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Rocking OutI have a confession for share with you guys.

I, Stephanie Van Sandt of MonsteRawr.com, listen to Kesha. I also listen to Demi Lovato, Nicki Minaj, and Katy Perry. I have listened to the song “Wreckingball” without sneering, and I sing along loudly to “Roar.”

(I’ll wait a moment for you to finish judging me.)

For a very long time, I hid this affinity for female-driven synthpop/R&B/dance rap. I hid it from myself (“I only listen to it when I run, to pump myself up,”) I hid it from Kyle (“I totally made that Katy Perry Pandora station as a joke, to piss off a coworker,”) and I definitely hid it from my friends (“Ugh, how can anyone listen to anything with that much auto-tune? What’s wrong with people?”)

I didn’t want to admit to myself or others that I listened to that type of music because to do so is considered unpopular. Only thirteen year old girls and basic bitches listen to that over-processed shit, right? No one with any semblance of taste or half a brain could possibly listen (or, god forbid, sing along!) to music as shallow and overly produced as pop music, right?

But I refuse to hide it or lie anymore. Truth is, I love that shit.

That’s not to say that all of my musical taste is entirely devoid of cultural merit. I’m absolutely bonkers for Frank Turner and Red Molly, and worship at the feet of Florence + the Machine. Getting to light Guster, Ben Folds, and Ingrid Michaelson were highlights of my career. And I’ve got a perchance for jazz vocalists like Madeleine Peyroux that Kyle finds positively annoying. (He says they all sing the same dozen songs. To be fair, I’m not entirely sure he’s wrong.)

But if you look at my Pandora account, my most used playlist is Kesha. I can’t help it, I love that over-produced-auto-tuned-bubblegum shit. I love listening to it because it’s upbeat and empowering, and it makes me feel good. It’s music to kick ass to, that gives me a voice with which to declare my prowess and strength to. It’s music to sing off-key in the shower and feel sexy to. It’s music to have a kitchen dance party while making dinner and pretend that I’m less exhausted than I really am to. It’s music to dig deep for that last quarter mile of my run, when my lungs are on fire and my tank is empty, to find the hidden strength and finish strong to. It’s music to feel like I can do anything and be everything I ever wished for, to. It’s music that makes me happy.

But is it musically complex, you may ask? Does it ponder over some existential mystery that calls into question the core of my very belief system?  Does it leave me breathless with the surreal musical drama that crawls under my skin and into my blood and puts me in a dulcet trance? Aaaaahhaha–no. But does that mean it can’t be equally valuable to me than that which does? Isn’t music supposed to be a deeply personal thing? Expression and emotion and thought, using the medium of sound and silence? Just because a thought isn’t fucking Shakespeare, does that make it less legitimate of a thought? Isn’t there room for silly and soft and fun alongside thoughtful and provocative and awe-inspiring? Or does our quest for cultural perfection doom us to only enjoy music with a prescribed number of guitar solos that you’ve probably never heard of? If no one is impressed by your obscure musical taste, does it still make a sound?

The reality is, much of what is considered “culturally valid” doesn’t resonate with me. I find The Beatles wildly annoying. (I said it, no regrets.) John Mayer only has one song that he entitles with twenty different names. (And don’t even try to defend him by talking about how his recent stint with Dead & Co gives him enough musical legitimacy to forgive years of whiny bro-folk. I will still pants him ever given the opportunity.) Anything with the word “experimental” anywhere near the title makes me uncomfortable. And I don’t even fully understand how jam bands constitute as music. The truth is, I just don’t connect emotionally with music like that. It doesn’t make me feel anything that doesn’t resemble irritation or fury. So I don’t really understand why I should feel obligated to listen to it, just because it’s been declared musically credible.

