June 26, 2017

An Interview with Burlesque Student Becca Kemp

Welcome to the fifth installment of These My Nominated Bitches! Today's bitch was nominated by my friend, and fellow bitch, Freya West. Take it away, Freya!


I don't mean to brag, but I kind of have the best job in the world. I teach ladies to shimmy, and the most incredible people walk into my life because of it. Becca came to my chair dance class with a friend, and thankfully she's been one of my steady showgirls in training since then! I don't know her much outside of the studio, but she's consistent, confident, and makes modifications for cranky knees look truly beautiful. She'll grinduate from Delinquent Debutantes with her first act at the end of September, and I can't wait to see the semi-naked art she creates! -- Freya

What do you perform and what is your stage name?

I am a burlesque student at Delinquent Debutantes in Nashville and an aspiring performer... Stage name yet to be determined! I've been taking burlesque classes for about eight months and am beginning the final series of classes that will finish with a performance of getting a bit naked in front of a real audience.

When did you first learn about this field of dance? How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

Last summer, I finally learned that the chronic pain in my knees was advanced arthritis with severe degeneration. I had just finished recovering from major abdominal surgery and now I was told I couldn't exercise the way I wanted anymore. My body had become my adversary and it was so discouraging. My friend Rachel happened to mention that she was going to try a burlesque dance class and wanted me to go with her. My initial reaction was "absolutely not". I never dance. I am incredibly clumsy. I have limited mobility. But in the last few years, I've tried to deliberately contradict the negative stories I tell myself and expand my definition of who I am. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to do something scary and wildly outside of my comfort zone.

The first class I took was Chair Dance and initially I felt so awkward I wanted to cry and run away. But Delinquent Debutantes has such a welcoming and supportive vibe in the classes, no matter your size, age, or abilities. There’s no sense of judgment or competition. We are all there to have fun and move and let loose. The teachers gladly modified choreography for me when my knees wouldn’t cooperate. I’m so grateful that burlesque classes gave me back the enjoyment of movement and fitness. I’ve met wonderful friends and it never fails that I leave class happier than when I arrived. Even still, I never imagined that I would consider performing. But I kept taking more classes and workshops and now I’m taking that next scary step.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

The mirror is just a tool. Nothing more. It's not your enemy, it's not your self-esteem, it doesn't assess your value as a person. It's just a shiny piece of glass that shows you if you need to point your toes or lift your chest or smooth out that hip roll.

And if you don’t know what to do, just move your butt.

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned or that helped improve the way you perform?

Don’t make an “Oh shit!” face! No matter what happens, keep going and make it look like you totally meant to do that. It’s fantastic advice for everything in life, not just burlesque.

What would you do with two more hours a day?

I’d probably use one hour to sleep and one hour to knit. I love the processing of designing and creating with string that came off of a sheep.

What is your greatest success, or something you’re most proud of related to what you do?

Way back in my younger days, I was a US Army bomb squad technician. My greatest accomplishment is being a graduate of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal School. It’s one of the most difficult schools in the military, boasting a 60% failure rate, and it taught me toughness and perseverance. I spent five years destroying dangerous ammunition and rendering safe unexploded ordnance. However, when it comes to dancing, with my military background I tend to march and glare rather than shimmy and smile. Burlesque has given me a new way to connect with my body and express my confidence in a completely different style.

How do you decompress at the end of the work day?

There's no better way for me to unwind than to move. Sometimes I go for a hike, but more often than not, I am at the Delinquent Debutantes studio after work. My day job in finance involves sitting at a desk all day, so I'm more than ready to stretch out and shake my butt. Flipping upside down on a chair is a great way to forget about deadlines and meetings.

What’s a fear that keeps you up at night?

The fear that selfishness, hatred, and ignorance in our country will drown out hope and goodness.

What is one thing everyone gets wrong about what you do?

