I bet it would have gotten readers more reluctant than me to discover the joys of the page as well. 

However, there’s a big group of parents in Strasburg who want to “cleanse” the (elective!) class’s curriculum of any book that contains “profanity, sexuality, drug use or violence”… aka every YA book ever, to some extent. I’m not for censorship of any kind, but this blatant removal of “unpleasantness” from the context of some of my favorite books is particularly offensive to me. You can read more about the case here, on John Green’s Tumblr, and then if you’d like you can write a letter to the Strasburg school board like I did. Keep it civil, please, and try to tell them what you got out of the books you read for pleasure when you were in high school. Here’s the letter I sent.

To whom it may concern:
I am a current undergraduate student at an accredited state university who spent the better part of my high school years reading and re-reading books like the ones included on the curriculum list for Strasburg High School’s Young Adult Fiction elective course. The author John Green (who wrote three of the books on the curriculum) brought it to his readers’ attention recently that the book list has been challenged by a group of parents who feel that the books on the list “contain excessive profanity, explicit sexual scenes, drug use, and/or violence”, and that these concerns constitute a “cleansing” of the curriculum.
I do not wish to argue that these books don’t ​contain profanity, sexuality, drug use or descriptions of violence; many of them do, in varying degrees of graphicness. Taken out of context, of course such material does not belong in the classroom. However, this is exactly what these parents are doing: taking the “bad” parts of these books out of context. To censor these books by removing them from the curriculum of an elective course would be a grievous misjudgment on the part of the School Board. These books have great lessons to teach their readers and could expose students of the course to wonderful, necessary aspects of the human experience that they might not otherwise hear about in their (perhaps sheltered) everyday lives. I have had the honor of reading 12 of the 19 books on the contested list, and learned about the following from their pages:
  • ​From Feed: the importance of combating a government which seeks to control its constituents’ thoughts; the pervasiveness of modern advertising; the importance of self-governance.
  • From Delirium​: again, the importance of combating a government which seeks to control its constituents’ thoughts and feelings; the vital importance and eventual triumph of human passion over robotic, chemical duty
  • From Uglies: the ugliness of a society that tries to impose strict standards of beauty on everyone; suspicion of a government that claims to know what is best for its people; the benefits of staying aware vs. staying content; how to combat the status quo
  • From The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: how an autistic person thinks and feels; that an autistic person thinks and feels, and in a way that is beautifully both similar and different from the way a person not on the autism spectrum thinks and feels
  • From The Fault in Our Stars: that the terminally ill are humans, too; that the impact of a life has more to do with how deeply you touch people rather than how many people you touch; that though some infinities are larger than others, love is infinite
  • From Will Grayson, will grayson: That people can be immeasurably cruel, immeasurably kind, and a multitude of things in between; how to deal with depression; that depression does not always have a concrete cause other than brain chemistry, and that’s okay; that sometimes the best people are the ones who can be a little embarrassing to their friends; that sometimes, embarrassing yourself for a friend is the best thing you can do for them
  • From 13 Little Blue Envelopes: the value of travel; how to travel safely alone; how to deal with it when life doesn’t go exactly the way you planned; that a life can have impact long after it is over
  • From Paper Towns: that you shouldn’t put people on pedestals or make them into something greater than human beings; that adventure is good, but love and friendship are better; that people are more complicated than simply being “good” or “bad”
  • From If I Stay: that one person can be the difference between someone choosing to live or choosing to die
  • From Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: that peculiar people are the most interesting people; that your personal happiness and the greater good can sometimes be more important than the expectations your family has for you; that, sometimes, the people who look good can be evil and the people who look evil can be good; that no matter who you are, it’s important (and possible!) to find a group of people who think and feel as you do
  • From Thirteen Reasons Why: the importance of listening; to always take it seriously when someone tells you they are sad; to pay attention when someone is sad but won’t tell you; to encourage people who have been assaulted to seek help and speak out, rather than staying silent; that every single interaction we have could make or break someone’s life (or even just their day); that if I feel depressed, I should tell someone about it while I am alive
  • From The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (odds are that this is not one of the books on the list being contested, but I’ll go ahead and throw it in anyway): that second chances and grace exist for people who have done wrong; that whether you side with good or evil is vitally important; that sometimes evil can look very much like good; that magic and providence exist, but you still have to fight for what you believe in.​

This is an incomplete list. I have bolded the lessons which I feel might have special significance to students in the elective class (which no student will be forced or required to take!) at Strasburg High School. Personally, I feel that these lessons are much more dangerous than exposure to offensive language, sexuality, drug use or violence… and also that they are vital for a complete education. When considering which books to put on a curriculum, one must look at the works as a whole and not rip scenes out of their context. It appears that the person teaching this class has done an excellent job of that. She’s chosen a good list.

Thank you for your consideration. I do hope you make the right choice for the students of Strasburg High School.

 I feel it necessary to add here that, after spending my high school years reading these books and many others like them, I have made it halfway through college and remained an upstanding citizen.
P.P.S.: “Censorship ends in logical completeness when nobody is allowed to read any books except the books that nobody reads.”​ George Bernard Shaw




At Motivating Yourself


Michel knows what’s up. Image from Original still from Gilmore Girls.