But maybe that is something you connect to! Maybe you’re staring at the screen, mouth agape, wondering how I could so ignorantly insult the creator of what is obviously the greatest music of all time! (I mean, The Beatles are considered one of the greatest bands ever, so someone has to like them.) And maybe, just maybe, four musicians starting four different songs at the same time (I’m looking at you, Phish,) is your jam. I get that! I mean, I don’t get why you like that crap, but I get that you connect with it emotionally in a way that I don’t. And that’s great for you! You rock out to that free-form jazz that I find totally grating! I like to think that deep down inside, we all have that band that we’re a little ashamed of. All I ask is that you afford me the same acquiescence to listen to what you perceive to be shitty music that I afford you to listen to what I perceive to be shitty music.

(Or at least judge me quietly.)


I’m Running Again

RunningI’m running again.

Well, sort of. I’m not technically running. I mean, I am, but not exactly the way most people think of when someone says they’re running.

Hold on, let me back up a minute.

Last winter, I got wicked bad bronchitis, which also caused my  (normally exercise-induced) asthma to flare up. The combination gave me a nasty hacking cough that stuck around for months. I was eventually able to get the bronchitis cleared up, but my asthma decided that it didn’t feel like going anywhere. Like a little bitch. For reasons my doctor isn’t entirely sure of, it went from intermittent to persistent. Before getting sick, my asthma really only popped up with I was participating in a seriously throw-down workout (and even then, half the time I’d forget to take my inhaler.) But now, my baseline state is for my lungs to be tight and my breathing ragged. With daily medication and a preventative inhaler I’m able to feel more-or-less normal, but it takes much less effort for my asthma to flare up than it used to.

Which, I’m sure you can guess, sucks balls.

In a matter of months, my lungs were basically crippled. Things that didn’t used to be hard suddenly became so, and it felt pretty awful. Sorry, that’s putting it lightly. It felt frustrating as fuck. And helpless as shit. If I wash down an entire pizza with a sixer of beer and the next day I’ve gained 5 lbs, I get that. If I spend a couple weeks sitting on my ass and the only exercise I get is standing up to pick my wedgies, and then my legs are on fire when I try to run 10 miles, I understand the physiological process that’s happening there. But to do my best to eat right and exercise, only to have my body –through no fault of my own– completely debilitate itself…it feels like some sort of cosmic punishment.

So I’m running again.

Sort of. I’m doing run/walk intervals. Because even though I know that I have the stubbornness and the masochism required to push myself through a run, I also know that what’s important is to rebuild my lungs. Because I will be damned if I’m going to let my fucking asthma keep me from doing the things I love. I’m going to keep skiing, and I’m going to keep climbing mountains. I just have to rebuild my lungs first.

And so I run and walk. It started out alternating two minutes of running with two minutes of walking. Push my lungs’ abilities, but then give them a chance to recover. When that felt too easy, I started running for two and walking for one minute. Since then, I’ve slooooowly been upping the amount of time that I run. I’m up to running for three and a half minutes and walking for one. The slow pace I’m taking has been frustrating; I can feel that my legs and heart are strong and could be pushed so much harder were it not for my lungs, but the constant burning in my chest tells me that to do so would be dangerous. And yet, I can also feel them getting stronger. I know that little by little, I can build my lungs back up strong so that I can do all the things I’ve always loved. It’s just going to take time.

And so I’m running again.

But there’s another reason I’m running, and this one’s not for any physical benefits. I don’t want to go into super details, but let’s just say that things aren’t always sunshine and gummy bears for the monster. Let’s just say that sometimes a person’s brain can trick them into thinking that life is harder than it really is, and make their rose-colored glasses red or blue. I’m seeing my therapist now, but there was about two months between when I finally acknowledged that I needed help and when my therapist had an open appointment, and for those two months I was on my own and struggling. One night, while listening to me express my frustration at what I felt was happening to me, Kyle suggested that I start running. “After all,” he said, “I don’t remember you being ever as happy as you were when you were running.” I was doubtful that it would do that much good, but it was that or take up drinking, and I didn’t feel like having to buy new pants when drinking inevitably made me fat.

