CMT: Putting Your Endorphins at Risk

The past few times that I've been to the gym, I have been plagued by crocodile tears. Big, fat, watery ones welling up in my eyes. The kind that take some time to spill over, but when they do, they really do.

Not for the reasons you might think.

Not because of a painfully strained muscle. Not out of frustration or physical determination. Not even as a result of some kind of offensive gym-odor assuaulting my olfactory sense. Crocodile tears are plaguing me at the gym for one reason, and one reason only...


Yes. Country Music Television is turning me into a blubbering fool on the elliptical trainer every time I step onto it.

I'm not sure why channel 62 is the first station I select on the personal "theater" system attached to each elliptical trainer. News channels slow me down in depression. Movies are too engrossing. Food and Home networks don't exactly make me want to pound the pavement. So that leaves the music channels. And since my ears bleed whenever they are subjected to the train wreck that is Ke$ha (Keesha? Kesh-a? Ke dollar-sign sha?) and others of her ilk, then CMT it is.

But I have never been a big fan of country music, with its characteristic, twangy slide guitar in every song, and its recurring "I'm-a-redneck-and-proud-of-it" theme that that pops up way more frequently than it should. However, I've been testing the waters lately while at the gym, and finding that some of it is not so bad. In fact, some of it is pretty likeable and suitable for the gym...happy, upbeat tunes that stand in contrast to the dark, weird, scary undertones currently occupying much of the music video world.

It's just that every so often...probably several times an hour, I'm guessing...CMT will sucker-punch you with a trademark tearjerker. You know the ones I'm talking about. Lots of close-ups of soulful eyes brimming with emotion, a fuzzy filter on the camera lens, flashbacks, dramatic storylines, and guitar-picking in the background that might as well be plucking the strings of your cotton-pickin' heart.

So there I was on the elliptical machine, bopping right along to Faith Hill's bubble-gummy "The Way You Love Me" from a few years back, and feeling pretty good as the endorphins in my brain started kicking in. And next up, out of left field, a blow to the stomach, is "Hello, World" by Lady Antebellum. The moving power-ballad is emotionally strong enough to stand on its own, even without a heart-wrenching video to accompany it. The song is about appreciating life's joys, the ones that we take for granted. But the video depicts a tragic car accident involving a little girl...who pulls through and opens her eyes in the end.

Embarrassingly enough, right there in the crowded cardio area in the middle of my workout, my throat constricts and eyes well up, just as the CMT producers intended. What happened to my endorphins? Exercise is supposed to relieve emotional stress! I duck my head, hoping no one around me notices. Pay no attention to the crying girl on the elliptical machine.

I attempt to recover to the next video, Brad Paisley's live performance at the CMA's, an anthem-like tribute to the entire genre..."Turn it on, turn it up, and sing along...This is real; this is your life in a song...Yeah, this is country music!" He sings it with pride in his voice, and even as someone outside the "family," I can't help but smile. The endorphins start to come back.

But what's this? Schizophrenically, right on the heels of Brad Paisley's feel-good song is "The Shape I'm In" by somebody named Joe Nichols. The video portrays the stories of two modern war veterans, one who has lost his leg, and the other who has lost his eyesight. "I'm doing all right...for the shape I'm in," drawls Nichols, as I watch these two men struggle through their life tasks amidst tones of gray and brown. And, as predictably as Pavlov's dog, the song triggers in me what "Hello, World" had already begun: a big old lump in my throat.

There have been several other emotional elliptical episodes...one brought on by the video for "Journey On" by Ty Herndon, which stars former NFL player Kevin Turner, who is suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease. And yesterday, I saw American Idol runner-up Crystal Bowersox singing about how she "ain't no farmer's daughter anymore, mama dear" because of abuse in her past, against a backdrop of her flashbacks of a solitary child suffering alone.

So what it all comes down to is this: there are places you cry. Your room. Church. Outside. Even the bathroom. But, barring some injury, the gym should not be one of those places. Therefore, I submit to you all, based on the above evidence, that CMT and the gym are generally incompatible. For the sake of your endorphins, use extra caution when viewing that channel while exercising. Or for that matter, if you're a tenderhearted sap like me, use caution when viewing it anytime.

I do take my hat off to country music for all the good in it. But now, please pass me my iPod to lighten the mood. I need my NKOTB.