You guys, I’m not gonna lie to you: it was really hard to get myself to write this post. I’d like to blame it on my midterms, but that wouldn’t be entirely honest; I think I’ve just been feeling a general malaise lately, which is why this week’s ideal topic was obvious.

Don’t get me wrong. Writing this blog is second in my affections only to those of you who read it. For some reason, though, sometimes it’s just hard for people to get themselves to do stuff, even stuff they really like. As the semester begins to wind down, I find myself wanting to do nothing more than hang out on my couch with fictional characters from places like Pawnee, Indiana and Westeros.

Unfortunately, when you’re an adult like I am (I guess), not feeling like doing something isn’t always a good enough reason not to do it. Even though I’ve been a little uninspired lately, I still managed to do everything I needed to do for school, work and my own health (yes, Mom, I’ve been eating my vegetables), and now I’m even getting to the stuff which doesn’t have horrible consequences if I don’t do it—read: putting the finishing touches on this post.

Ennui notwithstanding, I find I feel way better when I’m producing work with actual results than when I’m a mental and physical couch potato, so I figured out some ways to galvanize myself even when I’m feeling like a lump. Here they are—do with them what you will.

What is not sucking? Not sucking is defined in the realm of self-motivation as simply being able to get yourself to do something, regardless of your level of organic enthusiasm for doing that thing.

1. Put on pants. Real ones, with a zipper and a button and no elastic waistband. They don’t need to be your favorite jeans or your most professional slacks, but they do need to be slightly less comfortable than pajama pants (or no pants at all). Your brain will want to justify the slight constriction around your lower body by doing something productive.

2. Remind yourself of the benefits of doing the thing. Exercise lowers your risk of heart disease. Grocery shopping lowers your risk of running out of food. Filling out job applications increases your chances of getting a job. All kinds of great stuff can happen if you do things… but sometimes positive visualization isn’t enough to get you off the couch. During those times, you should:

This bear senses your desire to procrastinate. Original image from

This bear senses your desire to procrastinate. Original image from

3. Remind yourself of the awful effects of not doing the thing. Waiting until the day the paper is due to write it could cause you to get a bad grade. Your bad grade could cause you to lose your professor’s respect. Losing your professor’s respect means losing your chance at a recommendation letter from him or her. No recommendation letters means no job. No job means living in a van by the river, where you could get attacked by a hungry bear. In essence, therefore, procrastinating another day on that paper could usher in your untimely demise at the hands (paws?) of a hungry Ursus arctos horribilis.

Of course, this slippery slope is unlikely to actually take place if you procrastinate. However, making the consequences of ignoring The Thing a little worse in your head than they would be in real life is a great way to get yourself to do it faster.

One gummy bear per paragraph? Sounds reasonable. I didn't take this picture.

One gummy bear per paragraph? Sounds reasonable. I didn’t take this picture.

4. Offer yourself an incentive. I greatly complicated my life in the seventh grade by accidentally doing a science project that was good enough to go to the district fair. The project involved telling two groups of kindergarteners to alphabetize a set of words. I promised each member of one group a chocolate chip cookie if they alphabetized correctly; I promised each member of the other group a pat on the head. In a shocking and totally unexpected turn of events, the kids who were working for cookies alphabetized faster than the kids who were working for the satisfaction of a job well done. This logic doesn’t just apply if you’re five; if you promise yourself something in return for finishing a task, you’ll have more motivation to complete it. One episode of Parks andRecreation for every two hours of studying. One piece of chocolate for every workout. One cup of coffee immediately after you get out of bed. Five minutes of Facebook for every bullet point you finish on your blog post (ten if it’s a really awesome bullet point). If you give yourself something to look forward to that you only get after completing the task at hand, then you’ll be much more likely to do The Thing and do it quickly. (Quick word of caution: while the kids I promised cookies alphabetized faster than the ones who didn’t, they also made more mistakes while they were working. If you use the incentive method while you’re doing something important, make sure to go back and check your work at some point.)

5. Remember that it’s more important to get something done than to get it done perfectly. Sometimes we put off doing stuff because we’re afraid we’ll fail. Even worse, sometimes we’re just afraid that we’ll be mediocre. Everybody remembers the person who royally screwed something up, but the one whose endeavor was average is the one who is forgotten. Fear of doing something less than flawlessly doesn’t motivate us to do better; it just paralyzes us. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, your first attempt at something (whether that’s a paper, a drawing, a new routine or talking to that cute person who sits six rows in front of you in class) doesn’t have to be your last attempt. If you go ahead and do it well in advance of whenever your deadline is, you’ll have more time to fix it and make your third attempt (or fourth, or fifth…) awesome. Your first draft doesn’t have to be great. It just needs to not suck—and once you let go of the need to do everything perfectly the first time, you’ll procrastinate a lot less.

Major inspiration for this post came from here and here. I don’t own either of these things, but I love them (which puts them on a list with things like Chanel purses and Kiki’s Delivery Service on Blu-Ray). If you feel motivated, come hang out with me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @hownottosuckblg. Can’t wait to see you there!