So I started running again.

It’s amazing how great running has been for my mental health. Whatever fear, anxiety, depression, worry, or anger I’m holding in my chest, running exorcises it all. (Hehe, puns.) Running wipes my emotional slate clean, and leaves nothing behind but exhilaration and pride. After a run, I feel like a superhero. Maybe it’s because I’m too tired and in too much pain to be upset or anxious. Maybe it’s satisfaction of having accomplished something that is by all accounts hard, of knowing that I have the strength to dig deep and overcome my physical discomfort. Whatever it is, it cleanses me emotionally, leaving me feeling like I can do anything.

And so I’m running again.

This time around, it’s not about how far I can go. It’s not about how fast I can run. It’s not about how many calories I can burn. It’s not about trying to lose weight, and it’s not about trying to run my way into a body that will only exist in my impossibly-high expectations delusions.

It’s about building myself up.

I’m running to make my lungs stronger. I’m running to prove to myself that my asthma won’t debilitate me, and it won’t keep me from the things I love. I’m running to prove to myself that I am strong. I’m running to quiet that little bitch in my head with my voice that says that I’m worthless and weak. I’m running to make myself happy. I’m running (for now) slower and shorter than I ever have before.

But I’m running again.



Reluctantly Crafty

I am not what one would call “crafty.”

That’s not to say that I don’t create. I’ve been known to wield a glue gun or two in my time. But I don’t seek out crafts just for the sake of doing them. I’ve never perused the DIY & Crafts section of Pinterest looking for fun activities. My short foray into crocheting ended quickly when I realized that the hat I was making was costing me $30 in supplies when I could buy the same motherfucking hat at H&M for $10. (Fuck you, yarn, for being so damn expensive. Who do you think you are?)

workbenchAnd yet, I keep finding myself at my workbench with some form of project in progress. And this confuses me, because it’s not like I’m the sort of person who just invents undertakings for her own amusement. But recently, it dawned on me, the reason I’m an unintentional crafter.

I am a cheap-ass with very peculiar taste.

See, I tend to already have something in mind when I go hunting for a product. Maybe I can’t see each and every detail in my mind’s eye, but I know what vibe I’m looking for. And if I don’t find what I’m looking for in the style or function that I have in mind at a price that I’m comfortable with, I’d rather make or alter something so that it’s exactly what I want, versus having something that I’m not happy with. Am I a master craftsman? Absolutely not! Have I ever tried this technique before in my life? Not usually. Do I have any idea what the fuck I’m doing? Nopers! But I’m more afraid of having a bland, boring house than I am of fucking up a crafting technique, so I’ll always dive in with both feet (and lots of internet tutorials.)

Here are some of the things I’ve made or customized to my personality. (Meaning colorful. Shut up, I have a problem.)



My workbench stool


Why I customized it: I knew I wanted a padded stool for my workbench, because despite the…*ahem*… ample padding in my badonk, my ass tends to get sore sitting on hard objects for too long. But upholstered stools are both unnecessarily expensive and hard to find not upholstered in cheap black vinyl. My plan B was to just find a padded slip cover to put over the top, but those don’t seem to exist without featuring a sports logo. (Because apparently the only people on this planet who like padded stools are middle-aged men with man caves.) So plan C was to buy a classic black bar stool and  upholster it myself.

Was it hard?: Kind of, though a lot of that may have had to do with the fact that the tutorial I was working off of wasn’t very thorough. It left out some seemingly insignificant details (like don’t cut your upholstery fabric shorter than your batting) that bit me in the ass when it came to finishing. I definitely learned a lot for the experience, and I think if I made another one it would turn out better. But even with my mistakes, I’m really pleased with how it turned out. The bright pink fabric adds a great splash of color to my little corner. (Just don’t turn it over; it’s kind-of a train wreck of hot glue and batting under there.)  


Metal Bathroom Shelf

Why I customized it: This shelf Before shelfcame with our house, and while it was very  handy, it was also rusted and disgusting. Plus, I thought the chrome made it look a little cheap and tacky. 