How the Grinch Stole Toomer's Corner

Inspired by recent news on the campus of Auburn University, I wrote this story, adapted from "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" by Dr. Seuss:

Every Who down in Auburn liked Toomer's a lot...
But the Grinch, who lived just north of Auburn, did NOT!
The Grinch hated Auburn! The whole football season!
Now, please don't ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
It could be his head wasn't screwed on just right.
It could be, perhaps, his houndstooth shoes were too tight.
But I think the most likely reason of all May have been that his brain was two sizes too small.

But whatever the reason,
His brain or his shoes,
He stood there on Toomer's Corner, hating the Whos,
Staring down with a sour, Grinchy frown at the happy festivities there in their town.
Every Who down in Auburn was celebrating now...
An Iron Bowl win. SEC Championship-bound.

"They roll all these trees!" he snarled with a sneer. 
"And their Auburn spirit just grows...it always begins here!"
Then he growled, with his Grinch fingers nervously drumming,
"I MUST find some way to stop that spirit from coming!"
For, soon, he knew... All the Who girls and boys
Would rush Toomer's Corner, Oh, the Noise! Noise! Noise! NOISE!

So he loaded some herbicide on his ramshackle truck
And headed for the plains,
Where the Whos were planning roast Duck.
The Toomer's oak trees bore a long-standing mission:
Wearing toilet paper after each victory. A tradition.
A symbol of all that the college holds dear,
A place for rejoicing, a place for good cheer.
But the Grinch slithered and slunk, with a smile most unpleasant,
Around Toomer's oaks with a chemical "present."

"Pooh-pooh to the Whos!" he was grinch-ish-ly humming.
"They'll find out soon that no spirit is coming!”
“I'll call Paul Finebaum, that's what I'll do!”
”I'll brag on the radio! They'll all cry! BOO-HOO!”
“That's a noise..." grinned the Grinch, "That I simply MUST hear!"

So he paused.
And the Grinch put his hand to his ear.
And he DID hear a sound rising over the plains.
It started in low...then...loud as steam trains:
Every Who down in Auburn, the tall and the small, was singing!
Without any oak trees at all.
He HADN'T stopped the Auburn spirit from coming. It CAME!
Somehow or other, it came just the same.
And the Grinch, now in custody, with nowhere to go, stood puzzling and puzzling: "How could it be so?"
"It came without toilet paper! It came without oaks!"
"It came without Bammers and Cam Newton jokes!"

And he puzzled for hours, locked up in a cell, serving time for his crime, as far as we can tell.
A federal offense is crossing the line.
We hope he stays there for a mighty long time.
We may never know if the Grinch in this tale
Changes his heart, sensing his epic fail.
Even if he did...short of a miracle from above,
It's prob'ly too late to save those trees that we love.


Though the Whos down in Auburn grieve the trees they once knew,
the Auburn spirit lives on…
…fearless and true.

by Jennifer Farris


Jeans Jeopardy

Every now and then, there comes a time when - in order to form a more perfect wardrobe - a girl has to go out and find a new pair of jeans. Because it's a sad day when you realize your favorite pair of Levi's is looking a little scruffy, after multiple years of bearing the title "favorite."

Jeans are a wardrobe staple, but as much as we say we love them, we never seem to think about why we do.

We say they look nice. But nice is sometimes relative.

We say they're comfortable, but who are we kidding? Whenever your jeans first come out of the dryer, admit it - you eye them with suspicion and dread. By definition, nothing made out of denim is comfortable. Jeans are stiff, heavy, and if your legs happen to get wet in the rain, you get to have icky wet-jean feeling the rest of the day.

We say that you can wear them every day, like that's an advantage, but wearing jeans gets pretty boring. After all, everyone else is wearing them every day, too.

So basically, other fabrics are much more functional and interesting, yet for reasons unknown, we all remain obsessed with our jeans. And that obsession, ladies and gentlemen, is what lands us in...

Jeans Jeopardy.

It is the point that you find yourself gazing...or, more likely, squinting...at a "jeans wall" in some department store. It is the moment of truth. You know that you will either pluck a treasure from the heap, or walk away empty-handed, face downcast. Staring at the wall, you are too invested to turn back now. It's a wall featuring mounds of folded up jeans with the stick-on label showing at the fold, labels that are supposed to help...but that actually make you want to scream.

Do you want "mid-rise, slim fit, boot cut boyfriend style"? Or maybe, "low-rise, easy fit, straight leg fit solutions"? If you're at Old Navy, where they have given their jeans styles hip-sounding names in the spirit of coolness, you are forced to puzzle over The Dreamer, The Sweetheart, The Diva, or The Flirt. And no matter where you go, the jeans wall is usually in disarray, especially during sale times, when everybody and their mamas have picked over the whole lot, leaving you to pilfer through the wreckage.