That you have to know how to to dance or that you have to have the “right” kind of body to enjoy burlesque. There’s this clamor of cultural messages that says we have to hold back and make ourselves less visible if we don’t hit some ever changing target of “perfect”. Not in burlesque! Anyone can do this. I am SO not a dancer. I’m 46 years old, my body is achy and far from perfect. You can be sexy and badass and silly at any age or size or ability. This is a place where you can be exactly who you are and celebrate it, even if you don’t want to perform.

What does self care look like in your life?

There are very few problems in life that can’t be made better by taking a nap.

What helps when you’re stuck? Do you have a motto or quote that inspires/motivates you?

Cursing. Cursing helps. I write, too. Letting my tangled thoughts flow out onto paper or a keyboard is the best therapy.

I like the quote, “You are allowed to be both a masterpiece and a work in progress simultaneously.” It’s a good reminder to love myself perfectly where I am while continuing to grow and improve.

Are there any women who helped pave the way for your success?

My daughter inspires me. She is 19 years old and just finished her freshman year at the University of Oregon. She’s an incredibly hard worker and so much braver and smarter than I was at her age. We took a road trip from Nashville to the Oregon coast last fall and I had a blast with her. I’m delighted at the person she’s becoming and I think she’s getting a kick out of me learning to bump and grind. Sometimes I can’t believe this beautiful and successful young woman is my child but then I think that I raised her, so she must have gotten some of that from me! Her bold and adventurous spirit gives me encouragement to go out and be bold too.

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

Jessica Jones. Black licorice.

All photos courtesy of Becca Kemp

P.S. Meet last week's bitch:  Parnassus Musing Editor, Mary Laura Philpott!

P.P.S. Full list of My Bitches here.

June 23, 2017

Friday Links


This week's must-read, and this month's Harper's cover story: Zadie Smith on Who Owns Black Pain.

Vulture did a deep-dive on Danielle Brooks, who plays Tastee Jefferson in OITNB. There's spoilers, but this is a great article, and the pictures are fire emoji, fire emoji, fire emoji.

They say to write the book that's in you. Well, the book that's in me is how RuPaul's Drag Race got me through 2016. Turns out, I'm not alone.

I've never watched The Bachelorette, but I watched VH1's I Love New York, and this article on Tiffany "New York" Pollard is so good.

My shero, Ann Patchett.



The only TV I care about this week is RuPaul's Drag Race Season 9 finale tonight. I'm debating going to Tribe to watch it with friends. TBD.

These my podcasts:

I'm reading Hunger and have a ticket to see her speak in a few weeks, so I'm riding hard for Roxane Gay right now. She's doing a lot of press, but this Fresh Air interview is more poignant than other interviews I've heard.

If you care about the healthcare fight in Congress right now, this is a good episode to listen to. This podcasts is too long (and too frequent) in my opinion (I can't give you two hours twice a week), so feel free to skip ahead to the healthcare/Sen. Schumer part.

I can't wait to start watching GLOW on Netflix. I actually think it releases today. Anyway, GLOW stars Marc Maron, Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin - thus this podcast.


I bought this tiger print for $8, which is actually the most I've paid for a piece of thrift store art. I haven't hung it yet, but I do have it propped up in my office against some bookshelves and it looks good. I may leave it there.


Handpainted boob mountains by my bitch, Caryn.
Flamingo koozies.
Fancy wrapping paper (in East Nashville).

June 19, 2017

An Interview with Parnassus Musing Editor Mary Laura Philpott

Photo credit:  Heidi Ross

Who brought me in was Colson Whitehead, but who had my attention was the woman perched precariously atop a ladder, leaning way too far off of it, wielding what looked to be a fifteen pound camera. Convinced she was going to fall, I was hit with the realization that it was Mary Laura, the famed social media manager for Parnassus Books. I had just landed a contract for a book festival and desperately wanted to meet her. Luckily, she made it off the ladder alive, I waved her over and we became fast friends.

I love a woman who knows what she's good at and has figured out how make a job out of it. Even if, as in Mary Laura's case, it ends up being 300 jobs. I believe they call that hustle. And I can relate. If you don't know Mary Laura, you can get a glimpse of her effusive personality in both her writing and her Wildlife Coach cartoons, #bless. Meet today's bitch, one of my favorite Nashvillians, Mary Laura Philpott!