Was it hard?: Easy. Suuuper easy. A IMG_20160614_125442little clean up with a wire brush followed by soap and water, and a little metallic black spray paint was all it took to revive that baby. Really, the hardest part was picking out what finish we wanted it painted. (Okay, not totally true. The actual hardest part was to not be a dumbass and stand downwind while I sprayed it so that it blew back into my face.) But really, it only took a few hours to bang out, and now we don’t have a gross, rusty shelf on our wall!



Beeswax Candles


Why I made it: I love beeswax candles. Looooove. I love the warm smell of honey, the soft amber glow as they burn. I also love that they burn incredibly efficiently, and last much longer than paraffin. (Some people even claim that they remove toxins from the air and purify it, but I’m not sure I’m ready to believe that.) However I do not love that beeswax candles are balls expensive. Seriously, an 8oz candle sells online for an average of $15-$20, which is waaaaaaaay more than I’m comfortable paying, especially for something with a finite lifespan. So I said, “Fuck you, I’ll make one my damn self!” And I do, for about $3 and change per candle, depending on the price of beeswax.

Was it hard?: Not at all! I found a great tutorial that walks you through the steps. Besides, candle making isn’t really that hard; you just melt shit and pour it into a container. (I use mason jars, mostly because they’re cheap, but also because I know they won’t blow up or melt on candlesme when I pour hot wax into them since they’re meant for use in canning.) Really, the hardest part is figuring out how to keep your work space clean. I solved that problem entirely by buying a hotplate and doing my candle making at my workbench in our garage, but if you’re doing it in your kitchen it takes some thoughtfulness to keep your stove and counters free of wax. (Let’s just say that parchment paper is your best friend.) All that being said, it’s definitely taken me a lot of practice to get the process as easy and neat as it is now. So was it hard? No. Was it an elegant process right out of the gate? Strugglepants says no.


Kitchen Step Stool

step stool

Why I customized it: We knew we needed a step stool, because our cabinets are hung weirdly high on the wall and we (mostly Kyle) can’t reach the top shelf.  Ikea had two varieties of step stool, one plastic and one solid wood, and while I liked the modern style of the plastic ones, I couldn’t deny the functionality of the wood one. But the options–white, black, and bare wood–were sooooo booooooring. So we bought the bare wood step stool and I stained it blue. Much more interesting than plain black or white.

Was it hard? Not exactly. The process had a lot of steps, many of them which required curing or processing time, which requires patience. Which I’m not good at. And yet, it’s my lack of patience that resulted in my favorite happy accident: the natural wood top step. See, originally, I stained the entire step stool, including the top. And it was lovely. The last step (get it?) in the process was to paint the entire thing with a coat of polyurethane to protect the finish. The can of poly said that it would be dry to the touch in two hours, which I took to mean that at that point I could flip the whole thing upside down and poly the bottom. I was wrong. Super wrong. When I flipped it back over, the top had stuck to the table, ruining the finish on the top step. I was bonkers pissed but I’m also bonkers stubborn, so I sanded the top back down to bare wood to start over. However, when Kyle saw how it looked with the blue body and natural wood top step, he fell in love with it, and convinced me to just stop there. So I finished it with poly, and now I love it. I never would have thought for it to look the way it does but for that happy accident!


Wooden Spice Rack

spice rack

Why I customized it: Another Ikea purchase (because two spice racks weren’t enough,) but this one only came in untreated natural wood, so I kinda had to do something with it. (I mean, I’m sure some idiots just take it how and slap it up on the wall, but those are the same idiots who are going to have to replace it in a year or two because the untreated wood got banged to shit. And I, at least in this particular scenario, am not one of those idiots.) So I stained it in the same blue stain as my step stool, partially because the matching pieces would look nice and partially because then I didn’t have to buy more stain. I even kept the cross bars natural, in keeping with the vibe of the stool.