After trying to make sense of all this marketing madness, you begin to mutter to yourself, crazily, "I just want my size. I don't know what I'm getting here. I don't even know what I'm looking for. I'll find out in the fitting room. Just give me my size. That's all I ask. Where...is...my...SIZE...?" Other customers slowly edge away from you.

"I'll take 'flare leg classic fit comfort waist' for $600, Alex," you say to no one in particular, and then you know that Jeans Jeopardy is beginning to take a serious toll.

There in the fitting room, you fuss, fret, frown, grit your teeth, suck in a lot of air, and work up a sweat as pair after pair of jeans wind up on the designated NO WAY side of your fitting room. Too loose. Too tight. Too weird. Too young. Too old. It ranks right up there with the horrendous chore of swimsuit shopping.

Leave that store, on to the next one, repeat the entire process again and again, until, finally, you zip, snap, and smile in delight. You found it. The One. How do you know it's the one? You just know. (The standard answer people always give to such a question). You just won Final Jeopardy. You triumphantly plop your find on the counter in front of the sales associate, certain that this new pair will soon bear the title of "favorite."

Alas, that has not happened to me yet. It is the outcome I am hoping for...the one that happens in jeans movies and jeans fairy tales, if there were such things. But as of now, the cold reality is that I have just duked it out in round 1 of Jeans Jeopardy.

Score...Jeans That Don't Fit: $10,000. Me: $0. But Final Jeopardy can change everything. And, as Scarlett O would say, "Tomorrow......is another shopping day!"


All Summer in a Day

By my calcuation, this is at least the 6th straight day of dreary gray skies and/or rain. Today it has rained without stopping. It's also cold, something that we Southerners do not tolerate very well. Folks in other parts of the country are digging themselves out of ridiculous amounts of snowfall. And did I mention it's February? Which comes right after January.

All these things together add up to the mid-winter blahs. Raise your hand if you've got them, and then remind yourself that nicer days are a-comin'.

Whenever we go through a lengthy rainy spell, I think about people in Washington and wonder how they manage. And I also sometimes remember a strange TV program I saw when I was a kid, based on a short story called "All Summer in a Day" by Ray Bradbury. If you're interested, the text is here, but I will summarize:

People have colonized the planet Venus, where it has rained nonstop for the past seven years. (I probably just lost some of you at the mention of people living on Venus, but please follow me here). A classroom of 9-year-old kids is giddy with anticipation because today, the sun is supposed to shine for two hours, and two hours only. These children have lived on rainy Venus all their lives, except for one little girl named Margot. She's different from the rest, and she remembers the sun from when she lived on Earth. She wants to see it more than anything.

The other children torment Margot in their jealousy, especially one boy named William. Just before the sun comes out and the teacher sends the class outside to revel in it, mean little William and the others lock Margot in a closet.

The children play in the glorious sunlight, and they forget all about her...until the raindrops begin again, apparently to pour for seven more years. Then they remember what they did to her and are filled with shame. They walk down the hall to let her out of the closet. And that's how the story ends.

The TV version adds a bit more. A quiet, repentant William brings Margot a bouquet of newly-bloomed flowers, and in a sign of her forgiveness, she accepts them.

It is basically a heartbreaking story. So sad for a kid to miss the sunshine for so long and then to miss it for real.

These recent days seem a bit like Venus, or as Bradbury says colorfully, "...thousands upon thousands of days compounded and filled from one end to the other with rain, with the drum and gush of water, with the sweet crystal fall of showers and the concussion of storms so heavy they were tidal waves come over the islands."

But then again: how often, in the oppressive heat of summer, do we crave cooler weather and a gully-washing storm to rinse the dust off the world?

Long, sweaty August days, in which air-conditioning provides little relief. Droughts that last for so long you think you might just shrivel up along with the rest of nature. Blessed rain, finally coming, sounding so beautiful and pure that you want to go out and dance in it. At those times, the prospect of a rainy planet seems pretty good.

So even though it is cold and wet right now, and has been for some time, at least I have a roof and heat and food and loved ones and God. It is dreary outside, but it's actually pretty cozy in here, thanks to "the tatting drum, the endless shaking down of clear bead necklaces upon the roof." At least we know that the sun, when it comes, is going to blaze down full force and is going to last long enough to revel in.

As Christian artist Bryan Duncan sang a few years back, "If there's one thing you can count on, if there's one thing you can know for sure, if there's one thing God has promised...things are gonna change."

Before you mildew, hang on. Things are gonna change.

Until next time,
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