What is your job title and where do you work?

OK, here goes —
Day-job: Editor of Musing, the lit mag of Parnassus Books
Side-hustle: Co-host of A Word on Words, the book-talk mini-show on Nashville Public Television
Main creative occupation: Essayist
Other thing: Cartoonist.

When did you first learn about this field of work? How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

Writing and drawing: When I was little, I’d sit in the bathtub and rewrite the copy on the shampoo bottles and make up jingles about the soap. I wrote and illustrated weird little stories and asked my dad to Xerox them so they’d be “printed.” I drew faces on fruit. I always knew I loved to write and make things.

But coming out of college, I didn’t grasp the variety of creative job options, so I spent some early years floating around as a lost English major in the business world before finding my way back to my literary roots. I don’t think of that as lost time, because I got a great business education from some wonderful people. My first job out of school was with Andersen Consulting (now called Accenture). My last full-time office job, in my 20s, was in corporate communications at the American Cancer Society headquarters, and after I left there, ACS became my first freelance client. For several years, I balanced writing in the voices of my clients, which paid well, and doing creative work in my own voice, which paid almost nothing but was fun. Over time, I started doing less of the former and more of the latter. Not surprisingly, I was drawn to the subjects I enjoyed most, which were (a) books, and (b) any sort of cultural or life phenomena where the absurd and the profound overlap. Once I started sending this stuff out and realized people would publish it and pay me, I knew I’d found solid ground.

As for my main day-job: I met the Parnassus gang on a visit to Nashville from Atlanta a few years ago, and shortly thereafter I quit writing about books for Barnes & Noble to build Musing. I worked on it remotely for several months, and then in 2014, we moved the whole family here. (I was born in Nashville, moved away when I was little, and now I’m back. Does that make me old Nashville or new Nashville?)

What is the best piece of business advice you’ve been given?

A looooong time ago, back in my first corporate job, my boss taught me that the first thing to say when a customer or employee complains is thank you. Thank the person for coming to you, she said. Thank them for their candor. Thank them, even if they’re objectively wrong about whatever they’re mad about, for showing you something that’s not working. Then start figuring out what issues need addressing.

Not to sound hokey, but if you can look at things that aren’t working with a sense of gratitude — like, OK, here’s a chance to try something differently or do better — it changes everything. It makes failure less scary. That advice translates pretty well from the business world to the creative world.

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned or that helped improve the way you work?

Boundaries! Drawing lines around what I will/won’t and can/can’t do always makes my work-life better. I tend to forget that and take on too much and then have to winnow back down. Last year, I transferred my social media responsibilities at Parnassus to someone else so I could create more essay-writing time, and before I knew it, I’d started a new cartoon and a tinyletter. So obviously I’m still learning this lesson. Please help.

What would you do with 2 more hours a day?

Make things. Sit outside. Eat cheese.

What is your greatest success, or something you’re most proud of related to what you do?

Related to work? I’m crazy-proud of the Emmy our NPT team won for A Word on Words this year. I also get really tickled when I think about Musing’s growth — that it was built from scratch and now all these people read it and click it and use it to make choices about what they read. I think of good, smart conversation like a fire, and I imagine I’m throwing logs on it and making it burn bigger and brighter, and that makes me glad.

How do you decompress at the end of the work day?

My children and husband are pretty entertaining. It’s hard to stay compressed in the company of our two fool dogs, too. Our home life is a comedy.

What’s a fear that keeps you up at night?

I’m afraid people are losing their willingness and ability to engage in civil, informed discourse — and losing their kindness, too. I worry about my kids growing up in a time when those things are on the decline.

What is one thing everyone gets wrong about what you do?

Haa…. Oh, I don’t know. Sometimes people will come up and ask how my novel is coming along. I’ve never written a novel in my life, and I don’t plan to.

What does self-care look like in your life?

Taking nature hikes in the early mornings and looking for animals.