Was it hard? Easy peasy, now that I’d been through the process once with the step stool. I knew what things worked well (using a foam brush for the stain and a bristle brush for the poly) and what pitfalls to avoid (drying each piece on a plastic cup so that there were minimal points of contact to get stuck.) The hardest part about this project was that because each individual piece was small, they didn’t have enough weight to stay still when I brushed them, meaning that I had to hold each one while I applied the stain and poly. Which is how I learned another lesson: it takes stain approximately three days to wear off of human skin!



I have a lot of pet peeves.

People who interrupt. The word ‘normalcy’. Duct tape.

But there’s one pet peeve that is special. This particular annoyance, so innocuous in its execution, has a way of getting under my skin and making everything go red like few things do. That pet peeve?

flashFlashes. Camera flashes. Specifically, camera flashes during a show. Super specifically, camera flashes during a show that I’m lighting.

That’s right, they piss me off. But that’s not quite a strong enough sentiment to describe how they make me feel. Pissed off is what I felt when McDonald’s discontinued their Jalapeno Double. Pissed off is what I feel when expensive produce goes bad before I get to eat it. What I feel when I see a flash during a show is homicidal. I just want to get up from behind my console, find the offender, and bash their stupid skull in using their own phone. That’s how angry camera flashes make me.

I mean, y’all know that flashes during a performance are distracting as fuck, right? That’s why band after band and company after company makes a little announcement before the show and says no flash photography, right? So we can all establish that this is a well known fact that we are all aware of, right? Flashes are distracting.

The thing is, flashes are monumentally more distracting for me, the lighting designer, than they are for the average human being. I’m incredibly sensitive to light, and the slightest change and shift in light attracts my attention. (Especially because a change in light that I didn’t instigate has the potential to be mean that something’s going wrong in my world.) So a sudden flash of light, even if it’s coming out of the back of some asshole’s phone, steals my focus away from where it should be: the stage.

But that’s not the total reason I’m infuriated when a flash goes off in the middle of a show. No, the reason it pisses me right the fuck off is because it means that the offender refused to stop and think for even a second about what purpose a flash serves and whether it will serve that purpose in the present situation. Let’s think about this for a second, what does a flash do? A flash lights up a subject when there isn’t enough naturally ambient light so that your picture doesn’t turn out too dark. At any given time I am pointing about 40,000 watts of rig at that stage, I can guaren-fucking-tee that the tiny fucking flash on your stupid fucking iPhone isn’t going to brighten my stage. Unless, of course, you’re the jackass who takes a picture of the dimly lit stage right as the band walks on, and then all you’re doing is ruining the look I’ve so carefully put together to make your favorite rock star look like the music god that you remember instead of the decrepit corpse that he is today. So yeah, thanks asshat in the first row, thanks for ruining the illusion for everyone.

Most of you, on the other hand, aren’t lucky enough to be the asshat in the front row. Most of you are the douche-canoe further back, who’s stupid fucking flash won’t even reach the goddamn stage. No, your flash is doing nothing but lighting up the heads of the people in front of you, wildly distracting everyone around you (and me) in the process. So unless the objective was to take a picture of some guy’s bald spot, you don’t need your fucking flash.

Look, I’m sorry for yelling at you guys. I know you don’t mean it. You’re just really excited to see your favorite band, and you want to remember this moment forever. (Or for those of you who got blasted during the opener, tomorrow.) And you’re so excited to capture this moment of chaotic energy and excitement that you didn’t even think to check and see if your phone defaults to auto-flash. And your phone is stupid and only sees the darkness around you, so it tries to be helpful and use the flash. And neither you nor your phone meant anything malicious by it, you were just excited. I know, I get it. You didn’t mean to be an asshole, you were an accidental asshole. It’s just that flashes are so distracting…

So how about this, you guys promise to stop setting flashes off during the show, and I promise to stop wishing death by anal insertion of your phone upon (into?) you.