What helps when you’re stuck? Do you have a motto or quote that inspires/motivates you?

My mantra this year is “keep going.” It’s helpful when the world seems so full of disaster that doing good work seems pointless, but it’s also handy when you reach a milestone that feels like an ending. There’s no finish line — keep going.

Are there any women who helped pave the way for your success?

Oh, my word. So many. If you’re talking about women who have opened doors for me, there are more than I can count: Ann Patchett and Karen Hayes at Parnassus, who said, “hey, let’s make an online magazine”; Linda Wei and Beth Curley at NPT, who said, “hey, let’s make a show”; my first editor at Penguin Random House who said, “hey, let’s make a book”; the editors I work with at the New York Times and the Washington Post who keep giving me the space to write for their audiences; every good boss I’ve ever had, really. But if you mean way-pavers, as in people who set an example for me to follow, I’d say any women who defy labels — artist/essayist/internet-people like Allie Brosh and Jenny Lawson — and women with wide creative range, like Jenny Offill and the late Amy Krouse Rosenthal. My mom. These are people I can point to when pressed to define my creative endeavors as one thing or the other. They’re not doing “or” — they’re doing “and.”

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

Show: I wish new episodes of Saturday Night Live aired in the summer. I need to laugh. Snack: If you ever want to kill me, just poison the supply of Palmetto Cheese. I’m done for.

All photos courtesy of Mary Laura Philpott

P.S. Meet last week's bitch:  Author, Shaila Patel!

P.P.S. Full list of My Bitches here.

June 16, 2017

Friday Links


Lindy West went to the inaugural Goop "health and wellness expo" and lived to tell about it. This one's a must read.

Apparently podcasters will soon be able to get metrics on their listeners. This article is interesting, albeit dry, except for the part where it compares podcasts to blogs:
A parallel is being drawn between blogs — often described as once being a weird, free wonderland of creativity and expression — after they began experiencing these types of developments, and what may happen to podcasts and the relatively low-stakes ecosystem they have thus far enjoyed. Such worries include, among others, content and programming being cynically driven by metrics, the introduction of Big Business that would wipe out the freedom and experimentation afforded by the space, and the death of the medium’s independent spirit.
Bill Cosby Is Not Cliff Huxtable by Ashley C. Ford

Jennifer Justus continues to write pieces that I swear she writes specifically and only for me. Women in your forties without children, I present to you, The Groaning Cake. I legit cried while reading this, so grab some Kleenex.



I started the latest season of OITNB. OMG, the end of the second episode? Forget about it! So good. I keep forgetting to talk about it, but I'm also watching Veep and laughing my butt off. I'm surprised at how many people don't know to watch this show. Also (!) Insecure comes back on July 23!

Meh on podcasts this week. Here's what I've got.


I bought this at Goodwill for 99 cents. It's a size 16, but aren't sizes just a suggestion anyway? I'm wearing it, and while I'm wearing it, I'm laughing at the Zara version of this jacket that costs a lot more than 99 cents (it costs $70).


Living your best life in plus-size swimsuits.
"The Floor Is" memes.
Boomerangs as a privilege, not a right.

June 9, 2017

Friday Links


Roxane Gay on her new book Hunger and how it's the 'book of no fucks given'. P.S. Roxane will be in Nashville on July 13.

Um, did you know Shirley Manson is 50?! Garbage was the soundtrack to my college years. Shirley's take on the dying breed of female rockstars is *tear emoji, but this quote makes up for it, "Rihanna is the closest thing we have in the pop world to a rockstar”.

McSweeney's comparing Comey's opening statements to lines from The Remains of the Day. Good luck figuring out which quote is which.

A friend recently told me that she uses Longreads as a reward during the work day. Every time she needs it, she rewards herself with three more paragraphs. So reward yourself today with this piece from Jami Attenberg.



I'm watching Season 3 of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. At first, I thought, is this still funny? But then it immediately got funny. The Lemonade episode broke me and I was hooked. Goddess bless Tituss Burgess. The Linda in HR episode? I died.

I listen to a million podcasts a week, but these four stand out. I love 2 Dope Queens, and the Ronald Funches set at the end of this episode is #fire. "Murder Cake," lol.


I bought this robe at Goodwill's 50% off sale. It was originally $4.50 and I got it for $2.25. I know this is a stretch, but I'm going to wear it as a coat. I started following Clare Press on Instagram and I love her style, so when I saw her coat, and then I saw this robe.... Magic! Stay tuned. If we're still a planet come fall, I'll let you know if my robe-coat works.


Babadook as a gay icon.
Oprah and Gayle.

June 5, 2017

An Interview with Author Shaila Patel

Today's bitch was my internet friend for months before we finally met in person. I managed the social media for SE-YA Book Festival and Shaila was one of their authors. I don't want to hurt the feelings of the other 39 authors, but Shaila was my favorite. Shaila is a social media QUEEN. If she weren't already working four full-time jobs, I'd recommend she let people pay her to do their social media.

I asked the festival higher-ups if we could recognize Shaila for how hard she worked to promote SE-YA online. Because we had been referring to her as Shaila the Queen of Social Media, we went with it, bought her a crown and presented it to her at the festival's opening dinner. The picture of Queen Shaila is at the bottom of this post. I love this woman, and you should all read her book. Meet today's bitch, Shaila Patel!

What do you do and what is the name of your book?

I was a pharmacist for several years after graduating college and then became an office manager for a pediatric office. My nights and weekends (and mostly all of my headspace) are dedicated to writing. My published book is called Soulmated, a young adult paranormal romance, and I'm currently shopping my adult romance around to publishers—where the major conflict has to do with black market prescription narcotics. (And my mom thought I was giving up my pharmacy degree. Ha!)

When did you first learn about this field of work? How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

I wrote my first short story as an assignment for Mrs. Galloway's fourth grade Language Arts class.

I. Was. In. Love.

It was a five-page, front-and-back, hand-written in pencil, action-adventure with pirates, treasure, and a lost key. My only regret in life is that I don't have a copy of it! I didn't really put the passion I felt while writing the story into perspective until my senior year of high school. That's when I knew I wanted to write a novel someday. My parents, however, didn't believe writing was a lucrative enough career, so off to pharmacy school I went. Getting published happened eventually, so I have no regrets.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given?

The best piece of advice is to not compare yourself to other authors! It's hard not to—believe me—but every author's success story is so different, that if you spent all your time bemoaning how your career isn't taking off like XYZ author's, you'll spend more time crying in your coffee (or whisky—take your pick) and not enough time writing and selling your books.

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned or that helped improve the way you write?

The biggest lesson I've learned is that good storytelling is about balance. Too much or too little of any particular element might not make for a terrible story, but it won't make for a great one. While reading someone else's work, or even editing my own, I'll notice when there's too much dialogue, description, or internal monologues, and realize that the scene isn't balanced. It works the other way too. Sometimes there's not enough description or reflection, and it somehow takes away from your experience as a reader. Too little of something is often harder to spot, unless it's a glaring error, but I've learned to trust my gut instinct. If it feels "off" then something is usually wrong with the scene, and I start my editing by looking for those imbalances.

What would you do with two more hours a day?

Read! (Duh.)

What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made?

My biggest sacrifice has been time with my family. Working what amounts to two jobs has been tough on family time. My son is an older teenager, so I don't feel as neglectful as I would have if he were in his elementary-years. I'm lucky if he lets me chase him around the kitchen for a hug. (He eventually relents, in case you're wondering.) I've learned to optimize what time I do have with him though—like when he's my captive in the car ride to school. Muahahahaha.

What is your greatest success, or something you’re most proud of?

I'm proud of my positive attitude. Looking back at my life, I don't think I'd have accomplished half as much as I have without a can-do spirit. Sure, sometimes I jump in unwisely with both feet, but at least I've tried. Without trying something, I've already failed. I'm a firm believer in "if there's a will, there's a way."

Do you have a morning ritual that helps you set the tone for the day?

Yes! Get up before anyone else, have a bowl of cereal and a hot cup of tea, and let my mind absorb the peace and quiet before the chaos begins.

How do you decompress at night?

I decompress by reading. If I don't want to get wrapped up in a new book (and lose sleep), then I'll reread a favorite scene of another. It's the only way I quiet my head before laying down. Sometimes I even use it as a treat for getting my work done.

What helps when you’re stuck? Do you have a motto or quote that inspires/motivates you?

When I'm stuck, I recognize that in the majority of those times, it's related to my mood. If I'm not feeling it, then no matter how hard I try, I'm not going to get it done. Life's too short to waste time fighting something that a break, a different task, a nap, or a meal might help. Sure, I do suffer from guilt for putting off a task, but not to the point I give myself an ulcer. I see being "stuck" as my mind craving something—rest, food, an outlet of a different type. If I don't fight it, I can usually get back on track pretty quickly.

What does self care look like in your life?

Taking the time to enjoy the solitude—whether it's an afternoon locked away in my room with no noise, a hike through our local nature preserve, or reading a book with a mug of something warm between my hands. My quiet time revitalizes me, but I also feed off the energy and excitement of being with people. It's what I loved about being a pharmacist. It's a heady feeling when patients come to the pharmacy and are relieved that their "favorite pharmacist" is there to chat with. I get the same rush at a book signing where I get to meet readers. Those interactions feed my soul, but my quiet time heals all the frayed edges from being pulled in so many directions.

Are there any women who helped pave the way for your success?

My mother. She's a tiny wisp of a woman, but as Shakespeare said, she is fierce! She'd be perfect to play a wise woman from any fantasy novel. The insight and advice that comes from her always leaves me in awe. Knowing that someone like her supports me unconditionally is an incredible source of strength for me.

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

I don't watch much TV anymore, but through all the years I'd obsessively binge watched TV, my favorite has to be Star Trek: The Next Generation. (Yes, I'm a trekkie!) There was always so much hope in each episode—hope that it could be done, that life would go on, and that somewhere in the universe life did. The science fed the little nerd in me, the writing taught me about drama, and the diversity just plain made me hopeful.

Oh, and my favorite snack is chocolate or anything with caramel.

All photos courtesy of Shaila Patel

P.S. Meet last week's bitch:  Vintage Rentals & Home Stager, Erin Sparks!

P.P.S. Full list of My Bitches here.

June 2, 2017

Friday Links


Night Court was the black sheep of NBC's sitcom dynasty - A.V. Club

Alexa Chung's clothing line launched and it's really good - The Cut

Why you're constantly seeing ads for stuff you just bought online - Racked

Rebecca Solnit:  The Loneliness of Donal Trump - Literary Hub

Rebecca Traister:  Hillary Clinton's Surreal Post-Election Life - New York Magazine



I've been watching Golden Girls on Hulu and find myself astounded at so many things: a) Dorothy's pajamas, but mostly, b) their ability to maintain boundaries, express anger and remain friends. Who are these superheroes?! I'm also watching, for the first time (I know, I'm late), The Great British Baking Show. Every day I don't make a cake is a personal victory.

There are two Netflix stand-up specials worth watching:  Maria Bamford: Old Baby, and Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King.

So many podcasts, so little time. In random order, here are some podcasts I remember wanting everyone I know to listen to:

Still Processing: We Will Always Love You, Whitney Houston
RuPaul What's The Tee: Episode 76: Katya
Never Before with Janet Mock: Episode 1: Tina Knowles-Lawson
WTF with Marc Maron: Chris Cornell from June 2014
WTF with Marc Maron: Episode 809 - Maria Bamford


Robes are the new caftans and I'm obsessed. I own 300 (approx.) and I keep buying them. This is my current fave, scored at Goodwill at their 50% off sale. I paid $2.24 for it. I also bought that yellow t-shirt. It says, "Cruisin' With The Rattlers" and then there's a picture of a cruise ship and a rattlesnake, #duh.


The Beach Gonna Get Whatever Body I Give It
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life
This print by Frances Cannon


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